Fires

Today has been another very wet and windy one! Cold too… I seem to remember mentioning in my last blog post about the Bird Race that it was very windy and showery that day, and quite honestly, it has been like that every day since. We have had the odd few hours of warmer weather when the sun has poked its head out from behind the clouds for a wee while, but those very welcome episodes have been few and far between. It’s been something of an abysmal spring so far this year!

In spite of that, flowers all around the place are in full bloom and looking lovely. The gorse – or whin, as they say up here – has of course been in full flower since the end of February, making an early cheerful display, although now it is looking a little faded as the yellow of the broom joins it. In our garden, the granny’s bonnets have been looking lovely this month. We have a selection of all the old-fashioned colours, and I swear that some of them hybridise naturally, giving us some quite unusual examples! They are mixing with the little wild flowers such as bird’s foot trefoil, ladies’ smock and marsh mallow which I welcome into the garden. My early roses have struggled into flower against all the odds, and the later ones are in bud. If only the weather would warm up a bit, the display will be wonderful!

(However, I think that someone is listening to my prayers, as the forecast is good for the next few days at least, and I for one certainly won’t be complaining!)

In April we did have some wonderful weather, giving us a taste for warm sunshine, which has since been denied us. Up here, though, really warm dry weather can come at a cost, and we suffered some awful heather fires. This does happen every so often, normally in the early part of the year. Unfortunately, when the heather is tinder dry, a stray spark from a fire or a discarded cigarette can wreak havoc. This year it was the area around Stac Polaidh which was worse hit…

Land by the sea, damaged by heather firesI was sitting in the garden, enjoying the sun, when I started to realise that I could smell smoke and thought it a bit strange that my neighbours would have lit a fire on such a warm day! Then I noticed that the sheep were really restless, and I watched a phalanx of geese which was pursuing a steady course westwards, suddenly fall into disarray and turn northwards. I realised then that it was the countryside that was on fire.

We experienced wild fires when we first moved up here. I spent one anxious night watching a line of fire along the ridge opposite the house, praying that it wouldn’t spread down the hill and maybe threaten us. I could honestly say then that I knew what it felt like when my friend, Angus John, was telling us how the residents of Inverkerkaig had spent a couple of anxious nights waiting for the call to evacuate. He reckoned the wind changed and saved the township; but it is also true that although the heather and of course the whin, which has a lot of volatile oils in its trunks and branches, burned rapidly, the trees were all very lush and didn’t burn at all. It all looks rather odd now…

The smoke from the fires was very dramatic: there were pictures on the news of our familiar mountains wreathed in smoke, looking quite ghostly under the sun. The peat was far too wet to burn, though, which is a blessing – wild peat fires can burn for years!  Our volunteer fire crews were worked off their feet and did a wonderful job keeping us all safe. Mo bheanachd orra – my blessings on them!


[Photo by Clarinda]

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