I am writing this post on a ferry, in the middle of the Scottish Hebrides. We have just left Islay (do not, like me, think it is pronounced phonetically, and get yourself corrected at Glasgow Airport. No, to avoid embarassment you should pronounce it “ai-lah”) and are on our way to London. From there we will make our way to Newquay, Cornwall, via Bath.
There are several reasons why I was particularly looking forward to the Isaly leg of our trip:
1. We stayed in a whisky distillery
First off, let me point out the fact that I spelled “whisky” without an “e”. Turns out this is the way the Scots spell their national beverage, and I have been spelling it like an American all this time… whoops!
Secondly, yes, we stayed in a whisky distillery. Let me just give you a couple of moments to process this... There are several distilleries on this Island in the Scottish Hebrides. We opted to stay at the Bowmore Distillery, in the “Maltmans cottage”.
There were two things that greeted us when we arrived at our cottage: the cloying smell of whisky in the air, and a bottle of the real stuff laid out for us in the kitchen as a welcome gift (probably the most awesome welcome present ever).
On Saturday morning we did a whisky tour and tasting. At 9.30 am. (#onlyinScotland). If I had have been concentrating on the tour I probably could have wowed you with lots of interesting and impressive facts about the Bowmore Distillery, and the whisky-making process in general.
Alas, I am terrible at concentrating on tours, so here are the only facts that I have retained in my medium-long term memory:
- Highland whisky is known for it “peaty” character, and the various distilleries differentiate themselves based on the level of “peatyness”. Bowmore is medium peaty.
- The fermentation process produces a lot of carbon dioxide, and we were told that sticking our heads too far into the barrel would result in a very unpleasant feeling. I really wanted to stick my head in the barrel.
- The Bowmore 1956 “harvest” (?) was recently bottled. It is the oldest Bowmore whisky available, and yielded only 12 bottles. These are now on sale for £100,000 each – but don’t worry, they come in a hand-blown, platinum encrusted bottle, and home delivery is included. Four of the bottles have already sold, and I was dying to know who bought them. Apparently the buyers enlisted wine agents to buy on their behalf in order to protect their anonymity. Now I’m really dying to know who bought them, and imaging some sort of film star or middle-Eastern sheik.
- Haggis is made from sheep’s lungs, and is definitely not vegetarian. This didn’t stop me from trying some during the whisky tasting. For the record, it tastes a lot like a meat pie, which is a very disturbing thought.
2. I got some free photography lessons from my cousin Kyle
During this trip, I am travelling with some family from Australia, who are on a Euro-trip for the next couple of weeks. This includes my cousin, Kyle, who is a photographer for a living. Just before I left Australia for Germany my parents gifted me an SLR camera for my birthday. I had visions of myself learning how to use it, taking it away with me on weekend trips and capturing spectacular photographs, which I would post in my incredibly successful travel blog.
However 14 months later and I was still afraid of the damn thing, and it sat gathering dust in a cupboard in my apartment. I would take photos on my iPhone while travelling, with the excuse that the SLR was too heavy and unwieldy to take with me in my luggage. The real reason was that I didn’t know how to use it, and as a result the photos on my iPhone actually turned out better anyway.
But this year I am trying to feel comfortable being uncomfortable (if that makes sense) so I resolved to pester Kyle for some tips during the trip. He has obliged and then some, first of all giving me a one-hour “photography for idiots” course (this is what aperture does, this is what shutter speed does, this is what ISO does – I still haven’t completely got my head around all this, but I took notes people!), then he allowed me to shadow him and ask him all sorts of annoying questions (“Kyyyyle, why does this picture look dark?” “Kyyyyyyle, what shutter speed should I use for this picture?”).
Shadowing Kyle has been really fun (for me at least) and I feel like I am slowly making some traction. Kyle even included one of the pictures I took in his blog Travelling Scarf (you can tell which one it is - it's the only one with him in the picture!). If Kyle doesn't lose patience with me between now and then, my next lesson will be in using Photoshop. Excitement levels high.
3. I got to trace the roots of my ancestors
OK, so I didn’t actually find this out until I got to Islay, but it turns out my family’s ancestors hail from this island! My Aunty Lisa has been tracing our family’s roots on Ancestry.com for years (no convincts in our family people, and yes it comes as just as big a surprise to us as it does for you) and our great great great (etc.) Grandfather Hugh Currie was born on Islay and baptized in this church.
Apparently he hopped aboard a boat for a new life when the Government decided the island was becoming overcrowded. On board the boat, he met Catherine, who would later become his wife. They hopped off the boat in Port Phillip, Victoria, in 1842 and the rest is.. well.. history. We searched the cemeteries for any Currie headstones we could find to aid in my Aunty’s research.
So, what do you think of my photography "skills"? I’m definitely still learning, but I’m sure you’ll agree Kyle is a pretty bloody good teacher..!