Hamish is in the Naughty Books

Waking up to a crisp clear morning in Glasgow then hopping on the plane for the short cruise through the skies back to Islay and we are met with snow-capped mountains as the winter wonderland unfolds below us, golden landscapes and turquoise seas and then the birds eye views of Ardbeg, Laphroaig and Lagavulin Distilleries, nestled into the rugged coastline of Islay’s shores. Handy locations for bygone days when the puffer boats would steam in to transport barrels full of whisky across to the mainland.

A smooth landing, the friendly and welcoming familiar faces of the Loganair staff meeting us off the plane and then the ‘chat’ and smiles once inside the hub as the warmth of the Islay community encompasses you once again.

The animals have missed us. Ruby and Brambles’ happy barks and yowls echo around the yard as they hear the car approaching. A few minutes later and we are met with wagging tails and bouncy happy dogs, reaching up for cuddles. As the farmhouse door opens the cats scurry in past. They have all been well looked after though, with my parents on hand and visits from the Happy chappies down the road.

Hamish the tup however is in the Happy Farmer’s naughty books again. When the Happy Farmer’s away, the animals get to play, and Hamish has been caught ‘playing’.

In the weeks leading up to the Persabus tupping season these ‘boys’ get extra special treatment on the farm. Pampered, with hooves being clipped well in advance, they have a whole field to themselves, full of rich pickings, so they can munch away to their hearts’ content. The Happy Farmer calls by with extra rations each morning, feeding them a trough full of tasty treats, which they seem to really enjoy, given the sprint they break into, as they greet the Happy Farmer at the gate. The grunting and snuffling that goes on, as they tuck into this hearty breakfast.

Hamish however was not content with this luxury lifestyle. He was eager to get to the ladies in the neighbouring fields, to get the ‘job’ done. He proceeded to spend his days finding ways to escape from the ‘boys’ and make an early entry into the sheep field. On several occasions he managed, and several times he was led grudgingly back to his field, by the Happy Farmer. In the end the Happy Farmer had no option but to place Hamish in barracks, in the confines of the sheep pens at the Persabus Fank. The barracks do come with their own little luxuries though. Hamish got a complete accommodation upgrade to an ‘executive suite’ as the Happy Farmer wanted to make sure when the storms came Hamish would have adequate shelter. A warm base, the suite boasts insulated flooring with a sustainable natural carpet of hay. The steel walls of the ‘up turned trailer of the Happy Farmer’s quad bike’ are draught free. It is minimalist in style and with a wide doorway Hamish is offered panoramic views out across the sheep fields and beyond. You have to love the practicality of an ever-inventive Happy Farmer. In the wet days leading up to the tupping season Hamish could be seen happily chewing the cud enjoying the vantage point of his lodgings, with just a nose popping out to enjoy the vista.

Last week then Hamish had a skip in his step as the Happy Farmer led him from his suite and out to the fields to at last meet up with the ladies, he had been watching eagerly from his pen.

Hamish is a fine Hebridean tup. When the Happy Farmer went away for a few days he left Hamish happily working away in the field with eldest’s flock of Hebridean sheep. A phone call from the Happy chappies and it appears in the Happy Farmer’s absence, Hamish was not content with just the field of Hebridean sheep. It would appear Hamish has lost none of his Bear Grylls style adventure skills, a few fences, a hop, skip and another jump and Hamish was quickly spotted in the neighbouring field getting acquainted with the ladies of the cross bred varieties. A bit of quad bike action, a few belly flop misses, some swerves and revs of the engine, some words not repeatable on a blog post, and soon Hamish was captured and sent back to barracks, awaiting the Happy Farmer’s return.

Tomorrow’s plans then will involve a Happy Farmer ‘happily’ rounding up and relocating a whole field of Hebridean ladies, chasing them along to pastures new before re-introducing Hamish to his own flock, away from the temptations and eager glances of his ‘new girlfriends’ on the farm.

Have you booked your Persabus break yet?

Until next time….

20191113_174453[2]
20191022_113104[1]
20190122_131320[1]
20190920_111220[1]
IMG-20191004-WA0011[1]
IMG-20181225-WA0011[1]

The Happy Farmer’s Project

We had a very welcome visitor at Persabus this week. With gorgeous sunshine and crisp autumn mornings, the ‘telehandler’ came trundling across from the Rhinns of Islay, courtesy of the Handsome Farmer, and Dolly the driver. The Happy Farmer proceeded to spend his day hoicked up in the air on the safety platform, reaching the high points on the farmhouse, brush and pot of whitewash in hand. Long gone are the days of the Happy Farmer’s improvised telehandlers, when ladders would be precariously balanced and tied, tractor buckets doubling as a paint platform. Thankfully these days the chimney heads, dormas and window facings are all painted from the safety of a proper, shiny telehandler platform. It was a tad chilly but with the seasons quietening down there was time to get this fine piece of equipment on site and get these last few bits painted and looking pristine. Of course, a return visit to the Rhinns is already on the cards, as the Happy Farmer is excitedly planning a trip to this quiet corner of the island to thank the Handsome Farmer in person. He is already hoping his visit will involve a wee sweetie or two with the possibility that Mr Peaty might be involved in the social jolly for good measure. Unfortunately for the Happy Farmer though, with the driver being the Happy Farmer’s wife, there will quite possibly be conditions attached to the visit, namely not as many sweeties as he had hoped for.
After a whole day spent out in the elements painting away with a bitter, sharp wind biting at his neck and hands by the time the Happy Farmer’s feet touched down to ground he was more than a little frozen. Luckily the thawing out process involved a large helping of tasty fish pie, that had been bubbling away on the top shelf of the Aga, and a seat beside a roaring fire.
It seems ages ago that wee Ben called up at the farm one sunny evening last summer with a bag of large pollack. Ben is a keen fisherman and spends summer evenings fishing from his dad’s boat in the Sound of Islay. It was a lovely surprise when he arrived at our door then, laden with the freshest of fish, straight from the sea. The Happy Farmer saved some of the fish for the deep freeze ready for tasty pies in the autumn and winter months. With a Wednesday visit from Jean’s Fish van and a good helping of fresh crab meat from Boo’s Seafood Shack, some salmon fillets, smoked haddock and prawns, the most delicious fish pie was soon being served up, finished off with a delicious helping of Campbeltown cheese melting to form a crust across the potato topping. Sadly, this beautiful mature cheddar cheese will not be available for much longer as this creamery is due to close, leaving yet more dairy farmers in a difficult predicament. When I first came to Islay an important port of call was a visit to the Islay creamery. The Happy Farmer would purchase a large slab of the tasty mature cheddar cheese for the farmhouse, together with a block of the creamery’s butter for baking. Mary, from Bruichladdich, would serve us, cutting away huge hunks of various cheeses so we could sample the various cheddars stacked on the shelves. When the creamery closed it marked the gradual decline of dairy farming on the island. I miss the Islay cheese and am sorry to see another Argyll creamery closing.
Today the island is being lashed by storms. What a difference a day makes, after a week of sunshine and cold crisp mornings, the winter weather has arrived just as the tupping season gets underway at Persabus. Hamish the tup is at last out with his girls, a huge grin on his face. He is no longer trying to escape from barracks but can be seen in the fields being ever so attentive to his lady friends, as he happily follows them round carrying out his necessary duties with a wink and a smile.
Until next time…

20191108_141458[1]
20191108_185350[1]
20191107_121202[1]
IMG-20191004-WA0011[1]
20191108_162342[1]
20191107_191556[2]

Autumn in the Pottery

With cold, crisp mornings and the first signs of frost in the ground, the wood burning stove has been roaring back to life in the pottery studio. The Happy Farmer heads over each morning after the feeding rounds to get the fire burning and top up supplies of coal and logs, ensuring the workshop is toasty cosy for an afternoon of creativity.
The turquoise seas of the Sound of Islay, the sun lying low in the sky, and then the few cheeky ‘visitors’ at the pottery door, who happen to be munching their way through the grass outside, all add to the creative mix going on inside my little studio. Designs begin to evolve and the creative spirit flows. The workshop table is a maze of bottles with a wide range of vivid colours on offer. Baskets overflow with sponges of varying textures, shapes and sizes and then there are mugs bursting with paint brushes. I really do feel like a child in a sweet shop at this quieter time of year as my brush flicks paint across the ceramic surface, with the cosy glow of the fire burning away slowly and warming my back.
The ‘visitors’ outside are gathered at the pottery door, eyeing me up. They didn’t waste much time when they spied an open gate. They took their chance, and came skipping down the track and across the road, for a ‘wee’ visit. Eldest’s’ Hebridean flock popping by for a tasty bite. When they see me they know the ‘game’s a bogey’, a quick clap of hands sees them meandering into an orderly line and trotting happily back to their field across the road. If only the Happy Farmer could be gathered in so easily!
It has been a week of enjoying the last glints of daylight in the late afternoon, hiking out the hill with the dogs, as the gorgeous panorama unfolds and shadows spread across the land with the setting of the sun in those beautiful autumn skies. The dogs and I just love our ‘hill time’ at Persabus. Soon it will be far too dark for after work rambles, hibernation will take over with early suppers in front of glowing log fires in the farmhouse. A chance to recharge and rest as the pace of life slows with the shorter days of winter.
The cottages are still busy with visitors making the most of the beauty of an Islay autumn. It’s a time for brisk walks on deserted beaches, the sunset skies reflecting on the wet sands as huge waves wash across the shoreline. A time for woodland walks and mugs of hot chocolate. Fireside drams as you toast your toes after a day hiking out on the hill or on a windswept beach.
This month the pottery will be open on Wednesday evenings for pottery painting workshops from 7pm for an hour. A chance to enjoy playing with brushes and sponges, experimenting with a variety of colours and techniques. A chance to explore creativity. Capturing the autumn colours on pottery and creating unique and lasting keepsakes. There will be earlier workshops for the younger members of the community to come along and create Santa plates, Christmas baubles, bowls and trinkets as they play with handprints, footprints and colour creating beautiful pieces to be shared and treasured for years to come. (Tuesday 12th November and Tuesday 19th November, 4pm to 5.30pm).
Christmas shopping nights are on the cards, with coffees and mince pies at the ready and lots of twinkling fairy lights as the Christmas Spirit draws nearer.
A warm welcome is waiting for all who manage along to join us
Until next time…

20191030_171937[2]
20191025_142911[1]
20191025_145537[1]
20191029_152022[1]
20191031_175319[1]
20191028_153502[2]
20181205_125350[1]

The Happy Farmer’s expedition

It’s not always easy to coax the Happy Farmer out on a walk, unless there happens to be a cow, sheep or horse needing rescued or fed at the end of it. Walking to the Happy Farmer usually involves working. I was taken by surprise then, when last Sunday, with a spring in his step, it was he who suggested we head out for a Sunday walk. Worrying the moment might pass it took me no time at all to race for those wellingtons, jacket and hat, making sure I didn’t forget to grab that Happy Farmer on my way out, before he had chance to change his mind.
It was a gorgeous day. Huge blue seas and skies. The landscape stretching ahead, crisp and clear in the autumn sunshine. The gentle walk became quite a long hike by Happy Farmer standards. Apparently, it soon became clear he had gained some insider information of an area of blackthorn bushes laden with berries. The sloes have been in short supply this autumn. Usually locations of sloes are a strictly guarded secret among farmers, gamekeepers and ferrymen, all worried someone might get to their supply before them and strip the blackthorn bushes bare. It a time of year when they are all busy behind the scenes preparing their flagons of sloe gin, adding a variety of secret ingredients to make sure their sloe gin tastes the very best. With the Happy Farmer’s usual haunts appearing ‘fruitless’, he was desperate to get those walking boots on and get going when he got the ‘tip off’ of a plentiful supply of sloes.
After a lovely brisk walk, we were getting ‘hotter’ in terms of the location of the berries. Before us was a jungle of rhododendrons then, and at this point our walk turned into something of a ‘bear hunt’ kind of an adventure. There were banks of tall bracken and ferns to contend with, a fast-flowing bubbling burn, with slippery rocks to clamber over, followed by bogs and thick hedges. The Happy Farmer’s worried face was giving quick backward glances every so often. Checking I was still upright and indeed following his every step, and that those beautiful earrings he bought me in Venice were still sparkling in my ears, intact, as yet another tree branch came slapping into my face. A bit of warning and I might have come along better prepared. It was an assault course to test even the Happy Farmer’s agility and stamina and my friends, when we finally reached those blackthorn bushes let me tell you, they were bare, not one sloe berry in sight.
At this point I hear you chortling and sniggering, let me assure you the Happy Farmer was not ‘chortling’. In true Happy Farmer style, he put on his bravest ‘I am so not disappointed’ face as he tried to convince me that this expedition had been purely about the walk, the lovely relaxing Sunday walk, forgetting the physical effort it had taken to reach this secluded, secret location. What a location we had arrived in, well worth the trek then, as we fought our way back through the undergrowth carefully mapping our route via tall trees we used as markers to reach the path again else we would have got horribly lost.
There may have been a distinct lack of sloes however all around the bramble bushes were laden with fruit. I couldn’t resist. The glistening black berries were so ripe that as I reached out a hand and touched them, they just fell into my palm and they were so mouth wateringly sweet to taste. Melting fruitiness in the mouth. Just as I was thinking ‘stomach’ and guzzling my way through my little harvest the Happy Farmer’s thoughts turned to dreams of bramble whisky, crumbles and puddings. Bags were handed to me, followed with a grunt that more of those berries appeared to be slipping into my mouth than into the bag. This morning my bowl of porridge was laden with the freshest of brambles at breakfast.
Rest assured, just as you imagine a farmhouse kitchen bereft of sloe gin brewing away, know that the Happy Farmer has a backup, a plan B up his sleeve for years such as these. A stash of sloes hidden in the deep freezer. Each year when the Stickman and his lovely wife are over on holiday they call by with lovely jars of home-made jams, chutneys and of course bag or two of sloes.

This week the gin will be out with flagons at the ready as the Happy Farmer rolls up his sleeves and the sloe gin tradition continues at Persabus. Flagons ready to ‘warm the cockles’ as the Happy Farmer’s entertaining continues into autumn and beyond. There is always a hearty welcome waiting at Persabus.
Until next time…

20191022_193105[2]
20191024_175329[1]
20191025_111753[1]
20191024_141453[1]
20181123_092635[1]
20181021_195606[1]

AWOL: Happy Farmers, Happy Holidays

It has been about farming at Persabus this week.

It started when an alarmed Happy Farmer informed me that one of the breakfast guests had gone AWOL and was nowhere to be seen. It has reached that time of year when the Happy Farmer invites the boys on the farm, namely the tups, to have a tasty bite of breakfast. Each morning when I go for my run I can see them queuing up at the gate waiting on the Happy Farmer. They bellow their greetings and nudge their weight against the gate in the hope that I might be on breakfast duty. When I head back they are usually lined up at the breakfast trough, snuffling away, chomping their way noisily through the coarse breakfast ration.

When Hamish took it upon himself to go AWOL then, the search party was sent out, with a bucket of feed to locate this naughty tup. It didn’t take too long to find him. It was a process of deduction, a question of which field of ‘ladies’ was he choosing to visit? In a fence jumping, gate hopping kind of a way, being a Hebridean tup he was soon found among the Hebridean ladies. When the Happy Farmer found him he had the interest of at least one of those girls and courting relations were being established. Unfortunately for Hamish the Happy Farmer was having none of it. At Persabus we go for an April lambing and so tupping time is not due to start for at least another couple of weeks. It causes tensions to rise as those boys spend their days working out how to escape from barracks and get across to those girls, who likewise can be seen fluttering their eyelashes and rubbing their ‘booties’ against the gates, looking for ways to attract the tups to their fields.

This morning Hamish was safely back in barracks. Next it was time to go off in search of Markus the bull. Markus has also been having some fun and was seen frolicking away with the ladies on the neighbouring farm. So if you saw a disgruntled Happy Farmer this week, bucket in hand, it was all in the name of coaxing everyone home and into their own beds at night.

In the farmhouse accommodation the Happy Farmer was very excited then when a fellow Happy Farmer from the mainland chose to book a couple of nights at Persabus, bringing his wife away for a well-earned break. It is always a challenge for farmers to find a break in the farming calendar to take time out. Animals need to be fed and looked after, crops need to be sown and then harvested, fields need to be dressed and reseeded and then there is the calving and the lambing. It requires quite a bit of planning to step away from a farm.

At breakfast, farming talk took over, followed by more farming talk at morning coffee in the farmhouse kitchen. Two Happy Farmers together made for a lot of happy farming talk. However, they were on Islay to have a break away from farming, to explore all that Islay and Jura have to offer. We duly sent the couple off for a day of adventuring. I guided them through some exciting plans for their day involving coffee and cake stops, fabulous beach walks, visits to the art gallery and craft shops with the option of a distillery visit or two.

By the next morning the visiting Happy Farmer was in his absolute element. He had enjoyed a fantastic day on Islay and was already looking to extend his stay with us at Persabus. Apparently as they drove to Bridgend and took a right for Port Charlotte the visiting Happy Farmer spied the Auction Mart and lo and behold it was market day. A wee shopping trip was the order of the day and before his wife knew it the Happy Farmer was bidding on a couple of cows and meeting the local farming contingent. After a successful ‘shopping’ trip, the Happy Farmer and his wife spent the afternoon on a farm visit and then were invited for some great highland hospitality in Farmer C’s farmhouse for ‘sweeties’ in the evening.

The following morning at breakfast the Happy Farmer was busy changing ferry bookings with Calmac to allow his new friends to extend their stay at Persabus. The holiday had become even more exciting when it became clear that Caledonian Marts, the livestock auctioneers, were holding livestock auctions at farms around the island too. At breakfast our visiting Happy Farmer did promise his wife they would just do a couple of the farms in the morning, knowing that she was probably not wanting to spend a whole day looking at cows as they were on holiday. By the evening they had enjoyed an exciting day’s shopping on the island. It appears cows to Happy Farmers are like handbags and shoes to ladies.The Caledonian Livestock sales had led them right across the island into the far south and beyond, as they got to visit every farm sale along the way.

Our visiting Happy Farmer headed home with a spring in his step. Having sampled the local whisky he left happily dreaming of buying 10 acres or so of land on Islay devoted purely to supplying the distilleries with barley, all in the name of a cask. Happy Farmers, happy holidays, that is what we are about at Persabus.

Until next time…

20191014_102317[1]
20191014_101748[1]
20191016_105604[1]
20191018_182124[2]
20191018_082509[1]
20191018_182027[1]
20191014_101803[1]

A hop, Skip and a Killinallan

The farm has been ‘bubbling over’ with guests and visitors this week. What a welcome back to Persabus.
Autumn happens to be one of my favourite times of year on the island. The colours are so incredibly rich and vibrant. The sky could not possibly get any bluer, and those huge, white billowing clouds, dancing across the horizon are quite simply stunning. Storms come and go and we get to experience all four seasons in a day, sometimes in an hour. Our hardy campers then appeared to have a tent straight out of the ‘Three Little Piggies’ children’s tale. No amount of ‘huffing and puffing’ from the gales swirling round their tent in the night, or the outbursts of torrential downpours that caused flooding as Lily Loch burst its banks again, curtailing our American guest’s morning jog, could blow that tent down. That tent provided a warm, cosy shelter for three nights and thankfully the happy campers had an absolute ball exploring all that Islay has to offer.
Our lambs were heading away to the market on the mainland on Wednesday, with the wild winds threatening to curtail livestock movement. The Happy Chappies from down the road were around to lend the Happy Farmer a much needed hand. The Handsome farmer and Mr Peaty were up with a trailer to collect Highland cows. They arrived just in time for bacon rolls as the Happy Farmer was holding court in the farmhouse kitchen cooking up breakfast feasts for all of our guests. The books were getting done and the roller iron was positively whirling off its hinges as laundry done, sheets were folded and pressed, as Mairi worked her magic. Archie bread called by with pies and supplies of Stornaway Black pudding, jams, butters, flour and so on as supplies were restocked. All of this energy and a happy stream of visitors called for many cups of coffee and much hearty craic around the farmhouse kitchen table. At the end of the day, just when the Happy Farmer had those wellington boots kicked off at the door, and those green woolly socked toes toasting happily in front of a roaring fire, Mr Hydro appeared, straight off the ferry, bearing gifts from the Auction Market at Stirling. A new tup for Persabus. Like lightening, the Happy Farmer was out of that seat, wellies on and into the darkness, to welcome the new arrival, and let Mr Hydro get on his way, before the commercial break was even finished.
The Pottery has also been a hive of creativity. With schools on half term break we have welcomed some lovely visitors. Gifts were being created ready for Christmas, not so many weeks away, yikes. Keepsakes were painted and I was transported along on a bubble of creativity as, with the pottery kitchen closed for winter, I too was able to experiment and create as ideas flowed through the paint brushes and onto the pottery pieces and a new range began to evolve.
The Killinallan Range captures one of my favourite corners of the island. It is a wild and beautiful inlet, where the sea flows into Loch Gruinart. It is a popular gathering place for the many seals that frequent the seas surrounding Islay. Huge groups of them lie fat bellied on the sandy banks in the middle of the Loch, occasionally belly flopping from the sand and into the sea Loch. Their barking chatter can be heard from all around. Golden sands stretch into the horizon, interspersed with small banks of seashells, which makes it a popular place for hermit crabs too. The sea is filled with cockles and razor clams, the rocks with limpets and mussels, which in turn attracts gulls and oystercatchers.
It is a beach filled with happy memories. A magical place. My excited clan would run and run along the sand, enjoying the absolute freedom, jumping down the sandy dunes on their way. With lots of fish darting about in the shallow waters, it was a place for buckets and fishing nets. Shells bleached by the sun and streams trickling across the sands all provided an exciting playground for my little ones. Sand castles were replaced, as those children grew, with life size horses being carefully sculpted into the sand.

Of course there are also the memories of the sheer hard physical effort of trying to prise tired toddlers from the shore, along with all of the assorted paraphernalia needing carried, when they simply did not want to leave their sandy haven at the end of the day. Then those rosy cheeks glowing as tired tots slept soundly the minute the car journey home began. A car filled with sand and the debris of sun cream, sunhats, damp towels, buckets and spades, as well as all of the ‘beach treasures’ their tiny hands had managed to collect that day. It was an exhausting happy time.
So when you see my splashes of colour across those painted pots, the dabbles and splodges that combine to capture my ‘Killinallan’, know that in my mind’s eye, those colours capture days spent where the turquoise seas envelope this incredibly special corner of Islay, capturing for me, the magic of an island childhood.
At Persabus we invite you to come and create lasting memories of your own. We invite you to come along, and stay in one of our cosy cottages, or have bed and breakfast in the farmhouse, and if you have the time, do pop along to the pottery, to simply browse, or I will guide you through the process of creating keepsake treasures of your very own ‘Islay time’.
Until next time…

20191012_173134[1]
20191012_172928[1]
20191011_165410[1]
20191012_110515[1]
20190808_075334[1]
20191011_161856[1]
20191012_151821[1]

An Italian Happy Farmer

The blog came to a halt whilst on social media the Happy Farmer was a hot topic of conversation as he posed in his green woolly socks tucked into brogues, a perfect pairing, or so it would seem until you add the shorts!
We have taken time out. A ‘cheeky wee break’. A much-needed holiday squeezed in between a beautiful family wedding in Glasgow and then a fabulous Diamond wedding celebration on Islay.
Apologies for the silence, but how could I resist when the Happy Farmer scooped me up, popped me on a plane and whisked me away to Venice for a week of sunshine and relaxation in one of the most beautiful and romantic cities in the world? Hopping on a water taxi to get from the airport to our beautiful Venetian Hotel, and not a car in sight, was bliss.
We arrived in darkness and as the boat motored along the Grand Canal, the streets were twinkling with alfresco diners, lining the banks. In the morning I opened my eyes to angels on the ceiling, and at this point did wonder if the Happy Farmer had grown a set of wings in the night. Then sunshine, beautiful warm sunshine, lighting up gorgeous narrow streets, with tall, spectacular buildings, and curved stone bridges linking the alleyways and pathways between the canals. Large piazzas bustling with cafes and bars. The friendliness of the local people, and the pride they take in their wonderful city, the pasta, pizza and local wines all made for a perfect break away.
Nothing however topped the hospitality of Gimo and Jessica from Leo Vanin. I first met this lovely couple when they were visiting my little pottery studio back in February. They too are farmers and have a prosecco vineyard in Italy. When they heard we were visiting Venice a case of their lovely prosecco was shipped and waiting at our Hotel. Midweek we circumnavigated the busy Italian train system to travel to the lovely medieval city of Treviso to meet Gimo and Jessica. Our hosts treated us to a guided tour of their beautiful town, tucked away behind the high historic walls, and surrounded by a moat, the town is a maze of canals and old medieval buildings. Much to the Happy Farmer’s delight it is the home of Tiramasu and a traditional Italian dinner with Gimo and Jessica made for an incredibly special evening. Their hospitality is a lasting memory of this beautiful corner of Italy. We are already looking forward to welcoming them back to Islay where we will return their wonderful hospitality and enjoy their lovely company again.
Now no trip to Venice would be complete without stepping onto a Gondola and being taken on a magical journey through the waterways. Gondolas are a symbol of history, tradition and romance in Venice. So, sat in the low comfy cushioned seats of the narrow, flat bottomed boat, we were ably rowed by our Gondolier, our feet resting on the footstools. At this point it became apparent that the Happy Farmer had taken charge of his own holiday packing. He had not heeded my promise of a relaxing break, sitting enjoying the waterways and café life, probably wisely, as we walked over 10 miles on our first day (according to the Happy Farmer). As our legs stretched out on the Gondola my sandaled feet, complete with painted nails, were enjoying a break next to the Happy Farmer’s brogue clad feet, complete with woolly green socks. You have got to love a Happy Farmer on his holidays.
Arriving home to Islay off the evening plane on Friday, our taste buds were still tingling from tasty Italian feasts. We couldn’t resist stopping off at Peatzeria then for a few take away pizzas. Peatzeria, Islay’s Italian restaurant, is no secret on the island. Their consistently delicious food is simply irresistible. It is a regular haunt of ours and who knows just maybe that is what inspired the Happy Farmer to sweep me away to enjoy an Italian holiday.
Back at Persabus the sun was shining, and the farm was party central as the Happy Farmer’s relatives had come across on the ferry to join us for a weekend of celebrations. Islay and Margaret Campbell were celebrating sixty years of marriage with a huge party in Islay House. The family treated us all to a beautiful island ceilidh with performances from the island’s pipe band, the local Gaelic choir and highland dancers. There was singing and dancing, great company, fantastic food and hospitality and at the centre of these celebrations, a lovely Islay couple who married over sixty years ago. It was a beautiful celebration of love, romance, family and friendship.
Until next time…

20191001_162849[1]
20191001_141116[1]
20191001_162917[1]
20191001_153926[1]
20190930_100839[1]

Taste Islay and Jura

It has been a week of climbing hills, giggling dogs, sunshine and smiles washed down with delicious produce from the Taste Islay and Jura food festival.

If you passed the pottery yesterday and it was closed it was because I was AWOL in Bowmore Square enjoying the celebrations and feast of flavours that the Taste Islay and Jura food festival unveiled. Hand dived scallops, harvested from the seas enveloping our island shores, seared in butter and served with crusty bread. The delicious scent of fresh, local lobster sizzling on a barbeque before being served up ‘naked’ or with a bisque or chilli sauce, thanks to the Kilted Lobster, and washed down with the nutty flavour of Colombian coffee as we were treated to the delights of local artisan Argyll Coffee Roasters who had made the short journey across from the mainland. My bag was laden with the freshest of produce from Nerabus Farm as young entrepreneurs Heather and Kevin were showcasing produce from the vegetable boxes they sell across the island and delicious strong cheese from the Isle of Mull cheese producers. Then there were the canapies from the talented foodie, Ghillie Basan, arriving on platters. Apricots stuffed with harissa paste and other delights, that left a myriad of flavours tingling on your tongue. Smoked salmon, venison and the most delicious home baked oatcakes laced with the exquisite smoky flavours of Laphroaig whisky from Emma at Glenegedale. The spicy chorizio and pork sausages from Porter’s Butchers, who were sharing new recipes as they showed off their vacuum-packed products allowing people to purchase a whole lamb for their deep freeze. A lamb born and bred on the Porter’s family farm on Islay.

In the nearby Harbour Inn it was a cocktail fest of gins, wines, whiskies and ales all produced on Islay. I was ‘driving’, and with the Happy Farmer, who would have happily partaken in sampling the ‘sweeties’ on offer, back at the farm, sailing the Good Ship Persabus, I just enjoyed soaking up the buzzy atmosphere as people huddled round the various stands enjoying sampling the best of Islay and Jura.

Back at the farm it has been a bit of a food fest too. Pheasant, casseroled with red wine, bacon, mushrooms, carrots and kale, simmering away in the Aga whilst I raced the Happy Farmer up to the top of the hill across from the farmhouse. With the cows in the fields, the dogs and I have made the most of the late afternoon sunshine and have gone for ‘after work romps’ up the hill. A hop skip and a bit of a jump and you are transported into a wilderness of hillocky terrain, a boggy burn to circumnavigate and quite a steep climb up to the beautiful panoramic views from the trig point on the farm. Our children spent their childhood playing out on the hill at Persabus. It provided a spectacular back drop for ‘Lion King’ adventures. Battles were fought with home-made bows and arrows; swords and shields made from sticks and ferns. Natural rocky outcrops were transformed into kitchens and houses in the vivid imaginations of our young family. Of course, if you are lucky enough to persuade the Happy Farmer to accompany you on the adventure you get treated to tales of memories of a childhood spent clambering up these hills to gather in the livestock. A quick ‘hello’ is necessary as we clamber past the Happy Farmer’s ‘Old Boy’, my lovely late father in law, who now rests peacefully out on the Persabus Hill.

Until next time…

20190921_130436[1]
20190920_195236[1]
20190919_180908[1]
20190919_181017[1]
20190920_173424[2]
20190919_172331[1]
20190919_172520[1]

Happy Farmer Stories

The Happy Farmer has a skip in his step. We have such lovely guests staying with us on the farm just now. They love the Happy Farmer’s stories. He does seem to have his own unique way with words. I did smile listening to him sharing the story of Bramble, our collie Labrador cross, and how she is an absolute ‘pot licker’. Much to the Happy Farmer’s frustration she chooses her moment carefully to sneak away from the garden and take herself off to indulge in, what the Happy Farmer calls, a bit of fine dining, preferring the a la carte menu of the hillside. She invariably returns an hour or two later with her snout covered in soil, having spent the morning with her nose down a rabbit hole.
Or the Happy Farmer’s story recounting how a couple of German visitors called by the farm on their way to Bunnahabhain Distillery on a wet and wild day. They were absolutely ‘sodden’ and looking for somewhere to leave their kit, a couple of heavy backpacks, whilst they made their journey onwards to the distillery. In the Happy Farmer’s words they appeared with a couple of sheep each, clinging to their backs, and resembled a pair of Armadillos in the rain. He was heartened then when a few days later he bumped into the same couple in the centre of Glasgow, minus their heavy packs, and proceeded to take them to the whisky shop for some good Scottish hospitality.
Our guests this week have been enjoying the scenery and our farm location. They love animals. The Persabus menagerie have picked up on this, and as our guests admired the view from the farmhouse of the Sound of Islay, Ruby dog could be seen lying at their feet, with four legs in the air, wriggling on her back, a huge grin on her face. The cats have also found their way along to offer a warm ‘hello’. Even the Highland cows had their noses at the fence this morning to offer their welcome as our guests headed off to enjoy the north Islay distilleries just along the single-track road from Persabus.
It has been a busy time this last week getting around the logistics of our island location and relocating youngest back to university living on the mainland with her huge collection of luggage and absolute essentials. She does not believe in travelling light. We also had the logistics of getting essentials out to our son on the other side of the globe, enjoying Hong Kong living. It is great then when you have a best friend who just so happens to be stopping off for a night in Hong Kong on her way to support the Scottish rugby team in Japan. Our son seems to be getting very spoilt indeed. Last week he enjoyed fantastic hospitality from our lovely Hong Kong customers, who called by at our Islay pottery a couple of months ago. Living the high life, he was treated to an evening at a private bankers’ whisky club in one of the most spectacular buildings in Hong Kong. Such was their fantastic hospitality he now has an open invitation to call by anytime.
Islay is welcoming the world to its shores and we feel very grateful to connect with so many interesting and happy people calling by on their travels, so today if you happen to be passing, do give a wave to the Happy Farmer. He is instantly recognisable, resembling the ‘Abominable Snowman’ as he puts the finishing touches to his white washing programme, I think he must have been rolling in that paint today.
Until next time….

20190916_080307[2]
20190915_155431[1]
IMG-20190915-WA0038[1]
IMG-20190914-WA0003[1]
20190913_120432[1]
20190824_080946[1]

Island Hopping…Islay to Macau.

With torrential rain and wild gales ferries and planes were cancelled as stormy weather arrived last week. Guests were stranded on and off the island and the farmhouse kitchen became a haven as Archie Bread and a few of the other drivers took refuge, much to the Happy Farmer’s delight. Youngest and I headed out with dogs in tow, in the eye of the storm, for a wild and woolly walk through the woods. The Loch had burst its banks and the path had become one long deep puddle, much to the dogs’ delight, as we waded our way along the track.

Then as quickly as the storm had arrived, it was gone, and on Friday we awoke to the most beautiful sunrise, and not a breath of wind. Summer had returned, allowing for the customary ‘coffee on the bench’ with the Happy Farmer, sitting for a moment in front of the farmhouse, soaking up the views across the sea, a mug of freshly ground coffee in hand, between the morning’s jobs. Islay’s answer to Starbucks in the city.

Hamishina, one of the Persabus cats, happily found her way home too, having gone AWOL for nearly a week. Eldest was home and had been out on the hillside calling to her sheep, and as they came running along, they were joined by one very happy little cat running alongside them. Eldest scooped her up and brought her back home to the farmhouse where she has remained ever since, sprawled out, sleeping off her week of adventuring and hunting out on the hill.

Today we made tracks out across the headland at Bunnahabhain. Walking along the track before scrambling through the bracken and heather, across the burn, and down to the pebble beach to see the seals on the rocks and enjoy a last bit of ‘Islay time’ before youngest heads back to university for another term.

In another world across the seas our son has been island hopping. I found myself escaping the stormy Islay weather last week when I read the article he had written for the charity he is working with…and couldn’t resist sharing his travels on the Persabus blog…he isn’t around to object after all. So sit tight and read on to enjoy his island experiences, Hong Kong to Macau.

Having been in Hong Kong for nearly two weeks, the day finally came when I had the opportunity to visit Macau. My first two weeks in Hong Kong had been an exciting, crazy, wacky (and very humid) adventure, and I had no idea what to expect from Macau. Only first hearing about it when I moved to Hong Kong, everyone that I’d spoken to had labelled it the “Las Vegas of Asia”. A former Portuguese colony, the main languages there were now Cantonese and Mandarin, and although they accept Hong Kong Dollars (HKD), they also have their own currency called Macanese Pataca (which you will receive back in change, so don’t bring $500 HKD notes with you!).

The first part of the journey involved an hour-long boat ride from Hong Kong island. Mist hung in the air that morning, and many of the undoubtedly beautiful views were hidden behind its curtain. Seeing the feint pillars of Hong Kong island and the green of some of the surrounding islands through the mist did have its own magic to it though (and I suppose the boat’s Wi-Fi and cinema-esque chairs helped as well).

The Vegas charm of Macau was evident the moment the land came into view; a grand casino sat near the water’s edge, almost welcoming us to its shores. Having never been a gambler before, I couldn’t wait to see inside a casino.

Casino-visiting, however, wasn’t the first thing on the list! Climbing aboard a local bus, we took a ride into the centre of the Macau’s old town and began our exploration. The Portuguese roots of the area were evident from the start. Getting off the bus, we were quickly surrounded by a jungle of winding, narrow roads and European-styled houses packed tightly together. The streets were bustling with people, and to say that we walked around would be a stretch, shuffling would probably be a better word to use. People crammed the pavements, whilst cars and motorbikes tried to squeeze through the narrow, single-track roads; it was a beautiful chaos.

We waded our way up the streets, finally reaching the ‘Ruins of St Paul’s’: a beautiful remnant of an old Portuguese church. It sat on a hill which gave us a beautiful view of the old town and also some of the casinos in the distance: Old and new combining into one view.

We then went to a local restaurant nearby and had food. Being in Macau, I felt compelled to have the ‘Macau pork chop bun’. I don’t think it would class as one of your 5-a-day, but it was a lovely treat!

Afterward, we waded through the crowds again, heading down the hill. On our way, we stopped by some of the shops that enticed us with smoothies and special teas (and of course, air-conditioning). One particular shop had all kinds of biscuits for us to try (I think I must have eaten 8 different biscuits, so it was a good thing that I hadn’t ordered desert in the restaurant!). Afterward, we continued to walk through Macau’s old town; admiring the architecture and walking down endless narrow streets for around an hour. Tourist obligations also led us to trying the Portuguese egg tarts, which I can only recommend!

Finally, we walked to the ‘Grand Lisboa Macau’ casino. The walk to the casino showcased to us the more modern part of Macau: winding narrow single-track roads were replaced with large city roads and old European-styled houses were replaced with awesome skyscrapers. It was interesting to see both sides of the region.

Seeing the ‘Grand Lisboa Macau’ building from afar was incredible, but the magic didn’t stop outside. Before we even reached the casino, we were all treated to a museum-like experience inside the building, with the grand golden rooms filled with all kinds of statues, water fountains, and other beautiful forms of art and architecture. Finally, we went upstairs and saw the building’s casino. It felt like it was a part of ‘Casino Royale’: An endless sea of green gambling tables, slot machines, and of course, a bar and stage where dancers performed. It was great to see, though I didn’t gamble myself! If you do decide to dabble in some gambling, though, just make sure you don’t gamble your flat deposit away!

Afterward, it was time to return home. We got the bus back to the ferry terminal and set sail for Hong Kong! I would definitely recommend visiting Macau to anyone (I will certainly be returning at some point!). Just remember to take plenty of HKDs in cash, but not in large notes unless you want plenty of Macanese Pataca in change!

Islay or Macau?

Until next time….

IMG-20190908-WA0028[2]
20190908_143453[1]
20190904_211140[1]
20190908_142922[1]
20190907_153110[1]
20190908_140124[1]
20190907_071732[1]