Jonathan: One day you’re 17 – a juvenile and free of all cares; the next you’re 18 and burdened with all the responsibilities of adulthood. Apparently. Ten years ago right now, heading home from our first visit to the Outer Hebrides (and just two days before that our first visit to the walled garden), Denise and I were camped for the night off a quiet road between Moffat and Lockerbie. It was a still quiet evening, moodily overcast, a moment of stand-still between early summer vigour and the slow decline towards autumn. The following months we tossed and turned, the clamouring hopes and nagging fears held at bay with a mantra of ‘it’s now or never’. But within six months we were here at An Garradh Mor, cast off from almost all the familiar and trusted hold-fasts of life. Ten years on and today’s my 55th birthday, and yesterday’s hopes have become today’s to-do list: The fears? Well, many just melted away; but others persist as worry lines. The ages of man are redefined by each generation to suit itself; but was there ever a generation content to be known as ‘middle aged’ – neither one thing nor another? Yes, Denise and I are growing a bit faded and worn at the edges, but as to being in our middle age, I look around at all the many projects in progress, and the even more numerous daily tasks, and I have to admit we certainly always seem to be in the middle of something! And I expect tomorrow will be just the same.
Denise: Thank heavens for Becky’s annual visit to her Mum and Dad: we get to go on excursions – you know, just for the pleasure of it. This evening we went down to Daliburgh machair and walked down the track to Cladh Thallan prehistoric settlement and then on to be beach – which stretches away into the distance, white sand and pale blue skies, a refreshing release from the heat wave that has unexpectedly settle over the Hebrides.
Denise: A few days ago J started taking U9 and 4/4 over to the croft with him to gradually reintroduce them to the flock. They quickly learnt to jump into the cage at the back of the car – just like Tilly! This evening J’s taken them over to Eriskay to spend their first night back on the croft. He’s got the big white fish box – lined with straw – that they’ve been sleeping in in the wood store, and set it amongst the rosa rugosa, for them to spend the night in. Here’s J taking a few quality moments with the two lambs before setting off.
Jonathan: The life of the crofter in the 21st century. Up 6am – shower, get dressed. Breakfast and washing up the pots with Denise. 7am – check emails, and into civil engineer mode for a quick reply about changes to the railway crossing at Royston in Hertfordshire. 7:30am – into crofter mode for drive to the Eriskay to feed and the hens and collect eggs, scatter some grain for the geese and make sure they all have access to clean water. Then the sheep – a quick count and a small offering of sheep nuts, just to keep them friendly – not that 0008 needs any encouragement! 8:30am – start work on fixing guttering to Hi Hen House, but discover I need a ladder to reach one corner, but ladder at home so decide to do something else. Walking back to the car our guests at Carrick come out to speak to me. Everything okay? No! Ah but nothing wrong with the house – it’s lovely – but alas their 12-yr old spaniel died this morning. They’d rushed to the vet in Benbecula but it died in the surgery. Apparently it had pneumonia. But they have a problem: where to bury the dog? So switch to grave-digger mode for half-an-hour or so whilst I struggle to find somewhere where the rock has more than just a few inches of soil over it! Ah yes, at the head of the peaty valley, where we’ve been planting trees. Wet ground, but easy digging. I got some straw to line the grave with and then left our guests to a private moment to bury their dog. Switch to builder mode to continue a drystane wall I’m building to provide more shelter by Hi Hen House. And then back to tidying up the grave. Off with the trailer to the skip at Acarsaid Mhor to dispose of accumulated cardboard boxes, rubbish from the shore etc; and then put up some notices about us buying this year’s sheep fleeces. Home for a clean up, a good coffee and toast with D’s amazing lemon curd. 11:30am – half an hour or so of work designing a website for someone’s holiday cottage business. Noon: A simple lunch of bread, cheese, home-grown salads, fruit and a very welcome cup of tea. Back to engineering for some emails about geotechnical report for a beach landing of wind turbine in Barra. Then boiler suit back on, and load up the car with tripod, total station, a flame gun and a petrol strimmer. 1:30pm drive to Askernish, and thankfully the guests are out for the afternoon so I got straight on with strimming the grass and burning off the weeds – a very noisy and smelly job all told! 3:15pm – tools back in the car just as guests return to cottage, and drive back south to the mill stream outfall at Tipperton on the very SW tip of South Uist. Clamber all over the rocky shore marking spots with red spray paint to come back to later to survey; set up total station over permanent marker I installed a week ago (when I came this way to walk the dog) and sighted five trig points on distant hills (one in Barra about 9km away!) to establish my position by a procedure called re-section. 4:30pm – back to the house to persuade D and Becky that we should have an early meal and then go and do the survey work. But Becky has gone out for a walk … Wound up a skein of hand-spun merino wool into a ball for D. D reports that whilst I’ve been out she’s sold almost £200 of items from The Hebridean Woolshed, plus eggs, preserves and fresh produce, all whilst she’s been spinning wool and making two batches of spicy marrow chutney and one of gooseberry and raspberry jam. When Becky is back and we’ve eaten, I drive over to Tipperton to set up ahead of D and Becky only to find the tide is already too high. Back to the house just in time to stop them leaving in D’s car. What to do now? Ah yes, make first ever order with Tesco Online for delivery to a carrier in Glasgow and forwarding to us here in Uist (Tesco have until now been unwilling to deliver directly to anything other than a mainland residential address). Carriage charges saved twice over by savings on staples for jam making. And then a little light browsing on the internet, looking up various things of interest … and watch the news … and some time together with D and Becky and the cats and Tilly talking and making things. 11:30pm – still light as I take Tilly for a walk along the road and then a run back along the crest of Cnoc a Deas, but Tilly comes back with a limp and blood dripping from her front offside paw, so a bit of a fuss and a palaver as we persuade her to keep still whilst we bathe it in TCP solution. The doggy treat helped. 11:30pm – talked to the goose eggs in the incubator – it encourages them, you know – and would you believe it there’s chirruping back from inside the eggs! On closer inspection there’s cracks in the shells of some, so they’ll start hatching tomorrow!! 11:45 – still not dark as eventually we all climb into our beds and fall soundly asleep at the first drop of the eyelids.