Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Islay - The Whisky Isle

Until recently, there was just one campsite on IslayKintra Farm, 3 miles out of Port Ellen. Then, in 2007, another site opened – Port Mor Centre and Campsite at Port Charlotte. We can’t comment on Port Mor campsite because time did not permit us to visit it, however, a fellow motorhomer staying at Kintra Farm spoke very highly of it.

We use the internet extensively for researching our motorhoming holidays, and had seen some amazing images of Kintra. We chose it because pitching is possible right up to the beach and the views looked abolutely stunning. They were, and more.

This is without doubt one of the most beautiful and natural locations we have ever camped in our motorhome. The wide, sweeping, windswept beach is right in front of your door and the white sandy beach is just a step away. After checking in at the farmhouse, you make your way slowly over the solid grass-covered sand dunes to pick a pitching area of your choice. There were just a handful of fellow campers whilst we were there: a few tents and a couple of other motorhomes but we did not see any caravans in the two and a half days we were there.

Now, it has to be said that the facilities are basic, the welcome is brusque and the list of do’s and don’ts is very long and strictly enforced. A strange situation is that the site has no facilities for chemical toilet disposal. Apparantly the septic tank cannot cope, and there is an essay in the advance information emailed out that they are not a dumping station for campers who have stayed elsewhere. So the tone is pretty much set from before you arrive. We were only there for a couple of days, so it wasn’t a problem, but I have no idea what you would do if you wanted to stay there for a week or more. Now, I thought that it was a minimum requirement that campsite had to provide a CDP?

On the subject of water, this comes out of the taps brown and has to be boiled. We'd filled up before arriving, and had plenty on board to last us, but campers may wish to take an ample supply of bottled water for drinking purposes.

We paid £15.00 per night in September for our motorhome with no hook-up, to include showers and use of kettle, however, any other electricity used is charged for – ie mobile phone charging or hair-dryer!! Dogs are tolerated, and, disappointingly, there is a 4 mile circular walk from the site, on which dogs are not allowed. That put me in a right bad temper, I can tell you.

Once pitched up, we spent our time walking on the 10 mile beach, or just soaking up the amazing views. It was extremely windy whilst we were there, so sitting outside for any length of time was not pleasant and having planned to do the walk above, Plan B was a linear walk back down the single track road towards Port Ellen, and down towards Mull of Mu, which took us about three hours and is well worth doing.

We wished we'd booked longer on this site, and we would have loved more time to explore Islay, however, a text message from CalMac meant we had to adjust our return journey arrangements ................

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Monday, 5 November 2007

Kintyre to Islay

There are two things I don’t like – walking up hills or getting up early. So an 05:00 hrs start on holiday made me pretty grumpy. However, if we wanted to catch the 07:00 hrs ferry from Kennecraig (Kintyre) to Port Ellen (Island of Islay), it had to be done. Generally in summer there are two ferries a day from Kennacraig to Port Ellen - 07:00 hrs and 09:45 hrs, but not every day, so careful checking of timetables is essential. The 09:45 ferry was fully booked on the day we wanted to travel, with several on the waiting list, and no chance of a large motorhome sneaking on, so 07:00 hrs it was. And we are pleased we did this, because it gave us the whole day in Islay.

The crossing is 2.5 hours, the first part of which is an extremely picturesque cruise down West Loch Tarbert. Approaching the end of the Loch, the Paps of Jura were clearly visible, and to the east the Island of Gigha.

On arrival at Islay, driving was a doddle, and we able to park almost anywhere wiithout worrying – unusual in a 23 foot motorhome. Rather than going straight to the campsite, we decided on the spur of the moment to do a bit of a whisky trail. Now, not being a whisky drinker myself (although I kept that quiet on the tour), I did not expect to be enthralled by a distillery visit, but I have to say it was incredibly interesting. If you believe the guidebooks, distillery tours are by appointment only and should be pre-booked, but we decided to turn up and blag it, and sure enough, tours run regularly thoughout the day.

Our first stop was Lagavulin, and we had the tour all to ourselves. It took much longer than the usual hour, because we met the Head Distiller halfway round, got inside information, and ended up sampling of the whisky at various stages of its short fermentation process (when it’s more like a weak beer, apparantly). The statistics are mind-boggling. Millions of litres of water and thousands of tonnes of barley are used every year at this distillery alone. Multiply that by the eight distilleries on Islay, and that’s a phenomenal amount of raw materials producing this amber nectar annually. Once made, it then has to be stashed away for 10, 16 or more years just sitting maturing in bonded warehouses.

We left the ‘van in Lagavulin’s car park (after checking that was OK) and walked up the narrow road to
Ardbeg – 20 minutes away, which has a café with outdoor tables, where we could sit with our little dog. The food here is fantastic and well worth a visit even if you are not interested in whisky. Ardbeg has a mascot called Shorty – a very pushy Jack Russell who is clearly used to getting his own way. He took great interest in our Jack Russell, Holly, until she saw him off, following which he turned his affections to a more timid little dog on the next table and amused everyone for the next hour with his antics (except the owners of said timid JR).

Last stop was Laphroaig,
where there is a large car park, and we just stuck our nose into the Visitor’s Centre and Shop and picked up some little souvenirs. Time was getting on and we needed to get the the campsite, so we headed for the wide, windswept beauty of the site at Kintra Farm, 3 miles out of Port Ellen....... more about our stay in the next blog........

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