The Mushrooms

Weather: Very showery and mostly quite windy. Warm at nights when the wind is quiet and some midge filled intervals in the early mornings.

Following my late-night arrival back in Minish, it seems like there was scarcely a moment before being due at Lochmaddy Hall for the R.N.L.I. (Lifeboats) fundraising event. To this end Nicola and I duly appeared with our Photo – Booth setup, although our positioning in the hall was not ideal. The day contained all of the usual events and sideshows and passed successfully with a significant sum being raised for the Association. We had agreed to photograph the procession of the inevitable pipe band marching from the pier to the hall, but the inclement weather made this impossible. Instead the band played in the hall. Bagpipes of the Scottish variety (as opposed to the Northumbrian or Galician pipe) are designed to stir the blood on the field of battle and when played indoors are, unsurprisingly, extremely loud..

Nicola and I had a very pleasant evening and dinner with artist Fiona Pearson and her family. A well spiced curry made by Fiona and Nicola’s homemade chocolate mouse.

Much of the week there-after was spent in indifferent weather, catching up with the various writing and reading tasks, together with producing materials for on-line and other publications. There was time for a visit to the swimming pool and to see the photographic exhibition about Vatersay by Paul Glazier on in the museum in Lionaclete.

Nicola agreed to look after our neighbour’s dog, cat and fish – for three days whilst they were away- this meant dog walks twice daily, a cat count (the cat lived outside) and a sprinkling of fish food in the fish tank. The black and white collie – called Geordie  was a delight to walk, but a dog is definitely more demanding as a pet than a couple of cats.

The area around our neighbours house is quite boggy, it has been used for peat cutting and provides rough grazing for sheep. This boggy land has many interesting plants – such as the carnivorous sundew and increasingly, as the seasons are shifting towards Autumn – some very interesting and quite rare fungi. Nicola spotted and picked some puff balls that we later had with our lunch – a delicious mushroom tasting of omelettes.

Since being on the Island, Nicola has persuaded me to attend a yoga class with her and I would like to say that I really enjoy this gentle and restorative yoga class despite being flexibly challenged and the only man who attends.

The rain, meanwhile does not seem to have abated for days, although the forecast suggests that there will be a sunny warm period at the weekend.

The Saturday, was better than forecast – it was an excellent day, warm and sunny with light winds. As the weather was so good, we decided to take a walk at Scolpaig (as I have previously mentioned, proposals are in place to convert this special place into a rocket launch centre, so it was with a hint of sadness that we walked around the loch onto the grassland fringing the rocky shoreline here.) We encountered a number of Geologists and Entomologists with nets – they were collecting various types of algae from the fresh water loch around the tower and studying the different bee species. We were shown a nest of the Great Yellow Bumble Bee. It was lovely and informed walk – you just never know who you will meet out here. A hot haze filled the air this day and going indoors didn’t seem a like a good option on what could be the last of this summer’s days.

We chose to spend the evening at Balashare beach, our favourite camping and swimming spot. We got back to the house and packed the car with a substantial quantity of the household bedding and cooking equipment. We took our newly acquired snorkeling gear, together with usual body boards and inevitable wet suits and set off to Balashare. On arrival at the beach, the weather made a dramatic change (dark clouds suddenly started to ominously roll in) but we were committed. We pitched the tent (our special anti-wind South-Uist model) and settled in against the prevailing wind (a lively westerly). When our camp was secure, we went through the ritual of changing into our wet suit gear, now with the addition of fluorescent blue (for me) and fluorescent pink (for Nicola) flippers. Much hilarity was had. The surf was quite lively, and it was quite an experience trying to walk into the sea with full snorkelling equipment fitted. What became increasingly obvious, was that this was not the right place for this activity – it was impossible to see much of anything in the sandy turbulence of the water. I ended up being up-ended, and quickly went back to using the more familiar body board. We had a most joyful frolic, jumping on and surfing the waves.

After an hour or so, wet and windblown, we headed back to camp and prepared our portable barbecue, surrounding it with wind-breaking stones. We had an excellent supper (in the rustic style). We spent a comfortable(ish) night in our tent despite the noisy lashing of the wind, threatening to blow us away. Early the next morning, we hastily packed up (before the inevitable rain) and returned to the house. We had our morning coffee and an extra nap. The wind in the tent had kept us awake. This camping trip seemed to mark the inescapable change in the seasons, it has been a good summer but the weather has not been consistent and the change has been quite sudden.

Some good news at last from ‘the team’! After a poor start to the season (as usual) they beat Spurs at White Hart Lane giving all Magpies a sigh of relief and Steve Bruce cause to relax for a moment… My apologies to my dear friend and Spurs supporter D.C. but it’s about time…

Now that the weather has an autumnal feel, we have been ‘mushroom hunting’. Being amateurs of course, there has been much recourse to on-line checking of which fungal varieties are suitable for eating. To date we have found Field Mushrooms, Wood Mushrooms, Puffballs, Scarlet Wax-caps and Crimson Wax-caps together with several smaller, non-descript varieties that we are still trying to identify.

A single fishing trip to a hill loch has again produced zero fish for myself, although Keith kindly let me have one of the small brown trout that gave themselves up to him. This little fish would feed the cats well!  

The seals have deserted the rocky outcrops in the bay overlooked by the house at Minish. This morning, five sheep unexpectedly wandered into the garden and enjoyed eating the long, fresh grass before running off to their more familiar pastures. They are such strange creatures. Apparently, a ram has been introduced to the field which explains their new-found friskiness.

Nicola met with the course team at the University of the Highlands and Islands to agree the forthcoming term teaching arrangements on the fine art course. We met with Andy McKinnon from Taigh Chearsabagh (TC)  to discuss our ‘work in progress’ exhibition in the downstairs gallery at the centre. We have agreed that this work would be shown next June/July/August 2020. Meanwhile Norman (the Manager from T.C.) handed me a substantial electrical transformer from the darkroom in the hope that I might be able to fix it and make the darkroom useable. We’ll see…

In true Hebridean style, the weather has had a momentary change, enabling another trip to the loch where the wind had dropped, and the sky becoming crimson as the evening progressed . I managed to connect with a good fish but sadly we parted company, the fish jumping and twisting, flashing gold in the evening sunshine never to be seen again. By this time, I was resigned to coming away fishless again… until spotting a rise as I was preparing to pack up. I cast to the rise and eventually landed my first sea trout this year. Nicola and I ate this beautiful tasty delight with relish and gratitude – almost biblical, a special moment was had. (“May the Lord open”)

Our next day was spent in preparation for the visit of two of my oldest friends, both of whom were on the Fine Art course at Brighton with me back in the temporal mists. They are due to arrive on their motorcycles on the evening boat from Uig and will be in need of refreshment. Alan is riding his Moto Guzzi V7 Sport (an original, elegant lime green one from the early seventies) whilst Mick (who is a motorcycle journalist) is on a 390 KTM, one of the better-looking single cylinder bikes from this Austrian manufacturer. I cannot help thinking that the majority of these bikes look as if they have already crashed, such are the vicissitudes of contemporary design fashion. Possibly this is just my prejudice, but modern motorcycles do seem to me to be aesthetically challenged.

Angelo and Alice have been content in their feline routines. Alice is a dear sweet soul and deeply affectionate, she loves to sit by the back door and survey the world, whilst keeping a wary eye on the sheep. Angelo continues to drop headless rats on our doorstep, tokens of esteem – for which we are most grateful.

A Week of Small Things

Weather: Cool and raining with strong winds

JOHN

My ferry left Lochmaddy at 7.30am on Saturday 10 August. It was very blowy and there had been some concern that it would not run. The journey was however, fairly smooth although I couldn’t quite manage the keenly anticipated Cal-Mac breakfast that I had planned. The drive to Newcastle was uneventful and I arrived as expected in the early evening. The garden had excelled itself, the recent rain having sent the grass and hedges into overdrive spilling onto the pathway.. Sunday, having earlier cut the grass, found me in the familiar surroundings of the Tanner’s Arms with the Sunday Times and The Observer whilst partaking in an excellent Sunday lunch accompanied by a pint of Landlord and able to plan the rest of my week.

Monday found me at the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art at the National Glass Centre in Sunderland to look at John Askew’s exhibition of Photographs made in the far eastern Russian town of Perm. His colourful and astutely observed images give a sensitive insight to the particular community in which John has located himself. I am always delighted by this Gallery which overlooks the Docks on the Quayside at Sunderland. The views across the river from the café are exceptional. Having taken in this exhibition, I travelled on to Newcastle to visit Locus+. The Locus + archive has been recently relocated to Newcastle University for safe keeping and it is good to hear that the organization has such a positive view of the future. Locus+ has achieved so much for the Visual Arts with its innovative approach to creating new ways of working and its commitment to the artists that it has worked with over the years. Many organisations have borrowed heavily from Locus+ over the years including Artangel in London and the Baltic in Newcastle. This has not always been readily understood, and it is to be hoped that Quality and Innovation once again become a central focus of Arts funding as these are becoming qualities that are in short supply within arts programming.

I met up with Mike Golding for coffee at the Pink Lane coffee shop (the coffee here is in my experience, the best in Newcastle) Mike is now writing with the nom de plume of A.M. Stirling and I am looking forward to reading his soon- to- be published and what promises to be a stirring new novel.

In my small studio in Newcastle, I have been photographing many of the Artists that Locus+ have worked with over the years. I arranged to photograph Peter Stark later in the week. Peter, previously the Chief Executive of Northern Arts is very much a long – term friend of Locus and an important part of their ongoing narrative. John Bewley and Jonty Tarbuck (of Locus+) and I reflected on the fact that some of the artists that we had worked with had not been included in the portrait series, for various reasons and that we should try to catch up with them and other omissions whilst this was still possible.

Tuesday had been promised as the best day weather wise of the week and so it proved. It was warm and sunny.  It was to be the first outing of the year for my old BMW 90s. John (Park) called for me (riding his BSA Gold Star)  and we rode out to Shotley Bridge then via Edmundbyers across to Stanhope on the wonderful Weardale road that meanders across the moors for 20 miles or so. The heather is in full bloom at this time in August and the hills are purple and fragrant. We passed through the lead-mining villages of Nenthead and Killhope onto Alston before climbing to Hartside Summit and descending the tight bends to the Village Bakery in Melmerby. After an excellent lunch taken in the garden, we returned to Alston before riding to Middleton in Teesdale, thence back to Tyneside. The weather held and we had a memorable day out. Having wiped the bike down and thanked it I returned it to its shed hoping that there will be another opportunity before the summer ends. I spent the evening with my daughter Laura in Gosforth’s top Italian restaurant Adriano’s eating pizza and drinking Italian beer.

The following day, having wrestled with the garden and sorted out some other domestic chores (including shopping for items unobtainable in Uist)

Thursday I was able to spend some time in the studio photographing Peter Stark and subsequently processing these films in addition to the few black and white films that I had brought with me. When it is appropriate, I enjoy working with film and used my 60’s Rolleiflex to make Peter’s portrait. It makes a pleasant change from the digital cameras that I have been mostly using. The Rolleiflex never fails to be a conversation piece, the camera is one of a pair made in the 1960’s and are as good as ever. In the evening I re-acquainted myself with the Gosforth Chippy’s regular fayre and then packed up the van ready for the drive to Skye the next day.

Friday morning was wet and windy and I set off on the drive up to Glasgow. I had arranged to meet my son Sean and his partner Mia in a Greek restaurant for lunch. The motorway driving was horrific and visibility was terrible. I stopped off at the Costa on the M74 just north of Carlisle where I had the usual cappuccino. For some reason the coffee here is always particularly bad and as I have been served by different ‘baristas’ over the years I can only put it down to the water..

Arriving in Glasgow, I met Mia and Sean in ‘Halloumi’, a pleasant restaurant. Mia is a sweetheart from Vermont and they are intending to get married next year in New York. After our very pleasant meeting and lunch,  I made a mental note to start saving.

The drive onto Uig in Sky was leisurely and took up most of the rest of the day. The late ferry leaves around 10 30 on a Friday evening but it was running a little late. It was a good journey though. On arrival back in Uist at 1. 30am Nicola and I briefly exchanged our various experiences before going to bed. Phew, what a journey!

The big news is that the ‘consultations’ with the public over the proposed development of the Rocket Range at Scolpaig had taken place. I was disappointed to have missed these but Nicola had attended and was very much concerned and brought me up to date with her experience of the meeting. This is a most deeply disturbing proposal that will change the character and nature of this place irreversibly. It is supported by the Council and the Highlands and Islands Enterprise Board and it is intended that no thorough environmental impact studies at this stage are necessary –  as this is just a ‘test’ activity. Please.

The cats are very pleased to see me and Angie presented me with a full half-rat at the doorstep. Luckily I will never know what had happened to the other half. Alice, boundless in her energy, now has two people once again, to attend to her every requirement. I had brought back a couple of those mice on an elastic leash and within the half-hour the stuffing had started to show on one of them. Cats look so aesthetic and refined, but they are seriously unpleasant to rodents..

“A Woman’s Prayer”

Weather: Showery with some sunny spells and some quite windy days.

NICOLA

Saturday the 10th August – (already). 7am, a blustery, wet morning – I stick my head out of the roof Velux window in the top main bedroom at Minish, to wave John off. He is going to the main land for a week to do some work things and to see his daughter Laura and son Sean. I have a week to myself and with this thought the very fitting poem by Pauline Prior-Pitt  A WOMAN’S PRAYER  came to mind. Pauline is a poet who lives in North Uist, and after she made a point of introducing herself to me, a little while ago, I have become aware of her work. She is a very acclaimed and gifted poet and artist. I am particularly enjoying some of her very humorous feminist poetry.

I have much to achieve this week, so after a short deliberation (messing with Alice, the cat) my essential wake-up cup of coffee is required. Today is computer day – these are very intensely focussed days for me, which I enjoy.

Sunday: began with an early start, more computer work and then a lovely walk by Scolpaig Tower – bliss, beautiful, meadows of flowers everywhere, so precious. The distant hills are blushed with purple from the blossoming heather. The weather was autumnal, otherwise I would have gone swimming. Thoughts of the looming ‘Spaceport’ proposal disappoint me – why here?

Monday: shopping, computer work, print preparation and yoga.

Tuesday: Taigh Chearsabhagh a couple of meetings and then a session in the print studio.

Wednesday: North Uist Conservation group meeting – Spaceport 1 Consortium. Having just arrived to this place it might be questioned as to my right to an opinion, but for me my opinion comes as a human who lives on this planet. I want to know what the long-term affects of – PHASE 1 of SPACEPORT 1 – has on the environment. Who does it affect? And what is PHASE 2 and PHASE 3? Will this also affect the animals, the birds, the insects, the fish – haven’t humans destroyed enough of them?

The Spaceport 1 Consortium was presented by the four organisations:

  • Comhairle nan Eilean Siar – project lead.
  • Highlands and Islands Enterprise –  promoting and supporting economic development.
  • QinetiQ – providing the range and technical expertise.
  • Commercial Space Technologies – providing the core Space and Market expertise.

In this meeting, we were informed by the ‘panel’ that this Spaceport was intending to launch rockets –  a mere 6 rockets a year. In 10 years that is 60 rockets – the fallout from these launches will be dumped into the sea. The rockets will be used to observe climate change. Will it as well observe the amount of damage that this Spaceport will also have on our precious world and do these people even care? How will this observation benefit and reverse the effects of climate change? The answer to all such questions was: As this is a test site only some environmental survey work needs to be carried out and nothing can be clearly determined (including the damage) until after the test has been completed. It states in the Spaceport Community Newsletter that the Spaceport’s footprint will be relatively small, relative to what I wonder? It was also confirmed that this testing is to be used for some military purposes, but these too were not clearly defined. There was an argument put forward (from some of the community members) that the jobs that this ‘Spaceport’ would provide will be welcomed by the locals – it was also confirmed (by the panel) that there were likely to only be 6 -13 permanent jobs available in the long term. So, for a few measly ‘promised’ jobs how much will be sacrificed? Scolpaig is home to a vast number of creatures- animals, birds, insects, marine life. This is one of our few remaining beautiful places.

I care about this place, Scolpaig and my opinion counts because it is part of our very fragile planet, I may not be a local but I too live on the Earth. People need jobs but there will be no jobs if we are all dead. Wake up world we need to think beyond ourselves – think of the consequences, think of the future. And yes, I am proud to be an EXTINCTION REBELLION WARRIOR!

Everyone came out of this meeting very charged. I went to yoga in the evening and felt sad.

Thursday – A beautiful poetry reading evening at Taigh Chearsabhagh art centre  By Niall Campbell and Pauline Prior-Pitt.

Friday – yoga, housework and Hurray John returns – I’ve had some restorative ‘on my own time’ but now look forward to ‘our time’ and place together.

Saturday 01.30am I hear John drive down the track. We have tea and share experiences before retiring for the remainder of the night.

 

Purple Haze

Weather: The air is warm and we have also been affected by the record temperatures ‘enjoyed’ by those in the South of England. At one stage it was 22C – uncomfortably hot in these parts.. Towards the end of the week the weather once again, had noticeably shifted and the strong winds returned, frequently accompanied by heavy rain.

This week began with a visit to the one and only ‘Benbecula Thrift Shop’ (a charity shop) to collect some furry jackets and wedding hats (for the Lochmaddy week, Photo-booth event on the 31st July). We then drove to Scolpaig Tower in the North-East of Uist, where Nicola and I walked the few hundred yards along the loch past a deserted farmstead to the bay. The day was warm and bright with the Machair grasslands shimmering purple and yellow and the white lilies on the water opening their petals to enjoy the maximum effect of the sun’s rays. This bay is sheltered by a small enclave and a rocky outcrop where the clear turquoise blue sea pours into the many crevasses in the rock face. Here is where the intended rocket site will be situated, a proposal which is almost beyond belief, and hopefully can be resisted. There are people swimming in the bay. They are quietly snorkeling whilst swimming over the lush seaweed in order to see the marine life beneath. The sea and sky reflect in a spectrum of blues and the white sand shows in patches and pathways beneath the surface of the water. Nicola and I resolved to return later in the week to picnic and to swim in this beautiful place.

Keith had booked a boat to fish in Loch Fada, one of the largest freshwater lochs on the island. We rowed along one arm of the loch making the usual drifts across and casting our flies. The boat that we were using was not the usual club boat but a larger, heavier one which we were obliged to use, as a visitor had mistakenly taken the wrong boat. Once or twice we managed to gently ground the boat in the shallow water due to our unfamiliarity with the topography of the loch. The weather was promising and there was a nice ripple on the surface. Trout came there none – and to add insult to injury, my rather expensive fly line somehow parted in the middle, necessitating onboard repairs before being able to continue fishing. It was very quiet and no fish were moving. Later when we encountered the visitor who had used our boat we asked how they had fared. We have caught just 6 fish said he… “Excellent, well done” we said, not meaning it.

July 31st, Lochmaddy week. As a part of the programme of events we agreed to set up the ‘Photo-booth’. Nicola has some experience in this area whereas my previous involvement had been only to obtain a passport photo. Having acquired the necessary dressing up items earlier in the week, from the charity shop – we set up our ‘Photo-booth’, just outside the Lochmaddy community hall – it was such a beautiful day. Business was slow as the event was not particularly well attended, although we did have some fun with people posing – using our dressing up outfits. This also proved to be an excellent way to engage with the community and to let people know what we are doing. Nicola and I were asked to run the ‘Photo-booth’ again at the RNLI day in a couple of weeks. Hopefully on this occasion we will also improve our booth as a result of this experience, so watch this space.

The weather continued to be dry and warm and we revisited ‘our’ bay at Scolpaig, this time with our wet suits. We took a walk to the nearby sea caves and searched for wild flowers before relaxing for an extended picnic and lunch. Thus fortified we swam in the bay until it was time to pack up and make the walk past the loch back to our van. There are still new flowers to be seen everyday and an encouraging amount and variety of butterflies. Purple is becoming the predominant flower colour – Bell heather, a variety of thistles, highland heather and numerous others that we are attempting to identify. If I squint (or take my glasses off) a purple haze shimmers over the greenness.

Nicola and I have been planning another Photographic Landscape Workshop ‘Explorations in Landscape 2’ to run at Minish. Whilst we are based here, it is an excellent place from which to run our events. It has a sizeable room which converts admirably into a lecture theatre and practical photoshop tuition space. Our posters advertising tis occasion arrived in the post midweek , late as ever, and we spent a day or so distributing them around the island.

The Lochmaddy hill run took place on the Friday and we were invited to photograph it. For some reason there were few participants this year but those that took part did so in good humour departing on the boat to the starting point, then running over the hilltop to return to Lochmaddy along the main road, finishing at the Hotel. There was a bouncy castle for the kids and something of a P.A. system pumping out pop music across the sea loch. Hamburgers, including Venison burgers were on sale and one of the drinks being served to the waiting onlookers was ‘Malibu and and red and blue Slushy’ Wow!  All participants in the main event received a bottle of water and a mars bar. We photographed the finishers before retiring to the Westford Arms, North Uist’s only pub. Despite the seeming monopoly, this is an excellent place and they too, were holding a barbecue event in their beer garden. The weather had been so good recently that everywhere on the island outdoor activities and events were being pursued – whenever possible.

We printed some of the portraits that we had made, and Nicola has been planning future photoshop workshops – to be delivered this autumn. We have looked at a number of alternative venues for these subsequent workshops although it is too early to be clear of our requirements. Nicola’s small car has had a problem with a leaky exhaust so I have spent some time hanging out at the excellent Cregorry Motors on Benbecula, whilst the suspect part was initially identified, then replaced. I am due to take the ferry to Uig tomorrow and because of the sudden ‘turn’ in the weather there is some doubt as to whether it will run. The ferries are all fully booked at this time so if there are cancellations due to the weather, it will cause serious problems.

Our cats, Angelo and Alice seem to have settled down to a new relationship. Angie continues to be the long suffering and ever – tolerant boss cat who spends much of his time outdoors chasing rats (on one day he caught four, one of which he presented to little Alice who proudly presented it to us in the bedroom. They might have left its head on..  For her part, Alice is compelled by some territorial instinct, to encroach upon any space occupied by Angie. It is a strange relationship that only occasionally explodes into feline fisticuffs. Mostly Angie, when he is indoors, sleeps in the upper hallway and Alice has taken to sitting on Nicola’s lap whilst she is working on the computer. She is, naturally, keeping a sharp eye on the mouse..

Supplementary – Glasgow Print Studio.

Weather: Rain, rain rain to Fort William. Beautiful sunshine and hot summer days

Monday 11.45 ferry – since arriving in Uist ( February 2019) this is only my second journey off the Island. I stood on the Deck, as the boat departed on this misty moist day – John was (as is his want) documenting the ferry departure and I waved furiously inorder to be in his shot. The ferry is a great part of the journey to and from Uist and offers a fabulous cooked breakfast/lunch and a variety of snacks. On this occasion, I had the cup of grapes and a coffee – I munched through these, had a wander around the boat, and then settled in the viewing lounge where I had a little nap. I was woken by boat murmurings as the ferry made to dock on shore at Uig. I was bussing it to Glasgow to visit my daughter Abigale Neate-Wilson. We had a couple of days set aside to make some photopolymer etching plates and prints in Glasgow Print Studio.

On arriving in Uig I had 45 mins to wait for the bus so stopped off at The Sheiling & Ella’s Cafe opposite the petrol station at Uig and had a delicious soup – Sweet potato, coconut and tomato. I then boarded the bus, and although I did not get the front seat (as John had suggested) I did sit in an adequate seat and a woman (who had befriended me at the bus stop) – June from Inverness sat in the parallel seat on the other side of the aisle. June and I had pleasant chats – until she left the bus just before the Fort William stop – for her connection.  June travels to Uist every year and spends time with friends in Grimsay. She left the Island early this year to visit her daughter in Canada. June thought I might get better views if I sat in her seat which was on the near side of the bus – so when she left I moved all my bags over and sat in her seat.

At this point, I should describe the weather – which had been torrential rain all the way; wet and humid. In my new seat, there was a smell. It was a sickly, pervasive stench that had a vaguely human body tone to it. I was uncomfortable because of this odour and started to sniff my stuff (was it me?). I could not detect its source – I smelt my coat, my bags and even wondered if my cats had sprayed on my luggage or something. I continued to try to settle in this ‘new seat’ and then felt a little dig in my side… (The passenger behind me had decided to put his legs up and had squeezed his foot around the side of my chair.) The ‘smell’ became unbearable to gagging point and yes it was him! He was wearing light canvas shoes, which had obviously become soaked in the rain and quite clearly he suffered from the most appalling foot odour!!

I very quickly gathered all my stuff up again and moved to another seat – I had four more hours to travel and his feet were unbearable. My advice to anyone with problems with foot odour – do not even think about buying canvas shoes, however comfortable they might look.

My bus journey was tolerable thereafter, and I arrived at Glasgow bus station at 10.30 pm and from here I took a taxi to my girl’s Abi flat. She rents a gorgeous place in the South side, which she shares with her lovely partner Chris. I felt very welcomed, and after a cup of tea and a chat I retired. We had a busy few days ahead planned.

As a mother, I love travelling to visit my daughters (I have two) in their adult lives, it gives me great pleasure. I try never to stay longer than 3 nights and this seems to be a good cut off point for all concerned.

Tuesday morning 6.30a – I always wake early, so brought Abi (my daughter) a cup of tea. We had planned for an induction at the print studio and to undertake a fair amount of work. I had already prepared my photographic images for the photopolymer process.

The day was gorgeous – hot. Print studios are always industrious and today everyone there worked up a sweat. Abi and I have a history of printmaking together and thoroughly enjoyed the day – making great prints (which even got the attention of the other printmakers). We completed in a day that we had anticipated would take two. We were very pleased, as now we could spend the following day going to galleries and swimming. That night we had a light dinner at the Bell Jar. The following Day we went to The Modern Institute  and MOMA IN GLASGOW and then took the train to GOUROCK outdoor pool – another fabulous day with reasonable weather! Quality time spent with my younger daughter. Abi’s partner Chris made us a lovely dinner that night and we all retired early.

Thursday 4.30 am– I woke (my bus was leaving at 6.50 am). I made tea, had a shower and packed. I was a little early, but going back to sleep was not an option. My daughter booked me an Uber cab – so convenient… the ease of the digital era and no exchange of money. Transactions of all kinds can be sorted in a seemingly hassle free manner … although they are always trackable!

Bus, seat – fine. I pretty much slept all the way to Fort-William. On the journey to Glasgow the bus stopped at Fort-William for an hour (for lunch) and I presumed it would be the same for the way back. There is a big Morrison’s here so I leisurely wandered around the supermarket (there is not this kind of choice in Uist) for 20 minutes. I went back to the bus stop – the bus was not there. I did not stress too much, even though I had left all my things ( phone, computer, artwork, clothes etc.) on the bus… this is what we had all done on the way to Glasgow. The bus driver had probably gone for fuel. 50 minutes later still no bus, so I decided to ask someone.

“Och nee it is a 10 minute break – the bus has been and gone.”

OMG all my things – my Phone and money what was I to do? – also only one ferry that day which that bus was meeting.

The conductor pointed to a telephone box. I had to beg a passer by for some change (by this time I was crying). The first person refused and the second person, a man – lent me his phone (luckily I remembered John’s phone number, although only managed to leave a message). This lovely man, who worked on the meat counter in Morrison’s also gave me all the change he had in his pocket (£3.70) so I could get a cup of tea. I felt destitute.

image courtesy of Neil Davidson

I spent this money wisely – I had a three hour wait for my next bus. I was going to miss the only ferry on this day and I did still need to contact John. The conductor had assured me that they would try and return my belongings en route. I bought the Guardian and read the devastating news about the Boris disaster. I finally managed to contact John (who took the necessary steps to ensure I was not stranded in Uig) and the new bus driver picked up my missing luggage ‘en route’ from another bus – (everything was returned). It was an eventful journey. I arrived in Uig to meet John from the ferry – coming from Uist with our tent! We both camped in Uig at the camp site and then returned to Uist on Friday on the 9.30am ferry. We shared a delicious cooked breakfast which included the famous ‘Stornaway black pudding’. It was a gorgeous day so we sat outside on the deck chatting. It took me only 16 hours to get back. I was very pleased to be back- Hurray!

Highland Games

Weather: Sunny and warm mostly with odd wet days, then increasingly wet and windy. As unpredictable as ever.

Our week started with a walk to Taigh Chearsabagh to post a birthday card to my Aunt Ruby. She has a form of Alzheimer’s disease and lives in a Care Home in Hastings. The card was purchased at T.C. and was a three-dimensional bunch of flowers which pops out in a surprising manner on opening the card. I doubt that she remembers me but I think the flowers may make her smile. She is the youngest of my father’s sisters and is in her mid 90’s. On the way there We called by Tom and Lorraine’s house to arrange for Tom to cut the grass outside the cottage. It becomes very long and meadow like very quickly, and needs one of those heavy-duty petrol engine strimmers to cut it back. We walked back the way we came , it was a beautiful day and the wildflowers have exploded with carpets of yellow flowers appearing in the most barren looking of landscapes. The closer you look, the more there is to see, from a sea of buttercups and tiny pink spotted orchids to great clumps of purple bell heather. There is the usual accompaniment from the call of the oyster catchers, perhaps the loveliest sound of the sea.

Sunday was again warm and sunny and although we had travelled back from Balashare the previous morning (feeding the cats, turning around etc) we found ourselves returning to see an art event on the beach. This was the public enactment of a piece by the truly exceptional Katie Paterson. I knew Katie, having worked with her at Locus+ in Newcastle and was looking forward to seeing her. I learned however, that this re-enactment of this work had occurred at numerous coastal sites and that she would not be present at all of them. That said, the piece, which consisted of a set of moulds from which to create a mountain range out of sand was enthusiastically performed by numerous members of the public. As ever she had made something extraordinary and unique in that quiet way of hers.

The Island of Bernerey lies to the north of North Uist and is the next significant island between the Uists and Harris and Lewis. Bernerey Week celebrates this place with a series of events. These include boat trips, barbecues, Ceilidhs, craft shows, dog shows etc. We went to the sheep dog trials where the shepherd whistles furiously at his or her collie dog to herd the sheep over a particular course, and to put them in a holding pen. The dog then separates the mini – herd into a ‘split’. It’s all clever stuff and remarkably compelling to watch. A wide range of people are attracted to this event, which is held on the West Beach Machair in Borve, from a huge catchment area. After this event the weather began to deteriorate.

For some reason the settlement of Sollas holds its celebratory week on the same dates as Bernerey week. It has many similar events. I am sure there must be a reason for running them together this but I have not heard this yet. Most of the week was compromised by the weather but the day was good for the North Uist Highland Games, held on the Machair in the north west of the island. The games consist of a number of sporting events (running, high jump etc) mixed with fun events (pillow fighting, tug of war etc) together with highland dancing by mostly young girls and piping competitions. There are the usual retail opportunities and we succumbed to some marmalade and gin.. The bagpipes are strongly in evidence and participants stand, and occasionally walk up and down playing to the judges who sit in their plywood cabins writing their observations about timing, intonation, accuracy and other things that I can only imagine. The day is a well lubricated one and the games are great fun. The previous day’s weather was so poor that the complimentary South Uist Games had been washed out sadly.

The following evening saw us putting up our tent on the East Beach in Bernerey. The evening was beautiful and we met Neil Davidson there. When we arrived, he was watching a seal playing close to the beach whilst sipping a suspicious looking liquid from a metal cup.

We walked the two and a half miles to the Ceilidh where most of the island’s population, including many friends of ours, were warming to the evenings dancing. The dances need to be learned otherwise there is much foot-treading and bumping. Nobody really mind this, but in the faster dances the untutored are best watching. They do get fast.. We have resolved to learn some of the moves, so next time perhaps. Ceilidh events are attended by all age groups. This is a pleasure to witness and to be a part of. We eventually ran out of stamina and stumbled off into the (not very dark) night to walk the two and a half miles to find our tent. We slept well.

The next day was warm and sunny with a ‘fresh breeze’ (BBC terminology) blowing from the west. Such a day should not be ignored so we went to Balashare and settled down on the beach. We swam in the sea, drank a little rose sparkling wine and ate our picnic. Wonderful. The next time I will remember to put more sun cream on.. Sunday Fran and Keith came to lunch at our cottage in Minish, delightfully ending a very busy week for us. We even managed to take some photographs.

Monday, the weather has become misty and wet. Nicola is travelling down to Glasgow to stay with her daughter and to put some time to working on a number of photo etchings at the Print Workshop there. We are hoping to include photo etching in our series of workshops at a later date. The ferry sailed off into the mist. I am always excited at the prospect of such travel and the drama of the ferry crossings between the islands. When her boat had disappeared I drove up to the Co-op in Sollas to buy the Sunday papers. Monday is still the new Sunday.

Both Angelo (white cat) and Alice (small cat) are very quiet since Nicola’s departure.

Angie is friendly with Alice as enthusiastic as ever but there is a coolness and they wonder where she is.. Outside is out of the question at the moment as it is raining hard and they are carefully marking out their indoor territory. If anyone is looking for a lucrative professional income and likes felines, I recommend cat psychology.. 

The Workshop

Weather: Always unpredictable – definitely warmer, some hot days and humid nights, some heavy rain and strong winds.

I had hardly returned to the Island before I was whisked off to a camping trip to Balashare, one of the most beautiful beaches in the vicinity. We built a bonfire and a barbecue, had a picnic and swam in the sea until we were thoroughly exhausted. We had omitted to include a mattress, so sleep was challenging at times, although the sounds of the wind and rain beating on the sides of the tent was comforting and even romantic despite slight anxieties about our security. In fact, our tent (purchased especially for staying on the Hebrides) remained securely fixed to the ground – as did I the next morning whilst trying to sit up.

Later in the week I began to feel ill and so did not accomplish very much although there was much preparation work needed for our forthcoming workshop ‘Explorations in Landscape’. Many honey, lemon and ginger drinks later – my man-flu had passed and I was ready for the forthcoming weekend workshop event, that Nicola and I had planned. This photography workshop began with an evening talk about the historical associations of painting with photography. The weekend progressed with field trips to Scolpaig and the Island of Vallay, where our workshop participants were able to make some excellent pictures. This was followed by indoor sessions concentrated on Photoshop post-production processing of the images that we had collected, before printing our results. The weather was kind to us and everyone enjoyed themselves. We are hoping to run another workshop upon these lines and hopefully extend our scope into other areas of photographic practice…

The following week the weather gave up on us and it has been wet and dull, although the winds have been light. Nicola fell ill during the week having perhaps caught my cold, necessitating much rest and restitution. Naturally this was something that I could assist in.

There have been two fishing trips this week. The first in a small sea loch resulted in a good sized Pollack, caught using a small spinner, the other outing was on one of the beautiful inland freshwater lochs where Keith and I only managed a few small brown trout, although Nicola found a beautiful position on a rock outcrop to make some watercolour paintings. Later we attended a workshop outlining the assistance available to would-be entrepreneurs setting up businesses in the area. The University of the Highlands and Islands is central in facilitating this economic development and it is encouraging and appropriate that much of this is seen in the cultural and arts sectors.

The week ended as it had started, with a camping trip to Balashare beach. The day was sunny and warm and the westerly winds ensured that the surf was running. After a glorious hour or so in the sea with our body boards we lit a camp fire and lit the barbecue. We grilled the (salted) Pollack that I had caught earlier in the week with some nettle pesto and salad.

It was a memorable evening (and although we had forgotten to bring sufficient water) we had plenty of other drinks with which to pass the evening. The night was starry and quiet, with the orange lights from nearby Benbecula glowing intriguingly in the distance.

Our rather impromptu trip was truly memorable and I am hoping that next weekend we can repeat the performance. I had not envisioned the feeling of freedom and immersion of the senses possible through the simple expedient of wearing a wet suit and attempting to ride on the waves as they break onto the sand. Seldom have I laughed so much or had such a great time. Early the next morning we drove back to the house to feed the animals. They are always so pleased to see us.

Nicola and I have started to work on our portraits which are developing well. Working closely together on this project is proving to be an interesting and exciting creative adventure.

Angie (white cat) and Alice (kitten) are getting along much better. Alice follows Angie enthusiastically everywhere.  Mostly he is OK about this although sometimes he does not want to play with Alice because he is a bit of a grumpy old man (not like me..) or he is tired from rat whacking.

Please note our bird sightings are proving untrustworthy, never the less our twitching enthusiasm remains undiminished.

Two Views

Weather: Wet, cold interspersed with one or two hot sunny days with light winds.

Carpets of yellow Tormentil, yellow primroses and common Birdsfoot-trefoil with a sprinkling of pink and white daisies cover the pastures. The roadsides verges are littered with yellow Iris, Cat’s-ears and, this must be a lucky year, because also the biennial, purple/pink Fox-glove – are visible in a most complimentary way. The sea loch’s tidal islands, visible only at low tide, are blushed with Sea Thrift – gorgeous little pink flowers that can exist in and out of the sea-water. Bog cotton shimmers in the sunlight creating silver patches on the grass slopes. These are some of the things that make up for the ‘not so hot’ summer we are experiencing this year… so far.

Robin and Marjory Gillanders, whilst on their Hebridean travels – stopped by for a late Sunday lunch. Before they came Nicola and I had a stunning pre-lunch walk on Clachan Sands beach – we paddled bare foot in the sun warmed sea – wonderful!

The Gillanders’ arrived at about 4 pm and then duly (after Robin and I had tested the ground) – drove their camper van onto the front lawn. The van got stuck and became completely embedded in the mud. Many failed attempts were made to get the van back onto hard ground. In the process two tow ropes were broken using our own van. Finally, the ‘AA’ had to be summoned from Benbecula (via Birmingham) and kindly and quickly (it was Sunday) came by – his tow rope snapped too – eventually a chain had to be attached to Robin and Marjory’s camper in order to haul it out of the Hebridean peat – much relief all round!

Photo by Marjory Gillanders

The four of us were finally able to sit down to the ‘well’ deserved late lunch – traditional style – roast chicken vegetables, copious amounts of wine followed by a few wee drams generously provided by Robin… Caution needs to be made when partaking in these ‘wee drams’ which on occasion are not as ‘wee’ as they might sound. Robin and Marjory stayed in their camper van overnight in the garden – with, impressively, their cat Spike, who has lovely eyes and travels with them – we all had an absolute gas with an enthusiastic exchange of ideas and stories. We swapped publications. Nicola and I have been enjoying  reading Robin’s excellent ‘Highland Journey’ which is based on the earlier travels of Edwin Muir.

As ever, the search for the quintessential ‘Scottish Identity’ proves elusive, but as I identify as a Geordie and Nicola is from Niarobi, this is something we may be able to offer a clearer view of, at a later stage as our project develops. Robin also left a copy of ‘Studies in Photography’ which he is editorially involved with. This is a scholarly and serious publication and is highly recommended. Alongside ‘Photographies’ this is a real contribution to the printed material available to contemporary photographic culture.

This was a very busy social week.

Monday: Fishing with Keith Dawson – I was late due to a slow start (guests, hangover etc.) – Keith had booked a boat on Loch Fada. Keith rowed us across the loch. It was blowing hard and started to rain. The rain increased to such intensity that my special Harris-tweed fishing hat became so water logged it drooped like a wet fish over my head and face –  fishing was abandoned.

Tuesday: dinner at Minish with Rosie, Raphael and Neil – a combined contribution – the food was exceptionally tasty. Vegan chili, quinoa, and celery salad followed by a gorgeous chocolate vegan cheese cake and berries in cream. Wine, prosecco and lemon water.

A lovely evening and great company.

Nicola: Friday 21st June 7am – I drove John to the ferry. He was off to the mainland for a motorcycling trip with his biker mates. It was very early, so rather than stay to watch the boat depart (which I know John would have done) I headed quickly back to my bed for an extra hour sleep – I had some exciting events planned for this Friday and I needed to prepare.

The second start to my day began with domestics – cleaning, shopping and packing for the Midsummer night camping adventure. Preparations are everything – Tent, found and packed; a cool-bag of goodies including prosecco an avocado and a bottle of water with lemon slice, a sharp knife and some salt; two duvets, my toothbrush and camera.

This Midsummer evening began with a PV at Taigh Chearsabhagh Arts Centre  – a very interesting sound and video installation by Canadian artist Joshua Bonnetta calledCaolas na Hearadh | The Sound of Harris. This event was wellreceived andattended – by community contributors and local artists – the night was going well and it looked like the weather was going to hold out for the Midsummer night’s camping trip.

9pm – it was time to set off to Hosta beach – the chosen location because of the sun-setting to the left of the beach and rising to the right. A small group of us went in convoy, Rosie Blake and Raphael Rychetsky in one car and me in another – following Andy Mackinnon , the organizer. We were joined by Neil Morrison, Catriona MacInnes and Joshua Bonnetta. What a Gorgeous night -Rosie and I managed a dip in the sea – but that tired us out and I unfortunately did not manage to see the sunrise – I had to crash (in my very comfortable tent with the two duvets) at about 3am. This was a fabulous evening – wild camping, the bonfire and being present for the event. Raphael was the ‘man’ – he managed to get the event sunrise ‘Photograph’!

June 22 – waking up on the beach – lovely fresh air and warm, the weather was the best it had been for weeks and I was informed that it had been a spectacular sunrise. I had a quick coffee with the remaining ‘midsummer gang’ and then headed back to Minish to feed the cats. This day just got better and better – gloriously hot – like summer. In Uist if the weather is ‘this’ good you do not hesitate – all plans change – I needed to be outside! I sorted the cats, grabbed a snack – then quickly packed my wet-suit, body board, lemon water, some drawing materials and my camera – this was a Baleshare Beach day.

I swam for two hours, playing with my body board and the waves and then enjoyed the early evening sitting on the rocks doing a little watercolor sketch. On the drive back to Minish – now 6.30pm I took some photos. This was the hottest, most beautiful day yet, the light, the colours, the flowers, the thrill of being here – I felt truly blessed. A passing thought – ‘I sure am glad I don’t have to put on a bunch of leathers and crash helmet today’ (although I did wear my wetsuit)

My week was full: Yoga, beach, drawing, preparing etching plates and making photographs.

John: Friday 21st June 7amLeaving Lochmaddy. I boarded the ferry to make my annual motorcycling trip with long standing fellow motorcyclists. On departure, a rainbow illuminated the sky across the bay. It was a beautiful morning and I enjoyed the crossing. Arriving at Uig, I located the bus stop for the journey to Glasgow. On all previous occasions, I have made the journey to Newcastle by car, but on this occasion (as I was due to return with Nicola’s car) I travelled by bus and train. The bus journey is around 7 hours through exceptional scenery. There was an hour for lunch at Fort William then onto Loch Lomond before the inevitable traffic congestion around Glasgow. Nonetheless, I enjoyed not driving, thinking that the life of the coach driver must put my occasional experiences in perspective. I took the train from Glasgow to Edinburgh (Who could have thought there could be so many stops?) before joining the connection to Newcastle where on arrival, I was fortunate to quickly find a local bus home.  

I deeply regretted that my annual motorcycling event was co-incidental with the summer solstice. I hadn’t noticed this when I confirmed the dates. Nevertheless the weather in North Yorkshire was as agreeable as it had been on North Uist and our little motorcycling party – Alan (Ariel), Andrew (Suzuki), David (Moto Guzzi) , John (Morini), Jonny (M.Z), Pat (Ducati) and Rebecca (Ducati) – covered many miles in beautiful weather. My bike had been smoking a little but was running well. The journey is the destination when riding an old bike (my BMW is the same age as me) and so, nowhere fast was easily achieved. The days were beautiful and easy with great scenery, wildlife and buildings including some wonderful pubs. In Swaledale, I even saw a red kite make off with a large rat. We stayed in Leyburn in a friendly pub with tolerant management.

Within 1 hour or returning home, Alan Wilson and I had my bike in bits and we found that worn valve guides were accounting for the (slightly excessive) smoke. This was a relief as worn pistons or bores would have been expensive. Unfashionably, we love the (elderly) internal combustion engine! Alan has also stripped down his 1930’s Ariel in order to fit a higher compression piston. Exciting times lie ahead..

In Newcastle I visited Jon Bewley and Jonty Tarbuck they were preparing to move the Locus+ archive to custody of the University of Newcastle and are considering the next move for this organization. This major collection of significant works from many of the exceptional artists that Locus+ have worked will be safeguarded for the future – thanks to the foresight of the University and the commitment of Locus+. I also had a meeting with Dr. Rupert Ashmore, from the Department of Arts from Northumbria University. We discussed a research paper he is writing for the Arts Journal using ‘In this Day and Age’ as a case study. We shared ideas regarding borders and islands and reflected upon the construction of identities, both within a personal and political context. Rupert has a keen interest in the particular characteristics of the Scottish Islands. As ever, it was a pleasure to see him and we had an enjoyable interview and discussion and I am looking forward to seeing the outcomes of his research.

It was my youngest daughter’s birthday and we visited Chinatown to celebrate although the bean sprouts were a little too plentiful for her taste. I also managed a coffee with Author and Photographer Mike Golding and beer (on this occasion the ‘Rivet Catcher’ was not at its best) and curry with one of my motorcycling friends John Park, who had found in me a new home for an old Zeiss Ikonta roll film camera and a folding 35mm Dolina snapshot camera. My journey back to the ferry terminal at Uig took most of Friday. I was bringing Nicola’s car to the Island and allowed plenty of time for the journey which was uneventful. The car was piled up with a lot of the equipment needed for our forthcoming workshop activities. I had time to catch the end of the Uist Arts Association Summer Open Exhibition at Taigh Chearsabagh since then I have been ill with a cold. Ugh..

Birds spotted over the two weeks include:

  • Short ear owls.
  • Redwings
  • Hooded crows
  • Jackdaws
  • Arctic tern
  • Artic skua
  • Swans in flight
  • Grey lag geese and their goslings
  • Plovers
  • Redshanks
  • Curlews
  • Hen harriers
  • Kestrel
  • Merlin
  • Buzzard picking up a rat
  • Golden eagle circling in flight
  • Several Herons
  • 3 black swans in flight

Angelo and new kitten ‘Alice’ are becoming acquainted. Alice loves Angelo – Angelo is tolerant but has upped his rat surveillance duties. We have set times for ‘on your own naps’ – Angelo appreciates this space. Alice is in training and is very good at catching her toy mouse, at playing hide and seek and toe catching. We are both covered in affectionate scratches..

The Visit

Weather: A Promising start to very changeable conditions overall.

Nicola and I made a visit to the mainland and on my return the ferry was, as ever, a welcome sight and apart from an excellent supper of smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels our crossing was otherwise uneventful. It was good to be back on the island, and we had a day or so to turn around, and prepare for the arrival of Abigale and Hannah, Nicola’s daughters, with Hannah’s three children- Malena age 8 months, Pavlin age 3 years and Mikel age 9 years respectively. Their journey from Glasgow had been diverted via Oban and the ferry arrived on a beautiful still evening on a glass-like sea in Lochboisdale on South Uist. There was much excitement all round and they were thrilled to have seen dolphins accompanying the boat during their 5, hour crossing.

The drive back to the house takes around 1 hour and 20 minutes and (as promised to the kids) we saw numerous deer along the way, close by the road in the gloaming. The following morning, with five extra people and a new kitten – a sort of joyful chaos – Nicola cooked a traditional breakfast and simultaneously prepared a picnic for our (whatever the weather attitude) trip to the beach for body surfing and swimming. The weather was a little challenging, and it took two attempts to find a place that had sufficient shelter for us to settle. Four of us did manage to swim (me, Nicola, Mikel and Hannah) but only brave Hannah (armed with only a swim suit and wetsuit gloves and shoes) could bear to venture into the water free-style. Pavlin (in a newly purchased Kinross Service Station wetsuit) made lots of noise and fuss about swimming before not really going in.. 

The week was a great success (despite the unusual cold snap) and we all attended several local events. The annual Tractor Rally event in Sollas, the inaugural Fine Art Degree at Taigh Cheasarbhagh and further swimming at Liniclate Sports Centre.

During this week, I also managed to deliver my (somewhat delayed) talk about my work at Taigh Cheasarbhagh. Andy McKinnon mentioned that had the talk occurred in Glasgow an equivalent attendance (when considering the respective populations) would have been around 10, 000. Hello North Uist! I was able, in addition to talking about previous work to introduce and to further describe the project that Nicola and I are developing on the Island.

The following Saturday there were 2 special occasions to celebrate. Firstly, there was the famous Tractor Rally which attracted many spectators and 52 tractors with their drivers. There were 8 varieties of soup being served in the agricultural centre hall and the kids could climb on the tractors, many of which were old classic David Browns, Fergusons and Fordsons. I had often mused at the quantity of literature devoted to old tractors and now have met some of the people who must read it. Rosie Blake (aka the ‘Human Scale’ because she had worked in a fruit and veg shop) estimated the weight of a large clootie dumpling and we duly added our estimates based on her’s.

Saturday evening was the opening of the University of the Highlands and Islands Inaugural Fine Art Degree show. This was extremely well attended (Glasgow equivalents would run to millions). This was the first cohort of students who had completed their 4-year degree course at Taigh Chearsabhagh. As ever, the catering was excellent and was complimented by the provision of an extremely welcome Gin and Tonic, made from the local ‘Downpour’ Gin (highly recommended) served by its makers, a nice touch, thank you. The exhibition was extremely impressive and a great occasion both for the students and the University. It made Taigh Cheasarbhagh come alive and is an exceptional example of cultural and economic development and collaboration. Congratulations are due to all of those involved in this unique venture.

Sunday 2nd July at 5am we made the early morning drive, the length of the Islands to Lochboisdale Ferry terminal – Nicola’s family were heading back to the mainland. It was blowing and raining hard and we waved our visitors off into the mist. The contrast with the serenity of their arrival was total and the ferry quickly became shrouded in hazy drizzle before disappearing towards the horizon. We left the terminal to catch up on some sleep and felt justified in treating ourselves to a very fine lunch at the Westford Inn (good beer too..)

‘Old carrot nose’ is an eponymous Oyster Catcher that sits on its nest not far from the cottage. It is obvious to all, and looks faintly ridiculous trying to maintain a low – profile whilst incubating its eggs. We were disappointed to see that one of its eggs had been broken and the other moved away from the nest, presumably by the rats that abound in these parts. As the egg was still warm I very carefully put it back in the nest hoping that ‘Carrot nose’ would return. Indeed, I am more than pleased to add that at the time of writing she is sitting proudly in place. The nest is situated in rather an obvious place so we will see if she manages to hatch and raise her remaining chick successfully. As the nesting season is in full swing, birds are continually trying to ensure that any likely predators (gulls, rats and even dear Angie – our angelic looking white cat) is distracted from finding their nests, all of which are on the ground. We have had lots of sightings of wildlife including seals, curlews, herons, oyster catchers, greylag geese, deer, hen harriers and redshanks and a beautiful small eared owl that flew close to the kitchen window – where we were able to get a good close-up look of this stunning bird.

Alice our new kitten, has spent the week bouncing around the house, being chased by Pavlin and pestering poor Angie, who is the soul of restraint considering that he bites the heads off rats and leaves them by the back door as a devotional offering.

The Birds and the Bees

The weather has come from the north and the east this week, making for some very cool days. It has also been windy, and given the chill factor, it has felt like a return to winter.

Looking out of the kitchen window there is a smorgasbord of wildlife. There were 3 families of Greylag Geese. They swim effortlessly and serenely across the sea loch, the adults fore and aft with the goslings swimming in between. One family had 6, one 5 and the other 3 chicks respectively. Perfect families. We have spotted a Sea eagle on three occasions flying across the loch. Their size never fails to amaze and they have a languid way of flying close to the water’s surface creating consternation in the nearby animal and bird populations. On a good sunny day at low tide there are a harem of seals that pivot on the rocks – a canny sight indeed. Curlews and oystercatchers are also a common site – as are the many different species of ducks and sea gulls.

On our wonderings, we have noticed an abundance of hairy caterpillars which we have learned, are the Cuckoos favourite food. These birds have a bad reputation because of their questionable parenting skills – nature is enigmatic as always.

The light here is omnipresent – 16.31 hours of daylight that begins at around 5am. Nicola and I have on occasions woken to watch the panoramic chocolate box, pink and gold coloured display – it is at moments like this that hymns sung in school assembly resonate through the years. At other times, I have needed to wear an eye mask in order to stay asleep until 7am.

There are fields of daisies, yellow primroses and on the rocks, sea pinks. New varieties of wild flowers appear daily. There are little baby lambs prancing around with their mothers – like something from a Holman-Hunt painting. We have been foraging for nettles and have made nettle soup and pesto. The peat grown nettles have proven to be exceptionally tasty.

Thursday night we made our way to the Community Centre where the Screen Machine (an award-winning community enterprise showing contemporary films) was parked outside. It comprises a large articulated truck that converts Tardis-like into an excellent small cinema. We watched ‘The White Crow’ a pleasant enough film, dancing the night away and ensuring that the evening was an excellent experience. Everybody knows everybody here making for a convivial event.

Sunday, we planned to picnic on the beach. We had decided that whatever the weather we would go. As it happened, the wind shifted from the east to the south and dropped. The sun shone and it was a beautiful day. We met up with friends and drove off with them to Clachan beach. This is a wonderful beach with white sand that stretches into the distance with the hills of Harris in the background. We picked a great spot down in a natural amphitheatre by the rocks and we spread out the rugs in anticipation. Everyone made a great effort. We had masses of food including roast chicken, salmon, we even lit a barbecue and had scallops wrapped in bacon and sausages. After eating and to the amusement of everyone Nicola and I donned our wet suits. This sounds easy but it is not. We then had something of a swim. This was a lovely afternoon and the pink Cava helped make it a dreamy memorable one.

Nicola successfully finished her teaching at the University this week. I dutifully made a half-hearted attempt to fish – hopefully the increasing fly life over the next few weeks will stir the fish into surfacing for food …

Angelo, our white cat, is as excellent as ever at catching the rats (4 this week). He presents them proudly at the back door, and soaks up the admiration offered to him. This week he discovered valerian tea and this is one substance he longs to abuse. He is also very keen on catnip and even ‘deep heat’ so feline mysteries ever abound…

New Sunday

It may seem trivial but I had never really given much thought to clothes pegs other than when using them to hang up newly processed films or to dry back to back photographic prints. These simple devices have developed a new importance in my thinking over the last few months. When hanging the washing out, due to the strong winds earlier this week, it has been necessary to use lots of pegs to prevent the washing from disappearing over the loch, never to be seen again. Many of them crack and break due to the wind pressure and we tried to source some in the local shops as we were down to a few survivors. Clothes pegs? “Sorry” came the reply, “can’t help.”

Nevertheless on the way back to the house we noticed that our neighbour’s washing was tenaciously clinging to the line, horizontal and straining in the wind… There is a very interesting market shop at the North end of South Uist where it is possible to buy anything within reason. I even bought some dried sprats (as a doggie treat) there once. The very thoughtful woman in the shop understood our problem and mentioned that her own (extra heavy duty) clothes pegs came from a friend in New Zealand. I wondered if there were mini mole grips available, but we eventually settled on a mixture of plastic (ulp!) and wood (good) pegs, hoping that if we used enough of them and the attrition rate was reasonable that they might do the job.

The wind dropped midweek and we travelled over to the wonderful beach at Balashare. The sea was aquamarine and there were good strong waves coming onto the beach. In order not to alarm the children we had recently bought two tent –type beach towels for changing into our wet suits underneath. These brought a new dimension to changing, and after painfully hopping around on the rocks and a fit of hysterics we emerged neoprene clad with our gloves and hats on clutching our newly acquired body boards. Mine, typically, had a weather map on it whereas Nicola’s was covered in pink flamingos. Determined to be at one with the environment we purposely strode into the sea. The effect was breath-taking. It was a fantastic adventure and it was amazing to swim and to ride on the incoming surf. Somehow in all of the excitement I managed to bend my body board with the force of the water but this seemed a small problem compared to removing the wetsuits..

I have been fishing three times this week. On one occasion I caught 2 brown trout, on another occasion with my friend Keith caught nothing (he caught 2 brown trout). On the final occasion I caught 2 brown trout, which could have been the same fish as on the first occasion but we had already eaten them.. The lochs are a bit dour at present with no fish visibly moving and they are still deeper in the rather cold water. Hopefully May will see more action.

Food is never far away from one’s consciousness and we were thinking about what to give our visitors when they visited us at the weekend. One of Nicola’s specialities is Nettle soup. This is accompanied with nettle pesto, and with an aim to making the latter, we picked the nettles in the field next to the house. Our crofting neighbour Andy, came to talk to us whilst riding across his land on one of those quite interesting-looking quad bikes. His new sheep, recently purchased at the Auction Mart in Lochmaddy, have settled down and are happily doing whatever it is sheep do. They are beginning to recognise us and do not run away quite as quickly as before.

n.b. Nettles grown in peat have an exceptional flavour.

Later that evening we noticed that the sheep had moved towards the foreshore and were grazing behind our house. We counted them and it seemed as if there were only 5 as opposed to previously when we thought that there were 6. This naturally, caused us much concern and we were worried that one had become stranded or injured. After walking around the croft and not finding the lost sheep, we decided to walk up to the farmer’s house and let him know that there were only 5 sheep grazing behind the house. He said “that’s right there are 5 sheep”…

Both Nicola and I have been teaching this week on the Fine Art Programme at the University of the Highlands and Islands. This has been an ongoing arrangement in Nicola’s case but for myself it was the first time meeting with and working with the the 4th year students, which was a great pleasure and an interesting experience, hopefully for everyone involved. Much of the next day was spent in preparation for our visitors at the weekend in honour of our guests we sourced a bottle of the Island’s new drink. Surprisingly not whisky but Gin. Named after the ever-changing weather, the new Gin is called ‘Downpour’. If Gin is your drink, you will love this.

At dawn, on saturday morning the rear window to the bedroom was open. The air was still, and silent, the sky in the distance showing an orange streak across the horizon. “Cuckoo” then “Cuc” then “Cuckoo” then again CUCKOO!. This went on for a long time, making sleep impossible and we left the bed and watched the Cuckoo sitting on a telegraph pole, very close nearby, before it had made its point and flew off along the loch-side to spread its message of summer. It was an exceptional start to the day. Our visitors spent much of Sunday with us and it was a great pleasure to see them. The food was excellent and everybody brought something along to share. Angelo, our white cat distinguished himself by making an appearance in the living room and accepting gratefully the attention that was bestowed upon him.

Monday morning is pay-back time and we spent much of it recovering from the excitement and slight excesses of the weekend. The Sunday papers, which due to the religious observation on North Uist, are unavailable until Monday – this has extended the weekend to 3 days, and Monday has become the new Sunday.. No complaints.