Sunday, May 31, 2009

Last day on Islay

Last night's "ceilidh" was not what we expected. Rather than traditional Scottish/Gaelic tunes the band played covers of american pop and country tunes. We were not impressed but the locals seemed to love it. It was almost surreal to hear the Scots singing, at the top of their lungs, "Take me home country roads" and "I'm a rhinestone cowboy." Each to his own, I guess.

But today's visits were great !!!

We did more driving to visit some "must sees" which included Saligo Bay, and a monument near the beach at Sanaigmore. Before the drive though we walked down to Carraig Fhada lighthouse.

Tomorrow we leave Islay, by plane, for Glasgow then to Heathrow and home.

We've enjoyed our time here and the weather the past two days has been delightfully sunny; I even have a tan (or so I am told) !!!

When we are home we'll still post to this blog our thoughts after leaving and perhaps more detail about some of the sights and sites.

It's now about 9PM, and I need to double check the schedule for tomorrow, send a necessary email or two then pack to leave.


Saturday, May 30, 2009

Another open day, lunch from Nippy Chippy, beach at Machir Bay, ceilidh

Mike posting at about 7PM, Saturday the 30th

Today was Ardbeg's open day. Once again we ran into the other couple (Gordon and Margaret Campbell) staying at Samhchair. Frequently meeting them during our stay has made the time very pleasand and together we watched some of the athletic events, such as sheep hurling, and bung tossing, enjoyed some "Airigh Nam Beist"(Arry nam Baysht), sat (or stood) and visited. It was a glorious sunny day which added to the festivity atmosphere. Eventually though I (Mike) became hungry so it was time to find something to eat. The Campbell's were taking the ferry from Port Askaig to head home so we said our goodbyes and they headed out for the drive to the ferry terminal.

We had planned to eat at the Arbeg "Old Kiln Cafe" but were told we would probably have to wait about 45 minutes before there was room to sit. So, we decided to drive into the center of Port Eilean (Port Ellen) for lunch as we could find, and saw the Nippy Chippy van which we'd been told served good food . J had fish and chips with 7Up or similar bev, I had a hamburger, and Irn Bru to drink. We ate our lunch while sitting on a short wall, overlooking the harbor. The citizens of the town were out celebrating on the village green and it was very enjoyable to be part of that celebration. There was even a pipe band parading down the street.

After lunch drove back to Kilchoman, at the suggestion of the Campbell's, to visit the beach at Machir Bay. A few days ago when we visited the distillery at Kilchoman, and the ruined/abandoned church and graveyard near it, we were very close to the beach. Indeed, we could see the water but for some reason did not drive the extra distance. Regardless, we drove to see it today and it was worth the drive.

It was very windy, and I am now a bit sunburned, but the beach was lovely and almost completely empty of people. We even saw a wreck, picture attached. In the distance on hills are farms and at least one ruined croft. I can only imagine what it would be like to live in that area, especially before the advent of automobiles.

Tonight we plan to attend the final ceilidh of the Feis Ile. We've been told it will be very exciting, perhaps a bot rowdy, and we'll be up late; ceilidh starts at 10:00PM and ends at 01:00AM but we decided we'll attend and see what happens.

We have only 1 more full day here in Scotland, on Islay, but everyone has been great and we are eager to return as soon as possible. The weather has not been that bad and I am sure that living in the northeast has prepared us for the wind and rain ... but not the midges !!!

Comments are now allowed on the blog ...

I just realized (because I found it curious there were no comments) that the blog was set up to disallow comments. Now with very little time remaining here it might be irrelevant but feel free to comment on any posting.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Back down the road to Bunnahabhain

Friday, 29 May 2009, 10:15 PM, UK time, 5:15 PM, NE time


We’ve just returned ‘home’ from a family ceilidh held in Ramsey Hall, a community center in Port Ellen, the town we’re staying in our final 3 nights here. We were entertained there by the sweet voices of the Children’s Gaelic Choir, music played by a local traditional Celtic band, Highland dancers as well as Scottish country dancing by all who cared to kick up their heels (we must take lessons soon). This was a real down home hoolie where we once again just kind of blended in with local families in an old hall filled with lively children running about, not unlike those in the US. It was great fun to watch the kids dance with each other, to hear them sing in Gaelic and to see the pride in their parents eyes. We truly are privileged to have witnessed Scotland on such an intimate level.

Earlier today, we attended a festival at Bunnahabhain Distillery (pronounced boonahahven). While touring the facility, I heard an American voice and decided to inquire of the woman’s home, which turned out to be Topsham, MAINE!! (above Portland) She introduced us to her brother in law who lives in Milford, NH. When I said we had dear friends in Milford named Kerry and Linda, he sputtered their last name AND told us he worked with Kerry! Imagine that! Being on an island in Scotland, at the same facility and tour with such folks! Indeed, it is a “small world”. Tomorrow we plan to attend another festival and do some final exploration of the island. The weather has been fine here and warmer temps are forecast for tomorrow; I may wear my shorts yet! I must find a recipe for Sticky Toffee Pudding, a yummy favorite here and something called ’tablet’ which is a Scottish standard, a homemade sweetie that can be purchased in any store; it’s basically granular fudge cut in wee squares. It has served me well as ‘energy food’ whenever I grew tired. MMMMGOOD! We’re currently chatting with our fellow B&B guests and hosts here in the living room before we all call it a day, feeling blessed to have made these lovely new friends.

Oidhche mhath! (Goodnight!)

Mike here, posting the blog. During our drive back from Bunnahabhain, 5M (?)along the one lane road, we finally had the experience I have "dreaded"; traffic in both directions with someone blocking the road to take a picture. Worse is they stopped on a curve.

As difficult as it will be to leave here, it will be nice to see The Ghillie, and return to a regular schedule. With that said, I’ve been talking to folks about finding work in Scotland so we can move. Looking forward to reviewing the photos, trashing the bad, and creating a short presentation to share.

Tomorrow we head to Ardbeg (one of my favorites) for its open day, and to have our whisky-passport stamped. We will probably also stop at Lagavulin, and Laphroaig for their stamps. Attached is a picture of, left to right, the managers of Laphroaig, Ardbeg and Lagavulin.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

More ports, narrow roads,museums

Thursday 28 May 2009, 10:15PM
It’s been another day packed with adventure! We began doing laundry in a one-unit launderette in the village of Bowmore, pronounced B’mor, rolling the R on the end. While waiting, we visited a wonderful Scottish book and gift shop. We then visited the Museum of Islay Life in Port Charlotte, viewing photos and artifacts from the Victorian error, the 18th & 19th centuries as well as ancient artifacts from all over Islay…very interesting! Then we ate lunch in the Port Charlotte Hotel where the furnishings and artwork were a feast for the eyes, amazing! Further east, we later parked in Port Nahaven to walk about the tiny village where we chatted with an old gentleman sitting on a bench outside his granddaughter’s home. He told me he was a Glasgow boy and found it too quiet in this village. We happen to like the island’s pace; they say they live on ‘Islay time‘ here. We’ve sited numerous lighthouses including a striking one standing guard at the entrance to this lovely quaint village. Driving back, we found the ancient burial grounds of Clan Donald dating to the 14th century. . WOW! It was misty early in the day but cleared to beautiful sunshine that eventually brought out the midges…nasty wee flying bugs that attack and bite humans from head to toe; but in my opinion, they were not as bad as the black flies of home. We experienced the midges this evening back in Bowmore where we attended our first ever ceilidh, pronounced kaylee. This is a Scottish tradition, an informal concert, party, sing-along, dance…First though, a Home Coming Parade was held with marchers making their way down the hill from the Round Church, spilling into the streets below where hundreds had lined up to watch and cheer, including yours truly, waving our St. Andrew‘s Cross flag. The Islay Pipe and Drum Band led the parade of marchers: fire trucks, dancers, brownies, boys clubs, firemen, ambulance crews , etc. Then the ceilidh began in the square. Many were dressed in handsome traditional dress, i.e. tartan kilts, stockings and jackets. The eight distillery managers served as announcers of all the performers. One smashing good band called Skerryvore played great rousing toe-tapping, hand-clapping music. The Islay Gaelic Choir performed, a famous local vocalist named Norma Monroe sang…so beautifully; many in the audience sang along to the traditional songs. Young girls danced the Highland Fling among others, The crowd joined in a favorite Scottish Country Dance called Stripping the Willow, a lively line dance (sort of). At the end of the ceilidh, everyone in the square joined hands and formed a huge circle to sing Auld Lang Syne, including Michael and me. What a thrill it was to take part in this community event, to mingle with and rejoice in celebration with these local islanders and terrifically proud Scots, to raise our voices together in heartfelt song; it was unforgettably AWESOME! Few! What a day! And every one has been just the same, one discovery and delight after another; We miss home and the pace we’re keeping is very tiring but we also hate to leave this beautiful Island. So, we’re off to bed now, already looking forward to tomorrow’s fun.
Oidhche mhath! (Goodnight!)

Mike here posting J's writing. I attached a picture of our car (me driving) on one of the not-very-unusual-roads on Islay. As you can see there is not much room. Most of the time there are ditches or other such on both sides. The only way for cars to pass is at designated "passing spots" (wider areas) that you might have to back-up in order to reach !!!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Ales, more whisky, more ruins, Gaelic

Another late night (almost 11PM) blog entry. We just returned from Bogh Mor (Bowmore) where we visited the last distillery on our agenda, had supper then heard two hours of Gaelic voices and traditional voices at the Ionad Chalium Chille Ile.

Our day started with a late breakfast followed by a visit to open day at Islay Ales, where we ran into some folks we've met during the trip, as well as met the retired "Head Keeper" of Islay House. Islay Ales is located in one of the old estate buildings associated with Islay House. The house is for sale if anyone is interested. Link Here's a link to information about the house and its American owner:

From there we headed south to Kilchoman Distillery (the next to last on our list) that is a small, farm-style distillery located on, uh, a farm, some distance from the ocean. That is somewhat unique these days as the other Islay distilleries are right at the water. However, in times past many distilleries were farm type operations. It was a nice facility and while there we heard of another church/graveyard ruin nearbye so we drove to see it. While there we ran into my chess opponent from last night, who was delivering the mail !!!

Rather than post more pictures of another ruin, or another distillery I'll save the next picture postings for tomorrow after we revisit some of the ports down below Bruichladdich.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

American monument, Finlaggan, Port Nahaven

26 May 2009 6:30 PM

I‘m afraid we‘re finding SO much to do and see that it’s difficult to stop to blog all our exploits. The days are indeed long here; it’s close to 11 before the sun sets and it rises around 4 AM. But I must at least begin by telling you that this is the most beautiful place we have ever seen! It’s so much more than we could ever have imagined. It is lush, green, pristine land, without a spec of litter. The Scots are warm, welcoming and eager to help. We had a wonderful time at The Bruichladdich Distillery Open Day festival listening to bands play traditional music, eating delicious homemade food, watching Scottish country dancing and joining hands in a huge circle to sing Auld Lang Syne at day’s end.

On Monday, Memorial Day, Michael and I visited the American Monument built in 1918 to honor the military who lost their lives in surrounding waters during WWI . We placed our wee Walmart flags in the ground there. It was a stunning site high up on a cliff overlooking the ocean. Today we visited the ruins of Finlaggan, the seat of The Lord of The Isles and tonight we hope to attend a ceilidh (concert, party, dance) at Laphroaig Distillery but may not make it if we’re too tired. Dolphin and seals are seen in the waters surrounding this island; the birdlife is spectacular; it’s lambing time so the hills are alive with ewes and their wee baby lambs. There are bunnies running rampant here too. There doesn’t seem to be a shortage of lush vegetation for them all to eat. The thistles are beginning to bloom everywhere too and did I mention all the Scotch broom we’ve seen? Even the poppies are in bloom now. Grocery stores are about the size of our convenience stores, even smaller and they’re called food co-ops. We’re off to eat supper now; will be in touch again as soon as we can.

Cheery/Mar sin leat! (cheerio!)
Jacqueline & Michael

It’s almost 11PM and we just arrived back at Sornbank (Beul an Atha …. Bridgend) after driving to Port nah Abhainne (Port Nahaven) and having dinner at An Tigh Seinnse (pronounced An-tay ShenShee) … so, no ceilidh. However, while supping in the lounge with other guests (including the former owner) the local chess club came in and sat down to play. I asked the members if they would mind their picture being taken. I was told it was no bother then asked “Do you play?”. Well, one thing led to another and before too long I was playing chess with a man named Alan who moved to Islay, from Glasgow, 25 years ago. It was grand fun and I won, but wonder if he allowed me to win because I was a guest.

On the way home, much of the distance along a winding road not much wider than one car, with cows and sheep grazing on either side, with no fences to keep them from being in the road, we had to slow down more than once to avoid a collision with on coming vehicles or sheep in the road !!! This truly is an adventure. Distances are not too great but the road are narrow and windy so even a few kilometers takes longer than you might expect. Add to that I am on the left side of the road with a right side wheel and it’s very exciting.

Well, like J said we are finding it challenging to post as often as we’d hoped but we are having a grand time. Tomorrow we’ll visit the last two distilleries, Kilchoman and Bowmore, and likely drive back to Port nah Abhainne to take more pictures of it, as well as sites along the way.

I posted some pics from today. Most should be understood but the pic that looks like rocks on an island in a loch, is Finlaggan. The rocks are the remains of the fortifications, etc. built by the Lords of the Isles.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Round church, whisky, music, and dancing

Today started windy and cold, with look of rain. The rain held off but the sun did not shine until late in the day; just in time for dancing.

We started out by driving about 10miles from Port Ellen to Bowmore, where we attended Sunday service at the round church. From there we headed to Bruichladdich distillery for their "open day"at the Feis Ile. All of the distilleries have an open day (different days) but we had not planned on attending them because there is usually some fee to enter, and we could easily spend all week at open days and not visit the other sites we want to see. However, mony folk suggested we attend the Bruichladdich open day because they always have grand weather and put on a good "show".

In any case, we attended the open day, arriving at the correct time (noon) and stayed until aboot 6PM. We saw some folk we had met previously, and even ran into Simon Brooking, Laphroaig's Whisky Ambassador, whom we've met at whisky tastings in the USofA. Late in the day the distillery manager served as the MC for group dancing, that culminated in many of us forming a circle, joining hands, and singing Auld Lang Syne.

Tomorrow we will be touring a distillery (Ardbeg I believe) and then headed to the American Monument at The Oa.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

First day on Islay

So much to tell you! At the moment, Michael and I are relaxing, eating sandwiches in the sitting room at our B&B ‘Samhchair’ (Gaelic for tranquility) on Islay, still feeling the sway of our morning ferry ride here. We arrived at Port Ellen, Islay around noon and were greeted at the dock by our B&B hostess Maggie. Our hired car was there ready for us to drive as well. Michael is doing very well operating on the car’s right side, driving on the left-hand side of the road, roads that are winding and narrow and many that allow only one car to pass at a time. You quickly learn to politely pull over for others who are equally polite and friendly, waving as you pass each other. After unpacking and tea with our hosts, Michael and I drove off to have lunch at the Ardbeg CafĂ© at the Ardbeg Distillery then on to the Kildalton Church ruins and cross which is the largest in tact Celtic cross in Scotland. The roofless stone church is surrounded by its equally old cemetery. Inside we found wall sculptures of ancient Celtic soldiers. On our way to this site, we also came upon what could only be described as an ‘enchanted forest’ where the undergrowth was a lush carpet of bluebells and ferns. Stunning beauty! Everywhere you look there are finely crafted ornate stonewalls topped with moss, lichen or ivy. These structures frame the woodlands, frame and divide lush fields and hillsides where sheep and lambs are grazing. We stopped at Lagavulin Distillery to take pictures and met a couple from Colorado out on the pier there. We walked along the beach out to a high rocky hill to photograph the remains of Dunyvaig Castle which once was home to The Lord of the Isles, of the name MacDonald. Driving through Glasgow yesterday and along our 4 hour bus trip to Tarbert, I was struck by all the flowering shrubs already in bloom, things we won’t see until June in NE; rhododendrons, azaleas, golden chain trees, potentilla, bridal wreath, mt. andromeda, clematis as lush as August at home and there are forests of larch trees! Everywhere, you see flowers, buttercups, daisies and others, purple clover and lobelia growing out of rocks and stone walls; sea thrift blooms profusely out of rocks down by the water. By the way, it stays light here until about 9:45 PM. As I write, we are closing in on 9:30 and we are now enjoying a wee nightcap with our hosts and fellow guests. I’m typing on a table by the window overlooking the beach where waves gently lap the shore; craggy green hills rise in the background. We’re looking forward to the morning’s worship at the Round Church in Bowmore tomorrow; a sunny day is expected. So it’s off to bed we go now.

Oidhch mhath (goodnight)
11:30PM Mike here ...
I stayed up visiting with the other guests. When I posted the blog written by J, and added pictures they show in the exact opposite order loaded. The top pic is the castle, second is the cross, last is the sign at the ferry terminal. I'll post more pics in future, but need to resize them due to them taking so long to upload.

Friday, May 22, 2009

We arrived safely

But very tired at Heathrow this morning 05:00 or so. Two hours later we were enroute to Glasgow, arriving at about 08:30. Bus to primary bus-hub, waited for 4 hours to board bus to Tarbert. Arrived at Tarbert after about 4 hour bus ride. We had been without sleep since about 5AM (EST) Thursday so we cleaned up, took a nap at our B&B, then went out at 9:00PM for a bit. This entry made at 11:00 PM and it was light until about 30 minutes ago. Tomorrow we will take ferry (about 3 hours) to Islay.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Today's the day, God in the details

In a few hours we are off to the bus terminal and our journey begins.

Until yesterday we did not have a place to stay in Tarbert but there were no worries. We will be staying at a new B&B, where we will be the first guests. Our hosts will pick us up at the bus, and arrange for transport to the ferry terminal on Saturday.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Islay weather.

I (Mike) added an RSS feed so oor readers can check the weather and marvel at the rain, wind and other stuff they are missing. To check the weather check the Yahoo link in the upper right-hand corner of the blog. Remember, when reading, that temperature, wind speed, distances, etc. are not degrees "F", mph, and miles they are degrees "C", kph and km.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Eilean Donan Castle (post by Mike)

Some of oor readers received an email from me several weeks ago in which I described what some would consider a coincidence, but I did not. For those who did receive the e-mail the link in this post is the official website to the castle, therefore you might want to visit the site and take a virtual tour. For those who did not receive that email, here is the back story:

For almost 4 years I have been out of full time work and it's been difficult (for many reasons not only financially) but, especially over the past few months, I've found my way again and am confident God will soon answer the prayers for meaningful, rewarding work. However, late in February, while in the early stages of planning the trip, I was filled with doubt about the wisdom of embarking on such an trip considering the situation.

Well, at the beginning of March we received the Intouch Magazine from Dr. Charles Stanley's Intouch Ministries ( The cover picture was an unidentified castle that looked familiar. Remembering that I have a book of castles from Celtic Lands, I pulled the book from the shelf. The picture on the cover is of: A few days later I was sitting in my home-office and glanced at the calendar, which is of Scotland. The page needed to be flipped from February to March, and when I flipped the page to March guess what picture was March? Yup, Eilean Donan castle.

Coincidence? I think not. Perhaps God is telling us we are going to Scotland?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Jacqueline's first post

I think Michael has done a smashing job designing ‘oor’ trip blog. I hope you’re all able to tune in and enjoy the entire journey as well as the many hidden details of our personal bliss and blessings. I wondered what I could possibly add to the masterful work Michael’s already done but as I put pen to paper, these are the thoughts that came tumbling forth: Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4). This verse of scripture has resonated in my life’s circumstances particularly throughout this past year and is decidedly the hallmark of the love of all things Scottish that Michael and I share, that which has brought us to this miraculous adventure we’re about to embark upon.

First of all, for most of my life I believed I’d descended from 100% French stock, but lo and behold, my sister-in-law Linda Turcotte’s genealogical research some years ago, revealed the Celtic bloodline of the MacDuffs, a clan I’ve come to herald as my own! Michael’s mother Joan Small, a first generation Scots-American, whose mother immigrated to America as an indentured servant in the 1920s, has greatly influenced our love affair with Scotland. We attended our first Highland Games with Joan in Brimfield, Mass. about a dozen years ago. I’ll never forget the thrill I felt hearing the sound of the bagpipes skirling triumphantly as the massed bands poured onto the field. My feet barely skimmed the ground as we followed the bands down the thoroughfare; every fiber in me danced joyously to the beat of the drums. This experience has been repeated over the years each time Michael and I have travelled to the famed NH Highland Games. Like hungry kids in a candy shop with wide smiles fixed upon our faces, we walked on air with hearts enraptured as we devoured characteristics of this rich and spirited culture. We’ve established traditions of those September treks to the NH “Highlands” and to the Robbie Burns Nights celebrated worldwide every January; at home on Sunday evenings, we huddle by the radio to hear lively Celtic music performed on fiddles, harps, drums and pipes, while enjoying a wee dram of our favorite Islay malt.

Webster’s defines the word ‘serendipity’ as an instance of the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for. I feel that this describes the surprising, unexpected delight Michael and I have found in our mutual love of Scotland: the desires of our hearts, given to two wee bairns by their loving, knowing Father.

Mise le meas, (Yours faithfully)

Sunday, May 10, 2009


The Aboot Us section has a wee bit of information about our geneology.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

The journey, schedule, sites to see

If all goes according to plan, two weeks from today Jacqueline and I will be in the skies headed tae Scotland. Here's the plan:

Bus to Boston (21st)
Flight to Glasgow (arrive on 22nd)
Bus from Glasgow to Kennecraig (stay overnight)
Ferry to Islay (arrive 23rd)
On Islay from 23rd May to 1st June
Depart Islay via flight from Islay to Glasgow
Glasgow to home (arrive home 2 June)

Here is a link to the bus route, in red on the map right side of page:

Youtube video of the ferry to Islay:

While on Islay, these are the two places we will be staying:

Two of the sites to see:

We have booked tours of the following distilleries (I used wiki references because the distillery websites will require you to confirm DOB and where-you-live before you can view the site):

We've made a list of many places to see: monuments, ruins, the various towns, etc. Yes, even the distilleries, but we will tour only the two because we have memberships that will allow us to tour those at no cost. We plan to attend a few ceilidhs during the week, but we want to spend most of our time touring the island to see the country side.

We'll once again it's time to sign off. I'll ask Jacqueline to post soon (before we leave) and blog her thoughts and feelings. After our trip begins we will blog when possible including pictures of what we have seen.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

First post to Oor Alba Blog (by Mike)

This will be a means for our family and friends to share in our journey(s). It took me (Mike) some time to decide on a blogname. I originally thought something in Scottish Gaelic would be clever, but since neither of us can speak Gaelic, with the exception of a few phrases, it seemed a bit pretentious. Because we are equally fond of "Scots" (the language) I chose a combination of Scots and Gaelic.

So, to clarify the origin of our blogname: Oor is Scots for our, Alba is the Gaelic (pronounced Gahlick, not GayLick) name for Scotland , and it's our blog. Hence OorAlbaBlog.

Scots, the language, is not English spoken with a Scottish accent; it's a language of its own. Scottish Gaelic is similar to Irish Gaelic (ironically pronounce Gaylick) but a language of its own. One challenge faced when learning Gaelic is that it has only 18 letters: it lacks the consonants J, K, Q, V, W, X and Y. Additionally, the letters it does share with English are sometimes pronounced differently, especially in combination with other letters. Furthermore some words have letters that are not even sounded. Other words, like Alba, are pronounced with a vowel sound that is not even in the word; Alba is pronounced Alabbuh. Lastly, there are sounds made for which there is no English equivalent.

We are headed to an island called Islay (Eye-luh) that is best known for two things: several working distilleries, and was the site (historically) of the home of the Lord of the Isles. From our faith perspective Islay is also home to a round church (so the devil had no corners in which to hide) and a large, intact Celtic cross.

Here are a few links for those who are interested in learning more about Scots, Gaelic, where we are going, and the festival we will attend. Until the next time ....

Oidhche Mhath !!! (Good Night)