Another sparkling but icy cold day. After lunch I took the trailer over to Tipperton – at the very south-west most corner of South Uist – and loaded it up with seaweed from the strandline. Boiler-suit, wellies, gloves, hat, wheelbarrow, garden fork … and two hours immersed in nature and the task in hand.
Oh, one thing else in the tool-kit : the digital SLR camera – and telephoto zoom lens.
Back at the walled garden, I reversed the trailer into position, then lowered the back ramp, revealing a neat vertical section through the mass of seaweed.
Oh, such riches!
I readied the barrow and fork ready for the unloading.
After a mug of tea and a natter with Denise, I readied myself.
Gloves and wellies on … Ready? … Go!
Collecting seaweed is good for the body, the mind, the stomach (via the compost heap and the garden) and for the soul.
Winter in the Outer Hebrides. When it’s rough, it’s very, very rough. Violent. Fearsome! But when it’s not, it’s soft. Surprisingly soft.
It’s about the air – moisture-laden air. (We are, after all, talking small islands girt about by the Atlantic.) If the air is moving, then the moisture makes us feel it all the more. The humidity. From the north, the air is cold but dry, and it doesn’t even feel as cold as it truly is. But from almost any other direction – but especially from the south-west, the air is mild and very wet (and that’s even when it isn’t raining) – and that means sticky in summer and wearying in winter.
But when the air isn’t on the move, it’s the same moisture that makes the air soft. But don’t take my word for it : arrive here on the ferry, and take in deep-filled lungfuls of air, and you’ll know it for yourself. Sweet, and oh so soft.
Then there’s the sunshine. The further from the equator, the closer is the arc of the sun to the horizon. Latitude. The rays from a low-sailing sun pass through more of Earth’s atmosphere, where particles of moisture and dust scatter the photons and attenuate the power and alter the colour-balance of the light. Here in the Outer Hebrides, the light has a blue-ish cast, and is gentle on the skin. Soft!
We’re just back from Navarra, Spain. Our first night was spent snow-bound on a motorway slip-road! It snows, especially in mountainous northern Spain. But there the cold doesn’t feel so cold – because there’s little wind. Wind turbines are a-plenty, but unlike in Uist they’re less likely to be stationary because the wind is too strong, more likely because there’s no wind at all!) Lacking the force of the wind, rain – or even melting snow – doesn’t chill as it does in the Outer Hebrides, because the air is dry. Dry enough to make our head aches if we don’t drink water enough – a little, often. And when the sun comes out – as it did often during our January-long stay, it’s strong enough that, after our bodies are warmed through, we start to feel uncomfortable. A bit of shade would be good!
So today, in Uist, we’ve revelled in softness. Mild – perhaps about 6 or 7 degrees Celsius, and almost perfectly still. Soft.
Slow but steady growth in the soft winter sunshine. Monkey Puzzle tree.
Comost laid out in rows, ready for raking out in Spring.
Phormium Tenax, at The Big Garden.
Hebe/Veronica flowering in winter. Only when it is cold does it give off a scent.
Phormium Tenax, at The Big Garden.
Curly Kale in winter, with piles of compost ready to spread when the kale is finished.
Denise spinning in the soft winter sunshine.
Campsite picnic bench. Enjoying a rest in the soft winter sunshine. Kilbride Campsite, Isle of South Uist
Curly Kale in winter.
Our livestock includes compost-making worms!
Turning back the cover of the old compost heap, ready for digging out.
Across the Sound of Barra
So, today, Denise and I set about digging out the ‘mature’ compost heap (material collected in 2016). Growing plots in most need of nourishment were at the diagonally opposite corner of the garden – about eighty metres away by wheell-barrow-slalom course : that’s a lot of work for two folks about one sixtieth older than they were last year, so we only managed half the job today. That’s probably about four or five tonnes between us. The forecast for tomorrow looks to be even softer than today, so I’m sure we’ll manage the rest then : so we’ve left all the barrows and tools ready to continue. And the barrow-run will be shorter, too.
It’s a lot of physical work, and to be honest we do tend to find excuses to put it off, but truth is that it’s a job that we find extremely satisfying. The cats love it too: we only do this work on delightful soft winter days – like today, and after weeks of wind and rain, they like nothing more than to be out in the garden with us for company. The garden birds keep us company too, darting in and out of the compost bins, snatching some of the thousands of worms that thrive in the warmth and plenty of the undisturbed compost. Tomorrow we must try to capture a photo of a Robin!
Jonathan: After two days of dreich keeping us indoors, we’ve been making the most of better weather today by working (mostly) outdoors.
Pity our poor chickens, who spent their first full day confined indoors for 30 days: three of the four UK national governments (all except N. Ireland) have issued orders requiring all poultry owners to prevent their birds having contact with wild birds. There’s an avian flu outbreak in continental Europe, and the order is intended to reduce the risk of it spreading in the UK. This is the first time this has been done, UK-wide, and our first experience of such a lock-down.
This morning Denise and I went over to Eight Askernish (which is about eight miles north). Denise finished off the cleaning up after the carpet-fitting and re-decorating, getting the house ready for for guests at Christmas and New Year. I was outdoors, fixing a leaking gutter, wire-brushing rust off the clothes line poles – to re-paint another day. I tidied round the garden too … and spotted fresh clumps of deer-poo! I called Denise out to take a look together: deer-poo is quite distinctive, rather like sheep poo, but the pellets are elongated – even pointed. When I come back to paint the poles, I’ll have to set up the wildlife camera – perhaps I’ll have a bit of luck and actually capture wildlife on aforesaid wildlife camera. It’s good to be working together like this, putting things in order, and planning future work together.
After lunch, back at An Gàrradh Mòr, we were both out in the garden. Denise was pulling weeds to take to the hen house so that the girls still get their ‘greens and we still get yolks that are deep yellow. I too had a wheelbarrow and fork, but took it out through the garden gate, across the road, and down the bank onto the beach. Last night, out for a walk with Tilly before bedtime, the storm was abating, the skies clearing, and Tilly and I had stood – me in my wellies – at the line where the surf turned back on itself, the sea sparkling with moonlight. The sands, too, glistened in the silvery light, clumps of shadow revealing great heaps of seaweed thrown up by the sea. It was that seaweed that’s been taking me down to the beach this afternoon. Three barrow-loads taken home to feed the soil of our garden – or rather, today, the soil of a greenhouse, feeding it for next year’s tomato plants. Seaweed Season has arrived! Gathering seaweed will now continue – every day if weather permits – bad weather to cast up the seaweed, better weather to collect it! – until Easter.
Kilbride Bay – view to Eriskay
Kilbride Bay – view to Barra
Kelp, Kilbride Bay, Isle of South Uist
Seaweed from the beach.
Kilbride Bay – collecting seaweed
Barrowing seaweed from the beach.
And last, but not least, Denise and I moved the new batch of seven Welsumer chicks into another greenhouse, where – as we do every winter – we set up a small wooden hen house used for rearing chicks – now no longer needing the heat lamp – until they’re ready to join the main flocks. The chicks have now finally joined Lucky, who made the same move three weeks or so ago. Poor boy, he’s been getting more and more distressed by his isolation: it’ll take a few days for things to settle down, but they’ll get on just fine!