A lot has changed for me in the last year; my wife and I have moved from my birthplace in London to a little village called Poynton near Manchester, we have also welcomed our first born, Archie into our family. So what happened when visiting the Islay Festival with our baby?
The last time I attended the Islay Festival, or Feis Ile in Gaelic, was in 2015 where owing to a lack of available accommodation on the island of Islay, I ended up sleeping on a ship moored outside Port Ellen all week and had a great time; thrice-daily tastings, mostly in warehouses straight from the casks or on the boat itself, I met lots of people I had known online but never met and met people for the first time that I now consider friends, there was also lots of time to create content required for GreatDrams and for social media… I even wandered around a beach at Port Ellen drawing GreatDrams.com into the sand.
This time was a touch different; I was visiting the Islay Festival with our baby, Archie. And guess what? I bloody loved it.
This year we arrived on the Thursday afternoon with the clear timing brief to be there with enough time to pop in to Laphroaig and to Lagavulin to pick up their festival bottles if they were still available, and to have a dram or two at each distillery. We nailed that.
Then… first night at the Islay Festival 2017, we headed to our Air BnB cottage and settled in for the night, with Kirsty cooking us a fabulous meal where driver drams from earlier were sipped after Archie, at a princely four months old, had an early night.
It was a lovely night, with an exceptional view and lovely just to chill out with great whiskies after a long trip, but also as the first holiday for the three of us together.
Friday was more of a work day…
Kirsty, who honourably offered to be the driver for the few days we were there, drove us to Bruichladdich, Caol Ila, Jura and then to Port Ellen for dinner. A busy day of tours, sampling great whisky, bottling a couple of bottles and bumping in to Tom of TomsWhiskyReviews.com who ‘forced’ me to follow him to try a Caol Ila 21 Year Old straight from the cask, and then a 30 Year Old Caol Ila… fantastic.
At each location though, the staff were great, they were besotted with our boy, and whilst always brilliant anyway, seemed to go up a notch to engage with him amongst the other things they and I were doing.
Then Saturday, Ardbeg Day
I am a big fan of Ardbeg Day, having been involved with a few now, and had billed it as a family day when explaining why this might be the perfect first holiday for the two of us and Archie.
And it did not disappoint.
Between mental downpours, with us Brits stoically keeping our place in the Stogie queue and riding it out, and blistering sunshine where the ‘taps afff’ call was heard (that’s Scottish for ‘tops off’ – i.e. its hot, get your skin out), and drams of Ardbeg from start to finish including Renaissance, 21 Year Old, Kelpie, Dark Cove, Supernova and a couple of others, it was just fantastic.
The accessibility of Ardbeg makes it a great place to take kids anyway, as well as the Kiln Cafe for sheltering from the rain or having dessert (as we did), it really was all about inclusivity and making it easy for all to enjoy.
Some of the other open days are all about the queue for the bottles and whatnot, but Ardbeg, like Laphroaig, which is equally as accessible for buggies and has plenty of seating for drivers who will later enjoy their driver’s drams, don’t release a super limited edition on the day so there is no real reason to queue for anything apart from freshly smoked fish or your next dram (although there were no queues this year for the whisky – many bars).
The Air BnB we stayed at was a little treacherous to get to – think mud roads / tracks and a Peugeot 3008… not a great combo. But once in each eve it was fantastic; so comfortable, thoughtfully designed and built and self contained so any noise was just between us, and we could spread out the vast rafts of stuff you need when travelling with a little ‘un.
All in all I was a little nervous about visiting the Islay Festival with our baby as it was a big deal to get to a remote island to enjoy a whisky holiday with a four month old baby, but the staff and locals really stepped up their usual helpfulness, and the chaps, David and Ewan, at the Ballygrant Inn were excited to see us again (well no, they were more excited about Archie being there in truth), so my recommendation would be to pick the days you can ensure you will be able to navigate stress-free around.
For example, Bunnahabhain is supposed to be a great open day, I’ve never done it but hear good things, but you are encouraged to park four miles away and use the park and ride service to get to the distillery which would not be practical if you need to go back to the car, which we did several times, or if you wanted to leave without waiting for the scheduled service to take you back.
Laphroaig, Bruichladdich and Ardbeg are probably the most accessible distilleries on the island, so I would suggest that if, like us, you were visiting the Islay Festival with our baby, then they would be the best ones to spend time at.
What are your experiences of visiting Islay with children?