Jonathan: This evening, Tilly and I took our usual walk on the beach and then along the road: not by the glow of the late-setting sun – as we have become used to over the sumer months, but by the light of the moon. And a full moon tonight, closer to Earth and appearing larger than usual (the moon’s orbit being influenced by the Sun and other heavenly bodies) and in turn giving rise – and fall – to exceptional spring tides. This coming Saturday the ferry from Oban will be nearly two hours later due to lack of water over rocks at the head of Loch Boisdale. At the beach here by An Garradh Mor, tonight’s tide rolled so far back as to leave sandy reefs of rare sea-grass glistening in the moonlight. Standing amidst the gentle ripples at the edge of the sea, a young adult swan was looking forlornly out to sea. He’s old enough now to be a burden on the limited resources of the nearby fresh-water loch where he was raised, and has been driven away by his parents. He’s been pacing the shore for a few days now, perhaps struggling with all the same conflicting feelings as we did when setting out into the world. But whilst I’m quietly in awe of the moment, Tilly is playing noisily with another dog – a black Labrador of her own size and as careless of the quiet night as she is herself. They race along the beach together, their paws drumming the sand apace, veering and leaping in unison, yelping with untramelled delight. The young swan spreads his wings and hurls himself forward, feet and wings beating out an impromptu runway in the direciton of Barra; but once airborne he veers away to the left, around the rocky headland of Cnoc a Deas. Tilly and I start the second part of our evening walk, along the road towards Ludaig. At the last passing-place before Paul and Amanda’s house, we stop to take in the view across the sea towards Eriskay – and there is the swan again, standing in the shallows. Before long, the drive to make a life of his own elsewhere, to find a mate, will finally overcome the hold of the familiar – the only place he’s ever known. Tilly, too, is at a turning point, one where the thought of a biscuit for being a ‘good girl!’, and her comfy bed has at last get the better of the urge to run and sniff! As we turn for home, a heavy veil of cloud is drawn across the face of the moon, and Tilly’s friend – her own shadow – melts away into the dark of night.
Jonathan: Quaint how some archaic words linger on in fixed expressions: girding, for example, which is only ever used with his/her/my etc and loins. It shares the same root – in Old English – as girdle – originally meaning simply a belt. As for the connection with loins, well like many such expressions, it became fixed in the form we know today thanks to King James’ Bible. As to meaning, it’s equivalent to ‘rolling up one’s sleeves’ in readiness for a physical task; but in this case it means another mug of coffee and a couple of hours quiet and rest in preparation for shearing sheep this afternoon. I sheared eleven some weeks ago, but there’s seventeen still to do ; hours of back-breaking work with hand shears (I do a good job, but lack confidence). First the sheep need to be rounded up: Seonaidh will bring his dogs over at around 1pm, and that will take them no more than ten to fifteen minutes. The fank is in the new field, by the road, and at this stage is makeshift – a number of borrowed steel gates tied together: if this round-up works well, I’ll make the layout permanent with post and rail fences, or buy steel hurdles, but I’m reasonably confident that the temporary fank will do its job. What’s making me nervous, and a little stressed, is the weather. Shearing really needs to be done in the dry, not just because that makes it more pleasant work, but because the fleeces will spoil if they are stored wet or even damp: drying them out afterwards is no easy task! Yet – just as happened at the last round-up (and for that matter I’m sure every time I’ve made arrangements for shearing), the long spell of dry sunny weather we’ve been enjoying has been briefly interrupted for a day of clouds and intermittent rain – which on any other day would have been welcomed with shouts of joy, the land being so drought-stricken!. I’ve been keeping a close eye on the Met Office website, which currently forecasts for the Sound of Barra, the rain easing up at around mid-day, and it remaining dry, if overcast, all afternoon.
Denise: It was on the national news last night: the warmest, sunniest and driest part of Scotland this year has been the Outer Hebrides. It wouldn’t surprise me if this is picked up by the wider media and it turns out we’ve been the best place to be in the UK all this year! April and May were very sunny and dry, if cold for the time of year, thanks to winds from the north east. June brought a heat-wave with it, and though the rest of the month was less sunny, with more variable wind directions, it was dry and mild. July is proving more changeable, but still very dry. In more than three months we’ve had only two days of anything stronger than light winds and fine drizzle or a passing light shower. Water supplies are very short, especially here in South Uist, with Scottish Water setting up temporary pumping stations to extract water from fresh-water lochs to top up the usual supplies. Despite more recent rain, the ground is still very dry and grazing for the sheep and cattle is scarce. It’s been noticeable how few wild flowers there’s been this year. May and June are reliably sunny and dry, in the Outer Hebrides, and particularly here in the southern isles, but this year is exceptional. As it has on the east coast, and England too – but for the coudiest and wettest June since records began, and an exceptionally cloudy and wet spring and summer generally. Apparently, it’s all to do with the jet stream.