Social Isolation

A week goes by and everything changes.

Suddenly it is all very still. The farmhouse kitchen table has ground to a sudden halt. A time of no guests, no passing farmers. Deliveries being left on the doorstep, thanks to our fabulous Roots and Fruit’s Julie and Jean’s Fresh Fish. The pottery is closed, and we have a very quiet single-track road leading through the farm just now as the Distilleries enter their ‘lock down’ too.

We are so going to miss our lovely guests at Persabus this spring. The hearty chats, with a good dose of ‘tail pulling’ from the teasing Happy Farmer, as he serves up his farmhouse breakfasts each morning. We were gearing up to a very busy season. Likewise, in the Pottery we took the decision early last week to close to the general public. It had been a time of frantic handwashing and sanitising. Worrying in a more heightened way about the health and safety of everyone who came through the door.

I am circumnavigating my way across an unknown territory. Helping guests to transfer bookings. Managing my way through positive PR, at a time when people are anxious and unable to plan. Following online podcasts, with outdoor pottery photos shoots, uploads, not to mention the headache of trying to decipher my way around the huge digital world we seem to have been flung into. Huge mountains, that for some are a simple step. I press wrong buttons on the keyboard, go around and around across online platforms, spending hours trying to achieve the most basic of steps. My head in absolute knots.

Overnight everything has stopped and changed.

The Happy Farmer has very quickly had to manage to get his head around the phrase ‘social isolation’ and all the implications it brings with it. Everything has moved so fast in such a short space of time. He has understandably had to have quite a bit of guidance from the rest of us with the finer details of this new way of living. For those of you who know the Happy Farmer, you will realise that he does ‘sociable’ in a huge, gusty, cheeky, welcoming, larger than life, kind of a way. Sadly, his infamous ‘adopt a tourist’ scheme, which has led to so many fabulous friendships over the years, is going to be on hold for the time being. The hearty night caps as he shares stories and makes connections with our lovely guests have come to a sharp halt. Instead he has his family all around him. A good dollop of daily nagging and lots of cheery banter. His phone has recently become his very best friend in life.

The island’s characters are silent just now, as the sociable heart and cheeky craic of island living has been cut from its centre, as we experience this strange time of ‘social isolation’, to protect our community. Suddenly for those with a connection, it is a digital world, as forums are setting up groups of volunteers to support the vulnerable and to make sure no one is facing this difficult time alone. Community spirit at its very best.

Each day arrives with the new luxury of time. We might be living on fresh air, our business stopped in its tracks, but the Happy Farmer is brimming with ideas as his old ‘building..itus’ (passion for playing with cement, stone, slates, bricks and generally wrecking every bodily joint in the process) takes hold. No guests and better weather always equate to building projects in the Happy Farmer’s eyes. Suddenly the Turner Art Pieces of bags of cement that have been idly loitering in various corners of the farm are being gathered up as plans start to come to fruition.

Seeds have been ordered too, diversion tactics on my part, as the farmhouse kitchen garden can once again be planted up. Raised beds are being excitedly constructed. The old propagators, made from scrap wood and covered with glass from old patio doors, are once again to be revived and new life breathed into them as finally there is time to grow vegetables once more.

Last weekend we waved a very sad farewell to our lovely Swiss campers who had become part of the family during their stay over the past couple of months. They headed off on a precarious journey home to Switzerland. Torn with their decision, but family was calling, and the motorhome they had won for their trip had to be returned. We had a night celebrating with them early in the week, before they trundled away down the road. We feasted on a huge platter of Islay oysters, and with an earlier visit from Jean’s Fresh Fish van to the farm, the Happy Farmer’s amazing homemade fish and chips followed.

With only essential travel permitted to and from the islands it is going to be a strangely quiet island. During this uncertain time, we thank you for your understanding and your support. Please stay in touch, and when all of this has passed there will be a huge hearty welcome awaiting you at Persabus. In the meantime, our thoughts are with the amazing people who behind the scenes are working so very hard to protect us and keep our community ticking, as we all do our bit and socially isolate. The workers on the ferries, at the ports and the airport. The fabulous staff at the Coop and our small general stores, Janice our lovely postie, and of course our most amazing Islay Medical Services team who are going to be there, providing their first class support as and when it is needed.

Stay safe.

Until next time…

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Changing Times

We are living in uncertain times. Our tiny island community has so far remained free from the virus that is sweeping the globe, but our thoughts have been with all of those affected and the devastating effects it is having on so many lives.
At Persabus thankfully the animals are oblivious to the goings on around the world. With the daily breakfast queues at various gates around the farm, and the ever so waggy tails of the dogs, our cats sprawled out cosily in various sunshine spots in the farmhouse, we are provided in these tiny moments with a very welcome distraction.
Quiet pools in the burns and deep puddles in the ditches are brimming with frog spawn out on the hill. Then there’s the arrival of new-born lambs skipping about in the fields. Hamish the tup appears to have managed more than just a little frolicking around those ladies in the autumn. He seems to have enjoyed himself quite a bit before the Happy Farmer managed to confine him to the barracks of the sheep fank. Aside from the set of twins born the other weekend, the fruits of his labours now appear to be popping out on a daily basis, several weeks before the usual planned lambing season on the farm. With Hamish being a Hebridean tup his offspring are instantly recognisable, little black, spider like lambs, bounding along behind their mothers. Thankfully the weather has calmed and with some bursts of sunshine the lambs so far appear strong and healthy.
It has been a bittersweet time. At the weekend the Happy Farmer was at the funeral of Duncan McGillivray in Port Charlotte. Duncan was a key part of the Bruichladdich Distillery family, and latterly the Manager, helping to grow and develop the character of the Distillery. He was part of its history and its future, helping to bring it to fruition from its previously moth balled state. A lovely, friendly, kind-hearted gentle man with a fabulous sense of humour. An immensely popular public character, and more importantly a husband, father and grandfather. One of Islay’s best. He was well respected and much loved. At the funeral, the church and surroundings were bursting with people who had turned out to remember this lovely man and pay their respects. The long, solid line of cars parked the length of the road from the village of Port Charlotte nearly all the way to the next village of Bruichladdich, were testament to Duncan’s popularity. At the end of the day one car remained, a solitary sight, for many more hours. Which has led to many islanders wondering did the Happy Farmer really spend so long at the church? For those who have enquired the Happy Farmer has remarked that he now has incredibly sore knees. We did finally collect the car and return it home late on Sunday. The Happy Farmer did make it home on Saturday, but then got way laid until the very late small hours as he took it upon himself to pay a visit to another local character along the road. To all intents and purpose, it was to be just a short visit, but raising a glass to Duncan led to a few more glasses being raised. I am sure Duncan would have approved.
Until next time…

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Leap Year Celebrations

We have two leap year ‘babies’ in the family. So, this year we celebrated a fifth birthday and a twentieth birthday. Now if you do your maths a twentieth birthday is a ‘big’ one, so the services of the Happy Potter were called upon to ‘sail the good ship Persabus’, as we made our way to a weekend of party celebrations for the birthday boy. Helping him celebrate his second twentieth birthday in a lifetime.

As the Happy Potter arrived off the ferry, a couple of days before our trip, the ‘banter’ around the farmhouse kitchen table was, as always, highly entertaining. When the Happy Farmer gets together with any of his brothers, sibling rivalry kicks off. Entertainment comes with the inevitable leg pulling and tweaking, as topics cover how many ‘ratchets’ are now required to shoehorn an expanding waistline into one’s kilt from thirty years ago. The Happy Potter won that one then. Next, the number of steps required to reach the top of the hill. In the Happy Farmer’s case this was cut down to how many steps it would take to reach the quad bike. Before a drive up to the top, wicked grin on face, as he steamed full speed ahead of the Happy Potter.

Last time we left the Happy Potter on farm duty we returned to a whole sequence of unidentifiable alarms going off intermittently throughout the course of the night. A week of disturbed sleep patterns. The Happy Farmer searched high and low to find the source of the various sounds, which would only last for a few seconds. Eventually an old kitchen clock, with some rusty sounding bird calls, was finally revealed under a bed. Of course, the Happy Farmer has been busy plotting his revenge ever since.

Full use was made of the Happy Potter’s early arrival on the farm. The Happy Farmer took it upon himself to organise an action-packed couple of days’ entertainments. This included helping the farmer to build a new fence around the Millhouse garden, although apparently, according to the Happy Farmer’s version of events, his brother only stood and watched the proceedings. The Happy Farmer has therefore decided to take full credit for the new gleaming garden fence at the back of the Millhouse.

The next afternoon of fun and games saw our Happy Campers also roped in. The Happy Farmer assured me those campers were desperate to be involved in all the entertainment happening around them. Entertainment which involved hauling old settees from the Millhouse to the Happy Farmer’s shed and replacing them with beautiful new cream leather sofas in the sitting room of our self-catering cottage. Once in place I found one very Happy Farmer carrying out ‘quality control’, checking out the comfort factor for our guests, by spending an hour or so relaxing on one of the new sofas. An important aspect of the job apparently, as our guests’ comfort is always our priority. Large drams were later poured for those campers, as everyone gathered at the kitchen table once more, to celebrate the afternoon’s achievements.

I finally managed to prise the Happy Farmer away from all these duties. We spent a truly fantastic weekend in the Midlands, culminating in a visit to the Black Country Living Museum. There my father entertained all his grandchildren with stories of adventures from his own childhood, and together they enjoyed trips down the mine shaft and a canal journey through the tunnels and limestone caverns on a barge. In the evening a buffet and dance followed at the Hotel and fabulous 20th birthday celebrations were enjoyed by all as we reconnected with family and friends.

On our return home to the farm it was the animals who surprised us after this trip. Mairi, ‘the magic sheep lady’s’ pet, Rowan, had been enjoying her very own celebrations in our absence. She had a very busy weekend resulting in the birth of an early set of twin lambs. Rowan is a mixed breed sheep and thanks to the early antics of Hamish, eldest’s Hebridean tup, she enjoyed an early lambing. Hamish had simply refused, last November, to remain in barracks, and instead had taken himself off on a fence hopping mission to get to the ladies in the neighbouring fields. The fruits of his labours and early antics were waiting for us on our return. Two gorgeous ‘spidery’ black lambs and one happy mama sheep.

Until next time…

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Bunnahabhain

It has been bitterly cold, but with the Paps of Jura covered in their snow coats, and huge blue skies with billowing clouds dancing across them, in between the hailstorms, it has been spectacularly beautiful.
A walk out across the headland at Bunnahabhain. Deer darting across our path, and eagles swooping overhead, with the deep turquoises of the sea, the golds and yellows of the landscape, there is so much inspiration. Two happy dogs bounding alongside with huge grins on their faces and the cobwebs get well and truly blown away and my creative mind is buzzing with ideas.
Back in the pottery studio, with an explosion of inspiration from all that this season brings, new designs flow freely from the tip of a brush. It is so satisfying sitting in front of the wood burning stove, matching the colours from the landscape with paints from the workshop table. With baskets of sponges and a variety of brushes to hand the textures of the skies and stormy seas can be transformed onto the bisque before glazing and firing.
With spring around the corner, roses and thistles are appearing on jugs, mugs and bowls.
We have campers on the farm too. Artists from Switzerland, feeding their creative minds with the colours and landscape of Islay’s shores. They have been enjoying rambles across the island, making connections with local creatives, and growing their work, as they travel about during their month-long holiday.
The Happy Farmer is kept busy with feeding rounds. The sheep are queuing at the gate each morning eagerly awaiting breakfast. The cottages have been getting their annual make over as painting and decorating is completed once again, and the Happy Farmer has been busy upgrading, refreshing and renewing, so they have all the care and attention needed to welcome our guests once again.
Until next time…

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Persabus Millhouse

When I first arrived at Persabus the Millhouse was part of the old farm steadings. Bare, thick stone walls, with a wooden gate across the open doorway. A floor covered in straw and a sturdy, old set of wooden step ladders leading to a hay loft.
Persabus Millhouse was also Moss the sheepdog’s home. Prior to this, it had housed the old threshing mill and bruiser on the farm, used to remove the heads from the corn, before they were rolled into oats.
Moss dog was utterly devoted to her Happy Farmer and was not at all content with sharing his affections when I first arrived at Persabus. That old dog faithfully followed the Happy Farmer’s every move. If he was away for a weekend, she would sit sulking and pinning for him in the cab of his tractor, often refusing to eat, until his return. She was a fantastic sheepdog and loved nothing more than being out on the hill rounding up the flock with her Happy Farmer. With many more sheep on the farm back then, and before quad bikes, the farmer and his dog were a real team, reliant and dependent on each other.
An intelligent girl, as she became older, she would still want to work, but started to take things at her own pace. The Happy Farmer used to think he was the boss, but Moss had other ideas. Latterly, out on the hill, at the farmer’s command, she would race off enthusiastically in the direction of the sheep. However, once she had raced out of sight, over the hill, she would curl up in the sunshine, leaving her master whistling and bellowing away, whilst she took a quick cat nap. The sheep realising Moss dog was taking a quick ‘five’, would suddenly take off in all directions, as the farmer, with his crook, could be seen racing like mad, huffing and sprinting, shouting for his dog, as he tried in vain to round up the flock. Picture a Happy Farmer, steam coming out of his ears, sprinting over the hill, where he would happen upon one very guilty looking Moss dog lazing in the sunshine, with a flock of giggling sheep heading in the opposite direction. Of course, my presence was of no help at all, I was bent double, unable to speak, for laughing. The angrier the farmer got, the funnier it became.
Luckily Moss, on seeing her master, and realising the game was a bogey, would jump once more to her heels and race off to round up the ladies, showing the farmer exactly how it should be done, with the ease of a true pro. Farmer and dog would then escort the sheep along the farm track to the fank where those sheep would be dipped or dosed, clipped or counted. By the end of the day Moss would be forgiven, until the next gathering.
Following our vision for the farm, with a lot of planning and hard work, today, Persabus Millhouse is a beautiful cottage which can be rented on a self-catering or bed and breakfast basis.
The Happy Farmer spent a good year or so on the renovations, completing most of the work himself, along with back up from his brothers for the jobs requiring more manpower. His practicality allowed him to invent ways to overcome the many obstacles he faced. He lacked so much of the necessary equipment needed. He found new ways to lift heavy roof trusses into place. Slates had to be piled neatly into the loader bucket of the tractor and raised as high as the loader would allow, before being man handled up to the next level. The exterior walls were carefully picked and pointed. A new roof erected. The interior was framed, insulated and sheeted. Floors were laid and a staircase fitted. Fixtures and fittings were assembled. Carpets laid, walls painted, and curtains hung. Finally, the garden was fenced in and planted with hebes. A decked patio, complete with benches to relax on, provides an ideal spot to take in the vibrant sunsets of the summer months.
Persabus Millhouse was a labour of love, and with hard work and time, it was transformed from an old farm steading into a bright comfortable cottage. Today it provides a beautiful home for our guests from across the world.
We look forward to offering you a warm welcome to Persabus Millhouse soon.
Until next time…

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The Persabus Hospitality Factor

There was a gathering of breakfast guests at the front door of the farmhouse this morning. The girls were queuing up waiting for the Happy Farmer to deliver their cereal. A flock of Hebridean sheep had taken advantage of the Happy Farmer leaving their field gate open as he loaded a silage bale onto the tractor. With the bull and cows at the top of the breakfast list today the girls escaped from the field and hopped and skipped their way happily into the front garden to munch on the fresh grass as they waited impatiently for the Happy Farmer. Once they spy the farmer with bucket in hand though there was a mass exodus to get back to their field in time for a tasty bite from the troughs.
It has been a wild and blustery time with Storm Dennis calling by. Last night the power supply to the island was cut as the gales raged. When I went to collect the Happy Farmer from his ‘Sunday paper session’ the assembled throng were all sat in the candlelight at the bar enjoying their pints.
With ferries cancelled our guests had to change travel plans at the last minute and book flights over instead, a hire car waiting for their arrival. It would have been a bumpy flight, but if the clouds allowed, the views of the wild and angry seas below would have been quite something. Stopping off for a roast dinner, by candlelight due to the power cut, in the Bowmore Hotel, Peter’s Sunday roasts are getting fantastic reviews, the guests arrived to Persabus in darkness. With no power the Happy Farmer met them with a handful of candles, torches and a dram to welcome them.
There is always a warm and hearty welcome awaiting at Persabus. Long before the farm diversified into offering accommodation alongside the pottery and jewellery workshops. Persabus has always enjoyed a steady stream of visitors. The Happy Farmer always has the kettle on. The network of farmers and local characters is an important part of island life, and the rule of thumb at Persabus is that no matter how busy you are, you should always make time to stop and offer a welcome to whoever arrives. From a kettle on the boil, to drams being poured. Troughs of soup, to big hearty meals, for a few or the many, the Persabus hospitality has always been about embracing the moment. Maybe that was what planted the idea nearly thirty years ago to embark on an epic building programme, a programme which would see the Happy Farmer renovate and build four properties, much of the work completed with his own bare hands. A building project which has allowed the Happy Farmer to extend the warm welcome on offer at Persabus not just to his friends and family, but to the whole world.
It began with Persabus Cottage. With its roof hanging off, a tree growing through the centre of it and just the huge thick old stone walls holding it together. A building which has stood on Persabus for over three hundred years. Once home to the Happy Farmer’s great uncles.
When I first arrived on the farm, the cottage lay derelict. When you stepped inside though and stood in the shelter of those old crumbling stone walls, the old kitchen, with the open fireplace, a swee still hanging over it, the most peaceful, homely atmosphere enveloped you. Beyond the rubble and chaos of lying empty and dilapidated for years, the cottage had a warmth that drew us excitedly into planning our renovations to make it a home once again.
Once plans had been drawn up, and the Happy Farmer had circumnavigated his way through all of the planning applications, with building warrants secured, the project got underway.
The site was cleared of the old lath and plaster, boulders, trees and rubble. Days spent with bare hands and a wheelbarrow. Scaffolding was erected. Walls picked and pointed, securing the old stones firmly in place. Old stone floors had to be picked and smashed, then re-laid and levelled with cement. The cement mixer became an important tool. The remains of the roof were cleared to make way for the new one, maintaining the old traditional slates. Inside walls were framed, gyproc ordered and plastered. It was a huge undertaking, but there was always a good hearty craic and in the early days lots of help from local builders.
Once finished Persabus Cottage provided a little oasis, which we moved into with our young family whilst the main farmhouse went through a similar renovation programme. We spent one very happy year there, and after our draughty old farmhouse, we had the added bliss of oil-fired central heating at the push of a button. The large cottage kitchen maintained its character as the Happy Farmer used old pitch pine beams to frame the ceiling, large Italian tiles on the floor and lots of pine incorporated into units and cupboards to allow for plenty of storage. Patio doors framed the quiet, sheltered garden, a big, old tree in the centre. It was the perfect playground for our two small toddlers and enclosed by a huge old drystone wall. A wall which has lasted the test of time having been built by Thomas Spalding around the same time he built the Round Church in Bowmore.
Our young family had hours of endless fun in that garden, building dens around the tree, and all the while I could keep a close eye on them from the comfort of the large, homely kitchen. The kitchen soon became our main living space. The Happy Farmer installed an oil fired Rayburn, which added a lovely cosiness on cold days. With its oven always on the Rayburn was ideal for leaving soup, a roast, or casserole simmering away in, whilst we enjoyed beach days. We bought a large pine table for the kitchen with lots of space for family and friends and entertaining. A settee beside the Rayburn, made the perfect spot to curl up on, whilst supper was cooking.
In the sitting room we enjoyed the comfort of roaring fires in the evenings, having kept the old original fireplace. With the addition of a study for escaping to write or draw in, a utility room for laundry and bikes, and the addition of a downstairs loo, Persabus Cottage was the perfect, lovely home for our young family.
When we vacated the cottage to move back into the farmhouse we began offering holiday lets in Persabus Cottage. Over the years we have been lucky to welcome so many guests, friends and family to our lovely cottage. It is a popular choice for families. The secure garden providing added space for young children to race around in, and of course there is always a welcome for a pet dog or two tagging along on the holiday too. Upstairs, with the main bedrooms offering the option of king size double beds or twin beds in each, it has become a popular choice for parties of whisky visitors, especially given our prime location for the north Islay distilleries. This in turn has led to the Happy Farmer offering the option of breakfasts for our cottage guests too, as sometimes, even though there is a large, fully equipped kitchen, sometimes, it is just good to enjoy being served one of the Happy Farmer’s huge cooked breakfasts.
At Persabus we invite you to come along and enjoy our farm hospitality.
Until next time…

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Winter Storms

With the winter storms raging the farmhouse kitchen has become a haven as drivers bringing supplies onto the island have been stranded overnight. The wild weather forcing cancellations on the ferries and ad hoc sailing times, as the crew have had to take any available opportunity of a break in the squalls to get supplies across the high seas.

As you can imagine, it has been bitterly cold, with dog walks involving a good pelting from balls of hail cascading from the skies, bad timing on my part.

The Happy Farmer has been in his element then. Once animals have been fed, and everything checked, the kettle is on. Old Hoot would refer to times such as these as ‘A day for the sawdust’. Hoot was part of the fixtures and fittings at Persabus when I first came to the farm. He worked alongside the Happy Farmer, helping him out with gathering the sheep, and cows, dosing and dipping and clipping, building fences and swinging gates.

In the evening, with the stranded assembled ‘gang’ around the kitchen table, a hearty big trough of shepherd’s pie came bubbling out of the Aga to feed one and all, that and a big bowl of the Happy Farmer’s winter soup. Good enough to ‘put hairs on your chest’ apparently. A knife and fork were all that was needed to chop through the huge hunks of vegetables. The winter months are a time for catching up, hunkering down and enjoying cosy fireside nights.

Even the horses have been enjoying the shelter of their stables.

Inside the cottages, fires have been lit, providing a toasty refuge at the end of the day.

The island may be windswept, but it is always beautiful.

Until next time…

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Islay Malt Whisky Across the Islands

Islay malt whisky is what initially draws a lot of the visitors to our island home. Over the years the distilleries have flourished, and have risen from moth balled buildings, as production has been re-introduced, then increased, encompassing new warehouses and visitor centres, restaurants and shops. New distilleries have been built, a whole range of new malts introduced, as the island’s whisky market has grown.
My journey into whisky has not been through the drink, but through an appreciation of what Islay malt whisky embodies. To me the character of a dram goes deeper than the amber nectar hitting the palate. The character of the whisky captures the island, the peated landscape, encompassing a wild rugged coastline, with huge waves from the Atlantic crashing across the shores, shaping the rocks and inlets, creating raised beaches, over millions of years.
The malt whisky goes far deeper than the landscape. It is rooted in the character of the people who have lived and worked on these shores for generations. The strong, close knit community. A community that has thrived on fishing, farming and distilling.
As the Islay malt whisky hits the tongue, the flavours emanate across the palate, spreading, like the island’s mist. Glasses are raised as people come together. The whisky celebrates a union of people, lifestyle and landscape, captured in a bottle. Across the world Islay malt whisky is never far away.
Islay has become a place of connections. A tiny island welcoming people from across the globe. A couple of weeks ago the Happy Farmer and I hopped on a plane and headed for the shores of Hong Kong island. It was a long haul, but an amazing trip. One that captured all that Islay malt whisky embodies as we enjoyed fabulous hospitality, reconnecting with people who are passionate about Islay and malt whisky.
When a bus pulled up at my pottery studio last summer, with  a lovely group of people from Hong Kong, little did I know that, in just a few short months, I would be in Hong Kong, sat in the Bankers Club, sharing an Islay dram with them. Whisky tasting at its very best. Panoramic views across Hong Kong harbour, along with a collection of the finest aged malts. Whisky so smooth, it melted on the tongue, filling the palate with a bouquet of flavours. Shared over the most delicious dim sum, with friendship and laughter that will last a lifetime. One tiny island to another. Each bottle handled with love and respect, each sip tantalisingly smooth and warm. Islay whisky is so much more than a drink. It not only encompasses the peaty character of the landscape, it encapsulates a caring community filled with characters, companionship and a warm hearty welcome. From Islay whisky to Hong Kong living.
Hong Kong is indeed a very beautiful island. In sharp contrast to Islay it has a huge population, skyscrapers blend into the greenery of the hills beyond. Junk boats and ferries line the harbour. The friendliness of the people will be a lasting memory.
In the skyscrapers of Kowloon, we spent an evening at the c4mel bar. Jack and Iris visit Islay each year, and in their lovely apartment have their own private bar where they host friends and family. An evening of laughter, amazing food (thank you Iris) and great whiskies all served with a huge hearty welcome from Jack. An evening to remember and we are already looking forward to their return visit to Islay this summer.
Next up came an evening of fine dining, tasting the most delicious Chinese dishes, in a bustling restaurant in Causeway Bay. The couple, whose car the Happy Farmer had duly rescued from the ditches of Persabus a few weeks earlier, just happened to be from Hong Kong. With their local knowledge the dishes were an absolute feast of flavours. A sharp contrast to the menus of water snake’s head soup and pork belly from our own dabble with the local restaurants. Back to their apartment, with yet more panoramic views of the harbour, and drams were poured, as friendship was toasted. A lasting connection of food, whisky, travels, community, love and laughter. Friendship at its very best.
Happy Valley is home to one of the world’s most famous horse racing venues. Overlooking this spectacular racecourse is the magnificent home of the Hong Kong Football club, a private members’ sports and social club. It was here that we were treated to an amazing afternoon’s hospitality, enjoying a world buffet, from lovely guests who stayed with us in the late summer. The venue itself took my breath away, marble clad, floor to ceiling. Apparently, the racecourse needed to purchase land from the Hong Kong Football club a few years back and presented them with an open cheque book, which led to this spectacular building, with amazing facilities, being built. For us though, the highlight was about connecting with these lovely people again, getting to spend time and share stories, creating lasting memories and friendships.
Our visit was all about catching up with family and friends, immersing ourselves in the sights and culture of this remarkable island, but what we appreciated most was being taken into the heart of this community, the friendship, warmth and hospitality will remain with us.
The whisky connection is a strong one. For the Happy Farmer it is rooted in the heart of his island culture. Very few people will have visited Persabus without enjoying one of the Happy Farmer’s drams. We are already looking forward to creating more connections and welcoming our friends back home to Persabus.
Until next time…

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The Dance of the Hairy Haggis

The haggis hunting season is upon us again and our elusive, furry friends have been spotted scampering across the hills at Persabus. At first glance you could be forgiven for thinking you were looking at a clump of hillocky grass, but as dusk draws near, if you sit for a while, with the necessary dram in hand, you may well be treated to the ‘dance of the hairy haggis’. Watching as those Persabus haggis jump, skip and frolic their way across the peaty bog land of the north of Islay.

Haggis are strange creatures indeed. They spend a lot of the year in hibernation, snuggled deeply in their cosy burrows, but with the island being quieter and the promise of a sneaky slurp of the angels’ share, they are out to play. Don’t be fooled my friend when you next happen to be on a distillery tour and they speak of the ‘angels’ share’, and the depleted supply of whisky in the casks. Those haggis have a lot to answer for. It was becoming such a problem, that rumour has it, a contingency meeting of the north Islay Distilleries was called. To tackle the issue hairy haggis are apparently now provided with a sneaky free nip of the amber nectar, hopefully making sure at least some of the whisky maturing in the barrels remains for the visiting tourists.

Juicy haggis served on a platter, alongside ‘neaps and tatties,’ are the order of the day at this time of year, as islanders celebrate Burn’s night. To gather the haggis, hunts are held across the island, under a closely guarded veil of secrecy. Haggis hunting is like no other kind of hunt. If you are lucky enough those cheeky haggis will sometimes, with a squeal and a leap, simply pop into your pocket. I’ve heard they have a penchant for Islay tweed. Placement of items in the pocket is the next important step to capturing the elusive haggis. A couple of polo mints, loose in the bottom of the pocket, may well do the trick, that and a large sheepskin glove. The haggis are known to like their home comforts and after a feed on the mints, a sheepskin glove provides the perfect cosy nest for pocket hopping haggis.

The Happy Farmer unfortunately has never been lucky at capturing haggis in this way. His jackets pockets come with a public health warning. They are filled with sweets, but soggy ones at that, together with old nails, lambing gloves and baler twine. Unfortunately, they are never going to attract a happy haggis.

So, my friends, with those handy tips, I will leave you to ponder your next haggis hunting adventure to Persabus, where you will be met with a warm welcome, a hearty sense of good humour and maybe a large dram as you toast Scotland’s bard, Rabbie Burns.

Slainte

Until next time…

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The Happy Farmer goes incognito

Early January and the morning skies have been filled with vivid oranges, peaches and purples, as the sun has risen in all its splendour, providing the perfect backdrop to enjoy some gorgeous winter walks. I haven’t quite managed to peel the Happy Farmer away from the farm to join us on the jaunts but whilst he has been busy on feeding rounds, I have been enjoying hearty walks. The perfect tonic after the heady celebrations of an island Hogmanay.

Decorations have all been neatly packed and stored away for another year. So, as I made my way through the fields on the morning run, with dogs in tow, we were suddenly alerted to movement among the pine trees. Almost hidden from view, under a huge camouflage jacket, was a ‘lesser spotted’ Happy Farmer. Just maybe he was looking to get a bit of peace from the ‘ditching’ cars on our new ‘Hebridean motorway’, which leads, in a twisty, windy, single-track way, to the island’s distilleries. Hidden from sight, it wasn’t just the dogs barking that blew his cover, but the bellowing and roaring of the bull and cows coming from the neighbouring field and the loud bleating of the sheep as they rounded themselves up, all peering over the fence, looking on at the Happy Farmer in dismay. It seems everyone was wanting the Happy Farmer’s attention. I usually spy the tractor making its way across the fields with cows, bull and sheep in tow. A Happy Farmer at this time of year is a welcome sight for all the animals. Even Muffin and Hansel, our horses, can be seen with their noses hanging over the garden fence waiting to see what treats are going to be coming their way from the farmhouse kitchen. Anyhow, he was spotted, cover blown, busy planting the Persabus Christmas tree back into the ground, carefully securing it with a stake, to allow it to settle in once again, and continue growing, following its brief Christmas holiday in the farmhouse.

My hearty jaunts then have taken me over ‘the bridge’ to the Mull of Oa as youngest and I enjoyed rambling along the pathway to the American monument. A wild and blustery day, and the frothy sea spray was being blown from the crashing waves below right up and over the dramatic cliffs that surround this rugged and stunningly beautiful coastline. The monument providing quite a backdrop as the sun began to set across the Atlantic.

Out beyond  Bunnahabhain we were among otters and deer. The silhouette of a lone stag could be seen on the skyline, grazing away. Peated waterfalls were bubbling down the hillside with the sun lighting up the purple and golden hues of a Jura landscape, across the white capped Sound.

The Lochs in Dunlossit woods provided crystal clear reflections of the skies above as we made our way along the track and through the drive, dogs in tow, as the sunset through the trees and dusk began to fall.

In January, if the weather is kind, the range and depth of colour and light is both dramatic and beautiful. As the island quietens down nature comes out to play in all its glory.

Winter breaks on Islay can be just the tonic after the busy festivities.

At Persabus we offer a variety of accommodation, whether you are wanting to stay in our farmhouse bed and breakfast suite, where you can enjoy a dram in our whisky lounge and comfortable super king-size double beds in either of the two ensuite bedrooms. Or, cosy up in one of our self-catering cottages beside the fireside, and enjoy all the homely comforts on offer. Persabus Cottage was the original farmhouse at Persabus and offers traditon and comfort, whilst the Millhouse has a more modern finish and was renovated from the old steadings that once housed the mill that threshed the corn on the farm. For hardy campers there is the opportunity to pitch your tent in the beautiful surroundings at Persabus, just a short distance from the North Islay Distilleries. Best of all, a good hearty breakfast from the Happy Farmer is on offer with all these options.

We look forward to offering you a warm welcome at Persabus soon.

Until next time…

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