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The island winter

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As January comes to a close, it’s clear winter is still with us as the high hills of Harris shine with the whitest of snows and a rare, low sun casts long shadows during this season of short days.

From miles around the frosty summit of the Clisham, our highest mountain, can be seen, surrounded by a horseshoe of powdered peaks with tongue-twisting names like Mull bho Dheas, Mulla bho Thuath and Mullach an Langa.

Far below their dusted tops sits our whisky cask warehouse, nestled on the shoreline near the village of Ardhasaig. Small boats bob just across the water from the old whaling station at Bunavoneader, sheltered from the Atlantic storms which roll in repeatedly at this time of year.

While our spirit matures in this beautiful corner of Harris, just a few miles to the south our distillery doors are open once more and the peat fire is lit each morning as we continue our work, warmly welcoming those adventurous souls who choose to join us during these cold, dark months.

Last week, we were particularly pleased to invite former paratrooper Chris Lewis to our fireside as he undertakes his mammoth journey for charity walking around the UK coastline. After helping him and his dog Jet dry off and refuel with some hearty food he was on his way with renewed vigour…

Behind the scenes, our spirit production is nearing the end of a brief period of hibernation as we finish the complex task of installing three new washbacks. It won’t be long until our bright copper stills are fired up and the Spirit Hall begins to glow with the heat of whisky-making once more.

The return to action will be good news for our local livestock, many of which enjoy the leftover barley ‘draff’ from our distilling work. This warm, nutritious food source is freely given to local crofters to feed sheep and cattle like the Luskentyre Herd who welcome it when grass is so thin on the ground.

Elsewhere, salmon have been spawning, while out at sea shoals of winter herring give a boost to new-born grey seal pups. And, in the underwater forests of local sea-lochs, our key botanical Sugar Kelp is undergoing a period of regrowth in the clear, cold waters.

Soon, there will be the arrival of lambs and a slow trickle of new visitors to our shores which will mark the beginnings of a new season here in the Isle of Harris. Meantime, those of us lucky enough to live and work here year round will keep wrapped up against the wild weather, enjoying the splendour of empty beaches, stunning sunrises and all the glories that an island winter inevitably brings.

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