Walk to the American monument on Islay

The American monument

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

An excellent short walk of about an hour on the cliffs to the American monument perched on the cliff tops. Warning – do not attempt this walk in the mist as it easy to walk off the cliff tops!
Park in the car park on The Oa peninsula. You can see the monument on the cliff tops ahead but this is a triangular walk. Walk down the track and turn left round some houses. You get a good view to your left over the coast line and a large waterfall down to the beach. The track gives way to a path that is well signposted through some metal stiles. If you can’t see the signs through the mist you should turn back now because it will too dangerous to continue. You soon reach the cliff edge and turn right to follow the edge along. Eventually you climb up a little way to the large monument commemorating a ship wreck in the First World War.
The path back is well trod and goes direct back to the car park.
On this walk you should look out for choughs with their red legs and beaks and unusual cry.


Whisky galore!

Whisky galore!

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

Going on a birdwatching and rambling trip to Islay brought out some long passion for Whisky.
There are eight distilleries on Islay and one on Jura next door which I have to say is one of the best for my taste. Each distillery has its own flavour and characteristic even though they use very similar water and peat resources.
Nowdays the malt is brought in from the mainland. Some of the more traditional distilleries have a proper malting floor where the malt is left to germinate – the insoluble starch turns into soluble sugars and then the maltings are smoked to arrest the germination. Cutting a long story short the malt is milled into grist and then mixed with water to form a mash. After fermentation the wash is transferred to the distillery stills for the distillation process. The shape of the stills is unique to each distillery and they are a joy to see. Large copper canisters with huge funnels.
The whisky is then transferred to oak barrels from America that have been used for bourbon or in some cases to sherry barrels. This is the maturation process where the whisky has a long rest and is then sold commonly as 10 year or 15 year old whisky. It takes on some of the characteristics of the wood in the barrel which also imparts a colour to the otherwise clear liquid.
The taste is peaty as one would expect. Peat is used in the malt smoking and drying process and also tints the water. Sometimes adding water brings out the flavours although many whisky geeks would sneer at the idea of adding water.
Touring around the distilleries is very interesting. They are unique buildings in prime locations and even if you don’t do the tours it is worth checking out the scenery.
My favourite is the Jura whisky which has a mild peaty flavour with a fine finish.

The Harbour restaurant, Bowmore – Isle of Islay, Scotland

Port Ellen rainbow

Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

The restaurant is just off the quay and very tempting on a wild windy night on the Island. The view of open fires and congenial atmosphere beckons through the windows and the blue sign hanging above the door wafts too and fro in the night air. Once inside we sprawl over a comfy settee in the lounge and turn our backs on the harbour lights to see what’s going on inside. Two large family groups were making friends and chatting and with a couple of stellas in our hands we looked through the menu. I went for the mussels from Loch Etive steamed in white wine with saffron, garlic and cream(£6.95) whist Mrs Rambler went for the smoked salmon and cream fraiche with herb sauce(£7.50). I decided to stick with the fish theme and opted for the grilled Sea bass with olive oil, onion garlic tarragon and roasted peppars(£18.50). Mrs RR went for the scallops on a vegetable basket of celeriac puree on lemon and buerre blanc (£19.95). A half bottle of Muscadet sevre and maine 2005, Chateau de la penission(9.85) seemed the appropriate accompaniment.
Whilst we waited we looked at the Birds of Islay book nestling under the coffee table and admired the brilliant pictures within that I hoped to aspire to with my camera. The family group wished one of their number a Happy Birthday and as it was Mrs Rambler’s birthday as well we almost joined in.
After we finished our drinks we were taken into the compact dining room and I really enjoyed my starter. The mussels were tasty and although small there were plenty to satisfy as a starter. The sauce wasn’t too creamy either so a total success. The smoked salmon was strange as it came unusually as a slab and was a little disappointing.
My main course of sea bass was a hearty meal. There were generous tasty fillets that went well with the peppars and sauce. There were plenty of boiled potatoes served in a separate dish to accompany the fish. The scallops were also good and looked good on the basket of vegetables and the celeraic puree was delightful. I mashed some of the potatoes into the sauce at the end of the meal to make an excellent finish.
We were both rather full so although I was tempted by hot chocolate and ginger souffle garnished with strawberries and basil ice cream and other delights including a large cheese board we resisted. As we were next to the Bowmore whisky distillery there was also a range of coffee and whisky delights on offer but the problem of driving home meant that this too had to be shelved.

5 stars to the Harbour Inn although a little pricey.

Isle of Islay

Port Ellen Sunset
Originally uploaded by Mr_Chips

Just been on a trip to the Isle of Islay (pronounced Il-lah) for a spot of rambling and bird watching. This is one of the southern most islands of the Inner Hebrides and is a great place for birding.
It’s remote. After driving up past Glasgow it’s a long way on ‘A’ roads twisting around past all the lochs to reach the port of Kennacraig and then its over two hours on a boat to the island.
We arrive in the dark and stayed at a self catering cottage in Port Ellen. It was exciting to wake up in the morning to find we were staying yards from a remote beach with only oyster catchers for company. If you are not a birder you need to know that oyster catchers are waders with long red beaks and they roam around at low tide trying to find tasty things to eat.
The island is the holiday home not to English tourists but thousands of barnacle geese from Greenland. They spend their days grazing on the grasslands around the island and one can spend many happy days looking at them through binoculars trying to spot the odd pink footed goose that come down in smaller numbers. Each estuary around the island is a haven for many other water birds including many waders and divers. There are eagles though I didn’t see one, hen harriers, buzzards and other raptors. The beaches are great for watching the world go by and beach combing. If its raining take a tour of one of the several whisky distilleries for Islay is one of the best places in Scotland for malt whisky. My favourite is Ardberg but go for at least a 10 year old.
I shall post some more blogs on walks and places to eat for the ravenous ramblers amongst you so keep your eyes on this space.