These crazy COVID times have meant that almost every Journal story this year has come from my Outer Hebridean home here on the tiny Isle of Scalpay.
A beautiful wee island, connected to Harris by a single bridge, and with a population of fewer than 200 souls, there are worse places in the world to ride out the storm.
Spending so much time in one place has its ups and downs, but the chance to tune into the natural rhythms of the land, and the life it holds, is one which I’m always happy to take.
A month or so ago, all the signs of a new season were there. The wildflowers had wilted away and the disappearance of purple heather bells soon turned the landscape into a sea of tobacco browns.
The hard ferns have faded, and there’s no bog cotton left to bob in the breeze. But life returns anew, with small grey seal pups littering the hidden shore behind the house, bravely facing the challenges of wild weather.
And, perhaps the surest sign of nature’s ongoing cycle is the sighting of the nearby croft’s tup (or ram) finding himself free from his tether and let loose among his winsome, woolen harem once more.
This annual outing, unfettered as we are by strict fencing, sometimes leads to seeing some x-rated ovine scenes while sitting here at the desk. But, he seems happy enough to perform, with or without a voyeur.
His brisket is painted in a bright, sticky, blue balm of oil and paint, and already many of the ewes bear his mark on their backs. The more marks made, the more chance of new lambs come spring next year.
With the clocks turned back and the short, dark days upon us, the crofting year comes full circle, but for us folk without flocks, it’s the lighting of fires which confirm the seasonal turn.
Whether using traditional peat, clean coal, or other new-fangled forms of fuel, there’s nothing quite like a good blaze on these damp, grey, blustery days.
And, although our own distillery fire remains unlit as we wind down for the quieter winter months, and relocate our Shop to the smaller Canteen space, a warm welcome always awaits from Shona and Sandy.
But, we’re busier than ever behind the scenes as we continue to make both spirit for whisky and fill thousands of beautiful bottles of Isle of Harris Gin to share far and wide.
Thanks to the efforts of distillers and dispatchers, delivery drivers and ferry crews, we’re swiftly shipping glassware and gift sets across the UK, and beyond, to reach our customers in good time.
For obvious reasons, this year will end in a very different way from the last one, and sometimes it might feel like there’s more dark than light, cold than warm, wind than calm.
But, there’s always much to be grateful for and good reasons to celebrate, even if it’s just the small things in life. So, in these most different of days, let’s count our blessings and simply drink to that!
If you’d like to bring some of our island to the doors of friends and family this coming season, don’t miss the boat and just remember to place your order by the 16th of December.