Started in 1986 by Patrick Bauer, places are much sought after, but those who do make it to the start line are richly rewarded. Under the scorching Moroccan sun, life-long friendships are fostered through a shared experience of unforgettable days spent running across saltpans, up desert-mountains, through ruined towns and through the occasional sand storm.
This year there were 1,350 competitors from all over the world and most people were taking on the event solo but others in teams. Sir Ranulph Fiennes was competing this year hoping to be the oldest Britain to complete this race so this does put in perspective how tough this race is. There was a good percentage of competitors raising money for charities including James who was raising money for Edinburgh Sick Kids Hospital and a total of £3,500 was raised.
Not only is it a 6 stage event but the event is completely self-sufficient meaning you have to carry everything you need for eating, sleeping, running and protecting yourself from the sun, so the idea is to get your pack as light as possible. Competitors really take this seriously as every gram can make a difference. However James thought that he would require some reading material during the race. What else would he do apart from look at the stars. He decided to carry Issue 126 (The Best Whiskies in the World, Awards Special) for the entire journey through the Sahara Desert. He is confident that Whisky Magazine may not ever have made such a journey on foot strapped to the back of a rucksack.
Everyone had to sleep in the same conditions which was a tent canopy and just the natural elements to sleep on (no sides). James was very fortunate to share with six others and they made each other laugh and luckily they all got on. In particular every evening after they had finished each stage he would take out his copy of Whisky Magazine and read his fellow competitors interesting articles about certain distilleries etc. He would also read interesting facts about whisky e.g. "What country do you think won the best whisky 2015?" Competitors were very interested to find out it's from Taiwan. "Tell me more James..." and on he read.
Isle of Harris Distillers builds up to launch
Isle of Harris Distillers, the Hebridean island's first commercial whisky distiller, has completed fundraising for a new maturation warehouse which is now under construction ahead of the distillery's launch this summer.
Thanks to its close ties to the island's crofting community, the company has obtained a piece of land perfectly placed to allow The Hearach malt whisky to mature and benefit from the unique character of Harris's climate.
Work is under way on the new warehouse, which will store up to 4,000 casks containing the equivalent of a million bottles, after distilling begins. The Hearach will mature in the warehouse for years before it is bottled and sold, but meanwhile private individuals are buying casks of The Hearach which will be stored for them in the warehouse.
The land for the warehouse was sold to the company through its links with a local crofter and businessman, Roddy MacAskill. Mr MacAskill said, "This will be good for the village of Tarbert and the island and I gladly agreed to the company setting up on my croft. The distillery has already employed local people - a great boost for an area starved of paid regular employment.
"The distillery will be a boon for the island and the local community is all for it. I have even bought two of the first casks of The Hearach myself - one for me and one for my son - so we'll be able to watch it mature." The new facility is being built by 3B Construction, of Ayr, and will be completed by June, ready to accept the first casks of production.
Funding for the facility has been assisted by a grant of almost £250,000 from Highlands & Islands Enterprise. This, in addition to the £1m planned equity round recently completed, means the company has now raised a total of £8.3m in equity and £3.1m from grants. The equity round, agreed by existing shareholders at the completion of the original funding, provides the company with additional working capital for stock investment and operating activities.
IHD Managing Director Simon Erlanger said: "An opportunity came along to buy a piece of land at Ardhasaig, only three miles from the distillery site in Tarbert in a perfect spot for our casks to benefit from the prevailing weather arriving from the Atlantic.
"Roddy Macaskill is a good supporter of our project and Ardhasaig is a beautiful spot with a western outlook to the Atlantic and north to Harris's tallest mountain the Clisham, and the derelict whaling station at Bunabhainneadar. We believe the island's climate is perfectly suited to maturation of our malt whisky and this is the perfect spot to take advantage of that.
IHD's intention has, all along, been to become a central force in developing the island's economy and to be a valued part of its community.
Speyside Festival round up
James Campbell, chairman of the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival, said, "We had a truly memorable five days celebrating the very best of Speyside whisky, along with its culture, scenery and people. I can honestly say that this has been one of the best festivals on record, with an overwhelming amount of positive feedback already filtering through.
"We will be carrying out an in-depth study to assess the impact of the Festival in the course of the next couple of weeks, but already we know this year that we hosted visitors from a record breaking number of countries. We set the benchmark in 2014 with 30 different nationalities, but we broke that this year with a total of 34 countries represented. As well as visitors from all over the UK and Europe, we saw guests from destinations as far flung as Australia, Korea, Taiwan, Kazakhstan and Mexico.
"And of course we had a huge amount of support from the local community. It was genuinely heart-warming to see so many local people getting involved and enjoying the Festival events alongside our guests from overseas.
"The number of overseas visitors this year goes to underline that the Speyside whisky industry has worldwide appeal and that the reputation of the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival as a first-class event well worth travelling to is growing. I spoke to one group of friends from San Francisco who had spent the past 18 months planning their visit to Scotland around the Festival.
"While we understand that they came to enjoy this fantastic product in its spiritual home, we hope the fantastic array of events, coupled with the warm welcome they received, will show that there are many more reasons to visit Moray Speyside than just whisky.
"There were too many brilliant moments during the Festival to single out, but as ever the opening night gala dinner and opening ceilidh were real highlights and demonstrated just how committed Speyside's whisky industry is to working together for the good of the area. It is this kind of passion and friendship - the real spirit of Speyside - that will ensure the Festival continues to grow from strength to strength in the years to come."