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  1. p1170832

    It was a mistake to try to get the car up the M1. The M1 is the local nickname for our single track access road which starts with a steep, upward hairpin bend to the left if you approach from the village, and an easier but still upward swing to the right if you approach on the downward slope from Loch nam na Foileag. We are talking a fairly steep ascent, with a steeper bump in the middle of its length which defeats many an attempt to reach the parking space 100 yards beyond it when conditions are icy.

    On Thursday it was icy, but we fancied our chances, being veterans of the no-nonsense, confident second-gear uphill surge from the right, which can get the car all the way up if the ice is just a little bit forgiving. Not this time. Undone by the bump, we crept backwards and inserted the car into the roadside parking space for the holiday cottage a little further down. The surface was slippery, the handbrake was ineffectual, and Mike had to block all four wheels with rocks to get it to hold.



     Friday morning, conditions were considerably worse. The road was an implacable slick of lacquered ice. While Mike inched his way down on a narrow strip of grass, I slithered to the driver side - opening the door and climbing in without ending up under the car was a major feat - and fired the engine. Mike got down on hands and knees to remove the rocks bracing the wheels.

    I got the car onto the road, aiming to get traction on the grass on the other side. The car argued, sliding sideways into the crash barrier, back wheels on the grass, front wheels on the glossy, seamless ice. We weren’t going anywhere. Mike crossed the M1 on his hands and knees. Even the sheep were using the grass!

    m1 car ice

    Thanks to Mark Stokes, who took this on the day!

    ice sheep 1

    Saturday, we contemplated the still varnished surface of the M1 and Mike and Al set off with a sack of sand and grit to create a path that I could drive onto, before reversing the 40 yards or so down to the - gritted - lochside road. Mike put the sack down to pick up the spade, and watched it slide all the way down the road, only coming to rest when it hit the car. Al broke up the ice with a sledgehammer and we watched the shards sail away down the polished road surface, smooth enough for a curling match, fast enough for a bobsleigh run, and I wondered how the car would co-operate.


    After a promising start, the wheels stopped going round, the brakes went on strike and the car began a relentless backwards descent, steadily gaining speed. Watching my destiny approach in the rear view window, I tried to anticipate the moment the wheels hit ice-free tarmac so I could brake and steer. I turned the wheel slightly and the car turned gracefully, like an ice dancer, gliding back towards the crash barrier and stopping, back wheels on grass, nose pointing across the road rather than up it. All I had to do now was turn the wheel to the right, and gravity would do the rest.


    Long story short, the car slid towards the steepest, sharpest part of the hairpin bend, threatening a ripped exhaust pipe, but I managed to redirect the wheels and aim for the tarmac straight ahead. Crisis over.

    You might be wondering why we didn’t just wait for the ice to melt; at the time, the car was full of hay, fencing posts, logs and coal. Not having to lug all this up from the bottom of the hill is a powerful enough incentive to make the attempt!




    margot & victoria first sighting

    Just as every family visit begins with a collection from the evening ferry, so it ends with an early morning ferry run. In the winter months, the trips up to the blackhouse and down to the car are made in the dark on our 70-yard hill. A steep path leads from the house to the shed, where a 90-degree turn to the right leads under the willow trees and past the duck pond to the car. At 6am, the ducks are usually floating peaceably in the water. The geese are usually enthusiastically discharging their guard duty responsibilities, meaning that anyone disturbing the early-morning quiet, especially in the dark, is fair game.

    Last week’s morning ferry run, for my daughter Harriet and her fiancé Steven, took place in pitch darkness. Aside from the likelihood of patrolling geese, an added ground-level complication was a recently-delivered pile of roofing metal, left by the car. Harriet set off first with the big suitcase and the torch on her mobile phone. Steven and I gathered up the smaller stuff and began the descent a few minutes behind, sharing a torch.

    goose hissing

    It’s important to note here that Harriet has always been terrified of the geese. The geese know this. There’s nothing they like better than the smell of fear. She has never had the nerve to act on our advice and walk straight at them, at which point they will back off. Concentrating on getting away for the ferry on time, all of us had forgotten to take into account the impact the geese might have on a lone Harriet heading towards the car. In the dark.

    For Steven and I, picking our way down the upper reaches of the path, everything that happened took place in a blackout. Harriet had made it as far as the duck pond when there was a brief burst of honking from the shed – the goose guard station – followed by an ominous silence. To the trained ear, the honking was merely a response to seeing a light on the path. It was followed by a beating of wings.

    At this point, Harriet’s nerve failed and she let out a scream from somewhere in the willows.  

    “Walk towards them!” I called. “Don’t let them know you’re scared!”

    The opening scream was followed, less impressively, with a pathetic, begging whimper of “No, no, no …” – a red rag to a pair of geese looking for an easy target.

    Following terror and pleading with panic, poor Harriet broke cover and ran, despite the multiple disadvantages of lumbering a large suitcase along a narrow muddy path flanked by willows, in red shoes with no grips. In the best cinematic chase tradition, there was a strangled cry, the sound of running and the crash of a suitcase against the trees, before her escape attempt ended in a noisy and undignified argument with the roofing metal.


    car with roof metal

    We finally arrived at the car to find her on the back seat, nursing a bruised leg patterned with roofing-metal corrugations. Ouch. Interestingly, the geese were nowhere to be seen. The attack had never come, probably because, having received such a spectacular result from a couple of honks and an early-morning stretch, the geese saw no point in expending further effort.

    All was quiet. Somewhere under the trees by the shed, the culprits had settled back down to doze, satisfied with their early warning procedures, perhaps dimly aware that they had just ushered in a new era of psychological warfare.