After months of seemingly endless wind and rain, hail and snow, the Isle of Harris emerges from winter just in time to welcome the annual arrival of lambs.
The hours of light grow longer with each passing day and there is a real sense that the worst of the wilder months are now behind us.
On crofts, machair and moors across the Outer Hebrides, hundreds of bright little bleating bundles are appearing at the feet of their often bewildered mothers. It’s one of the real signs that spring is in the air.
For the local men and women who tend these flocks, it’s a challenging time of year, full of ups and downs, late nights and early mornings, hard moments and heartaches.
Some shepherds choose to let Mother Nature take its course, allowing their ewes to give birth in the great outdoors, usually within the confines of croftland but sometimes in more open places too.
Others have the benefit of barns, which provide safe shelter from bad weather and are packed full of sheep pens, feeding troughs and fresh straw.
In whichever environment the lambs come into the world, a watchful eye and a helping hand are always important to ensure both mother and child survive the season.
There can be difficult births and breeches which require skilled assistance, and even the best of beginnings can be helped along with a straw-tickled nose, a dose of green scour solution and a swift spray of dark, disinfecting iodine.
Those who work with livestock know that life rarely sticks to a strict timetable so our island crofters will be awake at all hours of the day and night, surviving on flasks of sweet tea and hastily grabbed sandwiches.
But, when it’s all over and the last lamb is on its feet and feeding, then the rewards are wonderful and the hardships soon forgotten.
For the rest of us, there is the pure pleasure of witnessing the lambs' progress as the season rolls on. It’s not long before these shy, clingy creatures begin running boisterous races together, their newly formed gangs jumping with joy as the weather warms.
In a world so often estranged from nature, these are the days in which many islanders deepen their connection with life and the rhythms of the land.
We raise an Isle of Harris G&T to those waiting with a watchful eye and already working hard, and wish you all a successful lambing season as our island calendar continues to unfold…