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May 2008, Islay, Rathlin and round the Clyde and back to Islay

During this period we have had predominantly easterly winds with high pressure which thankfully means very little rain, but rather hazy so not good for landscape photography. The winds were quite strong at the beginning of May so we were stuck on Islay for a few days. This is no hardship as there is plenty to do! One memorable day we caught the bus to Bridgend for a lovely walk through woodland, moorland and by the shores of a lake, ending at the Islay Ales Brewery around lunch time. Unfortunately they do Bruichladdich Stillnot have a license and can only sell bottles for consumption off the premises, but the proprietor is very friendly and gave us samples of his tasty beer for which there is a voluntary donation to the RNLI of which we heartily approved. Returning to Bridgend we had a short wait for the post bus to take us on to Bruichladdich distillery for the afternoon tour. The short wait was a bit longer than expected, we assumed it was because the post bus also has post office duties on route so the timetable was "flexible", but when it arrived the driver immediately got out and calmly started to fill up the radiator using 4l of water! She had been doing this on and off all day and thought it was a leak in the header tank, rather than a problem with the radiator itself. But she got us to the Bruichladdich distillery in plenty of time for the tour to there was no problem.

Bruichladdich was built in 1881, but was closed in 1994, before being reopened in 2000 by a group of private investors. They certainly know how to promote themselves, and the tour was very jolly. As well as the conventional 10yr 15yr etc they have a range of special editions each packaged in a different patterned stylish tin. The tour guide said that some visitors buy one of each, but the hint didn't influence us! The whisky is less peaty than the distilleries in the south of the island, though one of the planned special editions is claimed to be even peatier than Laphroaig - it will be interesting to try when it is available later in the year.

The trip from Islay to Rathlin was through thick sea fog necessitating the use of the radar all the way to look out for ships. There was only one in the time we were out, and it was never closer than 6 miles so was not a worry. The fog slowly broke up during the day, the picture below is of Rathlin harbour looking south towards mainland Northern Ireland showing the southern arm of Rathlin just emerging from the fog which is still thick along the mainland coast.

Rathlin harbour in the fog

Rathlin is a short boat trip from Ballycastle, and as we arrived on the sunny May Day bank holiday, the pontoon was alive with tripper Male Eiderboats. Last year we did this day trip on the CalMac ferry from Ballycastle and vowed to return for a longer visit. As the last boat left peace descended and the island became a different place, much more like a retreat popular with artists and writers for which it is renowned. However the peace did not last; it was the courting season for Eiders and the harbour was a very popular spot for the males to display. They would swim round and round after the females calling continuously from dawn to dusk. However it was not overly loud and became quite soothing after a while. We had a couple of very peaceful days on Rathlin and enjoyed the walks out to the various lighthouses.

Rounding the Mull of Kintyre has a reputation for a rough passage if not respected as the tides are very strong as the water rushes through the narrow North Channel between the Mull of Kintyre and Northern Ireland to fill the Irish Sea. We picked our day and calculated an early start would give us the best conditions for the trip round to Campbeltown. The tide pushed us along at 8 knots over the ground at times (we normally average Little Owl4.5 knots), so arriving in Campbeltown with plenty of time to wash and dry the laundry, so saving us a domestic day. There is a new sports centre near the harbour in Campbeltown which provides showers and laundry facilities for visiting yachtsmen. However it was cheaper to have a swim & shower than just a shower, so our swim suits got an airing for their intended purpose rather than just for modesty during cockpit showers which is their normal function.

Our bonus non-domestic day was spent walking in the surrounding hills, and visiting the Scottish Owl Centre in the town. We were very impressed with the latter. The owls are in large cages with plenty of flying room, with live trees for them to roost in and other stimulating objects like the old telegraph pole for the Little Owl (right). The flying demonstration lasted over half an hour even though there were only seven people in the audience (it was mid week). Tim was at a distinct disadvantage being the tallest, as the huge Great Grey Owl swooped just over our heads during the display.

Our tour of the Clyde continued with a couple of nights at anchor in Carradale before continuing on to Lochranza (below) on the north west coast of Arran. This was one of our favorite spots, and we liked it so much we returned later in the week. The bay is open to the north west, and is also uncomfortable in strong easterly winds which whistle down from the surrounding high hills. But we were lucky with moderate easterlies making it a very pleasant spot. The ruined castle at the head of the bay is being progressively re-pointed, but only to prevent further deterioration and it does not detract from the romantic ruined appearance. All the gardens along the street are surrounded by high deer fencing, and this is not surprising as the deer are completely unfazed by humans and wander along the road, grazing the verges. They especially like the local golf course where the fence is low enough for them to leap over in order to get to the piles of grass clippings temptingly dumped in secluded corners.

Lochranza

Along with the castle and golf course there is much to entertain in Lochranza. We've been to the distillery (bottom left in the above picture) before, so had a trip by bus to Brodick the main village on the island and the ferry port. Here we visited the castle (right), but unfortunately the brewery in the castle grounds has just gone into administration and had no beer for tasting. Tim first came to Arran in 1980 on a school trip to the then newly opened field study centre in Lochranza. The wife of the pair who then ran the centre was one of the guides in Brodick Castle, she was most interested to hear his fond memories.

Tarbert was our next stop. From Lochranza it was a gentle sail up lower Loch Fyne listening to the first day of the Lord's test match against New Zealand. In the evening we treated ourselves to a delicious meal in a bistro in the town. A very pleasant way to spend our 15th wedding anniversary.

After a few more days it was time to leave the Clyde, once again around the Mull of Kintyre. This time the weather conditions were perfect for going straight to Islay. It is 46 nautical miles from Campbeltown to Port Ellen on Islay which is a long trip for us, but with the with the favorable tide and strong winds it only took us nine hours. As we rounded the headland the seas were on the rough side of moderate and the wind was F5-6, but as both were directly behind it was easy sailing with just the head sail poled out.

So now we are in Islay in plenty of time for the start of the week long Malt and Music Festival...