10 July 2012

Day 4: A swim & a bottling

Still in Port Ellen. It's not that the weather is bad & we can't go anywhere, it's just that we like Islay & there's lots to do.

This morning started with a very respectable 8:30 wake up call from Hannah. Then after a post-breakfast pyjama dance on the deck (the kids, not us), we got dressed, made sandwiches & headed for the 11am bus to Bowmore.

First stop is the Mactaggart Leisure centre. Hannah has been talking about the "distillery swimming pool" (it's beside Bowmore distillery, not a swimming pool full of whisky) for a number of months now, in fact, since we visited here last year. There's only us and one other family in the pool & after Rebekah's initial uncertainty, we have a lovely swim. It's a standard swimming pool, nothing special, except that it's heated with the waste steam from the distillery next door & it's owned by the community. It has just celebrated it's 21st Birthday & Dave Cam would be proud of this example of "the big society", although I'm not sure he'd have too many fans on Islay, so don't rush over for a dip Dave.

Splish, Splash, Splosh!

Shower, Dry, Dress!

Then it's off to catch the bus to Bruichladdich. Bus is perhaps an exaggeration, it's the post office minibus & it seats 8. There are 11 of us at the bus stop. We sit the kids on our knees & leave one poor soul behind. A sign states that "Seatbelts must always be worn" but in invisible ink below, it must say "But you're a wimp if you do". Not a single person bothers & we just cling on to seats, children & bags until we reach our destination. I love island life with it's lack of health & safety and it's laid back timetables. Nobody ever seems to be in a rush, it's a different pace & we like it.

The bus stops right outside Bruichladdich distillery, I get the buggy out of the boot & hope I've closed the boot properly, as the bus departs without anyone checking. It struck me that it's alien to us that (as grown adults) we would be trusted to close a bus door properly, without the health & safety police insisting that the bus driver checked we had done it correctly. But again, this is the joy of island life. You get to be a grown up, take risks & accept the consequences. In fairness, had I not closed the door properly, the worst that would've happened would be an old woman's weekly co-op shopping would've dispersed itself all over the road to Portnahaven, hardly life & death.

We arrive at the distillery about 2:15 & about 2 minutes after the previous tour has started. But since we have to wait until 16:50 for the next bus back anyway, we decide to wait for the 3 o'clock tour. There's a lovely, big, well stocked, bar/shop/reception area & we're easily amused for 45 minutes until our tour starts.

Without doubt, this is the best distillery tour I've been on. Informal, yet comprehensive & we were allowed everywhere. From the still-in-operation grain weighing machine from the 1800's, to the storehouses & the bottling line. And all rounded off with a "just ask for a taste of whatever you fancy" tasting session at the end. They even plied the children with stickers & colouring in pages, while we tasted. Superb!

With the tour, you get a £5 off voucher, which of course Chris insisted we spent - it would be rude not to! I opted for a bottle of Botanist gin (this is where it's made) and Chris spent his bottling his own Bruichladdich single cask (only 400 bottles) "Prometheus"...as an investment I'm told.

If you visit Islay, this is one not to miss & they'll let you take the kids round on the tour, which some don't. I just hope the news that they're being bought over by Remy Cointreau won't change the ethos & charm of the place, it would be a terrible shame.

All full of Whisky & Gin, we catch the bus back to Port Ellen. By now we're all a bit hungry & the girls are a bit sleepy. We walk straight off the bus to the Cyber Bistro up the side street after the co-op (it's well signposted). Don't be put off by it's modest exterior & simple decor, the food is good, the staff are friendly & it's well worth a visit. Certainly beats The Islay Hotel for value for money! The kids had the usual sausages & chips and fish & chips and they hoovered it all up. I had scallops for starter, Chris had crab cakes. Both were fresh & tasty. Then we both had burgers for main, which for £5, were nothing to write home about, but tasty all the same.

Now beyond-full of food, we walked slowly back to Whisper, watched a couple of episodes of "Mike the Knight" & put the kids to bed. Chris is currently engaged in his latest hobby, reading reviews of Islay eating establishments on Tripadvisor.

The wind is picking up & it's getting cool up here in the cockpit. Time for another cuppa methinks...

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