Sunday, October 18, 2009


When I started this blog two years ago, my intention was to give an account of life here from the point of view of an incomer and to provide a running record of the trials and triumphs of renovating an old cottage.
Now that the house renovation is complete, my daily existence has settled down into a generally repetitive and dull routine. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find enough really interesting events to enthuse about and I think the last thing readers want to hear of are my adventures strimming grass, hanging washing out, cooking soda bread and mending punctures. That would bore most people rigid and leave me wondering about the true purpose of life.
I'm also running out of tourist attractions and sights to photograph and write about and there are a lot of books available which do it better.

For those reasons, I've decided to make this my last regular blog and would like to thank all of you who have taken the trouble to read it and send comments.

Tea, coffee and a chat are offered to any readers who happen to be visiting Lewis and fancy a natter. Email address is Bye for now.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


When the wind blows in a particular direction, the Sulphurous smell of decaying seaweed blows all round this bay, hence the name. Apart from the stench, which I don't mind, this is a very beautiful place with lots of wading birds and tremendous views of the hills of South Uist.

Now that the house is renovated, I need to turn my attention to improving the croft. Having had no maintenance for many years, the fencing is in poor condition, with a number of posts rotted at ground level, making it easier for sheep and cattle to force their way on to my land from the adjacent common grazings. Although some running repairs have been done this year, hundreds of yards of fencing needs to be replaced soon, but to avoid bankruptcy, it will have to be done a section at a time. I'm going to look for a local fencing contractor, with the intention of having all the fencing replaced during the next couple of years, as I can afford to pay for the work. No amount of sheep will justify the expense of replacing the fencing, but it can't stay as it is and I don't want my neighbours complaining about my insecure boundaries.
On the positive side though, the fence posts are only rotten at the base and along with the peat, will provide free fuel for the stove for a long time.

While I was away on holiday recently, I missed an important local news story. Some months ago, the Ministry of Defence and the Government Defence contractor, QinetiQ - what a silly name - announced that it planned to operate the Hebrides Missile Range remotely, from Aberporth in Wales. This plan would have resulted in the loss of about 125 jobs in the Uists and would have had a catastrophic effect on the local economy. Fortunately, common sense has prevailed and after some persuasive lobbying by local community leaders, the Government has thrown out the scheme to transfer to Wales. How long the jobs in South Uist and St Kilda will be safe for, is yet to be seen.

Salmon farming has provided a lot of employment here in the Outer Hebrides for a good many years, but has been in decline for some time. Large International companies have progressively bought out the smaller operators and jobs have been lost recently through amalgamations, closure of fish factories and economies of scale. Interesting to hear this week then that one of the biggest Salmon producers has announced plans to develop supersized offshore fish farms in the Minch, which will potentially create up to 40 jobs here in the islands. At present, most fish farms are small, quite close to the shore and the workers go out to them each day. The proposed new fish farms would be much bigger, further offshore and would be staffed by a crew of up to six workers who would live on site, in purpose built residential accommodation . Presumably, they would work 2-3 weeks on the farm, followed by onshore leave, just like oil rig workers do.

There was a curious occurrence this week at Coll beach here on Lewis when a woman out walking came across hundreds of washed up Starfish on the sand and rocks. They were apparently of different sizes and some were alive and some dead. The finder said that most of the Starfish had disappeared by the following morning and she thought they might have been eaten by gulls. Why were the Starfish stranded on the beach?

It's that time of year again when the lambs are sent off to the abattoir and I get a carcass or two as payment for letting my neighbour graze his sheep on my croft. He arrived yesterday with a very large plastic sack containing enough meat to keep me going for many months and it's now in the freezer. The lamb was raised on this croft, on land never contaminated by herbicides or pesticides, but did have to be taken to Stornoway, fifteen miles away, for slaughter.

I do have a problem with rushes, especially at the front of the croft and will have to decide whether to spray or not, next Spring.

There was a Fred Karno moment here yesterday when I was doing some cooking. I got distracted by a phone call, the kitchen got smoky and the mains operated fire alarms went off like the Bells of Hades. Rushing to open windows all over the place, I managed to catch my hand accidentally on a piece of pottery I have had for a long time and smashed it to the ground, where it lay in dozens of pieces. The pot had a value, so I rang the insurance company, who confirmed that I was fully insured for accidental damage and said they would be delighted to pay for a replacement. Before we got any further though, the nice lady on the phone asked me if I realised that the sum total of my insurance excess and the loss of no claims bonus if I made a claim, would come to almost exactly the value of my broken pot. In these circumstances, the nice lady observed, I might not want to make a claim after all.
Oh well.

Sunday, October 04, 2009


This picture shows the Stornoway - Ullapool ferry, 'Isle of Lewis', about to pass the cruise ship 'Astor', which was moored in the approach to Stornoway harbour when I took the photo a few weeks ago. The ferry, quite a big boat itself, was completely dwarfed by the 'Astor', one of many tourist ships stopping off at Lewis during the Summer. The passengers are treated to a cursory, whistle stop tour of the sights of the Island, which benefits from income from coach and guide hire and money spent in Stornoway shops.

Having spent almost three weeks away from home visiting family and friends, it was a strange feeling to return here to peace , solitude and almost spooky quietness. Little has changed in my absence. The grass has grown a bit, the Rock Doves were sat on the bird table waiting for my return and the sheep launched themselves at me as soon as they saw me through the kitchen window, in the vain hope that I might have a bucket of supplements for them.

Any hopes that the peace and quiet would continue were dashed yesterday when we suffered high gusting winds all day and night, which kept me indoors, threatened to bring the roof off and signalled the arrival of Autumn with a vengeance.

What a change today though. The sun is shining brightly, there is little wind and I've just taken an early morning walk down the croft. The white horses on the loch have gone, the buzzard is irritating the ravens and the sheep are grazing contentedly again. There are few flowers about now and the landscape is slowly changing from a rich green to a dull brown.

I feel quite exercised about the sheer volume of unsolicited junk mail that has arrived while I was away and which is destined to go straight to the recycling bin, unopened. I make concerted efforts to let these companies know that I don't want their mailings, but still it arrives in ever increasing quantities. A friend I stayed with last week receives two or three unwanted phone calls EVERY evening from people trying to sell goods. That would drive me insane if it happened here. Fortunately, I never get unwelcome cold calls for some reason and long may that continue.

I'm having extraordinary difficulty in motivating myself to do anything constructive since I got back and have been avoiding starting on the long list of domestic tasks that badly need attending to. All I really want to do just now is to sit in a chair in front of the stove reading books. That makes me feel guilty though, so every now and then I have to get up to hoover round, put some washing in the machine, or wash some pots, to justify my existence. Very sad. Goodness knows how I'm going to get my act together to go back to work tomorrow.

Now for nature notes. When I was growing up in England, most houses nearby, including our own, had colonies of House Martin nests under the eaves. I spent many happy hours watching these pretty birds flying to and fro and have had an affection for House Martins ever since. Some time ago, I read somewhere that they don't occur, or nest, on Lewis. I know the first isn't true because I saw two of them flying around the house earlier this Summer. Consequently, on a whim, I've just bought a pair of artificial Martin nests on the internet and have fixed them under the roof above the kitchen window. They ought to be well weathered by nesting time next Spring, so we'll see if they manage to attract occupants.

The reintroduction of Sea Eagles to Scotland continues to be successful and this years survey show that there are now over 200 individual birds throughout the country, with 46 breeding pairs. Ten pairs of Sea Eagles are breeding in the Outer Hebrides, including one new pair which has set up a territory here on Lewis. Thirty six chicks have been raised this year and one interesting snippet I came across is that the Sea Eagles on the Isle of Mull have become such a tourist attraction that they are boosting the economy there by about £2 million every year.

Finally, the drive to protect wading birds from predation by hedgehogs has restarted for the Autumn season. Twelve trappers have been employed to operate hundreds of traps placed throughout Uist and Benbecula in an attempt to catch any remaining hedgehogs which avoided capture during the last trapping campaign in the Spring. As before, all the beasties they find will be lovingly cared for by Uist Hedgehog Rescue prior to release in suitable locations in South West and Central Scotland.