Tag Archives: Scotland

A Comedy Writer’s Trip to St Kilda

I was found remaking a movie last month, on the top of the highest sea cliffs in the UK. Well, a book and a film if I’m honest. One minute I was Cathy, hand dramatically against forehead, searching for Heathcliffe through the romantic mists and only finding – and narrowly missing toppling off – real cliff-cliffs.

“Be with me always – take any form – drive me mad! Only do not leave me in this abyss, where I cannot find you!”

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The astonishing view of St Kilda from Seamus Morrison’s boat

I could tell Mr wasn’t impressed with my literary show as we floundered about lost for a hairy quarter of an hour in the misty bog. Well, he couldn’t see me to be fair. And I couldn’t see him, which was why I panicked a bit when a giant sea bird chose that moment to dive bomb me from out of nowhere.

‘Woah! Not that form, Heathcliffe.’

We were extreme islanding; hiking to the top of ‘the island at the end of the world’, which we all knew was in Scotland of course. St Kilda in the Outer Hebrides to be exact. And even on that boiling hot, Scottish summer’s day – known locally as freak weather conditions – Hirta had its very own cloud which I’m convinced just sits there on guard all the time, like a giant, fluffy, white lizard from a 1950’s B movie.

Now, I know you’re not going to believe I did this, so here’s the photographic evidence of me doing ‘a Cathy’ just prior to ‘the Tippi’ which I’m going to tell you about next: 

If you haven’t heard of St Kilda until now, it’s an amazing place with a fascinating history which you must look up when you’ve had enough of reading this brief spin on my day here.

The people that had lived on the only occupied island, Hirta, since the Bronze Age were evacuated; forced to leave behind everything they knew, in 1930. Currently, the only year-round residents are military personnel, conservation workers, volunteers, scientists, wild Soay sheep and more birds than you can shake a mobile phone at. Which I absolutely did not do, after innocently and accidentally stumbling across a Skua’s nest while wandering about lost in the fog, just in case any member of the trust is reading this.

Which brings me to that Tippi Hedren in The Birds thing.

A trip to St Kilda was on my bucket list. I got off the boat and strode up that cliff side like the intrepid adventurer I was in my head, proud as punch to look back and find not another soul had been brave enough to follow us. Weren’t we fit and daring?

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The mostly abandoned houses on High Street

No, actually. We were knackered, a little bit lost and slapped on the head a couple of times by the mahoosive webbed feet of an angry Skua that didn’t take kindly to my wandering too near their nest. You can’t blame them really. But it was an accident and I did back away without having disturbed anything but my husband, who thought I was having an altitude meltdown and was laughing until I opened my back pack and started pelting him with sandwiches in the greatest, most quick-thinking display of self preservation I’ve ever achieved.

Me and birds.

I wasn’t stood behind some bird watchers, with their cameras trained on 40,000 barnacle geese that had settled in a field on Gruinart, before shouting, ‘Luci, come look at this!’ to my daughter on a day in 2013 that this entry happened on the Islay blog either…

barnace

Many, many thanks to Seumas and our brilliant guide John of www.seaharris.com, for what was one of the most spectacular and amazing days ever, made only better by the three home-made portions of ginger cake we ate. Magic.

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Little Ol’ Whisky Drinker Me – A Comedy Writer’s Tour of Islay

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Pause for a dram on beautiful Machir Bay

Warning: All characters appearing in this blog are real. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely on purpose.

Those of you that regularly follow my tweets will know I visited one of the many beautiful, under populated corners of Scotland when I took an escorted whisky tour with Scottish Routes in July this year.

‘Can’t wait for you to meet the Queen of the Hebrides,’ my hosts @ScottishRoutes tweeted me – resulting in a fifteen minute Google search, as I looked up the name of the ferry that was to take me across from the mainland. In case you don’t know what I didn’t know, I’ll save you the trouble. The Queen of the Hebrides is not a ship taking you to Islay, it IS Islay.

There is something else I didn’t know before the tour. Islay isn’t pronounced I-S-L-A-Y. It’s I-S-L-A-G-H – as in Isla St Clair, Isla Fisher and Isla-have another whisky.

You might think my visit to this mecca of whisky connoisseurs worldwide, with its eight distilleries, all of which I was going to visit for a tasting, understandable. Until you learn that I don’t – or didn’t – like whisky. ‘Why on earth?’, I don’t hear you ask. (Because you are reading this and I am, let’s face it, probably out walking the dogs by now). Well, I was on a serious mission this time – to write a highly unusual, in-my-inimitable-style travel article. PS this isn’t it…

ImageI’m not normally what you might call a writer of facticles, mainly because I like to make up my own words for stuff – and refer to things as ‘stuff’. Yet this trip brought me two challenges; to write something off the comedic line and to taste a lot of samples of – and learn all about – an alcoholic beverage I have never enjoyed for four days straight. Yes, that’s sans mixers. And, dear reader, I tried them all – what must have amounted to around twenty shots in four days. This is because the beauty of an escorted tour of distilleries affords you some generous sampling opportunities and, although I was a sworn whisky hater, I made a unique discovery about myself – I don’t like ‘peaty’ whiskys. But I do like lesser peated ones. To explain, during the drying process of the damp malt over a peat heated fire, the smoke gets into the barley. The difference in the smokiness of the whisky depends on the time the barley is exposed to the biting peat smoke. So, the fact is you cannot say, ‘I don’t like whisky,’ until you have tried them all. You now have my permission to do so. Tell them Heather said it’s an essential education 🙂

Thanks to my Scottish Routes tour guide James Donaldson, for a wonderful tour and oodles of patience. Not only did he show us the delights of what was undeniably one of the most beautiful and friendly places on earth, but he also rescued my sunglasses after I left them in the wonderful Lochside Hotel one night. The fab folk there had greeted me like an old friend because we had met on Twitter beforehand – then heckled me in an amplified fashion as I walked past the singing, guitar playing manager on my way to the loo:

‘Let us know if you can hear us while you’re in there Heather and we’ll let you know if we can hear you!’ 🙂

I didn’t take this little joke seriously for a moment. Of course they couldn’t hear me; I checked under the toilet seat for microphones.

Tour guide James also had to help me apologise profusely to the owner of the fantastic hidden gem that is Islay Woollen Mill. Not only did I arrive late for the tour after pausing outside to take photos, but I unknowingly passed by the group gathered behind some shelving and headed upstairs to the owners’ living quarters, attracting the attention of their rather lovely, elderly dog Tam, who was guarding the door against pesky, lost tourists.

‘Please don’t let him come downstairs, he’s very frail,’ owner Gordon Covell called up to me as I greeted Tam with a pat on the head. Turning round to realise I was stood on the open staircase directly above the group in full view of everyone, I tripped somewhat sheepishly back down to where I was supposed to be – with the group listening to Gordon’s talk about how Queen Elizabeth once turned up in person to buy tweed from him. A fluffy tickle behind my knee then alerted me to the fact that Tam was now behind me, having followed me downstairs.

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The World’s only Slubbing Billy & the tartan used in the film Braveheart – made at the tiny Islay Woollen Mill

‘I’m.. I’m.. so sorry, ‘ I stammered, turning bright pink as everyone stared at me and my new canine pal with bemused smiles. The group were used to me by now. I imagined reading their postcards home:

‘Having a fab time in Islay. Met the actual Calamity Jane.’

Having to interrupt his talk because of the crazy lady for a second time, Gordon told me, ‘Oh, Tam never goes downstairs because it’s hard on his old, arthritic legs. Never mind. I’ll carry him back up in a bit.’

Which he did.

I left with a memory of taking a final look at the splendid view of this quaint, one hundred and thirty year old mill in its idyllic, beside-a-stream setting,  where tartan from several Hollywood blockbuster movies was designed and produced. It is me peering from our mini-coach window as it pulled away – and spying Gordon chasing old Tam out of the front door as he tried to follow us.

By the end of my tour, I did find a new appreciation for whisky, taking home a cheeky, rather scrumptious Bruichladdich, which Mr and I slugged as we celebrated my signing with literary agent Hannah Ferguson of the Marsh Agency shortly after my return.

I truly had the time of my life so a HUGE thanks to Scottish Routes – I honestly cannot recommend their four day whisky tour highly enough. It was an out of this world experience I’ll never forget and up there as one of the best things I’ve ever done. In true holiday snaps sharing fashion, here is a little video montage of photos with some more info from my trip. Don’t tell me you’ve never been to Islay. GO to Islay! You can check out how to book with Scottish Routes HERE

Learn more about Islay HERE