Paddling hard through spray-capped swells and breaking chop in 20-mile-an-hour winds, we rounded a ragged point on the western shore of Jura and set out across the Sound of Islay. Beyond the chaotic seas, the current ripping south, we could already see a brilliant smear of white in the distance, a telltale gleam that could be only one thing in Scotland’s Inner Hebrides: the broad, whitewashed, and stenciled wall of a single malt Scotch distillery. Our guide, Tony Hammock, estimated the force of the current, took a compass bearing, and shouted out our heading. If we kept this pace, he told us, we’d fight our way to the distillery within the hour.
This was good news. We’d been kayaking hard for most of the day. Our shoulders and backs ached, and the wisdom of a late spring paddling trip in western Scotland was falling into question. But then that daub of white bobbed onto the horizon. At the end of the crossing waited more than a dry place out of the wind. There was a golden dram of single malt whisky for each of us, straight from the hand of its maker, a spirit distilled, casked, bottled, and poured less than a stone’s throw from where we’d beach our kayaks.