My route to and from the croft in Eriskay takes me around the small natural harbour at Haun, on the north coast of Eriskay. Haun is directly equivalent to Havn in Danish and Norwegian, and is even spoken in almost exactly the same way. That’s no great surprise, because until the 13thC these islands were a possession of the Norwegian crown, and old Norse words survive throughout the islands in place names, and even in some personal names.
The harbour is not used regularly, now. Historically, boats based at this small harbour were small, and few in number, and thus the two piers, which were built in the mid 20thC on both sides of the harbour, are also small and low. The harbour is shallow, so the piers cannot be used for more than an hour or two either side of high tide. The surfaces of the two piers are only a little above spring high tides, and if the air pressure is low, the level of the sea is higher ; and since low pressure is associated with windy conditions, perhaps storm, waves frequently slosh over the top of the two piers. Over the past twelve years and more we’ve been round the harbour countless times, and whenever it is high tide or thereabouts, we habiturally look to the two piers to take the measure of the tide that day.
A few days ago, a spring high tide coincided with exceptionally low pressure, and a lunar-solar alignment that, together, pulled the sea up to the highest level we remember seeing in ten years, a phenomenon all the remarkable because there was absolutely no wind : the sea was flat calm. As I drove around the harbour, it was apparent from the wet marks on the walls that the tide had already turned, and it had over-topped the two piers.
Around the the hair-pin bend, there’s a small grassy peninsula (much favoured by the islands sheep) attached to the main island of Eriskay by a narrow low isthmus of grass – just a few metres wide, and despite the fact that it’s actually sheltered by other much larger rocky prominotories, I’ve often seen wavelets sloshing onto the grass of the isthmus. That’s another ready-reckoner of a tide’s height. But on this occasion, the strands of seaweed, showed that even the calm waters had covered the isthmus entirely.
And, lastly, down at the shore of the croft, I found a line of seaweed well up the grassy bank.
If these things had been happening for a long long time, albeit infrequently, it would not be meadow grass that was being inundated, but a more salt-tolerant vegetation.
To me, this calm-water sea-surge provides affirmation that sea levels are rising : the evidence is clear for those who pay attention to the small details of the natural world. Of which, we should remember, we are part.
On a more cheerful note, here’s some of our fellow inhabitants of Eriskay –