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Maltings Floor at Laphroaig Distillery, Islay

This evening, I am providing information on the collection of world-renowned whisky distilleries on the Scottish island Islay.

Islay (pronounced Eye-la) is an island situated off the coast of Scotland, directly west of Glasgow. Origin of the name is uncertain; it may be derived from ‘island divided in two’,’ law island’ or possibly named after a Pictish princess named Ile. The principal activities on the island are tourism, farming, fishing and whisky distilling. Islay is renowned for its eight whisky distilleries the product of which is (with one exception) noted for its peaty or smoky flavours.

Helped by an abundant supply of peat (decayed vegetation which can be used as fuel) and water, Islay produces a range of classic malts from the following distilleries:

Ardbeg  (‘Little Height or Promontory’) – Founded 1815, located at Port Ellen and owned by Glenmorangie (Moet Hennessy). Uses a malted barley with a high phenol content and sources peaty water from Loch Uigeadail, about one mile from the distillery. Output includes a 10 year old (46pct and non-chill filtered) Uigeadail (cask strength) and Corryvrecken (cask strength).

Ardbeg Malts, Islay

Ardbeg Distillery, Islay

Bowmore (‘Sea Reef or Sea Rock’) – Founded 1779, located at Bowmore and owned by Suntory of Japan. Sources water from the peaty River Laggan and cuts local peat for its traditional floor maltings. Uses four onion shaped stills for distillation. Output includes Small Batch Reserve, twelve-year-old, Darkest 15 years, 18 years and 25 years.

Bowmore Malts, Islay

Bowmore Distillery, Islay

Bruichladdich (‘Brae of the Shore’) – Founded 1881, located at Bruichladdich and privately owned. Uses spring water with a high peat content. The malts, include an unpeated Bruichladdich, heavily peated Port Charlotte and ultra heavily peated Octomore.

Bruichladdich Stills

Bruichladdich Distillery, Islay

Bunnahabhain (‘River Mouth’) – Founded 1881, located at Port Askaig and owned by Burns Stewart. Unusually for Islay, this distillery produces an unpeated malt which sources its water from the Margadale Spring. The spirit, which is distilled in four onion shaped stills, is mainly used in blends.  Core range consists of 12, 18 and 25-year-old plus two peated versions: Toitech and Ceobanach.

Sampling Bunnahabhain Malts

Bunnahabhain Distillery, Islay

Caol Ila (‘Sound of Islay’) – Founded 1846, located at Port Askaig and owned by major drinks conglomerate, Diageo. Sources water from Loch nam Ban about one mile away and distills using six onion shaped stills. Historically the product has been extensively used in blending. Core range consists of 12, 18 and 25-year-old plus Moch and Distiller’s Edition.

Sampling Caol Ila Malts

Caol Ila Distillery, Islay

Kilchoman (‘St. Comman’s Church’) – First new distillery on Islay for 124 years, located about five miles west of Bruichladdich, close to Atlantic Ocean. Privately owned. First whisky (three-year old) produced 2009. Core range consists of Machir Bay and Sanaig.

Tour Guide at Kilchoman Distillery, Islay.

Kilchoman Distillery, Islay

Lagavulin (‘Mill Hollow’) – A sister distillery to Caol Ila which was founded 1817, located at Port Ellen and owned by drinks conglomerate, Diageo. Sources water high in peat content from a stream flowing from Solan Lochs situated north of the distillery and distills with four, broad necked stills. Output includes 12-year-old cask strength, a 16-year-old and Distiller’s Edition.

Tasting at Lagavulin Distillery, Islay

Lagavulin Distillery, Islay

Laphroaig (‘A Cave’) – Founded 1815, located at Port Ellen and owned by Allied Domecq. Malts barley on site with locally cut peat and sources water from the Kilbride dam. This malt is famed for its raw, pungent taste. Principal malts include a 10-year-old (40pct.), 10-year-old Cask Strength Quarter Cask Triple Wood and a 25-year-old.

Spirit emerging from the still at Laphroaig Distillery, Islay.

Laphroaig Distillery, Islay

Horses at Mangerton Tower

This morning, I collected tour guests from central Edinburgh, Scotland at 0915 and embarked on a trip to the Scottish Borders as follows:

First stop at Johnstons of Elgin, Hawick. This company specialises in cashmere and fine woollen products. We availed of refreshments here and visited the showroom.

Johnstons of Elgin Showroom..

Next to the village of Teviothead where we visited the Celtic Goldsmith showroom.

Celtic Goldsmith

Next, to nearby Carlenrig, This the site where King James V had Johnnie Armstrong and fifty followers executed by hanging in 1530 in context of an initiative to control the unruly Borders region.

Next to the small town of Langholm: Here we called in at the Eskdale Hotel where we visited the Clan Armstrong Exhibition together with information on the Border Reivers.

Eskdale Hotel

Next Gilnockie Tower, Canonbie for 1.00pm. This 16th century tower is the only survivor from around 60-80 stone or wooden towers in the region of Eskdale. Ewesdale and Liddesdale. It is under care of Clan Armstrong due to historic Armstrong connection. An enthusiastic and well-informed local tour guide provided access and information. A renovation programme of this historic building is well underway.

Inside Gilnockie Tower

Gilnockie Tower

Next to the village of Rowanwanburn: Here we viewed the prominent sandstone sculpture of Lang Sandy.

Lang Sandy

Next to Ettleton Cemetery and Milnholm Cross These sites are just south of Newcastleton.The cemetery includes a wall where a collection of rescued headstones has been assembled many of which are believed to have Armstrong provenance. The Milnholm Cross was erected to the memory of Alexander, the 2nd Chief of the Armstrong Clan. There is speculation that Alexander was buried under the Cross in 1320.

Armstrong Wall.

Milnholm Cross

Next to Mangerton Tower. This was residence of the Armstrong chiefs throughout the 16th century. The Tower measures 10.4m from NE to SW by 7.7m transversely over a wall 1.55m thick. The interior is filled with rubble. An armorial panel bears the date 1563 below which is a shield displaying a chevron over a lozenge and a sword flanked by the initials SA and EF.

Mangerton Tower

Next to Tourneyholm near Kershopefoot. This open site is close to both the English border and River Liddel. This was a site for settling disputes during the Reiver period via combat and/or negotiation. Unfortunately, the wet conditions underfoot prevented access.

Finally, we returned to Edinburgh where we duly arrived at 6.30pm. We achieved most of our objectives but the trip was hampered by intermittent rain.

Abbey Church of Dunfermline, Scotland

This afternoon I visited the ancient city of Dunfermline (pop 50,000) in the east of Scotland, about one hour north of Edinburgh.

Dunfermline benefits from a high elevation which affords excellent views over the Firth of Forth and bridges to the east.

Key features are:

  • Medieval Abbey and former Royal Palace.
  • Birthplace (1835) of Scottish-American businessman and philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie who endowed his home town with public buildings.
  • Burial place of King Robert the Bruce inside Abbey Church.
  • 16th century Abbot House.
  • 17th century, Pittencrieff House. This was the birthplace of Brigadier General John Forbes (1707-1759) whose British army defeated the French in North America and named Pittsburgh after William Pitt the Elder.
  • A well maintained public space and gardens, Pittencrieff Park.
  • A medieval Mercat Cross.

Carnegie Hall, Dunfermline

Birthplace of Andrew Carnegie, Dunfermline

War Memorial, Dunfermline

Mercat Cross, Dunfermline

Pittencrieff Park

Pittencrieff House

Pittencrieff Park

Bridge Street, Dunfermline

Dunfermline City Chambers

Decorative ironwork at Dunfermline Abbey

Abbot House, Dunfermline

Abbey Church and Abbey at Dunfermline

Dunfermline Carnegie Library