The Mountains and Molehills of May

English: A Clear Skye Day Taken from Raasay wh...
English: A Clear Skye Day Taken from Raasay whilst waiting for the return ferry. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

May has been a month of contrasts in many aspects.

Not least with the weather. The beginning of the month was so cold that we still had the central heating on – and I had to fetch my winter coat back out of the spare room where I’d thought it would be safe to pack it away for a few months. But then last week it was warmer on our island than it was in Minorca and, although a bit cooler now, it is still very pleasant and no jacket is required when out and about.

And here at Write Enough Manor, life in general has been veering from low to high.

Health wise, the low white cell count that’s been making me feel a bit washed out, fell again this month. This was disappointing after it had begun to rally in April. But I must be a patient patient while the count is monitored over six months. My GP is fairly certain that nothing sinister is going on and I have to trust her on that. But I’m afraid since having cancer I’m a pathetic hypochondriac. I do know I’m not imagining the horrible little cystie thing that I have growing on the cornea of my left eye. It’s been developing for a while now and when it became uncomfortable I decided I’d better go bothering the doctor again. And now I await an ophthalmology appointment.

However, the good news is that I’m off the medication I was on for anxiety and I’m flying solo. So far I’m coping well – even at work which is very stressful at times. So the health score this month is – mentally strong, physically – a bit feeble. But I’m fighting back and getting more exercise and eating (even more) healthily. My exercise of choice is walking – daily. I’ve just treated myself to a pair of Shape-Ups, these special fitness trainers that feel a bit like having rockers on the soles of your shoes. I’ll report back on how effective they are. Prepare for a super-fit, lithe and toned grandma…

And in my grandma role – I’m most excited. Our daughter, son-in-law, granddaughter and Oli, the cat, are moving to Skye. I’m just ever so slightly excited! How wonderful it will be to have them so close instead of hundreds of miles away. They’ll be lodging with us to begin with so I’ve been busy having a clear out and making space for them and their stuff. As for the granddaughter – she’s five-and-a-half months now and just gets cuter and cuter.

Our son and his lovely lass will also be here in June for a week’s holiday – so it’s going to be just fab to have the whole clan together.

In other nice sociable news – I’ve been to a housewarming party and to a lovely dinner at a friend’s house this month. And last night was the Bill Bailey show at the village hall. It was superb. What a talented chap. He’s a skilled musician as well as a very funny guy. One song with the phrase ‘when they took the porn away in Stornoway’ nearly brought the house down – you would have to understand the Skye/ Lewis rivalry and the religious/moral ambience of the Western Isles to really get why that was so funny. And it was just great that he had taken the trouble to have some very local references in amongst his gags and stories.

The lovely weather has helped us to focus on our ideas for the garden at our new house. It’s a blank canvas – just as it was when handed over by the builders – and we now have a firm plan for developing it. It will be great to have some trees and bird-friendly planting as well as a proper patio area on which to sit and enjoy it all. I miss having the birds visit so much. At our last place our garden was a real sanctuary for all sorts of wildlife. We even had a hen harrier visit one afternoon. Last weekend I succumbed to buying a couple of interim birdfeeders and already we’ve been adopted by an extended family of sparrows. The fat little fledglings are hilarious, sitting on the fence, beaks agape, while their hardworking parents flit from feeder to their offsprings’ ever open mouths.

And I was just hearing today that the sea eagles are back nesting near our old house and that a whale was spotted in ‘our’ loch at the weekend. There has also been a group of dolphins in the Sound of Raasay this week, close to where we live now.

Moving indoors, I’ve been enjoying two very different drama series on television. I felt bereft when ‘The Bridge’ on BBC4 finished a week ago. It was an incredibly good Swedish/Danish crime series – in the mould of Wallender and ‘Borgen’. Even the subtitles didn’t detract from the sheer quality of the storyline and the acting. And I’m quite taken by ‘Starlings’ on Sky1. This is a warm and gentle, family drama and is also beautifully written and well acted.

My most recent reading has included ‘The Most Beautiful Thing’ by Fiona Robyn, a touching, coming-of-age novel that I’ve reviewed on Amazon and will be critting on her in a couple of weeks. Currently I’m reading ‘Sightlines’ by the mistress of the essay, Kathleen Jamie – wonderful writing as always.

Any ounce of spare energy that I have goes on my writing, of course. The second novel is progressing – slow but steady. And I’ve also completed my regular ‘column’ for the bi-monthly writers’ magazine, ‘Words with Jam’.

A wee P.S. to last week’s post on my motorcycle pillion riding, I have now ordered my own pair of biker gloves and biker boots. This is a start to having my own complete kit. Once I’ve saved a bit more cash, I’ll be getting my own ‘bespoke’ helmet. It’s an expensive hobby, but what the heck.

Right, I think I’ve probably banged on for long enough. So I’ll leave you with best wishes to all for June and happy Jubilee weekend to UK readers of the blog. Have a good one!

 

 

In like a lion…

Sea Spray
Sea Spray (Photo credit: sirwiseowl)

The first Tuesday of the month and, as the saying goes, March has come in like a lion here in the Inner Hebrides. Since the weekend we have had snow, a bracing wind and yes, rain. However, we’ve also had some spells of bright sunshine accompanied by the freshest, coldest, most revitalising air and it’s been good to get out and soak up some ‘vitamin D-making’ energy.

Portree
Portree (Photo credit: bluestardrop - Andrea Mucelli)

Mr Writeanne and I walked out with our lovely granddaughter in her pram at the weekend during one of these bracing spells of bright respite. The Mr wondered if anyone would mistake us for a couple who’d had a late baby. But I had to break it to the poor delusional chap that I reckoned it would be quite obvious that here were a pair of proud new grandparents.

English: Portree Camanachd Ground and Clubhous...
Image via Wikipedia

The shinty season starts in March and last Saturday saw the first matches played. The game of shinty is as, if not more, popular than football in highland Scotland. So, all other sports will all but disappear off the back pages of the local newspaper for the next few months, as the pundits turn their attention to the Camanachd Cup. Above is a photo of the Portree pitches and clubhouse.

Shinty game in progress
Image via Wikipedia

The tourist season will also be starting up again at the end of the month and hotels, B&Bs and self catering places are all starting to prepare. The island has done well during the last two seasons with Brits deciding to holiday at home. And international travellers continue to arrive in very healthy numbers. The deep harbour means that cruise liners can anchor in the bay and disgorge hundreds of passengers into our wee village who can then explore all the beauties of our wild and spectacular landscape and discover the island’s fascinating and ancient history. Although it can be a pain trying to drive to work behind tourists who don’t understand the etiquette and codes of motoring on single track roads with passing places and who refuse to pull over, it is good to see our businesses thriving for the relatively short season.

Deutsch: Single track road auf Isle of Skye
Image via Wikipedia

Our new home is taking shape – some of the new curtains are up, as are some of the pictures – so it all helps the homely feel. Gradually we’re finding a place for everything and offloading what’s not required. And with order beginning to appear indoors we can now begin to think about what we want to do with the garden. It is just as it was handed over by the builders a couple of years ago so consists of a fenced off rectangle of grass. I’m beginning to make a list of bird-friendly cover planting and some hardy, wind and sea-spray resistant perennials that will bring the patch to life. I enjoy gardening and it’s a good balance for all the hours I spend at both my work and my writing desks.

However, with more snow and gales forecast for the next few days, it may be some time before the garden theories get put into practice. Here’s hoping that with the lambing season getting underway that March goes out like one of those wee woolly things…

English: New Lambs
Image via Wikipedia

Meanwhile, I’m off to batten down the hatches.

Tioraidh/ Cheerio!

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…

 

 

Autumnal Thanksgiving

Feelin' good

The last time I posted about ‘my natural world’ here on Skye, it was summer. I took one day in the garden and tried to give a snapshot of that Hebridean summer’s day and of how it felt to be alive and in it. I decided then to write about the whole seasonal cycle – for one year.

And so, now, with the first frosts here at sea level – and snow on the tops, I better try to capture autumn before it’s gone. We’ve already had Atlantic gales and horizontal rain but we’ve also had glorious mackerel skies, beautiful golden dawns and fiery red sunsets.

Pleiades Star Cluster
Image via Wikipedia

Yesterday was an archetypal autumn day. It followed a wonderfully clear night, when because of the absence of streetlighting in these parts, I’d been able to see the waxing, gibbous moon in all its glory flanked by Jupiter and Saturn with all the stars of the Pleiades constellation in between.  I always find that observing the night sky serves as a gentle reminder to me from the universe that my life is miniscule. This fact doesn’t depress me. I welcome the reminder to make the most of it. I welcome the reminder to be grateful that I’m still here – that the reprieve I got with the remission of my cancer didn’t come with any kind of guarantee,  that eternity is indifferent to my survival, that the world turned before me and will continue to do so long after I’m gone. I’m glad to be nudged to appreciate all that is good in my life and not to sweat the small stuff. 

 So yesterdayI left the chores, the desk and the stresses of the week behind and  I spent some time outdoors. I walked along the single track road that runs through the small crofting township where I live. I also spent time renewing my acquaintance with my own garden.  After the clocks go back, I never see my house and its surroundings in daylight during the working week. So to have a crisp, clear, sunny, November Saturday is a joy and a bonus. The only sounds were from the animals and birds – geese bickering, hens fussing, sheep calling from field to field – even the roosters were still in good voice mid- morning, vying with each other to give the best fanfare. The loch was flat calm – not even the normal background noise of the tidal rush. Woodsmoke hung in the air, permeating the atmosphere with that unmistakable incensey fragrance.

That big Skye sky!

 

deserted croft house

The house above is about half way along the track. Word is it’s haunted. People who’ve been in feel a presence… One day I mean to write a short story about it…

The hens, sheep and pigs all seemed to be enjoying the sun too.

 And in the garden there’s a family of hedgehogs preparing for hibernation under the fuschia hedge, rabbits running around when they think no-one’s watching, and a mad hen who sneaks in to steal the seed we put out for the wild birds and who the husband chases with a mop.

Agapanthus seedhead

 

Lichen on the stone of the garden wall

 

our new and beautiful dry-stane dyke

We have new dry-stone walls – built from reclaimed sandstone from the original croft buildings. The lichens and moss have colonised them already and they look old and weathered and as if they’ve always been there. Beautiful to look at and lovely to touch – a link to the croft’s past, to those who’ve gone before and to the very geology of the planet.

The Earth flag is not an official flag, since ...
Image via Wikipedia

It was a precious day – a worthwhile pause before the ever darker days that lead to the winter solstice. Full spectrum light does the body and soul good, and putting a little time aside to reconnect with our beautiful, little, blue planet and the rhythms of the universe is a worthwhile investment.

 

Travels in Time and Space

View of North Uist from Skye

Last Saturday, after almost three weeks of mist and showers, the thick layer of grey cloud that had been pressing grimly down on the Hebrides, cleared away and the sun shone on the north of Skye.

We – that is me, the husband and our house guests for the past week, the daughter and her boyfriend – grabbed boots, waterproofs, walking poles and backpacks and headed out on a hike. Waternish Point was our destination. Having parked the car opposite the ruined church at Trumpan, we set off.

It’s an eight mile, circular route to the lighthouse and the deserted settlement  of Unish on the northern tip of Skye’s Waternish peninsula. We’ve done the walk several times before and it’s always delightful. This time was no exception.

As we set off along the rough cart track, I already felt better. I think I’d begun to suffer from an out-of-season bout of S.A.D. during our mostly dismal July. I guess the full spectrum light went straight to my sun-starved pineal gland. The sky was an almost cloudless blue and the sea air was invigorating.

The walk goes over heather moorland and peat bog. Because of all the recent rain, the going was very wet in places but our walking boots and waterproof trousers did their jobs. There was a fair bit of scrambling and jumping to be done to avoid the deeper puddles and the squelchier areas of muddy bog. But that all adds to the fun.

Ferry heading for Lochmaddy, North Uist

The view westwards to the Outer Hebrides, as always, made us stop and stare. Over a glinting, sparkling sea crouched the island of North Uist. As we watched, a small, white-sailed boat made good progress in the strong breeze. The Cal-Mac ferry also appeared round the headland on its regular and frequent route from Uig on Skye to Lochmaddy on Uist.  And looking north there was Harris – its purple mountains and white sandy beaches seemed very close on this bright, clear day. I thought again how we really must make the effort and go and visit the Western Isles. We can see them from our living-room window but have never ventured over.

Crossing the burn

We continued on our way. We crossed a shoogly, makeshift bridge over the fast- flowing burn – its water peaty brown.

and the burn flows on...

The moor was covered in purple heather, and thistles bordered the path. Yes – living Scottish clichés.

Aye, the bonny Scottish emblem 🙂 (YES- I know, nobody talks like that!)
 

And the bonny, bloomin' heather. Okay I'll stop now.

There were plenty other, less emblematic, wildflowers on show as well. Red clover, purple knapweed, wispy white cotton grass, buttercups, daisies, rosebay willowherb, white meadowsweet and angelica – all bloomed in colonies, clumps, singly and in swathes – depending on their preferences.

clover, meadowsweet and angelica

I heard curlews calling, probably from their nests out on the moor, but didn’t actually spot any of these shy birds. I did see a little wheatear sitting on a rock beside the path – it flew off as soon as I approached – and shag circled and called overhead all along the walk.

We passed below two cairns –monuments to John and Roderick Macleod, a father and son, who both died in a clan battle with the Macdonalds in 1530. We also pass the ruins of two hilltop Iron Age (about 200BC) brochs – or ‘duns’ to use the Gaelic name – Dun Borrafiach and Dun Gearymore. Duns were stubby, cone-shaped, circular buildings. They were fortified dwellings, built using the dry stone technique – a technique still in widespread use. They would have had staircases leading to different levels and would have provided shelter to both animals and humans.  The clear and open view from both duns would have meant it would have been very difficult to take the residents by surprise.

Remains of Dun Borrafiach - Iron Age hilltop dwelling

I paused, as I always do below the these ancient homes, trying to imagine the lives of the Picts – these pre-Scots – who’d have lived, loved, raised children and died here. The physical landscape would be the same, apart from the cart track. They’d have grown root vegetables and raised cattle, sheep and pigs much like modern Highland crofters. Yes, life was probably more’ nasty, brutish and short’ than now, but I guess their daily pre-occupations were similar to our own. Standing by the remains of their homes never fails to inspire images of the ancestors who gathered and piled the stones and worked the land. Pictish genes are probably present in many present-day Scots and standing on the same land, looking at the same sea and mountains, hearing the same birdsongs has the effect of telescoping the intervening time between us and them. And last Saturday, as I stood where they’d have stood, differences of pace and technology fell away and it was the similarities that remained.

After the duns, the track bends slightly eastwards and we got our first glimpse of the lighthouse. Sighting the lighthouse spurred us on just as we were all flagging. We picked up the pace and strode on. We passed a rabbit warren on the left of the track and paused to watch several of the residents scampering about.

Rabbitsville

 Soon we turned left and headed west once more, following the sheep track down towards the former crofting township of Unish. Only one house remains – roofless, granite-grey and stark against the landscape. The other houses and byres are reduced to a single layer of stone marking out their boundaries. The former residents were burned out and driven off their land during that most infamous period in Scottish history, the Highland Clearances. From the 1840s to the 1870s, landlords oversaw these enforced removals in order to replace poor, low yield, peasant farmers with much more profitable sheep. Their former tenants were forced to emigrate. Even on the brightest day, the atmosphere around Unish is eerie and haunting. I got a completely different feeling standing in this rubble from what I’d experienced further back at the duns. This time there was no connection – just a sense of sadness and dislocation.

Last house standing - Unish

We climbed up a small hill above Unish and sat in sight of Waternish’s rather short and stubby lighthouse. We had a welcome snack – kitkats and water, took photos of each other as trophies of our hiking achievement and then just sat for a while, a part of this ancient and timeless landscape.

Trumpan church

We returned, simultaneously footsore and exhilarated to the car park at the church where our walk had begun. I spent some moments in the ruined church before getting into the car. The story goes that Trumpan church was burned down by members of the clan Macdonald, in 1580, while their enemies the Macleods worshipped inside. So this is another place of ghosts. I sat on the old lichened wooden bench and reflected for a bit on how hundreds of years later we still allow carnage to take place, justified by our tribal concerns, jealousies, beliefs and mutual mistrust – only the size of the stage has changed. I think reconnecting with the landscape makes a person see how pointless a lot of the conflict was and is.

Lichen encrusted bench

Doing the walk again and sitting in the churchyard was a bit weird for me at times, as the two main characters in my new novel – the work in progress – take this same walk and talk about displacement and dislocation, two of the novel’s main themes. I half expected to meet the pair of them. Writing fiction can mess with your head!

Graveyard at Trumpan church

And then we were home. Boots kicked off by hot, grateful feet, chilled beers and slices of cake (baked earlier by the daughter) swiftly downed.

Daughter and I cooked dinner together – something we both enjoy doing whenever she’s home. We made a creamy, beef stroganoff. Daughter’s boyfriend had not yet experienced this culinary family favourite, and this would be a further initiation into Stormont customs for him. He quickly cleared his plate – approval enough – relief all round.  This was an end-of-holiday meal for the two young people. Their week with us passed too quickly. Heck the daughter’s whole childhood passed too quickly. They’d be returning to their lives in the city the next morning. I was missing them already – and that breath of fresh air our children bring to us.

Saturday was a lovely day and one when I was aware of the landscape – internal and external – and more than usually aware of the passage of time.

The long view...