Islay Blog: Old Sandy Wilson

A huge winter sun has been beaming in the sky over the past week. A snowy landscape. The most colourful of sunrises. Such a welcome start to each day. Then at sunset, pink and purple hues tinge the hills as the sun fades away into the winter skies. Dusk quickly gives way to darkness and the ethereal dancing light shows begin. The night skies are lit up and we are treated to the amazing delights of the Aurora Borealis. We have been truly spoilt. Our American guests were not disappointed and have left with promises to return again to our island shores very soon.

It has been bitterly cold. Calling for lots of extra layers. Wrapped up with cosy scarves, hats and gloves we have been out and about enjoying exploring the hills and deserted beaches. Walking along the coastline from Bunnahabhain towards Rhuvaal was incredibly boggy. We got caught in the heaviest downpour, but those colours and views made it all worthwhile. Home to a hearty casserole and the warmth of the farmhouse envelopes you. Rosy cheeks and tingling toes are what an island winter is all about.

My winter ‘adventures’ have been inspiring my work in the pottery. New ranges have been emerging as the colourful landscape feeds creativity. The ‘Winter Sound’ and ‘Ocean Swirls’ ranges are based on the colours and energy of Islay’s winter seascape. Flowers have been blooming in the pottery too. With the promise of spring just around the corner, the ‘Persabus Fuchsia’ and the ‘Jessie May Bluebells’ ranges have evolved, inspired by the beautiful blooms we will be treated to as the winter months give way to an island spring. The farmland and woodland will soon be carpeted in a sea of blue when the bluebells come into bloom. The hardy fuchsia bushes that line the hedgerows of the farm were planted by the Happy Farmer’s late grandmother and provide colourful blooms all spring and summer long.

On the farm the animals have all needed extra supplies in the cold weather. The Happy Farmer has been out and about leaving extra helpings of cake, sugar beet and silage to make sure they all have plenty of feed to keep them strong in the harsh wintry conditions. Troughs of fresh water have been delivered to the various fields as the burn had frozen over in the icy weather. Horses hooves have been picked and coated with Vaseline to help prevent them becoming impacted with snow.

With daylight hours stretching I have had time to enjoy extra dog walks out the hill, along the farm track, after the pottery has closed for the day.

The track leads you out to Laoigan. Out to the ruins of old Sandy’s ‘but and ben’. Sandy and his ‘wee dug’ Queenie, were part of the Happy Farmer’s childhood. Sandy was born on Persabus and spent his life on Persabus, apart from when he was away fighting in the war, having joined the Royal Navy at fourteen. I am always in awe of the story of Sandys’ mother giving birth to him behind a corn stack in the front field on the farm. She had been out helping as they were ‘stooking’ the corn. Having given birth she headed home over the hill, with her new born baby, and was out at Finlaggan peat moss later that afternoon filling her basket of peat for the fire. How times have changed.

The small but and ben out at Laoigan was built for Sandy’s family after one of Sandy’s forebears had saved the life of dignitary in the Battle of Corunna. A small house was built years later for Sandy’s family as a thank you gift. The house was called Corunna Cottage, after the battle of Corunna. Today all that remains are the four walls and the old fireplace. The Happy Farmer’s brother and friend picked and pointed the walls of the ‘but and ben’ with cement to preserve them. A burn trickles past, which would have been their water source, and the old road, now overgrown, runs past at the front.

A little further away and we come to the old ruins of what was once a school on the farm. Heaps of rock and stone, you can still make out the rooms, but as old walls gradually collapse into the ground, nature is reclaiming the landscape once more. In the stillness and quiet of dusk it is hard to believe a whole community of people lived and worked out on these hills in days gone by. Just mounds of old slabs of stone and rock remain, as with the passing of time, the walls have crumbled.

Until next time….

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