Sunday, 5 January 2020

Why Are All The Buildings White?

This is a question I have been asked a few times by visitors. In fact - not ALL the buildings on Skye are painted white, a few are cream... However, I have to admit, I do not know a definitive answer to  the question.

It is probably mostly to do with tradition. The natural local building material is stone - if it is not ON the surface, bedrock is pretty close the surface almost everywhere on Skye. You don't see any brick-built buildings here. There's no clay to make bricks, and anyway, brick tends to be porous, so would not be ideal for use in the West Highlands weather conditions. So, the earliest dwellings were simply stone-coloured. When lime mortar became available, the stone would be daubed with this, which when dry has a pale grey colour. A limewash might then be applied - making the final finish white(ish) in colour.

Scroll-on to the 20th century, and masonry paint is invented - available in a multitude of colours. A few old buildings in the most famous photo-spots, like Portee harbour, get painted blue, pink and yellow - but everywhere else - we tend to stick to white.

Modern buildings continue the white trend - though almost none are built of stone these days. Since the 1970s, houses here are constructed using a pre-fabricated, pre-insulated timber frame which is then clad with more insulation and covered with concrete blocks,  making a strong outer layer. A cement render is then applied to the blocks, to provide a fully waterproof skin. Invariably, the render is decorated with a few coats of white masonry paint.

Maybe one day it will become fashionable to paint houses here in other colours - but for now, white looks good to me...

Houses of all ages in Glendale - and all painted white!

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

First Light 2020

I am just back from taking Cupar out for his first walkies of 2020. We went our regular route, but this morning was unusual for more than the fact that we have now entered a new decade, and more than that we did not see a single moving motor vehicle throughout our half hour on the local main road,

We are quite used to the daylight and weather conditions here being extreme in one way or another. But this morning's dawn was one of the most eerie I have ever experienced. The wind was strong - coming straight in over the sea, and gusting to at least 50mph I would guess. The temperature was probably around 6C. Nothing unusual so far.

No - it was a combination of an extremely low cloud base - certainly no more than 500 feet - and the attempts by the weak winter sunrise to turn night into dawn that led to the unique scene. The cloud was thick and heavy, and covered the entire sky in a surging blanket. In colour, it was a peculiar and indescribable grey-purple. It moved fast, so low overhead I felt if I reached up my hand I would touch it. The dead moorland grasses at the roadside, flattened by the wind, glowed far too brightly in a weird near-fluorescent orange. Other than the buffeting of the wind, there was a complete absence of any sound. It was not raining, but there was a distinct dampness to the air - probably the result of minute droplets of sea-spray suspended in the atmosphere.

It was good to get back to the cosy warmth of the Barn. As the days, weeks and months pass, we will doubtless see many more sunrises, but the curious fist light of 2020 certainly gave the new decade something to live up to.

Happy New Year!

Friday, 20 December 2019


I recently traded-in my 65,000 mile 6-year old BMW X3 for a 17,000-mile 3-year-old version of the same model. I have to say that some of the improvements on the newer car are most worthwhile, and I am not sorry for making the upgrade... though next time will I go for a Jaguar...???


My new(er) X3,has had to go back to the dealer shortly after my purchase because the tailgate wasn't closing properly. I didn't expect to get my car back for a few days - so I will be staying a couple of  nights at The Old Bakery, which is close to the BMW dealer in Inverness.. I knew about this tailgate issue with my new(er) car when I took delivery, so - the upside is - as 'compensation for my inconvenience', I have been given a top-of-the-range courtesy car while my own car is being fixed. 

This means -  standing outside here just now, is a brand new  BMW X5 30D M-Sport with under 1000 miles on the clock. It is a dealership demonstrator, so is loaded with options. I ran it through the configurator, and with all its fitted extras, the retail price comes in at a tad under £70,000...!!

It has a 6-cylinder 3-litre euro-6 diesel motor with 280bhp and 8-speed silky-smooth auto gearbox. It weighs around two tons (Yes.. TWO tons). It's a monster.

Does it look like it is worth £70,000? NO - it is a huge barge of a thing. There is no way I would buy one. When I parked it at Tesco, shoppers were diving for cover - I am sure they thought I was a gangster...

But, boy, does it have some high-tech tech....

Starship Enterprise?? No, just a BMW X5
This car has electrically adjustable seats, in every possible direction... in the BACK!! (as well as in the front - of course...) It also has an electric-opening/closing glass roof AND an electric opening/closing sun blind.... and that's only the start.... I have now discovered that you don't even have to lean into the back to fold down the rear seats - you press a button, and away they gently go, all on their own...squashing that fresh cream cake that you left on the back seat earlier..

If it is possible to attach a sensor to something, then in this car, BMW have attached a sensor to it. A ghost-like map of where I am kind-of unfolds on the screen behind the steering wheel as I go along. There's a more conventional map on the second huge touch-screen display in the middle of the dashboard. The speedo (which is part of the behind-the-wheel display) has an electronic needle, but there's also TWO digital speed displays - one of which is 'heads-up', rather irritatingly, on the windscreen just below my line of vision, and it flashes if I exceed a speed limit. The map pops up on the windscreen as well, if I turn-on the sat-nav.I'd actually prefer to look THROUGH the windscreen, rather than AT it.

There are assorted other icons on the dashboard displays, but I don't know what they all mean, and don't think any are terribly important. One message is telling me continuously that a rear seat is unlocked..  I guess that;s good to know.... urmm, but it doesn't tell me how to lock it, and I have to wonder why it needs to be locked in the first place. Do rear seats from X5s get nicked? However, I have spotted the bit which tells me how far I can drive before I need to add more fuel....will I get 30 mpg maybe? Here in rural Scotland - maybe yes!

Occasionally, the centre display changes to give me a front-view image. FRONT VIEW...??? I'm looking out the front -  why do I need to see the same view on a screen...??!! Maybe somewhere in the 3-inch thick handbook it will explain the reason - not that I need the handbook, as the whole document, searchable and with coloured pictures, is available via the middle screen on the dashboard. Something to browse when sitting in a traffic jam maybe.

When on the road, the  barge is reluctant to let me change lane unless I indicate first. If I dare to try, the steering wheel vibrates slightly and steering becomes noticeably heavier. Perhaps that's a good thing (after all, it IS a BMW...)  but it's un-nerving on first discovering this quirk.

Many of the car's functions can be voice-controlled. Now, my new(er) X3 also has this function - which is quite fun - so I am getting used to this. (I have discovered that it is not actually necessary to shout at the car in a mock German accent). But the £70,000 X5 also has 'GESTURE' control. Hmmm... I haven't tried waving two fingers at it yet. Though maybe tomorrow.... I wonder what other gestures will make the seat move or the tailgate open...?  Might be a good idea to keep very still... I daren't imagine the mayhem that might ensue if I energetically wave my arms about. Perhaps if I pull up outside a bank and rub together my middle finger and thumb the cash machine will immediately dispense a couple of hundred pounds, so I can afford to fill up the fuel tank again....??

Of course - this car doesn't have a key - it has a remote control device, a bit like a miniature of the one you use to work your TV. And when it is locked, and you approach it - it all lights up - everywhere - inside, front, back, even the door handles... If it was a dog, it would be wagging its tail.and barking. 

Can you imagine what it would cost to fix this monstrosity when it is seven or eight years old and it has a hissy fit and won't let you in, or the engine won't start? Depreciation has to be £10,000 per year.

I'd rather be driving Puss-the-Jaguar...

But tomorrow, I will go and play again , and on Wednesday, I will VERY gratefully give it back.

The parking spaces at Tesco aren't big enough for this car!

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

How Did They Cope?

In the 1840's, the resident population of Skye was around 23,000 - that's more than double what it is today. Many of those 23,000 people fed themselves by fishing and working their own small patches of land. They lived in small, stone-built cottages, originally with reed-thatched roofs, heated by burning peat which they dug themselves from the moors. There were few horse-drawn vehicles, few roads. No electricity.

At this time of year, we are in the depths of darkest winter - less than a couple of weeks from the shortest day, when we only see full daylight for one quarter of every 24 hours. The wind has roared round the Barn, and rain has battered against the windows, since the middle of last night, and it is still the same, now, at mid-day.

As I reluctantly trudged through the storm to walk an equally reluctant Cupar at first light this morning, I glanced over the sodden moorland and past the ruins of one of those old stone-built cottages - they can be found everywhere on Skye.

My mind turned to how on earth the people survived in that cottage before it became a ruin. The roof probably always leaked. Draughts would have blown-in everywhere. Outside, the surroundings would have been muddy. How did they cope with just candles and oil lamps for lighting? How did they dry their wet clothes and boots with just one smokey fire for all their heating and cooking? What did they even DO during the long hours of darkness?

And we have the temerity today to moan about what's on TV, prices in shops, our health service, potholes in our roads.... and so on and so on...

 We seldom think on how lucky we are...

Ruin in Lorgill - this one was occupied until the 1960s.