One of my goals, while in Scotland, was to avoid renting a car for two main reasons. One, I only know how to drive an automatic and most cars in Europe are manual. I could have requested an automatic car but those are more expensive. The second reason is they drive on left side of the road and I wasn’t sure I could handle that. So, for most of the trip, we relied on public transport. To get to Port Ellen from Edinburgh using the public transport took almost all day. In case anyone is wondering, we had to take two buses, a ferry and a lot of waiting around but despite all of it, I’m still glad I didn’t rent a car. The reason is the roads were narrow, curvy, it rained almost all day, and, as I mentioned above, I was scared to drive on the left side of the road. Also, when you are driving, it’s hard to enjoy the views and appreciate just how beautiful Scotland is. Another perk, though we didn’t know it when planning, was I got to drink double measure of Caol Ila for £5 on the ferry.
Once we got to Port Ellen and checked into our bed and breakfast, it was time to get dinner. It turns out most restaurants in Port Ellen require a reservation.
The Islay Hotel did have a bar area with one empty table. Yay! Their seafood platter had some of the freshest crab legs, oysters, and clams I’ve ever had. They also offered an amazing selection of single malt scotch for a very reasonable price. Since the night was still young after dinner, we went to The Ardview Inn bar for another drink or two. It was the most fun and lively bar around. We met a group of British veterans who were sailing around UK to raise awareness and money for injured veterans group. One of them had a prosthetic leg (friendly fire from the Americans) who loved doing Robert De Niro impressions. He told us since the “accident”, the US government pays him 5,000 USD every month for the rest of his life. He is so happy to get $5,000 check every month, he said he’d happily “sacrifice” his other leg for another $5,000/month. We all spent the rest of the time drinking and they shared many other stories with us. It is one of the most memorable nights of the trip.
The next morning we rented bicycles to get around. We started with Lagavulin distillery for their basic tour which was free (thanks to my tour guide at Dalwhinnie distillery who suggested we become friends of the classic malts). After lunch at the Old Kiln Cafe we got back on our bicycles and went to see the Kildalton Cross.
The bike ride was challenging at times, mostly because I was so out of shape, but it was totally worth it. Kildalton Cross is a Celtic cross in the churchyard of the old parish church of Kildalton and it was carved in 8th century AD. By the end of the day, we had biked a total of about 16 miles. I was EXHAUSTED and ready call it an early night.
Over breakfast the next day, we learned the ferry that was going to take us from Islay to Kennacraig the following morning was cancelled and we had two choices: take an earlier ferry which would mean cancelling the Lagavulin warehouse tour (see Single Malt Scotch) or after the tour, rush to Port Askaig which is about 45 mins away, and take another ferry off the island. Obviously, we chose the later.
Our 2nd day on Islay was relaxing and fun which was exactly what I needed after biking 16 miles the day before. We walked over to the Laphroaig distillery for flavor tasting.
As mentioned in the Single Malt Scotch post, it is the most generous and friendly of all distilleries we visited. By the time I left Laphroaig distillery, I was happily buzzed and it was time to try putt putt golf. We were in Scotland. How could we not try it at least once! Especially since it was such a beautiful day. Overall, it was yet another perfect day.
After the Lagavulin warehouse tour on the 3rd day, we rushed to Port Askig. We made it there just in time to catch the ferry to Oban. The cab driver who drove us told us this isn’t even the most prettiest part of the island and next time we should visit northern part of the island. Once we got to Oban, we took a bus and then a train to get back to Edinburgh. This last minute change of plans ended up being a blessing in disguise. We ended up seeing parts of Scotland that we had not planned on. From what little we saw, Oban is just as pretty as the rest of Scotland and definitely worth spending some time.
Overall, Islay has a lot to offer beyond some of my favorite distilleries. Even if you aren’t interested in scotch, it’s still worth visiting. You can still appreciate all the beautiful sights, go hiking, and have just have fun playing putt putt golf. Hopefully in a few years we’ll go back to explore the northern part of Islay.
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Note: Since our return plans changed, we needed to buy new tickets for bus/train from Oban. Caledonian MacBrayne (aka CalMac) did refund us the cost of purchasing new tickets. We were told at the Oban ferry terminal by a CalMac manager, Brian, that money would be deposited in our bank account in a few weeks, but in all honesty, we did not expect anything. To our great surprise, there was a wire transfer done a few weeks after we returned home.