Isle of Islay, Scotland,
United Kingdom, 19-21 May 2011.
Southern most of the Inner Hebrides islands, off the west coast of Scotland. Atlantic to the west and coastal waters off the Argyll Peninsula to the east, this desolate windswept heather covered island is home to Seven of the most iconic Single Malts!
Ambrosia, nectar-of-life, drink-for-Gods, to me all of that is a mature single malt. If there is one thing that the Scots do better than anybody else in the whole universe, it's creating their whisky. "Creation" is perhaps the right word for Scotch. We all know about malting, brewing and distilling. Its not about doing all of that correctly. Its the subtle flourishes that the Scots add that elevates "whisky" to "Scotch". Within that world of Scotch it’s their single malts which have achieved cult status.
I have been nursing drams of single malts for years and wanted to see how they manufacture the stuff. The four Scotch manufacturing regions in Scotland are Highland, Lowland, Spey Side and Islands (Islay, Skye, Jura and Campbeltown). The Islands are perhaps the most remote, rugged and romantic. The islands have been settled since 8000 BC and since the 18th Century they have developed a strong culture and tradition of creating phenomenal whisky. What's surprising is they all use similar barley, water and peat and yet each of the Islands have their own distinctive whisky. A 12 year Bowmore from Islay is so different from a 10 year Jura from Isle of Jura and neither has any semblance to a 10 year Talisker from Skye. I just had to go and experience that creativity. A very long journey from my home at Delhi, India.
On a crisp sunny afternoon at Glasgow, we boarded Flybe flight BE 6927 operated by Loganair with SAB 340, 34 seater, twin turboprop aircraft. Traveling in such a small aircraft was a novelty. Reminded us of our trip to Rodriguez from Mauritius on ATR 42 aircrafts. Several reviews promised 45 minutes of bumpy flight and boy, did we bump along! Pleasant views of the lush green hinterland of Glasgow for a few minutes after take off and soon we were engulfed in cloud. They probably serve a drink and cookies but the lone air hostess had no such opportunity today. We yo yoed across the Firth of Clyde, several Lochs, the Argyll Peninsula, the coastal waters of the Atlantic, strapped to our seats all through the flight. The bouncing and jostling stopped as we broke through the cloud cover and into a rainswept green and grey vista of rugged moors and heath, rocky coasts, relentless Atlantic and pretty white farmsteads. We began to land at Islay.
We had booked the self-catering Ardview Flat which is sort of an extension of the Oystercatcher Bed & Breakfast run by the amazing Lynn Ross. She was waiting for us at the airport and her warm welcome completely negated the dreary chilly drizzle. We tumbled into her car and off we went to our flat 8 kms away at the town of Port Ellen on the south-east coast. All around us heathers and peat, low hills in the distance, grazing sheep, a few heads of cattle now and then, quaint white washed farmsteads, a world unlike anything we have seen before.
In 15 minutes we were at the flat on Frederick Crescent. Cosy, beautifully furnished with all modern facilities and yet with a warm rustic touch. Lovely view of a bay. The local pub (Ardview Pub) and the Post Office almost at the doorstep. A cooperative and other shopping Within a 5 minute walk. Ditto for a bus stop and taxis freely available. We couldn't have chose better. Detailed review of the accommodation is here.
We dumped our luggage, freshened up and walked 300 mts down Frederick Crescent towards the Port to Maharani Indian Restaurant. By now we have been on the road in Britain for more than week and beginning to miss our Indian curries! Maharani is owned by a kindly Scottish lady and her chef was from Bangladesh. Honest, unpretentious Indian food caringly served at reasonable prices. We had two dinners there and on both occasions the place was full. That's a sure testimony to the quality of the food. On one occasion we wanted cauliflower fritters for starters. They had run out of cauliflower. The lady jumped into her car, drove down to the nearest Co-op and fetched a cauliflower! Detailed review of the restaurant here.
After dinner we went for a walk along the quiet lanes of this lovely village. Sounds of laughter and spirited conversation from the homes and pubs. Every one we crossed had a smile and a wave for us tourists. We felt right at home.
Landed at rainy Islay (Click to enlarge)
Over Glasgow suburbs (Click to enlarge)
Map Glasgow to Islay (Click to enlarge)
Boarding at Glasgow (Click to enlarge)
Ardview Flats (Click to enlarge)
Tiny cute airport (Click to enlarge)
Approaching Islay (Click to enlarge)
1. Maharani Indian Restaurant just 5 mins from our Self-catering on Fredrick Crescent.
2. Starters - Pnyaji (Onion fritters), Mutton sheek kabab, Chicken boti kabab and salad.
3. Mains - Daal, Prawn curry, Rice and Naan. (Click pics to enlarge)