This month’s Postcard from Orkney is shrouded in mystery… who created the drawings on stones in Hobbister Moor during lockdown?
When we launched our Postcard from Orkney series earlier this year, our plan was to feature imagery from local photographers and creatives across our blogs and social media channels. This month we might not be able to tell you who the artist is – but we can tell you a lot about Hobbister Moor! Lying just seven miles from our distillery and overlooking Scapa Flow bay, one of Europe’s largest natural harbours, the Moor’s peat is over 9,000 years old and nearly four metres deep in places. We only cut peat that’s aged between 3,000 and 4,000 years to fire our kilns - sustainability is key and, focusing on long-term regeneration, today we cut 40% less peat than we did in the past.
Peat is made up of layer upon layer of plantlife and vegetation, densely compacted over thousands of years and Orcadian peat is truly unique due to the lack of decomposed trees in its make up. Because winters are so fierce in Orkney – our islands are battered by ferocious salt-laden winds gusting in at up to 100 miles per hour – few trees survive on the exposed and barren moor, so our peat is woodless but rich in heather.
Peat is made up three layers - the top layer, Fogg, lies just below the surface and is packed with heather and rootlets; the second layer, Yarphie, is darker and more compact – it generates less smoke and more heat in the kiln; while the third layer, Moss, the oldest and deepest, is dense and lumpy, almost like coal. We cut our peat in April, leaving it to dry naturally under the bright Orcadian sun over summer, and by combining cuttings from the three distinct levels, we create the richly aromatic character we’re looking for.
Distilleries in Islay and Skye, for example, burn peat that’s full of decomposing tree stumps, branches and roots so it’s heavier and burns more quickly, generating more smoke. Our woodless but heather-rich peat burns slowly, intensely and sweetly in the fire of our kilns as it dries our malted barley. This gives rise to the distinctive smoky sweetness that is Highland Park’s hallmark.
Ironically, despite the lack of trees on Hobbister Moor, it’s a flourishing bird sanctuary and we’re proud to work with the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds to maintain a critical natural harmony between land and birdlife on the moor.
During lockdown, while many of us made the most of the opportunity to exercise outdoors, we began to spy drawings on stones as we walked across the moor. Who made them? Was Banksy isolating in Orkney during lockdown? We’d love to know!