Wistful farewell to Islay, hello brash Glasgow!

Just Lerved! Islay. Let the Islay Pipe Band play us awa’….

(Recalling that there are only 3000+ folk on Islay….how they maintain their culture! How about a even having a pretty full looking, competitively successful Pipe Band!)

Drove to Glasgow on the A83, turning onto the A82 past Loch Lomond.

The oldest version of this song…


Glasgow is the largest city in Scotland, the third largest in Britain, and has a reputation for harbouring more industry, more poverty.

Having seen Edinbugh and numerous other cities, towns and villages in Scotland, Glasgow indeed presents itself as stressed, preoccupied, not thoughtfully caring of itself. The city streets we saw were dirty, littered, graffitied……was sure I was walking past two girls of the night in our first afternoon walk, then a couple who looked the unwell of drug addiction…..not unusual in cities, but the only time seen in Scotland previously. Our hotel was the only lodging in Scotland which asked for payment on arrival rather than departure, the only one to provide a facade only of “free wi-fi”, two days effectively off the internet😬. Indian dinner at the UK 2015 award winner for Indian Restaurant, how lucky!


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We had to miss Glencoe……

It was so dangerous to be a Jacobite (Jacobus being Latin for (King) James). It started when Catholic, Stuart, King James V11(England)/11(Scotland) was crowned in 1685. Fearing the country would become Catholic, in 1688, Protestants asked James daughter, Mary and her husband William of  Orange, to do the job. James fled to France. Within 6 months, dissent started in Scotland. Government forces were sent to Scotland, to control the unruly Highlanders.

In all, there were five risings by Jacobites, to try to reinstate the Stuart line. The last was at Culloden in 1745, with terrible slaughter of the Jacobites there, as well as afterwards.

Great further detail here.

Early after it all started, in 1692, the MacDonalds had not been prompt in pledging allegiance to the new monarchs, William and Mary. It was decreed that all men and boys under the age of seventy were to be massacred in order to make an example of the Clan to other Highland Chiefs. One hundred and twenty Red Coat soldiers under Robert Campbell of Glenlyon were billeted to stay with the MacDonalds claiming the barracks in Fort William were full. They were treated to Highland hospitality by the Clansmen; ceilidhs were held, games of shinty were played and all was friendly. On the morning of the 13 February 1692 the soldiers were ordered to fall upon the rebels killing thirty-eight MacDonalds . Another forty women and children died of exposure after their homes were burned.

The massacre really served to increase the numbers of Jacobites. As well, there was an inquiry which did find against the organizers, but not Queen Mary and King William. There has been a long memory regarding the appallingness of this senseless atrocity. The participation of some Campbells is not forgotten. The following song was written relatively recently in 1963.

John McDermott – The Massacre of Glencoe


For the fifty years of Jacobite uprisings and the following fifty years of Government repression, as it was so dangerous to be a known Jacobite that there was a secret code of symbols by which to recognise each other.

  • the rose and the rosebud representing the exiled King James and his heirs Charles and Henry
  • the white cockade, a rose-like white ribbon, sometimes worn on a blue bonnet
  • the butterfly, emerging from the chrysalis, representing the grand return of the Stuart’s from exile
  • Oak leaf and acorn – The oak was an ancient Stuart badge and an emblem of the Stuart Restoration. The oak is a symbol of restoration and regeneration.
  • the sunflower – a symbol of loyalty. The sunflower constantly follows the sun.
  • bees – representing the return of the soul, namely The Pretender
  • the medusa head, translates as protector


The 1745 rising was produced by the rashness and personal charm of the Young Pretender in the face of universal opposition of his supporters.

From Mum’s old text “The Complete Scotland”:

France could send no troops for the moment; the Highland chiefs were most reluctant to call out their men; the Lowland Jacobites were most unwilling to rise. The action was dramatic; victory at Prestonpans, occupation of Edinburgh, advance to Derby, retreat, success at Falkirk and ruin at Culloden. The Prince, after desperate adventures in the Highlands and Islands, at length escaped to France, and later to other adventures less reputable (d. at Rome 1788). Scotland remained to pay the penalty. The nobles lost their hereditary jurisdictions; the Highlands were ruthlessly policed; the wearing of the kilt was forbidden (until 1782). The hanging of James of the Glens (see R. L. Stevenson’s Catriona) is a commentary on the justice of the government.

Unexpected afternoon road trip gem!


We drove on after the woollen mill to Portnahaven, looking for a Celtic Craft shop. This involved driving around Loch Indaal which opens into the Atlantic. Full Gaelic name for Loch Indaal is Loch na dala, meaning loch of delay….shipping often had trouble getting into the loch and were delayed days or weeks.

Portnahaven on the end of the peninsula is immediately adjacent to the village of Port Wemyss (pronounced weems). These villages were artificially established to give crofters, removed by the Clearances in the early 1800’s, an alternative occupation i.e., fishing. They shared the Portnahaven Church, built in 1823 (still operating, and very well preserved). It will be noted that there are separate, adjacent entrance doors for each village, and the interior seating is also divided for each village….unbelievably quaint! Also treated to watching two Grey Seals basking close offshore….these guys are LARGE!

On the advice of the Craft shop man, we did a small loop back to the road, to see the view, descending off a hill, looking into the ruggedness of the Atlantic coastline, the sea glistening with sunshine. He suggested a longer, more beautiful drive back to Port Charlotte was to do another loop, rather than retrace back along the loch. Wow! What scenery. No cars passed, but cows and sheep on the road, lovely rolling hills and V-shaped pieces of ocean visible. Another treat was turning the radio on for 20 minutes and listening to BBC Gael, without understanding a word. Towards coming into Port Charlotte from the rear we encountered numbers and numbers of walkers. Joy informed us later,”Oh, yes! It’s Walk Islay Week!”

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A visit and tasting at Laphroaig

Cold peat smoke wafting up through the malt
Cold peat smoke wafting up through the malt
Digging and drying the peat, and replacing the top layer

This is our second tour of a whiskey distillery, the first having been the walking tour at Dufftown. Islay has nine active distilleries, with three close to Port Ellen. The old Port Ellen distillery is now a malt house suppying many of the island’s distilleries.

Islay’s whiskeys are known to be very peaty, due to using both the island’s peaty local water, as well as peating or smoking the malt. Driving across the island one can see a couple of areas, where the peat is being dug out of the moor with the distinctive digging shovel. Laphroaig say they take the second top layer…..not Soo ancient, and replace the top layer.

Two or three times, I mentioned to W, that I was sure I could smell chook feathers burning……..with hindsight, not certain fact, I am now sure I was smelling some aspect of the smoking process at the neaby Malthouse.

W is a serious whiskey buff, I am a tiny sipper, and early ceaser of tasting. I think whiskey must have provided a rousing pick-me-up on the colder, bleaker days in Scotland.


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Islay Woollen Mill….and The Traditional Great Kilt

The brochure said you couldn’t miss it, just outside Bridgend. Well, you could miss it, in the blink of an eye – a right hand turn down a rocky goat track, with no other reassurance you have found it till you peep in the door, and the attendant peeps back and greets….


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What a treat seeing the ancient loom in action, seeing bolts of beautiful fabric, seeing Marcus arrange all the colours of the warp on a huge spindle, which gets dropped through the upper floor, to the loom, where the weft is woven, by the noisy automatic machine. Off to the side is an even more ancient, no longer used Spinning Jenny – remember Grade 8 Social Studies? The Islay Woollen Mill has woven tartans for quite a few movies, including Rob Roy, Forest Gump, and Braveheart.

I bought one of these, colours of the Scotch Thistle, for the sofa.

Discover Islay Throw
Discover Islay Throw

Really like the Rob Roy tartan.

Rob Roy scarf
Rob Roy scarf

The Great Kilt

Let Jamie show you how a man puts on his kilt in the morning in 1743: A plaid is laid out, pleated by hand, then the man lies down on it, wraps the ends round himself, buckles his belt, and the remainder of the plaid is draped around the coat and pinned to the chest of the jacket.


Westering home to Islay…….


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From Oban, we westered to the ferry at Kenacraig. For obscure reasons, it was re-routed to Port Arisaig at the northern end of the island, rather than our destination at Port Ellen on the southern end. It was a happy occurrence, anyway, with Port Arisaig (remember Viking word endings?) being a dear little Port with not much township, followed by an orienting drive down to Port Ellen.

We stayed with Joy, owner of a B and B called Askernish. Our room was delightful and large. The house had been the local Doctor’s Sugery in not such distant memory – we had the Surgery Room and our bathroom had been the Dispensary. On the opposite side of the hallway was The Waiting Room! “The Doctor” had successfully treated many an ailment with the medicine in The Black Bottle. Joy says when she moved into the premises, many a local asked “did you ever find that Black Bottle, and work out what the recipe was?”. W was fairly sure the local whiskey would have been a prime ingredient!

We fell in love with Joy…would like to have bottled her and brought her back!, and Port Ellen and all of Islay. Those people of the West WERE canty and couthy and kindly the best. I knew they would be……

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(Sadly the population of Islay is in decline. The most recent census, taken in 2011, recorded 3,228 residents in 1,541 households. This was down 7% from the 2001 census, which recorded 3,457 residents in 1,479 households. This translates into a population density of around 14 people per square mile. For comparison, Eden in Cumbria, the least densely populated district on the mainland, has over 40 people per square mile.

Unaffordable housing and a lack of job opportunities have been the driving forces behind Islay’s depopulation and it is the young that are being forced out. Argyll and Bute council has been trying to address the former problem by building properties for rent in Port Charlotte, Port Ellen and Bowmore. After farming, whisky distilling is the island’s second largest employer and there are no fewer than eight active distilleries, with a ninth planned. Bruichladdich itself employs over 70 people now, making us the largest private employer on the island.

Islay’s population peaked at 14,992 in 1831. By 1900 it had halved, partly thanks to the enforced evictions of the so-called Clearances when estate-owners realised that farming sheep would be more profitable than acting as feudal overlords for indigenous farmers, and the decline has been remorseless ever since. Canada and the US were the most popular overseas destination for Islay’s emigrants.)

This and that….

It is Springtime in Scotland, so there are large areas of naturalized daffodils in flower on the roadside, mainly the bright yellows, but occasionally the buttery cream ones. Temperatures have been approximately 0 – 8 deg C.

Of course, the heather blooms in summertime, so with all the deeply satisfying beauty of the Highlands, I have not seen the heather in flower on the hillsides, nor, seen the flowers upclose. Notwithstanding this, I do not think I want to be here in summer due to even more of those pesky tourists being here…..they have been profuse here even at this time of the year.

(I am pretty sure my photo here, however, is a clump of early heather in someone’s driveway…..)image

Springtime has been lambing season, and it has been delightful to see fields of ewes with one or two frisky or resting lambs. The sheep have coats that are like layers of tulle skirt all ending at the same length….very appealing seeing the skiny stick legs protruding to the ground. The white faced, round- nosed sheep are cheviots. The black-faced, black legged sheep are Scottish Black-faced sheep. They all have to be very hardy to withstand the conditions, especially across the Roof.

The efforts of the USA with hybrid cars and buses, and their first Tesla car going on sale, and that of Scotland and England with clusters of windmills, not untastefully dotting the landscape, and no coal stacks polluting, are noticeable differences with Australia. Step up, Australia!

During the last ice age in Scotland, only from about 24,000 to 15,000, Scotland and a lot of England were covered by ice a mile thick, with Tundra further south. Under the crushing blanket of ice, the landscpe was compressed. Of course, that is exactly what the mountains in Scotland look like…….that their peaks were squashed down into round domes.


I WOULD WALK (drive!) 500 MILES!….Scotland’s Route 66!…..The North Coast 500, Day 1

We did our NC500 reverse to this....
We did our NC500 reverse to this….


If we had to choose a highlight, driving The North Coast 500, now named one of the 6 best coastal road trips in the world, would be one. Mainly the road was single lane, with quaint pullover areas to allow passing of vehicles, called “Passing Places”.

(I will also take this opportunity to state that even though roads in Scotland are narrow, and cars numerous, driving behaviour has generally been orderly, and of course, it is so comfortable that driving is on the LEFTHAND side of the road! )

We had several delightful encounters with Heelund Coows and sheep, but no deer, no otters, no red (endangered) squirrels.

The light and colours of the landscape and sea were breath-taking, and ever-changing….truly a new, spectacular view around every corner. I love views where the distance and landscape or horizon fill all of the vision….rather than all that close work and short-medium vision we use so much of in day-to-day life. It is my personal assessment that this does something very refreshing for the brain and the soul.

We stayed at The Strathy Inn, formerly, i.e., 200 years ago a Coaching Stop and Inn, run by a family who live there. Strathy is about 20 miles west of Thurso. Scotland was at its coldest in these nether parts….about 5degC daytime, plus wind!

There was one other guest, who arrived shortly after us….I saw the motorbike pull in (a Honda Goldwing 1500, 1988, for any who need that detail), and the youngish man walking to the door. I elbowed W and said, “Here comes Ewan McGregor, doing the Long Way Down!”. ( Ewan McGregor rode on his bike from John O’Groats in Scotland to Capetown in South Africa.) I later related my comment to the young man, Daniel, who said, straight off the cuff, “Oh, no! I’m much better looking than Ewan McGregor……”.

(He was doing a road trip, though, specially released/blessed by his wife, and heading for the ferry to the Orkneys…sigh!)


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Culloden….Wow!, The Clava Stones, and my attempt to reach Jamie Fraser!

We stayed in a B and B owned by Neil in Dufftown, an unusual character who cooked us a great breakfast. His other guests were Ben, a new GP and his brother Caspar, a Philospher doing his PhD. We had great exchanges with these two, really nice, clever, animated guys.

The day involved going to The Culloden Visitor Centre which processes you through a great deal of well presented information, before walking out on to the Moor, including throwing you into the centre of a room with a full reenactment of the battle in film on four walls…..for over 18 year olds. Fantastic, though no heads or limbs were lost, which there would have been in 1746…..we were the only a few days short of the 270 year anniversary.

The battle only lasted an hour, with some 1500 Jacobites lost, with a small loss only on the English side. Very moving (and very cold and windy). The Jacobites were exhausted already when they went into battle, the English fresh and strong.

Post-script 01.10.16, interview with Diana Gabaldon where she describes Culloden and Gettysburg as the two of many battlefields that she has visited, as haunted…..

Anne, too, described a similar experience to John. That Scottish fey, again……


The Clava Stones were great to see, some 3-4000 years old. Tickled I got to do my Claire Beauchamp take-off, trying to fall back to 1743, to find Jamie, of Outlander fame. Meryl put me on to Outlander Series 1…. seen it three times, now! Series 2 has just started screening in Britain. I intend to read the books (1-9) by Diana Gabaldon, too.

Culloden Field

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The Clava Stones

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