Tomato and Orange

Weather: Sunny with virtually no wind, excellent visibility.

The morning was silent with the sunlight sparkling on the loch in front of our cottage. We watched as swans flew across our windows startlingly white in the blue sky. It was reassuring to see the seals pirouetting on the rocks on the small island on the journey to Fran’s house for lunch. Fran is an excellent cook and her tomato and orange soup is a delight if not a legend in these parts. Her house is at the end of a single-track road on the east of the island. It is situated in a copse of trees, patrolled by guinea fowl and has the most amazing panoramic views across the bay towards the Isle of Harris. Much of the art hanging in Fran’s house comprises original paintings celebrating the landscapes of these islands bringing the outside in and projecting the inside out. Compared to our own house the temperature in Fran’s house is tropical and for the first time in a month I and Nicola were down to one layer of clothing which was a pleasant change.

Once again our rudimentary knowledge of birds has been exposed and we hope we haven’t set too many hares running..  when we mentioned sighting a tawny owl. Keith, who is very knowledgeable in such matters, mentioned to us that this will have the local ornithological experts in a frenzy attempting to make such a rare sighting on the island. In fact, it was a short – eared owl. Lovely though, just the same. We had a quiet evening. There is no television or radio in the house and the only sounds are those of the fire and of the house breathing and creaking, there being no wind outside to rustle the grass or whistle past the eaves as on many recent occasions.

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It is one month since we first started to write this series of notes. We have been able to meet many new people and to give some of our friends and colleagues an insight into ourselves and our day to day progress on this project. We had always intended that it would change after about this time and sometimes events conspire to make this happen. We will continue to post information but it will now be on a weekly basis. We have had a tremendous amount of feedback and support and even sympathy. We thank you all for this, it is much appreciated.

Angie, our white cat has embraced his new singleton status seemingly without a ripple.

 

Yoga

Weather: Strong winds with hail showers, brighter later and cold

A morning spent at the weekly yoga session (not me, obviously). I wandered down to the Calmac terminal to make some enquiries about travel to the islands. It is very complicated without a car, which is a pity, as a number of people who wish to visit us will need public transport.  At the same time, the Ferry, splendidly named the ‘Clansman’ and registered in Glasgow was approaching the pier in Lochmaddy. There is something special about the arrival and departure of ferries to the islands. Often when enquiring about the whereabouts of a newspaper I am told that ‘the ferry didn’t bring them’ There is a mystique that surrounds them. Not everybody shares my enthusiasm for such things, but the arrival of the ferry always suggests exciting possibilities to me, and I am always curious to see who disembarks. Much of the day is spent doing administrative jobs, making phone calls etc. using the old house before we move all of our affairs to the Cottage at Minish. We had a quiet evening at the house.

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Both cats went out during the night at various stages. Although Ange has become more adventurous and it staying out for longer periods, Gaby is always the first to go out and the keenest to explore.

A Terrible Day

Weather: Very light winds, hazy sunshine

At 6am Gaby, our cat was outside. We called him, but he did not come. Nicola was worried about him as he always came when whistled or called. We both tried calling for him. At around 7am we decided to go and see if he was OK. We put on some warm clothing and wellington boots and went looking for him, calling as we went. We looked in different directions for maybe half an hour when I came upon him on the road. He had been hit by a car and killed instantly. I picked him up and screamed long and loud I was so upset, it was unbearable and I knew that when Nicola saw him she would be devastated. Judging by his injuries, he must have died instantly. I picked up his body to bring it back to the house. It was still warm and I laid it in the garden whilst Nicola and I collected our thoughts and shared our grief. Gaby has been with Nicola since he was a kitten. He jumped into her bag on the first occasion that they met and they had developed a special bond. She was distraught at the sight of him.

We both understand that many cats are killed in this way but had thought that Gaby would not stray so far as there is lots of ground surrounding the house. He has lived in far more dangerous environments and was aware of the danger of cars. It seems like an irony that here of all places, where cars are rare, and that there is so much space for them to explore, that he was hit by one. He loved this place and never seemed to tire of exploring it. He was beautiful, eager, affectionate and loving cat – his loss is incalculable.

We buried his body in the garden, in view of the front window between two trees. When this tearful event was accomplished, and to break the sadness, we drove to the beach at Balashare, a very beautiful beach, where we chose a suitable stone for his grave. We returned to the cottage and put the marker with a lone daffodil bloom on Gaby’s grave. Ange, our white cat came to greet us. The rest of the day was spent in sadness.

 

Seal Fever

Weather: Bright and breezy wind strengthening later, cold.

We spent the morning involved in various administrative tasks before driving to the Isle of Flodaigh in Benbecula. On the way we stopped to look at a newly-restored ‘blackhouse’ where there were some unusual looking sheep nearby. Like our other unusual sheep these too were rams.. The Isle of Flodaigh is a recommended wildlife walk where at lot of Atlantic grey seals can be spotted, at low tide, lying on the rocks close offshore and otters are said to be there – although we did not spot any. On the way down, Nicola remarked on the fact that the swans spent a lot of time with their heads underwater, perhaps it is just the freezing wind..

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Walking along a wet path, through a tangle of seaweed and over the rocks, to the coast. On arriving at the bay a heron glided in to alight directly in front of us. Seeing us, it fly quickly away, a great sight. Climbing on the rocks Th icy wind whipped round us and when we tried to use the binoculars the turbulent air forced us to hunker down between the rocks for shelter.

We were excited to see two plump Atlantic Grey Seals displaying themselves on the small islands in the bay. Their whiskery cat-like faces were animated as they twisted to and fro to obtain the most comfortable situation in the sunshine.

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I was keen to see a disused building (looked interesting) further around the bay, but by this time Nicola had been seized by ‘seal fever’ she became very animated and was already walking around the coast in the opposite direction where numerous Common Seals were expected to be colonizing one of the other islands in the bay. When we managed to get a glimpse of these seals on the different island, they turned out to be more of the same Atlantic Grey Seals that we had seen earlier.

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The walk is a circular one so we were soon back at the car and on our way to what is becoming our regular weekly swim at the pool in Benbecula. A Tawny Owl was flying in circles close by the road, its flight affected by the wind. We stopped and for once, located the binoculars in time to see it clearly. These birds are a great sight and have beautiful, intense faces as they scan the land for food. The return drive along the main road to North Uist passes between numerous lochs and through exposed moorland. At this time of day this route back is a good opportunity to see the many deer that live there and makes the journey home extremely enjoyable. We saw perhaps a dozen or so stags emboldened by the dusk.

It is good to see the cats take so much interest in the great outdoors. Their confidence has increased and boss cat (Ange) is staying out longer and longer. When they came back into the house they attacked their food ravenously. God help any rats would get in the way of that.

 

The Heron

Weather: Strong winds, bright and clear, slightly warmer.

The sight of a heron flying into the wind yesterday was an extraordinary one. No sooner had it cleared the loch-side rocks and risen above the shelter of the tree canopy it was being forced back. Bravely, it would regain its composure before attempting to make progress again. It was a marvelous sight. These birds are wonderful in flight and its difficulty in the strong winds gave us an extended opportunity to watch it. This morning after a trip in the car to visit to the itinerant fishmonger, on arriving back at the house, we watched as a pair of Barnacle Geese attempted something similar. The wind speed has reduced today but they still struggled to make headway. Glowing in the sunshine, they were a marvelous sight. They are quite large birds and although they are excellent fliers they too like ourselves, were finding the conditions extremely difficult.

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The wind has kept us mostly indoors for the past couple of days. As it had dropped, we were keen to get out of the house (without the car) and so walked through the hills to Loch Portain, a peaty inland loch set amongst the hills and marshland of Minish. We noticed a disused cottage on the way back, sadly waterlogged and unloved. Our waste bins were strewn along the roadside and the lid from our mail box was half way across the field. We tidied these up ready to put them into proper use shortly.

The evening was spent at Taigh Chearsabhagh listening to presentations from 2 Hebridean Artists about recent residencies that they had undertaken. Ellis O’Conner had been to Svalbard in the Arctic region, Meg Rodger to Iceland. The presentations were divergent and interesting, and it was good to be part of the varied programme at the Arts Centre.

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We left the Taigh Chearsabhagh prior to the commencement of the A.G.M. of the Uist Arts Association.

This morning Gaby, our black cat proudly presented us with another rat that he had whacked.

 

 

Virtues of the Wind

Weather: Bright with a fresh breeze, later becoming gale force with intermittent hail, sleet and rain showers.

Today the wind is blowing strongly from a south westerly direction. It is time to embrace it, and to consider its virtues, at least within the context of this residency.

Wind speeds are approaching 70 miles per hour and are likely to cause considerable damage. They are accompanied by the occasional hail storm, which stings the face if it is exposed to it. It is nominally around 6 degrees centigrade but feels more like minus 50.

It does however have some virtues:

  • If the washing can be persuaded to stay on the line, it dries very quickly.
  • What to wear is not much of a problem – how many clothes do you have? (Wear them all).
  • When it is not accompanied by more water, it dries out the rain that has recently fallen, this one is a a little behind schedule at present. It also melts the snow.
  • It shifts one’s perception of reality – standing still is like riding a motorcycle at the legal speed limit with only a woolly hat on and no leathers. Quite exciting really for an armchair racer.
  • It is great for generating electricity.
  • It saves on time spent on one’s hairstyle, i.e. you do not have a hairstyle, only a tightly-fitting hat.
  • Cleaning is irrelevant as the ashes from the stove are democratically blown over everything as soon as it is attempted. It saves on logs, as burning them makes no difference to the temperature.
  • It prevents one from giving anything up as it is so traumatising whilst maximum comfort is needed, which can be a relief.
  • It can affect the landscape in a dramatic way i.e. wind on water, trees moving, grasses and flowers dancing in the wind etc.
  • Looks great on video art works.

Henry David Thoreau said that “The virtues of a superior man are like the wind; the virtues of a common man are like the grass; the grass, when the wind passes over it, it bends”.

Well – that is a little unfair to the common man as flexibility is a great virtue. Edward Gibbon in ‘The history of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire has a much better attitude and has written;

“The winds and waves are always on the side of the ablest navigators”

Tir A’Mhurain is Gaelic for ‘The Land of Bent Grass’ and the title of Paul Strands book of Hebridean photographs.

It is also important to consider some problems:

  • Casting a fly is very difficult, and can be dangerous in a strong wind.
  • The ferries do not run.
  • The lights go out.
  • The internet goes off
  • The phones do not work.
  • Going outside is challenging .

BUT

It doesn’t last forever.. and I did see a rainbow.

Cats confined to quarters.

 

Captain’s Log

Weather : Strong icy winds from the North, overcast with bright intervals.

Every so often I have to remind myself that above all, this is a long-term photography residency and project. Our journey thus far has been to this end, even though much of our time is taken up with settling in, domestic necessities and getting a sense of this place. As methodologies go it does seem sound, but one cannot help feel impatient sometimes and time moves slowly.

The previous night was remarkable in its clarity with the kind of breath-taking stellar display seldom seen in mainland U.K. Our particular ‘enterprise’ this morning was to continue our Hunter Gathering activities and visit MacLeans Heridean bakery  in Benbecula where we purchased, amongst other things, a couple of scotch pies for  a roadside picnic lunch. I was a little wary of these pies (Nicola loves them) as my memories of them (mostly accumulated during motorcycling trips to the Highlands) were mixed, but on this occasion these particular delicacies were consumed, suitably augmented with Dijon mustard, by the side of a loch where we were able to spot a curlew in the margins and two hen harriers whilst appreciating the solid comfort of a Scottish classic. Context is everything.

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After we had filled the car with fuel I couldn’t help but notice that the attendant had a Bournemouth AFC shirt on. He would have been pleased because on the day that Newcastle beat Everton 3-2; Bournemouth beat Huddersfield. After our shopping trip, we drove to the Airport to enquire about flights to and from the Western Isles. The Airport is a small one situated in the north of the island located next to a military base. Loganair fly to Glasgow and Inverness from here. The windswept runway is next to the main road and is located next to a spectacular bay where the ‘white horses’ on the sea were clearly visible. Today the water on the lochs looked like mercury in the sunshine, that appeared fleetingly. Flying today in this liquid landscape would have been lively, and I had no cause to envy any of the small group of passengers waiting in the departure lounge.

Returning to the house we noticed a buzzard flying quite low by the roadside, possibly with evil designs on the many ducks swimming nearby.

We cleaned and prepared the downstairs spare room and made it suitable for use as a temporary studio. It is very cold however and I would describe the heating in the house as rudimentary. Best to keep moving.

The cats were a little frantic by the time that we had returned to the house as we had run out of their regular bait. They had turned their nose’s up at the finest sardines in olive oil and sullenly contemplated a beaten (locally obtained, free range) egg. When the Whiskas was unpacked their whiskery joy was unbounded and they became very excited. Suitably fortified by the return of the status quo, at the first opportunity they both rushed into the garden to confront the local rodents.

Suppliment..

Weather: Gale force winds from the North, very cold with heavy driving sleet then snow; later winds dropping and veering west, less cold.

Sunday morning we awoke to a wild blizzard. We had planned to go on a substantial walk today but clearly this was out of the question. It was freezing. We were frantically piling the peat (thank you Keith Dawson) on the stove to warm the house up but the wind was so strong it still found its way inside the cottage through the tiniest cracks. Looking outside at the rear, the landscape reminds me of distant images of the Falkland Islands, Looking out of the front of the house a snow covered mountain dominates the vista, like mount Fuji (film..) All that is missing are the penguins.

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On such a day in Newcastle it would be possible to spend the day exploring indoor options such as the cinema or even (horror) the Metro Centre. No such choice exists here. At one stage, we were uncertain that we would be able to leave the house at all. We spent some time together writing and drawing before deciding to risk the trip in the car to the swimming pool.

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The road south to Benbecula was drivable but very snowy with deep channels necessitating considerable caution. The landscape had transformed into a lunar snow-scape, unique and very beautiful. It was well worth the effort. As previously, our session at the pool provided a wonderful contrast to the cabin fever we were beginning to experience back in the cottage.

On our way back once again the weather had changed. The wind had dropped and moved to the west and the snow was rapidly disappearing with the sun making an occasional appearance. Another day in a day.

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Sightings along the way: A hen harrier resting on the electricity pylons; a transit van that had slid off the road (no casualties) and was being expertly towed out of the ditch; an unusual sheep; a farmer feeding his flock of brightly adorned sheep.

Our cats hate the rain and snow, also they are not partial to the wind. Not fussy really.

 

 

The Yoga Class

Weather: Heavy rain, cold becoming dry later and windy.

Inevitably the storm calmed down but the day started wet and grey. There was a message from Sheenagh that the weekly yoga class was due to start this morning at 10 30. This took us somewhat by surprise but Nicola had been meaning to go and so we drove down to the Carinish Hall. Having dropped her off I went back to the House at Lochmaddy to make some calls and to pick up the table that we were using to put the computer on and one or two other items. The yoga class was a great success Nicola felt appropriately relaxed due to the restorative stretches. She also most importantly, met lots of new interesting people. We then went back to the cottage at Minish to set up our office and computer workstation.

As we had just closed the second of the 2 gates that contain the property, we heard an alarm sounding in the kitchen. This turned out to be some smoke from the stove finding its way into the kitchen and activating the alarm. Apart from deeply alarming the cats whilst in their daily relaxation sessions, we were relieved to find that there was no real problem. Having set up the office and made the house a little more comfortable, we put on our wellington boots and took a soggy stroll around the perimeter of the land surrounding the house. It was very windy and bitterly cold.

We were soon back indoors settling in for a relaxed weekend ‘à la maison’.

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There is an old shed on the foreshore of the loch that houses disused fishing equipment, assorted obsolete farm machinery and building waste. This is Angie’s favourite hang out, as rats live here. He is a large rather beautiful cat and is a great sight with his white fur blowing in the wind as he strides out to give those rodents a hard time.. not that he actually catches any.