My Islay Adventure in July of 1998 by Linda Heron

While on my Scotland vacation I kept a daily journal. Every night before I went to sleep I made a point of writing about my day. Some nights I was so totally exhausted from my daytime adventures, that I had to push myself to do write, but now when I look back on my notes I can actually revisit many of those feelings and insights. I will apologize right now if I seem to go on about nothing, but it's either all or nothing, and this tells about how I spread my wings and flew by myself for the first time in many years. So here goes!!

We traveled to Scotland in 1998 with another couple, Jan and Don, and spent a month traveling all around Scotland. Our home base was in Dunbar, and we traveled out from there, spending time in the Orkneys, Isle of Skye, the Highlands, and I especially wanted to spend time on the Isle of Islay, but none of my fellow trippers would go with me. My husband, Dave, didn't want me to go alone, but he definitely didn't want to go with me either. So, much to everyone’s dismay, I decided to go by myself. My husband was very upset with me, because he thought we should all stay together, but I showed my first signs of independence after 28 years of marriage, and left on 26 July 1998 for Tarbert.

I can't describe how excited and extremely PRESENT and FREE I felt. The following is a transcription right out of my journal, as I wrote it at that time: continue reading here....26 July - On my way to Tarbert
I had to be at Dunbar Station by 3:02 pm to leave by train for Glasgow. I made the train and then transferred to a bus for Tarbert. I sat beside a gentleman by the name of Lachlan D. Campbell from the Isle of Tiree. He has a croft with sheep and cattle which he rents from the Earl of Argyll - another Campbell. He pays £200 every 6 months. His croft has been handed down for several generations. I told him my GG grandfather, Angus McLeod, came from Tiree (at least that's what I thought at the time), and he said his neighbor is a MacLeod who has lived there for several generations. He said he will talk to him to see if we might be related. I gave him the name of Mary and all their children as well. He said he will get back to me one way or the other (never heard from him again). His address is Lachlan D. Campbell, Corraire, Cornaigbeg, Isle of Tiree, Argyll. He has two sons and a daughter, he is a piper, and works at several odd jobs to make ends meet - he works on the fishing boats as well. We talked so much that the time flew by – very interesting gentleman!! The bus stopped in Inverary for 15 minutes, so I ran into a shop, bought some water and shortbread, and took some pictures of the tall ships in the harbor, and the unusual Celtic cross in the square. The scenery on this trip was the most beautiful and breathtaking so far - I even saw a double rainbow.

When I arrived at Holly's B&B in Tarbert, I met a mother and daughter who were staying there, and before I could even check in they invited me out for a drive with them. I slipped in to register, ordered a cab for the morning, and ran out to go for a tour with them. It was a beautiful evening and the town and harbor were very quaint and lovely. I am so happy I came - I know it was the right thing for me to do! Tomorrow will be a beautiful warm sunny day! Think I'll read for a few moments. I love this adventure - I feel such a sense of freedom and strength!

27 July -- Isle of Islay
I got up and out by 6:45 am this morning. The cab picked me up on time and got me to the ferry - cab was £9. It was very breezy on deck so I made the trip inside and was very comfortable. I was excited when I saw Port Ellen on the Isle of Islay, but was concerned because I had not been able to reach the car rental to let them know I would be coming in on this morning's ferry, rather than last night, so I would be a little late. Consequently, there was quite a delay - I didn't get the car until 11:00 am, and half the day was already gone.

The car was a little Volkswagen hatchback, standard. It was difficult to get used to changing gears on the left, let alone driving on the wrong side of the road, which I did from time to time. Several times I met a car on the crest of a hill and was on their side of the road - my guardian angel was watching over me today, I'm sure. First I stopped at the Information Center in Bowmore to book my room for the night - I got one without an ensuite for £17. I saw the beautiful Circular Church, which was built in 1767, but didn't take the time to go in, because I was on a very tight schedule. I grabbed a small pizza and carrot cake from the bakery for lunch (which I gulped down), and took off on the back roads, one track, until I got used to the car - it was a very good idea because I was having a bit of trouble with the gears.

Islay has very changing landscape. Some parts are flat and others very mountainous and rugged - the scenery was beautiful. I drove to the northeast coast first, all the way up to Bunnahabainn, and on the way back I stopped at Finlaggan Castle - Lords of the Isles. This was very exciting because there were some archeologists there working at the shore when I arrived, and I spoke to one of them - he was very nice (good looking too), and spent quite a bit of time telling me about the dig and what they had found. He was very excited, and told me about a brooch he had found in the loch, just beside the little island they were working at. He was scuba diving and found it, as well as some other artifacts that date back to around 2300 BC. He suggested I come back when the Information Center was open so I could register my ancestor's names, etc. They are building a database of people who lived on the island. (Contact is Effie Clark, Highfield, High Street, Bowmore, Isle of Islay, PA437JE).

I traveled on to the West and Southwest part of the island to explore, and came upon Kilchiaran Chapel, which was in ruins. Carried on around to Port Charlotte where I visited the Islay Life Museum - some interesting information there. Went back to Finlaggan to register my GG grandmother's name, and the archeologist was there and talked to me again. He told me they had made an exciting discovery (gold artifacts) that morning and that there would be a press release the next morning, so I was to keep it a secret - I never did see the press release, but it was great being a part of the secret.

It was getting late - I was supposed to check into my room at 5:00 p.m., and it was 5:00 now, so I raced back to Port Ellen, and after some searching found the B&B. That night some people came to the door at about 11:30 p.m. looking for a room - we had nothing available, and I think they were out of luck because it was busy on Islay right now, and it was very late - I was really glad I had booked my room as soon as I arrived on Islay.

I then left and drove around to the Kildalton Cross and Chapel. It was a very beautiful Kirk and cross, in a great setting. The roof was gone though, as are so many, and was left to decay. I found a tombstone there that read:

Janet McLeod in loving memory of her husband Colin Douglas, who died at Kildalton 3rd September 1883, aged 56 years. Also the above Janet McLeod died at Glasgow, July 25th 1902, aged 69 years.

I left and picked up 2 hitchhikers who had been at the chapel when I arrived. They were looking for a place to camp, without much luck - they were on their honeymoon. I dropped them off at an old abandoned house where they were going to camp for the night - there was no camping allowed, but by this time it was about 7:45 pm, so they decided to chance it. The midges had just about eaten them alive - they were scratching up a storm. I decided to stop for a bite to eat. I ate at the White Hart Hotel, in Port Ellen, but I had left it so late I almost didn't get fed. I was finished at 9:00 pm and went back out to explore the Mull of Oa. It was getting quite late now, and there was a constant drizzle, but I was determined to see what was at the end of the road I was on - it wasn't much, it just petered out in a farmer's driveway, as so many do.

I saw an ancient stone circle in the evening light (turned out to be the chambered cairn at Cragabus), it was very beautiful and mysterious looking. On the way back I took a little sideroad and found a beautiful old cemetery and the ruined Chapel of Kilnaughton. I got out and explored the old grave markers and found several McCuaigs buried there - I had hit pay dirt, but it was so dark now I could hardly read the stones - not the best place to be at night eh?

TO THE DEAR MEMORY OF REVERAND ANGUS MACCUAIG DIED 1903 AND JEAN HIS WIFE 1850 - 1933 AND THEIR CHILDREN DUNCAN, ISABELLA, JESSIE, HUNTER, JEANIE

When I walked out to get into my car I noticed a swan swimming at the beach, so I took a picture and left for my B&B. It was quite a coincidence that there were two other people staying at the B&B, and their names were McCuaig (sisters). We talked for about an hour, exchanged addresses, and then I went off to bed. Their names and addresses are Mary (May) McCuaig, …., Edinborough, and her sister, Christine McKay (McCuaig), …., Currey, Mid Lothian - how synchronistic, as it was McCuaigs that I was looking for. It was a very full day, but wonderful. I wish I had a few more days to really see everything, but I am just so glad I came!!!

Heading Back to Mainland - 28 July 1998
I was up at 6:30 this morning, and out by 8:00 am. I wanted to cover more territory before I caught the ferry, and to go see the Kilchoman Church and Cross. I also wanted to go back to the Kilnaughton Cemetery, but by the time I got back it was time to gas up and catch the ferry. Oh, I forgot to tell about driving away from the B&B on the wrong side of the road. When I was driving away from the curb, I waved at an oncoming car, and he waved back and yelled something at me that I couldn’t make out. I thought he was just being especially friendly, and drove on about my business.

I drove up to see St. John's Church, and the chap that had waved at me previously came back and stopped to make the comment, “I see you found the proper side of the road now”. He chuckled at the new tourist in town and then sped off. He was waving to try to get me to move back over onto my own side of the road. Got to watch what I'm doing! The locals must curse these tourists, like me, who come from the other side of the world and try maneuver these European cars on the opposite side of the road!! I know I just about scared the pants off more than a few of the locals! What a hazard we are!! It was a lot of fun though!!

I made it to the ferry by 9:45 am, and it left 10 minutes later, so I just made it in the nick of time. When the bus went through the Argyll National Forest, it was some of the most beautiful scenery I had seen in my whole life - just breathtaking. I arrived at Glasgow at 4:20 pm, but couldn't get a train to Dunbar until 6:00, so I went into a sandwich shop and ordered a salmon sandwich -- but got smoked salmon lochs instead – ugh (I couldn’t eat it and had to throw it in the garbage)! When I arrived in Dunbar, Dave, Jan and Don were waiting for me, and after I told them of my escapades we went to the Starfish for supper. It wasn't the best meal of our trip, but it filled the gap. We walked home and Jan and I never stopped talking about my adventure. I was tired, but it was a good day - David seemed very happy to see me return in one piece!

WHAT A GREAT TRIP!!!!
Hope you enjoyed my escapades! You can find pictures from my trip here. Linda Heron.

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