A Home From Home

Connection is very important to us here at the Isle of Harris distillery, between ourselves, our island community and with the wider world. We make every effort to share not just the spirits we make with others but also our story, what we do and why we do it, so that people might learn more about Harris and feel a deeper affinity to the place. But sometimes Harris does this job for us, with little or no help from our team in Tarbert!
There is something about our island home which simply seduces people. Time and time again we hear tales of folk who visit our shores, fall in love with what they find here and change their lives to grow closer to this special place however they can. One such person we met recently was Gisa Bakker from Amsterdam, an active outdoors woman with an Army background and current career in the world of translation and legal notary work.
Gisa had visited Scotland many times in her life but over time began to hear the Hebridean islands calling from far across the sea. Finally, on arrival here, she simply fell in love and now regularly makes the journey from the Netherlands over land and sea, to hike the high hills and explore the hidden corners of Harris on her bike (this is a Dutch girl after all!).
Simon, our Managing Director had met Gisa in Harris before the distillery was built and then recently re-connected at the recent launch of our gin in Amsterdam (more on that soon). So this week, as Gisa headed to her spiritual home here once again, and as this was her first visit to the new distillery, we were keen to meet up, renew the friendship and welcome her to our new endeavour… 

“I have to admit I had my reservations a little, I am a very difficult person to convince and worried about a distillery being built in such a lovely village like Tarbert. But when I saw it and how the whole thing worked and how much everyone was putting in the hard work I knew it was a good thing. I took a tour of the Distillery and it really was fascinating...easily the best tour I ever went on! Then the World Whisky Day party in the evening really proved to me that this is a social distillery with all generations present in a lovely warm welcoming atmosphere. It took away all my doubts!”

We also invited her to get hands-on while she was here and she joined us to help with the painstaking process of applying our labels and seals to our freshly bottled gin. Some 1200 bottles passed through her hands, each label carefully applied with her typical attention to detail. And all this while the sun was shining outside, we certainly admire her commitment to the job at hand as well as her handiwork!

We asked why she feels so connected to Harris, a place so far from her home...
"Every time I’m here in Harris I feel really happy, over here I don’t worry about anything. I think if you have a certain thing inside you before you come here then Harris will unlock it and you become connected that way. Not everyone, but that’s how it was with me. When I’m out on my bike, I just stop and look, stop and look. I love the heather most of all, I’ve tried to describe the hills and mountains to friends, the heather is like chocolate truffles, covering the land with soft brown truffles!”

So after an hour of chatting over a coffee in the distillery canteen it’s time to let Gisa go, get outdoors into the sunshine for one last time before she heads for Stornoway and the long road back to the Netherlands. But it’s clear from the look in her eyes and the passion with which she speaks that it won't be long until she returns again. A profound connection has been made, of which we played little part. The island has captured another heart and mind and we hope that back home in Amsterdam, with a glass of our gin to hand, Gisa can recapture some of the island she holds so dear.

Harris images © Seán Kerr www.seankerrphotography.com

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