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.