Caol Ila Distillery’s Striding Man

The Striding Man Statue at Caol ila Distillery was designed by local (Persabus) artists Rosemary Fletcher, and daughters Cairisitiona Rose Fletcher and Jessica May Fletcher, working for Diageo with BRC Imagination Arts .

Enjoy a short walk across the fields of Persabus Farm and discover the Islay home of Johnnie Walker.

Johnnie Walker Striding Man Statue at Coal Ila Distillery

The Story Behind the Design

Hidden away, under craggy coastal cliffs, is a favourite haunt of mine. Where the sun dances brightly across rippling waves. Seaweed ‘sculptures’ are draped across the rocks. The remnants of what was once a small fishing community remain in the shelter of the overhanging cliffs. Old stone boat huts line the shore. Bleached wooden doors, hang precariously on their last threads, as the winter storms claim back a little more each year. The energy and clarity of salty seas washing over my tired toes.

The History of this Unique and Hidden Corner

Beyond Caol ila Distillery, Islay’s ‘Bacan’ where an island community built their homes beside the shore, long before a distillery evolved. Living off the land and the sea. Latterly, the stories of the men heading out early each day to set snares, before working twelve-hour shifts in the new Distillery. Returning later to gather the rabbits ready for supper at the end of the day. The huge pots of nettle soups, and carrageenan pudding, made from the seaweed. The family sent up to the Bacan following the bombing of Clydebank in the war. Those tiny shoreline homes. Consisting of two small rooms, housing families with up to nine children. The wild seas washing high over their windows when the winter storms lashed out.

The Families of the Bacan

have long since moved inland. Some now farm as far away as New Zealand. Others have ventured into the medical world, doctors managing our health services. Some take their place as managers in the modern-day world of distilling, as the island’s whisky journey continues its adventures in global markets. The Puffer boats of yesteryear, once a vital link between the distilleries and the mainland, long gone.

Purple Heather at Caol ila

For me it was the start of a Journey

in this special place. Enjoying the atmosphere of a stony beach that captures a bygone era, as steamers and yachts occasionally glide past. 

We clambered unsteadily across the rocks and pebbles of the small bay at Caol ila, on a hot summer’s day. Armed with pastels and paints. A place to sit and savour the feast of colours, as we nestled in among the smooth pebbles. The scent of the mash, and vapours of the whisky distilling close by, mingling with the salty sea air. Nature interspersed with the occasional boat sailing past. A pair of otters came out to play. Cartwheeling in the water before clambering onto a rocky outcrop, to feast on their fresh catch. Seals bobbing their heads gently in the bay. The ripples, and eddies, as the bluest of waves danced with turquoise seas. The coastline of Jura, across the water. The majestic Paps, the browns, greens, and purples of this rich landscape reflected and mirrored in the sea below. It is here the designs flowed.

Caol Ila Distillery

Late August, 2022, and the anticipated wait was finally over. We were invited to a preview opening of the new visitor centre at Caol ila Distillery. A short walk across the fields of the farm. We were soon making our way along the new wooden walkway, to enjoy the visitor centre experience. The sleek modern entrance, merging into the freshly painted original red steel girders and beams, which framed the spacious new centre. Beyond the shop, with its neatly orchestrated displays and comfy sofas, the welcoming bar. A bar filled with whisky cocktails, platters, coffees, and cakes. Large windows showcasing those views out across the sea, to the Paps of Jura. The vivid yellows, blues, and oranges of golden sunsets, reflected back, in the original works of artist Scott Naismith, hanging from the wall.

As we ventured down through the building and out to the Distillery forecourt my stomach was doing somersaults, tying itself in tight little knots as the nerves were biting. Then, there he was, the unique Striding Man statue of Caol ila. Standing so proudly his vivid jacket mirroring the tidal currents and eddies in the Sound as he saluted visitors with that infamous tip of his hat, that slight nod of the head, as if he were passing, in a fleeting moment of time.

The Design

The peaty bogs of Islay’s landscape flowing through his ‘gritty workers’ boots’, a nod to Islay’s industrial past. His feet firmly rooted to the landscape of this magical island. The peat that long since warmed the homes of the people of the Bacan and beyond, keeping them warm and toasty when the weather closed in. The peated notes of the island’s whisky, the vivid colours of the layers of the landscape, as mossy greens combine with the red ochres of golden bracken, encapsulated in his boots.

A dramatic seascape flows across the Striding Man’s jacket. Turquoises, blues, and browns of the Sound of Islay. The ebb and flow of wave patterns and tidal currents. The movement, the energy of those seas, translated in the movement and flow of the jacket. The ghostly silhouettes of the puffer boats, a nod to Islay’s maritime past, and the sparkling shimmers of sunlight dancing on the waves.

The hat capturing the smoky notes of Caol ila whisky, as they tease the tongue, the scents of the crisp Islay Sea air, the ‘zingy’ burst of flavours, as they open across the palate.

A Tiny Cog in a Huge Wheel of Production

as each of the Brand Homes of the four corners of Johnnie Walker have opened. The Highlands, the Lowlands, Speyside, and the Islands. Each with their own unique Striding Man statue, saluting and welcoming visitors from around the world. A massive team production, from the architects, and planners, to the building teams. Working behind the scenes to create the exciting new vision of Diageo’s Brand Homes.

To have been invited to be a part of the Johnnie Walker story, creating the designs for the Caol ila Striding Man statue, was exciting, daunting, incredible, and a huge honour. My husband’s family have farmed the land at Caol ila for generations. Their history long rooted to the very core of the island community. To collaborate on this exciting project, with my two daughters, capturing our journeys and designs, reflecting the landscape and history of this beautiful corner of the Hebrides, was a great privilege. A little fleeting moment in the exciting story of Johnnie Walker.