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Love On The Rocks
Posted on: 5th February, 2016
Perhaps February the 14th will prove us wrong but it seems safe to say we Hearachs are not often given to gushing gestures and red-blooded outpourings of affection. So with Valentine’s Day just around the corner you’ll forgive us if we don’t distil a bright pink gin or wrap up our wares in big bows to aid in the annual festival of wooing!
Once upon a time we took courtship rituals rather more seriously, particularly on the island of Hiort in St Kilda. Here, in this isolated community, some 45 miles off the Harris coast, young men turned to a little more than poetry and cards to prove their worth to their intended.
Not far from the hill of Mullach Bi is the Lover’s Stone, a finger of rock projecting from the clifftop, 880 feet above the sea. On this fearful spot it was said a lover had to demonstrate his nerve before being allowed to marry. He was to stand on the edge of the precipice on just his left foot, draw his right leg upwards and outwards and with both fists outstretched touch his right foot in a deep bow.
“After he has performed this he has acquired no small reputation, being ever after accounted worthy of the finest woman in the world. It is firmly believed the achievement is always attended with the desired success.” - Martin Martin 1695
Elsewhere on the island is the Mistress Stone, not as high as the Lover’s Stone but much scarier to reach and to perform the ritual on. Said by Martin Martin to be the true rock on which to prove one's worth, we leave you to draw your own conclusions as to whether a Mistress is worth the extra risk…
Back on our own shores, old courting traditions were not quite as terrifying but still required a deal of skill and not a little bravery. The old custom of ‘bundling' prevailed for a time, particularly in Lewis to the north, with young men sneaking into the blackhouses of their beau or betrothed to spend the night. As families shared such living spaces it was an endeavour that required plenty stealth but honour was paramount and such nocturnal trysts involved no indecency despite what more modern morality may wish to imply!
Today, romance in our villages is likely to be kept simple, perhaps a roaring peat fire, a Neil Diamond song on Radio Nan Gaidheal and, for those with good taste, perhaps an Isle of Harris Gin over ice to share. If you’d like to follow our lead then we’ll happily send the love of your life a beautiful bottle unadorned with rose-petals and with not a Cupid’s Arrow in sight. We’ll even include an anonymous message to your amour if requested.
Meantime, let’s just be thankful that proving your love in Harris these days can be done with nothing more dangerous than a well-distilled drink…
UPDATE: We've just learned that John, one of our distillery team here in Tarbert, actually performed this very feat for his girlfriend. We take back everything we've implied about the unromantic Hearach!