We arrived at Glasgow airport
at 7am Saturday, September 7, and picked up our rental car at Avis. After finding out how to put it into reverse (pull up on the
gearshift knob, before shifting) we proceeded to Carmyle where we stayed at
cousin John’s until Monday morning, when we returned to Glasgow airport,
through the Glasgow rush hour, to pick up cousin Duncan and his sister Mary, who
arrived on an early flight from Sheffield.
Although they had been born and raised in Glasgow they had never been to
Islay. My wife and I were to be
their guides for our tour of Islay.
With Duncan at the wheel, we headed
over the Erskine Bridge, destination Kennacraig and the 6pm Islay ferry.
With hours to spare we headed up the east side of Loch Lomond to Cashel,
“The Forest for a Thousand Years”, where the previous spring our cousins had
planted an oak tree in honour of the McKerrell/Williamson family.
It took a bit of searching because in the intervening months ferns and
other vegetation had sprouted up, temporarily covering our small tree. We did find it however, took some photos and looked up the
site,” 2383, Amenity”, in the register at the visitors centre.
We had lunch, “a pie and a pint”, at a picturesque small hotel, The
Tullichewan, in Balloch, a lovely village at the south end of Loch Lomond.
We then meandered our way over to Helensburgh, on Gare Loch, near the
U.S. Submarine base. After stocking
up with a few essential breakfast groceries and a bottle of “l’eau de
vie”, we turned back up Loch Lomond, to Tarbet, where we took the A83, past
Arrochar and “The Cobbler” and over the “Rest and Be Thankful”, a
beautiful mountain pass. We took a
break at Inverary, on Loch Fyne, to stretch our legs and to do a little
shopping, before going on to Tarbert, further south on Loch Fyne. A short time
spent looking around a lochside shop in Tarbert still allowed us to arrive at
the ferry dock in plenty of time. We
enjoyed supper during the two hour smooth crossing to Port Askaig, arriving at
8pm, in driving rain. With Duncan
still driving, I navigated the twenty-one miles to Port Ellen, where we had
rented a flat from a fourth cousin we had discovered during our earlier research
into family history. The flat was
at the end of the Port Ellen ferry dock overlooking Loch Leodaimis and the town
of Port Ellen itself.
The next morning the weather
was still wet and windy so we stopped at Laphroaig distillery and scheduled an
afternoon tour. As the weather
started to clear we continued on up the coast to Kildalton Chapel, with its
medieval burial slabs and ninth century Celtic Cross. The final approach to this
serene site is over a rough single-track road, which is shared by pheasants,
sheep and cattle. Now the pheasants
and sheep are very good at “giving way”, but not so the cattle.
One particularly large beast absolutely refused to yield to our vehicle;
consequently we had to “crawl” past him.
On reaching the car park we noticed that all road dust had been removed
from that side of our car and the hinge on the retractable side view mirror was
clogged with long fibrous hair from his hide.
One of the other visitors, who had observed this battle of wills, told us
that his experience had been more threatening, as a large deer had leaped out
across the front of his car, just before he entered the single track.
We had lunch in the cozy bar
at the Machrie Hotel and Golf Club where we also purchased golf hats and other
items from their Pro Shop. I
couldn’t help but notice that their 18-hole green fee was now 35 pounds, up
from the 20 pounds I paid three years before.
Oh well, I hadn’t intended to play golf anyway.
As usual after finishing the tour of Laphroaig we shared a wee dram of their finest and then found the listing for our dear departed cousin, Robert in the “Friends of Laphroaig” Register. This is the Register that records all the Laphroaig customers who have applied for and been granted a square foot of Islay, on Laphroaig property. The company rents the property back from the “Friend” for an annual fee of one dram of their whisky, which must be collected in person at the distillery. We had applied on Robert’s behalf several years ago, unfortunately he never got to collect his fee.
The distillery manager, Ian
Henderson, took us into the boardroom to show us the portrait of Bessie
Williamson, the last private owner of Laphroaig.
My cousin’s last name was Williamson so they were very interested. The thought of a possible relative owning a distillery must
have been akin to what the Vikings felt when they thought of Valhalla. To date
it remains only a remote possibility.
Mr. Henderson advised us that
he would reach mandatory retirement age in November 2002 and would not only be
leaving the company, but the island as well.
He will return to Fife to pursue other opportunities.
evening we walked down School St. in Port Ellen, looking for the house where our
great/great/grandfather and our grandfather had been recorded in 1871.
That house number no longer existed, but we were told later that a new,
town numbering system was introduced at a later date which started at one end of
town and consecutively numbered houses without regard to streets.
We arrived for an early
dinner at the White Hart Hotel, only to find that the lounge bar at the hotel
usually didn’t start serving until 6:30, almost an hour away.
However, without any encouragement from us, they displayed the usual
Islay hospitality, and graciously opened early, just for us.
This hotel had been closed for a while and is still in the throes of room
renovations and such, however we ate three dinners there and were well satisfied
with the pub atmosphere, the food and the service.
After our meal we enjoyed a social
evening with our fourth cousin “landlady” and her husband, briefly
interrupted by the arrival of our daughter on the 8pm ferry. She had been teaching at a Music Conference in Stirling and
had a few spare days before returning to Canada.
The next day dawned cloudy
but quickly cleared. Our first stop
was at the Round Church in Bowmore, where we toured the church and the
churchyard, taking photos of a monument at the request of a family researcher.
We did some shopping at the Scottish Tourist Bureau, for gifts, books and
maps before heading for Port Charlotte and the Museum of Islay Life.
The Museum is a “must” every time we go to Islay.
It continues to expand in terms of artifacts and research capacity.
Irene, who was on duty that day, was as usual most cordial and helpful.
(We bumped into her the next day in Bowmore and had a delightful chat
about activities there.) After lunch, across the road at the Croft Restaurant,
we traveled on to Portnahaven at the western tip of the island.
village and the adjacent Port Wemyss perch on a rocky promontory, overlooking a
sheltered harbour and the Rhinns of Islay lighthouse which guards the harbour
entrance. It was September 11th
and we seemed as far as possible from the carnage of that day. Just as we were
thinking that maybe there was a place that wasn’t touched by that tragedy, we
encountered a lady out walking her dog. The
conversation started when we asked her the name of the wee dog. It was a Gaelic
name, which sounded like “Dochers”. Then she reminded us it was September 11th and she
told us how, at about 2pm the year before, a neighbour had telephoned her with
the news of what was enfolding in New York.
She spent the rest of the day, into the wee hours, in front of her
television, transfixed and horrified by the events, as was the entire community.
It makes you understand the term “
Global Village” .
Before driving away from
Portnahaven we made the acquaintance of a couple of English tourists who were
bicycling around Islay, as part of their island-hopping holiday.
They had gone from Ardrossan on the ferry to Arran, then by ferry to
Kintyre, leaving their car at Claonaig and bicycling to Kennacraig for the Islay
ferry. We would meet them again on the ferry from Port Ellen back to Kennacraig.
My best guess is that these folk were in their late sixties.
After dinner (at the White
Hart again) the five of us visited another distant cousin in Bowmore who was
awaiting us with his wife, two sisters, two daughters and his grandson.
We had a great evening of getting acquainted, occasionally interrupted by
a little Scotch sampling and healthy servings of tasty delicacies.
The following day, Thursday,
12th, was our last day on Islay so we wanted to make the most of it.
We made a brief stop at Tighcarmagan, on the outskirts of Port Ellen to
buy some pottery from Mrs. Kent’s shop. Unfortunately,
Mr. Kent told us that the kiln had been down for many weeks in preparation for
their move to a new house. New owners, from off the island would soon take over.
we went to Kilnaughton Cemetery to wander in search of ancestral monuments,
without success I’m sorry to say. An eagle cut circles in the brilliant blue
sky , as we leaned on the stone wall of the ancient cemetery, soaking in the
view of the sun-speckled sea and the beach at low tide.
Before strolling that wide expanse, we met and talked with a female
doctor out walking her “Scottie”. She
had practiced in England but had just retired to a new home near Kilnaughton
Bay. It was a glorious day! If only
we could have spent hours there, but we had to get on.
We headed for Ardbeg
Distillery for lunch. The two-room
restaurant, within the distillery had probably once held casks of their single
malts, but now the rough stone, white washed walls and high ceilings housed a
dining room, gift shop and whiskey tasting area.
As we waited for our orders, a group approached the table holding the
whisky and began to taste samples. My
cousin who was wandering in the general area was also offered a tasting.
Observing this another restaurant guest helped himself to a sample,
followed by others and myself.
I asked my cousin how he had
known the whiskey was for anyone to taste and he replied that he didn’t know
that. One of the people from the
“Tour group” had not wanted to drink the sample provided so had given it to
him. Oh, oh!!
Seeking clarification, we asked the hostess whether samples were for
restaurant patrons. To which she
replied, while trying not to notice the generous sample my daughter had just
placed in front of my wife, “No, sir, only for tour groups, but I’ll get you
a wee taste if you like.” “Oh,
no, that won’t be necessary, thank you very much!” was the unanimous
Our next stop was Finlaggan,
the ancient home of the Lords of the Isles.
I had been there three years before, on an overcast late afternoon, when
a breeze rippled the dark waters of the Loch and a smoky mist spiraled around
the stone ruins, making for a mystical experience.
But today the sun was shining and a large group of English tourists,
complete with talkative guide, preceded us onto the island. It will be the
memory of my first visit that I will always associate with Finlaggan.
After a brief stop at Port
Askaig, to see the Hotel, the Jura ferry and the Lifeboat, we returned to our
flat in Port Ellen, before walking to the White Hart for dinner.
We left the next morning on
the early ferry from Port Ellen. My
cousins and my daughter didn’t leave the deck until the island had disappeared
from view. They had been thrilled
by their Islay experience.
This had been my third trip
to Islay and it occurred to me that my attitude towards the island had changed.
The atmosphere and sights, that had once astounded me, were now familiar and
accepted. I hadn’t felt like a
visitor, I had felt at home. That
feeling was, in large part, because of the warmth and hospitality I had received
from the people, the Ileach. They
still astound me.