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.

The Easter Lamb

Baleshare is a white-sand beach on the west side of North Uist. It was here that a number of Surfing enthusiasts (Surfers Against Sewage) arranged a beach clean-up and we were encouraged to take part. To the casual eye the beach is pristine and stretches out for miles. It is a favourite place for surfing and swimming. There are some rocks on the upper part of the foreshore but this is quickly displaced by white sand, home to oyster catchers and gulls and stretching into the aquamarine water. There was a fresh breeze as we moved along the beach putting small pieces of plastic in our Co-op bag-for-life. At first, it seemed that there was just the occasional length of plastic string, probably from a lobster pot or net somewhere.

Mostly green or orange coloured, this tough string was entangled in the rocks, and pulling on it might reveal a considerable length of it, possibly entwined with other rope or trailing off under the rocks where it could not be retrieved. The scale of the problem became clear and we quickly filled our bag with not only string, but used shotgun cartridges and plastic bottles. It was a saddening and shocking experience. The waste was put in a large container to be taken away, hopefully to be recycled. I could not help but reflect upon the fact that on this remote and seemingly untouched beach, there was what seemed like an endless amount of plastic waste. To contemplate the quantities that must exist, even within the U.K. is to know that our attitude to the seas must change, and to understand that however useful small-scale activities such as we had participated in are, it is up to Government to become seriously engaged in leading the clean-up of our environment.

What used to be the tourist office in Lochmaddy is now home to Uist Film. It is a comparatively small space but was given over to a performance ‘Shadowplay’ by U.H.I. student Chris Spears. He used back –lit projections and oiled paper cut out stencils. There were three or four showings at half-hour intervals. These were enthusiastically received by as many people who could be seated and who were able to squeeze into the showing space. It was an excellent piece, in some ways reminiscent of the theatrical films of William Kentridge, it was a real pleasure that so many people attended and enjoyed themselves. Congratulations to everybody involved.

Midweek seemed the perfect time for a walk to the old harbour at Lochmaddy. It is a pleasant enough walk past some small freshwater lochs out to the Hut of Shadows. The day was sunny but very windy and we hunkered down as best we could out of the wind behind the ‘Hut of The Shadows’. This was a moment for our special picnic food – coleslaw and walnut and celery salad accompanied by local free range eggs and home-made oatcakes. The wind whipped around the hut making it difficult to keep the various picnic containers upright and we had to chase some of the lids across the foreshore. We arrived back at the cottage exhausted by the wind but stimulated by our immersive picnic. 

N.B. Boiled Eggs need an extra minute (6 min instead of 5) for picnic use as soft-boiled yolks in the wind can decorate clothing in an unwanted fashion.

My fishing trips have evolved although I must confess that fish has not become a significant part of our diet. I’m certain that this must change shortly as the weather improves and the fish begin to move. They are quite deep at present and although I have finally located where they are, even managing to hook one on a (dubious) nymph imitation, before losing attempting to bring it in. I would like to say that it was huge but it wasn’t. Frequently the wind plays a large part in where it is possible to fish from. The towering clouds roll in and the wind swirls unpredictably across the water’s surface making it difficult to cast. The overall experience is truly sublime (in the landscape sense) and catching fish (I tell myself) is not the main point of the exercise. I am not over-enamoured with fishing from boats, particularly when the surface of the loch looks like the Dogger Bank and so will continue to explore the margins of what is becoming my favourite loch.

The view from the back of our cottage is exceptionally beautiful, and it is rare not to see many kinds of birds and, depending on the state of the tides, numbers of grey seals heaving themselves onto the small islands that pepper the sea loch. The spring tides have been exceptionally high this week and the seals have moved inland to search for food. On one particularly sunny morning, I noticed a sea eagle flying close to the loch shore before settling down near to and old black-house on the edge of the loch. I remarked this to Nicola and passed the binoculars to her. She looked towards where I had seen the eagle near to a small island where there was a small colony of seals, when she noticed what looked to be a lamb in distress on the foreshore. It had fallen onto from the grassy bank above, where its mother was grazing.

This is lambing season and a lot of lambs have already been born, this one looked like it was in trouble. We set off swiftly – across the field and across the seaweed covered rocks to find that the lamb had fallen between the rocks on the foreshore whilst the mother was delivering it. There were still signs of the after-birth about its head. In these situations, it is difficult to know what to do for the best, as sheep can reject the lamb if it is unable to recognise its scent. Nicola picked up the lamb, as lightly as possible and set it on the bank next to its concerned and bleating mother. We had hoped that this was the right thing to do and gingerly moved away. As we were concerned we informed our neighbour who informed the owner of the sheep before kindly giving us some home-made pancakes. I met the Crofter (Ron) later and he explained that the lamb was fine and that no bones were broken as they are quite flexible soon after birth but that it was fortunate not to have been taken by the sea eagle. These are magnificent creatures with a six-foot plus wingspan that look like a flying barn door.

Angelo (white cat) has taken the the ‘Mars bar’ slogan on to a whole new level… ‘a rat a day – helps you work rest and play’.

A Perfect Day

Weather: Windy and chilly for many days, followed by a week of sunshine and slight easterly winds.

Tuesday the 2nd of April a glorious evening sunset, the sun shone with deep crimson highlights that seemed to shift through a spectrum of orange, red and yellow, although it was still quite windy and cool, a quiet descended at the close of the day. We watched from the rear of the house as the mist began to appear above the surface of the loch.

Wednesday the 3rd of April we woke and the day was unusually silent – the wind had gone. The loch was a mirror to the hills and the sky and wraiths of mist hung in the air. Although it was well past dawn, the air was full of birdsong, perhaps it was the lack of wind but somehow the wildlife seemed to harmonise with this sublime weather to create the maximum effect. During breakfast preparations I was provided with a backdrop of animation from the sea loch view. There were seals and eider ducks enjoying the sunshine, oyster catchers, geese, and herons flying across the surface of the water and what I took to be a solitary otter swimming to the nearby shore, its characteristic v- shaped wake behind it.

A perfect day – we walked across the fields, past the freshwater lochs to the outlet of the sea loch at Sponish. Close to the small harbour, where there is a fishing boat together with piles of lobster pots, we encountered a number of cows with their calves. We climbed a nearby hill and made a detour until they reluctantly moved away and we could pass.

The ‘Hut of Shadows’ is located on the foreshore at the entrance to Loch Houram. It is a small stone hut, built in the style of many old blackhouses in this area. Inside, there is a small viewing area that enables one to view a camera obscura image of the exterior landscape. The hut was made by Chris Drury, and provides an excellent focal point for this walk across the footbridge from Lochmaddy. On the path back to the village there is a smallish loch. This Loch looks to be landlocked, but it is tidal and water runs out into the open sea through a rocky inlet. Somehow there were half a dozen or so large Laithe (Pollock) swimming close to the surface, seemingly enjoying the sunshine. It is difficult to understand how they arrived there.

Leaving them to their display, I felt inspired to see if I could move a trout or two up on nearby Loch Fada. Nicola dropped me off at the loch and disappeared up the road to the Co-Op at Sollas to purchase a celebratory bottle of Malbec. True to form this year, I came away empty handed but did manage to raise a couple of fish on my team of flies (not premier league, obviously). This is a good sign, as it is still a little early for the trout. Nevertheless, Spring has arrived!  Life has improved, and the wildlife on the Island has come to express its collective voice and, in line with ourselves, to celebrate this perfect day.

The weather has continued fair this week and we visited the wonderful beach of Clachan where we donned our wet suits and swam in the sea! Unbelievable, the first time that I have ever attempted such a thing and it was an amazing and exhilarating experience.

Due to the often lack of bread choice on the Island we are now experimenting with traditional baking.

Cheese Scone tip – you can use lemon juice in place of cream tartar

Oat Cake  tip – press oat dough till compact in the baking tray

Angie has stepped up to his role of rat patroller and regularly leaves his night catch of rats on the kitchen doorstep. One could ask no more of a cat than they keep the rats away. He comes bounding in, frequently with ticks showing on his white fur. We have learned how to deal with these wee beasties, and squashed between two thumbnails they splat into oblivion. Well, its them or us.. Two buzzards were circling the still air above our cottage. It was difficult to think that they did not have thoughts about the white cat patrolling the ground far below. Perhaps if one were to lift one end, and one the other..

Foraging, Fishing and Feeding

Weather: This has been wildly variable from storm-force winds and heavy rain, ensuring that the ferries are unable to operate to beautiful, still days with wonderful clouds and light.

Even though the weather has been turbulent at times, and yesterday managed to blow over a friend of mine, this is the season for foraging and fishing to begin.

Firstly ‘Mytilus edulis’ is to be our quarry.

Collecting mussels requires:

1 Rubber Gloves

2 Bags for collecting them in

3 Wellington Boots

4 Over-trousers

5 Suitable outer wear

6 A pen knife

Finding a spot: Low tide where there are rocks in silty ground covered in bladder-wrack- found clinging to the rocks and a place covered in suspect broken and bird-opened old mussel shells. In order to obtain the mussels you need to get ‘down and dirty’ amongst the seaweed and rocks. This is very muddy work and good clothes are not recommended (too late!). We gathered enough for two carrier bags in less than an hour.

JK Mussels

Cleaning: Put in a colander and run under cold-water (do not store in fresh water – this will kill them). Whist running mussels under tap water, scrub them with a stiff brush. Remove their beards and scrape off the barnacles. Discard any open ones. They are now ready for the pot. Mussels can be stored in the fridge in a bowl with a damp cloth over them, they must be consumed in 24 hours.

Recipe: Prepare and chop 2 onions and two globes of fennel. Gently fry in olive oil in a large pan until soft – do not burn. Add ¾ of a bottle of white wine – bring to the boil. And the mussels and put a lid on the pan. Poach and steam for 3 -4 minutes, check the mussels have now opened and Voila! serve with hot salted fried potato chips and mayonnaise. Followed by frozen summer berries and white chocolate sauce.

Flushed with the success of this enterprise, we decided to collect some cockles (Cerastoderma edule) whilst on a walk to the Island, Vallay (Bhalaigh as it is called in Gaelic). This legendary Island is accessible only at low tide and the cockles can be found on the surface of the sand or visible slightly under it. A rake (I have been informed) is useful for those sub-surface cockles. Cockles are relatively easy to collect but to prepare for the pot – they require ‘purging’ in cold salted water for several hours. We left them to purge for two hours.

Cleaning: Scrub with a stiff brush and purge…

After preparing them in a similar way to the mussels, involving lemon juice, garlic, fennel and chillies, we served them with wholemeal pasta.

Alas – they were completely inedible, as they were still full of sand. Possibly they need to purge for rather longer… perhaps overnight and the next day.

Previously the majority of my photography has used sheet and roll film. Courtesy of FujiFilm I am now able to experiment with a medium format digital camera. The walk to Vallay provided an excellent opportunity to start this photographic journey.

It is a little early in the year for fishing and although I have been out a couple of times for a several hours fly fishing for trout and spinning for Pollack, nothing has been forthcoming.

Obtaining live bait to fish in the sea is not straightforward. the usual suspect (Mackerel) has not arrived in the seas around the Hebrides and there are none for sale in the shops. For several weeks I have been eying up the substantial worm casts on the low tide beaches, but when I attempted to dig for the lugworms, the worms were unfortunately very deep and of poor quality. I have abandoned this for now and am considering using some of the collected mussels instead. I have also bought some Spam which might be worth a try. Meanwhile I will await the appropriate tides and weather to experiment…

Angelo, our white cat has a special property, his fur, usually a problem, is so thick and heavy, ticks do not penetrate it. Instead they hang on his fur so whenever he returns from his wanderings and rat patrol, we need to do a necessary tick check to remove them and stop them from entering our domain.

Foraging, Fishing and Feeding 

Weather: This has been wildly variable from storm-force winds and heavy rain, ensuring that the ferries are unable to operate to beautiful, still days with wonderful clouds and light.

Even though the weather has been turbulent at times, and yesterday managed to blow over a friend of mine, this is the season for foraging and fishing to begin.

Firstly ‘Mytilus edulis’ is to be our quarry.

Collecting mussels requires:

1 Rubber Gloves

2 Bags for collecting them in

3 Wellington Boots

4 Over-trousers

5 Suitable outer wear

6 A pen knife

Finding a spot: Low tide where there are rocks in silty ground covered in bladder-wrack- found clinging to the rocks and a place covered in suspect broken and bird-opened old mussel shells. In order to obtain the mussels you need to get ‘down and dirty’ amongst the seaweed and rocks. This is very muddy work and good clothes are not recommended (too late!). We gathered enough for two carrier bags in less than an hour.

JK Mussels

Cleaning: Put in a colander and run under cold-water (do not store in fresh water – this will kill them). Whist running mussels under tap water, scrub them with a stiff brush. Remove their beards and scrape off the barnacles. Discard any open ones. They are now ready for the pot. Mussels can be stored in the fridge in a bowl with a damp cloth over them, they must be consumed in 24 hours.

Recipe: Prepare and chop 2 onions and two globes of fennel. Gently fry in olive oil in a large pan until soft – do not burn. Add ¾ of a bottle of white wine – bring to the boil. And the mussels and put a lid on the pan. Poach and steam for 3 -4 minutes, check the mussels have now opened and Voila! serve with hot salted fried potato chips and mayonnaise. Followed by frozen summer berries and white chocolate sauce.

Flushed with the success of this enterprise, we decided to collect some cockles (Cerastoderma edule) whilst on a walk to the Island, Vallay (Bhalaigh as it is called in Gaelic). This legendary Island is accessible only at low tide and the cockles can be found on the surface of the sand or visible slightly under it. A rake (I have been informed) is useful for those sub-surface cockles. Cockles are relatively easy to collect but to prepare for the pot – they require ‘purging’ in cold salted water for several hours. We left them to purge for two hours.

Cleaning: Scrub with a stiff brush and purge…

After preparing them in a similar way to the mussels, involving lemon juice, garlic, fennel and chillies, we served them with wholemeal pasta.

Alas – they were completely inedible, as they were still full of sand. Possibly they need to purge for rather longer… perhaps overnight and the next day.

Previously the majority of my photography has used sheet and roll film. Courtesy of FujiFilm I am now able to experiment with a medium format digital camera. The walk to Vallay provided an excellent opportunity to start this photographic journey.

Island 28

It is a little early in the year for fishing and although I have been out a couple of times for a several hours fly fishing for trout and spinning for Pollack, nothing has been forthcoming.

Obtaining live bait to fish in the sea is not straightforward. the usual suspect (Mackerel) has not arrived in the seas around the Hebrides and there are none for sale in the shops. For several weeks I have been eying up the substantial worm casts on the low tide beaches, but when I attempted to dig for the lugworms, the worms were unfortunately very deep and of poor quality. I have abandoned this for now and am considering using some of the collected mussels instead. I have also bought some Spam which might be worth a try. Meanwhile I will await the appropriate tides and weather to experiment…

Angelo, our white cat has a special property, his fur, usually a problem, is so thick and heavy, ticks do not penetrate it. Instead they hang on his fur so whenever he returns from his wanderings and rat patrol, we need to do a necessary tick check to remove them and stop them from entering our domain.

 

A Week of Consolidation

Weather: Wet, Windy, Sunny, Cloudy, day Sleet, Gales – daily

Screenshot 2019-03-24 at 14.11.39

I have been fishing twice this week. First was a trip to a local Loch with Keith D. We had a beautiful day with light winds and fished conscientiously for several hours, but never managed to rise a fish. Too cold…too early..etc..etc.. Later in the week I wandered down to the old harbour at Lochmaddy where the water is quite deep off the rocks. I thought I would try for Pollack using a spinner. Again, to no avail. The tide was dropping which gives me an additional excuse to the two that I mentioned earlier.

Midweek Nicola and I attended a Gaelic/ English speaking event and film showing accompanied by live music hosted at TC  (organised by UAA). The music was a celebration of traditional Hebridean folk music and was well played to accompany a nostalgic film about the story of Padruig Morrison and his Hebridean heritage. There was also a solo performance by fiddle player Duncan Chisholm which was by way of a lament and in keeping with this traditional music scene. All together a welcomed social evening, with pleasant chats, and delicious oatcakes and salmon snacks (I had two helpings!).

27a

Nicola meanwhile has been teaching on the Fine Art Course at the University of the Highlands and Islands. She has been enjoying this and the students are good to work with.

The Island’s changeable weather with extreme winds make this place an interesting and unique environment within which to teach and make art. There has been much excitement both here and on the internet – about a recent commissioned interactive installation artwork ‘Lines (57° 59′ N, 7° 16’W)’  The effect of which has bought film crews to fly to Uist in order to document the work and interview the art students.

I have been busy exploring the beautiful terrain, making notes and taking some sketch photographs.

27c

I was due to return to Newcastle on Friday but gale force winds have caused the cancellation of the ferry to Uig which has been re-scheduled for Saturday. As I am writing this, the wind is swirling around the house making groaning noises although it is forecast to fall away this evening.

27b

Angelo (white cat) is on solo rat patrol. He is not a ‘catcher’ – his strategy is to lord his omnipotent ‘gleaming’ presence and this appears to work as a deterrent.

 

Tomato and Orange

Weather: Sunny with virtually no wind, excellent visibility.

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

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

25a

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

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

 

Yoga

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

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

24

 

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

A Terrible Day

Weather: Very light winds, hazy sunshine

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

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

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

 

Seal Fever

Weather: Bright and breezy wind strengthening later, cold.

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

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

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

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

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

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