Water, grass, thistle and stones. Rocks. Arriving on Islay means close quarters with quartzite, limestone, slate and shale with many cresting intrusions called sills of metamorphic rock abundant through the southeastern part the island known as Kildalton. As Andrew Jefford writes (and I’ll return to his wonderful prose often from Peat Smoke And Spirit)
. . . the minerals that form most of Islay began their existence on the bottom of the ocean, but disappeared later, crushed beneath a monstrous weight of new rock. The crushing involved cooking: sand became . . . not glass, but not unglasslike either. It became quartzite (a quartz-rich sandstone).
Walking between two rows of old, old rock, pieces of rock (think at least 600 million years), one feels solid and yet very much tossed by waves and wind on this island on the northwest edge of Europe. Looking at the walls, I see bits and pieces of continents stretched around the globe that finally collided together to make a perfect place to cook whisky.
And that is why we’re here. Well, why I’m here and why Gabriela and Demian have joined me. Not whisky aficionados themselves, they appreciate the time to explore a sea-pressed island and climb as many rocks as they may. And so, we enter our cottage which is a short walk northwest out of Port Ellen.
The master bedroom welcomes us immediately to the left of the front door and looks quite inviting for cold nights under blankets.
The front room offers another fireplace, couches, and a television for watching the Women’s World Cup.
Also, there’s a dining room table quite perfect for family gatherings around food and drink gathered on the island.
The kitchen affords a view of the front yard past knives and cooking instruments.
Stove, oven, toaster . . . check.
Demian has the option of sleeping in one bed in this room or . . .
One bed in this room. Plenty of space for a family of three, considering a family of ten stayed here before us.
Back outside, on the other side of our wall facing the sea I find a thistle, which leads me back to Hugh MacDiarmid’s long poem A Drunk Man Looks At The Thistle, and certain lines of his concerning this bright, scraggly flower.
I never saw afore a thistle quite
Sae intimately, or at sic an hour.
There’s something in the fickle light that gies
A different life to’t and an unco pouer.
Across the road, an abandoned cottage rusts and waits on rain, wind and time to shape it into one of the sills reeling across the island.
My own skin crinkles and wrinkles in the brisk air swirling through the Inner Hebrides. I believe it’s time to toast all these old faces and walls criss-crossing green and purple.
Lagavulin 8 purchased at the SPAR grocery store. Not as dark and smoky as its twice-older brother, the 8 still carries a distinct Lagavulin nose of tar, rope and roasted nuts. Honey and vanilla with citrus notes moves from nose to tongue as I drink in smoked peat, fried oily fish skins and green apples. Delicious and perfect for an afternoon repast.
We’ve bought gorgonzola and red apples, salami and parsley to feed our hungry, traveling bellies. More wonders will abound as tomorrow we walk to the Ardbeg distillery for a tour, drink and lunch. Out into the yard again for another pour of Lagavulin and a listen to Robert Fripp’s “Abandonment To Divine Providence” from Pie Jesu. Bon Appétit!