I’m just chilling out today, as we younger dudes say, after a very enjoyable cycle trip to Islay to catch up with my good friends Ian and Andy. The visit was the ideal way of seeing a part of Scotland which is so significant to our cultural heritage, including the production of some of the finest malt whiskies on the planet, and at the same time making up in some part for missing out on the hugely successful unconference back in June. To call it a cycle tour is a slight exaggeration as in actual fact most of the journey was by boat and some of it by train.
Setting out from Ayr on Wednesday I took the train to Ardrossan Harbour and boarded the ferry to Brodick. From Brodick I cycled the very hilly road to Lochranza which was basking in glorious sunshine as I waited for the short ferry ride to Claonaig. Another five hilly miles across the Mull of Kintyre to Kennacraig and I was ready to board another ferry for the two and a half hour journey to Port Ellen at the southern end of Islay. Arriving at around 8.30 in the evening my effort wasn’t quite finished as I had booked in to the Bowmore Hotel in the main town ten miles to the north. Fortunately this part of the island is pretty flat, although that coupled with the fact that this stretch of road is also very straight can make it feel like you are never getting there. The round church at the top of the hill was a welcome sight as I freewheeled into Jamieson Street and found my digs for the night.
On Thursday I left Bowmore and headed round to Portnahaven to have a coffee in An Tigh Seinnse, the best (only) pub in Portnahaven and one of the smallest in the world, and to take some pictures of the sandy bay where a group of children in wellies were playing along the water’s edge and a lazy seal lay sunbathing on a rock, posing for tourists. Stopping for lunch with Ian and Caroline at Port Charlotte I then headed to the distillery at Bruichladdich for a sample of the local produce (highly recommended) before making my way back to the hotel and the sanctuary of a hot bath.
After a bite to eat it was time to for a tour of some of the more remote parts of the island – this time in a four-wheeled vehicle – and a trip to the awesome Machir Bay to watch the breakers rolling in and the sky darkening as the rain clouds gathered. We retreated to the Bridgend Hotel for a few beers and a game of pool while we sorted out the Scottish education system and described with increasing clarity our vision for the curriculum in the twenty-first century.
I took my leave of Andy and Ian, as I was to be up early on Friday morning for the cycle back to Port Ellen and the same journey in reverse. I hadn’t been on Islay for much more than a day but I had seen enough of the island and the people to convince me that there’s something special there, and perhaps it’s best demonstrated by the fact that as you cycle the roads almost every driver gives you a wave, and not in the way they tend to on the mainland.
For more photos of the tour go to LiteracyAdviser on Flickr