Sunday, September 07, 2008


Last Sunday morning . So there I was, washing pots at the kitchen sink, when I looked up to see this huge black Highland cow staring at me through the window. If you look closely, you'll see that it's chewing a mouthful of my best grass. The village common grazings adjoin the croft and this animal and several other cattle, having eaten all the grass there, broke through the fencing to find richer pickings on my property. Having worked as a farm labourer in my extreme youth, I knew that all you have to do with cows is to wave your arms about, look them straight in the eye and say 'cush cush' to them. Well, I did and the cow looked at me as if I was insane and just carried on eating. It seemed to enjoy having it's photo taken and was in no hurry to leave. Poser. Eventually managed to make it return, reluctantly, to the common grazings. The owner has now moved his herd to greener pastures.

Had intended to be away for much of this week visiting family and friends, but events have conspired to keep me here. Turned up at the airport at 8am last Friday to find that the planes were unable to land because of fog. Waited five hours to see if conditions would improve, but they didn't and BA cancelled their flights to Inverness, Edinburgh and Glasgow. Consequently, I missed my Ryanair connection from Inverness and lost all of my money, including a car hire paid up front, because they will not accept responsibility for poor weather. Tried other ways to get off the island on Friday and Saturday, but eventually gave up, dispirited and defeated. The only consolation is that I've been able to do more decorating during the last few days.

Every August, a group of ten men sail from the Port of Ness here on Lewis to the remote small island of Sula Sgeir, some forty miles to the North. The object of the exercise is to collect and bring back 2000 Guga, or young gannets, which are considered a delicacy. Gannets are protected birds under EU law, but the annual Guga hunt has taken place for around five hundred years and the Scottish Government issue a special licence for the tradition to continue. The young birds are captured, killed, salted on site and then stored in barrels, before being brought to Ness when the men return. The hunt takes two weeks and is well supported within the local community, with many people queuing up at the harbour side to purchase the salted birds when the boat arrives home. I've never tasted Guga, which is apparently boiled for hours to make it edible, but people I know who have, tell me it's disgusting. The demand is always high though and the hunt is likely to continue, in spite of some opposition from animal rights groups, who consider the tradition cruel and want it stopped. Interestingly though, the RSPB and other conservation bodies do not oppose the Guga hunt, which they accept as ecologically sustainable. Catching the birds can be a dangerous occupation and one of the hunters had to be helicoptered off Sula Sgeir this year after breaking an ankle in a fall.

Some time ago, I wrote of the plans to open a whisky distillery on Barra. Well, they've been pipped to the post by the new Red River distillery at Uig, here on Lewis. The owner has started to age his whisky in casks and hopes to produce 10,000 litres this year and double that next year. The first bottles are expected to be on sale in 2011.

Finally, it's correction time. On the blog of 5 March, I put up a photo of a letterbox which I had been told was a sculpture of a pineapple. The owner, Calum, came across the blog accidentally, recognised his letterbox and was mildly miffed to see it described as a pineapple. He dropped in for a chat a few days ago and told me that the letterbox, constructed by a sculptor called George Wylie, is in fact a very fine palm tree. Calum and his wife entered a competition in which they had to list the reasons why they would like to own the letterbox , and won. I'm very pleased to print the truth.


howlingduckranch said...

Have you read, Breaking Smith's Quarter Horse, by Paul St. Pierre? I think you would enjoy it. He has a line in it similar to yours about the best grass. His however is about his winter supply of hay bieng far too good for moose...

Lewispot said...

Hi howlingduckranch.
Thanks for the book suggestion. I've just found a good review of it on Amazon,so will order a copy.

OR Melling said...

I loved that pic of the letterbox. Confess I thought it was a pineapple too.