Jonathan: A glorious day as autumn finally starts to give way to winter. A light dusting of snow yesterday (unusual for November) but today the Outer Hebrides has been the sunniest and mildest place in the UK. Wish you were here?
Jonathan. I spent much of yesterday afternoon fetching a load of seaweed from Smercleit Taobh a Deas, and by the time I was tidying up after barrowing it to the compost heap, it was already so dark that I could scarcely see what I was doing. It was a fine evening, though, and I lingered over the task enjoying the fresh air and the tiredness from hard physical work and a job well worth doing. And then a strange noise from outside – like the tail-pipe of a car exhaust trailing and bouncing along the road. But why no sound of a car engine? And isn’t that a clip-clop sound along with it. Dark it may have been, but truth dawned all the more brightly – with sparks! – when I ran up to the gate and saw Midnight galloping along the road to the east, trailing his tethering spike! I ran back to the house, dumped my work gear, unhitched the trailer, turned the car, and headed off after him. I met Paul Rae and Alasdair on the road, walking their dog: they’d seen Midnight galloping past a-frighted, trailing a rope and sparks, which no doubt frightened and spurred him on faster. I drove on to Ludaig but no sight of him, so I returned back slowly scanning the surroundings though it was too dark to see much. When I got back, Paul suggested Alasdair go with me, as he knew Midnight from having rode him often when he was younger. Alasdair suggested Midnight might be heading for territory he would be familiar with at South Glendale, and sure enough we found him at the cattle grid there, sweating and fretting. Paul was coming along in his own vehicle, so I took Midnight through the side gate and on to South Glendale, with the others following in Paul’s car. After securing Midnight in the old sheep fank, we headed home. I phoned Eòghann later and we agreed to pick up Midnight this morning at 9am, but when we got there he’d escaped, and was out on the open hills, watching us warily from a vantage point. Eòghann, armed only with a bucket of grass nuts and a halter, secured him nonetheless, and soon he was in the trailer and on his way back to the others at Trossaraidh. All’s well that ends well, they say, but I’m not sure what constitutes a good ending in this case. I’ve learnt that Eòghann’s ponies are essentially wild animals, with some degree of familiarization with humans – and Midnight is possibly the best in this respect. But they are not used to being confined and the only way to make that work is to give them daily employment. I’m not sure that even when I’m fully equipped for collecting seaweed and other tasks I can do that. I’ve seen also that tethering the horses is not reliable, and to do so on unfenced ground by a relatively busy road is too risky, both in terms of safety and in terms of my reputation. Sadly, then, I’ve got to accept that – for the forseeable future at least – this experiment is at and end. There will be no seaweed collecting with ponies this year.
Jonathan: What I didn’t tell you last time is what I found when I went out to check on the ponies … All afternoon we’d seen Alasdair up on the skyline of Cnoc a Deas, whinnying whenever we we appeared in the garden – he didn’t seem at all bothered about keeping poor old Midnight company, out there on the far side of the Cnoc! When I went out to check up on them last thing before bed-time, I found Alasdair down on the road by the house – and a passing car swerving to avoid him. I tried to coax him back up on to the hill, but he was having none of it – in fact he was trying to find a way across or around the cattle grid by the house – as if he was trying to get back the way we’d travelled in the morning. Clearly he needed to be tethered, certainly for tonight, so I set off for the croft store, over in Eriskay, for a longer length of rope. But when I got back Alasdair was nowhere to be seen: I searched all over the headland with a torch, but not a sign or sound of him. When I got back to the house, a car was pulling up into our drive and I suddenly realised it was Denise – she’d received a phone call from a neighbour saying a pony was out on the road at Smercleit, and not finding me she’d set out in the car to look for Alasdair. So off we went together in the car, finding occasional ‘waymarks’ on the road, telling us where he’d been, but not where he was now. After checking all the township roads and scanning across the fields the machair and the shore with the big torch, we realized we weren’t going to find him on our own, and returned to the house. I phoned Eòghann to ask advice, but he’d already received a call from a bodoch (old man) at Smercleit Taobh a Tuath to say a pony was in his garden – the assumption hereabouts is that if its a pony, it must be Eòghann’s. They’d agreed that Alasdair was safe enough where he was – he could stay there until the morning. This morning, however, Alasdair was found to be safe and well back in the field we’d taken him from in the morning – he must have found his way along the road in the night, and jumped the fence or gate. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, they say! Thinking about it today, I realized that the north wind would have carried with it the scent of the two females left at Trossaraidh. I mentioned this to Eòghann, and he admitted it was a mistke to take away the two males together. The upshot of this is that Alasdair will stay with the others, and I’ve just got Midnight to look after. At 16 years old, he’s a placid old thing, very easy to get along with: he calls out when he wants moving, and always seems pleased to get a stroke and a scratch and a fresh circle of tasty grass.