We have been worn down! – the council has ‘changed direction’ and provided a range of ‘mitigations’ whenever it suits their argument.
RHEA are determined to put a SpacePort on Scolpaig and will navigate a way around any environmentally sensitive areas – however challenging! All with the aid of our ‘environmentally aware’ Western Isles Council.
Spaceport 1 WILL NEVER “enhance our natural environment and inspire the people of Scotland to care more about it.” as outlined by https://www.nature.scot
Scolpaig, North Uist
The Western Isles Council Planning Department has finally posted the results of the Supplementary Environmental Impact (SEI) report on the Planning Portal of its website. It consists of numerous documents (some of which are hard to see clearly as they are of relatively low resolution). Hard copies have been posted in the Council Offices in Balivanich, Isle of Benbecula, HS7 5LA. The public are asked to respond to this additional information byMarch 5th. The Comhairle have issued a statement to the effect that that any comments related to the applications that have already been submitted have been considered and do not need to be resubmitted. In addition to the 250 or so current and ‘valid’ objections. There were around 600 objections to the initial application for an Orbital Spaceport which have been dismissed as being not relevant with regard to the current application. This has resulted in fewer written objections to the current proposals being currently available for consideration. Certainly, the plethora of documents available on the Council’s planning website is evasive and does not make easy reading. It will certainly dissuade many people from fully engaging with the process, which may be the point?
The ‘new’ information appears to add little, if anything to the available information, being partial, opinionated and contradictory, frequently relying on a range of highly questionable conclusions and assumptions. Nothing however has changed in substance.
The total quantity of objections will be influential in the outcome of the planning process, and we must ensure that the Comhairle understands the strength of our feelings and determination to save North Uist from this environmentally inappropriate development.
Are There not are sufficient Spaceports in Scotland, in operation or under construction?
The rationale and the supposed need for this development are underwhelming and in the longer term will benefit few islanders and is a poor return for their Council Tax payments. The economic and social arguments for the Spaceport remain vague and unconvincing. We need one last push to let the Council know that it is not acceptable to ruin a special place – such as Scolpaig, which belongs to all of us, and to our children, wherever we stay.
Places such as Scolpaig are unique and exist for the benefit of us all, they are a part of Scotlands Natural Heritage and should be preserved.
Taking into account the new SEI : Please resubmit your original objections with any amendments or additions you think appropriate. Address these to:
Short listed for : Favourite Scottish Nature Photography Book Award
IN this DAY and AGE, The Outer Hebrides
By John Kippin and Nicola Neate
The above publication (pub. Kerber, Berlin) has been shortlisted for the Scottish Nature Photography Book Awards. We are extremely pleased at this development (if a little surprised) as our book does not sit with what is usually regarded as the genre of ‘nature’ photography. It is however, extremely relevant as we affirm that we are all a part of nature. The ways that we respond to the places in which we live and our interactions with the environment are represented, and critically reflected upon in – IN this DAY and AGE.
The vote will close at noon on Wednesday the 1st of March 2023 and the result will be announced later that month. Courtesy of the publishers, everyone who takes part in the online vote will be entered into a free prize draw for one lucky individual to win the entire shortlist of books.
We are delighted with the new book and believe that it is a fitting resolution and legacy for our project. There will be a talk and discussion event with books available at a special price at the National Glass Centre in Sunderland on Saturday September the 10th. This will be hosted by Dr. Carol MacKay of The University of Sunderland and Dr. Alistair Robinson of Newcastle University as guests of the North-East Photography Network.
There will be a talk and discussion event at Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum and Arts Centre on September the 22nd at 7pm, introduced by Simon Hart
There will also be a book discussion event with Malcolm Dickson, Director of Street Level Photography in Glasgow during October (dates to be announced) We are also excited to be signing copies of our book at Paris Foto on the Kerber Verlag stand (at the foot of the Eiffel Tower) on Saturday November the 12th from 2pm.
Weather: It has been a bitterly cold spring – wet and windy. The wind has been extremely cold blowing mostly from the north and east. Just recently we have had the odd day where we have been able to sit out with croissants and coffee – a truly Brexit breakfast! We live in hope for the forthcoming warmer months bringing in some good weather.
It hardly seems possible that we are now at the end of our photographic project ‘In This Day and Age’. When we first arrived in North Uist, on February 19 2019, we had planned a relatively short stay of 4 – 6 months. Things have turned out very differently – and in a completely unexpected way. There have been several world events that have impacted us all since the beginning of this project – Brexit happened, the pandemic and now on 24th February 2022, the invasion of the Ukraine by Russia. The pandemic effected everybody, everywhere and took us all by surprise. It necessitated a complete rethink of our project plans as it became impossible to photograph individuals and even to move around, and we were isolated during the various lockdowns (whilst already being already effectively isolated on the island). The months slowly became years, our housing situation changed, and we eventually, amidst much upheaval, moved twice before settling in a more permanent way in our current Croft house which is located on the edge of a loch.
At this particular moment in history, to be making and thinking about art and photography seems particularly inadequate. Under the shadow of Russia’s imperialism and aggression in Ukraine and the emergence of a new world – order the enormity of our task seems futile, and we can only hope against hope that some kind of sanity might eventually prevail. We all have much re-thinking to do. Meanwhile we do what we are committed to, on a scale and stage that we believe in. We are privileged to work in this unique situation and thank our friends and all of those we have been associated with.
The events of time, however profound do not seem to interfere with inherent character of existence. The herons that fly past at the end of our Croft house, over Loch Blashaval to the nearby woods where they have built their nests, continue to do so.
Every year that we have been here a cuckoo appears, having travelled from North Africa. The cuckoo for us has become the sound of summer chirping its infamous onomatopoeic ‘cuckoo’ at 5am till about 8am – and yes, a very good alarm clock too. The wonderful summer light does provide more energy and early waking has become very pleasurable – with beautiful sunrises streaming through our Loch view windows. There are over 30 seals that sit out on the rocks in the Loch at the back of our Croft. When the weather is good here everybody celebrates. On March 27th, there was this one really warm day – where we even went swimming in the sea. The Lochs, are still a little too cold, except for the very hardy cold water swimmers.
The start of the warmer months in Uist also indicate the lambing season, this is a much talked about , anticipated and very busy time of year here. Already there have been a number of new – born lambs taken by the sea eagles. This has (unbelievably) called for some, including ‘our man in Westminster’ Angus MacNeil MP, to cull their numbers.
Reestablishing Sea Eagles in the Western Isles was a feat of great vision. They have survived and thrived, and are truly a wonder to behold as they go about their lives in the way that they are entitled to do. We consider ourselves most fortunate that they, together with the Golden Eagles continue to grace us with their presence and that the good that they do, far outweighs any difficulties that they might create.
Our crofting neighbour Ian, has been nursing a lamb that was savaged by a dog. In these parts this is a serious offence as sheep are the ‘raison d’etre’ of the majority of crofters and they frequently roam happily unfenced. It is also nice to see them on the roads unhurriedly moving away from the traffic, letting everybody know who is in charge. Even if their eventual fate is that they are destined for the meat trade. Dogs that have been raised in cities occasionally show a previously un – expressed passion for worrying sheep which can sometimes be problematic.
We Believe that the Outer Hebrides are one of the few places in the UK that remain relatively unspoiled and that it is possible, with sensitive management to live in harmony with other creatures and the natural world. This view is not universally shared however, and there are those who wish to exploit whatever resources might be available for short – term financial gain of the most superficial kind. The consideration by the Western Isles Council of its own planning application to develop a Spaceport on North Uist is one such example of insensitive opportunism.
Local elections are currently being held to appoint councilors to represent North Uist. Of the 3 (male) candidates, not one even mentioned in their ‘policy’ statements in the local paper ‘Am Paipear’ the proposed industrialization of their island by developing a Spaceport. Such is local politics on these islands. Long after the ‘owners’ of these places have passed away, our legacy to the next generations will be apparent and they will grieve at the scale of the environmental damage left to them as they try to pick up the pieces. As mere custodians of the world we hold a grave responsibility for its preservation and should not take a wrecking ball to it. Our efforts on behalf of the ‘Friends of Scolpaig’ were focused on considerations for the future and are committed and sincerely meant, regardless of the outcome of the compromised planning procedures, which we await in June.
We have all experienced a change in the ways that events has affected our lives.. It has been an extraordinary time to witness this period in history from our particular vantage point. Our project has spanned the period of time immediately prior to lockdown and developed during the spread of the disease. The Islands were little affected by the first variants of Covid and the mass immunisation process was a logistical feat that was successfully administered in Balinvanich in Benbecula. The latest variation ‘Omicron’ has been far more widespread but thankfully appears to be less dangerous. Only now are the controls are being relaxed, and it would be good to think that we have all moved on. Sadly, the situation regarding hospital waiting times for non Covid patients has been disastrous and this is the inevitable result of years of privatisation and the systematic underfunding and resourcing of the NHS.
At the time of writing we are consolidating the outcomes of our project. A large part of these are reflected in our engagement with the people in this place. This blog has been central to our time here and key to our relationships both within and outwith the Island. We are grateful to all of those who have engaged with our project and to all of those who have participated and supported us throughout. We were proud to have conceived of, and to have developed the international symposium (in partnership with others) ‘Imagining an Island’ that was held at Taigh Chearsabagh in North Uist and shared virtually by many across the World. We are grateful to all of those who contributed.
We have recently contributed to the ‘Sunderland Culture’ blog
and we will be exhibiting our Audio – Visual presentation in the Collection space at the National Glass Centre in Sunderland, opening on the 7th May to the public. Our blog will continue to be available for reference purposes for the indefinite future. On May the 20th at the Northern Gallery of Contemporary Art will present the exhibition ‘Island’. Our framed photographic piece ‘In this DAY and AGE will be a central component of this exhibition, which also comprises work from the Arts Council Collection. This exhibition will run until September 11th.
The book publication ‘In this Day and Age’ with photographs and essay by ourselves together with writings from those individuals that we have made portraits of, and an introduction written by Alistair Robinson will be published by Kerber in Berlin and will be available from around mid June. All of those people represented within our book have become friends and we feel a connection to them. We are grateful to them for their contribution to our project.
We continue to enjoy our time here as do our two cats. Maxwell, who is almost a year old now, can be seen hunkered down and flows, with a sinuous motion like a snake in pursuit of a pair of oyster – catchers on the foreshore. For every inch that he moves towards them they in turn, their beady eyes forever fixed on him, move an inch further away. All are aware of the game in hand. Maxwell has little to apologise for in this respect. Beautiful, elegant siamese Alice, very much a house cat, edges cautiously outside and preens herself on the newly built sunlit path to the rear of the house before lending her presence to the house and gracefully assuming her window seat inside.
Join us in fighting to protect this area of exceptional natural beauty and biodiversity from the inappropriate development of a commercial spaceport. Scolpaig is one of the wonders of the Western Isles, largely within the National Scenic Area, adjacent to a world renowned RSPB reserve and the closest viewpoint to the dual World Heritage Site of St Kilda – it should not be lost to irreversible industrialisation.
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council) originally submitted a proposal (Ref. No. 19/00311/PPD) to Develop Phase 1 Spaceport infrastructure, to allow the launch of sounding rockets, comprising launch pad, locations for tracking radar pads, provision of vehicular access and parking, and to widen existing access track from the A865.
his has been replaced by a new application (Ref. No. 21/00646/PPD) for a Sub-orbital Vertical Launch Spaceport Facility, submitted on 11th Feb 2022. This is in effect a refinement of the original Phase 1 application.
The Council have advised that all previous objections will not be carried forward, and that should anyone wish to make representations in respect of the new application they will need to do so by the 21st March 2022.
North Uist is a small island situated in the Atlantic Ocean. It has a rural community that has developed symbiotically and sympathetically with its geography and topography. It is an island with some of the best, the rarest and most unspoilt environments in Western Europe. It is home to many scarce species of birds, animals, plants and marine life. The seas are clean and the air is unpolluted. Light pollution and noise is minimal and it is a place of meditation and of rejuvenation.
Driving through the village of Sollas towards Hosta Beach, on the right hand side of the road a Georgian folly can be seen. This little tower, known as Scolpaig Tower (also known as Dùn Scolpaig or MacLeod’s Folly) has been built on a small island in a loch, the scene is idyllic. It is a good walking place, a fishing and swimming spot and major tourist attraction. It is a place that everyone on the island is familiar with. The immediate area in and around Scolpaig are designated variously as the following:
1). M.P.A. Marine Protection Area
2). S.P.A. Special Protection Area
3). S.A.C. Special Area of Conservation
4). S.S.S.I. Site of Special Scientific Interest (not forgetting that the nearby Monach Islands are nature reserves and that St. Kilda is a UNESCO World Heritage site.).
It is a precious resource that we should hold in trust for our children and their children to come. There are many special conservation sites to focus upon, and visitors and tourists to the island come to enjoy its special qualities, unique within the UK.
It is this site that has been selected due to its orientation and remoteness. It is considered the best position to build Vertical Launch Spaceport 1. In June 2019 Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles Council), submitted a planning application for phase one of a spaceport on North Uist to launch orbital ‘sounding’ or research rockects. Due to local opposition the application had to be revised and was resubmitted on 11th February 2022. There is already highly visible military infrastructure on the Uists. Despite the platitudes and false promises, in the proposal, that are meticulously laid out, with a variety of predictive graphs and statistics, this industrial construction will irreversibly impact on the biodiversity of this place. The environment will become altered, and contaminated. This Spaceport proposal, should it come to fruition, will change the essential nature and the extraordinary properties of this place for ever.
Inevitably, there are promises of new employment and a rapidly – expanding economic future for the islands. These are expedient arguments at best and will, in all probability in the longer term prove to be at a high cost. From attending a number of public meetings it became clear that the Developers and particularly the Council, wished to divide the ‘indigenous’ occupants from the ‘incoming migrants’ stereotyping these as being resistant to change to the islands. The job opportunities on offer are few and insignificant when compared to the potential damage to the tourist industry. The environment, despite the reassurances proffered in the profuse documentation accompanying the planning application, will inevitably deteriorate, becoming polluted and emptied of its wildlife, as the noise and activities associated with the business of a Spaceport (that is designed to fire sub-orbital rockets into space, mostly ending up in the sea) inexorably changes Scolpaig, irreversibly. It is difficult to imagine that the cumulative effect of years of such activity will not create an island that is a militarised outpost.
Weather: Winter is upon us! It is cold, damp, windy with the occasional brilliant day. Typical Uist weather.
Sunday 31st October – Friday 12th November COP26 was held in Glasgow. Many environmental promises have been made, how many will be kept is yet to be seen. We are of course hoping that the environmental promises will help to support the fight to save Scolpaig, which is after all a Site of Special Scientific Interest (S.S.S.I.)
We are still waiting for the next stage in the Council’s Planning Process regarding the proposed Spaceport for Scolpaig. This project is led by the Western Isles Council with support from the local M.S.P. and M. P. Even the Western Isles ‘Green Party’ support the ‘development of Spaceports’. Despite the reassurances offered by the Developers (robust of course, in their defence of the environment, and within the spirit of Cop 26…) it is business as usual.
The Western Isles Council have not replied to many of the questions put to them after the last public presentation – or yet issued a public progress report. There has been some information released through our F.O.I. requests regarding the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
The most significant initial observations appear to be from Marine Scotland who state that:
‘We have a number of concerns related to potential effects on the environment that have arisen through similar consultation processes. In the EIA report, we would expect a full assessment of the impacts upon marine mammals with at a minimum, the following species considered in the assessment’
It continues with a list of relatively rare mammals including Whales, Dolphins and Seals and clearly requests specific information with regard to the potential for impact, noise and pollution occurring as a result of the proposed launches. There are also serious concerns regarding the recovery of debris and the deposition of materials and pollutants at sea, in addition to questions surrounding ongoing logistical difficulties, such as the individual licensing requirement of multi-stage launch vehicles together with their recovery.
Clearly no rocket launch system can avoid serious environmental trauma with long – term consequences. Perhaps the real debate should be consolidated around 2 key issues:
What kind of place should North Uist be?
What environmental price should we be prepared to pay, to achieve a Spaceport?
10 rockets launched each year with waste dumped into the ocean soon adds up!
Another question that is of broader relevance, that might be considered is:
What is the point of Scolpaig and the immediate areas close by being designated as the following?
M.P.A. (Marine Protection Area)
S.P.A. (Special Protection Area)
S.A.C. (Special Area of Conservation).
S.S.S.I. Site of Special Scientific Interest.
Not forgetting that nearby St. Kilda is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
With so much environmental protection in place we surely have nothing to worry about..
In the island own Council’s policy document – ‘Islands Growth Deal; Our Islands, Our Deal’ – much is made of the importance of the Island’s tourism industry and makes the observation that:
‘the island’s tourism industry regularly comes out on top in stunning natural and cultural heritage, which includes two of Scotland’s six UNESCO World Heritage Sites (St Kilda and Heart of Neolithic Orkney) and the UK’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site (St Kilda)’
Well that’s OK then… (don’t get us started!)
November the 27th
There was a wind and snow storm reported on the east coast (Newcastle – Aberdeen), it was surprisingly only a little windy here in Uist, nothing out of the ordinary.
On our regular weekly shopping run to Sollas we spotted an eagle, it was hard to miss. It came gliding down on the wind and sailed right over the road in front of the car. Wow, it was a ‘birds eye’ view! Close-up like this you can appreciate how impressive and massive these birds are. Suddenly our mundane shopping trip was a special, uplifting experience.
The shed roof ‘waterproof’ lining cover disappeared one dark night. The wind got between the lining and the roof and yanked it off, tearing it into shreds. Much discussion was had on how to stick it on better. Bitumen is a very useful product for this job, although sadly this is a bi-product of coal! Living so close to the sea and with the environment we both think even more about what we use and how this might affect the ecosystem.
We had our COVID booster and flu vaccine – very sore arms. We felt a little groggy the following day.
We attended the University of the Highlands and Islands Christmas dinner at Langas Lodge. It was a delightful occasion, the food was good, the company was too. It was touch and go though, because of COVID and now OMNICROM, whether it was permitted to gohead or not. Fortunately, we could attend. The UHI crowd were the only guests in the restaurant, evidently a lot of bookings had been cancelled because of the new OMNICROM variant scare.
The latest OMNICROM variant, of course did scupper up some other of our Xmas plans, but as with everyone, we have become very adaptable. New arrangements were made and meetings were rescheduled, all be it that they were compromised – something our own PM seems unable to do, with his ongoing list of lies and inanities – (Just had to quickly mention this, as the efforts of us mere plebs are often taken for granted). Travel arrangements (Lochmaddy –Uig and Lochboisdale – Mallaig/Oban), at this time of year, can be difficult, the ferries are more challenged with the weather, which can sometimes lead to mechanical failures, and now with COVID in the mix plans are prone to being disrupted. However, we did manage to take trips off the island and we did see family and friends.
Neighbour Andy popped by with a huge Christmas cake that Effie had baked for us, what a lovely surprise.
We had a little pre-Christmas dinner event with the lovely Rosie, Raphael and Neil – toy polystyrene Christmas aeroplanes were assembled and flown around the living room the season was now officially activated and launched.
Christmas eve, a little wet and windy. Friends Keith and Fran came over to have lunch. We had the traditional smoked salmon, Christmas cake, mince pies and brandy butter, followed by coffee and chocolate. We both like mince pies but agreed that we could not consider eating them outside of the festive season, they probably would not even taste the same – ‘set and setting’ has a fundamental influence on one’s taste, perception and sensory expectation.
Christmas day, a beautiful sunny day. We woke at 6am made coffee and opened all our presents, then promptly went back to sleep, with our two cats sprawled over our legs – we then woke up again at the more reasonable hour of 10am. We had a delicious breakfast of scrambled eggs and smoked salmon. The salmon came from the Hebridean Smoke House – highly recommended. The day was bright, a stunning fresh day, which motivated us to take a walk across the moors, we also set up our trail camera. We love walking here, it is expansive and unstructured. We saw a small herd of deer running wild in the bracken, hardly visible because of their camouflage that conceals them within the environment. We got back to our Croft at about 3.30pm in time to start our vegetarian Christmas feast cooking and dining.
This year we have been waiting the arrival of grandchild #8, between us we now have four grandchildren each, our dynasty flourishes.
January 10 2022 Caelan was born, 9.7lb, mother Abi and baby are doing well.
There is much work to be undertaken on our photographic project (In This day and Age). We are working towards exhibiting and otherwise presenting ‘In this day and Age’ in the spring. We will be producing a publication of the same name contemporaneously. Hopefully COVID will not factor in affecting these events too much. On the other hand, the adopting of both online and live presentations has been a blessing, particularly for people like us living in a remote place. Just recently we could engage with the N.E.P.N. (North East Photography Network) online presentation by the excellent Spanish Artist and Photographer Laia Abril.
There is a Common seal that swims around the shore at the back of our Croft, bobbing his/her head up and down – a happy sight. The resident Grey heron still graces us with its presence, staking out the shallow water at the sea edge in front of our window view. We have had other sightings too, of some exotic ducks and divers – we are on a learning curve with bird identification. Tragically, we have also observed 3 dead otters recently by the roadside.
Alice cat and Mad Max cat are socialising together well – it has taken 6 months to get to this point. Alice is now an adult cat and has developed a rather disapproving manner, which is mainly aimed at Max. Max has been fighting cat flu, he has had this since he was a tiny kitten, we hope it will not lead to other more serious ailments. Max is now due to be neutered.
The long – awaited public information on-line event regarding the proposed development of Spaceport 1 at Scolpaig on North Uist took place on Wednesday 17th November 2021. It consisted of a power-point type event, with a number of slides detailing the results of the ongoing Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). Only it didn’t. Our Environmental assessment ‘experts’ were introduced with their, no doubt sincere, intentions (as they are all being paid by the developer). They were there to reassure the public that all reasonable attempts had been made to address the environmental shortcomings of developing a major Spaceport on such a tiny island, one of the U.K.’s remaining wild places.
The Aquatera (Orkney) badged, EIA summary information slide describes an important function of the Environmental Impact Assessment as its ‘Purpose being to remove, or reduce negative impacts on the environment through mitigation measures’ In fact, the removal of such negative impacts on the process are procedural and perceptual rather than actual. No information regarding the actual outcomes of the assessment was presented although it is suggested that these will not negatively affect the outcome of the planning process. We were told of the public meetings and consultations during the previous 2 years but Covid happened and these meetings, if they were planned, they mostly never happened.
There were vague references to Corncrakes and Otters (although answering a later question, Bats were omitted from the study because ‘we didn’t include bats’ and that the conditions will be improved for Corncrakes (supply of headphones?) In addition, great commitment was given to re-assuring us all that multiple licences from numerous important agencies will be required to permit launch activities. There was also a time-line of the many consultative frameworks and the inclusion of a ‘desk based’ assessment on tourism and recreational activity around Scolpaig and North Uist. Numerous agency logos associated with the project (willingly or not) were displayed. Well, that’s all right then. As Private Eye might comment ‘trebles all round!’
The focus of the 2 proposed launch area zones of activity are to the West and the North, effectively either side of St. Kilda (A UNESCO World Heritage Site and the Monach Islands, Designated Nature Reserves). No matter, the 10 launches per year (of ‘sub-orbital vehicles’) up to 10 metres or so in height) with a range of up to 250 kilometres (worst case scenario) although more usually within 25 kilometres (not perhaps as re-assuring as intended) was outlined. It is possible that the noise alone will scare any living creature to death that it does not deafen or put to rapid flight, not to mention the occasional sonic BOOM! Illegible maps were shown on our screens and vague references made to the number of households likely to be impacted. Only the sheep, so common around here, are woollier.
When asked about the ‘road improvements’ that would be necessary. There was an embarrassing silence – who could have thought that rockets and other associated paraphernalia might need to be brought to the sites on massive trucks? Eventually it was suggested that widening of the roads would be necessary but there was no detail whatsoever about exactly what and where this would be required. Although Traffic and Transport was supposed to be an important topic for the EIA alongside Aviation, Defence, Telecoms, Accidents and Unplanned Events, answers came there none. No need to talk about Climate Change, because some of the ‘vehicles’ (Rockets to you and me) might in the future use eFuels – so that’s fine then, despite the fact, that however all available narratives regarding the development of efuels and other synthetics are presented and spun (in their manufacture and combustion) they all make a significant contribution to the overall level of dangerous emissions, contributing to Climate Change. It may have seemed that beyond informing us of the fact that there had been some sort of EIA in progress, that the event might begin to properly address some of the bigger questions surrounding this development.
When thinking about the ‘why’ of the proposed Spaceport, there is little to report. The site is to be used by a number of outside agencies for ‘Vehicle Developments’ and informing the ‘Science Community’ with such information as ‘atmospheric measurements, communications etc’. Again, no details whatsoever are forthcoming. Who is this ‘Scientific Community’ and why do they need the information available to them at such great cost to the environment? We have perfectly good weather reports for this part of the World (courtesy of the Met Office and other agencies) and more space pollution is unlikely to affect communications that are useful to the vast majority of us.
The development of testing rockets for commercial gain and the military is a far more likely reason, given the background of the lead partner (deep space attack) together with the financial returns and incentives available to operators such as the RHEA Group. To date, there has been no disclosure of the metrics involved beyond the mention of the £1 million investment by the Western Isles Council (no doubt this lack of information as to who profits, and by how much, is due to commercial sensitivity..) I remember a member of the public storming into a previous public meeting shouting at the panel. He said “Its all about f****** money! before storming out of the meeting, and slamming the door. His communication skills were not silky, but he was not wrong.
There was confirmation that 25 well paid, mostly engineering, jobs would be created (plus 2 security guards to keep us off) , with recruitment from the local island communities being a priority. This at least means that all of those local Space Engineers on the Uists that have been scanning the local papers for such opportunities can relax..
North Uist is a small island situated in the Atlantic Ocean. It has a rural community that has developed symbiotically with its environment. It is an island with some of the best and most unspoilt environments in Western Europe. It is home to many rare species of birds, animals, plants and marine life. The seas are clean and the air is unpolluted. Light pollution is minimal and it is a place of silence. It is a massive carbon sink with its peat resources and has developed over the millennia alongside some of the most ancient Geology in Europe. There are many special conservation sites to focus upon, and visitors and tourists to the island come to enjoy its special qualities, unique within the UK. Paul Whitehouse and Bob Mortimer in their recent programme ‘Gone Fishing’ referred to North Uist as the most wonderful place in the UK that they had visited.” Thanks to Scotland it is probably the best show we have ever done and that is down to the extraordinary environment”
The Spaceport (developed by insensitive people who live outwith the Island) will change the essential nature and the extraordinary environment of this place forever. Despite the inevitable platitudes and (mostly uninformed and inadequately) researched waffle relating to the environmental destruction planned – this fact is inescapable. Scolpaig is a place that many islanders enjoy the wonderful, wild coastline, walks, lochs, swimming, diving and fishing, alongside its proximity to nature. To watch the seals displaying themselves and the gannets diving into the sea whilst standing on the rocks is exhilarating, although these are but a fraction of the wildlife in the area. Even the bees and the fish are special. Such developments as the proposed development of Spaceport 1, come at a terrible cost. What next? Spaceport 2, perhaps. Maybe we will be renamed ‘Tracey Island’ where rockets are GO! This is a one-way trip for our Lemming Government.
Although it may seem initially attractive, the island does not need jobs like those proposed at all costs (Even if they were ever to happen). There are far better ways to develop the economies of such places, many of which are sensibly suggested in the Western Isles Council’s contribution to their own policy document regarding Island Development in partnership with Orkney and Shetland. The Council (and its Commercial partner the RHEA Group (Belgium) will now submit its own Planning Application to its own Planning Department (Located in Lewis) which is re-assuring and guarantees an impartial outcome….
There will then be a 3 month interlude where there will be further time for objections (the details of which have not yet been made public, but numbered over 600 and according to the Council’s interim report on the process, are considered relatively insignificant). There are a further 10, 000 or so signatories objecting to the proposals due to be presented. These are both local and from the wider UK and Europe. After all, Scolpaig belongs to all of them too. This is not just a local issue.
The Green party have replied to a letter that we sent to our local representative Ariane Burgess MSP requesting their position on the proposals, with her assistant replying that that ‘they Support the developments of Spaceports in Scotland’. What they stand for I cannot imagine but It certainly is not Green. But talk is cheap and the hunger for power is great. The local M.P. Angus MacNeil M.P. – our man in Westminster, has not deigned to reply to our letters (although requesting our address to ascertain an island address- so he knows he should) and the local M.S.P Alsadair Allan MSP is broadly in favour of the development, although he did graciously take the time to visit us and explain his position and although we could not agree, we exchanged our differing views on the project for which we are grateful. Government agencies such as S.E.P.A, and Nature Scot are almost impossible to contact in any meaningful way although we did try via their ‘contact us’ portals. Just don’t contact us about anything you want to talk about.
It is difficult to think of these inappropriate proposals gaining traction, but such is the world in which we live. We are in thrall to those with power and those with money helping themselves. The much loved Compton MacKenzie follow up to ‘Whisky Galore’ (book and film) was entitled ‘Rockets Galore’. It was one of those wonderful, mischievous British comedy films that imagined the ludicrous concept of developing a rocket launch site on a remote Scottish Island (sturdily rebuffed by the local community). In the U.S.A. it was released with a different title, one that would place the activities this small Island into a broader context. It was entitled ‘Mad Little Island’ and in the ensuing 63 or so years, it seems to have acted as an inspiration for a new assault on a small Scottish Island.
Weather: Wet with some medium wind storms, some beautiful clear days with perhaps more ‘dreich’ days
Time has passed and only the ghost of summer is now still with us. The clocks have changed to winter times.The time modification, even if it is only and hour, is very dis-orientating, we now wake up at 6am, rather than 7am and go to bed at 9pm, rather than 10pm. It seems we have only just got used to the summer time and then it is changed again – Time has become more elusive recently, maybe this is an age-related thing, a COVID induced state or living on a remote island?
Autumn is a beautiful season, good light, fantastic rainbows, sunsets together with the lessening of tourist traffic. The seasonal traffic (which due to ‘staycations’ increased) although can be frustrating on the single track roads, of the islands, is welcomed. The tourist industry is significant and the majority of the visitors come here to enjoy and respect the environment. Tourism certainly provides an income stream for many islanders and is a relatively benign activity – unlike the proposal to build a commercial vertical rocket launching site on a designated National Scenic Area.
Autumn is also the time for deer watching, because September marks the start of the rutting season – this goes through to November. The rutting stags are very vocal at dawn and dusk; we love listening to their mating ritual. Also, the wild mushroom hunting season starts – we are getting better at recognising and have found, for the table, some meadow wax caps, these are good to eat and plentiful; field mushrooms – easily identifiable and very rich in flavour; and the odd puff ball – a favourite, tasting like an omelette. August to October we have begun harvesting blackberries and rose-hips, making delicious jam and chutney, we are even getting a good reputation (amongst friends and family) for these preserves!
September thursday 16th
Socialising is still enabled, and is still a novelty. We had dinner with friends Effie and Andy. A lovely night, relaxed with a walk back at about 23:30 in the pitch black of the night. We borrowed a torch from our hosts, to light the way – We still have much to learn!
Friday 17th John away to Newcastle – a little worse for wear!
Nicola : 9.30am went for a ‘selkie’ group loch swim. There were three of us. It was fantastic – the weather was cold, but bearable. I was the only one wearing a full wet suit. We swam for about an hour. The clouds were beautiful and layered and when the sun shone through it was hot and warming on my face. Getting out was the cold part, my hands were a little shaky. Luckily I brought double jumpers, and my wind proof coat and hat – I was not over-dressed. The loch is near to our Croft, so I had only a short walk back to a lovely coffee and a sit with the cats. You never regret a wild swim, it is exhilarating and sets you up in a positive way for the whole rest of your day.
A fairly big wind, the first of the season, I had to cancel an arranged swim with Rosie. The light was stunning topped by a gorgeous sunset.
I went on the re-arranged swim with Rosie – on the same loch near the Croft – The day was fabulously calm after the storm from the previous day. We had a very refreshing swim, both of us wore our wet suits. John returned from his trip to the mainland, to a Lovely evening, with blue skies and fluffy clouds and just a little breeze. The midges have finally gone and a beautiful rainbow was covering the sky.
Through our t panoramic window, we can watch the arrival of the pink-footed geese and redwing (all the way from Iceland). A heron has also begun to regularly visit our shore at the bottom of our garden. The heron is lovely to observe, patient and decisive. He moves in slow motion and then suddenly juts his head forward whilst simultaneously wading with caution through the loch, it is like watching a Butoh dance performance. we have also spotted some curlew, a migratory bird, that has recently gone on the near-threatened list.
The seals have begun to re-appear on the nearby rocks although not in large numbers, they seem to enjoy the opportunity to sun themselves when provided with a suitable opportunity. The local golden eagles, that appear to live somewhere high up on the hill in front of the Croft house, can be seen hanging on the wind high above.
After a Pre-COVID series of presentations, the partners, in the plan to develop a Spaceport at Scolpaig, have said that they will re-present their proposals ‘later this year’.
Both the Scottish Government and the Western Isles Council are committed to a zero carbon policy and in the recently published document : ‘Islands Growth Deal; Our Islands, Our Deal’
Much is made of the island’s Tourism industry and the document outlines that ‘the island’s tourism industry regularly comes out on top in stunning natural and cultural heritage, which includes two of Scotland’s six UNESCO World Heritage Sites (St Kilda and Heart of Neolithic Orkney) and the UK’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site (St Kilda)’
Scolpaig is a Site of Special Scientific Interest with a ‘stunning’ natural coastline with pristine seas that abound in wildlife. It is home to many plants and animals of interest and its bird life is celebrated throughout the U.K. The nearby island of St Kilda is clearly visible from the site at Scolpaig. This is clearly understood by both the Western Isles Council and the Scottish Government. Yet somehow, in the same document there is Scolpaig projected as the site for a vertical launch Spaceport! This is truly magical thinking.
The development of the Spaceport would change this place forever. North Uist would become dominated by this activity. The deafening roar of rocket launches would be heard from all over the island and the pollution from the additional traffic and the burning of the fuel, chemical run-off and dispersal of debris from the launch of the rockets will cause serious pollution of the land, air and sea, both around the site, and further afield. This much is obvious. We understand the need for jobs, but do not believe high value jobs will be available to local people and that if jobs are forth-coming they will likely be part-time few, low paid and menial. The tourist industry will be ruined as North Uist becomes a ‘Mad Little Island’, (alternative title from the 1958 film Compton MacKenzie’s ‘Rocket Island’)
We are hoping that the COP 26 Conference, to negotiate global action on issues of climate change, held in Glasgow from the 1st – 12th November, will influence the outcomes of the environmental report and subsequent proposal to develop the Spaceport on Scolpaig, North Uist.
We have contacted our local representatives in both the Scottish and UK Parliaments and hope that this scheme will be properly scrutinised and eventually rejected, although there is much vested interest in the ‘success of this scheme. We are also waiting to hear from S.E.P.A. (Scottish Environmental Protection Agency) and Nature Scotland.
We urge you all to help protect this site of natural heritage and beauty – please sign the online petition at
(if the link does not work directly from here pleas copy and paste in your url.)
And for anyone who is interested there is a public information session on Spaceport 1, at 7pm on Wednesday 17th November 2021.
Alice cat and Mad Max kitten run rings around us. They are constantly in competition with each other for seats, toys, food and even litter trays! Nobody else seems to have cats that completely take over the running of their house. We need to take charge…
We have both had our 2 COVID vaccinations – some reactions, both times, were experienced, although nothing terrible. Neither of us seem to have been genetically modified (that we are aware of) and we have not noticed any extra surveillance issues, oh – nor have we had COVID. More people that we know personally (not in Uist) do seem to be getting COVID, although no deaths, that we know of, have been reported thankfully. There is still a constant ongoing awareness and the usual tabloid reporting of all new COVID cases and deaths –there appears to be a little less panic about the situation, so perhaps more control and understanding of the disease is slowly developing.
June 6th – 11th
John: After many delays apparently caused by the shortage of some components and import control problems courtesy of the U.K. leaving the E.U. and ‘taking back control’ the long-awaited new motorcycle was ready to collect from Gateshead. I have never owned a new motorcycle although there have been many used ones over the years. This particular machine is a Moto Guzzi V7 Centario in special 100th anniversary colours, mirroring the famous V8 racing Guzzis as ridden by the likes of world champion Bill Lomas. There the similarity ends, and the bike is a genteel touring machine, all be it one with a useful turn of speed. It is suitable for someone of my proclivities. Alan, Rebecca and Franco, all on Italian motorcycles rode with me as far as the café at Kielder. After some lunch, the others returned to Newcastle and I set off on the ride up through Glasgow to Glencoe, Fort William and Mallaig. This was pleasant with the weather improving. The bike was running in and as I was in good time there was no hurry. With the new bike at the Croft the pressure was on to get the shed built to accommodate it. The bike is one that has no chrome parts to tarnish, but the Uist salt-air atmosphere is notorious for digesting metal parts. A wood shed is the answer. I ordered the shed, which was courteously delivered to the Croft by D.R. MACLEOD LTD .Keith Dawson and I levelled the ground and laid the base before scratching our heads as to how to assemble the flat –pack shed. Keith made the breakthrough with the suggestion that we had managed to get everything upside –down.
Na h-Eileanan Siar COVID tier – level 0 – This does not mean ‘no masks’, although there is a definite sign of a more relaxed atmosphere. People are able to meet each other and a better social life is now possible. Since the lockdowns ‘getting together’ in public spaces has become strange. The usual protocols that were used – handshakes, hugs, kiss on the cheek – are no longer used, now we all stand awkwardly, judging what might be a safe distance apart, trying to access the proper way to say hello. There are definitely a lot of confusions, surrounding all the COVID rules and restrictions.
The days are now fabulously light up until around 10pm and there have been many still, quite humid days – The down side of this are the midges. The midge is well known to be a highland bother. They congregate on mass, form black clouds that loom and circle overhead. Should you be caught under a midge cloud an attack will be imminent – this is debilitating – you are stung simultaneously and repeatedly by several hundred midges at once. It is quite an unpleasant experience. Your skin feels pricked all over, with a nasty irritant and you can feel the blood sucking mites crawling about and around your skin. You might find that you start to wave your hands and arms around, propeller like, to try and protect yourself, but this is to no avail – they can even get inside your clothes. We did find some lemon scented joss sticks, that helped, but really the only thing that works is to retreat into the home, lock all windows and close all gaps (‘cos believe it or not, they will get in via any available vent) and stay indoors until the ‘wee b-rst-rds’ have flown off, or have been blown away! However, if the wind-speed is more than 5mph (8km/ph), the midge is too small and light, even if it beats it wings to maximum speed, it won’t be able to fly. The summer months, which are the midge months (May until September) are the time of year when a certain amount of wind is preferable. This year there has been a significant rise in the midge numbers all over Scotland, which has been good for the birds, bats and fish – not so good for the stay-cationer! Other insects to be wary of are the horse fly – a nasty bite is given by these critters, and then of course there is the dreaded TIC!
The relaxed COVID regulations have meant we can enjoy friends coming over for Barbeques and bonfires making full use of the warmer, longer evenings in our lovely outside spaces. We have had beautiful nights inside too, where we can view the evening seascape through our fantastic new window installation.
The first swim at Balashare beach – the summer has begun! On some of the cooler bright, breezy days we have been, taking new mini hikes, embracing the elements – one of which was to the Fairy Knoll. Walking can be great here, on the right day, with glittering light, reflected and sparkling in the lochs, the air smells fresh and there is room to observe and take in all that nature has to offer – swans followed closely by their, now maturing, cygnets, paddling gently on the lochs– it can all become a kind of meditation; the colours, the sounds and the space create moments that are entwined, transient and special. This is our third year living in Uist, and we are starting to feel like we belong here. We love living and waking up in our beautiful Croft – with the morning light pouring in through the windows. The Croft house used to be considered a dark cottage, we have completely transformed it, it now has the most amazing light together with spectacular views.
An early start today, to catch the ferry at Lochboisdale. We set of at 4.00am and arrived a little early. We have had trouble booking on our usual ferry – Lochmaddy to Uig, because of COVID and the boats not being able to take full capacity passengers – also due to the big influx of ‘stay-cationers’. The early morning drive through to Lochboisdale, was very pleasant with a lovely pink hue in the sky, we spotted an owl and several groups of deer – always a delight. For this early morning ferry trip, it is advisable to take a blanket, anyone who knew this did. The upstairs lounge area was filled with children and adults sleeping, with covers and inflatable cushions. We shared a fluffy sweatshirt, that just about protected our cold knees. The COVID mask restrictions were laidback, if people were seated they mainly lowered their mask, even if they were not drinking a coffee. Perhaps a slackened attitude to the mask wearing is required for the sake of every one’s sanity. We arrived at Mallaig at 9.50am. The traffic was BAD. Before we reached Fort-William there was a 45 min hold up due to an incensed male driver, not obeying the temporary traffic light signal – that was held up by road worker. The crazed driver drove up to the signal-man (jumping the queue by driving on the wrong side of the road) and then swerved around the signal-man almost knocking him over. People started getting out of their cars and wandering around, the police were called. Then the crazed man was seen to be coming back, he again swerved round the signal-man, driving the other way, back. He was grimly bent over his steering wheel. What had happened (evidently) is he got to the other end of the traffic works, and couldn’t get through. He was apprehended and his keys were confiscated, but he had a spare set that he used to turn around and go back! A case of COVID isolation fever perhaps?
The traffic was astounding – cars double and treble parked along the route to Glasgow. The effect of the COVID restrictions and cabin fever that everyone has been experiencing was clearly apparent. The surreal remoteness of before is no more – it felt like the whole of the UK had decided to travel to the Highlands of Scotland. We arrived in Sunderland at 21.15 – in pouring rain. COVID level 3 – (laxed)
We slept like logs. 8.30am wake-up call. We are here to pack our things and needed to get to Newcastle. The weather was wet and miserable, which is not what we were expecting.
Oh no! the key to the lock up was accidentally left at the Travel Lodge (by John), so in the end, despite an early start, the day was slow and heavy. Our tension was definitely exacerbated by noise pollution, bad traffic and a general aggression/ road rage that seemed to float around in the atmosphere… still there are some good things about a city… SHOPPING. All of the shops were open (those that survived the COVID crisis), so after packing some things we hit Boots and other shops – Ker-Ching.
June 27th Sunday Foggy morning.
Sunday Lunch with Laura Kippin (John’s youngest daughter)The weather started to improve. After a lovely Sunday lunch in ‘The Badger’, we dropped Laura back home and went on our way. Heading back towards Sunderland we dropped off at Roker Beach, it was a good decision. The weather was ‘scorchio’- lots of people out and about. No obvious COVID precautions in place – oh well, we are all outside and there was plenty of distance between us and them. We spent several minutes downloading a ‘Neuron scooter’ app and then we were away, larking around by the beach. Taking photos, riding scooters and dipping our toes in the sea. It was a perfect afternoon.
Weather took a turn for good – summer.
We finished the packing and drove to Glasgow to stop off at Abigale and Chris’s (Nicola’s daughter and her partner). They had a much anticipated, Indian take-away waiting for us – something that is unavailable in Uist. We had a welcoming and comfortable stop over. It is so nice having adult children.
June 29th 16.49 ferry from Malaig – Lochboisdale.
European Championships: England 2 – Germany 0
The game was on the television in the ‘coffee cabin’ to some interest. A great achievement after all the ensuing years. Shame that it is not a G.B. team, not just Enger-land..
It was good to be home, with more of our things, making it all a reality – we have moved to Uist!
The yellow flag, yellow iris, water flag (or iris pseudacorus) is out in full bloom. The display of buttercups, such as the common meadow buttercup and creeping buttercup covers the fields in a golden glow. The yellow flowers have arrived – the gorse bush, which does flower all year, at this time, it has a more intense bloom, as if to celebrate the radiant abundant yellow flurry. Everything has flowered a little late this year, due to the late summer – but it is now starting with a vibrant burst. This is also the machair season, the glorious, lush and oh so pretty, wild flowers that cover the fields fronted by sand dunes. The machair grassland flowers from June to early September, beginning with a beautiful carpeting of yellow primroses. Next to blossom, are the purple florae –wild cornflowers, an assortment of different thistles, foxgloves, purple orchids and the start of the heather – and this is just a few of the spectacular varieties that can be found and seen in the Uist landscape.
The swimming continues, this time at Balashare beach,
Nicola – early morning swim in a loch with the ‘selkies’ swimming group (no wet suit, super fun).
We have even been doing some evening dips. It is lovely to swim in the wild, very different to the swimming pool, which can be good too but is still tangled in COVID restrictions. The loch water is clean and fresh, a rich, dark peaty colour, illuminating your immersed skin with a full-on orange spray-tan effect. The sea is uplifting and immense, with rhythmic waves that pulsate to a different beat every day. Uist still has an uncontrolled and unsupervised landscape to explore and play in. This does also have its draw backs – no coast guards and no health and safety warnings – personal safety precautions are required.
It is early July and the weather has been amazingly dry recently, so when the rain came, it was a relief.
Finally, we managed to photograph another portrait. As always, these are fun to do and can sometimes lead to a nice bit of social time (either before or after the photoshoot) with the sitters, and it did on this occasion.
Taking these ‘Uist portraits’ have been slow in the making. People are a little reticent and we do not want to force anyone, but at the same time it would be good to complete this project and get a range of people who represent the community that have moved to the island from choice. A slow steady perseverance…
The weather started to become a little overcast, still warm but slightly breezy.
We continue to grow into our Croft, moving into and occupying more of the spaces. The sheds now have doors and shelves, our boxes are slowly being unpacked, this process is going to take a while.
The weather continues to be mainly good, we celebrated with a private picnic by the sea and a swim at one of our favorite spots near Scolpaig.
John: Woke at 3.30am to catch the Lochboisdale – Malhaig ferry. It was as if as soon as the bike had arrived on the island it required to be returned to the dealer in Thirsk for a first service. Normally this is something I would do myself as it is relatively straightforward with an oil and filter change and the tappets re-setting. On this occasion, as the bike is a new one it is important that the warranty is maintained and the bike has to be serviced by the main agent. The weather was beautiful as I rode down to stay with Alan in Gateshead. The following day we set off down the A1 and I dropped the bike off at Teasdale Motors. They loaned me a KTM Duke 890 until the Guzzi was ready to be picked up the following day. Apart from looking like a crashed preying Mantis this was a great bike – light and fast. I do understand that not everyone can like the same thing but most new bikes appear over-designed to me and this one was ugly! It was a great ride though. We (Alan, Rebecca and I) picked up the Guzzi the next day stopping for lunch in Leyburn before riding on our usual route to Middleton in Teesdale and across Stanhope Moor to Edmunbyers and back to Tyneside. Wonderful.
Nicola: I woke with John and had an early coffee, I quite like the very early mornings, they have a special sound, although as soon as John had left I snuggled down with the Alice cat and went straight back to sleep, waking, at the more civilized time of 7am, to a white misty morning. In the day, I went for a swim in the loch near our Croft, In the evening, I went to a barbeque. It is lovely to hang out with people again, new energy, discussions – these things are so valuable and necessary for creative thinking or even any kind of thought. When driving back from the barbeque at 11pm, I came across a big owl sitting in the middle of the road, I had to swerve to miss hitting this beautiful spiritual creature.
John: Alan and I rode back to Uist. As we loaded the bikes (one 1974 Moto Guzzi V7 Sport and one 2021 V7 850 the rain started. By the time we were in Jedburgh we were soaked, and by the time we had reached a Shell service station near Edinburgh we were more soaked and frozen. We stopped for fuel and coffee. There were latex gloves to go under our soaked through leather ones, and soft (Shell) plastic bags to go under our socks. We padded out our jackets with newspapers (This is the one thing that the Daily Mail is useful for). As luck would have it, by the time we approached Glasgow the rain had stopped and the sun came out. It is sometimes difficult to imagine the nature of these weather contrasts. From Glasgow we had a great run through Glencoe and on to Mallaig.
Alan, Neighbour Andy and John – finished putting the cladding up on gable roof of the Croft, and constructed the new wooded shed that will house the bike. There was some discussion about necessary weights and ties that will be need on the shed for the coming winter winds.
The weather has become humid, the sky has fallen on our heads – the air is full of water, the dreich has arrived – not too cold.
Dinner at our neighbors, Effie and Andy. All three of us (John, Alan and Nicola) had been invited to dine at the home of Effie and Andy. It cannot be said enough times really, how wonderful it is to be invited out, to mingle and relax with other people.Effie and Andy put on a splendid supper, drinks and snacks to start followed by a traditional venison feast, finishing up with apple pie and ice-cream. We had a deeply pleasant evening and walked back to our home, satiated.
After being in Uist for a week, Alan departed on the early morning ferry (4am start) from Lochboisdale, Hannah (Nicola’s oldest daughter and her family), Nico and the three ‘bairns’ (11 Mikel, 5 Pav and nearly 3 year old Malena) were due to arrive later the same day. Louise Taylor from ‘Wideyed’ Photography Collective, also paid us a delightful flying visit – she was holidaying in the Hebrides.
Back at the ‘Croft’ we had prepared the caravan and put up the tent in preparation to accommodate our five family guests. ‘Lively’ is held back, as a description of this gang. On arrival, the three ‘little piggies’ (Mikel, Pav and Malena), burst into our house and literally touched everything; the pepper pot even lost its screw, the spiral staircase became the climbing frame and our upstairs ‘chill out zone’ became the ‘Frozen 2’ cinema, experience, hub. Tools were needed for building guns and other weapons of mass-destruction – out of wood, nails and anything else at hand. Swimming and walking were done everyday (rain or shine), by 10.30pm every night we literally crawled to bed shattered. Hannah, Nico and the two boys (Mikeland Pav) even took part in the Beinn Lee Hill Race – a Uist tradition – they all received a medal for completing the race. Pav even proudly wore his medal on his journey home to London. They all had a brilliant experience.
Our family guests left early (4am) to catch the morning ferry from Lochboisdale to Mallaig. We had tea with them and then went back to sleep – we woke at 8.30am – silence and calm restored. What a fantastic visit, the caravan and tent worked brilliantly. It was lovely to have the space to house this little rabble. It was a delightful week, we all made up for some of lost time, that has been due to the COVID curfews.
We look forward to more on their next visit…
Alice the cat managed all the visitors very well and even enjoyed the extra attention, hugs and cuddles. The children were exceptionally gentle and kind to her.
There is much concentration on the situation in Afghanistan. Our Sunday papers (which we get on a Monday) show a horrifying reality. How the situation can have been so badly handled by so many in positions of Government is unsurprising, but shameful and depressing. As expected, it is the civilians and those found assisting the Allied occupation of Afghanistan who will suffer the most. On a more local level, it is to be welcomed that the Scottish government have entered a coalition with the Green Party. Perhaps this will mean that there is some serious internal opposition to the Space Ports planned for North Uist and elsewhere in Northern Scotland. The pollution alone makes these industries untenable for the places earmarked for them. Perhaps the Scottish Greens will make their objections to these unsuitable and environmentally challenged projects loud and clear – and underline the fact that they are not just there for the S.N.P. to ‘take back control’.
Extinction Rebellion (XR) is back on the streets protesting and marching for the planet – shouting out for us all to live in harmony with nature and other living beings.
Weather: There’s no disputing it has been cold and wet, so we were grateful and lucky to have had a small let up in the weather for this week. On Saturday May 29th we did get the Dreich!
May 16th The week before our friends arrive. In order to install the windows in the gable end of the Croft house, we busied ourselves in some intense, behind the scenes, preparation for this BIG event. We needed to make provision for 3 extra beds, organising some necessary catering facilities and making sure there were building materials and tools for the jobs at hand.
Meanwhile Andrew Kemp (Author and Publisher) rode up on his Suzuki from London to Newcastle to meet with Alan and son. Alan Wilson (Publisher, designer and all round creative force) and his son Joseph (software system updater/regulator) were set to drive up to us on Sunday May 23rd.
The party of 3 drove up to us, in a borrowed VW Golf from Newcastle. Alans’s van had (two days before their departure) developed an electrical problem so Derek the painter (and decorator) had saved the day and loaned the Golf as well as some power tools, for the adventure. Thank you, Derek. The journey to the Uist’s is always a major undertaking and often a kind of personal pilgrimage.
Back on the Croft, we had managed the final preparations in organising the Croft house, making it comfortable and welcoming for our guests. We even set a beautiful candle arrangement upstairs, in the newly decorated attic room. We waited eagerly for the arrival of the men.
The gang arrived at the Croft at 9pm – everyone was pleased, tired and excited to arrive. Alan, who has been main man on our Croft project, immediately inspected our building work– which was very lucky as our atmospheric candle installation, in the attic room, had caught fire and if it had not been for Alan looking upstairs, we would have had a devastating fire on our hands!
Alan, who is a positive force, thought this was actually a lucky omen and exclaimed in his fine Geordie accent
– “Howay man! now that has gan wrong the window installation will be a belta.”
Somehow this was reassuring, as the task ahead was daunting and is a noteworthy achievement.
After extinguishing the fire, we eventually managed to sit down to wine, homemade nettle soup and lentil and roast carrot salad. The much anticipated, week’s building programme was now officially underway.
On the Monday (May 24th) 8am – We were joined by Andy and Effie our brilliant next door neighbours. Effie came with a box of Scottish pancakes and was set to help (Nicola), for the week with the food and catering preparations – an essential and well received service.
Andy Rodgers – Crofter and retired Police Officer, had come to join the team of workers. The core crew was now complete!
Gaffer: Alan Wilson
1st Assistant Gaffer: Andrew Kemp
The Set, PA: John Kippin
The Operator (hammer): Andy Rodgers
1st Runner: Joseph Wilson
KITCHEN and WARDROBE DEPARMENT
Nicola Neate and Effie Rodgers
VISITING ASSISTANCE TEAM
Keith Dawson and Fran Cook
Bess the dog
As mentioned in a previous blog entry (The Croft), we had managed to source some large pieces of architectural strength glass, which had been rejected from a building project elsewhere (Thank you Anna and Frank). Alan our foreman and project Gaffer elect, had devised a plan to fit 3 of the larger pieces of glass windows to the end gable wall of our Croft house – which overlooks Loch Blashaval. Alan developed an ingenious design and system to install the glass windows, using framing and cladding.
Between us, throughout the week we all worked on various aspects of the project which included all building works, heavy lifting, banging and knocking down and rebuilding walls, preparing accommodation, meals, bonfires and daily trips to the Co-Op for provisions and lubrication.
The first task was to take the gable-end wall down. Alan outlined the back of the house wall (to be removed) and then with a stihl saw, cut through the inner and outer walls of the house. The work was dirty and hard – cutting through cement blocks and render on the gable-end was difficult. Andy Rodgers brought his 16lb Mell Hammer and whacked and whacked. It took 2 days to demolish the majority of the gable end, much of it due to Andy’s massive ‘taps and adjustments’… 50 -70 is now the new 30!
Wooden frames for the windows and their surrounds needed to be made. Andrew Kemp has precision joinery skills and these were put to use here. Andrew made strong wooden frames for the windows to fit snugly, his work was excellent. All the windows fitted perfectly.
Day 3 and 4 (Wednesday and Thursday) -The two side windows were fitted into the gable-end … without too much problem.
Wednesday May 26th,
On a trip to the CO-OP with Joseph, two Golden Eagles flew right in front of the car, what a treat! The weather was (luckily) becoming more promising and we were able to have a wee barbecue and bonfire in the garden that evening.
Thursday May 27th
This afternoon was the day of the large glass installation. Keith joined the group for the (most non-Duchampian) experience. In some miraculous way – using ropes, positive vibes, a complete belief (which was difficult to summon up!) that this was doable – the massive, incredibly heavy architectural glass window (4 x 110 x 265cm) was moved from round the side of the Croft house, to the gable end, and then positioned it into place in the wall of the building.
Looking out, every day at our beautiful view, we still wonder at how we all managed this fete, what and amazing and unforgettable event. We are so grateful to all our many helpers!
Friday May 28th
A celebration evening, another bonfire, this time with fish and chips from Hamersay House – which were delicious and crispy. We were joined, for this gathering by Keith and Fran and Rosie and Raphael. Effie made her amazing cheesecake – which is always a treat. Everyone was very relieved and pleased at what had been accomplished.
It was a great week with much amazing food and lots to drink (not all of it alcoholic).
Between us we managed to put the windows in and complete 90% of the external cladding (we ran short of some materials, and will be finishing the job ASAP).
Sunday May 30th our visitors were due and ready to depart. Everybody concerned was exhausted. The next visit we hope will be to stay and spend a more relaxing time going for some beach walks. For ourselves, it took a week or so to recover and regain some sort of order within our daily routines, with the added benefit now of the most spectacular view over Loch Blashaval.
When making coffee in the morning we can see herons flying by and 3 families of geese with their goslings have taken up residence on the water’s edge. At all times now the outside has become part of our inside experience. Our vision for the Croft house has finally started to become an actuality. The COVID restrictions and isolation we believe, have benefitted our motivation – to push on with, what seemed like endless days of wall papering, sawdust and demolition work. The building work is not finished, but we are now able to live in comfort (hot water and heating included), with a view to boot!
Throughout the week of window installation, Alice cat stayed in the bedroom caravan with us. We lent the house out to the crew for building and socialising purposes. All together this was a fun, hard and successful undertaking. We feel blessed.
 We set up a narrow corridor kitchen and hoped there would be enough space to make food and tea/coffee.
John: Andrew Kemp also played bass in our band from the 70’s ‘The Shad Thames Showband’ (There is no band like the Shad Thames Showband!)
 Alan and Andrew began every day at 7am, rain or shine and regardless of exhaustion or any possible hangovers.
 Nicola: Effie and I had discussed the catering arrangements the week before, both of us had prepared several dishes that we put in the freezer. The kitchen area was going to be restricted during the building work.
 Glass measurements: 2 (side panels) windows – 110 x 130cm, 1 (centrepiece) window – 110 x 265cm
 A stihl saw is a heavy saw for cutting through bricks
 Keith Dawson, always so lovely and happy to lend a hand, came along to help with our window installation – a brave man indeed!