Day 1 (Trip to Islay)

The Journey
Inverness to Loch Finlaggan
(265 km total ⇒ 5.5km walking)

Prelude Inverness & Skye

It wasn't the first time that I've been to both regions in Scotland. I had a pretty wild and drunken night back in 2012 in Inverness, on a highland trip with fellow Erasmus students of the University of Edinburgh. And I was on the Isle of Skye back in September 2013 where I paid a short two-hour visit to Portree.
Back in November 2012 at Culloden, picture taken by Adeline Ang
Now isn't that a face that only a mother could love?
So nihil nove sub sole, though now I had enough time to do a proper walk around the city and with the WOW Scotland tours, I got my fair share of great seafood, whisky (Talisker 10 and 18 at the excellent whisky bar of the Sligachan Hotel) and scenery on our 14h bus trip through the Western Highlands and Skye.
Red Cuillin at Sligachan Hotel
The Black Cuillin
The Quiraing


Travelling from Oban, the easiest way unto the Isle of Islay was the ferry route from Oban to Port Askaig. Once on the isle, I would have five full days to travel along the coast from distillery to distillery with large stretches of cliffs and beaches along the northern shores.
Seemed like a simple and straightforward plan, but the weather gods and the actual outlook of the isle intervened. The 5-day trip was cut short one day, paths that should have been taken were left untrodden. While reconstructing the route, it may look like I might have gone a bit mad, or maybe there is some pigeon-DNA running through my veins.

 The Actual Trip

My trip to Inverness and Skye remained largely dry, nothing out of the ordinary, with sunny spells and the occasional showers. Though the flood level of the River Ness gave away that the last weeks had been quite wet.


On the morning of the 16th however the skies turned grey, the mountaintops were covered by clouds rolling in from the sea and for the rest of the day I would experience all different sorts of rain. Thus the coach ride from Inverness to Oban proved to be a very dull: rain and fog can easily turn a magical place like the Highlands into a bore. Why Oban? Well as it was the easiest way to reach the isle from the mainland, the alternative: the Kennacraig/Port Askaig/ Port Ellen would require a much longer bus ride. Plus the scenery of the rugged shores of Kerrera, Mull and other smaller islets along the ferry's route are a true sight to behold.
But when I arrived in Oban, it seemed that the four hour ferry trip would not be worth its money. The Isle of Mull was shrouded in clouds, gloomy weather barred the sun, an orange alert issued by the meteorological services for the high seas and the people of Calmac could not confirm that my ship would eventually set sail for Colonsay and Islay.

The harbour of Oban before departure
The Sound of Kerrera before deparure

Well time to get some shopping done and collect some whisky miniatures in the tourist shops. I managed to find some single malts that I hadn't tried before like GlenTauchers, Glenburgie and MiltonDuff. Nothing to excited I hear you say and I'll admit, these will probably never appear in my personal whisky-top-10, but as in opinion it is always the best approach to try a new whisky as a miniature, a sample or just as a dram in a pub, instead of buying a whole bottle and regretting it later. Besides, I wouldn't have been able to fit a whole bottle in my already massive backpack without crushing my spine anyway.
A pity, cause in the Oban Tesco they had 15yo Mortlach and Longmorn from Gordon & MacPhail on sale. But I probably did manage to find the last Mortlach miniature on sale in Oban.

Glenburgie 10yo, Glentauchers 1990, Tullibardine Vintage 1993, Bladnoch 10yo, Mortlach 15yo,
 MiltonDuff 10yo, BenRomach 10yo and Glencadam 15yo
However half an hour before the ferry left port, the skies above the Isle of Mull cleared up and the sun broke trough the clouds. Around 16:45, without any further delays, we set sail on the old ferry ship called "The Hebridean Isles" to our first stop on the Isle of Colonsay.
The same Sound of Kerrera a few hours later
Aboard the "Hebridean Isles"
The views were stunning, though the strong winds were making it hard to move around on the ship's upper decks. But as soon as the ship reached the open seas, we became a toy for the sea gods to play with, heavy waves rocked the ship, setting of the alarms of the cars on the decks below. It didn't take too long before the first passengers got sick and I'll admit, I myself retreated to the lower decks, as I was sure I would soon join in, as it seemed to have set of a puke chain reaction.
I only left my chair to get some fresh air when the ship docked in the Colonsay harbour and as soon as we got into the calmer waters of the Sound of Islay.
A rainy Colonsay harbour at dusk
So by the time we had entered the Sound of Islay, dusk had already set in and except for the lower shoreline no further signs of the Ise of Jura could be observed. Safe to say that none of the pictures that I took on the chilly and wet after-deck were a success. So I'll just post the last two pictures of that day here. One of the Caol Ila distillery and one of Port Askaig's pier. They turned out to be a lot brighter than expected, as it was already dark by the time we docked in Port Askaig.
At least Caol Ila showed some signs of life.
Port Askaig, a small settlement best know for the bastard malt from Caol Ila
Half an hour later than expected we arrived at our destination and by God, was I glad I could set foot on some solid ground. Normally I love ferry trips, but this rough ride was a solid attack on my physical health, guess I don't have sea legs after all. The plan was to set up camp on the shores of Loch Finlaggan, a short walk from the harbour. But it proved to be quite the challenge in the dark being battered by wind and rain, a foretaste of what tomorrow would bring. Around half past ten I managed to set up camp near the path to the ruins of the old seat of the Lord of the Isles.
Made a pitch in the dark by torchlight, not a great start.