The story of the Isle of Harris is intimately tied to the waters which surround us.
Over one hundred miles of coastline connect us to the oceanic waters of the Atlantic and the inner seas of The Minch.
Through the centuries, the sea has given and taken much from this island, and our fortunes have often ebbed and flowed in time with its tides.
An old map hangs in the Storytelling room here at the distillery, made by the surveyor William Bald in 1804 and published by Ballantines of Edinburgh.
You can read the familiar Norse-derived names of local villages quite clearly, hand-scribed and strangely spelt, each one dotted around the edges of the main landmass.
Upon closer inspection, two things quickly become apparent. Firstly, the now uninhabited smaller islands just off our shores are littered with settlements too.
Taransay, just across the waters from Luskentyre, is shown with the three villages of Raa, Uidh, and Paible. Small black marks show the clusters of blackhouses that made up each.
A little further to the south lies Pabbay, a small island that once was home to over one hundred souls, growing corn and barley, as well as making illicit whisky.
Other islands, like Scarp, Ensay, and Killegray, tell a similar story of population and settlement, and the names of every rocky promontory, bay, and inlet are noted too.
The second striking observation is that the map shows rare sign of any roads. Today’s maps will clearly show the single tracks and B-roads which skirt our shoreline, connecting each village in a long, looped ribbon.
But at the turn of the 18th century, the sea formed the highway of choice, and inter-village voyages were made by boat rather than bus.
The small, inner islands, now empty of people, would have been as closely connected to the communities of their larger cousin just across the water as any are today.
Therefore, the sea was an integral part of life here in Harris, and we relied on it in many ways to provide both food and shelter, nourishment, and knowledge.
Winter seaweed or feamainn thiligte, which would be thrown ashore after storms, was very valuable as a fertiliser, spread directly onto crops after washing the salt from its fronds.
Other kinds of seaweed, feamainn chirean, which grew on rocks at the high tide mark, could be boiled to feed local livestock.
There was a bounty of fish to be found in abundance by those brave enough to row their boats from land and set their nets and great lines to catch herring and ling, lobster, mackerel and more.
But, these same seas also took much from the people of Harris in return for its many blessings.
From the lives lost to its tempests and storms, to the allure of new lives to be found far over the horizon, where lands like America, Canada, and New Zealand sang like sirens with promises of better fortunes.
Over the coming months, we’ll be exploring our intrinsic ties to the sea, learning more about the maritime nature of Harris, which has in turn inspired the Isle of Harris Gin.
From people and places, to seaweed and seafood, there is a wealth of stories to uncover above and below the waves.
We hope the coming tales will help deepen your connection to the Sugar kelp infused drink you know and love, an island spirit that’s truly from the sea.