For many years Islay High School / Àrd-sgoil Ìle has been participating in the annual FilmG (GD/EN) awards, 2021 is no different. Many years they were shortlisted, on several occasions they even won one of the awards. This year they submitted two entries, one in the Fluent category and one in the Learners category. The entry in the Learners category, “Easga Bhuidhe na Feidh” got shortlisted, this is their entry:
However, both entries qualify for the People’s Choice award, you can vote for them by going to the respective entry (use the links above to go there directly) and then clicking on the heart above the VOTE HERE / BHÒT AN SEO text. You’ve got until Monday 24/Jan/2022 to submit your vote. So please hurry and get your vote in!
So there we are, New Year’s Eve 2021. Another year coming to an end. Might as well take a look back at the year, what it meant to me, Islay related and a few other areas. The year brought both good and bad things and events:
In particular the first half of the year was of course still dominated by the Covid-19/Coronavirus pandemic, even though the ramp up of the vaccination efforts brought some hope. My second dose came too late for me to book anything for the first half of the year (I had decided I wasn’t going to travel until my second dose had taken full effect). Still, I managed to continue with daily posts on my Islay pictures photoblog by digging into my archives and plundering some other resources (mainly pictures taken on my phone). Also the belated online Islay Sessions 2020 took place early in 2021.
Then the first bad news struck when Ian Brooke unexpectedly passed away in June. I still miss him, my daily visits to the Islay Birds blog are not the same without him (that’s not to diminish the sterling job the team continuing it in his memory is doing, it’s just different). Also missed seeing and catching up with him at his bird hide when I finally managed to return to Islay in September, at least I had a good catch up with Margaret.
At least September brought my first return to Islay after 22 months without a visit. As you can read in that post it was magical. Being back on the beaches was just brilliant. Rediscovering some old haunts and exploring a few new places was just what I needed. And I had booked my next visit even before I left for my September visit, returning for a week in October. This time I stayed at Ballitarsin Lodge, which was another new experience. Some fantastic views from up there, also a few morning walks along the Glen Road instead of a beach. I got to meet some old friends with their latest addition to the household (and some homemade Spaghetti Bolognese on great evening), followed by some brilliant October night skies (I still need to process the pictures from that…).
Then the end of the year arrived with some bad news, but also a lot of opportunity for 2022: Earlier this afternoon I shut down my work laptop for the last time as a Verizon employee. Or in other words, from next week I’m looking for opportunities for the next stage of my career. If you know of any good jobs in the Financial Planning & Analysis (FP&A) area or similar, positions as a Finance Business Partner or similar please get in touch. Remote work or in the Greater Reading / West Berkshire and around area. You can learn about my skills and experience on my LinkedIn profile. Onwards and upwards, and after I’ve settled into my next career step it will be time for another visit to Islay.
The Islay Sessions 2020 had to be moved to an online event for the well known reason of the Covid pandemic and related restrictions. For 2021 the Sessions return to their home on Islay, they will take place over the weekend 26-28/Nov/2021 in the usual locations, mainly the Port Charlotte Hotel and Bruichladdich Hall. Here’s a promo video with some more details:
Unfortunately I won’t be able to attend in person myself this year due to work commitments (the last 5 and first 2-3 working days of the month I need to be working and with the long journey to Islay from where I live it’s not feasible the way the Sessions fall). I understand there are efforts under way to also stream the Sessions online, so I hope to be able to attend at least virtually.
Back in March 2020 when I wrote Sadly no Islay visit for me for the foreseeable future I didn’t expect that it would be 22 long months. While Islay was open for visitors in summer 2020 it didn’t feel right for me to travel at that time. Then the winter 2020/2021 lockdowns arrived. Early 2021 finally brought some hope with the vaccine programme rollout gathering pace, as I had decided I would only travel once I was fully vaccinated. I received my second dose in May 2021 (although I only found that out in May, I hadn’t expected expected it until June, making it too late to book for June). July and August I avoided (as usual) as I need to give priority to my colleagues with children (someone has to hold the fort in the office). But two weeks ago, in early September, I finally boarded the MV Finlaggan for my first crossing to Islay since November 2019.
It was emotional. Very emotional. Especially stepping out on to Kilchoman beach, my spiritual home, again the morning after my arrival. Several people have told me they’ve never seen me so happy as in some of the pictures I’ve shared. And they’re probably right. Even when I can’t explain why. Sometimes people ask me why I love Islay so much and why I keep returning after well over 20 years. And all I can say is that there’s something that clicks for me. That’s the best explanation I can give.
I don’t know if they show some of the magic, but I recorded a series of “YouTube shorts” (short 15 seconds clips best watched in portrait mode on a mobile device, but you can also watch them on a desktop/laptop) from some of my adventures during my second week on Islay:
While I didn’t get out as much as I had hoped and didn’t meet as many people as I would have liked for a variety of reasons (weather not being that great especially in the second week, a very annoying blister on my left heel which made longer walks difficult at times, a lingering reluctance to go into busy enclosed spaces like pubs/restaurants and more) I did get to see a few new things and had some interactions I treasured:
One day I drove from Conisby to Uiskentuie beach for a walk. When I left Conisby my car alerted me that it was low on screen wash, so when I arrived I opened the bonnet and topped up the screen wash (might as well get it done while it’s fresh in my mind). Walking past another car parked a bit further down the beach the driver asked me if had a problem with my car and needed help. I reassured him that everything was fine and explained the background. While somebody elsewhere might have asked as well to me this felt very much like an Islay thing to do, people caring about others.
Also at Uiskentuie during my first walk there I passed a woman walking her dog and we had a brief chat about how long the beach was. A few days later (I think it might have been my last walk at Uiskentuie) I met her again and we walked together for a bit, having a nice chat about ferries, walking and more. We didn’t exchange names, so I don’t know who she was, but I really enjoyed our walk and chat. While something like this might happen elsewhere it felt like an Islay thing to me. Hopefully we can catch up on another beach walk at some point.
In regards to new things, I walked the new Loch Indaal path between Bruichladdich and Port Charlotte on a beautiful morning. I’ll write about it in a dedicated post, but I think it’s brilliant, a fantastic addition to Islay’s infrastructure and experience. Thank you and well done to everyone involved in making it happen.
I was welcomed online by several of my neighbours during my stay at Conisby, which I really appreciated. Apologies I didn’t come over, I’m still nervous visiting people in their homes at this point. Hopefully there will be another opportunity once the pandemic has settled further.
There were a few more moments, but I think what I’ve captured here covers the most important parts of this visit as well as touches on some of the reasons why I like Islay so much.
My next visit is already booked and assuming everything goes to plan I’ll be back soon, much much sooner than the very long time until this visit. I will do my utmost to meet the people I missed on this visit, most of you will know who. I’ll be in touch.
Many of you will know that Ian Brooke passed away suddenly and unexpectedly in June, leaving a big void for many. You can read a wonderful tribute to Ian on the Islay Birds blog. I’ve known Ian for almost 20 years and he’s had some big influences on my life. These are my personal memories of Ian and how he influenced my life:
Back in 2003 Ian started the WalkIslay Islay walking week where every April daily guided walks by local people around the island were set up. Because of how Easter (and my birthday) fell that year I happened to be on Islay for a long weekend and joined for one of the walks. I enjoyed it so much that I returned the following year for the full week, joined by my mother. And as they say, the rest is history. I’ve been on every WalkIslay week since with the exception of 2018 where a bad leg injury stopped me from going (and 2020 as well as 2021 were cancelled due to Covid 19). Through the walking week I got to know a large number of people and made many friends. I got to see many parts of Islay I probably wouldn’t have seen without it. I learned various things about Islay’s history, nature and geology I might not have learned otherwise. Not to mention all the wonderful memories and pictures of beautiful walks and events during the walks. All because of Ian’s idea and drive to set up the walking week, his drive to find walk leaders and his enthusiasm to make it work. Not to mention the great Islay Walks booklet he helped creating. All something that gives me inspiration for walks on Islay to this day.
The other big influence is birds (and other wildlife). As everyone knows Ian was an avid birdwatcher. Over the many years I’ve known Ian (and through him many of the other birders) this led to me developing an interest in wildlife and birdwatching. While I’m still very very amateurish (and will always be) I now spot birds I wouldn’t have seen a decade ago during my daily walks, I at times actively go out to watch and photograph birds, something I wouldn’t have thought of doing 15 years ago. Not something that Ian actively pushed, just something he planted in me through his enthusiasm. Closely related to this is the well known Islay Birds blog he started in 2007. As some may know I’ve been blogging in some way for about 20 years, with this blog going since May 2006, something Ian knew and read. He picked my brain, I gave him some pointers and ideas, and soon after the Islay Birds blog appeared. A regular update of the birds spotted on Islay (and elsewhere) as well as some regular weather and rainfall updates in Ian’s personal style. Something I’ve had in my feedreader ever since and read regularly. Something I remember soothing my nerves when I had booked an October visit slightly earlier than usual. The week before I was due to leave for Islay I was checking for the arrival of the Barnacle Geese, one of the main reasons for an October visit. Monday, nothing. Tuesday, nothing. Wednesday, nothing. But the winds have changed. Thursday, they have arrived! Phew……. It was also very nice to see my own reports mentioned on the blog by Ian, being from Islay or even from West Berkshire.
Of course I also have fond memories of the many many cups of teas and biscuits enjoyed at Ian’s and Margaret’s kitchen table. The meals we’ve enjoyed together. The phone calls. The emails. The times I’ve helped Ian with some IT problems when I could. The stays at Kilchoman Cottages which they ran for many years until they retired. The help they gave me at various times. The hours spent in Ian’s own birdwatching hide at Kilchoman, chatting, looking out for birds or viewing footage from his CCTV camera.
Those are my personal memories of Ian and my little thank you to him. When I see a rare or unusual bird I still think, “Oh, I need to send that to Ian” and probably will for a long time. The Islay Birds blog will be continued in his memory, so in a way I will still be sending it to him.
Islay is well known for its peat bogs and peatland, among other reasons mainly through its peaty whisky. But that’s not what this post is about, on the contrary, it’s about the preservation of the endangered peatlands. Islay is a key part in the CANN project (Collaborative Action for the Natura Network), which focuses on conserving peatlands and wetlands across Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland.
Details are still a bit sketchy, but news reach me this morning that mega popstars Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift are going to film the music video for an as yet unreleased duet on Islay. From what I understand they recorded the song (a love ballad) two years ago and have now decided to release it. Of course the song needs a video, and this is where Islay comes in…
The two superstars wanted something a bit different from the usual polished boredom of a pop video. On a Zoom call with Craig Ferguson (while now an American citizen he of course was born and grew up in Scotland) they got talking about it and Craig suggested they might want to take a look at Islay.
They seem to have taken to his suggestion and are now planning to travel to Islay once Coronavirus restrictions are lifted and they and their crews can safely visit the island and film the video.
Likely locations include Soldier’s Rock, Kilchoman beach, Sanaigmore Bay, Finlaggan, Bowmore (in particular with the Round Church in the background), but there’s also talk of an excursion to Jura for views of the Paps of Jura and the Corryvreckan whirlpool.
The wooden walkway to Eilean Mòr at Finlaggan, the ancient seat of the Lords of the Isles on Islay, has gone through a few iterations over the decades. Because of the harsh conditions at Loch Finlaggan the wood starts to decay and the wear and tear at some point makes the walkway unsafe. Over the years there have been different walkways, this is how it looked in 2006:
In 2007 it was replaced by a new walkway built by the Army 39 Engineer Regiment after removing the old rotting walkway. Visitors soon enjoyed good access to Eilean Mòr again:
In 2008 the visitor centre also saw some significant renovation and extension, making it the valuable place to learn about Islay’s history it is today:
The walkway built in 2007 has now aged so much that it needs to be replaced to ensure continued access to the site. To do this the Finlaggan Trust needs support. The Finlaggan Trust writes:
We have already secured partial funding from a number of sources and are able to contribute a certain amount ourselves, but there remains a £30,000 shortfall in the £86,000 total nonetheless. If successful in our fundraising we hope to begin work in September/October 2021, with a five- to seven-week timescale for completion of the build, C-19 restrictions and weather conditions permitting.
If you want to support the Finlaggan Trust you can make a donation at The Finlaggan Walkway Project JustGiving campaign. As of writing this in the early days of the campaign 8% of the target have been reached, hopefully that will jump up soon and continued access to Finlaggan can be secured:
Same as so many other events this year the Islay Sessions 2020 will take place online. They will also be a bit shorter this year, taking place on Saturday 21/Nov/2020 in the evening. However, the line-up is as good as ever with some familiar faces (as in, they have performed at previous sessions) and some new artists. Today the organisers uploaded a short teaser: