By PAT HARTMAN
It started out with a click on this page: “Islay on Old Ordnance Survey Maps” A fellow named Armin Grewe was poking around in old National Library of Scotland maps, and here he devotes an entry to expounding on their wonders. This is a treasure: a blog about a place, a collection of information and illustrations so thorough, so particular, you could not pay somebody enough to do a project like this if they didn’t love it from the bottom of their heart. IslayBlog has a FAQ, and archives going back to 2006. Up front, there’s an invitation to pick a page at random. In this case, what came up was a photo of a building that is so beautiful, and so beautifully situated, it could make you want to drop everything and move in right now. The chronicler says:
This is a blog about the Isle of Islay, an island in the Inner Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland. It is run by Armin Grewe, a regular visitor to the Island. I don’t live on Islay (yet?), but that doesn’t stop me blogging about Islay. I will blog about anything Islay related I can think of: pictures, news, links, whisky, bird watching, wildlife, you name it.
It’s all too easy to imagine becoming addicted to IslayBlog, in the same way that people are said to be addicted to Second Life or other imaginary worlds. Islay (pronounced eye-la) can be my make-believe home any day of the week.
One of the drawings on the map page is of the Laphroaig Distillery property, back when only the core buildings existed, but none of the newer warehouses. This is the kind of detail that whiskey tourists thrive on. The entire island, in fact, is simply teeming with distilleries. Well, there are eight, anyway. Wandering betwixt them, our host Kevin Dolgin meditated upon the long-dead genius who first thought up the notion of distilling ale to get a more concentrated version. “He undoubtedly realized immediately that this was just the stuff to make the Scottish climate bearable,” was Kevin’s conclusion.
Naturally, our intrepid travel writer sampled a whiskey or two. As always, the mission was altruistic. Like George Carlin, who described his job as thinking up goofy stuff to report back to us because we’re too busy to do it ourselves, a travel writer has a responsibility to his or her constituency, a solemn obligation to act as a proxy for us, and to experience things on our behalf, because even if we are travelers ourselves, nobody can ever possibly get to all the places and do all the things. Kevin says it this way: “Of course, all of this was imbibed with the sole purpose of carrying out research for you, my readers.” And we appreciate it.
This is a little bit off-topic, because the Glenmorangie distillery is in Scotland, not Islay, but it’s fascinating all the same. Aron Ritter has issued a report on the unequivocal acceptance of certain types of Glenmorangie whiskey as kosher, which is good news. The really interesting part is the rabbinical debate over whether other Glenmorangie products can also be certified.
In The Times, Peter Stiff and Emily Ford examine the record of the Bruichladdich (pronounced brook-laddie) distillery, which is on Islay, in their series on businesses that reduce, reuse, and recycle. Their account of how the company became “accidentally green” is enlightening.
Of course, there is more to Islay than whiskey. For instance, the island recently hosted the Bowmore Commonwealth Fly Fishing Championships. There are conferences, and festivals, such as the Cantilena Festival which features serious classical music. Antonia Malchik has written a fascinating piece that brings in history, politics, nature, and other subjects of enduring interest. It’s called “Mythic history and a bit of the wild side on Scotland’s Isle of Islay,” and we like it.