September 2017 – Our last full month on Islay

On our last return journey from Shropshire we spent a couple of hours at The House of an Art Lover in Helensburgh. Working from John Rennie Mackintosh’s drawings the architects had done an impressive job; but somehow, for us, the overall impression was disappointing. The music room was the best part, but we felt the house lacked the very personal touches and subtle colour schemes of The Hill House. Having said all that it is still definitely worth a visit, and it was a treat to see Mackintosh’s original plans.

Our twenty-seven years in the Hebrides are rapidly drawing to a close. It has been a hectic month trying to thin out our belongings and pack the things we want to keep. The lounge is a clutter of boxes in readiness for a local Islay firm to pack two vans on Monday 2nd October. So there is only one more day to complete what is still a very daunting task.

We will travel to Shropshire to supervise the unpacking and return to Islay on the 9th October. In one final week we will set the house in order and say farewell to our island friends before leaving on the 17th.. This will be our 9th and last journey but the first one with Leo. It is with some trepidation that we contemplate a ten hour ordeal for him as he cries when we take him on a half hour trip to the vet. He has got used to his new carry case and now sleeps in it although he’s never been shut inside. I hope that cat-mint and Feliway Calming Spray will help him to settle. We wonder, when we finally let him out, how he will feel when he can no longer wander about on the rocks by the sea at the bottom of the garden.

Our penultimate session at The Botanist Academy was the best one we’ve ever had. This group, a mixture of employees from America and Singapore, were the most appreciative and most interested of the many groups we’ve worked with. I don’t think we will miss the prickly business of gathering gorse blooms and creeping thistle heads but we will miss explaining about our involvement in The Botanist Gin. It’s hard to believe that our first experiments with Jim McEwan were way back in 2007 and that the first distillation in 2010 not only led to world-wide success but created employment for many people on Islay and for Brand Ambassadors all over the world.

Jim McEWan, the mastermind behind The Botanist 9, sent this message to acknowledge the part we played in suggesting, gathering and preparing the 22 Islay botanicals for the first and every subsequent distillation.

Every time I have a Gin and Tonic the memories will return of the fun we had and the success we created. What a team we made! As an Ileach I can say without doubt you have been an asset to the island and will be remembered fondly by all the Bruichladdich crew. We created something wonderful and rare and the future of many is now secure so I thank you for the legacy you leave behind.

It’s a heart-warming message which reminds us of the day this photo was taken – the day the first distillation was completed – the day we knew for certain that three years of preparation had culminated in success.

My final ‘Letter from Islay’ is on line in the webzine ‘The Island Review.’ I’ve enjoyed writing it over the last two years and wonder if I’ll be able to find a similar outlet when we are settled in Shropshire. Even if I don’t, I plan to find inspiration for my writing in a new and different landscape.

See The Island Review –

Apart from the natural history snippets in this last letter I have had little time to engage in wildlife observations on Islay, but Shropshire is proving every bit as exciting as The Hebrides. We chose Hanwood for our new home because we felt that there was something special about the location. In order to leave Islay we had to find a place with a little bit of magic. We lost a seashore but gained a river garden and thought that would be enough. We will miss moonlight on the sea but the early morning sun sparkles on the brook and we can see it from our dining room window.

I then found more magic in an extensive and very active badger sett. As badgers don’t occur on Islay it was exciting to discover this on the very first walk from our new home.

Finally, on our last visit we found signs of the ultimate magic beneath the footbridge adjacent to our river garden. I hope the poor photograph is excused because i had to hang over the bridge at a very awkward angle in order to take it.

I don’t suppose many people get excited at the sight of otter droppings, but they gave me a thrill. I knew that leaving otters at the bottom of our Islay garden would be a wrench, but now I know that they frequent the brook that runs through our river garden I am content. I don’t mind if I never actually see them. Over our island years I have seen enough otters to last a lifetime. They are easy to see when they hunt for food in the sea and I know they will be harder to spot in a narrow brook with densely vegetated banks. But the signs are there. That is magic enough as we head for a new life, a new location and new adventures.