Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Return to Islay

After another predominantly wet journey and a very full ferry, we landed back on a windswept Islay. The immediately preceding weather had been stormy and the forecast for later that evening was further gales and storms hence the packed boat. The crossing was bumpy in the middle but not as bad as it can be. Many of the passengers were visitors travelling to experience Hogmanay on a Scottish island. It is to be hoped they brought warm windproof hats with them.

The dominant feature on Islay in the winter is the wind. To date there have not been the same amount of damaging storms as last winter, nonetheless the wind is remorseless. It has been predominantly westerly, swithering between gale force and just below. Plants are buffeted, rattled and shaken around the clock. There have not been the knock-out blows suffered in major storms but the effect is cumulative and nearly as damaging. Most native species have adapted to this treatment by retreating below ground, swiftly dying back to a corm or rootstock. Any plant sticking up above a windbreak is gradually shredded. Grass becomes combed by the wind and can appear extremely well-groomed.

The isle of Tiree, a not-too-distant neighbour, is acknowledged to be one of the windiest places in the UK. Here on the Rhinns of Islay - a long finger-like projection sticking out into the Atlantic - conditions are very similar. It is the windiest part of Islay. There are benefits of this location. The Gulf Stream keeps temperatures above average. Snow and frost are rare but the downside is it is windy and frequently wet. Very wet. It is windy on average 6 out of 7 days throughout the year. There is even more wind in winter and it is much stronger too. Trees on the Rhinns are scarce and frequently stunted. Shorebirds and waders congregate in sheltered bays. Members of the Crow family and some Gulls seem to relish the chance to display their aerial prowess. Smaller birds however struggle to survive and use whatever objects they can to protect themselves. It is not uncommon to startle a sparrow or a chaffinch tucked behind a tussock of grass.

Coastlines are scoured by foaming seas. Everything feels cleaner. The times when the sun  does appear can be magical with low strong sunlight picking out huge rollers and spray. Moorland appears burnished and can have a beautiful golden glow. Then there are the rainbows, which although ephemeral are plentiful.

The village hall welcomed in the New Year with traditional music and dancing for a mixed group of locals and visitors. The festivities only really got going at 1 a.m. and continued in full swing until just after 4 a.m. when 'Auld Lang Syne' concluded proceedings. A wide age range enjoyed themselves.  A visitor of Danish origin felt that this was the best way to celebrate the turn of the year. 

Finally a stagger back home - it was windy again - honest - nothing whatsoever to do with copious amounts of strong drink  being taken......

And so 2013 was greeted.

Happy New Year.

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