The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE -

Fer­ries from Oban to Mull, Is­lay and fur­ther afield are best booked ahead in the sum­mer months with Cale­do­nian MacBrayne; cal­ More: visitbri­ beg is La­gavulin — the most palat­able drop is its mel­low 16-year-old sin­gle malt — and be­yond that Laphroaig, pro­ducer of “the most richly flavoured Scotch whisky”.

At the end of my dis­tillery tour I’m forced to ad­mit that the Is­lay style of whisky, with a few ex­cep­tions, is an ac­quired taste I’m not overly keen to ac­quire. And yet a visit to these hand­some dis­til­leries, most of them founded in the early 19th cen­tury and strung out like the beads of a neck­lace along the tran­quil Is­lay seashore, is as much about the is­land’s cul­ture as its unique con­tri­bu­tion to the world of high-end ine­bri­a­tion. If you fol­low Dr Johnson’s line of think­ing, it’s about the scent of the past caught in the present and the con­tem­pla­tion of time.

That night I head to The Is­lay Ho­tel at Port Ellen, and after an­other dish of mus­sels (these from the Shet­land Is­lands fur­ther north) and lo­cal fish, I set­tle down in the bar over a glass of light­weight whisky from Jura. A three­piece lo­cal band runs through a set of Scot­tish folk tunes be­fore call­ing for con­tri­bu­tions from the au­di­ence. Two Ir­ish visi­tors step up, one at a time, and around their folksy songs the band im­pro­vises tunes from a com­mon Celtic cul­ture. “Here on Is­lay we’re closer to Ire­land than Scot­land,” my host at the sea­side shack I’m rent­ing ex­plains next day. In this splen­did re­mote­ness there is a kind of melan­choly. And an even greater joy.

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