Report From Islay
October 3rd, 2013

Here in Port Charlotte only the waterproof survive. Sheep, cattle, border collies and birds have all been treated with Scotch-Gard. Meantime, humans rely on Gore-Tex slickers as they scamper from doorway to doorway. Here and there are picnic tables and playgrounds, deserted artifacts from an ever-so-brief summer.

“The sun does occasionally come out,” declares the bartender as he refills my glass. “But what with the wind, you don’t feel it.”


When they’re not drinking, the natives are working–behind the heavy wooden doors of whitewashed stone structures such as the Islay Woollen Mill Company, which houses machinery dating back to the nineteenth century. Proprietor Gordon Covell graciously showed us around a clattering loom that churns out tweeds that are shipped to clothiers in London and Rome and sometimes to Hollywood. That smashing kilt Liam Neeson wore as Rob Roy? It came from the Isla Woollen Mill. Same goes for Mel Gibson’s wardrobe in “Braveheart.”


Of course it takes more than wool clothing to keep a person alive in this climate. Hence the prevalence of whisky distilleries on the island. We toured the Bruichladdich distillery, birthplace of Laddie Ten single malt, winner of numerous awards including first place in the annual “Snorting the Best” symposium in Winnemucca, Nevada. There we were walked through the magical process by which water and barley are transformed into a most tasty beverage–drinkable immediately and delectable after ten years time spent resting quietly by the sea in oaken wine casks.


Sam, if you are reading this–and I know you are–rest assured that I’m thoroughly enjoying my visit to the home country. So sad that my ancestors had to leave Scotland, but what choice did they have? It was either Coalville, Utah, or the gallows.


-Richard Menzies