This is an exclusive page! There are only two winners of the Inaugural contest held by Bowmore Distillery. That is unless my friend Lucas decides to become a blogger! If you are aware of the competition then you know that the two winners got to enjoy a week in Islay, Scotland In Bowmore, Scotland. The two winners were awarded an adventure led by Ken Hames and Colin Prior, two Ambassadors’ of Bowmore Distillery who masquerade as an ex-British Forces member/World Traveler (Ken) and a renowned UK landscape photographer (Colin) who is also a World Traveler. What you probably don’t know is that these are two of the finest gentleman you will ever meet. And they love Bowmore whisky.
The whole trip was a great experience, no, it was awesome! I’m going to try to detail this trip as best I can without boring you, but no matter what image I drop in, story I relate, I am afraid it will fall far short of the absolute enjoyment of this excursion. So forgive me for rambling, I’m hitting some highlights of a very fun albeit quick trip.
So what you did not know about the competition is that the people of MorrisonBowmore are not stingy. No, in fact, they offered to bring Lucas and I into their Auchentoshan Distillery (because we flew into Glasgow) and I was more than eager to go. We had a fantastic tour by Rose and to top it off, Lucas and I were allowed to bottle our own bottle of Auchenotshan Classic straight from a cask! The spirit was distilled in 1996. We extracted it straight from the cask, I chose to not strain it, I wanted it charcoal and all! It is, magnificent!
And off we went! Straight from the Auchentoshan Distillery to Glasgow Airport en route to Islay! Up until this point we had been with Joe Hughes of MorrisonBowmore, a great person indeed. At Glasgow Airport we met our next partner, Ali. Ali is about as tall as a giraffe and unfortunately, graceful as one as well. Love you man! He really is a great guy and accompanied us on our short trip over to Islay. Landing on Islay is like travelling to a simpler time, the airport is small, like atoms are small. But who cares, there you are! On Islay! Green flat land dappled with homes, sheep, and peat. I felt like I was in Disney. I have since deleted about twenty pictures from my iPhone that I took out of the window on the ride to Bowmore. Slightly excited, yes.
It’s a short ride from Islay Airport to the town of Bowmore. Upon arrival we jumped into the Harbor Inn Hotel office to be given our room keys, explanation of the facility and time for dinner. I jumped outside with my Nikon in hand, and started firing away! I was so damn happy to be there! After firing off about a hundred frames I went to dinner with a smile on my face.
The first night we spent getting to know each other and enjoying a fabulous meal at the Inn. The last instructions were to meet up at 5:30 a.m. to rendezvous with Colin for a photo opportunity on Coral Beach. The morning came quickly! Mostly because my body was on East Coast time (U.S.) and I’m just not a good sleeper to boot. The trip out to the beach involved a nice winding road along the roads of Islay. Once we found our parking place, we launched off into a nice walk. Here is where I learn what Islay weather is all about, and en large, why Bowmore goes to length to talk about the tumultuous environment that surrounds the Island and distillery.
Colin was giving me some pointers in capturing light and we discussed the importance of the histogram on a DSLR. I’m an old film guy so all of his instruction was desperately needed and I was eager to learn. I wasn’t really able to get into practicing what he had taught me because all of a sudden a hail storm ensued!! Realize, that the weather wasn’t bad, mild, a little windy, but nice. And then, hail. Welcome to Islay. We quickly disbanded the area and headed back to the vehicle. I couldn’t help it though, I had a grin on my face! I was totally in the moment and never would have traded the safety of an office for the pelting of the ice. I was in Islay, all is good.
Breakfast that morning was special as well. Being an American, I had never had haggis, or blood pudding, or porridge. I had all three that morning, And loved it! The porridge came with an option of whisky syrup. Of course, only makes sense. I ate a lot, but it was put to good use as the day started. We packed up our goods for a night out in the hills of Islay. Now, this isn’t some park that people visit, in fact, we didn’t see sign of anyone ever camping in the area we settled down in. We “hill” walked for quite a while up and down fairly drastic elevations. Ken challenged us with map and compass navigation. We were quite challenged and it wasn’t lost on us how much explorer’s should be very well versed in map reading and land navigation. The summit that we reached was incredibly windy!
Setting up camp was not without labor, we hadn’t exactly packed light and we had to move a few hundred pounds of gear over less than accessible land. After some hardwork and instruction from Ken, we had started to set up a camp site, plan for a shelter, and start start the makings of a fire. The fire turned out to be very stubborn, using only elements that one would use in the wild it took us a good half hour or so to get a good fire burning. Warmth is an imperative when out in the elements and the Islay weather had already shown us that morning that it can get brutal, quickly. That evening we enjoyed each other’s company, some local Vinison and some Bowmore 15 darkest. Life was good.
That night we slept in the trees and rose early. We cleaned up camp and for the first time in my life, I left a camp-site with plenty of firewood ready for the next weary traveler. We went back to the Inn for some grub, we would need it.
This new day we found ourselves en route to Scarba, an uninhabited island in the inner Hebrides Islands. We went there quickly, by way of a helicopter. Life is good. The helicopter ride not only bought us some time but it allowed us some unique views of the land and enabled us to capture images and videos that will impress. Our helo pilot came over from Ireland and was in learning the land just as we were overhead. The ride was flawless and our pilot more than proficient. We set down on our Glengarrisdale camp site and unloaded, then back up in the air and to Scarba.
Setting the helicopter down on Scarba went well and off we went to the summit. We had a nice vigorous walk to the summit and the views were absolutely breath-taking. The images you see speak for themselves, but, they really do not convey the pure beauty and serenity that lies atop Scarba. We spent some time reflecting on the land, had a good bite to eat and then set out for the other side of the Island to where our helicopter should be to meet us. The elevation ascent and decent was challenging and at this point my dear old knees decided it this wasn’t fun anymore. I spent a good deal crabbing back and forth and just tried to enjoy the views. Once or twice some shooting pains went through my knee but luckily after we had left the island and went back to Glengarrisdale (and a few Advil) it had stopped complaining.
On the ride back from Scarba I took the front seat of the helicopter and took my hand at photography from the air. Luckily Colin talked me through it and I got a couple of shots I like. Once back on the island Colin, Ken, and Lucas went exploring in hopes of catching a closer glimpse at a young Sea Eagle that was perched on the side of a cliff. I was more interested in letting my knee calm down so I stuck to the flat land exploring. There was plenty to see and during my walk I happened upon a nice antler that some Stag had just lost a day or two before. The area was fairly littered with deer dung. It was really hard to move a few feet without stepping in some dung when you were close to the animal trails.
While walking around I was trying to find some firewood. There wasn’t any. It’s a largely grassy area with rocks and the occasional tree. There are very few resources to use and we talked quite a bit on how the hardship must have persisted for settlers of that area years ago. As beautiful as the area is it is quite apparent that only the toughest animals survive in these parts. We would be reminded of this later.
Dinner that evening was boiled over a very nice portable burner. It’s amazing how good food tastes when you are outdoors, especially hot food! It wasn’t long of course before the Bowmore 15 found its way out! There may have even been some Bowmore 12 in the mix. Being tired, we hit the sack early in Ken’s new Swedish tent, all was calm, just a slightly persistent breeze…….. At some point after midnight Ken and I were awoken by the wind. The slight winds had turned into a persistent and aggressive force. A quick trip around the perimeter of the tent revealed that it was still holding well but we took some fairly large rocks and placed over the stakes for insurance. We thought we had settled it, we thought wrong. At a little after 2 AM we had decided that the center support pole had indeed been bent by the winds and we weren’t sure how long it would hold out. I was holding the pole around 2:30 AM while gear was gathered for a movement to a Bothy when a burst of wind turned the somewhat straight pole into a 90 degree angle. I was now the tent pole.
The good thing was the Bothy at the site was unoccupied and we were more than happy to move to it. Much like the hail storm before, this freak of nature would make a normal person angry but on this trip all events reminded me of the wonderful wildness of the Inner Hebrides. I was thankful though of the Bothy! Without it, we would have all been in the elements that night, most likely in McLean’s Skull Cave!
Morning light brought a calm and peaceful setting. It was like the night before had never happened! Ken whipped up some eggs with bacon and once again we were eating like ancient Kings! I took a walk to the stream behind us and filled up my canteen, drinking straight from that Jura stream was a treat! The water was soft and clean tasting, just a slight hint of earth was on it. No wonder you can make good whisky in this part of Scotland!
The next part of our journey was by boat. We were picked up by a company that does a lot of touring around the area. The waters were rough that day and we headed straight for the Corryvreckan, the second largest whirlpool in Europe. The day before when we flew over the Corryvreckan it looked tame, today it was angry! Positioning the boat to where we were being pulled into the whirlpool, the captain set the throttle to about 6-7 knots and that kept us standing still, treading water basically so that we could witness the Corryvreckan at work. It was really an amazing thing to see!
After taunting the Corryvreckan we idled along the shore in route to the Jura Hotel where we would catch a Taxi back to Bowmore. On our journey we happened upon a fabulous Eagles’ nest and quite a few seal. It was a nice way to wind down the trip, we were all tired and ready for some rest. At the Jura Hotel restaurant we all enjoyed some beer, some very good food, and a few drams, of course.
So our outdoor experience had come to an end. That evening we enjoyed some last conversation with Ken and Colin and another great meal at the Harbor Inn. If you are still reading, you can gain some appreciation that we all had for each other at the end of these few days. It is very difficult to go through extremes without growing fond of your company.
MorrisonBowmore was curious if they had done a good job with the adventure, I assured them they had surpassed my expectations!
So this part of the journey ended, yet the grand finale awaited Lucas and I the next day………(to be continued)