Saturday, 10 November 2012

Time Flies

Over a month has gone by and no time to sit down and write my blog. Time on this island just flies by or maybe it is just age! A famous personality whose name I forget once said that he new he was getting older as breakfast seemed every ten minutes! I know the feeling well. Whilst quoting what others have said I share with you what one of our local tourist operators said in response to an American visitor who asked “What is it like living on a remote island?”, the local pondered for a short time and replied, “Well last year no one died of stress and only two of boredom!”

Rescued bird

Since my last blog we have watched the seasons change and are now knee deep in broad leaves from Oak and Beech with an overlying snow of tiny yellow needles from the Larch tree leaving just the pine trees exhibiting green. So leaves and seaweed are now being composted and the lazy beds prepared for next years potatoes. Our new wild life pond is well and truly full and its overflow working as planned, (heaves a sigh of relief!). The new fencing is keeping the deer and rabbits at bay and the pheasants have learnt to fly in for feeding. The downside is that there are apparently no hedgehogs inside the fenced area and, of course the rabbit netting will keep them out, last year we had a couple of hedgehogs trapped in the cattle grid so now an escape ladder has been fitted. Our swallow family will by now be well on their way to South Africa, but their entertaining fly displays are replaced by finches, robins and other small birds, including a goldcrest who managed to stun himself by trying to fly through a closed window. Thankfully, he was found and after some TLC was none the worse for the accident.

Oh look at Me!

We can now see our local heron that returns each night after a day fishing in the bay to roost at the top of the large now bare branched oak tree. The Sea Eagles occasionally fly over and the otters are more in evidence though we only seem to see them when daughter Maggie is on the island (see preselimags recent blog)!
The recent display of the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) was on a clear cold night, the first time that we had experienced them and worth getting cold to see. The display lasted over an hour and lit the sky to the north with a strange green light. Colour has been much in our vision as the green leaves changed to copper and many shades of yellow and brown as the trees dropped their leaves whilst the remaining flowers both wild and in our garden valiantly give some remaining cornflower blues and marigold yellows. The blue haze on the hills has been replaced by misty damp greys with the higher mountain capped with white snow.

Northern Lights

The Wildlife Pond almost finished

Autumn Leaves

Otter with fish

I know I should not be here...but...!

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Mull Fiddlers Rally

No we have not gone funny on the island and do not meet up to fiddle with things! The Mull Fiddlers Rally is a once a year meeting at Aros Hall, Tobermory, of amateur and professional fiddle and accordion players from the island supported by like minded people from all over Scotland with even one or two travelling up from England. The players form themselves into an orchestra complete with piano, double bass and a conductor who also plays an accordion and sings. A couple of folk singers and junior bagpipers and a chairman complete the set up. With the audience in place the evening begins with a stirring, swirling of the bagpipers, almost too much for the small hall! The pipers leave and then the fiddlers are let loose with a program of marches, hornpipes, waltzes, Irish Jigs and Scottish dances. These are interspersed with renditions from a female Irish folk singer now living on Mull and a male Gaelic folk singer. The chairman not only introduces each set but also fitted in some hilarious jokes. The evening finished very late after many encores with everyone standing to sing the Mull National Anthem, An t-Eilian Muileach and Auld Lang Syne both much appreciated by visitors from mainland and overseas who were attending. A good craich!

On an other evening this time in front of a sell out audience at our Mull Theatre we listened to the English comedian Mark Steel give his impression of life on Mull and in particular, Tobermory. The show, being recorded for BBC Radio 4, is one in Mark’s series of programmes, “Mark Steel’s in Town”. He visits small towns writing his script highlighting the quirkiness and interesting aspects of the area after talking to many local people. His superb presentation is delivered through his eyes as a London city dweller that acts surprised at things that locals take for granted. With the audience well involved in the repartee the show proceeds. Did you know for instance that you cannot buy underwear or towels on Mull? So where do you get them – the metropolis of Oban “quite near - only a 45 minute drive from the theatre and a 45 minute ferry crossing” (not quite like popping into Brent Cross shopping centre!). The regular refrain from the audience was, “get it in Oban!” So that is the flavour of the show, it is scheduled for BBC Radio Four at the end of November and will be well worth listening to.

Sunday, 9 September 2012


Ok I am coming!

Where is our breakfast?

Get that inside you!

Four happy chicks.

Do not leave me behind!

Made it down here - now what do I do?

During the last two months we have watched a pair of Swallows build their nest in a corner of our carport and raise their young. They made a start and then seemed to abandon the work and just enjoy zooming around the village. Finally, however, they settled down to completing the nest so that the female could lay her eggs. We were never quite sure if eggs had been successfully laid until one morning we noticed broken shells on the floor below. So, were they empty shells discarded after hatching, or the bad news that some predator had got into the nest for apparently no adult birds were around so maybe the “raided” nest had been deserted. Then we noticed activity with two adult birds now making regular visits to the nest so they were obviously feeding young. Potty training was also well in hand as the guano pile below the nest grew daily.

One morning all was revealed as four lusty chicks popped heads out looking for breakfast. And breakfast they certainly got as both parents did a food on the wing shuttle service feeding until the full chicks fell asleep. There were anxious moments when we thought that one chick was missing, and an even more traumatic time when the nest broke away from the wall and deposited three of the now well fledged chicks on the floor. They were all mobile enough to flutter away to safety and eventually regrouped on the ridge of the house. With the inclement weather we were experiencing not exactly the most comfortable place, but the parents carried on with feeding and training. Meanwhile, we were concerned about chick number four who seemed to be abandoned and sat for a day or so on the washing line by the nest pitifully cheeping as though calling for food. No food arrived and eventually the chick plucked up courage and tumbled with wings flapping first on to the bonnet of the Land Rover and then into the big outside world. He sat on the patio and in the garden forlornly all day cheeping and finally flew up onto the deer fence whereupon an adult swallow flew straight to him and proceeded to feed him. Eventually the chick joined the other three and as this is being written all four healthy chicks are alternately sitting on the roof or doing circuits and bumps as they improve flying techniques and learn to feed themselves on the wing. Nighttime and wild weather sees them back in the shelter of the nest and washing line “perch” alongside. Time here is running out for them, as they must shortly leave for their winter home 9,500 kilometres away in the warmth of South Africa. Be nice to know if the whole family make it but I doubt if we will get a postcard so will have to be content with seeing them back here next year.  Bon Voyage!!

All together finally - Now got to learn to fly and feed ourselves

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

The Singing Shepherd

A few weeks ago I wrote about a visit to a farm on the North side of the island to watch Iain Thomson, the singing shepherd at work. Since then he has completed our deer fence, fitted it with rabbit wire and hung our heavy metal entrance gates. So now it was time to go to one of his live performances. On the island we are fortunate to have some halls that hold about sixty people and thus have an intimate atmosphere for the benefit of both musicians and their audiences.

Iain, who writes his own songs, plays the guitar and keyboard was sharing the stage with a professional musician Marc Duff. Marc is one of those artists who play many instruments and can switch from one to another whilst drawing a breath. He supported Iain’s singing with bodram, low D whistle, Erin pipes and bouzouki, whilst not playing all at once easy and smooth transitions during pieces were a delight to watch and listen to.

The programme of Iain’s music celebrated his life with its up and downs and his travels from Mull to the Scottish mainland as a shepherd, then long distance trucking all over the UK before a stint as a shearer in New Zealand before returning to Mull and his croft with his flock of sheep. As with his fencing work his professionalism with his music is very apparent, his style is quiet and entertaining, the vocals thought provoking and they tell the story of land use change from the infamous highland clearances to the present day. People are important to Iain so there are songs to tell the tale of a man from Mull who fought as a Royal Marine Commando in the Falklands war and of the Welsh Pedlar, John Jones, who died on the island after nursing families sick with typhoid back in the late 1880s. For those not fortunate to know Iain and his music it can be enjoyed on his website

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Salen Show

Angus commentating
One of the highlights of the year on Mull is the annual Salen Show, or to be more precise The Mull and Morven Agricultural Society Annual Show. The show is held as you might guess in a field on the shore of the Sound of Mull just north of Salen. It has a tradition going back to 1832 and most years the weather is kind, not too hot with the rain staying away so animals and people are comfortable. The animals are Highland coos, Blackface, Hebridean and Cheviot sheep, and Dogs, yes Dogs! The whole island seems to bring their dogs for the dog show. No fancy breeds here just pets doing their bit for the days entertainment. The Mull and Iona pipe band and the Mull Fiddlers provide back ground music all played over the PA system when Angus Mackay, the show commentator, is not chivvying competitors, promoting stalls, asking for cars to be moved and generally giving information in his own inimitable style. Inner man (and woman) is not forgotten for burgers made from local meat and salmon rolls from local fish are readily available along with home baked cakes and home made sandwiches. As is usual at island functions all at very reasonable prices. The horticultural produce is auctioned off at the end of the day, this year the winning cabbage went for a fiver and was almost too heavy to lift. For the young and active there is a fell running event, terrier racing, show jumping and a tug of war, and for the rest of us a quiet amble round the stalls and a lean on the stock hurdles watching the antics of sheep and cattle and their stockmen. The stars of the show must, however, be the highland cattle with their beautifully prepared coats and coat hanger horns being paraded round the ring with mischievous dignity as they gently push their handlers