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!

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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.

img_4149-customPicture taken looking west towards Ardivachar (and a bit north), Mol Mor beach at Kilaulay, at 1617 on 5 December 2016.

Well, a bit of afterglow, really rather than sunset (which was at 1548 today) since the band of clouds on the horizon obscured the actual setting of the sun. Nevertheless, the quality of the light continued to be extremely high giving, at this stage of the day, soft reflections and a beautiful apricot sky.

In between the above and the below, we had this:

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Pictures (a composite – there were actually only two gulls drifting lazily on the sea….) taken at 1421, looking north-east across Bagh A Tuath (= North bay) from Rubha Aird na Machrach.

The weather is due to break tomorrow, with rain forecast and a stronger wind. Today, however, another day of eerily, portentously calm weather: of warm sunshine and blue, and almost milky white, stilled seas that gently shimmer under barely a breath of wind, as the picture above (taken on a receding tide) seeks to show. This is not just unseasonal, but unreal. There will be worse (much worse) weather to come – which makes the anticipation of just how hard it is going to be that bit tougher. There will, most probably, be a price to pay for all this via a storm whose ferocity reflects, in the opposite direction, the calmness of these early winter days. Aside of some gales around the autumn equinox and a cold snap (lasting no more than a couple of days) in the middle of November, the south of England seems to have had worse weather thus far.

In the meantime, I could (and if I could abstract the beauty of moments like this) get very used to island days like these.

Yesterday saw a calmness descend on South Uist: a light, more or less southerly wind with which the grass stalks in the garden were barely moving. There was a sense of everything taking the chance of the change in wind direction to be a bit lazy, to draw some breath. Sunday’s bright, northerly coldness (which first lent a sharpness to the stars in the sky; and then put snow on the peaks of the Cuillins) had disappeared, leaving the air a little warmer. We were, however, under a fair amount of cloud which lent a very soft focus to objects both in the foreground as well as in the distance.

That apart, the possibility for reflections meant it was a good day for photographs and I had the opportunity to take a bit longer on my walk to the main road to catch the late afternoon bus to catch some reflections in the waters of Loch Bi and, in particular, the lochans and water courses very close to the main road.

Here is a very peaceful scene of one of the small bays on Loch Bi’s outstretched (or outstretching…) arm by Lionacuidhe, albeit a little more soft focus than I’d like, partly as a result of the late afternoon light (actually about 75 minutes before sunset):

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This is one of my favourite spots on South Uist – calm, peaceful and reflective – which I’ll be exploring in a little more detail given decent weather and with a following wind.

And here’s a couple of houses more or less adjacent to Iochdar School, reflected in Loch an Os, taken about half an hour later:

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And finally a bonus sunset picture, snapped out of the window of the bus as it crossed the causeway to Benbecula (hence the blurred foreground wall), at very low tide with the remaining waters describing river-like water courses over the mudflats:

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