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.
Caolas Liursaigh, Isle of South Uist
Detail of old croft house, Liursaigh
Wild honeysuckle, Liursaigh
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: Nine years ago today, about this time of the evening, D and I were driving south along the M74 looking out for a place to pull up for the night in our motorhome. That morning we’d boarded the ferry from Lochmaddy in North Uist, heading back home to Shropshire. It was my 45th birthday and I felt keenly that I was at a turning point in my life. The day before, the last day on our tour of the Outer Hebrides, we’d discovered that the old walled garden with a modern house in it we’d spotted a day or two before was to be put up for sale. We’d always had a fancy for a walled garden, and indeed we’d lived in one before, in Bavaria in the mid 1990s. Our time there was the result of personal will; but this felt different – something outside of us, bigger than us, drawing us forward. Either we stepped back from the riptide of fate – and made our own way in life under our own steam as before; or we just waded in and let the current take us where it would. I remember now the extraordinary feeling I’d had that day, standing in the walled garden, with the sweet scent of grass warmed by the summer sun, and not a sound but the gentle lapping of waves on the beach across the road, the drowzy flies amongst the Veronica flowers, and the sound of a dog barking across the water in Barra – it was really that still!. It was if the walled garden and us had each been waiting for that moment, and time itself had paused awhile, wating to see which way it would go. Six months later we’d moved in; and since that day, in storm or stillness, anxiety or delight, plenty or dearth, there’s never been a day anything less than profoundly enriching.
Jonathan: After the great hurricane of January 2005, we rebuilt our greenhouses and then built our potting shed and workshop/store; though by then money was getting low and we didn’t install electricity. It would have been difficult and expensive – certainly if we put the cables underground. I do also recall some ideal or our outdoors work being in tune with nature – putting away our tools and tidying up as the sky darkened; and the disturbance of the natural dark by vulgar electricity. What romantic tosh!!! Anyway, after several days toil, we now have electricty. Alas, due to lack of money and time, it is only lighting, but now we have been able to move the young chicks from their cardboard box in the dining room into a cage in the shed – with the infra-red lamp over them. For power (eg for tools in the woodstore or workshop), I shall soon install an outdoors electrical socket at both front and back of house so we don’t have to have a house door open – letting heat escape -when we use an extension lead. When eventually we get round to renovating our own house, we can make a better job of all this: but for now, it’s safe and it’s progress – albeit budget style! [Photo – Welsumer and Buff Orpington chicks in their new cage.]