Tuesday
Jun062017

Strata

For Lady Snoutingdingle and I, the perfect holiday is in a remote spot which is all but impossible to arrive at. It should be almost – but not quite – beyond the reach of the modern world and with a bit of weather to shut us off from the rest of the humanity. Well, most of humanity less the one person who knows how to turn the power back on and then leaves us alone, in the nicest possible sense. One year, we spent a week in a lighthouse keeper's cottage on an island off the north coast of Newfoundland and sat side by side reading The Perfect Storm for three days with the mournful sound of the foghorn in our ears. The horn rattled windows as grey outside as a witches cloak. Imagine our pleasure then, to find among the books on the bookshelves in this new place The Perfect Storm sitting right alongside The Shipping News. It must surely be a sign. 

Our latest hideaway is on another island off another island in the Hebrides. The south of the island is more gentle with smoother hills and sheep-filled pastures. A great fault across the top of the island renders the north virtually uninhabitable which is why, perhaps, the landlords pushed all the people to the north built a two metre high stone wall to keep them there and left the south to their precious sheep and deer. The cottage is at a point in the road where the road doesn't so much end but hauls itself over the final rocks panting and gasping, wheezing its last breath and falling down stone dead in its own passing place. The rocks here do not have strata. Strata are bands in the rock, occasionally gently folded and waved. The layers in these rocks have knots like some demented Celtic design and those twisted layers are run through again and again with dykes as though nature took such a thorough dislike to this land that it slashed it mercilessly to pieces and then pushed lava up through the remains. These end-lands break up into smaller islands, some connected by tide-washed stone at low tide. Ruined cottages lie in every sheltered nook, ripped about by ruthless landlords and tough little beech and birch trees. Old paths wind the cliffs. Built to allow children to walk miles to school in all weathers they are lovingly laid and look like the scars on the face of some faded warrior found asleep in the bracken.  In Timberland and Mountain Warehouse it is easy to be seduced. It's easy to think that the daily toil in this place would have been compensated by the sudden bursts of lovely golden light, the sweep of the Highlands across one stretch of water and the mountains of Skye across the other water on the other horizon, the sight of a deer in the trees, or the call of an eagle. It's easy to believe that. I want to believe that. But I don't. The life here would have been so hard that all the beauty in the world would signal no more than a moment's guilty rest. Add to that the cruelty of the landlords and the face of the deer among the birches would be an oppressor and a threat. People's lives lie on these paths like tired butterflies, crushed by Leki poles and Vibram soles. The restored cottages show signs of their previous lives. Bits of old boat, engines, bottles, peep in and out of the walls or rise from flower beds. Rust is as evident as old stone. Or is it blood. It would be fairer, I think, to replace every tenth stone with a human skull.

 

Monday
Jun052017

Another Orchard

The Night Planted Orchard is famously (in its own readership of one) named because it was planted at night due to the pressures of other work. But ours is an area where orchards run wild. The trick is not growing them, but taming them like a wild stallion and stopping them from running amok. There are rumours of an orchard here in this beautiful and remote spot in the Hebrides. I can't even begin to imagine what I would have to call that in this place hewn by bleeding fingers from raw granite, and sucking bog, and raging seas.

Sunday
Jun042017

Roadkilled

There is a road here, built by two men to allow children to walk miles to school across bog and cliff face. It is beautifully crafted and it is all that remains of the crofts and villages along most of its route. Those buildings lie in the bracken like patches of fur from some road-killed animal. But the road is like its sinews, indestructable, tracing an outline on the ground when all else has rotted away.

Saturday
Jun032017

Skylines

Some city skylines have a mathematical symmetry. From whatever direction you slice the view, the city announces itself with a subconscious whisper. Not just the pretty places. Glasgow has a skyline punctuated in non repeating tiles, each with a needle-thin black spire, sometimes in clusters. They suggest a certain functional, spiky resolve.

 

Thursday
Jun012017

Frost Damage

At the beginning of May we woke to a hard frost. A month later, the toll is evident. The poor young mulberry was halted in its tracks. Its tiny leaves turned black. Now, new leaves are pushing from the base of each stem and new stems are growing, but all the original branches are struck dead almost to the main stem. What this means for the shape of the tree remains to be seen. The Old Laughing Lady has been cruelly used by the frost. Whole branches high up in the tree seem to have suffered the same fate as the mullbery, struck dead back to a thicker branch.  On other branches, thin leaves are breaking out to replace the ones that were lost. A young cherry has been hit in the same way. A new pear had half its leaves turn brown, so much so that we thought it had fireblight but now seems to be recovered. The burgeoning quince, with its ten thousand huge blooms, has set a single sad fruit. The medlar has lost every fruit. At the top of the garden, the odd multi-story quince and pear triple graft hybrid combo has just dropped it's quinces but the pears have survived. The hedge-plums have dropped all of their lower fruit. Which is strange. The grapes had hardly started and slept through the damage. But the apple trees? Not a bit of it. They are so thick with fruit that they look like grapes.