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

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

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!

Saturday, 21 July 2007

Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit...

You know the summer has well and truly arrived when there is a sandy residue lurking in the bath that just won’t wash away. The children have been swimming in the sea, while the sausages were sizzling on the temporary BBQ, at the water’s edge.
You can’t beat it, although our friends did slightly in that their ‘steaks’ were cooked on a huge fire made from driftwood the boys had gathered!

I took the children fishing off the pier the other night, not a fish in sight, but the youngest managed to gather fifteen crabs in her little bucket as she combed the seaweed and gently lifted the stones in the nearby rock pools. The eldest two gave up and we had a stone skimming competition instead.

The happy farmer was away shooting rabbits with his old pal Hoot. Hoot is an amazing character, and has helped the happy farmer out over the years, from dipping and clipping sheep, to fencing, or building fanks. Hoot has an incredible knowledge of wildlife and nature, having grown up in the Hebrides. He spent his childhood watching wildlife, and could tell you where all of the different types of birds were nesting. Last night as he cast a beady eye out across the fields he explained how the female rabbit, the doe, digs a small hollow to place her young in, and then camouflages them with grass and soil, as she leaves them to go and search for food. The hare on the other hand will dig similar hollows, but leaves only one of its young in each hollow, and separates these small dens out across a field for safety. When the hare returns to feed the young, it will zig zag all over the place, so as to confuse any predators stalking her young.
The happy farmer returned with seven rabbits. He is going to make a huge pot of rabbit stew from this clean, organic meat, although not before he had wrapped some of the saddle into a bag for one of the locals calling by the pottery.

I didn’t manage to get my run with my friend from Germany; I had an appointment I couldn’t get out of. I was really quite disappointed, but next time, when she is back we will definitely get running up that hill! We sat around the table last night, sampling the whisky our other guests had just had bottled from their cask at Bruichladdich, a gathering of family and friends, old and new.

Until next time…..

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Running up That Hill....No Problem....

The weather cleared at last, the clippers worked like mad and got the fleeces off those girls in the nick of time before we left for a holiday. The happy farmer was extremely pleased. They finished about 10.30pm, and as we had an early start to catch the morning ferry I left a pot of chilli and a pot of curry bubbling away on the stove and left them to it. The happy farmer was left in charge and made it up the stairs at some unearthly hour!

We have lovely guests from Germany staying in one of the cottages at the moment. One of the ladies arrived over at the farm house yesterday; apparently they want to come on a run with me tomorrow.

‘Running…with me?’ I nearly had a canary on the spot! These lovely people are fit and athletic looking, they have run half marathons, and take off for a run each day down the track.

‘Yes, we want to run with you, through the fields and up the hill. Would that be all right? We would enjoy it, and you know the routes, you would help us to avoid the pot holes.’

She suggested 8.00am, but I opted for the 10.30 am slot instead. I did try to explain that mine was more of a ‘walk- run’, she smiled sweetly.

‘10.30am Friday then?’ and she was gone.

Now going for a run with me is a bit of an adventure, it is more like going on a ‘bear hunt’. First there is the knee deep, sometimes waist height long ‘swishy’ grass; the crops don’t get cut for silage until after 1st August. There are the streams to cross, I just splash through, never mind the consequences. The barbed wire fences to clamber over, inevitably my trousers get snagged, and untangling the material from the barbs is a skilled process, especially if one leg is dangling high in the air. Finally there is the hill to climb. I only run up the easy bits, across the grass, chewed to stubble by the resident sheep, through the reeds, and then across the various bogs that present themselves as ankle deep, squelching, thick, oozing mud which fills the trainers every time. Eventually reduced to a red, heaving blob I scramble up the steep bit to the trig point, which is what makes it all worth it. There you can usually find a refreshing breeze, more of a howling gale in the winter, which at times is impossible to stand up against. I always wait a while, watching as Bunty steers the Jura ferry across the Sound, a few yachts tacking their way against the wind, the local bus and bin lorries making their way to the villages, they look like they exist in a matchbox world from up there.

As we sat in the sunshine in the cottage garden enjoying a dram with our German guests they gingerly enquired as to why I always run with a large stick in my hand. I smiled as I told them it is to provide protection from the cows, which have been known to trample fences to chase me and the dogs, the tupps, who often come running, and in days gone by from the cheeky pony Tuppence, who used to delight in galloping after me, nipping at my arm as he ran alongside. Tuppence sensing my fear took delight in terrorising me as I made my way out the hill. Oh and there was the night when I nearly got trampled by a herd of stampeding deer as they fled down off the hill away from the dogs chasing barking behind them.

Until next time….

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Sheep Shearing

Pillaged malt, it is something of a tradition here on Islay, and the pillaged malt I was talking about in my last blog is perfectly legal and a bit of good fun in aid of charity. The pillagers look for a donation of 24 litres of whisky as they row to each distillery, giving them 250 bottles in all for their auction. A litre of each whisky is also poured into a barrel, which is rolled by a team of men, around the island, who visit each of the distilleries. There is more information on http://www.islaypillage.co.uk/ I think you can even bid for some of the pillaged malt there.

Yesterday was a wet day here again, you can tell the schools have broken up for the summer then; the sunny skies gave way to huge black clouds which left torrential downpours in their wake. The clipping didn’t get done again, although the clippers called round last night for a beer or two. It is always good to catch up with them. Mike travels around the world clipping sheep. He usually brings a couple clippers over from New Zealand to complete the team. Farms around the world welcome him as he moves nomadically about following the summer sunshine. He is a fantastic bloke, very laid back and has been coming to the farm every July for the past 14 years or so.

Everyone really enjoys the clipping; even I have come round to it over the years. I spent my first summer on the farm, watching the happy farmer as he toiled for several days shearing the sheep, my job was to keel their backs with a dab of blue dye to mark them as our sheep. It was a smelly, boring task, especially as it was bright sunny weather and we were stuck in a dark smelly shed. The next year I was even more involved, I stood for hours and rolled the fleeces into tight bundles, putting them into the sack to go away to the woollen mills. That was an even smellier job, although the lanolin from the fleeces is a great conditioner. The following year I saw sense. I retired from all shearing related tasks, leaving the fun to the happy farmer and the happy potters instead, and took myself off to a beach to enjoy the sun. I still didn’t manage to escape the pungent smell of the fleeces in the house though as the happy farmer would return each evening after a days clipping, so after that, before the children were born, I used to time my holiday to the Midlands to coincide with the clipping, only returning once it was well and truly over!

The New Zealand boys have of course transformed the clipping, with several of them on the task, and they come with their own purpose built clipping station the job is completed in an afternoon. The children all gather to help chase the sheep into the pen and there is a buzz in the air with the sound of the electric sheers and the bleating of masses of sheep.

Once the clipping is completed we party in the kitchen as the happy farmer and his team tuck into a big pan of curry and a crate or two of beer.

Let’s hope the weather clears today and the clipping gets done!

Until next time…

Sunday, 1 July 2007

Bilberry Pie

The clipping didn’t happen, the rain poured relentlessly throughout the day, so the girl’s fleeces just had to stay put, they were too wet. The happy farmer moved the sheep back from the fank and into a nearby field and then set about feeding the pigs and the chickens. One of the chickens jumped into the bucket of pig food, so hungry was she. The happy farmer turned to feed her some barley and what was following her but a fluffy yellow chick, our first this year. The happy farmer scooped her up and made them a nest in the back of the horse box, otherwise there is a strong possibility the chick would get lost and perish. We walked everywhere looking for evidence of a nest or further chicks, to see if there were more, but found nothing.

Eldest daughter was highly entertained though as in the new byre two hens were squabbling over a nest and eggs. One was sat brooding on top of the nest, the other gently nudging her off and quickly scooping eggs under her chin into her nest, finally I went to look and both hens were sat side by side, proudly on their eggs. Maybe we will be getting more chicks soon.

I had been woken early, the window was open and I could hear men talking and the sound of an engine, and wheels. I thought maybe the farmers were gathering to start cutting the fields for silage. I later found out that it was men rolling a barrel to pillage malt from Bunahabhain distillery. Each year whisky is pillaged from each distillery and rolled onto a birlinn galley. The boys sail round the island to pillage the malt and it is later auctioned off for charity.

I went up the hill for a run in the pouring rain, mad woman that I am, but my efforts were rewarded. There at the top of the hill I noticed masses of huge purple bilberries. Bilberries are delicious; they have a tart, dewy flavour and evoke so many happy memories. As a child, when my parents took us on long walks in the Highlands it was a treat when tired and thirsty we would come across bilberry bushes. Now each summer the children always trek out the hill and gather bilberries with their pals. Summer has arrived when the ground becomes a mass of bushes full of bilberries.

Until next time……