Thursday, April 2, 2009

History - liquid and otherwise.

We arise to a beautiful morning. Breakfast in the restaurant is served with a view of the bay, the village and the Paps on the adjacent island of Jura. I have the scrambled egg with smoked salmon - it is so light and delectable. Michael too is opting for lighter choices - poached eggs, mushrooms and tomatoes. It is lovely having a cooked breakfast but after a while a heavy breakfast is the last thing you want.

Off this morning to find a standing stone on the north west side of the island. You might think that we would get sick of seeing them, but really, nothing is further from the truth. And this one is a little special. It stands 16 feet high. We follow the directions from Neil's notes and our map, but end up at the northern most point of Islay, having gone too far. Retracing our steps we stop a farmer on his quad bike and ask him. Get to where he said and still can't find it. Ask another farmer at this location and he gets us much closer. It is up hill and down dale and over two fences so I wait in the car for Michael to see if he can get to it. And he does.

The livestock and wildlife are amazing - from the woolly longhorn cattle to the wild flocks of thousands of geese. And should any of them get a little lonesome for conversation, we find a telephone box out where only they could use it! ET would not have been earthbound for so long out here!!

We had seen the ruins of a church with a graveyard around it on the way out, so track back to have a look. The church roof is in the process of serious collapse and the Council have bricked up the remains so that no-one can get it and get hurt. But the graveyard surrounding the church is easily accessible. We are still in awe of the history which greets us; and this church is of no exception. Built over the remains of a 13th century chapel, the remaining occupants provide a chronology of the area. There is evidence of obscure capping stones, however, the earliest grave we find dates from 1760.

Further along from this cemetery is a Commonwealth War Grave cemetery, situated on the bluff overlooking the accompanying bay. This grave site commemorates officers and crew of the HMS Otranto torpetoed of the Islay coast on 6th October 1918. Most of the epitaphs relate to those seamen who could not be identified.

And then we head for the mid east coast of the island (the locals think we are mad doing all this driving - like the island when measured like a big X is 37 miles by 31 miles!!). We are going to the Ardbeg Distillery and lunch at their famous Kiln Cafe with Helen and Elaine. We all pull up in the car park at the same time. Helen is especially happy as they have just come from Laphroaig and Luguvalin distilleries where she sampled at both (Elaine is driving). We all need to put something slid in our stomachs before we can sample more and so we head straight for the cafe.

A surprisingly good choice is available on the menu and specials board and we all choose something different. Michael has the Beef Curry special, I have Cheese and Onion Quiche, Helen has a baked potato with tuna and corn and Elaine chooses a Herby (herbed bread roll) with ham and melted cheese. To follow and have with our 10 year old whisky samples we have Cloutie Dumplings. These are pieces of cloth boiled fruitcake soaked in whisky and served with ice cream - suet and all. Not quite Christmas Cake, but very close to it. So after making purchases we head off - us to another distllery and the girls to take a walk.

The Laphroaig Distillery is a mere 5 minutes drive away and set in the most beautiful bay setting. We arrive at about 3:25 pm just in time for the 3:30 pm tour being taken by young Ashleigh (who is about to finish at the distillery, take her final uni exams and head to the US to work for 6 months before coming home to find a 'real' job - her words!). There were a total of 2 people on that tour - yep, private viewing!! It is a real privlege to so it this way as you get the chance to chat with staff a little more and they are all so friendly and ready to proudly talk about their role in perfecting the liquid gold.

pon completing our sojourn at Laphroaig, we continue our trek towards the south towards the Mull of Oa (pronunced Oh). In the distance can be seen the American Memorial to those seamen lost off the coast of Oa. However from the visitor's car park the memorial is still some distance away. The information board dictates our journey can only proceed by foot, a two mile journey - each way. Mind you, this would normally pose no barrier to Michael, but with the lateness in the afternoon and not sure how long we will have good light, we decide to offer our silent contemplation from a distance and push on to the peninsula which is Oa.

As we proceed along the somewhat deteriorated and narrow 'track', we happen to pass our companions of the past couple of days - Helen and Elaine. With waves in greeting, and laughter as to our unexpected happen chance, Helen advises the views are worth the journey. No sooner had we arrived at the peninsula, our efforts are rewarded indeed. The wind is blowing in a freezing gale, whereby Maria decides to remain in the car and Michael dons jacket, beanie and camera and braves the elements. However, the view is breathtaking; with the haze being dispersed by the gale the ocean is a gossamer of sparkling jewels with the coastline a sharp silhouette.

Having immersed ourselves in natures curtain call, we proceed towards the lighthouse referred to as the the Irish Memorial. The lighthouse was built in 1834, upon a rocky crag, to the Irishmen who had lost their lives in one of the many storms which have pounded the Hebredian coast over the millennia. The crashing waves are a signal for us to depart for our return to Bowmore.

As beautiful as the days have been, that lovely red sunset had eluded us until today. Tonight the weather conditions are just right and Michael manages to take quite a few shots of the setting sun. Other days it has been a lighter affair without the stunning contrasts in colour, but never mind, we got it before we needed to leave the island!

Dinner - as we had had a good lunch we actually debated not bothering with dinner. We certainly didn't want (or need) the full restaurant deal tonight. In the end we decided to go to the attached Seafood, Malt and Wine Bar and have something a little lighter (by the same kitchen though). And wow - are we so glad we did!
Mussels done in cream with onion and chorizo (Michael)
Squat Lobsters just flashed in the pan in butter and garlic with crab claws on the side (Maria)

This meal is the tops - one of the very best we have had on our travels!

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