Decisions, decisions - do we carry on with Feis events and go over to the Caol Ila distillery for their open day or do we do our own thing. The deciding factor is actually tomorrow's plan. Tomorrow we hope to get up early enough to go down the bottom of the island to a wild area known as The Oa to join an RSPB walk. Trouble is the walk starts at 10 and although only 25-30 miles away it is getting on for an hour's drive. So we decide on a dummy run, let's go down and make sure we know the small road we need to turn on to, no time tomorrow to get lost. This means a trip down to the bottom of the island and the ferry port of Port Ellen, where we depart on Thursday.
Now along the coast from Port Ellen is a line of 3 distilleries, Laphraoig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg. Get any tourist guide of Islay and you will get the iconic shot taken from sea of these three pretty white distilleries all in a line. By road or foot (there is a tarmac footpath) it's a 3 mile flat trip from Port Ellen to Arbeg passing the other 2 en route. We do this. Stopping at Ardbeg to look at the gift shop for prices we take a complimentary sampler of the standard 10 year old expression, very peaty with an enormously long finish, I'm still trying it when we stroll into Lagavulin's gift shop. No samples on offer here, a much lower key visitor experience. I'm sure that had we asked we could have sampled but we'll leave that for another day.
By contrast, Laphraoig, the island's best selling brand, is all about visitor experience. A well stocked gift shop, a museum and a samples bar where I'm sure we could have sampled all 6 expressions on offer. I'm driving don't forget and despite these samples being less than a standard dram the whiskies are high strength, the special 2016 Feis expression (Cairdeas if my memory serves) being cask strength 56% by volume as opposed to the normal blended whisky's 40%. So I try that and Liz tastes the Triple Wood and we swap so we each get a taste.
Now Laphraoig are masters at the marketing game. Many years ago they introduced Friends Of Laphraoig, the idea being that on each bottle there was a unique number which you registered with them and, in return, you became the owner of 1 square foot of their peat fields, here on Islay. Pure hokum, of course, but here's the twist, should you visit the distillery and present them with your ownership certificate they will pay you rent, 1 dram. Actually in this case the 1 dram is a little 50cl miniature bottle of Laphraoig, a double measure to enjoy at your leisure. Now, a long time ago I sent in my magic number and got issued a certificate. Long lost in the intervening history, partly because I only did it to share in the joke. However at the distillery they have the first several thousand FOLs lovingly inscribed in copperplate in several large ledgers. My membership is old enough I could be there, certainly it is so old my Gmail or IVARC email addresses aren't on their system, so it probably predates 2004 when I moved off Pipex. I can't remember my Pipex mail account but wonder if my FOL even pre-dated email!!! An assistant tries to help but we can't find any trace of me on the system (not to say I'm not there, there system isn't geared for this sort of search). So no photo of my name writ in their annals sadly. However the assistant did inform me how to reregister there and then without needing a bottle and so claim my rent. Liz did the same and their printer churned out two nice certificates on decent quality cartridge paper. There is a small map showing the location of our adjacent 1' square plots. Laphraoig play this game well, there are racks of wellies to change into and flags of the world so you can wander out and stick a flag on your claim. Crazy, yep! Got to be done, hell yes!! We got as accurate as we could but the GPS was showing an error of up to 5m so apologies to anyone finding a Union Flag already in their plot.
Back to the visitor's centre to claim our rent.
That was fun, on round to Bowmore, which despite being on the coast is the centre of the island and it's largest town. Which means to say it has a bank and half a dozen shops. Any guesses as to what else it has? Did I hear someone say "Distillery"? Well done, someone's been paying attention. We look in but no tasters on offer unless we ask and we can't really be bothered. To reiterate, to anyone concerned over the state of our health, these tasters are, I'd guess between 1/3 and 1/2 a standard measure. With a taster each at Ardbeg and Laphraoig we'd consumed about one single whisky measure which would normally have the same units as half pint of beer; the higher strengths here may have pushed that up to 3/4 pint equivalent. Much more and I would be in danger of the stringent Scottish drink driving limits.
We did get a drink in Bowmore, a coffee! Back to the van for a chill (and for Liz to do the clothes washing - before there are too many feminist screams, I have been driving along holiday, we decided on role allocation early on), I've got blogs to write. But first The Times crossword, less than a hour. It's been a while since I could claim that. Dinner tonight is eating out, the campsite has a bistro. It is so good I write my second ever TripAdvisor review saying so. Liz and I both had a Chicken Supreme with bacon and pepperoni in a peppercorn sauce. Dessert was something called "Stairway To Heaven", a 3 different chocolate dish with islands ice cream. All washed down with a very nice bottle of merlot. Merlot?! Red wine with chicken?! The bacon/pepperoni meant it worked and only a reasonable red could have accompanied that dessert.
Sadly the day ended on a low. Whilst eating dessert a local police officer came in for a casual chat with one of the staff. Probably just a routine weekly visit, this is very much a community island. Overhearing the conversation it appears to many campervan and motorhomes had been camping where they shouldn't have at Bruichladdich. But far worse, at least one had dumped the contents of their chemical toilet over the grass. The bright blue toilet fluid is formaldehyde based and doesn't do much good to living material, without considering the effluent within it. Thoughtless and disgusting. Residents will focus on this not the tourist dollars brought in. I foresee many places being festoonex with No Overnight Parking notices. Scotland does have a right to access law which means you can legally camp on unenclosed land but that right does not apply to motor vehicles driving into the land. Currently a blind eye is turned in most places but the actions of one cretin can so easily influence the future for many. The policeman was saying that he hoped one day to catch someone in the act, the implication being the proverbial book would be thrown at them. I would certainly hope so, how can anyone be so stupid.
Actually sensible disposal of chemical waste is a problem, it obviously shouldn't be dumped but less obviously it shouldn't be poured down a toilet. Here in Scotland most sites will allow "non-resident" dumping, some for a small fee, others for free. Many sites have external disposal points that the public can just drive to to without even needing to inform the campsite, they also have points to dump dirty (grey) water and take on board fresh water. There really is no need for anyone to leave their byproducts out in public.