Week in Review: Week 28
This week was full of fun adventures around the Isle of Islay. And when we say adventures, we basically just mean distillery visits. Islay is known for some of the best scotches in Scotland, so we had to explore the distilleries during our time on the Isle! We made it to all 8 of them, plus one more that will become the 9th distillery on the Isle. Our time on Islay was so fun, we cannot wait to come back again some day!
Highlight of the week
Sharleen: Staying at the Islay House. We booked our stay at the Islay House as our only splurge of our trip. It’s a beautiful Grade A estate on the Isle of Islay, and looks like something straight out of Downton Abbey. We had an amazing stay there! The customer service, hospitality, delicious meals, beautiful décor, and cool house history all made our stay incredibly special. We loved our time on Islay, and a big part of why was because of our stay at the Islay House.
We decided to treat ourselves since we had managed to secure seven UK house sits, and because the other accommodation options on the Isle of Islay were all relatively pricey anyways. Our ferry arrived on Islay way earlier than expected, so we popped into the Islay House around 9:00am to see if we could check in early. We were hoping to be able to check in around 1pm, but they were so awesome and let us go to our room right then! Not only that, they upgraded us to one of the nicest rooms on the property – the Thatcher Room. To put it in perceptive, I think we paid $150 Canadian a night through Bookings.com for the cheapest room in the house. The Thatcher Room was listed for £270 (about $500 per night) and is also the room that Margret Thatcher stayed in when she visited the estate! The room was very fancy and gorgeous. We were so happy they checked us in early, and then to get upgrades just blew us away. We had a huge clawfoot tub as well, which overlooked the water and was amazing for sunset baths.
We experienced awesome customer service throughout our stay there. Another example was a behind the scenes estate tour we got one evening while we were enjoying a drink in the bar. The estate really is like Downton Abbey, there are bell pulls in every room that are connected to a bell board downstairs by the kitchen. Back in the day servants would know exactly who was ringing a bell because they all had their own unique ring based on the size and shape of the bell. There were easily over 30 bells, and the bell board was such a cool thing to see. There were also rooms that were traditionally for servants and for the Lord and his family. The house was also full of secret doors and passageways. It has only been a hotel for 2 years, so a lot of the rooms are not renovated and part of the hotel yet. That made the tour even cooler, as we got to see parts that have looked untouched for decades.
Darrell: Laphroaig Distillery Tour. This distillery tour was quite special for a number of reasons. Laphroaig is one of the best know whiskies in Scotland, maybe the world. It’s a classic! Our tour gave us the opportunity to see how this magical peaty liquid was made, but also gave us an opportunity to taste three special single cask scotches. Then, at the end of our tasting, we were able to pick our favourite cask and bottle our own 250ml bottle to take home with us. It was such a cool experience!
We have visited 12 distilleries now, and done numerous tours and warehouse tastings. Something about this one seemed so classic and special though, and it was great to pick and bottle our favourite at the end.
Laphroaig also has a program called “Friends of Laphroaig”. The history of this program dates back over 110 years, when a new distillery tried to copy 100% of Laphroaig’s recipe to replicate the whisky’s flavour. They even diverted the water source to use the same water! This effort was unsuccessful for many reasons. but Laphroaig didn’t want to go through the same issues again. They purchased all of the land around the stream leading to their water source. Since they do not really have a need for this land now a days, their Friends of Laphroaig program gives Laphroaig lovers an opportunity to own 1 square foot of land on their property.
It sounds super cheesy, and we really didn’t think anything of it. But our tour was really fun, and we were already there, so we decided to sign up and find our plot of land. In the busy summer months we could only imagine how crazy this would be - with hundreds of tourists looking to sign up and stomp around a field. We were happy to be the only ones there so we could take our time and enjoy our adventure. We printed our certificates, which included our plot gps, and headed to the Laphroaig bar. Part of being a Friend of Laphroaig means that you get to collect a dram of “rent” each year when you visit the distillery. So we took our little dram bottles out with us as we tried to find our land.
It was relatively easy to follow the directions, and to be honest the fields aren’t labelled so who knows if we put our little Canadian flags in the right spot! But the experience was really fun, and made the whole tour and our time at Laphroaig very memorable.
Least favourite part of the week
Sharleen and Darrell: Early ferry ride to Islay. We had a 2-hour ferry ride over from the mainland to the Isle of Islay. Since we were staying in Oban, we had to drive about 1.5 hours south to catch the ferry. There were multiple ferry times throughout the day so we were not concerned with catching one, especially with it being off-season. There was a ferry terminal right in Oban so we went there to buy tickets the day before, as with a car it’s easier to have your tickets in advance. The lady said there was a lock on the times and she couldn’t book our tickets. But she gave us a number to call so that we could do it over the phone.
We really didn’t think much of it until later that night. Sharleen called the number and it turned out that all of the ferries, except for one at 6 am, had been cancelled due to poor weather conditions! At first the agent told us there was no room left on the 6am ferry, likely because they needed to save room for essential services like mail and groceries, but he was super nice and understanding and let us buy tickets. With a 6am ferry ride (with last check in being 5:30am), and a 1.5 hour drive, we had to leave our place by 3:30am. We both had a crappy sleep because we were nervous we wouldn’t wake up, so we had maybe 3 hours of sleep each. But we made it without issues and were both able to sleep for an hour on the ferry. Plus, our Islay House experience gave us a chance to relax almost as soon as we got to Islay, which was awesome!
Favourite city/town/village visited
Sharleen: Bowmore. Islay is full of cute coastal towns. My favourite was Bowmore. It was only 15 minutes from where we were staying and had great shops, restaurants, and the Bowmore Distillery. We popped into a place called Spirited Soaps and bought amazing bath products for our claw-foot tub, we had our first Indian meal in the UK at the Taj Mahal, and we enjoyed our tour at the distillery. It was a cute town with everything we needed, and was great for window-shopping!
Darrell: Bridgend. The Islay House is in a very small village called Bridgend. There were a surprising number of things to do around here! Right behind Islay house is Islay House Square, which is full of boutique shops and businesses. We visited Islay Ales (a local brewery) and Ardnahoe Distillery visitor centre (the newest distillery on Islay, opening later this year). There is also a café, quilt maker, and a beautiful community garden, where people can buy fresh produce year round.
Nearby is also the Islay Woollen Mill. We got a cool tour of the mill house by the owner who has had it for over 50 years! It is the mill house that created all of the fabric for the movie Braveheart, as well as a bunch of other movies and TV shows. The workshop was so cool, and we had a wonderful time talking to the owner and listening to his stories. It was a really fun time!
Sharleen and Darrell: Our dinners at Islay House. We continued with our “treat yo self” theme (for all of our Parks & Rec fans out there….) and decided to have two dinners at Islay House. Their Michelin starred chef made some amazing meals, it was impossible for us to pick just one!
Our room also included breakfast, which was really great as well. And for most of the meals we were one of two couples, or the only ones in the dinning room, which really made us feel like we were in Downton Abbey! We’ve realized that lifestyle isn’t for us, but it was still a nice treat for a few days.
Our time on Islay was really special. We seem to love our stays on the Isles in Scotland! We have no doubt that we will be back again sometime in our lives, maybe with friends who would also enjoy the distillery whirlwind tour! We’ve now made our way back to the mainland and are spending some time near Loch Lomond, just north of Glasgow. It’s hard to believe we are near the end of our Scotland adventures! Only two weeks left until we move on to England for the rest of 2018.