Friday, 20 December 2019

A MONSTER Motor

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...???

However...

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.

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

BIRTHDAY HOLIDAY - MORE

SUE'S BIRTHDAY HOLIDAY - MORE PHOTOS!

My apologies for the delay
but I have only just finalised sorting out my holiday photographs 
and have now posted a few below.
We had a wonderful, - although extremely damp and cloudy - few days
up on the North Coast. 
As Richard has already said in his earlier post
"the coastal scenery is just simply awesome."


Enroute to Strathpeffer we stopped at Glen Carron
to stretch our legs with Cupar.  Amazing sunset but brrrrrrr it was freezing!

We were staying at Sea Shore Cottage a mile or so
from Wick on the North East coast.
It's located right by the sea - which was both moody and
very lively a lot of the time we were there!


This was the view from the kitchen window on the first morning!
Yes .... bleak with a capital 'B'


But the above photograph was taken on the last morning
we were there when the weather was a little more favourable.

The Monday was my actual birthday and we enjoyed a fabulous drive
down the east coast stopping at the Helmsdale Museum
and later the Whaligoe steps during the afternoon.
The coastline was stunning....


The above shows some of the magnificent coastal scenery plus
a few of the famous Whaligoe steps - which date originally
from the mid eighteenth century and were used
by fisherwomen to drag the creels of herring up from
the harbour beneath.


Richard en-route back up having ventured about
half the way down.!

We also dropped into John O Groats and
got blown to smithereens!
The rather bizarre looking hotel on the shore had a
extremely bleak outlook that day!



A little later we found ourselves at Duncansby Head.
The unmanned lighthouse there is shown below.


Then, - battling gale force winds we headed towards the coastline
and spotted these amazing two sea stacks.
The strength of the wind was such we found it difficult to walk
and taking any photos was nigh-on impossible,
- hence the blurriness......!


From here we drove along westwards towards Dunnett Head
stopping occasionally for the odd coastal photo.....


Through long winding lanes and a desolate and dark landscape
we drove until we got to our destination.
Now this WAS bleak - and at times we were hammered by the driving rain!


See what I mean.....:(  !!!!
We had a wander round the old WW2 buildings that
stood silently there in the gloom -
as ugly reminders of the dangerous war years affecting the UK.


However the sun did eventually appear for a while - 
as we got as close as we could to the Dunnett Head lighthouse
that has been automated since March 1989 and is
now monitored from Edinburgh by the Northern Lighthouse Board.


We had a wander around the cliffs close by and came across
this view shown below.   Quite stunning!

Grey skies and gale force winds were the order of the following day
but it didn't stop us getting out and about along the north coast
giving Cupar a seaside stroll!   Another rather bleak shot below!!



... and then again here with that deserted and windswept beach ...!


But then we moved on to a slightly softer coastline and the rather
fairytale yet sad remnants of Castles Girnigoe and Sinclair
dating back to the 15th century.


Precariously balanced on the cliff edges these rocky tumbledown walls
are all that remain of two castles.
They were besieged and captured in 1690 and never inhabited
again owing to an inheritance dispute.
Post excavation work is ongoing and it is sponsored by the Clan Sinclair Trust.


Exploration of what is left of the interior is both fascinating and spooky.
You cannot but wonder the activity and people who trod these same
grounds and just how long ago!!! 
See if you can spot a couple of latest intrepid explorers above!


The ruinous castles lit up in the afternoon sunshine above.


With the castle remains on the right you can see just how close
it is to the crashing waves and the sea......


Closer to our temporary 'home' we stopped to do the
afternoon dog walkies!   What an amazing beach and sky that evening!


On our final day we decided to take a peek around the Castle of Old Wick
- again set high on cliffs above a magnificent coastline.
We had a beautiful sunny morning, frosty and cold,
and took ourselves along the footpath that skirted the cliff edges!


Frosted grasses are shown above;
this was taken just before noon illustrating just how cold the night before had been
and despite the summer sunshine was holding it's icy grip!


The little that is left of Old Wick Castle stands
proudly on the cliffs on this beautiful day.


We were so lucky to enjoy this amazing weather and see
this beautiful coastline at it's absolute best!
Richard and Cupar pose successfully for the camera below
after various abortive attempts..... :)


En-route home we moved southwards to visit
an extremely historical site called The Cairn o' Get
- an impressive chambered Neolithic burial cairn set amidst a landscape
full of rich and historical monuments.


The cairn shown above is estimated to be more than 5,000 years old
and was first excavated in 1866.
It was found to contain the remains of at least 7 people,
plus pottery artefacts and arrowheads in the main chamber.


Further on along the coast we had a final stop-off at
the village of Latheron and took some more photographs
of the harbour and the stunning coastline!  It was simply fabulous....


As you can see the sun was with us for the entire day.


One had to be careful when walking up there.  This blowhole
was not fenced off but it's position indicated by a plank of wood!


Look at those amazing colours!


Above Richard and Cupar by a rather unusual gate - 
although they seemed to have trouble getting through it 
at the same time....  We were there for ages!


Finally, back at The Old Bakery, Strathpeffer, that evening
Richard and Cupar have a cuddle in front of the stove.
They both look rather exhausted but then again we did have
an amazingly busy and very enjoyable few days.
Certainly we all had a birthday mini-break to remember!!!! 

Friday, 15 November 2019

Another Birthday

They come along all too often. Sue had another birthday this week, and over the last several years, we seem to have developed a tradition of going somewhere that is new to us to celebrate.

For this year's birthday, as Sue had never set foot at John o' Groats, we chose to go to Caithness. We rented a cottage just a couple of metres above the sea shore in a fishing village 2 miles north of Wick. On our arrival - the weather was not great. Huge waves rolled in from the North Sea, blown by a fresh north easterly wind, and the temperature hovered just a few degrees above freezing.

We are bonkers, aren't we...???

Seashore Cottage - Yup - that's an appropriate name..
(Click on any picture to open a full-screen gallery)
But - we have the right kind of weather-wear, and Cupar is waterproof-ish, so off we trekked. We soon ticked-off the 'been there, done it' compulsory photo at John o' Groats. What a shame the iconic signpost has been vandalised and defaced by the attachment of hundreds of silly stickers deposited there by visitors.


Quite nearby, is the much less visited but far more dramatic and scenic Duncansby Head, and its nearby massive sea stacks. For some reason, I did not have my camera with me for this expedition. Sue may post some of her photos later.

Then we trundled on to the most northerly place on the UK mainland. We were the only humans (and dog) to be there at the time. Wonderful!


But Caithness is not all beauty. The landscape is mostly flat and tree-less. Fences, not hedges, line the roads and divide the fields. Most land is pasture for hundreds of sheep. The small towns of Wick and Thurso are lively enough, and are not suffering from closed shops and derelict high streets. However, the bulk of the housing for the local population is not pretty. Brown cement render is the finish of choice for most of the houses, and very few people attempt to nurture a garden. Out of the towns, and surprisingly - there are farms and houses everywhere. Many are derelict. Some are brand new. It is a weird mixture, and it is a bleak and featureless place to live. But the coastal scenery is just awesome, with castles (most ruined) sprinkled liberally along the cliffs, and for the serous archaeologist in you - you trip over standing stones, chambered cairns, stone rows, brochs and assorted other neolithic remains almost anywhere that you wander.

Here's a few more of my photos from our holiday...

Castle Sinclair Girnigoe - simply stunning
... and again, with the sun shining...!!!
Ackergill Tower - not a ruin, but a private residence
Castle of Old Wick - oldest castle in Scotland
Some of that awesome coastal scenery...
... and some more...
My wife, at Latheronwheel Harbour, Caithness.
Happy birthday Soozie!

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

Still In Love With Skye

Some of my recent posts in this blog may give a reader the impression that I am falling out of love with Skye. I will admit that the gentler landscape, kinder climate and easier access to services that we have at our little Strathpeffer cottage are appealing, and one day, I might like to own a larger property in the Strathpeffer/Dingwall area where we could live for some of our time, but Skye will for ever be our new-life 'home'.

Skye does everything in maximum drama-mode, far exceeding everything you can experience almost anywhere else in Britain.  On Skye, we get huge skies, huge clouds and stunning sunsets. We get a different landscape at every turn in the road - usually with water in the view as well.  We get huge jagged mountains and rounded hills - scenically snow-capped for several months a year. We get magic and faeries. We get huge weather, and the freshest and cleanest air. We get friendly residents and enthusiastic visitors. We get huge amounts of peace and quiet.

... and at a personal level - we have Roskhill Barn - cherished by us and lovingly re-modelled by us to be our 'perfect' home.

Our ten-plus years living here has never erased the gasp of awe at a sight of the spectacular Skye scenery, most especially when it is draped in long shadows of winter sunlight. Whenever I have been away, especially when I've been south to Devon and Hampshire, my heart beats faster when I return to again glimpse the Skye Bridge and the Cuillin Hills beyond. It is so good to be home.

Roag from Roskhill
As I mentioned in the first paragraph of this post - I am conscious that having a less dramatic place to live might be a sensible option for our older age, and we are in the most fortunate position where we may be able to work towards owning two lovely homes - one in the softer eastern Highlands, and one here at Roskhill.  But we will never be permanently parting from Roskhill Barn, and providing my little oak tree continues to thrive where I have planted it on the edge of the allotment, then when my time comes, my earthly remains will be scattered around it, and I will then very contentedly rest on Skye for evermore.

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Becoming an 'Eastern Softie' ??

In this blog, I occasionally tease as 'Southern Softies', those who languish in the balmy south and issue weather warnings as soon as gentle rain falls for more than half an hour, or the breeze rises above 20mph. And don't you risk venturing out if one centimetre of snow is forecast, let alone if any flakes should dare to fall!

We Skye dwellers are made of tougher stuff.  When a torrential wall of rainwater comes horizontally into your face driven by storm force winds of 70mph or more, we think about bringing in the washing. We keep two sets of waterproofs draped over the (permanently on) heater, so that there is a chance that one set will have time to dry before you need to pull them on again.

But.....

Since we have owned our cosy little bolthole in Strathpeffer, I am beginning to really take to the significantly calmer conditions and kinder climate to be found here in the shelter of the strath. Strathpeffer is actually a little further north than our home on Skye, but is on the far gentler eastern side of the Highlands.

I am in The Old Bakery today (our Strathpeffer cottage), here to meet a double-glazing surveyor, coming to measure-up for our new windows to be made. I left Skye yesterday afternoon in our normal storm-force wind and lashing rain, and by the time I had driven about half of the very scenic 110 mile journey, the wind and rain were left behind, glimpses of blue sky could be seen between the clouds, and the sunlight was glinting through the yellow and gold of the autumn foliage.

I really could get used to this softie living....

Skye....
Strathpeffer...

Saturday, 12 October 2019

Back To Brown

Aside from a few areas of improved land, mostly close to townships, the greater part of the vegetation on Skye is heather moorland. The improved land may well have once been cultivated - to grow potatoes or maybe oats - but today almost no-one grows crops on a large scale, and any surviving improved grassland is used for grazing sheep. Nomadic sheep and cattle also graze widely on the natural open moors.

So - with the bulk of Skye vegetation being of the moorland variety - spring brings forth a fresh growth of vibrant green shoots and a spectacular variety of wild flowers. The nomadic grazers soon remove most of the more obvious flowers, leaving the remaining predominant vegetation as grass, rush and heather. All of these plants are green (or green-ish) for about five months of the year. The heather flowers in September, providing a pleasing interlude of purple before winter begins.



Come October, the taller grasses have already turned ghostly, the heather has finished flowering, and the deciduous dwarf moorland trees and shrubs are losing their leaves. The landscape turns gold for a short but spectacular interlude. The leaves on any birch trees go yellow before they fall, and areas of bracken glow gilded in the scarce sunlight. A bright October afternoon on Skye is a wonder to behold!

But then, for almost six months, Skye is brown. The landscape sleeps, shivering beneath sombre skies and winter winds.

By day, the human Skye residents pull on their waterproofs and carry on with life. Come the evening - stoves are lit, and the dog does its best to push itself between you and the fireside - and maybe you let it win.

Brown is a wonderful time of year!