Posted by: christinelaennec | May 23, 2015

Late spring or early summer?

I’ve missed the May 19th entry in Katharine Stewart’s A Garden in the Hills, so I’m going to combine the 19th and the 23rd.

She began her essay of the 19th with: “If April is the cruellest month, May, so far this year, is not much kinder.” (p. 70)  It had been a long cold spring in Abriachan that year.  While we had frost on May Day here in Glasgow, this last week has seen a distinct warming, although it’s been wet.  We’ve had four inches of rain this month so far. But the combination of warm and damp makes the garden grow very quickly.  At the moment there are various shades of green and not a lot of colour:

Marigold seedlings, catmint/catnip, roses, peony.

Marigold seedlings, catmint/catnip, roses, winter jasmin, peony.

Almost all the spring bulbs are finished, but the camassia are lovely:

Camassia spires in front of the summerhouse.

Camassia spires in front of the summerhouse.

The columbines are flowering, and also the little heartsease that I planted from seed last spring:

roses, foxgloves, pinky columbine, lupin, and heartsease in front.

roses, foxgloves, pinky columbine, lupin, and heartsease in front.

Katharine Stewart describes going for a walk:  “The houses are fewer now, for they are bigger, the people in them not depending on their surroundings for a living.  But some of the little abandoned gardens can still be seen.  The little old houses would have had a few flowers growing near the door, but the word ‘garden’ would have meant a small plot, walled with stone for protection from the wind and predators, on the edge of the ground cultivated for the main crops of the croft- oats, hay, turnips, potatoes.  In the garden would be grown ingredients for the soup-pot – carrots and kale and some soft fruit for puddings [desserts] and preserves.

Some years ago… I came on one such garden, a long narrow stretch beside the burn.  Rhubarb plants had grown to the size of small trees, there were blackcurrant bushes drastically overgrown, but alive, and gooseberries still bearing yellow fruit.  I took cuttings of these and now have half a dozen good bushes fruiting happily.  Gooseberries and blackcurrants were always part of the summer diet and made valued winter preserves.  Raspberries were gathered wild, for puddings [desserts] also and for jam.  Wild mint and wild garlic were everywhere.  This little garden must have had a really devoted gardener, for in one corner was a lilac and in another a gean [sweet cherry tree]….  my thoughts went out and back, through the years, to the crofter’s wife who cherished this plot.” (p. 70-71)

This past week, I had a very special afternoon at a very grand estate with a grand garden, Ross Priory.

Ross Priory, on the shores of Loch Lomond

Ross Priory, on the shores of Loch Lomond

The weather was alternating heavy showers and bursts of sun, so we sat inside where it was dry and warm, having our lunch and looking out onto splendid views.  In one direction, massive rhododendrons in bloom, and in the other, a stunning prospect towards Ben Lomond:

View from Ross Priory up to Ben Lomond.  May 2015.

View from Ross Priory up to Ben Lomond. May 2015.

You can’t easily see it in the photograph, but there was still snow on the top of highest peaks.

On the 23rd of May, Katharine Stewart wrote about the “garden’s own secret flowering” – the plants and flowers that come along unbidden to surprise us.  I showed you a lovely surprise primrose that has similarly come along into my garden.  She writes, “Now, over the last few years, there have been some really astonishing surprises.  The sudden appearance of poppies, enormous poppies, in great profusion, and of all shades of mauve and pink, brought neighbours to admire and to beg for seed.  How they came is a mystery.  We accept their presence with great joy.” (p. 72).  A friend of mine had one such mystery poppy appear, and she sent me seeds from it.  The seeds have now germinated, and I’ve been very carefully tending them.  Fingers crossed there will be some beautiful poppies in my garden this summer too!

Katharine Stewart concludes: “Even with vicious east winds and cold mist, May is still the season of forward-looking days.  Everything will right itself in the end, we feel.” (p. 72)  Yes indeed.

A reader asked me if I would post photos of our young rowan tree, as she had wondered what rowans look like.  Rowan is the Scottish name for mountain ash.  Our wee tree has blossomed now:

Young rowan in blossom, Glasgow, end of May 2015.

Young rowan in blossom, Glasgow, end of May 2015.

Rowan blossom, Glasgow, end of May 2015.

Rowan blossom, Glasgow, end of May 2015.

Sorry the photos aren’t better quality, but that gives you some idea if you were wondering.

I’ve been pondering the question of when spring ends and summer begins.  I remember years ago being puzzled when a Gaelic-speaker referred to August as the “autumn”.  They explained, “if May-June-July are the summer, then August is the autumn”.  This year, at least, May has not felt like summer.  When frost is still a possibility, I don’t think in terms of summer.  It was forecast to get down to 4C/39F last night.  But we are definitely on the cusp of summer.  It’s still light out at 10 pm, for one thing.  And it’s less than a month now until the summer solstice.

I wish everyone a very good weekend.  It’s a Holiday Weekend on both sides of the Atlantic.  In America, Monday is Memorial Day; in Britain it’s a Bank Holiday, which means that some people in Scotland have the day off, but many do not.  The high school pupils have exams on Monday, so they don’t get a break.  But there are lots of sales in the shops, and a general air of festivity.

Posted by: christinelaennec | May 18, 2015

We have a winner!

Thank you everyone who entered my giveaway.  I wish I could give you each a Harris tote bag.  I wrote names on slips of paper, as usual:

Who will it be?

Who will it be?

The Dafter was very dramatic about picking one at random, and killing me with suspense once she had done so:

Drum roll.....

Drum roll…..

Before finally revealing that the winner is:

giveaway_3Congratulations, Charlotte!  I hope this will perk you up as you recover from your eye surgery.  I’ll be in touch to find out your address.

My No-Knit Week ended yesterday morning.  What bliss it was to be able to knit again!

The delights of a picot-edge bind-off!

The delights of a picot-edge bind-off!

I am usually a bit lazy on Sunday and don’t have time for much besides practising the hymns before choir rehearsal and then the service.  This Sunday, I made time to knit.  Now once more every day can be a knitting day!  It was harder than I’d thought to forego knitting for a week, but I raised £520 for AYME, which is way beyond my wildest imaginings.  My friends are very generous and obviously they appreciated what a sacrifice it was for my tiny mind!

I wish you all a good week ahead.

Posted by: christinelaennec | May 15, 2015

Mid-May: no snow, no knitting

On May 15th, ca. 1994, Katharine Stewart wrote:  “Today, drawing back the curtains, I looked out at the morning in disbelief.  I thought it was a dream.  I rubbed my eyes and looked again.  It was reality.  There was a white garden out there, a spring garden lying under snow, quietly accepting its fate.” (A Garden in the Hills, p. 69).

I’m happy to say that we do not have snow today!  Although only a few weeks ago friends in Aberdeen had a little blizzard.  Here in Glasgow, the nights have been staying above freezing.  Last night was the first time I let my cosmos and sweet pea seedlings brave the outdoors all night long.  Until now, I’ve been bringing them back inside at night, but I’m progressing the “hardening off process”:

Cosmos and sweet peas after their first night outside.

Cosmos and sweet peas after their first night outside.

Some of my tulips in pots have blown over, but others are still looking lovely.  (Note the daisies in the lawn!)

Tulips, past and present.  Mid-May, Glasgow.

Tulips, past and present. Mid-May, Glasgow.

This week is ME Awareness Week, and I have been doing a fundraiser.  For a long time, I’d wanted to raise funds for AYME, the Association for Young People with ME, for those with ME age 25 and under. They have been very helpful to our family.  For example, when the Dafter was at her absolute lowest, bedbound and so terribly isolated, they matched her with an older teenager, further along in recovery, who wrote to her for a while.  That was a huge boost for her.

So I’d wondered what I could do to help them out in return.  I’m not sporty, so running a 10K or doing a swimathon was out of the question.  I would love to do a long walk such as the West Highland Way, but that sort of project is unthinkable when you’re needed at home 95% of the time.  A sponsored silence would have been impossible, given that I am the Dafter’s connection to the outside world in terms of appointments and so forth.  And then I hit upon the idea of giving up knitting for ME Awareness Week.  So, since 11:45 pm last Saturday night, I have NOT knitted.

What have I done instead?  Gardened, some crochet, read old knitting magazines, worked out how to assemble a knitted jacket:

Instead of knitting, planning the construction of my New Leaf jacket.

Instead of knitting, planning the construction of my New Leaf jacket.

Got my hair cut:

Instead of knitting, I got a haircut.

Spring chop!

And last night, I sang in a concert:

Instead of knitting, singing in a choir!

Instead of knitting, singing in a choir! (Mendelssohn’s As the Hart Pants).  I am a low alto – four of us were singing a Quintet with the men and a soprano.

I knew that giving up knitting would be a challenge, but I had underestimated how very hard it would be to go a week without it!  I’ve allowed myself to crochet (and in theory, mend), but crochet is nowhere near as relaxing for me as knitting.  I have been far more tired than usual, and all week long have felt as if my shoulders are up around my ears.  Normally, I knit for a few hours a day – taking the Dafter to appointments, waiting for her to be ready to leave, keeping her company, and especially unwinding in the evenings.  I really cannot WAIT for Sunday morning to be here!

But the whole idea is that I am giving something up, because she has given up so very much, and has had no choice about it.  And it’s all been worth it, because my friends have been astonishingly generous.  I’ve raised over £500 now!  Incredible.  Yesterday, via AYME, I received an email from another “ME mother,” whose 10-year-old is bedbound with ME and suffering terribly, both physically and psychologically.  Of course I wish I had some magic wand to wave, but at least I can support her and say, You will get there.  Brighter days are coming!  So I’m very pleased to be able to raise money for this good cause.

The Dafter has had her ups and downs this week.  Last Saturday she had a collapse in a shopping centre, and I had to borrow a wheelchair to get her back to the car.  That gave us both a bit of a fright, and she really did not enjoy being back in the wheelchair after a year without it.  But after this event she was also frightened to go out, for fear of getting stuck somewhere.  So she now has a walking stick, and loves it!

The Dafter with her walking stick.

The Dafter with her walking stick.

When she’s not doing a Cabaret-style performance at the bus stop, it has come in very handy for that bit of extra support to make the last part of the walk home.

She had to defer taking her Art exam until next May, and all her friends are on study leave and taking their exams, so she has been a bit at loose ends.  However, I am very proud to tell you that although she is having to do her Art over two years, she has won the Subject Prize in Art and Design for the Senior School, based on the work she was able to complete.  So that is a huge boost.  And she and I have fun together.  Here she is amusing herself while I have a cup of tea in town:

Out and about with the Dafter, May 2015.

Out and about with the Dafter, May 2015.

Glasgow is such a friendly city.  We went to the bank the other day, as the Dafter wanted to put some money in her account.  The lady there said, “Hello there!  We haven’t seen you for ages!  No wheelchair – that’s great!  And – didn’t you used to have glasses?”  The Dafter was amazed and replied that most of her friends hadn’t even noticed she’d started wearing contacts.  These kinds of friendly encounters, which do happen so often in Glasgow, even with complete strangers, can make the struggle of getting out of the house very worthwhile.

So this week, there’s been no snow, and no knitting.  But some happy times.

I wish you a very happy weekend, and in case you missed it, I’m doing a Harris-related giveaway at 8 pm GMT, Monday evening May 18th:  click here if you’re reading this before then.

Posted by: christinelaennec | May 11, 2015

Souvenir giveaway

Dear Readers,

I’ve so much enjoyed sharing my little trip to the Isle of Harris with you over the past few weeks.  Thank you for “coming along with me” by reading and commenting.  One of the joys of blogging is seeing something interesting and thinking, “Ooh I’d like to show them that!”

To thank you for your interest, I brought back something to give away to one lucky reader:

Cotton shopping bag, sold in aid of Isle of Harris Disabled Group.

Cotton shopping bag, sold in aid of Isle of Harris Disabled Group.

This is something you won’t find anywhere else in the world!  An Isle of Harris shopping bag, which I bought from the Harris Disabled Group charity shop in Tarbert.  It has photographs of the Harris coastline, St Clement’s Church at Rodel, and a sheep standing in a bus shelter.  There are also eagles – possibly silhouettes of the sea eagles which nest on Harris.  And it has English and Gaelic versions of the island’s name.  Both sides of the bag are printed with the design you see in the photo.  It has nice long handles for carrying it over your shoulder.

If you would like a chance to win this elegant and practical souvenir of the Isle of Harris, leave a comment here before 8 pm GMT on Monday, May 18th 2015.  I’m happy to send this anywhere at all.

Good luck!

Posted by: christinelaennec | May 8, 2015

Early May

This is a delicious time of year, I think.  For a long time in my life, May was the season of exams and stress (either studying or marking).  I often felt I wasn’t quite able to take in the beauty around me.  I very much hope that next year the Dafter will be well enough to sit her Higher Art exam, so I am keen to make the most of springtime now.

Rainbow over the park during my evening walk.  Early May, 2015, Glasgow.

Rainbow over the park during my evening walk. Early May, 2015, Glasgow.

Katharine Stewart’s May 3rd essay describes a trip she took from her home near Loch Ness to the West coast.  She wrote:  “There’s always a feeling of growth in the west and of kindness, kindness in the air and in the people.  Frost and snow don’t linger.  The prevailing wind is soft and brings welcome rain.” (A Garden in the Hills, p. 66)

I agree with her about the kindness of the people in this part of the world.  So many people smile at you, or stop to talk.  And the rainy weather has its own soft beauty.

Evening rain shower in the park.  Glasgow, 5 May 2015.

Evening rain shower in the park. Glasgow, 5 May 2015.

She writes of visiting a Victorian garden on the shores of Loch Broom, which “for 45 years, from about 1940, lay unattended”.  So the restoration would have been underway for a decade when she went in about 1994.

“We followed the path and pushed open an enormous door.  It was like entering the realm of the secret garden of childhood days.  The lilac was in bloom.  There were rhododendrons of colours that took the breath away, trees that had overgrown into the most fantastic shapes and small, unexpected patches of plants among the rocks.  Paths led in all directions.  We followed one to the shore, lured by the scent of salt water and seaweed, then back by mysterious ways to the vegetable plots.  Here seaweed was mulching strawberries!  I grew the tatties, one year, on a bed of seaweed.  They throve magnificently!  Then we came on a real surprise – asparagus!  The balm of the west was at work.” (66-67)

Tulips and narcissi in the back garden, late April.

Tulips and narcissi in the back garden, late April.

She doesn’t name the garden she visited, except to say they went there instead of their usual destination, the famous Inverewe gardens.  Could the secret garden have been Leckmelm?

On May 8th, back home in Abriachan, she set about planting her potatoes.  “In they go… with a blessing on their heads.  They are Kerr’s pinks.  I’ve never found one I like better.  Sometimes I wonder who this Kerr was and how he grew his pink potato.” (67)  I don’t often eat potatoes because I have found they (and peppers and tomatoes) make my incipient arthritis flare up.  But I agree that Kerr’s pinks are very nice.  Wikipedia tells me they were created by J. Henry in Aberdeenshire, in 1907.  But it sheds no light on why they are called after Kerr. (“This potato-related article is a stub.”)

Michael had some raised beds in our garden in Aberdeen, but having downsized very much, we (I) concentrate on growing flowers.  This was something my father could never understand – why would you grow something you couldn’t eat?!  Well, the pleasure I get from my flowers is very great.  And I am fortunate to be able to leave the vegetable-growing to the experts.

In the front garden, Shirley tulips and forget-me-not.  Early May.

In the front garden, Shirley tulips and forget-me-nots. Early May.

Katharine Stewart wrote, “At this time of the year if you turn your back on one bit of the garden for five minutes or more it goes completely out of hand.  You wonder if there will ever be a time when you can walk round appreciating everything without seeing something – an outcrop of weeds, an unpruned bush – that urgently needs doing.” (p. 69)  Although my garden is quite small, I have the same sense of things happening even faster than overnight.  For instance, the rowan tree that we planted last autumn.  One day there were fat buds, and then the next day there were tiny green leaves and blossoms:

Our new rowan tree in leaf.  Early May, Glasgow.

Our new rowan tree in leaf. Early May, Glasgow.

I have written before about the magic of the beech hedges.  One minute they are covered in dead leaves that have clung on stubbornly through all winter storms, and then in the twinkling of an eye, the dead leaves have gone and new leaves have come out:

Beech hedge, both copper and green beech.  Behind, trees leafing out.  Early May, Glasgow.

Beech hedge, both copper and green beech. Behind, trees leafing out. Early May, Glasgow.

Katharine Stewart writes about her patch of grass:  “I prefer to call it the ‘green’ …  Let it grow and it’s a meadow, a dampish meadow with lots of moss, wild flowers – eyebright, lady’s smock, lady’s mantle, self-heal, speedwell, stitchwort, hawkbit, bird’s foot trefoil, buttercups and daisies.  … Over the years it has given so much to the life of the house – picnics, night out in a ‘bivvy’ [bivouac] to catch the early sights and sounds, sunbathing and football games.  This year I shall cut a good patch in the middle for the ball games and leave wisde swathes round the edges for flowers.”

I love how perfectly she captures the meaning of a garden:  not something you look at from a path, but a place to play, rest, and just be.  The Dafter was appalled when we realised our new back lawn had no daisies!  What is the point of having a lawn if you can’t make daisy chains?  So winter before last I planted a number of the wildflowers Stewart names into the lawn.  I see the clover, birds-foot trefoil, lady’s bedstraw and two kinds of daisies are doing well.  I’m so pleased.

I wish you all a very enjoyable weekend, which hopefully will include some enjoyment of nature.  Check back here next week for my last Harris-related post, which will be a giveaway!

Posted by: christinelaennec | May 5, 2015

The stones of Callanish / Calanais

I have neglected to follow along with Katharine Stewart’s A Garden in the Hills recently, as I’ve been posting about my trip to Harris.  Interestingly, her essay for the 1st of May overlaps with something I wanted to show you:  standing stones.  So I will weave them together.

On the last day of my time in Harris, I drove up to Callanish in Lewis.  You may have heard of the amazing standing stones there.  They are believed to date back to the 3rd century B.C.

Coming up the path to the stones, I had a flashback from when the Dafter was very young.  You can’t see the stone circle from the car park, or indeed until you’ve climbed up the gravel path to the top of the hill.  I suddenly remembered a small Dafter entranced by the pieces of golden gravel:  “So pretty – the stones of Callanish!”  For her, those small, slightly polished, loose stones on the path were reason enough for an hour’s journey in the car.  We had a hard time tearing her away from her own “stones of Callanish” and I’m sure she came away with a few in her small fists and pockets.

Here is what grown-ups refer to as the Stones of Callanish:

As you enter

As you enter

They are located on the edge of a very ordinary Lewis township – or more accurately, a township sprang up next to them.  The stones form the shape of a Celtic cross, with a circle in the middle.  Many believe that the circle was planned as a kind of early observatory, aligned with the planets and stars.  In the words of Historic Scotland, who care for the site:  “The layout of the site, along with many others across the British Isles, appears to have an association with astronomical events, the precise nature of which cannot be determined.” (from this page)

Here you see the top branch of the cross, an avenue of stones:

The ??? avenue, with houses behind.

The north avenue, seen from the centre of the circle, with houses behind.

In the centre of the cross there is a circle.  According to the Historic Scotland website, the central stone is a “monolith” measuring 4.8 meters (a little over 15 and a half feet).

Centre

Centre

There is a burial chamber at the centre:

Centre

Centre of the stone circle (with a young visitor snapping away as well)

In her May Day essay, Katharine Stewart writes about the tradition of going outside to bathe her face in May Day dew (meant to keep one beautiful); and about visiting a well of which only she seemingly still knew the location.  The area where the well was located had been planted with trees.  What struck me about Stewart’s thoughts was the feeling of somehow touching people of the far distant past, a feeling that being at Callanish gives one.

“Here, once, a stone-age dwelling stood, the outline of the foundation still clearly visible.  Here, before the trees were planted, I had come on arrow-heads and a scraping tool on the fresh-turned furrows.  … Pulling aside the ferns and rushes, I gaze into the water.  It’s still dark and clear.  I scoop up a handful and drink it slowly, relishing every drop.  I gaze into the water again and put up a small plea, not for healing or protection for myself, but, perhaps, for the earth, for the whole earth which is in more danger than any of us.

I imagine a man of the flints, tired and thirsty from the hunt, coming for a drink of the water, the water that meant life as surely as fire did.  As he stooped over the smooth surface and saw his face reflected there, did he stop for a moment to wonder where he came from, where he might be going?  I think he did, for he spent so much of his strength hauling those enormous stones and standing them upright, pointing to the sun, moon and the stars.  That labour did not profit him or his family in any material sense, but it must have given him immense satisfaction.” (p. 65)

Visitor centre

Callanish visitor centre

Although it isn’t as famous as Stonehenge, I think Callanish is just as impressive.  Of course, Scotland is peppered with stone circles.  I wrote about one in Aberdeenshire here.

I knew that gales and rain were to come in from the west that afternoon, and I arrived at the stones when the wind was merely icy.  I always enjoy walking around them, along with other people who have come.

Regular readers will know me well enough by now to surmise that going inside for something warm to eat and drink afterwards was just about as much of a pleasure to me as seeing the stones themselves.  The Callanish visitor centre is beautifully designed.  It nestles into the landscape below the hill where the stones are, as you can see in the photo above and below.

Sympathetic architecture, Callanish visitor centre

Sympathetic architecture, Callanish visitor centre

Best of all was that I was able to meet a friend for lunch.  My delicious soup and bread and coffee was enjoyed over a long catch-up.  As we sat there, the rain moved in from the west, but we were snug in the restaurant, looking out over the moorland and lochans as the windows were pelted.

Callanish is a very special place.  The kind of place that puts one’s problems and indeed existence into perspective!

Posted by: christinelaennec | May 1, 2015

In and around Tarbert, the Isle of Harris

Here are some photos from various points in the three days I stayed on Scalpay.  (See the map of the area here.)  As I wrote on St. Patrick’s Day, there are more cattle on Harris than there used to be in the past.  The Highland Cattle are beautiful, and like the sheep, they aren’t fenced in, so you have to be aware when driving.  There were several near Urgha, between Scalpay and Tarbert:

Cows near Urgha, on the road from Scalpay to Tarbert.

Cows near Urgha, on the road from Scalpay to Tarbert.

Two of them had calves, who stayed near their mothers:

Two cows with their calves:  Beathaichean agus laoidhean (sp???)

Two cows with their calves by the side of the road

I went to church at the Church of Scotland in Tarbert, where you will find some trees, and also lovely daffodils:

Daffodils on the way to church, Tarbert.  12 April 2015.

Daffodils on the way to church, Tarbert. 12 April 2015.

Hailstones from passing showers lay unmelted in the shade by the path:

Clachan-meallaidh:  hailstones.  On the way to church, Tarbert, 12 April 2015.

Clachan-meallaidh: hailstones. On the way to church, Tarbert, 12 April 2015.

There’s a beautiful view out towards the Minch from next to the church.  This is where the ferry comes in:

View from the Church of Scotland in Tarbert:  looking east, towards the Minch.  12 April 2015.

View from the Church of Scotland in Tarbert: looking east, towards the Minch. 12 April 2015.

This one is quite far from Tarbert, but I liked this sign in the ferry terminal in Stornoway:  “Is e Freasdal Dhè ar dìleab” / “God’s providence is our inheritance”:

"Is a fe...  "  Stornoway ferry terminal.

At Stornoway ferry terminal.

The sign was above a display of local crafts, including Harris Tweed.  I wondered if the saying is meant to refer to how the people of these islands have made the very most of their natural resources?  Returning to Tarbert, the new distillery is taking shape down by the pier!  This initiative will be employing local people and of course using the wonderfully peaty water of the highlands.

New distillery under construction.  Tarbert, Isle of Harris, April 2015.

New distillery under construction. Tarbert, Isle of Harris, April 2015.

I think the architecture makes it look like a church – is that just me?  Of course, it will be closed on the Sabbath (for my thoughts on Sunday in Harris see here).

On Monday, I had a chance to stop for a coffee in First Fruits tearoom in Tarbert:

Having a coffee in First Fruits tearoom, Tarbert, Isle of Harris.

Having a coffee in First Fruits tearoom, Tarbert, Isle of Harris.

We’ve been coming to this place for years and although the ownership has changed over time, the atmosphere hasn’t.  It’s a good place to knit and write postcards.

Antique butter dishes in the window of First Fruits tearoom.

Antique butter dishes in the window of First Fruits tearoom, Tarbert.

One evening I drove across to the west side of the island, through the village of Luskentyre:

The strand seen from Luskentyre, looking west towards Taransay.  11 April 2015.

The strand seen from Luskentyre, looking southwest. Taransay is on the right, and Seilebost is on the left. 11 April 2015.

Taransay, seen from Luskentyre.

Taransay, seen from Luskentyre.

It was very cold and windy, and I waited for the showers to pass before walking down towards the beach.

Luskentyre beach:  setting sun obscured by swiftly advancing cold showers.

Luskentyre beach: setting sun obscured by swiftly advancing cold showers.

It was so very cold, and the oncoming showers were so dark, that this was as far as I got!  I made it back to the car just as the icy rain came down.  It was still great to have been there.

Posted by: christinelaennec | April 27, 2015

A walk to Eilean Glas lighthouse on the Isle of Scalpay

This post is for Jill of Land of the Big Sky, who loves lighthouses and has dedicated a lot of her time to the Lighthouse Museum in Fraserburgh.

Eilean Glas lighthouse is on the eastern side of the Isle of Scalpay, which itself is on the east side of the Isle of Harris:

Map showing how Scalpay is situated on the east coast of Harris, and where the lighthouse is.

Map showing how Scalpay is situated on the east coast of Harris, and where the lighthouse is.  Scalpay is about three miles long.  The drive from Tarbert to Scalpay village takes me just over 15 minutes in good weather, as it is quite tricky driving.

Eilean Glas was one of the first four lighthouses to be built in Scotland (Kinnaird Head in Fraserburgh was also one of these).  The name Eilean Glas means Grey Isle.  According to the plaques, the lamp was first lit on October 10th, 1789.  The first lighthouse keeper was Alexander Reid, who stayed for 35 years.  How amazing to think that he began his time in this isolated spot when the French Revolution was in full swing, was there during the Napoleonic wars, and into the extravagant period of the Regency.  I’m sure Eilean Glas lighthouse has saved many lives over the centuries.

The day I walked to the lighthouse, it was sunny with a cold wind, and hailshowers swiftly coming across from the south.  Watching the showers pass reminded me very much of Mairi Hedderwick’s illustrations of the Katie Morag stories.  If you know her work, you will be familiar with the sketches of slanting showers, with rainbows mixed in.  It was one of those days on the islands:

Passing rain/hail showers over the Minch.  Photo taken from near the start of the walk to the lighthouse, Outend, Isle of Scalpay.  12 April 2015.

Passing rain/hail showers over the Minch. Photo taken from near the start of the walk to the lighthouse, Outend, Isle of Scalpay. 12 April 2015.

And to the south, more showers approaching.

And to the south, more showers approaching.

The start of the walk is along the old peat road.  My friend Catriona told me of walking for an hour to get here, working in the peat banks, and walking the hour back home.  Like so many island women, her husband worked away during the summer season, so it was often the women who had to cut, stack and carry the peats home.  It is hard work.  She told me she carried a heavy creel of peats home from here while 8 months pregnant.  I think it wasn’t until the 1980s that people began being less dependent on peat for their heating.

The start of the walk:  the old peat road.

The start of the walk: the old peat road.

I was just enjoying being a tourist.

Continuing along....

Turning to look back, there are showers still coming behind me from the south.

But the showers avoid me!  The lighthouse just visible behind me.

But the showers avoid me! The lighthouse just visible behind me, with the Minch and the Isle of Skye beyond.  I was extremely grateful for my hat.

After about a mile, I could see the long stone dyke (wall) that you have to pass through on your way to the lighthouse.  From the end of the old peat road, a new gravelled path has recently been constructed.  It is very easy to walk on, though I somewhat miss the bouncy path over the peat beds.

The new path and the boundary wall, with the lighthouse beyond.

The new path and the boundary wall, with the lighthouse beyond.

I last did this walk about ten years ago with the family – I remember one of the Dafter’s welly boots split.  Before that I remember Our Son galloping around, and our friend T taking turns carrying a very young Dafter.  The children have grown up, but this place remains largely unchanged!

At one point, I could see the Shiants very clearly:

The Shiants, seen from the walk to Eilean Glas lighthouse on Scalpay.

The Shiants, seen from the walk to Eilean Glas lighthouse on Scalpay.

These islands lie in the Minch off the east coast of Lewis.  They were once inhabited year-round. Adam Nicolson, whose family owns them, has written a very good book about their history called Sea Room.

Once you’re through the boundary wall, the path reverts to its rougher old self, and you pass some very old walled gardens:

Inside the boundary wall, an old walled garden with daffodils.

Inside the boundary wall, an old walled garden with daffodils.  You can see Skye in the background.  The photo is a bit slanted because the wind was so strong I was having trouble keeping my balance.

Very unusual daffodils:  does the peaty soil make them so ruffled?

Very unusual daffodils: does the peaty soil make them so ruffled?

From here you can see the small bay where supplies were landed and winched up to the houses.  Before the lighthouse was automated in 1978, several lighthouse keepers and their families lived here.

Inside the boundary wall, coming to the final stretch.

Coming to the final stretch:  Eilean Glas lighthouse.

To my left, the east coast of Lewis and beautiful rainbows in the passing showers.

Showers and rainbows with the Isle of Lewis behind.

Showers and rainbows with the Isle of Lewis behind.

I walked down past the small bay, and up towards the lighthouse buildings.

"The Bothy" looks as if it was just carved directly from the stone behind it.

“The Bothy” looks as if it was just carved directly from the stone behind it.

Having read the warning notice - that if I am struck by falling masonry, on my head be it, ha ha! - I walk through the gates and into the compound.

Having read the warning notice – that if I am struck by falling masonry, on my head be it, ha ha! – I walk through the gates and into the compound.

Lighthouse keepers' cottages.

Lighthouse keepers’ cottages.

The views were stunning.  To the north, the Shiants were visible but looked far smaller than when seen through the gap further back along the path.

Looking north up the Minch.

Looking north up the Minch.  The Isle of Lewis coastline on the left, and in the distance the Shiants.

With the showers dancing past, I could see all of the Isle of Skye, from the Trotternish peninsula to the cliffs of Dunvegan.  (See my map here.)

The Trotternish peninsula of the Isle of Skye, on the other side of the Minch.

The Trotternish peninsula of the Isle of Skye, on the other side of the Minch.

Amazingly, none of the showers came to where I was on my walk!  I watched the ferry coming across from Uig in Skye, to Tarbert on the Isle of Harris.

Looking south-east, the ferry coming across from the Isle of Skye to Tarbert.

Looking south-east, the ferry coming across from the Isle of Skye to Tarbert.

Looking south:  I was able to see the outline of Eaval in North Uist, and very faintly, the hills of South Uist as well.

Looking south: I was able to see the outline of Eaval in North Uist, and very faintly, the hills of South Uist as well.  The ferry is continuing on its way to Tarbert.

I was very fortunate to have such great visibility that I could see more than half-way down the chain of islands that is the Outer Hebrides.

I was also very glad the foghorn was not going to be sounding while I was there!  It had become quite amazingly still, with hardly any wind while I was at the lighthouse.  I sat in the sun and knitted.

A spot of knitting.  The red containers are the compressed air tanks to run the foghorn.

It was so unusually calm that I was able to indulge in a spot of knitting!  It was just fantastic to sit there and knit with the showers chasing each other across the Minch. The red containers are the compressed air tanks to run the foghorn.

I was hoping I might see dolphins, or a Minke whale, or even otters or seals, but I just saw the beautiful water.

The sun was wheeling around towards the west, and it was time to head back.  The wind was against me again I was, as always on this trip, hugely grateful for my knitted hat!  I stopped at the little beach in the bay below the lighthouse and found some iridescent limpet shells:

Pretty shells on the little beach below the lighthouse.

Pretty shells on the little beach below the lighthouse.

I came back through the perimeter wall, along the new path, along the old peat road, and just as I got into the car, the heavens opened.  The entire walk is about 5 kilometres or about 3 miles, so not a huge distance.  But I felt as if I’d been very far away, and had had a magical experience.

Posted by: christinelaennec | April 24, 2015

Morning walk on Scalpay

My first morning on Scalpay dawned bright, with a chilly wind and occasional hail-showers.  After my delicious breakfast, I went for a walk.  Here are some photos:

Looking back at the South Harbour from Manse Brae, Isle of Scalpay.  11 April 2015.

Looking back at the South Harbour from Manse Brae, Isle of Scalpay. 11 April 2015.  Two Harbours Guest House is to the left of the photo and was the old manse.  Hence the name of this path, Manse Brae.  You can see the church (Free Church (Continuing)) at the top left of the photo, with the sun shining on its roof.

Uan bheag / wee lamb.  It mistook me for its mother and was very endearingly head-butting my leg.  It was still quite tottery on its feet, but surprisingly strong!

Uan beag / wee lamb. It mistook me for its mother and was very endearingly head-butting my leg. It was still quite tottery on its feet, but surprisingly strong!

Lamb following me, bleating.

Lamb following me, bleating.

View across to Tarbert from near Cuddy Point, Isle of Scalpay.  11 April 2015.

View across to Tarbert from near Cuddy Point, Isle of Scalpay. 11 April 2015.

Looking north:  the South Harbour, the village, passing hail showers and the peak of Clisham, still with snow, in the distance.  Isle of Scalpay, 11 April 2015.

Looking north: the South Harbour, the village, passing hail showers and the peak of Clisham off in the distance, still with some snow. Isle of Scalpay, 11 April 2015.  Not long after I took this photo I stood for a bit, with my hood up, as the hailstones showered down.  They made quite a racket on the guard rails!

The ferry approaching Tarbert, seen from the road to Ard na Cille.  Isle of Scalpay, 11 April 2015.

The ferry from Uig in Skye, approaching Tarbert, seen from the road to Ard na Cille. Isle of Scalpay, 11 April 2015.

Caora agus uan:  sheep and her lamb.  Isle of Scalpay, 11 April 2015.

Caora agus uan: a sheep and her lamb. Isle of Scalpay, 11 April 2015.

Two collies playing.  The one inside the fenced area was no doubt longing to be able to chase its pal!  Isle of Scalpay, 11 April 2015.

Two collies playing. The one inside the fenced area was no doubt longing to be able to chase its pal!  They had a look at me but decided their game was too much fun to interrupt. Isle of Scalpay, 11 April 2015.

The South Harbour, Isle of Scalpay.  11 April 2015.

The South Harbour, Isle of Scalpay. 11 April 2015.

Scalpay lamb taking shelter, and bleating at me.

Scalpay lamb taking shelter, and bleating at me.

In my next post, I’ll show you my walk out to Eilean Glas lighthouse, on the eastern shore of the Isle of Scalpay.

Have a good weekend, everyone!

Posted by: christinelaennec | April 22, 2015

Staying on the Isle of Scalpay

On Friday, April 10th, I travelled from Glasgow to the Isle of Scalpay, off the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides.  I left home at 9 am, and took the train from Glasgow to Inverness.

A map of the West Coast of Scotland, with my train, road and ferry routes marked, between Glasgow and the Isle of Scalpay.

A map of the West Coast of Scotland, with my train, road and ferry routes marked, between Glasgow and the Isle of Scalpay.  I have also included some other places that I’ve mentioned in blog posts.

There was still quite a lot of snow on the mountains between Perth and Inverness:

The Cairngorms seen from the train between Perth and Inverness.  10 April 2015.

The Cairngorms seen from the train between Perth and Inverness. 10 April 2015.

From Inverness I took the bus to Ullapool, and then the ferry across the Minch to Stornoway.  Because the new ferry’s gangplank is still being built, we foot passengers had to board via the car deck:

Foot passengers boarding the new ferry via the car deck.  We walked past workmen still building the new gangplank.  10 April 2015.

Foot passengers boarding the new ferry via the car deck. We walked past workmen still building the new gangplank (seen on the left). 10 April 2015.

I will do a separate post about the new ferry, the Loch Seaforth.  The crossing time is down to two and a half hours rather than three.  Because of the Easter holidays there were a lot of people, cars and lorries to load and unload, and we arrived in Stornoway a bit late.  The car hire man was waiting uncomplainingly, and soon I was off again, driving down to Scalpay.  I was glad that I know the road well, as it was dark, misty going over the Clisham, and there were a few places where the sheep were sleeping in the road.  I got to my destination just after 10 pm.

If you read my posts from my trip to Harris last April, you’ll know that I have friends on Scalpay.  But, although I have visited Harris almost every year since 1996, I had never before stayed on Scalpay.  I was so very glad that I did!

I had booked a room at the newly-opened Two Harbours Guest House, which takes its name from the fact that you can see both the North and South harbours from its windows.

Two Harbours Guest House, Isle of Scalpay.  22 April 2015.

Two Harbours Guest House with the North Harbour behind, Isle of Scalpay. 11 April 2015.

The breakfasts were delicious, and they cater for vegetarians and gluten-free diets.  This is fairly unusual out in the islands. I also have a real affection for the Portmeiron china, which an old family friend once had:

A delicious breakfast.

A delicious breakfast, with vegetarian sausage and homemade bread (missing a bite!).  Two Harbours Guest House, Isle of Scalpay.

The house was once a manse, and I was told that the room I stayed in, which had views out to both the harbours, was where Communion used to be served!

My room:  windows looking towards the South Harbour, Isle of Scalpay.

My room: windows looking towards the South Harbour, Isle of Scalpay.

My room:  view towards the North Harbour.

My room: view towards the North Harbour.

The house has been beautifully done up and was warm and comfortable:

Lovely touches at Two Harbours Guest House, Isle of Scalpay.

Lovely touches at Two Harbours Guest House, Isle of Scalpay.  The badge on my jacket says “Knitter”!

The owners of the guest house were incredibly welcoming.  I had a key to my room and was able to come and go as I pleased, which was great.

On the first morning of my stay, they invited me to have a look at the garden.  There were all sorts of birds in the trees.  Redwings were plentiful, and sparrows and wrens.  I didn’t hear the call of the cuckoo, but was told that it was heard just a few days after I was there.

Part of the garden at Two Harbours Guest House, Isle of Scalpay.

Part of the garden at Two Harbours Guest House, Isle of Scalpay.  The brown on the trees is caused by salty sea-spray during the winter.

This is the view from the wall at the end of the garden:

View of the North Harbour from the wall of Two Harbours Guest House, Isle of Scalpay.  11 April 2015.

View of the North Harbour from the wall of Two Harbours Guest House, Isle of Scalpay. 11 April 2015.

Outside the wall, presumably escapees from a former garden, are raspberry canes!  In my next post I will take you along my morning walk on Scalpay.

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