Thursday, 12 June 2014

Last day

All things come to an end...

We've had such a fantastic time and all of us have learned a lot - history, ecology, birds. Just spending time in a landscape which is completely different to what you are used to opens your eyes. The pace of life is different and the people are different, in a really good way.

We had one last trip to the east of Benbecula, where we saw the best sign ever! No sign of yogi bear, but a male hen harrier flew right in front of us - beautiful. Really high tide today (full moon tomorrow), interesting to see how much the height of tide and timing of high tide changes over the course of two weeks.

We've had two weeks of being off grid and living close to nature. The grown ups would like to do it for longer, but the little person has a dance performance to prepare for, and she's the boss! We have been told that there are several empty houses to rent here, so who knows?!

5 hour ferry trip to Oban tomorrow so hoping for gannets and a glimpse of Ballamory when we pass the Isle of Mull.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Bogs and eagles

We brought a book about scottish islands with us which mentioned another chambered cairn near Lochboisdale. Unfortunately we didn't buy an OS map so went to the lovely people at the tourist office, who told us the way - the bonniest way was over the bogs. Luckily we had wellies on, a must for this part of the world. We passed several peat cuttings with the turves laid out to dry, very pleasing to the eye, but a tough job to do. Found the cairn after hopping over bogs and streams, but it had collapsed so again we couldn't go inside. Lost the dog, again. Renamed her Little Bugger.
The water lilies are flowering, beautiful.

Next we set off to look for the remains of some roundhouses on the machair, this time there were road signs! Mummified remains of several people were excavated, including a 12 year old who was possibly a sacrifice, and a woman who was kept on display, possibly to prove ownership of the land. One of the houses had been occupied for 900 years, one of the longest occupations in Europe. We had lots of chats about death and spirit over the day (I confess I didn't tell F about the child sacrifice). There are lots of churches and shrines to Mary about, and several cemeteries all along the west coast, as well as the cairns we have seen. Later on F was talking about what she would be after she was dead (an eagle).

Talking of eagles, our best spot of the day was a pair of golden eagles! We were all mightily excited, a first for us all. Magnificent animals and absolutely huge. Ended the day burying F in the sand, a must for every trip to the beach!

Tomorrow is our last day on Uist. It has been a lovely, gentle trip. The people are so friendly and driving is a pleasure - people wave and use indicators! Unlike where we live in Wales where tailgating and dangerous overtaking are the norm. I think we will miss Uist very much.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

North Uist and Berneray

On Monday we ventured onto North Uist. The Uists are now joined by causeways from Eriskay in the south to Berneray in the north, up to the late 20th century you'd have to have got boats to go between them. Eriskay's causeway was built in 2001. Makes for a very different feel on each island, although there seems to be a strong Uist identity. And a wonderful accent! My ear isn't good enough to detect differences between island accents, but I'm sure there are.

North Uist is a huge bog in the middle with lots of peat cutting for fuel. We passed through Sollas, which is the site of the most inhumane clearances in the islands. I can't imagine how I would feel to be made to leave such a beautiful place, despite its hardships. Subject for more research when we get home I think. Once on Berneray we spotted an information board - not many of these about in these parts, these islands are really not spoiled by tourism. Anyway, we stopped for a look and found Dun an Sticir, which is the remains of settlements on a loch dating up to 5000 years ago. There are the remains of a broch with a later medieval hall in the middle, and joined by stone causeways to the land. Feels strange to be somewhere humans have been 5000 years ago and occupied up to the 16th century. Now it's home to otters, but we still haven't seen one! Noisy child and dog make them hide I suppose, but we saw lots of otter spraints (poo) and bits of crab (dinner).

Further onto Berneray we went to the beach and were amazed by the blueness of the sea. Photos don't capture the turquoise - it looked like a Caribbean island. Except it was flippin' chilly, hurray for my hat!
Sparkly stones abound, the rocks were twinkling. And then we nearly stepped on two speckled eggs, so well disguised and just laid on a scrape in between the pebbles. Try and spot them in the stoney photo. I think they were oystercatcher eggs as that was the bird shouting at us. Florence made a sand broch with a grass roof, like the restored blackhouses.

Finally we headed south again and found a lovely stone circle called Bharpa Langass overlooking a loch. We followed a marked track to look for a chambered cairn called Pobull Fhinn (of Finn McCool's people) and got to what must be one of the best trig points ever! It wasn't that high, but there was a 360° panorama of lochs and hills. A drowned landscape. I have never seen anything like it. If you ever find yourself on North Uist, you must go. Photos again don't do it justice.
Unfortunately the chambered cairn had collapsed in the passageway, so we couldn't get in, but good to see none the less.

Now we have been from the bottom of the causewayed islands to the top. Only a few more days of this adventure left. And loads of ideas for projects to do at home...

Saturday, 7 June 2014

New hat!

So excited, hubby bought me a new hat and some wool! I don't often see hats I really like, and as knitting is what I do as a day job I don't usually buy knitted stuff either. This hat is an exception. Made by a lovely woman who lives on South Uist and spins and knits with her own wool (strangely she moved up from Shropshire where I hail from). This splendid specimen is made from Hebridrean fleece and is just yum. Her website is I'm going to make a tea cosie from the balls I have, to restart my knitting business.

We also visited Kildonen museum, which is full of information about island life. It all seems so romantic, living in a blackhouse and being so close to nature, but basically it wasn't. The houses had earth floors with the fire on the floor in the middle of the room - no chimney. Typhoid, cholera and tuberculosis were rife, food had to be caught or collected from the sea or grown on poor soils in wild weather. Even now, in June we're wearing coats and woolly hats, windy much of the time or midgy when it isn't windy. But it is beautiful.

I 've been listening to gaelic radio, what a stunningly lovely language. I can't see how the written word matches the spoken one though!

Another potter on the beach at Eriskay to climb rocks and photograph hat. Florence wants to learn how to rock climb properly, so it's off to the climbing wall in Shrewsbury when we get back. Her dad and I are both scared of heights, a lot, so where did that come from?

Friday, 6 June 2014

Dolphins and seals

Yesterday was dreary and wet, but we saw dolphins!!! Sadly no photos as I only have the phone camera, but there were 6 of them following a fishing boat. They were charging around the boat and leaping out of the water, Florence was so excited that it didn't matter about the rain! She has seen dolphins before in the Moray firth, but she can't remember it as she was only 3.

Today has been lovely and sunny, that's 3 sunnies out of 6 :) We went to the east side of the island, which is hilly and lochy, as opposed to the west side where we're staying, which is white sand and blue sea. Such an island of contrasts.

On the way we called in at Flora MacDonald's birthplace - what an interesting woman. She helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape from Uist to Skye after his defeat at the Battle of Culloden in 1746 (now there's an eerie place). That journey is the subject of the Skye Boat Song. She was imprisoned for a year by the english, then went to America, before returning to Scotland.

At Loch Eynort we saw an old merc bus which looked like it was a live in vehicle, and now the latest daydream is to buy one and come up here for a year, photographing and writing about the wildlife. Well, you have to have dreams. Florence says NO, so maybe when she goes to uni...

Loch Eynort is the first place on these islands where we've seen gardens and flowers. It is noticeable how ungardeny this place is. Maybe it's the wind, but when I lived on Innisfree island over 20 years ago, there were no gardens there either. I made one and people guessed I was english, so maybe it's an english thing. Who knows.

Loch Eynort is a good place to see otters, but we didn't! We did see dozens of seals though, basking and frollicking. There were a couple having a right old splash about, leaping out of the sea like the dolphins. Others were just lolloping about in an ungainly manner. We watched for ages. We also lost the dog for ages too, but she came back covered in mud and panting.

Ended the day with chips, yeeha!

Thursday, 5 June 2014

In which we identify a bird

Now, we're not the best at bird ID, partly due to rubbish vision but mainly because it is tricky. We saw a bird with a long beak and red legs on a fence post, and we had binoculars, so we were in with a chance this time! Anyway, it was a redshank and we have seen dozens of them. We were dive bombed by redshanks, lapwings and oystercatchers, and now F can identify all three by sight and song. That's education in my book!

The night before, we had a delivery of water for the toilet via an ancient tractor pulling and even more ancient tractor and ancient trailer. None of the fancy John Deeres you see back home. I love it! Sadly something has popped inside the toilet cistern and all the water had gone by morning. Ah well, at least there's a porta potti in the caravan.

We've also had two sunsets, and heard corncrakes from the caravan, wonderful! Oh and heard eider ducks making their oooh sound, like a couple of gossips, saw a short eared owl flying overhead, and were a few metres away from a raven (also on a fence post) . This is a fantastic place for birds.

Lots of chocolate and junk has been eaten - I can't take anymore and had to buy leaves, but the other two are still going strong. There was uproar when wholemeal bread was discovered in the cupboard, hehe! Of course we are trying the local beers, including a particularly odd one from Orkney which tasted of coffee. Haven't found one we like yet though, but we'll keep trying ;)

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

My daughter is a goat

F has spent a lot of the day climbing up rock faces. I have not, I tried to be in touch with my inner goat, but I don't have one.

Today was sunny!!! The place looks so different in the sunshine, blue and white and sparkly, instead of flat and grey. I am amazed by the diversity on this island - the west is white beaches whilst the east is lochs and hills.

We met wild ponies, got lost and walked for miles. We talked about peat cutting for fuel (which I did on another island 23 years ago), how peat is formed, how sundew plants catch insects, and looked at how different seaweed is in and out of the water. And practiced being a goat. Very educational all round I'd say!

Birds, thousands of them

We seem to have snoozed a lot of the day away and the phone/camera was flat so not a lot of photos today.

Educationally, we've spotted lots of birds, oystercatchers, terns, lapwings and loads we can't identify - but we will! Lying in bed I could hear skylarks singing their socks off. And we heard a cuckoo - my first for around 5 years, and Florence's first ever! I remember hearing the cuckoo every year, but not anymore.

We're staying in South Boisdale in the south of South Uist, the caravan front windows face south west and I know there will be wonderful sunsets. But first it has to be sunny..

Eriskay is the next island down, linked by a causeway as are most of the islands of uist. We saw the ferry come over from Barra, all very Katie Morag. Another lovely white beach and turquoise seas despite the low cloud. Millie legged it off the beach and wouldn't come back, well not til she was ready, so back on the lead for her. She's discovered the joys of chasing birds unfortunately. She's quick.

More photos tomorrow :)