Thursday 25 February 2016

Winter Walkies

Keeping a Border Collie as a household pet is not the route for a lazy dog-owner. Collies are renowned for their intelligence, and Cupar is up there at MENSA-level. It is a well known fact that Collies train their owners, and Cupar is no exception to this rule. Oh yes, he'll 'sit' on command, and wait for a biscuit placed on the floor until he is told he can have it, but this is simple stuff, and just part of being 'cute'. No - his true finesse is in managing our 'walkies'.

We go out together four times a day. Not having a fenced garden means we either walk him on a lead or take him somewhere where it is safe for him to run free. Cupar can, of course, tell the time. He knows precisely when it is time for the next outing, and will appear at the regulation moment - usually with the 'cute dog' expression on his face - and talk to us with little quiet yappy barks. There's not a lot of point in looking out of the widow, and, seeing horizontal driving drizzle, suggest that maybe we'll skip this walk. No, the yappy barking becomes more insistent, and so out we go. (Just occasionally, Cupar does not get his own way, and is popped into the back of the van for a while. He understands this part of the routine as well, and sits in there quiet and content until Sue or I appear, up to the eyes in waterproofs and with lead in hand).

Of course, we  humans don't mind our walkies. We possibly live in the best place on the planet for the quality of the air and the beauty of the scenery, and there is no doubt at all, that all the regular exercise is not just good for dogs...!

Yesterday evening, I took Cupar to one of our favourite places on the shore of Loch Dunvegan. I glanced at the heavy sky and approaching snow shower with a little anxiety, but judged that it might miss us, so off we went. As it tuned out, I was right, and only a light flurry of snow fell on us during our walk. And by the time we were back home, both Coops and I had matching happy grins on our faces, and we were both ready for tea!

The snow shower approaches...

Looking cute

Wednesday 10 February 2016

Updating 'Skye Holidays'

This is just to mention that I have just created a new website for SkyeHolidays - ( The reason is that I am trying to keep up with the fashion for people to browse websites using mobile phones and tablets, rather than PCs. My new site is 'mobile friendly', and has received an 'awesome' rating from the Google 'check your website' test facility.

I think I will miss the old site - but it seems that people want 'fast' these days, and 'thorough' no longer matters.

Monday 8 February 2016

Storm Imogen - Not Here!

According to news reports, today's storm, named 'Imogen', has caused severe disruption to the south west and central southern England. Here on Skye, we have had the calmest, driest and sunniest day of the winter so far...!!! We have had seven storms of our own, to date, this winter. Maybe we should send more of ours down south...?!!

Here's just a few Skye pictures that I have taken today...

The Red Cuillin Hills
A87 towards Sligachan
The Cuillin from the garden at Loch View Cottage
Crossnish Point, Harlosh - taken during this evening's dog-walk!

Reply to an email - 'Moving To Skye'

This post started as a reply to an email asking questions about moving to Skye, but I have now written such a long reply, I think it is worth putting it on the blog as an ‘update’ to the various former posts I have written about what it can be like to live here. As ever – I emphasise that what I write is just my personal observations and opinions…

Hi Jackie and Jim,

Thank you for your message and complimentary comments about my blog. Sorry I have been a bit lax in writing new posts lately. I think it must be that time of year when not a lot is happening – apart from the weather…!!

I am always happy to write to people who are thinking of relocating to Skye – you are not alone in this dream, and I get messages similar to yours, every couple of months. I took early retirement at 57 to move here, and I wish I had done it a couple of years sooner. Skye life suits us very well indeed. Sue was lucky to get a part-time job as a home carer, which she loves, as she really enjoys being busy, and working with people. I just like pottering about at home and on the allotment, and sometimes walking the hills and moors – plus I look after our holiday lets.

One of the biggest problems faced by Skye incomers is being a long way apart from family and friends who have been ‘left behind’. We are not passionately close to our own families, and don’t have any children of our own, so there are no grandchildren growing up who we seldom see. Sue’s Mum is our last remaining parent, and Sue makes the journey south (to Kent, by train) every 10/12 weeks to visit her. I drive down to Devon two or three times a year to visit friends and my sister and her family. The arrangements we have work well for us, and we both quite enjoy our trips away, as it is so good to get back!!

The winter weather here is usually pretty dire – it’s not especially cold in ‘degrees below zero’ terms – we don’t actually get much snow, though icy roads are a frequent winter hazard. Gritting doesn’t happen too much, and it doesn’t matter how many wheel-drive you have when you can’t stop on a slope or steer round a bend. Single-vehicle accidents are unfortunately not rare, and because of roadside ditches and rocky verges, can quite often result in severe damage or even an upturned vehicle. We drive VERY carefully when the temperature drops towards 0 but it is VERY seldom that we have not been able to get about, and supplies seem to make it to the small local shops (and the Co-op) throughout the worst of the weather.

But we do get an awful lot of rain. Between about October and March, it is quite a novelty to drive on a dry road, though it is often possible to dodge the worst of the wet for dog-walking – it doesn’t rain continuously. Rain comes in a variety of forms. Big heavy rain drops are unusual. Most common is a kind of blanket drizzle which penetrates even the best waterproofs when driven horizontal by 60mph winds. And we get A LOT of 60mph winds… and 70mph… and even 80+ on occasions.

Summers are marginally calmer, marginally drier (usually) and marginally warmer. You won’t need shorts or sun-hats here though...!

As for costs, as we have now been here about 8 years, I am a bit out of touch with costs in England! Our ‘band D’ council tax is around £1,250pa, and heating oil is 31p per litre just now – probably about the same as anywhere in the UK. Diesel at the Broadford garage is a tad under £1 a litre – or a penny or three more in Portree and Dunvegan. (There aren’t many petrol stations on Skye…)! I’ve no idea what coal costs in large quantities – I occasionally buy a small bag to mix with logs and burn on the stove, but I’m afraid I don’t look at the price! Off the top of my head, I don’t know prices for Calor gas, either. A Google search should give you some answers though. Of course, because of the weather, heating needs to be on for a longer part of the year than in the balmy south. Indeed, many people have some heating running all year round.

Shopping for food – we only have the Co-op as a supermarket (two branches - in Portree and Broadford). Most goods are at least a penny or two dearer than ‘down south’ Some items many pennies dearer…. And of course, the range of choice is somewhat limited by the size of the stores. Fresh produce is usually OK, though occasionally looks very tired, having taken too long to get here! Planning permission exists for a new supermarket in Portree, and for a coupe of years all manner of rumours have circulated as to who will build/operate the new store. Tesco was a front-runner for a while, but their own financial problems have put that on hold. However, Tesco and Asda both do home deliveries to Skye. It’s ‘click and collect’ – so you have to go and meet the van in a car park somewhere, but it is completely free-delivery. Only difficulty is getting a ‘slot’ – it’s very popular. Not much good for us though, as they don’t come this far onto the island.

For non-regular shopping, everyone here shops online. For white goods/electrical – Curry‘s are brilliant, and do free delivery. Argos/Homebase deliver very quickly for under £10 (cheaper for smaller items). John Lewis also do free delivery, though I reckon the prices of their goods are a cut above the average. Amazon is pretty good, but some eBay traders won’t post to here. However, you can nearly always find someone who will. The Royal Mail and the local courier companies are truly excellent. It is not uncommon to order something from eBay one day, and have it handed to you by your postie the next. Most islanders make a shopping expedition to Inverness every couple of months. Inverness is brilliant for shopping – it has everything. We even make it a two-day trip sometimes – good excuse for a night in an hotel!

Removals – get a quote from someone local to you. The only Skye firm is MacDougal’s Removals (love the name), so speak to them too, but when we moved here (from Kent), they were not very competitive for a long-haul move.

Vets – not a problem – there’s lots of animals here… certainly more sheep than people! We use Rhona Campbell in Portree, but there is a good vet in Broadford, and another in Bernisdale (few miles out of Portree towards Dunvegan).

Lastly – house prices. I don’t think there is such a thing as an ‘average’ house on Skye, so there cannot be a price for an ‘average’ house. However, I would suggest that a modest-size ready-to-move-in property will now cost in excess of £220,000 – plus another £50,000 for a really good view. After a long period of pretty much nothing happening, some areas of the property market are beginning to see brisk activity, and the better small properties are snapped up very quickly. There are a plethora of businesses for sale all over the island, from garages to shops to hotels, and some of these have been for sale for many months, even years. There are loads of building plots for sale too, if you fancy having a new house built. Watch out for hidden costs though – don’t buy land that hasn’t been de-crofted, and getting water/electricity connected can be very expensive.

Does that cover everything? Almost certainly not. What about jobs? Children? Schools? Entertainment? Social life...?? I'm happy to chat more and answer questions if you care to ask.

Tuesday 2 February 2016

Skye Communications Technology

It seems that just about every man, woman and child carries a mobile phone these days, and a large proportion of these devices are the ‘smart’ variety that can connect to the internet and perform all manner of tasks completely unimaginable just a few years ago.

Now, these devices depend on a bit of high-tech infrastructure in order to carry out their magic, and this is where things, especially here in a slightly remote corner of the UK, begin to go wrong.

There is no mobile signal here at Roskhill, or in many other locations across Skye and the Highlands. That’s not just no 4G or 3G – I mean no signal at all. And at the current time, there is no prospect of that situation changing in the near future.

Still, we’ve go the internet…? Hmmm… Not always, and not everywhere. Our broadband connections rely on an outdated and poorly maintained telephone wire network, so connection speeds are slow and unreliable. Unless new technologies are developed, we have no chance of getting connected to the ‘superfast’ fibre optic grid that we see advertised on the TV and in newspapers. The nature of our current connections and our widely scattered housing pattern make it impossible.

But, yes – we do get TV - but by satellite. Thankfully satellite television connections are pretty reliable and reasonably priced, There are many locations which can’t get a TV signal through a terrestrial aerial. There’s no DAB radio here either.

Does all this matter? Well, no, and yes. I can live quite happily without much use of a mobile phone, though the vast majority of our visitors to Skye find the lack of signal very frustrating. We can also manage with our ‘flaky’ broadband – but we pay the same for our poor connections as people in towns and cities across the UK pay for a much better service, which seems very unfair.

I hold the thought in my mind that when we moved here, we knew we were moving to a remote and somewhat 'behind the times' location. But it is tough trying to run a business that depends on the internet when the connection is unreliable.

Telecommunications mast, Scoval, Isle of Skye