Event

Westering Home [or if you can’t get to Islay – let the birds bring Islay to you]

Westering home and a song in the air
Light in the eye and its good by to care
Laughter o love and a welcoming there
Isle of my heart my own land

Tell me a tale of the Orient gay
Tell me of riches that come from Cathay
Ah but it’s grand to be waken at day
And find oneself nearer to Islay

Like most whisky fans, sooner or later you realise you are not complete without a visit to Islay. I have spent the last 2 or 3 years planning my assault on this distillery packed island off the west coast of Scotland. As well as whisky, this little hebridean island is also blessed with fantastic diversity of birdlife – another passion of mine. As a keen member of the RSPB [http://www.rspb.org.uk/] I try and do everything I can to feed and home any wildlife that may want to call my garden home.  The Island of Islay has two nature reserves, The Oa [Scottish home of the rare corvid the Chough] and Loch Gruinart – which hosts the annual Barnacle goose migration feeding stop.

In 2012 the RSPB setup a new charity fundraising event aimed particularly at twitchers in Scotland and held the Scottish Birdfair [http://www.scottishbirdfair.org.uk/] at Hopetoun House in West Lothian. This was a huge success and has since become an annual event. The RSPB already have a whisky connection with money from every sale of the Black Grouse blended whisky [from the Famous Grouse stable and incorporating peated smoky single malts] directly donated to the charity. At the 2012 Birdfair the Islay birds and nature reserves were represented by James How and a rather fine selection of Islay’s finest single malts including: Ardbeg 10 year old, Bowmore Legend, Bruichladdich Rocks, Bunnahabhain 12 year old, Caol Ila 12 year old, Kilchoman Machir Bay, Lagavulin 16 year old & Laphroaig 10 year old. Needless to say we spent a long time quizzing James all about Islay whilst he plied us with free drams. Personally I headed straight for the Kilchoman as I hadn’t tried anything from this distillery. Uniformly however we all chose Bruichladdich Rocks as our favourite as it was something really unusual and interesting. Needless to say within weeks I had sourced an offer on bottles of the Rocks and furnished our party with a decent supply. I should also point out we also tried free drams of the Black Grouse which was damn fine peated blended whisky but sadly a poor comparison to his single malt brothers on the visit Islay stand.

bruichladdich rocks

James assists the running of the Loch Gruinart nature reserve [and farm] on Islay and explained to us the plight of barley growers. Every year tens of thousands of Barnacle geese arrive in the UK from Greenland to escape the harsher winter conditions. The Island of Islay is an excellent first landfall and feeding stop for the hordes of geese who can munch through a field of barley in hours. Every year the farmers have to gamble between letting their barley grow and mature enough for harvest and the arrival of the geese. Hopefully the management of Loch Gruinart should assist the farmers and allow much more of the lovely barley to be made into whisky. So whenever I drink Islay whisky I always raise my glass to the goose, Slainte.

barnaclegoose

Sadly I am still planning my first trip to Islay…

And it’s westering home with a song in the air
Light of me eye and it’s goodbye to care
Laughter and love are a welcoming there
Pride of my heart my own love

Where are the folks like the folks of the west
Canty and couthy and kindly, our best
There I would hie me and there I would rest
At home with my own folks in Islay

And it’s westering home with a song in the air
Light of me eye and it’s goodbye to care
Laughter and love are a welcoming there
Pride of my heart my own love

Now I’m at home and at home I do lay
Dreaming of riches that come from Cathay
I’ll hop a good ship and be on my way
And bring back my fortune to Islay

And it’s westering home with a song in the air
Light of me eye and it’s goodbye to care
Laughter and love are a welcoming there
Pride of my heart my own love

Lyrics from Westering Home – traditional Scottish folk song.

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