Friday, 30 August 2013

Scotland2013: Islay!

Islay! This is the picture that strongly speaks to me, and no wonder, I woke up and went to bed with it for six days! This was the view from our guesthouse ‘The Monachs’ in Nerabus on the Rinns of Islay. You see Laggan Point and Laggan Bay from here across Loch Indaal, with the upland of the Oa to the right. I cannot help comparing Islay to that other island we spent a week on, Skye. But whereas Skye is dramatic and challenging, Islay is friendly and peaceful, even in bad weather. Islay is Water and Air, yet Skye seems more like Fire and Earth, almost like polar opposites!

Water is everywhere on Islay: the island is almost cut in half by the combined forces of Loch Gruinart and Loch Indaal, it is scattered with lochs, little streams and rivers, it vast peat moss sites are drenched in it, and its main industries-the whiskey distilleries-cannot function without a steady and plentiful supply of water. It also falls out of the sky, quite frequently! And that leads to the Air element, also present everywhere. Islay's weather is unpredictable, from rain in the morning, to sunshine in the afternoon and back again, and its skies are vast and magnificent, roamed by a large variety of seabirds.

When the CalMac ferry was approaching Islay and made its way towards the Sound of Islay to moor at the pretty harbour at Port Askaig, I stepped outside even though the weather was not so nice: persistent rain and a strong wind. I looked at the steep and rather forbidding eastern face of the island and I swear I heard voices in the wind. Maybe it was just the seabirds, maybe just the sound of the wind in the crags and rocks, but to me it felt like the island itself was welcoming me and inviting me to learn whichever lessons it has to teach. And in the days to come, there turned out to be many opportunities to do so.