Welcome to the first newsletter from Borve Lodge Estate, in which we reach out to past, and hopefully future, visitors to the Isle of Harris. Our intention is purely to keep you in touch with various news and titbits from the Outer Hebrides, and the delivery will be sporadic: whenever we feel we have something of interest to relay.
The Power of the Atlantic
The Atlantic shows its full strength in these equinox months, as autumn has now turned to winter. Those who visited during the calm summer months will see the change: now the ocean can be a cauldron of titanic force, and there are few better places than the Borve headland to watch this interplay of an ‘immovable force meeting an unbreakable object.’ You do ponder how the rocks can withstand such power, with each wave smacking up against the cliff faces. But this is gneiss rock, three-times harder than granite, been around for 3 billion years, so survival chances are pretty high.
It’s a wonderful season to bundle up and just walk and take in the air. A typical stroll may start under blue skies, with the northern sun blasting through. Of course as soon as you commit to your clamber over the dunes, you glimpse a squall skittering across the Sound of Taransay, a grey veil of falling rain skimming over the wavetops. And then it is upon you, a staccato beating surge of wind and rain and energy. And as quickly as it hit, it has gone, moved on, to swathe another part of the Hebrides. Making you ponder, that Thinsulate ® and Goretex ® are wonderful inventions.
And in the midst of such turbulence, one will also experience days of sublime tranquility. The Sound of Taransay calms to a pond. The air is still, and waves roll in, in perfect symmetry. In the distance, the high hills of north Harris are crystal white after being adorned in their first dustings of snow for the season. And truly, there are no other places that one would ever want to be.
Vegetable Cult sprouts on Harris
Our gifted gardener, Fiona Toor, has wrapped up a very successful 2013 season, and is now clearing her horticultural zone in preparation for 2014. For our first season, Fiona mostly experimented with what could grow on the hill behind the Lodge, and in the circular garden, and certainly it has been a bountiful year.
Some of the super-fresh produce went to leading restaurants in the vicinity, and of course we were pleased to have a role in ensuring visitors to Harris do not develop scurvy. But the bulk went out in Fiona’s weekly box scheme, whereby residents were delivered boxes filled with random offerings of whatever was being harvested. And this gained a solid momentum throughout the season, as word got around, and we began to see demand outstripping supply.
‘The smell alone took me back to my childhood when everyone in the village had huge and varied vegetable gardens,” was one feedback comment on the box scheme.
Based on this success, we will be slightly expanding the growing area, and looking at ways to increase our yields and varieties through a more focused planting strategy. There will be special emphasis on the popular stuff: salad leaves, peas, beans and courgettes for summer, and then autumn root veg and brassicas for later in 2014.
The Great Wall of Taransay
Maybe it will not be visible from outer space, but a 1.6-km fence is now going up on Taransay as part of our regeneration work on the island. The new fence line will enclose the main Paible settlement area to make it stock-proof. Our resident deer herd will still be able to jump over, but sheep will soon be restricted in their access. This means we will not over-graze the area, and crucially, can support the regeneration of the sand dunes.
As we have seen elsewhere on the estate, the maram gras swiftly reclaims the sands, and the dunes start inching towards the sea, instead of being forced in the opposite direction. And combatting erosion is important in the Paible area, as there are some important historical and archaeological sites that were in danger of being washed into the sea: we should now arrest this problem.
The work is all being done by a very intrepid team of fencers, who are often working in the very testing conditions provided by Mother Nature. Ponder the joys of digging holes in a howling gale, under spotlights, and you get the picture: fencers are a hardy breed in the Hebrides.
But the payback comes in spring, when we anticipate that the reduced grazing will transform Paible into a rolling meadow of wild Machair flowers. That will make it an even more pleasant place, but we have a more practical motive: the flowers and long grass pull in insects and bird life, and will make the area even more bountiful for wildlife. We look forward to welcoming Estate guests there in the spring so they can see for themselves.