Elaine Malone of Sailaway Scotland Yacht Charter enjoys a whisky cruise out of Largs, taking in eight distilleries in a week…
Our clients regularly return to Largs enthusing about fantastic sailing, deserted white sand beaches, secluded anchorages, stunning wildlife and the freshest seafood they’ve ever tasted. For some though it’s the memory of sailing to an island distillery with its intoxicating mix of salt sea air and Scottish malt whisky, that most captures their imagination and lingers on their taste buds….
We drew inspiration from their enthusiasm and took our Bavaria 46 yacht Calico Moon on a whisky lover’s cruise with a twist – this time including an Irish distillery, putting the ‘e’ into whiskey….
We headed out of Largs Yacht Haven into a fresh south westerly and set course for Lochranza, a stunning anchorage on the north of Arran. After a lively sail we arrived in the loch whose ruined castle against a backdrop of rugged mountain peaks, makes for a dramatic scene. Once settled on our mooring, we rowed ashore and a short walk brought us to the Arran Distillery in time for their last tutored tasting of the day – we were treated both to a warm welcome and a warming selection of drams….
Making an early start, we sailed out of Lochranza and down the Kilbrannan Sound, the stretch of water between Arran and the Kintyre peninsula. Within a few hours we were passing Davaar lighthouse on the entrance to Campbeltown Loch. Once safely berthed at the friendly town marina, we took the short walk to Springbank Distillery, enjoying an entertaining and informative tour before unwinding in the warmth and comfort of their tasting room.
Whilst in Campbeltown we hoped to ‘bag’ the town’s other distillery so with weather and tides checked for rounding the Mull of Kintyre, we had enough time to visit Glen Scotia. Strolling up from the marina, we spotted the white distillery dating from the 1830s, which still maintains much of its original design.
After lunch we slipped our lines and set course for Ballycastle, Northern Ireland. The winds were light and variable until through the Sound of Sanda but soon enough Calico Moon was happily beating her way across the North Channel. We identified Altnacarry lighthouse on Rathlin Island to starboard and before long were racing through Rathlin sound with the tide under us, passing Fair Head with its cliffs rising vertically from the sea. Soon snugly berthed in Ballycastle marina, we made plans for our visit to the Bushmills distillery in the morning.
Awaking to the gentle patter of soft drizzle on the coachroof, it was oilies on and a walk into town for the local bus which takes the coastal route to the distillery. Once there we admired the old weathered whiskey barrels stacked high and were soon enjoying tales of Old Bushmills, learning that it’s a ‘grain to glass’ distillery whose whiskey is produced in small batches on site. A delicious lunch was enjoyed in the distillery café before returning to Ballycastle by taxi.
Another early start and we were soon on course for our next island distillery – in fact this time we would have several to choose from as we were headed north for Port Ellen on Islay, the most southern of the inner Hebrides. Islay has eight distilleries with a ninth due to open 2019. Wind and tide with us, we enjoyed an exhilarating sail to Port Ellen and were soon berthed in its welcoming community marina (a family favourite), first stop being a hot shower at their excellent new visitor facilities.
That afternoon we visited Kilchoman Distillery, set on Islay’s stunning Atlantic coast. With the help of a local taxi, we were soon enjoying our tour of Islay’s unique ‘farm distillery’ whose barley is grown in the surrounding fields – ‘from barley to bottle’ as they put it…
Then, after a walk on the wild and beautiful 2km long Atlantic-swept beach at nearby Machir Bay, our taxi returned us to Port Ellen in perfect time for an excellent dinner at the local hotel. A perfect day!
With the tide not turning north until the afternoon, we took the Three Distilleries Pathway, a beautiful coastal walk with striking views of the Ardmore Islands and which takes in Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg Distilleries. We enjoyed lunch in the Ardbeg Distillery café (another favourite) before heading back to the marina.
By mid afternoon we were reaching up the Sound of Jura, passing the three distilleries we’d just walked to, marvelling at how they were revealed as we sailed past - secret anchorages set between rocky outcrops and requiring very careful pilotage. Our course was set for Crinan at the western end of the beautiful Crinan Canal, which would take us back to the Clyde. We anchored off for the night.
Fenders on and ropes set up for entering and transiting the canal, we were soon making our way through, chatting with the helpful canal staff - and entertaining some curios tourists who looked on as Calico Moon made her way through the manually operated locks. We made good time through the canal, arriving at Ardrishaig by mid-afternoon, and were soon motoring down Loch Fyne into wide skies, heading for the picturesque Clyde fishing village of Tarbert where once berthed in the marina, we strolled into the village to feast on local seafood (what else…)
It was our last day and we were heading home to Largs. We opted for the slightly longer route through the Kyles of Bute, a spectacular series of sheltered anchorages, islets and narrows. All too quickly we were out of the Kyles and sailing across the Clyde towards our home berth.
A fantastic week over, we’d visited no fewer than 8 distilleries, each which their own unique surroundings and story. Whether you like your whisky or prefer your whiskey, on this cruise there was definitely one to suit all tastes…
Sailaway Scotland Yacht Charter Ltd
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