Sunday 16 October 2005
One last time, we drive through Bridgend and Bowmore, and over the moor to Port Ellen. We board the ferry and climb to the upper deck, where, out on the water, it is very windy, of course. We button up tight, although it is not really cold, and watch the whitewashed, black-lettered warehouses come into view, each in turn, as we sail up the Kildalton shore: PORT ELLEN
. The first drops out of sight as we curl out of the harbor; the rest fade into the haze a short time later. As Islay recedes from view, we go down to the cafeteria for coffee.
The A83 ascends the west side of Kintyre, past the ferry terminal at Kennacraig, before crossing over the narrow isthmus at Tarbert–the name itself means “isthmus”, and there are countless Tarberts and Tarbets in Scotland–and skirting Loch Fyne on the eastern edge of Knapdale. Knapdale’s three peninsulas extend west toward Jura like pennants flapping lazily in the breeze, each to the north smaller than the one to the south. Loop roads circle the larger two, forming a sagging backwards B. I haven’t been out these loops before, and there are some antiquities marked on the map I want to see.
The first of these is a display of carved stones at Kilberry. Most of them are grave slabs which have been collected from various parts of the Kilberry Estate and put under a shelter. We’ve seen better ones at Kildalton and Finlaggan, and drive away a bit disappointed. Unfortunately, we give hardly a glance to the nearby manor house, which apparently was a medieval castle, modified over the centuries, and still is a private residence, presumably for the lord of Kilberry. There is probably a lot more of interest than some weathered grave slabs here, but it is unavailable to the public.
No matter; what we really want to see is Castle Sween, a 12th-century pile around the next loop. Alas, at the turnoff at Achahoish, we find a sign reading “No through road to Castle Sween”. A closer look at the Landranger map shows the road between Ellary and Balimore is a decidedly minor track, and apparently it is no longer maintained. Disheartened, we give up on Sween and pull out onto the A83 again.
Up the road a few miles, we stop for a break in Lochgilphead. From a distance, it looks like a pretty town, sitting at the head of its bay. A closer look reveals it to be slightly shabby. But the park on the waterfront is very nice.
A few miles north on the A816 is Kilmartin Glen, an area with a wealth of archeological treasures. We see standing stones and burial cairns, including the spectacular remains at Temple Wood. A half mile walk up the road, we see a family emerging from a hatch in the top of a large cairn, and I immediately am reminded of the chambered tombs of Orkney. This cairn, however, has no proper chamber, just an added-in room in which one may view the small burial cist. I crawl in and allow the lads to photograph me.
There are more things to see in Kilmartin Glen than we have time or energy for–a museum in the village, and a nearby hillfort, to name two. After a couple hours tromping over the fields, we’ve had enough, and we drive back through Lochgilphead and on up the shore of Loch Fyne to Inveraray. It’s Sunday, and Loch Fyne Whiskies closes at 5:00. I’d hoped to arrive ahead of that, but the other lads, having blown their budgets in Islay, had already decided they didn’t really need any more temptation, so we’d made it a low priority. We pull into Inveraray at 5:05, and I’m pleasantly surprised to find LFW still open. The staff are engaged with two customers, and very shortly they are engaged with us. They assure us that they are in no hurry to lock up, and we may browse to our hearts’ content. One offers me a sample of a Signatory Brora in which I show an interest. These people are really interested in service! USAirways, take note. I reluctantly pass on the Brora, but have them ship a Port Ellen 3rd Release to my home.
Panoramic view of Inveraray, 2002.
Inveraray is a pretty little town, and, after checking into the George Hotel, we take advantage of the remaining hour of daylight to walk around and take pictures. Then I take an hour’s nap. I meet the lads in the bar, and ask about their room. I have the same one I had last year, looking out at a blank wall in back. They are looking out at Loch Fyne Whiskies, across the street. Crumbs.
The house is very busy this evening, but we shortly have a table in the charming, flagstone-floored dining room, and dinner is very good, as always at the George. After, we sit at the bar and have a blether with the young Australian barman. Here, at Glencoe, and in other places about the Highlands, it seems that all the service staff are young folk from Australia, South Africa, Canada, the US. They come for a few months or a year or two, for the adventure of living in a place as romantic and exciting as the Scottish Highlands. I imagine a few never go home. I wonder, over a Glengoyne 17, why I never thought to do such a thing when I was a lad.