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Midsummer Madness

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Hushinish, Isle of Harris in summer © Mairi N Mackenzie

The estival solstice snuck up on us suddenly last Saturday, the days rushing by since the distillery closed its doors to the public over 3 months ago.

The normal flow of time feels disturbed by the strangeness of lockdown life, but there’s no mistaking that the seasons have turned and Harris is now enjoying a natural bounty that only summer brings.

It’s the machair which often grabs the most glory at this time of year, a beautiful but fragile swathe of land which lies along our western coastline.

Here, the fine sands of Seilebost and Scarista give way to a gentle grassland now erupting in waves of wildflowers.

Midnight light at Seilebost, Isle of Harris © Peter Kwasniewski

This rare habitat brings forth trefoils and orchids, harebell and clover. Their fragrant riot of colour enticing bumblebees and other insect-life, which in turn draw birds like the lapwing, corncrake and plover.

Out at sea, a keen eye may spy the great behemoth of the basking shark, lazily gulping down abundant plankton in the warming waters. Jellyfish of all size and colour drift in on the tides, often washing up on our shores, a strange and stinging organic flotsam.

The long run of good weather recently allowed us to be anns a mhonadh or ‘in the peats’.

Known as an togail in Gaelic, we headed to the moor to ‘lift’ the peats, before the rudhadh or stacking of the dark slabs, to dry them properly for our whisky-making plans.

Staying safe and socially-distanced at the peats. Image © Becca Passmore

Any time spent outdoors on the Harris moorland during the summer also promises the attention of two of our less welcome inhabitants.

Hidden among the heather lie numerous tiny and tenacious ticks (Ixodes ricinus), just waiting to cling on to the unwary as they walk by.

And then there’s the infamous midge, great clouds of which rise up on still, damp evenings and descend on anything breathing and with fresh blood to spare. They’re good news for hungry brown trout, but less so for those out fishing on our local lochs.

Our friends and family working at sea have faced their own challenges too, as the crisis makes bringing their catch to markets many miles away difficult. But closer to home we’ve been kept well supplied with fresh lobster and langoustines safely delivered to our doors.

The freshest of local langoustines enjoyed late in the evening. Image © Scalpay Shellfish

While all these things bloom across the island, we’re also aware how much of summer life is missing in this new normal.

The camping sites at places like Horgabost lie eerily empty, no pitched tents to be found, with visitors unable to travel to our shores.

The single-track roads are lacking motorhomes and village shops are no longer alive with unusual accents and unfamiliar faces. The beaches too are a far cry from the scenes seen recently at Bournemouth and Brighton. But, perhaps that’s a blessing…

And our distillery remains closed to the public, when normally we’d be sharing both spirit and story with hundreds of people each day. As the social distillery, we’re sad not to be able to connect in person but make every effort to do so here online.

Quiet roads leading to quiet beaches. Image © Shona Maclennan

Next month will doubtless bring some changes, as the legal restrictions around tourism ease, but for now, the islands remain in cautious isolation. As for our distillery, we will be following developments closely but we have no plans to re-open at present.

Meantime, it's not all blue skies and beautiful beaches as many of the same problems our community face in winter continue to play havoc with us, even in the heart of a Hebridean summer.

Yesterday brought great thunderstorms and numerous lightning strikes, knocking out power supplies and disrupting internet connections.

Hailstones the size of marbles fell from the sky and the streams surged with rainwater, even washing away part of the long and winding road to the small village of Rhenigadale.

Lightning strikes gu leor yesterday evening. Image © Shona Maclennan

Combined with the pestilence of COVID and the plagues of biting insects, all this may sound like the harbinger of the end of days here in the Outer Hebrides.

But, the happy reality is our loved ones remain safe and life simply goes on, as we try to make the most of this unusual seasonal situation.

So, until we meet again, please stay connected with our island by exploring our newly refreshed website and discover lots more information on our work behind-the-scenes.

And be sure to check out some Isle of Harris Gin serves for enjoying at home, ideal for raising a glass to the madness of midsummer.

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