I found a very interesting travel report today which is related to the Jura Malt Whisky Writer Retreat, organised by the Scottish Book Trust. To understand what it’s all about here is a quote from the Trusts’ website: “Scottish Book Trust and Isle of Jura malt whisky are working together to offer writers the opportunity to spend a month living and writing on the idyllic island of Jura. Each selected writer receives a month’s exclusive use of the luxurious distillery lodge, a bursary and travel expenses. In 2008 three writers are getting the opportunity to spend a month on Jura.” Jura is probably a good location for writing books, due to the tranquility and remoteness. George Orwell wrote his book 1984 on Jura at Barnhill in the late 1940s. Below a few quotes from the article called “lyrics from a lush landscape” by John Burnside, published in the Scotsman:
It’s been a while since Scottish Book Trust told me that I was going to the Jura Malt Whisky Writer Retreat for some precious writing time between mid-August and mid-September, and I knew I was looking forward to it, but I didn’t know how much was going on at the back of my mind. So, when I finally got here (after a three-day sojourn on Islay, because the Jura car ferry had broken down) I had so much work – so many promising notions – to be getting on with, I didn’t know where to start. At which point, of course, the place to start is by calming down and reminding yourself that there’s plenty of time. A whole month, more or less (car ferry notwithstanding). And also to take a look around and see where you are. In Jura. I didn’t know it would be such a beautiful place.
What I do know is that a beautiful place has beautiful place names – and when Catriona Mack, the housekeeper of Jura Lodge, brought me a pile of local interest books, the one I seized upon was Place Names of Jura: A Guide, by Calum McArthur. It’s not a big book – 16 pages, in fact – but it’s full of treasures. Beinn nan Capull, for example, which means “peak of the horses”, or Tom na Pioghaide, which translates as “hillock of the jackdaws”. The name “Jura” could originate in old Norse (meaning something like “deer island”) and the Vikings certainly were a presence here. The island is full of voices. All islands are. Everyone who passed by, or passed through, left a voice behind, their own individual sound, indelible, among the rocks and rivers and hill trails.
The holy grail, I suppose, is a process of distillation. Cask strength, at its best. Surely the right metaphor to end on, after a month of living and working next to a distillery. At night, or in the early morning, when I was about my business, the people who worked over there – a yard’s width away – were at theirs. Found that heartening, reassuring. We were both engaged in the business of making something – hopefully, what I was making might warm somebody, or inspire a good conversation, or close out a solitary evening by the fire almost, though not quite, as well as the water of life. So no goodbye to Jura – and one day, I trust, a return.