Saturday, 13 June 2020

More On Midges

I've touched on this topic a couple of times before, but as the midge-stalking season is now with us again (they stalk us - not the other way round...) I thought a re-visit was appropriate.

Firstly, let's get clear - midges are carnivorous flying dots, at least ten-thousand times smaller than a mosquito, but about 100 times more vicious. If you have any less than 20/20 vision, you may never even see a midge.  But believe me - they can see you... Midges spend their winter first as eggs and then as larvae, slumbering peacefully and harmlessly in cool peat bogs. As with many insects, they emerge in late spring as fully-fang-equipped flying versions of themselves in order to meet other midges and mate. The female needs to feed in order to lay her eggs - and female midges feed on blood. Any blood will do - sheep, deer, cow... but human blood is the gourmet choice.

Midges are a gregarious lot. They like to spend their time in the company of at least a couple of million of their best friends. When it is windy, they grip by their fingernails onto leaves and grasses, and just chat among themselves, pretty much leaving humans alone. But when the wind drops - it's time for reveling. In cool, damp evening air, a light at an open window is like a mega-midge-magnet. It takes precisely one minute and thirty-seven seconds for a 12ft by 14ft bedroom to become tightly packed with partying midges. Woe betide any human who happened to be in there having a doze.

However, it is not all blood-letting, itching and irritation for every human in the Highlands. You see, in spite of having a brain one thousandth of a nano-millimetre in diameter, midges are actually pretty intelligent. By employing their laser-sharp long-distance eyesight and highly developed sense of smell, they are easily able to identify the most succulent prey. The Highlander, striding through open fresh air, with long-sleeved shirt tightly buttoned at the collar and cuffs, long trousers stuffed into socks or boots, and a whiff of deet around the face and hands is quite enough to deter all but the most ravenous midge. (Midges abhor the aroma of repellents containing deet). However, the unsuspecting tourist, smelling of a delicate eau-de-parfum, and relaxing on a sun-lounger in the windless shade of burn-side trees, clad in shorts and an open-necked short-sleeve shirt, is a far more likely victim. Campsites are a particularly rich hunting-ground for starving midges.

So, should the abundance of the midge put you off visiting the Highlands in summer? No, of course not. There's plenty of humans LIVING here, and we cope OK. Just remember to behave like a Highlander when you come.  

Saturday, 6 June 2020

Where Do We Go From Here?

March 23rd 2020 - a date which will live-on in history.  Today is the seventy-fifth day since the UK went into lockdown (not that I'm counting...). Here's a post I wrote that afternoon...

Along with everywhere else, Skye has become a very strange place in that time.  Although nothing physically has changed, there is a very different 'feel'. I sense fear and anger, frustration and worry. The lifeblood of modern Skye is tourism. Accommodation providers had fully booked calendars by March, but the cancellations quickly flooded in, and although now only a trickle - a new cancellation continues to drop into the inbox every couple of days. 

Other than a minor relaxation of some restrictions, Scotland remains largely closed. Locally, only the village shop, bakery, post office and petrol station remain open, albeit with reduced trading hours. A couple of places tried offering take-away food, but there were no takers. There's very few people about, and almost no traffic. We are requested to wear a face covering to enter the shops.

The Scottish government is yet to announce any guidelines, or a date, as to how or when small accommodation providers will be allowed to re-open. Meeting people from different households indoors is currently forbidden, and a 2-metre social distancing rule applies for everyone, unless you live together. Common sense suggests that it will be relatively easy to meet those regulations in a fully detached self-contained self-catering property, but there will understandably be huge issues to face for the owners of guest houses, traditional bed-and-breakfasts and house-shares. 

Further problems are the track-and-trace system, which could unexpectedly require a visitor to self-isolate for 14 days... where do they go? And then there's talk of 'local area lockdowns' should a surge in new virus cases occur in a particular place - so anything open could suddenly be ordered to close... how can any accommodation provider cope with that?

The simple answer would be just to close the calendars, take no future bookings, and 'wait and see'. Government cash handouts - for those who qualify - may have gone a small way to easing the financial pressures for now, but I don't see an end to the present situation. As with any tourism-dependent location - the entire local economy depends on the income generated by the visitors. The people of Skye are quietly suffering. 

It continues to be a scary time.

Saturday, 23 May 2020

A Spring Storm On Skye - Part Two

The pending storm that I wrote about yesterday mostly blew-through last evening and night. It was a rough night. It brought to mind Ted Hughes' fantastic poem - 'Wind' - which starts: 'This house has been far out at sea all night, The woods crashing through darkness...' 

This morning, the rain still beats against the windows, but the tearing, roaring wind has died to little more than huffs and groans. 

Outside - all looks much the same, if rather wet and bedraggled. There's no trees or even branches down - locally at least. The allotment has survived reasonably unscathed, though the runner beans have lost quite a few leaves. If any fail, I have some spares, still in pots, in the cold frame. 

So there ends a further short chapter in Skye's wonderful variety of weather. It's never dull here!

The Roskhill trees lost a lot of leaves, but no branches

The 'earthed-up plastic bottles all survived, and protected my young sprouts and kale

The runner beans look a bit shocked.

Friday, 22 May 2020

A Spring Storm On Skye

A Met Office yellow warning for heavy rain and high winds is in place for the Western Isles. As we get a lot of rain and high winds quite often, getting a yellow warning is a bit 'special'. Up to 100mm of rain and peak wind gust speeds up to 75mph are forecast. The worst will be here overnight tonight - but at about mid-day today, rain is already lashing against my study window, and tree branches are waving-about pretty wildly.

How will the garden cope? Well, I have issued frogman suits and aqua-lungs to all the runner bean plants, and built scaffolding round the plastic bottle 'greenhouses' that protect my young brassica plants. The recently-emerged midges are out of sight, no doubt wearing galoshes and sou'westers and clinging to undersides of leaves by their teeth and fingernails.

Looking over the rain-soaked garden, I am always impressed by the amazing flexibility of the shrubs and larger plants as they are constantly blown almost inside-out by the gusty winds. Our local deciduous trees usually struggle a bit in weather like this. They have been through it all before of course, but they are still likely to lose some twiggy branches and quite a few of their new leaves will be on the ground by the morning. And how do the birds still manage to fly??? Salt-spray from the nearby rough sea can also cause damage. I have seen trees with almost all their leaves burned-brown by salt, but this early in the year, if this happens, there is time for them to have a 'second spring' and put out a second growth of green.

Joking aside, I am fairly confident that my allotment will cope OK, as nothing has grown big enough yet to be too exposed - though if my plastic bottles get blown-off my young brassicas, I would fear for the ability of the young plants to take the strain of the wind. I'll be out there in my waterproofs soon, to temporarily part-bury the bottles in the hope that that will keep them in place.

Here is a couple of photos of the allotment that I took yesterday, during the calm before the storm. If there is anything new to photograph tomorrow, I will add a new post here to show the aftermath.