TOLSTA CHAOLAIS & LITTLE BERNERA FROM THE CROFT
Before I came to live in the Outer Hebrides three years ago, all my belongings were packed into cardboard boxes and there they've remained ever since. Now that the house renovation is more or less finished, I've started to unpack the boxes, many of which contain books. Having built some bookcases recently with the help of a visiting friend, there is now somewhere to put them. I was a bit anxious that the books would have been damaged by damp and cold, but they are all fine. I originally packed them well in shredded paper and bubble wrap and apart from a little mustiness, they are all in good condition. It has been quite exciting to rip open boxes to find favourite old books, like long lost friends.
The island is much quieter now that the tourists have gone and we're all battening down the hatches for the Winter. The sheep have been taken off the croft for a few weeks, to be put to the ram and the weather is deteriorating rapidly. As I write this, It's snowing heavily, unusual for here and I haven't seen a car for a couple of hours. The hills of Uig and Harris, seen through the kitchen window, look lovely, with a covering of snow on the tops.
I've started to feed the birds regularly again and a pair of chaffinches are competing with the rock doves at the bird table just now. Bird sightings of the month for me have been a Sea Eagle perched on a fence post at the side of the road in North Uist two weeks ago and about 20 waxwings feeding off berries on the Rowan tree outside of my window at work a couple of days ago.
The recession has started to affect the island with potentially serious consequences. The salmon processing factory in Stornoway is closing down with the loss of 130 jobs. With magnificent timing, the owners, a multi national company, have decided that the gates will close after Christmas. In addition to those redundancies, there are also likely to be jobs lost at the local hauliers who transport the fish and at a company who produce the boxes that the salmon is packed in. To make matters worse, Woolworths, a long established store in Stornoway, are in financial trouble and will probably close down in January with the loss of further jobs. On a small island like this, those jobs can't be replaced quickly or easily.
Figures provided by the Halifax this week show that the Outer Hebrides has the second lowest house prices in the UK. It's also regarded as one of the most agreeable and beautiful places in Britain to live, with good schools, clean air and a generally low crime rate. Before there is a general stampede for the ferry, fuel, groceries and household items are expensive and there is a serious shortage of public housing. Unemployment is rising and the weather can be quite bracing.
The cheapest place to buy a house, according to the Halifax, is said to be Pendle in Lancashire. I rather like Pendle, so perhaps it's there next.
I'm off to Inverness next weekend for a pre Christmas shopping trip. There are still a number of items I need to complete the renovation, which I can't get here, so a visit to B&Q and Homebase is called for. Apart from work, I haven't been away from the island for many months, so I'm really looking forward to the break. The last time I tried to get away, the plane failed to fly due to poor weather and it was a bit of a blow being stranded here when I had arranged to see family and friends. I'm planning to go on the ferry this time, so that I can bring stuff back with me in the car. At this time of the year though, when the weather is fiercely unpredictable, the sailings are cancelled regularly and the ship often remains cosy and secure in Stornoway harbour.
Now that the house is comfortable and warm, I've decided to remain on the Island this Christmas for the first time since I moved to live here. My sister and brother in law, who live in the South of England, are flying here on 23 December, so we all have our fingers crossed that the weather will be mild and the planes will fly.