OLD COTTAGE, SOUTH UIST
When I came to live on Lewis, I was still smarting from the comments of a friend(!) down South who, after a night on the red wine, accused me of being staid, resistant to change and set in my ways. Well, after nearly five years of coping with unpredictable weather, Hebridean tradesmen, building Inspectors and suicidal sheep and collies on every road, I think I can claim to have improved.
Friday afternoon was a test of my adaptability, which, smugly, I think I passed.
Having spent the week toiling in Uist, I was looking forward to coming home and taking up my other role as deputy assistant potwasher at a wedding in our community hall, on Friday evening. Arriving at Benbecula Airport at 4pm for the flight home, I ought to have sensed trouble when the usually dour man from the airline rushed up to me with a big beam on his face and asked "Do you want the good news, or the bad news?".
The conversation then went like this:
Yours Truly -- " Give me the good news please."
Airline Man -- "The Icelandic ash cloud hasn't grounded the planes today"
YT -- " How about the bad news then?".
AM -- " The Aircraft has broken down".
YT -- " When will it be fixed?".
AM -- " Not today"
YT -- " When is the next plane back to Stornoway?"
AM -- " On Monday"
YT -- " How am I going to get home then?".
AM -- ( big self satisfied smile) " I'm going to send you to Glasgow"
And that folks, is how my twenty five minute flight took three and a half hours. Big boys plane to Glasgow, followed by half an hour on the tarmac there. Loaded up with passengers and then an hour in the air to Stornoway. Landed at 7:30pm. Drove to the Wedding in time for the first wave of dirty plates and got home at midnight.
This has been a very good week for nature. Got strafed by a short eared owl in Uist and now have three greenfinches visiting the birdtable each day. I've been watching a white wagtail around the house for the last few days and there are violets in flower on the croft.
One evening after work, I drove up the steep road to the radar station at Cleitraval on North Uist, where there is a recently created viewing point with a telescope. On a clear day, there are tremendous views of St Kilda, The Monarch Isles and a host of other places. Sitting there quietly, it was a joy to watch a male Hen Harrier hunting on the surrounding croft land. Most impressive of all though this week, was a visit to Barra, where the North end of the island near the airport is currently carpeted with millions of primroses in full bloom. A glorious spectacle which I enjoy seeing every year.
There is a belief held by some in the crofting community that White Tailed Sea Eagles are responsible for killing and taking a large number of lambs each Spring. As the number of Sea Eagles have increased here following successful reintroductions, the clamour to do something about their alleged impact on lamb mortality has grown louder. A scientific study, undertaken by the Food and Environment Research Agency and published last week, seems to show that the Eagles are largely innocent. Using radio tracking, fieldworker observations and examination of debris in Eagle nests, the researchers discovered that sea birds such as Fulmars are the main source of prey for Sea Eagles and that less than two per cent of deaths among lambs could be blamed on them. It will be interesting to see if these findings are accepted by shepherds.
In a list published in the Stornoway Gazette, the local Council have named eleven Primary schools in these islands that they intend to close down and a further three where they propose to discontinue junior secondary provision. Education is highly prized here and many children do very well in Island schools. Among the reasons for this are small class sizes, committed teachers and a firm belief that children benefit from being taught in schools sited in the centre of their own village communities. If the proposal to close these schools goes ahead, the displaced pupils will have to be bused to larger, distant schools and spend more time away from their homes each day. So much for fostering community ties among the young and hoping they will remain on the islands when older. Shame on the local authority.