See you next year, Islay (hopefully)

Islay News

Several factors were involved in this decision, but over this belated bank holiday weekend I have made the decision not to travel to Islay this year. Back in March when I wrote Sadly no Islay visit for me for the foreseeable future and also in recent weeks I still had hopes and plans to visit later in the year. I’ve got two weeks off work in October, which I had originally planned for a long Islay visit. But I’ve now decided to make it another staycation in West Berkshire, where I live (and currently work from home. I normally work in Reading, but we’ve been told to work from home until at least the end of the year). I don’t feel I have to justify that decision, but I still would like to explain:

To start with I’m still not comfortable to travel or go anywhere with people in confined spaces. While my GP told me she doesn’t consider me a Covid-19 high risk and I don’t have to shield like some other people I’m still very careful. I’ve read several reports of long term health implications from Covid-19 infections, including heart problems. Having fully recovered and been given a new life after my major heart surgery a few years back I just want to minimise the risks. I haven’t been to a pub or restaurant since March or even February (can’t remember) and obviously haven’t used the dining voucher scheme by the government. I haven’t even been to the beer gardens some of the pubs around where I live have opened. I’d love to, but I must admit I’m feeling physically uncomfortable even when walking past them. Some will say I’m overreacting, that might well be, but that’s how I feel.

Going on the long trip to Scotland with these feelings doesn’t feel right to me. It wouldn’t feel like a holiday. The journey (with over night stops, ferry crossing etc) would be very stressful and even on Islay I couldn’t fully enjoy it. Sure, most of the time I would spend in the cottage and outdoors away from people, but even though it’s probably safe (I know the restaurants, distilleries etc all follow the latest guidelines and do their best to keep everyone safe) I wouldn’t feel comfortable to go for a meal, go to a pub/bar or visiting a distillery. Visiting any friends isn’t very realistic either, I wouldn’t feel comfortable going into anyone’s home.

Finally the news over the last week or so have further tipped me over to the decision not to go. As I’m sure everyone is aware the infections rates, R-values and whatever else they measure have gone up. While it’s probably too early to say that there is talk of a second wave. Across the continent we have significant increases, same as earlier this year where the UK was lagging the continent by a few weeks. Some restrictions have already been put in place, I fear further restrictions might come over the coming weeks. For me personally not the time to plan a trip, just too insecure (I’ve seen it very closely, some people I work with had to cancel their holiday in France the day before they were due to depart as the rules changed).

I’m obviously very disappointed that I won’t visit Islay this year. I hope the situation will improve next year, I’m hoping that there will be an Islay walking week again and that I will have the confidence to travel. Should that turn out to be too early then I’ll have to wait. All I know is that at some point I will be back.

To finish I’d just like to make clear that this is a purely personal decision. It’s no guidance, direction, anything for anyone else. If you want to go and it feels right for you to go, by all means visit Islay. I’ll be happy for you to go, share your pictures and videos and experiences so that others can enjoy them as well. Islay will welcome you, many businesses on Islay are waiting for you, support them in this difficult time.

Islay Business (2): An Gleann Tablet

Islay Businesses

The second post trying to support Islay businesses during the Coronavirus lockdown, which as we heard in the news today could last 6 months in some shape or form. Today something for those of you with a sweet tooth (especially if you also like your Islay/Jura whisky/gin): An Gleann Tablet.

Screenshot of the An Gleann Tablet - Whisky Connoisseur selection page
An Gleann Tablet – Whisky Connoisseur selection

An Gleann was founded by Jane Mitchell almost 15 years ago as a small cottage business on the Rhinns of Islay a couple of miles outside of Port Charlotte on the road to Portnahaven. As the name says, they make tablet, a Scottish speciality. Being on Islay there’s of course a connection to the famous Islay whisky with the Whisky Connoisseur series. I hope you’ll find something you like.

According to a Facebook post while the shop is closed to visitors the online store is open for business. Practising physical distancing and staying safe.

Islay Business (1): Spirited Soaps

Islay Businesses

As mentioned in my post about supporting Islay businesses during and after the Coronavirus pandemic I’m planning to write about various Islay (and Jura) based businesses over the coming weeks and months. I’m hoping that they will be able to continue working in some way provided it is safe and sensible (and permitted) to do so and in some cases still fulfil online orders. If they can’t I’m hoping we can help them to rebuild once life starts to return to normal. With that let’s get started, admittedly with a rather obvious choice considering how often we’ve been asked to wash our hands:

The company in question is of course Spirited Soaps founded by Ailsa Hayes over a decade ago. As the name implies the main product is …. soap. Soap with an Islay touch.

Screenshot of the Spirited Soaps website
Islay Business (1): Spirited Soaps

Spirited Soaps is working with the various Islay distilleries, offering a variety of solid and liquid soaps. There’s also a very nice lip balm, which I use after my Islay visits (I think the combination of sunshine and wind makes my lips dry out). Take a look and hopefully you’ll find something you like.

Supporting Islay (and other islands) businesses

Islay Businesses

When wrote that I wasn’t going to be able to visit Islay for the foreseeable future because of the Coronavirus pandemic I mentioned that I was I aware this was going to hit many local businesses, but that I didn’t have a solution to help them. I also believe (and fear) that we’re going to have to live with the various restrictions related to “social distancing” (I know, horrible term, I hope we can find something better) for quite some time. Just today Calmac announced that they wouldn’t accept any new advance bookings until 15/Jul. From everything I’ve read and seen so far I wouldn’t be surprised if certainly the first phase will last 4-6 months and there will be impacts for at least 12-18 months, depending on how quick a vaccine can be delivered. I know nobody wants to hear that, but I believe (and fear) that’s realistic. So what can we do to help local businesses? I still don’t have a solution (and probably never will), but at least there are some first shoots and ideas:

While the main hit will of course be on direct tourism businesses like accommodation providers, tour guides and transport businesses (and I freely admit I don’t have clue how to help them) there will be a secondary impact on a lot of smaller makers. Small businesses with one or only a handful of employees, producing a variety of goods, often related to local materials and traditions. They often heavily rely on tourists buying their products, be it in their own premises, be it at tourism attractions. With hardly any or even no tourists coming at the moment they lose a large chunk or even all of their income. At least some of them also sell online (or will soon) and at least as long as they can still ship their orders this is where Rhoda’s idea comes in:

Rhoda (who among other things runs Tiree Tea) has set up isle2o – Support the Scottish islands during Covid-19 by shopping from the comfort of your sofa! It’s a directory of island based businesses which sell online, so you can order from home to support them. As of writing this there are five Islay based businesses and one Jura based business listed, but I’m sure there will soon be plenty more. So why not take a look at the listings and if you find something you fancy place an order?

You might have noticed that for this post I’ve created a new category, “Islay Businesses”. There’s of course a reason for that. I’m going to try to promote a number of Islay (and Jura and Colonsay) businesses here over the coming weeks, in particular those who also sell online in some shape or form. It might help, it might not, but I’m certainly going to try. In the current situation I think we’ve got to just try everything possible.