Now, as a grown up kid, the summers seem shorter and colder but the machair sights and scents still make my head swim in the summer. Clover’s honeyed high notes. Bedstraw, warm, savoury and subtle. The delicate intricacies of this landscapes inhabitants only adding to its splendour.
Lady’s bedstraw was once harvested in the Hebrides for its striking red and orange properties when used to dye fibres, particularly famed in the old Harris tweeds. Yet, so widely gathered was the bedstraw, that land owner’s sanctions were brought in to prohibit its picking – though like many an island tradition there are tales of undercover acquisitions.
Wild thyme pops out bright purple flower heads from early to high summer; scrambling down to the shore releases the herbal scent – sweeter than its backyard garden cousin.
Red and white clover spread out through the grassland, oh what a scent! We’d pick up a white flower head and sook out the floral nectar.
Purple harebells, yellow trefoil, self heal… The species found on the machair are wide and varying, a haven for rarer flora to flourish – indeed some of the rarest orchid species are only to be found in Scotland’s machair.
But the machair has more important things to do than bring back childhood memories. With intensive agricultural practices encroaching, grazing patterns changing, even increased visitor numbers to our beaches; stricter steps have been enforced to protect and educate people on this delicate land type. When visiting our northern island neighbour of Tiree last summer, I was impressed that restricted camping and walking areas mean Tiree’s natural machair is blossoming – never have I seen such abundance of healthy-looking bedstraw as we cycled across the island.
The machair is an almost unbelievably unique, complex, diverse and gloriously rich ecosystem but it will always be evocative of all that was good in my childhood summers; a place to indulge in scent and colour.
In but a few months from now, once summer has truly passed and the brightest flowers have gone, the Marram grass will hold steady the peripheries until the winter storms tangle the kelp and protect the precious machair once again.