Once more writing from our summer holiday home on Islay, this time as our week away is drawing to a close, with our ferry back home booked for 9am tomorrow and just one last day of exploring the island ahead of us today.
This week has been one of the most peaceful holidays we’ve had, and there have been so many highlights in a restful few days adventuring at easy pace around the landscape. On Tuesday, we spent a lovely afternoon at the RSPB Loch Gruinart Nature Reserve, a beautiful expanse of land with amazing walks and dug-out hides in concealed wooden sheds where we could settle and watch hen harriers circling overhead and everything from wrens to buzzards swooping across the stillness of the hills.
We have spent days browsing tiny shops in tiny villages, local craft fairs here and there, cosying up with hot chocolates in hotel bars when the rain comes on and in the brightness of early evenings walking along huge untouched beaches where only the sheep contentedly lie.
In the middle of our week here, we decided to take a day trip across to neighbouring Jura, which was one of the most breath-taking places I have ever seen. With only 200 people there and 5000 deer, it is one of the wildest and least populated of all the Scottish islands, and we were so looking forward to seeing it, but it exceeded all expectations. I absolutely love rural Scotland, and there are so many corners where such incredible beauty can be found; but, within minutes of alighting on the island from the tiny drive-on ferry, I was absolutely speechless at just quite how incredible it was. Having pulled over to watch a buzzard circle overhead, we found ourselves at the vantage point of a whole group of red deer, antlers glinting in the sunlight, grazing, communicating and eventually taking flight across the hillside en masse, disappearing into a thicket of trees and leaving us amazed to have been able to watch such a breath-taking display.
After a meander in the main village of Craighouse, a lovely lunch at the one and only hotel, a tour of the whisky distillery and a wander along the street, seeing the busyness of a Wednesday afternoon, with the mobile bank and fish van both parked up; we got back in the car and followed the road as far as we could, with the sea glinting to our right, Paps of Jura dominating the landscape to our left, and each twist and turn bringing new sights as we journeyed on.
My favourite place we’ve ever been to outside Scotland is without a doubt Iceland, where we had our honeymoon three years ago and returned to last year, knowing we’ll be back again and again. The winding drive through such abandoned and completely still landscape did remind me of some of our drives up the hills there in the winter of 2014, gasping as we turned a corner to another incredible waterfall or reached a new height where the snow flakes were gently falling for the first time all year – yet what is so incredible here is the wildlife as well as the landscape. Reaching the end of the road, from where the most northerly points of the island can only be reached on foot, the last rural farm houses lying behind us, we again were face to face with a herd of deer, peacefully grazing in their untouched world.
Back on Islay, strangely ‘busy’ by comparison in spite of being such a quiet island itself, we’ve trekked out to Finlaggan, the historic seat of the Lord of the Isles; stood on the shore at Bunnahabhain looking out to the most northerly point of the island; stopped still in the peace of ruined chapels, Celtic crosses weathering time, and warm working churches alike; and befriended the loveliest highland cattle around our little Portnahaven.
By evening, we have more often than not been back at our cottage, and dropping temperatures have given the perfect excuse to light up the fire and settle in. We’ve done nothing but read at nights (many of my books animal or pet related which I look forward to writing about here too!) and for the pets, the evenings have been absolutely wonderful.
The decision to bring them on this holiday was absolutely the best one. Just as we always enjoy having quality time to spend with each other when we’re away, we’ve enjoyed having quality time to spend with them too. Without all the demands of home life, we’ve sat peacefully for hours and the boys have adored curling up beside us with just the crackle of the flames. Perry, at home always on the go, has been uncharacteristically keen for cuddle, spreading out in the warmth and lifting his head whenever one of us has the audacity to stop stroking him.
Marley has enjoyed mornings sat on the front doorstep, the sea air helping clear his wee lungs; and Reuben has again surpassed all our expectations by still being with us and what’s more still being content and happy. He’s eating, drinking, and enjoying time with his brothers and with us, which is all we can ask for. Have thoroughly enjoyed having them with us on our adventure.
Looking forward too of course to getting back home again, and to bring reunited with the pony (who I’ve happily been provided with photos and tales of throughout the the week!); but this has been the loveliest week away and have truly loved Islay and Jura and all they have to offer.
Hope you all have a lovely weekend. X
Writing from our holiday cottage on the beautiful Isle of Islay, where we are making our home for the week on the edge of the water in Portnahaven, a village on the south-western tip of the island. Beyond the stillness of the little bay outside our front door, the powerful waves of the Atlantic crash inwards just yards away and there is nothing to the west until Canada is reached, the sea just rolling on and on.
We arrived here on Saturday, and it feels, in the best possible way, as if time has slowed down to almost a standstill since we did. The pace of life here is so easy, and we have spent most mornings and most evenings simply watching the seals in the water, learning their calls, their patterns and the spots on the rocks they will return to each day at the same time.
The island of Islay is a truly beautiful one and already we have explored some incredible places, walking along Machir Bay in the sunshine, waves crashing in; touring the smallest and most family-run of Islay’s eight whisky distilleries, watching the entire process from malting to bottling taking place on site; driving through the most incredible countryside on narrow lanes, adapting once more to the passing places and to making way for the sheep, the highest priority of road users, whenever they require it!
There is something incredibly relaxing and refreshing about holidaying close to home, and these are usually my favourite breaks – visiting old favourite places or discovering new parts of our own country we haven’t before, and finding corners of it where life slows down so much.
This year, being just a couple of hours’ drive (and a ferry ride!) away meant we decided to bring the pets with us. Not Charmer of course, who has stayed happily at home on his own farm, being looked after very ably by my friend at the yard; but the little ones managed the journey very well indeed and so far seem to be loving the jaunt!
We had planned to travel them in their carry case and leave the cage in the back but they seemed more content just in their usual bed, and so we left them there, where they curled all three in a pile for the duration of the journey very happily, just doing the usual dozing they generally do in the daytime.
The boys posing with their ferry ticket, as we didn’t quite pluck up the courage for an on-deck selfie!
It’s been lovely while we’ve been here to have them with us, especially as autumnal-feeling windy nights and the cosiness of the cottage have meant our evenings have been spent inside, and they have enjoyed the easy time in front of the fire.
One of the main reasons we decided to bring them with us, even though it was a slightly longer journey than we’d usually want them on, was that both Marley and Reuben haven’t been well. Marley is having trouble shaking off a chest infection, which I’m sure we’ll beat before too long, but at the moment is needing anti-biotics and a wee steam in the shower room to help his breathing. He seems to be making strides forward and we’re hopeful we’ll get it shifted very soon. Haven’t written about Reuben’s health in a while though and unfortunately his prognosis is not so good. He has been given a presumptive diagnosis of kidney disease – any further tests to fully confirm would be too invasive for him but his symptoms all line up – and unfortunately there isn’t too much we can do. This means he’s really just enjoying the finer things in life, extra cuddles every night, whatever scraps of our food take his fancy, and what medication we can give him to keep him as happy as possible. A few weeks ago he had dropped weight significantly and we thought we were on our last days, but time and time again he’s rallied; and although we always know we could be saying goodbye to him anytime, and knew when we brought him here he might not have the full week with us, it’s a wonderful bonus that he’s had so many good days in the last couple of weeks and that he’s come with us on this little adventure and enjoyed his nights by the fire here.
Reubes loving the warmth of the fire
Our week here has got off to the loveliest start, and watching the spectacular sunset last night, listening to the wails of the seals on the rocks, was so incredibly peaceful.
We’ve seen so many weathers so far, whipping wind, lashing rain and glorious sunshine by turns; another reason I love a Scottish holiday, waking each day to unpredictable and dramatic weather, framing the beautiful landscape in so many different lights.
Looking forward to plenty more exploring and relaxing here, and will write again soon.
Hope you are all having a lovely week. X
In the last month or so, we have been blessed with some lovely weather – quite possibly getting the best of our summer weather in late spring, as has happened a few years, but whatever comes next, been lovely to enjoy.
I love to get out walking, clear my head and enjoy the views, whether it’s in good weather or bad – in the last year or so more than ever, my husband and I have been step-counters, Fitbits on our wrists, and have made the effort to be out for a bit in the evenings regardless of the whipping wind in winter time, walking along the streetlit seafront with chins buried in scarves and hands deep in pockets, putting the world to rights and enjoying the exercise and thought-gathering time.
As we come into a time of light nights and brighter weather, getting out walking is easier and even more enjoyable, and getting out at lunch time for a break in the working day and in the evening at the farm with the pony or back home are highlights of my day.
Very often, however, it’s easy to take for granted the places we stride out in and have around us. Have had so many chances to wander on beautiful days in beautiful places in the last few weeks and very grateful for them all.
I’m lucky to work on the edge of the same university campus I lived and studied in for years as a student, and on my lunch breaks always prioritise a venture out to the loch and the grounds where we’re lucky to have so much wildlife and nature. The other week on my ramble, found a whole new level to the surroundings, finding my way out into the woodland at the foot of a hill and a whole new place to walk and explore.
We’re also at the wonderful time of year where we have cygnets on the loch, growing and learning with their parents and a joy to watch.
Back home, we are settling into our new village and been enjoying wanders nearby in the evening, as well as longer walks that take us down to my family in one direction, for barbecues, nights round the fire pit and long walks in the woods with the dog; and in the other down to the shore and woods I used to play in when I was little, revisiting old dens and favourite spots.
By the time we get back home later at night, the light has shifted and we’re always so fascinated by the bats flying overhead, swooping so close to us but never touching, absolutely amazing animals. ❤
Over the summer we have really enjoyed watching the winged visitors to our garden, loving the bees gathering in our thoroughly overgrown flower bed (giving us the perfect excuse to bother with no gardening at all!), and especially enjoying the honey bees who moved into our little bee house to recharge at nights. The last few weekends as summer has drawn to a close we have seen less and less of them, and this week I finally put some gardening gloves on and uprooted some of the ragwort, dandelions and wildflowers that they’d spent so long working away on. I do really love bees, who in turn seem to really love ragwort, and it is nice to be able to leave them some in the garden since at the farm I seem to spend much of every summer hauling it from the ground in Charmer’s field – amazing that something so toxic to so many grazing animals forms such an important part of the ecosystem for pollinators.
As I worked, I had an almost constant companion in the form of a robin who made himself at home in every tree in the garden and on top of each shed by turn to watch me with interest – haven’t had a robin around in a while and was lovely to see him, a new face arriving in our little neck of the woods as the seasons change.
As always, very glad to have been able to take some time to enjoy our corner of the world and all that’s in it.
Have a lovely weekend all. X
August is just hours away from drawing to a close, and just been for my usual lunch-time wander around our loch, keeping an eye out as always for the bird families I’ve come to know over this lovely long summer – ducks, coots and swans, all generally to be found gliding across the water or sunbathing on bankings in their usual groups.
Today found the swan family I’ve been keeping an eye on since their nest was being settled into back in May, and was amazed to see how very grown up they look all of a sudden; smooth white patches shining through their grey cygnet fluff. Thought I’d take a moment just to document their journey, amazing to watch, as the summer has rolled on.
… 24th May 2016, the cygnets two days old, the first glimpse I caught of them on the other side of the loch with their mum, making their first tentative forays into swimming…
26th – 27th May – both days spending time in the nest, either huddled together or under a wing… ❤
3rd June 2016, getting braver in their swims and ducking heads under the water, loved to watch their little feet start kicking…
21st July 2016, approx 2 months old and grown so much but still as fluffy as their first days..
… and finally today, 29th August, just over 3 months old and beginning to look not unlike their parents, grey fluff giving way to long white necks just in time for the turn of the month and the new season. Have really enjoyed watching their developments over the last couple of months, and look forward to seeing them taking to the loch with their new white feathers now as it begins to be framed by oranges and reds once more and life moves ever onwards.