Islay and Oban: Part 1 Islay

Islay ferry MV Finlaggan

While I'm up in Scotland, I always like to tag on a little extra journey: this year it was the whisky island of Islay and a town I've always wanted to visit - Oban. I discovered that twice a week there's a ferry from Islay to Oban (even though I couldn't find it on the inscrutable CalMac timetables). So Thursday morning 18 August I walked down to Haymarket station and bought a ticket to Glasgow Queen Street. After a pint at a convenient Wetherspooons, I set off to find Buchanan bus station (no trains go that way). What I didn't know was that the Citylink coach was going to Campbeltown! Anyway I found it and the journey was very scenic, past the bonnie bonnie banks of Loch Lomond, Loch Long and Loch Fyne, where we had a comfort stop at Inveraray.

Loch Fyne at Inveraray

At Kennacraig I bought my two ferry tickets as a £15.80 HopScotch deal (bargain!) and boarded MV Finlaggan for the 2-hour journey, where I consumed a couple of bottles of Islay beer and a bowl of chips. At Port Ellen it was a short walk to the White Hart Hotel, where to my surprise the bar and restaurant were closed - but the key to room 3 was waiting for me at reception. The room was fine and I had a view of the sea. I walked to a rowdy pub, the only pub, the Ardview Arms, drank a pint of McEwans and checked my wifi in a quiet room to the right. After a wee dram of Laphroaig Quarter Cask (£5.80) i wandered back to the hotel to watch the olympics.

Lagavulin distillery

The White Hart lived up to its Fawlty Towers reputation at breakfast, where two extremely flustered women tried to keep a minibus full of Poles and a celebrated musician happy with poached eggs. Mine - beans, fried egg and potato scones - was fine however. I walked to the bus stop - I wasn't sure of the times as I'd found two different timetables on the internet, but one arrived heading towards Ardbeg so I jumped on and bought a £10 day ticket. It passed Laphroaig and Lagavulin distilleries (which were supposed to be just a short walk from Port Ellen) and turned round at Ardbeg. I decided to jump off at Lagavulin and try to get on a tour. No luck, they were full, but I got my passport stamped. So, after failing to get a lift, it was a trek through the drizzle along the cycle path back to Laphroaig.

Tasting at Laphroaig distillery

Not a lot of people know this, but I own a plot of land on Islay, thanks to Laphroaig whisky and I was able to print out a map of its location. I also got 'rent' in the form of a wee bottle. The £6 tour was great - unusually they do their own malting - but I still had a two hour wait for the next bus, so I sat down in the comfy lounge, tasted a few more drams and played Pokemon Go with their free wifi!

Laphroaig plots

The bus took me along long straight roads across the island to Port Askaig, via Laphroaig's peat bogs by the airport, where a raucous group of men up for a charity football match (one played for Arsenal!) were waiting, but the bus had to do a school run, so we went to the pub (Port Askaig Hotel) and I had a surprisingly nice pint of Tennents 60/- Light (more like dark mild). After a sing song on the bus, and them calling me Ronnie, they got off at Bowmore and I travelled back to Port Ellen in peace.

I gave the posh restaurant at the Islay Hotel a go for a cappuccino, and stayed to eat in the bar, where they had Islay Ales on draught. I had roasted scallops followed by chunky fish pie. Excellent!

View from the White Hart Hotel

Saturday 13 August, morning, the women at the White Hart were even more flustered, giving me bacon instead of tatty scones, but never mind. At check out, one of them told me the hotel was up for sale and the owners didn't want to lose his licence hence the bar downstairs being dark. I caught the 9.40 bus to Port Askaig and met two old girls who'd been on the bus the day before. I had an hour and a half to kill so jumped on the ferry to Jura (£1.30 return) with the women and back on my own, then a cup of tea and wifi in the Port Askaig Hotel.

Jura ferry

The big ferry was MV Hebridean Isles and the four-hour cruise took us past many islands, with a stop at Colonsay, most were uninhabited - in fact we didn't see any houses until almost at Oban. I had minestrone soup and more Islay beer. The weather was glorious until we arrived at Oban, where it threw it dowm. Luckily there was a Wetherspoons nearby...

Arriving in Oban

More photos on Flickr.

Part 2 Oban >
< Edinburgh 2016

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