In Uist, it’s just me keeping things going : the house and garden in order, the cats kept in the comfort they’ve become accustomed to ; Tilly kept fed and watered and walked, and likewise sheep and chickens and geese (though they don’t need taking for walks, thank heavens!) ; the two holiday cottages cleaned ; orders for the Hebridean Woolshed despatched ; packages sent to Mum and Dad in Navarra ; and … and all of that on my own.
In and amongst all of that , I’m finding time for some of my own photographic work. Like this : three photos on a theme of Terrain (and Tilly!)
After a long journey, we’re back in Uist : home, sweet home! (No, we haven’t moved permanently to Navarra!)
Becky’s pleased to see us! Tilly’s pleased to see us! (And judging from appearances, Tilly’s tail is even more excited to see us than Tilly herself!). Pickle is pleased to see us, even if her demeanour is intended to convey her displeasure at having been abandoned by us in the first place. Dusky and Tabatha have each demonstrated their delight at our return by kneading our laps with sharp claws and squeaky purrs. Tom trots ahead of us to show us his empty bowl.
Becky’s done an excellent job of looking after home and garden. And, at the Big Garden Croft – over the water in Eriskay, everything is in excellent order. It’s true that we now have one chicken less than we had before we left, but after that first early-morning raid by an eagle, Becky shut the chickens in for a few days, and there were no more losses. All the sheep are present and in good shape. (Now half-way through pregnancy, that shape is getting rounder by the day!) They really do enjoy their morning supplementary ration of sheep nuts and hay!
Becky can’t be expected to do everything for us, whilst we’re away, so there’s a lot of jobs to catch up on – not least the the administration and bureaucracy of modern life (especially a life of multiple self-employments).
Then there’s re-stocking with animal feed and hay. Winter maintenance, decoration and improvements at the holiday lets to complete. The compost heap built up in 2016, and now matured, has to be dug out , and spread across about a third of the walled garden’s growing plots : the 2017 compost will take it’s place (thereby being thoroughly stirred up and aerated) and then over the next couple of months seaweed will be collected from the shore and piled up on top.
On the agenda today : shopping to re-stock the pantry shelves ; sawing firewood ; spinning wool ; checking our stock of potatoes ; filling the vehicles with fuel ; financial records ; and of course, inevitably, everything to tip out of our travel bags and put back in their proper places, and dirty washing to launder.
Horns and Plenty. Ram lambs.
Left-overs from an eagle’s breakfast. Fewer eggs for ours.
Checking the electric fence voltage.
Breakfast Gate. Bothy Field.
Checking the boxes of potatos gone-bad. None, thank heavens – but some sprouts to rub off.
After excellent sales during the 2017 summer season, and an unexpectedly steady trickle of online orders since, the Hebridean Woolshed is sorely depleted of stock, and likewise the Big Garden of jams, chutneys and preserves. After nearly a month of our the winter making-season away from home, we’ve got a lot of catching up to do! And to add to the pressure, this year we’ve quite a number of early bookings for our two holiday cottages : not just in March, but even in February. No wonder we’ve scarcely had a holiday in more than fifteen years!
Having, now, a place of our own to go away to (albeit with not a little difficulty) does seem to have given us fresh motivation to make the most of what we have here, to give it our very best.
It’s afternoon, and a long-overdue break in the wintry weather. We’re walking with Tilly along the wild Atlantic shore of our island, South Uist, from Tipperton to the small island of Orasay, reaching there at low tide and turning back for home before the tide turns too, and cuts us off.
The beach slopes up gently from the sea – which, today, is unusually calm. At low tide the beach is wide – the white sand dense and hard, shining with wet and speckled with shells. At the head of the beach, the strandline is marked by a deep band of litter, stretching in an unbroken line fro mile after mile : shredded seaweed – the dismembered limbs of kelp ; the plastic detritus of humanity, and here or there the rotting corpse of a dead seal. (Tilly is certain to find these – and certain to require a bath immediately we get home!) The beach is crowned by a narrow margin of sand-dune, stabilized by the roots of the marram grass, the long waving stems of which shelter the grassy-sandy track we are following.
Mid-way, the track diverts briefly away from the shore, passing through a field. The machairgrassland of these west side of Uist is a rare and internationally-renown ecosystem and habitat, the creation and maintenance of which is thanks to human activity – traditional small-scale subsistence agriculture, known here as crofting. An annual dressing of well-rotted seaweed, brought up from the beach, and the manure from grazing animals, maintains sufficient fertility to greatly enhance productivity, and in particular it supports arable crops, which in turn (if harvested by tradition means) supports bird species which elsewhere have become endangered. The soil, being light and free-draining, supports a grass sward which doesn’t easily puddle or poach, and thus provides ideall conditions for over-wintering of livestock. Unsurprisingly, then, this field is stocked with sheep and cattle. Well, sheep, certainly, but cattle must have only recently been moved off elsewhere – judging from the multitude of very wet cow pats scattered about the field.
Other than these general observations concerning cow-pats, and the need to pace and pick our steps so as to avoid treading in any of them, there is no reason to them any particular attention, least of that particular cow pat, well to the side of the track. But for some reason I do.
At first sight, it’s just a small flat pebble lying on an especially sloppy wet cow pat. Like a piece of slate rounded and smoothed in flowing or tumbling water. But that’s where the item in question moves from sub-conscious thought to active engagement …
There’s no slate in Uist (except fragments around buildings), and no other rocks that break down to flat shapes like that. So, curiosity piqued, and without even pausing to look closely, I pluck the item from its soft cushion and – finding a small puddle to wash it in … It’s a fifty pence coin, somewhat discoloured, but, all the same, fifty pennies from heaven!
You see what I have to put up with? It’s not just Tilly that needs a thorough wash when we get home! J just cannot be trusted to come home without needing his clothes or his body needing a deep-clean!