A night or two ago our bedroom was bathed in silvery light, cast by the full moon through the large Velux roof window. A full moon means spring tides – the point in the 28-day cycle of tides when the tidal range is greatest, the so-called ‘spring tide’.
We’re currently enjoying a spell of fine dry weather – already a fortnight or more without rain or cloud. That’s because there’s a high pressure area centered over the UK. This weather is typical of early-mid Spring in the Outer Hebrides – and all the far north and west of mainland Scotland, too. For us – and all our animals – the first prolonged spell of fine weather get us out of doors and puts a spring in our step!
High atmospheric pressure presses down the seas. (They go up, in compensation, elsewhere – where the pressure is low.)
When these two factors – spring tides and high pressure – coincide, low tides are exceptionally low, and then it becomes possible, for one day only, to walk around headlands – amongst the sands and rockpools that are ordinarily submerged even at low tide, instead of taking the grassy otter-paths across the headlands.
At such times there appears, in the Sound of Eriskay – the mile-wide channel of the sea between Eriskay and South Uist, a sand bank that extends from the south end of the causeway towards a navigation beacon that is close to the shore of our croft, below Carrick. Since the causeway was completed in 2002, the sand bank has spread ever nearer to the beacon, has widened too, and the channel of water between the sand and Eriskay has narrowed to the point where we can foresee a time when the rocky shore of our croft may even become a sandy beach, and the old harbour at Haun will be cut off and then choked with sand. This extract from the Ordnance Survey map shows how it was in about 2004.
Driving across the causeway, a few mornings ago, I was thinking about how our workload seems scarcely any lighter for all the fact that – thanks to the coronavirus : we have no self-catering guests and no-one buying from the Hebridean Woolshed. As I neared the south end of the causeway I noticed the sand bank more fully exposed than I recall seeing for a long time, and the thought leapt into my head : stop the car, get out and get down onto the sand NOW, before you miss the chance yet again. I pulled onto the grass verge, just on the Eriskay side of the cattle grid, clambered over the rocky revetment and down onto the firm dry sand.
I didn’t know how far I’d get, but as I’d often wondered if it really was possible to get to the navigation beacon at the far end of the sand bank, I thought ‘Well, if you don’t get a move on, the tide will have turned already before you get there!’
For most of the way out, I was marching briskly, but as it became clear that I wouldn’t be too late, I slackened my pace and started to take my time, taking in the unfamiliar perspective of a very familiar place. As the sand bank flattened and narrowed nearer to its point, the going got softer and wetter : I pulled off my shoes and socks and left them to collect on my way back. By chance, my Canon camera had been in the van, and I’d brought it with me onto the sand, so I made some use of it.
I did get to the navigation beacon, but there was a ring of deeper water scoured out around it, so I had to wade – in my working clothes, a heavy blue boiler suit! But I didn’t care – this was something I’d fancied doing for some years, but was always too busy to find or make the time, or just repeatedly forgot about it, or the weather was bad. It was all the more memorable for being something I did just on the spur of the moment : and my timing was lucky, too.
By the time I’d taken a few photos – and, more importantly, just taken some time out to think – the tide was showing signs of impatience with my dilly-dallying : time and tide may not wait for anyone, but it was generous ewnough to at least tut-tut and look conspicuously at its watch, giving me fair warning! I waded back through the scour-pool, splish-splashed my way through the shallow water racing towards my shoes and socks, and I continued my walk back to the van a very, very happy man.