The Visit

Weather: A Promising start to very changeable conditions overall.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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