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: … it’s Spring! Yesterday, close to our cottage at Askernish, the first lapwing, with its oh-so-distinctive call timed with the downward swoops of its flight; and then today high above the croft in Eriskay, the first two skylarks, battling it out in song. Down below, a Blue Hebridean Crofter (named after the male of the species, with his distinctive blue overalls) staking out his territory by means of posts fashioned out of wood and metal supporting a mesh woven out of fine wire. Within this enclosure the Greater Blue will during the course of the summer gather up a store of food for winter.
Jonathan: Thank heavens our Becky comes once a year to stir us out of well-worn ways and do something different! Today we went for a walk on the wild side – the wild side of Uist that is – on the east of the chain of mountains and hills that run down the spine of the islands. On the west are roads and villages and fertile crofts and the soft wild of sand dunes and marram grass; but the east coast is a world apart, with but a few roads threading their way across the barren moors to the sea-lochs that in times past served as harbours, with no more than a meagre scattering of croft houses amidst the desolation.
From the far end of the Loch Carnan road – past the shrine at the Orasay junction, beyond the power station and Salar Salmon, the road twisted and turned to the point where the blacktop stopped and the road continued on without it, and us without the car. Beyond lay the district of Caolas Liursaidh, with its scattering of ruined croft houses from the 19th century, and also the marks upon the landscape left by those of far more distant times – ancient farmsteads, souterrains and much more. The geology of this area is striking, with a major near-vertical discontinuity running roughly east-west, with a zone of debris infilling the gap – about 30m wide – between the two faces of the fault. In this zone there run underground streams traced out by a line of sink-holes as deep as a man is tall, some with the water itself flowing gushing noisily from a gap amongst the rocks on one side, and on the other sliding silently back into the stygian depths. Perhaps the ancient peoples saw this as a place with a close connection with the underworld, the after life, and indeed that from which all life is built – Earth itself.
As we reached the stone-built house where the track peters out, a fine rain started to drift in off The Minch. We explored the meagre remains of those last brave pioneers that set up here late in the 19th or in the early 20thC, and abandoned all hope of success some time in the 1930s. Perhaps there was symbolic significance in the old iron anchor set up on the cres of a nearby hill, it’s curve complementing the profile of distant hills and islands. Carrying thoughts as sombre as the landscape about us, heading back east to the comfort and convenience of our car; our way was gladdened by the sight of wild honeysuckle cascading down the rocky face of the fault line. And on looking about, we saw that even in such a wild place as this, Nature can work miracles of grace and beauty: tiny flowers carpet the ground – finely wrought yet amazingly hardy, a tapestry of the softest hues. It was later than we’d thought when we got back to the car, so exploring the old road leading south will have to wait to another time.