Tiree | The First Week.
Having arrived on the isle Tiree two days ago I am now beginning to feel more orientated and familiar with my new immediate surroundings. The house snuggles into a dip in the ground, so different from modern homes that sit up, looking surprised, on high foundations as if they have just been thrown down, like a dice and having landed, are looking at their new environment for the first time. Not this house. It feels as if it has grown from the ground which I suppose, in a way, it must have done. Someone collected the stone to build the walls three feet thick. The roof is like a resting boat, turned upside down to have its bottom calked and sealed with pitch to keep the seawater out. So too, this roof is sealed from the rain with pitch over hessian and sarking boards. I can’t help but feel that these island people had skills which were applied to any task they had, boats or houses. Materials too must have been scarce with lots of things, especially timber, imported from the mainland.
The disadvantage of living in a hollow is not being able to see very far into the landscape from the windows. An invitation, of course, to step outside. The cottage is surrounded by machair, or open pasture spangled with a tapestry of wild flowers. Only the last stragglers are left in September but you can see how rich the flora must be, by the variety of seed heads everywhere. The machair leads to sand dunes, which in turn run down to the sea and a large expanse of white sand and then the Minch beyond. So far, during the day, the location is obscured, making the island feel as if it is floating at sea, disconnected from the rest of the world. As the sun went down on the second evening the mist cleared and suddenly the craggy outline of other places emerged on the horizon. I could see Barra to the north, Skye and Rhum to the east and Mull to the south, all with high hills floating in and out of focus.
When I was on Iona last year I had no car and so I quickly learned that the logistics of carrying my materials compelled me to find a subject near at hand. This time I have brought a car but rather than scour the island for the perfect location, I have decided to learn a little of the landscape here before I strike out and go further afield.
Today is my third day and I may use the car, if only to buy some milk, but so far I have walked about and having studied the map, explored the two beaches that are nearby. Immediately I have hit a dilemma! Tiree is a very popular island and therefore has many visitors. As the windiest place in Britain it attracts all sorts of surfers, wind surfers, kite surfers and more and so I can see that if you live and work here you need to protect your life from a tsunami of visitors. As a fertile island it appears that farming is the main occupation. Where once may have grown corn, there are now big fat cows and a few sheep. Not Highland Blackface as we are used to, but fluffy sheep with pig like faces. The machair here is crisscrossed with fencing. Good robust stock fencing laced with two strands of electric wire and topped with the barbed variety. Judging by how few gates have been installed, it is clear that this farmer does not welcome walkers despite the right to roam in Scotland. It is difficult to feel sympathetic when all you want to do is walk about exploring but I understand how frustrating it is when people who may not know or respect the country code overwhelm you. Having watched the news last night and seen a British couple welcoming upwards of 60 boats of refugees arriving on the isle of Lesbos in Greece it is hard to empathise with this sort of xenophobia.
Having misunderstood the oven and forgetting to put on my glasses, I managed to make a pan full of burnt porridge. Having noticed the enormous number of birds here, I have started a burnt porridge bird table. The fields are full of lapwing, flap wing and there are scores of starlings. As you walk, blackbirds dart across your path and there are lots of hares, sunbathing in pairs or having an evening conference with all Hares friends and relations. They dash off in every direction when they become aware of another presence but I have been able to get quiet close before disturbing them. It is hard to forget my passion for jugged hare but seeing them here, living in what may be family groups, I am loosing my enthusiasm for jugged hare. However it is delicious and I am reminded of living in Camden Town when I had an arrangement with a Greek butcher to buy me hare and if I left a jamjar with him when placing the order, he would keep the blood. Not surprising then, that I became known as Dracula!