The Highlands and First Host

The Scottish Highlands are quite beautiful. Rugged and wet, the landscape is dotted with single houses, far from anything but sheep and rocks. They are clearly a different way of living.

I didn’t get the full splendor due to rain but it just added to the mood and to the difficulty of living that this land has provided for centuries.

I got to Uig and then the ferry to Tarbert with no issue.

My host, John, is a kind and reverent gentleman. As a long term resident and a post man, he knows everyone in town and is a walking history book of the island.

His house on Grosebay is right on the water, 7 miles with a lunar landscape, assuming the moon is awash in lichen and peat.

Of the 10 days I was there, all but one were rainy and/or windy in some respects. Rare for the time of year, it still was sub-optimal, but it kept the annoying midgies away. The blood-drawing big flies managed to weather the storm though.

The work was straightforward and varied. John had suffered a house fire this past January and had enough smoke damage to warrant a gutting and complete rebuild of the interior. We spent time unpacking new things and moving stuff in.

The 40-odd chicken had to be fed twice a day and the ~30 eggs a day collected and washed. It was always obvious when you were downwind of the coop. There are 3 Highland cattle on the farm and they don’t need a lot of work in the summer, but we had to keep an eye on them as they would escape under the fence and take a walk down the road. The locals would call to keep us abreast of their current location. That meant that Nick (his kind and patient other helper) and I would have to fix the hole in the fence and pound in the posts again. The landscape is treacherous: muddy and pocked with cowsteps forcing one to watch everystep, lest an ankle be sprained.
I didn’t get to shear sheep as it was too early, but I can’t imagine how you would even catch one.

We did a bit of concrete work, replacing a cattle grid that the construction trucks had wrecked. That was fun work, chiseling out the old and pouring in the new.

The area is pretty amazing and the landscape changes quickly. While technically one island, Harris and Lewis are referred to as separate isles and it is clear why. When you pass the threshold into Lewis, the landscape changes very quickly from rocky/hilly, to rolling and pastoral. Even on Harris itself, the east where we were is rough and rocky and the west side smoother, with grasslands and long, shallow beaches.

And this is the Harris as in Harris Tweed, its most famous export. Hence all the sheep, it’s a tough business. John said that 60Kgs of raw wool only brings in $4.

In the end, there isn’t much to do there outside of the work, esp considering that we were internet-free for the duration. There was little to discuss other than the weather and the location of the cattle.

So I took and early leave, getting a ride back to Inverness with John’s brother Sammy, a kind and funny builder who came to install the grid.

Now I type from a small cafe in a neightborhood in Aberdeen, my ancestral home, hoping that my relatives show up. I couldn’t get in touch with then before I got here, despite many attempts, so we will see what happens when they answer the door. They weren’t home the first time…

After a time, exploring the old family environs, I head to a farm between Edinburgh and Glasgow, where I will do more farm-y stuff and help out with the website.

It’s summer and I will be a simple bus ride from the Military Tatoo, and perhaps some Highland Games. Should make for some good video and a fine way to bring forth 40.

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