Islay 2012 Day 5. A Trip To The Kildalton Cross And A Wee Tour of the Island
Oh boy. Sunday. The Lord’s Day. A day of rest and sobriety for this crew of weary travellers. Uhhhh…if you buy that, I have a lovely bridge in London that’s for sale too. While we had nothing actually scheduled for the day, we did all want to take in a bit of the island. See the sees, do the dos…you know. Oh…and most certainly not partake in any concept of sobriety. Pshaw.
So…starting things off right…nothing like a bit of the Ardbeg Day release for breakie. Cask strength peat juice is a hell of a wake up call. Kinda like gargling with a campfire. We had a slightly later breakfast than usual, devouring our morning fare of eggs, bacon, black pudding, tomato, etc etc along with a couple of coffees and juice. Sufficiently caloried up, it was time to see what the day had in store.
While Islay is relatively quite wee, it’s still certainly not walking distance from site to site (or sight to sight?). So…we had two options: 1) rent a car and ensure our sobriety was as intact as a virgin before prom night, or 2) hire a driver and let things happen as they may. We went with the latter. And guess who was behind the wheel? Yep…our man with the van, Hughie, again.
We climbed aboard the blue ride and set off for the southeastern end of the island, also known as the Kildalton region. First destination…the ruins of the Kilnave parish church and one of the largest, most incredibly well-preserved Celtic high crosses in the world, the Kildalton Cross.
It was a helluva bumpy road to our destination, but a great drive nevertheless. For those planning a similar venture…I would suggest that this would not likely be a good day to be at war with a hangover.
Before we made our way to the further reaches of the island, we took a quick drive through the site of the Port Ellen distillery and maltings. So much history buried here. The pagodas still stand…the warehouses still stand…in fact, most of the buildings are still in tact. The stills and such are long gone, but…perhaps the specs exist somewhere and one day this lost icon could pull a Romero and shamble forth from the grave. We’ll continue to hope so at least. Anyway…moving on…
Somewhere along this path through the trees and such, there’s a bit of a clear spot where a beautiful old building sits near the shoreline. The building looks old and derelict. I still spend evenings imagining how amazing it would be to invest some time and money into turning it into a home. Unfortunately, my wife is not so easily convinced. Every now and again I look back at that photo and imagine ‘what if…?’
We finally arrived at the site of the high cross and ruined church after a jaunt along a rutted and ragged road which wends its way along the coast and through some beautiful heavily-treed lanes. After disembarking from the big blue van we dispersed and began our individual meanderings among the ancient grave stones, worn monuments, monolithic crosses and, of course, the crumbling ruins of the church itself.
Hughie, ever the downhome, small island gent that he is, seemed rather confounded that this was a site of much interest for us. “Is this stuff interesting to you guys?”, he queried at one point. Ummm, yes. Yes, it is, Hughie.
The contrast between rolling green and falling stone is stunning, and an incredible aesthetic treat to those so inclined. I love these sorts of historic remains. The past sort of creeps up on you and makes you realize how miniscule you (and we all) are in the grand scheme of the flow of time. Humbling, and at the same time, overwhelming to comprehend that you are a part of this vast current.
We all took sh*tloads of pictures and Scott managed to set up his gear for one of our only group shots from the entire trip. Good spot for it.
After a healthy amount of time in this rather somber locale, we bumped and banged our way back through the thickets of greenery and rutted roads…on past Ardbeg, Lagavulin and Laphroaig…en route to a rendezvous and close-up encounter with one of the more elemental influences behind our Scottish trip: the peat banks. This was a request of Gord’s, and a damned fine one, seeing as our proposed Laphroaig Water To Whisky experience didn’t quite pan out the way it was to have.
You’ll recall we were to have welly’d up and strolled our way up to the water source and the peat banks before the wrath of mother nature determined otherwise. So…while we didn’t get to cut peat, as we’d initially hoped, we did get to wander the banks and get a little mucky. Some great photos here too. Hard to believe that this rather innocuous substance, lacking in all the olfactory magnitude that it holds in potential, could be responsible for this tribe’s (and my second personal) pilgrimage to the land of bog.
There were a few amateur hackers amongst our ragtag crew, who were curious about Islay’s greens (the golf course, that is). They initially debated booking a round, but opted to pass in the end. When the opportunity arose to swing by at least and see what the course looked like, however, they were all over it. The Machrie course was designed by pr0fessional golfer, Willie Campbell, in 1891. It is old and quite beautiful in many ways. When we were there it looked as though it may have been in need of a little love, but according to the website, it would appear to be under new ownership, which is intent on retaining the heritage but making some key updates. We’ll have to check back in a year or two. On another trip perhaps?
We watched a few hackers out on the greens, swinging away into the gale force winds. At one point one of us made a comment in the clubhouse about the nasty winds out there. “Oh it’s just a little breeze”, was the very Scottish reply. Ummm….sure.
About this time, there were some rumbling stomachs, so back to Bowmore for a bite before a bit more exploring. Pints of Ember Ale and chicken sandwiches at Lucci’s courtesy of Peter. Man…this guy can cook. Running back and forth from bar to kitchen, entertaining us the whole time, he managed to put out a meal that both looked and tasted f*cking brilliant. Peter…you the man, cool guy. Can’t wait to get back and raise a glass with you again.
Pleasantly sated, we made off for the Battery. This lovely little stretch of cliffline and coastal ruggedness is just a short stroll in behind the Bowmore distillery, and is a beautiful and relaxing bit of ‘away time’ from the bustle and craziness of Bowmore (errr…wait…bustle? Bowmore?). The views across the loch are stunning, with Port Charlotte right across the way and a great vantage down towards the Oa and the distant shores of Ireland.
We followed the path along the top, eventually making our way down to the rocky beach where on my last trip over I’d watched a bunch of seals playing in the loch. This time no seals at play, but we hung out for a while, taking pictures, passing flasks, and just sitting on the rocky crops watching the waves. A couple of us kids skipped a few rocks and pocketed a few shells to take back to the wee sprites at home. I love this little stretch of Islay. So much magic packed into such a short space.
A couple of us (Pat, John and I) got a little more bold with our return journey, working our way along the lower beach this time instead of back along the cliff top. This eventually took us to a bit of exposed sand and rock along the outer wall of the distillery between the wash of the sea and the great white walls of the distillery itself. This became a bit of a race against the tide by the time we finally hopped up again by the pier. Fun times.
It’s thirsty work, all this touring around, lemme tell ya. Time for some beer and food (again). And then some Islay malts, of course. We began making our way back towards Duffies for refueling. The other fellas wanted to make a quick run back to Kate’s place to drop some stuff, but I elected for a few moments of alone time in Duffies; my home away from home while on the island. It was a good chance to jot a few notes (how the hell else do you think I remember all this sh*t?) and just revel in the atmosphere, so…I pulled up a table looking out into the bay and ordered an Ardbeg Galileo and a pint of Islay Ales ‘Black Rock Ale’. Think both were gone by the time the other lads arrived. At this point, with all of us in the mood for a few wobblies, it was game on.
The bar filled up rather quickly. Wanting to be a little closer to the action, we moved to a spot a little nearer to the bar when one opened up. This was a key location where you could see all the lovely bottles in the shelves (ease of ordering) and be right in the heart of things.
We ordered up some cheese boards and onion rings and sat down to round after round of decent drams while a band called Manran set up and proceeded to rawk the joint, Celtic style. Great l’il pub ceilidh, complete with singing, dancing, drinking, laughter and just a schwackload of good times. A couple of our guys even purchased CDs from the band to take home with them.
It was at about this point that we decided to have a little fun with our drink selections for the eve. We all took turns buying rounds, without telling anyone what we’d ordered, and played a bit of ‘guess the malt’. A few we were pretty much dead on. Some others…well…when you get into single cask expressions and such, all bets are off. Some of these bottlings are so far off the distilleries’ usual profiles as to make sound guessing well nigh impossible. Sh*t ton of laughs though. Amidst our drunken revelries, we were joined by our Danish friends from the Laphroaig tour a couple days back. They pulled up seats and immediately began playing (errr…drinking) along. great guys…good sports. Hopefully our paths cross again. (Peter…Christian…if you read this…do drop a line)
Ahhhh…the sh*t that happens at the back end of a night in the pub. Around about the time we were tossing back malts with Peter and Christian, a rather large chap came in wearing a grey Ardbeg hoodie. The front boasting ‘Ard’ and the back ‘Beg’. I had to have one, so immediately struck up a conversation, asking where he’d got it and how I could get one. Turns out it was from a while back, and I think had some ties to distillery workers or such (please correct me if I’m wrong). After much negotiation (and the Ginger Buddha digging in to toss a few extra pounds on the table), I managed to literally buy the shirt off the guy’s back. Kinda felt bad for him at the end of the eve. I was a rather chilly night. Here’s hoping he had had enough to drink to keep him warm.
Before the night was out, David, Duffies manager, fine gent that he is, brought me over a dram of something special. Super nice gesture. We chatted for a few minutes before he revealed it was the 2011 Feis Ile bottling of Bowmore Laimrig. Turns out this was probably the best dram I had on the whole journey. Stunning, really. No amount of pleading or coersion throughout the rest of the trip could find me, or net me, a bottle of this stuff. As usual with Feis Ile releases, it sold out fast. Oh well. Better to have drank and lost, then never to have drank at all.
Much later in the eve, right at closing time actually, I made my way back to Kate’s place in an effort to get in a quick call back home to the family. Apparently after I’d left the other fellas I missed out on an event that, for the sake of protecting those involved, we’ll simply refer to as the ‘shopping cart incident’. And all for naught too! As it turned out, one of the other guys had scooped the house keys from me at some point and I was now locked out of our B&B. I hung around in the outdoor sitting area of Kate’s place for a bit and was just about to go back to hunt down the guys when finally they came trudging down the road toward me.
Now…I feel I should tell you…someone nearly died this eve. Our mate, Scott, got particularly …ummm… whisky-laden and proceeded to spend the latter part of the eve circling the house, skyping on his tablet with his lovely lady back home. No concern there. We all have loved ones over the pond. HOWEVER…at sleepytime, when all are liquor-logged and thoroughly spent…taking your tablet around and showing us all sprawled in our ragged bed-readiness…not a good idea. We must have heard the word ‘love’ about 70 times. You’re lucky you’re still here, Buddha. It was touch and go there for a while. 😉
A few of the evening’s drams: Bowmore Cask Strength, Port Charlotte Streah (indie), Lagavulin 12 2011 limited, Bowmore 100 Degrees Proof, Laphroaig Cairdeas Ileach Edition, Ardbeg Uigeadail, Ardbeg Galileo, Caol Ila Cask Strength, Bowmore Laimrig 15 Feis Ile, and more.
– Words: Curt
– Photos: Curt / Group shot by Scott