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, 23 December 2010

Farming rituals that involve muscles

Sunday evening in the winter is paper time for the boys. The mainland ferry brings the papers to the island late on Sunday afternoon and the happy farmer heads off to the village stores to buy his papers and invariably meets up with Farmer T and then they tend to pay a visit to the local hostelry for what is supposed to be a quick and light refreshment before heading home.
The ‘refreshment’ on a Sunday has become another deeply embedded weekly farming ritual which has quickly gained support from the Jura ferryman, the beady eyed woodcock, the roddy exterminator and a few other likely characters. Invariably the wives have now become integrated into the Sunday ritual too, but only in the form of having to ferry them to and from the paper round on Sundays. The ‘ritual’ generally involves a few pints, a few local characters and invariably forgetting to bring those papers home, although recently since the kids have started to add various necessities of the sweetie variety to his shopping list this service has somewhat improved, as while a bit of nagging from the wife puts him neither up nor down, sweets left behind opens up a whole new dimension when it comes to moans and groans.
Last Sunday the paper ritual was further enhanced when walking into the pub the happy farmer walked into the middle of a culinary experience. The ex local game keeper and a gathering of local characters were hosting a cooking competition of local produce. On the menu was beady eyed woodcock with his pheasants and venison, all smoked, grey lag from an upstanding character, to a general display of game and seafood from chefs, and dishes presented by an odd visitor. The judges consisted of a factor, an ex factor and a man who knows his lamb chop casseroles well. The competition was taken very seriously by both competitors and judges, with the happy farmer and Farmer T getting to sample each dish. A platter of muscles cooked in a thai sauce won first place. The happy farmer arrived home very full complete with recipes, papers and sweets....another farming ritual that involves 'muscles'
Until next time.....

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Saturday brought a hard frost, with clear skies, the sun hanging low in the sky. The happy farmer finally got his ridging finished on the roof of the extension, finally the roof is on, slates in place, it will hopefully last for many years to come.

The BT boys arrived in the afternoon and joined the happy farmer as he got to work with a post hole borer in the horses field. Months of relentless nagging from eldest daughter, and the constant promises that the minute the extension roof was finished, finally saw the happy farmer making progress with the beginnings of a horse shelter.

Son arrived home from football training in a blaze of glory. Last night, at the annual presentation evening of the Boys Football Team, he was awarded the trophy for runner up as the under 14s most improved player. A curry bubbling away on the Rayburn I managed to persuade him and youngest to join me on a stroll to the woods in the late afternoon. The skies glazed over with a purple pink hue we made our way through the fields and across the road to the track that leads to Lily Loch, son kicking a football along the way. Disaster struck when the ball went flying off the track and down the waterfall of the burn that feeds the sewage plant. It was mother who saw herself, kitted out inappropriately in tights and skirt, scrambling down the bramble laden steep slope to the pool where the ball had managed to lodge itself, followed by son, who hung onto my jacket for dear life as I reached out across the burn to grab a long stick with which to free the ball as it dislodged and made its way further downstream. The huge grin that met me when I handed over the rescued ball made it all worth while, and thankfully those tights escaped relatively unscathed.

The Loch was frozen solid so as the sun set in the sky. We skimmed pebbles across its surface, son’s pebble winning the distance competition by far. It was a challenge to see who could throw a heavy stone hard enough to shatter the ice. Finally we headed home in the dusk along the track and back to the warm glow of the farmhouse where the happy farmer and the BT boys were sampling this year’s sloe gin. It takes many days of sampling you understand to get the flavour just right.

Until next time…..

Friday, 10 December 2010

The first weekend in December we awoke on the Saturday morning to find the landscape transported into a winter wonderland with a thick carpet of white snow. The happy farmer groaned as the youngest squealed with delight. Intermittent blizzards for the remainder of the day ensured a great weekend of down hill tobogganing, with not a sledge in sight; improvisation and ingenuity were called for.  Early attempts had the kids sliding down the hills in bin liners, these were then replaced with metal trays, the lovely Edinburgh castle tray my mother in law had bought me years ago came into its own as they shrieked and squealed, slipping down the slopes at some speed before turning a few spins as it sped to the flatter levels. The roar of the quad bike signalled the happy farmer’s sledging invention, a thick piece of rubber matting with a rope attached to the front for extra steerage.
On Saturday such was the thickness of the snow and the fierceness of the blizzards that when I set out to drop eldest from the hairdressers I made it to the top of the village before giving up, abandoning my trip, and heading home again. The happy farmer is much more experienced at driving in awful conditions, and as my wheels spun once again as I hit the breaks I was glad to make it back to the safety of the farmyard with no collisions. The happy farmer took over the expedition in the jeep instead, only to find that just beyond the village there was not an inch of snow to be seen, the roads were completely clear, and the fields bare.

Sunday then saw us inviting friends and children from other corners of the island where no snow lay to come and spend an afternoon sledging. The happy farmer loaded the children into the trailer on the quad and sped off to the steep field, my friend and I preferring to walk across the fields, crunching our way through the snow.

Having grown up in the town, there was always plenty of thick snow in the winter months, but in no time at all it would be full of footprints and tyre marks, before turning to toffee coloured slush and ice. I can remember looking longingly into the gardens of the pensioners, who didn’t venture out in such conditions, their gardens crisp and white. It used think it such a waste of good snow. Our own garden of course would be a mass of footprints, with snow heaped up to form a snow den. Each year we would try our best to build an igloo, my brother carefully moulding blocks of snow, bossing me around, as I dutifully got frozen fingers heaving it into position. We never quite had enough snow or skill to master the roof. I would sit out for ages in the dark in my snow den, with a cold wet bottom and frozen fingers, chuffed to bits to be in my ‘new home’, until eventually I could bear the freezing temperatures no more and would retreat into the warmth of the house hoping for more snow in the night. We used to spend many evenings sledging down the hill, its surface flattened and smoothed by all of the cars during the day, made the perfect slippery surface for sledging down at night, as it formed a magical carpet, the snow glistening and glinting in the light of the street lamps.

I stood and watched at the weekend, as my children and their friends began to form happy childhood memories of their own as they raced one another down the steep field on metal trays, rubber matting and bin liners, their cheeks rosy and their gloves cold and wet.

Until next time….

Monday, 8 November 2010

At last a week of autumn sunshine, showing off the island at its best with the most spectacular sunrises and sunsets. The golden hues of an autumn landscape perfectly complimented as the sun casts its rays across the Paps.

Days of wind and rain have turned the fields into slosh, making the daily run ever more challenging. As I make my way across the fields it looks like we may be in for a good ‘tupping’. The happy farmer has the sheep and tups separated by a gate for now. As I approach the edge of the field I see a  couple of those ever so flirty girls standing, their bottoms hoisted up at the gate bars, teasing the tups, who had gathered on the other side and were pacing, frustrated, back and forth trying to find a route to the ladies.

The geese arrive in the fields in their hordes to feast on the remaining grass before the winter months take hold. The happy farmer makes the most of the occasional dry hour here and there trying desperately to get the roof on the extension finished, the weather has held him up a lot over the past few weeks, and with only a couple of rows of slates still required on the back he is making frustratingly slow progress. To add salt to the wound he has watched the geese from his roof top perch, as they peck away at the last of the crops, only to watch them take flight, circling in the skies and heading off to other pastures, leaving the fields quite deserted when the goose counting land rover pulls up on the farm. The ‘counters’ binoculars poised mark a zero count on their form and yet again those hungry geese have evaded them, meaning a cut in the slice of goose money the farm will receive at the end of the year.

The cottages have been bustling with activity late into the season, our guests have braved the weather and were even left storm bound on the island with others stuck across on the mainland as ferries were cancelled due to the high winds. It all adds to the holiday experience apparently as the supermarket shelves lie devoid of bread and groceries.

The weather on bonfire night didn’t let us down though, however the happy farmer almost did. A day spent at an island funeral as the farmer bid farewell to another of the island’s great characters, he arrived back mid afternoon, just as the light was beginning to fade, funeral attire shed, he was out fixing the lift pump on his old lady tractor. The pump which supplies fuel to the engine had chosen its time well to break, just when the strong arm of the old lady was required to assemble and load wood into a pile for a bonfire. Sleeves up and arms covered in diesel, daylight fading rapidly and an old character turns up at the farm. A policeman from yesteryear, visiting the island for the funeral, turned up. The happy farmer was delighted. Bonfire plans were abandoned as characters young and old sat round in the warm glow of the farmhouse kitchen, bottles produced, as the light finally faded completely, and an impromptu ceilidh began, Gaelic songs, tales of past times, stories of the island long shrouded in the cloaks of time. The smell of soup, baked potatoes and sausages gently warming on the stove, as excited children arrived home and joined the gathering.

Much later undeterred the happy farmer, with the headlights of the car shining on the grass beside the pottery, built the bonfire and lit the barbeque ready for the celebrations. We sat as the fire crackled and spat, on picnic benches, warming ourselves with mugs of hot soup and other treats. Our cottage guests and friends arriving to join us as fireworks and sparklers were lit. Happy faces of children squealing with delight as I ran for the shelter of the pottery as yet another firework chased me indoors!

Until next time….

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

The air is filled with excitement as youngest is busy emptying the entire contents of her drawers over her bedroom floor as she rifles through clothes to find just the right outfit for the school’s Halloween party. The air is heavily scented with the smell of nail varnish and hairspray as eldest and a friend transform themselves into beauty queens for the high school’s Halloween dance, catching the bus at the very last moment. 

Hours later they come bursting through the door, giggling and chatting.

The next day I wave two tired and groggy teenagers off to school. 

I drop youngest off at her school gate, she is full of beans, complete with cow girl outfit, smiling and giggling as she makes her way along the path. 

Hours later I collect a shattered white faced tired little soul, heavy bags, complete with apples and party decorations, dragging at her heels. The cowgirl outfit just won’t do for the evening’s guising, and now nothing seems quite right, of course to suggest that she may be just a tad tired is met with a gruff response, so I tenderly try and make helpful suggestions for another outfit, each suggestion being met with more and more tired and frustrated responses. In the end I back off, and it works as several hours later the most beautiful little cat purrs down the stairs, with a big smile. Eldest did a fantastic job of the cat make up. The door goes and two more little cats arrive, and the three of them stand in an excited row as bags of goodies are distributed and a final photo taken before they head off together to the village for a few hours guising. 

Until next time.....

Monday, 25 October 2010

We have been living out of suitcases for the past few weeks, with a string of mainland parties to attend, coupled with dental visits and trips to relations. At last youngest got a chance to visit the pet shop and choose a couple of goldfish to replace her beloved Raisin and Tieger, and son was able to buy a companion for his show fish, Orangina.

Seanmhair (Gaelic for Grandma) was eighty on 17th October and being a very ‘with it’ Seanmhair she celebrated in style at a Glasgow curry house, hosting a lunch party for forty family and friends. The room decorated with helium balloons as young and old reminisced and tucked into huge platefuls of delicious curry. Cousins of all shapes and sizes, but the most talked about, arrived, looking as wide as he was tall, complete with an ever so slightly short kilt and a shopping trolley, filled with heavy hard backed books for his train journey from Edinburgh to Glasgow, the one and only cousin Archie. A true gentleman and an exceedingly eccentric character. A fun packed hectic time was had by all; son donned a kilt for the first time, making his Seanmhair exceptionally proud. Uisdean and Donnie MacCalman serenaded Seanmhair with their Gaelic songs, as she blew out the candles on her birthday dumpling baked with her own fair hands as no one makes a clootie dumpling quite like Seanmhair! The partying continued well into the evening as Seanmhair and the younger grandchildren (she has 13 grandchildren from her seven offspring!) headed back to the flat while the remaining revellers headed on into town to celebrate further.

After a rather late night, the following day saw us heaving heavy bags and belongings from the flat to the jeep, and heading off up the road for the ferry, heavily laden with suitcases, shopping, children and of course the three new goldfish sloshing around in their Tupperware container at the back of the jeep. Two minutes into the journey and a text came from the Calmac ferry company to say due to the severe weather conditions all ferry sailings were cancelled until further notice. Faced with three tired and disappointed children, not to mention the adults, and a jeep loaded so full that not an ounce of spare space existed, the thought of having to abandon our journey home was not one we relished. We headed first to auntie’s for a morning coffee and then onto the friend’s for a big cooked brunch. The jeep still heavily laden, we contemplated another night on the mainland, when a text came through to say the ferry may sail that evening.  We decided to make for the ferry and headed up the road through driving rain, the wind lashing the sides of the jeep as we made our way through the mountains and over the Rest and finally across to Kennacraig. I gingerly stepped onto the ferry, dreading the journey ahead of us, only to find the seas had calmed down quite a bit, and the sailing was all in all a very pleasant one. We finally headed off the ferry and up the road, sprits truly lifted as we saw the glow of the farmhouse, and arrived to a roaring fire, Grandma and grandpa had been there before us.
Until next time....

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Those flirty girls jump the fence.

The autumn is creeping up on us, the landscape is changing. The mellow colours of the summer months are being replaced with the vibrant bronze and golden autumn hues.

Jars of pickled beetroot line the cupboards and the last pea pods have been plucked from the vegetable patch.

The happy farmer is away at the sheep sales hoping to purchase some more tups for the farm. I am left to feed the hens and the dogs and of course the children! The hens have settled well into their new enclosures, the speckled chicks from summer are now nearly full size and are happily weeding the new hedgerow by the burn and seem delighted with their ‘wigwam’ roosting box, the other ladies are getting along well in their ‘dog’ free enclosure and Hetty has accepted them all willingly. Charlie hen is happy roaming around the farmyard and venturing into the fields with the sheep first thing in the morning, her nest precariously close to the edge of the single track road, but hidden away in the long grass, she continues to provide our youngest with an egg a day for breakfast.

Fudge our highland cow is heavily in calf, so we check her everyday. She appears to be making the most of her situation, teasing the happy farmer, as with her huge pregnant frame, she chooses to teeter on the very edge of the hill, just above a cliff face to get the very tastiest bit of grass.

The happy farmer was confronted with a couple of unexpected calves among our other small herd of Highland cows as he gathered in the sheep off the hill the other morning. It seems that two of his ‘flirty girls’ out the hill took it upon themselves to jump the electric fence and join Farmer T’s bull and his cows for some ‘outdoor sports’ before rejoining their playmates, so we now have two cross limousine highland calves much to Farmer T’s delight!

The lambs have been separated from the sheep and moved off the hillside and into the fields, ready for auction next month and so the farming cycle continues, as new tups arrive next week.

Until next time……

Monday, 4 October 2010

Disaster, Roy, the sheepdog sat with his ears back looking ever so slightly guilty, Mist, his partner in crime, sheepishly hidden away in the hedge, well out of sight. White feathers scattered everywhere and the remains of one white chicken discarded close by. Carnage broke out while we obliviously went for an afternoon stroll in the woods. On our return we are greeted with a scene of total devastation and two very guilty looking offenders sitting as if butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths.

I run to the hen enclosure to find more feathers and no white hens, only the Blackrock and Isa Browns remain, and even they have to be gently coaxed out of hiding.
The hens have been venturing into the garden over the past few weeks, much to the happy farmer’s frustrated delight. The dogs have been stalking them around the hedges and borders, but up until now the hens have been holding their own, seemingly unfazed by all the attention, even making their way through the French doors and into the farmhouse kitchen on occasions.

Today the garden tells a different story. Dogs chastised and put away for the evening we need to move the remaining hens to the other enclosure, away over the road, where they will no longer venture into our garden under the watchful eyes of the dogs.

The children get a bucket of hen food and the happy farmer gets the cage to load the hens into. A solemn white hen appears from the garden hedgerow, feathers cruelly plucked from her behind, and then the cries of an excited child as a second is discovered on poppy hill. We gently coax them all into the cage and carry them across the field to their new enclosure, Hetty our older Blackrock greets them, but luckily is accepting of them and they appear to settle well into their new enclosure.

Our guests later relay to the happy farmer how they had been disturbed by a knocking on the back door of their cottage, they looked out to see a white hen tapping the door agitatedly with her beak, they opened the door and she strutted right in, made a beeline through the cottage and demanded out at the front door, they were highly entertained, especially as Charlie has been paying them daily visits. The white hen on the other hand saw it as an opportunity of survival and in a smart move escaped the sheepdogs cull!!

Charlie hen meanwhile cannot see what all the fuss was about and boldly struts her stuff around the farmyard and garden completely unfazed by those naughty dogs.

Until next time…..

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

They say show day marks a change in the seasons, with the passing of the show the nights gradually draw in and there is a noticeable chill in the early evening sun. The children go back and the long days of summer become distant memories.

Our hens have been settling in well. The happy farmer sent for a variety of breeds and we have temporarily placed them in the chicken run in the field behind the garden.

Last week we loaded Charlie’s chicks into a cage on the back of the quad bike and took them to their new home in the happy farmer’s newly established hedgerow beside the burn. They will not come into lay until next spring, so for the time being we have placed them in grub rich pastures where hopefully they will claw away to their hearts content, digging at the ground, weeding the happy farmer’s hedge as they go. The hedgerow is fenced on both sides to stop the livestock having a hearty chew, a week with the sheep having access to it and the hedge row would be no more. We placed a trough for the chicks and one of the happy farmer’s wigwam style shelters for them to roost in at night.

Charlie mean while has long since abandoned the chicks and is back to her happy hunting grounds of the farmer’s wife’s flower beds. She struts around the farmyard during the day, and roosts in the fuschia bush at night. She is a regular visitor to the cottages and has become increasingly tame, taking it upon herself to venture into the farmhouse if the door is left open for too long. This morning the happy farmer was greeted by the dog sleeping on her chair in the kitchen with Charlie perched up beside her. If it is a sunny day Charlie will roost on the bench at the front of the farmhouse, even being brave enough to venture onto the happy farmer’s lap if he has stopped for a coffee break. The happy farmer grins and bears it with little choice, Charlie’s popularity is growing by the day, as is his patience.

Until next time…..

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Tieger the goldfish

‘Tieger is lying on his side in the fish bowl, but it is okay because he is not floating, so he must be all right. He will just be having a wee rest.’

Youngest daughter has nagged us for another pet goldfish for the past year or so, ever since her beloved Raisin, also a goldfish, died.

So her face was a delightful picture when one of the stall holders at the local show charged a hefty sum to throw three balls into a bucket to win a goldfish. Several attempts later and with more than a little apprehension I agreed to take the goldfish that she had won home. The stall holder assured me that her fish were all very healthy, as I handed over the cash for two goldfish bowls and parted with extra money for a goldfish for my son.
Youngest of course was desperate to go straight home after the purchases, never mind that eldest daughter still had several classes to compete in with her horse then. Luckily Grandma stepped in and gave her a lift back, as I stood anxiously watching eldest jump a clear round in the gymkhana events, at least I could get a break from doing the rounds of the bouncy castles and trampolines though, and when we did eventually load Hansel the horse into the trailer everyone left the show field exhausted but happy.

Youngest and son were at home busy collecting pebbles and getting water to room temperature to acclimatise the latest additions to our ever growing menagerie. The last week has seen Tieger becoming one of the most photographed goldfish around. Her bowl has been carefully decorated with colourful felt tip pen designs and a collection of carefully selected toys has been placed around the bowl to provide stimulation and amusement. Youngest has even been hassling the happy potters to let her go into the pottery to make a castle out of clay for Tieger to play in, so when she announced Tieger was lying sideways up in the fish bowl today alarm bells began to ring in my head. On closer inspection my worst fears were confirmed, Tieger was dead. Youngest was completely devastated. We tried all we could to muster some comfort by pointing out very positively that in  fact  Tieger had lived for nearly two weeks, Raisin only lasted two days, that was when youngest looked at us and said
Duncan said Raisin died because I took her out of the water to stroke her. I only stroked her because I wanted to know what she felt like…’

Luckily we still have Orangina, son’s ‘show’ fish, for another day at least….

Until next time….

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

A gorgeous hot day, my brother was up visiting with my sister in law for the weekend. My brother being a bit of an action man somehow managed to convince us that an overnight camping trip to Bholsa would be a great idea. Bholsa is situated on the north west coast of the island. It is a remote and wild piece of unspoilt coastline that can only be accessed by boat or on foot. That is one of the amazing things about this beautiful island you can access remote, unspoilt terrains in an afternoon.

So, backpacks filled at the ready we headed off, getting a lift to Bunnahabhain, and then heading out across to the North West coast, through the hills and past the lochs, across an unforgiving terrain of hillocky grasslands and thick high ferns. Although the walking was tough the unfolding views made it all worth while in the late afternoon sun. As we carefully picked our way across the land, what looked like a roe deer in the grass turned out to be a golden eagle, we watched in awe as it took flight, its huge wing span spread out majestically as it soared away from us into the distance. We saw deer and mountain goats and had to watch our footing as we came across several adders basking in the sun. An army of ticks made their way up our long walking socks, looking for a route to flesh. Wild bilberries grew intermittently in the grass, staining our fingers purple as we gathered them along the way. Eventually the hills gave way and spectacular sea views unfolded once more as we looked out across to Oronsay and Colonsay, the islands lit up in the warm glow of the late afternoon sun.
Finally several hours later we had arrived at Bholsa. The beaches covered in smooth white pebbles, caves and natural arches carved into the jagged rocks that surround the coastline, waterfalls gushing down off the hills and the gentle ebb and flow of breaking waves.

We set up camp on the shore on a patch of well grazed grass. My sister in law and I pitched our small tent, my brother and nephew were opting to sleep out under the stars in their survival bags. We then scoured the beaches for driftwood to make a fire. Bholsa is a very atmospheric place, the coastline carved out by the unforgiving storms that batter it during the winter months, debris from old ships and boats litter the shore, wood well weathered and worn by the sea, old creels, buoys, rope and an odd battered shoe lie abandoned brought in by the incoming tide. My brother fancies himself as the next Bear Gryllis and lighting a fire without matches was the order of the day. Steaks were laid our on flat stones, near to the flames, and potatoes wrapped in foil were placed in the fire, wine and whisky were poured and we sat for hours just listening to the sea, enjoying the last of the day’s sun, in the warm glow of the fire.

We awoke next morning to swarms of midges after a damp wet night. With midge nets on, we hurriedly packed away the tent, making sure to cover up the remains of our fire; we left the beach as we had found it on arrival. Packs on backs we headed up a gorge and back onto the hillside. A billy goat stood on a rocky crag watching us, waiting for us to depart his domain.

The sun broke through and the clouds cleared to another scorcher of a day and more adders. The hill loch provided a refreshing stop to replenish our water supplies, dehydrated from the previous night and the growing heat of the midday sun it was a slow hard slog back up through the hills and across to Bunnahabhain. The views remained breath taking, as we took one last look out across the sea before heading into the hills.

As our lift arrived, tired and footsore, we clambered in, just as the heavens opened and the rain lashed down in torrents for the rest of the day….

Until next time….

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Patience is a virtue

Work on the extension continues. After final adjustments and much huffing and puffing the roof trusses are finally ready to erect on the farmhouse, and the extension will have a roof at last.

The trusses arrived a few weeks back causing a major traffic jam into the bargain. The lorry delivering them had to reverse all the way up the single track road to the farm in the late afternoon, holding up the school bus and a land rover. It was the closest we get to traffic jams and road rage on the island. The bus driver didn’t mind at all, neither did the landrover driver, but the landrover passenger…well he was getting a bit hot under the collar, being new to the island and not completely in tune with the West Highland rhythms of life. The happy farmer couldn’t resist going over, tongue in cheek, to apologise and enquire if the passenger would like to assist with unloading the trusses. He was highly entertained at the gruff response of
‘If there’s a traffic jam here I’ll soon sort it out’,
Said passenger sat firmly on his bottom, stress levels rising, only adding to the happy farmer’s huge grin. Patience is a virtue.

A wee while later and those trusses had all been unloaded, as in true island style everyone around suddenly appeared from nowhere and mucked in together to unload the lorry, drivers from waiting cars included, which only seemed to add to a certain passenger’s frustrations. The happy farmer did give him a hearty wave, as road cleared again, he proceeded on his way.

The plan was that the trusses would be on the roof within the week but as is often the case in life, all does not go completely according to plan. The trusses were ever so slightly angled too high; due to our island location transporting them away back to the mainland for resizing was out of the question. Each individual truss had to therefore be adjusted by hand, a time consuming process for the frustrated happy farmer, luckily he is a skilled, patient character.

Having spent a time consuming and frustrating week readjusting each truss by hand, finally he is ready to tackle the roof, a project he wants finished before the winter storms come lashing down.