The Magical Whisky Tour

We’ve just been on a week’s holiday to the Kintyre peninsula, Islay and Jura; me, K, my parents and her parents. The weather was in turns awful and glorious: awful as we relaxed in our private sitting room in the Islay B&B, or bared our teeth into the early-morning mist, rain and winds around the coastline of Jura; glorious as we laboured back up the hill from the Mull of Kintyre light-house, or wandered along the coast at Port Ellen.

While it’s certainly no trip to a buzzing metropolis – I think some of us were having symptoms of withdrawal from John Lewis by the end of it – it was certainly a beautiful, rich experience, and gave us an insight into a way of life that’s rare these days and can only ever get rarer. The sole, tiny, one-pub, village-stores town of Craighouse on Jura gave me a glimpse into how other people still live; while I could never manage myself so far from civilization, it did affirm to me that there are other options. Life can still be lived, and lived fully, off the grid, inconveniences and lack of home comforts notwithstanding.

The whisky tours were also enlightening. Springbank/Glengyle’s cheeriness and engagedness contrasted sharply with the slightly – and sadly – down-at-heel nature of their home of Campbeltown; our heart went out to somewhere with so much promise, and such friendly folk, that was so neglected. The atmosphere of Jura’s tour was oddly flat, as if to confirm the fact that the actual experience of drinking its whiskies – nice as they are – contains a much greater fraction of marketing and Celtic imagery than that of other brands. Lagavulin’s tour, in contrast to either, was amazing: we paid extra to follow it immediately with a warehouse tasting, which included a dram of the most expensive whisky I’ve ever drunk: £50, in a high-street pub; all part of the £18 experience, from a cask in Lagavulin’s stores.

My spending of more than two days with family usually ends up fraught, but while I couldn’t say we didn’t argue, it was still a pleasant surprise that there were no major fights, despite my Dad’s argumentative efforts. In fact, apart from dropping one clatteringly sexist clanger (to which K. rather generously ascribes somewhat better motives than I do) he was considerably less grumpy and obstreperous than usual. Towards the end of the holiday I was trying a little harder to be nice to him and include him in conversation, as K. rightly says that there’s a tendency for everyone to pile on him sometimes. I must one day square: my own complex love and easily heated irritation with this great bear of a man; with everyone else’s easy friendship with him, the charm he must give off to his peers and acquaintances.

Despite the islands’ lack of trees and hence birds, it was still a wild trip in more ways than one. Two enormous stags, antlered to the heavens, greeted us from their munchings in a clearing, as we passed out of Tarbert in the Kintyre peninsula; oystercatchers picked their way over shingle at the head of Campbeltown Loch; rabbits and a heron lounged by our B&B on Islay; a starling was trapped in our landing one night; and the whole island of Jura has a communal pet cat. Rather appropriately, this cat is a kind of mercurial peaty colour; its coat is heavy and coarse with salt; and it’s cheery and friendly towards newcomers and those partial to a dram. When I get the Sunday blues later tonight, I will try to picture that cat, gazing out from Craighouse towards the mainland, uncommonly happy with its lot.

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