Travel Reference
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to Rachael. Rachael is four and very strong willed. She is an uninhibited singer at bath
time and hums when she draws. A lovely, single-minded, head-down-determined, even
grumpy child, it's too early to tell whether she's inherited the female Roxburgh laugh
from her mother and grandmother. I like her a lot. Belinda is married to Robert, who is
chef at the nearby Machrie Hotel and does wonderful things with local scallops, venison
and beef.
We're driving out to the Machrie for lunch when we see a buzzard. 'Oh wow,' I say.
'A buzzard! Look.' Ann and I are big fans of buzzards; we're members of the RSPB but
not very dedicated ornithologists, and a buzzard is one of the few large birds we're able
to identify confidently. They're becoming much more common than they once were but
it's still literally remarkable for us to see one near where we live. The specimen we spot
on the way to the Machrie is a big, slow-flapping adult, making its way empty-taloned
across the fields to a nearby telephone pole, to perch and scan.
'Ha!' Toby says bitterly, glaring at the thing. 'Buzzards. They're the reason we don't
have any songbirds at Ballivicar.'
'Oh,' I say, crest rapidly falling. What a townie you're showing yourself to be, Banks,
I think.
'And as for the otters—'
'You have otters?' I say, delighted again. 'I love —'
Toby growls. 'Damn things keep eating the ducks.'
Islay is a fertile, fecund place which is surrounded by - almost infested with - wild-
life. There are orcas, dolphins and seals off the coasts, feeding on unseen numbers of fish
and crustacea. There are three species of deer scattered through the forests and hills, each
of them apparently pursuing lives largely dedicated to jumping out in front of cars at night
with the absolute minimum of warning, in - one has to assume - some misplaced spirit
of sportingness. There are multitudinous birds of prey, including those songbird-snaffling
buzzards, clouds and carpets of wintering geese - just passing through to refuel from and
leave fertiliser on the fields (again, at least three different species) - pheasants (plump,
brightly coloured birds prone to wandering around fields, hedgerows, verges and any in-
triguingly tarmacked surface with a distracted air, looking vaguely lost, as though they
have the sneaking suspicion they should be somewhere else … basically road kill waiting
to happen), otters (boo! hiss! Bad otters!), hares - lots of hares, usually seen bounding
away on back legs that somehow look too long for them, as though they've borrowed
them from a young gazelle - rabbits, plus a whole slew of smaller creatures that are gen-
erally only seen in squashed form, decorating the lumpy, undulating, peat-floated road
surfaces of Islay with brown-red splodges of fur, meat and bone. These are, especially
when fresh - and indeed preferably twitching - of enormous and consuming interest to
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