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 of 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 vary 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.

Sunday, 21 July 2019

New-builds on Skye

Another 'plot for sale' sign has just gone up in Roag. Roag is where our Summer Cottage stands. Ten years ago, there were around 18 houses in Roag. There are 29 now.

At the height of summer, with the roadside grasses waving in a gentle warm breeze and a crystal blue sea sparkling in the midday sun, it really isn't difficult to understand why people fall in love with Skye. There can be few who would question that Skye is a sensationally beautiful place.

No surprise then, when some visiting people think how nice it would be to have a house here. Well, I'm just about OK with that, too. I'll assume these people have thought about all the many pitfalls, like winter, for example... and how Skye is a very long way away from everywhere...

But, not put off at all, these people look for a house. They are not going to live in it of course - just come and stay in it from time to time. They don't like the houses that are already here. They are all far too pokey and have funny sloping ceilings and even open fireplaces. Oh that won't do at all. 'There are dozens of building plots for sale - we'll have to have one built'.

I now move into history-lesson mode...

Skye residents in the 1800s lived in crofting communities. These communities were known as townships, and are not at all like the nucleated villages found in England. A Skye township would typically consist of a dozen or more crofts. Each croft was an area of land, maybe as little as a couple of acres, to as large as maybe twenty acres. The resident of the croft (the crofter) would build their home (croft cottage) on their land, and they would use the land to grow crops and keep a cow or a few sheep to keep the family fed. This results in original croft cottages usually being quite a long way apart from each other, and a crofting township can stretch a mile or more along the township road.

Time moves on.

Crofting on Skye still happens today, and the Crofting Commission proudly upholds many time-honoured practices regarding land use. However - though sometimes a legal nightmare, croft land can be de-crofted. This means a crofter can sell off a building-plot-size piece of his land, and the Highland Council - keen to uphold the Scottish Government's desire to 'repopulate the Highlands', seem all too willing to grant planning permission for almost anything to be built almost anywhere, gradually filling-in the large gaps between original cottages with new builds.

This is Breakish, in South Skye, photographed when I had a helicopter trip over Skye in 2011.
Here, each croft is a strip of land which would have gone right to the shore.
Notice that almost every croft has at least two houses on it now.
Returning to our 'people'...

They buy their 'ideal' building plot with sea view.... 'It was so cheap'...  not noticing that it is six miles down a single-track road, has smelly cattle standing up to their knees in the bog just next door, and is at least a mile from the nearest water main or electricity supply. Never mind, a £££ few thousand soon sorts out the services. and rural smells are what it's all about - right? Shame about the single track road though... Planning permission is easily sought, and yet another monstrous 2-storey, 5-bedroom, 3-reception room, housing-estate-style mansion gets built.

How this kind of building 'fits in' with the local environment or 'compliments' existing housing defeats me - but the planning people say that's what it does.

Our 'people' now come and stay in their new house for a few weeks in late spring, when the wind is chill, the mist is low on the hills, and the persistent drizzle patters irritatingly against the huge double glazed windows.... 'I'm not so sure I like it here'...

And another unwanted, un-needed, ugly new-build goes up for sale...

Monday, 1 July 2019

Visitors from the Softy South!

It's a loooong way from the softy south to Skye, so we really don't expect many of our smog-smothered friends to take a break from their stressed-out lives to fight their way through the traffic jams and head north to visit us.

Mostly, Sue and I are content to keep up with our southern friends by travelling ourselves to visit them. We are OK doing this, as we are comfortable in the knowledge that we will soon be escaping from the southern heat, pollution and crowds and coming back home to our peaceful little patch of heaven on earth.

But last week it was a HUGE delight to welcome to Scotland my long-time friends Sara and Rod (plus pooch, Lucy). They stayed at the Old Bakery in Strathpeffer for most of their visit - because our cottages here were already booked before S&R planned their visit. But we were able to put them up at Summer Cott for just one night during their stay, so they had an all-too-brief 24 hours or so on Skye.

As it happened, their visit happened to coincide with one of the warmest days we have had up here for years, so they now wonder why we spend so much time talking about the cold, wind and drizzle.

I do hope their short visit will have spurred them on to consider coming again in the not too distant future. We might be even able to lay-on more typical weather next time!

With Sara, Rod and Lucy on the Roskhill allotment
Note the sleeveless shirts and cloudless sky....

In search of a cool walk, we headed into Dunvegan woods

Cupar expresses his disdain of Lucy

Saturday, 15 June 2019

Where Have All The Flowers Gone?

I walk Cupar the Collie along the same local roads every day, so am very aware of the growth of new vegetation on the roadside verges every spring. In 2016, I wrote a post in this blog, in which I commented that there seemed to be fewer wild flowers than usual. This year - there are hardly any.

When we first lived at Roskhill - some 10 years ago -  it was a delight to see the masses of white, yellow and purple wild flowers that flourished everywhere one looked. Today, while the grasses are as lush as ever, some of the formerly familiar flowers are absent altogether, and only bluebells (now dying back) and foxgloves (just opening) seem to be doing as well as ever. But the masses of ox-eye daisies have gone, as have the carpets of birds foot trefoil - with just a few small scattered patches of these flowers. I am yet to spot a spear thistle, white clover or a common spotted orchid, and while there are a few marsh orchids - they are a fraction of the size they used to be.

So, what has happened? I am no scientist - just an observer - but as we notice a reduction in wild flowers, so have we noticed a reduction in flying insects, and I presume the insects pollinate the flowers. So, no insects = no flowers. We are not killing insects here as the result of crop spraying or intensive farming. This surely has to be an effect of global warming.

Some reports say we have 15 years to reverse the effects of climate change. I say, we are already far too late. I was forecasting the end of the planet more than 50 years ago. My decision to never father any children was because of my vision of the future. I never expected to see the end happen so suddenly, and almost within my own lifetime.

Of course - the planet itself will survive. Indeed, once the human race is out of the way, nature will recover very capably. However, man's interference - by exterminating many species, genetically altering others, and relocating plants and animals to places they should never have been, will leave a planet-wide legacy that will be a change for ever.

Homo Sapiens is supposed to be an intelligent race. How wrong we are.

Common Spotted Orchid, Roskhill roadside, 2014
None here, 2019


Saturday, 25 May 2019

The Dorrell Oak


Eight years ago, I planted an acorn in a pot. It germinated, and in the first year, produced just two leaves. Three years later, I planted the little seedling oak tree, which now had several leaves, in what I judged to be a safe place for an oak tree to grow to maturity within the garden area of Roskhill Barn, just above the river gorge, and close to a few existing mature sycamore and beech trees. On windy Skye, trees growing together in this way give each other some protection from the winter storms. I think my little tree is now doing well enough to introduce it to the world.

But first, a little slightly off-topic history -

In May 1935, my Great Grandfather, James Dorrell, being the oldest resident of his village at the time, was given the honour of planting a tree in commemoration of the Silver Jubilee of King George V and Queen Mary. Watched by the entire village, a tree was planted by James on the edge of the green in the tiny village of The Lee, near Wendover in Buckinghamshire. No plaque was ever erected to mark the significance of the tree, and although as far as I am aware, the tree is still there – no-one is likely to be aware of its significance. Here is Great grandfather James at the tree-planting ...

James Dorrell, The Lee, Buckinghamshire
Planting the Jubilee tree
Now maybe it is because of this little bit of my heritage, or maybe it is because when once asked, “If you could come back to earth after death, what would you come back as”? I decided I would like to be a tree... But I also like the idea of planting trees. I’ve planted a few here and at our other cottages, but the Dorrell Oak, I hope, will become ‘special’.

Providing my little tree continues to flourish as it has done thus far, I have decided that when my time comes, I would like my ashes to be scattered beneath my little oak, so that its roots may take up just a tiny bit of me, and I will indeed then be back on earth as a tree. I will also make a request in my will that a plaque be erected by the tree to give its date of planting, and by whom.

Who knows – my tree could still be there in 500 years time. It’s a nice thought!

Coming into leaf, spring 2019 - The leaves are quite yellow as they open.
The sticks are there to remind me not to strim too close!
In context - the tree has a lot of growing to do!


Saturday, 11 May 2019

Allotment News - Spring 2019

Gosh, it's been  a long time since I have updated this blog with a post about the Barn allotment!

I promise I haven't been ignoring the plot. It is as healthy as ever, though last spring we had a visitor in the shape of Mr Bunny who took a fancy to every fresh green shoot that appeared from the beans and peas - so we only really had root vegetables last year!

This spring, in wonderful weather, I have prepared all the beds and have now planted most of the seeds. There's nothing to see growing in the photos yet, but I'll post a couple below anyway. I might wait a while before planting the carrot seed, as it won't germinate if we don't get a bit of rain. Not often I find myself wishing for rain...!!!

This picture shows pretty much the entire allotment.
I must remind Sue to get busy and do something with some of that rhubarb!
This is the area I like to think of as the 'wild garden'.
It was VERY wild a few years ago, but tamer now. The blue is bluebells.
I have planted what will become a hedge between the allotment beds and the 'wild' part.
I've also planted some trees among the vegetation on the left.
Beyond that, is a virtually sheer drop of about 30 feet into the gorge of Roskhill River.
Our land extends to just beyond the gorse bushes.
It's just the main road and open moorland beyond our boundary.

This is looking towards the Barn from the gorse bushes in the 'wild garden'.
The little road that serves the few houses in Roskhill runs between the Barn and the allotment.
The Barn faces to the left, with its gable-end alongside the road.
The buildings behind the Barn are not ours.
Click on any picture in this blog to see it full-size.

Friday, 10 May 2019

When is the Best Weather on Skye?

Quick answer - April and May.

Longer answer - yes, visit Skye in April and May, but bring thermal underwear just in case!

I am inspired to write this post because we are enjoying the most wonderful spell of settled calm, sunny weather at the moment  (and as it happens, it was much the same weather this time last year). It is just wonderful to be working on the allotment or walking Cupar in warm sunshine with the bluebells twinkling and a sparkling sapphire sea in the distance. I have almost forgotten where I have hung my waterproofs.


We enjoy a maritime climate here on the north west coast of Scotland. That means the weather is always unpredictable. As a broad over-view, I would suggest our weather is almost always chilly, often wet, and also usually windy.

Statistics will show that May is the driest month on Skye. But statistics also show that on occasions, May has been the wettest month in that particular year....!!!  But the spring brings other benefits -  the wild flowers... an often-blue sky and an even bluer sea... and a dawn chorus that you don't mind being waken up by...

Daylight hours are longest in June. In mid-month, dawn is at stupid o'clock, and it is still fully daylight at 10.00pm. You don't get to see the stars in June.

View from Roskhill - 10.00pm - 21 June 2010
The 'Longest Day'
The busiest tourist months of July and August are usually the mildest months - but don't plan to sunbathe. Come in mid summer and you are still likely to need your waterproofs, and I would suggest packing your thermal underwear too... just in case... (oh - and don't forget the midge repellent...)

Then, of course - you might like snow. We don't get a lot of snow around the coast of Skye (which is where most people live). though the higher hills usually have snow-cover for much of the time between November-ish  and March-ish. If you REALLY want winter snow - you are better off heading west and inland to the Cairngorms.

Sunday, 21 April 2019

Easter Heatwave?

Happy Easter everyone!

Are you all enjoying the wall-to-wall sunshine and near-record-breaking temperatures as you sip your Pimms while the barbecue sizzles?

We're not...



As seems to happen all too often, about 90% of the UK basks in beautiful weather, while the very north western islands-edge of Scotland sits under a veil of cold, swirling, drizzly cloud.

We have had this for over two days now. It's been full waterproofs, scarf, hat and gloves for the dog-walks. The temperature has soared to the dizzy maximum of about 8C. We still have the central heating going. Just occasionally, the mist has lifted sufficiently so that we can actually see the sea - as in the photo above, taken this evening.

But... just as also seems to happen from time to time - you lot in the softie south will soon be getting wind, rain, hail and thunder when our weather becomes benign, and we relax into calming days of blue skies and the song of skylarks. Well - maybe...!

Ooh - and while I'm here, just to record - the cuckoos have returned here a couple of days ago.

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Broadford Co-op

Excitement doesn't happen all that often on Skye. Spotting a pot-hole repair team at work is the number one top highlight, but second to that is the re-opening of Skye's busiest (and only 24-hour) petrol station following a total re-build. The work has been completed in an incredibly short space of time, minimising the inevitable disruption to local people, businesses, and even the emergency services.

This smart fresh petrol station is in Broadford, adjacent to what may be the ugliest supermarket in Scotland in one of the most scenic locations. The supermarket is also being totally refurbished along with the petrol station, and a new entrance and wall cladding has been added, which prettifies the building a tad.

That really IS pretty exciting for us!

Supermarket-wise - the Co-op continues to have a monopoly on Skye. There are two other Co-ops on the island, both in Portree, but no other supermarket has a base here. However - Tesco operates a very popular click-and-collect service, with its vans coming over from Dingwall. Shoppers have to meet the Tesco van in pre-arranged locations.

Supermarkets aside - a number of tiny independent village stores do a fantastic job of supplying a very wide range of food and other essentials to the island's small and far-flung communities.

Broadford Co-op - before refurbishment

Broadford Bay - the Co-op is rather prominent...

The new petrol station - opened today

For anyone who may be interested - I have posted a number of pictures taken during the refurbishment on Geograph. Please follow this link: https://www.geograph.org.uk/snippet/19136

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

How Dark Is Dark?

You get used to the status quo.

Sue and I take Cupar out for his late night walkies every night, and without a thought, we clad up in whatever clothing is appropriate for the weather at the time, then we pick up the torch. It's just what we do.

On the rare occasions when there is a clear sky and a big moon, the torch may not be needed. But mostly, the darkness is total.

However - on a clear, moonless night, especially in winter, we will often find ourselves standing motionless, gazing heavenwards, in complete awe. How can there be so many stars? And then the Milky Way paints a pale, glittering stripe across the blackness. How big is the universe? How small can we feel?

That's dark!

Just recently, I have been spending quite a few nights at The Old Bakery in Strathpeffer. There are lit-up houses here, and street lights. It still gets dark, but it's quite a different darkness, and it is quite reassuring to be able to walk with some confidence that you can see where you are stepping.

But given the choice - I'll take Skye-dark every time!

That little dot at the bottom is The Barn
No caption needed...!

Saturday, 9 March 2019

SOMEONE SPECIAL!

We lost someone very special last week here on Skye.
We had to say 'Goodbye' to our very dear friend, confidante and Auntie
- Anne Nicholson.
I first met Anne and her lovely husband Roy in 2013 through Home Care.

The happy couple at home on Roy's birthday on 1st September 2015 .....
I made a banana and walnut cake to celebrate!

They were both completely dedicated to each other
and nothing was too much trouble for Anne - 
as she always cheerfully made Roy's later years as comfortable as possible.


Very sadly Roy passed away peacefully in his sleep
on Friday 11th November 2016.
Anne was bereft but out of her enormous grief
there blossomed an amazing strength and a will to carry 
on with her life for a while.
With encouragement we managed to persuade her to venture out 
into the outside world again.......

Anne contemplating tackling Afternoon Tea at Skeabost House Hotel in 2017!
She absolutely loved it too......

Anne also came to our home at Roskhill Barn 
for Christmas Dinner on two occasions -
the first in 2016 and then again last December 2018.
Both times she thoroughly enjoyed her time with us.

Anne, myself and Cupar, our potty pooch
by our er...... miniscule Christmas tree in our lounge at home -in 2016.

We also managed to tempt Anne to come out and about on occasions.
She, our friend Shona and myself popped over to The Stein Inn 
for lunch a couple of times, - enjoying the beautiful coastal scenery en route.....

Shona and Anne smile for the 'cameraman/chauffeur' in The Stein Inn,
after enjoying an extremely satisfying soup and sandwich lunch....in Summer 2017.

Anne admitted to me one day back in 2017 just how
much she had enjoyed our tea at Skeabost House together several months before.
As a surprise I took her there the following year on 12th September 
as a belated birthday treat.
The photograph below is my favourite one of her....she looks so contented....

Anne sitting by that wonderful roaring fire at Skeabost just before
she made VERY short work of an amazing Afternoon Tea!

My final photo is another of Anne with her beloved Roy 
taken way back in 2014. 
It was Anne's own personal favourite and simply illustrates 
the closeness and love this devoted couple both enjoyed.


Thank you Anne for all the kindness and love 
you gave to everyone who had the pleasure to know you.
We all miss you so much.  
******

Friday, 8 March 2019

Waiting For Spring

I don't doubt the feeling is much the same throughout the Northern Hemisphere, but here on Skye, where winter seems start in September and end about May, one can get a bit edgy when looking for signs that spring is round the corner. It's definitely a case of, 'are we nearly there yet?'

Yes - we have had drifts of snowdrops, which are now all over, and currently the early slightly tattered daffodils are putting up a brave fight against the wind and rain, while others remain in bud, hoping for a calmer period when they can delight us as they bob in the breeze. As for the birds - several feisty robins look like they have sorted out the pecking order around our feeders, and we are now left with what we take to be a mating pair. The local blackbirds are doing their best to serenade the morning dog-walk as they cling precariously to the upper twigs of the tallest local trees.

But closely inspect the trees and shrubs, and there is barely a glimpse of new leaf to be seen. The ground is very wet just now. It will be a while before I can don my wellies and take a fork to the allotment beds.

But we know that the weather changes quickly here. A few days of dry weather, sunshine and a dry breeze will have the soil in a fit state for turning.

...And then the grass will start growing, and it will be time to play the game of  'can I get the mower to start?'...

...And then the bluebells will all come out...

...And all the other wild flowers..

...And then all the visitors will begin to arrive...

Any lambs yet...???

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Is It Hard To Live Somewhere So Remote...?

I am sure every reader is well aware that the Isle of Skye is a thinly populated island just west of  the even more thinly populated Scottish Highlands. We are a long way from everywhere. The nearest 'proper' town is Inverness (80 miles from the Skye Bridge), while Glasgow is 180 miles distant, and London nearly 600 miles.

I know I had a moan in my last post here about occasional difficulties obtaining fuel - but that is a pretty rare occurrence. Generally - we do not suffer any lack of public services - not that I am aware of, anyway. Our shops - even the local village shop - are stocked with fresh bread, fruit and vegetables. Our postie and courier guys make daily deliveries, and cheerfully bring us the kind of items that it is not so easy to buy locally. Our bins are emptied regularly.

We see on the TV news that people in many parts of the much more densely populated south have to book days or even weeks in advance to see a dentist or doctor. The police are rushed off their feet and won't turn out to 'minor' issues. And as for the queues we hear about at Accident and Emergency in hospitals....Argh!!

It's not like that here. A doctor or dentist can usually be seen the day you phone for an appointment. Our police do not have much crime to deal with here, and are available to help whenever needed.

As for A&E - we have some recent personal experience...

While walking one morning, Sue was caught out by a patch of ice, and unfortunately fell heavily. The immediate pain in her arm was a pretty clear indicator that she had broken it. I phoned the local medical centre for their advice, and a doctor (yes, a real doctor) recommended I took Sue to A&E in Broadford. OK - Broadford is a 36 mile drive from here at Roskhill. You may have an A&E closer to you if you live in the south, but once there, I don't believe you would get faster or better service. Sue was seen by a doctor within 15 minutes of our arrival. She was then sent for an x-ray, which took place about 10 minutes later. We subsequently had about a 40 minute wait before Sue was called-in to see the doctor again, a cracked humerus confirmed, her arm was strapped into a sling, and we were sent on our way, just over an hour from our arrival.

Yesterday, we had to return to the hospital fracture clinic for a progress check. Sue was seen by a doctor at the precise time of her appointment, had a further x-ray, and saw the doctor again for an 'all going well' report, all within the space of 15 minutes.

So, you'll never find us saying that we wished we could return to live in the traffic-jammed, polluted rush of the south. For everyday living - far from it being difficult to live somewhere remote - there are if fact, significant advantages...!!!

Monday, 28 January 2019

Petrol !

Ok, in a couple of years from now the entire world will be creeping about from power point to power point trying to recharge their electric car batteries using electricity most of which is generated by coal, gas or nuclear fusion. Hmmm...

In the meantime, Sue and I have gone half-way to being responsible citizens, and Sue now drives a petrol car. (My daily-drive is diesel - almost all 4x4s are diesel, and owning a 4x4 makes a lot of sense living where we do...)

Now, as it happens - this winter, the busiest petrol station on Skye is being totally rebuilt. It closed in November, and won't open again until March-ish. All the other (very few) Skye petrol stations are privately owned, so they make up their own prices for the fuel they supply - no doubt based on supply and demand. As demand on the little Dunvegan garage has significantly increased, so have their prices... But better than that - last week - THEY RAN OUT OF PETROL...!!!

So, the other evening, I had no choice but to drive Sue's little car 24 miles each way into Portree (our next-nearest petrol station) in order to pay an inflated price to fill her car up so she could do her care round for the next couple of days.

You lot in the softy south don't know you're born...😉

Skye's busiest petrol station...
Not so busy just now...