In May 2020 we had a surprise birthday trip planned for John's 70th birthday. He loves peaty scotch and a visit to the distilleries in Islay was the plan. When Covid hit in spring 2020 we rescheduled for spring 2021 which was too soon. Third time's a charm, and at the end of August, after extensive bookings, rebookings and Covid compliance the trip came to fruition. The destination was no longer a complete surprise, but each day's activities were.
We started with a walking tour of Glasgow with an entertaining and informative (kilted) guide. We got an overall history of Glasgow and some local color. He told us that film companies that need to recreate old New York often film there. As a former NYer I could see why. A little CG and the lions in front of city hall could be the library on Fifth Avenue.
The city is beautiful, lots of greenery, lovely old buildings and a river.
There was a lovely view from the church and graveyard high above the town.
The next day we rented a car and drove to Loch Lomond. We did a hike with me singing "You take the high road and I'll take the low road" repeatedly. The hike started through a heavily wooded area which was stunning.
We climbed Conic Hill to panoramic views of the lake and surrounding countryside.
We stopped in Luss, a touristy and very picturesque town on the loch.
We had to return to Glasgow for our day-2 Covid test and then took a small plane to Islay, the main destination for our adventure. The Island is sparsely populated and most of the people are involved with the Scotch distilleries, raise sheep of or support tourism. And it is a beautiful place.
Our schedule on Islay shifted many times as tours/visits were moved due to Covid but we got a wide assortment. John's first visit (at 10:30 am) was to Lagavulin to taste some cask strength scotches.
Luckily all the distilleries offered "driver's drams" so you could take what you did not drink, and John came home with many small bottles in addition to what he purchased.
We walked the wooded and scenic three distilleries pathway stopping at the Laphroaig shop, and unfortunately one of John's favorites, Ardbeg was closed but at least we got to see the grounds.
Other visits included Bruichladdich for a tasting of their range of scotches and Bowmore.
While John experienced a warehouse tasting at Bunnahabhain with offerings directly from the casks, Zoë and I explored the coast nearby.
And while John had a very unique Ardnahoe blending experience Zoë and I did a beautiful hike nearby.
We all did the Kilchoman distillery tour to learn about the entire process from barley to bottling from a small, family run operation.
One day we took a ferry to Jura. The distillery was closed but we enjoyed a beautiful walk along the coast.
After a quick return to Glasgow for a final Covid test we drove to Stirling. For a change of spirits we visited the Stirling Distillery for a gin tasting, visited the castle and historic church.
In Stirling we found store with a very wide and deep collection where John got a scotch aged in a Calvados barrel, a wonderful combination of two of his favorite beverages.
We stayed at bed and breakfasts and everyone we met was so friendly--and it never rained the entire time we were there! It was a belated present to John and a wonderful first travel in two years treat for all of us.