Posie's Blog. Tales of island life on a hebridean hill farm

Posie's Blog. Tales of island life on a hebridean hill farm

Thursday, 25 October 2007

A Pain in the Back....

Groans are coming from the farmhouse kitchen; the happy farmer and Farmer T have both got occupational injuries, namely bad backs. The happy farmer has been hobbling about in agony since working with sheep at the fank. Fank work often involves lifting old heavy rusty gates, then spending half of the day stooped over lambs, piercing their ears with the necessary tags, to identify them and the farm, before they head off to market. This and all in a biting cold wind have lead to more than a few moans and groans. I did smile when in hobbled Farmer T today, also complaining of backache, no sympathy from the farmer’s wife then! One of his pals warned the happy farmer not to pick up any sheep today,

‘Any of them approach me and I’ll give them a knock back then, cold shoulder treatment’ was his pained response!

Feeding rounds on the farm have proved interesting too. No tup feed to be seen in the shed, but an untouched bag of pig feed. The culprit was the happy potter. No, he hasn’t run out of muesli for breakfast and changed to tup feed, which does resemble muesli, rather, having being entrusted with feeding the animals while we were away, he got completely muddled up and fed the tup feed to both the tups and the pigs, probably the chickens too, could it be that his mind is elsewhere these days? Something to do with a tall, beautiful lady residing on the mainland me thinks! Luckily those greedy pigs didn’t mind the change in their diet, but the happy farmer had to go shopping quickly!

Until next time.......

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Working dogs

We woke up to the most beautiful sunrise on the island this morning. There were several photographers out in the fields, our guests from the cottages, snapping away, as I too reached for the camera.

Mist, the sheep dog pup, has been busy, working those pigs again, rounding them up, pacing behind them, tongue hanging out, as they, ignoring her completely, happily munch on cabbage leaves and potato peelings.

The happy farmer took her out for a training session with the sheep the other night. She did really well, working away with the other sheepdog, carefully following the happy farmer’s commands, crouching on all fours, her belly sliding up the field as she skilfully wormed her way around the edge of the gathered flock.…

‘Steady, steady…. down Mist, down…. come up….come up…..that’ll do…that’ll do’,

The words rolling off the happy farmer’s tongue, as he too masters the skills that have been passed on to him, through generations of sheep farmers……
Of course it all went a bit to pot when three happy, squealing children arrived, eagerly wanting to be a part of the ritual of working the dogs, and training our clever pup. I managed to get them to rest on top of the gate, as the farmer got the dogs to hold the assembled flock in the middle of the field.

This morning Mist saw in her element, she got to work with the real thing again, this time ‘working’ in the fank, rounding up the lambs, as the happy farmer separated them into different lots, ready for the auctioneer who is calling by with a float to take them away to market.

Shaking with excitement she took her place next to me as we waited for the sheep to come into the enclosure from the fields. As the sheep gave chase she crouched low to the ground, never taking her eyes off them for a minute, skilfully holding them in a group, listening for her commands from the happy farmer, she slowly moved towards them, head low, tongue hanging out, eyes fixated, carefully following them into the pen, darting after a straggler, who, on having second thoughts, had suddenly decided to made a break for it. Mist, quick as a flash, grabbed the lamb by its scruff, and hauled it back into line.

For now the pup has been confined to barracks. We caught her sneaking out from the garden, heading across the farmyard, towards the fields, not once, but three times, as we sat with our mugs of soup at lunch. A quick call sees her running sheepishly back to the garden, tail wagging away, huge grin on that face, as she waits patiently to take her chance again.

Until next time…..

Friday, 19 October 2007

Home at Last

Layers of mist clung to the island like a security blanket. Visibility on the island was poor and unrelenting. The happy farmer spent a frustrating day at Glasgow airport, as the morning flight home to his island got delayed……. delayed….. and then finally cancelled.

He returned in the late afternoon to go through the process all over again, and was unable to make that flight back until the following morning. The island often gets cut off by air if the mist is low. The ground hostess at the airport have amazing patience as they deal with all of the frustrations and despair of travellers, who in a modern world, expect to travel, without delay.

The hustle and bustle and restaurants of the city beckoned though, and no sooner was the happy farmer home than he got hauled away with the rest of us for a well earned city break of shopping, cinemas and ten pin bowling, mixed with Thai, Mexican and Indian cuisine, like only the cosmopolitan haunts of a city can offer.

We returned yesterday, to a peaceful, sunny island, the autumnal hues blazing brightly as the ferry glided along the Sound, between the two islands. The BT boys followed us off the ferry to deliver goodies of strong cheddar cheese from their local creamery.

Farmer T was busy checking his ‘coos’ and so a cup of tea was the order of the day. He was in good form. He announced that he was acquiring a new sheepdog, the happy farmer and I nearly fell off our chairs at this point. Farmer T is acquiring a squad of sheepdogs, or should I at this point say ‘pot lickers’, that could put Battersea Dogs Home to shame. I jest, but we never fail to be amused as yet another much hoped for sheepdog, fails at the first hurdles of training. The tales of which are amusingly recounted with Farmer T’s unique brand of humour and wit, we can but hope that this particular dog will provide so many endless hours of entertainment. Hopefully this dog will make the grade, it certainly seems promising, his latest addition is coming from a man who uses sheepdogs to round up ducks at displays at agricultural shows. If the dog fails Farmer T could always diversify away from sheep, and invest in a squad of ducks, thus making him even more ‘quackers’.

The happy farmer’s new tups and sheep arrived off the evening ferry last night. The happy farmer left to unload them. He returned, covered in mud, to announce they were good sheep that the auctioneers had got for him. The fact that it was pitch dark probably helped him in his judgement then, that and a good dram off our German guests, who were leaving for home this morning.

Until next time.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Horny Issues...

One delighted happy farmer has gone off on a shopping trip. Now before you all get too excited and wonder where on earth I managed to find a male who likes shopping I must spill the beans and come clean, it most certainly isn’t a ‘girlie’ shopping expedition, no, he has gone to the auction market to purchase some tups for the mating season that will soon be upon us. That spoilt all the fun then. It is probably the nearest he gets to shopping, apart from supermarket jaunts.

At the very last moment he got the good news that the ban on the movement of livestock, in the wake of the recent foot and mouth crisis, has been lifted, and he will at last be able to purchase some much needed tups and have them delivered to the island in time for the mating season among the sheep.

I came down the stairs, bleary eyed, this morning to find the front door wide open; did I really leave it wide open all night long? After a few seconds of major panic, I realised my son was up before me and was out and about taking pictures of the beautiful sunrise, layers of mist rising from the sea, encircling the hills, the sky bursting with orange rays and purple clouds. The air filled with the sound of those stags still roaring in the background, which I have decided can be compared to the sounds that used to bellow from my brother when he had one too many after a good night out, in his younger years. Must check with my sister in law, bet he still bellows like a stag now!! It certainly takes any romanticism right out of yesterday’s blog then!

In among the Highland cows there was an agitated visitor of the horned variety this morning. One of those stags was frantically pacing up and down, trying to find a way out of the field as the Highland cows eyed him suspiciously, all that is except for Rainbow, one of the calves, who took a shining to the stag and followed him about the field out of curiosity. The mist descended, and then he was gone, which is just as well, as next moment one of the gamekeepers and his partner turned up for a coffee on their way to the Colonsay ferry.

Until next time…

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Lingering Summer Days....

It is getting to that lovely time of year again. The log fire roaring in the evenings, the Rayburn lit once again, radiating heat and the lovely smell of home baking throughout the house. I love the summer months, but as the autumn takes hold, and winter draws ever closer, you reach that stage where you are ready to spend time indoors by the fireside after a summer of outdoor living.

The whole island takes on a different feel, as the green and yellow coats of the summer months are replaced with the vivid rusty shades of autumn. The hills have a sharper more defined appearance, the sea a bold blue metal sheet, set against skies bursting with lilacs and purples. Everything looks so much more dramatic and ever more beautiful at this time of year, when the sun is lying low in the sky, casting its rays ever closer.

Just as I am waxing lyrical about tucking up indoors the weekend saw us heading for the beach complete with kids, dogs and BBQ! It was a beautiful day; the sun was splitting the skies, and lifting the autumn chill from the air. Pals had stayed over as it was our son’s birthday, and so we packed all the necessaries and headed across the farm to our nearest beach, situated beyond the distillery. It is a rocky, shingle beach, with old ramshackle boat houses from yesteryear, at least two of which belong to the happy farmer. They are sadly neglected and in need of some serious TLC, and so are going to become next summer’s project. We’ll get everyone on board for the stripping and painting complete with the necessary BBQs and driftwood fires.

We set up camp in one of the old boat sheds, placing the BBQ in among the lobster creels. The children set off to explore, coming back frequently, laden with shells from crabs and sea urchins, and bits of old pottery, weathered by the sea. Across the water
You could hear the roar of the stags on Jura, the rutting season has began, along with the distant bangs of the stalkers guns. It is an eerie howling sound the stags make, attracting the does and warning off other stags.There was further excitement when one of the children spied an otter on a nearby rock tucking into his recent catch, and then another scampered across the beach, heading across the shingle, before gracefully slithering into the sea. We sat skimming stones across the bay as the happy farmer took charge of the burgers.

Our tummies full we wandered home along the track, hoping that it won’t be too long until we get to BBQ again.

Until next time…

Monday, 1 October 2007

'To Hoot.....'

The happy farmer has gone into overdrive, I arrived home on Friday lunch time to find he had ripped out the patio doors leading off our kitchen. For once we had a ‘spotless’ view of the garden. Thankfully it was a beautiful day. The ‘not so laid back forester’ arrived up after work, just at the right moment, the point where the new door frame wouldn’t quite fit, and the lip on the new French windows was catching. I crept quietly round them, trying to get on with cooking, very aware that we had one hundred and one other things to get done before Hoot’s funeral. By the time darkness fell the new doors were in place and looking quite splendid in their new home.

A massive digger has arrived today and is clearing and levelling the ground in preparation for the foundations on the extension, the happy farmer racing back and forth with tractor and trailer, scooping up the debris. The pottery cats have taken refuge on the farmhouse sofa, that’s their excuse anyway. The sheepdog has decided she really wants to be a house dog today and keeps creeping in and hiding under the kitchen table, I am seriously thinking of joining her!

We laid Hoot to rest on Saturday. In a moving service at the village church, his son sang the most beautiful Gaelic hymn and his nephews played guitars and accordion. A procession of about fifty or so cars made the two mile journey along an old farm track, to the hillside where Hoot was to be buried. Cars and the traditional hearse were abandoned at the farm steadings, the coffin, moved onto a trailer, pulled by an old 125 tractor, and followed by a quiet stream of mourners to the graveside. Hoot’s final resting place is in the corner of a field, shrouded by the Paps, and looking out down the hillside to the sea and the Sound of Jura. In the distance you could hear the roar of the waves in the Sound, and above on the hill a lone piper played as Hoot was laid to rest. Cheese and oatcakes were washed down with drams of Jura malt whisky, as Hoot’s friends picked up shovels and began to fill in the grave. As time passed a steady stream made their way back to the croft, the happy farmer driving the tractor and trailer back, drinking and driving, the Hoot would have been in his element. Back at the croft several of the boys were busy pushing the traditional hearse, as another reversed it back, skilfully, out of the ditch in which it had become stuck. Huge pots of soup were warming on the aga, chairs and tables were laid out in the old steadings, sandwiches and clootie dumpling were served, a gathering of Hoot’s family and friends.

As we headed back to the ferry we passed the hearse on the single track road, heading in the opposite direction, they managed to flag down our jingly jangly friend to lend a hand, as at the last minute they remembered the tanoy system they had left in the village church. They all raced round the corner in the nick of time to catch that ferry back across the Sound. Our jingly jangly friend joined us back at the farmhouse kitchen together with our lovely Dutch friends who had arrived off the afternoon ferry to stay on the farm for a week’s holiday, and we toasted our special friend…..Hoot.

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Jimmy Hoot

The happy farmer is out demolishing the old stone walls adjoining our house, attaching chains to the old cement work and hauling them down with the tractor. It is an apt time, a time of change, pulling away the old steadings, and replacing them with new stronger walls, extending our family home. The building warrant has finally come through and things can get moving.

Though as we pull down those old crumbling walls we are struggling today, our dear friend Hoot has died. We have visited him often over the past few weeks, reminiscing about the good times, as he, as sturdy as ever, bravely began to lose his battle with cancer, a battle that has spanned some thirty years, one which for the most part he has had the upper hand. His passing is a blessing, but tinged with great sadness for all who knew him well. Hoot was another of life’s rich characters. He was part of the fittings and fixtures of the farm, and we will miss him dreadfully, but his stories, his wicked sense of humour, that twinkle in his beady eyes, his character, will remain with us always.

Hoot could usually be found in his tackety boots, cap and boiler suit, down at the fank with the happy farmer working at sheep. When the work was done, a beady eyed Hoot would sit, mug of tea in his hand, roll up between his fingers and put the day and the world to rights. He has passed many a happy day on the farm over the years, a great man with the sheep, usually with his faithful Dan dog at his heels, always offering timely advice and the wisdom of one that truly knew and understood the ways of nature and the countryside. He has fenced the length and breadth of Scotland in his time. Never a day passed when he didn’t indulge in a bit of ‘the old tail pulling’, as Hoot would call it, as he would wind someone up and watch them take the bait. A remarkable man when it came to stalking and shooting, Hoot knew the hills well, and was a great teacher in the ways of the ‘Highlands’, when the boys were younger he would take them out to the north end of the island, where they would set up camp in the caves and live off the land.

So at the weekend Hoot will go back to rest in the land he so loved, he is to be buried on his sister’s croft on Jura……

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

It's a Dog's Life...

Mist is finally no longer in season, the happy farmer can heave a huge sigh of relief, no pups this time. Roy, the sheepdog can get back to a peaceful life once more, having spent several days with his nose glued through the slats in the gate, tongue hanging out, as he whimpered and howled trying to get Mist’s attention as I took her on a daily walk through the back field.

Mist has delighted in her new found freedom. She jumped in with the pigs for a breakfast date, helping them to eat their rations, before clearing the gates, and taking herself off across the fields to indulge in a bit of sheep chasing, goading the happy farmer as she went. Skilfully disappearing out of sight, as he took chase on his quad bike. Only to reappear when she knew he was safely all the way up the top of the hill in his vain search, and the coast was clear for her to come skulking back into the garden. Mist had regained her composure, and was posing happily on the garden slabs, a wry grin on her face, by the time a harassed but happy farmer returned.

We had friends over from the mainland visiting with their beloved pet dog Fudge while Mist was in season. Poor Fudge got a rude awakening in our garden; enter at your peril when the bitch is on heat. Roy pestered him mercilessly, following him round the garden, nose glued firmly to his behind, before mounting a full scale assault. Fudge had to be rescued indoors, only to be growled at by Iona, my parents’ dog, who was over to stay. She is queen bee when she is here, taking over the happy farmer’s comfy kitchen chair, much to his annoyance. There she sits throughout the day, only peeling herself away from the chair if there is a walk on offer, or some yummy food scraps. Not at all impressed at Fudge’s arrival, a normally docile dog, Iona’s hackles were up, teeth were bared and Fudge was told in no uncertain terms that he was not welcome. Eventually we gave up, Fudge was put back in the car, Iona drifted lazily back to sleep, happy farmer looking on with gnarled face, and Roy was able to return once more to the slats in the gate and happily pant after his beloved.

Until next time….

Saturday, 15 September 2007

Homework....sounds and smells...

Homework….I was tagged…..12 smells and sounds that would reach me anywhere….

Well I spent lots of time under canvas as a child, every holiday and most weekends. We often used to camp at Tyddyn Ceithin in Cricceith, North Wales. My tent would pitched on the banks of the river and so I used to drift off to sleep to the sound of bleating lambs and flowing water, at times the river would be bubbling and boiling, so much so that it would feel as if the tent were being drawn into the water.

The smell of sheep’s wool, not freshly sheared, but wool freshly aired by the breeze, I used to gather it off the fences as a toddler and cuddle it up to my nose. It doesn’t have the strong lanolin, greasy scent of freshly sheared wool. My mum would replace it with clean cotton wool balls, another smell that I adored. The best however was to inhale cigar or cigarette smoke through cotton wool, whoops, a product of my parents’ smoking when I was small, but a smell I vividly can recall, and one which I used to find really comforting.

I love the peaty earthy scent you get when you walk through boggy ground on a wet day.

The sweet smell of summer that you get on a hot day in late spring, as children we would lie on our coats in the playground on such days, and just soak up the scent, together with the warm sun, and the sounds of other children playing, carried on the breeze.

The sounds of children exploding with uncontrollable giggles, my mum’s piano music, which used to waft up the stairs, after my brother and I had been tucked into bed at night, and bagpipes which have the power to send shivers up my spine and bring a tear to my eye.

The sweet scent of bog myrtle which is carried in the breeze as I make my way up the hill.

The salty smell of the ocean waves breaking on the shore….

Until next time…

Friday, 14 September 2007

Noddy and the Highlanders

Oh the autumn is here, everyone seems to have a cold, and the days have been windy and gloomy. I think it is time to start lighting the fires, stocking up the stores, with all those vegetables, chutneys, jams and pickles, and hibernating indoors. I don’t quite feel ready to let go of the summer, but the change in weather is bringing about the change in seasons. I feel sorry for the lingering blooms of flowers, battling against the chilly September winds.

The happy farmer goes out looking like ‘Noddy’ each day, complete with red fleece and big hat, only to return, after a morning's fencing, with a matching red face, and that’s without any whisky !!

The highland cows have been moved down towards my mother in laws, off the hill and into the fields, to get a good bite of grass before the winter weather and the geese strip the fields bare. They are in great form just now, and happily followed the happy farmer, bucket in hand, off the hill and along the single track road to the fields, a group of cars patiently waiting in the lay-by, until the cows were well clear of the road.

It will soon be ‘tupping’ time once more, when the ‘boys’ (and I am talking the woolly ones here, and not the welly boot clad gang!) go into the fields with the ewes to work. The happy farmer has been busy giving those boys a manicure; they have a tendency to get bad feet, so theirs have been neatly trimmed in preparation for those ladies in waiting. It never ceases to amaze me how soft the tups are. The ewes live in large numbers out on the hillside and in the fields, in all weather, spend several months of the year pregnant, then go through the birthing, feeding and rearing of their offspring, before the whole cycle begins again. The tups on the other hand, spend the year lazing around, eating to their hearts content. They get extra rations of feed to build up their strength in October, go out into the fields to ‘work’ in November, and are then gathered in, and fed throughout the winter to help them recover from their few weeks of mating. They come away from the sheep and are literally ‘knackered’. This is often the point where we lose old Mr Blue. We use a blue faced Leicester tup, among other breeds, each year, and invariably he struggles to survive the winter months, in spite of being given shelter, extra rations and anti biotic jags, as he is the one that always seems to get a flu bug. If he is feeling particularly naughty he may even die before tupping begins, choosing his time to coincide with after the tup sales have finished and just a day or so before he is due to begin his mating programme.

This year tupping time is going to be challenging, with the foot and mouth crisis, not knowing if the disease is going to spread, and the movement restrictions, which will prevent us buying new stock to breed in with our flocks. In September or October the happy farmer usually goes away to the mainland to buy several new tups for his ladies. Fingers crossed the outbreak will be contained and livestock movement can return to normal as quickly as possible. On a flippant note, how else am I going to get those new shoes if the happy farmer doesn’t manage to sell those lambs?!!

Until next time….

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Uncertain Change

The Paps are being awfully shy, ever since I decided to post daily pictures of them on the blog they have been in hiding. Today they continue to be a complete tease, lifting the heavy layers of mist and cloud covering them, ever so slightly to reveal their lower climbs, before covering up again completely.

We have friends home from New Zealand. They have family over with them who have never visited the islands before. They have yet to see the Paps in their full glory, the happy farmer of course, a wry grin on his face, explained how they recently decided to concrete the whole of Jura and the Paps are in fact no more. Maybe that is why they have decided to revel themselves ever so slightly today!

Our son arrived home from school really excited, our daughter completely fed up. The reason, well our high school is the first school in Europe where every child is being issued with a tablet PC, a mini laptop computer. Jotters, pens and worksheets are going to be a thing of the past.

Son came home with his shiny new tablet yesterday; daughter has got to wait another week until hers is issued, so she was really not a happy bunny. I have really mixed feelings about the whole process, but then that is also my approach to change. I can’t help feeling that my children are going to be the guinea pigs in this whole computer age. It seems to somewhat contradict our natural surroundings, I can’t help wondering why the computer giants, Dell and Microsoft have chosen a small school on a remote Scottish island to begin this computer revolution.

I have concerns about what skills will be lost when computers don’t simply enhance class work, but actually take over. Will it be easy to revise and learn notes by reading from a computer screen instead of going through hand written notes and work sheets? Will a part of each individual’s identity be lost to some extent when everything is computer processed and not hand written? It is interesting that we live in an age when we are trying to desperately preserve, languages such as Gaelic and Welsh, to value and appreciate accents and dialogues, which at one point were actively banished in the belief that if we all spoke the same language, with the same accent and dialect, it would help us to get on better in the world. I can’t help but draw some comparisons to our use of language in the written sense also; will it be good for children to rely on computer keyboards so dependently when it comes to expressing themselves in the written form? Will the whole process prove a technological nightmare? What happens if children’s work is not backed up properly, they can only link to the internet when at school and the tablets have no DVD drives, so what happens when a huge amount of research or an all important essay is lost with the touch of a button?

The children are really excited, they are already far more computer literate than me. We live in an ever changing world. I should be glad that my children are getting this fantastic opportunity, that they are receiving such fantastic equipment for nothing, I just can’t help wishing it had been tried and tested elsewhere first, that’s all, and I do hope they do not lose the all important skills of expressing themselves with pen and paper…back to the cave drawings then.

Until next time…

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Muck n' Mud

The farmhouse kitchen is beginning to resemble a vegetable patch; the ‘vegetable patch’ is taking over, a country kitchen garden. It all sounds very lovely and organic but the reality is potatoes covered in mud. Carrots, a jungle of leaves on them, all muddy and waiting to be scrubbed. A huge wheel barrow at the door, filled with beetroot, waiting to be boiled and made into jars of pickles and chutney. Then there is the cauliflower, oodles of it, freshly blanched, and cooling in large ceramic pots. There are cabbages bursting out, and so it goes on.

Dare I admit at this point that I do sometimes miss ‘clacketing’ round city supermarkets, polished toe nails on show, selecting neatly packaged, pre washed, bright vegetables, all the same shape and size? The chemicals soaked into them and on them, if they are not of the organic variety, are after all invisible….Please please don’t spoil this fantasy I have of a city supermarket. I know the reality is ever so slightly different. I have been there, trying to manoeuvre that ever so large trolley, the one with the ‘wonky wheels’ up and down the ginormous aisles that offer so much choice it is a bit like locating a needle in a haystack, especially if you are in the ‘country comes to town’ bracket. However when I am soaking, covered in mud, from holding armfuls of vegetables, making my way to the kitchen, I do have that little fantasy of being clean and polished in a neat suit in a city supermarket.....

Of course I realise that once my vegetables have been washed and cooked, or eaten raw, (as is the case with the peas, they never quite make it to the pan, they are far too sweet and delicious to cook), that you really cannot beat the flavour of home grown vegetables from garden to plate in minutes. That is the moment you really do reap the rewards. I did feel a bit down hearted though as I plucked away at the various vegetables in the patch, leaving huge gaps, that were filled with billowing greens…until next year!!

It is another ‘mizzly’ day today, hence the huge wads of mud on the veggies. As I went for a run, I thought what a good idea it would be to post a daily photo of those majestic Paps, the beautiful hills that I am lucky to see most days. Last night they were covered in the pink and purple hues of the setting sun. Of course today in the misty rain, you wouldn’t even know they are there, they are totally invisible, shrouded in layers of grey mist, they must be feeling ever so slightly shy at my suggestion of appearing on the blog then….

Until next time………

Monday, 3 September 2007

The 'jingly jangly' friend

I have been all out of sorts. The children went back to school a week last Thursday. The whole laid back life of lazy days, outings to beaches, visits from friends, and the endless freedom that only the long summer break really brings, has been kick started into a bustling routine of school bags, packed lunches, buses, and then silence, as the last one heads out of the door. The house feels so empty, that is until they come bursting through the door again at 4.00pm, leaving a trail of school bags shoes and discarded instruments in their wake. I hate it when the schools go back, especially the first few weeks, when everyone is adjusting once again to the routines that school life brings.....

The happy farmer took me out to a distillery for lunch to cheer me up, last week . It was a ‘mizzly’ week, with drizzle and low lying cloud, days when it doesn’t quite know whether it is summer or autumn. It was quiet travelling over to the distillery, no squabbling children in the car, arguing over which band we should be listening too, or moaning that we were heading out at all, we did miss them…..

The old kiln café was bustling with tourists, still enjoying their holidays. The island still has that lovely ‘holiday’ feel about it, just unfortunately for some, the holidays are definitely over. The café has a fantastic atmosphere; it is situated in one of the distillery warehouses, and has an old flagstone floor and a high ceiling of huge, solid, oak beams.

We had to wait a while to get seated, the happy farmer leaning against one of the old steel posts, threatening to start chatting to people, hoping to make them ‘slurp’ that soup a little quicker, and hurry off out, so we could get a seat. I managed to persuade him to stay put while I browsed the array of drams, in bottles of various ages and cask strengths, woollen pullovers, scarves and paintings on sale.

Once seated, the menu looked appetising, and just as our order arrived so did our ‘jingly jangly’ friend, that is his ‘blog name’ anyway, called thus, as he can never ever sit still, not even for a minute. He is a fascinating character; completely loop the loop, and great entertainment value, as well as being a good friend of ours. He arrived with some friends of his, so we all sat together. The friends were up from the Lake District, and are in charge of the company who are demolishing the Islay Hotel, which is now owned by our ‘jingly jangly’ friend. It is his latest and very exciting venture. Over the course of the next week the old hotel will be ‘raised to the ground’, apparently, finally all being pulled down at 10.00am next Saturday. The company doing the work have demolished a lot of these tall cooling towers around the country. It should be quite a sight, and will be a very welcome sight, as the hotel has stood in a dreadful derelict condition for many years now, proving a huge eyesore for all of the visitors and residents, this will very soon be a sight of the past. Our good friend has plans to rebuild the Islay Hotel and turn it once more into a thriving hub of activity at the heart of the island’s community.

We headed home, refreshed, and ready for the first child home to come racing through that door.

Until next time….

Monday, 27 August 2007

Drawing Sheep.....

Having finally taken off his Caribbean beach wear, and put those legs firmly undercover in thick leggings and welly boots, the happy farmer spent a day in the fank with his ladies. He was up early gathering them off the hill, sheep dog in tow. There were those of us who were lucky enough to benefit from his early morning escapades when he returned to the farm house clutching a few sprigs of white heather. The heather is out in full bloom just now, the hills are covered in beautiful purple hues, and to his delight the happy farmer came across a clump of wild white heather, very rare and considered to be very lucky.

A dry stone dyker was at the fank, repairing an old wall that has been reduced to a pile of stones over the past few years. Apparently the wall had been dismantled many years ago, when the happy farmer’s father was just a ‘wee bairn’. His pet rabbit had disappeared through a gap in the stones, and his uncle Hugh had pulled the stones apart to retrieve the rabbit. Yesterday saw that bit of wall getting a professional repair. Hopefully it will now remain standing for many more years to come.

The happy farmer was busy at the fank drawing the old ewes, so I carefully took the pen and paper from his fingers…only joking ‘drawing the ewes’ is apparently the term used when one checks the old ewes above and below, for broken mouths, ie no teeth, and to make sure their vessels are in tact. The ‘old crocs’, as the happy farmer so fondly refers to them, are then dosed and fattened on young grass ready for the market, having just left the heather clad hills. The lambs were also separated from the ewes, dosed, and will be fattened in the fields for market too, Back to the ‘authentic’ farm yard sounds at night then as those little darlings will be bleating for their mothers until they settle.

The happy farmer called in his ‘team’ to help chase the lambs and ewes to the fields. The ‘team’ consisting of the happy potter, myself, and the ‘laid back forester’s’ wife, we were all positioned at various points along the way, and instructed to chase those sheep away from the various ‘escape’ routes. Of course all was going to plan until a group of tourists came out of the pottery show room, on cue, just as the lambs were heading for the fields, the lambs stopped in their tracks, the tourists stopped in their tracks, the lambs scattered, the happy farmer, dog and team scattered, the tourists stood and stared…..Losing lambs left right and centre as they pushed their way through gates and so on to escape from the scary tourists, a harassed, happy farmer, raced around, re grouping and re gathering them,, ever so politely asking those lovely tourists if they could just move ever so slightly out of sight, one was obedient, three were not, and I am not talking lambs here. Three attempts later and a bit of good sign language, and the happy farmer had those tourists herded up, and those lambs in the field.

Until next time….

Friday, 24 August 2007

Things that go 'Woof' in the night......

We were at a fabulous Caribbean party last weekend, setting off, in the ‘mandatory’ beach wear attire, we worried that it would be dampened by the horrendous wet weather that had shrouded the island in mist and drizzly rain for the whole day. Not so. We all had an amazing time, with Caribbean cocktails, limbo dancing, hula hoops, palm tree canopies, spit roast pork and a huge BBQ, not to mention the good company, and the promise of more smoked mackerel from the skipper off the Jura ferry boat, a bag of frozen sloes from his wife, and with a bit more cajoling, the happy farmer thinks he may just be able to persuade him to spill the beans on the secret location, somewhere deep in the island’s woods, that he visits in September for a plentiful supply of sloes. The happy farmer will be washing out more flagons in preparation for his sloe gin making at this rate!

Arriving home much later, tired children sleeping in the back of the jeep, the happy farmer went over to welcome our holiday guests who had just arrived off a delayed evening ferry. He sloshed through the puddles and rain, in the darkness, still clad in his ‘beach wear’ attire, to give them a good island welcome…and those shorts did the trick, he managed to convince them that the weather here had been spectacular for the whole day. As the morning arrived, so did the sun, and it hasn’t stopped shining since.

Sunday greeted us with Mist the sheep dog coming into her first season though. We could recognise the signs, Roy, her male counterpart, was following her around the garden, nose firmly glued to her, sniffing away. We separated them, and Mist had to be confined to barracks for the day. Night time came and the happy farmer took Mist from her kennel and placed her on a long chain in the shed, with her bed and water bowl. Roy reluctantly went to the kennel alone.

At some unearthly hour we were woken by Mist barking outside the bedroom window. ‘Houdini’ had managed to escape from the chain, escape out of the locked shed, and had decided to take herself off to play with the pigs, in the middle of the night. Of course the pigs were not for waking up and joining in with her shenanigans at such a late hour, hence all the barking, as they lay lifeless, sound asleep, refusing to budge.

One weary happy farmer, dragged himself out of bed, got dressed and collected his dog and took her back to the shed, securely shutting her in this time, and returning with legs covered in flea bites, to a robin, flying around son’s bedroom. Much later, ‘de flea ed’ and robin rescued, he returned to his slumbers.

Next night, 2.00am we were woken by one howling, barking sheep dog. We couldn’t sleep for the noise, and despite the happy farmer’s quips that we could charge our lovely guests extra for the authentic farm yard sounds in the middle of the night, one weary happy farmer had to get up and go and rescue his dog from the shed. A lady needs her bed, so Roy, the sheep dog got ousted from the kennel, and Mist duly went to her own familiar bed and fell fast asleep. She hasn’t bothered us since. Roy now has a ‘camp’ bed in the garden, so far so good….and hopefully no puppies!!

Until next time…

Thursday, 23 August 2007

White Washed Over....

Picture this…if you can, farmer’s wife, paint brush in hand white washing cottages. Farmer, coffee in hand, chatting to farrier, and as the minutes ticked into hours, disgruntled farmer’s wife just telling happy farmer to get a move on out of the farmhouse kitchen when happy farmer’s friend from the deep south arrives at the farm, having not been on the island for over seven years. So, farmer’s wife, paint brush in hand, painting cottages, happy farmer, farrier, and friend with beers in hands chatting.
‘It’s a conspiracy!’ I yelled.

Farmer’s wife finishes painting all of the bits on both cottages that she can reach.

Farmer’s friend has collected his wife and brought her up to join the happy gathering. BT boys drive into the farm yard, having finished work, to come and help the happy farmer with his painting. Happy farmer, farrier, friend, friend’s wife, BT boys, all sat in the sunshine, beers in hand.

BT boys decide painting must be done before anymore beer is consumed, happy farmer is just about to join them when farm dealer, happy potter and stone dyker turn up. Being a sociable sort of a chap, happy farmer has to leave BT boys to get on with the painting while he welcomes the further guests into the fold, especially when cottage dwellers join the party too, and beer is replaced with whisky.

BT boys return job done. Farmer T arrives.

Huge pot of chilli on the stove, and one hugely happy farmer.

Until next time….

PS Picture is of happy farmer adding his final contribution….proving the point it isn’t all play and no work!!

Monday, 20 August 2007


We must have the most photographed cows on the island. There has been a steady stream of tourists stopping to take pictures of our girls on the hill. At this point I would like to take the opportunity to apologise to any of those ‘happy snappers’ who may be reading this and have had the misfortune to have got ever so slightly too close to those ladies and ended up getting a shock off the happy farmer’s electric fence.

I was sat having a coffee on the bench with the happy farmer when yet another car load of tourists stopped to take pictures and from the body language one had got a ‘bang’ off the fence. As the happy farmer chuckled away I remarked that we really must get some more signs put up to warn people. The happy farmer gave an ever so slightly unenthusiastic nod. You see I think the truth of the matter is he enjoys the daily entertainment as he sits sniggering into his coffee as yet another tourist gets a shock.

Of course our tourist business will be completely blown now I have let the cat out of the bag. The happy farmer on the other hand is keen to point out that if the tourists are guests of ours he always makes sure he warns them about his electric fence, pointing out the signs as he goes.

As I came off the hill last week, I was confronted with a backside sticking up in the air, head firmly under the tractor, swearing away. Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera at this point and decided against asking the said farmer if he would pose with his bottom sticking out of the tractor for a ‘pic’ for this blog, lest he began swearing at me too. The backside did not belong to the happy farmer you see, but as I recognised it I couldn’t resist giving it a good whack with the walking stick! It was another well known farmer, painting the air a very bright blue with his explosion of expletives. The problem…. his tractor had broken down, however very conveniently it happened beside the happy farmer’s reliable old lady, and I am talking tractors here and not farmer’s wives!!

He duly borrowed the happy farmer’s tractor, driving off down the road in a slightly better mood, having agreed to borrow it for a couple of days.

A week later he returned it, with a very sad story, his tractor was in need of major surgery. The happy farmer quickly ushered him in, handed him a beer, and has recommended the Samaritans phone number and an extra long stint at Sunday paper time in the local hostelry as a tried and tested cure.

Watch this space.

Until next time…

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Show Day

Oh dear, it is really over a week since I last blogged, it feels a lot longer, such a lot happens in a week when the children are off school, and now I feel completely rusty as I attempt to put all of the events into ‘blog land’.

Show day has been and gone, with eldest daughter already looking forward to next year’s event. She had a fantastic time with Hansel, the pair of them coming home laden with rosettes, a first, a third, a fourth, and a clear round in the jumping at the gymkhana.

The happy farmer set off early to the show field with horse, daughter and trailer, leaving a trail of jackets, welly boots, and lead ropes in their wake. At 5.30am we had heard eldest daughter trying ever so hard no to waken everyone as she gathered her things together and went off to catch Hansel and begin grooming him in preparation for the big day. The rest of us arrived at the show field a little later, after my son’s chanter lesson, armed with flasks of hot coffee which we washed down with crusty rolls filled with ‘island-reared’ pork and beef being served from one of the many stalls. The younger two disappeared off to the bouncy castles and various side shows, only reappearing periodically to get more change out of the happy farmer.

Meg won best Clydesdale in show and was done up to the nines with flowers and tack gleaming.

The happy farmer met an old friend, Robert, over visiting the island specially to visit the show. Robert is an old hand when it comes to horses. He appeared over and gave eldest daughter a hand with the horse, and some fantastic tips between her various classes. In the end nothing would do but he had to jump on and have a quick ride, funnily enough the naughty horse took him straight in the direction of the beer tent, or was it the naughty rider leading the horse a stray? At the beer tent surprisingly Hansel met many old pals, the farrier, who had spent a few hours the day before the show doing the horse’s feet and offering advice, the game keepers, the editor of ‘The Scottish Farmer’, and a few more besides. What does that tell you about the happy farmer and his daughter’s horse?! As Hansel returned he was hotly pursued by the local game keeper, who couldn’t resist having another shot on Hansel, having ridden him bare back in a previous blog. This time Hansel, bless him, cantered off around the back of the show field, going in the opposite direction to the beer tent.

Until next time…

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Horsing Around

We have had days of driving wind and rain, it felt like winter had arrived a little too early, but today the rain clouds have given way to bright hot sunshine, adding to the spirit of excitement around the place as everyone gets ready for the annual agricultural show. Yesterday the kitchen was filled with happy chatter as dealers arrived off the ferry, towing shiny new machinery, stopping in for a quick cup, before heading to set up their stands at the show field.

It is going to be a strange show this year, what with no cattle, sheep and pigs, due to the restrictions on animal movement, which affect even this small hebridean island. At one point we didn’t even know if there would be a show, but after a meeting it was decided that it should go ahead as always. There will be a great deal of diappointment among the farming community though. Hours of preparation go into rearing show beasts. Show lambs will have been born as early as December, and carefully nurtured and reared over the months. The big show sale which happens the following day at the auction market will be a none event this year unless the restrictions are lifted.

There is big excitement on the farm today though among the children as the horses are still able to go to the show. Meg the Clydesdale spent yesterday evening getting her tail clipped by her owner, as my daughter so fondly put it

‘She really was not at all happy mum, that is until she saw me, then she put her ears forward and gave me a great big smile.’

My daughter loves the horses and has been putting her horse, Hansel, through his paces over the past few weeks, getting more excited with each passing day. Shampoo has been bought and today armed with buckets of water and brushes there have been an army of children tenderly grooming the horse ready for tomorrow’s show. I admire my daughter’s passion and confidence. I pointed out that there may be a few more spectators at the horses ring this year in the absence of the other beasts. Totally unfazed she remarked

‘Oh Hansel will be so pleased, he adores people and loves showing off. He is really going to enjoy himself’....... and I know she will too…

Until next time…..

Sunday, 5 August 2007

Farming Feasts

The happy farmer had promised a BBQ lunch for our friends before they headed off on the ferry in the late afternoon. Not one to be beaten by the continuous rain that greeted us this morning, I met the happy farmer perched on an upturned bucket, in his shed, busy barbecuing sausages and other delights, as he chatted away to holiday people, handing out the odd sausage here and there as the food gradually cooked. It was really quite a sight, in among all of the farm machinery, animal feed, and his ‘junk’ yard treasures, accumulated over the generations, the charcoal smoke combining with the heavy scent of tractor oil.

Later the kitchen was buzzing, our friends and their children arrived, as the farrier and the happy farmer tucked into mugs of coffee, a pan filled with clams, which had been handed in by a local fisherman, were frying away in garlic and butter on the stove, a pan of warm, newly dug potatoes sat on the table, together with a dish of home grown salad leaves. Burgers and sausages were put into buns for the assembled children. A hearty feast was had by all.

Our friends headed off for the ferry. The happy farmer and the farrier had graduated onto Irish coffees and spent a wet afternoon putting the world to rights. By the time they started on the drams all was well in the world…that is until sometime later we put on the evening news and learnt of the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in England….

Until next time…..

Friday, 3 August 2007

Island Treasures

I was sat on the bench in the sunshine, enjoying a morning cup of coffee with the happy farmer, when ‘sploosh’, a beaker full of icy cold water came hurtling through the air, and soaked me, followed by giggles from a certain little monkey grinning out of the window, and some guffawing from a certain happy farmer,
‘It was meant to get dad,’ was the apology! I haven’t got my own back…yet!!

There were no takers for the beach today; the happy farmer was busy in his shed, the children quite happy pottering about, the eldest saddled up her horse and away she went.

I took the dogs, then went to check on the vegetable patch, and got totally carried away. I dug up a shaw of potatoes and found to my delight some absolute beauties; they were well and truly ready. Feeling like I had struck gold, several shaws later, and I was up to my ankles in mud, and finally decided these croc ‘shoes’ are fantastic on the beach but I must stop wearing them in the vegetable patch, the mud falls through all of the little holes. The horde of vegetables hanging proudly from my arms, in two baskets I squidged my way back across the garden to the house. The downside to the home grown produce is of course all of the cleaning up after, there was more mud on me than on the potatoes, so a shower full of grit and mud later, I was sorted. An organised gardener would of course wear wellies and thick gardening gloves, of which I have both!

The happy farmer came in delighted, armed with fresh fillets of home smoked mackerel courtesy of the skipper on the Jura ferry boat. Tonight we will have a true ‘island’ feast.

Until next time…

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Island Life

Yesterday I watched the children and their friends clambering over the remaining few bales of hay, sitting in a row in the front field, as the eldest took full advantage of the short grass, cantering across the skyline in the late evening sun.

Today I am faced with the farmhouse filled with hay from one end to the other, strewn across the carpets, it is even in the children’s’ beds, I think there is more hay in the house than in the hay shed! So the morning was spent having a good tidy up.

The farmer was away at a funeral in the local village; it would be a very busy funeral, as the island bids farewell to a much loved and respected character. As the librarian pointed out, island funerals can be dangerous places. They say a good island funeral is like a good island wedding; just the ties are a different colour. It is meant in the best possible way, and for special characters, although their passing is a sad occasion for the whole community, ones who have had a colourful, long and happy life, they certainly believe in celebrating that life and giving them a good send off.

The library van had trundled up the single track road and parked in the lay-by, as it does once a fortnight, so I could go and choose some new books, and have a ‘blether’, as the islanders call it. Where else would you get such a fantastic service?

Eldest daughter went on a pony trek along the shore with her friends so I spent the afternoon at the beach, clambering among the rocks as the rain clouds gathered. The farmer was happy again, having found a piece of salvage to take home to his shed, smiling away as he walked his yellow box back across the beach.

Until next time…

Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Setting up Camp

Our mainland friends and their five children arrived; the farmhouse is filled with laughter and chatter as the young ones race around while the adults drink coffee, catch up and try to get organised for an outing.

Several hours later, piles of sandwiches made, we headed for the woods armed with empty punnets. The raspberries are ripening and you can’t beat home made raspberry jam to take you through the autumn months, here’s hoping it lasts that long! Of course that was wishful thinking, the punnets were empty to begin with and were empty at the end of the adventure too! The kids were far too busy skimming stones in the loch, scrambling through the trees and undergrowth, hauling huge logs around, playing tag, and eating the odd berry along the way, fancy thinking they would have five minutes to fill a few punnets with raspberries.

We strolled along in the sunshine, chatting, keeping an ever watchful eye over the youngest member of the party, who at two years old was having an absolute field day with all of those stones and the rippling waters of the nearby loch.

We returned home, raspberry less, to a BBQ and beds of various shapes and sizes set up all over the house. Our friends returned to their digs, pretty much childless, only one sleeping babe in arms, as the rest of the crew had set up camp, deciding a sleepover was the order of the day.

Until next time….

Monday, 30 July 2007

Summer days

The island really comes alive in the summer months. Each day the ferry arrives, laden with cars and visitors, once the ferry traffic has dispersed, the hustle and bustle disappears and evaporates as the island happily consumes its visitors, and although you are aware that there seem to be more people out and about in the sunny weather, the island maintains its peaceful atmosphere.

The farm has been particularly busy with visitors too as friends make their yearly pilgrimage across the sea to visit this beautiful island. Yesterday the girls’ friends arrived off the afternoon ferry. There was great excitement. These friends have been visiting the island since they were babies, when they first ventured across the farm yard from the holiday cottage; they had not long learnt to take their first tiny steps. As each year passes, they make the same journey over. Yesterday saw them all sat high up in the hay shed on the round bales, catching up where they left off, as if they were together only yesterday. How quickly a year seems to pass, and with each passing year, how quickly they all seem to be growing up, gone are the cuddly unicorns that they each used to race through the fields with as they set off on some fantasy adventure to ‘fairy hill’. Now the squeals, giggles and cuddly unicorns have been replaced by horses and going for long strolls and serious chats. Their
friendship growing and strengthening with each passing year.

The happy farmer went shopping yesterday, just to get supplies from the main village. He often disappears at some point on a Saturday to visit the stores, usually taking much longer than you or I would. He always seems to meet someone. Yesterday he met his Edinburgh friends, stopped in for a chat, before arriving home laden with bags of shopping and several of the friends he had happened to meet along the way. I do enjoy the spontaneity of the happy farmer's shopping expeditions!

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Hay Bales

My blogs are becoming a bit thin on the ground of late, but I have the perfect excuse, please don’t cringe, but the sun has been shining here for days now! The hammocks have been up in the garden, the paddling pool out for my youngest, and the horses have been lovingly groomed and put through their paces by the eldest. I even got serenaded by bagpipes through lunch the other day as an old friend of the happy farmer turned up at the pottery with his wife and children. Nothing was doing, but the happy farmer whisked them all over for a bite to eat and an impromptu ceilidh in the garden.

I tackled the weeds growing among the vegetables yesterday, and thinned out the carrots and young turnips. It is looking mighty impressive, although eggs have appeared on the broccoli and caterpillars are hatching out, looks like I have got competition, and if I don’t act fast they will have eaten their way through the crops before me! The lettuce has gone a bit wild, I think I may have planted a bit much, it gets to this time of year, when you reap the rewards of hard labour, look at all of the thriving plants and realise you have got some amount of eating to do, to make it all worth while!

The happy farmer got a field of hay cut, and has been turning it several times a day to allow it to dry out in this blissful heat. Making hay is a precarious business, especially in today’s climate. Once the hay is cut, it lies in the field for several days to dry out. Once the process of turning the hay has begun you do not want any rain, as this will affect the quality of the hay, or ruin it completely. Yesterday he got the field baled, the tractor and baler working away, as the children climbed on the bales, the sweet smell of hay in the air, and a truly happy farmer!