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

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

Sunday, 27 June 2010

25th February

Eldest daughter was highly entertained by the early morning visitor to the farm. A neighbouring bitch on heat was circling the dog kennels trying desperately to find a way in through the fence. The sheepdog had his nose glued through a gap, heavily panting away, trying equally hard to find a way out. Luckily there was no way in, or out…..but glad to see ours are not the only dogs to go visiting in the neighbourhood, even if ours seem to prefer the neighbouring hens to other people’s dogs!

A lull in the too frequent stormy weather allowed the happy farmer and a trailer of children to make their way through the fields on the quad bike to feed the animals. Visiting auntie was happily perched on a bale of hay among them, as they made their way around the highland cows and over to the horses.

Later we headed to the beach in search of shells and driftwood. The sun shone for the most part and the cliff faces provided welcome shelter from the odd malingering shower as we braved the sea breeze, a seal in tow and four swans, as we scoured the beach for our treasures. No driftwood unfortunately, but a bag full of shells and we wandered home contented, where tea and pancakes fresh from the range quelled our appetites. I unfortunately had to do the baking as my youngest and busiest little baker was down visiting her Seanmhair (grandmother) busy mixing a birthday dumpling for Friday, and youngest’s birthday.

Today the storms are raging again, battering the farmhouse once again and the interior is being turned into an obstacle course. The happy farmer frustrated at not being able to get on with his building work outside is busy fitting a shower into one of the bedrooms. The problem with these projects is that they seem to take over the whole house, a bit of wood here, some rusty nails there and of course the pile of discarded jumpers, coats and gloves from the morning’s feeding rounds, not to mention the wellies and the ever so big boots….

Until next time…

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

9th January.

A night of wild storms, the wind was lashing the farmhouse; the slates were dancing on the roof, as they clattered away in the gusts. I hid under the duvet, listening to the thunder and lightening, wondering what damage was being done outside, as the power flickered and then it was blackout.
Bleary eyed children headed off for school in the darkness, the wind, decreasing gradually. Happily daylight brought very minor damage, a skylight blown in on the pottery, a cement mixer upturned in the yard, and a few plants out of their pots, lying strewn around the place. These buildings have stood for hundreds of years, what hasn’t been securely tethered to the land has blown away many moons ago, we were very fortunate.  I should have taken a leaf out of the happy farmer’s book, he spent the night fast asleep with just the odd snore reminding me that he was completely oblivious to the storms and doesn’t believe in wasting good sleep time worrying about the weather.
The happy potter arrived at the farm, grinning from ear to ear. He arrived home from the mainland yesterday, having just announced his engagement to his girlfriend. The pottery cats were delighted to see him, having sneaked into the farmhouse kitchen for some company in his absence. Feeling very at home this morning the bold Spock, aka pottery cat, was caught actually growling through the French doors at the sheepdogs, and they were in turn looking mighty sheepish….

Until next time…

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Hogmanay 2007

The farmhouse has been bursting with friends and family as Christmas has merged into Hogmanay which in turn has merged into a blurry time of partying with the first footers that traditionally call at the house to welcome in the New Year, a Scottish tradition which can go on for some weeks, as the festive season continues well into the New Year. Bottles of whisky are tucked into tractor cabs as the farmers feed the beasts in the fields and offer a dram to anyone they happen to meet along the way. Visitors come and go, never empty handed, always with a bottle or some cake, carrying on an age old tradition of ‘first footing’. A welcome awaits you at any door as the islanders celebrate Ne’er Day and the Old New Year, a time of tremendous hospitality, of feasting and fun.

The farmhouse kitchen has been a hive of activity food constantly coming in and out of the Rayburn providing feasts for all of the troops along the way.

Christmas now seems a hazy blur of excited children. Youngest so thrilled that santa got her just what she wanted, that he had received her letter, the one she wrote weeks ago, and then made extra copies to send, just to make sure he got it. A breakfast of smoked salmon and champagne, Christmas lunch, turkey with all of the trimmings, as children, grandparents, the happy potters, girlfriend and family gathered around the table, a fire roaring in the background.

Then the revellers arrived, the Bt boys, over for a few days work in between the festivities. My brother with his party of ten and a dog…did I mind? He asked me last week! Friends over from the mainland to join us for an island Hogmanay, and so the social gatherings continued, jaunts to the beaches to blow away the cobwebs in the wild and blustery weather, followed by hearty meals, with more mouths to feed than usual.

Forty of us took in the bells at the farm, the happy farmer letting off a stream of fireworks as we all huddled in the cold night air, and then danced until the ‘late’ small hours, managing a few hours of sleep before more first footers began to descend, and so the socialising continued, the food and drink kept flowing, until the ferry arrived to take them home, and the stragglers had to return to work and the school routines took over once more…..

Until next time….

Thursday, 17 June 2010

December, 2007
At last the days of wind and rain have given way to clear sunny days. Youngest daughter jumped around the bed with glee this morning watching the huge pink ball of the sun rise from behind the purple hills.
The happy farmer is confined to barracks with the flu, as is Farmer T. They slave away in the lashing rain and gales only to be bedridden when the sun finally emerges. The extension walls are growing taller, although not as tall as they would have been had the weather been kinder.

There is a buzz in the air, the tree is all decked out with tinsel and decorations spanning the years we have been together, the angels and paper baubles from the children’s early primary years, the crystal angel from our baby’s very first Christmas, the white teddy bear my ‘pantomime’ pupils bought me when I first started teaching, the African decorations our friend sent over and the wooden teddy bears from our Russian holiday guests. All of these coupled with strings of tinsel in bright colours that don’t match. Youngest has had a field day carefully arranging it. The happy farmer and I have had an even bigger field day trying to tidy it up a bit, if spotted youngest gives us a row and starts again with her creative talents.

The happy farmer was out sorting a stob that had sprung in one of the fences today. He was bemoaning the fact that the ugliest sheep on the farm is taking advantage of the gap under the fence and frequenting pastures new at every given opportunity. She has taken to parading herself up and down the main road. Taking advantage of the better weather she has been spotted ‘sunning’ herself on the tarmac. The happy farmer is worried a sunbathing sheep may cause an accident and so has gone off to sort the damage. I was highly entertained at the thought that he rates his sheep in terms of their looks; you would have thought a more attractive one, maybe the one with the long curly eyelashes, could have taken herself off for a suntan instead?

To add to the festive spirit three more of the ‘ladies’ have let themselves into the happy farmer’s succulent hedgerow and are happily nibbling and nipping away, giving the hedge a trim, as they treat themselves to a little light girlie lunch.

Until next time…..

Saturday, 12 June 2010

5th December 2007

The happy farmer is delighted; the sheep are sheltering from the wild weather. Tucked up beside the hedgerow he planted a few years back. All huddled together, squashed along the very edges of the field. Every season we see the huge benefits of the hedge as it provides a new habitat and shelter for a haven of wildlife. The various bushes spring to life in the summer months, as blossom unfolds, and are laden with berries in the autumn months. It was an experiment, one which was doomed to fail by many a passing local farmer, but today the hedge continues to thrive, now well established, it has completely transformed the journey along the single track road leading to the farmhouse.

The gamekeepers were up visiting at the weekend, an assortment of Wellington boots greeted me at the door, the happy farmer’s old rubber efforts looking decidedly sad amongst the classy makes belonging to the gamekeepers. In the farmhouse kitchen a serious competition was under way and the happy throng were busy slugging away at the happy farmer’s flagon. The gamekeepers’ own flasks and bottles were placed on the kitchen table, corks removed. The beady eyed gamekeeper’s bottle was winning the competition, closely followed by the first class gamekeeper’s and the happy farmer’s home made brews. It was a very tough decision, one which demanded quite a few more slugs of sloe gin from each bottle just to make sure of the correct choice, until many sloe gins later the flavours all seemed to merge together and it was decided that they all tasted rather magnificent as the wee miniature tasting glasses were duly filled for the umpteenth time. I sense another of those ‘annual occasions’ emerging as they regaled tales from the countryside, swapping recipes along the way, such is the vast array of knowledge of the keepers. Of course today it was many hours and by the end I did have a bit of a job making sense of the knowledge they were imparting, but when one arrived with the most delicious home made pork and mutton burgers the following night I was beginning to look forward to more sloe gin. Here's hoping the Jura ferryman and the first class gamekeeper call by and help us to fill our freezer with their bountiful supplies of sloes.
Until next time....

Friday, 11 June 2010

27th November 2007

The farm yard is strangely quiet; those pigs have gone off to their happy hunting ground. They have been such characters about the farm, and we will all miss them, dogs included. Mist and Roy, the sheepdogs spent hours on end with their noses glued through the spars in the fence, watching the pigs’ every move. The pigs in turn played up to them, happily goading them, snuffling at them, and on occasions much to the dogs' annoyance, completely ignoring them.

It is a comforting thought to know that the pigs had a very happy time while here, they had a lot of freedom and a tremendous amount of love, and they will be coming ‘home’, even if it is a journey to the happy farmer’s freezer.  He can at last relax once more, safe in the knowledge that most of his hedge has survived, and the majority of his fences are still intact, that is until NEXT time!!

The happy farmer continues to make good progress with the extension, carefully pegging out neat lines to follow, as he gradually builds up the walls, each block carefully secured in place. The hens, as ever, are keeping him company, continually trying his patience, as they parade across the neatly set concrete, clucking and chattering away to him as he works. Their contribution is to paint the concrete white, leaving  little dainty ‘parcels’ here and there for him to step in.

Until next time....

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

13th November 2007

The happy farmer was dancing around the kitchen this morning, an amusing sight, as with rolled up newspaper in one hand, cursing away; he yet again failed in his attempts to swot a poor fly with the newspaper.
‘It’s got a charmed life that fly, do flies have nine lives?’
Myself, I am all for insect rights, and smiled wryly, as giving up, he opened all of the windows and the doors, in the hope that his little friends would decide to leave the comforts of a farmhouse kitchen for the delights of the stormy weather outside.

Gales and heavy squalls continue to lash our island home. It truly is a time for hibernating round a roaring fire at night. The happy farmer has been busy today running a single wire in the back field to accommodate eldest daughter’s horse, the biting cold weather, coupled with a greedy Clydesdale for company, has led to her horse losing a bit of weight. Several days of constant nagging from teenage daughter and the farmer was out dutifully thumping in posts to enable the horse to be moved to a more sheltered area, still rich with ungrazed grass. Eldest daughter will be thrilled to bits and so will Hansel the ‘happy’ horse!

A break in the weather allowed us to have our bonfire on Sunday evening. The children had spent the weekend gathering old palettes and bits of wood and together with the happy farmer had it all neatly assembled into a huge pyramid. Sunday evening and the bonfire was lit, fireworks were set off, and the youngest jumped up on the picnic benches outside the pottery and began her song and dance routine of ‘diamonds’ are a girls best friend’, as in the Sheila's wheels car insurance ad,  for the gathered clan. Under the stars and the moonlight it was one of those special, magical moments.

The first course of brick work has been laid for the extension to the farmhouse, each brick neatly cemented in place by the happy farmer, today the cement base was poured, and tomorrow we will be able to do a ‘tap dance’ routine on it!

The tups are working away, although we have already had our first casualty, I told you the males were weak, Mr Texel had only been out for a couple of days before the happy farmer noticed he had developed a rasping cough, quickly he took him indoors to the luxury accommodation suite, a pen with straw, in the far corner of the shed. A jag in both legs to ward off pneumonia and a few nights of pampered treatment and that tup was ready to go get those girls once again!

Until next time....

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

7th November 2007

The time has come to gather the sheep off the hills and put them into the fields with those tups. A gloomy, dark, blustery day with biting cold showers, the sort of day when the last thing you feel like is a jaunt out in the open, let alone up that hill. However once out there it amazing how refreshing it is and then the sheer bliss of returning to the comfort of the farmhouse kitchen and a mug of piping hot soup.

I took the stick with me on my run up the hill, and changed my usual route to encompass the slopes off to the left and around the back. The sheep eyed me warily, chewing the cud, reminding me of a bolshie teenager, gum clamped in jaws, before with one last stare they reluctantly headed off in the other direction, down towards the burn.

A soft whistle and a wave of the stick, and they were away, following one another neatly in a row. Sheep are easier to gather at this time of year, they seem to sense the mating season is upon us and flock together, without the usual tearaways or gang leaders. I gradually followed those girls down off the hill to meet the other flocks coming across the bog land, happy farmer and sheepdog in tow, through the gate and into the ponies’ field, before they filed neatly into the fank, all present and correct.

The happy farmer placed them in various pens in the fank, a quick manicure for those requiring some last minute preening, the boys gathering eagerly at the fence, their noses in the air, waiting patiently for the happy farmer to ‘bring on the girls’. The happy farmer meanwhile carefully selected which sheep will be going where. The cross sheep to the Suffolk tups, their lambs will be heading for market. The blackface sheep to the Texel tup, again for market and then Mr Blue, our Blue Faced Leicester tup, will get the honour of the older ewes on the farm, and their offspring will be kept on the farm for future breeding.

The library van called by in the afternoon. I had company as I browsed the shelves of neatly stacked books, Spock, the three legged pottery cat, hopped on board, and prowled around the van. I looked to the librarian to enquire as to whether animals were welcome in the library, while he, the cat, not the librarian, took himself off behind the counter, jumped up onto the Driver’s seat and promptly curled up for an afternoon nap.

Until next time….

Monday, 7 June 2010

3rd November 2007

I have been busy planting the 150 bulbs that our friends brought over from Holland when they were visiting, digging up the weeds and pulling out the dried strands of poppies and cornflowers as I carefully placed bulbs deep into the soil. It was a cloudy damp day, but nonetheless good to be outside after days of constant rain.

The happy farmer was busy too, laying the first row of neat bricks on the cement foundations that are to form the walls of our new extension. Lines of string, neatly pegged out, the cement churning in the mixer, as he carefully positioned the bricks. I can see now where the fun of building comes from; yes I did get a bit of a bemused look of that happy farmer when I likened the job to playing sandcastles on the beach. It so reminded me of the happy hours I used to spend as a child, carefully modelling walls and dams out of sand, pebbles and nearby rocks. Here was the happy farmer neatly laying lines of bricks, on cement, playing with sand once again then.

The happy farmer got the last laugh though. It came when I decided I needed a barrow full of horse manure for the flower beds, to nourish and protect them from the winter storms ahead of us. It would involve a trip to the ponies’ field with the barrow. Now I am ever so slightly wary of horses, so I very gingerly made my way to the field, and checking the three of them were nowhere to be seen, I carefully opened the gate and pushed the barrow in. Spying the three of them over towards the hill, I made my way across towards another gate in the opposite direction.

The horses are really friendly. Meg, the Clydesdale is a gentle giant, but she towers over me, and her hooves look so large. Hansel is sleek and tall, a thorough gentleman, who stands beautifully, with his ears erect and a smile on that muzzle, when eldest daughter grooms him. I can comfortably approach him in these circumstances. Muffin is a very cheeky pony, but he will not come too close as he doesn’t like being caught; only eldest daughter can catch him, and that takes a lot of cajoling on her part to gently coax him ever closer. So really I had absolutely nothing to fear, except I was alone in the field, armed with a wheel barrow and spade, and well aware that the horses can be ever so inquisitive.

I found some clumps of manure and carefully scooped them onto the spade and into the barrow, keeping an ever watchful eye on those ponies. Just at that moment I was spotted, by Meg, ‘the giant’. Ears forward she spied me and began to gallop across the field, I ran as fast as I could, down the hill, and over that gate, out of sight, where I stood breathless waiting for her to appear. Now those horses are fairly used to seeing me run through the field, Meg had obviously began to make her way over, but on seeing me scarper, must have gone back to nibbling the grass, for she didn’t appear. I waited and waited, I climbed up the rungs on the gate to see if I could spy her over the top of the hill, eventually I climbed back into the field, and once again made my way gingerly across the field, up to the wheelbarrow, the horses by now completely out of sight. I finished gathering dollops of dung, before making a quick getaway, back to the happy farmer and the flower beds. I relayed my tales of bravery to the happy farmer, who, smirking away and shaking his head remarked,
‘I saw where those horses went’
‘You did?’
‘Yes, they were over the other side of the hill, I wondered why they were rolling on their backs, legs in the air….what a sight they were....’
‘Rolling, legs in the air, all of them?’
‘Yes, they were laughing so much you see at the sight of one crazy woman…’
At least the roses will be grateful!
Until next time......

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

29th October 2007
Lorries have been arriving in all directions, sand on one, for the cement mixture, cement blocks on an other, for building, while a huge cattle float ambles it s way up the single track road to transport the lambs away to market on the mainland. One very busy happy farmer then!

Saturday saw a day of frustrations for an old friend. The happy farmer had warned the friend, when he mentioned the fact that he was planning to get his cattle scanned on Saturday that the forecast was not good.

‘It’s going to be a perfect day’ was the friend’s response, as he borrowed the happy farmer’s cattle crush, ready to load the cows into for scanning.

Saturday arrived. We watched as the float pulled up; the happy farmer went out to help chase the cows on. The rain was torrential, the wind, howling. Worse was yet to come.

The happy news, all of the cows are in calf. The not so happy news is that the lovely Belgian Blue bull has not been working at all. He has been living in idle luxury in among those girls, and not getting down to business at all!

It was the ‘chaser’ bull, who could only arrive the other week, when the foot and mouth restrictions were finally lifted, that did all of the positive mating that was going on out in the fields. Usually the ‘chaser’ bull would have been in with the girls a lot sooner, but movement between farms was banned in the wake of the foot and mouth crisis down south. The happy farmer did of course kindly offer the services of a handsome Highland Bull in the near vicinity at the time of the restrictions...…

The outcome this sorry tale is a late calving for our farmer friend. Those cows will no longer be calving in April as planned, but will now calve in July, which brings with it a whole heap of awkward implications in terms of having to rear those calves through the autumn and winter, missing the best of the weather and the grass, not to mention the fact that the cows will not be ready for the bull until much later next year, plus the whole financial implication of not having calves to sell early on.

Rain and gales, you would think it doesn’t get much worse wouldn’t you. How does that song go….’It’s such a perfect day….’

Until next time …..