Island Life – February – Reasons to be Cheerful…

English: The North Cuillin ridge from Portree.
Image via Wikipedia

As planned, on the first Tuesday of every month, the blog post will be about life here on the island.

Weather
Weather (Photo credit: Jen SFO-BCN)

Weather is an obsession when you live in the Hebrides. We have a maritime climate and therefore our weather tends to be very changeable. The island also has its own micro-climates and so the weather at locations only a few miles apart can be very different. But for the last week or so (with only last Saturday as an exception), we’ve had a spell  of lovely relatively settled weather. It has been bitterly, eye-wateringly cold, but very bright and sunny. There have been deep, sharp frosts overnight and beautiful pink and purple dawns.

English: Looking along the main Cuillin Ridge ...
Image via Wikipedia

The Cuillin mountain range has been doing its Alps impression – snow-covered, sparkly and quite stunning. Walking to and from work with the ridge dominating the skyline is wonderful. Lifting your eyes to the summits does seem to raise the spirits.

English: House Sparrows at a bird feeder
Image via Wikipedia

And the birds are back along with their various songs and calls. All winter we’ve only had the robins, who never stop twittering in defence of their territories, and, of course, the ravens and crows. But now the finches, tits, blackbirds, thrushes and starlings have returned. I can’t wait to get moved into our new house (next week) and to set up the bird feeders in the garden and to watch the frenzy of nest-building that must be imminent.

A wider view of Jupiter and the Great Red Spot...
Image via Wikipedia

Night time too, on this dark island, is always interesting for sky-watching. At the moment we have Venus and Jupiter watching us from just below the moon – and the recent, clear, cloudless skies have meant a spectacular show of stars.

English: The Co-operative Store Newtown Cooper...
Image via Wikipedia

The talk of the town at the moment is the possible arrival of one of the big four supermarkets in the island’s main town. At present there is only the Co-op and a love-hate relationship seems to exist between it and the islanders. The possible opening of a Tesco store has been talked about off and on for about a decade and it seems to be back on the agenda once more. But this time the Co-op are taking the threat to their monopoly seriously and have put up big display boards at the front of the store with their outline plans to extend both store and range of stock, to add a filling station and to build units for other retailers. Some people are all for this – seeing it as marginally less threatening than a Tesco superstore for the shops in the heart of the town – in a ‘better the devil you know’ sort of way. While others think it’s the kick up the bahookey that the Co-op deserves. I’ve no strong feelings either way – interesting times…

English: Delivery Van at Digby Fen
Image via Wikipedia

One of the nicest things (and occasionally most difficult things) about living on the island and in a relatively small community  is that degrees of separation are small. A small example of a positive aspect of this fact happened to me recently. I ordered a couple of things online but when the courier arrived to deliver, I was at work. The driver was a local and knew where my husband works so went there to drop off the parcel. But my husband was out. However, someone at my husband’s workplace told him where I worked, so he set off again and brought it to me. Great service!

Common Blackbird (Turdus merula), Austin's Fer...
Image via Wikipedia

And finally – as I mentioned above – we move into our new, permanent, house after a peripatetic seven months of temporary lets. It will be good to get settled again. I’ll not be posting here for a couple of weeks as I’ll be unpacking and setting up – it’s not just the garden birds who’ll be nesting. So bye for now…

 

 

January Rant & Rave

Eager, avid and wide-awake readers – or maybe that should just be the sad – will be saying ‘Hang on, weren’t you going to be a-ranting and a-raving on the first Tuesday of the month and then blogging about island life on the second Tuesday?’ And you’d be right.

However, having used up the first instance of a Tuesday by setting out my new year blog plans, I missed the opportunity to R& R. So, in the true spirit of the January sale, I’m doing a two-for-the-price-of-one special. Right, I hope that’s that all cleared up.

There’s a bit of a ‘Handy’ theme to the R&R this time…

First rant of 2012 –  bottle tops. I have just struggled for many minutes to get the top off a bottle of bleach. Now I know it has to be childproof but so do pill bottles and I can remove the tops from them no bother. Just push down and turn. But this ridiculous bottle requires you to squeeze in the sides of the top and turn it at the same time. My hands are small but perfectly formed and, yes, there’s a bit of arthritis in the old fingers, so this combined movement proved impossible and was very painful. The design of this top is very poor.

And what about  cooking oil bottle tops? Not a problem if the bottle is glass because then you just unscrew but the plastic variety – argh! With their ridiculous little, thin plastic strips that cut into your fingers as you tear and pull an unfeasibly small tag to release top from bottle, they are bad-word inducing.

Cue the ranters battle cry. Why oh why?  And breathe…

Fortunately Mr Write Enough has big, strong hands and  he opened the bleach bottle for me. But what if he hadn’t been available? The outcome could have been unthinkable – an unbleached sink – or – even – asking a strong child to do it.

Rave – The Body Shop’s Shea Body Butter moisturiser. This was a Christmas present from my son and his lovely girlfriend. I’ve been using it on my hands which are in a bit of a bad way with eczema – very dry and cracked. My prescription ointment helps a bit but this Body Shop stuff is the biz. What a difference it’s making. The cracked, red, itchy skin is much better since I’ve been using this stuff. And it smells gorgeous. I give it a round of applause with my newly soft hands.

Island Life – Weather is a major feature of life here on the island. We have a maritime climate with, often contrasting, local variations in the minute-to-minute weather. Wind is the predominant feature and over the winter, when it’s incredibly noisy and intrusive, even when you’re indoors, it could drive a person to insanity. It will drown out the television, cut off mobile phone and radio signals, push the car onto the wrong side of the road, smash sturdy wooden garden furniture and mangle greenhouses and polytunnels. But you do learn to live with it. You learn to tie down caravans, compost bins, rabbit hutches and dog kennels. You put away all garden furniture and ornaments in September until May. It can even be exhilirating to be out in the Atlantic squall – as long as you have the appropriate clothing and, ideally, a hand to hold –  a wind-blown walk will whip your troubles away.

Being so far north, light is very precious at this time of year. The island is beautiful and, in winter, the snow on the mountains, the ‘white-horses on the waves and stark, silhouetted views can be magnificent. If you can see them. But this winter everything has been veiled.  It’s the greyness, I find hard to bear. The constant low level of light and the often accompanying drizzle, showers or monsoon are so depressing. The grey sky, grey rain, grey light – they take you beyond feeling blue. The mountains disappear, the sea disappears, the beauty of the island is drained away. A sort of claustrophobic island fever takes you over. The mainland with its big cities, its street lights, its cinemas, theatres and shops beckons beguilingly. You need a fix. You may well succumb and drive the two hundred miles to Inverness.

However all it takes is one day – one day of blue sky and full spectrum light – and you know – you know it’s not forever. Spring isn’t far away and even at its darkest worst, this island is home.

 

 

Woman cannot live by view alone

Map showing the Hebrides: Orkney and Shetland,...
Image via Wikipedia

No regrets. Me and Mr Anne lived in a lovely, spacious and
comfortable house. We’d spent a fair bit of money getting it up to 21st
century standards and put in hours of work creating a wonderful, wildlife
friendly garden.

The view was truly stunning. A panorama ranging from the
mountains of Harris in the Outer Hebrides across the Minch to the north; the
entire Trotternish ridge across Loch Snizort to the east; and to the south the conical
peak of Ben Tianavaig.

 

First time visitors often panicked as they drove ever
northwards to try and find us. They’d arrive grumbling about us living in the
back of the back of beyond. And then they’d walk into the living room and see
the view from the large window. Then, silence. We learned not to expect any
sensible conversation from our first-timers for quite a few minutes as they
just stood and gawped. Then they’d say, “Now I understand why you live here.”
The utter beauty of our location really defied description. The crofting
township where we lived is small. Around thirty houses sitting on the
characteristic long narrow strips of land known as crofts. Each croft providing
the ground for subsistence farming. Our crofting neighbours kept sheep, goats,
highland cattle and hens.

Sea eagles, golden eagles, and hen harriers could all
be spotted soaring above the loch and dolphins, porpoises and minkes regularly
swam in its waters. Roe deer would run along the bottom of the crofts as dusk
fell – making light work of the deer fencing.

And the winter skies – were big
and bright with stars. No street lighting meant the Milky Way, the
constellations and the planets were clearly visible. What’s not to like?

Being there wasn’t a problem. It was at times idyllic and, even
in the worst of Atlantic gales and storms, it could be exhilarating. No, being
there was fine – but the trouble was we couldn’t always be there. We work in
the main town (population 2500) which is a 30 mile drive – 10 of them on single
track road – from where we lived. The nearest supermarket is in the town along
with all the other necessities of modern life. The winter drive on unlit,
ungritted, narrow twisty roads was a challenge – especially when tired after a
long day at work. And the monthly petrol bill was around £250.

So we’ve moved to town. And we’re loving it. We can walk to
the shops, to work, to the pub. I have a social life. I can relax at work and
not fret about what the weather’s going to be like for the journey home.

Great Britain, Skye, Portree
Image via Wikipedia

No, we don’t have a house yet. We’ve moved 4 times in 4
months – short let to short let – lived with the minimum of stuff and lived out
of bags and boxes. And you know what – it wasn’t as stressful as it sounds.

I was quite proud of myself – that I could make a home out
of only the most basic stuff – and live in relatively small spaces – and be
perfectly happy. In some ways it was quite liberating to realise that if some
catastrophe took away everything I owned, I’m capable of surviving – even without
the internet.

But, yes, now it is nice to be in a bigger rental place, to
know we’re settled for six months and to have some of our stuff out of storage.
And yes, it would be nice to once more have a place of our own. But in the
meantime I know I can cope.

Portree by Night
Image via Wikipedia

I love being here. The decision to move was difficult – but it
was right. I’m not missing the old place at all – much as I loved it at times.
But woman cannot live by view alone. So no – no regrets.