Guests staying at Eight Askernish are used to the abundant wildlife just beyond the garden boundary. A favourite amongst our summer visitors are the short-eared owls quartering the ground – flying in broad daylight. Winter time visitors are more likely to be night owls – with antlers. With few humans chosing to visit Eight Askernish in winter, hungry deer move into the garden itself – and there’s no damage deposit to cover the damage to fences, trees and even the mombretia/crocosmia bulbs. Despite several attempts, we’ve still not managed to catch them on the wildlife camera. Stag or doe, they’ve proved illusive. At this time of year – in high summer, with grasses grown high and heavy with seed, wild roses laden with blooms, and the sea breeze filled with the rustle of the marram grass and the call of innumerable birds, there’s wildlife to discover without recourse to subterfuge. The wildlife camera is left undisturbed in the tech cupboard at home.
Today was a turnaround day at Eight Askernish. I eyed a doe! Leaning into a deep window recess to dust the windowcill, I caught sight of this young rabbit grazing the clover along the metre-wide strip of mown grass beside the path around the house. Our turnaround duties lasted around 90mins, and in that time this doe’s grazing moved on less than a metre or so – still grazing the clover, untroubled by our presence in the house.
Overnight, the sunny warm weather of the past week or more gave way to wind and rain. My morning rounds of the croft were in wellies and full waterproofs. The sheep didn’t think I’d climb the hill to feed them – I had to go and find them, sheltering from the cold rain driving in from the north-east. Thank heavens that I finished shearing morning!
Heading back to the hill gate and our own croft, the sheep followed me as far as where a stream winds through a little gap in the rocky landscape, and there’s lush grass and shelter. For much of its route, the stream is incised into a slot worn down over hundreds of years, but in the middle of this sheltered dell the stream – swollen by the overnight rain, tumbles over a patch of exposed bare rock. As I lengthened my stride across the slippery rock, I caught sight of something moving below me: an old woody heather stem, carried by the water, I thought ; but heather stems don’t wriggle and writhe and are certainly not 40cm/15in or so long …
As it wriggled, snake-like, upstream towards the security of a patch of overhanging goat willow, I could see that it was in fact an eel on the rocks …
Something in my brain clicked, as a patchwork of memories linked up …
So, last July, in similar weather, what I caught sight of in the corner of my eye – something large and dark disappearing into a (different) thicket of goat willow – in our High Field, in fact, would indeed have been an otter, as I suspected – and not a figment of my imagination. If you’ve never seen an otter trying to eat an eal, then you’ve never properly laughed. Oh my, but they are so strong and wriggly and slimy-slippery!
There is much more to Eriskay than meets the eye. It’s not the devil that’s in the detail, but the delights!