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Late June 2017 - Islay, Gigha and Tayvallich

Back in Port Ellen on Islay for the second time this season saw us struggling to find new entertainments as gales or strong winds from the east, north and west blew through for over a week. During the westerly gales we opted to catch the bus to the north east corner of the island and go for a roundabout walk across the moorland and woodland to the Bunnahabhain Distillery (see banner and more pictures). Unlike the other distilleries, Bunnahabhain is not on the bus route, but at the end of a 3 mile single track road which meant we had not bothered before now. As it was a new distillery for us we decided to join the 11.30 tour. The group included two Scots, a Swede and a small touring party of Chinese. Only one of the Chinese spoke any English, but this did not appear to detract from their enjoyment - but that may have been because they had been enthusiastically sampling drams before the tour started. We left off the spirit until after the tour which was at least after mid day! As we started back along the road to the bus stop, they stopped to offer us a lift, and even with only one english speaker we got famously. As we drove along the Sound of Islay looking over to Jura, they were amazed at the wide open spaces and sparcity of houses. They could not believe when we said Jura had a population of ~130, thinking we meant 130 thousand, but they were from the cities so the mistake is understandable.

Having ticked off Bunnahabhain, we had to do the tour of Lagavulin, the only other distillery on Islay we had not so far done. The reason being it is part of Diageo and its neighbours Laphroaig and Ardbeg being much more interesting. However the guide was very entertaining and we were given very fancy glasses as part of the tour. This means we have collected 8 new whisky glasses this season!

The rest of our frustrating week we did get out for a couple of walks. The first was along a couple of lochans where we hoped to see red throated divers, these were not in evidence, but a small flock or redpoll (below left) made up for that. Another day we went for a shore walk and were rewarded with great views a family of stonechat (below right).

Finally the strong winds abated, and the rough seas subsided and we were able to cross the Sound of Jura to Gigha. This was the only inhabited island on the west coast that we had not yet visited. Gigha means "God's Island" but the weather was overcast and gloomy while we were there so it was not looking at its best. We climbed to the summit of the island (below) which is only 100m above sea level so not strenuous exercise. At the top, an engraved pedestal pointed out the sights we could not see, on the left is Jura and the right Kintyre.

Summit of Gigha looking north

The following morning we moved on. The wind was from the north west giving us a lively trip well healed over (see more pictures) as we sailed northwards to Loch Sween and Tayvallich (below).

Tayvallich (above) is a very sheltered bay at the north end of Loch Sween in the heart of Knapdale in Argyll. The loch is 7 miles long and we had not visited since 2007 (see Early Aug 2007 ) when we anchored in the Fairy Isles. It is a pretty area with a series of steep north-east to south-west ridges that form fingers running out to sea. The land is covered in oak woods and between the ridges are fresh water or sea lochs. As an indication of the beauty of the region, over the five days we were there the cruise ship "Lord of the Isles' and the Clyde Puffer 'Vic32' both anchored in the area. It was fun to watch the Puffer anchoring as the exhaust from the steam powered anchor windlass blew out the side (right). "Lord of the Isles' arrived in the late evening after we had gone to bed. The sound of their anchor chain rattling overboard was very loud through the water and had us leaping out of bed in alarm as it sounded as if it was just next door.

It is a popular anchorage, and on one sunny evening a neighbour decided to start practicing their flute. We were not the only ones to enjoy the music as a dog from another yacht joined in making it a flute and howl duet. When the flute stopped, so did the dog, when the melody started again the dog howls joined in a couple of bars later. It had us in stitches, but clearly the flautist was not impressed as they gave up after about 15 minutes.

Just south of Tayvallich is the Taynish National Nature Reserve. Here, as well as the pristine oak woodlands are grassland, scrub and heath each home to a host of plants and animals. This frog (left) ambled across the path in front of us, very well camouflaged against the gravel. As we ate our picnic lunch a pair of spotted fly catchers entertained us as they flitted around after flies to feed their fledgling who sat on the fence looking helpless. Unfortunately it was a very good day for files and these quickly found us and drove us to keep walking.

The sail from Tayvallich to Ardfern was a complete contrast to that from Gigha. The wind was directly behind us and we had the whisker pole rigged to hold out the yankee (for the first time in a couple of years) as we goose-winged northwards. We were amazed to watch a yacht beating the other way, into the wind and against the tide - some people are gluttons for punishment. Hopefully after a couple of days to catch up with domestic duties we'll be off north towards Mull and the small isles.