It is a miserable day on Rona this Sunday the 22nd, we were expecting it yesterday but Saturday turned out quite a good day. Our first visitors of the season arrived around 10am in glorious sunshine but it is a different story to-day. I hear from the mainland that there is snow about but by the time it got here it is wet sleet. Not very pleasant.
Been listening to Mark Stevens on Out of Doors this morning, one of the better ‘Countryside’ programmes on the radio/TV. The programme was tootleing along when my ears pricked up, ‘Scottish Wildcats’. Now there is only one ‘wildcat’ on Rona, George the Island Cat. But having come across Scottish Wild cats in my lifetime, many times I’m always interested to hear anything about them. I guess I have been lucky in the respect that I was working or walking in their areas but when I think back over the years I have had many sightings. Which brings me to the ‘Out of Doors article’. They were talking about saving the ‘Scottish Wildcat’, from what? There is a thought there is only 400 left, which is quite a bold statement. To cut a long story short I had to write a comment to Mark after I heard them talking about drugging ones they trap, taking all sorts of samples and then fitting GPS collars. Oh and ‘getting rid of hybrids’. In my head I was screaming, ‘can’t you just leave them alone’!!!!!! I’m must be getting old!!
George came from Raasay via the landing craft, he had been neutered, a bit of his ear cut off to tell the Vets on Skye ‘that he had been done’, so by the time he got out of the lobster creel he was transported in and out of the front bucket of Hugh’s JCB, he was petrified. Poor brute. He still is sort of wary of men and I just wonder what all the handling of wildcats will do to them? There is a good bit of colouring in him of a wild predecessor, but he is tiny compared to some of the wildcats I’ve seen.
He was one of Paul and Barbara’s Kittens, Life At the End of The Road a birthday present for L. He looks to have a bit of wildcat in him and he certainly knows how to hunt (and eat).
I spoke to Julia this morning, always a mine of Raasay information. She told me that when they stayed on Eilean Tighe herself and her sister used to go up to where the wild cats den was and ‘poke a stick ‘ into the den. She says ” the wild cat used to get very cross and swear at them”. It really is a uplifting experience chatting with Julia. So instead of photos to-day I think I’ll just try and remember the conversation.
She had lived on Eilean Tighe until she was about seven, herself and her sister Betty went everywhere on the Island, I cannot imagine two ‘toddlers’ having a free run, so close to the sea. But she says there was never any fear of falling in or getting into scrapes, which is what they used to do. Her visit to the wildcats den was quite a walk round the hill to the South side. The place they called the ‘ruinn’ or she thinks ‘rings’. As she described the place to me to-day, it still has gorse (or whins) around the spot and it is perfect cover for a wildcat. How they found it I do not know but it was just normal to go and see if it was still at home. Often they would see it, sometimes it would come to the mouth of the hole, they were never frightened of it despite its ‘swearing’. I asked her about what it may have lived on and apart from seabirds and eggs there were hares, many of them on Eilean Tighe. Not rabbits, but there were rabbits at Kyle Rona, the croft they left the Island for which is described in Julia’s book ‘ Wirlygig Beetles and Tackety Boots’. I guess the cat made trips to the main island at low tide.
As often happens in these situations the wildcat lived in close proximity but they kept very much away from the house and hens, no doubt they lost a ‘chook’ or two but it seems her Father never felt the need to get rid of the cat, much like my own experiences of them.
As often happens during these conversations you definitely get the feel of a person harking back to the old days and the tastes or smells of these times, the diet is often discussed and foods that we would turn our nose up at, perhaps to-day were very much enjoyed. As we said hunger is a great appetiser. Hare soup, barley broth, rabbit stew, jugged hare, cormorant, salt fish, mutton. Sounds good to me. They did not grow many vegetables, probably because a lot of what we take for granted simply would not grow but they did have potatoes and cabbage plus three dairy cows. So mashed potatoes and milk were often the main meal of the day, and plenty of them. One more thing that was very important was a bag of dried broth mix, must get some.
We are hoping to visit Julia in a week or so, I’m looking forward to quizzing her about the wildlife during her young days at the North of Raasay. I’m interested to hear about the Eagles. I can remember seeing Golden Eagles on Rona, occasionally many years ago but now only Sea Eagles. Although the younger Sea Eagles could easily be mistaken for a Golden.
I have sent a text to Hugh on Raasay to ask Calum Don if he had any info’ on Raasay wildcats, CD has worked for the Forestry Commission for many years so here’s hoping he will know something.
I’m half way through Seton Gordon’s biography where he has come to live on Skye but no mention of wildcats ,yet. However plenty mention of Golden Eagles around Duntulm which is not a million miles from here. Although a birder once told me on Rona that Golden Eagles do not fly across the sea!!!!! Make up your own mind.