The North Atlantic Arc


From Muckle Flugga to the Mull of Galloway





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Wednesday 12 October 2005

Over The Sea


The day breaks gray and misty--crumbles, more like--and never improves. We pass through Glencoe village and make the loop around narrow Loch Leven. Our goal is the Atlas Brewery in the village of Kinlochleven. We find it in a recycled industrial building, along with several other small businesses. I have read on their website that eight-pint minikegs are available for purchase, and we are fortunate to pick up the last one in stock, of their Three Sisters Ale. One for each of us!

Back at the mouth of Loch Leven, we cross the bridge and pick up the A828 southbound. About ten miles down the road, we pull over for a look at Castle Stalker, a bleak tower house on a tiny island in a shallow, muddy bay. It is immediately recognizable as Castle Aaaaaaa, from the end of Holy Grail. We find a vantage point from which to photograph it along the side road to Port Appin.

Port Appin is the ferry port for Lismore, and the tiny village seems to serve mainly as a car park for holiday-makers on the island. We loop around the peninsula and pick up the main road again, and before too long we are in Oban. We have about an hour before we have to check in at the ferry, and I have a number of phone calls to make, so I turn the other lads loose in town, setting a time to meet back at the car.

Phone calls complete, I browse the seemingly ubiquitous Whisky Shop and a tweed shop. I arrive at the car ten minutes early, and the lads arenít there. Of course, they are in the Oban Inn across the street, halfway through a pint. Well, if they have time for half a pint, so do I.

Iíve chosen to approach Islay on the ferry from Oban, which makes the through trip via Colonsay only on Wednesdays, for several reasons. One is that it means much less driving, while still arriving at the same time as catching the usual ferry from Kennacraig. Another is that it is a very scenic ride on a fair day, with great views of Mull and Jura along the way. This, unfortunately, is not a fair day, and it isnít long before we are out of sight of land altogether. After a couple hours, Colonsay advances silently from the mist. We dock at Scalasaig long enough to swap a few vehicles, before the island again recedes from sight.

The third reason for coming this way bears fruit. The lighthouse at Rubhí aí Mhŗil, Islayís northernmost point, blinks into view, and we enter the Sound of Islay. Itís nearly sunset, and growing quite dark at the end of a dismal day, but we can plainly see the distilleries at Bunnahabhain and Caol Ila as we drift toward Port Askaig. They are inspiring sights.

Back on land, we make the run to Bruichladdich, which takes about half an hour. We are staying at the distillery! A house, formerly a duplex which served as home for the distillery manager and the excise man, sits up behind the distillery proper, and houses students at Bruichladdichís Academy. The Academy gives whisky enthusiasts an intensive, hands-on course in whisky production. When it's not in session, the rooms can be taken on a B&B basis. We find no one in, but a note addressed to me is stuck to the refrigerator in the kitchen, telling us which rooms to take. They donít do it like this in Edinburgh!

We settle in quickly and drive the two miles to Port Charlotte. The Port Charlotte Hotel has a top-notch restaurant, but we are more comfortable in the pub, where we nevertheless have a top-notch meal. There are also good pints of Islay Ale, and drams, of course. The malt list here is all-Islay and is a bit pricey, but we have no trouble satisfying our needs. I have a honeyish Douglas Laing Bruichladdich, and a Murray McDavid 1989 Bowmore bourbon cask. Itís the best Bowmore Iíve ever had, I think; but I still donít like it much. Ron has a Laing Ardbeg, and Bobby surprises us by ordering a Laphroaig Cask Strength. Bob is of Irish heritage, and has only recently delved much into the world of Scotch whisky; not long ago, he told us that he didnít really care for the peaty ones. He therefore shocks us when he declares the Laphroaig tasty. Heís learning, that lad is.

Through it all, Spike stands guard on the tabletop. Spike is my mascot, a replica of a Lewis chessman, a Viking berserker, acquired at the museum in Edinburgh a few years ago. Spike the Viking is ever vigilant.

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Castle Stalker, north of Oban--"Castle Aaaaaaa" in the final sequence of Holy Grail.


Castle Stalker is a privately owned home.


This startling picture was an accident, the result of an attempt to adjust the contrast in my scanning program.


When you arrive in Islay on the ferry from Oban, you sail down the Sound of Islay
past Bunnahabhain and Caol Ila. This photo was taken from the pier in 2002.

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