Eight Days in Islay 1867 - A Controversial Report

In 1867 a traveller made a journey to Islay lasting eight days. About his trip he wrote several articles which were published in the Glasgow Herald. One year later, in 1868, members of the Islay Association published a book titled "A review of a series of articles which appeared in the Glasgow Herald of 2nd, 9th, and 16th November, 1867, headed "Eight days in Islay"". Apparently the traveller painted a picture from the island which was quite different from reality but nevertheless very interesting to read. The members of the Islay Association described it as follows:

Before we proceed to consider that which chiefly interests us, namely, what the traveller had to tell about Islay and its people, it is well to consider the medium through which he looked. Does a man wear blue spectacles? then all things will seem blue to him. Thus far the traveller appears to be a tourist in search of the savage and romantic. He is somewhat offended by seeing comfort, wealth, and prosperity migrating from his home in the city to the Highland bounds. Continue reading...

The book continues with paragraphs from the traveller and comments from members of the association. The whole book including comments is quite a read so I will only mention a few interesting paragraphs and leave the rest for you to read online. Back to the Traveller: "We have reached the steamer Islay, however, and embark, where we find preparations for lunch rapidly progressing, to which we sit down as the vessel steams out from the jetty. We miss the fine scenery on the shores of the loch in consequence, but everything must give place to an appetite sharpened by the sea air. Passing Gigha and its witches, the steamer keeps steadily over the smooth waters for Islay, and in a short time we near the shore of the Green Isle. There is a narrow channel between a little archipelago of granite rocks, each rising straight out of the water, and through this we pass. The sun is sinking westward away over the blue waters, the wood-clothed heights of Islay are before us, and I can scarcely repress the feeling that we have entered upon a little bit of fairy land."

"We drop out of the narrow channel and round into a beautiful creek, where we observe a small boat with two oarsmen approaching to take us ashore. In a few minutes we land, and find that we are on the pleasure-grounds of the laird of the manor. "We have scarcely stepped ashore when we are met in the woods by the laird himself, whose white beard, knickerbockers, felt hat, and huge cudgel make him look at a little distance quite the patriarch or hermit of this loving spot, just as we observe how elastic is his step, and how shrewd and clear is his eye and fresh his complexion, we see at once that there is little of the patriarch or hermit about him, excepting perhaps the white beard. At last we reach the manor-house, startling a few spotted fawn that are feeding not twenty yards from the door, and which, as we enter, bound gracefully away through the woods. After city life for a long twelvemonth this exquisite solitude seems something like a dream."

"There is a capital inn at Bridgend, near the mansion house, and it is here, I believe, that visitors to Islay generally stay. Good fishing may be had in the vicinity, and there is an excellent road, about eight miles in length, leading to Port-Askaig, on the east of the island, from which Jura can be reached by a ferry, and fishing in Jura is capital sport, as I was told by an enthusiastic old Izaak who had been there a day or two before and filled his basket. A considerable portion of the road from Port-Ellen to Bridgend passes through a large, flat track of country, which, with a few well-cultivated patches here and there, is dreary moss land with huge-stacks of peat standing at intervals. Upon the whole, however, Islay is a most attractive island, irrespective altogether of its far-famed whisky, and is well worth being patronised by Glasgow tourists who do not mind roughing it a little in the summer months, when conveyance to and from it is frequent and easy. We had a pleasant passage to the island, but a very rough one on our way home. We left Port-Ellen about three o'clock in the morning by the steamer Islay, on our way to Port-Askaig, from whence we were to start at eight o'clock for Loch Tarbert. The night was wild and stormy, and we had the satisfaction of being rocked in the mighty deep. An amusing scene was going on at Port Askaig when I reached the deck, after an unsound and unsatisfactory sleep. The pier was quite choked with sheep and West Highland cattle, and the shouting and swearing in English and Gaelic to get them aboard was most bewildering."

"We reach Port-Ellen, a village of white two-storeyed houses, skirting the bay like a crescent. The sandy fringe of the bay is as white and fine as flour meal, and has rather a striking appearance in the sparkling sunlight. Port-Ellen has a pier, a lighthouse, a post-ofiice, a reading-room, and an inn, where accommodation, but of what sort I do not know from personal experience, can be had for man and beast. There is an air of idleness about the place, which is only broken by the numberless groups of healthy-looking children gabbering Gaelic as they play before the doors. How all these children and their parents find sustenance it would be difficult to conjecture, for nothing whatever appears to be going on at the place. The few shops are dull, dingy-looking, diminutive emporiums, with bottles of confections, thread, a half-quartern loaf, and clay pipes blinking at the passengers through the small window boles. But nothing is more astonishing than the facility with which a Highlander and his family can pick up a livelihood with the very minimum of exertion on his part. No fishing is carried on at the port, though I am told that plenty of fish might be got if the inhabitants could be stimulated to a little energy. The only fishing community in Islay is on the extreme west coast, where white-fish are got in large quantities."

Link to online copy of the whole book

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