Readers’ wildlife photos

May 15, 2023 • 8:15 am

Today’s photos are not really of wildlife, but show the last segment of Kevin Elsken’s golfing-and-whisky vacation to the Scotland and Ireland. His notes are indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

Our visit to Ireland complete, we met once again with our Aquaholic ship and prepared to sail to Islay, a 240 square mile island just west of the Kintyre Peninsula. Just to be clear I have mispronounced this name every way imaginable, but never again! It is pronounced “EYE-la”. Calling it “IS-lay” is every bit as bad as pronouncing my home state name as “ar-KANSAS”. Do not be that person.

Rathlin Island is just off the northern coast of Ireland, and besides some beautiful cliffs, it features the world’s only upside-down lighthouse.

Our port of call for Islay was Port Ellen. As we approached, the Mull of Oa slowly became visible on our port side. The following photo is not particularly clear, but if you look carefully at the left side of the land mass you will see a tower pointing towards the heavens.

This is the American Monument, erected in 1920 by the American Red Cross, and it tells a story that I had never heard but will never forget.

On January 24, 1918 the SS Tuscania departed the United States with 384 crew members and over 2000 army personnel headed to Europe to fight in the Great War. On February 5 the German U-boat UB-77 contacted her convoy and, just after dark, launched two torpedoes. One found its mark. Luckily rescue boats were nearby, but still over 200 dead bodies, and some survivors, washed upon the shore of Islay. And what did the good people there do? They climbed down the cliffs, rescued the living, retrieved the dead, and gave them a humanitarian burial.

On September 25 of the same year the HMS Otranto, another troop ship, departed New York. On October 6, in heavy seas, the Otranto collided with another troop ship just off Islay. Over 300 men entered the water and a few made it to shore and were rescued. Again, the good people of Islay climbed down the cliffs, retrieved the bodies, and gave them a humanitarian burial.

We struck up a conversation with a local couple at the hotel patio bar. When they recounted the events of 1918 it was apparent, evidenced by the emotion in their faces and voices, that these events had a staggering impact on the inhabitants of the island, even more than a century later.

But on to happier topics. After our late morning arrival we checked into our hotel and began our next adventure, walking the Three Distilleries Path.

The three distilleries in question are Laphraoig, Lagavulin, and Ardbeg. We ask at the hotel desk how long the walk to the distilleries was, and received one of the funnier replies of the trip: “Aye, it will take ye’ about 30 minutes to get there, and it will take ye’ about 3 hours to get back.” Challenge accepted.

The walk was not easy. It was guarded dangerous critters:

Along the walk, ho-hum, another day in Scotland, another picture of the ruins of an 800 year old Scottish Castle. In this case it is Dunyvaig Castle:

But finally we arrived at our important destination: Lagavulin Distillery, where we had reserved a warehouse tasting.

And what a tasting!  We had 5 or 6 samples, as I recall, and one was a pretty old one (20 year? 25 year? I don’t recall exactly, I had a three hour walk ahead of me!!). That one was extra special, for sure. At the Bushmills Distillery in Northern Ireland they had a display showing how much of the “Angel’s Share” is lost when you store a whisky in a wooden barrel for 20 years. And it is a lot. No wonder the old stuff is so damn expensive.

So we did manage the trek back to the hotel and the next day we played the Machrie Golf Course. The heather, the gorse, the dunes, the ocean, it is why I love to play a true links golf course.

So after just over two weeks of fun and travel, our trip was coming to a close. Here is the sunset over Port Ellen on the last night of our golf trip proper (I got to spend one more night at a Holiday Inn Express next to the airport. Not counting that).

But our last day was a good one, a long drive with three ferry crossings on our way back to Glasgow. The morning started with a gorgeous sunrise as we headed out on the ferry.

As we made our way back to Kintyre we passed near the Isle of Jura. The mountain peaks are known as ‘The Paps of Jura’. Some trivia: Jura is where George Orwell lived when he wrote the novel ‘1984’. He suffered from tuberculosis, and he died shortly after the novel was published. His actual name was Eric Blair.

After landing we had a short drive to the lovely town of Tarbet, where we waited for our second ferry of the day. We had time to make a short climb to Tarbet Castle, which overlooks the town and the East Loch. The tower we see today dates to 1494, though there were structures there in the 13th century.


Our second ferry crossing went from Tarbet to Portavidie. I couldn’t help but chuckle when I spotted the following sign over the engine room door:

Not being a linguist, at first I thought the scribbled second line was Gaelic, but actually it is Italian. Which is kind of a second level of scary for if you have ever owned a Fiat you know how problematic Italian engineering can be. Which reminds me of an old joke:

In Heaven…
The Engineers are German
The Police are British
The Chefs are Italian
And The Lovers are French

But in Hell…
The Engineers are Italian
The Police are French
The Chefs are British
And the Lovers are German…
I guess I am cancelled now. Even though my ancestry favors Germany.

The last photo is one of the group that I travelled with, enjoying one last beautiful view, this one at the Tighnabruaich Viewpoint over Loch Ruel. In particular I want to give shout out to my friend Dick Smith (2nd from right). In my experience some people just have a knack for travel. How to find the right hotel, the right pub, a driver (or a boat) when you need one. Dick is one of those guys. He told me of hiring a young man to drive Dick and his wife Mary over the Andes one night so that they could catch a plane the next morning. “I was a little concerned”, Dick said, “The guy was chewing coca leaves. He offered me some, but I declined. You know, I should have tried it”. That is Dick. Right now Dick and Mary are headed for Antarctica. Travel safe, my friend.

21 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. Lovely pictures. I recognize some of those places from my own travels and long, again, to see the Paps of Jura from the dock at the Bunnahabhain distillery.

  2. Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch’entrate is just Dante Alighieri’s Inferno, a minor Italian poet, like the engineers…

  3. As with the earlier ones, lovely photos and fine commentary, Kevin. Five or six tastings, followed by a hike? Wow. Sounds great to this Whiskey lover.

  4. I enjoyed the old ethnic joke, though I’m guessing there might be some dispute among the French and the Italians as to which should be the chefs, which the lovers.

      1. Fair enough. But top-flight chefs were “stars” who got plenty of nookie long before lowbrow un-reality tv stars came along — unfortunately or fortunately.

  5. “Which is kind of a second level of scary for if you have ever owned a Fiat you know how problematic Italian engineering can be.” Well, I have owned 2 Fiats–a 120 Spyder and a 124 Coupe, and I loved them both. Neither one had mechanical probs, but my stepbrother wrecked the 120, and the 124 rusted to death because of the cheap Russian steel (wish I’d gone for the Ziebart!). But both were great vehicles and a blast to drive.

  6. The way I heard this joke:
    In heaven:
    The Germans are the mechanics
    The Swiss are the administrators
    The French are the chefs
    The Italians are the lovers
    The British are the police

    In hell:
    The French are the mechanics
    The Italians are the administrators
    The British are the chefs
    The Swiss are the lovers
    The Germans are the police

  7. I’m curious about why a lighthouse would be built upside down. Perhaps there’s a reason why there is only one such!

    1. My understanding is that improves the visibility of the light, if it were higher it would be more likely obscured by fog. And it looks as though there was little option to lower the building.

  8. Laphraoig, Lagavulin, and Ardbeg are only a few k ( 5?) apart and yet they have their own unique style. My favourite is probably the Ardbeg 10 year old although the 16 year old Lag can give it a run for its money!

  9. The British are the police in heaven? God needs to review that, given their recent activities.

  10. Great travelogue of a beautiful part of the world. And thanks for correcting my Islay pronunciation.

  11. ” In Heaven…
    The Engineers are German
    The Police are British
    The Chefs are Italian
    And The Lovers are French

    But in Hell…
    The Engineers are Italian
    The Police are French
    The Chefs are British
    And the Lovers are German…”

    The more common version:

    In heaven the engineers are German, the police British, the chefs Italian, the lovers French, and it is all organized by the Swiss. In hell the chefs are British, the police German, the engineers French, the lovers Swiss, and it is all organized by the Italians.

  12. Not shown or visible in the Rathlin pic is the underwater dropoff that extends down more or less sheer to nearly 200M not far from the base of the lighthouse cliffs. Thats pretty dramatic. Have dived the first 40M of it quite a bit in the past.

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