I promised I would tell you the story of the Reclaimed by Nature photograph – so if you’re sitting comfortably…..
Himself was asked to undertake a mission on behalf of the Lost and Found Fungi Project to try to find Peltasterinostroma rubi a fungus which was first recorded on bramble near Molingeanais (Molinginish) on the island of Harris in 1974 and has not been seen since. As Himself is the only resident mycologist on the islands we were keen to help and so an expedition was planned. This is hardly equivalent to searching for the holy grail, but in scientific terms a worthy endeavour. Mycologists with an interest in micro-fungi on plants are few and far between in the UK, so it is not surprising that very small black dots on bramble stems and leaves may have been over-looked.
During a settled spell of early summer weather in May we took the ferry to Harris, drove to Tarbert and headed east towards Scalpay. A few miles along the road is the footpath to Reinigeadal and Molingeanais on the east coast of Harris on the shores of Loch Trolamaraig. Harris is a very rugged island and although it is not a very long walk, about 6 miles, the climb up the slopes of Beinn Tharsuinn to the pass and down to coast is steep -maybe not for fit Munro baggers but perhaps for those who are more accustomed to rambling along the beaches of South Uist. However, the only reason it took 2½ hours to get to our destination was to allow time to look at the view and stop to record the flowers, lichens and other wildlife.
As we walked down the narrow path to the east coast the Shiant islands came into view and after a rapid descent we reached the gate to Molingeanais.
Molingeanais village comprises a few houses in a steep valley which cuts down to a small bay on Loch Trollamarig, at the mouth of Loch Seaforth. It was once part of the Scalpay farm and occupied by shepherds. In 1823 the entire population on the west of Harris from Bunamhuinneader to Loch Resort was cleared and the lease of Molingeanais was given to a family who had been evicted from Teilisnis on West Loch Tarbert. Other families arrived and the population grow to about 40 in the 1880s.
As in most coastal communities subsistence level agriculture was supplemented by fishing and the production of tweed. The herring fishery declined after the First World War and the village population slowly dwindled. After the war the Board of Agriculture encouraged families in Harris to relocate to new crofts at Portnalong in Skye. Although a number of families from Molinginish left a school was built in 1921. This continued until 1935 when the authorities withdrew the teacher and paid a lodging allowance for the children to go to school in Tarbert. This must have been a long hard walk for the children from Reinigeadal and Molingeanais each week, particularly in the winter gales, as the path reaches a height of 280m at the bealach (narrow pass) between Trolamul and Beinn Tharsuinn.
The last inhabitants died in the 1960s and the village is now deserted, although a pair of stone cottages are used in the summer by a local family.
This is a magical place, and unlike many of the abandoned settlements, is not troubled by the ghosts of those who were evicted or forced to leave when their way of life became unsustainable. The village is slowly being reclaimed by nature as the coastal ferns begin to take hold amongst the amongst the stones of the houses and primroses are now nestling old field banks and along the burn.
As for the fungus, we found a single bramble, which was remarkably healthy, but no fungus. However, I suspect we will be looking at brambles all summer for black fungal lesions. We might not have found the lost fungus but we encountered a magnificent green tiger beetle (Cicindela campestris) which appears to be rare in the islands and has not been recorded since 1977.
Winsor and cadmiun lemon, bismuth, chrome and cadmiun yellow, Naples and Indian deep and light yellow, jaune brilliant and yellow ochre have been splashed and dripped across Ardivachar headland as the sun has irradiated the islands for the past month. The machair is in its yellow period and the early summer flowers are glowing and radiating with the golden light of the sun. The palette begins with subtle hints of primrose but quickly gains energy and sparks with the acid citron of charlock; warming to gold as the buttercups, celandines, silverweed and kingcups occupy centre stage only to be eclipsed by the rich aureate tones of the bird’s-foot-trefoil.
As we move into mid-June this golden glory is softened as the grasses begin to flower and swathes of red fescue drift across the fields in a gentle maroon mist. The floral kaleidoscope has been twisted and the first blue spikes of the tufted vetch appear as the spectrum changes from yellow to blue and the tapestry of flowers becomes more complex.
Alas the cottage garden lacks nature’s refinement and is defiant in flaunting a riotous mix of colours, forms and textures. There is no restraint, kniphofias flaunt their brilliant orange and yellow spikes defiantly amidst a swathe of aquilegias which profligate and promiscuous create an amalgam of the palest and most delicate of pinks with deep violet and blue.
Purple pompoms of chives sit against the fronds of fennel feigning refinement before marching off down the path to parade their glory against the candy floss pink of the thrift and London’s pride. Pillows of blue geraniums spill over the path, smoothering the primroses, their dominance soon to be upstaged by the flaming scarlet of the opium poppies. In the strong light of a hot June afternoon, the garden hums with the sound of insects as the exuberant flowers offer a surfeit of delights.
There are no contrived vistas in this garden, no artful arrangement of rooms, as beyond the garden walls there is an unrivalled panorama of sea and shore, distant islands and natural grassland. The eye is always drawn to the horizon and the extrovert carousel of colours in the garden is a mere distraction. However, there are tiny oases of calm which sit quietly in shady corners and form miniature green refuges.
There is no gardener’s restraining hand strong enough the constrain the summer revelery in the cottage garden, nor a garden designer’s scheme to discipline the arrangement of plants. It is the same on both sides of garden wall, plants grow where it suits them. I am the servant of the garden, I nurture the plants that choose to grow and replace the casualties. I might suggest a planting plan, but it is generally ignored and I suspect that left to its own devices the garden knows best.