Ferry day today, two ferries to be precise, one to Bute/Kintyre, a quick drive across and a second ferry to Arran. We are up early - actually later than our original 7am alarm, set so we could phone Lucy on her birthday.
Plenty of time before the ferry so we pop in to Lagavulin to get a taste. We tasted two expressions, their standard 16 year old and their Distiller's Edition. The 16 year old is matured in bourbon casks for, well what do you expect, 16 years. Distiller's Edition is almost exactly the same but matured for 15 years, 9 months in bourbon and then a final 3-6 months in Pedro Jimenez sherry casks. The difference is amazing. The 16 year old is much less peaty than its neighbours (Laphraoig and Ardbeg) and the extra age adds a little more refinement. For the Distiller's Edition those few months in sherry casks change the character completely, a much fuller mouth, sweetness masks much of the peat but still the long finish in which the peat starts to assert. Wonderful, amongst my favourites of all the whiskies I've ever drunk. The downside is it is £75 a bottle compared to £45 for the 16 year old. Amazing that changing casks for a few months can command such a price hike so I ask. Apparently the sherry market is in steep decline, casks are in very short supply. Some sherry makers make money out of filling casks, pouring the sherry away without selling it and the selling the empty casks to the whisky trade. Whereas once a sherry cask cost £50 they now can command up to £2000. So folks, if you like the odd sherry tipple or enjoy a good trifle then buy more sherry, then perhaps one day I can afford a bottle of Lagavulin Distiller's Edition.
The crossing to Bute is, as all the others, uneventful and smooth. It takes just under two and a half hours. Now the ferry lands at Kennacraig and it is a little over 5 miles across to the opposite side of the peninsula to Claonaig where the ferry to Arran departs from.
This is where the day starts to unravel! Rather than drive directly to Claonaig we decide to drive 5 miles north to the town of Tarbert for fuel, also because the Kintyre Service Station does LPG and will fill our Gaslow bottle. Ah, I said "does" there, present tense. What I meant was the past tense - "did". That's past tense with regard to LPG and to fuel as the garage has closed down. It's raining, the last mile the road has had its surface ripped off ready for retarmacing and is a horrible drive which we have to backtrack along. Once back at Kennacraig the road to Claonaig is single track and we run into the group of cycle tourists that were on the boat and who have now spread themselves over a two mile stretch meaning finding a passing place each time we encounter one of them. Pain! Still we get to the ferry with just a 40 minute wait. This ferry is not bookable, it's turn up and go on the next one, they run every 75 mins during the day. They just about squeeze us on with the van being too tall to fit under the side gallery I have to drive carefully inches away from it the length of the boat.
We don't see much of Arran on the 25 mile drive round from Lochranza to Brodick (the main town) and on to Lamlash where we plan to stay at Middleton campsite. It is raining fairly hard and despite the dual lane road having resizable service it twists its way round the mountains and had an advisable 30 mph speed limit which i don't exceed by much.
Middleton Campsite is completely full. We'd have been OK had we booked two or three weeks ago apparently. The owner didn't look amused when I said we hadn't planned what we were doing two or three days ago! I asked for thoughts on alternatives, knowing there was at least one other site a few miles away and one back at Lochranza. She suggested finding a lay-by; no mention of other sites, no offer to phone one for us or even look up their numbers so we could phone ourselves. I was distinctly unimpressed and the site goes on that very small list I will advise friends not to use.
Back to Brodick, we park up and it is lashing it down, too wet to even walk the 50m or so to the pub for a coffee (nothing stronger as we have no idea how much more driving the day will require). Now I've had decent phone signal all day (and I'm writing this less than I mile away where I've got good 3g). In this particular car park neither Liz not I had internet phone signal, despite being on different carriers. To make matters worse my WiFi kept picking up and connecting to a BT Fon signal but this was frustratingly weak enough to allow log in but no further access
Grrrrr! We are on an island we've never visited before, it's lashing down with rain, we don't have a bed for the night and don't have any network connection to find one. Grrrr, indeed!
So we have decided that the fates don't want us on Arran so we drive to the ferry office and change our departure to tomorrow afternoon. I'm sorry shop keepers, restauranteurs and pub owners of Arran, none of my pension allocation will be coming your way. Blame the unhelpful owner of Middleton Campsite, Lamlash.
Actually the woman in the ferry office was much more helpful and suggested a car park in Brodick which is where we are. Parked up we did go to the local pub for dinner, if we get free camping then giving something back seems only fair. As we return a police car pulls out of the car park just before we get there. Nothing posted on our windscreen, let's hope they don't move us on in the night. The car park doesn't have any "No Overnighting" or "No Sleeping" signs but does say "Cars Only". Well the police know we're here, let's see what happens (the barman at the pub concurred with the ferry lady that we ought be OK).
I'll post the address where cakes with hidden files should be sent.