Monday, June 29, 2009

Antidote to Dreich Weather in Maine

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Scots word dreich best describes the weather pattern we’ve endured in Maine since our return from Islay on June 1: bleak, dreary, miserable, dismal and cheerless. According to Bath, Maine Weather, ( ) 7.99 inches of rain have fallen throughout 16 days this month. ‘My Corner of Maine’ blogger Paula ( recalls only 3 sunny days all month. Today’s “forecast-at-a-glance” is worded thusly: “cool temps” (mostly around 58-60° F or 10°-15° C) “clouds, drizzle, rain likely, chance of showers, fog and/or mist” all the way through July 6th at which time, temps may rise to 76° F (24.4°C).

The weather has traditionally been the conventional topic of conversation among Mainers as was true today with much grumbling and dismay that our long-awaited beautiful summer is not likely to arrive until mid-July, if at all. And in the blink-of-an-eye, following our 4th of July Independence Day celebration, another long and dreich Maine winter will again be nipping at our heels; all very tiresome and dispiriting stuff that sends my mind journeying back to Islay and the warm sunny days that graced our May holiday there.

Although we experienced some cool, windy, misty days on Islay, our time was finished out with sunshine, warmth and bright, astonishingly blue morning skies, the likes of which I’d never seen before. I would awaken at dawn to find a sky bursting with the noonday brilliance of our New England summers.

As I sat here in our chilly, damp, musty cottage in Kittery Pt. Maine, wearing a fleece pull-over and woolen socks, bemoaning the deprivation of sun and sandals, I visited Armin Grewe’s wonderful Islay blog and read of the lovely summer being enjoyed there. The photos of bathers cooling off in Port Ellen waters give the appearance of a tropical paradise. The videos of the recent Islay Beach Rugby Tournament show the enviable bare-footed lads and lassies frolicking in the sand wearing wee tees and shorts. Armin mentions his fatigue from the “heat wave” that temporarily sidelines his writing, an impressive 23.4° C (nearly 75° F) in Port Ellen (30° C, 86° F forecast for mainland UK). Finally he writes about the Ileachs’ anticipation of cooler evenings that usher in spectacular summer sunsets, photos of which Armin featured on today’s blog. Lovely!

Perhaps the only way to remedy my Maine dreich is to plan a return trip to Islay and begin counting down the days till Michael and I behold the extraordinary beauty of her radiant skies, sandy beaches, craggy hills, pristine lochs, lush green fields, her friendly faces, gently lilting voices, her eager, helpful hearts, and her ever-sunny frame of mind. Dian a thoiseach! (God willing!)

© Jacqueline Small

Friday, June 19, 2009

Tablet ...

Friday, 19 June 2009
Jacqueline here on ‘Tablet’— One of the Seven Wonders of Scotland.
Michael and I first discovered tablet, Scotland’s age old national sweetie, at the village store in Ballygrant on the way to Port Askaig one day. Feeling travel-weary, cranky and in need of a snack to sweeten my mood, I couldn’t resist the scored squares of fawn-colored confection in wee cello bags near the check-out. Back in the car, it was pure heaven, buttery sugary grit melting on our tongues, delivering smiles and renewed energy. Once on our way, it wasn’t long before I began pilfering the bag to savor another tantalizing square. Travel is long exhausting work so one must do whatever is necessary to keep ones energy and spirits up. For me, Scotland’s tablet proved to be the solution. Once the squares were gone, they were easily replaced because we found tablet for sale in all the village stores! And judging from the labels I saved, we bought at least three packages of Islay’s An Gleann Butter Tablet. We indulged in a variety of their samples served at many of the events we attended, including single malt whisky flavored tablet (my preference being the pure plain butter tablet). An Gleann (the glen) is a cottage business located in Port Charlotte, Islay. Their tablet is exceptional; its attractive packaging captures the essence of Islay and their web site itself,, is delicious—crisp, clean, and inviting. Nicely done An Gleann!
This week, after finding a recipe on line, I succeeded in making a lovely batch of tablet only to realize that it is auspiciously akin to the beloved confection my Canadian grandmother made throughout my childhood. I’d like to imagine that the original centuries-old tablet recipe came to Canada with our Scottish ancestors who emigrated there—feeding my sense of connection to alainn Alba (lovely Scotland), just as tablet satiates my inherent sweet-tooth.

Friday, June 12, 2009

A Few Memories, Faces, and Impressions

In the midst of the stress and turmoil of my job, I find myself missing Islay and wanting to travel back there if only in my memories. Michael and I, by no means, relaxed on our island holiday last month, yet, in the swirl of my current reality, I find I can return to Islay’s tranquility, its diversions, its magic, its people and its serendipity at every bend in the road—every bend in those skinny roads alone, were discovery for these two American travelers.

I’m keenly aware that my favorite color is green when I think of Islay’s fertile landscape and of the comfort gleaned from its vast open-airy-ness, its sheep-garnished hills, country crofts and ancient stone structures. We delighted in its hidden cottages, tucked into the hillsides that frame the Sound of Islay, as well as in its neat rows of colorful houses that knit together each distinctive village—their homey greens and squares, sandy beaches and sentinel lighthouses, and the prevalence of the island’s ‘beasts’. One such bend in the road treated us to the amazing scene of a herd of cattle ambling across a beach near Bridgend one evening (Traigh Cill an Rhuba, tidal sands of Loch Indaal). While searching a lush rain-soaked field of grass for the remains of the medieval era Kilmeny Parish Church (there is a new church as well ) an exuberant border collie appeared out of nowhere, knocked me down and ravished my face with kisses. I was suddenly six years old and giddy with laughter.

I remember the faces of people we met, the older gentleman smoking a cigarette seated on a bench outside his granddaughter’s home in Portnahaven. Once a Glasgow boy, he found this place too quiet. The hilltop lane he lived on offered a stunning uncorrupted view of the wild Atlantic, my kind of ‘quiet’. One day while madly snapping photos of ruins and cemeteries, the postman came dashing over hill and dale in his wee red truck. To our delight, it was Alan, Michael’s chess opponent of the previous night. I still see the grin of recognition on his face when he stopped to say “hello” and then the red blur of his Royal Mail truck buzzing away along the winding pathways of moor and meedie.

In Port Ellen we happened upon the Celebration on the Green, a children’s festival which was heralded by the Islay Pipe Band marching through the streets. But what equally thrilled us was the sight of jubilant kids and dogs running on the beach there, where we also sat to eat our fish and chip lunch served up by the cheery ladies in the local Nippy Chippy van.

Well, that’s it for today; I don’t want to overwhelm you with all my memories at once and my own rambunctious border collie needs a walk before I return to reality and head off to work. Yet of this I am confident—God’s grace will keep me far above it all.

Mise le meas (Yours faithfully)

Friday, June 5, 2009

Tour of Bunnahabhain ...

Friday, 05 June 2009

It’s good to be home in Kittery again just in time for a beautiful Maine summer and to have returned while so many of our spring perennials and flowering shrubs are in bloom. After catching up on some much needed rest, Michael and I have been able to view the dozens of photos we took which we plan to compile onto a CD to share with all of you. While re-reading our journals and remembering all the interesting people we met on Islay, I thought I’d comment on one individual whose captivating character greatly enhanced our Islay experience. Iain Shaw is a nineteen year old young man who has been working for just six weeks, in the visitor shop as well as a tour guide at Bunnahabhain Distillery.

Iain’s attentiveness to us not only made us feel comfortable and welcome, it served to endear us to this establishment in particular. We found Iain’s ample self-confidence and ambitiousness to be pleasantly balanced by buckets of personality, charm and quick wit; his colorful Scottish expressions were highly entertaining and his detailed knowledge of the distillery’s workings was impressive and informative. Some may say Iain’s just a cheeky wee lad, but who knows? Upon re-visiting Bunnahabhain in years to come, we’d not be surprised if we were greeted by Iain W. Shaw, Distillery Manager. Thanks Iain, for making our May 2009 visit so memorable. Michael and I are confident that the contribution of your gifts and talents will make for a long and prosperous career at Bunnahabhain.

Bu thoigh leam d’aire a tharraing ri (I’d like to call your attention to) the lovely setting into which Bunnahabhain nestles, as well as that of Coal Ile Distillery (pronounced culleela, the Sound of Islay) just a wee jaunt down the road. Sitting upon the sea wall at Bunnahabhain, you overlook a smooth stone beach where gentle waves tumble to shore. Moored nearby is a colorful lobster boat, not far from the pier where a pile of traps or ‘creels’ sit. When you lift your eyes eastward to yonder hills on the neighboring island of Jura, your vision falls upon three pyramidal mounts aptly named the Paps (an illustrative old Norse word) of Jura. Visits to either of these distilleries not only provide cordial receptions but promise thrilling views of the surging sound whose craggy shoreline rises to lush green hills and this unique mountain range. Unforgettably lovely!

Le dùrachdan, (With good wishes)

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Videos of events during 2009 Feis Ile

While googling for information regarding a wee cave that I found near Samhchair, I found some videos of the 2009 Feis Ile events on the website for Islay's newspaper Ileach. FYI, an "Ileach" is a native of Islay.

Here's the link to the paper; Check the videos while they are still on the front page.

Here's a link to the site that hosts the paper's videos:

Monday, June 1, 2009

Back in the USA

It's about 10:30PM. We arrived back at oor wee hoos in ME about 9PM but needed to run out for some milk, make coffee, unpack a few items, etc. Need to get to bed so we can pick up The Ghillie tomorrow. Will blog more thoughts, pictures, etc. soon.