View from the Edge: Cath Macdonald


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The silence was deafening. It was Sunday, the sun hot and blindingly bright, the sea so calm it looked like a mirror. The churches were closed. No cars on the road.

There was nothing to do except go for a walk again on the well-known path or watch the TV news only to hear the worrying news that self-isolating would continue, not just through the next three weeks into May, but into the unforeseeable future.

Yes, we understand the risks of ceasing the lockdown and self-isolating too soon, but how are we to cope if it continues into the unforeseeable future? It has even been mentioned the lockdown could continue until 2021.

While we hope this will not happen. A lockdown is devastating for the Hebridean islands, especially as hospitality and tourism is so important to the area.

Hotels, cafes, restaurants bed and breakfast accommodation, campsites and others will suffer.

We accept the lockdown has to continue until it is judged safe to make some moves towards ‘normal’.

We have a small campsite on the croft which was set up by my late father and is usually busy at this time of year. The crofts on the eastern side of Harris were never enough to provide the income needed for a family so tourist accommodation, along with other things, was used to supplement the croft income.

When tourism started to become an important industry for the islands, I was a child and can remember walking through the village, noting the cars at each croft house where B&B was provided. Dinner and packed lunches were also sometimes provided.

Years later, tourists began coming in caravans and motor homes leading to a reduction in the number of B&Bs.

We have had over a week of the most glorious weather which, in normal times, would have seen our roads and our beautiful, world-renowned  beaches busy with visitors.

Festivals, including the Mod which was to have been held in October in Inverness, have had to be cancelled.

Besides the effect on tourism, there is the effect on people self-isolating. If you are part of a family you have someone to talk to.

But spare a thought for people living on their own. The elderly who have carers will have someone to talk to during the short period of their visit, but there are others who see no-one all day.

Yes, there are deliveries of food from shops, with bags taken to front doors, and the postman calls with mail.

We are used to receiving guests at this time of year and doing any necessary work. We are used to having family from the mainland visiting and other visitors to the islands calling but it is not going to happen this year.

It is hard on the economy, but it is also hard on people who live on their own and there are many of these on our islands. Many have welcomed hearing the church services on the internet, radio and TV on Sunday in English or Gaelic.

While we are unable to meet with family and friends while self-isolating, we can have contact by phone, email, Skype or other platforms.

The coronavirus pandemic happened in the UK at about the same time as the Connected Communities wireless network was set to close and we were advised to find other servers to connect with.

The Tech Mobile Shop in Stornoway has been helpful to me and others at a time when it was so important to be able to communicate with family and others.

Although the shop was closed, it was possible to get someone to help by phoning the shop number.

I thank them for their help in keeping me and many others in touch with each other at a difficult time.