Weathering a Weatherbomb
The Estate has been subject to a bit of a battering and a pasting this winter, being on the receiving end of a perfect recipe of winds, tides, snow and storms. The great British public now know a new phrase — the ‘weatherbomb’ and we have had several full salvoes here in the Hebrides. Given our location on the Atlantic edge, with nothing between us and North America, we always look forward to some real fun when the BBC announces with sonorous understatement, that, ‘Heavy winds are expected in the Western Isles….’
Last week’s major storm was certainly memorable. We awaited its arrival during a strange afternoon of clear skies, a light breeze and pond-like conditions on the lochs. Had the forecasters got it all wrong? But there was a curious electricity in the air, a sense of forboding.
And then, with nightfall, the winds began. Swirling, buffeting, in eddies and flows, the tempest almost seemed to attack the Lodge. A constant mounting fury. Rain, hail, smashed against the windows in a driving tempo. Still, one said, by Hebridean standards, this was really ‘within the ordinary.’ But this personal reassurance was swept aside when the real force hit. A rumbling roar of raw power. Windows started to bow, and the Lodge, which has stood safely since the 1860s, rattled and hummed. Tucked up in bed, one could feel through the bed frame, the entire house vibrating. We found out later that the storm set a new Hebridean wind record, of 115 mph.
The winds had abated somewhat in the morning, allowing us to view damage, which considering the intensity, was quite light. We lost the skin of our polytunnels, but that has become a seasonal event now. Various pieces of guttering were pulled off, and our esteemed Fincastle fishing hut lost a chunk of roof. Evidence of the fury of the storm could be seen in various stone slate roofing tiles, which had been blown the entire length of the Lodge driveway, about 150 meters, to embed deeply into the grass. Thankfully, there were no injuries reported amongst staff, or their families, or in the wider Harris community, as nobody in their right mind goes out on such a night.
After the Deluge, where is the sand?
One of the fun things about Borve is the query: ‘how has our beach changed?’ Tides, wind and the ever-shifting impact of the Atlantic mean the sands alter their configuration constantly. Over the years, the estuary has poured out into various locations, and so you never really know what Borve beach is going to turn into.
So this winter’s activity has left a mark. The ocean has been a roiling cauldron of fearful water, of wave after wave pounding in on the rocks and sand. And the result has been quite spectacular. A huge berm of sand that once dominated the beach is no more: it has disappeared. Stones and rocks that we never knew existed have now been revealed along the shoreline. Where we once had sand dunes, we now have sand cliffs, as various banks have just been sliced away. Thousands of tons of sand have been swept off, but this is not of any concern, because we know, to paraphrase the good book, that what the Atlantic taketh away, it will also giveth. Our beach may be currently flatter, but the sand will come back, in another configuration. That is certain. And there is not much one can do about it, anyway.
The shifting sands of Harris hold mysteries, and one of the best tales of local lore is about a WW2 soldier who was deployed to make obstacles to prevent any German aircraft planning to land on a Harris beaches. While doing this, Harris had another of its storms, and he found that it moved and sand dune and uncovered a complete Viking long ship, apparently well preserved. He noted the location and decided to cover this up, and return to it after the war. But fortune was not smiling on him, and he did not survive the conflict. So to this day, we do not know the location of the ship, which is out there somewhere, under the sands of Harris.
The ship is no doubt filled with broadswords, shields and booty. All treasure hunters welcome.
Great Stuff, Electricity
The storm meant we went though a process of gradually losing all the props that we are so used to.
Mobiles are on the blink, because — we report with no bitterness — the wise people at Vodafone for the past 4 weeks have not deemed it a priority for their engineers to come to West Harris to repair their malfunctioning mast. No problem: we have internet, landlines and power.
Internet is now down, because winds are bashing the dish. No problem, we have landlines and power.
Power is now off. Hmm. That controls heating, lighting, hot water, and slightly changes the rules of the game. But, at least we have landlines.
Landlines are now down, and even the BBC is not being received, perhaps because the local transmitter is offline. We are now down to candles, a gas ring, and a headlamp in a large house that has suddenly become very, very cold. Still, at least one finally appreciates why whiskey and porridge were invented in Scotland.
To complete the tale, all services have now been restored, except for Vodafone. In the Borve Valley, their brand is currently ranking lower than Ryan Air.