Three Eagles

Weather: Sunshine and showers with some very still days. Relatively warm. We seemed to have missed the heavy rain of most of the rest of the UK.

Much of the week’s activities have been planned around a major programme of retouching work that Nicola has been working on behalf of Newcastle photographer John Faulkner. This is relatively straightforward work for a commercial client. It is however, painstaking and time-consuming requiring a high level of patience and skill. It has also been a time to catch up on some academic written work and blog writing. My own photoshop skills are relatively basic so I have found it compelling to see the amazing difference to the image after it has been skillfully retouched. This process is effectively a re-visioning of the original image extending the authorship of the photograph.

The weekly yoga session is held at Carinish hall. I am usually the only male present and am useless. Nevertheless, apart from swimming, yoga, as taught by the excellent Sheila Park, is an hour of relaxation combined with exercises at a level set by the individual themselves. After the session Nicola and I went back to Sheila’s house where we made a couple of portraits of her, one in the garden of her house accompanied by her enthusiastic Black Labrador (difficult tonal range) and one of her in her yurt which she had left up for another day specially to accommodate us.

We planned a dinner date in celebration for 2 visiting artists. Rosie Roberts is a video artist from Glasgow and Maija Annikki Savolainen is from Helsinki. All seven guests brought food and drink and we managed to fit everyone in our modest sized living room. We had a brilliant evening with lots of singing and story-telling. Alice, our kitten, bouncing around the room creating mayhem wherever she alighted. Maija perhaps thought that we are always like this, and at least we gave them both a good send off. Most of the next day was spent recovering, one way or another.

After the debacle of last week, witnessing my car/van parking itself in an astonished stranger’s front garden, it was time to take it in to have the handbrake examined and treat it to a service. I left the car/van overnight at Creagorry Motors in Benbecula, with the key in it to be looked at the following morning. Nobody really bothers to lock their cars, and I have often witnessed cars with their engine’s running where their drivers have gone off to do a spot of shopping.. Naturally for several reasons this is perhaps not a good idea, but I think you could leave an unlocked bicycle by the roadside here and it would rust away before anybody stole it. When this was tested on Tyneside, it was less than an hour before the bicycle disappeared – in London it takes even less time!

The car/van needed a new caliper which would be fitted when the parts order arrives in a few days. I felt at least partially vindicated as the previous incident had not been completely due to my own incompetence. We also had a few issues with Nicola’s car involving a flat battery due to an interior light staying on overnight (which I might have helped happen). The mechanics at Creagorry Motors were more than happy to test the battery at a moment’s notice. It was fine, thank you guys.

Later in the week we photographed our friend Keith Dawson. This was a good session and the beautiful sunny day meant that we could work both inside and outside. Nicola and I have found that it is helpful to have more than one option though, and this approach has become more useful as the project has developed. Although usually we try to work using available light, on this occasion we needed to add a little light to the overall levels in Keith’s house mostly to lift the shadows a little.

 12th October Saturday evening we visited one of our immediate neighbour’s houses Ron and Amanda. Both are a mine of information about all local matters relating to North Uist and thereabouts. Ron (who is from Newcastle!) has been a crofter for 40 or so years and cuts his peat in the traditional way using the peat spade. The most common method these days is to hire the use of a mechanical peat-cutter. This saves the initial work although the peat still needs to be stacked, dried and bagged. It is never easy work. We had a pleasant evening and later we walked back home guided by the light from the (nearly) full moon.

As the next morning was sunshine and showers and a rainbow had formed across the distant hills. We walked in the garden to look at the rainbow. There was a deep whump, whump sound and a squadron of swans flew over to the house and out towards the sea. The Whooper swans are returning to the Uists for the winter, and they are a welcome sight. These swans flew in a tight arrow formation with military precision and are a glorious sight. The Red Arrows have much to catch up on..

The coming of Autumn has meant the purple heather has gone and the moorlands are now covered with russet gold bracken fern. There have been several spectacular days, beautiful creamy pink and purple sunrises and sunsets and some days have even been without any wind. On these still days the lochs are a silver mirror to the sky and the world around then seems strangely to be turned upside down.

Later in the day we drove down Committee Road where we watched 3 golden eagles flying high above the highest point of the island. It was the best view of Eagles in the wild I have experienced and they were around for long enough for us both to get a really good look. They are a spectacular sight, their command of the skies is total. At this crepuscular time of the day, a deer stood close by our car and watched us whilst we listened to the incredible roaring sound of the deer rutting in the nearby woods. On arriving home I watched a clip of Mattie Longstaff finishing off Manchester United. Bliss.

The fishing has been disappointing this year although that maybe due to a relative lack of experience in fishing here. This time Keith and I walked up to one of the hill lochs still fishable at this time of the year as it contains sea trout (allegedly). The recent rain had made for a very muddy track and we both had wet feet on arrival despite wearing wellingtons. The fishing was slow with only a few brown trout caught but the loch is beautifully situated in the hills and the surface was as still as oil. A sea eagle flew the length of the loch with its massive wings and seemingly languid flight. Shortly after, a stag appeared at the head of the loch bellowing for a mate. By the time we had walked back to Keith’s land Rover we were exhausted.

Scolpaig tower is the central icon around which our concerns about the proposed development of a Spaceport on the Island is focused. We wanted to make some early evening photographs and construct some artworks that could be used in various campaigns of resistance to these plans. This is not a place that is likely to attract the attention of large numbers of protestors or the mainstream media, but it is important for us to contribute to resisting these proposals in any way that we can. We had left it a little late, and had no red gels to use with our lights. In true Chris Wainwright style however, we were able to press a Maltesers packet into service to obtain the necessary red filter on our torch.

On other outings with Chris we had used the red plastic packaging from Mr Kiplings’ cake products. I was dismayed to see that they were now using clear colourless plastic, of no use to photographers (or the environment) in fact, completely useless. At least I can find a use for the Maltesers.. Nicola and I managed to make some images, learning a lot on the job, including that wading across to the tower wearing normal thigh-length waders in the near dark was unwise, and that long exposures using digital cameras is pushing them to the limits of what they can do. Come suitable weather we will return to Scolpaig and continue to develop our work-in –progress. Just a short distance from here we had watched as the Eagles owned the skies without the fear of the lunacy of rockets destroying their habitat and driving them into extinction.

Tuesday the 15th October the Island was visited by the ‘Gallery in a Bus’ a travelling exhibition space which was showing an exhibition by Alec Finlay. Neither Nicola or I had previously encountered this gallery which was parked outside Taigh Chearsabhagh for the day. They had travelled from Stornoway to Lochmaddy and were due in Skye the next day. Jo Arksey gave us a tour of the exhibition and told us something of the history of this project which goes back 40 years. The exhibition is excellent and well worth a visit and you will be welcomed, should it be passing a venue near you…

Friday the 18th October we walked to Lochmaddy, as it was such a beautiful afternoon picking mushrooms along the way. The air has a distinctly autumnal feel and the dampness is condusive to the growing of all kinds of fungi. The mushrooms we encountered were mostly different varieties of Waxcap, all of which are safe to eat, although some taste better than others. Stopping at the Lochmaddy Hotel offered a welcome rest and given that it was nearly dark we decided to eat at the nearby Hamersay House Restaurant. After an excellent supper an Aldas taxi was called on our behalf to take us home. Our driver told us he was 85 years old. He drove us back to Minish at a stately 15mph. He also said he had been working on North Uist since he was 14 years old. On sunny days, in Lochmaddy, he exhibits his vintage motorcars, parking them in the main road for all to see. One of these cars is a metallic green 1955 Vauxhall Cresta that has travelled only 7000 miles from new. He did not want a tip for his services which were most reasonably priced.

The sea loch close to the house has a number of big fish in it, usually Coalfish (coley) or Pollack. These have the local names Saithe and Laithe respectively. There may be some sea trout as well, but I have never seen evidence of this. The loch is fairly shallow and weedy

And I have fished it with both flies and lures. On this visit the weed was particularly difficult  and there was a snarly wind. I hunkered down trying to keep as low a profile as possible and tried a floating pike plug and bang! Two beautiful fish. It has been a very variable season but the sea fish have provided some memorable moments and some welcome fresh food.

Another drive to Lochboisdale, this time to pick up Nicola’s daughter Abi and her partner Chris, who are staying for a week to look after our cats. Nicola and I have a week on the mainland…

Since Angie has had his teeth fixed (scale and polish) his temper has improved. He was always on the moody side in an impressive, brooding kind of way. Even with Alice flying in his face he remains sanguine. His rat count is steady with around 2 a day being average (one is usually headless) all beautifully presented at the doorstep. Alice, meanwhile is becoming keen to be outside, even though when she does manage to get out, she rushes back in like a startled rabbit. We think that she is showing signs of being on heat. Oh joy. 

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