Thousands of visitors a year walk the three distilleries path from Port Ellen to Ardbeg – taking in the sights, smells and tastes of whisky along the way. But how many have stopped at a little signposted turnoff – between Lagavulin and Laphraoig – to the right and walked down a short track to Dunyvaig.
It’s well worth the detour – not least for the photo opportunity it affords of Lagavulin distillery.
As you stand today among what’s left of the castle walls, looking out to sea, you can imagine how it would have looked at full height, emerging from the the edge of the Atlantic, rising up from the jagged black rocks on which it is stands.
Next to it is sheltered horseshoe Lagavulin Bay – as smooth as glass on a calm day – which forms a natural harbour and would have been the perfect place to anchor ships to shelter them from those great Atlantic storms.
A castle was first built on this site by Somerled, King of the Isles, in the 12th century. It is believed he built it on top of an existing older fort.
In the 13th and 14th centuries it was held by the MacDonalds, Lords of the Isles and Somerled’s descendants, who used the bay for their fleet of galley ships.
In the turbulent centuries that followed the castle was lost and won and lost again – it was the scene of many a battle and many a story, like that of a guard who – secretly working for the enemy – sounded the all clear on the bagpipes to let those in the castle know that all was well.
It meant they were not prepared for danger when the assault came and the defeat was swift. But the victors, rather than reward the piper, ensured he could never betray them, as he had betrayed those they had just defeated – the story goes that they chopped off his fingers so he could never sound the pipes again.
So spare a thought for those who have lived and died here before, and raise a dram to our ancestors – and ponder if that’s a piper’s lament you hear, or the wind in the castle walls ….