Islay without the whisky
It is hard to go to Islay without dealing with the distilleries in some form or other. There are so many of them and they dominate the landscape, the economy and, to a certain extent, the culture. We went to one of the events at the Laphroaig Jazz Festival, for instance, and we bought soap from Spirited Soaps in Bowmore which whisky in it. This is less odd than it would appear at first, as the owner Ailsa Hayes explained to us. Soap needs alchohol to make it transparent, and using the characteristic Islay malts gives her a link with the distilleries that benefits everyone.
However, neither of us has the smallest interest in whisky, and the last week was about the beautiful landscape
and wildlife we saw
This stag was on Jura, where we went for the day. Jura has a distillery but life there is dominated by the shooting estates, so it was a very different experience from Islay.
We saw eagles, hen harriers, redshanks, and curlews. We saw hares and rabbits, and migrating birds by the hundreds – geese and starlings arriving for the winters, lots of finches – goldfinches mostly but also twite and chaffinch, stonechat and whinchat passing through, and wheatears swallows and housemartins who were held up in the islands by adverse winds. This gave us a really strange mix of summer and winter birds a moment suspended in time.
Our biggest ambition was to see an otter. This is really hard, even on Islay which has many otters, and we were reminded of this when we attended a lecture at the Port Charlotte Natural History Centre on photographing Scottish Wildlife. The photographer said that it had taken hime twenty years to learn how to spot otters, and they never turned up in the same place twice.
We kept hoping, but the nearest we got to them was this