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RSPB Islay – More to See and Do in 2017

Hello, and welcome to my first guest blog on Islay Info. I’ll be blogging on a regular basis, hoping to give everyone up-to-date news and information about what I’m up to on Islay in my role as the RSPB Community Information & Tourism Officer. That’s a mouthful and a real tongue twister to start with, so the job is often referred to as ‘CITO’. I am part of a fantastic team that manage our farms and reserves on the island and, whereas I consider them to be the brains behind our operations, I have made it my mission to be the ‘mouth. Should you visit the reserves, particularly the Visitor Centre at Loch Gruinart, or even better, join one of the many guided walks I have planned over the next 7 months, you’ll be left in no doubt that I take that responsibility seriously!

I also go by the name ‘Botswana Dave’. This is because there are a quite a few of us on Islay all called “David”, so with all the usual abbreviations and nicknames already allocated, and because I have spent a considerable part of my adult life in Botswana, it made everyone’s life simpler to give me that ‘call-sign’. I use ‘Botswana Dave’ as my Profile Name on Facebook and Twitter (@IslayRangerDave), should you wish to ‘follow’ me there.

This is not an official RSPB site (go to www.rspb.org.uk for that), so I must stress that any opinions expressed here are my own. Continue reading....

Best Islay Books and Guides

Although we live in a digital era, many folk still like to read a real paper book which they can hold in their hands and read anywhere, without the need of a tablet, kindle, computer or other reading device. It's also nice to switch off every now and then and forget about all the digital stuff. And personally, when you're making the trip to Islay this year, I can't think of better reading material than a book about your favourite island. I always like to think that the more you know about a place in advance, and the better prepared you are before you go, that it will have a very positive impact on your holiday. That's why I can highly recommend purchasing a few books and guides about Islay. Both to read before you leave for Islay and to read when you are on Islay. Of course you can always read the tons of information we have online on our various websites but like I said earlier, it's just so nice to switch off at times. That's why I have picked six of the best Islay books and together they cover a lot of topics, from the fascinating history, general information, pronounciation of Gaelic words, the background of whisky distilling on Islay, a guide to walking and a book about experiences from other travellers. These will get you prepared and in the mood for your upcoming Islay holiday and keep you pleasantly occupied when the weather is bad. Here goes:

Islay: Pevensey Island Guides by Norman Newton
A small book, but loaded with gorgeous colour pictures of this beautiful Island in the Hebrides. Has a useful information and Places to visit Guide. Gives you a crash course of Place-Names and their pronunciation, so you won't be murdering the Gaelic. Includes a map, gives information of Medieval ruins, the Islay distilleries - which produces fine Single Malt Whisky. Gives you a real flavour of Islay. The book is soft sided and lightweight so it's easy to bring along. Buy here via Amazon. Continue reading...

Ardnahoe Update and Islay Festival Tasting with Jim McEwan

Whisky writer Dave Broom recently penned an article asking why anyone would want to become builders and owners of a ninth distillery on Islay? Why, not, he queried, become the first malt whisky distillers on Tiree, for example?


Artist impression Ardnahoe Distillery

After visiting the site overlooking the Sound of Islay on a bright but windy Wednesday afternoon, with no disrespect to Tiree, the logic of the decision made by Hunter-Laing to produce whisky at Ardnahoe wouldn’t be difficult to defend. After all, the whisky industry is almost as much about the visitor experience as it is about the amber nectar and the views from the site are spectacular. Continue reading....

Book Islay Boat Trips Online

If I have to name one activity on Islay that you must do when you're on Islay it's a Boat Trip. And who can better provide that for you than Gus Newman and his crew from Islay Sea Adventures. They started off a few years ago, in 2014 to be precise, offering wildlife trips from Port Ellen and Lagavulin on a relatively small scale and with only one boat, the Wavedancer. From the start the boat trips were a hit and many folk, locals and visitors alike, enjoyed many fascinating hours on Islay's surrounding seas taking in the breathtaking views and the huge variety in wildlife, from swimming red deer to otters and nearby sightings of white tailed sea eagles and sometimes hundreds of seals.

Since 2014 much has changed. As more and more folk found their way to Port Ellen Gus expanded the business and added new boats to his fleet. Starting this year Gus has four boats, two RIB's and two hard boats which are captained by experienced skippers with a wealth of knowledge of the seas round Islay. All vessels have lifejackets, life vests, lifebuoys and fire extinguishers and comply with all the safety regulations. Continue reading....

Important Info Campervan and Motorhome Owners on Islay

In recent years there has been an increase in the number of camper vans and motorhomes on Islay. The introduction of RET (Road Equivalent Tariff) has certainly played an important role as ferry tickets has become a lot cheaper due to this scheme. The increase of Motorhomes and Camper Vans has so far not lead to an increase in some of the facilties they need. The most important facility owners of these vehicles need is a designated place where they can empty their chemical toilets. The contents of these toilets can NOT be dumped into regular public toilets as it has a damaging effect on the sewage system.

To inform folk about this and to make sure the contents of chemical toilets are not emptied in public toilets, or even worse in nature, the Islay Community Council has produced a leaflet for camper van and motor home drivers. The leaflet gives sound guidance about driving on single track roads and offers advice about the emptying of chemical toilets and wild camping. The folder outlines the "leave no trace" principles which ensure that campers have minimal impact on the environment. Continue reading..

Was Kildalton the Site of a Bloody Viking Ritual?

Those seeking to imbibe Islay spirit of a less liquid kind might like to visit the roofless church at Kildalton, deeply numinous with its ancient crosses and figured mediaeval graves. Sweep past the casks and pagodas of Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg, traverse dark woods inhabited by fairy folk and spotted deer, skirt bright bays studded with seal-draped skerries; a few miles of peat bogs and hazel groves and draw up beside the church, gaunt and roofless beneath a grove of Plane trees.

There is uncertainty over the saint who is commemorated, but the name is generally held to be derived from the Gaelic ‘Cille Daltan’: church of the fosterling; the fosterling in question was Saint John the Evangelist, and it is also said to be associated with Baithéne mac Brénaind, a cousin and disciple of St. Columba and perhaps his ‘fosterling’, who in 563 AD had crossed the North Channel from Ireland in a wicker and hide boat.

Early Christian missionaries took to living as hermit monks in very small ‘beehive’ cells, such as can still be seen on the Garvellach islands which can be glimpsed on the horizon north of Islay. Some of these cells developed eventually into religious settlements and it’s not difficult to imagine one such at Kildalton, sheltered beneath an elevated ridge overlooking fertile ground and accessible for sea travel. That must remain speculation, as other than the spectacular wheel cross there are no discernible features of a monastery here. Such settlements form a pattern of havens stretching across the Hebrides and western mainland of Scotland, where sea travellers could rest and take on provisions on their voyages between the mother monasteries in Ireland and the important satellite communities in such places as Iona and Applecross. St Baithéne succeeded Columba as the Abbot of Iona, and died around the year 600. Continue reading...

WW100 Islay Public Meeting

WW100 Islay hosted a public meeting at ICCI on Tuesday 28 February which around 40 members of the Islay community attended. One of World War 100 Scotland’s main commemorations in 2018 will be held on Islay, marking the loss of the troopships Tuscania and Otranto. WW100 Islay group has proposed a calendar of events for 2018 which also remembers the part that Islay men and women played in the Great War.

Stuart Graham provided a very informative and moving presentation of how the war affected Islay in 1918. As the stories of the two troopship tragedies unfolded in the waters around Islay, around 50 Islay and Jura men lost their lives on the battlefields of France and further afield. It was a very difficult year. Stuart underlined the compassionate and respectful way that Islay people looked after the American service men who were washed up on Islay, both those who survived and those who were lost. Continue reading....

Deserve the Islay Wave on Single Track Roads

With the Tourist Season starting soon it might be good to point out that a good number of roads on Islay are Single Track Roads. These typical roads can be somewhat troublesome if you drive them for the first time, especially if you do so in your hired motorhome. Former Ileach Editor Calum Murray wrote a nice article a while back about his view on the behaviour of some of the islands visitors. It's a great piece of advice and mandatory reading for all the visiting motorists to Islay, and some of the locals too!

Calum Murray: "There is no doubt that visitors to our island identify the Islay Wave as one of our most endearing conventions. They certainly find it worthy of mention as proof of our conviviality when telling their friends about their encounters with the islanders. In fact, we even let them join in though they are not au fait with all its subtleties. Visiting motorists all experience this distinctively Ileach practice of being waved at by passing car drivers. And mistakenly believe that this means we are accepting of the idiotic way some of them behave on our roads. Oops! I feel a rant coming on. But that's okay; sometimes you need to let off a little steam.

"It would appear that visiting the island is the first time that some drivers have ever come across a single track road. Some of them just don’t understand the protocol. We know that driving on single track roads requires the making of a lot of fine decisions: when you see a car coming towards you, you have to figure out who is nearer to a passing place and drive accordingly. Is it you that will pull in or will it be them? Usually the decision is easy. The passing place is somewhere between the two of you and you adjust your pace so that both of you arrive there almost simultaneously.Or there are two passing places between you and there is a slight war of nerves to find out who will stop first. Continue reading....

Theatre of Drams Islay Whisky Symposium

In an earlier blog post I ran a poll and asked folk what they would think about the festival lasting two weeks. The majority, 69% of 515 votes, voted in favour of a two week festival in the near future. Right now all festivities are cramped into one week and for many folk on the island it's extremely busy. Having a two week festival could possibly bring a somewhat more relaxed atmosphere to the festival and more folk could join. It's great news therefore that someone is organising an extra whisky related event which lasts almost a week. This event, however, is not related to the Islay Festival at the end of May, but it takes place in October, and on a smaller scale.

Rachel MacNeill, owner of Whisky for Girls (and Guys!) is hosting ‘Theatre of Drams’ in October, from 23rd to 27th, and tickets are on sale from this month. Rachel’s festival will mainly be held in Bowmore Hall and she aims to offer variety to suit each person’s needs with the offer to “book on a tasting, a talk, a workshop, anything you fancy.” In previous years Rachel has run Whisky Course Islay which will be incorporated in Theatre of Drams although events can all be booked individually even for those not taking part in the course. Continue reading...

Islay Lighthouses History

Mavis Gulliver reflects on their history

Around the coast of Scotland, two hundred lighthouses send out their warning lights. Managed by the Northern Lighthouse Board, they are strategically located to warn of danger and to aid navigation through perilous waters. Once lit by braziers, candles or whale oil lamps, all lighthouses are now fully automated. Keepers no longer have to live in isolation for weeks at a time.

Islay, the most southerly island of the Inner Hebrides, lies to the north-east of the North Channel. Because Loch Gruinart and Loch Indaal cut deep into the island, the coastline is 155 miles long. The surrounding seas have long been hazardous to ships for there are hundreds of hidden rocks and reefs. Consequently, there have been many wrecks over the years.

One of the most tragic concerned the loss of the Exmouth Castle. After leaving Londonderry, the Rhinns of Islay Lighthouse was mistaken for that of Tory Island. When the ship wrecked in April 1847, 241 emigrants, men, women and children lost their lives. A memorial near Sanaigmore Bay is dedicated to their memory. Continue reading...

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