Day 32: Thurs 31 March. A short, painless day in the saddle. A long day on the water in the good company of another two CalMac Ferry crews.
From our temporary base in Tarbert, a short distance to Kennacraig and onto the ferry to Port Ellen on the south side of Islay. I could have taken a ferry directly to Port Askaig, where the Islay Lifeboat is based, then straight back. But where’s the fun in that? This way, I get to cycle across the island, via more malt whiskey distilleries than you can count on two hands, even if sober. Just 21 miles of road from Port Ellen at the Laphroaig & Lagavulin southern end, via Bowmore to Port Askaig on the north east side, via several familiar Islay Malt names. This stretch also takes you along the longest straight (if a bit rough) stretch of tarmac I have ever ridden. But no danger of boredom. Not with another demonstration of Scotland’s ability to throw at least three seasons of weather at you between two well spaced bends in the road.
On arrival at Port Askaig, the first familiar sight was the unmistakable outline of the Severn Class ALB moored alongside what looked like an RNLI boathouse. It was indeed the Islay Lifeboat but having struggled up the steep steps, carrying Fondo (not an ideal moment for role reversal between man and machine) my heart sank when faced with a locked, unoccupied building and a phone with no signal. This sinking feeling lasted all of 10 seconds, saved by a loud hail from across the harbour, where a sharp eyed figure standing on the balcony of a newer, bigger Lifeboat Station beckoned me over. Many thanks to David Maclellan(Cox’n), David McArthur(Mech) and Victor Maclellan (DLA) who greeted me with a good brew of tea, a brief history of the Islay ALB Station and just the right combination of good humoured banter, encouragement and really useful advice. Again, great characters who really know their jobs.
One of CalMac’s bigger ferries was suddenly there, right in front of me. Another smooth, flat, stunningly scenic cruise down the Sound of Islay, with the Paps of Jura to Port and the Beinn peaks of Islay to starboard. The calm before tomorrow’s forecasted storm?