Immerse yourself in an Islay Winter

A Walk On the Wild Side

As the last of the sun’s rays cast their shadows

Hikes across the boggy coastline, as the burns boil and bubble, and out on the hill a shepherd, and three eager dogs, work hard to round up the sheep from the headland.

The flock make their gradual descent over the hills in formation. Neat single files of white lines cascade down the hillside, forming circles across the land, meeting once again at the base. A steady stream, making their way from the hill-top and beyond, towards the burn, in neat formation.

Sheepdogs lie close to the ground

Noses poised, ears pinned back awaiting commands, eyes glued on the flock, before darting at speed, to round up any ‘meanderers’. It is a skilful dance as shepherd, dogs, and sheep all perform this timeless routine.

Away from the gathering, a defiant ewe

Oozing with attitude, stands, staring at us. Two ‘foot soldiers’ at her side, jaws chewing determinedly at the cud. Beady eyes glaring at us for daring to be on her territory, daring to be making an approach, whilst she susses out if we are part of the sheep gathering committee.

As we venture further towards the coast, a couple of raggedy sheep take to their heels, flying off, away into the distance, their long tails wagging behind them. Their hanging fleeces and crooked horns, depict a tale of complete abstinence from the shepherd’s regular and necessary ‘gathering routines’. This pair have opted to go ‘feral’, skilfully taking advantage of the huge expanse of land, with its gullys and caves, providing ample and sufficient hiding spots.

As the rocky crags give way to shoreline,

we stumble upon a further illicit gathering

A few more cheeky sheep, hidden from the shepherd’s view in the distance. A smiling, gleeful, ‘breakaway’ contingent, happily munching on the rich pickings.

Enjoying a private party to themselves

appearing to view us as the uninvited guests. You can see their expressions change, wondering if they need to break up the gathering, as we gingerly make our approach down the hillside. The rest of their flock will be neatly gathered by now, beyond the burn and through the gate. Know that by morning curiosity will probably have got the better of these nosey sheep, leading the defiant rebels to finally make their own way across the burn to that gate. They will be stood waiting impatiently, bleating through the bars, annoyed at being separated from their flock, when the shepherd arrives in the morning. They will be indignant, wondering why on earth he had not thought to leave the gate open for late arrivals.

As February draws to a close

we are immersed in the depths of an Islay winter. Heavy hailstorms and wild gales, dramatic flashes of lightning and rumbles of thunder, followed by huge blue skies and sunshine when those winds retreat to a whisper. Four seasons are served up in an hour, never mind a day, leading to spectacular colours in those skies and light shows across the landscapes.

The crisp brightness of waking to a blanket of snow

across the fields. Just the tiny patterns from early morning birds to mark the path. Dramatic storm clouds frame the seas as the ferry makes her way up and then down the Sound of Islay. It is bitterly cold and stunningly beautiful.

The winter spirit of the Hebrides

is encapsulated in these wild storms, as the waves dance in tune to the winds, creating spectacular patterns. As huge and angry seas sweep across deserted beaches, revealing a colourful palette of greens, blues, and turquoises, and every shade between. Deep blue skies, filled with rainbows and racing billowing white clouds, light up the landscape.

It is a time for wrapping up and immersing yourself in the beauty of stormy wild weather. Battling against the sheer force of gusty winds. Enjoying the salty sea spray whipped up from the surface of the waves, nature’s very own ‘spa therapy’, before toasting those toes, and sitting rosy cheeked in front of the cosy glow of a roaring fire, with the necessary dram of Islay malt whisky to ‘warm the cockles’.

Which Islay malt will you choose to celebrate your ‘Islay time’ I wonder?

Until next time…

A fast flowing burn
Waterfall
Sheep on top of silage bale
The snowy Paps of Jura
Girl feeding sheep in the snow
Persabus Cottages in the snow
dram measure on the rocks
Sunset across the sea