Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Roskhill Barn Gate

These days, the garden of the Barn is not properly fenced, though it may have been at one time. There is a tumbled stone wall along the longest side, and some slightly tired stockproof fencing at the other boundaries. This is not really a problem to us - the occasional wandering sheep may get in, but we like our uninterrupted views.  However, at the entrance to our garden and driveway, there is a very elderly iron gate. When we first came here, it was possible to open and close this gate. Inevitably, time and climate have taken their toll, and not only is it no longer possible to move the gate, but the poor thing is also falling to bits…

Our end-of-life gate
Having recently spent a lot of time (and money) restoring and re-inventing our home here, we thought a fitting finalé to our renovations would be to replace the old gate with something special. We searched online for a metalworking artist, and eventually commissioned James Price from East Chiltington, near Lewes, East Sussex, to design and make a new gate for us.

I have recently returned from a trip south, with our new gate stowed in the back of my van. I have to say, we are delighted with it. To most people – it is just a gate. But look closely, and the simple beauty of the hammered curves and hot-forged rivets and tenon joints are there to admire. There are no welds in this gate, and the hand-forged latch mechanism is a joy to behold!

Waiting in the wings...
Now, of course, the new gate and its metal posts have to be installed… This means firstly removing the old wooden posts. The old gate itself is very rusty, but still has enough strength to hang on pretty stubbornly. The original wooden gate posts may have been in place 50 years or more, but they haven’t rotted at all, and are putting up a very good fight against removal....

I may need to enlist some additional labour to complete the job, but we’ll have our beautiful new gate in place soon. More to follow…!

Thursday, 15 June 2017

The Allotment In June

On 11th May this year, I posted a couple of photos of the almost bare vegetable plots on my allotment. I will re-post one of them below. Just for the record, here are two new photos I have taken today. As you will see - plant life grows fast at this time of year on Skye, when we have about 18 hours per day of good daylight and growth-inducing temperatures and rainfall. Unfortunately, the weeds also grow very fast... but so far, I am just about keeping on top of them!

The allotment on 15th May 2017

The allotment today - just over one month later!

...and from the other end...
Foreground - Brussels sprouts and Kale. Middle left - Onions, Swede and Broccoli (with a little shelter)
Middle right - Potatoes. Far left - strawberries and rhubarb. Far right - more potatoes and carrots.
Distance - Beans (Broad and Runner) and Sugarsnap peas (better seen in the picture above).

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

On The Way To Skye

The vast majority of visitors to Skye who drive here from England will approach Scotland on the M6 and then continue on the A74(M) towards Glasgow after crossing the border just north of Carlisle.

The purpose of this post is to encourage such visitors to consider taking a detour for a day or two. Try turning left off the A74(M) and head west for a bit. The biggest town you'll find is Dumfries (population about 35,000). This historic town is worth a visit, and is the burial place of renowned Scottish poet, Robert Burns.

In Dumfries-shire, you will find mile after mile of green rolling pastureland dotted with patches of majestic trees. There is also some forest (one shares a name with the village with the shortest place-name in the UK - Ae) and to the south, the wide expanse of the Solway Firth is home to many thousands of geese and wetland birds.

Everywhere here is peaceful. Remember - the visitors have all dashed on north on the motorway. There are numerous small, quiet towns and villages - every one of them worthy of a wander-round. Head even further west, and you probably won't want to continue to Skye at all - Galloway has hills, forests, woodland, rivers, castles, beaches... and everywhere there is space to park your car and the eating places are't crowded.

Sue and I have just enjoyed an all too short break, staying just outside Dumfries. I could not claim that the landscape matches Skye for grandeur, but the almost total lack of visitors is refreshing, and there's plenty to see and do while on holiday. We have so many places on our 'must visit' list, but Dumfries and Galloway has not been completely crossed-off the list yet!

Caerlaverock Castle

Ruined - but very explorable!

The castle has a fascinating history of improvement and destruction 

Caerlaverock Castle

The Solway Firth

Wanlockhead - Scotland's highest village
Lead Mine Museum, Wanlockhead - you can pan for gold here
Wanlockhead also has the highest adhesion railway - a narrow-gauge industrial line

Leadhills village, Lowther Hills

Pausing in the Mennock Pass


Thursday, 25 May 2017

Friendly Skye

Visitors often comment on how friendly everyone is on Skye. The cynic in me says that will be because those visitors are spending their money here and providing us with our income, so we need to keep them sweet… But then, thinking about it – we are a pretty friendly community. It is absolutely the ‘done thing’ to say ‘hi’ to everyone you meet, whether you know them or not (unless in a really busy place like the Co-op, and then you only say ‘hi’ to the several people you meet who you know). We smile a lot. We know all our neighbours. We help each other out when someone has a problem.

When I travel to the south of England to connect with friends and family, it is most noticeable (to me) that when strangers pass on an otherwise deserted pavement, the ‘done thing’ is to determinedly avoid any eye contact, and to make no attempt at all at communication. I find it very strange to travel on public transport in the South, and see everyone plugged in to earphones and staring intently at little rectangles of plastic. No-one speaks to another person – heaven forbid!

Now, it is visitor season on Skye again. A couple of our neighbours in Roskhill offer visitor accommodation, so we have strangers wandering past our gate most days, as they explore the immediate neighbourhood. I always say ‘hi’ to anyone I see. Some look a little surprised, but they always say ‘hi’ back – and sometimes even pause for a brief chat.

It’s not so hard to be friendly.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Cuckoo Update - And The Allotment

In may last post, I expressed my concern at the lack of cuckoos here this year. Seems like I was a bit ahead of myself - we are hearing a cuckoo every day now, and as ever, they are cheerfully waking us up at 4.00 every morning. Hmmm... However - I remain certain that there are fewer of them around this year than in previous years.

As to the allotment - we have been enjoying a period of dry and mostly warmish weather for the last few weeks. This has enabled me to get on with all the planting, and I am now pleased to report that I have peas, runner beans, broad beans, carrots, onions and potatoes all planted and, in some cases, showing above the ground. I also have baby plants of sprouts, broccoli and kale in the cold frame in pots, all waiting until they are big enough to be planted out. That just leaves the swede, which I will be planting in a few days time.

It's a lovely time of year on the allotment - as it all looks so neat. As the spring turns to summer, our very long hours of daylight encourage incredibly rapid growth of a jungle of weeds of all shapes and sizes. Having an allotment which borders rough grazing and open moorland doesn't help - as the unwanted plants all grow there unchecked and eagerly spread their seeds onto my carefully cultivated plots. Every year I vow that I will make a big effort to keep on top of weed control, and I haven't really won the battle yet... so maybe this year..?

Here's a couple of pictures of the bare, weed-free beds, taken a couple of days ago...




Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Birds on Skye

I enjoy bird song, and like to watch our garden birds, but I am far from being a fanatic, and struggle to identify any feathered friend which is 'out of the ordinary'. Serious bird people should consider redirecting to the excellent 'Skye Birds' website right now... http://www.skye-birds.com/

Now, with the serious twitchers gone, it's hello to you slightly less 'birdy' people...

Here at Roskhill, I have a couple of feeders dangling from a tree just outside my study window. The feeders contain peanuts and fat balls, and I very occasionally throw a few kitchen scraps on the ground beneath the feeders. In spite of Roskhill being a very small human residential community, lying within many acres of heather moorland and rough grazing, our garden attracts a wide variety of what might be considered to be 'garden birds'.

Our garden 'regulars' include the inevitable blackbirds, and we almost always have a robin or three. Chaffinches are common, and there is almost always a dunnock hopping about under the feeders. The tit family are represented by great tits, blue tits and coal tits.  We have a few house sparrows and an occasional starling and song thrush. This year, we have been seeing an increase in numbers of goldfinches and greenfinches, and siskins are also quite common visitors.

As for larger birds - two-tone hooded crows are always around - and tend to be more gregarious and bolder than their all-black southern cousins, and collared doves are visiting more often these days. . We occasionally get a glimpse of a sparrowhawk.

A short walk up the road takes one out of the gardens and into the moor. Here, the 'little brown jobs' are meadow pipits and sedge warblers, while buzzards and snipe are often seen - and heard - in the sky. I am sure there are other birds about, but I lack the skill to identify them. However - in spite of us being less than a mile from the sea, it is rare to see any seabirds here at Roskhill.

One last word goes to the Cuckoo. Since we moved here in 2008, we have learned to expect several cuckoos to start to 'sing' in April every year. They would then lay their eggs, and young cuckoos would be hatched, and would then depart in July. This year, 2017, just one cuckoo arrived in Roskhill, and sang for a week or so. This one bird seems now to have moved on. 2017 could be the first cockoo-less summer we have had here. What a tragedy it is, that man has had so much influence on the wildlife on our planet that such a familiar bird as the cuckoo is now risking extinction.

My fuzzy photos are of a few Roskhill birds - pictures taken through my double glazed study window.

Two goldfinches (look carefully...)

Male chaffinch

Blue tit

Greenfinches

Coal tit

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Out With The Old...

The other day, and with a little sadness, I bade farewell to my trusty Citroen Berlingo van. We had been together nearly seven years, and in that time had travelled approaching 100,000 miles together. Much of the time, the cargo area only carried Cupar's dog-crate and my tool boxes, though in summer, a lawn mower, strimmer and other tools would also be carried. At other times, the van had been pressed into service to transport various items of furniture, DIY materials, and huge quantities of shopping bought on trips south or to Inverness.

The Berlingo has never once let me down, but with its increasing age, I had become more and more aware that expensive repairs were inevitably 'just round the corner', so a replacement vehicle was sought. I find it invaluable to own a van. It is so easy to simply pile any kind of stuff in the back in a way that I am quite sure would not be possible with a hatchback or estate car - even a big one. Additionally, the Berlingo is a very convenient car-like size on the road, is adequately comfortable to drive, and very economical on fuel.

So, it will come as no surprise that its replacement is a near-identical sibling. Yes - the Berlingo is still in production, albeit with a few completely un-necessary updates to equipment such as air conditioning, a digital radio and reversing sensors... But the engine has also been updated and is now Euro 6 compliant - so although a diesel - it is not the 'dirty' variety that we currently read about so much.

Here's my 'spot the difference' photos of the old and the new. Not too difficult to see a different registration number - though my 200 XMF plate was also on the 'old' van until a week or so previously.  The slightly more observant may notice that the 'new' van is silver - not white. I am no longer a 'white van man'...! Lastly - yes, the new van is badged as a Peugeot Partner, and not a Citroen Berlingo. The two are, in all but name, the same van, but I was not able to find a Citroen version of the age and specification that I was seeking, so for the next few years at least, my workhorse will be a Pug, and I hope will prove as trusty as the outgoing Citroen.

The Old...

The Old...

The New...

The New...


As a footnote - it is interesting to see how much greener Roskhill is looking today than it was a week ago when the first pictures were taken!



Thursday, 6 April 2017

They're Back!

Skye Winter is turning into Skye Spring. Mostly, this just means that the drizzle is slightly warmer and the wind gets a chance to blow daffodils about, and not just blow at dead grasses. But Spring also brings a noticeable increase in traffic on the roads. The visitor season is upon us again. Brand new shiny rental cars trundle in convoy towards the most infamous beauty spots and attractions, vying for space in the tiny car parks, and struggling to pass the inevitable camper vans which lumber along even more tentatively than the rental cars.

Since almost the entire Skye economy is fed by the tourist industry in one way or another, the permanent residents do not complain too much about the summer invasion. Litter, inconsiderate parking and dangerous driving antics are the topics most likely to raise a comment. We know we have our cosy homes to retreat into when the weather is inclement and the B&Bs have pushed their visitors out for the day. We face the queues at the Co-op with a smile, and avoid the now overcrowded pubs and restaurants. Most of us know some secret places where we can get away from all the cameras and foreign voices.

For Sue and I - the visitor season is a pretty busy time. We look after our self-catering cottages ourselves, and that includes all the admin, all the washing and ironing, all the cleaning, and all the gardening and maintenance. As Sue has her homecare job, I take the lion's share of the chores. In a move to reduce my workload in future years, we are planning to offer Rowan Cottage for sale later this year and cut back to running just two cottages of our own. We have no idea how readily we will find a buyer for Rowan - some properties linger unsold for months and even years. I'll write more about the sale in due course.

But, dear readers, don't be put off by what I write! Skye is a wonderful place to visit, with spectacular scenery everywhere, which gets better every bend you go round. Come, experience and enjoy - but be sure to book your accommodation well in advance, and see if you can seek out some special secret parts of Skye for yourselves...!


Monday, 27 March 2017

Skye Summer...???

Here on Skye, we take every opportunity to rejoice in wonderful weather. Let's be honest - we really don't get wonderful weather very often (unless you are in the very tiny minority of folk who rejoice in horizontal drizzle...)

The last few day's weather has been MY kind of wonderful. Calm winds, overnight light frosts, and daytime temperatures reaching 17C. The sky has been blue, streaked with thin high cloud, with lots of dots and dashes of slightly thicker cloud at lower levels. The sun has actually felt warm!

We haven't had much of a summer for the last three or four years, so we are 'fingers crossed' that the weather we are experiencing now will not be all we will get for 2017, but will be a pre-cursor of a proper Skye summer to come...

Evening sky - Roskhill - 27 March 2017

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Trips South

Almost all ‘incomers’ to Skye will have friends and family somewhere else in the UK or in the world. As Skye is a long way from everywhere, it can be a bit of a trek to keep in touch with everyone. But for us, it is an important part of our life here. I know I’ve mentioned before that, three or four times a year, Sue and I both make trips to the south of England to visit family and friends. These days, Sue takes the train, while I prefer to drive. I bought my fabulous Jaguar XK with the specific thought that it would be the ideal car for my regular long road trips.

Puss just above Glencoe.
The main road was clear of snow.
I am just recently returned from one of the most enjoyable visits south that I can recall. The weather and the traffic were on my side. I encountered a bit of snow on the way down, but the roads were OK. I didn’t meet a hold-up anywhere in 1,700 miles of driving. Puss, my Jaguar, is indeed purrfect for the journey, and the miles flash by. On my way back, for my overnight stop, I enjoyed one of the best B&Bs I have ever encountered. I’ve already booked to stay there again in June, when Sue and I will have a three-night mini-holiday there.

Big  comfy bedrooms at
Wallamhill House B&B, Kirkton near Dumfries
View over the garden from front bedroom
Wallamhill B&B, Kirkton, near Dumfries.
Even better still, I was happy to catch up with my sister and brother-in-law, who are both turned 70, but remain fit and in good health. I was also delighted to meet again with my niece and nephew and their families, all of whom seem happy and enjoying life, with Jeremy, my niece’s husband, having some especially good news about a new role he is shortly to undertake in his work-life. Well done Jez!

During my trip, I was even able to meet up with a couple of Jaguar people and make a visit to the excellent Haynes Motor Museum near Yeovil.

Puss makes friends at Haynes Motor Museum
As for friends – my dear friend Val, in Torquay, does not always enjoy the greatest of health, but certainly looks better when we meet in person than she sounds on the phone – maybe I should visit her more often…? And I always have a great visit with Sara and Rod near Southampton. Rod will be fully retired next time I see them in July. You will love it, Rod – I promise!

Sara, Rod and Lucy-the-Pooch
Peninsula Barracks, Winchester
For Sue and me, being able to regularly travel south to visit our family and friends is very important to our happiness here. But be sure – having been south for a visit, as we travel back into the Highlands, and see the hills of home ahead, we know for certain that we did the right thing by making our new life on the Isle of Skye.



Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Skye In Pictures

Readers of this blog may not have stumbled upon my other Skye blog - Skye In Pictures - so this is a plug. As the name suggests, Skye In Pictures contains mostly photographs - taken by me and Sue over the last few years. Each post has a theme, and I try to post a new picture gallery every two or three weeks. The tab under the heading banner on this page is a link to Skye In Pictures, or you can click here.

Enjoy!


Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Allotment News - I Plant A Hedge

It's been a while since I posted anything about the Roskhill allotment. The fact is, I have had a couple of very mediocre years on the plot, when the results of my labours have been disappointing - to say the least. Lat year in particular, the only seed that produced a crop above the ground were the mangetout peas and broad beans. Underground - the potatoes and carrots were OK, and we had some rather small onions, but other than that - everything else failed. I don't know why. The weather did not seem to be especially different to usual - in fact, the 'growing' month of May was quite mild and dry. Strangely - I had a problem getting seed to germinate - even the kale and swede, which are Highlands staples!

One suggestion from the locals is that by removing a tatty windbreak fence, I have opened up the plot too much, leaving the land exposed to the chilly winds. I like the look of the bigger space without the fence, and I have gradually 'tamed' the jungle that used to grow on the far side of it - it looks lovely in spring as it is full of daffodils and bluebells.

But - if having a windbreak may mean a return to rewarding vegetable production, then a windbreak I will have to have. However, I have decided to go the natural route, and this winter, ordered 30 metres of windbreak hedging shrubs from a nursery which claims to supply plants suitable for a harsh coastal climate... Over the last couple of days, I have put them in the ground, and yesterday they experienced their first Skye storm - the Met Office reported we had winds gusting to 70mph... so that was a sharp lesson for them, and hopefully they will soon get used to the conditions where they are growing!

I'll be buying seed soon, and will report here on how the allotment season goes. Wish me luck!

This was in 2010 - with windbreak fence on the left.
I had just taken over the allotment,
and was in the process of clearing the weed-filled beds

2015 - without the fence, and with bluebells flourishing

And now - with the new hedge planted

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Leaving Skye

No...!! Don't panic!! We are here for the rest of our days - this post is about how we travel south to visit family and friends...!!

Sue's Mum, now 86 years old, lives independently in her bungalow in Ashford, Kent. Sue travels south for a fortnight every three months to stay with her Mum, and also to visit her sister (in London) and numerous other friends in the Ashford area.

When we first lived here, Sue would make the journey by coach - Portree to Glasgow,  Glasgow to London Victoria, and train out to Ashford. The cost was reasonable, and Sue coped with all the bouncing-around in the coach as it raced through the Highlands... but one time she tried the train... This was better! I now regularly take Sue to Kyle of Lochalsh (our nearest station) where a little train trundles Sue to Inverness where she boards the Caledonian Sleeper overnight to London Euston. These days, Sue then takes a tube to her sister Helen's where she picks up a car that we share with Helen and drives it to Ashford. This means Sue has use of a car while she is in Kent.

Sue tried flying down just once. The cost is not hugely different to travelling by train, but the hassle of being at Inverness airport at the right time, and then getting from Gatwick to Ashford, and having little room for luggage (unless we paid extra) all proved too much to be bothered with. So for now, the train is the way for Sue.

As for me - I travel south three or four times a year. I visit family and a friend in Devon (Okehampton and Torquay), friends in Hampshire (Hedge End near Southampton) and a cousin near Oxford. I have always travelled by road, and for years, have coped with the 700-mile each-way journey with one overnight stop. I have made it part of the trip to try a different bed-and-breakfast every time I travel. I've also tried a few different routes, and I usually take my overnight break somewhere in the border country. I have to say, over the years, I have enjoyed visiting many small and interesting border towns including Gretna, Langholm, Hawick and Lockerbie - places so many tourists dash past without a second glance. I would really like to get back to Jedburgh and Melrose some time in the future, too.

Now, however, even in my super car, the experience of sitting on ever-busier roads for pretty much two whole days at a time, is beginning to become less and less fun and more of a chore - to the point when I am considering taking to the air for at least one trip in 2017. I can fly direct from Inverness to Bristol, where I will hire a car to do my visiting, and drive rather fewer miles. I feel it is worth a try. If the journey proves to be relatively hassle-free and I enjoy the trip, then maybe... just 'maybe', Puss will be staying in her garage when I go south in the future....

Kaged Kat