Monday 14 December 2020


 Well apologies for the tardiness of this birthday blog post..... only 3 weeks late!
We decided that a trip up to North Coast would be a good idea this year
as we had not travelled any further west than Dunnett Head
on our last visit to the North last year.
Below is a photograph taken as we travelled up the A9 on our first day.  

The journey north was spectacular;  we had some amazing weather and 
travelled through beautiful countryside!
We were lucky enough stop here at Loch Meadie to enjoy the
fabulous sky and resultant reflection....

The journey had spellbinding views - such as the one below of Ben Hope.

Coldbackie was our destination -  in a fabulous spot right by the sea.
Below is the view from just outside the holiday cottage we had booked!  Wow!

The following day we had a 'Beach Day'  - driving around the coastal 
roads into Midfield and the area known as Melness... the weather 
was rather overcast but we were still able to take a few atmospheric photographs!
Below are Richard and Cupar playing on Coldbackie Beach plus a shot of the fabulous
rock formations at one end of the shore.  Just amazing!

... We were both in awe of this great wall of compressed rock formations....

From here we drove westwards 
winding our way along single track roads and finally down to Melness harbour .........

..... and then past Melness Cemetary with Ben Loyal in the background. 
Yes, it was rather murky that afternoon!
From there we went on to Achininver Beach which was deserted with the 
exception of us and another couple with a dog!  Again, there were some
magnificent rock formations on the beach - some with marble clearly visible...

Richard and Cupar had great fun playing in the sand whilst I pottered around
taking photographs and just 'enjoying the moment'......

From the beach we set off for home - stopping briefly to take a 
few photographs of Melness Cemetery with Ben Loyal as a backdrop.

Day 2 was a lot brighter.   We'd decided to call it 'Ruins Day' and take a walk 
up to Castle Varrich in the morning and then across to an old, now deserted
settlement called Sletell afterwards.   
En-route up to the castle we came across this toppled tree.  It was enormous - 
probably about 60-70 ft. long!

It was an easy climb and the views were certainly worth it when arriving at the top!

Cupar obviously thought so too;  he was quite captivated it seems....!

The exact age and origin of the castle is unknown although one theory states 
that it dates back to the 1400's and was built on the remains of an old Norse fort.
Below Richard and Cupar pose for the camera in the sunshine!

Recently Historic Environment Scotland renovated the entire structure 
and installed a steel spiral staircase with a platform at the top - which of
course gives even more sensational views!   Must admit that I wasn't keen going up 
to the top though  ...!

I never did really have a head for heights but the views from up there were worth it!

Having descended it was back in the car and off to Sletell to the settlement.
The weather was still magnificent and the bright autumnal sky was lit by a low sun 
casting ever longer shadows as made our slow walk to and from the abandoned homes
not far from the seashore.

The path was very wet and mucky in places and the going quite rough at times
but the views were worth it...

Below is a view through a window of one of the ruined homes.  
This was what someone else would have seen all those years ago.....   

Little is known of this area with its three crofts, a few dwelling places 
plus their outbuildings although it is thought the area wasn't completely deserted 
until the 1950s....

By 4 p.m .we were in danger of losing the sun behind the hills so after this photo 
was taken we took our leave and quickly trudged back to the car.   
Below Richard climbs the hill that leads away from Sletell.

... .and then it was a short drive back to Base where we unwound in our 
comfortable kitchen and downloaded photos - then planned for Day 3!
Certainly our holiday cottage was extremely welcoming after such a long day.

On our final day we didn't travel too far from Base.
The weather was amazing once again - sunny ALL day!
From Tongue village we kept driving along the road that goes round the Kyle of Tongue.   
Richard had said he wanted to see one of the 'Cup Marked Stones' that was marked on our OS Map...
Before getting there we happened across Loch Hakel and made a slight detour!

A little further along the road was the Cup Marked Stone that I mentioned.
.   Richard paused to take a photograph or two of course!

With the weather being so wonderful we did a lot of walking towards Kinloch Lodge
and went to the top of Garbh Chnoc to take in the 360 degree views.

       Below are Richard and Cupar who take a wee break from our tramping about!

                            Another ten minutes down the road and we had this view.  Amazing!

We then walked back to the car and carried on driving.....
The shot below shows some of the vegetation alongside the road.  
The colours were beautiful in the sunshine....:)

We continued driving and just
couldn't resist taking more and more photographs as we went....

Below is a shot of a couple of old bridges plus a deserted cottage in the background.
It was getting quite late by then but we didn't want to miss this opportunity...

By the time we pulled over to take this photograph below the light was really fading fast
Afterwards it was straight back to Base again with departure for home the next day!

Our return journey went well and was enjoyable ... it was so quiet trundling down the 
B871 for mile after mile.....

 Turning right at Kinbrace onto the A897 it was then a very short time 
until we reached Helmsdale on the A9.
Below is one of our views shortly before we got that point....

Needing to stop for a quick lunch we managed to find some lovely woodland 
further down the A9 in Golspie.
The photo below is illustrative of the amazing autumnal colours that were 
all around us at the time.  What a wee oasis it was....!

The wood was a complete contrast to a lot of the scenery through which we had driven
over the last four days and it was very pleasant change of landscape.  
It was a lovely way to end our latest holiday in this amazing 'natural cathedral' !!

By 5 p.m. we were back at 'The Old Bakery' 'in Strathpeffer. 
It was lovely to be back again but we could have stayed a lot longer up in Sutherland.
We only skimmed the surface really - so there is still a vast area of unexplored coastline
awaiting our return next time!

Friday 11 December 2020

Dark Days

 This post title could easily relate to the disastrous and ongoing world-wide coronavirus pandemic that, in spite of punishing restrictions on socialising and hospitality, the human race seem little closer to getting under control now than we did nine months ago. Maybe the introduction of a vaccine, which is just now very gradually being rolled-out, will bring about some improvement in the situation, but I don't see a lot changing any time soon.

But, no - the dark days to which I refer here are the northern hemisphere winter-time days of short daylight that have happened every year since time began - and indeed, would have happened before time existed. It is about 4.30pm here now, and completely dark outside. It won't get light again until around 8.30am tomorrow morning. On cloudy or rainy days, it barely gets fully light at all. For something like a month every year, we pass through this period of perpetual gloom.  It is quite a challenging time - not least for the birds and animals that have such a short day to forage for enough to eat to keep them going through the long and often cold night. 

It was as recently as 1952 that a hydro-electricity scheme brought electricity for the first time to much of the Isle of Skye. Before then, it is hard to imagine how people coped with candles and oil lamps for their lighting, and no electrically-powered entertainment. It is little wonder that story-telling and the playing of fiddle, accordion, pipes and tabor were (and still are) so popular.

To offset the gloom - just occasionally we get a glorious day of winter sunshine, which very likely begins and ends with an orange, pink, purple and blue sunrise and sunset. Even at mid-day, the sun has only climbed a short way into the sky, so its dazzling rays shine directly through the windows of the houses and cast long shadows on the hills. It is a special and spectacular kind of light that really needs to be experienced to be understood. Sadly, sunlit December days are all too rare.

Of course, the bonus is that in six months time, we will bask in very long hours of daylight, with the sky never going fully black at all during much of June.

I wonder if by then, the dark days of coronavirus will also be behind us...?

Winter sunset, Loch Dunvegan

Tuesday 17 November 2020

Another Birthday Holiday

Over the last few years, Sue and I seem to have established a tradition of having a short holiday to coincide with our birthdays. My birthday is in mid-March, and Sue's in mid-November, so being away at that time of year is no problem cottage-wise, though of course, we have to be prepared for whatever the weather might throw at us.

For Sue's birthday last year, we explored the north-east corner of Scotland. This year, we simply headed north. We rented a very spacious holiday cottage near the village of Tongue. To get there, I had a long-held ambition to drive the teeny road from Altnaharra to Hope - a road so minor that is not even marked on some maps of the Highlands. I was not disappointed by the adventure, and the weather was very kind to us, not only being dry, but providing us with the most spectacular skies to enhance the hundreds of photographs we took. We now know that the north of Scotland is a VERY big and very empty place, and we had an absolutely brilliant few days in the wild and deserted natural landscape that is Sutherland.

Sue is promising that she will eventually post some of her holiday photos here, so for now, I will just include a very few of mine below...

The Hope Road - Ben Hope on the right

The ruined settlement of Sleteil

Loch Modsarie

Yet another photo opportunity...!

Sunday 11 October 2020

A Trip South In Testing Times

Due to travel and visiting restrictions placed on us all during the current and ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and also to work commitments here, I have not been able to visit family and friends in England since January. Nine months seems an awful long time not to see people you love.

So, at last, I have just managed to make the trip. I admit to having some level of anxiety about leaving the peace and safety of our very rural island and travelling into the overcrowded south. There seems little doubt that the virus is spread most readily when groups of people gather closely together for a period of time - so by avoiding such situations, I judged my trip to be an acceptable risk.

I drove down as usual, taking three days for the southwards journey so I could visit my cousin near Oxford on my way to Hampshire. I stayed in Premier Inn hotels, which I have always found to be clean and comfortable. I have to say, the level of cleanliness was even higher this time, and the room-rates were a bargain as the hotels struggle to find customers. Full marks to Premier Inn.

Full marks also to the motorway service areas, where clear markings and signage encouraged observance of social distancing rules. Other than a couple of take-aways, I did not visit any cafes or restaurants during my trip. I appreciate that such businesses will be having a dreadful struggle to make enough income to survive. I can only hope that Government support will be enough to see them through.

I felt most at risk in some shops. The biggest supermarkets, when not busy and with wide aisles, were not too daunting, but one particular smaller supermarket in Torquay was busy, and the aisles nowhere near wide enough for shoppers to keep a safe distance apart. I couldn't get out fast enough.

There were other occasions where I was aware that social distancing was not being observed. I passed a secondary school just as the end-of-day bell had rung. Hoards of children of all ages were pouring out of the gates, all massed together, shouting and talking, and none wore face-coverings. During the school day, I suspect they are kept apart in year-group 'bubbles', but when the bell goes... Then I was dismayed to see a group of mums who had just dropped-off their youngsters at a primary school, all gathered in a close bunch on the pavement, chatting together. Eating places looked crowded, too - though as I said above, I did not venture inside any of them.

Now I am back home, and a new raft of measures are about to be rolled out to try to stem the rising tide of infections. I have no fears for myself now - it is not difficult to pass several weeks here and see no more than a handful of people. But until the residents of the more crowded parts of our world see some sense and obey the distancing rules, keeping infection rates at the lowest possible level is never going to happen.

Heading south - Ballachulish

Heading north - Above Loch Loyne

Saturday 29 August 2020

Harvest Coming Home

It has been a sensationally good year on the allotment. I think in part, the success of the crops may be a result of buying seed from a different supplier. Up until this year, I have always relied on Suttons for all my veg seeds, but I have often been disappointed by poor germination rates, and ultimately by poor plants. This year, I bought Thompson and Morgan seed. Has that made such a difference? Who can say? This year could just be a 'special' year. We will have to grow Thompson and Morgan seed for a few more years to be able to make any claim that one is better than the other.

The weather here in the spring of 2020 was mild, often sunny and mostly dry. There were no late frosts. Summer has been quite wet. We have had a couple of 60mph storms, but the allotment is reasonably well protected from the wind. 

Due to the coronavirus lockdown, I had more time than in previous years to lavish on careful tending of the soil, the growing plants, and the weeding.

The results... well ! The photos below tell the tale - and yes, I am sorry the grass paths on the allotment need a trim. I'll get onto that tomorrow...

The kale is just amazing, and really yummy. 
On the left are the brussels sprouts
- coming on nicely and will be ready for picking in a month or so.

The harvest from one row of potatoes...
On the right are the next ones to be harvested - four more rows...

The runner beans are by far the best I have ever grown at Roskhill, and possibly the best ever!

Do you remember my excitement when the carrot seeds germinated...???
Look at them now...!!!

The onion crop, hung out to dry.
The potatoes await being stored in hessian sacks.

Friday 28 August 2020

Do You Write Reviews?

More and more these days, we are getting used to shopping online for pretty much everything. More and more, we have then become used to follow-up emails from the supplier asking us how we like our purchase, and urging us to write a review. I suppose there may be some value in such reviews if there are enough of them to paint an overall picture, as 90% of positive comments will indicate that the product is probably 'OK', even if 10% have left negative remarks.

I personally have a slightly uneasy feeling about anonymous reviews though. I am concerned that it is all too easy for a reviewer to leave unpleasant, malicious or unfair remarks in a similar way that online bullying can infect the pages of some social media websites.

When it comes to accommodation, in 'the good old days', providers who were registered with the scheme would get an annual Quality Assurance inspection from a representative of the national tourism board. This resulted in a private written report for the provider, telling them what they were doing well, what needed attention, and a public overall star-rating was then awarded. A 5-star rating was reserved for the very highest quality accommodation, and was rarely awarded. 4-star was 'excellent', while 3-star was 'good'. The most basic accommodation gained 2-stars, and 1-star didn't really exist.

All that has now gone, in favour of public online reviews written by the guests themselves. We market our cottages through Airbnb and Both of these platforms nag the guests to leave reviews following their visit, but there are differences in their approach.

Both operate a star-grading system, and both expect providers to maintain a star score of 4.8 out of 5 or better, otherwise penalties may be applied, with very low-scoring properties being unlisted from the platform - though is slightly less draconian than Airbnb in this respect.

Airbnb ask guests to separately rate; accuracy, check-in, cleanliness, communication, location and value, and then give an overall quality rating - so a guest who rates using the old tourism board stars where 3-star was 'good', can easily leave a rating that results in a harmful average of under 4.

Airbnb also invites the accommodation provider (whom they refer to as the host) to write a review of the guest, and neither host's review or guest's review are published until both have written their reviews. This system is supposed to encourage guests to respect the properties in which they are staying, and to leave them tidy on departure, as hosts are likely refuse a booking request from guests who have poor reviews - though in practice, a guest with poor reviews can simply re-register with Airbnb under a new name and 'wipe their slate clean'.

For the host, reading positive review comments from happy guests is rewarding, and there is little doubt such comments encourage other potential guests to book highly-rated properties. On the other hand, negative comments in a review can be quite hurtful, especially if they relate to issues that could have been easily dealt-with if the issue had been brought to the attention of the host during the stay. Another irritation in reviews is negative comments about issues that we have no control over, like the weather, or the distance to the nearest pub. Thankfully, we have very rarely found ourselves reading negative comments about our own properties.

So - when I do leave a review for something (which I have to admit - I seldom do) I think carefully about what I say and how I say it. I would like to think that everyone does the same... 

Monday 17 August 2020

More Words On The Weather

When it was first talked-about, I never imagined climate change and global warming would happen quickly enough to have any affect on my life. But - rather suddenly, and all over the world - people are now beginning to realise that climate change really is here already.

In the UK, we are becoming more and more used to hearing news and weather reports of record temperatures (both highs and lows), of gales, storms, floods and other weather events that are still often described as 'extreme'. The recent 'extreme' heatwave affecting the south east of England was one of several such events in the last decade or two. There is every likelihood that such events will soon become the norm rather than the exception.

Here on Skye - so far - we have not been experiencing any 'extremes'. Unlike the south east of England, where weather is often strongly influenced by the area's proximity to continental Europe, the weather here is largely of a maritime nature, influenced by the vast Atlantic Ocean which is our immediate neighbour. 

Skye weather is never anything at all like the weather in the south east of England. The warmest it ever gets here is many degrees lower than in the south, though the coldest is probably about the same - we might get down to -3C some winter nights. We usually get a little winter snow, but it doesn't last long. 

However, we get much stronger winds than in the south. Gales of 50mph would here be considered a stiff breeze, and occur several times a year - winter and summer... Storms reaching 70mph are not that unusual.

And we get a lot of rain. But because we have always had a lot of rain, the landscape absorbs it. The spate rivers rush with peat-brown water for a day or so after a downpour, and then everything returns to normal. Of course - the landscape here is largely natural, and has not been over-developed by acres and acres of non-absorbent tarmac and concrete....

So far - the most obvious way that climate change is affecting the NW Highlands is in a change of the seasons. Winters have become milder. Spring is drier. Summer is wetter. And the whole climate year seems to have moved on a month or so - meaning that now, in mid August, is already beginning to feel like mid-September. It is the same in the spring, when April doesn't happen until May.

We seem to be being faced with a lot of 'new normals' these days. Or am I just getting old?  But, where would I rather be in 2020 Britain? The dry and sultry south or the cool, wet and windy north west...??

Silly question...!

Roskhill, Skye, July 2020 - photo by Sue

Sunday 19 July 2020

I've Been Painting...

I have just completed the redecoration of the outside of Summer Cottage. The cottage is a late 19th century stone-built one-and-a-half storey croft house, and is one of our holiday letting properties. In common with almost all domestic buildings in the Highlands, the cottage is harled and painted. (Harling is a local term for lime-based render). We had tried to find a local tradesman to do the decorating for us, but decorators here are always busy, and they can be reluctant to take-on more than a couple of outdoor jobs at a time, because of the vagaries of the weather.... so I ended up doing the job myself.

Since living here, I've learned a lot about roofs and stone-walled buildings. Summer Cottage has 3-feet thick stone walls, with gables capped with poured concrete skews. The skew forms a waterproof 'lid' for the wall, and the roof tiles are simply tucked under the skew - there is no lead flashing. The stone is pretty much waterproof, but the 19th century mortar is never rock hard at the best of times, and when affected by water ingress for years, it decays to have about the same strength as damp sand. Although I have been told by experienced builders that 'all the old places are like that' and 'they never fall down' - it is not a demanding task to scrape out some of the mortar and repoint as necessary. At least then the masonry paint has a better chance of staying stuck on the wall for a few extra years.

Some restoration of the harling was required for the most weather-exposed south-west facing gable. Part of the wall had suffered from water leaking past the skew as the result of an inadequately-finished roofing job, done before we bought the place. Last winter, heavy rain and a south-westerly gale had caused enough water to seep through the wall to be dripping from the inside of a first floor window reveal. It was definitely time to fix something! I made a rooftop investigation, found the poorly sealed area, and made a thorough job of re-sealing the cracks - but water had clearly been leaking in there for several years, causing a large part of the wall to become wet, and damaging the mortar and harling.

The rest of the paintwork was pretty straightforward though. With no holiday visitors at the cottage because of the lockdown, I was able to take opportunities to work in the best of the weather. I am fortunate to own a couple of good, long and light ladders as well as a roof ladder, so access to all parts of the building was reasonably easy - though I did wonder at times if I am beginning to be a touch too old to be clambering-about on a roof...!!

It is rewarding to get the job done. It all now looks very smart again, and will hopefully continue to do so for a few years.

Rooftop view - while painting the second chimney

All finished and smart
... and yes - it's yellow and cream, not boring white!