The island has been shrouded in a veil of mist as the huge bursts of sunshine have given way to mizzle and drizzle.

Show day on Islay in the second Thursday of August traditionally marks the changing of the seasons. And so it again proved.

The rain dances of those farmers and whisky distillers, after such a long dry spell of beautiful heat and sunshine, have been bountifully rewarded at last. The heavens have opened and the rain has plummeted down, unfortunately it appears those farmers have forgotten to tell ‘it’ when to stop, and now everyone is getting ‘twitchy’.

The ‘barley boys’, wait with their combines ready to roll. It is a fine balancing act, a difficult game, working with the changing seasons. Machinery at the ready, before all systems go and those crops across the island are harvested at their peak – hopefully.

As the barley ripens, the story of golden tales unfolds. The journey from grass roots on the farm, as fields are dressed, before the seeds are sown. The gradual ripening process as the barley matures. Getting the moisture content levels just right, before it is harvested is key.

The process begins a journey, which takes the barley on its way from the field, to playing its part in producing some of the world’s finest malt whiskies. It travels through the processes of malting, milling, and mashing, then fermenting, and on to distilling.

The raw spirit that results, is then left to mature in casks, and this is where the ‘magic’ happens, as the cheeky wee ‘angels’ share’ disperses, and some years later it is bottled. Ready for the drinking, for celebrations and good times, for toasting and the making and marking of those special memories.

It is the final part of a long journey that encompasses the island’s heritage and culture, a community spirit, and team spirit, that continues to grow and develop this age-old industry rooted deep in the island’s history.

For our part, at Persabus, we are a part of a cohort of farms on the island growing barley for Bruichladdich distillery. A distillery that has embraced Islay’s story, its farming community, carrying it along, as we become that small sentence, in the chapter of that big story, that helps makes the Islay single malts, a true island journey, with a worldwide audience. What the French would call 'terroir'.

It is a journey, a lifestyle that, for the Happy Farmer’s family, has spanned some 500 years in farming on the island. A way of life to be celebrated, as it continues to evolve.

Sadly, this year, with Covid-19 still lurking, the Islay, Jura and Colonsay Agricultural Show that was to have taken place in the show field had to be cancelled once again. The show is an integral and important event in the islands’ calendar – traditionally held on the second Thursday of August – marking annual celebrations that had their very beginnings way back in 1838.

The fabulous show committee, undeterred, though, had their plan B at the ready, with a virtual show, held online. The ‘no show’ show competitors fabulously got into the spirit of the event. All the hard work, passion and fun brought together in a celebration of shared photographs and online judging.

In among the various classes of horses, dogs, donkeys, and machinery, alongside the farming favourites of cows, bulls, sheep and tups there was a magnificent display of community spirit that spans the generations of the island communities.

There were Archie McPhee’s colourful sweet peas, that have been lighting up the head of the path leading to the infamous Machir Bay all summer, sporting a ‘first’ in the vase of cut flowers. There were scarecrows and crafts, then the young couple who fabulously scooped the Champion of Champions' title with their home-bred Limousin bull.

So, much work and lots of fun, but we did miss that show field. We missed our ‘show team’. The cohort of farming friends who arrive each year to join in the celebrations.

The joints of beef, cases of wine and whisky, left at the farmhouse door, ready for a huge post-show feast. That flying chicken, that somehow hurled itself out of a pot one year and flew right across the dining table. The banter in the sunshine, the stories long into the evening, as the tales get longer and louder, with more than a few wee embellishments for good measure.

The craic, the camaraderie and that all important celebration of farming, and island life. A time to up the tempo, but also a time to step back and appreciate all the hard work, effort and talent that goes on behind the scenes, on the islands’ crofts and farms, in the islanders’ gardens and homes.

The buzz and excitement as the finest of beasts and animals take to the show ring, those tents bursting with home-grown produce, crafts and home baking. The polished machinery, glinting in the sunshine, the stalls showcasing local groups, the vintage tractors, and cars, and then of course there’s ‘Currie’s Tent’. With its local musicians, huge spread of food and its warm, hearty, island welcome, as the party spills out across the field and beyond, long after the judging has finished.

That beautiful community spirit, as the island draws together for a day of fun, is contagious, as you get ‘picked up’ and swept along in a tide of excitement. The tension and nerves, as competitors prepare for the show ring.

Man, and beast coming together as a team, sharing that incredible bond. The horses that trot proudly, their smooth coats and glossy manes, the immaculate riders, poised with the straightest of backs, and smartest of gear. The muscly, beefy bulls, coats all trimmed and washed, hooves polished, as they stand proud and strong.

The final parade before the team games and the shenanigans takes centre stage. A tug-of-war, the tossing of the heavy wool bags. It’s no mean feat and makes for a show of strength and huge team spirit, as the field gradually begins to clear.

Animals are transported home in the sunshine, as tractors, trailers, and horseboxes retreat. Then there's a steady flow of show goers making their way along the lane to the local hotel.

Early evening and the island bars are positively pulsating with the noise and buzz of young and old continuing the celebrations. Celebrations which go on long into the night and beyond.

The stream of buses transporting the crowds onto the village hall for the show dance. The live ceilidh band, the slippery dance floor, bursting with energy as lads and lassies swing and burl their way through the favourites of Strip the Willow, Canadian Barn Dance, and the Boston Two Step.

The party goes on long into the evening and onto the days that follow, and the hearty tales fuel happy chatter keeping that show spirit alive, long after the cups and shields have been polished on the mantle pieces.

We missed the show and all that it encompasses for the island communities, but as the virtual world begins to transition across and the clans can gather once more, the islands’ voices will once again spill out to the mainland and beyond.

As the heady mix of ceilidhs and concerts flow. The craic and the energy of the next generation, beating loudly, carrying their followers in a merry dance through the beautiful culture and island ways.

Their music, spreading a charm and a character of a unique way of life, celebrating the crofting, farming and fishing communities of the Hebrides. The voices of Trail West, Skippinish, Skerryvore, Tidelines and Peat and Diesel leading us on.

The very heartbeat of these age-old communities are weaved into the lyrics and the tunes, and as those drums begin to beat, the toes begin to tap, and those bagpipes begin to roar. The fire, the spirit, the free-flowing energy, talent, passion, and creativity, as those young islanders bring the music of the Hebrides, the life and flow between the generations, forward, onwards and upwards.

See you in the dance hall!