Saturday, April 04, 2009


Until the 1950's, Sheilings ( Gaelic 'An Airigh ') were in regular use throughout the islands. The one in the picture is a a modern version, probably replacing an older stone and turf building on the same site. Between May and August each year, the cattle were taken to the summer grazings on the moors and would be looked after by the women and children of the family, often while the menfolk were away fishing. The women would live with their children in these huts, which would have had home made chairs and tables and beds of heather.
The tradition of living in the sheilings during the summer died out about fifty years ago and many of them have fallen down and been absorbed into the landscape. Now, lonely gable ends with chimneys intact are often the only signs that a sheiling was there. There are a few left standing and still used, particularly on the Pentland Road and at Cuishader, Ness. Some families have maintained or restored their own sheilings as peaceful places to visit and spend time away from the everyday world.

Now the clocks have gone forward, the island is lighter, seems warmer and Spring is almost here. One of my neighbours has just started to cut his peats for next Winter and the rest of us will follow during the next few weeks. The first lambs have been born and are gambolling about happily, blissfully unaware of what the future holds for them. There are grey lag geese all over the croft and nearby grazings and I heard the first drumming snipe of the year circling the house after dark on Wednesday evening. The corncrakes will arrive in the next few weeks, although this village does not really have the right habitat for them. They are much more common a few miles up the road, where they can find plenty of cover in reeds, iris and butterbur.

I seem to have found a new career for myself. A friend has an art gallery and coffee shop some distance from here and has asked me to help out on occasional Saturdays throughout the Summer. After being closed for the Winter, the gallery opened again today with an exhibition of new paintings and I have spent all of this afternoon happily making coffee and serving cake to dozens of visitors. Have started to learn the fine art of making espressos and cappucinos with one of those great gurgling chrome Italian coffee machines and have thoroughly enjoyed myself. My weekends can be quite unstructured, so this new occupation helps me use my spare time usefully.

The funeral of the young South Uist man who went missing on Boxing Day was held today. Many people on Uist searched every day for weeks until his body was found in a loch a couple of weeks ago. There is a sense of sadness throughout the islands at his loss and buses were provided to meet ferries so that people from far and wide could attend the funeral and pay their last respects.


Marty said...

Spring is not likely to arrive this year for the MacMillan family.

ADB said...

Although today's weather doesn't really show it, spring is on its way. The opening of galleries and the like does show as much, as does the lengthening of the evenings.