Virtues of the Wind

Weather: Bright with a fresh breeze, later becoming gale force with intermittent hail, sleet and rain showers.

Today the wind is blowing strongly from a south westerly direction. It is time to embrace it, and to consider its virtues, at least within the context of this residency.

Wind speeds are approaching 70 miles per hour and are likely to cause considerable damage. They are accompanied by the occasional hail storm, which stings the face if it is exposed to it. It is nominally around 6 degrees centigrade but feels more like minus 50.

It does however have some virtues:

  • If the washing can be persuaded to stay on the line, it dries very quickly.
  • What to wear is not much of a problem – how many clothes do you have? (Wear them all).
  • When it is not accompanied by more water, it dries out the rain that has recently fallen, this one is a a little behind schedule at present. It also melts the snow.
  • It shifts one’s perception of reality – standing still is like riding a motorcycle at the legal speed limit with only a woolly hat on and no leathers. Quite exciting really for an armchair racer.
  • It is great for generating electricity.
  • It saves on time spent on one’s hairstyle, i.e. you do not have a hairstyle, only a tightly-fitting hat.
  • Cleaning is irrelevant as the ashes from the stove are democratically blown over everything as soon as it is attempted. It saves on logs, as burning them makes no difference to the temperature.
  • It prevents one from giving anything up as it is so traumatising whilst maximum comfort is needed, which can be a relief.
  • It can affect the landscape in a dramatic way i.e. wind on water, trees moving, grasses and flowers dancing in the wind etc.
  • Looks great on video art works.

Henry David Thoreau said that “The virtues of a superior man are like the wind; the virtues of a common man are like the grass; the grass, when the wind passes over it, it bends”.

Well – that is a little unfair to the common man as flexibility is a great virtue. Edward Gibbon in ‘The history of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire has a much better attitude and has written;

“The winds and waves are always on the side of the ablest navigators”

Tir A’Mhurain is Gaelic for ‘The Land of Bent Grass’ and the title of Paul Strands book of Hebridean photographs.

It is also important to consider some problems:

  • Casting a fly is very difficult, and can be dangerous in a strong wind.
  • The ferries do not run.
  • The lights go out.
  • The internet goes off
  • The phones do not work.
  • Going outside is challenging .

BUT

It doesn’t last forever.. and I did see a rainbow.

Cats confined to quarters.

 

Captain’s Log

Weather : Strong icy winds from the North, overcast with bright intervals.

Every so often I have to remind myself that above all, this is a long-term photography residency and project. Our journey thus far has been to this end, even though much of our time is taken up with settling in, domestic necessities and getting a sense of this place. As methodologies go it does seem sound, but one cannot help feel impatient sometimes and time moves slowly.

The previous night was remarkable in its clarity with the kind of breath-taking stellar display seldom seen in mainland U.K. Our particular ‘enterprise’ this morning was to continue our Hunter Gathering activities and visit MacLeans Heridean bakery  in Benbecula where we purchased, amongst other things, a couple of scotch pies for  a roadside picnic lunch. I was a little wary of these pies (Nicola loves them) as my memories of them (mostly accumulated during motorcycling trips to the Highlands) were mixed, but on this occasion these particular delicacies were consumed, suitably augmented with Dijon mustard, by the side of a loch where we were able to spot a curlew in the margins and two hen harriers whilst appreciating the solid comfort of a Scottish classic. Context is everything.

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After we had filled the car with fuel I couldn’t help but notice that the attendant had a Bournemouth AFC shirt on. He would have been pleased because on the day that Newcastle beat Everton 3-2; Bournemouth beat Huddersfield. After our shopping trip, we drove to the Airport to enquire about flights to and from the Western Isles. The Airport is a small one situated in the north of the island located next to a military base. Loganair fly to Glasgow and Inverness from here. The windswept runway is next to the main road and is located next to a spectacular bay where the ‘white horses’ on the sea were clearly visible. Today the water on the lochs looked like mercury in the sunshine, that appeared fleetingly. Flying today in this liquid landscape would have been lively, and I had no cause to envy any of the small group of passengers waiting in the departure lounge.

Returning to the house we noticed a buzzard flying quite low by the roadside, possibly with evil designs on the many ducks swimming nearby.

We cleaned and prepared the downstairs spare room and made it suitable for use as a temporary studio. It is very cold however and I would describe the heating in the house as rudimentary. Best to keep moving.

The cats were a little frantic by the time that we had returned to the house as we had run out of their regular bait. They had turned their nose’s up at the finest sardines in olive oil and sullenly contemplated a beaten (locally obtained, free range) egg. When the Whiskas was unpacked their whiskery joy was unbounded and they became very excited. Suitably fortified by the return of the status quo, at the first opportunity they both rushed into the garden to confront the local rodents.

Suppliment..

Weather: Gale force winds from the North, very cold with heavy driving sleet then snow; later winds dropping and veering west, less cold.

Sunday morning we awoke to a wild blizzard. We had planned to go on a substantial walk today but clearly this was out of the question. It was freezing. We were frantically piling the peat (thank you Keith Dawson) on the stove to warm the house up but the wind was so strong it still found its way inside the cottage through the tiniest cracks. Looking outside at the rear, the landscape reminds me of distant images of the Falkland Islands, Looking out of the front of the house a snow covered mountain dominates the vista, like mount Fuji (film..) All that is missing are the penguins.

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On such a day in Newcastle it would be possible to spend the day exploring indoor options such as the cinema or even (horror) the Metro Centre. No such choice exists here. At one stage, we were uncertain that we would be able to leave the house at all. We spent some time together writing and drawing before deciding to risk the trip in the car to the swimming pool.

19a

The road south to Benbecula was drivable but very snowy with deep channels necessitating considerable caution. The landscape had transformed into a lunar snow-scape, unique and very beautiful. It was well worth the effort. As previously, our session at the pool provided a wonderful contrast to the cabin fever we were beginning to experience back in the cottage.

On our way back once again the weather had changed. The wind had dropped and moved to the west and the snow was rapidly disappearing with the sun making an occasional appearance. Another day in a day.

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Sightings along the way: A hen harrier resting on the electricity pylons; a transit van that had slid off the road (no casualties) and was being expertly towed out of the ditch; an unusual sheep; a farmer feeding his flock of brightly adorned sheep.

Our cats hate the rain and snow, also they are not partial to the wind. Not fussy really.

 

 

The Yoga Class

Weather: Heavy rain, cold becoming dry later and windy.

Inevitably the storm calmed down but the day started wet and grey. There was a message from Sheenagh that the weekly yoga class was due to start this morning at 10 30. This took us somewhat by surprise but Nicola had been meaning to go and so we drove down to the Carinish Hall. Having dropped her off I went back to the House at Lochmaddy to make some calls and to pick up the table that we were using to put the computer on and one or two other items. The yoga class was a great success Nicola felt appropriately relaxed due to the restorative stretches. She also most importantly, met lots of new interesting people. We then went back to the cottage at Minish to set up our office and computer workstation.

As we had just closed the second of the 2 gates that contain the property, we heard an alarm sounding in the kitchen. This turned out to be some smoke from the stove finding its way into the kitchen and activating the alarm. Apart from deeply alarming the cats whilst in their daily relaxation sessions, we were relieved to find that there was no real problem. Having set up the office and made the house a little more comfortable, we put on our wellington boots and took a soggy stroll around the perimeter of the land surrounding the house. It was very windy and bitterly cold.

We were soon back indoors settling in for a relaxed weekend ‘à la maison’.

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There is an old shed on the foreshore of the loch that houses disused fishing equipment, assorted obsolete farm machinery and building waste. This is Angie’s favourite hang out, as rats live here. He is a large rather beautiful cat and is a great sight with his white fur blowing in the wind as he strides out to give those rodents a hard time.. not that he actually catches any.

Public Art

Weather: Strong winds and driving rain, later becoming sunny with light winds.

Truly this is an Island of contrasts. The changes in the weather are so sudden. Just when you think that to venture outside would be foolish, the sun appears and the wind changes direction. Today we started slowly, the wind was noisy and from the North. It was cold and we had trouble getting out of bed. Deciding to seize the day (old Sunderland motto) and catch up on some menial chores, we washed some clothes. By the time these were ready, it had stopped raining although the wind was blowing hard. Nicola attempted to hang out the washing in the garden using the special reinforced Uist proof pegs. She fought the wind and the wind won. The clothing was flapping so wildly it was threatening to damage itself or Nicola and had it escaped the line, would have been well on its way to St. Kilda by lunchtime. As it was we gave up for then. (a day later the washing is still in a damp heap..)

Meanwhile the ongoing struggle with the heating system in the cottage continues and we are frantically feeding it wood, coke, coal and peat to make the living room, at least bearable.

We have had some further suggestions as to what needs to be done so are working through them one by one. Burning ten pound notes doesn’t seem to work but leggings worn under trousers are good.. We decided to venture forth eventually having had a fortifying lunch. This decision was happily co-incidental with the sun making an appearance, so we went to Langass (English spelling) Woods to see the famous sculpture of Hercules the Bear. This bear is much esteemed in these parts having escaped when on the island filming a commercial (what will they think of next?). Hercules was buried here next to a large wooden sculpture celebrating his likeness. For the full story see Hercules –The Bear We had a pleasant and interesting walk around the mostly Sitka Spruce plantation, which reminded me of  The Forest Kielder Northumberland .

17a

By this time, fluffy cumulus clouds had appeared and we took the opportunity to take some photographs of the peat cuttings and the public sculpture (by Liz Crichton) that we had seen yesterday. Before driving down to Benbecula for a swim in the public pool we stopped off to view another public sculpture entitled Reflections by Colin McKenzie. We found this artwork complete with a sign informing us that it was indeed a ‘Sculpture’ in case of any doubts as to its provenance.

17c

As previously, our swim and sauna were excellent. Returning to the cottage in the semi darkness we encountered numerous deer on the road back to the House. They raise their heads at our approach cautiously sniffing the air. Their colouring is close to that of the dry heather that surrounds them and it is difficult to make them out from a distance. If the car slows or attempts to stop, they disappear into the background like ghosts. As it became darker a small herd of deer crossed the road directly in front of us. They are other-worldly and a majestic sight, a privilege to behold. Their whereabouts during the daytime is a mystery.

17b

Ange and Gabe love this place, and now that the wind has dropped are deliriously happy in the garden and on the surrounding land. Newly chemically protected from fleas and ticks they are free to roam as far as they wish. When they want to come in Angie sits at the window certain in the knowledge that we will understand their every need. Such a life…

 

The Wind

Weather: Strong winds, overcast and cold with intermittent showers.

The wind is never far away from one’s thoughts in the Outer Hebrides. Often, as the saying goes – one only notices it when it is not there. Last night, the stillness hung like a curtain, a reprieve before the next movement. This morning it was 50 miles an hour, swinging around and is blowing hard from the North East. The difference in the days are astonishing, and not altogether welcomed especially for one who feels the cold in October and never really warms up until the following May (Nicola is much the same) It is very difficult to be motivated to venture outside.

Keith Dawson arrived mid-morning in his Land Rover to deliver the peat for our stove. He carefully explained the differences between the different kind of bags (age and stage of drying) and how we should best proceed. At the time of writing, I am sitting close to the fire which is happily burning this peat. The peat flares willingly and produces good heat, but sadly the stove is not as efficient as it might be. It does smell nice however. When travelling across the island it is interesting to see the many peat cuttings and the landscape that they produce. Previously my main encounter with peat was in deciding how much I wanted it to feature in my Whisky (east or west coast).

16

When we did eventually venture forth it was on an essential mission to the Veterinary clinic on Benbecula, about a 20 mile drive away. We needed to collect some anti-tick and flea medicine for the boys (they do sleep on the bed..)  It was a fascinating visit and I was much distracted by the colourful tins of paint for marking sheep (orange especially good) chemicals for mitigating bovine, canine or feline smells, and the large pots of intriguing udder cream. We also picked up some worming tablets which will, no doubt come in useful. The receptionist at the Vet’s was extremely pleasant and helpful.

On the way back to the house via the inevitable Co-op shop, we detoured to view a piece of public sculpture located in the hills in the centre of the island. It was gusty and squally but we enjoyed it and appreciated it within its unique situation. It had been made by one of the students, Liz Crichton from the Fine Art course here on the Island. As ever, on arrival back at the cottage, there were things to unload that we had picked up from the other house, and the fire to build up. The smell of curry lends the house a touch of the exotic and provides a source of inner heat with which to counteract the North wind outside.

The wind is too strong for the cats to venture outside. Gabe and is the bravest, and gave it a try, but could only stay out a very short time before scratching on the front window to come in. Nicola had to go out and rescue him. Two heroes.

 

The Mouse

Weather: Light winds and sunny periods becoming still, relatively warm, clear skies.

This morning we awoke to a different kind of reality. Back in Newcastle the view from the bedroom window is mostly of other people’s houses and of the cars parked in the street, or of neighbours and other people going about their business. Here, there a sea loch fills the view from both bedroom windows at the rear of the house and the light sparkles on the surface of the water with the gulls crying whilst soaring overhead. The wind has died down and the air is still. It almost feels warm.. It was a wonderful moment, and made perfect by the arrival of a cup of Yorkshire’s finest brew (that is non-alcoholic). I counted 8 seals basking on the rocks in the loch (why they are always described as ‘basking’ I am unsure, they sit uneasily and carelessly on the rocks as if they cannot be bothered to arrange themselves more decorously)

15c

I navigated the rutted driveway to the house in the van and dropped Nicola off at the Arts Centre, where she had a meeting relating to her forthcoming teaching. This accomplished I went to the house in Lochmaddy to make some phone calls. Before returning to the Art Centre I collected some fuel for the wood burning stove in the new house. There are few trees left on the Outer Hebrides so most of the fuel available in the local shop is coal or smokeless coke. These are relatively expensive and burn quickly. Our friend Keith Dawson understands this perfectly and has offered to give us some of his own peat supply which he is delivering tomorrow. This will make a real difference and we are delighted with his kindness.

15e

After our lunch we visited Hosta beach. This is a small beach enclosed by sand dunes. The light was beautiful and caught the jade coloured sea and surf, which is prominent and celebrated here. Later we visited a Bronze Age chambered cairn (sadly the entrance had collapsed so entry was impossible) and walked up to a small stone circle on the hillside overlooking Loch Langais. There are amazing views in all directions from here. Heather covers much of the foreground and the lochs are like holes in a sponge, disappearing into the distance and glittering like mirrors in the still air and the evening sunshine. By the time we were back at the cottage and in the kitchen preparing dinner, the sky and loch surface were shot through with subtle pinks and purples as the dark encroached and the endless stars became visible.

15b

Ange and Gabe have truly arrived! I have never seen them so excited and animated. Having been moved around numerous, mostly urban locations, the land around this cottage is truly full of exciting sounds and smells. No sooner does the security blanket of the house envelop them they want to be off exploring again. Gabe cornered a field mouse yesterday but despite his murderous intent it managed to slip away this time, into the undergrowth to live another day.

 

Our Hoose

Weather: Windy with sunny periods, quite cool, rain showers in the evening. It is truly rainbow weather.

We have decided to put a couple of days aside to move into the new house. As we arrived, a rainbow appeared over the roof. It was like listening to Fleetwood Mac.. This seemed like a poetry overload. We used the day to move some basic items in and thoroughly clean and warm the house up, as it was a bit damp, having not been occupied for a while. The house, which is white painted and of traditional appearance, is situated at the edge of a sea loch with beautiful views in every direction. There were seals resting on the rocks in the loch at the rear of the house and swans swimming in the fresh-water loch at the front of the house.

14B

This house is much closer to the kind of accommodation that we had envisaged, and having warmed the house up, using the rather large wood burning stove we have begun to settle in. We are looking forward to spending out time here and using it for our base as our project develops.

We allowed the cats to become accustomed to the house before letting them venture out. When they did eventually explore outside, they were in cat heaven! So many new trails and smells to excite them and no other cats for miles..

 

Under the Rainbow

Weather: Gale force winds and driving rain, later clearing with sunshine and showers but remaining windy.

13d

I had hoped to attend the first outing of the North Uist Angling Club of which I have recently become a member. Unfortunately, however, most of the day was spent listening to the whistle of the wind around the eves accompanied by the sound of the driving rain lashing the front of the house. I am neither skilled or hardy enough to cast a fly in these conditions. This was somewhat disheartening but did give us time to catch up on some office work and essential research (i.e. reading). The house is situated in an exposed position at the top of a hill in a small estate. This makes it difficult to appreciate extreme weather events and we are hoping that this will change the in new house, which is situated in a place that is more in tune with the surrounding environment.

13b

At 4 pm Nicola remarked that she could see the ferry approaching across the bay. Simultaneously the sun appeared and the day was totally and remarkably transformed. We used the opportunity to leave the house, where cabin-fever was beginning to set in, and to walk the short distance to the ferry terminal. There, we watched as the ferry disembarked its relatively few passengers and prepared for its further onward journey. Turning away from the pier the rainclouds moved away towards the mainland and were caught in the sun’s rays for an instant producing a spectacular rainbow. We took some pictures of this rainbow and of the ferry leaving the terminal, which it does remarkably quickly. These two events transformed the day.

13a

As the weather had improved so much we then decided to take a walk down to the small harbour where there were some new boats in view. Shortly along the way a hailstorm passed over us lasting around 10 minutes and we were forced to shelter between two hedges as it flattened the surrounding vegetation and bounced off the path. We finished our walk with a detour past one of the freshwater lochs where we saw some interesting ducks and were excited to see a merlin fly past.

It had been too windy for the cats to venture forth but as the winds died down they went outside in the early hours of the following morning, just to keep us on our toes…

Tick Trick

Weather: Windy and overcast, becoming very wet and windy in the evening.

The main event this morning was that we received the keys to our new accommodation. These were kindly dropped off by Chris who amongst other things, is a mature fine art student at U.H.I. We then drove down to the south of Benbecula to buy a ‘tick removal’ kit. This comprises what looks like 2 different sized plastic tweezers. The trick is to hook them under the body of the tick (this is the engorged part, with the blood sac) then to turn it smartly to the left thereby releasing the disgusting little brute’s legs. The tick can then be disposed of..

This is not a nice, but neither are ticks. Armed with this new tool in the fight against nature, in a lighter moment, we then stopped at a new bigger and better Co-op store and bought something for lunch. This we had as a picnic in the car over-looking a flat, misty landscape towards a sandy bay at Carnan on South Uist.

It was then time to travel on to our new house at Minish to check things over. It is a very nicely proportioned traditional cottage, beautifully situated besides a sea loch. It has been a while since it was previously occupied so it does need a good clean and one or two things sorting out but we are very excited about the prospect of moving here.

12d

The weather deteriorated in the evening and by the time we turned up for the opening of the new exhibition at Taigh Chearsabhagh, it was very windy and raining hard (bit of a theme developing here..) We were also an hour early, having thought to arrive fashionably late. As we seemed to be running on Newcastle event opening times (6-8pm) we retired to the lounge bar of the Lochmaddy Hotel to wait for the other guests to arrive.

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Apart from the exhibitions on view at the centre there were two more venues to visit, one at the Livestock Mart where Keith McKintyre was showing three large drawings in what is an interesting alternative space. The other was at the one-time tourist office where Keith and Andy McKinnon were showing a moving image piece that they had made off the Isle of Man coast. After viewing these surprising and inspiring art works we retraced our steps to the Arts Centre which had by this time closed. This meant that the exhibitions on show here would need to be visited on another occasion.

The cats were very well behaved and seemed to have settled down into a suitable routine. (We’ll soon change that..)

 

The Swim

Weather: Light winds and overcast, becoming misty and a little cooler than yesterday.

We have taken to buying eggs from a roadside stop-off near Sollas. The chickens are at the front of the house. The eggs that they produce are all different shapes and colours but all have a wonderful flavour, elevating this basic food to something special.

Baleshare beach had been recommended to us as a place with especially fine and hard sand. We wanted to get an idea of it as it is intended that Nicola will be working here with the Fine Art (Sculpture) students from the University of the Highlands and Islands Few students can have such unique resources at their disposal. The cries of the Oyster Catchers conjure an elemental quality to this environment and the stripped down remains of what is probably a Second World War landing craft adds mystery to this landscape.

beach 1

We later travelled up the coast to CLaddadh Kirkibost Centre. Where there is a pleasant café at the rear. We chose the ubiquitous soup and an excellent sandwich (hot smoked salmon and salad). Suitably (slightly over) fortified we travelled down to the South of Benbecula to fill the car with petrol, do some shopping and then proceeded to the Sports Centre at Lionacleit, which is situated within the school.

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I swim regularly at Jesmond pool in Newcastle and although Nicola is keen for us to swim in the sea I was much relieved to find this warmer less challenging alternative. We had a great swim. It was a special ending to the day. The only complication was finding the exit because the signage is (understandably) in Gaelic..

We had a remarkably peaceful night as the cats have settled into a routine for coming and going that enables us to have a decent night’s sleep.