Travel Reference
In-Depth Information
the noisy flocks of crows which would otherwise be happily employed looking for sheep
recently fallen on their backs so they can peck out their eyes or get stuck into their juicily
vulnerable nether regions.
There's so much wildlife on Islay it even interferes with the whisky-making. Worst
culprits are the geese, who've been known to devour entire fields of barley destined for
the honour of becoming whisky, but this hasn't stopped fish and mammals from trying to
get in on the act as well; the day we went to Bunnahabhain they were taking apart one of
the cooling columns in the still room because a trout had got into the system from the sea,
wedged in the heat exchanger and stopped the whole operation in its tracks. It was even
- and evenly - cooked, due to the proximity of the place it got stuck to the hot bits of the
pipe work, though whether anybody actually ate it afterwards is not recorded. They were
discussing putting a better baffle plate or something on the inlet pipe when we left and
talking about how that otter managed to get itself wedged in the same place last year.
It may not exactly be the Serengeti, but living on any farm, especially one in a place
with as many wild animals around as Islay, seems to constitute a rapid lesson in the
brusque realities of animal life and death; if you didn't accept the red-in-tooth-and-claw
stuff before you get involved with country life, you very soon will. I suppose it's one reas-
on why farming seems to be a largely hereditary occupation, and why many people who
think it'll be nice to work with animals on a more permanent basis end up having a very
short career in the business.
I've never met a farmer yet who didn't have a whole herd of grisly animal horror
stories (often as not involving choice phrases like 'prolapsed uterus' or 'maggot-infested
wounds'). They are only too willing to share these tales with you in gaspingly forensic
detail, presumably to remind you of the non-monetary cost of the food in your belly (food
which, given the sheer gawd-awfulness of some of the stories, they are often in consider-
able danger of shortly being able to inspect for themselves). Even the purely arable farm-
ers without a true beast to their name seem to have a stock of tales fit to turn the stomach
of a starving vulture.
Life at Ballivicar strikes me as a complicated, often physically and emotionally
strenuous but ever-involving and frequently rewarding existence of sustained bucolic
chaos, surrounded by chemicals and feed stuffs, hay and manure, machinery, vehicles and
tack, by chickens, cats, dogs, sheep, cows, ponies, horses, that ever-present cornucopia of
local wildlife and a glorious, bewildering squall of absurdly apple-cheeked children run-
ning roaring around in dusty paddocks; barefoot, yelling, caked in muck and generally
having what certainly looks like a totally brilliant time. You find yourself having an en-
grossing conversation with a bright, happily snot-nosed four-year-old who's come up to
ask your name and show you a length of plastic pipe they've decided is a trumpet; you
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