Living in the Isle of Harris, you’re never very far from the sea. If you can’t see it, chances are you’ll still hear it, crashing loudly on nearby sands, or catch the breeze-borne scent of its salty breath.
In many ways it defines us, surrounding our scattered communities and providing a source of food and finance for generations of Hearaich past and present.
Our connection to the ocean can be seen everywhere, in the green crab creels piled high by the roadside, and the old boats, both big and small, which bob in village harbours or stand in driveways, in various states of disrepair.
Alexander Hume’s map of Harris in 1864 is testament to our ties to these wild waters, with few roads to be seen as people travelled from village to village by the sea lanes and floating vessel, rather than four-wheeled vehicle.
Even today, we rely on good weather and a safe crossing to keep our local shops supplied, store cupboards stocked, and even the spirit flowing from our distillery in Tarbert.
The sailing ships of Caledonian MacBrayne have long provided an essential lifeline between our island and its nearest neighbours. Skye lies some 30 miles across the waves from us, and it’s another 50 miles from there to the mainland.
The stretch of rough sea which separates us from big cities (and so-called civilisation!) is known as The Minch, or once upon a time Skotlandsfjörð, Scotland’s Fjord, by the Vikings.
It can be a perilous strait to sail, particularly in Winter when the winds of a strong south-westerly rises to gale force. Most seasoned islanders have at least one grim tale of taking a truly green-around-the-gills trip in this challenging season.
And then there’s the Blue Men Of The Minch, or Na Fir Ghorma in Gaelic, to contend with, the mythical monsters who inhabit those deeps, seeking sailors to drown and stricken ships to sink.
But, it’s across these waters that every drop Isle of Harris Gin must go, as they begin the long journey from our Outer Hebridean shores to doors across the UK and beyond.
We’re grateful for the hard work of those who make up the ferry crews which help us bring our beautiful bottles safely across this briny barrier between us and our further-flung customers.
It’s thanks to skilled skippers like Lewis Mackenzie, captain of the MV Loch Seaforth, that we’re able to deliver orders over such a distance in just a few short working days.
But at this time of year, even Lewis can’t stop the storms which sweep in from the Atlantic, slowing things down and keeping ships stuck in harbour, waiting out the high winds and waves.
This year we once again encourage all who wish to send a gift from the Isle of Harris Distillery to any good girls and boys to get their festive orders in to us early.
The last date for guaranteed delivery this Christmas is Wednesday 16th of December, so to avoid any disappointment please don’t miss the boat!