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.
Jonathan: In the store at the croft this morning, filling up the bucket with hen food, I was startled by an loud rasping noise from the corrugated steel roof. Going outside gently to investigate – and there is a male corncrake on the ridge: as soon as it caught sight of me it fled. Later, scattering grain for the goslings and their mother (yes still six babies) down by the shore, there was the corncrake ‘crexing’ again – this time from long grass along by the stream. It would be great if we can get a pair nesting on the croft: not sure how excited the guests at Carrick will be though, as they do tend to ‘crex’ loudly through the night!