August 26, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Bit overdue on flagging this up but be sure and bookmark / follow this blog by local crofter Donald MacSween from Dell, just up the road from me.
Expect a no-holds barred insight into island life, livestock and lots more of that sort of thing with some informative writing and good photos thrown in for good measure.
June 30, 2011 § 3 Comments
June 12, 2011 § 4 Comments
The last few days have been spent hightailing it through the Highlands to the Isle of Lewis on bee business.
Our new beekeeping venture Johnny’s Garden had decided to donate two hives to the Western Isles Beekeeping Association to help introduce Warre hives and methods to crofters up there. Put simply Warre methods lead to happier bees, it allows them to do what they do naturally without all the interference of man telling them what to do and how to do it.
What started out as a simple plan quickly degenerated into a Navy SEAL like mission as we fought to overcome every dang obstacle fate threw our way to get the job done. Van hire companies let us down badly (thanks Enterprise and Alamo), ferries had to be changed and changed again, our hives had to go via Hebridean Haulage, the bees in boxes got stuck in Tarbert, phonelines went down, mobile signals became non-existent, batteries ran out, landlines with wrong numbers were relied on…it became a real challenge just to get on island and reunited with the bees and hives.
So we drove to Ullapool in a zippy BMW 1 Series on Tuesday night while our hives made their way with Heb Haulage and the bees came with another driver via Skye. We camped on the banks of Loch Broom for the princely sum of £28 for 8 hours stay and even less hours sleep thanks to two of the team members with nocturnal verbiage and foghorn snoring. The first ferry the next day struggled drunkenly to deal with a small Minch swell and when we finally drove off into Stornoway it was chucking it down. Plans to meet the hive’s new owners were changed and rearranged due to work and sheep issues so we made for Uig to set up basecamp at Riof and then fired back over to pick up the hives from Rigs Road depot. After a few cosmetic retouches the first hive was ready to meet its new owner up in North Dell, the bees having been delivered to him around 5pm.
The new hive was set up on a cracking spot on DM’s croft, on a nice wood pallet surrounded by grasses and pigs and chickens too. The hive looked really good with its slate roof, linseed finish, branding and Harris Tweed quilts and seemed to fit the surroundings beautifully. Then it was down to bee business.
The bees in question were Buckfast Bees, not our usual mellow Carniolans. The Buckie Bees soon lived up to their name and proved to be the real neds of the bee world. Now usually we tend to laugh in the face of suited up beekeepers, clad head to toe like a fencer in a nuclear laboratory. Not for us this protective garb! The bees are our friends, move zen-like among them and show no fear and all will be well. A simple midgie net head covering and a pair of gloves will suffice as it had done for ten previous hive installations.
How wrong we were.
The moment the package of Buckfast bees was open, myself and NM were deluged by some very angry young ladies, obviously none too happy after their long trip to the islands. And despite finding themselves in a beautiful new home, they were more interested in sticking the head on the two idiots who had locked them in a box for 24 hours and sent them northwards. Not only that, they were sticking the stings in too.
Normally our bees will give up an aggressive attack if we back away a few meters. These girls were still ricocheting off our heads a good 10 meters from the hive. And as well as stinging they were shitting. A bee won’t defecate in the hive, cleanly little blighters they are, and so freed from their confines they happily pooped all over us for good measure. Poor DM the crofter, stood at a safe distance with one of our other guys and photographer, had a slightly gobsmacked look of WTF on his face.
So we regrouped and conceded that, yep, a bit more protection might be required and after blagging a Dickies Thermal boiler suit and a pair of trousers off DM we got stuck in again and did the job, mellowing out the bees with some sugar syrup while we shook frames of them into the new hive.
As the sun set on a beautiful Ness evening we finally sealed up the hive and kicked back to watch the bees settle in.
Done and dusted.
Three bemused pigs looked on and sniggered oinkily at us, all sweaty and stung and looking rather pleased with ourselves despite all the drama.
Then we said farewell to Dell and back at camp toasted the end to a long day with cold beers around a warm fire.
The next day saw a mad rush to the lunchtime ferry after a very painless handover of hive two to a beekeeper in Point and soon we were on the road home again. 1 car, 4 idiots, 2 hives, 50 000 bees, 72 hours, 600 miles…
I missed scheduled meetings with the Harris Tweed Authority and Abhainn Dearg, failed to see my folks or my uncle and generally screwed up any semblance of a chilled trip home. Sorry guys.
Hey-ho, better just try again in July.
May 27, 2011 § 1 Comment
February 22, 2011 § Leave a Comment
February 9, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Martin is from Leurbost and before the set up of the company was previously employed in the seaweed processing industry with over 14 years of experience working in the field (sea?!). Simon hails from south of the border (England not Harris!) and is the founder and managing director of Seagreens whose founding aim was simply ‘to get a gram of the best seaweed into the human diet on a daily basis’.
Both are passionate about the islands and their products and it was inspirational to hear of the progress and plans for this natural Hebridean product and the possibilities for the island and its economy. More so when you consider the long history of seaweed’s use on the islands by crofters. It’s this sort of thing that floats my boat, age-old traditions finding applications in today’s world.
From use as fertiliser, food, fodder, industrial ingredient and alginates of yesteryear to health products and more today, seaweed has been a vital part of island life. You can learn more here.
My particular interest was for use in our restaurant where we continue to champion island products and traditional ingredients. We’ve taken samples of two of their primary organic seaweed products, gathered and processed on the Isle of Lewis and our chef is currently experimenting on integrating them into new dishes but meantime we took delivery of the Seagreens Mineral Salt and currently have a tub on every table alongside the traditional condiments.
The good news is that this unusual mix of Lewis seaweed and Cornish sea salt has really hit the spot with customers who have been readily adding it to their dishes from handcut chips to beer battered fish to piping hot soups and more. It really adds something to food and is far healthier than ordinary salt.
Oh, and if you rather have seaweed on you than in you the excellent spa at Blythswood Square Hotel offers a number of Hebridean Seaweed “Turus” treatments from baths and wraps to facials and scrubs. Those of you living near a Lewis beach might save yourself a journey (and a little money) by gathering your own
January 20, 2011 § 6 Comments
Mike Day is the director of a new film documenting the age old Ness tradition of guga hunting on Sula Sgeir. His team recently gained a rare insight into the men, the hunt and the culture that surrounds the annual journey into the Atlantic for food.
Mike kindly took a little time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions for the blog…
TC: How did you hear about the guga hunt and what particularly sparked your interest in making the film about it?
MD: I heard about the hunt from a friend while I was living on my boat and sailing around the west coast making a film about crofting. She wasn’t sure if the hunt still existed and so when I found out that it was still going strong I was very keen to find out more so I came to Ness.
TC: The hunters are normally very secretive or cautious about their tradition especially from “outsiders”, how did you manage to get permission to film the hunt in such detail?
MD: I think there was a lot of trust built on both sides, that and bloody minded perseverance made the film what it is.
TC: Who were your team and did they know what they’d let themselves in for?
MD: The team of five included four sailors and one non sailor, Andy, the producer. Myself and Andy were the only film crew. Andy certainly had no idea what he’d let himself in for in terms of the voyage, it was his first time on a boat and a real baptism of fire to say the least. The four sailors all had a lot of ocean sailing experience but none of us had experienced the continual bad run of weather we got up there on that trip. Confused seas and huge breaking waves swamped us on one occasion and we were knocked over flat in the water. My respect grew enormously for the Niseach men who once rowed and sailed there in open boats, and going right back even without a compass. I regularly thought about that on our 18 hour trips to Sula Sgier.
TC: Could you describe the approach to Sula Sgeir and the island itself? For those who haven’t been it’s hard to appreciate the remoteness and hardships faced by those who hunted there in the past.
MD: The journey isn’t popular with some of the hunters or some of our crew! It is rough up there with the current known as ‘the river’, that’s the first phenomenon you reach, not far north of the Butt. Sometimes it was like hitting a wall, suddenly it all broke lose and the sea just seemed to boil. Then there’s the shallowing bank south of Sula Sgeir within sight of the island, that’s where we found the big waves and the fun usually started. After sailing all night this is also the point where the rock starts to appear through the waves, looking mysterious on the horizon and very desolate. The skies are filled with welcoming guga patrols as you approach and by the time you arrive the skies are thick with birds.
TC: How was the weather and did you sleep on land or on shore? Are there still stone bothies, earwigs and peat fired pots of tea?
MD: I ‘slept’ on our boat, although in reality all I actually did was lie down and get thrown against the wall by the waves for a few hours. We headed for the shelter of North Rona at nights, which it turned out was only sheltered relative to the surrounding seas, which were monstrous. The stone bothies are still there and are well maintained, I heard there were less earwigs now, not sure where they would have gone, I certainly didn’t see one, and there are still peat fired pots of tea.
TC: What are your thoughts on the animal welfare issues raised every year in some quarters? Did you have any issues or reservations with the traditional catch and dispatch process?
The numbers of gannets is rising so I see no conservationist argument against the hunt. As far as the killing method is concerned, I never actually saw it, I’m assured it is swift. I don’t think any method of killing animals is going to be particularly nice, but I’d much rather have my meat free range than from factory farmed animals and mechanised abattoirs.
TC: How would you describe the hunters attitude to their various roles? Does the sense of importance and tradition still remain with them or did it seem like just another job they had to do to earn money?
MD: I think there was a great respect amongst men for the traditions and their ancestors who’ve been there before them. It’s hard to go to Sula Sgier and not be humbled by the history of the hunt and the voyage the men take.
TC: What were your impressions of the Isle of Lewis and the local people in general and did you learn any gaelic along the way?
MD: It was really great to have a chance to spend so much time exploring Lewis and getting to know the people. I didn’t get to learn too much Gaelic unfortunately, but I certainly learnt hardy hardy on this trip!
TC: Now the million dollar question. Did you eat the guga and what did you think?!
I did eat the guga, on Sula Sgeir, and I enjoyed it and ate every morsel of meat, blubber and skin! I was surprised by the meat, it’s really unique and I appreciated tasting this rare flavour.
TC: Finally, will you be back or was it a once in a lifetime event for you?
I’m sure I’ll be back and I look forward to catching up with everyone when I return, it was quite an adventure going on the hunt and making the journey back and forth and we met a lot of great Niseachs along the way.
The Guga Hunters Of Ness will be shown on BBC 2 tonight at 9pm.
January 1, 2011 § Leave a Comment
A new year, a new project.
Details will be more forthcoming as the year progresses but if you’d like to get involved (crofters and local historians in particular) or just keep an eye on things unfolding then sign up on the website, Facebook and/or Twitter.