It starts with the journey. Moving deliberately through the water sailing slowly towards the horizon and leaving the mainland behind. This gentle process seems to break the bonds that tie us to the stresses and strains of our ‘ordinary’ lives.
This is not something to be endured – it’s something to be enjoyed and savoured. Part of the unburdening process, accompanied by anticipation, that is completed as you take your first step onto the island.
The tranquil beauty of this island never fails to amaze. Whether it’s your first visit, or one of many in a long line of visits, the impact of the shape and form of the land, the wide and open sky, the crystal clear water and the vivid colours never fails to press the heart and still the turmoil.
Some will navigate the uncertainty to visit the island this year. Others will wait with increasing anticipation for next summer before they visit. An extreme case of deferred gratification!
There’s been something of a growing trend in the production of books showing historic photographs placed alongside contemporary images of the same location. It’s a bit like a cultural ‘spot the difference’ exercise and can be great fun in appreciating how favourite locations have changed over the years. Perhaps it’s something to do with wanting to make a connection to our past and feel part of a bigger picture.
I’ve created our own ‘then and now’ showing the view of our part of Balemartine in 1928 and now in 2020. Some interesting changes. The old byre, on the left, with its felt roof, has had many uses over the last ninety-two years.
This humble building has been a real asset to four generations. Originally a wash house and byre for over-wintering the milking cow, it was also used as a workshop and a store room. In the 1950s a garage was added. It was transformed in 2002 to a gallery and in 2016 to a self-catering cottage. Quite a history.
Perhaps it deserves its own television programme – A Byre Through Time.
Seeing some children playing on the beach in the sunshine last week reminded me of the iconic Tiree paintings by Duncan MacGregor Whyte. Although he was born in Oban he had a strong connection to the island through his grandfather. In 1899 he gained permission to build a wooden studio at Balephuil and he built his studio at Ceann na Creige overlooking the beach at Balephuil shortly afterwards. He stayed, and painted there, with his artist wife Mary Barnard, for most of each summer, in the years that followed.
Between 1911 and 1922 he travelled and lived in Canada and Australia undertaking commissions and building his reputation. From 1923 he became a regular summer visitor to Tiree again and became well known for his bucolic Tiree landscapes and scenes of daily life on the island. His paintings are a visual record of times past and a way of life now only dimly remembered. He died on 3 December 1953.
For a number of weeks now we’ve been watching a pair of oystercatchers collecting food for their young and patrolling the beach to ward off possible danger. They’ve been busily driving away intruders with anxious whistles and pipes, chases and aggressive flight.
Although we’ve been watching this display of dedicated parenting again this year we haven’t found the nest site. Their usual site is abandoned and empty. They must have found an even more secluded location. The parent birds have been spending a great deal of time on the beach, in the swash zone, and in the nearby fields, looking for worms, a sure sign they’re feeding young. Good to know they have chicks again this year.
We’ve been dodging showers. After weeks of guaranteed sunshine from sunrise to sunset – we’ve had a spell of changeable weather – promising much and delivering very little. We’ve had the lot in quick succession – heavy rain, mist, high winds and sunny spells. Of course everyone says there is no such thing as bad weather – only the wrong clothing! To carry clothing to cover the myriad of weather conditions we’ve experienced this past few days would necessitate being accompanied everywhere by a dedicated band of low level sherpas! Not something that you see everyday on the island!
Tiree has seventeen major beaches and countless small sandy coves and inlets. Almost half the coastline is made up of white shell-sand beaches orientated in all directions. The crystal clear sea that surrounds the island cycles through a myriad of colours from turquoise blue and olive green to cerulean and ultramarine. The cottage overlooks a beautiful and secluded beach, often deserted, which is accessed by a grass track.
Visitors, when they first arrive on the island, are always amazed that we have such stunning and beautiful beaches – although none are award winning.
These open and unspoilt areas are such a blessing in these difficult days. They offer peace and harmony and places of relaxation, re-creation and contemplation to those of us who live on this island.
Robert Bruce Webster – a Scottish watercolourist born in Edinburgh in 1892 visited Tiree for a holiday in 1928. Although he stayed in Balephuil he travelled extensively around the island and produced a number of coastal watercolours. He took a photograph during his time on the island which shows our house on the right and an old byre – the first building on the left – which eventually became Blue Beyond Cottage.
He exhibited regularly in the Royal Scottish Academy, the Royal Society of Watercolourists and the Society of Scottish Artists from the early 1920’s until his death in 1959.
A number of Scottish artists have been attracted by the stunning beauty of the island and the intensity of light – most notably Duncan MacGregor Whyte and Henry Young Alison. Both built studios on the island and spent summers living and painting here on the ‘land below the waves’.
Dramatic light on the beach this morning. Tiree has been described as a vivid frontier of land, sea and sky. This morning it is just that!
Waves have always fascinated people.
Watching waves breaking on the beach is something we do a lot – sometimes with anxiety during winter storms and sometimes, in the summer, with a sense of calm wonderment as the wavelets break almost imperceptibly on the shoreline.
For years, scientists and engineers who study the shoreline have wondered at the apparent fickleness of waves breaking on the shore. Of course studies have shown that the action is not random and is determined, apparently, by the physics of the nearshore – the area of shallow water beyond the low tide mark – and the dynamics of waves in the surf and swash zones. The surf and swash zone is that region where waves crest and ends where the foamy white water barely covers our feet.
Perhaps, at times, our lives are subject to random events and actions and we’re being thrown through the surf and swash zone. Hopefully, we’ll all end in the gentle foam that leaves us resting on the sand.
Our beach seems to specialise in pink cowrie shells.
They’re small but perfectly formed – and they crop up all along the beach in quite large numbers. Each tide seems to bring a new supply and we have great fun spotting them and trying to find the ‘perfect’ example. They’re smooth and shiny and beautifully coloured – in shades of pale pink blended with white – and more or less egg-shaped.
There are lots of interesting facts to discover about cowries. An old Italian name for the shell is porcellana which gives us our word porcelain. In the past, in certain parts of the world, the shells have been used as currency and worn as jewellery. They often had ceremonial significance and were worn around the necks of chieftains as a badge of rank.
We always knew our beach was special but now we understand why – it’s adorned with shells that signify wealth, beauty and rank!