Monday, 17 September 2018

Strathpeffer

I realise that my posts about our new property in Strathpeffer may seem to have nothing at all to do with 'Skye Calling', so I apologise to blog readers who come here to read about the Isle of Skye. However, this blog is about the lives of Sue and I, and some of what we do in our new life after relocating to live on Skye - so of course, our venture into property ownership off the island is a very major a part of our lives just now.

In case anyone is wondering - we don't plan to ever live permanently in Strathpeffer, but the cottage will be a wonderfully located holiday home for us, and we will probably holiday-let it as well, if we can find someone to take on the turn-rounds.

Today, I am playing catch-up with my last post, and I offer a few telephone-photos of Strathpeffer village. I promise I will take my proper camera on future visits, and might then produce some slightly better images. But for those who have been waiting....

The Old Bakery is the white building on the left.
The road only serves a few houses, so there is very little passing traffic.
The large building on the right is Cromartie House.
The Old Bakery stands behind it.
The shops at the front were once the bakery shop and tea rooms
Strathpeffer Square - car parking and shops.
The large building beyond is The Highland Hotel
Strathpeffer Square
Shops include a general store, Post Office and pharmacy
From opposite The Square - Strathpeffer Hotel (behind the hedge),
Cromartie House beyond.
Strathpeffer Spa Pavilion
Fully restored, and now a busy music and theatre venue,
also hosting weddings
Strathpeffer -
Beautiful Victorian villas and lots of trees!

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

The Latest Project

Over the years that we have lived on Skye, Sue and I have become very accustomed to the harsh Skye landscape which features mist-swathed mountains, miles of empty moorland and a coarse coastline mostly comprising cliffs and rocky shores.

Just one and a half hours drive east of the Skye Bridge, the landscape is so much gentler. The hills are more rounded, there are trees and fields, and wide calm firths bring the sea toward the land. Even the climate is noticeably milder. When we very first visited the area in April 2003, we thought what a pleasant place this would be to have a home. And now, we have...!!!

In the beautiful Victorian spa village of Strathpeffer, we have just taken the keys to our latest acquisition. The property we have bought is named 'The Old Bakery', though it might better have been named 'The Old Garage', as my research has revealed that the building which housed the bakery has long-since been demolished. I believe our house and the adjoining flat were originally built, in the early 1900s, as a garage for the bakery delivery van and as store-rooms. The building which housed the bakery shop and tea room, and also provided accommodation for the baker and some of the employees, also still stands - now providing two shops on the ground floor, and privately owned flats above.

Here, should be some lovely photographs of the village that I took the other day in early morning sunshine. Unfortunately, I took the photos using my mobile telephone, and not being a mobile-telephone-person, I managed to leave the horrid device at the Old Bakery on our departure. So it will be a week or so before I will get to put those pictures on here. Just be patient!

However, Sue took a few photos during a lovely walk up the hillside from the village, that we enjoyed during our recent visit. Here's also a few pictures of the interior of the Old Bakery as it is at the moment... (Click on any picture for a full-size gallery).

On a circular walk - about a mile from our house
The fascinating 'Touchstone Maze'.
View from the path - Castle Leod roughly centre
The lounge just needs decorating... and furniture...!
Kitchen also due for a decorating make-over.
The tiles look better when you are there!
View from the kitchen window
Entrance hall
We picked up the dresser from a charity shop.
We also have a dining table now, from the same source
The decking is ours, as is the garden area within the fence,
but not the wooden box (which houses a central heating oil tank).
Garden will need a few well-chosen shrubs I think.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

New Wheels Again

Be not afraid - I have not parted company with my wonderful Jaguar  - Puss is safely residing in her garage. It is my everyday drive that is the subject of this post!!

The other day, I part-exchanged my Land Rover Freelander 2, after owning it for just 9 months and 10,000 miles. I liked the Freelie's chunky styling, the solid all-leather interior, and the feeling that the car could go anywhere... but my car was flawed. It had a seemingly impossible-to-rectify fault which caused the car the lurch or hesitate on gentle acceleration from a standstill. This fault completely spoiled any enjoyment in driving the car. I also disliked the agricultural ride, and the rather heavy six-speed manual gearbox. An automatic would have been so much better.

Here's the now-departed Freelie...



And so...

I have bought a BMW X3......

To give it its full title, it is a 2013 X3 X-drive 20D M Sport Auto.

What???!!! I've bought a BMW..???  Urrrrgh!!!

To me - the X3 is a bit of an 'old man's car' (so maybe I now have the perfect vehicle...???) Yes, the X3 is very smart and superbly comfortable, if not very pretty to look at...  It has more power than the Freelander, has a larger load-space, yet is more economical on fuel (and cheaper on vehicle excise duty too...) After just a few miles of driving it, it is very apparent that the X3 is leaps and bounds more refined than the Freelie (better finished, smoother, quieter, more comfortable). I acknowledge that the Freelie would be the far better vehicle off-road... but I don't drive off-road... The auto gearbox in the X3 is superb - and works just like the Jaguar, with steering wheel paddles for manual gear changes when in sport mode.

What's not to like...??? Oh yes - it looks like a beached whale...



... but it's a nice place in which to sit!

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Allotment update - August 2018

It's a long time since I posted an allotment update, so here I offer a late-summer overview on what has happened veg-wise this year.

I generally plant the same veg each year, though might vary the variety. This year, with some determination, I tackled the cabbage root fly with plastic bottles and home-made carpet collars. The young plants were grown inside plastic bottle 'greenhouses' and once a decent size, and released from the bottles, I placed a square of carpet offcut round each plant stem to prevent the root fly from getting in and laying her eggs.

The ploy was very successful, and I lost no plants to root fly this year.

But then - we had a rabbit....!!!!

The rabbit decimated the broccoli, and also did some damage to the outer leaves of some of the kale. Mr Bunny didn't seem to like the sprouts, and left them untouched. But he did nibble the tops off every one of the runner bean and pea plants as they came up - so we had no crop from them this year. For now - Bunny seems to have departed (I only ever saw one) so fingers crossed that is the last we will see of him!

The other problem this year - unusually for Skye - was a lack of rain! The carrots struggled, and about four-fifths of my first planting simply disappeared. I planted another row later, and we will certainly get something of a crop from them. The potatoes seemed unaffected by the lack of rain, and have done brilliantly again. The broad beans were wonderful, and were harvested and frozen yesterday. The onions are OK - but no whoppers - mostly just medium size. The kale is also fantastic, and the brussels sprouts are looking like they will produce a good crop later in the year.

Front left - potatoes. Front right, rhubarb (just ready for pulling for a second crop this year) and strawberries
Middle bed - brassicas - kale on the right, sprouts in the middle (also carrots, barely visible in this photo)
Far left - onions and swede, far right, more potatoes
The furthest bed (not really visible) is now cleared - it was the beans and peas...



Tuesday, 24 July 2018

A New Cottage

With the sale of Rowan Cottage done and dusted, we were keen to re-invest our capital in another property. The original plan was to buy a modern house in Inverness that we would long-let through a letting agency. Much thinking, and a couple of trips to Inverness later, and the plan changed at least a couple of times, with the end result being that we have spent a bit more than half our available capital on an older property that we will keep as a holiday home for us, and possibly occasionally holiday-let as well... and here it is:

The Old Bakery, Strathpeffer
The house is called The Old Bakery - a clue to its past perhaps...? It stands pretty much in the centre of the large and attractive village of Strathpeffer. Local shops are just 'round the corner', and Strathpeffer is about 5 miles from the town of Dingwall, with Inverness an 18-mile, half-hour drive away.

It is a slightly quirky little house. On the ground floor is a hallway, bathroom and two bedrooms, while on the first floor is the kitchen and L-shaped lounge/diner. Because of the sloping site, a back door opens from the garden area directly into the kitchen. We are really excited with our purchase. The house dates from about 1900, but needs little doing to it. As sods law would have it, we gave away much of our spare furniture to the first-time buyer who bought Rowan Cottage, so we now have the task of sourcing suitable furnishings for The Old Bakery. We should be getting the keys at the end of August, so more updates will follow here in due course. Below, I'll add a couple of wider views to show the house in context.

At some future date, we still hope to buy a small flat in Inverness which we will long-let.




Friday, 20 July 2018

SUE'S SPONSORED CANCER RESEARCH WALK!


"THE WALK"
(click on any photograph to enlarge it)
Gracious me - now here's a change - it's Sue here for 
the first time in nearly a year!

I wanted to document a sponsored walk done for Cancer Research
on Saturday 7th July 2018.
In the main I did it on my own but one of my neighbours, Sue,
very kindly came along and joined me for 6 miles for moral support!


The weather was absolutely ideal, not too hot and for most of
the day there was some sunshine and a light breeze.
Starting at 0600 hours there was simply nobody about and
some fabulous views as I headed off towards Dunvegan!


Both these views look towards Roag, the Tables and the sea!


At 0900 hours Sue and I then set off from Roskhill Barn
and did the 'Harlosh Loop' together. 
This is one of the views on the way round.  Look at that blue sky!!!!


Towards the end of the loop the Tables loomed into view again!
The wild flowers were also resplendent in the sunshine....


Leaving Sue back at Roskhill I then headed off towards
Orbost and then on towards Glendale
before then turning off en-route to Dunvegan and
stopping for lunch on a bench overlooking the Loch!


This was taken shortly after turning right at the the Orbost T-junction
and looks back towards the coast through the trees.
(See if you can spot the Yurt!)
Below is the tree lined lane with sun dappled trees and vegetation!


This is the view I had over Loch Dunvegan whilst having lunch!
A tad cloudy at that time though....


Then it was down into the village and up through
Dunvegan Woods and over moorland to the main road.


Below is the view along the track as it opens out into open countryside.


.... and here looking back
across the moorland towards Dunvegan Woods


The last stretch took me along the main road and then
across the single track section in the direction of Roskhill again.
My 26 miles had been done in just over 10 hours!
What a remarkable day and with no ill effects either .....
apart from the odd blister !!!! :)


Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Sparkling Skye

Most of the UK is basking in glorious summer sunshine at the moment - and for once, so are we, here on Skye! The island is just stunning right now. The vegetation has benefited from the warm, dry weather and gale-free spring, and the tall grasses and wild flowers are better than ever. The sea is impossibly blue, while the hills and moors are as green as they ever get.

Thankfully, we are not roasting in the 30C+ temperatures being experienced in some parts. Our northerly latitude, and a gentle breeze off the Atlantic keeps things sensible here, but we are becoming accustomed to going out without a waterproof jacket, and seldom need a fleece either...!!!

I've taken a few photos around our garden and allotment today, and also took Puss out for a stretch of her wheels...







Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Midges - dos and don'ts

I'm offering a few words in this post about our teeny flying friends...


Midge Season in the Highlands is usually mid-May to late September. Even in this period – sometimes, there are none at all. Other times, there are zillions.

Highland midges are teeny-weeny flying insects (wingspan >2mm) and can occur in swarms. They are attracted to mammals by the CO2 that we exhale. At their worst, they can get into your eyes, nose, ears and hair. They feed on blood, and a bite on a human can leave a small red spot which is VERY itchy for two or three days. If you are aware you have been bitten, rubbing Anthisan cream into the bitten area as soon as possible will lessen the irritation.

If badly bitten (this is, you have a lot of bites), over-the-counter anti-histamine tablets such as Piriton may help reduce the itching – but these tablets can cause drowsiness or dizziness in some people, so beware if driving.

In midge season…

DO…

·         Stay indoors on calm and damp (or humid) mornings and evenings.
·         Keep doors and windows closed. It is better to be a bit warm and stuffy than to invite a swarm of midges into your house…!!!

If you HAVE to go out…

·         Use midge repellent on all exposed skin. I favour ‘Jungle Formula’ which comes as a spray, roll-on or lotion, in ‘normal’ or ‘extra’ strength. The ‘extra’ can sting a bit when applying, but it is VERY effective, and remains so for many hours. I understand a product called ‘Smidge’ is also very effective, but I haven’t used it myself. Some people swear by Avon ‘Skin So Soft’ – I am not convinced!
·         Wear long-sleeved tops and long trousers. Tuck your trousers into your socks and keep your collar buttoned up tight. You won’t look silly – everyone else will look the same… If you are going to be outside for a long time, get yourself a midge hood or midge jacket.
·         Keep moving. Midges have a maximum flying speed of about 2mph, so if you keep walking briskly, they can’t keep up with you!
·         Only go out when there is a breeze. Midges can only fly if the wind speed is under about 5mph, so where there is a breeze, you will not be troubled by midges.
·         Keep a can of fly-spray in the car. After getting into your car on a midgy morning/evening, you may find several hundred of them have come in with you. A few puffs of fly spray will eradicate most of them – and they are so tiny, you will never find the bodies.

DON’T…

·         Sit about outside when there is no breeze, especially under trees or close to bushy vegetation.
·         Wear loose clothing – especially a kilt….!!!
·         Leave the bedroom window open overnight.
·         Even THINK about having a BBQ on that warm, quiet evening…

·         And don’t hate midges – they were on the planet before humans!

Monday, 28 May 2018

Man-Caves…


I’ve recently been working in my shed – I refer to the BIG shed at Summer Cottage. (I’m a bit of a shed collector - I also have a scattering of smaller sheds – one at Summer, three at the Barn…)

The BIG shed is brilliant. It was built as an agricultural building. It is very sturdily constructed with a timber frame, externally clad with weatherproofed timber and having a corrugated composite pitched roof. The floor is concrete, which I have covered with recycled carpet.

Internally, it is about 18 feet square. It has a pedestrian door and window to one side, and 7ft wide barn doors to the front. There are a couple of clear plastic panels in the roof which provide internal daylight. The roof leaks a bit in a storm when rainwater is driven upwards by the wind and then drips from inside the ridge. In spite of installing eaves filler and expanding foam, I have never completely cured the leak problem, so now, some strategically placed corrugated plastic panels inside the roof direct any internal drips to non-important places. Otherwise, the shed is dry and well-ventilated.

This shed has a proper electricity supply, with its own consumer unit, several power sockets and plenty of lights. It also has a mains water supply, with an outside tap, and inside, a little ‘ensuite’, with WC and wash basin. (!!!!)  There’s no hot water though….

Lining the insides of the shed I currently have an awful lot of junk, most of which we have accumulated as the result of closing a couple of our holiday lets - and the left-over stuff just came here. My current task is to sort all this out…. Urrrgggh!  Are humans programmed to create and then keep junk…???

Having recently had the kitchen at Lochview replaced, I have recycled the old kitchen, and installed most of the floor and wall units and worktop in the BIG shed. This provides some neat storage space so I can finally untangle the muddled stacks of ‘stuff’, unpack the boxes of junk, get rid of the REALLY useless items, and store the marginally less useless items more tidily, and where they are easily accessible if needed.

There’s still a bit of a way to go, but I feel I am making progress. Even in our busy life – it’s good to have a man-cave!

The BIG shed

BIG shed - side entrance

The ex-Lochview kitchen units in place
I'm not going to re-fit the doors, as it is better to be able to see the contents at a glance

Somewhere to pause when I've had enough of cutting grass...

OK, so the colours don't match -
but how many sheds have a working wc and wash basin...?

Friday, 25 May 2018

Bonkers or brilliant?

As if the weather isn't enough for our gardens and veg plots to cope with - we get a significant number of animal and pest attacks too. I have tried several times to grow brassicas (cabbage-family plants), mostly with poor results due either to a summer storm breaking the plants off at ground level, or root-fly maggots chomping through the roots. And now for good measure, it looks like we have a rabbit or two (or a dozen) moving in... Hmmm...

I chatted the issue through with a keen horticulturalist, who suggested I try plastic bottles. Each brassica seedling is planted with a plastic bottle (with bottom cut off....!!) pushed down over the top. The bottle becomes a mini-greenhouse, and prevents flies or creatures that chew from getting to the young tender plant. The bottle is removed when the plant inside is big and strong enough to (hopefully) resist attacks. Wind will then still be a problem, however.

Indeed, locally, I have been told that if I don't secure the bottles to the ground, I will spend a lot of time gathering them from around the hedgerows...

Anyway - I'm giving it a try. The empty space in the bed is for broccoli. The day before planting-out, a slug took a fancy to my broccoli seedlings and munched its way through every one of them, so I have re-planted seeds, and will hope they come up quickly. We might get good enough weather for them to catch up with everyone else!


Note the bluebells and gorse in my 'wild' garden -
both flowering at their best just now

Monday, 14 May 2018

Contemplating Murder...

It was about half past four this morning, and I was lying in bed having murderous thoughts. No - Sue was quite safe, and so was Cupar. The target of my ire was outside...

Now I'm all for nature, and the dawn chorus is something of a favourite. So being gently woken at the first grey light of the day by what sounds like several thousand birds all chirping and tweeting and melodically singing is really not a problem. Sadly, just one feathered friend stands far apart from the rest, and also seems to be able to drown-out every other tweet, twitter, chirrup and cheep...

CUC-KOO...!!    CUC-KOO...!!    CUC-KOO...!!

I realise this particular species is somewhat musically challenged, and in the interest of being fair, I'd be happy for it to join in the dawn choral performance for a minute or two, but this one went on, and on... and on........ and on.......... for at least an HOUR!

I am happy to report that I did eventually drift back into some kind of sleep, so this particular individual has survived to cuc and koo another day - and the contemplated murder was not committed.

On a brighter note (pun intended) 😉 we are aware of a very strong local population of cuckoos this spring. There have been years when we thought they were in serious decline, but this year, they seem to be everywhere, though conservation-wise, they continue to be a 'red-listed' species. Locally, they favour taking over the nests of the sedge warblers. I hope this doesn't mean we'll have fewer sedge warblers next year, as their song truly is a delight to hear!

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Skye vs South – Some Differences


To us, Skye is just ‘Skye’. We love the place for everything that it is, and have done since we first set foot on this magical land. But it is most certainly a very different land to the one we left behind in south east England when we moved here some ten years ago. However, we’ve never felt homesick for the south, and today, only notice the differences when we make trips over the border on our visits to friends and family.

So – what’s different? Short answer – ‘everything’. Longer answer… ermmm...

Kent, SE England

Isle of Skye, NW Scotland

Landscape;  No-where is flat. There are no fields of growing crops here, no hedges and very few big deciduous trees.

Views;  From almost everywhere, you can see for miles. There’s a sea-view round every corner (or a mountain view) (or both).

Colour;  Winter is brown. Early spring is brown. Late spring and summer are a riot of colourful wild flowers amid the lush greens of the grasses. Autumn is gloriously golden.

The Air;  Fresh, clean, invigorating.

Light;  Daylight goes on for a very long time every day in mid-June, but a grey gloom descends throughout December. Often, the low sun casts its rays over the (usually brown) landscape to illuminate the shapes of the land and the colours of the vegetation in a way much appreciated by artists and photographers.

Sounds;  Mostly, it’s simply silent. Or you may hear the burbling of a burn. However... during a storm, you will be aware of much howling, wailing and whooshing as the wind does its best to find a way into your roof or through the gaps in your windows. You need to get good at sleeping through storms...

Smells;  The sea, sheep and cattle - not exhaust fumes.

Wildlife;  Seals bob about offshore, while rare white tailed eagles and marsh harriers may be spotted in the sky. Brown hares and three different species of deer and are common, and pine martens are here too. We seldom spot a hedgehog or a fox though.

People;  There’s definitely a Skye-look – I wonder if we have inherited it yet…?  It is friendly, welcoming, relaxed, peaceful, comfortable and happy.

Shops;  There aren't many here.

Traffic;  Even in peak tourist season, we don’t experience traffic jams. In winter, one can frequently drive several miles without seeing any other vehicle.

Gardens;  We don’t really have gardens – just a moss-choked bit of a lawn and a few scraggy shrubs. It’s too wet/cold/windy here for garden flowers which are popular in the south.

Which brings us to… The Weather;  You don’t know anything about the weather until you have lived on the west coast of the Highlands for a few years… I’ll have to break this down into categories…

Wind;  We get a lot of wind. It is very seldom calm. 40mph winds are frequent. Gales of 50 – 60mph occur several times every year. 70 – 80mph storms are not uncommon.

Rain;  We get a lot of rain. Rain does not ‘fall down’ here – it comes at you horizontally. The rain drops are not drops at all, they are tiny needles that sting if they happen to strike any unprotected skin. Skye rain can penetrate most waterproof clothing within minutes.

Drizzle;  Much the same as ‘Rain’ above, except the needles are very much smaller, so don’t sting as much, however, Skye drizzle can penetrate all waterproof clothing within seconds.

Snow;  We don’t get much snow (except on the hills). This surprises many people.

Temperatures; It is quite unusual to see winter night time temperature fall below about -2C. It is quite unusual to see summer maximums above about 18C. Of course - we are talking weather here, so exceptions, in summer and winter, can and do happen.


This is not an exhaustive list. I could go on and on, but I am sure you have the idea. We wouldn't move back to the south east of England for all the tea in China. Could you cope with living here?