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Wild Winter

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Mountain mists and white crests on local lochs.

The Gaelic word for January is 'Am Faoilleach', derived from a very old word 'faol' meaning wild, or ‘faol-chù’ - the wild dog.

Am Faoilleach is, therefore, the month of the wolf, a time of year when these once native beasts would be most hungry and readily found hunting across the Highlands.

However these days are long gone, it's more likely to be Red Deer found coming down from the hills in search of food, and it's only the weather which truly reflects this Gaelic-given name.

Sideways sleet and dark rains.

Our far north-westerly position is somewhat softened by the effects of the Gulf Stream, sparing us from the frigid extremes in temperature experienced by others on our latitude.

But, as January comes to a close, it’s clear winter is well and truly with us as the high hills of Harris glimmer with snow and a low sun casts long shadows during the 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.

Cloudbreaks over the Clisham hills.

Far below their dusted tops sits our whisky cask warehouse, nestled on the shoreline near the village of Ardhasaig, sheltered from the Atlantic storms which often roll in at this time of year.

The land all around us has been drained of life, what little grows in the acidic, saturated peat soils and salt air at this time of year has been desaturated of colour.

But, hidden from view, salmon have been spawning and fresh shoals of winter herring are helping to feed the grey seal pups which newly litter the rocky shorelines.

Low winter light over Loch Seaforth.

And, in the underwater forests of local sea-lochs, our key gin botanical Sugar Kelp is undergoing a period of regrowth in the clear, cold waters, in preparation for the spring harvest.

At the distillery, our whisky stills have come to life once more, after their own period of rest as they underwent a long period of essential maintenance and repairs.

The return to action will be good news for our local livestock, many of which enjoy the leftover barley ‘draff’ from our distilling work, a wonderfully warm, nutritious food source.

Seldom walked winter beaches.

Soon, there will be the arrival of lambs and good grass, one of the few certainties of life in these troubled times, and we trust, more green shoots of hope will follow.

Meantime, we'll keep wrapped up against the weather, enjoying the splendour of empty beaches, stunning sunrises and all the glories that the coldest season inevitably brings.

From our island home to yours, stay safe and keep warm this wild winter.

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