Of all the meteorological phenomena that assail this island, wind has to be the most defining. The long island string of the Westerns Isles often buttresses the Scottish mainland from Atlantic blasts, taking the full force of whatever gales are blowing Britain’s north west way.
If there’s a high pressure system over Scandinavia it will be cold, dry and easterly but mostly it’s a year-round mobile south-westerly to westerly airstream that’s driven on a succession of warmish and wet Atlantic frontal systems. But come this time of year these gusts swing more often to north-westerly or north bringing a wintery cold.
So basically it’s very windy a lot of the time, the absence of any long-established trees testimony to the toughness of taking root here with few serious hills to provide significant shelter. Here on the croft there are a few attempts at woody growth, stunted willows that look like diminutive versions of their more statuesque cousins in kinder climes. Bigger than bonsai but only just, clinging on like limpets in an otherwise barren landscape.
Unlike the old blackhouses which were built with their slipstreamed ends to the prevailing, hunkered in lees and shallows, the cubic house here is orientated onto a south west / north east axis, perched on the prow of an elevated spot. The remains of the original stone and thatch dwelling lie closer to the road in a more sheltered, wiser position but now no more than an overgrown outline in among the reeds and creeping grasses.
The upshot is that when the wind blows the house gets battered. Add rain and hail to the mix and it makes for a noisy existence, especially at night-time when the bedroom window gets a non-stop, snare-drum percussive solo, as if the local fire brigade is hosing down the double-glazing for a bit of midnight mirth. The chimney of the open fire roars unlit, pressure changes producing a sub-bass rumble and the doors and windows flexing as they’re tested by the ‘hoolie’ outside. But it’s a very solid house, build in the 1950’s with a spartan enough architecture on the exterior to withstand everything thrown at it decade after decade.
Working in this weather can be both exhilarating and draining. Trying to maintain balance in 80mph gusts with feed bags over the shoulder and mud underfoot can be fun. There’s a certain satisfaction in meeting the elements with the right clothing. Stepping out of the back door in full waterproofs, an unflappable hat and good gloves to do a job that can’t wait can feel a bit like a moon walk, except gravity feels twice what it should be and is pulling unusually horizontal.
Most of us here are wise to the wind’s predilections at this time of year when the gales are at their peak. Weather forecasts are scrutinised and discussed in every conversation and casual discourse. There is little sympathy for the superfluous, woe-betide the garden trampoline that hasn’t been packed away or piece of garden furniture that isn’t stashed somewhere safe. Wheelie bins tend to be tied up and down or weighted with heavy breezeblocks to prevent them turning into autonomous lifeforms and rattling off through the village like drunken daleks. Then hen house here is weighed down by hefty rocks to prevent a repeat of last year’s incident when the roof became a wooden sail and set the coop off on a seaward journey across the croft overnight.
With all that said, there are still slip-ups. I can see feed two buckets blown to the far end of the field and the big, heavy Adirondack chair I stashed to the side of the barn has been flipped over into the potato patch. The tarps that cover the rubble remnants from the barn renovation have been torn to shreds over the course of the season leaving things rather unsightly. But that can wait until things quieten down. The animals are hunkered down in the reed beds, although the hardier of the Heb sheep are still grazing undaunted. The chickens look unimpressed however and won’t budge from their spots for fear of looking like rum coves staggering down the Stornoway Narrows on a Saturday night. There are few things funnier than watching hens in high winds.
The storm forcer today feels different for some reason, somehow rougher, punchier, more pummelling than normal. The house feels assailed from a few sides rather than the constancy of one. While it’s cool watching the clouds zip along overhead, like ships at full steam, and a drive to the lighthouse or harbour nearby provides some pretty awe-inspiring seascapes as the crowds of crazier camera wielders attest, it can also be dangerous. As passengers on this morning’s flight off the island found out the hard way. Hopefully they’re all ok, and thankfully, as with everything in life, it will all blow over soon…