Uncertain Glory of an April Day

which now shows all the beauty of the sun, and by and by a cloud takes all away….
Shakespeare Two Gentlemen of Verona

Charlie's Beach Eriskay
Charlie’s Beach Eriskay

A tropical island, the Caribbean, South Africa, the Mediterranean? No Charlie’s Beach on Eriskay (an island at the south end of South Uist and a ferry ride away from Barra). White shell sand glistens and shimmers, clear turquoise water invites, seals bask, gannets dive and sea eagles languidly move across the bay casually looking for the unwary morsel. Not even a zephyr of wind, only the gentle shush of waves to ripple the senses. When the wind drops, the sky clears and the sun appears I am in paradise once again.

Although a long way from “phew what a scorcher”  Easter Monday was warm enough for an old-fashioned nature ramble and a picnic. The temperature was certainly not tropical, but it was warm enough to amble along without a coat, sit and dream, and eat fruit cake without risking hypothermia.

A change of wind direction often brings clear skies and a respite from the westerly winds and rain which accompany the Atlantic depressions. It heralds the annual outbreak of spring fever as we toil to finish the winter garden maintenance, juggle plants and seedlings, entertain visitors and get the holiday cottage running smoothly. So time to play truant and head for Eriskay. It may seem perverse to drive for 45 minutes with a picnic, all the naturalists’ paraphernalia (cameras, tripods, binoculars, maps, notebooks, and assorted  accoutrements) and the “just-in-case” extra coats, fleeces, hats, gloves, waterproofs, to another island; when we have an equally good beach and wildlife on our doorstep. However, the traditional Bank Holiday expedition to the seaside would not be complete without loading the car with assorted miscellanea and the ritual of making a picnic. So a trip to Eriskay is our version of a “day at the seaside”.

Further south spring has dressed the countryside in verdant green and adorned it with flowers whilst the islands keep Hebridean time, lagging behind at leisurely pace. The first wild flowers: dandelions, daisies, primroses, violets and creeping willow, provide sustenance for the early butterflies and bumblebees, but most of the insects wait for the warmer days of May before emerging. Botanising in the early spring is challenging and often frustrating as identifying plants before the flowers appear is not for the faint hearted novice.

Each year we set ourselves a different challenge and this summer I’m brushing up my botanical skills and teaching myself how to identify ferns. Following in the footsteps of generations of botanists and standing on the shoulders of giants I am devoting my summer rambles to “sekyng of herbes and markynge in what places they do grow” (William Turner 1512-68). The fieldwork for the next botanical atlas of the British Isles has to be completed by 2019 and on South Uist there is a lot of ground to cover by the handful of botanists of the newly formed Uist Botany Group.

A gardener is often a botanist in disguise, so if you would like to get involved in recording wild flowers or just learn more about our native flora visit the Botanical Society of British Isles or Plantlife websites.

19 thoughts on “Uncertain Glory of an April Day

  1. I trust you broke into song (Vair me o, ro van o …etc) whilst on your nature ramble..? The challenge of all that fieldwork for the next botanical atlas of the British Isles must be huge, and although South Uist is a small island the number of species will still be vast. You have a lot of ‘sekyng of herbes and markynge in what places they do grow’ to do, but largely a labour of love, I guess. I see you have WordPress’s ‘tool tip’ on your pictures today, so I assume the facility is available again – I have missed its usefulness 🙁

    • The baggy shorts, bobble hat and khaki canvas haversack and community singing are only used for serious expeditions! Botany is an antidote to obsessive gardening and can be even more frustrating at times.

      • But don’t you sing as you bounce along your single track roads in your trusty vehicle – Quartermaster’s Store, She’ll be coming round the mountain, etc?

        • Alas we no longer shake rattle and roll in our rusty old gas-guzzling Land Rover, we have a new non-rattling eco-friendly car, so I have to be in sheep and deer look-out! many of our roads are still single-track but thanks to the generosity of the EU (and the UK tax payers) they are in excellent condition.:)

          • But still no singing…. 🙁

          • Definitely not, I’m not even allowed the tuneless whistle!

          • 🙂

  2. That beach is beautiful.

    • The islands have numerous equally beautiful beaches and even at the height of summer most of them are deserted. The magic combination of beauty and solitude.

  3. Now that looks like my kind of a beach – somewhere to explore and watch wildlife rather than sunbathe along with hundreds of other people. From your photos, the wildflowers look to be a few weeks behind ours in Yorkshire, but just as beautiful.

  4. what a lovely scene. i can almost hear the water brushing across the sandy beach.

  5. What stunning scenery to be able to share with blog followers. And I’m now intrigued about Cathy’s ‘tool tips’ comment. How do I find it, and is it easy to apply text to any image, or only if they’re displayed as a gallery?

    • We’re enjoying a spell of good weather at present and the islands’ beaches are at their best.
      I think tool tips only works with the gallery – when you create a gallery you just full in the caption box and the t4ext will appear when a mouse is applied to the photo.

      • Hello C,
        Thanks for that. I can see I’ll have to try creating a gallery next. I read at the w/end that West of Scotland had had a wetter than normal first half of April whilst we’ve had this lovely spell…. hopefully you’re over the worst now…

        • Always pleased to help.
          Weather in the Outer Islands seems to bear little relationship to anywhere else – usually the opposite of the mainland. The latter half of April has been gloriously sunny but the north and easterly winds have kept things relatively cool. However, I think we are going back to westerly winds soon and to be honest we could do with a little rain (but not too much please).

  6. Pure poetic prose! Kudos on your botanic efforts! More photos please, or do you fear tourist inundation? 😉

    • I’m enjoying the botany and would do more if I had time. I’m still finding the photography tough but it is improving slightly.
      The islands have become popular with tourists, but it is still very quiet as the accommodation is limited as is the ferry capacity. We’re a very friendly set of islands and love visitors who enjoy our landscapes and wildlife.

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