Islay Blog: Valentine’s Day

The Hebrides have a certain ‘pull’. A uniqueness and energy that is both powerful and special. The wild and rugged landscape coupled with the friendly hospitality of the people and strong community spirit make these islands very special indeed.  

Our guests on the farm and visitors to the pottery are always intrigued as to how I came to live on Islay. Hold tight, it’s Valentine’s Day. Today’s blog is a happy, romantic tale.

It begins at the north tip of the Isle of Jura, where the force of the tides meet in the narrow strait between Jura and Scarba. Here is the dramatic Corryvreckan whirlpool. It is the world’s third largest whirlpool.

A visit to the Corryvreckan whirlpool was on my bucket list since I first heard of it as a young seven-year-old. My opportunity came when years later, whilst studying in London, I heard my brother and a group of friends were planning a ‘backpacking’ holiday, walking from Feolin to the north of Jura. I suddenly found myself with walking boots and a very heavy backpack up in Scotland and on the ferry heading for Jura.

After a few days of walking we reached the gulf of the Corryvreckan on a calm, sunny, evening. I sat on a bed of heather, looking out across the eddies of the whirlpool, with an army of deer ticks making their way up my walking socks. After the ‘concrete jungle’ of London, having sat on Hampstead Heath only a week before, looking at the chimney pots stretching for miles across the horizon, the views out across the sea to Scarba and the Garvellach islands were breath taking. It was such a sharp contrast, coming from a crowded city to such a huge open expanse. The wild, natural and rugged openess of the landscape of Jura is something I will never forget. The sheer beauty of this unspoilt land pulled me back for several more walking and camping adventures. Memories of sitting watching the Corryvreckan from my ‘heather bed’ later inspired my ‘Corryvreckan range’ of Persabus pottery.

Over the next couple of years, I spent several holidays backpacking around the Isle of Jura. The nearest croft was often a good couple of days walk away. The north west coastline is both remote and wild. The ground is so rough it can be quite a challenge to even find a spot to pitch a tent. It is a magical land though, with huge caves, ideal for an open fire and a dram before crawling into your sleeping bag for a night’s sleep. Sleep comes easily as every muscle in your body is aching with exhaustion from carrying a heavy backpack through the rough terrain. A group of seals would accompany us on our expeditions, curiously following our every move from the sea. The deer kept a watchful eye from a far, tracking each day’s progress. Mountain goats roamed freely on the hills. We had to pick our way carefully along the raised beaches, treading with caution, as the birds nest freely in the wild, boggy ground around the shoreline.

On one such trip from London to Jura we had booked the local bus to drop us at the end of the road so we could begin our walking expedition. However, there was a last-minute change of plan. We had learnt on the ferry over that there was to be a ceilidh that evening in the village hall to celebrate the Jura Fells race. The Jura Fells Race is an annual event; people arrive on the island from all over to run up the Paps of Jura. We didn’t really make plans to go to the ceilidh, but the islanders ferried us there and would not take no for an answer. With our tent pitched, we headed to the Jura Hotel and found ourselves in the middle of a huge gathering. The island was buzzing. Runners were arriving back from the race. There were campers everywhere. The bar spilled out onto the single-track road with a carnival atmosphere. The yachts moored in the bay, had their tenders filled, ferrying people across to the village. We popped to get food, and then the Happy Farmer made his appearance in true ‘Happy Farmer style’. Without an introduction, one minute I was stood waiting on a drink, the next my feet were swept from under me when, within no time at all, the Happy Farmer had grabbed me by the knees, ‘wheeked’ me over his shoulder and made for a quick getaway.

That was my introduction to the man I have spent the last thirty years of my life with. I did of course take a lot more convincing, but an evening of being swirled around the dance floor at a traditional ceilidh was a very good start.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Until next time…

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Donald and Rosemary
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