A hauntingly beautiful seascape, the skerries along the southeastern coast of the Isle of Islay are now a nature preserve
Home to charming marine life and at least one species of scary skerry folklore
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Skerry is the name given to any of the countless little islets that dot the Scottish seacoast, from the Kintyre peninsula at the nation’s southwest corner, to the subarctic Shetland Islands far to the north. The Isle of Islay, the southernmost main island of the Inner Hebrides, just west of Kintyre, is surrounded by a necklace of skeeries ranging from small islands filled with nesting birds, to minuscule teeth of jagged rock barely rising from the surrounding shallow seas that are choked with thick kelp forests and teaming with aquatic creatures.
They were also known to be the haunt of kelpies, shapeshifting water spirits of ancient Pictish folklore, who often came ashore in the physical guise of a horse. Those unfortunate enough to encounter one were beguiled by the promise of a free ride on a beautiful mount, only to be unable to dismount before the kelpie returned to the depths to drown and devour them.
Not exactly Disney’s Little Mermaid.
Before the advent of modern conveniences, villages along Islay’s stormy southeast coast depended upon their local skeeries as a source of food, from seabird eggs, to shellfish, to larger marine life. All such traditions came to an end in 2005, when the South-East Islay skeeries became an official protected Area of Special Conservation.
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The Kintyre Peninsula is seen in the distance of this photo, miles beyond the lighthouse that stands on a small skerry at about the midway way point of the South-East Islay Skerries SAC.
While there are five other locations on Islay designated as protection areas for birds, the South-East Islay Skeeries received their specific designation as a marine ASC due to an important colony of some 600 harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) that rely on the area for pupping, molting, and hauling-out areas, where seals leave the water for long periods of time to socialize, usually segregated by sex and age group.
Some 80% of the SAC is made up of marine areas and sea inlets, while 18% is consists of the skeeries, as well as sea cliffs and the rocky shingle along the main island. The remaining 2% is salt marshes and salt pastures. The topography includes a series of underwater ridges, which provide the seals unique opportunities for hunting and sheltering from the strong currents in that location.
On the coastline near the southern end of the South-East Islay Skerries SAC is the Ardbeg distillery. One of nine active single malt whisky distilleries on Islay, several being known for producing the most robust single malts in the world, Ardbeg makes the peatiest, smokiest single malt Scotch whisky available today.
In 2017, Ardbeg released a special expression of their whisky named Kelpie, in honor of the local kelpie legends and the fact it has a particularly volatile and maritime character, not for the timid tippler of landlubber libations. And you can read an exclusive feature article on Ardbeg Kelpie at our sister site One Man’s Malt.
photos in this post are by Armin Grewe. Check out his marvelous photoblog
And his text and photo blog about one of the coolest places Planet Earth
The Republic of Adygea is virtually unknown in the West
Located within Krasnodar Krai, at the extreme southwest tip of the Russian Federation, near the Black Sea
Called Cherkess by the Soviets, when it was set in the 1920s as an autonomous region for the Adyghe people, more than 60% of the republic’s current 107,000 residents are ethnic Russians. But the Adygejtsy government is headed by an elected official, sensibly called the Head, who by law must be fluent in the Adyghe language.
Notable people who have come from Adygea include professional athletes, a cosmonaut, Sci-Fi novelist Iar Elterrus, and the artist and illustrator Konstantin Vasilyev, who had a minor planet named after him.
The Adyghe are made up of twelve tribes, with two languages, considered dialects by modern linguists. They are among the indigenous people of the Caucasus mountains, but the majority of the modern Adyghe population live in Turkey, Jordan, and Syria, and are Sunni Muslim. Most of the rest reside within the Adygea Republic and are primarily Orthodox Christians, with a minority of Muslims and others not officially religious.
Also called the Circassians, the Adyghe suffered from persecution and “ethnic cleansing” throughout their history, when the greater Krasnodar territory was conquered at various times, first by local tribes, then the Kievian Rus, then Byzantine armies, and basically ever afterwards. And the Adyghe have adopted customs from other cultures, just as they have provided some of their own. Hence, they embrace the fashion and spirit of the Slavic Cassocks who were at times their enemy, while also inventing the Cossack’s fabled shashka sword. The word shashka coming from the Adyghe term for “long knife.”
A crossroads of empires, the Adyghe homeland is found within an area that includes the northeastern shore of the Black Sea, and the peninsula situated directly across from the Crimea.
But the Republic of Adygea itself is landlocked within a larger republic, with plains in its northern areas, and mountains in the south. It has no lakes but several large reservoirs. It is one of the poorest Russian republics, but has considerable natural resources, with some 40% of its 2,900 square miles covered large forests, along with undeveloped oil and natural gas reserves.
The Adyghe are also capable farmers, with a deep and fabled history of cultivating fruit and nuts. The oak from the region is prized by Georgian and Russian winemakers, and similar to oak used by French vineyards. And the Adyghe tradition of wine goes back to the deepest recesses of their ancient tribal history, and it is something that even Muslim Adyghe have never given up. Their prehistoric religion was centered on the fruit tree and archeologists have discovered the remnants of Adyghe gardens deep within the wild forests of the Caucuses and Asia Minor, still producing fruit, nuts, and grapes to this day.
This landlocked “island” at the southwest edge of the Russian Federation has a surprising connection to the Isle of Islay, of the Inner Hebrides near the southwest edge of Scotland. Oak trees from a forest in Adygea were made into barrels and seasoned there before being shipped to the Ardbeg distillery, on Islay, where they were used to age single malt whisky that has now been turned into an exclusive, high-priced expression called Kelpie. The result is an impressive and eccentric spirit, even for that maker of exceptionally robust whisky. You can read my exclusive review of Ardbeg Kelpie at 1mansmalt.com.
June 8 1865, 150 years ago today, John Grant purchased Glenfarclas in Ballindalloch, Scotland
Monday Map celebrates 150 years of excellence and dedication to craft with this rendering of Scotland created that same fateful year.
Hearty people of a hearty land
Scotland had entered into the United Kingdom 1707 but retained its identity when a young Queen Victoria and Prince Albert fell in love with it on their first visit in 1842.
By 1865 all things Scottish were extremely popular in London and by 1875 Scotch whisky had replaced cognac as the Englishman’s aperitif of choice.
Glenfarclas remains an independent, family owned business, where the 5th and 6th generation continue an unmatched legacy of quality and tradition.