10 Port Wemyss to Eyemouth Other

Map 60 continued

Port Wemyss

Yesterday, as you might have gathered, was a special day. Today was up there with it. The weather again played its part, offering more of the same sunshine, bright skies and a stiff westerly breeze. And to do Islay justice we had given ourselves another night here, which allowed us to cycle all day today without any luggage. With a lot of daylight to play with, there would be no pressing deadlines and a rare chance to play things a bit by ear. As long, that is, as we fit in visits to probably my two favourite distilleries of all: Bruichladdich and Kilchoman.

After a leisurely start we rode all of two miles to the campsite cafe for a cooked breakfast. And then perhaps two more miles to Bruichladdich distillery, which was reopened in 2005 and has been a huge success story ever since. As well as making some excellent whiskies, they know a thing or two about marketing and I arrived wearing the cycling top that I bought here on my last visit (I have two, because I have been twice before!). I resisted the chance to buy more cycling attire today; but Jenni did make a purchase of a top that has all of the 22 ingredients of their Botanist gin written in Latin on the sleeves. Very clever. I also got to try a couple of distillery exclusive drams from this year’s Islay whisky festival (a trend I started yesterday), and as ever left feeing good about the world. It’s hard not to when you come here by bicycle on a nice day.

As ever the roads were very quiet as we did a loop up near Loch Gruinart, an RSPB bird reserve with a visitor centre and hides by the tidal wetlands. We saw a heron having a good feed and got very close to some swallows who had a nest in the eaves of the hide itself; but nothing we can’t see at home. But it was a very pleasant place to pass 15 very quiet minutes, right in amongst the lush wetlands.

Then it was time for a late lunch (Cullen skink again) in the excellent cafe at Kilchoman farm distillery, the smallest and youngest of Islay’s current whisky producers. They are proud that some of what they sell is 100% Islay, with the barley grown in their own fields around the farm. There aren’t too many places on Islay where you could grow barley at all, so I think they are pretty safe with this unique claim. Their whisky is also distinctive and I am very fond of it. They say it comes from barrels that have aged for an average of 5 years; but that could be anywhere from 3 to 7 years mixed together in any release. So you won’t see an age on any of their bottles.

People come from all over the world to drink expensive, exclusive whisky on Islay, often booked onto special tasting experience tours. I was quite upset to see that they were leaving behind unfinished drams in glasses on the counter. All of this has to be thrown away, the staff told me, which they agreed is heart-breaking. I made a point of visibly finishing every drop of all three of my excellent samples of Kilchoman’s produce.

We cycled back to our bnb for a short interlude before heading out again for the last loop of the island’s north western landmass. The main road (now single track) from Port Charlotte heads out along the edge of Loch Indaal, running south-west until there is no more land. Here, at the end of the road, stand two cosy little villages, Port Wemyss and Portnahaven, side by side, looking out to a large island crowned by a tall lighthouse. They are both made up of pretty white cottages with their doors and stone lintels around the windows painted different bright colours. A few small boats bobbed in the calm of the harbour, while waves crashed in at a safe distance. It was all very pretty in the evening light; but also eerily quiet. We saw one car and one person, walking a dog, in all the time we were there.

Port Wemyss

We took the smaller road along the north side of the peninsula back to Port Charlotte, which was much wilder and populated mostly by cows, sheep and hares. But it felt like a good rehearsal for the empty spaces of Jura, where we are heading tomorrow. Islay has been good to us. There is a big cycling event here tomorrow that will pretty much go to all of the places we have been. But without the whisky. I am happy that we did it our way. And I think I might just be back one day soon.

Loch Gorm

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