Tuesday 27 July 2010

Islay Trip 19th - 26th July 2010

A week past on Sunday we embarked on our annual summer holidays. In the past we have often headed off to the sun on some last minute jaunt to places such as Cyprus and Turkey. This year however, being fed up with the constantly increasing resort prices, reductions in standards and in some cases bad attitudes, we decided to stay a bit closer to home and headed to the Hebridean Isle of Islay.

The Scottish Hebrides comprise a widespread archipelago off the West coast of Scotland and Islay, the most southern of the island group is known by Islanders as the Queen of the Hebrides. The resident population comprises around 3,200 people and it is sometimes referred to as the whisky Isle with there being 8 working malt whisky distilleries on the island itself.

The Hebrides are recorded as being first settled around 6500BC with the first recorded writings on the islands being made by Roman historians around AD77. Very little is known about the Hebrides until the 6th century arrival of St. Columba who brought Christianity to the Islands and founded several churches after founding the still working Monastery and Abbey on the island of Iona. Iona Abbey has always been as popular a destination for Christian pilgrims as it is today.

In the 8th century the Hebrides came under Norwegian control until the battle of Largs on 2 October 1263 where King Haakon IV of Norway’s depleted taskforce together with their Manx allies under charge of Magnus III of the Isle Man gained only a minor tactical victory against Alexander III King of Scots forces. In December of the same year however, Haakon died while resting his campaign in Kirkwall Orkney and his son Magnus the Lawmaker sought peace with the Scots in the Treaty of Perth in 1266. The Hebrides were effectively leased to the Scots after this treaty for a payment of 4000 Marks and an annual payment of 100 marks. This Treaty was to be short lived however as the Scots defeated the Manx and last Norse King at the battle of Ronaldsay in 1275 where they gained sovereignty of the Isle of Man, Shetland, Orkney and The Hebrides. In time the Hebrides were governed by the Lords of the Isles who ruled from Finlaggan on Islay under the Kings of Scotland and Eventually England.

Islay can be reached by sea and air with commercial sailings by Caledonian Macbrayne from Kennacraig in Kintyre and charter flights from various airports on the British mainland.

Much more information on Islay can be found on this website Islay Ultimate Online Guide - Isle of Islay Queen of the Hebrides

Our choice of transportation was to be by car and the Ferry M.V. Caledonian Macbrayne, Isle of Arran from Kennacraig on the Kintyre peninsula to Port Ellen on Islay. The crossing takes about two hours and the island can be travelled end to end in a car in less than an hour.

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M.V. Caledonian Macbrayne - Isle of Arran

So, at 18 30 hours approximately on Sunday18 July 2010 we arrived at Port Ellen.

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Arriving at Port Ellen

We drove off the ferry and headed to our cottage. The cottage was a lovely wee three bed semi detached affair which had just been freshened up. It had splendid views out over the sound of Islay to the Mull of Kintyre.

Part 1

Tuesday 20th July 2010

Today, we woke to splendid weather not the kind for fishing but the ideal kind of weather for a day at the beach. So, after lunch, we got the kids organised and headed up the road to Claggain Bay almost at the end of the road on what would be the East coast of the Island.

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Claggain Bay

The weather was tremendous with hardly a clound in the sky and the kids were more than happy playing with the pebbles and sand while having a wee paddle. For me, it was an ideal opportunity to break out the spinning rod and have a wee blast at the mouth of the river Claggain. The river rises in Gleann leòras on the slopes of Beinn Bheigier which seems to be one of the highest mountains on Islay before tumbling into the sea in a small cataract which is only about 10 feet wide. I duly mounted a Norwegian style lance lure donned the Merrells and headed for the mouth of the river. I had quite a few casts for about half an hour having waded knee deep in the pleasantly frigid waters of the sound of Islay with no luck but it was good to have a cast all the same. In hindsight, I may have done better with the fly rod in the wee pool behind the shingle spit but unless I go back will never know. This was more of an opportunistic blast at a cast than one by design and I wasn’t disappointed in the least not to have bagged a fish but was just content to spend a few hours in such a lovely location.

On realising I had nearly drowned my mobile phone in the deep pockets of my cargo shorts, I decided it was time to amble back down the beach from whence I had come and was pleasantly surprised to find my family ambling in my direction too. Great minds and all that !

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The Kids

We spent about another hour at the bay and I had a pleasant chat with another visitor who was keen on birdwatching. He offered me a look through his spotting lens and binoculars at a couple of Red Throated and Black throated divers and also a couple of Loon’s that were enjoying the sunshine. We were treated, to the “song of the Loon’s”which is apparently quite a rare occurrence in the middle of the day. We bade our farewells and myself and the family headed back to the cottage for tea.

Loch Kinnabus

After dropping my wife and the kids off for their tea around 4 p.m., I made up some sandwiches and decided to head to loch Kinnabus which was most definitely on the hit list. I packed my fly rod and waders, weedling my flies down to just a single box consisting mainly wets, .Bibio, Soldier Palmer, Jersey Herd, Zulu Muddler, Turks Tarantula etc,. and another of dries, I dispensed with the fishing bag and packed all my stuff into my waistcoat deciding to travel light. The journey to Loch Kinnabus is about 20 minutes from our cottage and it lies on the Oa Peninsula.

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Loch Kinnabus

When I arrived, the weather was still bright but not too bright with a decent wee breeze. There was a chap from Englandshire at the car park who had just come off the water with his daughter. On having a blether it transpired he’d been fishing someflies off of a bubble float to make things a bit easier for his daughter. He’d had a couple of hook ups but had brought nothing to the net. I suggested he might have better luck in the future if he was to put the bubble float at the end of the line and tie flies from droppers attached between the rod tip and float. Not that I would advocate this style of fishing myself but there’s no point in fishing a method if you’re not going to do it right.

Anyway, reel on, flies on and I’m tackled up. I didn’t really see any point in messing about so I headed for the South West corner of the loch, (passing a dead Sheep en-route)

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Poor Sheep

where a burn runs in and was onto a fish almost immediately.

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Wee Troot

He had gone for the ombudsman which was on the point and for a wee fellow gave a good account of himself before he was brought to task. Things carried on like this for almost ¾ of an hour with almost a fish a cast, none of which were bigger than 7 ounces.

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More of the same.

I don’t know whther it was the change of fly when I put on a Turk’s Tarantula dressed on a no. 2 hook that did it or whether is was a change in wind direction but the fish turned off as quickly as they turned on. I had another few casts and headed back in the direction of the car park. I passed a local and had a few words with him but he didn’t seem the socialble type so I left him to it and returned to the car.

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At the going down and the setting of the sun.

20 mins later, I was back in Port Ellen. I was feeling a bit peckish so decided to go back to the Indian restaurant which goes by the name of the Maharani. This place doesn’t really look anything but I got a veg Pakora and we returned a couple of nights later for a take away and it must be one of the best curries I’ve ever had. Who would’ve thunk that a curry house on Islay would be as good as it was. It’s a bit unconventional in it’s approach and a wee bit café like but one of the locals described it thus “ this place is wild, but the food is spot on ! “.

It’s a bit like Islay itself I reckon.


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