we've just had the islay festival of malt and music over here. a major week of being overrun by very friendly persons from foreign parts, happy to be on the shores of their favourite whisky isle. a surprising number arrive by bicycle and i met one or two of them, though we didn't really talk much about bikes.
in my day job, i am required to cover the festival for the ileach (it's a dirty job, but somebody has to do it), which is absolutely great fun, even though i don't drink any alcoholic beverages at all, and i had planned to co-ordinate all this by having the last washingmachinepost provide a guide to visiting the distilleries by bike. however, organisation is not my middle name so i am reduced to performing this operation now, about three days after the festival has ended.
to work this to my advantage, i have decided that this is simply thewashingmachinepost being incredibly early for the 2004 festival (May 29th - 6th june, so now i have turned the tables and made myself a paragon of timekeeping. i have no statistics to show how many cyclists visit the distilleries on islay, though i'm sure if i asked around i could get a better idea. when we (islay pipe band) were over on jura a week or so ago for the jura fell race (yes, there are some really crazy people who run over the paps of jura and one or two other hills at the same time - same time every year), there were some very nice bicycles parked outside the jura hotel - a bianchi, a cannondale. a gios and a mercian. you could tell they belonged to visitors because they were padlocked. however, this doesn't really count since they were more likely there for the running than the whisky.
incidentally, if you're ever over in this direction, it's well worth taking the bike over to jura since it's a very pleasant and scenic ride from the ferry port at feolin up to craighouse. haven't done it myself yet, but it's on the vc port wemyss itinerary for this summer and would make an excellent adjunct to cycling to the distilleries on islay. craighouse is only about a third the way up the east coast of jura so there's plenty more cycling past the village if your of a mind. the last part is mountain bike only, and you should check the ferry times to make sure you can get back to islay when you need to.
on the day after jura distillery's open day for this year's festival, the ferry broke down (and not for the first time either), stranding quite a number of folks on the wrong side of the sound. seafari-islay took most of them back to islay - car drivers had to leave their cxars but you could fit a bike on the seafari rib.
anyway, back to visiting distilleries by bike. assuming the weather to be in our favour this weekend, ie not raining, my directeur sportif and i will probably wend our way to ardbeg distillery's old kiln cafe for a piece of clootie dumpling and a coffee. as of the start of the festival of malt and music, ardbeg's old kiln opens seven days a week, which means we now have an alternative to the croft kitchen in port charlotte, though if we're peckish, there's always the opportunity to drop in there as well as the ds heads to port wemyss.
ardbeg is the furthest away of the southerly three, and as you pedal out of port elln towards the kildalton cross, you pass first laphroaig, then lagavulin before rolling downhill to ardbeg. we generally pedal this sort of distance (round trip of 96km) on a sunday - the ds is retired but i have to work during the week so i don't get out as much as him, which he never misses the opportunity to point out. however, if you are visiting these wonderful shores, lack of time to cycle is unlikely to be a problem so you could, technically, visit all three in one swell foop. in practice this is not really an option. the distilleries tend to have specific times for their daily tours and it's very unlikely that these could be co-ordinated to allow all three in one day. so if you are intending to visit any of the three, choose either lagavulin or laphroaig in the forenoon so that you can reach ardbeg in time for lunch and join in one of their afternoon tours.
i can't actually remember whether ardbeg conducts tours on a sunday, but the ds and i have no real intention of traipsing round the mash room, washbacks and still room of ardbeg clad in lycra and with cleated shoes. we're only there for the coffee and munchies.
it may come as no surprise to you that i freewheel past bowmore distillery on my way out the village, though it's not open on a sunday (christine has to get at least one day off). morrison's bowmore was one of the ealriest adopters of the regular daily tour and is very well adapted to receiving visitors. parking a bike is a piece of cake and getting to bowmore is pretty easy from anywhere on the island. it's almost bang in the centre and is the main shopping centre for the island. good coffe lounge at the harbour inn.
the ds and i usually meet up around bruichladdich distillery, the sort of idyllic rendezvous that, no doubt, many of you would kill for, and here am i being so blase about it all. to keep the mileage as similar as possible, the ds pedals from port wemyss, while i pedal from bowmore and depending on the wind direction, one of us usually gets to bruichladdich before the other. the distillery is almost as easy to get to as bowmore and positively welcomes visitors, though again, i don't think it opens on a sunday (bruichladdich have agreed to sponsor this year's gran fondo bruichladdich, formerly known as thewashingmachinepost century ride on the first sunday of august. sponsorship will be by way of a miniature for every entrant and the fact that i can call it a gran fondo - very cool title).
now the only distilleries we have left to visit are the two up north, caol ila and bunnahabhain. the ds and i have visited the latter on at least two separate occasions already this year, though the place is not open on a sunday, much to the dismay of the ds, since this is the purveyor of his favourite tipple. there is nothing better than wending your way along the four miles of twisty, turny, single track road to the distillery and stopping on the pier for cycle food and psp 22, looking across the sound to the paps of jura, before turning to go back up the long climb out of the village and the steeper climb up from ardnahoe, caol ila is just up the road a bit before you turn off for bunnahabhain, down through the village and out the other side. the view from the distillery is so incredible that manager billy stitchell told me this was the reason that his chair and desk faced away from the window.
so there you go, in a nutchell and several words, we have visited all seven of islay's distilleries and that of jura. even if, like me, you don't drink the stuff, the distilleries are an important and integral part of the islands and any holiday, including one by velocipede, will be the poorer if you fail to visit at least one of them. which one is entirely up to you. tell them i sent you - i can always do with referrals:-)
on a slightly different note, my regular reader will have noted the addition of a 'colnago c40' rollover to the left. this contains a reprint of a recent article featured in cycle sport magazine, which they were very kind to let me present here (because i'm a colnago geek) i have also found an excellent review of the colnago c40hp here
i have been asked to add the following link to the post by wheelygoodcause. they're a cycling club dedicated to arranging epic rides for charity and do not charge charities for the pleasure. They ride because they want to, and the next ride takes them from st malo to biarittz and then across the raid pyrenees. so i have. and here it is.
Remember, you can still read the review of 'the dancing chain' the utterly excellent book on the history of the derailleur bicycle by clicking here
any of the books reviewed on the washing machine post can probably be purchased from amazon.co.uk or amazon.com
as always, if you have any comments on this nonsense, please feel free to e-mail and thanks for reading.
this column almost never appears in the dead tree version of the ileach but appears, regular as clockwork on this website every two weeks. (ok so i lied) sometimes there are bits added in between times, but it all adds to the excitement.
on a completely unrelated topic, ie nothing to do with bicycles, every aspect of the washing machine post was created on apple macintosh powerbook g4, ibook and imac computers, using adobe golive 5 and adobe photoshop 7. needless to say it is also best viewed on an apple macintosh computer.