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Saturday on Islay [Jun. 25th, 2016|09:51 pm]
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We couldn't buy a Guardian in Port Ellen, where we are staying: the lady at the shop says she thinks she should increase her order, she could have sold another four copies this morning. And we bought a copy easily enough in Bowmore, along with some other odds and ends - though not the Islay Monopoly set that made such a fun display in the Celtic House bookshop. The Tourist Office was a bit of a disappointment, but the round church is impressive:

War Graves at the Round Church

The regular stones in the foreground are Commonwealth War Graves, many of them unidentified sailors, often from the Merchant Navy - though I also spotted a Greek and a Canadian.

From the nineteenth century regularity of Bowmore (a planned town built to replace the earlier village which was spoiling his lordship's view) we drove to Finlaggan, the seat of the Lord of the Isles. If you buy into all the Celtic glamour of Scottish history, this ought to be a major significant site; it isn't managed by a national heritage body, but by a local trust, and you have to be passing pretty close before you see the sign posts. So thankyou, Lonely Planet, for telling us about it: there's a visitor centre, and a walkway down to the loch and through the wetlands to the island dotted with medieval ruins:


with interesting grave slabs glassed over in the chapel, and at the far end of the island traces of a causeway to another island beyond where the lords held council. It's a peaceful place now, surrounded by flowers, orchids and meadowsweet and waterlilies growing among the reeds.

We lunched (late) on cullen skink at the café at Kilchoman, and lingered over the paper until it was time to tour the distillery. It's a good tour, with plenty of opportunities to taste things, starting with the malt:

Malt shovel

I'd thought - I can't remember where I heard this - that no distillery makes its own malt any more, and had been surprised when D. and valydiarosada told us about malting at Springbank in Campbeltown. They were told that this was the sole survival. But it seems that there are six distilleries in Scotland who still malt their own barley, three of them on Islay (including Kilchoman, who are a farm distillery and also grow 20% of their barley). So we were able to handle the grain, and watch the sparrows flying onto the malting floor for their share. Later we got to taste the '100% Islay' whisky, which uses their own barley, and is subtly peaty (and very expensive) and the Machir Bay, which uses barley malted and smoked at Port Ellen, and is less subtle and I didn't like it as much. Was that the stillman I saw in the café afterwards, drinking a can of Irn Bru? (I often wonder what the vintner buys...)

We took the back roads home, and had to wait to let a mother pheasant lead her brood of fluffy chicks across the road.