January savings



Life is now measured in units of £2.50. This is the current price for a kilo of large winkles. A short (in theory depending on latest hurricane) single crossing to the mainland for dog, car and me equals 13 kilos or 1.5 large sacks. Winkles, for those interested or worried about the connotations, are ‘edible sea snails’, gastropod molluscs, periwinkles, delicious (to some) with butter and garlic and homemade dulse bread as suggested by  Tracey  of foodandforagehebrides.wordpress



Winkles are hard won at the expense of cold, salt raw hands parting seaweed, an aching back after carrying a well-travelled and memory-laden ruck sac with 15-20 kilos, all dressed up in neoprene waders, a couple of miles across the estuary. Location unspecified. (And secret)


And there is learning the tides and working against a bastard, beating wind, remembering Slapton Sands biology field trip to investigate the intertidal zone aged seventeen. (Set the course of my personal history?) Plus sorting and taking them in to be checked: 16 winkles per 100g. Less and they are rejects. Have I made the grade? Heart in mouth moments. I’m averaging 10-15 kilos for one tidal cycle. Could do better.

Felt is not forgotten. Just a case of earning some cash, post Christmas, knowing that developing ‘a creative business’ out here is never going to be easy and decent part time jobs are hard to come by. I manage to pay rent, food, fuel and take on other temporary work with pride…. beating out small furry innocent birds in Uist pinewoods, cleaning hen houses with geological timescale layers of shit and learning to cut marram grass for thatching, which wins Sprout’s vote every time


It feels good to have a working body again. Who needs the gym in January?

What of my old profession: a once upon a time landscape architect in a busy local authority, building schools, roads, libraries. Long days at the drawing board, a slave to the computer, ‘CADing it up’, dusty hours on building sites, on the alert, checking for contractor shortcuts, safe guarding urban trees and planting thousands of new ones, avoiding violent-looking men with staffies in dodgy areas. I left at the pinnacle of my career, having designed the main roundabout into Leicester from the East, just as the department was on the cusp of collapse through yet another round of cuts. It’s all gone now, that way of working, those good people.

And there were those beautiful, lovely gardens I made in my other life on ‘grand’ country estates, now being edited by others and hopefully not all turning into municipal parks.

Another life, another world away from Uist.

Uncle Peter, my no1 blog fan is undergoing chemotherapy. Should I send music, chocolate brownies, Hebridean crime novels? It’s hard to be out here when those I love are ill and far away. And my own Dad, about to become an octogenarian, still looking like a film star and inventing new ways to cut the long grass in the orchard back ‘home’. I miss the daily closeness of family and recent weather madness makes the journey tricky.

I think about my training and building on what I know now, feeling eternally grateful for having acquired new skills (alongside plain Uist survival specialisms like fixing peat-fired rayburns) Landscape and habitat management has long been a passion and being actively ‘in it’ and working ‘with it’ makes it real.

If I am honest I am afraid of a full time return to the office, of being continuously trapped indoors, of new and ever more bureaucratic project management and CDM systems, of feeling CAD dazzled. Am I past it now?  I did twenty years in the profession, not a bad record, but am I ready to give it up? And can I afford to?

Remembering why I came to Uist: the hope of working somewhere truly ‘wild’, a place to paddle the kayak among otters and sea eagles, following a childhood dream. (‘Seal Morning’ has a lot to answer for) Three and a bit years a project manager for a bird charity was a huge and amazing life-changing experience, but some might say it also spat you out at the end like an owl pellet….

It’s coming up five years! I was never sure if I would stay beyond ‘the Project’. But here I am. What next? Carry on winkling for now. Reassess in the spring. Enjoy the view. Make no promises.



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