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.