Highland Games

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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