Day 6 |
May 15, 2010

Gigha And Port Ellen, Islay, Scotland

By Dr Toby Musgrave, Horticulturist and Botanist

Weather: Sunshine, partial cloud and occasional shower

It was a joy to draw back the curtains and to see that our first of four days exploring the Western Isles of Scotland was blessed with sunshine. Hopefully a good omen for the days ahead. We began our activities on the tiny island of Gigha (population c.320), which lies to the east of the Kintyre peninsula.

Disembarking at 09.30 by Zodiac, it was a short and dry ride to the slipway used by the ubiquitous ‘Cal-Mac’ ferries; and from here a mile-and-a-half walk to the delightful and secluded Achmore Gardens.

The verges along the road were studded with a wide diversity of wild flowers including primroses, English bluebells, herb robert, comfrey and red campion. However, within the garden the flowering display clearly demonstrated that the season was about three to four weeks behind the seasonal norm, a state of affairs brought about by the long and cold winter and spring.

The highlights of the garden were the stunning displays of rhododendrons, flowering in a great diversity of hues from the most delicate white to the deepest scarlet, all set within the tranquillity of the woodland garden. The viewpoint at the top of the garden also afforded a wide panorama out across the Jura where the famous three ‘paps’ or high hills were clearly (and unusually) visible in the distance.

Back aboard at 12.45, lunch was enjoyed during our short cruise over to Islay, the whiskey capital of the west of Scotland. The seven distilleries on the island are renowned for the very peaty and smoky flavor of the single malt whiskies they produce; and our afternoon’s exploration took us to three: Ardbeg, Bowmore and Laphroaig.

Landing at 15.45 in the delightful harbor of Port Ellen, we were greeted by a large grey seal that Conrad immediately christened Toby on account of its finely sculptured Romanesque nose.

My coach went to Ardbeg where we were given a fascinating and insightful guided tour of the premises, that not only explained to us how the malted barley was turned into the ‘water of life’ but also gave us a view of island life and the history of the distilling industry.

The tour concluded with a tasting of a dram or two of the 750,000 liters of whiskey that each year Ardbeg produces. With that it was back to the landing site by coach, a somewhat windy ride back to the ship, before Recap & Briefing at 19.00.

And now as I write this at 21.30, the weather has taken a turn for the worse. We are making our way up the west coast of Islay bound for Iona but it is chucking it down with rain and the sea state is about a two to three meter swell, which is making the boat pitch quite a bit. I for one am hoping things will improve…