It’s a strange thing to go through adolescence with an imaginary countdown clock in your head, as it slowly ticks away the years, days, and minutes until it’s time to start a second life elsewhere.

Even in my earliest memories, I remember knowing that as soon as I was of age, I would leave my home of Uist like so many had before me, with no real expectation of returning for good.

It was an idyllic childhood, and I’ve always been proud of an island heritage that stretches back as far as our family tree can document.

Still, every lesson learned in school or penny saved from a summer job seemed to be gearing up for the day the clock would finally stop as I packed 17 years' worth of belongings into my dad’s work van for the journey to a new home in Glasgow.

The Herald: Pictured: Sarah Campbell, the Herald's Food and Drink writer, left her island home at the age of 17Pictured: Sarah Campbell, the Herald's Food and Drink writer, left her island home at the age of 17 (Image: newsquest)

This is of course not the case for all islanders.

I can list many classmates who started their adult lives on Uist and remain there today working fulfilling jobs and raising families of their own.

But the reality was that after leaving school, there were little to no options available to pursue further education in my chosen field or chase the same career opportunities afforded to my mainland peers.

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That’s why, for me, the Herald’s New Highland Clearances series led by Caroline Wilson seems all the more poignant.

I can almost feel the all-consuming homesickness she writes of experiencing in her teenage years and have shared the heartache of being not quite ready to face the wider world while knowing that it was the only way forward.

My colleague's calls for more housing for rent or ownership, as well as a broadened range of educational courses, are sentiments that I have already heard echoed many times in my few short months as the Herald’s Food and Drink writer.

While there are incredible demonstrations of innovation and entrepreneurial spirit being displayed across the regions, it is crucial to recognise the unique challenges of running a business in the Highlands and Islands if they are to continue to flourish.

The Herald: Pictured: 57˚ Skye earth sea spirits founders Séamus Ó Baoighill and Seumas GormanPictured: 57˚ Skye earth sea spirits founders Séamus Ó Baoighill and Seumas Gorman (Image: Supplied)

Take for example, Séamus Ó Baoighill and Seumas Gorman, a duo who founded the award-winning 57˚ Skye earth + sea spirits as a way to return to their island home while achieving a career in distilling.

“When I decided to follow music, a lot of us felt we had to move away to Glasgow, Edinburgh or even further if we wanted opportunities to perform,” Ó Baoighill said.

“But there was always a dream of coming back to stay on the island, and now I see this business as a way to try and make that happen.” 

Four years in they have achieved huge success with a distillery, tasting room and visitor centre now operating at the foot of Beinn Na Chaillich in Broadford.

However, Ó Baoighill continued: “A big issue on Skye, not just for us, is a lack of available housing. 

“We’re soon going to require additional staff and I’m keen to try and get a lot more younger people on board.

“But if we want to continue to distil and bottle on the island there just isn’t anywhere for them to stay.”

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Adding to the pressures on staffing is the seasonal nature of running a business in the Highlands and Islands which ruthlessly dictates success.

The Herald: Pictured: Glen Mhor Hotel director Victoria Erasmus (centre) celebrates the 4 Star rating with Operations Manager Deirdre Lee (left) and Executive Chef Andrew Lee (right) (Image: Glen Mhor Hotel)Pictured: Glen Mhor Hotel director Victoria Erasmus (centre) celebrates the 4 Star rating with Operations Manager Deirdre Lee (left) and Executive Chef Andrew Lee (right) (Image: Glen Mhor Hotel) (Image: supplied)

A strong tourist season in summer is vital for surviving the quieter winter months, as explained by Victoria Erasmus, the director of the Glen Mhor hotel in Inverness, during our Hospitality Health series earlier this month.

She said: “It can be difficult in the Highlands because you’re hammered during the summertime and then find that it’s a lot quieter in the winter.

“It’s not necessarily that there’s a shortage of staff, but that there’s a shortage of skilled staff.

“Then there’s not a lot of accommodation available for workers, and because of the cost of living crisis renting can put a lot of financial pressure on young people.”

The Herald: Pictured: Croft and Cuan co-owner Christina MorrisonPictured: Croft and Cuan co-owner Christina Morrison (Image: Supplied)

Knowing these pressures all too well was Christina Morrison of Croft and Cuan in Lochboisdale, who last year shared her story for the Herald’s series exploring the daily impact of an unreliable ferry service on island food and drink producers.

After the knock-on effect of cancelled summer sailings forced her business to near breaking point she said: “I’m so passionate about people moving back to Uist and growing a family here.

“This is where I want my children to grow up, but some point during the last five to six months was the first time I turned around and thought ‘Why are we doing this?’.

“Every aspect of life would be so much easier if we lived on the mainland.”

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Despite any fears for the future as a result of these hurdles, I have yet to encounter a hospitality industry figure from the Highlands and Islands who is not immensely proud of their local patch.

In December, an interview with Jeni Iannetta of Muir of Ord-based Bad Girl Bakery summed up the steely determination and passion shared by those who have chosen to follow their dream of running a food and drink business outside of the central belt.

The Herald: Pictured: Jeni Iannetta of Bad Girl BakeryPictured: Jeni Iannetta of Bad Girl Bakery (Image: Supplied)

After establishing a Facebook forum designed to connect professional bakers working in rural areas she said: “Although I’m from Dundee, I believe that my business has succeeded here because of all of the amazing opportunities for bakers in the Highlands, from farmers' markets to bigger events like the Black Isle show.

“Things are tough for everyone at the moment, but positivity will always go further than negativity.

“If you imagine the 72 businesses of varying sizes who have joined the Highland Cake Collab already – it's astonishing.

“There’s so much talent in the region, shouting about it can only be a good thing.”

I’m hugely pleased to witness the Herald’s focus on the Highlands and Islands this week which has served as a reminder that no matter how far you travel from home, a piece of you will always remain there.

I hope that I can continue to do my part by sharing the stories of the incredible hospitality industry heroes working across the length and breadth of the country every day.