Breakdowns and smoke
Finally, after just over two years of delay, we made it to Islay! Not as easy as you might think, however…
(Want some distillery action? Go to Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Epilogue!)
Finally, THE day arrived. It was a matter of time, not “if” but “when”… our very first trip to the mighty Isle of Islay! But let’s go in order: it’s not the first time we booked a trip there. Last time we had rented campervan for 10 days, booked the ferries, booked tours in all 8 available distilleries (Caol Ila visitor centre was, and still is, closed for renovation), a trip to Jura, and a couple of other distilleries on the way. But that trip was due to happen in March 2020, so you can guess how things went down…
This time we took things a bit easier, we only booked 3-4 weeks in advance. We were able to get a campervan for an acceptable price (unfortunately the price of most accommodations on the island was more than the van alone), but this time just for a long weekend: 3 full days on the island (+ 2 half-days for the travel back and forth), and 6 distilleries, still pretty good! So, when the day came, we woke up super early: run, breakfast, packing, a bit of house cleaning, lunch and, finally, picking up the van near the Leith Links.
The company we used works like an “AirBnB of campervans”: they are an intermediary but vehicles are privately owned. Our “host” was very nice and she explained carefully all the features of the camper, which was definitely an upgrade compared to the one we used in Speyside and Highlands last summer, having a little sink and the hobs. We jumped on it, a quick stop home to get our stuff, and then straight towards the West Coast!
The trip was smooth, we took the highway to Stirling, then drove west towards Drymen, and kept going along Loch Lomond. We stopped at the Rest and Be Thankful area to stretch our legs, and again at the Lochgilphead’s Tesco for gas and some groceries.
When it was time to restart the vehicle, plot twist! The campervan just wouldn’t start. We called the assistance, which said that they would take around 2 hours to come. Was it the battery? That was what we hoped for, but by turning the key the radio and lights were working, very bad omen. The assistance arrived (meanwhile, we had already changed our ferry ticket for the next morning), and the verdict was ruthless: the starter motor broke down, no way to replace it in the evening nor on the Saturday morning, we’d have had to wait until maybe Monday, but more likely Tuesday for something to happen (the perks of a bank holiday weekend). For a moment we were speechless, thinking “is this really happening? Does it mean we won’t be able to go to Islay, AGAIN?”
But an idea crossed our minds: if there was nothing to do until Tuesday anyway, we could just go to Islay on foot for the weekend, couldn’t we? The assistance guy turned on the campervan, fortunately the parking lot was on a slope (Gianluigi still remembered how to push things from his rugby years). So, back in the campervan we drove to the parking lot at the Kennacraig ferry terminal.
We spent the night in the campervan, not really in the mood for drams and not sleeping much either. In the morning we packed the only backpack we brought (we didn’t take two with us because… “We have the campervan, why would we need two backpacks?” So naïve!) with the very minimal: laptop, a change of underwear and t-shirt each, toothbrush, the Malt Year Book 2022 (fundamental), some food in a tote bag. During the ferry trip we found an accommodation on the island for the night and arranged some taxi rides (of course, the first distillery was the farthest away from the terminal). Our arrival in Port Ellen was very emotional and for a moment we forgot all of our worries and starter motors: we were finally on the Isle of Islay!