Saturday, April 24, 2010


Spring is sprung, the grass is riz, I wonder where the airplanes is? Those pesky Icelandics. First cod wars, then financial meltdown. When those tactics failed to bring the UK to heel, plan C, a volcano, worked very well. In common with the rest of the nation, the Outer Hebrides has been brought to a shuddering halt by ash clouds smiling down on us from the ether. With only propeller driven aircraft and pilots who like to fly at 75 feet so that they can do a bit of sightseeing on the way, we expect our planes to fly through treacle. Not a bit of it. We've been grounded for most of the last couple of weeks and Loganair only started flying again yesterday afternoon.
I've been working in Uist all week and as a consequence of cancelled planes, had to come back as a foot passenger on the Sound of Harris ferry and then hitch a lift to Stornoway from a fellow traveller. Very exciting. The boat snakes its way round a myriad of sparklingly beautiful small islands on passage from Berneray to Leverburgh and I've always thought it rates as one of the great ferry journeys of the world, especially on a gloriously bright and warm April day. The crossing takes one hour, cheers up the spirits, costs £6-25 and is a real bargain. The 60 mile trip from Leverburgh to Stornoway is pretty good too and even more so when someone else is driving, allowing me the luxury of staring open mouthed at the spectacular Harris scenery without worrying about keeping my eye on the road. Luskentyre beach and the surrounding mountains are magical in any light and quickly followed by the grandeur of West Loch Tarbert. The drive through the Harris Hills over the Clisham is a joy that I would willingly pay money to experience, although I confess to feeling a bit carsick when going round hairpin bends and looking down into the valleys hundreds of feet below. The road North from Bowglass to my house is always of interest as the hills recede, the moorland opens out and the colours of the land change rapidly from the moonscape grey of Harris to hundreds of shades of green and brown in the peatlands of central Lewis.

The realities of earning a crust though are that in ordinary circumstances, it's much quicker and time efficient for me to fly to Uist every fortnight for work, so I usually have to reserve the pleasures of the road and ferry journey for when I am in my own time and have friends staying to show the islands off to.

Regular readers will know that I'm obsessed with trying to see and photograph the Snowy Owl that turns up here every year and which has evaded me so far. Well, the beast is back and in spite of being the most recognisable bird on the planet, continues to hide from my binoculars and camera. It was spotted on St Kilda a couple of weeks ago and seems to fly in a circuit between there, Balranald on North Uist and Barvas on Lewis. Everytime I get wind that Hedwig is in town, I stop what I'm doing and invest huge amounts of energy and diesel in driving like a demented thing to the latest sighting spot, only to be told ' It's been here for days posing, but flew away fifteen minutes ago'. A second Snowy Owl has been spotted on the islands and there was some hope that the two of them would meet up, bill and coo and breed, but the experts now think both of them are males.

Following a long dark, quiet and largely solitary Winter, new activity is taking place all around the croft, village and island. A pretty Wheatear is sat on a rock outside of the kitchen window as I write this and a pair of Greenfinches are visiting the birdtable every day just now. Greedy and aggressive Gulls and Hooded Crows try to muscle their way in for the food I still put out for the Rock Doves and Starlings, but there seems to be plenty to go round. The tadpoles in the drains are developing and the sheep are grazing well and are more active and vocal now that the last of the snow has gone and the high winds are easing
Plenty of folk are out on the moor on the Pentland Road cutting peats for next Winter and the first wedding of the year took place in our Community Hall last Friday. We have at least four more weddings booked at the Hall throughout the summer, at which I hope to be offering my potwashing skills and one of the concerts during the Hebridean Celtic Music Festival in July will be held there. I'm pleased to announce that I've now got tickets booked for myself and visiting friends to see Runrig in the big blue tent on the Castle Green in Stornoway during the festival.


thelandlady said...

now just because they are both male Snowy Owls,doesn't mean they can't bill and coo at each other! The mating part might be a tad tricky though....
That is some commute for you- you will be glad Ashgate is over!

Anders said...

I just discovered your blog a few days ago and am already a fan. It really fuels my intention to go and see Outer Hebrides for myself. Keep blogging!
Best wishes, Anders Johansen, writer, Denmark