Sunday, December 12, 2010













It's been about six months since my last blog and one of the reasons for this is that life has settled down into a regular routine with little having occurred to excite or interest readers.
Nothing dramatic has happened to me recently, but I've become much more conscious this year of the cyclical pattern of the seasons, which provide a continuity I find pleasing and comforting.
So, just what has been happening here?
Well, my trips to St Kilda seem to have become a yearly event and this year, number one son came with me and some of my photos from our July visit are shown above.
A succession of Summer visitors stopped me feeling isolated, although the cold and snowy weather this Winter has increased the sense of remoteness I sometimes experience. I used to feel quite smug that the climate here on Lewis was generally milder than many other parts of the UK, but regular temperatures of -5 degrees this month have wiped the smile off my face.
With all the insulation that was put into the walls, floors and ceilings during the renovation a couple of years ago, the house heats up quickly from cold and can be gloriously cosy on a freezing night. One problem I'm having though is that the oil boiler has become unreliable and switches itself off everytime the wind comes from the North and it failed to work at all yesterday.
The heating engineer was called to fix it three weeks ago and still hasn't turned up yet - 'very busy, we'll get round to you as soon as we can when we're working in your area'. The oil supply is getting low too and the supplier was asked more than a week past to fill the tank. Still no oil. Fortunately, the multifuel stove is working happily and I have ample supplies of coal, wood and peat to keep me going.
The Government financial cuts are having an increasing effect on Island life. Many primary schools here are about to be permanently closed - 11 at the last count.
The subsidised daily air services between Benbecula and Barra and Stornoway and Benbecula are under threat. The council propose to remove the subsidies to save money and it is difficult to see how those services can continue if that happens. If any of you harbour an ambition to land on the cockle strand beach on Barra, I suggest you book your flight soon, before it's too late.
The Western Isles Council, the largest employer in the Outer Hebrides, has to save huge amounts of money over the next few years and is currently consulting staff over voluntary redundancies. Every teacher over the age of 55 in the islands has been asked to consider applying for redundancy and staff in many other departments have now also been asked to volunteer to go. Depending on the response, compulsory lay offs may or may not take place in the near future.
My own department is not going to experience any cuts and my job is safe, which is ironic, because I can retire in twelve months time if I choose to do so. They will not consider making me redundant, so it's on to the end. I'm not sure that I want to give up work completely, although I would like to have more time to devote to working around the house and croft. I would quite like to work at the paid day job for two or three days a week, so I'll look into the possibility of flexible retirement during this coming year.
For now, my work continues as it has for the last few years. I spend at least three days a fortnight working in Uist and Barra and am content to continue doing that for now. I would like to get a dog or a couple of cats at some point though, which is not possible while I work away regularly. Perhaps when retirement comes, although I've plans to do some more travelling then.
On the flora and fauna front, nothing very remarkable has appeared on the croft this year.
My regular bird visitors continue to be Rock Doves, Starlings, Rock Pipits, Grey Lag Geese, Ravens, Buzzards and Hoodies. Drumming Snipe were around the house again this summer and I now have a resident Blackbird, Robin and Wren, all attracted by the bird table. A Pied Wagtail was a frequent visitor and the cold weather in November brought an influx of Waxwings and Snow Buntings, all of which have now gone.
The Mink eradication project continues, with the trappers currently working in the Ness district of Lewis, having effectively cleared - they hope- the rest of the islands. An increasing number of people are keeping poultry again now that the risk of attack by mink is much reduced. The hedgehog relocation scheme also seems to have been successful and I have mixed feelings about that because I liked to see the little chaps snuffling around the croft. SNH have reported though that ground nesting bird populations have already started to increase since the hedgehogs and mink were targeted and removed.
The sad wildife story of the year was that of the thirty three pilot Whales which swam into Loch Carnan in South Uist in late October. They attracted lots of visitors and photographers, but fearing that the animals were about to strand themselves, a team of experts and volunteers managed to herd the whales back out to open sea . The operation was thought to be successful when the whales disappeared, but sadly, all thirty three whales turned up at Burton Island, County Donegal, Ireland, a week later, where they beached themselves and died.
The croft flowers have done well this year. Many hundreds of Spotted Orchids on the West facing slope leading to the Loch and lots of Sundew in the permanent bog area. The Bog Asphodel was glorious and the showings of Yellow Iris and Bog Cotton were spectacular. I was particularly pleased to see the Monkey Flower -a Mimulus- start to colonise one of the drainage ditches and bizarrely, two single flowers of Blue Iris appeared for the first time growing next to my post box. They are the only Blue Iris I've seen growing on the island since I arrived and I've absolutely no idea how they got here. Neither myself or any of my visitors have planted them, so they remain a mystery. I'll be interested to see if they reappear next year.
My second grandchild was due to join the world yesterday, but hasn't put in an appearance yet, so I'm waiting anxiously for good news.