The view from my mountain…

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Some of our summer resident eiders preparing to engage in a round of ‘the view from my mountain’.

Or, they could be just preening.

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Midsummer sun

I was hoping to see at least one end of the summer solstice in style. Not being by any means an early riser, this was always going to be this end of the day rather than the other. But, unfortunately, the damp mists of early evening around the bay have given way to a blanket of grey cloud without so much of a hint of a dying ray of light – though, conversely, this morning’s sunrise was, apparently, rather good.

So, here’s one from last night’s sunset, instead: the sun not quite sinking into the sea – a smudge of cloud on the horizon preventing that – and actually taken a good hour after sunset (timed at 22:31) – but with the Monach Islands showing rather well as a series of low-lying lumps on the horizon:

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So, at more or less midsummer, the sun was setting at round about 320 degrees – that’s past north-west and well on the road to north-west by north (no – not that one: Ed) on the 32-point compass. And quite a change from midwinter, when the compass point at sunset was more or less 230 degrees and getting on for south-west: almost exactly a quarter swing in the point of sunset by virtue of the angle of the earth’s tilt.

Not enough light to read a book outside at midsummer (and somewhat too cool, regardless of the heatwave which is gently cooking the southern half of England), but with plenty of light in the northern sky. Here’s the long view about an hour later – half past midnight (and towards the end of an hour-long power cut here on South Uist: somewhat frustrating for those of us on Economy 10 tariffs when the power comes back on just as the cheap hours disappear…). Here, we’re looking broadly north-east (NE is actually a bit to the right of centre) and from where, if my guesswork is right, the sun would have been rising a few minutes less than three hours later (at 04:31):

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Good luck and have a great gig to all those heading to Pilton this weekend – or, alternatively, to Eriskay On The Rocks!

NNW twilight

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The sky to the north, last night, just after 23:20 (so just beyond the golden hour, the sun having set at 20:16 and almost exactly at the formal ‘end of twilight‘ on our part of South Uist last night).

I tweeted recently a picture of the sun sinking into the sea as it set, as viewed for the first time this summer from our lounge window – and, of course, this picture is taken from the same place (though it’s a composite) and parts of it are also aimed a little further north, the slightly blurry rock in the centre foreground being located pretty much NNW from where I took the picture. Indeed, we can now track the earth as it spins around the sun, and as the continuing levels of light in the sky shift gradually from twilight in the (north-)western sky to pre-dawn in the (north-)east. As I went to bed at 1am, the sun still not due to rise formally for another couple of hours, similar smudged greys and midnight blues and soft apricots, as well as bold, striking cloud formations, had shifted into the north-east sky.

It does get dark here; even at the peak of midsummer there is about 3:40 of ‘night time’ in the hours between twilight formally ending and beginning again – but, for this month or so, you can still see some light in some part of the sky right throughout the night hours.

As a celebration of one year of living in our new place – we moved in, into a few rooms while the remainder of the renovations were still being finalised, precisely a year ago last Friday – the reminder of things coming full circle, with a new journey now getting underway, seems very well-timed.

Il faut cultiver notre jardin

A proper May Day Bank Holiday but, with no demos or rallies to join here on the islands – remember folks: the struggles of the labour movement brought you bank holidays and weekends, and we’d like to give you more, too – choice of BH activity was a little closer to home.

After the hiatus of a few days away in Brussels, the first part of 2017’s biannual battle against the invasion of the dandelions needed to be re-engaged with some alacrity, while plants bought fairly recently in Perth were starting to show some signs of needing planting out. I managed to get underway with our plans for our east-facing garden in Uist – essentially re-instating a rockery garden forming a middle way between a grassy strip at the top and a ‘wild’ area at the bottom – a couple of weeks back by stripping out moss and grass overgrowing the rockery’s retaining stone wall. This bank holiday’s project has been to start digging out the grass (and dandelions) from the old rockery, lifting and relocating daffodils as required, and planting out some new spring (and autumn) colour via heathers, sedums and other ground cover plants such as spreading conifers and junipers. Here we are with some progress:

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Retaining wall with overgrowing greenery removed. The rockery will be the sloping section upwards as far as the flatter grassy area at the top – a quite substantial area given that it extends more than the full length of the house, other than a small apron connecting strip off pic to the left, and is about 8′ in width.

IMG_5387 (Custom)Some grass dug out, and a few plants put in. More will be added.

The garden fence (which admittedly does need a lick of paint) is looking otherwise resplendent in the late afternoon sunshine – and it was indeed a gorgeous day today here on Uist: a high of 18.1C at 5pm puts it quite comfortably the hottest day of the year so far and, with little or no breeze in the late afternoon, it was also just a touch too early in the year for the midges to be thinking of doing any damage. ‘Make hay while the sun shines’ goes the phrase – to which, we might add, especially when it shines on a bank holiday; so, I did, accompanied by bubbling lapwings sky-diving, the call of larks ascending and the gentle braying of eiders in the bay (think of a slightly excited Frankie Howerd), as well as bees intoxicated to have found some new heather to buzz through. (By the way, here is the unparalleled Met Office forecast for the Range for the week ahead, featuring a sunshine graphic all the way. I have literally never seen that before.) And accompanied also by the stillest, most perfectly milky blue sea, seen at low tide’s distance. We are keenly awaiting the arrival of our corn crakes when, to some degree alas, idyllic peace will be once again deferred (the male’s ‘crek crek‘ call – akin to the teeth of a plastic comb being scraped across the edge of a matchbox – can feature up to 20,000 times a night, over some six hours. And especially between midnight and 3am). Reports are here of corncrakes already in Askernish, to the south of us; and we had two, sometimes three, around the house, including one spotted running (actually, to be fair, probably more high stepping) through our ‘wild’ grass, last summer.

Furthermore, there was 15 1/2 hours of daylight today and sunset – at 9.14pm tonight – will, in about ten days or so, be visible from our lounge window looking north as it sinks into the sea.

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Ardivachar beach, picture taken 21:07.

After a damp and cloudy spring, and some cold northerly winds last week which sent the wind chill factor to below freezing, it seems like summer may have arrived.

And some Easter lambs

Did someone mention lambs yesterday?

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If anyone can come up with a better caption than Fetch! the prize* is yours…

These twins were born overnight on Easter Saturday/Sunday, so as of now they’re less than 48 hours old. The crofter who owns the sheep was telling me that he’s been involved with sheep all his life and has never had one like this mother: apparently she’s a ‘jumper’ (wot already :-)) and had to be rescued from a neighbour’s garden, having jumped the fence one way, only on Saturday morning so they had doubted anything was inside her. Let alone twins. Jessica Ennis-Hill – eat your heart out.

From my untrained observations, she’s a good mother, too: putting the lambs between her and the occasional passer-by (very occasional, obviously) and, perhaps more fundamentally, from two ravens that I watched taking a close interest from the perspective of a nearby fence.

May they all live and thrive.

* There isn’t one, really – sorry…

Easter Sunday colour

Delighted to come back from a couple of weeks in Poland to find these beauties – coming into bud as we went away – still in bloom (at least, on the eastern side of the ‘clump’ – that is, if a circular of daffs clearly planted for show and measuring some 90″ in diameter can be considered a ‘clump’ – the western side having been beaten about a bit by some fairly strong nor’westerlies over the last few days).

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Now, to complete the Easter picture, I need to find some spring lambs. Still working on that one, but it’s only a matter of days…

Before… and after

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1 tonne of Verdo briquettes

Weather: clear, dry (bit windy). Gloves required.

No. of packs on pallet: 96

No. of trips to shed: 48

No. of steps, pallet to shed: 23 (in each direction)

No. of times slipped on wet ground: 1

No. of times banged head on low shed entrance: 0 (Result!)

No. of minutes start to finish: 41

#SportingClubOfUist

Some reflections on Barbara

Storm Barbara (and then, in turn, Storm Conor) brought some strong winds over Christmas and, aside of a few days – particularly the last three – strong winds have continued ever since. But, in these few days of calm, normal life seems to have reverted itself (the bins have now gone back to their usual position by the front gate, for example; and a mist has enveloped the bay for much of the last three days, currently providing a salty wash to our windows), and we have probably reached the point where we can think that they are indeed in the past and provide a few post-event thoughts on what the storms brought. Calm weather is playing havoc with our stove (but that’s a different story!). (9pm edit: and has indeed already ended, with winds twice the speed they were earlier this afternoon, with a forecast of virtually three times tomorrow. But at least the stove is responding a little more enthusiastically!)

Firstly, everything about the structure of the house is intact – in particular: the roof tiles are all still in place; the patch on the chimney breast where we have a small leak seems to be holding, and the roof insulation is nicely drying out; and the wooden garden shed is still there, on the same site, with no leaks or holes, and with a felt roof whose nails have securely held the laps. And the satellite dish (which has to be located on the most exposed, south-facing wall) is still up and operating. That’s all a bit of a relief, but it’s also a tribute to the work and the abilities of the people who remodelled our house, and built and sited the shed (on a concrete base, dug into the ground a little, and with concreted-in fence posts). Furthermore, our power lines held up, as did our communications systems although the mobile phone mast did seem to be knocked out for a while. That’s a tribute to the resilience of the infrastructure and to the skilled work of those responsible for predicting the weather and for planning emergency responses and to those workers located on the ground where they can respond, if required, to emergency situations.

Secondly, the people who originally built our house did so not only with style but with real sensitivity to the conditions and the approach of the local weather. We are some 12-15′ or so up from the shore to the east, so we don’t need to worry so much about getting flooded out; but in a little dip as the land curves down to the sea. The result is that prevailing (south-)westerly winds are forced up by the land off the sea to the west (our house is sited on a headland), and are then up at roof level when they hit us. Consequently, the main structure and foundations of the house don’t get the shaking that they otherwise might on slightly higher ground.

Thirdly, Storm Conor brought winds gusting up to 83 mph early on Boxing Day morning (around 6-7 am). This was the worst on South Uist (although Scalpay, off Harris, had stronger winds). This is not the worst storm we could experience – but Storm Angus, in the third week of November (and the first of the named storms this winter), brought comparable strength winds to the south coast of England. This is a useful reminder that bad weather can occur anywhere and including in well-populated areas on the mainland (not just the mountain tops).

I can well understand the marketing-based attractions of depicting life in the Outer Hebrides as in some way ‘on the edge‘ – there’s a romanticism in that, as well as the appeal of the opportunity to experience weather apparently more remote from the ordinary lives of UK urbanites. The weather here can be tough – the winds that go unreported on the TV news can make even a January walk along the shore something of a physical challenge – but there are dangers in attributing such characteristics to these islands. They can make them appear more remote, or cut-off, from the weather that all of us can experience, from time to time. Worse, however, is that they risk marginalising (and somewhat patronising) the people who live here (and here I don’t mean me, a junior of just six months standing, but my friends and neighbours who were born here and who have chosen to live their whole lives here), highlighting that they are, perhaps, in some way clinging on to life, forever threatened by the elements and whose lives are thereby dominated by them. To the people who live here, the Uists and Benbecula, and the rest of the Hebrides, are not in any way ‘on the edge’ but central: a fact of their life and to which they are as well-adjusted as the circumstances surrounding those of us who live in other places elsewhere. To a fisher, or a farmer or a crofter, the weather is what it is and that’s as true for a Devon farmer threatened by floods as it is for a Uist one. In portraying the Hebrides as ‘on the edge’ we undermine that everyone on all these islands, right across the length and breadth of the UK and Ireland, are one people, different in chacteristics but united in hopes and dreams, and in our abilities to be resilient and to rise to the challenges which life presents us.

A happy, and safe, 2017 to all readers.