When so much of life is spent outdoors, theweather can make or break a day in the Outer Hebrides. Being right on the edge of the Atlantic doesn't help - this is usually the first strip of land to be buffeted by incoming storms or drenched by approaching rainclouds. But proximity to the warming flow of the Gulf Stream is a real plus, with mean minimum temperatures in winter no colder than in London. And when the sun does come out, as it does far more often than you might think, the illuminated scenery looks quite spectacular.
I was semi-lucky with the weather during my stay in the Hebrides, kicking off with two days of uncharacteristically fine sunshine... at least until damp, grey conditions swept in on Monday afternoon and took hold for most the rest of the week. It proved essential to keep an eye on the daily weather forecast, living in hope that a brief brighter spell might lie just over the horizon. I now fully understood how poorly the BBC's newweathergraphics serve the north of Scotland. I needed to scrutinise conditions in the islands at the top left of the map, but they were too small, too distant and too often obscured behind the presenter's head. The new blotchy rainfall radar was no use either, frequently promising a break in the drizzle which never materialised. It was especially galling to watch most of the rest of the country enjoying a protracted summer heatwave, apart from one persistent swirl of low cloud and precipitation lying directly across the Western Isles. At least the national weather summaries on Ceefax were good value for money, their brief text consistently including pinpoint local phrases such as "except for Northwest Scotland". But hey, even under a pallor of grey my view of the Hebrides was still something special. And it could have been worse, I could have been there this week.