Monday, 9 September 2019

A Murder at Roskhill

Only a few days ago I spotted a sparrowhawk lurking among our bird feeders. At the time, I thought that the bird was an inexperienced youngster, as to me, it seemed pretty unlikely that a juicy plump great tit would flutter towards the peanuts while Master S. Hawk was in the locality. Here's a picture I took at the time...


However - hunger no doubt drives a rapid learning curve in young sparrowhawks, and this morning, one of our local blackbirds ended up as breakfast....

Sue and I did not witness the dreadful deed itself, but we were able to watch the perpetrator pluck, dismember and devour the victim. And here is the evidence. Just the beak, and this pile of feathers remained. A sad end for one of the many local blackbirds, and a nice full tummy for the sparrowhawk!


Friday, 30 August 2019

Self Catering Cottages on Skye

Glancing back through this blog, it seems that very few of my posts say anything about the 'day job'. So here's a post about what I do when I'm not on the allotment, or walking Cupar, or taking photos...

The first property purchases we made on Skye - way back in 2005, were Rowan Cottage - an old sea-shore cottage, and Aird View - a modern bungalow. These were both bought for holiday letting. Sue and I still lived in Kent at the time, and were very fortunate to have friends on Skye who were willing and able to look after the cottages for us, and take care of the turn-rounds between visitors.

Rowan Cottage
Aird View
We moved to live on Skye in 2008, when we bought Roskhill Barn. At the time, the Barn was arranged as two separate apartments, so we lived in one and let the other as our 'bed and breakfast with a difference' - the difference being that we provided the guests with ingredients for their breakfast, which they then cooked for themselves.

Over time, we bought a further cottage - Loch View - and more recently had the Barn rebuilt as one house (so there's no apartment to let here any more). We also sold Aird View and bought Summer Cottage - a lovely old croft house just a mile from our home at Roskhill. This still gave us three cottages to manage.

Loch View
Summer Cottage
Time moves on, and holiday trends change. Demand was increasing for shorter stays than the traditional week or fortnight, and we were among the first Skye cottage owners to offer 'short breaks' throughout the summer. This has proved very popular, and is now the way most visitors book these days. Of course - it makes more work for us, so to reduce the work-load, Rowan Cottage was sold.

Unlike me - who retired from paid employment when we moved to Skye, Sue is still working. She is employed as a home carer with NHS Highland. Her job is nominally part-time, but keeps her pretty busy, so it is my task to handle all the cottage affairs.

We have always looked after all our own marketing, bookings and enquiries, and I have done the same job for a couple of other cottage owners for several years. It takes a surprising amount of time on the computer each day, especially when there are questions to answer. These days, it is rare to take a booking through our own websites, as most visitors use Online Travel Agencies to choose their holiday accommodation. Booking.com and Airbnb are probably the most popular OTAs serving Skye right now. They charge fees of course, but they have a global market, and a big bonus is that they handle all incoming payments, which takes a big chore off my hands.

As to the cottages themselves - we accept bookings for a minimum of three nights with any day start. I keep a close eye on bookings, and by closing a cottage for arrivals on a particular day, I can usually avoid having two turn-rounds on the same day. Having any-day starts means we occasionally get a night or two when a cottage is vacant. That's fine - it's nice to have a bit of breathing space, and allows time for some 'deeper' cleaning or a minor repair job.

A regular turn-round consists of changing beds and lots of cleaning. The vast majority of visitors are respectful of our cottages, look after the places during their stay, and leave everything tidy on departure. But every turn round, I open the door tentatively, knowing that just occasionally I will find a scene of chaos, with washing-up still waiting to be done, cushions, pillows, towels and bedding scattered all over the floor, the bins overflowing and a greasy mess on the hob and in the oven... Thankfully, such a scene is very rare. But believe me - it does happen... Interestingly, Airbnb has a policy of encouraging landlords to write reviews of their guests, and it seems to work, as I have not yet had any kind of tidiness issue with any of our visitors who have booked through Airbnb.

Another of my tasks is look after the cottage gardens - this is mostly just a grass-cutting job. This is fine when the weather is OK, but a period when it is dreich for days on end can make things more challenging. Then there's the maintenance. Inevitably, things get broken from time to time, so I carry a pretty comprehensive tool kit to every turn-round. One quickly learns that cottages get a bit of a tough time from visitors, so anything fixed to a wall needs to be attached with fixings twice as strong as you would use in your own home. Then we had a period when we got through a lot of kettles. But mostly, and thankfully,  household appliances seem to be pretty robust these days!

Finally - there's the laundry. Our washing machine here at the Barn gets pretty constant use, and for the most part, we dry linen and towels by hanging them in our utility room where a dehumidifier runs for hours on end. Towels then get a 'fluff up' in the tumble drier, and I get onto the ironing of all the bedding.

After all that - I get to work on the allotment, walk Cupar, and take photos...!!

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

So Tiny, So Beautiful

I need to return to a topic I wrote about a short while ago - Skye's wild flowers. I was bemoaning the fact that there seemed to be fewer wild flowers blooming year-by-year. Maybe I was a little hasty with that post, as we have had a wonderful summer of colourful roadsides, with, currently, the knapweed, doing spectacularly well.

I will add, though, that I saw only a couple of common spotted orchids this spring, and I've only seen one single spear thistle locally, to the chagrin of our chaffinches, who love to eat the seeds. They are not exactly rare elsewhere however!

My daily morning dog-walk takes me along a mile or so of the local road. While the moors, which are grazed by only a thin scattering of nomadic sheep, are all but bare of our common wild flowers, the roadside verges are akin to a wildflower nature reserve. Here is the road just along from the Barn - look at all that knapweed...

... and the grasses are shoulder-high.
(Cupar looks a bit bored). 
Today, I decided to take a closer look at some of the flowers. The delicacy and daintiness of the most common of flowers is quite spectacular. Being tiny is clearly of massive importance to these plants. Maybe there is a lesson for us all there somewhere? Forget the bigger picture, it's small things that matter most.

Just one knapweed flower - of thousands!

Ever taken a close look at a roadside flower?

How dainty is the meadowsweet - and it smells wonderful too!

Friday, 2 August 2019

Roskhill Birds

My last post here was largely negative, so I thought this time I would be a bit more cheerful. Here's a post about the bird and baby bird situation in and around Roskhill.

My desk (and computer) stand just inside a ground floor window, with, only a few feet outside, our bird feeders hanging on the branches of a tree. The tree provides safe cover for a multitude of garden birds, and we keep the feeders stocked with peanuts and fat balls.

We don't attract any rare or unusual species, but the feeders are extremely busy, and our visitor list is quite long. I'm not a twitcher, so may miss a few, but at various times of the year, in the garden, we see:

  • house sparrow
  • dunnock
  • wren
  • starling
  • blackbird
  • song thrush
  • chaffinch
  • greenfinch
  • goldfinch
  • blue tit
  • great tit
  • coal tit
  • robin
  • siskin
  • blackcap
  • wagtail
  • collared dove
  • rock dove

Locally, but almost never in the garden, other birds we often see include:

  • meadow pipit
  • sedge warbler
  • wheatear
  • redwing
  • mistle thrush
  • swallow
  • cuckoo
  • snipe
  • curlew
  • lapwing
  • heron
  • jackdaw
  • hooded crow
  • raven
  • buzzard
  • sparrowhawk
  • various seabirds (I'm not good at identifying seabirds...)!

...and very occasionally a golden eagle or sea eagle will overfly. Just a couple of times, I have seen a hen harrier over the Roskhill moorland.

Now as for nesting birds - our garden has a number of shrubs and trees. Then we have two nest boxes which are favoured by great tits, and the Barn has various holes and gaps in the roof and soffits. These locations all provide good homes, and this year in particular we have been delighted to see a big increase in numbers of breeding house sparrows. The starlings, blackbirds and great tits have been very successful too, and the robins have done especially well (three different families managed to tolerate each other to bring off broods at the same time).

It is not difficult to spend too much time looking out of the window...

Just one on this occasion - a blue tit.
 Often there are at least half a dozen birds at this feeder at the same time.