It was time to go home.
After a good night’s sleep, a dog walk on a secret beach and a hearty breakfast, we packed our bags and left the lodge. The day was darker and clouds were rolling in from the west breaking themselves into rain and mist over Mealaisbhal foreshadowing the trip ahead though we were not to know it.
Marko was in fine fettle at the distillery, dressed to the nines in an orange boiler suit with Scotchlite reflective striping and greeting us with a grin. Our newly plugged cask sat in the middle of the still shed waiting for us.
“Good morning boys! You’re looking a little less green today eh! Fancy a dram?!”
And why not?
So with his whisky thief in hand and a stack of plastic cups under his arm we began to plunder the many and varied barrels and casks in his warehouse all the while getting an education on artisan Hebridean whisky making. We saw green malt and chomped on peated and malted barley, discussed the mashing process, various types of yeasts and the art of his craft in the absence of any climate controls.
Steve the dog had got wind of a mouse meanwhile and, while we got down to the dirty business of tasting spirits, spent the next two hours in heaven trying to catch the damn thing. The giant metal pipette worked overtime drawing spirits from all sorts of casks as Marko clambered up ladders and over barrels giving us a running commentry on the wherefors and whatnots of his assorted drams.
Sauternes, Rioja, Olorosso, Heaven Hills, the cask types rattled off and the samples kept coming in various hues and palates and by the time we were done most of us were glowing. Maybe we were supposed to spit?
Our education complete it was time to say farewell for a second and final time, the ferry from Harris left at 4pm and it was already midday. Time to get a move on.
We had one more visit to make before leaving the island, a flying tour of the Harris Tweed Hebrides mill at Shawbost to the north. Our pub had used two or three twills and a herringbone pattern of the clo mor during a recent interior re-design. Seating, balustrade rails and certain accessories all now bore the mark of the orb, the look, feel and practicality of the tweed making itself very much a part of the boozer’s appeal. I’d previously walked around Sticky’s mill in Stornoway and knew the process but the Shawbost mill, unlike KM’s was running at full tilt and the smell, noise and bustle was a pleasure to see. The rest of our group didn’t know where or how this great textile had come to be made and absorbed every stage of the making in awe and fascination.
The bales underwent washing, drying, dyeing, then carded, spun and warped onto beams ready to be shipped out to weavers all over the island who would tie them into their looms and get weaving. Great green machines rumbled and spun magically, vats steamed and doors opened to drying rooms ceiling high with wool. Huge banks of bobbins took on twisted thread, clanking automatons were fed cloth by boiler-suited bodachs and balachs. We saw the cloth then washed and finished, checked meticulously by hand by be-spectacled women in a bright, warm room full of gaelic radio before finally taking on the Orb stamp and being packed ready for shipping around the world. It was truly wonderful stuff.
As we stood in the sample room surrounded by swatch upon swatch of Haggas-rending patterns our guide turned to me and asked if I was from the island. Replying in the affirmative he quickly ascertained my genepool after a couple of quick questions.
“You’ll be a MacKenzie then…” he said with a glint in his eye.
“Aye that’s right, what gave it away.”
“Ah, you’re the spit of you’re Grandfather, I knew him well.”
Everybody laughed, at this, here in a place on teetered on the edge of the map where strangers know you without having ever met you.
On the road again, we looped north and then east across the desolate Barvas moor and retraced our steps back south, eschewing the Uig turn off for the road to Harris. The Clisham and her sisters were in full view this time, no longer hidden by night and provided our driver the goal on which to focus his foot to the floor escape from the island.
Leaving low-lying Lewis we sped into Harris and climbed high into bad weather at Ardvourlie, the vistas of Loch Seaforth shrouding themselves in cold clouds. Swooping into Ardhasaig it was not long before we reached the ferry terminal at the island’s pinched midriff of Tarbert.
Snow began to fall heavily and after a raid of the local Harris Tweed shop we sat waiting on a boat to take us over the sea to Skye.