My friend Tuhin made this trip exploring various Single Malt Distilleries at the island of Islay, Scotland. For the uninitiated Islay is one of five whisky distilling localities and regions in Scotland whose identity is protected by law. There are eight active distilleries and the industry is the island’s second largest employer after agriculture. Those on the south of the island produce malts with a very strong peaty flavour, considered to be the most intensely flavoured of all whiskies. From east to west they are Ardbeg, Lagavulin, and Laphroaig. On the north of the island Bowmore, Bruichladdich, Caol Ila and Bunnahabhain are produced, which are substantially lighter in taste. Kilchoman is a microdistillery opened in 2005 on the west coast of the Rinns. The oldest record of a legal distillery on the island refers to Bowmore in 1779 and at one time there were up to 23 distilleries in operation.
Enjoy his take on the trip…
Day 1: 21st December 2012: The day I was due to leave for Scotland began early morning at 4.45 am.
Some random, but real thoughts prevailed. Will it be snowed out? What will the weather be like? Will I need to use the snow socks for the car tyres I bought from Micksgarage.com? The same morning, Nita and kids left for India. For a week I am all bindaas with being able to do ‘my own thing’ (whatever that is), after which I get all fidgety and tell Nita arre yaar, wapas aa jao. Ramki and I had been talking about this plan for some time now and on my insistence, he finally acceded to a December ‘around the Christmas period’ trip. Ramki is a great connoisseur of single malts and knows his single malts with a passion that’ll make the folks at Islay proud of him. Islay is sometimes loosely considered to be the mecca of single malts. The Island of Islay is located in the Inner Hebrides accessible by ferry from Port Kennacraig on the mainland (two and a half hours), and also by air from Glasgow (30 minutes). It is the third largest island of Scotland. It has a population of 3450 (only) and is home to Laphroaig, Lagavulin, Ardbeg, Bruichladdich, Bowmore, Caol Ila, Kilchoman, Bunnahabhain and Port Charlotte. Phew!! No not the Glenfiddich’s of the world which people are more acquainted with courtesy duty free. Oh sorry; for the benefit of those of don’t know Ramkrishnan, he and I go back 19 and some years to being roommates during the first year of our MBA. We have been close friends ever since and retained our friendship and bonding over the years no matter our busy lives and schedules.
Getting to Islay is extremely challenging and I can tell you that every inch of the Internet was used to arrive at optimal planning to maximize the short trip that Ramki was making. All Ramki gave me were the names of the distilleries. Everything else was left to my imagination and planning skills. My project management background was going to come in to use finally! Additionally, everything thing hinged on good weather, perfect connections and lots of luck. Miss a ferry and you’re out. Car packs up, you’re out. Pause to breathe in the fresh air, you’re out. It snows, you’re out. Pause to take a pee, you’re almost out.
Got in to office later than usual, Usual being 7.45 am, later than usual being 8.15 am, went through the motions of completing the calls for the day. I remember Tarun at office saying that Tuhin’s mind has been in Scotland for the last 10 days, it’s time he took his body along with him now!
Left at 11.45 am, grabbed a sandwich, a Limca equivalent (no sugar), some crisps (low fat, if there is such a thing) and a tabloid newspaper from M&S. Why tabloid? Because I thought while I wait to board the ferry to Cairnryan, Scotland from Belfast, Northern Ireland, I’d have some time to catch up on the gossip!
The drive was made in rain. Irritating rain. Neither complete rain, nor a drizzle. More like water droplets from a low hanging cloud or like a thin film of spraying water. Made the journey through Dublin city, on to the M50, then on to the M50-M1 interchange and I knew it would take close to two and a half hours to get in to Belfast at that time of the day. I stuck to the left lane and motored along at 100 km/h as opposed to the 120 km/h which Irish motorways allow. Besides, 120 km/h guzzles just too much fuel. It was close to lunch time and I thought it was a good moment to open the M&S goodies. So juggling the sandwich wrapper, the Limca bottle, the crisps and the steering wheel with my God given two hands; figured out the best combination to eat and drive. For this leg, Savvy was not required. Besides, she doesn’t have updated maps, so the journey in to Belfast won’t show up on some stretches and it’s best to avoid her and keep her lying low in such situations. Or else all you will hear is “recalculating” a number of times with no end in sight. Savvy’s name was coined by Narayani and Tanay while sitting in the back of the car one
day 4 years ago. They figured Satellite Navigator had to have a shorter name and so Savvy was born. Pretty savvy name, eh?
I had put on Nana’s Green Day CD, which I will agree, helped along the journey with the adrenalin fuelled head banging. Along the way, the phone rang and I had connected the blue tooth to the old Nokia. Ramki had landed in Heathrow and checked in to say all is well. Good stuff. I had procured these UK SIM cards courtesy a friend cum colleague in London, Vimal, and they were for this very purpose to enable Ramki and me to keep in touch while he was in London en route to Glasgow and me in Belfast en route to Glasgow via Cairnryan. We confirmed all was well and that his plane to Glasgow was on time, I was about 30 minutes away from Belfast, decided to slow down and take a break, stretch the legs, arms and whatever else.
40 minutes after entering Northern Ireland, a little between Banbridge and Lisburn, I pulled over for a break, safe in the knowledge that Ramki was in transit. So entered a petrol pump, parked in the pouring rain which had now reached a decent tempo, ran in to the shop and decided this was a good place to procure some change in Sterling. A lot of people ask me about Ireland and Northern Ireland. This is my take. The only difference is that the road signs change to mph (NI) from km/h (Ireland), the currency changes from EURO to Sterling, the number plates are yellow on black, 3 alphabet, 4 number (NI), blue on white with the sign of the EU (stars) on the left, IRE distinctly displayed; year, county, car number (Ireland). There is no border, there is no security, there is no immigration; no sign which says welcome to Northern Ireland. If you ask an Irishman how many counties are there in Ireland, he will say 32 and not 26. He includes all 26 counties of Ireland and the 6 of Northern Ireland often referred to as ‘Up North’ by people living south of the border. I won’t get in to the politics of it.
Anyhow, had a bit of a stretch, look around, bought some bottles of water (2 liters each), a couple of travel mugs and asked for a whole lot of change in return. The Sterling currency has a plenty of coins which is not unlike the EURO, but for some reason feels much heavier in the pocket. Resumed the drive in the pouring rain, wipers on 2; steady rhythmic and reassuring sound of the wind shield being cleaned. A couple of further conversations with Ramki and before I knew it, entered the port of Belfast and found my way to the Stena Line terminal. It was now 2.30 in the afternoon with daylight fading fast and the rain didn’t help. It was after all, the shortest day of the year. The security bloke asks me whether I was carrying anything important. Now that’s a first! Anything important? Er no, just myself and that’s fairly important. The good thing about going premium on the Stena Line, is that you have a separate queue which of course boards first – not unlike business class on a plane. Small little luxuries. Ah well! Joined the queue, conclude another conversation with Ramki – this time with some more information on how long this ferry would take, how long the drive would take from Cairnryan to Glasgow Travelodge. Ok da, come fast. Ok da Ramki. Called the parents to say hi and Mom says what a good driver I am etc. Ok Ma.
Journey time of 2 hours 35 minutes with one 15 minute stop. Distance covered 182 km.
The next thing I decided to do was to take a walk in to the ferry terminal and see what the scene was. From the car, I could see some activity in the terminal building, perhaps some coffee with a scone? Made the 200 meter walk to the building and took the escalator to the top floor where I had originally seen the good passengers mingling and milling about. Oooh, from the corner of my eye I could see my car 03D272, a silver Honda CRV, in the queue and she looked all clean and nice in spite of the rain, so I thought this calls for a snap from the top. Pulled out my phone, the S3, tapped on camera and wait, hang on a minute, it refused to click. Camera error detected was the message. Well done, I thought. I tried to focus on the car and click twice, but same message. Great! So much for the S3 and its 8 MP camera. Never mind the coffee, dejected, I made my way back down to the car.
There was this person behind me making his way back to what I thought was his car. I opened my car door and within 2 seconds, this man stops, holds my car door and shows me his badge. Police officer, do you have any form of photo identification on you. Was I expecting this? No. This is a first for me. Ok, no panic. Yes officer, I have my Irish driving license which I duly pulled out and showed to him. Hmmm Dundrum, Er yes that’s where I live. What is your plan? Plan? Yes, where are you going? To Cairnryan. Yes, yes, I know, then where? To Glasgow, Kennacraig, Islay to check out some distilleries with this friend of mine from India who has incidentally landed in London Heathrow en route to Glasgow. Not sure why I brought Ramki in to this, but I did assuming perhaps by name dropping he’d let me go. Would you mind telling me what this is about? I saw you up there taking pictures. Trying to I said. Of what he said. Of my car I said. Show me he says. Er can’t I said. Can’t, why not? No, because the camera didn’t work after which I promptly tapped on the camera mode and said with some pride; see – it says camera error. At that precise moment, his phone rang and from the body language, I could tell it was either his wife or girlfriend. This was funny. He’s holding on to my license, looking at my camera, not sure what to do with me and his phone rings and he gets an earful. Yes, yes, I’ll call you back he says, I’m with someone at the moment. Is there anything else officer? No, no, I’m satisfied. Would you like to see my paperwork which corroborates my version? No, I just told you I was satisfied. Okay, may I have my license back please? Here. Thank you officer. And off he went. Didn’t get his name. But let’s call him PSNI as the cops are called in NI. Deep breath later, I finally decided it was time to open the tabloid.
The boarding was on time, parked and ran up to the deck – 8th floor for premium passengers. Parking is on the 5th floor, red color, port side. This is an important detail because when you return to collect your car and drive out, most often you don’t remember where you left it. Since I was traveling premium, made my way to the lounge where my name was ticked off by the steward and was handed a 4 digit code, in case I left the lounge and wanted to re-enter. Meanwhile, help yourself to free snacks, wine, soft drink, and whatever else Stena Line thinks is appropriate for premium paying passengers. I settled for some tea and some nuts with wasabi – the mustard tasting thing which goes straight through the nose to the head. This was followed by a chocolate walnut brownie. I know, I know, not good. But very good! Opened the lap top connected to Wi-Fi @sea, restarted the phone and switched on the camera. This time it worked. Nothing like a good old fashioned re-boot. The ship started. You hardly feel it. A low rumble of the engines and she’s away. Sailing time of 2 hours and 15 minutes. Departure on schedule bang on 3.30 pm. I was on the internet for an hour and spent the rest of the time roaming the ship and checking out the ship’s shop. I wanted to say ship’s shop rather than duty free, because it’s not duty free. Walked away without buying anything (that’s also a first), checked out the massage (Indian for some reason). Naah. Very overpriced. Headed back to the lounge, used the code got back to my seat (free seating) and waited patiently to get off on the other side.
The ship docked at 5.45 pm and being a premium paying passenger, got off with the first tranche of cars. Entered the GPS code for Glasgow Travelodge on Savvy and set course. Very quickly 03D272 fogged up and I realized that setting the heating on 22ºC with the fan on low blowing from under the windshield was not cutting it. I had to figure our something else. Meanwhile I called to check on Ramki to say I was in Scotland and heading to Glasgow. Ramki had reached Glasgow airport and had to cart the 3 pieces of luggage, including one bag for me, from the arrivals terminal to Travelodge, a distance of 300 meters. That wasn’t too bad, eh Ramki?
The A77 is a lovely road and we learned this only on the way back because that is the only journey of some distance that we made in daylight. But for now it has no lights. Nothing. It’s hilly and snaky, winding and curving dangerously at some corners. The only light is the light of your car and of the car in front of you, if there is a car in front of you. Anyway, fogging calls for some adjustments. Pulled over in to a layby, and there are laybys every other mile, to figure out the fogging, the music and get a sense of where I was.
It is pitch black. There is no sense of where you are but I could feel a forest somewhere by the sounds, the sea which I could not see and a certain amount of elevation as my ears were blocking. The only indication of direction, meaning which way the road was going to snake, were through the chevron markings when your light hit it. Ok, there were also those cat’s eyes thingies along the road at strategic points. I figure that the solution to the fogging was to turn the AC on at 17ºC on low blow. Twenty minutes in to the journey, the phone rings, Yes Ramki. Bugger, can you stop and buy me contact lens solution? Mine was taken away by BA security since it was 120 ml. Welcome to the UK, I think to myself. Ok da, but where will I get contact lens solution in the middle of the nowhere at 6.30 in the evening on a Friday so close to Christmas. I don’t know da, maybe some petrol pump. No da Ramki, petrol pumps don’t sell contact lens solution. Ok never mind da, l’m leaving it with you, please figure out how to get a bottle. Pressure’s now on me. Ramki is good at this! Passed some little towns which I looked forward to since the monotony of the drive is broken by having to slow down and there is lighting with signs that have a couple of old people with walking sticks. Slow down for old people.
Immediately after, I also think of Sir Alex Ferguson a lot since this is his country and Girvan, Ayr, Prestwick are all places I’ve read in his biography. It was a goo game of fooball he says in his accent. Speaking of accents, this is an important part which comes up ever so often during the next few days.
40 minutes and about 22 miles in to the journey, along comes the town of Ayr or Ayrshire. Hmm, I thought to myself over the sounds of Now 74, signs of life! A minute before exiting the town, I see an ASDA supermarket and I pull over. Slipped into a vacant parking and there were a few, ventured in to try find contact lens solution. Couldn’t, so had to solicit the help of a fairly large lad who promptly showed me to the aisle and there were 10 varieties of contact lens solution. Settled on the all in one solution and made my way to the checkout counter. Back in the car, resumed the drive. Glasgow airport 60 miles so that’s about an hour and a quarter at most. Only thing was that there was a lot of fog on the mountain roads. Speed was curtailed, concentration was increased, music was toned down and suddenly the phone rings and startles me. Where are you da? I don’t know Ramki. Some several miles from Glasgow driving in fog so maybe another one and a half hours. It’s slow going and by the way, I have your contact lens solution. Awesome da Tugin. Anyway, listen, I need to stop by for petrol because we won’t get to Kennacraig on the current load. I will do this before Glasgow airport. Ok. Ok da. Thank God for the UK SIM cards and all the effort Vimal took in sending them to me duly topped up.
The A77 becomes the M7 which is a good thing. The A77 has a speed limit of 60 mph and the M7 70mph. The A’s are referred to as dual carriage ways. We call them the N’s or National roads in Ireland. So the N11 is what I would look out for to get home in Dublin. In Ireland, the speed on the Ns can vary from 60 to 100 km/h. But in Britain, it seems to be mostly 60 mph, sometimes 50 mph on the A’s. The Ms are motorways. Same as in Ireland. Entered the M7 and increased speed. No fog, not much traffic. 03D272 cruising along merrily with the second CD of Now 74 playing. It is now a little after 8.00 pm and I am tired. It’s been a long day having woken up before 5 am to see the family off. Savvy says destination in 20 minutes, so I begin to look for a petrol pump. Find an Esso and head toward it. This gas station is so abandoned, so in the middle of nowhere, that I think maybe I should go elsewhere. Then I think of poor Ramki in some Travelodge waiting for me to arrive and decide to tank up here and now. No other car. One largish lady (people are largish in Scotland, on further evidence) at the counter accepts my Bank of England notes gives me a lot of coins as I ask for a coin pouch. That was supposed to be funny, but she says she doesn’t sell any. Oh well?! Make it a point to enter petrol details in to my red book – to which Ramki later sees me doing this and questions what actionable would accrue from my actions!!
Ramki, petrol done. See you in 10 minutes or so, or at least that’s what the GPS is saying. With about 5 minutes to go and the exit off the motorway in 1.3 kilometers, I visualize a hot bath, some food and may be a drink. I should have been concentrating on the driving instead. Missed the bleeding exit and saw the signs to Glasgow Airport, where Travelodge is situated, sail past me. Arrrgh! When possible, make a u-turn. No, it is not possible to make a u-turn on a motorway Savvy. The next exit via a roundabout was 9 km and another 12 km back to the airport exit adding 15 more minutes. I eventually got past the airport, past the exiting passengers and then suddenly, Travelodge appears. Arriving at destination on right. For those of you who know Savvy, the destination was on the left. She always gets it the other way. Hi da, reached, come out. Finally we meet. Months and months of planning have paid off. I have been waiting for this moment for a long time. See, I told you it would happen he says. Since we had been speaking on a regular basis over the past few months, it doesn’t seem that we haven’t met in 15 months. There is a long queue at reception, so we decide to have dinner. I order a Thai red chicken curry with rice (packed in a Banana leaf), Ramki goes for the rice with vegetable korma. Of course, this is the start of a single malt trip so a shot of Laphroaig is ordered. Ramki can’t resist a good Islay Malt; and this is one of many we shall be experiencing over the next 3 days. We catch up, talk about our MBA days; what news of so and so etc. Meanwhile, we hear a man swearing away in one corner of the restaurant. He is looking down, using the f-word liberally and berating someone. Definitely Scottish by his accent. I can see him, but can’t make out who he is not happy with. Ramki is facing me so can’t see him. One of the reception ladies asks him to mind his language as there are kids around. Since I can’t see anyone, I tell Ramki, maybe it’s his kids, since he was looking down and shouting and there was not a word in return.
Ramki has the rooms all sorted and says I should ask for room 20 since he is in 21 and that it’s been arranged. Ok, no problem. I say this to Monika (definitely not Scottish) at the reception, giving Ramki’s reference and she gives me a key card. Off we trudge to the rooms with the luggage. I do the key card thing that is supposed to be done, but the door is latched from inside. Hello? Strange. Then a lady’s voice. English, not Scottish. Oye? Oh okay. I’ve been given room 20 I say. Obviously not she says since I am in it. All this through the latched door. Ramki looking on in bewilderment. This is bizarre I say since I have the key to the room. Well, it’s not your room. Er okay, let me go back to the reception to sort this out. The door slams. Not on my face, because by then I had already turned around and begun walking down the corridor to the reception. On the way back we see the man who was being generous with his language and there she was – a lovely Collie on a leash, tail wagging affectionately and wanting Ramki to pet her. Poor thing had, and I surmised, knocked over most of his pint which was all spilt on the floor. That must have ticked him off. I can well imagine if it was an Irishman’s pint half on the floor. That wouldn’t be pretty for the dog nor the kids. No Sir. Very quickly we see Monika again. I explained the situation to her and said my friend had blocked room 20 for me. Yes she says, it was 19, not 20. Okay, so why did you give me a key card for 20 then. I thought you were the husband of the woman in 20 since she said she was expecting him!! Wonderful Monika ji. Good laugh later on the way back to 19, I slunk in to the room. Good night da Ramki, we collectively decide that we have to roll at 3.45 am. My alarm is on for 3.00, I’ll call you at 3.20. Good night.
Distance covered 176 km in 2 hours and 45 minutes with 3 stops. To clear the foggy car, buy contact lens solution and tank up.
Day 2: 22nd December 2012: Woke up at 2.50 am without the aid of the alarm. Had about 4 hours and 35 minutes of sleep non-stop, which for me, is good going. Called Ramki at 3.20 am. I could hear the phone ringing in his room literally and at the very same time, his alarm also rang. I was first out. Dumped the room key in a box at the reception, waved out to a couple of staffers smoking an early morning cigarette loaded the car, brought it to the front of the Travelodge reception waited for Ramki, entered the GPS code for Kennacraig Port which said 2 hours and 10 minutes away and rolled at exactly 3.45 am. The weather was lovely. Clear, no rain, 5ºC and ideal conditions for driving at that early hour. Heater turned on to 21ºC for the warmth that makes the car so cozy. 2 hours and 10 minutes meant we would be at the ferry terminal by about 6-ish with time to spare for the 7.00 check in. Away we drove chatting away. The roads were nice and empty, I mean of course, since it was 4.00 am. We cut across the M7 and onto another road which pretty much took us along the coast for a good 40 minutes. We soon entered a rather sleepy town with winding roads and one-ways and before we knew it, Savvy announced destination on right. Okay. Destination on left. Please board the ferry. Er okay. This is not Kennacraig and neither has it been 2 hours and we don’t see any people. Ramki and I looked at each other. Let me recheck the GPS code. Yes, it’s correct. Re-entered the GPS code and once again Savvy announced destination on right. The only thing right about the destination is that we have stopped bang next to a body of water. Please board the ferry. Okay, this is not good. Throw this out of the window da. I know da Ramki, but we can’t do that here. We both grabbed our respective phones, pulled out the Sat Nav functions of Google maps and entered Kennacraig Port. Within 15 seconds it came up. Time to destination 2 hours and 35 minutes and initial direction showed we needed to head back from where we came. Behen Chhodh was the dominant thought! It was now 4.30 am. Okay, no panic, considering my blood froze, we will still be there at 7-ish in time for the check in but with no time to spare, I told Ramki. Nothing can go wrong from here on end. With Savvy on passive mode showing me only speed, I had my phone GPS on, Ramki had his phone GPS on and off we scooted.
The first 15 minutes were spent in relative silence and I kept thinking that Savvy has never let me down all these years and besides, the GPS code for Kennacraig Port came up on the screen without a problem. We made ground as quickly as possible at that time of the morning. Ramki kept encouraging us both by saying we should be there by 6.45 am latest. We drove past familiar ground. It was familiar because we had just driven all that way to nowhere and were now driving back! Okay keep going. Ramki, I can make up good ground in the darker sections but not in the city where the speed limits are between 30 mph and 50 mph. Ramki did a full recce of the map on his phone, understood the lay of the land, explained which way we would be going and finally told me that while my planning has been good, the execution had a lot to be desired!! Yes Ramki at 4.45 am I fully appreciate your sentiment. Please throw out your GPS. No Ramki, I can’t throw out Savvy on the A83.
On we motored through the darkness. Oooh. Loch Lomond to the right for 20 miles. ‘You take the high road and I’ll take the low road and I’ll be in Scotland before ye. Where me and my true love will never meet again, on the bonnie bonnie banks of Loch Lomond’. It’s a pretty sad song, but then, we were in a pretty sad situation. No cars in sight. 03D272 clipping away and pushing the boundaries of the speed limit and sometimes exceeding it. Ramki, put off your phone da. No use burning your data roaming. This is a rainy day da, so it stays on was the curt reply. The duration on the phone Sat Nav (Google maps) kept reducing while we drove on chatting about all sorts of things we could chat about at that time of the morning. The tension prevalent, not between us, but in the situation we found ourselves in. No signs of life. Now the odd car. It’s 6 am. Sea on one side, mountain on the other. Winding and twisting roads, some fog, some rain. This is only a sense. You can’t actually see the sea unless you are skirting the main road of a small town. I need to stop for a pee. Pulled over in to one of the many lay byes to do the stuff. This is not legal, but I chance it because it’s so dark, nothing can catch you in the act! It’s now raining with low clouds making the morning no better for light. It is pitch black outside, and without the car headlights you can’t even see to the end of your pee.
Another small town. This one has blue Christmas lighting on its trees and there are signs of humans. It’s about 6.45 am. Almost there according to Google maps. We have made up time and as predicted by Ramki, should be there in a few minutes. But wait. We haven’t seen a single sign which says Kennacraig Port ferry and we are not more than 15 minutes away. Keep going. Keep going. Anxious moments prevail. Then I see it. Kennacraig Port 4 miles and then once again darkness. Ok da, keep at it, almost there. What happens next is amazing. The GPS runs out. By runs out I mean, it announced destination on left and shows up the ‘street view’. Okay uh huh. Street view is good in city, but here?! A picture of a forest with trees shows up on the Google maps as ‘street view’ and says destination on the left. Another behen chhodh, this time by Ramki. This is not good. Have we covered the 4 miles since the sign post Tuhin. No da Ramki, I’d say about 2.5 miles. Then my phone rings and I’m thinking who is remembering me at this time of the morning on my Ireland phone. Can’t figure out the number and I try and answer it. Unable to swipe the answer yes button since I am driving and concentrating on the road ahead so it disconnects. It’s the ferry people da I quickly say. Call them back and say we are there in 10 minutes. Anyway we should be there well in time for the check-in. I call out the number to Ramki to call back. I hit the dial back button on my phone, but guess what? No signal. Keep trying Ramki. No signal bugger. It is 6.55 am now and we have lost some time in the last few minutes. Then some signs of traffic but no light and no signs of a ferry terminal. Then from the corner of my eye to the left at 90º, I see a sign which says Kennacraig port. We screech to a stop. Reverse 30 meters and make a right into a lit up area. Well spotted da. Thanks Ramki . We follow the lane signs to the check-in area of the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry (CalMac ferries) quite happy to have reached.
But wait!? Where are all the other cars? Surely there must be some others in the queue. We race up to the man in the high visibility jacket and enquire what the scene is. He looks at us as if we are mad and says the check in was at 6.30 am and the ship was ready for sea. Er, yes, we can see the ship closed and engines running. But I said, check-in was at 7.00 am for a 7.30 sailing. He says no. Don’t argue da says Ramki. He says go to the reception and ask there whether she will permit you to board. There is only us. Realization has now dawned at 7.00 am; pardon the pun, that the sailing is at 7.00 am and not 7.30 am. I reverse the car, not unlike how they do it in the movies, jump off and run to the reception with my folder which has all the paper work, bookings, hotel reservations etc. Don’t lose your cool Tuhin, nothing will be achieved. No Ramki, I know that, I’ll adopt the begging position. We charge in and I don’t know what to say, so I blame the GPS for our situation. She is not impressed. Did you try to call us? Yes she says, so both Ramki and I blame the lack of signal, the lack of signage and the lack of everything else for our delay. You will appreciate it was not a delay in our minds till we were told the sailing was at 7.00 am! Anyway, she waves away the paper work, gives me the tickets for today and the return for tomorrow and says run. Ramki had to give his parting comment. Would you mind messaging the ship and letting them know please. Of course da Ramki, she gave us the ticket means we will board the ship. Back in to the car, raced the 50 meters to the ship, no seatbelts on, doors literally ajar and back to Mr. Hi-Vis jacket who got the ship to re-open the hold, to allow us to drive in to the belly of the ship. Phew! That we were the last car is an understatement. This is the classic and proverbial ‘by the skin of your teeth’. There is no better example ever. Okay, so let’s check the ferry timings. 7.00 am departure. Last check in at 6.30 am. Shit man, how could I get this all ballsed up. Ramki the gent, doesn’t beat me up and lets it pass. We’re on the ship na bugger? I agree.
Distance covered 216 km in 3 hours 10 minutes. Stops 2. Once to recalculate Savvy’s blunder. Once to pee. It should have been 155 km in 2 hours and 15 minutes from Travelodge.
We enter the ship and climb up to the passenger section to some warmth. From the corner of my nose, if there is such a thing, I could smell a nice breakfast happening in the background. Now for the post-mortem. Had we opened the paper work and checked the timing of the ferry when Savvy let us down at 4.30 am, we would have seen a 7.00 am departure and with the Google maps GPS showing 2 hours 35 minutes, we would have never made the drive. We would have said this won’t happen, let’s figure out a plan B. Ignorance is bliss, eh? If I hadn’t spotted the sign to Kennacraig port saying 4 miles or the little road sign further up which said Kennacraig ferry this way, and had in fact driven past it, it would have been a further endorsement on the planning part being good, but not the execution! But no. Thank the Lord Ganesha for good luck and the lady at the reception. I must make it a point to write in and thank her. This close shave goes back to my earlier point of, miss a connection and you’re out. Stop for a pee and you’re almost out. The next ferry was scheduled for 5.30 pm which meant the plan would have been an epic fail. And I don’t know about tossing out Savvy, Ramki would have tossed me out and under the nearest on-coming truck.
Post-mortem over, we made our way to the very functional dining hall where the smells of a ‘full Scottish break-fast’ are now overpowering me. A number of others, may be 5-6 people, who seemed like truckers were tucking in.
Now for some vegetarian food for Ramki. Off we go to the counter. What’ll it be? These accents are new for both Ramki and me, but I’m a little better in understanding having lived in these parts. Sorry, say that again. She asked what you want to eat da. Do you have any vegetarian please? Yes, we do she says proudly. Vegetarian sausages! This is new territory for both Ramki and me. What does it contain? Soya, vegetable fats and some more grease. Wait. I’ll call the chef. The chef comes out, complete with chef’s hat and tattoos on his arm and I’m guessing he’s not happy with someone asking for vegetarian. But he’s holding a frozen packed of veg sausages and I can see Ramki peering in to the ingredients to figure things out. For me it’s relatively simple. Eggs, bacon, sausages, hash browns, tomatoes, black pudding, baked beans, two slices of toast, butter and a cup of tea to wash all the grease down with. Ramki selects the hash browns, the veg pudding which seems potato-ish, the beans, the mushrooms which I skipped, a black coffee, wheat bread toasted – very specifically asked the chef for this, and some butter. Of course the veg sausages are on the way. I go and pay the cashier and can’t help but notice his name is Andrew Morton. Andrew Morton is the guy who is the unofficial biographer of Princess Di and the rest of the Royal family. So a quick thought occurs. This must be his day job!
I go back first and dig in. Phew! Food, glorious food. It was such a relief after the high-octane drive which we never knew was high-octane till we reached. Fancy that?!
The ship is tossed around on the choppy seas, and we begin to feel this, a good one hour in to the journey with the food churning in our stomach’s. We begin to relax for the first time in a few hours. Ramki takes out his camera, the phones are working, internet is being used, Ramki has updated his Facebook status with shots of the CalMac ferry and immediately starts getting ‘likes’. I call Nita and update her on the close shave. We finally see dawn breaking. Dawn breaking is a relative term where we are. It’s almost 9.00 am but it feels like 5.45 am. The skies are grey, the rain is falling steadily, the ship is pitching and rolling and I remember telling Ramki this whole situation reminds me of a Tin Tin comic. He is invariably on a ship named Sirius holding on to Snowy, while some baddie is after him and the ship is pitching and rolling and it’s dark outside. Well, we did see a man holding a very Snowy looking dog in the deck, rain lashing, but thank God there were no baddies.
By 9.30 am we can now see the Island of Islay. Finally! We run down to the car, change in to appropriate clothing since it continues to lash outside. Ship still moving about. Since we were the last in, we were definitely going to be the last out. The island is incredibly beautiful and so it was in spite of the rain as we drove out of the ferry and onto the ramp leading to Port Ellen. Now to find our hotel, very appropriately named The Islay Hotel, which I might add is the hotel on the Island. Within 20 seconds we spot the hotel. Very convenient indeed. It’s 200 meters off the ferry to the left. We decide now that we have found the hotel, let’s check in since we have time before our first appointment at the distillery. We park adjacent to the main entrance and wonder aloud whether it has any separate parking. No. The main door is locked. Ok no problem. May be there is another entrance. We skirt the building at the right angle, and don’t find another entrance. We get back in to the car, since it is raining heavily and drive down Charlotte Road to understand which way or rather whether there was another entrance. 300 meters later, we make a u-turn. No. Nothing. Ok, now that we’ve established this is the hotel, we chart a course to the first distillery. May be they will open the hotel door a little later when the rain stops.
From where we are there are only two roads. One to the town of Bowmore, which is the main town on the Island of Islay. The other is to Ardbeg. Off we go to Ardbeg since on the way we will pass Laphroaig and Lagavulin where we have an appointment in one of them. In 5 minutes of driving through roads not dissimilar to West of Ireland – Galway and Connemara, we see the signs to Laphroaig. Oooh! Bugger, let’s stop here and check whether they are open. It is open Ramki, I called and spoke with them and Lagavulin. Ok da, let’s check it out although I think our appointment is at Lagavulin. We enter the premises, park at the visitor’s parking and walk around. After 5 minutes, we decide it’s all abandoned. Er, this is not good da. No da. Whom did you call? We figure let’s take the car inside the distillery and look around. Maximum some video camera will catch us snooping and we’ll say we are single malt lovers so couldn’t resist the temptation of making the right turn in to Laphroaig.
It is now 10.10 am and we have our appointment for 10.30 am at Lagavulin according to my planning. Suddenly we see a man in a while coat, very scientist looking and all, so we flag him down. So John says it’s open, but doesn’t know about the visitor’s center or about any bookings. So I say I’ve spoken with Ruth and booked with Vicky. Bingo! Yes he says, Ruth is at Lagavulin and Vicky is at Laphroaig. I’m vindicated and look smugly at Ramki. See, I told ya! Yes, da so the appointment is here and not Lagavulin. Er yes, I said a bit embarrassed. John says to go park the car closer to the reception and while he said that, a Ford Focus drives in and he says ah! That’s Bryony. She’ll open the visitor’s center. Ok, we have a winner!
We park close to the visitor’s center, Ramki takes out his camera equipment for the Leica, and I take out just my camera which has all its equipment inbuilt. Rakmi intends to make a photo feature and a documentary since he is the connoisseur and I am there for the experience. He will then show it off to this Single Malt Whiskey Society in Bangalore saying Ha! This is the real deal. Been there, done that on the Island of Islay or Is-lay as his members would pronounce it and not Eye-Lah as it is to be pronounced.
In we enter and Bryony, 100% Scottish, she with the complete thick accent and generous mannerisms, powers on the computer, apologizes for being late (she wasn’t), and offers us a ‘wee-dram’. These are the most popular two words we will experience and imbibe on Islay and when we are in doubt subsequently, we will offer the other a wee-dram; but knowing us, the word wee takes on slightly different proportions. Ramki’s eyes light up. This is the moment. This is what it’s all about. In the heart of single malt country being offered a wee-dram at Laphroaig. Sure and she pours a wee-dram of the classic 10 year malt. I pass saying I have to drive. No problem, we have drams for drivers and so she packs me a 50 ml wee bottle. Computer now on, she locates our appointment and Ramki pays up for the specialized tour for which there is only us. Specialized because at the end you get to pour yourself 250 ml of the finest stuff using a lahinch from the casks in the storeroom of several hundred barrels, label it, sign your name, seal it and take it away. Specialized because she will take us through the process, through the distillery, through every nook and cranny of the facility allowing Ramki to take pictures to his heart’s content. Specialized because it will be a full 45 minutes to an hour of her and us. Cool. Off we go on the most incredible journey of single malt making; the history, the people, the malt, the casks, the pagodas, the boys of a certain type who make the whiskey, the oaks, the Americans (Jim Beam owns the distillery) who know nothing about making the single malt, so let the distillery get on with the job of making it, while they get on with the job of marketing it; not that this stuff needs any marketing anyway. Of Prince Charles, and how he crashed his plane while landing on the Island in 1992 and how in 2008 he came back with Camilla who by then did not allow him to fly his plane in and some amazing anecdotal information thanks to Bryony’s encyclopedic knowledge of the process and the history. Scores of pictures later, wee-dram tastings of a 1998, 1999 and a 2001 vintage (which we also got to take away in wee-bottles), and by then Ramki had had a few towards the end; I stuck to ‘nosings’, we were back to the visitor’s center. The time; 1.00 pm. So much for the tour being forty five minutes to an hour. We had a full two and a half hours.
Bryony was brilliant and I suspect she was enthralled by the questions that Ramki had and for a change probably felt she was putting her time to good use; as opposed to the standard American and Japanese tourists that she normally deals with. She did confess that she thoroughly enjoyed the tour and we in turn said likewise. Did you know that there are only 30 people who work in Laphroaig? Amazing when you put this in perspective in terms of the whiskey it produces. That is just under one percent of the population of Islay. We then remembered the Islay Hotel and wondered if she could call and let them know we were in and had tried the front door. By then Vicky was in – Vicky being her boss, the lady with who I had set up the appointment. Sure, no problem. Vicky had the number and the exchange was wonderful. Ye have yer two visitors who tried the front door this morning. Aye. I was locked out myself this morning. Aye. The doors opened a wee late. Hmmm. Eventually I spoke and confirmed our bookings – yes, and you boys are the only guests at the hotel this night.
Tearful farewell, threats to keep in touch and even severer threats of coming back, we drove off and headed toward Lagavulin having taken the appropriate ‘Patel shots’ of the distillery from the outside.
Lagavulin is only another 5 minutes down the winding road. Lagavulin also seemed closed. No da Ramki, I spoke with Ruth. We parked at the visitor’s center and made out way to the reception which was not currently manned. Ting, we rang the bell, not unlike the bell which tells you that you have one minute to go during a debate. We looked around at the reception. It had the displays of all the years and vintages, some souvenirs and gave us the resemblance of a posh rich aristocrat’s reception. Ting again and from the depths of the house, it certainly looked like a house, emerges Lee. Okay, so not currently wo-manned.
Lee is also of the large variety of lass, and I’d say a wee young to be in this business, but informs us that she is a part of the Lagavulin family and we could ask her anything we wanted and she would answer it. No, there are no tours, but for £6 she would give us a tasting of three superior Lagavulin Malts. I pass and stick with the nosing, while Ramki rubs his hands with glee. £6 is nothing when you get a tasting of three superior single malts from the Lagavulin stable. Complete paisa vasool and then some. So she ushers us in to this fabulous drawing room which has extremely comfortable sofas, a large rosewood table with matching chairs, a replica of a sail ship, and most importantly, a fire place. There were two large windows with a view of the road and the rather mental weather outside. With the kind of weather raging outside, a fire place would be good for the tasting. Ramki settles himself into a plush sofa, ah this is the life kind of sofa, and decides to put Lee to the test. Can you tell me the difference between chill filtering and normal filtering and what tastes better and why? I’m like, you did this deliberately. Lee launches into the where and why fors of this whole process for the next 8 minutes while Ramki nods and sips his drams and counter questions. Once he is convinced, he says okay understood. Lee leaves us to ourselves and for the next hour and a bit, we pretend this is our home and monopolize the drawing room while chatting away and catching up. This is the first time since we met at Travelodge 18 hours earlier that we are completely relaxed. Lee comes back every 20 minutes to enquire whether we are fine. Sure, sure. The drams are being consumed, conversation is rolling and the afternoon continues with the rain pouring outside. We get a sense of – we are in the headquarters of Lagavulin sipping quality single malt whiskey in the drawing room of the owners. Imagine that? I wasn’t sipping, only nosing.
Finally at 3-ish we decide we should leave and ask whether Caol Ila is open (since the two distilleries are owned by the same owner – Diageo) and also to check whether Bruichladdich is open. Caol Ila is, but it is in a totally different part of the Island. Bruichladdich is closed, although when I called them to confirm two months ago, they said they would be open. Never mind. By then Ramki was soaking in drams and agreed that no more drams could be consumed now and nothing was to be gained by it, so shall we head for the hotel and check in? Hopefully someone will come and open the door this time. We bid good bye to Ruth this time, as Lee had by then left supposedly for her Christmas celebrations. Ramki picks up some of the good stuff and we head to the car in the rain. A couple of must-have Patel shots later, we drive back towards Charlotte Street in Port Ellen hoping that The Islay Hotel is now open.
The Islay Hotel is well located and is a 10 minute drive back on the same windy road leading back from Laphroaig and Lagavulin and we find that we are indeed the only guests for the night as was previously confirmed by Wendy during our conversation at Laphroaig. This time of year is wee quiet, but will pick up during the New Year. Good stuff, I think, at least there won’t be any noise. We get rooms 10 and 11 and since it has been confirmed that we are the only guests, I probably won’t run the risk of bumping in to a woman waiting for her husband. I slink in to 10 and Ramki in to 11. The first thought is wow! Awesome room. Extremely well appointed with a 32 inch LCD TV, tea and coffee making equipment with all the different flavors of tea and coffee, chairs, a large double bed with lovely linen, good quality carpeting and wait, let me peek in to the bath room as it is my preferred room for those of you who know me! Would you believe this? A full Jacuzzi in place of a bath tub, complete with instructions and several sets of towels and matching soaps and shampoos. I quickly go to 11 and find that Ramki is also pleased with his room, but he doesn’t have the Jacuzzi. Aw well?! Can’t have it all? I suppose the ‘superior’ room was given to the one who made the bookings. Both of us lament on why such fancy hotels don’t have shower curtains. May be it is a Scottish thing? Ramki informs me that most hotels in the UK don’t have them. Okay, so a British thing.
We take some time out and gather in my room for some eats. I had carried along cup noodles, whole meal bread; not wheat, with garlic butter, Philadelphia cheese, soup packets both mushroom and tomato (separately). Mugs also. All we had to do was boil water and we were ready to go. This is perfect for a time like this. Cold and 6ºC outside with pouring rain, not wanting to go out, and there you go – boil some water in the kettle and we’re good to go. It is now 3.45 pm and it’s been several hours since breakfast and of course with all the drams Ramki has had, some food is a must. We give ourselves an hour to do ‘our own thing’ and meet at 4.45 pm to drive to the town of Bowmore, which as I said earlier is the main town in Islay, to check out the food scene and may be find a pub so that Ramki could continue with the drams. I’ve been dram free since setting foot on the island, which is kind of a strange situation to be in, but that’s the lot of a driver.
So we set off at 4.45 pm in the rain and now complete darkness and catch the road to Bowmore, which is another road; we’ll on the face of it, there are only two roads. One to Ardbeg via Laphroaig and Lagavulin, and one to Bowmore. We cruise past the first sign which says Bowmore 10 miles on the A846, which is not a bad thing considering we never saw a sign for Kennacraig till we were 4 miles from it having driven 90 odd miles from Glasgow. This is a good sign! The headlights are on on low beam and the situation is not unlike an opening scene in a movie where they show a car moving along slowly in pitch darkness with the camera having caught the moving headlights from a distance. Here, there are no lights to aid with driving and pretty much no signs to tell you which way the road will turn. The road is deserted, but as per the sign we just passed, it is the only road to Bowmore. Suddenly the road comes to an end and very quickly Ramki spots it and says to me to go left. Cool, I make the left comfortably and motor along moving into 3rd and then 4th. Suddenly in the next 300 meters, the road comes to an end again and this time neither Ramki nor I spot which way it will turn. I guess left. No right. Right for God’s sake. Right, right, right and before we know it, the old girl is on two wheels skidding on the peat and within 3 seconds, no longer skidding, the left side wheels land in the bog and sucks the car in to the ditch flowing with flood water. The angle is say 45º and that doesn’t auger well for the car, Ramki or me. The driver’s side is beached on the embankment and Ramki’s side door can’t open as it is in the ditch which is full of flood waters. First thoughts? Behen Chhodh!? Honestly. Ramki goes whoa, whoa, whoa! Okay, do we have our body parts? Yes we have. Are you hurt da. No da. You, no. Shaken and stirred. But I’ll live. Ever the drama baaz. So much for my Ma extolling the virtues of my driving! Nazar lag gaya. First thing Ramki says subsequently is, don’t move, else the car will topple over to the left. I take off my seat belt and I’m at this funny angle literally leaning against Ramki, heads touching. He is squished against his side door. I switch off the engine, turn on the hazard lights and leave the headlights on. My door unlocks – which is a good thing because if this was a movie, it wouldn’t have opened. With a struggle, I push it open much against gravity, do some balancing to check whether the car would dislodge. No movement. I get out first, Ramki makes the move once I am on terra firma. One step, I hold him by the arm and pull him to the safety of the main road and the freezing and lashing rain. Fantastic da we both think. I kept thinking about how I’ve ruined the evening and what has happened. Then I think, like only I can given our predicament. We’ll I’m insured, the car is insured, I have AA cover, travel insurance and whatever else that was available, I have it. And I have not been drinking. So there! Okay what next da, shall we call the cops or call the AA while we wait for some passer-by. So we take out our collective 4 phones. The two with UK SIMS his India phone and my Ireland phone. Of course, what were we expecting, a signal? So that didn’t disappoint us although I took out my AA card hoping the toll-free number would connect. To connect to a toll-free number (emergency rescue), you still need signal. So what next? We’ll have to flag down the next car from which ever direction. We waited a good 7-8 minutes in the lashing rain before we saw headlights in the distance similar to my description of headlights in the distance in a movie. The car was coming from the direction of Bowmore on the A846. I volunteered, stood in the middle of the road and waved my arms, criss-cross, criss-cross and by the third criss-cross, the car began to slow down. It had to. If you were the car coming from the opposite direction, you would have an unreal sight before you. A pair of headlights on high beam shining, with the hazard lights flashing at you from the ditch some 6 feet below the road surface and one man in the middle of the road doing a criss-cross number in the pouring rain. You’d stop out of sheer curiosity.
So stopped Clare MacAllister and her family of 2 wee numbers and I presume Mr MacAllister. Clare was driving a diesel jeep which I couldn’t place. She pressed her window down and asked the obvious question. To which we both answered all is well. How did it happen? I began to explain, Ramki said – in slow motion! One of the better one liners from him all trip! There is no signage indicating which way the road would turn. Meanwhile, another pair of headlights. This time it’s John in a hi-vis jacket with a colleague. Are ye hurt? No, just my ego. That’ll do ye right. Okay. I ask Clare to call the police. She confers with John and ascertains that 999 will call the police… in wait, the mainland. Not in Bowmore?! Cool, I thought. She speaks to the despatcher and gives some details and then promptly hands over the phone to me. The Scottish accent is tough to figure out in the best of times. And this wasn’t the best. Ambulance. No. Broken bones. No. Full name. I gave it having spelt it out. Remarkably she didn’t ask me to repeat even once. God knows what she typed in to her report. Location. I don’t know, so I gave it back to Clare to describe where we are. Meanwhile, a car heading to Bowmore stops. He made the usual noises and drove off. There were plenty of people giving us attention by then.
John got to work and began to tie a rope to the back of the CRV – there is a provision for such a rope to be tied. Got Mr. MacAllister to align his jeep to do the needful. Let’s give the car a wee tug says John. One, two and three. Engines straining, John’s mate in the CRV since I declined – which one is reverse gear he asks? So I explain by a show of my hand. Snap goes the rope. Mr. MacAllister heads in one direction, and the CRV stay put with flood waters now rising. Two unsuccessful attempts and a severely shortened rope later and with Mrs MacAllister’s wee ones getting impatient, she takes our leave. Merry Christmas says Ramki very politely – I remember he even said it to the lady at Kennacraig Port when she allowed us to board, before adding please can you message the ship!!
John hangs around and a minute later, coming from Bowmore are the flashing lights of a police car or ambulance. Well, I hoped the former, because we already said we didn’t need an ambulance. So the despatcher called the police station in Bowmore and there showed up Officer Ian Hutchinson in his police cruiser, a Mitsubishi of some variety. He quickly sums up the situation and asks which one of us is driving, and whose car it is, then invites us to his car. You boys come and keep warm (is an invitation isn’t it) while I ask you some questions. Ramki and I obey. We like warmth and no rain. John asks whether he could also be kept warm in Officer Hutchinson’s car. A guffaw or two later, we are sitting in the back seat of the police cruiser. Officer Hutchinson speaks in to his police CB radio and the first thing he says gets my attention. Ramki of course couldn’t figure out the accent, so I listen on. He says in to the CB radio that the road markings need to be fixed and that the council better attend to it asap and this is not the first instance. Hmmm. We’ve got grounds to sue. Any photo identification? That’s twice in two days a police officer has asked me for a photo identification. I fish out my Irish driver’s license. He copies down the whole nine yards, turns the three folds of the paper license to check all the notes and lack of endorsements and calls out the car number in to the radio. 03Delta272. Honda CRV. Aye, a CRV. Aye, yes, Irish plates. Then asks Ramki for his name. So Ramki spells it out Ramakrishnan Sreenivasan. And your surname? Er, this is my full name officer. As if it’s not long enough. Date of Birth. So Ramki says DOB. Where are you from? Bangalore, India. Address? You want the full address asks Ramki in bewilderment about to launch in to so and so Cross, so and so Stage Indiranagar? No, this will do. Phew. Relief! By then John and his mate had left. The rain continued to pour, but at least we were warm and being taken care of by Officer Hutchinson. I couldn’t say the same for 03Delta272. Poor thing! What a place to be lying in. The bogs. By then a number of cars passed and waved out to Officer Hutchinson. Everyone seemed to know him.
Right boys, let’s get you out of here. Officer Hutchinson began working his Nokia, his CB radio and walkie-talkie pretty much simultaneously to catch someone from Mackenzie, the local garage and the only one with a towing truck large enough to pull yer jeep out. Okay, we nod in unison. But it’s a Saturday night at 6.15 pm on the 22nd of December and no one is available. So Officer Hutchinson, gets impatient and says let’s drive to Mackenzie’s, it’ll be faster. Before we head off, I make some noises about whether my CRV would be safe given that there was a lot of stuff in the car, including my camera which must have rolled toward the port side and now probably drowning. Officer Hutchinson gets off acknowledging the situation and carries some kind of tape with him. He quickly trots up to the car and ties it loosely on the driver’s side door handle. He comes back and we ask him what the tape says. He says Police Tape. Its like the kind you see in the movies. Cool. He further adds that that way people will know this is now a police matter. Sounded convincing to me. So off we head in the direction of Mackenzie’s. Ramki and I notice immediately how fast he is driving. He obviously knows the roads better than we did. On the way, he crosses a section of flood water and describes how a number of cars have turned back, no, but not him. Floods? Ramki and I look at the water which while covering the entire road from ditch on the left to fields on the right, is not more than a foot deep. Immediately we think about real floods in India and how even a scooter wouldn’t hesitate to cross this eyes closed, forget turning back. We don’t want to be rude and tell Officer Hutchinson this, so we shut up. 3 minutes later, we are at Mackenzie’s. Sorry. All locked. Officer Hutchinson works the phones again, while Ramki and I chat at the back. Ramki, why hasn’t he checked me for daru? Why hasn’t he breathalized me I say in Hindi. Shhh da. And to think I spent the day in distilleries only nosing my way through the drams while Ramki had all the glory. This is when I know I can claim insurance and whatever else is due to me with my head held high. Not a drop. That’s all I kept thinking about funnily.
And then the most surreal sound you will ever hear on the Island of Islay at 6.30 in the evening in the back of a police cruiser with rain pissing outside. Ramki and I looked at each other, eyebrows raised and frowning at the same time, mouths open and with a ‘are we seriously hearing this’ kind of a look. Gangnam Style playing out of Officer Hutchinson’s Nokia phone. Gangnam style has reached the Island of Islay, population 3450 in the Inner Hebrides off the coast of mainland Scotland. Officer Hutchinson’s got some taste in music. Okay, okay. Thanks mate. Aye it needs a wee tug. How long? 20 minutes. Okay.
I owe you one. Aye. Talk to you later. The signs are improving. He drives us back through the flood waters to the scene of the crime where 03D272 is looking more and more forlorn with a chance of drowning in the ditch with the waters creeping up all the time. It was now time to call the AA. Our collective 4 phones come out. No signal. Officer Hutchinson reverses a bit, still no signal. He drives up a narrow stretch of road leading in to a forested area where he claims he has made calls in the past. Still no signal. He drives back to the scene and decides enough is enough and hands me his Nokia phone with the Gangnam Style ring tone. Quick question officer, Ramki hesitates. If the chevron was there it would have pointed right and we would have then known which way to go. What happened to it? Officer Hutchinson turns around from the driver’s side of the cop car to face Ramki and replies without moving a muscle – the last car knocked it down and it hasn’t been repaired since!!!! And this is what I had heard him mouth in to the CB radio when we first entered his car.
I call AA Ireland. Press 1 to skip the security message. Beep. The woman asks me all sorts of questions, hardly anything relevant and says she will call me on this number. Er no, this is Officer Hutchinson’s number, my phone doesn’t have any signal. So should I pay Mackenzie and claim it from AA Ireland. No wait, I’ll get back to you. I have to first check whether AA UK, uses Mackenzie and if that is the case, then there is no problem. Officer Hutchinson is saying tell her it’s the only garage on the Island. I relay the message. She goes in to lecture mode after which she says she’ll call back. Meanwhile, Ramki wants a picture of the situation we launched ourselves in to. But wait. He can’t get out. We’re trapped. Child locked. Why so Officer Hutchinson? It’s so that criminals can’t jump out. With the police cruiser’s lights on full beam pointing to this rather bizarre sight of a half-submerged 03D272, Ramki gets off aims and shoots with his Leica which he remembered to get off the car. So finally we have a picture or two.
Back now in the car waiting for Mackenzie’s tow truck, we ask Officer Hutchinson about himself. He’s a 23 year old veteran of the Scottish police having worked on the mainland in the Drugs and Narcotics department. This, we surmise must be a retirement posting and the only thing of excitement happening on the Island of Islay is pulling two boys out of a ditch on a freezing, rainy winter day. Good for us. I tell him how emotional I am about my CRV and how I talk to it and how I apologized to her for putting her in a spot. Ramki thought I had had a head injury and was probably beginning to lose the plot. Officer Hutchinson said he did likewise and that it wasn’t a strange thing to do and then promptly pulled up a picture of his 40 year old Land Rover on his Nokia screensaver; complete with a stepney on the bonnet, not unlike a Land Rover my father drove in the tea estates 40 years ago I told him. So there Ramki, people do talk to their cars. There is a code 041 squawking on his CB radio. He looks at us and says if it makes you feel better, there is an accident on the mainland with people injured. Er, no Officer Hutchinson. Someone else’s misery does not make us feel better. Not tonight anyway. It’s the Christmas season. Maybe some other time, I would have felt better, but not now. Not tonight.
Suddenly the familiar yellow flashing lights of a maintenance truck. Good old Mac. The truck stops and guess who jumps out? John of the hi-vis and first time fail to tow fame. How are you boys? All good thanks. Was he recruited by Mackenzie or volunteered, I don’t know. But he wasn’t driving. According to Ramki, he was with one of the boys that Officer Hutchinson had contacted but said he couldn’t drive because he was a couple of glasses of wine down. Yet he shows up, pulls out a new steel tow thingie and does what he did an hour and a half ago. Ties it to the CRV. From here on, Ramki describes it as I’m in the police cruiser with the door locked, rain still lashing, not wanting to see what damage has accrued to my CRV, and not wanting to see how it will be pulled out of the bogs. I have my eyes shut. 3 minutes later Ramki frees me by opening the door from the outside and says all good da, come and have a look. John knew what he was doing all along. He first pulled it along the ditch for some distance before allowing it to climb out of the ditch at the appropriate angle. Cool da.
Officer Hutchinson is first off the blocks with his description. She’s had a lot of water intake, sounding as he was describing someone needing CPR. But the way cars are built these days, the water will drain out though these specially fitted nozzles and she’ll be fine. Er, specially fitted nozzles? In my 10 year old CRV?! I go to the driver’s side, not wanting to look at the passenger’s side and start her. First crank. That’s all she took. Purring away. Headlights on. Working. Handshakes and smiles all around, Officer Hutchinson asked us to drive through the flood waters down the road to clean the peat and hay off the bottom of the CRV. Yes, now I see it. Full of peat on the undersides sticking to the front and rear left struts, left wing mirror, left side of the front and rear bumper which is black and gooey and the more you rub, the more it will stick. It is oily. Peat is used for household fuel and is also a main ingredient in the single malts. Right now, it was the least of my problems. The CRV was drenched with water from the ditch. Soaked. Anyway, we thanked John and the lad from Mackenzie; there was no payment offered. No hint of chai-paani from them. Nothing. They just drove away knowing they had helped some tourists on their island. We then jumped into the CRV and drove towards the flood waters, ostensibly to clear the undersides. Officer Hutchinson followed us carefully at the back to ensure we didn’t fall in to anything else. Found a suitable place to make a u-turn and headed back to The Islay Hotel racing through the flood water one last time and hoping the undersides would clean up. Officer Hutchinson accompanied us to the hotel waited for me to park the CRV. We got off, went up to him to thank him, shake his hand, kiss it if I could. Oh by the way, AA Ireland called. And? Well I told her it was okay not to bother. Awesome Officer Hutchinson. Thanks and good bye. You boys don’t go falling in to anything you can’t get out of yourselves now. Yes Officer Hutchinson and off he goes. Merry Christmas! It was now 6.55 pm. We were out in a little over 2 hours. Amazing, given our predicament to begin with.
We inspect the CRV and it’s got at least 15 litres of water in it. The carpets are soaked, but that’s fine. We keep saying it could be worse. There is a vague sound coming from the engine which is funny, because the height of the car saved the engine from being drowned. I put it down to her protesting. We bring out the newspapers, the kitchen tissue roll saved for such a situation and whatever else we can to do a clean-up operation standing in the freezing rain and wind. The nearby Spar is closed. I would have bought a sponge or two and more newspaper.
Before we go back in to the hotel, we decide to walk on the main road to see what we can find in the shape of food. I didn’t want to have cup noodles or soup again and neither did Ramki. 50 meters ahead, we see a restaurant called, wait for this, Maharaja. We peek in. There is some very sad Hindi song playing. Expecting to see some Indians, we were surprised to see an old Scottish lady at the counter. There were 3 other people waiting for some take-away. Okay, so the food sells. That’s a good start. Er, what time are you open till? Till 10 tonight as there is not much happening. Okay. Is it okay if we come back at 8 for dinner? Just the two of ye. Yes. Aye. That established and for lack of any other choice, Maharaja it was going to be.
Got back to the rooms and this time, I went to Ramki’s and decided it was finally time to put wee drams. In fact Ramki strongly recommended I put not so wee drams and make up for the wee drams I’ve missed out on all day. Out came the 50ml bottle that Bryony from Laphroaig had given me – we have a little something special for drivers she had said. We sat, laughed about the evening and Officer Hutchinson’s ring tone in particular; Ramki repeatedly kept saying it could have been worse and I feel awful for missing the blind turn and ruining our evening in Bowmore. Don’t worry da, it could have been worse!!
At the dot of 8.00 pm, having emptied several small vials of single malt courtesy our Laphroaig tour, we headed to Maharaja. Oh, another diner. There was a lady tucking in some chicken korma and naan bread and the proprietress sitting with her and mucking in as well and getting even larger with every mouthful. All very cozy. With considerable effort, she hauls herself off the chair and comes up to us with her scratch pad and pen. She first points the very personalized hot air blower at our legs and asks what’ll it be? I
settle for the Chicken Tikka Masala with Naan bread and a lamb starter. Ramki asks for wheat chhapatis. Duly confused, the lady hollers for the chef. Chef appears. Ramki takes off in Hindi about the whether the chhapati is in aata or wheat or maida and while he’s at it, asks for a daal and mixed vegetable as well. Er, no signs of life on the chef’s face. He’s not Indian da, he’s Bangladeshi. The penny drops. This time, I try. In English. It works. Ramki gets his chhapati in aata, daal fry, mixed vegetables and sparkling water. Proprietress goes back to her friend and continues with the Korma and Naan, We await the food. Food arrives in 10 minutes. We are famished. And boy the food is good. Very good. The Bangladeshi chef has put all his effort in to our evening meal. We are pleased. While we devoured the meal, the lady from the other table kept making conversation with us between mouthfuls of Chicken Korma. Neither of us asked the other to join us or her at the table. Not the polite thing to do. Talking across tables is the correct etiquette at least in Islay. No. This is a joke.
Back to the room and we decide that’s enough for one day. The day started at 2.50 am in Glasgow.
216 kilometers of night driving in over three hours, another two and a half hour ferry crossing, two and a half hours at Laphroaig walking and standing during the tour, one and a half hours at Lagavulin, an hours driving around the Island, the fall in to the ditch, 2 hours of trying to get out, the stress of it all – we were done. Or at least I was. It was now 9.30 pm and all I could think of was a hot shower, clean sheets and sack.com. No, oddly enough I didn’t think of the Jacuzzi. Ramki, I think got out his yoga mat and did some stretching, got on to his email, updated his FB status and I wouldn’t have put it past him to end the day with one last wee dram.
Day 3: 23rd December 2012. The day starts at a leisurely pace. Very comfortable sleep apart from a couple of boy racers at 2.30 a.m. Yes, they live on Islay too. The rain has stopped, the sun was desperately trying to make an entrance. I decided to put the camera to use and took some pictures of the dawn breaking, of the empty streets and the tides coming in. Breakfast down stairs at 9.15 am. We were greeted by Nicola. A very pretty lass, not of the large variety. The first non-large lady we have seen so far. Thick accent none the less. By the morning our fame had spread. The island was talking about us. Nicola wanted to know how we were and what happened. Our chests swelling with pride, we narrated whatever we could before realizing we really needed to order some breakfast. Clare MacAllister had been to the hotel for dinner the previous night after the initial couple of wee tugs and asked the hotel how their guests were doing. Our guests Nicola said? In the ditch? Yes said Clare. So this is where and how I got Clare’s name. Clare and Nicola are friends. Nicola even knew Officer Hutchinson and wrote down both Clare and Officer Hutchinson’s names on a piece of paper for me so that I could send thank you cards on my return to Dublin – which I did. A third card went to Bryony at Laphroaig and a fourth to the reception lady at the Port Kennacraig Caledonian MacBrayne ferry terminal.
Breakfast for me was a no-brainer. The full Scottish. Ramki settled for some cereal, pro-biotic yogurt (my my?!) wheat toast (what did you expect?) and the vegetarian parts of the full Scottish; with black coffee. We continued chatting with Nicola through breakfast and explained to her the days plan of visiting all the distilleries on the Island. She returns in 10 minutes with a very user friendly map of the Island. Cool. We decide we have to roll by 10 am if were to achieve today’s objective. The sun was showing all signs of coming out, the seagulls were shrieking away buoyed by the rays of the sun. We paid up and while leaving I asked for old spare newspaper, if any, to soak up another batch of water in the car. The receptionist looked for newspaper, came back and said no newspaper and then promptly handed us a humungous roll of industrial tissue paper in violet color. Impressed, Ramki and I gleefully accepted it and went about cleaning and removing the previous night’s paperwork. Much water has been absorbed. Much to go. But no sign of Officer Hutchinson’s specially fitted nozzles doing their stuff. She started immediately, no protest kind of sounds. Off we headed in the general direction of Ardbeg. We stopped
before Laphroaig so that Ramki could take pictures. For me it was exactly the landscape of the West of Ireland. Within 10 minutes we were back in Laphroaig!
This time I wanted to buy a bottle or two. Parked at the now familiar parking, ran in and Bryony was at the reception. Hello boys. Hi Bryony. Ramki wanted a picture of her holding the malt in her hand for his documentary on single malts. Quickly narrated our tale of heroism and valor and she very sweetly asked Vicky, her boss, to move her car so that I could park close to the hose pipe for a good old hose down. Having shown me the hose and the water, she and Ramki pushed off for a photo session. For the next 20 minutes, I hosed and hosed and hosed. I got under her on my knees and pulled off hay and grass and muck and yuck. Having done so, went inside the shop to buy some of the good stuff. And there was some Laphroaig cheese as well with the peaty flavor. I’m sure some whiskey has been poured over it. Ramki tells me to buy the cask strength which in layman’s terms, hits you much harder than the regular distilled one because this is 58.3% alcohol by volume to the normal 40% that normal human beings and whiskeys are used to and made of respectively. But I swear, it’s one of the yummiest things you will ever nose, sip, lick, twirl and eventually reluctantly drink (reluctant because in the end it has to finish) in your life. I’m an addict now.
We say another series of good byes and this time I can safely say we won’t be back again today and we head towards Ardbeg. Ardbeg is closed. That’s fine. We want Patel shots. Patel shots happen. We look out for the pagoda, take some snaps and point the CRV south, back towards the Islay Hotel and eventually on the road to Bowmore hoping to complete last evening’s journey into town. In the middle of nowhere, but close to Ardbeg, there is this red phone booth. What it is doing there I don’t know. Unless it’s waiting for Superman to come and change his clothes. Very quickly I take a snap just in case it disappears the next time I come around. Ramki goes wandering off with his Leica while I take snaps sitting in the CRV.
20 minutes later, we are on the road to Bowmore. We skirt past the first turn – the one which we figured was going to turn left the night before. The difference is it is day. No need for lights. 300 meters ahead is the right angle turn which brought us down. There we see it. A sign-post with no sign. Two poles standing proudly erect with nothing in between to point a direction. Ramki figures now that we are going to Bowmore, we should meet Officer Hutchinson and offer the council £100 to have a sign-post erected. Of course it should carry our names. The Ramki and Tuhin right turn board. We park at the spot. In the melee of last evening, Ramki has lost one of his precious Leica lens caps. Perhaps it has fallen around somewhere. 10 minutes of searching, but no luck. Never mind da, I’ll order it from the US. Okay da. Sorry about that. I stand and take pictures of the spot, the two poles, the bog, ditch and peat. The towing marks on the soft slush and the absolutely desolate location we are in. Brrrr. We thank our stars, get in to the CRV and drive on towards Bowmore which is 15 minutes away.
Bowmore is a small sleepy town, and I’d say in its day back in 1823, would have been a very happening town. But not today. Today is a Sunday and there is nothing happening. Everything other than the local ASDA is closed. We browse around the ASDA looking for nothing special. We put a Patel shot at the Bowmore distillery and spend another 10 minutes walking around taking pictures of the town. The map Nicola gave us was being put to use. With Ramki navigating using the map, he quickly charted out a course of action.
Bruichladdich was next. Brook-lad-ee or ‘stony bank shore’ in Gaelic. The drive itself was beautiful with the sun showing signs of coming to life, eventually never completely coming to life. We make a left at Bridgend, a tiny village with what seemed to be the only petrol pump on the Island, a convenience store and a stack of fire-logs and coal for heating. Not sure if these were drenched in the rain the previous night. We continue along the coast of Lochindaal with the sea on the left and these small houses on the right strategically placed overlooking a rather calmer sea this morning. This section has some incredible scenic beauty. Before long we show up at Bruichladdich which is of course, closed. Bruichladdich’s branding is characterized by its white clear, possibly Arial font against a rather dreary light turquoise background. Ramki informs me that over the last few years, the marketers have taken over and done some re-branding to ensure this whiskey sells. Sounds good da, but it doesn’t look too good I say but I’m sure it tastes good! We park on the coastal road, Ramki pushes off to do the Patel shots one specifically of what seems to be a man with his head submerged in to a 20 foot copper pot still with only his feet sticking out. The man is wearing wellies so as not to get his feet wet!! This is what greets you at Bruichladdich. Incredible as it looks, it’s also Scottish humor it’s best. We enter the premises which is completely abandoned, not a soul, but the watchful eyes of a security camera. Several shots later, Ramki decides he needs to speak with Swarna and Siva as there is some signal for a change, and I go to the neighborhood grocer/convenience store to buy a fresh set of batteries. Not sure at this stage where I misplaced my re-chargeable ones since Laphroaig yesterday.
One of the very lovely things we notice as we drive along the main roads on Islay is that every car we pass, the driver waves out to us. So the questions are, is it just us? Do they know about last night? Or are they being friendly? We figure it isn’t just us and that this must be the way of the Island. The wave is characterized by the driver lifting his right index finger momentarily from the steering wheel which is at the 2 º clock position; as the car coming from the opposite side of the road passes. It’s all about the timing. Sometimes there is the occasional nod of the head in acknowledgement and very occasionally, we’d get the full Congress. We rather enjoyed this and made it a point to try the one finger, the three finger and the full Congress from time to time. Ramki, not one to be left out, also joined in the fun from the shotgun side. After a while we noticed the odd driver not doing the needful. Analysis revealed these were women drivers, perhaps more intent on focusing on the road rather than waving out to passing cars.
Next on the map is Kilchoman. We’re making good progress with 3 hours to go before we need to be at the ferry at Port Askaig. We decide we need to be in early, double check the check-in and departure as we firmly believe in having learnt from our (my) mistakes! Kilchoman is situated way inland. One sign announces the distillery with an arrow saying 6 miles. Okay no problem, but when we get on to the road, we find it is narrow – narrow as in, only one car can either go or come. It’s a third gear 30 km/h kind of road with bumps, ups, downs and some more ups. Kilchoman is also a very good whiskey da, Ramki announces. Yes da, I believe you. This scenery is a little more circumspect. On the left and right we have stonewalled and barbed wire fencing, which is a good thing since we are climbing. Behind us, we have left the sea behind and in front of us, some pretty rugged country side. 5 miles later we find a sign which says Kilchoman Distillery and visitor’s center 1 mile. Okay, this is good planning by the Scottish Tourism Board. It’s good to keep tourists informed at all times. We know we are close thanks to the STB. Finally, a sign which points to the left, down a very bad stretch of road which fortunately my CRV tackles with aplomb. Good girl, I think to myself. Then another sign. This is private property, trespassers will be prosecuted. Fine. Then we see it. Kilchoman distillery and visitor’s center and horse riding this way. Horse riding? We enter the premises which is not unlike a ghost town. Completely deserted. Careful da, I tell Ramki as he gets off for his Patel moment. I park in the No Entry area. There’s no one there for now, so it shouldn’t matter. Ramki quickly comes back a minute later announcing that there is no one around (er, true) and that we’d better make wheels quickly. Other than a tractor trailer, a tractor which seems abandoned and forlorn sitting alone looking all beat up (by the way the tractors are mostly Fergusons and spare parts for these are sourced from India from time to time), some wet hay, some bad stones which can wreck the bottom of a car, an open shed, a locked shed, there were no signs of life. No roosters, hens, their children, goat or cow or even a horse since one sign proclaimed horse riding center. Nope. We figure the owners have left for Christmas and gone to the mainland. We beat a hasty retreat. The only signs of life as we trudge the 6 miles down to the main road are a gorgeous flight of Starlings. Ramki, the ornithologist in him, makes a mental note that Islay also has some birds coming and going. Then some geese.
Back on the main road, we head towards Bunnahabhain. We have time to complete all the distilleries. After this just Caol Ila. Bunnahabhain is another beautiful drive and like pretty much all the distilleries is off the main road and down a beaten path. Within 10 minutes of hitting the main road, we see directions to Bunnahabhain. The Scottish Tourism Board has given equal opportunity to all the distilleries by generously displaying signs showing us the way. It’s up to us to find our way inland after that. The route begins to climb quite steeply. Second gear kind of driving. Very narrow and very steep. It doesn’t matter because there has been no car on the country roads since we started in the morning. Then descent. A couple a butterfly in the stomach moments later because of the ups and downs of the road, gradual descent, then all of a sudden, steep descent with a sign that says Bunnahabhain distillery and visitor’s center. It is at the bottom of the hill adjacent to the sea. Several hundred barrels with the good stuff, probably not in it, greet us announcing ‘Bunnahabhain’. I leave the car on the slope which is at a good 30º incline, but from where I get some good Patel shots of the sea, the mountains, the distillery, and of Ramki taking his Patel shots. No. There are no signs of life. Again we figure the owners and distillers have gone to the desh/village/mainland for Christmas. Several shots later, we head towards Caol Ila, the last distillery on this tour. I admit that Ramki has been very kind towards me in spite the overwhelming number of closed distilleries – although I confirmed which ones would or would not be open prior to his coming in. But still.
Back on the main road, we check out the time. It is now 1.45 pm, and we have over 45 minutes to check in to Port Askaig. This is the self-imposed time limit. The actual check-in time is at 3.00 pm for the 3.30 pm sailing to Port Kennacraig. We are confident of making the time as according to the resident map expert, the distances on this Island map is something like half an inch equals to one mile. Agree with you da. Then for the last time that day, we follow signs which says Caol Ila. We get off the main road and climb a wee bit. Within 30 seconds, we see the signs! That was quick we both think. For the first time we see some signs of life – false alarm. It’s what we believe to be the General Manager’s house. It’s not the distillery. Nice house. A minute later, we climb down following the signs and this time we do see some signs of life. A swanky new parked white X5 and a not so swanky new Ford Focus and a third car which looked like a worker’s car. A Vauxhall of some variety. This is one of the better single malts of Islay Ramki lets me know; as if there are some bad single malts on Islay. He is envisaging a couple of wee drams now that there are a couple of cars outside the visitor’s center. We park the CRV in a vacant slot between the Focus and the X5 and Ramki jumps off with the smells of whiskey on his tongue. A few giant steps later armed with his Leica, he’s at a very closed Caol Ila visitors center! Not good! He manfully takes the rejection and goes about his Patel shots while I mull over something which I’ve noticed. Almost all the distilleries with the exception of Kilchoman, are along the coast. This a good thing because the roads are far too narrow for large trucks to carry the malt, the barrels of the liquid single malt for bottling, the peat and large American tourists who visit the Island from time to time. Barges, ferries and boats are required for these rather important tasks.
A couple of Patel’s of Ramki later, we head back to the main road and in the general direction, as per the island map, of Port Askaig. Port Askaig emerges within 2 minutes and Ramki’s assessment of the Island map of a half inch is equal to one mile, is vindicated. We are early for a change. We join the queue which says cars this way. We are the first car, there is one van ahead of us. The rain has started. It doesn’t matter now that we have just concluded our tour of the Island of Islay. Port Askaig is very scenic like most of Islay. The port itself is no more than half a square km with some very pretty and colorful boats parked. I take a few shots of the boats. A yellow, blue, black and green and figure that these are fishing boats of some variety. All this adds to the character of the Port. That done, Ramki decides its way past his dram time. I mean it’s 3 in the afternoon and considering he’s drammed at 10.30 am the day before through to the night, he must have some withdrawal symptoms. So off we head in to the Port Askaig Bar and Hotel which is extremely well located. You enter Islay on the North side, you stop and put malts. You leave Islay on the North side you stop and put malts while waiting for the ferry.
Hi he says to the bar tender. Again, an oldish woman of generous proportions. Hi boys, what’ll it be? Nice cosy bar with fire place happening in the background. A couple of other people having pints before boarding the ferry to either Jura or Kennacraig and the happy sounds of the Christmas season from the speakers. Come all ye faithful… The faithful have arrived. Ramki peers at the extremely lavish stock behind the counter and can’t make up his mind. The woman fusses over him showing off all her wares! Problem of plenty happening right before my eyes. A couple of exchanges later, Ramki decides on the Laddie as it’s called on the Island. Bruichladdich for the uninitiated. Good choice she says. Had he chosen a Bowmore, or a Laphroaig or a Bunnahabhain, she would have still said good choice I suspect. Ramki goes through the routine I’ve become familiar with. The sniffing. Okay, the nosing, the swirling of the glass, the first sip, the oohs and aahs and finally with the taste moving up to his brain, the first and only splash of water. No, I don’t feel like a drink although there are over 3 hours till I begin to drive again.
The lady at the counter is subsequently replaced by another lady at the counter. The shift has changed I tell Ramki. The new lady at the counter is the proprietress we figure after 1 minute as she begins to give the orders to the departing now erstwhile bar tender. She is articulate, mid-50s, expensive clothes, dark lipstick, a string of pearls around her neck and then commences a very engaging conversation with us. Gives us some history of Bruichladdich and how the distillery was down and out in the year 2000 and how this Englishman came in to rescue them. And how all he carried with him was his love of single malt. I can hear Ramki thinking to himself how he also loves single malts and whether anything else on the Island needed rescuing. The story ended well on most counts. The Bruichladdich distillery survived having been bought over a group of investors courtesy the Englishman. He raised £4.5 million in capital back in 2000, kept all the workers and most importantly the master distiller. Grew the production over the 12 years it was under his management and sold it for a pretty penny. Guess for how much asks Marion Spears? by which time we see her good name embedded on a wall behind the counter. So I venture £50m? No. £58m? Close. So far so good. Everyone’s happy. The workers at Laddie as they had shares; the management who made the investment and the customers who are relieved to know Bruichladdich survived the decade. But whom did he sell it to Marion? Rémy Cointreau of the Rémy Martin fame? The French? Ramki and I give each other the frowning eyebrow. This is hard to believe, but the French love their single malt according to Marion and desperately wanted one in their stable. She regales us with more stories about the French which Ramki and I enjoy as we both have similar opinions about them. So that’s what accounts for the new light turquoise packaging of Bruichladdich and the re-branding Ramki was talking about two hours earlier. The French!
Time flies past; the time being all of 20 minutes, and suddenly Marion says she can hear the rumbling of the CalMac engines. The ferry is coming in to port. It’s time to leave and she says see you on the ship – apparently going along with Mr. Spears to the mainland for Christmas. Ramki figures that Marion Spears is the first and only businesswoman on the Island of Islay.
We hop into the car in the rain, drive ahead, hand over the tickets to the ferryman (there is a sign which says to wait her until instructed by the ferryman), drive into the CalMac, make a set of difficult maneuvers inside the narrow vessel as instructed by the CalMac crew, grab necessary belongings and head up to the deck. While heading up, I take a quick picture of the belly of the ship and notice that there are no more than six cars, two vans, one truck and one tanker. Plenty of space for all of us.
We make our way for the dining room and Ramki immediately notices this ship is better looking (!) than the one that brought us to Islay last morning. How so? Well, he says, the ship has been built on the same chassis, but the construction seems to have been kinder to this one. Okay, I agree. Ramki is back at the familiar counter looking for a vegetarian lunch. By then we were both hungry, but my stomach less settled than his so I choose to pass. Out comes the chef. This time a smaller, older and perhaps less flappable man with a chef’s hat. No tattoos. What do have in vegetarian? From then on, Ramki and the chef were making it up as they went along.
Ramki returns to the table in triumph, a smile showing the pearly 32. A vegetable stir-fry came the answer. Whaaat?! This is truly remarkable and hats off the CalMac crew and company. We settled down, caught up on personal stuff, browsed, he called Swarna and Siva while there was signal and I bought a copy of the Sun and Mirror – these are good gossip papers (Harry kills Taliban commander were the headlines) and have some decent page 3 models as well as being 80 pages thick. I needed these for the next batch of water absorption. Ramki’s food came looking all green and orange (carrots), he gobbled it up with relish, while I passed again. 90 minutes in to the journey with constant egging, I decided to have some cheese and crackers to keep the stomach going. If that wasn’t un-healthy enough, I topped it with ice cream made from pure Scottish milk. I just had to.
We arrived at Port Kennacraig in darkness a little past 6.00 pm, walked down to the CRV set a course for Glasgow on Savvy (which was still around, but only just) and in to the darkness we drove. Ramki, not one to take chances, quickly asked me to put on my phone and bring up Google maps – which I obediently did. The difference this time was that there was no pressure. No ferry to catch. All we had to do was show up at the Glasgow Pond Hotel, check in for the night, put wee drams and crash. This was the same road we were on 36 hours earlier not that we could see a thing outside to help our cause. This time there were signs which proclaimed Glasgow and then straight arrow 98 miles. This is immediately welcomed by Ramki who by now is asking me to put off Savvy. I keep saying it won’t happen again da. It’ll get us there. Promise. 10 miles from the port Savvy asked us to make a left turn in 1.3 km (I prefer to keep Savvy’s setting in km and not miles). Don’t take that turn says Ramki. Why? Because it’s not the way we came. Oh! Man overriding machine. So I override the left and pull into a parking lot which pretty much emerges very strategically for us and re-check Google maps on my phone. Meanwhile Savvy is going bonkers recalculating. Shut it off. No da, I want to keep it on. This is the only road, let’s keep going. Google maps says what Savvy is saying. All are happy and we peel off from the parking lot and head down the A83.
So on we went. The next challenge was to find some fuel. There was a pump at Port Askaig next to the Port Askaig hotel and bar and curio store (also owned by Mr. and Mrs. Spears), but it was shut. 20 miles further on we stumble across an Esso pump with a Tesco Express. I get off and fill gas. Ramki gets on the phone to Swarna. It’s pretty late at night in India, so hopefully Siva is asleep. While tanking up, there is another car to my left with a couple of Indian families. Smiles are exchanged. I pay for fuel and we leave. It’s a straightforward drive. Keep along the A83, pass through the Argyll forest, merge with the A82, drive past Loch Lomond and follow the signs for Glasgow City for the next 45 miles. We have the radio on listening to music on BBC Scotland where the DJ is leaving the show after 10 years. This is the only FM station that doesn’t cackle and whistle with every turn of the forest and mountains. We have something like 30 minutes of the Christmas countdown which cheers up Ramki. He doesn’t like my music. Says it’s what his nephew listens to. I say this is what Narayani listens to and therefore I listen to. For most of the drive we have to use high-beam. You can hardly see 40 feet in front of you. Most drivers are disciplined and dip their lights and I honk at the 3 that don’t.
Two hours since we left the port, we were in the outskirts of Glasgow making good time and Savvy behaving herself. It’s a reasonable 6ºC outside and the rain has picked up. The CRV begins to fog up and I resort to using the AC on 17 ºC to de-fog the car. Ramki shivers, but I have no option. The heat is not working, so the colder air comes to the rescue. 10 minutes to go now and Ramki dozes off. Tiredness has crept in, but he says its jet lag. Suddenly we pass a sign which says Auchentoshan Distillery and Visitor’s Center. Ramki see da, but by the time he stirs, we pass it. Auchentoshan is the last distillery on this tour which is scheduled for tomorrow morning. I pray it’s open. I called them in November and they said they would be open on the 24th of December for tours. We continue driving down the Great Western Road which seems to be the equivalent of a dual carriage-way and before we know it we see Glasgow Pond Hotel to the right. I continue to follow Savvy although Ramki the navigator suggests we make a right earlier. No da, let’s see where this goes – worst case we can walk to the hotel and ask how to get there by car. A minute later, Savvy takes us straight to the vast car park and to the sign announcing Glasgow Pond Hotel. Told you! We can’t see a pond, but figure it must be around somewhere. I also spot a M&S and McD’s and a gas station. It is now 8.15 pm. Early enough to put some not so wee drams.
The days driving covered about 220 km. 60 km on Islay and about 160 from Kennacraig Port to the Glasgow Pond Hotel. Total driving time on Islay and on the main land, approximately five and a half hours.
In the rain, we lug our bags up the steps and to the door of the hotel; a distance of about 30 meters. Ramki laments on the lack of a turbaned and mustachioed man saying welcome to the Glasgow Pond Hotel. May I take your bags Sir? Saala, then these gora’s complain of unemployment, he says. Grumble. Grumble. At the reception the clerk was efficient. Allocated 210 and 211. No confusion. The accent came in to the picture again although by now Ramki was beginning to understand thanks to spending quality time with Bryony back at Laphroaig. We checked out the bar, enquired about the closing time for dinner and headed off to the rooms. Wow! Nice rooms da. Thanks da Ramki. Cooler still was that these bathrooms had shower curtains!! This thrilled my friend no end. We decide to give each other 15 minutes before gathering in his room to open the bottle of cask strength 58.3% ABV Laphroaig 10 year old.
First things first. I over hear Ramki ordering internet, if such a thing is possible? Within 2 minutes, the other receptionist, a rather short Scottish man, nay, a dwarf, shows up next door and hands over slip of paper with the user ID and password. Internet is free and I can hear him get down to email on his i-pad. I look outside the window of my room and see rain and still more rain. Wait a minute. I also see a pond through the rain and haze. That answers the pond question.
15 minutes later we open the bottle with the pomp and ceremony that needs to be accorded to opening a bottle of cask strength, but are forced to drink in the plastic bathroom glasses. Aaargh. But it’s what goes down the gullet we convince ourselves. We go through the routine. The pouring, the nosing, the swirling and twirling, the first sip followed by wah wah janab and the splash which follows. Two such drams are swallowed in the 45 minutes with more chatter. We seem to have forgotten the events of 26 hours ago. We head down for dinner in this well-appointed restaurant. There are some other families finishing up their Christmas dinner.
James shows up. What’ll it be gentlemen? No what’ll it be boys or what’ll it be lads, over here. This is a pacca place. Ramki starts predictably. Do you have any wheat bread? Can you toast it? Can you please give me the vegetable soup with the wheat bread toasted and Goats Cheese Salad? Sounded Ramki-ish enough. I settled for the chicken satay starter and the Chicken Caesar as the main course. Behind Ramki, but in my view, I see a family with three wee children. Wee girls are playing around the dining area, but behaving themselves. One is so wee that he is in a car seat drooling his dinner cereal on to his bib. The Mrs is tired and waiting for the evening to finish but looks on indulgently at her off-springs. The Mr is on the phone fiddling around which is funny because the Mrs is opposite him. There is no conversation. I make a mental note that he must be planning is next get away golf trip with the boys.
The satay and soup arrive. The wheat bread toast follows. By now I am hungry. The cheese, crackers and ice cream long since digested. Food is the focus. 20 minutes later no signs of Ramki’s Goat’s Cheese Salad. May be they’ve gone to kill the goat first da. James shows up holding another Caesar’s salad proclaiming this one has anchovies. Ramki does the frown cum eyebrow combination and I follow suit. Sorry, but I never asked for this my friend says Ramki, immediately be-friending the enemy. I asked for a Goat’s Cheese Salad. Ah of course you did says James who magically slinks away taking the Caesar with him. Ramki is not impressed. James appears again apologizing and grovelling for this inadvertent error. Ramki accepts and it is another 15 minutes for the Goat’s Cheese Salad to appear. I am almost done, but can’t resist a piece of cheese from the freshly acquired goat.
It is 10.30 pm now and we call it a night. Ramki has scheduled a conference call for 6 or 7 am, I want to shower and crash. We decide to meet at 9.00 am and get some kind of breakfast en-route to Auchentoshan. There is no breakfast deal with the hotel. On the way to the room, I pick up my internet voucher from Shorty.
Day 4: Christmas eve 24th December 2012: I wake up at 5.00 am, because that’s all I can manage. I quickly search the internet for Auchentoshan and its opening hours. I find where it says that it is open and mail the link to Ramki with a sigh of relief. His conference call starts a little later. I can hear his voice, but not what he is saying over the walls of the room. I concur that he has a loud voice.
A hurried check-out at 9.10 am where Ramki paid for the previous night’s dinner was followed by a search on Google maps on my S3 for a café. Data was not going through so we decide to physically locate one. We had already established that the driving time to Auchentoshan was 12 minutes down the Great Western Road, so that gave us plenty of time to eat something. The rain continued unabated and we were not overly convinced about the aesthetics of Glasgow. Seemed a bit run down, at least the part we were in, although I’m told that we were in a suburban up marketish area. I suppose the definition of what is up market and what is not, is a fine line especially in these parts. A couple of false starts later of Ramki not wanting McD or Burger King which is far more readily available, we drive in to a mall which has a Sainsbury and head for the café. For a change it’s not wheat bread. He grabs a breakfast yogurt, some cereal and black coffee. I go for a muffin and cappuccino. We wolf down the breakfast, he leaves the black coffee behind for good reason, which I’ll come to in a little while.
Back in the CRV, we continue on towards Auchentoshan which as per Savvy is 4 minutes away. After a couple of twists and turns in the pouring rain, arrive at destination on the left says Savvy. Er yes, but there is no signs of Auchentoshan on the right. Classic fail!? This is all too familiar for Ramki. It’s now 9.55 and we need to be in for 10 when the visitor’s center opens. Back to my S3, back to Google maps which says we are on the right road which is Mount Blow Road, but we need to go further up. 2 minutes later we see the huge signs and enter the premises. One security guard stops us – Are ye off to the visitor’s center? This time, I say aye! Straight down and to the right. Which means it is open. Inward sigh of relief. Hurriedly park and jump out in the rain carrying appropriate gear, but forgot the camera. Never mind I think and make a note to take a Patel shot on my way out. Show up at the reception and a tour has just left. Ramki pays up the £6 each and another person takes us to join the tour. There is a family with a mother-in-law. Definitely a mother-in-law. A couple with their teenage sons of which one is on a wheel chair. He is wearing a cosack head warmer over his thick glasses. Stevie is our guide for the next hour.
Steven is 100% Scottish and would not be out of place in the Three Musketeers – he has this flowing white hair, mustache and Zappa beard; the inverted triangle; also white. Auchentoshan seems very organized compared to the other distilleries we saw in Islay. They have a specially built set, if you will, which has all the sequence of making fine single malt, so the visitors see it all happening in one place. You don’t actually see it happening physically because it happens elsewhere, but you get to see the Mashtuns, the various levels of alcohol after a particular process, the malt, the vats, the pot stills, the water, the distilling process, the lahinches, oak casks etc. Auchentoshan we are told is the only triple distilled whiskey in all of Scotland. But I say that Bushmills in County Antrim in Northern Ireland is also tripled distilled. Aye and they learnt it from us. Touché! Yes, NI is not Scotland, I concede. He then explains that John Jameson, the famous Irish distillery making the legendary Red Breast Single Malt was a Scotsman from Dumphries. I suppose the Irish will have their own version, so I let it pass. Pictures were being taken by both Ramki and the mother-in-law. I just couldn’t place their accents. Perfect English, but not English. Maybe Welsh? No, the Welsh have a strong accent which Ramki would not understand. Don’t know. Not American which we would have made out because they are so loud, besides Steven had a joke or two on the Americans, so I’m sure he figured they were not American. Or maybe he didn’t care! Besides, he explained that the term moonshine originated in Scotland when the punters made the brew by moonlight to avoid getting caught and more importantly avoid paying taxes. This was back in the 1650s. Of course, as we know, this term has been kidnapped by the American’s as their own and had Steven not enlightened us, we would have been none the wiser. The journey through the oak barrels was the highlight of the tour for me where we were told of the aging process and how the casks were holding whiskey ages 5, 8, 10, 12, 15, 18 and 21 years. So why is a 21 year old more expensive than a 5 year old? Any guesses? No it does not necessarily taste better and in fact may taste pretty bad. The answer lies in simple economics. It is the opportunity cost of keeping a whiskey in an oak cask for 21 years that jacks up its price. The best age according to Stevie is a 12 year old and may be a 10 year old. So all the Red, Black, Blue, Green, Gold, Blue Labels blended whiskeys need to be done for marketing and economic reasons. Amen to that given that my house pour is a Black Label 12 year old. No wonder I love Black, I think to myself (after Laphroaig since I have now been converted).
The highlight of the tour for Ramki approaches. We end up in the lounge or bar of the Auchentoshan visitor’s center. Stevie does a pour for everyone but the two boys. I don’t refuse mine because I’m thinking I’ll slip it across to Ramki at the appropriate time when Stevie is looking elsewhere. Suddenly I see the boy on the wheel chair wearing the cusack head warmer standing with no support. Ramki and I give each other the frowning eyebrows. Stevie is very liberal with his drams. This thrills Ramki no end. The first pour is the Classic 12 year old Single Malt. The now familiar routine is invoked. I stick with a nosing and find this is good stuff as well – as compared to a Laphroaig. Very different in smell and texture, but I prefer the peat. Some sips later, mother-in-law and the couple are asking Stevie to take some Patels of themselves. All very cosy. Ramki and I compare notes while the Leica which has been clicking all through the last one hour, continues to take documentary shots of the classic malt. Next up Stevie wants to compare this with the 3 Wood. Reminds me of a golf club. So out comes the Single Malt 3 Wood. This is pretty dark as compared to the Classic. It is full bodied with a hint of blackcurrant, brown sugar, plum, orange and raisin. Since I’m doing nosings, this is what I’m told to expect. I get the orange and raisin part of it since I am not familiar with the other smells. Our local in-house Single Malt connoisseur gets the end taste – fresh and fruity with long lasting oaky sweetness.
Now, a combination of yogurt, breakfast cereal, black coffee and single malt all before noon, would have created havoc in my good friend’s stomach and risk some very bad smells potentially emanating thereafter! So hence the coffee was left behind!
This is all good. We have plenty of time to make the drive down to Cairnryan and we are about to leave. Just as we are all about to say our byes, Stevie surprises us with one last dram. This time it’s the Auchetoshan’s Cream Liqueur equivalent – very milky with 17% ABV. The family grab it, Ramki and I let it pass. After everything we have been through, we do not wish the last smell and taste to be of a creamy liqueur as we head out of Scotland. Reluctantly the drams are knocked back and chased down with a mini bottle of water before handshakes and thanks are exchanged. Stevie is a brilliant host, er, guide and
he’s done his job well when we all enter the shop to spend some money. Ramki buys the 3W and me the Classic and some whiskey fudge.
It is now 11.45 am when we leave Auchentoshan. I remember to take my Patel shot which was dampened by the rain. But still, a couple of shots later, we are ready to roll for the 176 km journey south of Scotland to the Port of Cairnryan. Savvy and Google maps both loaded as per Ramki’s orders and we hit the M898/M8 in torrential rain. This is it. This is the end. There is some 15 minutes of silence where I suppose each of us is contemplating stuff before I announce we should be in the Port by 2.30 which is 30 minute before check-in. Throats cleared, Ramki believes the best paisa vasool has taken place in Auchentoshan. For £6, you get three wee drams, a one hour plus tour and Stevie’s humorous Scottish company. Then I reminded him that for £6, you also put Lagavulin for an hour and twenty minutes of sitting in the drawing of the headquarters and sipping a 12, 16 and a cask strength and the services of the lass by the name of Lee. Plus fire place. Agreed da, good value at Lagavulin.
The drive picked up through the Scottish country side. This is what I missed the night I drove in from Cairnryan to Glasgow. Pretty village after pretty village came and went on the A77. The wipers were working overtime and the CRV showed no signs of being bogged down (pun unintended) by the water. The M898 leads to the M8 which merges with the M74, the M77 and finally the A77. This takes us past Giffnock, Newton Mearns, down south to Kilmarnock, Prestwick, Ayr (from where I picked up the contact lens solution), Maybole and Girvan. The drive is scenic, not unlike Monte Carlo. Mountain on one side and sea on the other. Too good. The roads are good but twisting and turning. We’re doing a good 80-90 km/h. Suddenly hunger sets in or was it the desperate need to pee. Either way, we decided we were almost in Cairnryan and so wouldn’t miss our ship to Belfast. As if from nowhere a hotel-cum-spa emerges in the blink-and-you-miss village of Ballantrae. The Pebbles Spa and Leisure Resort. We parked pretty confidently seeing a couple of decent cars around. There was an Audi Quattro, a Range Rover, an E Class and us. Not exactly in their class of cars, but my CRV has this classy look about her, so we parked anyway.
We announced ourselves to the lady at the counter. Do you do food? Yes, please come in. We take a seat in the dining area. I face the sea and see the most amazing mountain coming out of the sea. I find out later that it is called Alisa Craig and is 99 hectares in size with rare animals and plant life. There are some boat tours which take you there much like the Isle of Capri off the coast of Naples. Ramki faces the pool area and he has the sight of a couple of women in bathrobes. There’s plenty of steam coming out of the pool area and we realize it is a spa/sauna and wellness center. Ramki goes for the wheat bread vegetarian club sandwich (of course you knew he would) with tea and I stick with the Caesar salad (and I’m becoming predictable as well), no tea. Lunch is served very quickly and with good large helpings. Justice is done in a matter of 20 minutes. We thank our servers and make way for the car. Both applaud the sense of timing. I wanted to pee, he wanted to eat. And vice versa. Twenty five minutes later along the coast, we are at the Port of Cairnryan. On schedule. The wonderfully large Stena Line Voyager Superfast VII is docked at port.
This is the only journey we do in broad daylight in over 1200 km’s of driving during this trip.
Before we enter, we have a security check where previously I was asked whether I was carrying anything important. This was at the Port of Belfast. Now the security checkers here are a couple of very nasty looking grannies. As a rule, we have no problem with grannies at all, Ramki and I. But the grannies here are rude, supercilious, random and all this means, they have pissed us off and interrupted Ramki when he was on the phone to Swarna. Get away from the car, what are you carrying etc? The CRV was given a once over – like a physical search, felt up all over the place as if I was smuggling single malt across state lines and this worried Ramki no end! All good da, we are carrying single malt for personal consumption.
After what seemed like an eternity, we were allowed back in to the car when they found nothing. At this point Ramki suggests that since we are a couple of browns and it’s their country, so we were stopped. 30 seconds later we are at the check-in and ushered to join the queue in Lane 2. The premier lane. Ramki is back on the phone.
Boarding takes place on schedule and we are in deck 5 port side blue exit. We grab our belongings and scramble up to the premier lounge so that we can get some good seats. These are not pre-decided seats given that the configuration of the lounge on the deck on level 8 varies. I pick a corner, but Ramki wants reclining chairs and wants to nap. On the other hand, I want to look out for the 30 minutes of day light left and watch the sun set. It is now 3.30 pm. Ramki arranges himself on a reclining chair in front of a huge TV showing SKY News, below which there is a fire place with fire happening. Not a real fire, but an illusion of a fire raging complete with flames and heat. Stena Line thinks of everything. I keep to my corner, log in using Wi-fi @sea and research this car on carzone.ie that is driving me mad. The couple of hours pass very quickly. I make a recce to the shop on Level 5 and end up buying a couple of books which I couldn’t resist. I skip the liquor and the perfumes. I’ve already stocked up on this in Abu Dhabi airport last October. Back upstairs, Ramki stirs and decides to have neck and shoulder ‘Indian massage’ and he pushes off in search of the massage lady. Meanwhile, people on the ship are all rushing home or to family in time for Christmas eve. There is festive cheer and the ship has the usual decorations and Christmas trees with matching lighting.
Ramki needs to wait as the massage lady is with her ‘client’ at the moment. At about 5.30 we see the lights of Belfast approaching. Ramki is back from his massage which wasn’t up to the mark. Not enough pressure was exerted da.
By 5.45 pm we are in the car and drive out of the cavernous insides of the Voyager VII and on to what will be the last leg of the journey back to Dublin. Home. My last thoughts while leaving the ship is that the CalMac ferry is a small dinky car compared to the size of this beast. Savvy is set, no Google maps this time as all I need is the way to the A1 which will materialize in 7-10 minutes, after which it’s a straight road to Dublin. No argument from my fellow passenger. All we need is one stop for fuel and another to pick up wheat bread!
We are soon on the A1 heading south bound to a different country. Savvy is switched-off to speed mode and we lapse in to silence. It’s been a long day for us. The journey time for the 180 km is two hours, so we calculate being home in Dublin by 8 pm in time for drams (cask strength Laphroaig) and a Gala Christmas dinner as Ramki calls it. The only thing is I will have to make the Gala Christmas dinner, which is a matter of small detail. The first petrol station we see is in Lisburn, 20 minutes out from Belfast and it’s an Apple Green one. Which is good because I have my loyalty program with them. I’m down to my last ₤30 and Ramki to his last ₤5; which I take off him. There is a bit of a queue so we need to wait. Pumps will be closed tomorrow on Christmas day, so I suppose all cars were topping up as we were. Same idea.
As the queue cleared to my right (I was on the left lane and couldn’t manoeuvre right), I got out of the car and motioned the car behind me to make use of the free pump. This woman in her late 70s in a Toyota Yaris, looked up at me and reluctantly made her way to the pump. Meanwhile, our chance comes, I begin to tank up, while Ramkrishnan goes off in search of wheat bread in the petrol station. The old lady is back and calls me over to her car. She explains she is not happy with the pump I motioned her to go to because in the past she has poured diesel in to her Yaris and had to call the AA rescue team to bail her out. Awesome I think. It’s the green petrol hose not the black one. Always read the label I say. She finally says, I can’t make out green from black at night. Oh dear! I think, then fill up gas in the day, which I don’t tell the poor lady.
I pay up, and mission wheat bread is unsuccessful which means another stop. The next hour and a half fly past. There are hardly any cars on a road. Some English plates, some Northern Irish plates and a couple of Indians driving home. A1 becomes the M1 as we drive in to Ireland as speed limit increases to 120 km/h. This time I don’t care about fuel or driving on the left lane. All we want to do is put drams, gala dinner and crash.com. Plus we are also running against time to find a shop open which will have wheat bread on Christmas eve. At 8.00 pm we get off the M1 at exit 13 which is the sign which signals home for us and head towards Balinteer in the hope of finding something. The first Spar closes on us as we park. That was a massive fail considering we spotted it open, drove past, made a three-point turn, got in to the parking area and then headed to the store. It must have closed in the 3 minutes we turned. The next stop was Centra. This looked open with several customers. Off we go in search of wheat bread, but find whole grain which as a family we prefer over whole wheat. Nita will approve I inform Ramki. Eggs are also bought in case there are none in the fridge at home. For the last time we turn the CRV around and point her home which is 5 minutes away. We pull in to Holywell and make the second turn right, right and right, second house on the right and glide in to the driveway of number 180. Home and dry although the latter can’t be said of my CRV. I thank the Lord Ganesha who has been looking over me and then us, throughout the 763 mile (1221 km) journey, for getting us back unscathed. I thank 03D272 for everything and once again apologize for her unplanned swimming class. We begin to unload the stuff taking care to ensure all the single malts went in first, followed by the bags, followed by the coats, shoes and hats. The car is emptied and at the bottom of the floor of the back seat, lo and behold, the Leica lens cap. There you have your happy ending.
The days driving covered about 310 km. 10 from Glasgow Pond to Auchentoshan, 176 from Auchentoshan to Cairnryan, 184 km from the Port of Belfast to 180 Holywell.
The round trip, complete with Savvy letting us down, local travel in Islay, Glasgow, Belfast and Dublin was 1221 km.
Post script: Ramki left two days later after an action packed Christmas and Stephen’s day. We did a hike in to the Dublin mountains, drams – several of them, cigars in the backyard complete with sun umbrella to protect us against the rain; with more drams on hand at 11.30 in the morning, home cooked methi aloo, masoor daal, whole grain bread was consumed with Laproaig cheese and some peanut butter. The next day, Stephen’s day was the Harvey Norman sale, HMV on Grafton Street, drams at an Irish pub in temple bar, lunch at a diner off Henry Street, Jack Reacher at Cineworld, ending with us having dinner with Asheesh at Jaipur.
The CRV was cleaned by a Polish run car cleaning firm where their idea of drying the car was to leave the engine running for 45 minutes to an hour with the heating set on maximum and the vents pointing to the floor. She smells good now and there is no trace that anything ever happened on a cold rainy day on the Island of Islay.