Road-Tripping Scotland v.4: The Scottish Isles

laphroaig stills in islay scotland

Road-Tripping Scotland to Islay

Had to wake up very early to get to the ferry terminal after my very non-baronial night’s sleep. We learned only by chance that you had to book tickets in advance when one of our hotels emailed us to let us know and then our original ferry time got cancelled and they rebooked us automatically. All tickets were sold out for the day, so we actually considered ourselves lucky. Quite the start to road-tripping Scotland.

Despite the “castle concierge” telling us that someone would be at the front desk 24 hours a day, there was no one there, so we left a note outlining our drinks and meal from the night before with our key. Just charge it to the card on file. Hope that works because we’re not waiting around. You lied to us! And we even specifically checked the night before.


The Islay Ferry

The ferry terminal wasn’t a far drive, but it was interesting because you take a bunch of tiny back roads to get to it and it kind of crops up out of nowhere. Not your typical American terminal where you can see it coming for miles. If you’re road-tripping Scotland and do the Islands, the ferries will be an inevitable part of your journey.

Jeff was… I dunno if “nervous” is the word…? He didn’t know the drill for driving onto a ferry because he hadn’t done it before and said something or other to me about whether I’d done it. I off-handedly replied that I’d done it plenty when I lived in Washington, to which he began mocking me since I evidently said it a little too off-handedly in my distraction.

It’s pretty simple; the ferry people tell you where to drive and park every step of the way, no problem. Jeff passed with flying colors. High fives to him. Ferry ride was just over two hours and I was able to catch up on my writing, which was quite perfect.

landscape view from islay ferry in scotland

On the way back to the cars, we took the elevator (the same way we went up) and this little old lady sat on the installed folding chair. I made a joke about eight people being able to fit in the elevator, which is what the elevator sign said, since four of us were pretty snug in there. The little old lady replied something to the effect of, “Well, it’s really for the accessible passengers, isn’t it?” …Okay, lady.

No other disabled passengers that we saw needed to use the lift at that time and it’s so crowded getting back to the car park, it’s difficult to find the stairs, let alone maneuver over to them in wall-to-wall people. Plus, you have no idea if anyone in here has disabilities; they just might. But… I’m just going to take the high road, sneer at you really obviously, and go on about my day. Some people just can’t help themselves. I hope you find a hair in your dinner tonight. Continue on my day road-tripping Scotland.

Islay’s Kildalton Church

We got to Islay, which was super lovely. Little white houses on the shore, small sandy beaches, bright yellow shrubs, sun was shining. All around perfect. Our first stop would be the Kildalton Church and cross. The cross is from the 8th century and is one of the “finest representations” of Celtic crosses in existence. Don’t ask me what makes it so fine; I’ve Googled this on and off and have yet to really get an answer. I think it’s just really, really old and in tact still.

A stone wall with a gate enclosed the area and the gate had a sign that read, “Marauding sheep will be our fate if you do not close this gate.” Message received. There are no shortage of sheep in this area. We wandered around, took some photos, and after, crawled up the hills behind the church where we were lucky enough to see a half dozen deer grazing super closely.

kildalton sheep sign
kildalton cross in islay scotland
deer on islay in scotland

A Bagillion Scotch Distillery Tours

On our way back from the church, we stopped at a couple distilleries prior to Jeff’s big Laphroaig tour. Yes, it’s Jeff’s special day! This is one of the highlights of road-tripping Scotland. We had some laughs driving because, the night before, one of the whisky experts asked if we knew how to drive on one-lane roads. Um… yes. Like… whut.

She clarified—you know, like when another car approaches. Um… yes. You pull over and let the other car pass. And, sometimes, there are pull-outs specifically for this purpose. The really funny part was that, every time another car approached, Jeff kept pulling off to the right instead of the left, which provided much amusement. (We’re not stoopid! [Jeff pulls over to the right.] Bahahaha.) Anyhow…

The Ardbeg & Lagavullin Distilleries

We stopped at Ardbeg, where they had free tastings right in the front of the distillery. Jeff tested out the “Kelpie,” which he decided he’ll be purchasing at home. Stopped at Lagavulin, which actually had a terrible set-up with no bar or tastings in the front area for people who didn’t want to do a full tour. (Bye bye! There goes potential business!) Then the heavens parted. Onward to Laphroaig!

ardbeg distillery in islay scotland

The Laphroaig Distillery

We did a full tour. One of the best parts was when the guide told Jeff to take his sunglasses off and stuff his head into the fermentation vat really casually. I didn’t test this out myself, but apparently, the smell will knock you out. And quite suddenly. I did get to watch Jeff do it, though, which was more than enough entertainment for me. Also got to watch other people walk up and stupidly do it right after. Hehe.

laphroaig distillery in islay scotland

They showed us the peat fire, which surprisingly, isn’t hot whatsoever. You can stick your hand right on it. Got to throw our own piece of peat on the fire, so we could say that, “somewhere, in one of those casks, is scotch that we helped create.”

Some American girl asked to take a piece of peat with her, which is like… the dumbest souvenir ever. I kind of wanted to point out to her… “You do realize you’re taking a piece of dirt home with you? Like… packing a piece of dirt in your suitcase? What are you even going to do with it once you bring it home? Put it on your mantle?”

It’s honestly probably a total customs issue that needs to go through the agriculture line. And should be denied. I can also only imagine carrying a piece of dirt with me all across the country while road-tripping Scotland.

laphroaig stills in islay scotland
laphroaig scotch barrels in islay scotland

Our Plot of Land at Laphroaig

At any rate, one of the super cute marketing things Laphroaig does it give you your own plot of land. You register as a “Friend of Laphroaig,” it’s all computerized (though their computer was down), and they map out your plot. You get to pick up a little nationality flag, go find your plot in their peat bogs, and plant your flag.

Because Laphroaig uses your plot of land, they pay you rent in the way of tasting bottles. So, we got free tasting bottles in the little cardboard tubes they usually come in. Cute, right?

Since the computer was down, Jeff and I made the joke that we were just going to go all-American and steal a whole bunch of other people’s plots. Just take over and throw their flags into the middle of the road or something. Declare victory. But we didn’t. We found two little square feet, planted our flags, and took some photos. Because I’m half American and half English, I planted two flags together. My mother would be proud.

laphroaig land plots

Our Islay Bed & Breakfast

After all of this, we continued road-tripping Scotland to find our bed and breakfast. We learned that everyone knows the owners of our bed and breakfast, Emma and Graeme. And Emma’s cooking reputation precedes her. It was the cutest place, super nice, with a horse, mini ponies (yes, actual minis), sheep and spring lambs… and the airport right across the street. Lol. Fortunately, hardly any planes take off, so it was really no bother whatsoever.

Emma and Graeme were so helpful. Jeff noticed that, of all the ferry bookings I made, I missed one. Can you believe it? They helped us book the missing ferry and figure out what was going on with the next morning’s ferry which had shifted departure ports multiple times. (Emma went to school with the woman that answers the phone at the terminal. Of course.) Further conversation proved quite educational, like… how Islay does have Amazon Prime, and how the Scottish refer to a flute as “the tin whistle.”

Foraging for Food

At this point, it was early afternoon-ish and we still had some time left in the day, so we decided to head out and hunt down some food. Typical of these tiny towns, we learned that everything closes after lunch hour to prep for dinner hour and, well, I hadn’t actually eaten anything all day. I was getting pretty desperate. It’s also not like there’s a convenient store or grocery store right around the corner on this tiny island, or even one in every town.

Jeff and I thought we found a place in one town that was open and, as soon as I walked in the door, the restaurant hostess was right in front of me, telling me they’re closing lunch and we’ll need to come back, practically shoving me right back out of the door. I don’t even think I’d gotten my bearings and I was already back out on the street. Strangers just do not want to be nice to me today. Dang, lady. If I pay you double, will you feed me? Triple? Sadly, the only place we could find that was open was “Peatzerria,” so pizza it was. Which was better than dying of starvation.

Portnahaven Seals

A girl at Peatzerria told us about the seals out at another port town, so we thought we’d get that in before the day’s end. Seeing how the sun never sets. All part of road-tripping Scotland. (Is it pup season?)

On the way, we passed the Bowmore Church, which is round so “the devil can’t hide.” Creepy. Portnahaven, with the seals, is a good drive out. And, when we got there, we couldn’t even find the damn things.

portnahaven in islay scotland

Jeff suggested we drive to “Seal Cottage,” to which I replied, “Do you think the seals will be there, though?” It’s fine; you can laugh at me, too. I meant—if there are no seals here, where they’re supposed to be, why would they be there? But, right before we hopped in the car, Jeff spotted them.

We went in for a closer look and there they were… like five of them, all piled together on what was supposed to be a sandbar, which was actually just a big pile of mud in the port. They were dirty, it smelled, and just… yuck. So, we took some pictures that don’t even look like seals and checked the box.

portnahaven seals in islay scotland

The Long Death Trap Home

Jeff later dubbed the drive back the “One-Lane Road of Death” since it’s filled with blind turns and lots of hills and locals driving ninety miles per hour. It was an exciting drive to say the least. Really pretty, though. Can’t forget that. We found some kind of service van to act as our blocker, but it was going way faster than we were comfortable going, so we only kept up with it for so long. Lots of spots with no shoulders and potholes where I gripped the sides of the car for dear life and yelped all kinds of incomprehensible sounds.

Once we returned to normal roads, I told Jeff all the different car accident scenarios that flashed through my mind, “visualizations of tragedy,” he called them. Like, he moves too far left, we catch that hard shoulder and get pulled straight into the “gutter,” I die. We catch the left shoulder, we’re going too fast, we go up and over a rise on the left, flip the car back to the right into the road, we both die. Catch the left shoulder, he overcorrects, and we go crashing to the right, then get broadsided by oncoming traffic, one of us dies, total toss-up who… So many options.

While verbalizing all of this, I did so with big hand gestures and sound effects that my husband says made zero sense in the given context. He made me redo them repeatedly, either to recreate the sound, or to make it sound more like what he thinks it should sound like. It was a fun game for a minute.

A Highland Cow!

I did get to see my first Highland Cow on the drive. Was trying to photograph it and it wasn’t paying any attention to me whatsoever. I had both hands on my camera and started stomping at it to get its attention, when it rose to its feet and started approaching me pretty quickly. There was only a barbed wire fence between us and I realized I was… stomping my feet at a bull, so I got scared and ran back to the car. Lol.

highland cow in islay

I think I slept twelve hours in probably the most comfortable bed I’ve had since I’ve been on this trip. Best part? Falling asleep to “How to Train Your Dragon…” in Gaelic.

Road-Tripping Scotland to The Isle of Mull

The morning began with Jeff quizzing me with one hundred and one English history questions. I told him that American history wasn’t my strong suit, so why would he think I knew anything about English history? Then he asked, “Who lives at 221B Baker Street?” I have no idea. “You’re the worst English person ever,” he said. It’s Sherlock Holmes. He thought if he asked me a more literature-based question, I might be able to answer that one. Nope.

A Traditional Scottish Breakfast

Our B&B breakfast was pretty amazing. Emma had a whole sideboard of different fresh fruits soaked in all sorts of different syrups—ginger and vanilla and cinnamon. I ordered the very English breakfast of toast soldiers and got all different colored eggs from their different colored hens. Jeff tried the porridge and got to partake in the Scottish tradition of porridge with scotch! Brown sugar, then Laphroaig, then cream. He said it was pretty delicious.

We talked about how sweet the spring lambs were and Emma said they’re sweet until they get out of the pen and you have to chase them down. I told her she should offer that as a complimentary game to guests. Anyhow, terrific morning, great breakfast, caught the ferry back to Kennacraig on the mainland to continue road-tripping Scotland.

view from islay ferry in scotland

Kennacraig to Oban

Had a really nice drive from Kennacraig to Oban through the Argyll forest and lots of small villages. The weather has been absolutely gorgeous. (Talk about road-tripping Scotland!)

I found that my camera battery was completely dead and, after lots of different tests, I was becoming convinced the battery itself was dead-dead. Like, not-able-to-recharge-at-all-dead and needed to be completely replaced, which would suck. I tried to charge it in the car using the USB; that didn’t work.

Then I thought I’d lost the actual plug piece of my charger somewhere along the trip and was left only with the USB, but later found it in the trunk of the car. I tried to charge it on one of the ferries, but to no avail. Hopefully, I could really test the dead battery theory with a real outlet at a hotel. That leaves me with my phone for the day, which, as awesome as iPhone cameras have become, they’re still no match for my actual camera. Alas, it is what it is.

So, of all the well-planned itineraries I’ve crafted, I screwed the pooch on road-tripping Scotland a bit. I missed booking one of a thousand ferries. And they’ve all been selling out in advance. We needed to go from Oban to Craignure to get to the Isle of Mull today and the only ferry departure available was 5 o’clock in the evening. Getting to Mull was kind of the point of the whole day. But we didn’t have a choice. We’d just have a lot of time to waste in between.

Oban & A Wonderful Curry Discovery

When we got to Oban, we were pleasantly surprised because there was a lot more there than we were expecting. We were able to sit and have lunch and relax in this really neat little town. Named after the Oban scotch distillery, the town has a pink granite cathedral and a Coliseum-type castle overlooking it.

If we had more time, we might visit some of the castles near Oban, because there are a few. While this was all well and good, we learned you’re able to wait on standby for ferries—just like for flights—and were able to catch the very next one out. The stars are aligned! Also, forced relaxation is probably a good thing for us.

oban scotland

Oh! At lunch, I discovered the deliciousness of fish and chips with curry and immediately texted my mom and aunt demanding to know why they’ve failed to introduce this into my life for the past 38 years. It was delicious. My aunt just said it’s because they don’t like it and my mom said, “Fish and chips = yum! Curry = yum! Fish and chips and curry = no.” I must respectfully disagree.

The Ferry Adventure to Mull

Anyhow, onto the ferry we went, where partway up the stairs after getting out of the car I realized I didn’t have my phone. Jeff went back to go grab it for me since I had a thousand things with me and, when he didn’t come back for a bit, I went down to meet him. I ran into him in the car park and, nope, no phone! I suddenly realized that I may have had it in my left hand when I threw a bunch of stuff in the ferry trash on my way out of the car park. …Oops. Yep. A frantic search in the ferry car park trash can and there was my phone. I’m just glad no one tossed any liquids on top of it.

Now, most of you don’t know this, but on our recent trip to Maui, I accidentally threw my wallet away with my Chipotle bag at work the night before we were flying out super early. We had to drive back into downtown at, like, 10 pm and I ran into my building to sift through my garbage. The cleaning crew was literally on my floor a few offices down.

So, apparently, I’ve developed a subconscious knack for throwing away my life in my old age. And then saving it in the knick of time. Is this some sort of hero complex? What’s the personality defect that serial killer nurses who kill people and then bring them back to life have? I might have that. But in a different way because obviously I’m not murdering people. At any rate, Jeff was just shaking his head at me because I’ve been a mess all day, losing the charger plug and then throwing my phone in the trash. Oye.

Tobermory Tour

There were a couple of things we’d’ve liked to have done on Mull, but some of them required boat bookings out to other islands which, clearly, we didn’t have time for. That being the case, we opted for a drive out to Tobermory, this colorful little village on the waterfront. It’s like Scotland’s version of Copenhagen’s Nyhavn. Super cute fishing village, lots of shopping. A good add-on for road-tripping Scotland.

tobermory scotland

The downside is the drive out there. It’s another one-lane road of death, and it’s long. And curvy. Directions will say 10 miles, but that 10 miles will take you a half hour to drive (if you’d prefer to live to see your destination).

The road had a lot of signs for otter crossings, which we had a good laugh at, because we wondered where the otters were going to. Sure, there was water on one side of the road, but where are you going on the other side of the road, buddy? Unfortunately, we saw no otters. I’m convinced it’s a lie for the tourists. They have eagle lookouts, too, and I didn’t see any of those either.

Kitty Break-In

We were walking around Tobermory when we received a curious text message from home. Our cat sitter was asking us if our cats know how to open drawers. She said two drawers were open in our master bedroom dressers and she was a little concerned.

…I could probably narrow down exactly which couple of drawers were open. And it’s entirely possible that, if you looked in the drawer, you might find a cat buried in my clothes, sleeping. I could also tell you which cat it is. Because I’ve closed these drawers and later heard scratching and crying and had to search for where the hell Ophelia was locked up.

So, no, Cat Sitter Lady—it’s not a break-in; it’s just one of our whack-ass cats. Well, it’s Jeff’s whack-ass cat. (My cat is a geriatric angel.) That put her (and our) mind at ease and provided her with a good laugh. I guess, in all her cat-sitting years, she hadn’t met a kitty skilled in opening drawers. Only knocking stuff off tabletops.

On our drive back, saw some old boats. Made for great photos, but there were a few photo hogs already there that wouldn’t step aside for even a few minutes.

boats on isle of mull

Less-then-Desirable Mull Hotel

Our hotel for the night was… well, it was ghetto as hell. By far, the worst place we’ve stayed at on this trip. When I was booking, there were very few places left to stay on Mull and this was what was left.

It said it was a hotel and spa, but never in a million years would I have a spa treatment done here. You’d get athletes foot if you had a pedicure done. And then gangrene. The place hasn’t been remodeled since the sixties. Which is a total shame, really, because it sits on prime property with a gorgeous view of the water. Someone should get on it, honestly. Or maybe not, because the place was packed regardless.

It was also here that I had the added pleasure of zipping my neck up in my pullover. I’d say that, not only was that stupid, it was pretty painful and left a nice red mark for me to remember it by. Tomorrow, we continue road-tripping Scotland and are off to the Isle of Skye. More ferries, more driving, more exploring! I’ll catch up soon.

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