SCOTCHNOTTO BEMISSED

The Jewish Chronicle - - TRAVEL & CRUSING - BYRUPERTPARKER

RE­MEM­BER THE film Whisky Ga­lore, in­spired by a real event in 1941 when a cargo ship sank and its 264,000 bot­tles of whisky washed up on shore? That was on Eriskay, in the Outer He­brides but I am a long way fur­ther south, sail­ing around the In­ner He­brides for 10 days. I am still sur­rounded by whisky, though, with Is­lay alone home to 11 work­ing dis­til­leries. And if you can­not stand the stuff, then the scenery is more than ad­e­quate com­pen­sa­tion.

I have come pre­pared for the worst — ther­mal un­der­wear, rain gear to cover ev­ery part of my body, fleeces thick and thin, even wa­ter­proof socks. Ar­riv­ing in Oban, I get soaked car­ry­ing my bags to the ho­tel and my home for the next 10 nights is bob­bing around in the har­bour, buf­feted by wind and rain.

The Glen Etive is the new­est ad­di­tion to the Majestic Line, with just six cab­ins and three crew to look af­ter 12 pas­sen­gers. The rain has stopped and an hour’s sail­ing brings us to our an­chor­age in Loch Spelve, on the is­land of Mull. Af­ter a sump­tu­ous dinner, Cap­tain David Wheeler briefs us about the cruise. There is no set itin­er­ary, he says, as it all de­pends on the weather and the sea but, with a fair wind be­hind us, we could visit Colon­say, Jura, Is­lay, and Gigha, be­fore re­turn­ing to Oban.

Next day dawns bright and calm and he de­cides to brave the whirlpools of the Gulf of Cor­ryvrekan, be­tween the is­lands of Scarba and Jura. This can be a treach­er­ous stretch of wa­ter but today it is like a millpond and we an­chor by the vil­lage of Scala­saig on the Is­land of Colon­say. There is no dis­tillery here but it does have its own brew­ery — a pint of its IPA is most wel­come af­ter a hike to the glo­ri­ous white sand beach of Kilo­ran Bay.

Tonight’s an­chor­age is to be Craig­house on Jura, so we head back east, through the Sound of Is­lay. The weather has im­proved but not enough to lift the cloud com­pletely off the Paps of Jura, the is­land’s three aptly named con­i­cal peaks. In the morning, I stride out over peat and heather and start to climb. Un­for­tu­nately there is not enough time to reach the tops but I con­sole my­self with a dram of the Jura 16-yearold whisky, in the Craig­house dis­tillery.

Next day we head south to Port Ellen, on the Isle of Is­lay. It is the mid­dle of Fèis Ìle, the week-long fes­ti­val of malt and mu­sic and the Laphroiag dis­tillery is hold­ing its open day. Although it is early, the folk greet me with a tast­ing glass and there is live folk mu­sic ser­e­nad­ing the crowd by the sea. Just nearby are two other dis­til­leries, La­gavulin and Ard­beg, so I head up the road and get a sam­ple of each.

Our course now takes us around the bot­tom of the is­land and it is so clear we can see the Ir­ish coast 20 miles away. We sail into Loch In­daal, with Bruich­lad­dich and Bow­more dis­til­leries on op­po­site banks. In the morning, it is Bow­more’s turn to host its open day but I ex­plore the town and its distinc­tive round church be­fore en­joy­ing the fes­tiv­i­ties.

We leave Is­lay and sail east to the small Isle of Gigha, just seven miles long and a mile wide. It is the most southerly of the He­brides, with a warm mi­cro-cli­mate, sandy beaches, clear green seas and a host of wildlife.

The 54-acre Achamore Gar­dens are well worth a visit, par­tic­u­larly if you are there when the im­pres­sive col­lec­tion of rhodo­den­drons is in full bloom.

We an­chor for the night by the vil­lage of Tay­val­lich, in Loch Sween. We are now back on the main­land and the land­scape seems strangely civilised af­ter the wilds of the He­brides.

In the morning I leave the boat and walk seven miles to Cri­nan, at the head of the canal of the same name, built in the 19th cen­tury. It is low tide and there is an abun­dance of wad­ing birds and even a cou­ple of ospreys feed­ing

Push­ing north from the main­land, we ar­rive in the Slate Isles of Seil and Eas­dale. These once sup­plied slates for houses in Glas­gow with Eas­dale, just a mile across, sup­port­ing a pop­u­la­tion of more than 500. In 1881, a freak storm flooded the quar­ries and the in­dus­try was wiped out.

These days it is a pleas­ant spot and a tiny ferry plies the few hun­dred yards to the is­land of Seil.

An­other cou­ple of nights, putting into shel­tered spots on the Isle of Mull, brings us back to Oban. We have had 10 con­tin­u­ous days’ bright sun­shine, al­most un­heard of in Scot­land. Shore trips are al­ways at the mercy of the weather, to say noth­ing of nav­i­gat­ing the treach­er­ous seas. I silently give thanks as I sip my fi­nal dram in the Oban Dis­tillery.

The next Majestic Line (the­ma­jes­ti­cline. co.uk) South­ern He­brides Cruise leaves Oban in mid-May for 10 days and costs £4,250 per per­son. Read more from Ru­pert at plan­e­tap­petite.com

I am greeted with live folk mu­sic and a glass’

and Ard­beg Open-day hos­pi­tal­ity at La­gavulin Glen Etive: 12 pas­sen­gers, three crew and all this view

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