Friday, 6 November 2015
As I type this, four hours after sunset, the rain is clattering against the windows. The weather has treated us to a varied menu, from sunshine to showers, from poor visibility to a glorious sunset. It's November, and we'll know about it. Sun rises at 8 am, and sets at 4 pm, and we'll lose a total of two hours of daylight by the time we hit the winter solstice. This is the time of year where people here complete their preparations for winter. Extra light-bulbs, candles, oil lamps; coal and logs for the fire; salt for the drives and paths around the house - and anti-freeze for the car. Winter here means short days, long nights - not necessarily perishingly cold, but certainly cold enough for ice on the roads. The local council, under severe financial restraint, has had to prioritise roads for gritting, which doesn't normally start until 6 am. That is not going to help anyone going on the ferry in the morning, as you have to be at the ferry before 6 am. Those in the outlying districts have to leave before 5 to make it on time; the ferry staff are very strict on the deadline. I have not seen much snow in Stornoway over the nearly one dozen winters I have been here. The deepest snow fell in the winter of 2010 / 2011, when 6 inches fell in November, which did not melt until January. The slush that resulted froze again at night, leaving the pavements in the town impassable. Pedestrians (like myself) had to chance their lives in the roadway, and when I wanted to go to Sandwick one day, I was physically unable to cross a 6 ft wide path, as it was too slippery. I don't mind winter, but some people do. It is that time of year when people who came to love the island in summer, with blue skies, the green grass and the glistening sea, endless days of sunshine - suddenly find that the streetlights stay on all day, it is dark grey outside, with hail and rain lashing the windows, the grass is yellow, brown or even black and there is only 6 and a bit hours of daylight. If you do survive a Hebridean winter, you're made of stern stuff. I've made it through about ten.