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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The Summer House Lodgings

The lovely landscape and environment of Persabus feed the creative spirit.

Years of bracing walks in the autumn, and winter months, when the colours on the island are at their most vibrant, led to dabbling with paints at the kitchen table, which evolved into watercolour paintings, and then to my designs being hand painted, glazed and fired on ceramics.

I like to focus on the colour palette of the landscape and the skies that envelope it. A swish of a paint brush captures the energy of the waves breaking on the shore and the ‘blousy’ cloud formations and patterns that are constantly changing overhead.

The views from Persabus of the Paps of Jura and the Sound of Islay are simply stunning and with Dunlossit woods and the beaches of the Sound within easy walking distance we are incredibly spoilt. It is very relaxing heading off to the beach, walking from the farmhouse, through the fields and into the woodland, armed with sketchbook, paints and drawing pens. Sketches and jottings lead to mornings spent in front of the wood burning stove in the pottery workshop on a blustery day, just dabbling with colours, and designs. Last week I was working on a new ‘Ocean Swirls’ range, as well the more familiar ‘Saligo’ and ‘Lucy Sea Breeze’ ranges.

In the autumn months I always feel at my most creative. Of course, this creativity isn’t just about painting. In the kitchen winter berry crumbles have been baked in the Aga, and soups and casseroles are beginning to bubble away.

Creativity also flows into other areas of life. On the farm we have diversified over the years. The Happy Farmer has renovated the old farm steadings to develop our lovely cottages. The farmhouse bed and breakfast suite being developed within the walls of the old stables. We even offer ‘Camping with Breakfast’. We are always looking to offer a unique and original experience for guests staying with us at Persabus.

On Sunday morning the Happy Farmer discovered that we have new lodgings on the farm. Our most creative and unique accommodation yet. It hasn’t quite made the pages of Airbnb, but it appears our cats have a new ‘summer house’. The Happy Farmer was highly entertained when he found the three of them sprawled out and sleeping soundly in their new digs. The large windows provide the perfect panoramic view. When the sun is shining there is a cosy warmth too. The cab of the Happy Farmer’s tractor appears to take ‘glamping’ to a whole new level in the cat kingdom.

Eldest was home for the weekend. She rounded up the Happy Farmer and her flock of Hebridean sheep for a morning in the fank. ‘Fank’, is farming speak for a collection of old drystone walls, which form several large gathering pens, with gates to ‘shed’ or separate the sheep. There is a walk way, where the well-behaved sheep go in single file, while the naughty ones clamber over the backs of their companions. Here the sheep can be dosed and vaccinated safely. There is the old dipping ‘race’, with a covered pit, in which the sheep used to be drenched in dip.

On Sunday the lambs were shed from their mothers and divided according to gender. The best of the ewe lambs will remain part of the Persabus flock, for breeding next year. All of the lambs were tagged and then the whole flock was dosed against Fluke and worm, before they went skipping off into the fields once more.

Until next time….

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And all it took was a tractor, trailer, horse box and a few Calmac containers….

The Persabus Hebridean broadcasting blog is back on the airwaves. It was a rocky one. Away on the mainland we hit technical glitches in internet land.

Happily though we managed to accompany youngest as she headed for the bright lights of university living. We followed in her wake with tractor, trailer and horse box, and a few Calmac containers to get her everyday essentials over to the mainland, or at least it felt that way by the time we had packed and unpacked everything. I would have been very happy for the cats to accompany her too, but unfortunately these mainland halls seem to have a ‘no pets’ policy. We got the privilege of some Hebridean sheep, a couple of horses and some Highland cows to look after when eldest left. Alongside the farm animals the menagerie of ‘pets’ just keeps growing. While the younger members of the clan are away partying hard and enjoying life, I mean studying and building careers, we are at home with a long list of instructions of feeding and pampering duties. These animals are all very spoilt and truly trained in the art of nagging, I mean ‘meowing and whining’, if everything is not quite as perfect as it is when their young owners are home. This is usually sorted with copious amount of food, however with Archieina ‘booming’ in all directions, her huge ‘tank’ as the Happy Farmer describes it, demands smaller portions and less feeds. She is not happy and has been voicing her concerns about this on an hourly basis.

It was a very hairy flight home to Islay on Monday night. Heavy rain and poor visibility led to several landing attempts, and then the pilot swooped low over the sea and suddenly we were home. The farmhouse was strangely quiet with the whole family away, but as guests began to arrive the ‘Persabus buzz’ returned. Thankfully ‘team Persabus’ did an amazing job of changeovers and everything went smoothly in our absence. The all-important ‘menagerie’ was well cared for and waiting for my arrival home, with Ruby dog leading the welcoming party, closely followed by Bramble and the two kittens. Doughball, our old cat, wisely waited for the rain to stop before she put in her appearance.

In the pottery this week I have had a chance to work on some new creative designs. My head is bursting with ideas and plans, and as the crazy business of the summer months has morphed into a steady trickle of visitors calling by for gifts, cake and sandwiches, I am getting more time to dip my paint brushes onto the clay and begin to create new designs. With the vibrant colours of the autumn months the island is bursting with creative inspiration. Even in the pouring rain it is indeed a beautiful island….

Until next time…

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Changing Seasons

In the Happy Farmer’s words ‘it’s great to see the sun hanging out again’.

The panorama from the farmhouse is changing. The summer colours are merging into an autumn landscape. The barley in the front field has ripened to a rich, golden colour. The Paps are swathed in purple and gold as the greenness of the summer months begins to fade. The sea glistens with deep turquoise and aquamarine hues. It is a beautiful time of the year. I never tire of the view with its everchanging light and reflections as the landscape moves through the seasons each year.

Yesterday heavy ‘mizzly’ rain set in. White clouds and mist enveloped everything including any view. It is a time of year when there is a gradual move from a life of outdoor living. The endless days of light are retreating. At night twilight gives way to the dark blue and black skies that the autumn brings, and the moon hangs huge and bright in a starry sky. Candles and fires are lit, hearty casseroles, soups and Sunday roasts become a mainstay in the farmhouse, as a new season evolves, and even a mizzly rainy day doesn’t dampen the spirits. That said, we are hoping the good weather that arrived today lasts for the month of September and we are treated to the delights of an Indian summer. The barley boys are at the ready with their combines. Barley needs to be harvested when it’s at its premium. It will be cut and threshed and transported to a local haulier who has facilities to store and dry the barley further if necessary, before it is ready to go off for malting.

The barley we grow eventually, once malted, goes to Bruichladdich Distillery. Invariably some will make its way back to Persabus, in its golden liquid splendour, as the farmers have a ‘wee dram’ around the kitchen table. It is indeed a ‘happy cycle’.

Our winter hay supplies arrived last week. The Happy Farmer used to make his own hay on the farm. It was a lovely time. Fields were mowed, lines of fresh grass were then spun several times a day by the hay turner. I did take my turn at driving the tractor and spinning the hay once, but unfortunately hay fever took its toll. In no time at all my eyes were swollen and streaming, and I arrived back at the farmhouse sneezing and wheezing and have not been allowed near the hay since. Once thoroughly dried by the sun the hay is then baled. The whole village would turn out to help stack the hay in years gone by, sandwiches and flasks of tea and soup would appear from the farmhouse, and it was a real community effort. Baling machines took over producing square bales, tied with baler twine. Finally, we had a round baler, producing huge bales of hay, which only machinery could lift and load into the hay shed.

Now, with our changing climate, and changing farm policies, hay is brought in from the mainland. In the pouring rain last week the happy chappies from down the road came along and gave the Happy Farmer a very welcome hand to load the hay bales into the shed for the winter months, and as always the kettle was on in the farmhouse.

Until next time…

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Spicy Times…

I have been having the most incredibly spicy times with the Happy Farmer recently.

His favourite national dish is curry. He was the first person to introduce me to the delights of a Glasgow curry, many years ago. Such was his love of a good Indian meal, when visiting the city, he could quite easily consume them morning, noon and night. Apparently, a breakfast of cold curry after a night out was quite a treat, not one I was ever convinced to try.

After a city visit we always headed home to Islay with copious amounts of Indian take-aways. The first time I found myself at Glasgow airport security, with a bag laden with curries, I was completely mortified. I stood watching as our curry carry outs went on the conveyor belt, through the large x-ray scanner, where the staff appeared to think nothing of it. They assured me they were used to Hebrideans stocking up on curry carry outs then flying home with them as hand luggage.

Today unfortunately, given the large volume of liquid in a curry, a ‘curry carry out’ would still make it through the scanner, but swiftly get diverted to the ‘yellow hazardous bin’ once it’d passed through scanning. Carry out curries pose a potential security threat to our airlines these days. Given the possibility of severe leakage if a curry travels in a suitcase in the hold, the only way to get them home is via the ferry. Thankfully the days of ‘smuggling’ curries onto the island are no longer necessary as we are now lucky enough to have excellent Indian food on our doorstep.

Ballygrant Inn is our ‘local’. Close to Persabus, food at the Inn is freshly prepared from the finest local ingredients. Alongside the more traditional dishes of lamb shank, steak and venison, they cook a range of delicious spicy curries. Thursdays are ‘curry and a pint’ night. Every couple of months or so there is also an Indian buffet night where a huge feast of various Indian dishes is laid on. Diners can help themselves to as much and as many dishes as they like. It is well worth booking in.

However, when the farmer phoned the other week for a carry out, their ‘curry night’ had been so busy and successful there was not a drop of curry left.  We headed to the Taj Mahal restaurant in Bowmore. We hadn’t been to the Taj Mahal in ages, and with new chefs since our last visit, the curries were an absolute treat. They were delicious.  Last week we even managed to have two Indian take away nights.

After a delicious curry on Friday night we went to ‘The Ditch’ (Also known as  ‘The Lochindaal Hotel’, for those unfamiliar with the local lingo) with friends for a bar supper on Saturday night, only to find it was a ‘Tulsi’ curry night. Tulsi has lived on Islay for quite a few years with his family and every few weeks Tulsi takes over the kitchen at the ‘Ditch’ and cooks an amazing array of authentic Indian dishes. We were faced with a bit of a dilemma; the ‘Ditch’ is also our favourite place for seafood banquets on the island. The Happy Farmer found a compromise, we ate our way through three courses of Tulsi’s amazing cuisine, and the Happy Farmer also managed to sneak in an order for a platter of fresh clams and a bucket of chips as our side dish.

Until next time…

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The wonders of wildlife

 

The Happy Farmer is tearing his hair out, well a few strands of it anyway. He has fallen out with some of the residents. They are trying his patience and he is counting the days until their departure. He says he has never known such messy guests and they aren’t even paying for the Persabus hospitality they are receiving. They ‘root’ through the contents of his shed as if they own the place. I am of course talking about our mating pair of swallows. They have nested in the farm shed, as they do each year. Raising their young, who now swoop and glide among the rafters as the Happy Farmer works away down below. They all seem to consider the Happy Farmer to be part of the fixtures and fittings of the shed and he is quite the source of entertainment to them all. As he works away they fly from beam to beam, sweeping low over his head. Perched up high they watch him from all corners of the shed. Everything below must be covered under plastic sheets, which is the main gripe the Happy Farmer has with these guests.

The farm cats, on the other hand, have been entranced by our visitors. On a regular basis they climb all the way up into the roof, at times venturing ever so close to the nest. They have kept an ever-watchful eye, all summer long, waiting for a chance to pounce. Thankfully the swallows seem to have evaded their advances. The swallows’ days at Persabus are gradually drawing to an end. They will be vacating the shed and neighbouring farmland in the next few weeks to migrate south again for warmer climes.

Autumn is slowly edging its way into the island. The bramble bushes are laden with fruit along the wayside. A new term has started for the island’s schools. The nights are gradually drawing in. They always say the summer ends and autumn begins after the show, and with a week of cooler weather and plenty of rain, it certainly feels as if the seasons are beginning to change again.

Yesterday, as youngest and I drove back from shopping in Bowmore, I had to stop the car for an otter crossing the road. At first, I had mistakenly thought it was a cat, or polecat, but to my surprise we were treated to an otter making its way from the beach, over the road in front of the car, and up and over the drystone dyke. I am often asked by visitors where you can see otters on the island… it would seem otters can make an appearance anywhere especially if there’s water close by.

Until next time….

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The Highland Fling

When a young couple are to be married on Islay it is local tradition to have a ‘blackening’ for the couple. The bride and groom are ‘kidnapped’ by friends and relatives and tied to the back of a trailer. They are then towed through the villages, where buckets of anything rotten and smelly is thrown over the couple, before they are hosed down at the pier. At the weekend there was such an event, as the island prepares for a wedding next Saturday.

Now I know the bride and groom were ‘kidnapped’, but on this occasion it appears, according to the Happy Farmer’s version of events, that he was also ‘kidnapped’. Apparently, he was taken, very reluctantly, completely against his will, to a local Hotel to join in the ‘post blackening celebrations’. His apparent ‘kidnapping’ couldn’t have come at a better time. He has had a busy week of socialising with a whole contingent of farming pals from the mainland, who were over for the annual Islay and Jura Agricultural Show. Post show we have our annual Persabus Farmers’ Dinner, where huge rib roasts appear in the farmhouse kitchen, along with cases of wine, and a feast for 16 or so hungry farmers is on the menu. Celebrations continue with cask visits and tastings the next day. This is followed by an evening in one of the local Hotels, before the early morning ferry takes the farmers across the sea to the Mid Argyll Show in Lochgilphead. The Happy Farmer missed out on the cask tastings. Although, apparently after a mix up, it was the Happy Farmer’s cask the group all got to taste and enjoy. They took great delight in toasting their friend in his absence. They even produced a near empty sample bottle of his whisky to console him later that evening.

The Happy Farmer had hoped to join the motley crew on their trip to the Mid Argyll Show. This was all in the name of farming you understand. However, with a busy day ahead, guests checking in and out on the farm, pottery to be glazed and fired, kilns to be loaded and emptied, sailing away on the ferry became a distant pipe dream. Laundry chores, new calves, and kilns were calling.

At the end of a very busy Saturday and an even busier week, it was with a huge ‘reluctant’, positively beaming smile that the Happy Farmer found himself being bundled into his friend’s car and kidnapped away. He even managed to slip under the radar of the farmer’s wife, who had she been alerted to his predicament, would have called an immediate halt to proceedings and rescued him.  He was incredibly grateful when a few hours into the celebrations the ferryman’s wife called by to give him a lift home, especially when he heard the partying continued well into the ‘wee small hours’ of Sunday morning for some.

The Islay and Jura Agricultural Show takes place on the second Thursday in August each year. It is now in its 172nd year. What an amazing job the current show committee did this year. They appeared to have pulled out all the stops as the field looked amazing and the show ran as smoothly as ever. There was a huge turnout of people as farmers showed their very best livestock. Horses were groomed, having been put through their paces weeks in advance in preparation. Tack polished, riders turned out in their finery, to jump and trot around the show rings. There was baking, crafts, flowers, vegetables and plants. Stalls representing local charities, dog demonstrations, a dog show, agricultural machinery and suppliers’ tents, a parade of vintage tractors and vehicles, bouncy castles, trampolines and even politicians.

We won a beautiful crystal decanter at the show which now takes pride of place on the old dresser, for the best wool. We won it in 1907. Looking at old photos of the sheep on the farm back then they certainly had impressive fleeces. These days the Happy Farmer likes to go to the show as a spectator, but youngest won a first with her wild flowers. Hansel horse has competed on numerous occasions over the years bringing home cups and trophies, but eldest couldn’t make the show this year.

Celebrations continued off the show field and after a huge dinner at the farm we were treated to singing and dancing. I was more than impressed then to see the Highland Fling being performed so well, to Robbie Williams. There really is no end to the talents of these very happy farmers.

Until next time…

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Fruits of the Sea

We have been thoroughly spoilt this past week. Lovely guests, hearty craic and the most amazing local produce.

The Happy Farmer has been on his ‘adopt a tourist’ scheme. Thursday evening saw a gathering of friends grow into a larger party when our lovely guests were able to join us for an absolute banquet of seafood platters at the Lochindaal Hotel. You may have noticed the Happy Farmer turning into a lobster this summer. It may have nothing to do with all of the exceedingly good weather we have enjoyed, months of golden sunshine, but rather to do with the copious amounts of lobster he has been ‘guzzling’. Following his hearty seafood feast on Thursday he was more than delighted when the Jura ferryman called round with a couple of lobster for the pot. The Happy Farmer is a dab hand at cooking the most delicious lobster thermidor, and was rubbing his hands together with glee, those lobster pots in the front field are beginning to pay dividends.

Last Wednesday we were treated to fresh mackerel for lunch, caught in Lochindaal, thanks to Farmer C. A sink full of brown trout greeted us when our taxi dropped us home on Thursday night, thanks to our fantastic neighbour of ‘Fly Fish Islay and Jura’. John provides the ultimate fly-fishing experience for locals and tourists. He takes out individuals and groups, those with no experience and those who have years of experience, on fly fishing expeditions around the islands. I love grilled trout, but the Happy Farmer likes to bake them in a fish kettle with mandarin oranges. You’ll just have to take my word for it, they were delicious.

Last week brought damper weather, which led to an abundance of field mushrooms appearing around the farm. The Happy Farmer arrived back off his latest quad bike ramble with a bowl of fresh mushrooms, simply fried in butter and served on toast they were so tasty.

When the sun decided to peak out once more it was time to harvest the blackcurrants and redcurrants growing abundantly in our garden. Youngest immediately made small pots of berry crumble, adding some of the bilberries she’s been collecting from the hillside. They were delicious, served piping hot, straight from the baking oven of the Aga, and topped with a huge dollop of creamy ice cream.

To top it all the Happy Farmer’s Highland cow finally stopped procrastinating and chose to finally deliver her new calf. Mother and baby greeted a very happy farmer on his early morning rounds, but the Happy Farmer hasn’t been brave enough to take anymore than a fleeting glance, as this wise old girl is known to be fiercely protective and could prove ‘mightily crabbit’ if disturbed at this stage.

Until next time.

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A Dip in the Ocean

The Happy Farmer is being kept on his toes. He has ‘lady’ issues. One of his Highland girls is procrastinating about her ‘calving duties’. On hot days she can be found dipping her hooves in the very boggy ditch to cool off. With her extra heavy gait, there is every chance she may struggle to ease herself out of the ditch, and risk getting completely ‘bogged’. At the best of times this would not be good, but heavily pregnant, there is a risk posed to cow and calf should she start calving in a ditch. Regular checks are called for as the Happy Farmer is wondering how much longer she will hold on for. Several times a day the quad bike goes racing over the hill in the hope that she has safely delivered her calf.
The last of the ‘revellers’ were rounded up this morning and clipped by the farmer and eldest. They had managed to evade ‘sheep shearing round one’, but with the continued hot weather, it was not before time those sheep got their curls trimmed to a very short back and sides. Likewise the Happy Farmer also got a much needed clip. Last week he was beginning to resemble a Potty Professor, especially when the wind swept those remaining locks into a horizontal quiff, this week those locks have been neatly ‘tamed’.
On Sunday we headed along the north east coast out towards Rhuvaal Lighthouse. What a difference a day can make. Saturday saw torrential downpours and floods on the island, by Sunday the sun was bursting out of a huge blue sky.
We headed out along the track and clambered down through the bracken to the pebble coastline. The salty seawater was just too inviting. A glistening turquoise blue. The gentle waves lapping teasingly against the shore. I was of course completely unprepared. Arriving at this beautiful bay without swimming costume or towel, but that is the beauty of Islay’s secluded coastlines. Once the fishing boat had passed, there was just us, the seals and the Oyster Catchers. It isn’t often the Sound of Islay is warm enough for a quick dip, but today I couldn’t resist. With beautiful views of Jura’s wild and rugged coastline, it is a stunning part of the island. A natural spit, stretches out into the sea, providing a perfect little sandy enclave, safe from the deeper tidal waters that rip through the heart of the Sound. Natural arches, a waterfall, a beautiful sandy bay, and just a couple of nosy seals watching on, it is what an island summer is all about.
Heading home, we clambered once more through the bracken, to reach the track, where bilberries were growing among the grasses, allowing for a quick forage. Bursting with flavour, wild bilberries, are nature’s very own treat, especially on such a hot day.
Until next time…

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