We’re going through a protracted spell of very unsettled weather. Lots of storms have passed through – none have had names but they’ve all had lots of personality! It’s a very early start to the winter. This weather is something we don’t normally experience until after the start of the new year. Very occasionally the monochrome veil is brushed aside, and for a few moments we see the familiar colours of summer!
Today has been spectacular. After days of heavy rain – accompanied by high winds – this morning has been a glistening, sparkling day with crystal clear light falling on a rolling sea. A day of promise and hope. Of course another storm will come, another deluge before the winter passes. As we weather storms these words of Jackson Browne come back to me…
“Some of them were dreamers,
And some of them were fools
Who were making plans and thinking of the future
With the energy of the innocent
They were gathering the tools
They would need to make their journey back to nature
While the sand slipped through the opening
And their hands reached for the golden ring
With their hearts they turned to each other’s hearts for refuge
In the troubled years that came before the deluge.”
It seems that we had the highest rainfall of anywhere in the UK yesterday – 72.8mm – in 24 hours. Kew Gardens, apparently, had the highest maximum temperature of 16.3 degrees centigrade. Now that’s the sort of record we would like to have here! The island has dried out a bit now although there is still a lot of standing water in the fields creating interesting tableaux vivants of cows and sheep teetering on small, isolated islands. Thanks to Angus John and Becky for these photographs of the deluge.
As we move further into autumn – with increasingly many more days looking wintery – we’re experiencing some wildly fluctuating weather. Within the space of a few minutes the light can turn from bright and glowing to dark and threatening. We’re all having to make choices about when to go out, where to go and what to wear. I’ve missed lots of lovely shots with the camera because my legs haven’t carried me fast enough to an ideal location. This rapidly changing weather is magnificently frustrating!
Following the very different summer we’ve just had on the island – I’ve been looking through some old archive photos of The Terrace – here in Balemartine – and how Blue Beyond Cottage used to look in the early part of the last century. These photographs were taken sometime around 1910.
Something of a reflection of our current situation. The photographs show a much quieter time with a slower place of life. Livestock seems to feature large – we even had a pet pig in Balemartine!
We’ve only had a fraction of our usual visitors to the island this year. For most of the summer travel restrictions meant that only essential visitors were allowed to arrive and the island enjoyed a time of relative quietude.
Of course, for those who didn’t need permission to sail or fly the island has been a haven and a sanctuary. We’ve been delighted to see so many of our usual resident birds thriving this year – numbers have been encouraging and they’ve been much more visible than usual. We’ve even had some rare species on the island.
In our celebrity obsessed world – we’ve had a visitor this week that’s attracted a lot of attention. All the way from North America – and way off course – Tiree has been home to a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. The twitchers have been here and the airport has been full of camouflage, cameras and scopes! Photo | John Bowler RSPB Tiree
The last few days have been wild and windy. There’s no doubt that this is the start of winter and we’re entering the season of storms.
We always wonder what will be revealed as the wind-driven sea scours the beach just below the cottage. Each winter, as the sand is eroded and relocated along the beach, the history of our township is revealed. Discarded household objects are tantalisingly uncovered and we have great fun speculating about who they belonged to, how they were used and why they were consigned to the midden.
Alongside the ubiquitous glass bottles, broken crockery and kitchen utensils we sometimes find exotic, unusual and bizarre objects.
This winter we’ve already found an old stock pot which would have been suspended over the kitchen range in one of the cottages and an old sewing machine! An old tailor used to live in the house next to ours many years ago. Could this be one of his old machines – discarded after many years of making and mending clothes for the whole township.
As we slip slowly towards autumn – it’s always hard to determine the change in seasons on Tiree – the weather has taken a turn towards changeable and fickle. It’s turn and turn about – one grim day followed by a stunner followed by another grim one! Today’s been windy but brilliantly clear and the colours of the sky, the sea and the land have been intense and vivid. These bright days feed the senses and the soul. This is truly an amazing island.
We’ve lost the call of the Corncrake for another year! Until fairly recently we had males calling in the long grass around the cottage – hoping for a third brood.
RSPB have just launched a conservation project called ‘Corncrake Calling’ which aims to save one of Scotland’s rarest and most secretive birds. Once widespread across UK meadows the Corncrake population fell catastrophically during the 1900s due to mechanisation and the trend towards the earlier mowing of grass crops. Corncrake are now confined to a few Scottish islands and a few isolated areas on the North West coast. Tiree is really very fortunate because we have the highest concentration of this red listed bird anywhere in the UK – almost a third of the entire population.
‘Corncrake Calling’ will work closely with farmers, local communities and national audiences to provide these iconic birds with the best possible chance of future success. Strategies usually involve creating fenced areas which remain uncultivated, cutting hay or silage later in the summer and cutting from the centre of fields outwards – allowing birds to escape to the edges of the fields and away to safety.
Recent counts show how fragile the numbers are. In 2017 there were only 866 recorded in the UK with 316 on Tiree. The following year the numbers recovered slightly with 899 males recorded across the UK and 322 on Tiree. Last year numbers had fallen again with only 870 calling males recorded within the UK with 300 on Tiree. This year there were 294 recorded on Tiree.
Storm Ellen has wrought a mighty change on the beach below the cottage. The storm, which lasted two days, created massive turbulence in the sea and the accompanying high winds pushed the waves onto the beach. The result is a massive deposit of ‘brown gold’ along the length of the whole beach. The majority of the weed is kelp, although there are smaller quantities of sea lettuce, carrageen, dulse and various wracks in the mixture.
Although not pretty, kelp was at the heart of a very important industry on the island two centuries ago. During the Napoleonic Wars, when other supplies from Spain dried up, the price of kelp ash rose from £2 to £12 per ton.
West coast landowners were quick to capitalise on this bonanza and between 1803 and 1837 kelp was gathered, dried and burned on the island to recover soda and potash. These compounds were essential to the soap and glass industries.
Kelp was also collected from 1863 to 1901 to extract iodine and sodium alginate. In recent years dried kelp from the island has been used to produce alginate food thickenings used in ice cream, beer and medical dressings.
It looks like there may be a small fortune on the beach!