Monday, 15 August 2016

Stupid cockerel

I'm sat here at my AirBNB on a Monday morning not working again because there is ANOTHER national holiday; I know most people would be glad for long weekends but yeah; not me, right now. I just got back from an attempt to go into town to mooch around some hobby stores and found that not even Carrefour was open so I turned round and made my trip out into a short cycle around the roads near where I'm living. I saw a local bike race whoosh past me, some storks in a field, a few other people on bicycles and not much else.


This blog could have been called "what have I been eating?" as you'll see in a bit however the major theme of the week has been the cockerel and its not-quite-complete crow which has woken me every morning at about 5am (except one when miraculously it didn't crow but my phone did connect to WifI that doesn't normally reach my bedroom and starting buzzing at, you guessed it, 5am). I don't know if it'd be any more acceptable if the crow was complete, of course. All I do know is this crow is very annoying indeed.

My regular visitors; the bunny rabbits
My regular visitors; the bunny rabbits
When the mad cockerel had two ladies
When the mad cockerel had two ladies
Any twitchers able to identify this?
Any twitchers able to identify this?
Corn, corn and corn
Corn, corn and corn
A rapidly darting dragonfly
A rapidly darting dragonfly
One of the hundreds of butterflies I have seen
One of the hundreds of butterflies I have seen
Cattle underneath coppiced willow trees
Cattle underneath coppiced willow trees
You can't argue totally with the wildlife around here though. Just now I've watched a tiny little wren bouncing around on the fence near the patio doors though sadly it disappeared when I got the camera out. The rabbits are a continual presence, along with the chickens of course (though the noisy cockerel has appeared to lose a wife - he only has one with him now). Yesterday I was sat at this table getting on with a few bits and bobs for Christmas day when I heard an interesting sounding bird and was just in time to glimpse it flying off into the distance and grab a bad photograph, though you can see it is mid-cry which is quite cool. Other than that I got out last Saturday for a walk around the local area as I thought I'd seen a footpath sign but found out pretty quickly that it was just a no entry (apart from on bike or foot) and so didn't go all that far along the road. It went between fields of sweetcorn and then a field of wheat and it was very beautiful but very samey. My picture of the beautiful dragonfly came out far better than expected as it was flitting around madly and I wasn't even sure if it was in frame when I snapped.

Carried A's birthday present back on The Bike
Carried A's birthday present back on The Bike
I love this picture
I love this picture
Some glimpse of a sunset through the trees. Nearly.
Some glimpse of a sunset through the trees. Nearly.
My lovely peaceful spot
My lovely peaceful spot
One bloom remains through the storms
One bloom remains through the storms
Other than that it's been a time of working and cycling and feeling tired and eating and not doing very much else. The Bike has proven itself to be an awesome workhorse and has transported some pretty unwieldy loads without any problem as I've been buying presents for A's birthday when she is here. The weather has been up and down - one time I got so soaked while walking to get lunch that I had to change into my cycling tracksuit bottoms for the afternoon. The evenings, when clear, have been beautiful though and I can just about see the sunset through the trees though photographing it is a challenge. Yesterday I tried to have a sleep on the lawn as I hadn't had a great night previously for some reason and I spread a rug on the grass and nearly dozed off before, you guessed it, the white devil appeared and started screeching at me. One obvious impact of the unsettled weather is the roses have sadly taken a battering. There is one bloom hanging on proudly though.

A filet steak (melt in the mouth) with my attempt at spicy wedges
A filet steak (melt in the mouth) with my attempt at spicy wedges
The wedges worked so I did them again, with pork chops this time
The wedges worked so I did them again, with pork chops this time
Roast lamb, roast spuds and carrots, and beans. Nom!
Roast lamb, roast spuds and carrots, and beans. Nom!
BBQ Chicken with more spicy wedges
BBQ Chicken with more spicy wedges
Testing out another Irish steak - it was lovely
Testing out another Irish steak - it was lovely
Pork medallions with boiled spuds and green beans in butter
Pork medallions with boiled spuds and green beans in butter
My dirty takeaway night, sat in the sun
My dirty takeaway night, sat in the sun
Trying the local grub - Steak Hache Ardennes
Trying the local grub - Steak Hache Ardennes
And so, the meat of this update (yes, that WAS an attempt at a pun) and you can see why I said this could be an update just about what food I've eaten. I really have caught the bug for taking pictures of my food and for that I apologise. I have settled into a bit of a routine now with a banana and glass of water before I get on my bike to work, some crusty rolls with cured meat at lunch, and then a proper feed in the evening. I felt like a takeaway one night but had something on the edge of its date to cook so put off my takeaway to the next, when it wasn't actually all that great. The pizza was nice but the sides were a bit meh. At least I'm not going to starve, and I'm even managing to lose weight what with all the cycling I'm doing.

I'm given a big new (and heavy) sofa
I'm given a big new (and heavy) sofa
The cockerel ran away from the little girl
The cockerel ran away from the little girl
A few things have actually happened while I've been typign this up. I can still hear the wren but I haven't seen it since but then I've had visitors in the form of the guy who lets this place out and his brother who brought me a new sofa to replace the old one in the lounge. I think he's been on holiday and got back yesterday as there's certainly more bustle around the place right now. Also I heard the sound of their daughter in her electric car somewhere in the grounds and then the cockerel shot across the lawn and the next minute appeared up in a bush! I've asked for and received a sweeping brush so as soon as I get this published I'm going to have a quick clean through the place and get rid of all the flies that my much-better fly spray have littered everywhere.

Thanks for reading.

I can't wait to get home though.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Until we meet again

This is going to be an interesting blog. I have been so busy here and what with one thing or another, I did not get to blog last night and so I am leaving a very short list of points for the Mr to elaborate on for me. Let's see how this pans out, shall we?  Indeed we shall - I'll be adding a few comments in this lovely colour as I go through.

So here we are, last week ( a long time ago) with a couple of shots of the sunset. Never ceases to amaze me how beautiful it is and this is typical of most evenings here.

Sunset
Sunset

Still setting
Still setting

The dreaded task of the humanure had to be completed. I hate this part. Cue me feeling a bit bad as really when you introduce humanure it should only ever be the responsibility of the one person to empty the buckets. With only one person there it's something that is required much less often though - which is a relief I think for A.

Humanure
Humanure
All washed up and before I started work I decided to try and do something productive with the ever growing glut of cherry tomatoes. I chose a simple recipe: cut the tomatoes in half along the centre and douse in olive oil,  and mix in a seasoning of your choice, in my case basil, salt and pepper. You then oven cook on a low heat for around 4 hours. Some turned out a little more cooked that others, but you will get that I suppose.

First batch
First batch

Seasoned
Seasoned

Two baking trays - half a kilner jar. Hmmm. May need to fill this up.

Hmmm....half a jar!
Hmmm....half a jar!
I did, later in the week. Same seasoning obviously and hey presto - sun dried tomatoes, dried in the oven, so oven dried tomatoes. I'd love to make a custom dehydrator and do this with the power only of the sun. Maybe next year.

Another batch
Another batch
There was still a pile of wood to stack and I made a good dent in it on Wednesday. Heavy work and in this heat, you have no choice to go slow!

More stacked
More stacked

Nearly there
Nearly there 
As always, the puppies were wanting to be involved. They were climbing all over the logs as I tried to put them in the barrow and when I chased them, Thelma arrived back with her toy. So as the dutiful Mama, we played a while.

Still time to play
Still time to play
On Thursday I was working and was very busy, but whilst out doing the watering an (almost) disaster happened.  Rambo, not meaning to, walked over Thelma and stepped on her back paw. She hadn't been looking where she was going either, so a complete accident. The poor puppy yelped and limped off. When I got her upstairs for cuddles, she was limping and holding her paw up, refusing to put it down. I prodded, moved, stretched and had a good general feel and she did not seem in particular pain - she just didn't want to put weight on it at all. Poor Thelma. I did notice some slight, shallow grazing which I assumed to have been caused by Rambo's nails?

Poor puppy paw
Poor puppy paw
Here is our three legged puppy, still running around, bless her.


And so it was to the vets on Friday morning, just to satisfy myself that nothing was broken. He confirmed no fracture after a good examination, followed up with three injections, one anti-inflammatory, one painkiller and I assume, as usual, an antibiotic, just in case of infection.  We were sent off with tablets for the following five days. This was not ideal timing because the following day they were due to go to their new temporary home with our friends. But these things are meant to try us, yes?

Later on Friday I had to go to the shops for last minute bits and pieces for their stay away and decided that I did not want her leg to seize up, if it was a muscular strain, so I bought another ball.  Here they are, Thelma totally unfazed by her "sore paw" which she was still carrying resolutely. After 10-15 minutes of football play, she was running around on the sore paw as if nothing had happened. What a Drama Queen! Still, very good news!


And so to Saturday morning. Dog transportation day.  This was an early start and I was rushing around so much that I took NO photos of the packing and such like (sorry love!).  Rambo jumped into the back of Thomas and lay down on his bed that I was bringing for him and we set off around 7am. I wanted to leave early as it gets so hot and with him in the back and not much in the way of ventilation, I just wanted to do all I can to make it as comfortable as possible. It was 19 degrees when we left, a fairly straightforward journey with one toilet break and we arrived around 10am to 28 degrees. Glad I left early!

It was a quiet day with Chaz and Ivan, settling the pups in, sorting Rambo and where he was going to sleep and stay during the day. There are chains for when he needs to be tied up (front steps) and he sleeps in the inner porch as at home at night.

The pups love it here and they looked relatively settled on what Louise considers to be her new bed!.

New sofa/bed
New sofa/bed
The day grew warmer and even though they were suffering with no mains water, we were able to use the pool. Even the dogs got involved and tried a bit of surfing!

Look at her!
Look at her!



I tried to get a video of Louise looking surprisingly chilled out on there and as soon as I went for the camera she got a bit too excited, managed to get her paws on the edge of the pool and when she tried to jump off, the inflatable moved away from her and she fell face first into the water. So I had to rescue her, poor puppy. She was not happy!!


Rambo is not allowed in the pool yet, mainly because the water is too low for the skimmers to work and he is still shedding a lot of fur. I think Chaz will give in and let him get in at some point though.  He was very, very good and I was very surprised because he usually runs and jumps into water straight away. He was very good indeed, bless him.

On Sunday morning, later than I wanted, I reluctantly left them all.  I had to stop in the village centre and set up the sat nav and I will admit to having a bit of a cry. I am missing these two so very much and like an over-protective parent, am really worrying that they will be OK and nothing will happen to them, silly,really as they are very much loved where they are.

Miss these two :(
Miss these two :(
The journey back was long and hot, but relatively easy.  I got back to see the Old School was still standing, always a bonus.

I spent Sunday feeling sorry for myself and trying to get used to no noise, no leg scratching and no puppy cuddles. I was not happy!

Still standing
Still standing
Before long, another Monday dawned and yet ANOTHER glut of cherry tomatoes. They are still coming as well. This was the last lot I was going to be able to harvest and again, a simple recipe. Tomatoes, garlic (my own from the garden), an onion, basil, Parmesan, salt and pepper. Slow cooked and blended into a fine homemade pasta sauce.


Tomato glut
Tomato glut

With my own garlic
With my own garlic

Seasoned
Seasoned
A quick, if messy whizz around the pot with a hand blender and the result, a mere three pots of ragu. Still, it is from our own garden and the satisfaction we get from that is huge.

Ragu
Ragu

One last push was made yesterday for the completion of Operation Wood Stack and it was a complete success! All of the large pieces which will need to be split or chainsawed are now safely under cover in the garage. What you also cannot really see is that the wheelbarrows and various tools left lying around the land are also safely in here.

To be split
To be split
Look at that stack!

Under cover
Under cover 
All it need now is a brush and clean up. No time for all of that now though, so that can wait!

YAY
YAY
Today, I leave for Ireland. I am going to be away for nigh on three weeks, depending on the drive back. The itinerary is, 8 days in Ireland to meet my lovely new nephew, Jack and spend some time with the folks; drive to Sheffield, drive to Birmingham for the Mr's family and then to London for 2 or 3 days to catch up with my own friends. On my birthday, I leave for Belgium and two days/nights there to catch up with Himself.; then it is onward to Bulgaria again. I really hope I don't get lost!

So just to prove it wasn't me, should anything happen. Here is the school, a few minutes ago, all in one piece.
How I left it
How I left it
Until we meet again....

A xx


Sunday, 7 August 2016

Family, friends and whisky

I know I know! I should have done this update about 2 months ago but I just never got the impetus to bother starting. I'm sat in Belgium early on a Sunday morning, however, and for some reason the energy is here, the desire to process all my pictures and get something done about a really enjoyable trip back to the UK for family and friends "stuff, so here you go. It could get long (there are over 580 pictures for me to review!), it may not get finished today of course, but if you can't be bothered with all the words then skim through the pictures and labels - that'll give you the bullet points of the trip.

Family

Of course it's been a while so I won't presume you remember but the initial plan was that I would fly to the UK all the way to A's house and collect her car and then use that for the trip before driving it back to Bulgaria at the end. Due to badly organised engineers not getting things done in time this plan fell through so I was without a car for a bit.

The roof bars and box on my Mum's car - not quite perfect fit but OK
The roof bars and box on my Mum's car - not quite perfect fit but OK
A very early memory - I've seen these all my life
A very early memory - I've seen these all my life
Four generations in one picture
Four generations in one picture
My cousin stealing food
My cousin stealing food
My excellent decoration skills
My excellent decoration skills
The cake, in Aston Villa colours of course
The cake, in Aston Villa colours of course
Talking trains with my uncle and nephew
Talking trains with my uncle and nephew
Everything fits in perfectly
Everything fits in perfectly
Fortunately my parents are wonderful and I was able to get use of my Mum's car for the duration. So I got to the UK via my usual method of 5am bus then taxi then flight and then got a couple of trains down to Brum International where my dad collected me and took me back to theirs. I was shattered so it wasn't a long time before bed occurred. The next day I got myself sorted out for the trip by fitting the roof bars and roof tray onto my Mum's car. This involved trips to B & Q as the bars were not actually for this car, but A's, however after some fettling it was secure and never shifted the whole trip. I stayed at my Nan's house the next night which was lovely and I got to sleep in the room I used to when I was very young and she still has the horse decorations on the wardrobe doors - such memories. The next day was the big family event, a birthday party for my dad, sister, aunt and cousin in law. It was held in the same church hall round the corner from my parents as we used last time and was great fun. I had particular fun chatting with Aiden (my nephew) and Alan (my uncle) about trains and model railways - three generations with the same interest. I was heading off that evening on the next leg of the grand tour and so after everyone had gone I loaded up the car ready for the off. All those boxes are empty because they were for CJC's stuff, and whisky. There was method in my madness.

Friends

It was a short and easy drive over to my best mate's house that evening and we had a very lovely vegetarian chili, sat around talking and drinking some beers, and then I went to my bed and slept very well until 5am when I was awake and that was that; I was struggling with my body clock still being stuck on Bulgarian time.

Like father like son
Like father like son
A tasty burger for lunch
A tasty burger for lunch
Opening his pressie from me
Opening his pressie from me
I think he likes it
I think he likes it
It was so nice to see this family - my best friend and his mrs and my kind-of-semi-not-really god child. The next morning we went up the road to a local cafe for some lunch and stayed there until near enough closing time. I had a lovely burger and a beer and then it was past the shop to pick up some more beers for the evening. It was Harry's birthday coming up, not until after the trip, but it was decided that opening the present I had bought for him now was a good idea. He did a fair bit of the unwrapping himself and then proceeded to eat the pieces which is traditional but he was getting the hang of it pretty quickly. He's a clever little mite. I stayed there another night and we watched some sh*t films, as is traditional, and then I headed off for my next stop with CJCs stuff packed into its boxes so he wouldn't have to carry it on his train trip.

Sun sparkling on water with varied colours of trees behind
Sun sparkling on water with varied colours of trees behind
Much loved skyline
Much loved skyline
Green on green with blue
Green on green with blue
Labybower looking gorgeous as always
Labybower looking gorgeous as always
Sheffield to the left, Manchester to the right. Standard
Sheffield to the left, Manchester to the right. Standard
I was in no hurry at all on the way over the peaks which was good as I'd planned to stop and stretch my legs and get some pictures if the weather was good enough. The weather very much was good enough and I stopped off at Ladybower and again on the tops to get pictures of the beautiful scenery that I love so much. What I didn't love quite so much was the strict demarcation in the clouds as you drove towards Manchester with Sheffield in glorious sunlight and black clouds ahead at my destination; pretty standard that.

Things have changed - this is a rice and FOUR!
Things have changed - this is a rice and FOUR!
Kirsty failing to complete the challenge
Kirsty failing to complete the challenge
Manchester version of an Iskander - not bad at all
Manchester version of an Iskander - not bad at all
It's always so good to see good friends
It's always so good to see good friends
My favourite - Moghul's Taste with Kerela Keema
My favourite - Moghul's Taste with Kerela Keema
There now follows a brief interlude about the pile of food photographs above. Upon reaching Manchester I went past my old work place to meet up with some people for a rice and three. This was an addition to the itinerary as Kirsty wasn't able to make the next day. In the end he failed to finish his rice and four and of course he was ashamed. After this I relaxed for a while around town and then drove over to John's where I was staying that night. We had a lovely meal out in the local town at a Turkish restaurant which did an Iskander that was pretty good, if not up to the standard of the place close to home. It was really nice to get to spend time again with John and Magda and I hope they're planning their next trip to see us. The next morning wasn't a rush off as I was meeting people in town for another rice 'n' three. This time I got to bump into a number of old friends which was excellent but it was a small party that walked for curry and was treated to my old favourite - kerela keema. Awesome.

This sign in the toilets made me laugh, and risk getting the camera out
This sign in the toilets made me laugh, and risk getting the camera out
Raising a beer with friends is always a good thing
Raising a beer with friends is always a good thing
Another dustbin lid full of meat
Another dustbin lid full of meat
Dangerous shots after the meal
Dangerous shots after the meal
Olives and fresh bread for starters
Olives and fresh bread for starters
A huge steak, chips and beans
A huge steak, chips and beans
I was meeting up with Lee, Ryan and Gerd that night for beers and food and had to leave the car parked outside Lee's house and get the train back into town. This manouvre was carried out successfully and I even got to have a giggle at a funny sign in the toilets at the station. After a bit of hunting around I found their office and we headed to a local bar that has a superb beer, unpasturised and shipped direct from the brewery in a barrel. From there we went and had a dustbin lid full of meat for dinner and afterwards there were a few shots. It was not a late night out, the next day was a travelling day for us all, however I did end up spending the night on the sofa rather than in bed as Ryan and I sat up chatting until quite late. In the morning we left pretty early as Lee's wife wasn't feeling well and I gave Ryan a lift to the office (we got lost walking across town from where I'd parked which was amusing) before heading off for lunch with Jamie. This was at the steak house near where I used to work and was, as usual, excellent food. It was nice to catch up as well.

The view from my hotel room - not bad at all
The view from my hotel room - not bad at all
Stuffed mushrooms for starters
Stuffed mushrooms for starters
A proper Calzone pizza
A proper Calzone pizza
It was a gorgeous night to stroll back along the front
It was a gorgeous night to stroll back along the front
Special service for a special customer
Special service for a special customer
Breakfast to put meat on your bones
Breakfast to put meat on your bones
The epic prawn toast
The epic prawn toast
From Manchester I headed further north to Blackpool for the final leg of my tour visiting friends. The reason for being here was the delayed Birthday Party for the studio. I arrived late afternoon and went walking to try and find a hotel as I hadn't managed to book one. I found town very busy for some reason but was eventually able to get a sea view room in one of the large hotels on the front. Very nice. The meal was held in my favourite Blackpool restaurant, after some argument to get it moved from a scrotty all you can eat banquet place somewhere else, and was superb as always. Afterwards I headed back to the hotel rather than go and play beer pong as I knew I had a really long day the next day. I had a load of washing to do so found a laundrette and it may shock you to hear this was the first time I'd ever used one. Anyway, it was fine and the guy running it was really helpful and friendly. With clean clothes on I made my way to the cafe near the studio and was greeted with "oh look, it's Mr Tea!" and given their largest pot of tea, and a huge full Scottish to fill my stomach. Very tasty. That evening CJC caught the train up to Blackpool and I picked up a Chinese takeaway for us both including the awesome prawn toast. We hung out at the studio chatting to the staff until later when it was time for us to drive up to the ferry for WHISKY FESTIVAL

Whisky

And so we get to the main event, the reason for coming back to the UK. The Islay Festival of Music and Malt. After missing it last year for the birth of his child it was epic that CJC was able to be with me again this year.

Shooting past the "Welcome to Scotland" sign at about midnight
Shooting past the "Welcome to Scotland" sign at about midnight
We made it to the ferry first. As per usual
We made it to the ferry first. As per usual
Just what you need to get you through the ferry crossing
Just what you need to get you through the ferry crossing
Sunshine tries to break through on the crossing
Sunshine tries to break through on the crossing
It was miserable in Port Ellen when we arrived
It was miserable in Port Ellen when we arrived
Sunshine by the time we reached Machir Bay though
Sunshine by the time we reached Machir Bay though
The year before, with the puppies
The year before, with the puppies
CJC proving it isn't as warm as it looks
CJC proving it isn't as warm as it looks
Happy to be back on Machir Bay and Islay
Happy to be back on Machir Bay and Islay


CJC reading at Machir Bay carpark
CJC reading at Machir Bay carpark
Kilhcoman cafe's own excellent Cullen Skink
Kilhcoman cafe's own excellent Cullen Skink
It was about midnight or just after when we crossed the border into Scotland and we got to the ferry really early, near enough the first people there. Of course. This time there was no Bart to tease as he was already on the island and we were loaded in near the front of the ferry. CJC had got on early to get a table and breakfast following the lesson learned the previous year and after eating that we settled down to a rather windy crossing. It certainly wasn't looking like a good weather year. Upon arriving on the island we made our way directly to Kilchoman so I could grab one of their bottlings that had already been released and then we went up the road to Machir Bay for a walk and to sit and read in the sun - the weather having improved on this side of the island at least. It was awesome to be back on the bay next to the shipwreck, the picture of the puppies running sniffing around here is hung on our bedroom wall at home. After relaxing there we went back to Kilchoman and had some Cullen Skink which was superb.

Our camp is made, and the sun was still shining at this point
Our camp is made, and the sun was still shining at this point
CJC cooking and the sun has stopped shining
CJC cooking and the sun has stopped shining
A very Scottish view
A very Scottish view
Another very Scottish view
Another very Scottish view
Raining a little bit
Raining a little bit
The early risers get a treat
The early risers get a treat
Our camp site for the first night was outside Lagavulin and we got there and pitched up in the field opposite. We'd brought an old wok that CJC was going to throw away with us to make use of on this first night and so CJC set himself up and cooked a lovely stirfry which was very tasty indeed. After eating we took a little stroll but it was cold and miserable and the signal was terrible which annoyed me as I was trying to talk to A so we headed back after not very long. With the rain falling steadily we had a quick nightcap in the car before getting to bed. It absolutely hammered down over night but we were both pretty tired so it didn't disturb us; indeed CJC said it was the best night he'd had for a year. I was up pretty early the next morning and didn't disturb him but went to try and get signal (patchy at best) and then joined the queue not quite first as I was sheltering from the rain. And boy did it ever rain! It was biblical at times and we all got soaked to the skin. I took shelter in the car at one point it was that bad. One of the best bits of getting early in the queue is that often the distillery will send someone out very early in the morning with a bottle and this was no different. Very nice it was too, some unnamed rare bottling from an unmarked bottle.

The queue grew a bit
The queue grew a bit
Bacon and eggs for breakfast
Bacon and eggs for breakfast
The night before flat, now a raging torrent
The night before flat, now a raging torrent
Injecting Lagavulin into our burgers
Injecting Lagavulin into our burgers
Eventually the rain stopped and more and more people turned up. Later on the girls came round with a more normal bottle to share with the queue and then I went and made a bacon and egg butty for me and CJC, risking life and limb to carry the plate through the middle of all those people. The law means that the distilleries cannot sell anything until 10am so almost exactly dead on that time we heard noises and the door opened and CJC and I were numbers 3 and 4 in. I then had a horrible moment when my Bulgarian card wouldn't work (more on this later) however CJC was there and was able to sub me. What a potential nightmare that could have been! With our purchases carefully stored in the car we went for a burger, injected with Lagavulin as a gimmick but for me it didn't add much, and saw a few of our old friends from previous visits. It was good to see so many friendly faces.

Our second camping spot, at Bruichladdich
Our second camping spot, at Bruichladdich
CJC and Steve sharing a wee dram
CJC and Steve sharing a wee dram
The really nice Polish-German guy with his lovely intelligent dog
The really nice Polish-German guy with his lovely intelligent dog
Watching the moon rise behind a cloud bank
Watching the moon rise behind a cloud bank
A stunning sunrise to wake up to
A stunning sunrise to wake up to
First at the gate as always
First at the gate as always
CJC and Steve at Bruichladdich gate
CJC and Steve at Bruichladdich gate
Reproducing our first meeting
Reproducing our first meeting
A queue has developed behind us as always
A queue has developed behind us as always
The one and only picture I took during the day
The one and only picture I took during the day
Beer with the brewer
Beer with the brewer


Drunk cooking, but it didn't actually go too badly
Drunk cooking, but it didn't actually go too badly
The next distillery open day was to take place at Bruichladdich so we made our way there and pitched our tents up in the same place as I attempted to stay last year. The weather was much better this year, however, and I didn't have to run away. As usually happens here we were joined by a friend who drove past and saw us so stopped to share some whisky. We were neither of us in the mood for cooking so ended up going for a burger at a restaurant in another part of the island and then when we got back we found that another friend, a Polish-German guy whose name I cannot remember but who I met the previous year and whose dog is awesome, and parked his camper van up and was playing with the dog. I was not feeling very well at all unfortunately and worried I was coming down with the flu. I hid in my bed for a while and missed out on another visit from all our friends which was a shame but I knew I'd see them the next day. I did wake feeling a lot better anyway. We slept pretty well and were up bright and early and took ourselves up the road to wait the hours and hours until the doors opened at midday (it being Sunday and Scottish drinking laws being medieval). Steve joined us once again as he was going past to get breakfast and we recreated the photograph from three years previously when we first met. The weather was up and down but didn't rain and the queue grew and grew and then, unexpectedly as normally there is a big procession before the gates open, we were let inside. Our purchases were stashed straight away and then we got stuck into enjoying the day. I only took one picture the whole time as, very unlike me really, I got quite drunk and spent the entire day chatting to mates by the beer tent and didn't even see any of the bands or entertainment apart from the Islay Pipe Band who I adore. After a brilliant day we made our way back to the tent and I cooked dinner for us without burning anything down and then went to bed.

I think it has spotted something
I think it has spotted something
They've put the old barrel back
They've put the old barrel back
A wading bird, wading
A wading bird, wading
Cloudy, but still a lovely view
Cloudy, but still a lovely view
Monday is always a nice relaxing start as it is Caol Ila day and there is no rush really to get to the distillery. This is a very good thing as I was in no fit state to drive there the night before. Or even, really, in the morning. Once I felt a bit better, and after eating something, I went to refill our water bottles and try and get some cash out (the saga of my cards was continuing - there seemed to be a non-deterministic and never-repeated spending limit on them. Not good) and on the way I stopped to get a picture of a huge bird of prey flying over head. Our first stop of the day was Bunnahabhain to pick up their festival bottling to make Friday easier. This turned out to be a surprising visit as there was a glass blowing company doing demonstrations and we got to sit in and watch as the young lady made some beautiful creations. Unfortunately I'd not picked up the camera. Gutted. After this we went past Caol Ila but neither of us were really feeling the love for hanging around there much so after a quick bite to eat and admiring the view we headed off to find a quiet spot to read and relax. I remembered a place I'd been the previous year and it turned out to be ideal, I got to lay on the grass in my sleeping bag, read and talk to A while CJC sat in the car reading and relaxing.

Pitched up and ready to hide from the midges
Pitched up and ready to hide from the midges
Such a beautiful spot
Such a beautiful spot
The shop is busy
The shop is busy
Waiting for our tasting while the music hurts our ears
Waiting for our tasting while the music hurts our ears
Six whiskies, all of them excellent, to taste
Six whiskies, all of them excellent, to taste
A really excellent presentation by John Campbell, Denis Nicol, Murdo Reed and Robert Hicks
A really excellent presentation by John Campbell, Denis Nicol, Murdo Reed and Robert Hicks
Flaming whisky with scallops for lunch
Flaming whisky with scallops for lunch
A panorama of the sea front at Laphroaig
A panorama of the sea front at Laphroaig
Distillery working even on its open day
Distillery working even on its open day
After a lovely relaxing afternoon we made our way over to Laphraoig and pitched our tents in a slightly better place than I picked last year, though we were still mobbed my mosquitoes. They ended up driving us into our tents quite early on but that was fine - we were up bright and early the next morning to queue up. For some reason the distillery had decided to prevent people from going down to the actual shop entrance until 9am however I went past the signs really early to get some photographs of the sea. We were, of course, first in line and were served first as well, despite some french people who thought that they could stand at the counter then leave and then come back and claim to have been first. Anyway the staff just laughed and pointedly put our purchases (including a little pressie for A of course) through the till and ignored them. The day was a sunny and warm one so we sat on the grass while waiting for Bart and the lads to arrive for the tasting we were booked on. They turned up in time and we had a really interesting session with four massively experienced gentlemen talking to us about their careers and association with the distillery. At the end I got all four of them to sign my bottle which was epic. We then went for some food and ate it sat on the sea front so we could get away from the frankly terrible music being played - it shocks me that so much money is spent and earned at these events and still they skimp on paying for a good PA and sound engineer. Anyway, this did mean we got to enjoy the day in the sun while watching the sea so that can't be a bad thing.

I treated myself to a dessert and it was just as good as it looks
I treated myself to a dessert and it was just as good as it looks
The first three in line, and the beginning of a lovely evening
The first three in line, and the beginning of a lovely evening
Lochindaal looking stunning in the late afternoon
Lochindaal looking stunning in the late afternoon
The staff got us to help blow up their balloons
The staff got us to help blow up their balloons
Blazing sunset
Blazing sunset
CJC nodded off sat up
CJC nodded off sat up
Joined once more by the Crazy German Dude
Joined once more by the Crazy German Dude
With the local legends whose place we saved
With the local legends whose place we saved
7am and the queue is quite long
7am and the queue is quite long
Sun rise once more
Sun rise once more
The Golden Ticket we were all waiting for
The Golden Ticket we were all waiting for
A funky three wheeler, but it did not look very comfortable
A funky three wheeler, but it did not look very comfortable
Next up would be Bowmore. We headed over there before dinner and tried to get some food in the bar I'd gone in with Shuggy last year but they were fully booked so we went to the restaurant right on the loch side and had a lovely meal there, though we had to wait a bit to be seated. We were flabbergasted to watch as a couple came down to the beach outside the windows and swam right out into the middle of the loch. Brave. Initially we were going to camp up somewhere close and CJC was going to stay with the tents while I queued on my own from midnight however he changed his mind and decided to join me so we went to the distillery at about 9 and were the first in the queue. It was only a few minutes until we were joined and there started a fantastic night. We had about ten or fifteen people by about ten pm and the quality of whisky being passed around was just amazing - some whiskies that you really couldn't buy for any money. One chap who must have lived locally kept going back to his house for more interesting bottles and this went on after I put my head down about one am to doze for a few hours. When I woke up again (I didn't sleep well as the party really didn't stop and I kept getting kicked) I let the crazy german dude who we've seen here every year have my airbed to have a snooze, while CJC had nodded off sat up in his chair. The queue continued to grow and if you weren't there by 8am then you were too late for a Golden Ticket. They were not selling the bottles from the shop this year but from a cafe just round the corner so after we got our ticket we dozed in the car for a bit then went and were once again very close to the front of this new queue, getting the third and fourth bottles that were sold. A brilliant night and morning, one that I'll not forget in a hurry.

Early arrival at the Islay Ales open day
Early arrival at the Islay Ales open day
Having a brew to settle the day
Having a brew to settle the day
They are currently renovating this into a hotel
They are currently renovating this into a hotel
Saluting the brewer with an excellent beer
Saluting the brewer with an excellent beer
This is where the initial Octamore still was
This is where the initial Octamore still was
Wearing my bright t shirt before our group meal
Wearing my bright t shirt before our group meal
My starter, which was lovely
My starter, which was lovely
A very nice steak, from cows raised on the Octamore farm
A very nice steak, from cows raised on the Octamore farm
Tiramisu for dessert
Tiramisu for dessert
It was dark when we pitched our tents
It was dark when we pitched our tents
A heron getting a late night snack
A heron getting a late night snack
From Bowmore we were straight off to the next event, the Islay Ales open day. We got there early enough to give Steve, the brewer, a hand setting up and were carrying boxes of beers and wheeling the kegs around like pros. After this we took a stroll through the gardens and around the grounds of the huge old house that is currently being renovated into a posh hotel. The weather was lovely and I ended up having a bit of a doze laying on the grass to make up for the night before. I don't have many pictures but Steve took a few so I've grabbed one off his facebook page. We went past the place Aussie Steve was staying at and had a much needed shower; the farm he was stopping at contained the location for the original Octamore still. Fascinating to see. That evening was our now traditional group meal at the Port Charlotte Hotel. For some reason I cannot find the group photograph I took which is a real shame. It was a lovely meal with excellent food and I can't wait until next time. At the end of the meal we had a beer and then legged it very quickly to go and pitch our tents before it got too dark. CJC had decided he wanted to camp next to the loch which was lovely, if a bit midge-infested.

The second of three queues on the day
The second of three queues on the day
Having a laugh at Kilhcoman open day
Having a laugh at Kilhcoman open day
Six more whiskies to taste (or sip, in my case)
Six more whiskies to taste (or sip, in my case)
Ready for the presenter to turn up
Ready for the presenter to turn up


We woke early and were chased by the midges into breaking camp and getting up to Kilchoman immediately. We got there to find some tents pitched near but we were the first in line and so it should be. The usual suspects turned up just after us, including the Polish-German guy with the cool dog, and we stood around chatting and drinking brews while we waited. As per usual there was a bit of chaos on the road as the gate wasn't opened and idiots in camper vans kept blocking the driveway. This year as the distillery had made a bigger carpark I decided to drive down and park up there. We queued again by the carpark and then once more outside the shop entrance and CJC and I were given free coffee and a free bacon butty for being first in line. It was a good open day with good music and excellent company, we had food in the cafe as a group and then waved goodbye to Wilf who had to go back to his business and miss the final couple of days. I'd booked CJC and I onto a club tasting session on a whim and so we also did that, which was enjoyable and it was good to chat to the Kilchoman family (literally - it is a family run business).

Back once more in this field with CJC
Back once more in this field with CJC
Breakfast cooking in the shelter of the car
Breakfast cooking in the shelter of the car
Bunnahabhain bay - beautiful
Bunnahabhain bay - beautiful
Steve having yet another mussel
Steve having yet another mussel
The Bunnahabhain wreck
The Bunnahabhain wreck
Another panorama attempt
Another panorama attempt
After the open day we went back to the field where we first camped on our first visit to Islay all those years ago. We were again not wanting to cook so once more went to the Bridgend pub for dinner. It was another opportunity for us to not be up crazily early in the morning, and to have a non-rushed start to the day on Friday as we'd already been to Bunnahabhain and got our bottles earlier in the week. After a tasty full fried breakfast we made our way to the distillery and spent the day in the sun, relaxing and hanging out with friends. Steve joined us for some more mussels, showing us how to eat them, and then we took a walk around the headland to finally see the ship wreck there; a beautiful sight but one that is going to disappear soon as it is falling into the sea very fast. We stayed until quite late chatting with people and then headed off on a mission to find our last camping spot of the week, on a suggestion from one of our friends.

A deer munching by the side of the road
A deer munching by the side of the road
A peacock living in a house up the way
A peacock living in a house up the way
Bluebell woodland
Bluebell woodland
Information board for Kildalton Cross
Information board for Kildalton Cross
Covered in moss
Covered in moss
The old stone, and a new one
The old stone, and a new one
Inside the church
Inside the church
A really peaceful and reflective site
A really peaceful and reflective site
A hidden gem - a white sandy beach on Islay
A hidden gem - a white sandy beach on Islay
CJC taking a picture on the beach
CJC taking a picture on the beach
Simultaneous portraiture
Simultaneous portraiture
Our final camping spot of the holiday
Our final camping spot of the holiday
Look at those purple details!
Look at those purple details!
We actually stopped in at Ardbeg distillery initially and I dived in got a bottle of the Festival release at that point to reduce the pressure on the next day. We were going to pitch up here but then we decided to go have food in Port Ellen then drive to find the location Stephen, our friend, had told us about. We were taken past the Ardbeg distillery and into an area that we'd never been before. It was beautiful and we stopped several times to take pictures. On the way we pulled in at Kildalton Stone Cross and spent a good little while quietly walking around and soaking in the atmosphere. From there we followed our directions and finally ended up on a gorgeous white sand beach. If we had been in Thomas I would probably have camped here however the flat places were too far from the road to walk easily so we drove back a little bit towards the distillery and settled down at a spot we'd seen on the way. The midges were around, as always, but we sat in the car reading then I took myself to bed as it got darker. It was good to explore a new part of the island. I also saw a house decorated how A would probably like...

It felt strange to watch a queue develop and not be at the front of it
It felt strange to watch a queue develop and not be at the front of it
The staff of Ardbeg gather to announce their openday
The staff of Ardbeg gather to announce their openday
Once more back for some smokeys
Once more back for some smokeys
Bart's technique not quite as good as Steve's
Bart's technique not quite as good as Steve's
The Jura Sound as we leave Islay
The Jura Sound as we leave Islay
Loch Lomond on a lovely Saturday evening
Loch Lomond on a lovely Saturday evening
Harry loves his new teddy bear
Harry loves his new teddy bear
He wants to get this bottle open already
He wants to get this bottle open already
We were at Ardbeg, as it happened, in plenty of time to get to the front of the queue but the wind was quite chilly so we stayed sat on our deck chairs hidden behind a wall watching as it grew. I also made us a bacon butty which was very welcome. The staff had made a huge effort for this final day of the festival and dressed up in period outfits. In the end we did both actually buy a ticket to get in, if only to get a smokey and a dram with it. We finally bumped into Bart, who we hadn't seen for a couple of days, and were able to say our goodbyes to him properly, and to everyone else who we had made friends with over the week. Our ferry was the mid afternoon one which was ideal as it was still sunny for most of the drive back to Sheffield. We broke the drive at Loch Lomond for a few minutes just to stretch legs and munch something quickly but other than that it was a straight drive back to CJCs. It was very late when we got there so the gift giving had to wait until the morning. Harry loved his teddy bear, and seemed to want to get stuck in to the bottle of whisky I'd bought him already. I stayed until after breakfast and then got in the car to drive back to my parents.

What a week!

And back to family...

I had an extra few days in the UK due to the cancellation of my driving-back plans and I had managed to get onto the same flight as my parents, and even get them to move their seats so they were sitting with me on the flight.

A huge burger at the pub round the corner from where my Dad grew up
A huge burger at the pub round the corner from where my Dad grew up
A dragon kite flying in the park
A dragon kite flying in the park
My Dad used to cycle down here, round this hairpin
My Dad used to cycle down here, round this hairpin
Pollen exploding out of a pine nut
Pollen exploding out of a pine nut
With my parents and my Nan
With my parents and my Nan
A final beer before the flight
A final beer before the flight
I spent the last couple of days doing things with them, and also sorting out the pile of stuff that I would have to leave there for A to collect when she comes past in the summer. One of the days my parents took me on a day out they had wanted to do for a while, over to where my Dad lived when he was a child. We had a meal in the local pub to where he lived, drove around the streets, then went for a lovely walk, including some caches of course, around Barr Beacon. It really was a lovely day. We also got to go and see my Nan again which is precious time to me also. And so we headed off to the airport and were lucky to have left ten minutes early as we managed to squeeze past a jack-knifed lorry that had only just happened. Food and beer at the airport were better than you would expect and I even managed to have a long conversation with the guy in the Whisky Shop in the airport who had also been at the Whisky Festival - small world.

Wow. What an update. Maybe I should have split it into two but if you've got this far you have looked at 141 pictures and three videos with who knows how many words. Thanks for reading - sorry it's so delayed.