His Royal Highness In Harris

As sunshine battled bravely through black rainclouds breaking over the Clisham, a helicopter descended onto the coastguard helipad near the village of Direcleit. A short drive later and royalty was at our door as we welcomed HRH Prince Charles, Lord of the Isles to the Harris Distillery.

Regardless of who visits us here in Tarbert, we always strive to offer a warm welcome, a sharing of stories and a taste of our island spirit. So today was to be of no exception. Without too much fuss or fanfare, friends and family of our distillery team gathered to greet our visitor, the foyer offering an equal warmth as the peat fire proudly blazed.

Chairman Anderson Bakewell made the initial introductions before our managing director Simon Erlanger undertook a personal tour with the Prince, introducing more members of staff along the way. Relaxed and enjoying the rapport, we all had a chance to share our own tales as the distillery story unfolded along the way.

The heir apparent apparently has no airs or graces and Prince Charles’ genuine interest in the work we do shone through. Our Isle of Harris Gin bottle immediately caught his eye and his appreciation for the design and aesthetics were quickly forthcoming before things moved on to the Spirit Hall.

 

Head distiller Kenny Maclean was tasked with explaining the technical aspects of our whisky and gin production and he offered the Prince the chance to begin the day’s distilling with a twist of the still’s steam wheel. And with spirit-making underway by a little royal command we moved on to the cask warehouse.

There distiller Domhnull Macleod guided the sealing of a specially filled cask of Isle of Harris spirit marked with The Lord of The Isles and the date of this auspicious occasion. Our chairman led a sampling of the new spirit to be found within. His Royal Highness will be sent regular samples, then, at a time of his choosing, the whisky will be bottled and auctioned for his charity, The Prince’s Trust.

Things then proceeded to the bottling hall where the Prince met supervisor John Sutton and sealed a bottle of freshly made Isle of Harris Gin, to be enjoyed at leisure on a later date, before meeting members of the guest team in the shop.

Finally, the tour ended in the Canteen where residents of our local care home Harris House and family and friends of the distillery were enjoying some tea and home-baking. It was a wonderful opportunity for them to enjoy a chat with our visitor in the most informal of fashions and word is a wee Harris gin was sampled too.

 

It was soon time to say goodbye but before leaving, Prince Charles spoke highly of the work being done by the distillery here in Harris. With a tug of Harris Tweed, a beautifully carved commemorative plaque was unveiled to mark the occasion, the inscription in Gaelic reading ‘A hearty Harris welcome to the warmth of our hearth’. A simple signature in our guest book completed the formalities, 'Charles, 18th October 2016'

And with that our guest departed, his helicopter waiting to whisk him way as a crowd of local well-wishers waved him off. Inside, our extended Harris family gathered around the fire once more to mark the occasion with a few heart-felt words of thanks to all who made the effort to make the visit a success. Afterwards, the distillery’s managing director, Simon Erlanger, said: 

“It was an honour to demonstrate the great work, for and by the people of Harris, that’s being achieved at the distillery and to support The Prince’s Trust in its 40th anniversary year. The distillery has grown out of a realisation that the island's natural assets can be harnessed to address its economic problems. Like The Trust, we aim to support young people by creating an enterprise that will provide opportunities for their future.”  

Despite the formalities such an occasion entails, the atmosphere on the day was thoroughly relaxed and everyone involved was in good spirits throughout. Like most islanders, we're a fairly down-to-earth bunch of folk and likewise found His Highness to be as full of good humour and genuine interest as our fellow Hearachs. We look forward to sharing a dram with him again in future…

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