The Christmas Tree Hunt

The festive season is here. I love the glitter and sparkle of all it brings. Getting shopping done, presents wrapped, Christmas cards posted, mince pies, cakes and puddings baked. Christmas parties and nights out are in order with visits to pantomimes and shows. Carols, concerts, Christmas fayres and festive lunches are hosted as the Islay community draw together to enjoy all that the festive season offers. Villages are lit up with Christmas lights and Christmas trees and there is an atmosphere of excitement in the air as the Christmas Spirit takes hold.

At Persabus the Happy Farmer has been out on his annual Christmas tree’ hunt’. A ‘hunt’ which the Happy Farmer takes very seriously. Getting just the right tree is quite a mission. It must be the right height. It is preferably a Lodge Pole, so will survive the Persabus festivities without casting its needles across the wooden floors and rugs. It needs to have plenty of branches on which to hang all the treasured ‘heirloom’ decorations that we have collected over the years. Beautiful handmade angels from the children’s primary school and nursery eras still hang with pride on the Persabus tree intermingled with sparkly bits from the yesteryear of my grandparents’ tree. Lots of baubles from previous generations of the Happy Farmer’s family along with shiny new additions. The tree’s branches need to form a gradual pyramid shape rising to the pinnacle of the tree for the Angel to look down from. There needs to be no bare bits and no gaps. The Persabus Christmas tree is serious business.

Sometimes the Christmas tree ‘hunt’ has taken the Happy Farmer many long nights. There are lovely stories of him falling knee deep in peaty bog land, lost in the depths of a forest long after bedtime as that traditionally is when the tree ‘hunt’ happens. The danger of such a late hunt of course was that in all of the excitement and merriment the ‘tree hunters’ could get led astray and completely forget the focus of their ‘mission’, only to arrive home ‘treeless’. On such occasions it could take several long nights of ‘tree hunting’ until that successful moment when the ‘perfect’ tree would be transported home to the farm. The perils of such a ‘hunt’ could mean that what appeared in the glistening moonlight of the ‘wee small hours’ to be the ‘perfect’  tree could in the harsh light of day be a spindly, short, half bare bit of a tree that may just have been grabbed in haste in a last ditch attempt not to arrive back empty handed again.

These days the Happy Farmer has his own plantation of several varieties of pine trees on the farm. He loves trees and actively plants more each year. These trees must be well fertilised. Planted in rich soil. Their young trunks protected with plastic tubes, away from livestock. For a good Christmas tree to grow they also need some protection from the harsh winter gales that sweep our island shores. This comes in time as shelter belts are formed over the years by older more mature trees.

This December the Happy Farmer and I walked across the fields to see the perfect tree. One he has nurtured carefully over the years. This tree will be the centre piece of all the Persabus parties of Christmas and Hogmanay. It is indeed a beautiful tree and in the New Year the Happy Farmer will plant another batch of trees.

Until next time….

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Persabus Passion and Stile

Back in May a team from Wild About Argyll arrived at the farm to shoot photos for their new ‘Heart and Soul’ campaign. They needed a ‘stile’ and wanted to take some photos in the Pottery and Ceramic Café at Persabus.

I immediately set about photographing every stile I could find in the local area so they would have a selection of stiles to choose from. There are the wooden stiles which allow easy access over the old stone walls into the fields beyond. At Bunnahabhain there are the large ‘step ladder’ stiles, allowing access over the high fences which were erected to try and stop the deer population of the northern shores of the island making their way south. What a difference those deer fences have made. Gone are the days when the Happy Farmer and I were up in the ‘wee small hours’ driving around the fields chasing herds of deer away. Whole gangs of them used to make their way along the road to Persabus. They would happily dine away in the early dawn, eating all available grass crops, which the Happy Farmer was cultivating to make hay and silage from. On one occasion  I even narrowly missed being trampled by stampeding deer when walking the dogs up to the trig point on the farm. Ahead of me racing round the hill the dogs disturbed the herd grazing. They took fright and came charging round the hill racing towards me at a rate of knots.

The trig point on Persabus is at the top of Cnoc Abhail. It is well worth the climb. It can be reached on foot in half an hour or so, or in ten minutes in the Happy Farmer’s case. At this point it must be noted that the Happy Farmer has the distinct advantage of rarely venturing up the hill without his trusty quad bike, which has been known to get bogged on the odd occasion, allowing the Happy Farmer to at least walk down the hill every once in a while. From the top, at the trig point, you can see all the way across the farmland and beyond out towards the coastline of the Rhinns of Islay. Ahead are the Paps of Jura and on clear days, the mountains on Mull reveal themselves out across the sea in the distance. You can watch the ferry, fishing boats and yachts sailing up the Sound of Islay. There is a fantastic bird’s eye view of Persabus farm and steadings. This is the 360 panorama of course. Do remember to turn your head, or for the wildly enthusiastic a pirouette on top of the trig point is always an option.

Back to the stile hunt, on the farm we have a few stiles of our own. The stiles on Persabus have been here for generations. They are traditional stone stiles. Built into the old drystone walls. Huge slab stones jutting out, forming small neat steps. I was convinced the team would be looking for a more obvious stile. The Happy Farmer was highly amused at my enthusiasm, smiling at me  heading off on a ‘stile’ hunt. In his usual laid back manner he assured me it would be the old stile leading up to the old stackyard, which is now the garden at the front of the farmhouse, that the team would choose. As usual then the Happy Farmer was completely right. The views from the top of that particular stile are breath-taking. If you follow Persabus on our Instagram or facebook pages you will see those ‘views’ on a regular basis. It is something I don’t think I will ever take for granted. I am forever photographing the views out across to Jura and down the Sound of Islay from the farmhouse.  The colours change constantly throughout the day depending on the light, clouds drift in and out of focus. Each season bringing its own unique colour palette to the landscape, from the purple, golden and deep blue hues of the winter months, to the myriad of softer shades of greens, blues and pinks of Islay in the summertime.

The Wild About Argyll team arrived on the island and our local marketing manager was enlisted as ‘model’ for the day. At Port Askaig she got to feast on seafood fresh from the sea as the ferry came in. At Peatzeria she was treated to seafood pizza. At Glenegedale House she dined on amazing whisky barrel platters loaded with the finest of Scottish produce, smoked salmon,  chutneys, delicious pies,  and cheeses as the sunset. She got to race across the vast expanse of the Big Strand on the Fat Bikes. Drive in the golf buggies at the Machrie. See the eagles soaring across Loch Finlaggan with Wild Islay Birding. At Persabus then, she got to step up and down the old stile, several times, as the camera clicked away. Coffee was on offer but such was their busy day there was no time. A few clicks of the cameras and lights capturing the now infamous old stone stile, a quick visit to the pottery and they were on their way. Of course they did get to sample some of Islay’s finest whiskies, all in the name of work. Whilst Glasgow makes for the ‘Heart’ of Scotland, Argyll  feeds the ‘soul’. Look out for Wild About Argyll’s Heart and Soul campaign, if you happen upon it you might just spot the Persabus stile….oh and a smiling Happy Potter.

Until next time…

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Two for the Pot

I always refer to the Happy Farmer as part of the fixtures and fittings of Islay. He is from one of the oldest families on the island. The Fletchers have been farming on Islay close on 500 years. If you have ever had the pleasure of meeting him, you will know what a character he is. Full of charm, highland humour, with a twinkle in the eye. There is always a warm welcome at Persabus.

Family traditions are part and parcel of daily life on the farm here.

One such tradition that has been passed down through the generations is the making of the iconic clootie dumpling. A traditional Scottish pudding. It is something I had never heard of before I came to live at Persabus. In those days my lovely mother in law seemed to always have clootie dumplings simmering away in the farmhouse kitchen. They were whipped up and brought out whenever there was a celebration or occasion. A clootie dumpling is a spicy pudding, studded with dried fruits, and when my mother in law made one, it was also full of trinkets and five pences. Each one carefully wrapped in grease proof paper and folded into the mix. Hidden treasures to find on your plate at Hogmanay. The pudding mix is then wrapped in the clootie. The clootie being a strip of cloth. It is then tied with string before being placed in a pan of boiling water and left to simmer for four or so hours.

My late mother in law was insistent in her latter years that we watched and learnt how to make clootie dumplings. Following on the tradition that had been passed down through the generations. When she passed away, within hours, I found myself in the farmhouse kitchen fumbling through her clootie dumpling recipe. Trying to do my best by her. Trying to remember all of the intricacies to make the perfect whisky laced clootie dumpling for all of the family and friends that would be coming over. Four hours is a long time to wait to see if the clootie dumpling is a success. Only when the clootie is peeled back from the dumpling do you get to see if it has cooked properly, and if the golden skin has formed over it. The final proof of the pudding as always is then in the tasting of it. Thankfully it was a success.

Last week then the Happy Farmer had his sleeves rolled up as he took to the farmhouse kitchen to make a clootie dumpling for his sister. We were heading to Glasgow for a weekend of celebrations for his sister’s ‘big’ birthday. It would be breaking with tradition not to have a clootie dumpling at the party. Several hours later and two clootie dumplings emerged from the Aga and one very Happy Farmer sported a very happy grin. You might wonder as to why there were two clootie dumpings. The party was overseas, in Glasgow. When the younger clan heard a clootie dumpling was heading to their aunt’s, further requests for clootie dumpling were placed immediately. Luckily we discovered clootie dumpling can travel as hand luggage on the Loganair flight. It passed through the xray scanning machine at the airport security gate without the blink of an eye and managed to survive the flight without being eaten.

The party was a good one. It was a real gathering of the clans, with family and friends young and old. Lots of good food, a clootie dumpling, birthday cake, drinks, dancing, singing, and a performance from the Can Can dancers. It went on way beyond the wee small hours. The birthday girl had a fabulous weekend, as we all did. The Happy Farmer’s only complaint? He did not get to try one slice of clootie dumpling. It’s back to the kitchen stove at Persabus this week.

Until next time…

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Persabus: the Gateway to the North Islay Distilleries

The Happy Farmer has been ‘heuching and cheuching’. We’ve been away for a short break of mainland living. Shops, restaurants, trains, mountains, museums, galleries, Christmas lights, fireworks and rugby. It was lovely to get away and lovely to return home.

When you step off the plane the crisp cold air envelopes you. You can breathe again. On the journey home from the airport we pass gulls and oyster catchers ‘breakfasting’ on the shoreline. At Persabus the front field is a hive of activity as the Barnacle Geese feed on the remaining barley and grass. Their chatter filling the air as they waddle about the field.

We have had a hectic fun filled time. It is customary when ‘overseas’ to meet a fellow Ileach or two. A trip to the cities wouldn’t feel complete without it. What a welcome we got when in the bustling, tourist filled streets of Edinburgh we happened upon Angus. What a party Angus and the Happy Farmer had, as Angus led the Happy Farmer astray. Visiting his favourite haunts they met Dave the Ghost and were entertained by amazing music from Accostic Dave. These Ileachs do indeed get everywhere.

At the airport we met one of ‘Islay’s youngsters’ heading away to distant climes. A week of filming. Marketing work for one of the island’s distilleries. Japan, Singapore, Europe, the US, Australia, New Zealand to name but a few, Islay’s young ambassadors travel the globe sharing their culture and heritage on the worldwide stage of the whisky industry. The Happy Farmer likes to think he offers the same warm island welcome when the globe travels to our Islay farm accommodation at Persabus. Persabus is the new gateway to the north Islay distilleries. The Happy Farmer hasn’t introduced a toll yet, but a warm welcome awaits you at Persabus both in our Pottery and Ceramic Cafe and in our farm accommodation.

The younger Persabus generation have all enjoyed their seasons as tour guides in the Islay distilleries. Providing a much needed boost to support their studies, it gave them a unique introduction to working life. Learning more about their island heritage and its whisky journey. Meeting visitors. They confidently took pride in their island and enjoyed sharing it with the wider community of the world.

Eldest worked for several seasons at Bruichladdich Distillery. There is even a Valinch dedicated to her. Valinch no:22. Bruichladdich Distillery celebrates and embraces its staff choosing different employees for each Valinch. What a fantastic experience. Latterly Hunter Laing employed her to work for Ardnahoe Distillery, at the beginning of its Islay journey going from a dream to the reality of being Islay’s ninth distillery. It is nestled in the farmland in one of the island’s most stunning locations, close to the shoreline, with the panorama of the Sound of Islay, the Paps of Jura, Mull and Colonsay unfolding.

Our son worked at both Bunnahabhain and Bruichladdich Distilleries. He then went on to work for Beam Suntory at Laphroaig Distillery. Guiding groups on water to whisky tours. Teaching people the skills of peat cutting. Leading them on the whisky journey from its water source through to the distillation process. The Persabus peat spades still lie beside the wood burning stove in the pottery workshop. We burn coal and logs these days, but the tools of yesteryear are still dotted all around the farm and steadings.

Youngest stepped into her distillery journey as a tour guide at Bunnahabhain last summer.

Young islanders have always travelled the globe. Today the youngsters travel in their role as ambassadors for the island and its whisky. Young people are at the heart of the community. It is lovely to see so many travelling so far. It is also lovely to see so many choosing to return, to settle here. Raising young families, making it their island home. Choice exits today thanks to generations of Ileachs who have kept the whisky journey alive. Careers are growing as Islay’s whisky story continues to unfold.

Until next time…

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Haggis the adventurer

Sunday morning was interrupted by the sound of a beeping horn coming up the road. Beeping horns on the farm usually mean there is an animal on the loose. Today the forester was following last year’s tup lamb, Haggis, back home to barracks. Haggis had taken himself off for a quick visit to the neighbouring village of Keills. Having skipped over the fence earlier in the morning. Unfortunately for Haggis his little adventure had been intercepted when luckily the passing forester had met him on the main road. The tups on the farm have all been getting restless. One has been pacing up and down by the gate. A sheep on the opposite side was positively leaning herself into the gate, seemingly trying to push the gate over, such was her eagerness to get to the Tup on the other side.

The Happy Farmer placed Haggis safely in the fank, behind the high stone walls. This did not however stop our amorous young tup. A soon as the Happy Farmer’s back was turned Haggis Houdini scaled the wall and was once again out prancing on the road. Haggis belongs to eldest daughter and the Happy Farmer has strict instructions that Haggis is not to be involved in any breeding programmes this year apart from with a small chosen contingent of Hebridean ladies. Today those instructions were broken. The happy Farmer relented. Haggis is now happily enjoying himself with some blackface sheep. Tensions have eased on the farm. The rest of the male contingent have also been let loose and can now be seen gallivanting and cavorting around the fields with the ladies. Several weeks of feeding those boys up with ‘cake’ and they are ready to go. It will be an exhausting breeding programme for them. It is hard work. In a few weeks they will be gathered back in, where once again they will need more TLC as the Happy Farmer will need to feed them up to help them regain their strength.

We welcomed our winter guests back to the farm this week also. The Barnacle Geese have arrived home for the winter. Each morning as the sunrises they can be seen circling the barley field as they come in to land. This year we have whooper swans grazing in the fields too. They in turn seem to attract binocular clad visitors and local goose counters following in their wake and so the cycle of the seasons continues.

Until next time…

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Sailing away into the Sunset

We waved goodbye to our lovely group from South Africa. The week went well. The Happy farmer took them out on his morning rounds, with feeding duties for the livestock forming part of their week of team building activities on the farm. The Happy Farmer quite enjoys this new way of life. He could get accustomed to having a team working on the farm alongside him. Persabus Cottage, with its large farmhouse kitchen and cosy heat flowing from the oil-fired Rayburn, provided the perfect setting for a week of business meetings, talks and tasks for the crew.

Team building included a very creative and talented bunch being let loose in the pottery for a morning workshop followed by afternoon teas of sandwiches and cake. Everything was glazed and fired for them to take back to South Africa at the end of the week.

The Happy Farmer was on hand to help set up distillery tours and tastings, with Persabus perfectly located for Bunnahabhain, Ardnahoe and Caol ila Distilleries. Evenings were taken care of as the Happy Farmer sorted bookings at his favourite haunts. 

The weekend arrived and it was our turn. The Happy Farmer and I headed away to Oban for a party. Stormy weather was threatening to stop ‘play’. The morning ferries were all cancelled, but in the late afternoon ‘service’ resumed and we were off, sailing away under spectacular sunset skies, cruising on the Calmac ferry. Disembarking at Kennacraig we headed into the dark night along the twisting winding road until finally the bright lights of Oban lit up the skies.

What a party. A traditional ceilidh in Oban’s Royal Hotel. What hospitality from the hosts. Kilt clad gentlemen, an accordion player and fiddler, and a large contingent from the farming community of Argyll all turned out to make sure the birthday boy had a fabulous celebration. It made for a heady night of dancing, singing and performing, as young and old took to the floor. With amazing food, hearty ‘troughs’ overflowing with steak pies, fish pie, macaroni cheese and scotch broth and the most delicious bramble crumble. The Royal Hotel certainly knows how to feed the farmers. 

The following day after a lazy start the first port of call was the shops. Here we seemed to know every other shopper. The Islay contingent was out in force, never missing an opportunity to stock up at mainland shops. The Happy Farmer was delighted. He hates shopping but was more than happy to meet friends up and down the aisles of Aldi and Tesco. Lunch with cousins at a nearby hostelry and we seemed to meet up with ‘team Islay’ again. In the late afternoon we made our way to Kennacraig where we once again boarded the Hebridean Isles for another spectacular cruise home.

It was straight back to work with a honeymoon couple booked in for a few days of the Happy Farmer’s hearty breakfasts. Kilns have been emptied and boxes packed as we are sending pottery across to ‘Homestyle Argyll’, an event happening at the Old Smithy in Bellanoch. The Homestyle team are opening a Christmas House for a week with textiles and homewares from Needlesmiths,  jewellery inspired by the Craignish Peninsula from Lucy Jane Walsh, handwoven scarves and throws from Weaving Home, willow baskets from Ardfern Village Baskets, textiles and scarves from Crubag, glass art from A Touch of Glass art studio, paintings and decorations from Love Dove Cottage and of course not forgetting the selection of Persabus Pottery from Islay. Mulled wine and spiced hot chocolate and delicious nibbles are the order of the day from Lazy Sunday. We are so excited to have been invited to participate in the event. If you are near to Lochgilphead next week do call by

Until next time…

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Sailing the Good Ship Persabus

I exit to the mainland, leaving the Happy Farmer to ‘sail the good ship Persabus’.

There are the usual tasks, changeovers to be organised. Breakfasts to be cooked. Pottery orders to be posted out. Kiln firings to be completed, together with farming duties, oh and a shelter to be built for the horses.

In my absence we also have a business party arriving from South Africa on a ‘team building’ adventure at Persabus. They have booked a morning session in the pottery workshop and are also looking to do some farming activities as a group. Luckily the Happy Farmer does not do ‘stress’. He feels ‘stress’ is wasted energy. I do try to aspire to his mantra, but even island living doesn’t succeed in eliminating the ‘in built’ programme in my mind to stress about everything and anything that life throws my way. The Happy Farmer on the other hand, takes people and situations as he finds them, dealing with them in his naturally positive and cheery way. He is a ‘people person’, always happy to stop for a chat, he loves nothing more than welcoming people from all around the world to the farm and sharing his history, culture and island ways with them.

On Friday he started ‘sailing the good ship Persabus’ in his own unique way. He welcomed our guests to the farm. Luckily for him it was the lovely Prarthana and her partner Ewen. Prarthana first stayed with us at Persabus two years ago. She is from Mumbai and happens to be an amazing cook. The Happy Farmer was more than delighted when she stepped off the ferry and happened to remember his love of Indian food. In my absence Friday night in Persabus kitchen became ‘curry night’, a hub of fabulous cuisine, as Prarthana cooked an amazing Indian feast for the Happy Farmer, Ewen and our son. It is always lovely to welcome old friends back to stay with us at Persabus. Prarthana is one of the family. The Happy Farmer organised trips to Bunnahabhain Distillery, Finlaggan and of course the Lochindaal Hotel making sure the weekend included all Prarthana’s favourite haunts on the island. Best of all Prarthana did not forget me and there is a good portion of curry put aside for my return to the farm, thank you so much Prarthana! The Happy Farmer does seem to have perfect strategies in place when I exit for the mainland. Only he could have guests stepping off the ferry and cooking amazing food for him. He is already excited at what the South African crew will have on the menu tonight.

A short trip to Glasgow for me and of course the obligatory visit to one of my favourite haunts, the Uni Café, in the heart of the city’s west end. One hundred years old, still owned and run by the same family, the interior boasts all its original fixtures and fittings. The Happy Farmer’s family have gone to the Uni Café over the generations since it opened. As sweets were scooped onto the scales for a ‘wee’ after lunch snack, I couldn’t help smiling at Gino’s promise to come and visit Islay soon with the offer of an evening of Italian food into the bargain.

Life at Persabus brings a lovely mix of people, culture and diversity. The Happy Farmer is enjoying all the friendship and fine food his farm diversification seems to attract. With the sheep and Highland cows coming to the fence to pose for another photo opportunity for the passing tourists it seems the Happy Farmer is not the only one.

Until next time…

 

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A Gathering of the Clans

We had a gathering of the ‘clans’ on the farm last week. The sheep, young and old were rounded up in the old sheep fank and placed into lots for our annual livestock sale. The Happy Farmer needed to check the sheep were ‘correct’ above and below before separating them. Cheeky, crabbit and obstinate were placed in one pen. This became the ‘for sale’ section. Frisky, young, skippy and positively ‘blooming’ passed the test and made their way into the ‘not for sale’ section. Calves were also gathered in and sorted out into various pens for selling.

It was an early start on Friday. A large selection of various sized wellington boots lay abandoned at the farmhouse door. Breakfasts were served all round. Firstly to our guests and our hardy camper, and then bacon rolls flowed from the Aga for the assembled gathering in the farmhouse kitchen which included the singing shepherd, who bought along his very able sheepdog, the Happy Chappies from down the road and Hughie taxi. In true island style Hughie left a few hours later with not just a taxi, but four calves at foot and also managed to sell a tractor into the bargain.

On sale day, a huge livestock float arrives. Suddenly farm vehicles of all shapes and sizes, zoom into the yard, and out jump a motely crew of farmers of all shapes and sizes too. All clad in varying shades of green, along with the auctioneers in their pristine white coats. A crowd gathers around the pens and the bidding begins. The sing song chant of the auctioneers fills the air as farmers wink, nod and blink away until the hammer is struck and the pen declared ‘sold’. These days the ear tags of the sheep and calves have to be scanned. It was a bit of a battle. One of the old stone pens has become  overgrown with Fuschia. The bushes have formed a thick low canopy over the pen. The young man with the scanning stick had to crawl into the dark depths as those intelligent sheep took cover. The scanning stick resembles one of those lightsaber toys straight out of Star Wars. It certainly looked like a lot of fun. Sheep’s ear tags, versus man, of course the sheep did allow him to scan their tags in the end, but not before they had given him a bit of a run around.

 As quickly as the sale begins, it is over, and everyone races back to their cars and off they travel onto the neighbouring farm for the next part of the sale.

The pottery has had a busy couple of weeks. It is the October holidays and with much cooler weather we welcomed lots of visitors calling by to enjoy the warmth of our wood burning stove whilst sipping on cafetières of freshly ground coffee and oven baked scones. Young and old have been creating beautiful pieces at our workshop table. Early Christmas shoppers have been dropping by to place orders and browse the ceramics on sale on the shelves.

Eldest was home from the city for a weekend of long walks and partying. ‘Tidelines’ were playing in the village hall, so it was ceilidh time on the island.

The pottery had its own ‘ceilidh’ when we welcomed ten youngsters for a pottery painting and story party to celebrate a third birthday. Tea and cakes were laid out for mums, dads, grans and aunties whilst the youngsters all gathered round the workshop table and got carried away with their imaginations painting crocodiles, ducks, princesses and unicorns. A birthday tea of party food was followed by a ‘Bear Hunt’.  We ‘swishy swashyed’ through long grass, and eventually into the cave where we met the ‘bear’ before retracing our steps all the way home at some speed. Candles were lit on the beautiful birthday cake, party bags were handed out and in no time at all the children were leaving tired but happy.

Sunday was a lazy one for me then. An afternoon of magazines in front of a roaring log fire. Eldest took the dogs for a long walk out along the coastline at Bunnahabhain.

We waved goodbye to our hardy camper who had travelled all the way from Singapore for his first visit to Islay and indeed Scotland. We were very impressed that he had chosen to camp outside for a whole week  in October, when the weather can be ever so slightly on the chilly side, but then with a flask of coffee, a few drams at the distilleries and gorgeous sunrises and sunsets, our camper is already looking forward to his next trip to stay with us at Persabus.

Until next time…

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Our Very Good Neighbour…

The lobster pots that were residing in the front field have long gone. They have been busy collecting a plentiful supply of lobsters deep beneath the sea all summer long. The ‘lobster pot rent’ for their short stay at Persabus appears to be ongoing though. It is rumoured we missed out on one of the lobsters. Appearing at our front door, when no one was home, the lobster apparently scurried on to the ferryman’s house for his big pot instead. However this week the ‘rent’ has grown into a few large bags of sloe berries from the Happy Farmer’s friend.

It is a good year on the island for fruit and berries. The long warm spell during the summer months seems to have led to a plentiful supply. We even discovered we had a plum tree growing in the garden. Having planted it some years ago, it was long forgotten, until this summer lots of plums magically  appeared on it. Six apples are growing for the first time on the apple tree. It’s a start. The hedgerows have been laden with blackcurrants, redcurrants and brambles.  However, much to the Happy Famer’s disappointment, the 350 Blackthorn bushes he planted some years back are still to yield any produce. There is not a sloe berry in sight. The hedging does however serve its main purpose of providing amazing shelter for the livestock, as well as luxury accommodation for our smaller guests and residents. The Persabus hedges are alive with birds and other wildlife, but the Happy Farmer is waiting patiently for the year they produce a plentiful supply of sloes.

It has been a busy time on the farm. We welcomed a party of sixteen walkers on foot over from Belgium for a few days of exploring and hill walking. Persabus provides the perfect location for groups of hikers. It is within walking distance of the ferry port and close to the Jura ferry, allowing easy access to both islands. The Happy Farmer has been busy cooking the most amazing breakfasts for our party, all served on piping hot plates in the comfort of Persabus Cottage each morning. Lamb sales are coming up on the farm this week and pens need to be erected. Lambs need to be gathered in and sorted out into various lots.

In his spare time the Happy Farmer enjoys making Bramble whisky and sloe gin at this time of year, but was facing a bit of a dilemma with a distinct lack of sloes on the farm. He was much relieved this week then when the ferryman dropped into conversation that he had found some blackthorn bushes that were laden with sloes and had gathered a good few bags. He is hopefully going to share a bag or two of these with his friend. The Happy Farmer had been at the point of working out how he could strategically import sloe berries from North Balllachullish, courtesy of the Happy Potter and his wife, who also seem to have enjoyed bumper crops of sloes this year.

It is lovely to know we have good neighbours and the ferryman will come to the rescue with several bags of the Happy Farmer’s favourite berries. The Happy Farmer will then acquire a good few bottles of gin, and with lots of sugar and a few secret ingredients he will make his delicious flagons and bottles of Persabus sloe gin. It is the time of year when fruit is foraged and then boiled into chutneys or pickled to preserve it long into the winter months. The sloe gin could be seen as the Happy Farmer’s idea of his five a day on which he could get merrily ‘pickled’, but just before I get carried away, rest assured the sloe gin will be, in the Happy Farmer’s words ‘purely for ‘medicinal’ purposes, and the odd ‘sniffter’ will be enjoyed now and again over the winter months with farmers and friends. The flagon and bottles of sloe gin are part of the Persabus traditions and if you happen to be on the Happy Farmer’s Christmas list a bottle may well be coming your way.

Until next time..

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Seasons don’t end, they just change…

Seasons don’t end at Persabus, they just change. Summer visitors often ask me what an Islay winter is like

As the summer months fade to a happy distant memory, Autumn is upon us and our guests can look forward to a very different island experience.

Our ‘whisky visitors’ are back staying with us on the farm. Persabus provides easy access to the north Islay distilleries. Through the fields and along the farm track is Caol ila Distillery. Or follow the twisting, winding road which leads to the distilleries of Ardnahoe and Bunnahabain. Here you will be treated to some of the island’s most stunning scenery. The north east coastline is wild and rugged with views out to the almost uninhabited west coast of Jura. At the end lies the distillery and a well-earned tasting of a good Bunnahabhain malt is obligatory if you are a whisky fan. The nearest bus stop is just a short walk from the farm allowing easy access to the south Islay distilleries too, as well the distilleries of Bowmore and Bruichladdich.

The island walks on offer in the autumn months provide refreshing, exhilarating and sometimes complete ‘spa therapy’ experiences when the heavens open and the wind whips up! Guests return to the warmth of the cottages and farmhouse alike, rosy cheeked, recharged and refreshed. Wild winter walks along deserted beaches on a stormy day are a great tonic. Beautiful natural beach ‘treasures’ of shells, driftwood and old anchor buoys can be found among the pebbles, seaweed and sand. Otters, herons, oyster catchers, and seals are never far away.

On blustery days the various woodland walks provide shelter, their tall trees forming spectacular canopies. The leaves having changed to the yellows, auburns and golds of an autumn landscape. Conkers are scattered on the ground below the Horse Chestnut trees. They lie invitingly in their shells. I always like to stop and open a few. There is something quite special about breaking into the shell to reveal those beautiful woody conkers.

In the autumn and winter months on clear days, the sunrises and sunsets can be especially spectacular. Snuggling up under a rug, from the Islay Woollen Mill of course, nestled in the sand dunes, with the beach to yourselves and a flask of tea and sandwiches, it really is the perfect way to experience an early sunset or late sunrise. If you are lucky, you will be treated to a flypast of the Barnacle, Greylag or White-fronted geese who frequent our shores in the winter months.

As evening comes there is the offer of a fireside dram. With so many whiskies to choose from, all locally produced, it is a whisky enthusiasts dream. The logs and peat fires will be burning in the local hotels and a winter fayre of local venison, succulent lamb and beef are all on the menus for those looking for an evening out. At the Ballygrant Inn they even offer a ‘whisky menu’ and will guide you through the huge range of malts on offer, having won ‘whisky bar of the year’ on several occasions.

At the farm, in Persabus Cottage the Rayburn is always on in the winter months, bringing warmth to the heart of the old farmhouse. Here casseroles, stews and roasts can be left to simmer away gently in the oven for hours while guests enjoy days out on the hills, at the beaches or visiting distilleries for tours and tastings. The open fire in the sitting room provides a cosy haven when the weather closes in. On clear nights, a seat on the bench outside allows you to admire the milky way in all its glory, the silence only broken by the distant roar of rutting stags.

These last few days sunny spells allowed the barley boys to get the fields cut on the farm and the Persabus barley harvested. The silage has been baled and neatly stored at the edges of the fields, allowing easy access for the Happy Farmer and his tractor in the winter months ahead, as he goes on his daily feeding rounds. The log pile in the farmhouse is stacked ready for our own cosy Persabus nights indoors.

Summer visitors often ask me what an Islay winter is like. It is one of our best kept secrets. You should come and experience it for yourself sometime.  Whatever the season you can be assured Islay provides a beautiful landscape with wild and rugged coastlines, huge sandy beaches and space to just breathe again.

Until next time….

 

 

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