Islay snaps

sandbruce

1: Bruce loves the beach

portnahaven
machirbay
2, 3: Great photoshoots in my favourite locations

portcharlotte
4. tasty crabs claws at the Port Charlotte Hotel

billysbench
benchdetail
pimpernel
5, 6, 7: Discovering Billy’s Bench near Bowmore, and a Scarlet Pimpernel growing through the shingle at Portnahaven

skies

8. Fine weather for walking

crag

wazzstrider

9, 10: The first time in four and half years that, while away, I have not been bothered in one way or another by my health or my physical limitations. Am I really so much better? Or have I merely finally adapted to my “new normal”? Either way, it felt pretty good to climb up behind that crag, to see that view.

a bottle of Uigeadail

Tom likes to run the Islay half marathon. Not only does this race take place in one of our favourite places, but the Islay half marathon is always a grand occasion, with wonderful local support. The Islay half marathon is also sponsored by Ardbeg. Ardbeg is one of Islay’s eight distilleries and the whisky it produces is Tom’s undoubted favourite of any usquebaugh. Ardbeg is very generous with its sponsorship: all competitors receive a wee dram or two at the end of the race, and there are a dizzying array of prizes, most of them whisky related. Tom is in no way a pot-hunter, but it is fair to say that the prospect of a tasty bottle of Ardbeg has certainly spurred him onward on each of the seven occasions he’s run this race.

Here’s the start of this year’s Islay half marathon.

start

. . . here’s Tom shortly after setting off:

runner

. . . despite his recent appendix-related woes, and subsequent lack of training, he had a great run, finishing in 1 hour 25 minutes and coming in 3rd Veteran (that’s the third bloke over 40, in case you were wondering). We were agog at the prize giving: would the 3rd Veteran actually win a bottle of . . . Ardbeg?

prize

Yes indeedy ! And not just any Ardbeg . . . Tom’s prize was a bottle of Uigeadail!

Uigeadail

Uigeadail is named after the “dark and mysterious” loch which provides the Ardbeg distillery with its distinctive water. Tom is such a great fan of this whisky, and was so intrigued by this loch, that we actually took a pilgrimage on foot to it five years ago last winter. It was indeed dark. And mysterious. And very, very cold. Here is Tom at Loch Uigeadail in January 2009 . . .

tomatUigeadail

. . . and here he is having imbibed several prize-winning drams of its namesake in August 2014.

winner

CONGRATULATIONS, TOM!!

Islay weekend

cairn

This past weekend I turned 40. I am not too keen on birthday celebrations, and a quiet weekend in one of my favourite places was just what was required.

foxgloves

So though we weren’t celebrating my birthday, we definitely had cause for celebration . . . , having just had an offer accepted on a lovely house!

waves

Our new place really is absolutely wonderful and it is frankly a massive relief to have this part of the process sorted out at last.

seastick

Meanwhile, in Edinburgh, the renovation work continues. The flat now features a shiny new bath, a plumbed-in kitchen sink, and a fantastic new floor. There is, however, no electricity in the kitchen or bathroom, no oven, no internet connection, and an awful lot of dust. I confess I find the nothing-is-where-it-is-supposed-to-be business extremely disconcerting, and am a bit rubbish at dealing with it. But every day I count my lucky stars for the good friends and neighbours with whom I’m surrounded, on whose accommodating kindness, stupendous cooking and modern ‘facilities’ I have been able to rely over the past few weeks.

wazzwagon

Anyway, I think I can now safely say that the past few months’ upheaval has a happy END in sight. I am tremendously excited about moving to our new place – and most of all to Tom and I having our own shared space again – as opposed to our two lives being divided between an Edinburgh building site and a Glasgow bedsit. I don’t want to jinx the move by talking too much about it, but I am sure you will find that I won’t be able to shut up about it once we’re settled in.

finlaggan

Onward! Westward!

humans and other creatures

Hiya! It is I, Bruce. I have just returned from a F-U-N time on the island of Islay. This time was particularly fun as I have spent the past few weeks having no fun at all (going back and forth to the place where they put you on a table and poke at you, and are forced to don the humiliating cone.)

Islay is fun because there is a big beach . . .

. . . new walks with interesting smells . . .

. . . and I get to live in the box with the humans, which I really enjoy.

Still, there are things about being in the box that can be very confusing. Such as why it is OK to be wet some times. . .

. . . and not others.

To my mind, the most annoying characteristic of the human-creature is its inconsistency. For example, why is it that these buddies are good to play with . . .

. . . while these are not?

In fact, it is in relation to other creatures that the human-creature is most unpredictable. For example, one evening on Islay we visited this place. . .

I was told that there were otters about, and that I had to be very good. We sat in the box while Kate and Tom stared out of the window, occasionally muttering. After what seemed like an aeon, there was some excitement and animation, and Kate started reaching for her camera. All that had happened was that this had appeared in the water.

. . . which was, of course, not an otter, but a seal.

Now, if they’d have let me out, and into the water, I could have told them right away that there were seals in that place, and not otters. But as well as being inconsistent, human creatures like to think they know best.

But we dogs know better.

See you soon, love Bruce x

Islay half marathon

We have been away, enjoying a long weekend on Islay. The Islay half marathon is one of Tom’s favourite races (mine too, for that matter) — not only does it take place in a wonderful location, but the local support is tremendous — every year the folk of Bowmore put on a marvelous post-race spread for the runners (whisky included), and the race sponsors, Ardbeg, offer a dizzying number and variety of prizes. Ardbeg also happens to be one of Tom’s favourite tipples — the prize of a bonus dram or two is not to be sniffed at, and he was taking this race quite seriously.

The runners assembled at the start line:


And set off, up the hill and out of Bowmore.

It was a warm day, and I was particularly impressed with the efforts of the chap in the giant pink costume, who was running in support of a Parkinson’s charity.

Bruce and I went for a walk . . .


(Bowmore harbour, with the Paps of Jura in the distance)

. . . and timed things to return to the finish line before Tom came in. . .

. . . in a very creditable sixth place!

The pink-costumed chap rolled in, still in good spirits, a bit later.

Being sixth, Tom just made the prizes – the first time he’s done so. There was much whooping and cheering from me later on in the village hall.

He was pleased too . . .

. . . and a few drams went down later in celebration, as you might imagine.

Well done, Tom – Slainte!

Islay inspiration

I love camping: I suppose there is just something about taking the time to simply be in the outdoors that allows the world to insinuate itself upon you in the most pleasing way. And I find Islay a particularly inspiring landscape. I like to potter about just looking at stuff, and always come home with a head and notebook full of ideas. Good weather helps too, of course: being able to sit outside in the long, light evenings watching hares, and listening to the wark-wark of corncrakes is a delicious kind of treat.

The things I see around me in Scotland, and the photographs I take of them are certainly my principal source of inspiration. Oftentimes it is the “feel” of something in a photograph (or perhaps more accurately the memory the photographs invoke of the feel of a place, thing, or occasion) that sparks off an idea. Here are a few groups of images that may or may not work their way into a thought . . . that later works its way into a design.

Thrift, spent blooms, rocks and sand.


Kildalton






Bruichladdich






A Jura triathlon

We spent last Friday and Saturday on the wonderful island of Jura — one of our very favourite places. The island was as beautiful and warmly-welcoming as ever (though we were very sad to note the closure of the beautiful gardens at Ardfin after their recent purchase by an absentee hedge fund manager). Our pricipal reason for visiting at this time of year is that Tom likes to run the Jura Fell Race (you can read earlier accounts of this race here and here)

To those of you who aren’t hill runners, this event will probably seem pretty bonkers. It involves seven hills, eight thousand feet of ascent, and sixteen miles over some really challenging terrain – bog, boulder fields and rough quartzite scree. But if you have been to Jura, you’ll see why Tom and so many other runners return year after year: the Paps are truly fabulous hills – the sort that demand you to get out and about in them (I climbed them once myself 6 or 7 years ago, but they would definitely be too much for me in my present circumstances). They dominate the landscape of this part of the Hebrides to the extent that it is hard to take a photograph without them looming large and pap-like somewhere on the horizon.

Here they are from Port Charlotte:

From Finlaggan

And from below on the Sound of Jura, where you can really get a sense of how these giant quartzite cones seem to rise spontaneously out of the water.

Like many other places in the UK, the Hebrides have recently been enjoying some glorious weather. At 9am on race day, it was already extremely warm. Warnings about dehydration and heatstroke were added to the usual comforting remarks about the dangers of the race.

And then they were OFF!

While Tom was away facing the Paps, I had my own (small) challenge to complete. For the past month or so, I have been practising my tricycling with the aim of being strong (and safe) enough to pootle on the road up to Three-Arch Bridge to see Tom come down from the hills toward the end of the race, and then cycle back with him to the finish line at Craighouse. This is a round trip of six and a half miles on three wheels – nothing in comparison to the task Tom was engaged upon, but certainly an undertaking for someone whose wonky left side is still suffering the after-effects of a stroke and hemiplegia.

I practised my ride the day before the race and reckoned I’d be fine.

On race day, I timed my tricycling to Tom’s predicted finishing time, and happily made it to the bridge just a few minutes before he appeared off the last hill. You’ll have to take my word for it that the tiny dot in the centre of the picture is Tom (the slightly larger figure to the left is a race marshall).

And here he is coming over the stile just before the bridge.

Obviously there are no pictures of our joint journey back into Craighouse, as we were both otherwise engaged (he on foot, me on wheels). The race was really tough in the heat, but Tom completed it in 4 hours 28 minutes – his best time yet! I was also very happy to complete my own mini-challenge, and happily without attendant bog-water, blood, and bruises.

The third element of our Jura triathlon was, of course . . . swimming! It is not often that one gets a chance to do this in the sea off the Hebrides, and for me it was an opportunity not to be missed, even without a proper costume.

This was the first time I’d swum in the sea since my stroke.

And it was my first time ever swimming with a dog.

The water was clean and clear and cold and full of fish. It was really pretty amazing.

To anyone who has survived a stroke, can I say: though we may never be able to undertake a feat of endurance anything like the Jura Fell Race, small physical goals that make our wonky bodies work just a little bit harder are just as important and certainly as satisfying. Try riding a trike! Swim in the sea! I know that I feel a joy at being able to complete these physical challenges that is more intense than any sense of accomplishment I felt before my stroke. These small things — like being able to take to the water, or accompany one’s partner in the final stage of an epic race — remind me just how grateful I am to still be alive.

I am two

Hiya, it is I, Bruce. I was born on the 27th May, and now I am two years old. This weekend we celebrated my birthday at some very fun places called Inner Hebrides. To travel there, you have to get on noisyboat.

As everybody knows, I am called Bruce. Yet apparently I have another name that no-one ever calls me. This other name – Finlaggan – was hitherto unknown to me and it belongs to Kennel Club. Now, as far as I know, a kennel is a sort of dog prison, and belonging to a club of kennels does not interest me at all. Also, if this other name is my “proper” name, then why on earth am I known as Bruce? Clearly, being two years old means that the humans can now bother me with these confusing and pointless issues of nomenclature.

This other name – Finlaggan – also belongs to a place on the island of Islay. Kate told me that this place was once the seat of the Lords of the Isles.

Finlaggan is surrounded by water: good. Finlaggan is a Historic Site: bad. What is the point of all this lovely water if you cannot run about and jump in it?

Kate told me that Finlaggan was my spiritual home. Though it is a very nice spot, I think it may actually be more her kind of place than mine.

If you ask me, what every birthday needs is somewhere you could hold a really good party. I think I might have found just the place.

This tidy pile is currently on the market for a mere 1.6 million donuts. I think it would suit me down to the ground.

Imagine me, if you will, bounding unconstrained through the twenty four bedrooms, and wreaking happy havoc in the deer larder.

Truly, a hoose for Bruce. Unfortunately for me, my humans’ tastes are a little more modest.

But even so, I think I’m lucky to have them. We always have fun.



. . . though sometimes you do have to question their sanity.

Anyway, despite not even knowing what a birthday was before last week, I had an excellent one. I’m now looking forward to many more with the humans.

Pretty exhausting, really.

See you soon, love Bruce x

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