Lockdown at the Sheep Fank

With the lockdown continuing I was abruptly pulled out of my self-imposed happy ‘farming retirement’ at the weekend. Years ago, I had sensibly managed to ease my way out, as quickly as humanly possible, from most tasks that had any inkling of being associated with the word ‘farming’. Lambing duties and feeding pet lambs their bottles were the only farm jobs I had managed to retain. That and the odd farming duty of standing beside various gates, or acting as a ‘roadblock’, as and when required, at times of gatherings, to encourage and make sure the sheep were heading in the right direction. My fear of cows (the ones that inquisitively eye you up and down before getting ever so much closer), bulls (after one decided to join me on a jog one day), tups (the ones that think you are about to feed them and follow at your heel head butting your knees), cockerels (that chase you up the road), pigs (yes they have chased me too), quad bikes on rough ground and of course, over friendly horses may well have had some influence in convincing the Happy Farmer that I was, next to useless, when it came to participating in any farming adventures at Persabus.

On Saturday however, with social distancing in place the Happy Farmer had no option but to invite me back to the sheep fank to continue my initiation into the world of farming. An initiation spanning the last thirty years or so. Luckily for me the rest of the clan just happen to be at home too, so when several pairs of hands were needed to help at the sheep fank to mark this year’s spring lambs I was able for the most part to stand and ‘observe’, and only had to lift the lightest and youngest of lambs onto the upturned barrel for their ‘pampering’ session from the farmer. Only youngest managed to slip out of the farming duties with a ‘no show’ at the sheep fank. She was too busy working on a bee design as part of the #mcqueencreators project, which excitedly got shared onto the Alexander McQueen’s Instagram page, but that is another story. For the rest of us we had lots of laughs and fun in the hot sunshine helping the Happy Farmer as he worked with the flock dosing, counting and sorting the lambs, before we all led them happily back to the fields with their mothers.

Now thirsty work on a hot day calls for thirsty measures. Thankfully, Islay Ales stepped in with fabulous refreshments. On Friday afternoon I had been completely taken a back when a masked man, complete with dark shades, and gloves, walked into the farmyard carrying a large flagon of Ale and left it at our doorstep. It was like something straight out of the Man from Milk Tray chocolate adverts. A sign of the times during lockdown, as masks and gloves are necessary armour in the fight against the spread of Covid -19, but it is still quite a bizarre sight to see in our tiny corner of the world, especially when the Happy Farmer had not breathed a word of his little arrangement. The Ferryman’s daughter had given him the tip that, never mind deliveries of milk, the way forward is weekly deliveries of great beer to your doorstep here on Islay. Later then, one incredibly Happy Farmer proudly pulled his chilled flagon from the fridge to enjoy in the sunshine after a busy afternoon marking lambs.

Today’s delivery to our doorstep…. a lobster and crab claws, straight from the sea, courtesy of the Ferryman.

It might be quiet on the farm during the lockdown, but the island has a way of making you feel very cared for and certainly not forgotten.

Stay safe.

Until next time…

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Sprouting Times

Tarzan style cries have been yodelling across the yard as the Happy Farmer has taken on the last remaining wilderness at Persabus. This week has seen him wrestling his way through a thick jungle of undergrowth within the four walls of the original old stone barn. Sky high fuchsia bushes, with thick, woody, broad roots anchored around old stone slabs and concrete troughs. Nettles of monumental proportions, their tendrils wrapped firmly around discarded ‘treasures’ of bygone times.
Tractor and ropes at the ready, it has not been a job for the faint-hearted, but the transformation has been the start of another exciting journey for us at Persabus. The last of the old stone byres in the yard and the atmosphere in those stone walls just grabs you. Already we can feel the energy of the dances and partying to come in our whisky barn, as we look to celebrate in true Persabus style, once the hard work has cleared the way and new life is breathed back into this gorgeous space.
As the Happy Farmer toiled away all week, his hat was glued firmly on his head. Just as plants began to sprout in his vegetable patch, there was apparently a lot of ‘sprouting’ going on under that cap of his too. Please do not try putting ‘miracle grow’ under your own cap, but please do scroll down for a bit of the Happy Farmer’s wonderful sense of humour and enjoy his sporty new lockdown hairstyle. It will not just be the Persabus sheep getting sheared this summer if this new growth continues. As one jungle is cut down another appears from under his cap.
At the farmhouse door, manoeuvring my way through the assault course of wellies lying idly discarded in an unkempt pile and the family are all well and truly home, managing to all get here safely just before the lockdown came. Whilst they may have grown up in years old habits die hard, and for once it is an absolute pleasure to have their trail of boots and various debris scattered around the hall, spilling over the doorstep. It is a sign of happy times amidst the madness. It is not often we are all together at home these days and whilst everyone is working in their own little ‘zone’ online during the day, it is also a time for gathering around the farmhouse kitchen table and enjoying hearty meals and good craic as everyone mucks in. Delicious food arriving on the table each night as there is no shortage of cooks, and in youngest’s case, fantastic baking has been flowing from the Aga, with peanut butter brownies that simply melt in the mouth, then there’s the Happy Farmer’s contribution of pancakes at morning coffee time. Suddenly food is indeed incredibly comforting.
For my part it has also been a week of madly battling with the weeds under blue skies as I’ve sweated it out in scorching hot sunshine. A mad, frantic tussle, discovering muscles I never knew existed as I have wrestled to get the flower beds tweaked, tidied and into some form of order before the rain comes. Happy childhood memories springing to mind as I remember travelling home through the welsh valleys on a scorching hot day in my grandparents’ car. My glamorous grandmother sat in the front seat, with her beautiful jewellery and manicured nails, in a lovely frock, lamenting. My grandfather sat behind the steering wheel, a huge satisfied grin on his face. Every window open wide as the strong smell of horse manure filled the car. Holidays in Wales gave my grandfather the perfect opportunity to fill his car boot. In his eyes it was worth a scalding from my gran, knowing his roses would thrive beautifully all summer long. This week I too was gathering the horse manure from the fields in the gorgeously hot sunshine to feed the Persabus roses. I am finding gardening is my way of trying to live with all that is happening in the world around me. Something I have slight control over when I find myself in a world that feels out of control. As we face uncertainty everywhere and live in a strange, isolated bubble.

Lengthy walks along the coast as the sun sets. The Sound of Islay like a mill pond. Seals bobbing up to the surface to play. Eider ducks dancing along the shoreline. A graceful swan sleeping on her nest. The male swan keeping a watchful caring eye over his sleeping beauty as she nurtures their eggs. Life goes on.
Social distancing continues. Archie bread delivered supplies to the farm. A much-needed link between the mainland and our tiny island. We are grateful to the people who continue to operate essential services bringing supplies as safely as possible to our vulnerable community. The Happy Farmer seated on a large rock on one side of the road, whilst Archie perched on a rock on the other side, and the two were able to catch up on all that is happening in this crazy world.
We miss you all. Stay safe.
Until next time…

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Curve Balls and Creativity

With everything in ‘lockdown’, the pace of life has changed and slowed. We are flowing on a completely different frequency here at Persabus as we continue forward into unknown territory.
Usually April sees us flying at full speed ahead into a busy season. All the different areas of our lives suddenly becoming a tactical juggling act as we welcome lots of lovely people to the farm. Here to enjoy all this beautiful island has to offer.
The ‘bucket and spade’ families. Arriving with cars brimming with excited youngsters. A dog or two in tow, long furry ears blowing in the wind, as they fight to get their noses out of the back window. Excited chatter, everyone eager to abandon the heat of the car. Roof boxes are emptied as the entire contents of a week of family living is transported into the cottages.
The parties of whisky visitors, each with their own favourite dram, about to embark on longed for pilgrimages to the very grass roots of the whisky journey. Checking in at the beautifully scenic and historic buildings that encapsulate the story of Islay’s whisky through the generations. Ready to sample the aged malts, after breathing in the heady scent emanating from the stills. Enjoying the unique tours, tastings and hospitality. A trip like no other, as the character of these distilleries envelopes them in a hearty warm island welcome.
The couples who arrive on the farm ready to escape from the pressures of city living. Here to get away from it all. To breathe in the fresh air, enjoy the silence, and at the end of the day the colourful sunsets that fade into bright, inky, starlit night skies. An island that offers the freedom to run for miles along deserted sand. To clamber up those hillocky, heather clad hills, enjoying stunning panoramic views inland and then out across the deep blue of the seas and oceans beyond. To wander through the peaty bog land, enjoying all of nature’s treasures as rare and beautiful breeds of birdlife can be enjoyed in their natural habitat. Where deer and mountain goats roam freely, eagles soar high above, before taking a sudden dive to catch their prey.
The cyclists who arrive windswept and rosy cheeked, smiling after a day of cycling across the many twisting windy roads that link all the island’s tiny fishing and distillery villages. Ready for a warming cup of tea and a fresh home baked scone from the pottery before heading for a soothing shower. In the evening a platter of locally caught seafood with a glass of chilled wine. A warming Islay malt whisky before bedtime. Cheeks burning from a day of outdoor living.
The lone travellers, enjoying their own peace and space. Time to read and write and just soak up all that the island has to offer and then those heart-warming elderly couples revisiting an island they honeymooned on once upon a time. Catching up with the locals. Reconnecting and reviving their faded memories of an island holding so many special treasured memories for them.
In April we are usually powering full steam ahead, with breakfasts rolling out of the Aga as itineraries are negotiated and planned. Cheeky drams are nosed and tasted. Distillery visits organised, along with suggested beach and hill walks, as necessary cake and café pitstops are recommended. It is a time of connecting and communicating, in between the lambing rounds.
Life has thrown us all a huge curve ball this year. So many lives affected, all in different ways. We count our blessings, but we are missing you all.
For my part, the old hiking boots have been revived. The ones with the chewed-up laces and dried out leather as I have taken to really exploring and making the most of our beautiful surroundings. Really savouring the little moments. It has been a week of walking and creativity, as, without social contact, we feel strangely disconnected to the world beyond.
A walk across the farm path to Caol ila, cutting through the distillery, and onto the pebble beach. The old fishermans’ huts gradually disintegrating as they took a huge battering from the wild winter storms. Nature’s art gallery opened before us. Brightly coloured stones, each with their own vibrant patterns and identity. A huge cerise starfish. Old metal engulfed in seaweed making for interesting sculptures. The turquoise and sap greens of the lichen patterns across the rocks.
We even persuaded the Happy Farmer to join us on a hike out the hill. Small dram measures along with little sample bottles, tucked away in our pockets. Allowing for a ‘wee nip’ to warm our hearts against the cold wind blowing across the sunny landscape.
It is these little moments that we need to savour just now. These little moments that feed the creative spirit as much later the paint brush dabbled into a myriad of watercolours and translated into art as the brush swept across the paper.
Until next time…

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Nesting Times

The Happy Farmer has had a challenging mission. Apparently, our son was keeping a few birds tucked in behind one of the upstairs walls. Those birds were keeping him awake at all hours of the night. At this point I must hasten to add these birds are of the feathered variety.
They make their appearance at Persabus each spring. Usually they manage to win the race against the Happy Farmer and get their nest built, tucked in securely behind the eaves at the top of the wall head, before he can get near. A nest all neatly prepared and cosily made, with a large helping of fluffy sheep’s wool, before being laden with tiny eggs. Of course, once the nest is built the Happy Farmer’s mission must be abandoned. Each year it gets incredibly noisy once those eggs have hatched and the nests are filled with hungry chicks cheeping for food. Each year the Happy Farmer promises to catch them earlier next spring.
This year then, with no guests and more time, the Happy Farmer was well ahead of the game. As soon as those birds made their presence felt, with lots of commotion, as they happily chirruped with excitement to be back home at their old nesting spot, and the Happy Farmer was on to them. Ladder poised against the wall, the Happy Farmer hoisted himself up those rungs, high into the air. It was a job for the cement mixer as the eaves were carefully blocked off long before any nest building had begun.
I did suggest we leave a bird box instead for those mating pairs, but the Happy Farmer pointed out that there are many nooks and crannies, in the various old stone walls of the steadings around the farm. Persabus provides more than ample nesting opportunities for those birds, as each year we welcome a whole variety of feathered guests to enjoy the various buildings on the farm. Just now the whole place is alive and buzzing with excited chatter as birds can be seen gleefully and busily flying back and forth. Beaks brimming with twigs and wool, as they disappear into cracks in the old stone walls build high above. The prying eyes of the farmhouse cats, watching their every move, skulking around at the ready. Nests built just in time for the cuckoo, who is no doubt on her way, making the long journey across to Islay, ready to lay her eggs in the freshly prepared nests in May.
I hope you all had a good egg hunt this Easter. Made beautiful art on those hard-boiled eggs and enjoyed rolling them down the hills.
Happy Easter from all of us at Persabus. Hopefully next April the farm will also be buzzing with guests to the farmhouse and cottages and visitors to the Pottery. This Easter we thank you for choosing to stay safe, to stay home, to protect the community and yourselves.
Until next time…

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The Happy Farmer Communicates

It has been a mixed bag this week. My head in a complete fuddle. Dry, clear, wild and windy days allowing for gardening projects, cleaning programmes, pottery sessions, interspersed with daily walks and runs. Then the hard slap in the face of reality when the national news creeps into the living room.
Here the community is strong and caring. An army of volunteers have emerged, covering all corners of the island, working hard, looking after the most vulnerable. They do the shopping trips and deliver the goods safely to peoples’ doors, they collect medicines and keep an important connection going. Being there at the end of the phone, making sure no one is left out or alone in these difficult times. An Islay Resillience Fund has been set up to help support the team and our community at this time. You can read about their work and donate here.
Locally at the Ballygrant Inn David and Ewan have turned their kitchen and resources into providing hot lunches for the older members of our community, delivering them to their homes. Our smaller stores, such as Bridgend, are doing all they can to take orders, pack shopping and allow social distancing for those who need it. Everyone is thinking of new ways to work and support the community.
Our Islay Medical Services team provide caring, regular updates online. The calm of knowing the whole contingent are in the background working so hard behind the scenes to make sure we get through this crisis as safely and healthily as possible.
The people of Islay, all doing their bit to socially isolate and distance from each other, whilst all connecting online in one big virtual hug of loveliness.
In the pottery and on the farm, I have been humbled by all the lovely friends from across the country and round the world who have taken the time to get in touch, to offer their support. The gentleman who decided to cancel his Airbnb booking, choosing not to state because of Covid 19, but for other reasons, those reasons being so he could make sure we got a good cancellation pay-out to help us at a time when our business has had to temporarily close. The pottery customers who have placed orders, but are happy to wait for delivery until the crisis is over and we can once again head out to the post office. The emails and phone calls from guests and customers just wanting to check in with us and Islay and know that we as a family and a community are all fine, from countries that are suffering horrendously in the current climate, but whose people are still reaching out to touch base with Islay. It is indeed a small world.
I am managing to contain the Happy Farmer, keeping him socially isolated. He is, however, rest assured, staying abreast of current affairs in the community. His mobile phone is red hot as he works his way through his daily ‘to call’ list. Top of the list today was his friend the Ferryman. With the ferries providing an essential lifeline service between the islands, the Happy Farmer knows his good friend will be an entertaining source of local information. Not that the Happy Farmer’s nosey you understand, he apparently just has a very healthy interest in his community’s welfare.
The past week then has seen the Happy Farmer learn a whole range of new levels to communicate. At its most basic, he was seen hanging halfway out of the upstairs window of the farmhouse, chatting loudly. Trying hard to observe the two-metre social distancing rule, this technique allows him to safely catch up with anyone who happens to be passing by with deliveries.
Next, I saw him bent over talking to a fence post. At this point I did begin to worry that things were starting to get to him. On closer inspection however, it appeared that his mobile phone was precariously balanced on top of the post, and he was in fact deep in conversation with his brother.
The Happy Farmer has never ventured into the world of social media and believe me it is a unanimous decision among the whole clan that we should try and maintain it this way. That said earlier in the week he was allowed a very quick glimpse of the online world. With his fabulous cousin isolating in the borders last week’s video clip was too good not to share. A fabulous dance routine of said cousin ‘shaking his bootie’ to ‘American Pie’ to celebrate his wife’s big birthday (Happy Birthday Fiona x). It’s these small touches that make our world a smiling one. If his cousin happens to find himself reading this blog, please note, we are already awaiting the next instalment of his ‘online kitchen boogie woogie’.
The weekend at Persabus brought a whole contingent of cousins and family into the sitting room, via a computer screen of course, when the world of group video calls appeared in the Happy Farmer’s life. Seeing those Persabus Hippies, all socially isolating in their homes, large glasses in hand, coming together via a computer screen, was an absolute hoot and the promise of entertaining weekends to come.
So my friends, although we may be socially isolating away in the Hebrides, rest assured, with the wonders of technology, and the fabulous fast Wi-Fi connection we enjoy on the farm, communication is thriving in many new ways as the Happy Farmer continues the party.
We miss you all. We hope it will not be too long before we get to see you all again in person, but in the meantime, take good care and do stay in touch.
Until next time…

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Little Moments

Yesterday was a day for lacing up the hiking boots, packing a flask of tea and a picnic, and heading out across the hills to explore Islay’s north coast. With huge blousy blue skies, the hills and the sea were calling. Eldest, announced, rather last minute, that she was heading off on this epic hike and threw in the option that if I was quick, I could accompany her. I didn’t need persuading. Everything was thrown together in haste and before I knew it, we were literally heading for the hills. Social isolation at its very best. The Happy Farmer of course opted for plan B. Someone needed to stay home and prepare the roast apparently. In his defence, he did walk out much later to meet us, and did cook up the tastiest venison dinner for our return.
To reach Islay’s north coast involves a jolly good hike. It is only accessible on foot, except if you are a shepherd or gamekeeper and have access to a quad bike or Argocat. Or if you happen to have a large boat handy, but that would spoil the fun, unless of course you’re the Happy Farmer, who thinks these modes of transport make far more sense. In bygone days, at clipping time, the Happy Farmer’s father and grandfather would head off from Persabus at four in the morning, and walk all the way across to Bholsa, this being even further along the headland from where we walked. They would spend a day with their fellow farmers shearing the sheep. Clipping would start early and at the end of the day those hardy men would walk all the way home to Persabus once more. The Happy Farmer says “those were the days when men were men and sheep were scared”.
Persabus provides an excellent starting point for these explorations. With its perfect location on the north west of Islay, the single-track road handily leads through the farm heading onwards to Ardnahoe Distillery and then Bunnahabhain Distillery. Here the road ends and the footwork commences. For the exceptionally hardy, the trek starts from Persabus. Under normal circumstances this has the added bonus of allowing for a dram stop at each distillery along the way, and maybe, another one or two on the way home as well.
Yesterday the sun was shining brightly, and the sea and the skies were such a perfect deep blue. There was a gentle cool breeze, and that gorgeous refreshing salty sea air, that just envelopes itself around you in a great big hug. A moment of calm, the perfect tonic.
The walk out across the headland in dry weather is easy underfoot. A well-worn quad bike track to follow with just a few burns and the odd peaty bog to circumnavigate. For company just the seals and the deer, with an odd lizard wriggling hurriedly through the heather, enjoying the burst of spring sunshine. The track stops at the lighthouse, and the terrain beyond is more challenging, but with a good set of boots to protect the ankles, the true treasures of this rugged landscape reveal themselves and the extra effort adds to the adventure. Dramatic cliffs surround white sandy beaches, laced with craggy rocks and caves, worn by the almighty seas and storms over time. There was a lot of clambering, and tough uphill hiking, followed by scrambles down the gullies. Finally, the reward of sitting on a deserted beach, a warm mug of tea to hand, listening to the gentle lapping of the waves washing over the shoreline, and life just doesn’t get much better.
Much later, rosy faces, tingling with wind burn, a lovely glass of red wine, a candle lit roast dinner, the fire roaring, and you realise it is the little moments that really count.
Take care and stay safe.
Until next time…

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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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