April 2019

Thank you to all the people who have sent good wishes following my health problems. I’m somewhat recovered but still undergoing tests to find out exactly what went wrong. In the meantime I’ve been trying to make the most of life and all the joys that April  has to offer. Butterflies have been welcome with Comma, Brimstone, Orange Tip. Small White, Peacock and Holly Blue all visiting the garden.

It has been a month of mixed weather, hot days interspersed with rain and one day of really strong winds that damaged the Hydrangea buds. But Spring arrived with lambs in the field across the Raebrook and forget-me-nots in the garden between shrubs and perennials. They have been beautiful, tying twelve borders and beds together in a swathe of blue. But now it’s time to take them out so that other plants can grow and fill the spaces.

Last year after collecting green hay from a flower-rich meadow we spread it on some areas of lawn and are delighted to have yellow rattle seedlings appearing.

  1. Already we have white clover, selfheal, ladies smock and dog violet and Richard has set up some quadrats to monitor what else appears. I’m letting dandelions flower as the bees love them, but I’m removing them when they start to wither. There will be no shortage of new plants from those sending seed from the river garden

Birds are nesting and bluetits took advantage of Leo’s fur which I put inside an old feeder.

A carrion crow spending a lot of time on the lawn could be a problem for the smaller birds but the woodpigeons don’t seem to be phased by him, even visiting the terrace to look for seeds underneath the feeders.

We are not seeing much of the kingfishers but goosanders and moorhens are regular visitors – and a pair of bullfinches put in a welcome appearance. Particularly voracious blackbirds are feasting on the fat balls and enjoying a few bruised apples.

We cut the grass in the river garden, leaving the river bank and borders along the fences for wild plants to colonise. Among others we have Ladies smock, teasel, purple loosestrife. meadowsweet and ground ivy along with a vast numbers of ramsons and dandelions. Himalayan Balsam was removed last year before it had time to seed so I’m pleased that only a few new plants are appearing. It will be an ongoing problem though as there will be a further influx of seed from higher up the brook.

My short article about a visit to Finlaggan on Islay appeared in the current issue of Scottish Islands Explorer and reminded me of a magical day with poet Kenneth Steven. Here is the article –

When Kenneth Steven, writer and poet, came to Islay we planned to visit Finlaggan, the former centre of The Lordship of the Isles. We intended to cross the causeway in order to explore Eilean Mòr where the installation of the Lords of the Isles took place. As poets we wanted to linger, to feel the atmosphere and imagine what life was like when this small island was inhabited. Kenneth visited in a wet October when most people were content to stay indoors admiring the informative displays. As we walked down to Loch Finlaggan we were hugely disappointed to find the causeway under water and the burn in spate flooding the approach. Kenneth’s visit to Islay meant this was his only chance to set foot on Eilean Mòr. A few words with the custodian, Donald MacKenzie, solved our problem. To our surprise and delight, he carried us, piggyback style, across the flood. Not only were we deposited dry-shod on the island but were left to explore for an hour before he returned to carry us back. It was a privilege to have Eilean Mòr to ourselves and for that magical hour we wandered at will, took photographs and started our poems.

Kenneth’s poem can be found in ‘Coracle’ (SPCK 2014) while mine appears in ‘Waymarks’ (Cinnamon Press 2015).

We hope that our words convey the magic of a very special day.

Finlaggan by Kenneth Steven

It was a day in late October. All night the rain
Had chattered Gaelic round the house.
We drove through sheets of water
Skies tugging with the wind
Up to the north-east of the island
The last miles of Islay.
At Finlaggan we thudded the doors shut,
Went out under wet skies.
And the man in the museum came to meet us,
Came hurrying over full of stories.
For the walkway to the island had flooded,
There was no way we’d get there;
He read our disappointment,
Heard it in silence.
I’ll carry you out, he decided –
I’ll carry you to the other side.
And he did,
He waded the black water
That swirled about his knees.

Finlaggan by Mavis Gulliver
For Donald MacKenzie

High water levels
almost turned us back,
but you carried us through deep water
forded the swirling stream
waded the flooded walkway
set us softly down on Eilean Mor,
left us for an hour,
listening to the lap of wind-born waves
reeds rustling
watching rafts of leaves and broken stalks
reflections rippling
imagining days of endless rain
swamping the causeway
men stepping gently into coracles –
a weave of split willow, lashings of hazel, thin skins of hide –
or, borne on sturdy backs
Lords of The Isles arriving dry-shod
to feast and fight, to live and love,
make judgements, govern the people
unaware that one day their homes would fall
the island know this peace –
this solitude.

Richard was guest speaker at a Cheese and Wine event where money was raised for the Edstaston Church Restoration Fund. He showed photographs of Colonsay and Islay and spoke of our experiences of Hebridean life. So, for the second time in the month our thoughts returned to the Hebrides. We have no regrets about leaving. The memories will always be with us and it is good to keep in touch with the couple who bought our house and to know that they value the wildlife as much as we did.

We may no longer have sea at the bottom of our garden but are grateful to have found a house in Shropshire with a different, but equally lovely view.