Friday 29 June 2012

A West Coast Journey

Watching the News tonight it is plain to see that travelling in England and Scotland has been a bit of a trial today for quite a few people.  Trains have been cancelled on both the West and East Coast routes because of floods, landslips and even fire.  Pestilence wasn't mentioned though so that's something for which to be thankful.  

Getting up at 0435 is not something I enjoy unless it's a beautiful morning and I don't actually have to get up but do it voluntarily.  Today at 0627 we were 43 miles away from Eagleton at the Tarbert Ferry Terminal on Harris.  We had a ferry journey to Uig on Skye of 1hr 40 mins and then a whole day to drive 248 miles to Anna's near Glasgow.  We journeyed through mixed weather but latterly the rain varied between heavy and torrential and driving was rather a chore.

On Skye
Eilean Donan Castle
Eilean Donan Castle and Loch Alsh
Towards Aonoch Mor from the Commando Memorial 
Towards Aonoch Mor from the Commando Memorial 

Thursday 28 June 2012

Thankful Thursday: Red Admiral Butterfly

Today, like a lot of my days, has been a Good Day if a tad phrenetic at times.  It's now 2230 and I'm going to finish this and go to sleep ready for an 0500 start and a three-day drive from one end of the country to the other.  I'm taking Anna home to Glasgow, picking up CJ on the Wirral and going to visit his Daughter-who-takes-photos and Son-in-law-who-loves-otters.  It should be an enjoyable and exciting 10 days.  

Earlier this week Anna and I were sitting in the sun in the garden having our morning coffee (didn't you just want that detail?) when a Red Admiral landed on the hebes.  I'm not sure how often I've seen Red Admirals in the garden but they are not frequent visitors and, as I've never blogged on them here in Eagleton, presumably I've never photographed one since I started the blog.  I managed a lot of shots of this one, some of which were useable:

So today I am thankful for the opportunity to sit and watch the world which, in turn, gives me the opportunity to see and photograph such wonderful creatures.

Tuesday 26 June 2012

Great Skua

It's not unusual these days for me to see a Great Skua from the house but they are usually far too far away or far too high up for me to capture.  However recently I got a bit lucky.  (Can one get a 'bit' lucky?  Is not luck an absolute?)   I saw one circling high above and managed to point the camera in the correct place at just the correct moment with just the correct exposure.  The result was about as good as it gets for me with that particular bird:

Monday 25 June 2012

Vertical Rainbows

When, at nearly 10pm one evening when he was visiting last weekend, David called me very enthusiastically to drop whatever I was doing and bring my camera outside, I was met with one of the most spectacular skies I've ever seen outside of the aurora borealis (which used to seem quite frequent here but which I haven't seen for many years).

I am not aware of ever before having seen a vertical rainbow nor, for that matter, a sunset rainbow either.  The latter explains the former.

The following is from the Photocentric.net  page on photographing rainbows.

Sunset rainbows are special [because] the sun's rays are nearly horizontal, so the top of the rainbow will be high in the sky. In fact, a sunset rainbow is the widest arc you'll ever see from the ground: almost half of the full-circle rainbow can become visible....... Sometimes only the end segment of the rainbow appears, and if you see a photo of a vertical rainbow at the horizon, you'll know it was made at sunset (or sunrise). With a little geometry work and a sun angle chart, you can tell time using a rainbow at the horizon.

As we watched the light changed altering the colours of the clouds and the rainbows and the rainbows changed composition too.

Sunday 24 June 2012

The Marina Visits

I think I'm correct in saying that the Oceania's Marina is the largest cruise liner to visit Stornoway.  Certainly when she was sitting there in the outer harbour she dwarfed all around her.  Unfortunately it was rather a misty morning so my photos are more images of record than anything else.  The Marina is the sister ship of the Riviera which entered service last month as one of the most sophisticated and elegant ships to debut in the last 50 years and on which Pat and Dave's daughter is the retail manager.  She spent a short while on the Marina to get a feel for the new vessel and was  a bit upset to have missed the opportunity to visit her home port.

The Marina in the outer harbour taken from the town
The Marina from the Sandwick side of the outer harbour.
 The Isle of Lewis ferry is hardly noticeable when she's in the same place. 
Passing the lighthouse into the inner harbour
One of the lifeboats used to ferry passengers ashore at the ferry terminal tender landing sta

Saturday 23 June 2012


In a comment on my recent post about the goldfish I've introduced to the pond CJ mentioned that a heron was their most likely predator.  Oddly herons are not a bird I can recall seeing very often in the vicinity of Eagleton and I suspect that the pond is so close to the house that it might deter any passing heron.   Certainly if a heron set it's mind on devouring them they would have little chance.  I once saw a heron in Stoke-on-Trent on an island in the middle of a lake.  In full view it grabbed a rat, took it into the lake and drowned it and then proceeded to swallow it whole.  It was one of the most amazing things I have ever witnessed in nature.  The goldfish would hardly even be hors d'oeuvres.

Oddly as I was walking with David and Molly a heron was down on the shore.  I was fortunate to get a shot of it when it took off.  

Friday 22 June 2012

A Chance and Change of Mind

Ever since I built the pond some years ago people have asked whether I intended to put fish in it and I've always answered in the negative because I have always believed that any fish I put in would immediately be devoured by the black backed gulls.  I very rarely see gulls in the garden but only being a hundred or two yards or so from the sea it's inevitable that gulls pass over the pond constantly.  Someone recently mentioned that goldfish ate algae.  I'm not sure that they do (although opinion on various websites I visited varies).  Anyway the water in the pond is crystal clear and there's plenty of life in the pond so I decided on a whim a few days ago to take the plunge (so to speak) and bought five little goldfish.

I put the bag complete with the goldfish in the pond for a few hours to match the water temperature.  The bag was half in sun and half in shade.  On the whole the fish liked the sun.  Obviously they are discerning fish.

Newly introduced and acclimatising.  The water in the bag's rather cloudy 
I was rather puzzled by the little creature (it is a creature isn't it?) in the bag which I didn't see at the time but which I've magnified.  I wonder if Helen or Ian or CJ or anyone else for that matter can identify it.

Now my knowledge of goldfish is limited to the research published in a splendid book called The Drunken Goldfish.  I thought that I had blogged on that most splendid of books but apparently not.  I shall have to remedy that.  Anyway one of the things I learned was that goldfish immersed in a solution of 3.1% alcohol will swim upside down.  There's lots more too involving goldfish short and long term memory.  Now I always thought that the memory span of a goldfish was about 7 seconds.  However..... Stop me!  You really don't want to know.

After the acclimatisation time was up I cut the neck off the bag they had come in and let the water mingle and the fish wander out.  After a while they did just that.  

The proprietor of the shop where I'd bought them told me that the fish would immediately disappear not to be seen for several days when they would come out to play.  Obviously the fish hadn't read the same book because they spent the day in the sun exploring and eating and apparently deciding on their respective territories in full view of me and any marauding gulls.

However this morning for a few hours the wind blew, the rain attempted to fall (we had .5 mm before the sun came out again) and the fish disappeared into the weed at the bottom of the pond.  I did see one later in the day under the waterlily pads.

The exercise has made me wonder though.  Do goldfish find that the raindrops on the pond make a noise that is unpleasant to them?  If I switch on the water pump and waterfall will they somehow find their environment less congenial?  After all now that I am a custodian of the lives of five fish I have to think of their welfare.

Thursday 21 June 2012

Thankful Thursday: Goldfinch

I looked at the bird table this afternoon and did a double take.  Goldfinches.  We don't get Goldfinches on Lewis do we?  The answer in 1990 when Peter Cunningham's book was last updated was 'very rarely'.  Had I seen them before on Lewis?  According to the notes in my bird book I have seen one once - in 2005 at Eagleton.  Well today I saw a pair.  At The Cottage in New Zealand I see this glorious little bird all the time and blog about it too.  This is a first time on this blog and, unfortunately, the photos are partly obscured by the netting on the bird table to keep the pigeons off the smaller birds' food

So today I am really thankful to have been visited by this beautiful bird.

Wednesday 20 June 2012

Missing You Already

On one of the occasions I was in Canada visiting my almost-lifelong friend, Mo, I had a circular badge which said "Don't tell me what kind of a day to have". I found the then habit, for habit it usually was, of telling me to 'have a nice day' very irritating. It's been replaced for the most part in the UK and New Zealand by the question "How are you today" when you arrive at the checkout. I invariably answer "Very well thank you and how are you?" I reckon that I get an answer about once for every ten times I give the reply and ask my question. The checkout operator's question was so automatic she or he completely switched off as soon as it was asked. Frankly I'd rather be offered a simple 'Hi'

All that arose from the saying "Missing you already" that was popular for a while.  I thought of it when I saw the photos of David and Molly boarding MV Isle of Lewis for their journey home.

That's David in the red fleece.
Just before they departed we went for a walk in the Lews Castle Grounds and watched the ferry coming across a millpond-like Minch.

Whilst Molly found a stick.

Tuesday 19 June 2012


Have you noticed how many decisions we are faced with every day?  I don't mean business decisions or the Really Big Decisions.  Just the tiny ones.

Every time you get up you are about to face a day with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of decisions.  Driving a car, for example, would require a computer with quite phenomenal computing power.  So much so the human brain doesn't always cope  Hence the 1.2 million road accident deaths globally each year.

However this morning I was far more concerned with the minutae of life and the mundane decisions of how to achieve today's goal.  Having already taken the decision that today was to be my annual spring cleaning day I had to decide with which room to start.  I know you ladies will be shaking your heads.  Spring cleaning in one day!  I know some who take a day just to do one room.  But here I am having my morning coffee and writing this paragraph and already the bathroom is like new.  One down 10 rooms to go.  TEN rooms?  Surely not. This is a tiny house lived in by one person.  How can I have 11 rooms?  And now I have to decide which chocolate to have with my morning coffee.  OK.  That should be easy.  There are only 5 left.

Tomorrow friends are coming for dinner.  They are both excellent cooks.  Not that that intimidates me at all.  I love cooking and I'm not aware of having made anyone too ill yet.  But Steve did once comment that I seemed to feed him nothing but chicken - even though he did concede that I'd cooked it several dozen different ways.  I told him he was lucky to get fed every Tuesday.  He pointed out in reply that he did contribute an excellent bottle of wine from his extensive (and expensive) cellar each week and that it was usually different.  'But' I rejoined 'always red'.  And a meal isn't one decision either:  starter, main, desert.  At least cheese isn't a decision.  I always have enough different types in the house to feed any taste.

During my recent cardiac MoT the nurse asked if I ate cheese more than three times.  I replied that it was usually only twice.  I got lots of brownie points until she realised I was talking about twice a day and she was talking about twice a week.  Who only eats cheese twice a week?

This post was supposed to be about decisions but I seem to have strayed.  I am also really embarrassed that I told you that I'd get all the spring cleaning done today.  I really shouldn't have done that.  I'm just too optimistic, that's my problem.  By lunchtime I'd done two rooms: the bathroom and the front porch. OK perhaps that's not even strictly speaking a room but it took for ever to clean into every nook and cranny of every one of its 9 windows and two doors: all that plastic with rubber seals.  Nightmare stuff.

Ah well.  There's a whole lifetime to get the remaining 5 done.  After all when I surveyed them this evening I thought they looked pretty clean.  Yes.  They must be.  It's only a year since I did them last time. 

Monday 18 June 2012

B****y Midges

One should always be careful for what one wishes.  Over the last few weeks I've been very conscious that one of the dangers of wishing that the wind would abate was that the midges would appear to torment us.  Well today (written on Sunday) the wind was a friendly Force 3.  That was comfortable but sufficient to keep the midges at bay.  However about an hour ago the wind swung round from the Northerly sector to the Southerly sector at Force 1 after a short period with no wind at all.  In fact as I write this the wind has ceased and the gauge is registering zero.  The consequence is that the midges are everywhere and we are confined to barracks.  Actually 'we' are not.  David and Molly are out there.  Molly is obviously oblivious and David's need for little white cancer sticks is greater than his dislike of the little annoying bitey creatures.

I reached for my trusty Midges in Scotland by George Hendry.  A must read for anyone coming to or living in the Highlands if only for the humour of which this cartoon is a taster (used on the basis that the copyright holder won't mind given that I'm giving this plug and using it as a 'quotation' for the purpose of honest comment).  The work is otherwise an exceptionally readable treatise on how and why the midge plays such a dominant role in the ecology and human life of the Highlands.

When I first came to live on Lewis in the mid '70s I was told that more people left the Islands because of the midge than because of unemployment, that every midge represented a sin of mankind, and that for every midge killed a hundred came to seek vengeance. I didn't believe such superstitious nonsense.  But do you know what?  On a day like this I realise that it wasn't superstitious nonsense after all.

These days however when the midges get bad even the hardy road workers wear midge protection clothing such as the Midge Head Net or Midge Jacket which were probably inspired by this Punch cartoon from 160 years ago.

Sunday 17 June 2012

Frances Garrood Talks to Her Horse

When she is not talking to her horse, Titch, or berating people (I know, I'm a victim) for their use or misuse of the English language Frances Garrood is, amongst many other things I'm sure, writing: books (see my post a few days ago about Dead Ernest) and her blog (pithily named Frances Garrood) and, doubtless plenty of other things too.  In my experience (of, amongst others, my brother CJ and my Mother) people who write spend as much time as they can doing it.  

This was actually not supposed to be about Frances but about summer and the weather.  However the words that prompted it were penned (actually they were more likely keyed) by Frances in the form of a poem which amused me very much indeed.  It was entitled A True Story:

Towards the end of every May
I put my winter boots away.
Knowing that summer's coming soon 
(And no-one wears their boots in June).

I get my sandals out instead
And paint my toenails cherry red
And wait for summer to resume.
(For I cannot wear my boots in June.)

Last night, the rain came down in buckets.
At last I flipped. And thought - oh, f*** it -
I'm hardly asking for the moon!
( I've put my boots back on. In June.)

That immediately made me think about the fact that on Friday down on the beach I was wearing a roll-neck sweater, fleece, quilted inner and windproof/waterproof Berghaus jacket.  It's June and it was 7 days away from Midsummer's Day!  Two weeks ago I was paining the fences round the house wearing shorts.  We haven't had any rain to speak of for weeks and I have the sprinklers going.  The South of England is flooded.  The world is topsy turvy.  Do Aurae, Anemi and Boreas not know that it's summer and that if anyone is out to play it should be Zephyrus.  Or are the wrong gods being called upon.  Are they too Greek to care about the Outer Hebrides?  Perhaps we should be calling upon Freyr the relevant Norse god.  He is, after all, nearer to hand.

But, hey ho, there is little I can do and in the circumstances I think that I shall just take a leaf out of Frances's book and put my winter clothes back on.

Saturday 16 June 2012

One Man and His Dog

Yesterday I was lured into a walk down the croft to the shore with David and Molly.  I am ashamed to say that it's the first time I've done that since I returned to Eagleton about 5 weeks ago.   I was not, at first, for going yesterday either.  With a wind registering Force 6 (around 40 kph) from the North East and therefore very very cold I was definitely in wuss mode.  However sanity prevailed (reminding me of a Laura Brannigan song) and I decided to be kind to my body and get the exercise.  The fact that I might get some photos didn't even cross my mind (and if you believe that.....).  After an hour or more we returned cold and tired but invigorated ready for nut, olive and wine time.  It's a hard life.

The Thrower in his subtle garb
Keeping one's eye on the ball 
Handbrake turn

Before it stops

The wet way back

Come and get it!

Heading it off at the pass.   If you are wondering Molly got to it first.

All four paws in the air

No.  It went that away 

Jumping for joy

"It's behind you!"