Fire in the Glen

One of the perils of dry weather in the Highlands is the almost constant threat of wildfires. Some start naturally, a tiny dewdrop acts as a magnifying glass intensifying heat onto a small area of grass or other vegetation and it can catch fire spontaneously.

However others are started either by carelessness or pure stupidity. May 27th 2018 will be forever etched in the memories of a great many people not least, those of us that live here in the small settlement of Crossal, Glen Drynoch.

A wildfire that started off as a small fire to burn paper by a camper located in the wrong place, turned nasty within minutes. It had been dry on Skye for several days, the sun had been hot, so everything was tinder dry. Before long the fire was WILD! Leaping towards the foothills of the Black Cuillin, fanned by a North Easterly breeze, it grazed the edge of the forest on the south side of the glen.

The first signs of the wildfire from my house. Time 10:20

By lunchtime as the smoke cleared it was evident that the entire hill behind the forest had been burned. Where would it go now?

the smoke clears to reveal the blackened slopes behind the forest

Scottish Fire and Rescue Service was here in force – 6 tenders in total – trying hard to control a fire that was fast racing away into the hills. Suddenly the wind stopped – would it die down now?  But just as suddenly the wind did a full 180 degs turn and began fanning the flames into the top of the forest. By 14:30 huge towering flames could be seen in the south east of the forest, and before long it poured over the hill and down, burning trees as it went – huge billows of black smoke and great towering flames. That part of the fire was out of reach of the fire service yet fast racing down the hill toward Crossal.

Flames devouring the forest. Time 14:30

As each copse went up in flames the fire divided like forks following the lines of least resistance, following the burns and the dry under storey, then appearing further down the forest in a completely new area, closer and closer into the bowl of the glen.

Flames and smoke in yet more areas of the forest
Fire! Getting too close. Time 16:30

It was one of the most shocking sights I have ever seen, certainly the most terrifying. Fire Fighters methodically tackled the fires that came close to the road and extinguished those on the far side of the River Drynoch, thus stopping it from crossing the river and setting light to the meadow across from the houses that was full of grazing sheep and cows. Yet still it came too close for comfort.

Lots of smoke and steam as firefighters extinguish the fire close to the road below my house
One of 6 fire tenders in attendance at the fire in Crossal on 27th May 2018

There were new trails of fire everywhere and at one point the flames did manage to cross the road, right opposite the forest to the east of Crossal. How it missed the power lines is still a mystery today, but it raced up the west side of that forest with Fire Fighters beating it out to prevent it from spreading into the meadows that surround the houses.

Scottish Fire & Rescue Service hard at work

But still the wildfire made serious inroads into that forest, with flames higher and more terrifying than I have ever seen as trees were literally gobbled up by the fire. You could hear the roar as each tree succumbed.

Flames devour a tree just meters down the road
Wildfire has jumped the road and is in the forest by my neighbours house

How the Fire fighters coped, not just with the intense heat of the fire but also the intense heat of the day – as they had to wear full protective gear -simply leaves me with so much respect for these volunteers who worked tirelessly all day and most of the evening to extinguish the fire.

As the fire near us was brought under control, fires in the glens closer to the Cuillin were still raging and in fact wildfires were still burning the following day until the wind changed direction again and they burned themselves out.

We watched the flames late that night as they tumbled over the hill towards Drynoch falls. It was spectacular in the dark of the night but terrifying at the same time… would it continue down the falls following the scrub and bushes or would it die and burn itself out? Thankfully it did the latter.

Fire burning above Drynoch Falls. Time 22:30

Today these forests are dying! Great swathes are burned black as you’d expect, but trees that immediately after the fire appeared untouched, are dying.  Turning copper, daily as their roots fail them. Either because they were damaged during the fire or because the fire is still travelling beneath the ground in the peat. Smouldering away until it gets a little oxygen then flares up again – sending smoke billowing into the sky (there have been several flare-ups over the past 10 days that the Fire Service has been called to attend).

the forest is dying day by day. Taken 24 hours before another flare up to the left of this photo. It took an hour to extinguish

And what of the wildlife that suffered as a result of this carelessness, this abject stupidity? The Buzzards lost their young, they would have been almost ready to fledge. The adult birds called and called throughout the day of the fire, circling constantly, clearly distraught and for days afterwards they called and circled. They are gone now! Countless finches that nest in the copses in that forest have lost their young. The Cuckoo – a bird that, whilst plentiful here on Skye, is endangered elsewhere, would also have lost young. I can hear them each day with their distinctive call searching for their mate so they can start again.

Whilst its early enough in the season for most of these birds to start again, the loss of wildlife and habitat is criminal! Over time I will post follow ups of this blog so all can see not only the progression of the devastation to the forest itself, but also the regeneration of the land – the under storey mostly, which will change the way it is used and also the types of wildlife that will inhabit it.

“The Beast from the East”

Freezing cold weather in other words. Wind, straight from Russia “with love”. Boy was it cold, everything froze – yes I mean EVERYTHING!

We’ve already had a cold and snowy winter; December 27th brought our first real snow, enough to make snowmen and throw snowballs. Then a couple of weeks later, after everything had thawed below 500m, back it came with a vengeance, covering everything with a thick layer of the white stuff for several days – although, noticeably whilst everything slowed – nothing and nobody actually came to a grinding halt here on Skye. Mind you, I have to say, it has definitely been colder than previous winters since I have lived on here (2011 was my first winter on this Hebridean Island)

England suffered with blizzards and deep snow when the “Beast from the East” hit the UK – complete mayhem was the result, but here on Skye on the warmer west coast, we had no new snow, we just had ice…… and lots of it.

We had days where having a log burner was a real treat, all that concentrated heat – because whenever we poked our noses outside, the contrast in temperature was phenomenal. Minus 10 degs C and less, was nothing in the wee small hours and my weather station measured a wind chill of -5 degs C during the day.  I know that doesn’t seem madly cold but the sun was shining so that took the edge off it. The weather had been dry for a couple of days before the “Beast from East” struck so the ground was already dried out enough to freeze solid within hours.

Waterfalls froze, becoming huge works of art over night.Layers upon layers of ice formed as the waterfalls continued to flow. Even those in the forest, where you would think it would be sheltered, were frozen. Where water sprayed over branches and twigs, it formed beautiful ice sculptures. It was very cold but oh! so beautiful just for a few days.

What I did find interesting was the way that the new shoots of bulbs and spring flowers (Daffodils, Narcissi, Crocuses and Tulips) all ceased growing. They simply stopped until the ground thawed again when they resumed their ascent. Buds on my daffodils all ready to burst open didn’t unfurl, it was strange and bizarre and utterly, utterly amazing.

Now today, its warmer than it has been for a while, although we awoke to a frost. The sun shone, the birds sang and the air had an almost balmy quality to it by mid day. What a difference! In another month – four short weeks –  the grass will begin to grow, lambs will be born and birds will start nesting and raising their young. I wonder what sort of Spring we will have this year. The only way to find out?! Is to watch this space!

Winter with a Vengeful Spirit

Winter can be a difficult season in the best of years, and this winter has turned out to be more “difficult” than any I have personally experienced here. Not that that is much of a line to draw under as I have only lived on Skye since autumn 2011, but it is what it is.

Its as if suddenly winter has remembered what she is supposed to do: BE COLD – especially so, throw in snow and a few nasty storms – of the thunderous variety. You know the ones with heavy hail and gale force winds? Well, that is exactly what winter has been like this year to date.

I think Robert Louis Stevenson had it right when he wrote his poem “Winter”:

When all the snowy hill,
And the bare woods are still;
When Snipes are silent in the frozen bogs,
And all the garden garth is whelmed in mire,
Lo by the hearth, the laughter of the logs –
More fair than roses, lo, the flowers of fire!

My wood burner has certainly seem a fair bit of action this winter.

January bought much more snow than December, repeating the same format of post Christmas day with three or four inches of the white stuff. More than enough to cause the roads to become slippery with slush and the tracks to turn into ice rinks once a single vehicle had travelled along them preventing most from getting back up any hill unless they had four wheel drive and/or winter tyres.

The end of January saw “The Big Garden Bird Watch” take place. Organised by the RSPB, this is a weekend when anyone and everyone watches the birds in their garden, school field, park etc. and logs what they see over the period of an hour. Its great fun and if you’ve done it regularly over a period of years you can see just how the avian population in your area has evolved. However, when the much anticipated weekend arrived, we had storms, howling gales and torrential rain.

What right minded bird was going to venture across Glen Drynoch, from their roosting perches to the other side of the glen to their very well stocked feeding grounds…. the multiple feeders in my garden and gardens along the glen (just three that I know of)? Well quite a lot actually and the fact that you can choose the hour you monitor the birds, means several things may well have changed since the last hour that you monitored them. to cut a long story short, it was an interesting experience this year. The stalwarts of the garden, i.e. Blackbirds, Robins, Dunnocks and House Sparrows, Coal Tits and Great Tits were undeterred by the weather. However, when the winds dropped, out came the Blue Tits, Siskin’s, and quite strangely the Chaffinches (I thought they were hardier than that) and our resident murmuration of Starlings all 20 of them.

Then, to add to the days drama, once the wind had dropped and the small bird population had expended, the male Sparrow Hawk came hunting – well it was pretty easy pickings to be fair!

So here we are in February and winters vengeful spirit has struck again, this time with thunderstorms accompanied by massive hailstones – so big you feel they could come through the velux windows. Then there’s the gales we were subjected to last week – 40pmh gusts here in Glen Drynoch, that’s not counting the ones that rocked the house and made the tiles clatter as it swept across the roof during the night.

So all in all its been a pretty difficult winter so far. There have been a few bright spots though:

Although I have to say that today is almost still and misty as well as quite mild. Wonder how long that will last.
Amazingly despite all this – the spring bulbs are starting to show their fresh green tips. The Snowdrops are flowering as are the Crocuses and even a few miniature Iris’. The days are getting longer too so its actually light when my alarm goes off at 7 a.m. and its still light at 6pm. Roll on Spring!

December /January – where did the time go??

Well time simply flew by in December. Did anyone else find that? I had so much to do, planning Christmas with my daughter and her children, buying presents and goodness knows what else. Stair gate! bed guard (does anyone know how to take one of those apart? Its a nightmare. Answers on a postcard please!

Having a seven year old grand daughter staying was quite a delightful experience.First there was tree decorating – she’s a natural. They had bought loads of new handmade decorations for the tree here on Skye. It looked fab once we had finished.

Christmas Tree artfully decorated by Nani Skye, Diana and Rachel

One the one decent day we had before Christmas, we took a trip down to the beach! Shell collecting, wellie walking and searching rock pools with Lila!

Have you ever had one of Santa’s elves in the house over Christmas? We did! We placed him in the tree coz he looked good there, and in the morning …. where’s he gone? Generally somewhere where he shouldn’t be and definitely with something he’s not supposed to have.

We had snow, up on the hills on Christmas day and then bingo. We had snow on the lawn. The grandkids were ecstatic. Once it stopped snowing and we were well and truly trapped at home – couldn’t get up and down the driveway – it was snowman building time! Wilfred III (apparently all their snowmen are called Wilfred, don’t ask my why its a mystery) was not great on stature but he was certainly portly. Once supplied with a carrot nose, eyes and teeth from the gravel on the driveway (located after a bit of digging) he was duly anointed with a wooly hat and a cozy scarf.

Wilfred III with his proud builders

After an impromptu snowball fight everyone came in rosy cheeked and decidedly exhausted. It made for a very quiet afternoon I can tell you.

Work in the garden is coming along a treat. Now the trellis is up to filter the wind from the west (the prevailing wind) its amazing how well it works. There are raised beds now with Iris, Crocosmia and lots of bulbs all ready for spring…. whenever that decides to grace us with its presence. Later more plants will be added but for now this is it!

And now its January 2018. How did that happen? Fourteen days in and we’ve had gales and rain almost constantly, which meant walks in Eynort Forest, and then there were a couple of very very cold frosty days.

January 1st we celebrated New Year by pootling off down to Genbrittle Beach (more or less my favourite beach on Skye) and absorbed the fabulous views.

 

 

 

A Week in November – in pictures – Sweet!

November – a pretty dead month really. Guy Fawkes night then nothing ’til Christmas. Dark nights closing in, shorter and shorter days, cold nights, dull days – maybe even a bit of snow – if we’re lucky? Well we were certainly lucky this week!

Meanwhile across the Highlands towards Aviemore, daughter Hayley was modelling, and my favourite – in fact only rose was found to be flowering …. still.

By the next morning – the 23rd, it was snowing ….properly! Yes! Proper snow, here on the lawn, Thrilling!

The wildlife was pretty impressive too. Evidence of a Fox, Rabbit and loads of the resident birds too! Wish I had a photo of the Sparrow Hawk!

And so to the end of November……

And finally!

 

 

 

 

The week that was…

Last week was a week of events to say the least. Monday was terrible – weather wise. Rain – torrential, wind – gale force and then some. I was expecting my sis-in-law, Susan (Stuart’s full sister, … there are two stepsisters and  one step brother plus a half brother – big family) we are more like sisters than in-laws, have been since we met, which is great. Considering Stuart used to say,” if she doesn’t like you she’ll cast a spell on you”. OooooK!!!!!! That really eased my mind for our first meeting. But we got on really well from day one.

Right, so Susan was due at 20:30 which meant I had to collect her from Kyle off the train. Hayley, my step-daughter had arrived by 14:00 – she hadn’;t seen her Aunty Sue since the funeral in March,  and after sorting her and her mate Gemma out I  drove in what could only be described as storm like conditions to meet my sis. Scary or what! Lashing rain and gales made the journey to Kyle a bit of a nightmare to say the least. When I got there the tide was in. OMG talk about a swell! I have never seen the sea so high at Kyle of Lochalsh. You really felt it would come over the top of sea wall at any moment!

So after all that excitement on Monday evening, we all just chilled and gossiped all Tuesday morning. Hayley and Gemma spent the morning catching up with friends as they had to get back to Boat of Garten that evening. Then Sue and I dragged ourselves off to Carbost to walk the dogs, where there were still quite a few squally showers around.:

Had a nice wander along Glenbrittle Beach a couple of days later. It was cloudy but at least it was dry. Then a brief visit to Trien Cemetery to pay our respects:

Friday left me feeling a tad ‘down’ as I drove my Sis back to Kyle to catch the train to Inverness and the pattern of weather didnt let us down at all, oh no! Torrential rain as soon as we got to Kyle. So later, a visit to the vets to have Lila’s stitches out (she had to have a cyst removed from her face last week) resulted in a walk in the sheltered woods by the Aros Centre;

You can guarantee it though, no sooner had Susan left for “bonnie??!!” Manchester, the weather turned into exactly what we want in November…. crispy sunshine and glorious colours and …. well FAB!  It got cold…… and snow appeared on the tops for the rest of the weekend….

Glen Drynoch can be so tranquil in the Autumn:

Have you noticed, my life seems to revolve around my dogs these days? Its a mix of walks – wherever – visits to the Vets in Portree and whatever antics they are engaged in.  Here we go again, the Tali dog is wagging her tail frantically, its 17.20, almost time to her dinner. cheeky madam. Better go then!

5th November 2017 – Snow, sunshine and fascinating life on the beach

Snow! Not a lot but enough to be visible on the peaks of the Black Cuillin. By 9:15 this morning the clouds were lifting to reveal a  light dusting of the white stuff! Soon the sun was shining and from inside, where I was warm and cozy, it looked as if the pattern of snow before 7:00 (well it would have been there even if I couldn’t see it) and gone by 11:00, would be the order of the day. However, one sniff of the frigid air outside when I let the girls out for their morning ablutions made me think otherwise.

After pottering around indoors tidying my work room and being very structured and organised, I thought, “S*d this for a game of soldiers, I’m not staying in and wasting this beautiful day” so after checking the tide times, I gathered all the trappings for a trip out with the girls, coat (Lila’s), snacks, water, towel (for them), lunch (also for them), camera  (good grief its almost as bad a going out with toddlers) off we pootled to Fiskavaig Bay.

On arrival the tide was out and still on its way, perfect! There were “locals” gathering Razor Clams, carrier bag in one hand, tub of salt in the other, but other than that… no one. So I reckoned we had at least an hour before the post Sunday lunch guys came down to walk off their indulgences.

If you look closely, and don’t assume that what you are looking at is flora, you will soon see the fauna hiding in the pools, sand and seaweeds:

15:00  and finally we’re home, and guess what that dusting of snow is still evident  on the Black Cuillin:

then to top a grand Sunday off there was a very pretty sunset!

The weather man says its going to be wet tomorrow! Now there’s a surprise! But in the evening I’m collecting my sister in law, Susan, Stuart’s sister, who is staying for a few days. Tell you the truth she feels more like a sister to me. Can’t wait! Bring it on!

Friday 3rd November 2017 …… De ja Vue…… and then some

Woke up at 06:30 yesterday, heart racing. Again it was a Friday but somewhere in my mind it was a Saturday and that is where it begins. Immediately I am transported back to that horrible day in February when I became a widow! It’s a haunting feeling, empty and void of substance. Its impossible to get past and when it hits ….. it’s just as overwhelming! De ja vue can be a weird sensation. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when  this feeling of being somewhere before; that can be kicked off by a sound, a scent, or even the way the light touches the earth, can be special. It always makes my heart race, whatever kicks it off!

Yesterday was wet, and here in Glen Drynoch the wind was gusting. Yep! Even the weather was depressed.  However, doggies need their walk regardless, so off to Glen Eynort we went. Its one of the few places where there is sufficient cover and shelter to be able to walk without getting totally drenched or blown away on a day like yesterday. I know we’ve been here before but like the majority of the walks the girls and I go on, it is no more than about 20  minutes from home and there is virtually a 100% likelihood of no one else being there. Perfect for the mood I was in.

Autumn is in full swing now, so this forest is full of colour. Why “this forest”? Because, Eynort Forest, which merges into Glenbrittle Forest – well as far as the Forestry Commission plantation is concerned – has a large amount of well established woodland on its lower levels near Grula.

There are so many plants; ferns, mosses and shrubs including wild flowers still visible in Eynort Forest. In spring – its a riot of colour.

However, in my mind, Eynort Forest is most defined by the sound of rushing water. Primarily that of the massive falls of Allt Daidh which cascade from a lochan at the top of Beinn à Bhraghad in the very heart of the forest.

Then there’s the scenery, where there are gaps in the trees and from the bends in the tracks. Beautiful vistas across the glen, a nice “treat”, giving glimpses of the small crofting community at Eynort. Plus suggestions of other plant life before the Spruce, Larch and Firs were planted, and a hint at the larger wildlife that inhabits the forest – Deer!

Of course no blog would be complete without the “girls” and their mini adventures!

By the end of our walk I was feeling more upbeat. The soothing power of the great outdoors, bird song and oodles of fresh air should never be underestimated in my mind, and on Skye its abundant!

Monday 30th October – Red sky at morning – shepherd’s warning…..really?!

We’ve all heard this, its a saying from centuries back, it goes, “Red sky at night, shepherds delight. Red sky at morning shepherds warning”. Some say its an old wives tale that means nothing. Others swear by it, especially those you live in the country. It’s meant to alert us to the weather conditions we can expect that day.

This mornings sunrise woke me up – and when I peeked out of the curtains I was amazed! The brightest of skies, red,orange and yellow shot through the clouds which were glowing as if someone had got a giant paintbrush and painted the sky. It was almost as if the very clouds were on fire at one point! Absolutely stunning to watch.

Now up here on Skye a red sky doesn’t necessarily mean we are in for a wet day. Sometimes others get the wet or stormy day yet we somehow escape with maybe a few clouds and a stiff breeze. I suppose its one of the joys of living on an island. However, that red sky this morning really did mean we were in for a less than bright day. My walk with “my girls” started at 10:45 and as you can see something is definitely going on with the weather!

But the doggies didn’t mind the cold and the stiff breeze, they just wanted to get out and explore!

While I am typing, around 15:45, it has become very dull outside with a damp mist slowly spreading its soggy fingers across the glens. The wind has picked up too. Maybe today that red sky really did mean we were in for a rough day, although it took its time coming! Good to be warm and cozy inside right now!

A few days with family – What to do!

So my eldest daughter came up last week for few days with her partner and my grandsons. Weather was pants but there were a few hours where the sun shone so we did manage to get a few walks in, a trip to the Talisker Distillery, the Oyster Shed, Glenbrittle Beach and they just had to go to the Fairy Pools. Had dinner out at the Sligachan Hotel too one evening and even had a little episode with a cute little Wren which somehow made it into the house. Enjoy!

A late afternoon walk at Carbost to the pier:

Distillery Tour (Ed found it fascinating), Oyster Shed  for a seafood platter and oysters (unfortunately Julian doesn’t like Oysters) and an evening meal in Collies Bar at the Slig.

Portree Harbour and a lazy late afternoon walk at Crossal:

Fun frolicking at Glenbrittle Beach and The Fairy Pools:

A few of our favourite things:

The trick to a few days on Skye is to take your time and enjoy where you go and what you see. The weather isn’t always kind, but you can always see fascinating things if you just open your eyes and LOOK!