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!
Weather: A cold, wet Spring, with mainly Northerly winds – leading into a cold, wet summer, with mainly Northerly winds (so far)
After, what has now become one year, of subjective, steady acceptance, that the coronavirus pandemic is real, we are now aware that we are also experiencing a unique time in human history, the world has changed and seemingly overnight. The past twelve months have certainly been hard for us all, the lockdown restrictions have dragged on and on, in an endless layer of tiers –which seem to have infinite lists of incomprehensible ‘dos and don’ts’.
It is fair to say that the we are all growing weary of quarantine controls, zoom meetings and masked encounters -the impact this is having on our basic human rights and mental health is becoming detrimental and perhaps irreversible. In particular, how has the pandemic affected marginalized groups and individuals who are vulnerable? Are the lockdowns having serious adverse effects on mental health issues, abuse concerns, and how much psychological distress are they causing? Have the forced school closures and interrupted teaching, further emphasised learning inequalities–creating even bigger ‘learning gaps’ for young people, from different social backgrounds? Are the restrictions starting to cause more problems than they are solving? Such a big topic, so many questions…
During the Outer Hebrides COVID-19, Tier level – 4, February 22nd–26th, we embarked on some (essential) travel to Inverness. (A hospital appointment, a routine check-up). It seems crazy, but this was one of the longest times we have been away together, for over two years. (we left the cats in the good care of our friends-Rosie and Raphael and Fran and Keith). The ferry had restricted access, the top lounge area was closed and there were arrow directed, walkways. The kitchen had a meat only restricted menu –bacon rolls. The crossing was a little rough. This was however, a useful trip as well as it being exciting to go away.
‘En route’ there were almost no other vehicles, certainly there was no holiday traffic –making our road trip easy and relatively stress free, whilst also providing a slightly filmic, surreal and apocalyptic backdrop. We were held up only by a herd of rather beautiful (very smelly) wild goats (imagine the worst goats cheese smell, gone rancid). We decided that their smell probably helped to ensure their safety -no other creature could possibly bear to be near them. There started to be some evidence, admittedly mainly on Face-Book posts, from London and the South of Britain, that Spring might be beginning to bud. This virtual evidence did provide us with some uplifting travel discussions and allowed for more optimistic thoughts about the forthcoming warmer months -which after the harsh, solitary confinement of the winter, was a positive thought.
Inverness, in lockdown was scrubby. There was the odd person wrapped in hat, gloves and mask. There was a very drunk person too, a well turned out middle aged woman, weaving, unsteadily down the street (she was definitely drunk). There were some other more stereotypical drunk people, sitting on a bench; there was the occasional beggar, who must be struggling, not only from the lack of passers-byes, but also now, no one carries change or actual money around with them anymore. There was also the inevitable jogger, dashing by, with headphones, smart phone armband and considerable determination. We spent a blustery, damp afternoon, wandering around Inverness high street –using up our allocated exercise time, constructively – food shopping and updating our mobile phones. The food shops were some of the only shops open. We went to Tesco – what a treat. Inverness also has a fabulous health food shop ‘The Health Shop’ and a M&S. We stocked up and really enjoyed the choice and variety of produce available on the mainland.
That evening, we ordered an Indian take-away –the much anticipated (although rather disappointing) dinner –which we ate in the isolation of our hotel room. Our room at the Best Western Inverness Palace Hotel & Spa (naturally the Spa was closed) was comfortable, spacious, and because of the COVID, also affordable. As with all journeys, we did encounter a few problems. Our very useful red van got a puncture –a big bolt became lodged in the passenger side wheel –it was, fortunately, a slow puncture. A trip to Kwik-Fit was required – some waiting around kicking our heels ensued and then – Ker-ching! another £130 was spent. Travelling around is an expensive business.
February 27th, safely back on the island. The first warm day of the new year, fresh air, going outside without a mask, or encountering another human was very refreshing after the claustrophobic city experience. Inverness, seemed a good place to visit, but in lockdown with everything shut it became, impenetrable and unwelcoming.
John: plumbed in the kitchen sink and made a (rustic) table from the reclaimed wooden Croft rafters –that were taken down, to expose the roof structure. Nicola: laid and set the decorative tiles around the fireplace, in the front room.
March 1st– Beautiful sunshine and a stunning sunset. Willy, the roofer installed the Velux window in the attic room.
March 2nd – Ian, our new neighbour (also known as Blashie), announced that he had just delivered his first lamb of the season. This is the earliest that he can remember. His previous record having been March the 12th. Andy and Effie, our Crofting friends, have returned from their house in Stirling! Our sheep feeding duties have come to an end. This is the start of the lambing.
The tics are back. At 6.30am Ange, our white cat, sauntered in from his night-time prowl, covered in 10 tics. A record number for him.
Croft: The front room is complete, painted and decorated with multi-fuel stove up and running. We have cleaned it up and put a bed in the room.
March 6th Our big move began. We stayed (with our two cats) the night in the house (not the caravan) for the first time, a special occasion.
March 8th Meghan & Harry’s interview with Oprah Winfrey. Contemporaneously, Private Eye Magazine naturally reminded us of the royal faux pas on 13 Jan 2005 where Harry-boy was pictured, at a fancy-dress party, in a Nazi uniform. mm…
March 12th Lochmaddy sighting –a big stag standing majestically on the nearby moors –always uplifting and the daffodils have made an appearance. The cats have been coming more regularly to the Croft, adjusting to and enjoying the place. Alice dropped into a pot of white paint (fortunately water based and non-toxic), leaving white paw prints all around the Croft and on the bedspread.
March 16th We have now spent three nights in the Croft.
March 18th We have permanently moved the cats into the Croft.
There were 4 days of the boiler working perfectly –hot water and heating, blissful. Then it suddenly it packed up for no apparent reason. We were also booked to go on some more essential travel (to Inverness). Rosie was due to stay at the Croft -to look after our cats Angelo and Alice – and now there was no heating or hot water. The multi-fuel stove was however working, and Rosie was still happy to cat sit. PHEW!
Off to Inverness, again, this time for a rushed 2 day burst of essential travel. We had hoped to squeeze in buying a bath as there is no bath tub at the Croft. Buying a bath during lockdown is challenging. We visited a number of stores – but no viewing is allowed (shopping for a bath is not considered ‘essential’ ) Eventually we were handed a catalogue and told that we could ring at a later date and order it to be delivered by local carrier D.R. Macleod ltd to ourselves in North Uist . D.R. Macleod, provides a lifeline service for the islands, especially since Brexit has ensured that deliveries to the islands has become ever more complex.
On this occasion we again stayed at the Best Western Inverness Palace Hotel & Spa (the Spa remained resolutely closed) –We have made a note to return when the Spa is open. Having learned from the previous visit we brought a picnic dinner from M&S to eat in the privacy and sanctuary of our hotel room. The meal was M&S standard (which is good) although there is a large amount of plastic waste generated by their products.
March 21st We now sleep full-time, with the cats, in the Croft house. We are waiting for the bath tub to arrive (only six weeks to wait). We have consequently become adept at full-body sink washes, with kettle heated water (we are waiting for Angus to have a look at the boiler). On a plus side, the bath has been ordered, the Croft house is spacious and the multi-fuel stove is outstanding and very efficient. We have both had our first COVID ‘jags’– we both had a reaction: aching muscles, temperature, headaches lasting approximately three days, although nothing terrible, and we are pleased to have had them done.
John: Has had the second COVID ‘jag’ with not much of a reaction. One day of feeling tired.
Nicola: Is waiting for the next COVID ‘jag’.
March 22nd As we were passing Andy and Effie’s place on the way back from Lochmaddy, we noticed the barn door was open, so we pulled over to say ‘hello’. Andy was in the barn, as were all the expectant ewes. He was doing one of his regular checks on the penned flock as lambing season had now begun. We were shortly joined by Effie and were all having a general catch-up, talking sheep and lambs, when suddenly one of the sheep started going into labour. Effie and Andy quickly began to prepare for the birth and their grandson, Calum was also called on to standby. Effie put on some arm length transparent red, disposable, plastic gloves. The ewe settled in the left-hand corner of the ‘birthing’ pen and the other sheep huddled into the opposite side. Effie described her procedures to us, and as a retired midwife, she was familiar with such procedures. The ewe started to struggle, Andy and Effie went into the pen to help her. Andy held down the distressed pregnant ewe whilst Effie put a gloved arm into the womb of the sheep. Slightly distressed Effie exclaimed “there are no legs, I can’t find the legs”.
Don Norman – the sheep super hero, amongst Crofters, was called for support and advice. Effie continued with the birthing of the lamb pushing the wee lamb’s head back into the womb, managed to locate one leg, then two legs, and then pulled the lamb out – alive and kicking HURRAY! Just as she managed to do this, Don Norman arrived and was called upon to get the other twin out. He did not have gloves, he just rolled up his sleeves and expertly delivered the second lamb. The baby came out all floppy at first, Don Norman gave it a shake which startled it into life, standing unsteadily and bleating for its mother. The mother sheep locates her young and begins the cleaning process. What an interesting evening.
March 23rd Nicola: painting the bathroom-in anticipation and preparation for the new bath.
March 24th First anniversaryof the lockdown regime, what a difference a ‘year’makes.
April 4th Easter day, COVID-19 Tier level – 3. Finally (because of Pandemic restrictions) we get to pick-up of our spiral staircase and a shipment of other building materials. These had been at Alan’s house on Tyneside .We arranged to meet our dear friend Alan Wilson and son (Joseph) at Broadford on Skye. The problem regarding this meeting was to find a location that we could drive to and get back to the Croft (ferry crossings included) on the same day. (Alan and family-many thanks to you all for storing and keeping these things safe for us)
The Wilson’s had been lumbered with our stuff over lockdown – a cargo of insulation and cladding materials, sourced in Gateshead together with a spiral staircase from Italy. Alan and Joseph, drove from Newcastle, in a packed van to meet us. Broadford is the only place that we could have feasibly met in order to get back, in time to take the ferry home. Oh! the never ending complications of COVID… It was a beautiful crisp clear, bright day, the drive for both parties was enjoyable. We all met, in the public car park, transferred the items from Alan’s van into our, very useful red van and then had a delightful picnic, celebrated with ‘Nonsecco’ and smoked salmon with cream cheese bagels. This was a very successful and well planned excursion. Thank you Alan and Joseph.
April 5th, the beginning of the new financial year and it was snowing. We are still having boiler concerns. We have hot water but no heating. We do however have the multi-fuel stove –this has been extremely efficient and effective.
April 6th, John and Keith Dawson (to whom we are eternally grateful) assembled the spiral staircase (despite the Italian instructions), tightened it into position – then, turned it to face in the other direction… we will call it a learning curve, and for next time the experience will be invaluable. We now have access to the attic bedroom and chill-out area.
There has been an update regarding the proposed Rocket Launch site at Scolpaig.
There was some interesting reading in a document issued entitled the ‘Islands Growth Deal’ This has been developed as an action plan by the Western Isles Council in partnership with Orkney and Shetland Councils together with the Scottish and UK Governments.
In its rhetorical flourish, it makes much of the drive and commitment towards zero carbon targets whilst at the same time, acknowledging the unique environmental and wildlife environments that the islands have to offer. There is much to commend in the document but incredibly there it is ..Spaceport1! Flying in the face of all of the pretend commitment to a zero-carbon economy not to mention common sense, is a £1 Million commitment of public money to developing a Vertical Launch Spaceport on North Uist. Unbelievable…
April 9th Prince Philip died, two months before his 100th birthday.
April 11th For the past week, it has been snowing every night, we awake to a winter wonderland. By mid-morning the snow has either been blown away or has melted. The persistent cold, wet days are causing problems for the Crofters. This is lambing season and the tiny lambs are most vulnerable in their first two weeks of life. Being wet in the first few days can be detrimental to the lambs. They can survive the cold but not the damp, because they have insufficient lanolin in their wool to make it waterproof.
April 22nd, a momentous occasion, the first BATH taken at the Croft, in the new tub! Fantastic, and worth waiting for, OMG we forgot what it was like to soak in a tub of hot water. It is the best.
The weather is starting to improve – it has got marginally warmer. At 9pm it is still light outside.
April 23rd, lockdown tier set to be relaxed to level 2, by Monday April 26th(Scotland)
Nicola: Set off in the very useful red van, to pick up stored belongings, from Norfolk. A beautiful day in Uist, people waving, everyone looked happy. Met daughter Abigale in Glasgow, stayed with her and then drove together, with Abigale to Norfolk. Met up with friend, Karen and Godson Leo. Oh, how bliss to see some loved ones, absence from these human gatherings has been un-natural. Another successful trip, lots of driving, weather was good and pick-up of stuff was achieved. Arrived home.
Nicola: I have been dreaming of large blue herons, in flight and snow in the summer time.
We plaster-boarded the attic room. We heard some distant meowing and discovered that Alice had someone managed to get inside the wall cavity, un-noticed. We opened the wall up and out jumped a surprised, nutty cat.
Thursday May 13th, COVID-19 Tier level –2.
Everyone still wears masks in shops and other public spaces, but things do seem to be more relaxed. We even have the occasional visitor.
Unexpectedly we noticed that our beautiful big white cat appeared to be having breathing difficulties. We rang the vet a couple of times, and reported that he was still eating a little although he seemed poorly. It was agreed that we bring him in to the vets in the morning. Previous to this problem, he had been a bit subdued, but nothing out of the ordinary.
Nicola: I was vaguely keeping an eye on him.
Friday May 14th, Ange was still struggling to breathe in the morning. We got him to the vets as quickly as we could – 9am. He was x-rayed and checked over. His lungs were drained. The diagnosis of his problem was unclear, some blood was taken, to be tested. We drove him back home and he was still unwell. We called the vet again and then drove back – his left lung was drained again. Straw coloured transparent liquid filled yet another metal kidney bowl. He had an antibiotic injection, just to make sure, and was given a jab, in order to help stop the liquid building up in his lungs again. We were sent home with some pills and felt hopeful.
Saturday May 15th, Ange had deteriorated further throughout the night and the next day and continued to weaken.
Sunday May 16th 10am, we were really, worried and unsure what to do, Angelo could hardly stand and was slinking off to hide in a corner. We phoned the vet again, Angelo was seriously ill. David, the vet, told us to come back in, he would be there to see him. We drove back to the vet again. Angelo had both his lungs drained again. He had another X-Ray and this time he was tested for leukemia–this was negative. David said to make him comfortable. We drove home, with a little less hope this time. We were quite in the car. Arriving home Angelo gave us a lovely seemingly grateful purr.
Monday May 17th, Angelo’s condition just kept regressing, he appeared to lose weight overnight and was still very unsteady on his feet, falling over as he tried to walk. We knew this was not good, Angelo was not going to make it. With much sadness, we called the vet again and then took our little furry friend to the vets one last time. He was euthanized.
Nicola: I held his small, fragile cat’s head, in my hands and cried as he died.
The vet (this time Peter, David’s son) wrapped Angelo’s body in a towel. We drove back to the Croft, both tearful and shocked. This was so unexpected and very sudden. We buried him in what had been his favourite spot in the Croft garden. We learned that his tests revealed that he had a serious heart condition. We went on a subdued walk, on the Rocket Range in Benbecula. We managed to take some photographs. We will miss our White Lion, beautiful and brave to the end.
The weather has been extreme, sometimes wet, sometimes dry. There have been cold and icy spells, strong winds and gales, bright and sunny.
Our neighbours, Andy and Effie, have been stranded in Stirling, during lockdown, since November. We have been taking care of their 12 sheep and 8, 1 year old lambs. The daily feeding ritual of nuts is required together with an overall check/count of our temporary lockdown flock. We would hate anything to happen to these creatures on our watch.
As surrogate Shepherds, we have dealt with a couple of mishaps that have included sheep bullying issues and a problem with ear tag rips. For the bullying problem, we had to herd the sheep into a smaller pen, and isolate the victim. The sheep were then handed over to an experienced Crofter – Don Norman. One of the lambs managed to rip out its earring identity tag – this looked worse than it was (lots of blood running down her neck). The lamb recovered quickly and thankfully no intervention was needed.
Andy reassured us:
“When Effie’s father was alive he didn’t use tags. He would take out a knife and cut off the tip of the right ear and then punch a hole in it. He would then cut two V’s out of the other ear. That was the norm then and that was his registered mark. He said, “don’t worry Andy, they don’t feel it”. I said WHO TOLD YOU ? he couldn’t answer. When he passed away we started using tags.
The Crofters were very skilled at the ear cuts, and the pain caused by them was probably short lived, there was also no danger of them pulling the tags out later, as this lamb did. It is a learning curve to oversee these lambs and sheep, who respond well, and are trusting and grateful for their supply of nuts. It is also useful preparation for when we have our own sheep, which we will get most likely in the summer.
2020 AKA the year of the COVID Christmas restrictions.
It is a difficult time for many, particularly those who might have been completely alone. Let us hope this is the only one like this. Christmas can be a strange time anyway. This year we were unable to spend Christmas seeing our children and grandchildren. However, in Uist (in Tier three lockdown) we were fortunate enough to be able to spend our Christmas with the lovely Rosie and Raphael. We all contributed to the Vegan Xmas meal, that we had in our caravan – this was suitably decorated to resemble a festive ´Grotto`, we heated up the pre-cooked Christmas dinner on Instant Grill Disposable BBQ containers (unused, from the lockdown summer), and a microwave oven, that we had recently installed in the caravan. The food was brilliant, one of the tastiest Christmas meals ever, and despite, or perhaps because of, our various age differences, we all laughed till tears were rolling down our faces.
The weather over the Christmas period was wet and windy, but on the 27th (we were still in Christmas mode, and still staying in the caravans) a slight scattering of snow appeared. We do have some heating organised in our domestic camp site, but it has walls as thin as a tin can, necessitating multiple layers of clothes. Nightcaps have taken on a new meaning!
30th of December, back in Lochmaddy, we were woken at 6am by a kerfuffle of cat activity. Outside, in the front entranceway, pathway, three stags foraged about in the snow. One stag had huge antlers with 16 points – this is known as a “Monarch”. It was a Beautiful, intimate sighting – worth waking up for. They are always intensely aware of human presence only approaching silently and with great caution. Between Christmas and New Year. we continued work on the renovation of the Croft.
Back in Westminister Village Brexit – The ‘deal’ marked the end (and possibly the lowest point) of a challenging year. Local fishermen are not happy..
We spent new year’s eve together, in the caravan, with Alice and Angie (cats) with a lovely meal. A quiet and pleasant time. The new year started with the most beautiful day, with bright blue skies, no wind, and sunshine. The air was cold but blissfully fresh, we rode our newly acquired bikes (thank you Frank and Anna) to Lochmaddy and back. This was exhilarating, and a good way to shift the festive food!
It is always interesting to contemplate world events from the comparative isolation of The Western Isles, even in non-pandemic conditions. The storming of the US Capitol, clearly directed by the outgoing President and resulting in 5 deaths, marked an extraordinarily low point in world events His subsequent impeachment and social media ban is ‘made for TV’. What could possibly happen next? Then we had – Brilliant Brexit! It is so reassuring to know that we have taken back control.. Having items delivered to the Island is suddenly very difficult. Certain things are not available as often in the CO-OP. Everything has become more expensive and complicated. On a personal level, the smallest photographic transaction with our nearest neighbour in France has created a new Kafka-esque reality. Our Prime Minister has referred to these, and other issues as ‘teething troubles’ – that is what he does.
The weather has been wet and windy, but not so cold (yet) around 4 -9°C
We spend most weekends at the caravan on the Croft, which is fun. When the door is flung open in the morning the smell of the sea is in the air. On still days you can hear for miles, the island sometimes works like a whispering gallery and sounds and conversations can be picked up and clearly heard – from a mile or so away. On other days only the wind can be heard, whistling and wailing – creating an unrest and a frenzy in the atmosphere. The cats get very excitable in the wind and I am sure it affects our energy and moods too.
20th Jan woke up and the world was frozen, even the sheep were frozen – beautiful clear still day, wet and windy and cold at night. The next few days were spent floor sanding, removing a monumental chimney stack from inside the kitchen, putting lights up in the attic. The multi-fuel burner arrived!
24th January snow and walk with Raphael and Rosie, across the beach at low tide to Vallay. We had all prepared a packed lunch to eat when we got there. We had prepared cold toasted bagels with smoked salmon and cream cheese – simply delicious! . The walk back was timely as the tide was coming in and we had to make our way gingerly through some knee- deep sea pools.
29th January A big freeze had settled everywhere. Birds swimming in circles in diminishing pools enclosed by ice. There has not been much rain, not since Christmas.
January 30th The whole of the Western Isles was moved up to level four lockdown restrictions, due to some outbreaks linked to the Western Isles Hospital in Stornoway.
The wind has started!
The Croft work continues – we discovered a wood panelled wall under some tacky tiles and plasterboard, that was covering the walls in the bathroom. This was a happy find and has established a connection to the original cottage. The wood panel, suitably painted, will now stay. The boiler needs some work, so we are still without hot water at the Croft, not a good thing in February.
Early february it is still windy and cold. Stepping outside you hit a wind wall, an almost impenetrable invisible force, WHAM!. When you open the car/van door it needs to be pushed hard and then secured with your foot, to prevent it from slamming on your leg. The winds built, coming from the north east, bitterly cold , and very persistent. Full gear is needed- gloves, hat, scarf, coat and boots – to put the bins out. You know it’s cold when you come in to warm your hands under the tap in hot water.
February 6th – (John) received the first COVID vaccine (thank you Keith) – with a reaction of two days feeling weird with a temperature and headache – but it was worth it. Newcastle beat Southampton 3 -2 (the world is merciful). Meanwhile, most of the UK was being blanketed by snow.
February 10th – Wildfire on Benbecula.The weather here has been dry and very cold, the ice has dehydrated the vegetation, and it has made the landscape vulnerable. This hit the national headlines and as we were driving back to Lochmaddy, from Blashaval it was on the main radio 4 news. Such a fragile environment, I do hope the message has been noted.
February 13th – 14th winds up to 75mph
February 14th Valentines’ – the weather has got warmer and the days are noticeably longer.
We had a lovely romantic caravan weekend. Delicious food, cooking in the caravan has become very creative recently, and we have both become adept at microwave cooking – From scrambled egg (with smoked salmon) to cauliflower cheese. We also recently put a toaster in the caravan. There is not so much you can’t do with a microwave and a toaster.
In the Croft we have managed to assemble and get the multi-fuel stove up and running – a milestone in the house restoration process. We have also bought a small stove for the caravan, and are determined to be more organised, settled and a bit warmer next year.
Watching the trees thrashing in the gales whilst sitting in a caravan that feels as if it is on the high seas is a sobering experience. We managed to pile some cement blocks from the recently-dismantled chimney onto the roots of our trees to weigh down the roots. With luck these will ensure their survival.
By moving here we have managed to escape many things throughout the past year- The worst effects of Covid, the lockdown, extinction rebellion and Black Lives Matter protests , the heavy snow and floods. Throughout these we have continued to focus on refurbishing the house, learning many new skills along the way. Our photography has necessarily stalled, although we are hoping that the new year will develop positively and allow a new engagement with the world.
That Donald Trump survived the impeachment process, presumably to resurface at the next opportunity, and that Oprah is interviewing Meghan and Harry gives us all scope for further incredulity, offering some kind of grim entertainment – bizarrely interweaving fact with fiction, makes us all value the things truly of importance to us.
The cats, Angelo and Alice, have become used to being carted around between Lochmaddy and the Croft. They enjoy the caravans as much as we do. Angelo has become the king of Loch Blashaval , he knocks on the caravan windows when he needs some shelter. Alice tucks herself in the caravan bed, and sleeps in our arms. Ahh..
February 19th, we have been living in North Uist for two years – Wow! time flies.
Weather : wet and windy (not as cold as Newcastle) – the odd still day, with glorious sunshine. Rainbows almost everyday.
October, Saturday the 25th, we stayed overnight at the Croft for the first time. This involved taking bedding, utensils, food and our cats to our two slightly dilapidated caravans, which are situated on the land around the house. The house itself will not be habitable for some time as there is much work to be done. It is a formidable project – but we have now made a substantial start, and even feel a little inspired by our progress.
Tip: youtube videos are a Godsend for the amateur builder.
The weather report forecast a furious storm – for this day (October, Saturday the 25th) with winds around 69 to 71 mph. It was quite windy, although not as bad as it can be. We were very pleased of the time we spent the previous day ‘battening down the hatches’ – which included dragging building material into the house, fastening the glass for the new windows to the trees (which are already a little unsteady) and basically securing anything and everything to the ground – hoping it would hold. The caravans were also strapped down against the wind and propped up with rocks from the foreshore – our ‘bedroom caravan’ still swayed and rocked about during the night. The surrounding sea loch was whipped into a fury of whitecaps and the few trees on the croft thrashed in the wind. We had to add concrete slabs and wooden planks to the tree roots to prevent them being torn away. Fortunately, the wind shifted direction in the evening relieving its assault on some of the few trees on the Croft. It was exhilarating but exhausting and a bit scary at times.
The COVID-19 lockdown procedures have been devastating for everybody and pretty much everything. It has been difficult and slow working on our project with access to places and individuals – we have managed to take a few more portraits but our ability to reach out into the wider community has been made more complex.
Any initiative such as ‘In this Day and Age’ has the potential for many stories and a broad range of interpretations and uses. Beaudrillard’s ‘unseizable enigma’ suggests that the ambiguity of photographic indexicality is central to the integrity of photography, and he pursued this idea both through his writings and through the aesthetics of the photography that he produced and widely exhibited. We have always believed that the photograph, above all other media, has the potential to generate engagement and discourse and that it best functions within a critical context that is open to engagement and participation by a wide public. Meanings are never simply fixed, but are contextual, complex and fluid, and it is in this positive spirit that we continue to develop our project and we always welcome any thoughtful comments or critical discussion.
We are hoping that many of the issues discussed at the recent Imagining an Island Symposium, with regard to our work, will be pursued and developed through a proposed Routledge Academic publication led by Professors Ysanne Holt (University of Northumbria) and Liz Wells (University of Plymouth). The recent ‘Work in Progress’ exhibition at Taigh Chearsabhagh in Lochmaddy was a useful point from which to review any progress and development that we have made, and we are grateful to all for the feedback that we have received as this will help us to further shape our work in the future.
Teaching has resumed at the University of the Highlands and Islands although as in many places the most one sees is a computer screen with the accompanying sub-sync sound. It is a desperate time for students, especially the younger ones. Their educational experiences have been much compromised, and the excitement and educational and social value of travelling to another place to study has been ruined. The University campus in North Uist relies on its ‘special place’ status, as elsewhere one office interior looks much like another.
Meanwhile buckets of old tiles together with wallpaper, various bits of wood, wire and plasterboards are being removed from the Croft house and drainage ditches have been cleared and opened out to cope with the excess water that runs of the nearby mountain (it’s a small one). The soil is dark, dense and peaty and saturates with water quickly with black slurry running off into the loch. The fishing season ended with a vengeance given the strength of the gales, hopefully leaving more fish to return for next year. The house is slowly taking shape and we try to visit daily and move things on. There have been frequent trips to the dump to remove the endless rubbish from the house, and the builder’s merchants have become our (somewhat unwilling ) friends. Lockdown (mostly elsewhere) has ensured that we have remained on the island, although we managed a couple of days in Stornoway where we were able to source some building materials (expensive!) and have an excellent meal during our stay at the Royal Hotel on the harbour side. We even bought an original artwork from the Royal Hotel’s nautically themed restaurant. To be able to dine out was a great pleasure after so long.
The nights are becoming longer and Angie, our crepuscular white cat has taken to the croft and comes and goes freely from the caravans and the house. Despite his lack of natural camouflage he is the main man in this territory, stalking the foreshore. He is happy in a way that he has not been since we were living at Minish. Alice becomes very excited with his comings and goings rushing around between our legs, but she seldom, yet ventures outside.
December, Friday 18th, the U.K. has now been subjected to a second lockdown and over the Christmas weekend the country is held in various Tier categories. There will not be many family gatherings allowed this year.
December, Monday 21st we have heard that a person in Lochmaddy has COVID-19, this new strain is virulent.
To everyone who reads and follows our blog may we wish you a Happy Solstice – stay safe!