Two for the Pot

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time…

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Persabus: the Gateway to the North Islay Distilleries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time…

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Haggis the adventurer

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

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

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

Until next time…

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Sailing away into the Sunset

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time…

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Sailing the Good Ship Persabus

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time…

 

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A Gathering of the Clans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time…

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Our Very Good Neighbour…

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time..

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Seasons don’t end, they just change…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until next time….

 

 

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Whisky Times…

Times are changing. The houses that were once home for the workers at Bunnahabhain Distillery have nearly all been demolished. Building work has begun.

Bunnahabhain was a thriving village when the Happy Farmer was a young boy. It had a school, a village hall, post office and shop. It was once home to some twenty or more families. Even when our children started at school, the bus would come from Bunnahabhain, collecting youngsters along the way and delivering them safely to the local primary school in Keills. Ceilidhs, meetings and playgroup were still held in the village hall. However as whisky production became more automised the distillery employed less workers and so the number of families living at Bunnahabhain had declined. Over the years the houses became all but deserted and when the new hall at Ballygrant opened Bunnahabhain hall closed. New workers often commuted from other parts of the island. The last of the remaining families moved out of their homes earlier this year.

Today when the Happy Farmer visited, the bulldozers had moved in. Where houses once stood, was a huge heap of rubble. An upgrade of the distillery warehouses and visitor centre is underway. It is the end of an era and the beginning of a new one for Bunnahabhain and the north end of Islay.

Ardnahoe Distillery is just along the road. The first malted barley arrived on site last week so production looks like it will begin very soon and Islay’s newest distillery will be opening its doors.

At Caol ila, which is just across the fields from Persabus, exciting upgrades are also planned. This is all much to the Happy farmer’s delight. Soon there will be three working distilleries close to Persabus, all producing more whisky, tales and experiences for visitors and locals alike. The Happy Farmer is really looking forward to supporting them all. He is already planning visits and tastings. He feels it is his duty to sample the local distilleries’ finest malts. He informs me it is ‘work related research’. He needs to keep up to date and is always looking to increase his knowledge and educate his palate when it comes to Islay malts. Apparently, this is so he can informatively discuss the delights and intricacies of Islay’s whiskies with our guests.

The island’s distilleries all employ the finest of local characters, young and old. These characters all have a distinctive ‘island way’ of weaving magic and stories into their work as they produce some of the finest malt whiskies in the world. Each adding their own unique style to the developing story of Islay’s culture and heritage.

It was the Happy Farmer’s face then when two people were making their way across the farm yard at Persabus on Saturday. The farmhouse kitchen was already buzzing. The Happy Farmer’s childhood friend had arrived with family off the ferry. Hughie ‘taxi’ was in for a quick cup between hires. Our German guests had arrived for their first ever stay at Persabus, ready for some whisky experiences, and now a young couple from Israel were here to ask the Happy Farmer if Persabus was indeed a distillery. This would seem to be the case on many an occasion, but unfortunately Persabus is not yet a working distillery.

Until next time…

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Rain did not stop play at Persabus

Just when I’ve been waxing lyrical about the changing seasons the first of the winter storms hit. Wild weather left the island cut off for a day last week. Ferries and planes were cancelled due to high winds. Doughball the cat made the most of it. She didn’t know which property to take shelter in, having discovered that all the Persabus guests staying last week were ‘cat’ people. It was a tricky decision, but I am assured that she managed to share her time equally between the cottages, calling by for breakfast scraps, a belly rub and a quick snooze by the Rayburn.

At Machir Bay it was almost impossible to stand in the gales. Some of our guests braved the high winds and went for a very brisk beach walk to experience the Atlantic rollers crashing in with the storm. A trip to see the huge waves at Portnahaven and they were entertained by the seals who appeared to be in their element ducking and diving in the stormy seas. The seals must have missed the weekly visit of the ice cream van though. I am told that when the tinkling jingle of the van begins to play 16 or so seals can be seen suddenly popping their heads up out of the water in unison. The island seals love it when they hear music being played, unfortunately I doubt they have had the chance to sample one of the delicious 99 ice creams that are served up from the van. If the weather’s good Monday night is ice cream van night at Persabus.

By the weekend the weather had settled, and the sunshine returned. For the Happy Farmer this was fantastic news. It had been a ‘nail biting’ week when squally weather looked like it might cancel ‘play’, and his annual trip to the Jura Music Festival was in danger of being aborted if ferries were cancelled. The sun came out just in time then, the wind disappeared without a trace, and the Happy Farmer and eldest skipped gleefully onto the ferry on Sunday for an afternoon at the festival. The wild weather may have passed but a wild time was had by all. Parties were happening across Craighouse. Eldest managed to grab a guitar and perform in the open mike tent. There was piping in the Hotel and then Rhuval followed by Skippinish in the Cooperage, with dancing on barrels, shoulders and feet. The final magic was captured by the transport laid on to get Islay visitors home. A moonlit trip from Craighouse, on Sandy’s and Nicol’s ribs, to Port Askaig, gliding through the dark inky waters with the light of a nearly full moon bursting from the sky. Maybe next year we will make it for the whole weekend of the Jura Music Festival.

 

Until next time…

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