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

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

Monday, 30 April 2007

The Happy Sheep

I sat and had a coffee with the happy farmer on our bench this morning, soaking up the views and the sunshine.

Later as I went for my run, I became a shepherdess. The happy farmer, quad bike and dog, were gathering the sheep and lambs off the hill so that the lambs can be marked with keel over the next few days and have their ears tagged. As I made my way up the far side of the hill so as to avoid them I ran into six cheeky sheep, lambs at foot, who had managed to escape from the farmer and his dog. The chase began; sheep are incredibly ‘nifty’ on their feet and very skilled in avoiding being rounded up. They didn’t herd together, one chose to split up and make a run for it, so I ran for it too, chasing her over the rough ground, catching up with her and steering her down to the lower slopes, and back in the direction of the other sheep, who were incidentally well hidden, as they clung to the rocky slopes of the hill, out of sight. I managed to round them up and follow them across the boggy ground. One old ewe gave up in the end; she turned and faced me, stood her ground and would not budge, so I had to leave her, there was no way I could have carried her. Her lamb followed the crowd though, to the gate where the happy farmer and his dog were waiting.

We stopped for a bite of lunch and then the happy farmer took the quad and trailer to collect the missing ewe, she got to travel in style to the front field where she was reunited her with her lamb.

Sheep gathered the happy farmer is rotovating the vegetable patch, potatoes will be planted tomorrow.

Until next time…

Sunday, 29 April 2007

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Peat bogs and beyond.

Scorching weather again all weekend, and it is only April, sheer bliss. The Paps of Jura are gaining their summer coats; softened by the light sunny evenings, tinged with pink from the setting sun.

The fields are filled with snowy white lambs, skipping and jumping, as they race each other, tumbling down the hills. We have masses of baby rabbits hopping through the fields too; we haven’t had rabbits in our front fields for years. The happy farmer is hoping to shoot them once they get a bit bigger. Rabbits can cause a huge amount of damage to crops, and will eat their way through the new hedging given the chance. Rabbit stew is delicious. I found it very difficult to get used to the idea of eating rabbit as I kept them as pets when I was a child. I never thought I would end up eating them, but the smell of rabbit stew bubbling away in the kitchen soon changed that. It is very similar to chicken in flavour, slightly more gamey, and certainly a clean meat, totally free range and organic!

The pigs have settled well into their new enclosure at the front of the house and are already proving to be quite a tourist attraction. The dogs watch them through the fence obsessively, and the pigs are playing up to this, they walk up to the dogs and then run round and round in circles, grunting away, you would swear they were laughing.

We walked along the old cart track out past Bunahabhain today, baking in the heat as we went. The happy farmer was reminiscing how as a child he would often spend days up there cutting peat. The peat banks are still there, but not many people still use them, at one time the distilleries used to take a large amount of peat from the banks too, and all of the locals used it as fuel for the fires, now it is largely coal and wood they burn, some houses no longer even have open fires, using electricity and oil instead. Cutting peat was hard labour, but also strengthened communities as the locals gathered and worked together. The rhododendrons are now threatening to swallow up the old peat banks at Bunahabhain, they are sprouting up everywhere, and each flower carries something like 500 seeds.

Until next time…..

Friday, 27 April 2007

A Magpie on the Doorstep.

Another scorcher of a day, I was champing at the bit as I sat through a girls’ coffee morning, enjoying the chat, but desperate to get out for my run and on with the gardening. I do love a good natter, but today was one of those days where the outdoors was beckoning.

We had our first barbeque of the season in the back garden this evening. The happy farmer came in and suggested it, so I was left to get salads ready and chicken marinated, while he disappeared off to the pub, on the pretence that he was getting charcoal from the local shop.

He did arrive home with the charcoal, eventually! Luckily I was on my second glass of wine, sat out in the sunshine, totally chilled, so I just smiled as it was my turn to relax while he raced around lighting the barbeque and doing the cooking. The children were really excited when we mentioned the word barbeque, the youngest disappeared off and came back all dressed up. Once they realised it wasn’t going to be a full scale party though, and the only invitees were us, they all voiced their disappointment before disappearing off to watch ‘The Simpsons’ instead, chomping on burgers as they went. The happy farmer and I had a lovely peaceful barbeque all to ourselves.

I let the sheepdogs into the garden for a last run around, Mist the pup trampled over every trough of plants, as she warily made her way across the patio for a piece of sausage. They are obsessed with the pigs at the bottom of the garden, the happy farmer even found the pup in with them yesterday. I think they will be firm friends soon, and it took their minds off stalking the hens for a day.

After tea the happy farmer took off around the sheep on his quad bike, one final tour, the lambing is largely finished now, he is just keeping an eye out for any stragglers, and making sure all is well with the sheep and lambs.

As the happy farmer raced through the fields, I cleared the old rusty ‘clutter’ that has gradually been appearing at my old doorstep. I don’t know what it is about farmers and their odd bits of old scrap, the happy farmer doesn’t seem to be able to help himself, he is like a magpie, just as one bit of the yard clears, another pile gathers. So as he made his way across the farm his old junk and metal treasures made their way across the road, into a heap outside his shed.

Until next time…

Thursday, 26 April 2007

Pig in the middle

The cuckoo has arrived. I heard him a few days ago, but the happy farmer didn’t so this morning I quickly dragged him out onto the front doorstep to listen. There are a lot of superstitions regarding the cuckoo here, apparently if you hear him it means you will live for another year, hence my haste to get the happy farmer outdoors this morning. Of course the cuckoo stopped as soon as the happy farmer appeared, which caused me a moment or two of worry, but as we sat on the bench in the heat of the morning sun, drinking our coffee, he began to call out again, and this time we all heard him!

The tadpoles were out, shimmying across the large puddle as I went on my run this morning, tails wriggling away. The views were spectacular from the hill, yachts sailing up the sound, the Isle of Mull in the distance.

I hung out the washing when I got back, only to discover, later on, that it had become a mating ground for hordes of flying ants. The washing was black with them, hopefully they will have finished and moved on by the time it is dry, fingers crossed they don’t leave any mess.

The pigs have done an excellent job of weeding the vegetable patch, but it really is time to get the potatoes and onions in, and begin to harden off all of my little plants, so the happy farmer fenced an area in front of the garden to move them to. I got roped in as chief photographer and film maker when it came to walking them to their new home, what I didn’t bargain on was the little piggies deciding to take chase after me, regardless of the fact that the happy farmer had the bucket of food. I ran as fast as my legs would carry me, frantically screaming, completely ignoring the happy farmer’s pleas for me to stop, or run towards him. I kept running until I reached the shelter of the pottery, they nearly followed me in. I am in disgrace now with the happy farmer, especially as I was meant to be the cameraman and he the film star, his only regret was that he didn’t have a camera to capture the great chase on video. How was I to know the pigs wouldn’t bite my legs, that they were just being friendly?

I now smell of chicken ‘poo’ as I write this; I got carried away weeding and mulching around the flower beds this afternoon. The happy farmer had filled a wheel barrow when he had cleaned out the chickens; I hate to see good manure go to waste. I am frantically trying to get this done before the children arrive home from school and take over the computer, best go and get cleaned up the pong is pretty horrific, but the results will be worth it!

Until next time…

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Posie's blog

I have been posting all of my blogs from previous months onto this site, getting my new ‘home’ in order, I hope you can find your way around, sorry if there is any confusion, but I felt the whole ‘story’ needed to be here for any ‘nubies’ out there.

I accompanied the children this morning as they went armed with bottles first thing to feed their lambs before school. The lambs were huddled up in a pen made out of straw bales in the shed. My son carefully lifted a bale off and out peered three bleating heads. Carefully the lambs were lifted out, each one hungrily sniffing out its bottle of fresh milk and then guzzling greedily. They needed no persuasion this time, in contrast to their first bottle feed where the teat had to be fed into their mouths, while we wrestled to hold them in place. They are comfortable with the new feeding regime now, happily seeking out human company. The other night the happy farmer had left them outside on the grass, but when morning came we found them snuggled up in their hay pen, they had found their own way to bed!

The happy farmer arrived in with stewing steak this afternoon, he smiled ever so sweetly, suggesting I made a mean beef curry, and with a little persuasion I spent the afternoon slaving in the kitchen cooking a feast for him and his pals, the BT boys, to enjoy in the evening.

The kitchen is filled with their raucous laughter and I have found ten minutes to get on the computer, mustn’t stay too long, they will notice I am gone, so until next time….

Blogs from the past few months....

Having grown up in the Midlands I was at Drama college in London when I met and fell head over heels in love with a hebridean sheep farmer whilst visiting Scotland.Fast forward eighteen years and I now live on an island off the west coast of Scotland with my husband Donald and our three beautiful children. It’s a funny old life actually. I spent my childhood holidays moaning at my parents as they dragged me off to Scotland in our vw camper van for six weeks every summer. Their idea of a holiday was to camp in the remotest spots they could find, miles from the nearest post office. I used to be a real 'townie' then and would get incredibly homesick for the Midlands, so it was with amusement and disbelief that my parents waved me off as I left the bright lights of London and headed north to live in the Hebrides with my boyfriend, a native of Islay. Now here I am elbowing the children away from the computer so I can share a piece of island life with you... Today began with Donald trying to concoct a puppy proof extension on our garden gate to stop Mist, our sheepdog pup, flying over it and taking off to the fank to play 'sheep'. I had better explain what a fank is, as before I came here I wouldnt have had a clue so there must be others like me out there going 'a what?' It is a maze of drystone dykes where the sheep are duly penned so the farmer can work with them, clipping, dipping, dosing and so on. Anyway Mist got to sit on the back of the quad bike in a fish box and watch as Roy, our old faithful dog, rounded up the sheep. Mist in her excitement even jumped onto Donald's shoulders and bit him as he drove around the fields. Needless to say she is showing excellent early signs of being a good working dog, but unfortunately no longer wants to play in the garden but wants to be where the action is...at the fank. So the battle goes on to design a dog proof garden. I took our youngest daughter for a ramble up the hill after lunch. She was very grumpy at being 'dragged' out. 'I'm in a hump with you mum' she kept saying as she grudgingly trudged behind me. She soon gained a spring in her step though as she ran about the rocks reminiscing about how she used to play houses among them as a toddler. 'I'm still in a hump with you mum, but can we go up to those rocks up there please please...' Needless to say the hump had totally evaporated by the end of the walk. Our elder daughter had managed to salvage some wood from Donald's latest 'building' project, so I got back from the walk to find Donald highly amused as a good piece of wood had been sawn up and nailed together to make a jump for the horse!! My son is desparately trying to get on the computer, having spent the morning catching frogs he now wants to go on some website to be a penguin??! So until next time....

18th. February

The chilen all duly went off to feed their Highland Cows this morning with their dad. Donald fixes a trailer to the back of the quad bike so there’s room for all of them. All you her is squeals of delight as they head off. We bought each of them their own Highland cow…Toffee, Toffee Coffee, Fudge, Rainbow and Pringle the Bull. They all have calved and one came with a calf at foot so we have ten in total now. They are real characters and very hardy animals. So far they have calved outside with no problems.

I even managed to get two of the of the children to accompany me on the trek up the hill today. The views from the top on a clear day are spectacular; you can see over to Mull, then across the sea to the Paps of Jura and finally back across Islay. I say on a clear day, at other times you cannot see past your nose because of the mist, but whatever, it is always a rewarding climb.

I came back to find Mist, pup, had jumped the garden gate again. My eldest daughter had spent a good half an hour chasing her through the big field. She then managed to secure her with a piece of tattered old rope she had found in one of the fences, before marching her home. What a shame there isn’t an Olympics for dogs – she’s really shaping up well for the high jump, and that’s without a pole!

Anyway there was Jessica, complete with hammer and nails, about to saw into a piece of new sarking (materials recently delivered for husband’s building project). Luckily I managed to salvage it and sent her off to find a piece that looked a bit more like it was heading for the firewood pile. It is wonderful having such talented children –eek I don’t think I’ve ever even hit a nail into a piece of wood, and yet there was my twelve year old daughter instructing me to hold a piece steady for her while she hammered yet another few railings onto the top of the gate!

It is with disbelief that I observe the effort that is going into managing this pup, especially considering that we once had 10 pups here when our flat coated retriever became a mum. I felt rather cheated as I missed the births. Rosie had been prone to phantom pregnancies and so we weren’t entirely sure if she really was pregnant. However we came down one morning to find Rosie sitting proudly with eleven pups neatly nestling into her. She had given birth in the night and cleared up all of the mess, clever dog. She was an amazing mother and it was a fascinating process to witness. She would catch a rabbit each day when we went for our walk out the hill, which I know sounds pretty gruesome, but it is nature and she would only ever manage to catch the weak or old rabbits. Back with the pups in their enclosure she would regurgitate the rabbit for them to eat. It was obviously nature’s equivalent of the weaning process. I hasten to add I was feeding them puppy food at regular intervals throughout the day! As the pups grew Rosie took to carrying a rabbit all the way home in her mouth and then carefully shredding it for them to devour. The worst was when most of the pups had left for new homes and the remaining two came to live in the house with us. Rosie duly arrived with a rabbit clenched in her jaws. I flatly refused entry to the rabbit so she ate it and then regurgitated it on the living room floor so determined was she to feed those pups.

Anyway as I said earlier Rosie, the dog, was prone to phantom pregnancies so we had a few false starts. The rumours, living in a small community, soon caught up with me when someone asked if it was true that I was pregnant again. I was telling my mother in law about the rumours when she went very quiet…’oh dear darling’ she said…’ I think I may have had something to do with those rumours, I thought they were giving me funny looks in the shop after I’d announced ‘Donald’s taken Rosie away for the weekend and if the bitch doesn’t come back pregnant I don’t know what they’ll do…’’

Be wary of sharing your name with pets!

‘Till next time…..

20 th February.

It was a very sad day for us on the farm today. My eldest daughter’s beloved horse had to be put down. Jessica was so brave for the horse and kept it all together while she tended to her. Last night we placed straw bales around her and wrapped her in blankets, but when the morning came she had deteriorated a lot and so we had to say our sad goodbyes. As a mother it is so painful to watch my daughter experience such hurt, knowing there is nothing I can do to take it away, knowing that she is just going to have to go through it and that time will be the only healer…

The horse taught Jessica to ride; they had so many great times together, only last week the two of them were cantering across the fields to help Donald round up the sheep. They even entered the Islay Show last summer and won two rosettes and a medal. ‘Rosie’ was an old horse though, she was in her thirties. I know, another ‘Rosie’, but I didn’t name her, she arrived on the farm with the name, eek it has been really hard admitting her name was Rosie too, especially after the Rosie dog story in yesterday’s blog…

A very special moment today was when Donald said to Jessica ‘this is the saddest day of your life darling’, and Jessica said ‘I know but I have also had the some of the happiest days of my life with my horse…’

Donald spent the remainder of the day trying to contain the other two horses and of course it had to rain continuously all day, very apt. The horses have never been any trouble before but today Megan, who is a big Clydesdale, decided to just step over the fence, and managing to flatten it with her ever so large hooves, Muffin, our very cheeky pony followed. We have young trees planted in that field and the horses are liable to nip the tops off them so immediate action was called for. It was funny watching them though, they were so excited and then they discovered the chickens and proceeded to chase them up the field, until the chickens managed to escape to the hedge.

The children are well used to the circle of life growing up on a farm. We have had so many animals come and go over the years. Dogs, lambs, calves, chickens, goats (yes we were even mad enough to have a couple of goats at one point, sorry if I am upsetting any goat lovers, we did love our goats but they were mighty hard work, they took over, butting sheep away from feed troughs, sneaking into the shed and tucking into all of the animal feed, even jumping the fences to mate with the tupps at tupping time….), and of course we had goldfish. The loss doesn’t get any easier but what the children do have is a growing acceptance and understanding of life’s cycles.

Until next time…

21st February

Well the kitchen is full of men , farmers and workers sat around the table recounting funny anecdotes and gossiping….yes don’t be fooled into thinking it’s a female thing the men can beat us hands down any day…so I thought as the computer was free I’d escape for a blog.

The house has gone like a fair today, that’s the thing about a hebridean farmhouse, there is always a welcome. It did take a bit of adjusting to at first, in the Midlands we had a doorbell and mostly people ran around living such busy organised lives that any such social events were pre arranged and often organised well in advance through a meeting of diaries or dare I say it….filo faxes! Here the door is always open, life is very spontaneous and people are always calling by. I have grown to love and appreciate the hospitality and sense of fun the islanders have.

There have been occasions of course when the open door policy has been a little trying, like when the farmer up the road walked in one day ‘just as the heifer had calved’ (as they so aptly expressed my first experience of childbirth).There I was in miniscule nightie, baby hanging onto me feeding away, Rosie dog jumping up and down excitedly as someone had just arrived, complete with telephone going, and of course my husband was out doing ‘farming things’. Luckily my guest was not put up or down, after all when he was young he had heard stories of a woman working in the fields, then disappearing behind a corn stack to give birth, before carrying a crail of peat home…..yes they were total wonder women in those days.

I escaped for a run up the hill this afternoon, it’s my hip and thigh work out, my gym visit. It did start out as a daily gentle walk but these days I always seem to be needed elsewhere so the walk turned into a jog and now it is probably more of a sprint, but it has done wonders for the figure. I find running totally addictive, even if I am up to my ankles in puddles, with the mud squelching between my toes, because of course my running shoes are not waterproof and the ground is very boggy at this time of year and is constantly being churned up by cows, horses and mad women out for a jog!

There must have been over 200 geese out there today; the noise as they all took flight on my approach was tremendous. They were flapping and cackling, the whole sky came alive. We get hordes of barnacle geese, white fronted geese and grey lags coming here to winter. It is the first sign that summer is well and truly over when they start to congregate in the fields. Over the course of the winter they graze with the sheep and can leave the fields bare. We have goose counts and the farmers are compensated. It is a good scheme as it encourages the farms to welcome the geese, and it protects the essential winter food source for geese and livestock alike. Flags are placed in fields that have been reseeded to scare the geese away and protect the growth of new grass.

Back at the farmhouse the kettle is on again, the children are out walking Mist, who so far has not escaped again from the garden! Jessica is bearing up well, she did the most beautiful watercolour painting of Rosie horse and has kept a piece of her mane and tail, which she has lovingly plaited and braided with the ribbons she wore at the show. We sat together and read all of the lovely, comforting comments you left us yesterday, thank you.

Until next time….

22nd February.

The farmhouse kitchen has been turned into a workshop; there are saws and nails everywhere, what used to be a back door is now a window. In fact it is rather amusing watching people’s faces when they arrive and realise the door has gone…luckily the front door is just around the corner, although we did have someone yesterday who had to go over to the pottery to ask how to get in!!

Phase one of Donald’s latest building project began a few weeks ago. He is busy fitting a new kitchen and making alterations, which will eventually lead to a large extension of the farmhouse. I should be really excited, and I will be once it’s finished, it’s just the mess and constant banging of the hammer has really got to me, I’ve turned into grumpy bear and have to keep biting my tongue. It’s unfortunate (or probably actually really fortunate) that I seem to be the only person in this house that does ‘grumpy’….so I am the butt of much ridicule, and have a terrible guilt complex, but I am just not good with change…that is until like I say the job is finished. Oh dear how selfish can you get? But cooking among a pile of building tools, and tripping over everyone, as the kitchen seems to be the place where they all congregate, is trying my patience.

Donald is fantastic at building. Ten years ago he renovated the original farmhouse, which was built in the sixteenth century, and had a tree growing through it and no roof on it when I first arrived here. We then moved into it for a year while he tackled completely renovating our farmhouse, which is about 150 years old. Do you know it was sheer bliss moving into the original farmhouse, it had touch button oil fired central heating, an open fire and a Rayburn, a total wow factor after struggling in the other farmhouse which had no central heating of any kind, rising damp and a kitchen area that constantly had puddles all over the floor, plus two toddlers, yes we had been very busy.

Last year he converted one of the old byres into a three bedroom house. So we now have two self catering cottages. It wasn’t because of the love of building, or because he had any proper training in such skills; the whole project developed out of necessity. When BSE hit farming a number of years ago, and sheep prices hit rock bottom, we needed to diversify if we were to continue our way of life. Donald’s family have farmed on the island for generations and are one of the oldest families here. What never ceases to amaze me about west highland men is how adaptable they are, in the Midlands we would just pick up the phone if we needed a plumber, or if we needed a builder, but here over the generations so many skills have been passed on and because the links between the island and the mainland have not always been reliable, the islanders have always adapted and relied heavily on their own immediate resources and skills. In fact the whole project probably explains my eldest daughter’s sudden new talent in the woodwork department.

So as I say today he has spent the afternoon hammering away. I am always saying to people if they visit us when I am in my eighties I will be able to say ‘ta dah’ as we have so many projects and plans going on, it really is a way of life.

I went for my run today and poor Roy dog got a bang off the electric fence that Donald put up in the ponies field. I couldn’t manage to open the gate for him, it doesn’t open (years of me and the kids swinging on it, much to the happy farmer’s delight, but it is a past time that cannot be avoided, I couldn’t have deprived the children of a swing on the gate every so often)! Anyway the run was fabulous, but as we made our final approach back to the ponies field, poor Roy’s ears were pinned back and you could feel the stress as he psyched himself up and it was a clear round, yes, he cleared the fence in one swift jump!!

Until next time….

22nd February

The fields were awash following a night of heavy wind and rain. I had to grudgingly give the run a miss today; my body is still recovering from the remnants of a winter virus so instead I sloshed my way across the flood plains, dogs in tow. I didn’t miss out on the usual pleasure of soaking wet feet though, discovering that the running shoes had been replaced by wellies that had sprung a leak.

The wild weather had managed to destroy three of the flags which guard the reseeded field so I met the geese steadily pecking the field bare. They were joined today by our three resident roe deer, and were having a well earned feast until I arrived on the scene. I tried to fix the flag poles but didn’t manage. The flags are long yellow plastic streamers attached to what looks like fishing rods, although they lack the eyelets of a good rod, else I might have been tempted to help myself to one in preparation for fishing off the pier with the kids in the summer.

Mist, the pup, was in disgrace today and appeared home with one seriously disgruntled farmer. She had been accompanying Donald on a fencing expedition when she spotted our ewes at the feed troughs, and had decided to give chase across the fields. Donald had just fed the ewes, so they were tucking into a hearty breakfast of sugar beet when the pup disturbed them. They are on extra rations just now as they prepare for lambing. Such vigorous exercise is the last thing they need. When Donald managed to catch Mist however he didn’t give her too much of a scolding as she is still a young pup, and has only recently began to be introduced to sheep. Instead he tied her up close by while he got on with the fence. Once the work was completed he took Mist back to the garden. As he let her go, she gave him one long last stare, quickly weighing up the consequences, before shooting through the gate past him, taking off at speed after a ewe. She got the ewe down and had begun her attack when a very angry farmer caught up with her. I think she learnt her lesson that time. Poor Mist returned home, muddy and bedraggled, and looking ever so sorry for herself.

Thankfully pups are forgiving creatures and in spite of everything she is still on speaking terms with Donald, much more biddable than the wife as he so nicely puts it!

After lunch I drove the children to the village for a swim in the local pool only to find I hadn’t checked the times and it was a mother and toddler session. I got the children to accompany me on a beach walk after all; they had no choice with an hour to spare before they could access the pool. Honestly persuading them to go anywhere these days is a bit of an ordeal, they’ve hit that age! It’s a funny thing, when they are babies and toddlers you struggle with all of the clobber to far flung beaches in the middle of nowhere, huffing and puffing, thinking that when they are older it will be so much easier and you will be able to explore so much more. Don’t be fooled, I think getting them out with smiles on those faces was far easier back then! On saying that they did enjoy the beach once we got there. There were seals swimming about in the bay and oyster catchers carefully wading among the rocks. The only problem was I didn’t have a plastic bag in my pocket to carry the grand array of rocks and shells that my youngest had managed to gather in the short time that we were there, so we struggled back to the car with our hands and pockets laden.

Swimming was sheer bliss, to be enveloped in calm, warm waters while the children ducked and dived at the other end with all of the grace of dolphins; we had the whole pool to ourselves bar one other family…

Until next time…

23rd. February.
The kitchen has become an art studio, well art studio come building site. Our youngest daughter has been very industrious constructing a miniature garden. So the table is awash with paints, lollipop sticks, cardboard, grape stalks (they appear to make excellent miniature trees) and wine corks (yes we have a plentiful supply). While she has been getting very creative at one end, Donald has been ripping out cupboards at the other end, with a steady stream of young people and their friends raiding what’s left of the food cupboards. Wonderful as it all may be I couldn’t take anymore, so armed with my wheelbarrow and leaky wellies I took off to the vegetable patch. My task was to dig up the last of the turnips and pick the remaining brussel sprouts ready for the whole project to start over again. In the next few days we’ve got two very welcome guests coming to stay from the neighboring farm. A couple of pigs will be resident in the vegetable plot, on a working holiday, with the responsibility of weeding and digging it. They will happily eat the remaining roots and plants leftover from last year’s harvest as payment for their labours, as well as fertilizing the ground as they go with their very own special brand of manure. It’s going to save me a lot of blood, sweat and back ache! Last year we had our own pigs, Sniffy and Lucy (aptly named by the younger members of our clan and the stars in today’s photo). They are now happily resting in our freezer, in the shed, as we work our way through some delicious pork feasts. Living on a farm the lovely flavour of free range, home reared, meat quickly made me overcome any hang ups I previously had about eating the animals. Iona, my parents’ dog has come to stay for a few days. The children love it when she comes to the farm. This afternoon, with an upside down house and three fractious children, I decided a good walk would blow away the cobwebs and give the dogs a run. The north wind sweeping across the fields did just that! The walk was quite an expedition, what with the three dogs and then the three kids all arguing over who would hold Mist, the sheepdog pup. We finally reached the fields, having managed to untangle everyone from the leads, as the excited dogs all pulled in different directions. Iona and Roy are sheep friendly so they got let off to have a good run and a romp through the grass. Mist pulled ferociously the whole way as we battled against the wind until she managed to slip her collar off and take off after the sheep. I gave chase, sheep, dogs and children flying in all directions and the youngest one in tears as she didn’t want to be left behind. I finally managed to capture Mist, landing in a panting heap astride her, at which point my eldest daughter had given up and deserted us for the home comforts of the fire and television. And just when I was thinking about writing the effort was well worth it, I trip and the mug of hot chocolate flies from my hands and splatters all over the living room, and so my idyllic ending goes flying off the page…thank goodness for wooden floors…. Until next time…

Armed with a wheelbarrow and the leaky Wellington boots I hit the vegetable patch to dig up the last of the Swedes and harvest the remaining sprouts. It is a very muddy but rewarding job. Often as I leave the patch with my arms full of veg for the evening meal I visualise the supermarket I used to shop in on the Finchley Road, in London, and imagine myself walking out of it with bags full of neatly washed, trimmed and beautifully packaged produce…of course the taste and quality of my vegetables, from ground to plate in 20 minutes beats the supermarket stuff hands down, there is no comparison, but unfortunately my carrots, cabbages, leeks and so on all come with huge hunks of mud. It is a very messy job, but as I say once they are in the mouth the extra effort is definitely worth it!!

My reason for digging up the last of the vegetables today is because we are borrowing a couple of pigs from a neighbouring farm, for a working holiday, and they will be very welcome guests in our vegetable plot. They will have the responsibility for eating all of the roots and shoots, weeding and digging up all of the earth, as well as fertilising the ground as they go with their own special brand of manure.

Last year we had our own pigs, Sniffy and Lucy (aptly named by the younger members of our clan), and the stars of today’s photo. I know the plot in the photo doesn’t look all that impressive but believe me by the time summer came it was stunning! Those pigs did a fantastic job, but they are now packed neatly into our freezer in the shed, or rather what’s left over is, we have had lots of lovely feasts of pork, square sausage and so on. Living on a farm I quickly came to appreciate the delicious flavour of home reared, free range meat, you really can’t beat it, and the flavour has made me overcome any of the earlier hang ups I may have had when it comes to getting the freezer stocked. The really exciting news is that one of the local estates is awaiting confirmation of planning permission and has managed to secure the necessary funding to build an abattoir here. Our old one shut down a good few years ago, which has been awful for the farming community here. It has meant that all of the livestock has had to make the long journey to mainland abattoirs for slaughter. When you consider the ferry crossing here takes two and a half hours, let alone the long journey by road, Our island produces some of the finest beef and lamb in the country, there are no intensive or factory farming methods used here and the animals are all free range, with no heavy traffic or railways passing through our fields.

The pigs will be here for a minimum of twenty one days to comply with the SEERAD regulations on animal movement. This is a measure to contain any spread of infectious diseases among farms, the twenty one day period allows farmers to detect any disease or illness in the animals, and the whole regulation came into being after the horrendous spread of foot and mouth disease among farms in the united kingdom.

I started my veg patch about four years agao. The soil here is excellent and although it was a completely alien concept to me I have inspite of myself managed to grow a huge variety and plentiful supply of fresh vegetables, learning as I go. Yes the seeds actually get sown in neat rows now, courtesy of the happy farmer, who shaking his head at my early attempts when the vegetables grew in all sorts of clumps, taught me how to make neat rows using string. Well, we didn’t even have an allotment in the Midlands, what a deprived childhood, you would have thought my mum and dad would have introduced me to the pleasures of vegetable gardening ( I say somewhat tongue in cheek!). Donald also supplied me with some large containers that used to hold the sheep mineral blocks in them, and I salvaged the old windows from the farmhouse so I now grow everything from seed under my home made cold frames. This will keep me going until we purchase the plastic and get round to erecting the poly tunnel we bought from a friend a few years back.Everyone has been so helpful, a neighbour leaves young plants at my back door throughout the spring on his way past as he makes for work at the distillery each morning, which has lead to the introduction of all sorts of things I wouldn’t have thought of planting, like fennel bulbs and celery. Even the pigs lend a hand, or should that be a snout!!

Until next time…..
24th February.

Roy had gone A.W.O.L., I searched high and low for him, but there was no sign. He is usually such a good dog too, and spends most of his free time sprawled out on the patio basking in the sunshine (yes the sun always shines on us here… well it was sunny today!). He accompanied me on my run this morning, I say accompanied, while I was at the top of the hill, Roy only made it through the first gate before all you could see was his bottom sticking out of a rabbit hole. He duly followed me home though, when I caught up with him at the end of the run. He’s quite happy to pass on exercise if there is a rabbit or two about. He never manages to catch one though; he’s never had the speed of Rosie dog, so he is happy to settle for a good dig instead or a quick chase if he’s lucky.

I trekked back out the hill, through the fields, fruitlessly calling for him, worrying where he could have got to, whether he would be home before dark. However it was when I passed the hen house that I heard the commotion. One of the hens was squawking and clucking loudly. As I got nearer I realised the hatch door was closed. Strange thinks me, what is going on. I opened the hatch and out strutted one very angry looking hen, still squawking loudly, if only you could translate hen speak. I could soon see why, when I opened the large door to the hen hut, Roy was sitting with his ears down looking very sorry for himself. He quickly scurried out past me, tail between his legs, and made a bee line for the kennel! The hen must have gone in to lay an egg and Roy had followed her, squeezing himself through the narrow hatch, managing to knock the sliding door over the hatch as he went. He must have been trapped in the hen house for a good while; I now know where the phrase ‘nagging old hen’ comes from, if you could only have seen the disgruntled hen, as she stomped her way out of the hen house, followed by a very sheepish looking dog!

We have two types of hens on the farm, Isa Browns and Black Rocks, his and hers hens. I look after the Isa Browns, and they are in charge of supplying a plentiful supply of eggs for the baking. Donald has his Black Rocks in his hedges; they do an amazing job of keeping the hedge weeded. We planted the hedges four years ago, and thanks to the hens, working away in there, the hedges are now really well established. We had a plentiful crop of rosehips in September, but unfortunately no sloes yet….Donald always makes a large flagon of sloe gin, but for now we have to find other sources of supplies. We are going to be planting a couple more hedges down by the burn in the next few months. They provide excellent shelter for the livestock, as well as encouraging wildlife, and generally improving the way the land looks.

We also have a few cockerels and one gay cockerel, well he certainly doesn’t seem to show any interest in our hens, and we’ve had him for a couple of years now and still no chicks!! Last summer we managed to get some fertilised eggs from another farm, hence our two new cockerels and some pullets. Hopefully these cockerels will be better breeders! The hens are all such characters, and so far only one seems to be resident in the farmyard. Long may that continue, they can make an awful mess of flower beds, their weeding skills don’t stop just at the weeds unfortunately.

Anyway they are laying away just now, so I was able to get eggs for the Yorkshire puddings. It wasn’t beef for tea, but I have found if you serve Yorkshire puddings with the meat the children, bar the eldest, will happily eat it. So last night it was venison and Yorkshire puddings, with elder daughter well warned not to mention what we were eating. The younger two loved it, so did the two old ones, or rather the younger ones were so busy arguing over who would get the last Yorkshire pud that they did not notice what they were eating.

Until next time…

26th. February

I sat on the bench, the sunshine streaming down, at the front of our house, with my hands wrapped round a warm mug of coffee, as it was a bitterly cold crisp morning. It was sheer bliss listening to the throaty ‘baa ing’ of the sheep as I watched Donald pour the sugar beet into their feed troughs, with the hens and cockerels scurrying close on his heels as they saw him in the fields doing the ‘feed’ round. The sea was glistening as the sun beams danced on the waves, and the sun illuminated the rich winter colours on the majestic Paps of Jura (aptly named because they resemble a voluptuous bosom, yes here it is not hills, or mountains…but Paps!!), eventually though I realised I too had an endless list of tasks to attend to, but as someone once said it is so important to stop every so often and smell the roses in life. Honestly if I could have bottled that moment in time this morning and shared it with you all I would have.

The house is strangely quiet and empty, the children have all returned to the routine of school life today. It seems so cruel having to share them with the school on such a gorgeous day! Half past three will come soon enough though and they’ll race in one door, kicking off their shoes, and racing out again in their wellies, leaving behind them a chaotic heap of bags, coats and books. It was a difficult half term having lost Jessica’s special horse, but gradually everyone is bouncing back and moving on.

There is huge excitement in the farmhouse this week. It is going to be my youngest daughter’s birthday. Well, sort of, she is actually a leap year baby, but to only celebrate every four years would be mighty cruel! She spent yesterday afternoon making all of her own party invitations, each one carefully, individually, hand crafted (she didn’t like the one’s I’d bought from the shop, she said there wasn’t enough room to draw on them), so armed with glue, paper and felt tips she did a marvellous job. The only shame is that I can’t keep the gorgeous creations she’s giving them to her friends today! The cake we’ve to create has also been chosen, some castellated creation, and the menu for the party worked out (I used to say that I understood what they meant about a nagging woman when she was at home all day as she is excels in getting me organised!). All I’ve to do is provide the ingredients and supervise the proceedings as she bakes and decorates, using the array of multicoloured icing sugar as lipstick as she goes…

Until next time…

27th February.

‘An abattoir, for us…here, on the island…yippee’ squeal the farmers, and the pigs and the rest of the livestock, and me! Yes the planning permission is through, the first site meeting has been held and it’s official, we are going to have an abattoir here on Islay. Why such excitement, you may wonder. Islay and Jura produce some of the best beef and lamb in the world, not forgetting the pigs. Since the old abattoir closed down a few years ago, all of the livestock has had to travel away to the mainland for slaughter, the ferry journey alone takes two and a half hours and then it is another two to three hours of driving until you hit suburbia.
There is no intensive farming here; our animals spend their time with us in the fields and on the hill. At our farm there is no overcrowding out on the pastures, no heavy traffic or railway lines passing close by. The animals graze outside all year round, their diet supplemented during the winter months with silage (made from our own grass during the summer months), sugar beet and mineral blocks. One can only imagine the stress they must therefore suffer when they have to leave their island home and make the long journey to the mainland. The new abattoir will be a fifteen minute journey from our farm. It will also bring with it exciting opportunities for the farming community here, in that we will be able to slaughter, pack and deliver our own produce direct to your home , ensuring the quality of the meat the consumer gets, and allowing us to realise a greater profit on our produce. So for us it is very exciting news, goodness me reading that I do sound like a proper ‘country bumpkin’!

What is amusing are the stories that inevitably circulate in a small community when a new project is on the go. Yesterday’s rumour mill had it that the new building was going to built on a peat bog, and this would mean that if there were a lot of beasts in there gathered to one side, the whole concrete structure would sink, lopsidedly!! Such rumours add colour and amusement to ongoing projects here.

Talking rumours and funny stories I must share this one with you. When we first went back into cattle Donald spent a lot of time on the mainland at markets carefully selecting his beasts. There was big excitement on the day they arrived at the farm. Donald took me for a walk out the hill and proudly introduced me to his new herd. There was a huge black cow and I jokingly suggested we should name her Arra, after my brother in law. ‘Oh no, she’s far too good to be Arra, no, we’ll call her Donalda, that one over there, she can be Arraina…’and so the naming ceremony went on until they all had family names…yes, even a Rosie the cow!!

Anyway, the cow named after my mother-in-law, Val, had a terrible time when she was calving. She got stuck in a ditch and lost the power in her back legs so we had to take her in. I took over hand rearing her calf, Jeremy (don’t ask), while the boys tended to Val. In the end they used to have to hoist her up on a JCB in the shed, with a sling under her, to encourage her to get the power back in her legs, and this did gradually work, and Val went on to live back on the hill, and had several more calves in her time. Anyway one particular day the phone went, someone looking for Donald. I explained that he was in the shed with Val, and that they had got her hoisted up on the JCB so he wouldn’t be able to get to the phone. There was a long silence before a voice said ‘is your mother in law okay?’. It went from bad to worse when I explained ‘Oh no it’s not my mother in law. It’s the cow we named after her…’. You try explaining to someone why you have given a cow your mother in law’s name! Luckily my mother in law and I could see the funny side, and I did get my own back for the earlier Rosie the dog blog!!

It is absolutely torrential rain here today. Just when it felt like the spring was on its way we had a night of fierce rain and gales. Hopefully the ferry will get in as it is bringing my parents home, laden with gifts for my daughter’s birthday tomorrow…

Donald has fed the beasts and is whistling away as he tears the heart out of my kitchen, the sink and surrounding units are getting ripped out today, so I’ve escaped to the computer, having emptied the cupboards of years of clutter…

Until next time…

28th. February

The air was blue… My brother in law had decided to paint the floor of our showroom. Val, my mother in law began the pottery on the farm years ago. My two brothers in law have taken it on and developed it over the years. Donald converted half of his shed into a workshop and an old byre into a showroom come coffee shop, which is always bustling with tourists and locals alike during the summer months. Anyway, on Monday the weather was so gorgeous, Arra got on with painting the floor of the showroom. Being very artistic, Arra has a celtic mosaic painted across the floor. After a morning’s hard labour he opened the show room door and who scampered in, but Spock, the pottery’s cat, as Arra screamed his approval, the cat shot onto a shelf and proceeded to smash its contents on her way out of the door. Round two came after lunch, when he had just about perfected the floor, and Spock paid him a visit again, a social call you understand!! The boys are thinking of devoting a web blog on their pottery site purely to the two cats and their shenanigans! The floor looks super and even if it does feature the cat’s paw prints all over it!!

That is twenty four hours without a kitchen sink…and counting, as I filled a jug of water from the sink upstairs I wondered how much we take for granted, I am barely surviving without my sink…what did they do when there was no running water in the houses!! Yes the renovations are in progress. Still! My job is to paint round the windows. Imagine there I was all settled in front of the computer, key board at the ready to start blogging,and I was called to lend a hand in the kitchen…. I won’t share with you my husband’s comments about my passion for blogging! Worse still my computer geek brother, well he works with them what do you expect, has chosen this morning of all mornings to start a web chat…can’t these blokes just leave you alone to have a good old indulgent blog!! (Well I have been blogging for over a week now!)

Still, two minutes later, paint brush and roller in hand, fratellis blaring on the ipod, it was actually very therapeutic to paint over all of the grubby marks. Honestly pulling your kitchen apart makes you realise that your fantasy about having a clean and sparkling kitchen is just that, well that’s the case in our house anyway! The clutter from the emptied cupboards is spewing out over the rest of the house, I suppose it is only going to get worse before it gets better, and all of these programmes on the television make it look so easy! Last night we sank our noses into a few glasses of red wine and toasted the ‘kitchen’ to be.

It is the ‘birthday’ day today, our youngest daughter’s. ‘Happy birthday darling’ I remarked as I blearily opened my eyes in the pitch darkness. ‘No mummy, dad says it isn’t my birthday for another five minutes yet!’ Good old dad! Anyway five minutes later, the lights were blaring and the presents were being ripped open with great gusto, with five of us squashed in the bed, pulling at every corner of the duvet, trying to keep warm, as the birthday girl unpacked the treasures awaiting her.

Luckily the party is on Friday, there is no way I could have coped with a load of extra children in among the chaos today, and the cake isn’t made yet, so much for my wistful thinking in Monday’s blog.
Hopefully by the end of the week I will have a sink, and if I cross my fingers and toes one that works please! We are going for a bar supper tonight, with uncles, in laws, and parents in tow. It is also my dad’s birthday, both leap year babes! It has become a tradition that family birthdays are celebrated with a bar supper, and after struggling last night to cook for five on the rayburn, it couldn’t have come at a better time.

Until next time…

1st March.

This morning had me battling against the gale that was blowing with baskets full of dirty pots and pans, and several loads of washing. I struggled, fingers aching from the cold, in the driving wind and rain, across to the Millhouse, one of our self catering cottages. I made five journeys across the farm yard in all, cursing my husband and the weight of the le crueset pans, as I went, and trying to remind myself about the joys of living on a remote Scottish island.

Once their, domestic bliss broke out, the Millhouse has washing machine and dish washer. My kitchen is still ‘sink less’. The site works got held up slightly yesterday, the pouring rain and mucky conditions led to a gaggle of farmers around the kitchen table, in for a quick ‘blether’ and a dram!

Fudge, the children’s Highland cow calved last night, she didn’t quite make it to leap year status like my daughter and dad, but she does share this year’s birthday at least!! Highland calves are gorgeous, like big teddy bears. When it came to the all important task of naming the new addition I merrily put my foot in it. The children were busy discussing names. On the west coast of Scotland, a favourite is to add ina, or alda to the end of a name, so you get Jamesina, or Donalda. Without thinking my contribution was Fudge- ina, the children were in knots at that, as I said it out loud I quickly realised my faux pas with the west coast ‘lingo’! Luckily they are not going to take that name on board; I’ll let you know the final decision once they’ve agreed on one.

I went over to the pottery for a quick coffee with the boys, especially so I could get inspiration to give you more info on it, as requested after yesterday’s blog. It was freezing in the workshop today, Spock, the cat, was happily curled up in the ‘manager’s chair’. There have been no breakages to report yet today courtesy of her or Doughball (our other resident kitty).I am not joking either, pottery and cats do not really go together, shout too loudly, or happen to call by with the sheepdog and you will see one or other of the cats (but it usually manages to be Spock, the three legged one) leaping across a shelf of biscuit fired jugs or vases, sending them flying as they go. You can hear the shouting from the happy potters across the farm on a hot day! The other occupational hazard is to always check the kiln (or drying cupboard) for the cats before a load of pottery goes in; the cats are attracted to the heat. That said, the potters wouldn’t be without their ‘moggies’, and the cats do have ‘mousing’ duties in the workshop, which they do admirably. The really good deal is that the cats actually belong to my children, but the boys have taken them in and feed them… usually… if not we have me-owling visitors at our back door step.

All of the pottery is handcrafted. The boys make their own moulds and base their designs on the celtic motifs that feature on the ancient carved stones of Islay. They do a whole range, from dinner sets, and lamp bases, to huge carved plaques. Quite a lot of their new designs seem to find their way into my kitchen. I am always very eager to ‘road test’ items and have convinced the boys that if people see their things in my kitchen, or get to use the pottery in the cottages, well, their sales will go up!! The pottery has a niche market here with the whisky industry, and the boys make unique water jugs for each of the island’s distilleries, these are collected by whisky enthusiasts throughout the world, and over the course of the year, but especially during the whisky festival in May, we have many overseas visitors making their annual pilgrimage to the pottery. So the coffee shop and showroom developed as more people came by and wanted to spend a few hours on the farm, browsing the pottery, feeing the chickens, or painting the view.

Until next time….

2nd March

The party day is upon us, one very excited seven year old arranged her ‘outfit’ before heading off to school. I am now juggling sausage rolls and pizza (in the oven), party decorations and blogging…and all still with no kitchen sink, cupboards covered in building tools and the contents of them all over the kitchen and dining room. The house is like an obstacle course …arghh… but it’s party time and we are going to party, me and a crowd of seven and eight year olds. The kitchen is gradually coming together, taking shape, and should soon resemble one of those kitchens I have been drooling over when I flick through the pages of CL.

Mum came to the rescue with the cake, the design got changed several times during the course of the week and has now gone from a castle to a horse’s head, but phew we seem to have got it right at last, and the birthday girl escaped to Grandma’s to do the all important decorating. Massive sigh of relief, I have been wondering how she would manage icing cakes, in a ‘domestically challenged’ kitchen, especially as the icing sugar usually manages to drip in huge gooey gloops all over the table, cupboards, and floor, making a sticky mess which, with no sink, could pose a slight problem.

I managed to escape up the hill for a run with the dogs. The views were as always spectacular. My face was burning when I got back, from the bitter cold wind and sunshine; I peeled off my soggy socks, feeling refreshed and energised. It is amazing what a good run can do for the soul!

The pigs arrived today too. Luckily their quarters are all ready and waiting for them although Donald did have to go and move the pig sty into the vegetable patch for them to shelter in. They have certainly got their work cut out; it does need quite a lot of weeding. They are going to dig the ground for me, so it is just a case of getting the seeds planted. (I say trying to convince myself that I really am ahead of the game). I have salvaged some old buckets that the animal mineral blocks came in, and have some old glass, taken from the windows when we renovated the farm house. They make excellent cold frames and with our climate I find that the seeds do better if they are started off in a cold frame.
The photo is of the pigs meeting Roy, our sheepdog. I couldn’t resist taking him over to see them. The pigs are really small and were very timid, running away from me as I approached them for the photo. They seemed quite taken with Roy though; and proceeded to follow him up and down the fence line. He got a huge fright when they chased after him squealing. It was quite funny to watch. The pigs will be joining us for at least twenty one days in keeping with the animal movement legislation. Roy and Mist are absolutely captivated by them, which will give the hens a break. Roy spends a lot of his day nose glued between the slats in our garden fence eyeing the hens up as they strut about the field. One of our young cockerels was spotted working away this morning so hopefully we will be getting chicks of our own this year…

Until next time…

3rd March.
‘A good shepherd never gets wet’, so Donald always says. When out among the sheep, he has taught me that if the rain comes it is always possible to find shelter among the rocks or huddled into the side of a hill. Today we had April showers, I know it’s a little early, but I do so want the spring to be here and today reminded me of April as we had sunshine and heavy showers. When I went for my run the sky was so dramatic, huge billowing clouds of grey and purple with a bright white sky on the horizon, and set against the backdrop, a gaggle of barnacle geese cackling away as they took flight cross the skies to other pastures. The colours form such a rich tapestry, particularly in the winter months, the purples and blues of the skies, complete with rainbows, are in total contrast to the rich gold, yellows and greens of the landscape.

I walked to Lilly Loch with the girls and my mum in the afternoon, escaping the bubble of chaotic kitchen ‘refurbs’going on at the farmhouse. There is a beautiful track at the end of our road that takes you through a wooded area and past several lochs. The whin bushes were in flower and the daffodils are just coming into bloom. Frog spawn had settled like semolina in the puddles along the way. When we reached Lilly Loch the sound of the water gently lapping against the rocks, the birds chirping ten to the dozen and the ever changing reflections that rippled across the water provided the haven that I was needing, the much needed peace and tranquillity and space in time following the crazy week I’ve had juggling parties, band concerts and packed lunches amidst the mess that had ensued from all of the renovations going on in the kitchen. It would be so nice to be able to be like the programmes on the television where the building work is completed in an hour, over the duration of the programme, or where it fills a paragraph of a magazine article, but the reality is that it takes a lot longer. Donald has worked miracles in the past couple of weeks. Where we had a doorway, we now have a window, cupboards have been ripped out and transformed and our new space is taking shape, but for today to escape into the great outdoors was bliss. As we walked back along the track, the heavens opened and huge splashes of rain began to descend from the sky. We found an alcove in the hillside among the rocks and huddled in among the rocks, reminiscing how when my eldest was a tiny tot snuggled in a sling around me we once got caught in a tremendous hail storm. On that occasion, we phoned Donald from the mobile, as we sheltered in a rocky cove, and he came to the rescue on his quad bike.

I have posted one of my watercolours to accompany today’s blog. I started to paint with watercolours in 2004. I had never been particularly into art beforehand, and was not allowed to study it beyond second year at high school as the teacher said I hadn’t got the patience. So it has been a huge awakening learning to express myself through art. My mum bought me a basic watercolour kit in 2004. I had this sudden urge to paint the colours, and that is what I have been doing ever since. I find the colours surrounding me, the Atlantic ocean, the dramatic hills and skies, a source of inspiration. When I progressed to a larger water colour set it was my daughter that noticed the language of colours printed on each tube of paint… ‘spoonful of mustard, luscious egg yolk, a pinch of southern soil, fresh crisp linen, ocean waves rolling on, cold Atlantic water…’ someone had been here before us

Until next time…

4th March
I had such a good day yesterday, and several glasses of the most gorgeous red wine later, by the time I sat at the keyboard to write my blog all thoughts of the party, from the previous night, had completely evaporated, along with the alcohol!! I had spent the entire week in ‘blog-dom’ building up to the party and then, eek, completely forgot to mention it. Milla, this one’s for you!!

It was so lovely meeting my little one from school on Friday, she ran out skipping with a huge smile spread firmly across her face, completely unable to hide her excitement. Party day had arrived.

Donald had promised that by lunchtime the work tools would all be cleared away and the kitchen would be a child friendly zone, complete with working sink. He is a fantastic optimist my other half. Despite his best efforts there was no way we could include the kitchen in the plans for the party. What with saws and nails everywhere, no sink and lots of dust. I hovered around him, trying not to get in his way, as best I could, loading up the rayburn with trays of party food., but I did have to pass on the good old home baking and jelly and ice cream (sorry Milly and everyone at the party!!).

So with a bit of reorganisation I decided to do all of the party food and games in our front room. I turned the doorway into an Aladdin’s cave, with a huge glittery pink (very girly party) banner with curly streamers hanging down and iridescent butterflies. Inside the room I covered the floor with heart shaped and multicoloured balloons, and had streamers hanging from all of the lights.

Everyone duly arrived at 4.30pm dressed up to the nines, looking fabulous in their party gear. We began with t-shirt painting, (when I had managed to get them off their Nintendo’s, at one point I actually wondered if they were going to interact with each other so glued were they to the little screens). Anyway, rug rolled back and huge plastic mat in place they decorated the t-shirts, coming up with some really whacky designs. The food was a success, you can’t go wrong with party food and little ones, and I had managed to get these fantastic pink glittery goblets for the blackcurrant cordial, to toast the birthday girl. We then had the good old traditional games, pass the parcel, musical statues,’ oranges and lemons’ and ‘the farmer wants a wife’. There was that magical moment when everyone gathered round and sang ‘Happy Birthday’ with my daughter’s face glowing with excitement in the candle light. What really made it was when, unable to manage to blow out all of the candles in between huffing and puffing, she said ‘come on you lot, I need a hand’ and all of the eager little faces suddenly lit up with a huge puff and then the moment was gone. The cake cut into lots of little squares, they even came up for seconds. Mum’s chocolate cake was a success. Later as they danced around the floor, they each decided to waltz the birthday girl around the room. It was so funny to see all of these tiny people waltzing away; I think ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ may have had some bearing on that one.

Behind the scenes the older two were busy getting ready as they were playing at a concert in the main village. One plays the trombone, the other the tenor saxophone. They are raising funds to pay for a trip to the Argyll Music Festival where their wind band will be participating. Donald dropped them off for their practise and we all popped along later to support them. It was a fantastic evening, they had the band playing and then several solo acts, and then more from the band, with the usual fund raisers of raffles and home baking, oodles of it, and they are excellent bakers here.

The baking was one of the first things that I really noticed when I first moved to the island. Everyone can bake, they do fabulous millionaires shortbread and all sorts of other delicious tray bakes. Even in the schools there are always trays of baking laid out at break times and lunchtimes. If you have a party or if there is a crisis of any sort, people always appear at your door with tray bakes. It is a lovely tradition. So sleeves rolled up, I asked all of my friends and my mother in law’s friends for the recipes, and am gradually becoming a domestic goddess in the baking domain, when I have a kitchen that is, last night I feebly handed over a couple of packets of shop bought delicacies….

Until next time…

5th March.
The Highland cows and their calves ran to Donald, kicking their legs in the air as they went, so pleased were they to see the happy farmer with the hay this morning. It was once again a wild night. Mud cap, our new calf is doing well. Her ear is now tagged ‘Why can’t I get my ear pierced?’ I hear my seven year old asking. The necessary paperwork has been filled in and sent away to the British Cattle Movement service, so Mud cap’s passport can be issued. Even farmers have a colossal amount of paperwork these days.

The Highland cows came from the Isle of Jura originally. Jura is a five minute ferry ride across the sea from here. A visit to the island is always a popular choice with the children. During the summer months we often pack the car full of beach paraphernalia, beer and enough food to feed an army, and head for the ferry. Salt spray and a brisk sea breeze, and five minutes later you arrive at Feolin, Jura’s ferry port.

Although the two islands are so close, Jura has its own unique identity. It boasts a completely different landscape, Islay is mellow and rolling, and is largely farmed; Jura is very rugged and wild. It is one of the last wilderness areas of Europe. It has one single track road which leads through the village of Craighouse, and up past Barnhill, where George Orwell wrote ‘1984’, before becoming a dirt track that eventually peters out. The west coast is spectacular, and can only be accessed on foot or by boat.

I have spent many holidays backpacking out there, the nearest croft a good couple of days walk away from the isolated and rugged north west coastline. The ground is so rough that it can be quite a challenge to even find a spot to pitch the tent. It is a magical land though, with huge caves, ideal for an open fire and a dram before crawling into your sleeping bag for a night’s sleep, which you manage as every muscle in your body is aching with exhaustion from carrying a heavy backpack through the rough terrain. A group of seals accompanied us on our expedition, curiously watching our every move from the sea. The deer watch from a far, tracking your progress. They are timid creatures. Mountain goats roam freely on the hills and you have to pick your way carefully along the raised beaches, treading with caution, as the birds nest freely in the ground around the shoreline.

Jura also boasts a whirlpool at its north end, the Corryvreckan. It was learning of the existence of such a whirlpool, at the age of seven, and my continued fascination with it, that led me to spend my twenty first birthday trekking on this remote island, with my brother and a crowd of friends. We reached the gulf of the Corryvreckan on a calm, sunny, evening. I sat, in the heather, looking out across the eddies of the whirlpool, with an army of deer ticks making their way up my walking socks. After the ‘concrete jungle’ of London, I had sat on Hampstead Heath only the week before, looking at the chimney pots stretching out across the horizon, the views out across the sea to Scarba and the Ardmore islands were amazing. It was such a sharp contrast, coming from a crowded city to such a huge open expanse.

Jura once had a large population, now there are only 167 people. As you walk around the coastline it is amazing how the land has swallowed up all traces of the vibrant communities that once thrived on the west coast. Nature is truly amazing.

Islands are always, like other communities, in a state of flux. The Islay and Jura Ferry Company Ltd, consists of a group of local people, who have been trying for several years to obtain planning permission and funding to offer an alternative ferry route to the islands, via Jura. At present the mainland ferry comes to Islay, it is a two and a half hour crossing. The people from Jura then have to get a car ferry across to the island. Lagg, which is halfway up the Jura coastline, is the nearest point to the mainland. A ferry operating from there to the mainland would entail a twenty minute crossing. The company argue a small car ferry making frequent crossings would open up the islands to more visitors. It would make the mainland far more accessible for islanders, even enabling people to commute from Jura to the mainland for work. The problem though is that Jura only has one single track road, which twists and winds its way up towards the north end. People worry that it could not take a huge increase in traffic that it would lead to accidents, that the quiet island would have a constant stream of traffic passing through on its way to Islay. It would certainly bring a huge amount of change to the Isle of Jura, unwelcome change? The population are split, but having seen how the land has been reclaimed by nature on the west coast, for all the changing tides of time, the essence of the island will not be lost.

Until next time….
6th March

I drove along the single track road to the other side of the island for a hair cut today. My hairdresser has turned the front room of her house into a salon. A trim, a coffee and a good ‘blether’ later, I made my way to the main village to stock up, and to get paint. Youngest daughter announced that she really would like her room to be another colour, and being a totally soft mum, well it hasn’t been decorated since she was a baby, I went to the paint shop. They had one of those fancy machines that can create any colour you wish. I was so impressed, even if the paint did cost me an arm and a leg! When I first lived here, you either ended up buying some hideous colour, that you didn’t really want, or had to wait until you made a trip over to the mainland, and by that time the shopping list was so huge that paint was no longer a priority, either that, or you got home and found you hadn’t bought enough of the one colour!

Hens and the piglets fed, I made my way up the hill for a run with Roy, the sheepdog, before tackling the decorating. Mist, pup, is not allowed on runs, the happy farmer says I will ‘spoil’ her. I felt like a Michelin man going up the hill today, the wind was so strong, my jacket ballooned right out. Going back down was a struggle too. It was a battle fighting my way against the wind, but well worth it as the sun was shining away. As we made our way past the vegetable patch the piglets seem to be settling in. It has taken them a few days. I think they were missing their mum and other siblings at first. They were very timid, and with the weather being so bad spent a lot of time hidden in the sty, I can’t say I blame them. Today, however, they were happily grunting their approval, and had began to make in roads with digging up the plot for me, bless them.

The kitchen renovations are continuing. I now have a working washing machine, dishwasher and sink, even if the tap is just a trickle just now. Donald was considering going off to trim the hedgerow this afternoon, but I managed to divert him back on target to get another cupboard installed. It is a beautiful kitchen, handmade out of solid wood. It’s being recycled; we got it from an Edinburgh town house, thanks to some lovely friends of ours. It is the type of kitchen that we could only ever have dreamt of owning, and will enhance the character of the farmhouse no end. In fact it is a funny thing, but when we sat down and thought about it we have only ever bought one new piece of furniture the whole time we have been married. I think a lot of it is island mentality. The shops are not on your doorstep here. People have to be resourceful and adaptable. Donald is a stickler for quality. He spends his time scouring newspapers and has salvaged old fireplaces, farmhouse dressers, a huge dining room table that winds out to seat twenty people and a good few other bargains along the way. Our collection has made our house a real home; it did take me a little while to get used to not just rushing out to the shops and buying new though.

In the paper at the weekend there was an article by a man who works in recycling. He said it is so important that people take time to think before they buy, and only purchase things that they will keep, and that will last, instead of the product ending up in a rubbish dump within 5 years. I am pleased we are not too caught up in the materialistic throw away world, even if it does mean stripping paint off furniture and getting pieces reupholstered . When I first came to the farm, my father in law had sheds upon sheds overflowing with old furniture and other bits and pieces, they were never stuck.

Anyway, not content with my ‘upside down’ kitchen, I spent the afternoon creating a ‘guddle’ in my daughter’s room as I piled everything into a heap in the middle so I could begin painting. One wall done, three to go…….

Until next time…

7th March

It was some storm we had last night. The ferry only made it as far as Gigha before having to turn back to the mainland. It was too wild for it to berth at the ferry terminal here. My brother in law was on his way home, we are still waiting to hear if the ferry has managed to sail over this afternoon.

Donald gets angry. He says in the good old days the ferry sailed in all weathers, but with all of the health and safety issues now they do not sail in fierce conditions. To be honest I am glad they ere on the side of caution.

I just wish I could say the same for the pilots coming over on the plane. I have flown home to the island in some awful weather, and what I once regarded as a pleasant journey I now dread. It could be something to do with when I flew down for my Grandma’s funeral in Shropshire last June. Everything had gone well flight wise, until that final flight home. The weather had closed in at Glasgow airport and as we sat on the runway waiting to take off the pilot announced that he did not know if we would make it, but he would try his best. ‘Didn’t know if we would make it…’ if only he had said that before the doors were locked and the engines had started.

It was a rough ride, made worse when the pilot came over the tannoy to announce that the journey was taking a lot longer than usual as we were being buffeted, head on, by 80 mile an hour winds. Too much information, there we were flying over the sea in a wild storm and the pilot was giving us a running commentary on it. Worse still I was travelling on my own; I had no one to cling onto!

The pilot did of course make a slick, smooth landing the other end. Not without the last minute panic on my part though, as we all sat in silence, having been told ‘two minutes to landing’, and were still in the air some ten minutes later. At this point I begin to imagine that we have missed the island altogether and are just heading out across the Atlantic, and then as the plane begins to swoop low, disaster, are we heading into the sea? Okay so I am a little neurotic, no wonder they send me off on the plane alone!! I must add here that the plane makes hundreds of flights to the island throughout the year, in all weathers, and there are never any accidents.

Travel to and from the islands can at times be an issue. When the weather is clear, you really cannot beat the spectacular views from the sea or the sky. By plane you fly over mountains, across the sea, looking down on the islands below. On the ferry you can sometimes be lucky enough to see dolphins diving in and out of the spray, and even on occasion, killer whales. The sea breeze and passing views make it a pleasant and fascinating journey on a calm day and with the varying colours of the seasons no two journeys are ever the same.

We were once were cut off from the mainland for almost a week when the storms came. The comforting thought at times such as these are that the community is fairly self sufficient. At such times you really appreciate the open fires, the freezer filled with home bred meat and home grown vegetables, and the knowledge that the house has stood for many years through gales and storms and is still as robust as ever with its metre thick walls of stone. It is a time to ‘baton down the hatches’ and snuggle up in the cosy comfort of the fire’s glow.

The photo today is of one of our fireplaces. I often wonder, if these old pieces of furniture could speak, the tales they would tell. The farmhouse is filled with furniture that has been around for generations, the old farm house dressers, the fire surrounds, the huge oak table. The heavy, worn, pine table in the kitchen, It has been there throughout our family life, and started out as an advert in a Glasgow newspaper. When it arrived, it was better than we could have imagined, it fitted into the kitchen as if it had always been there, already warm and welcoming with the well worn markings of a table that had been at the centre of another families’ kitchen for many years. It is the heart of our kitchen now, has been the centre of many debates with farmers sat around it putting the world to rights, or sharing anecdotes from the past. In the summer months there are always welcome visitors there, sharing a dram or a cup of tea. Donald is a ‘people’ person. I call it ‘adopt a tourist’; we have made so many friends over the years. We get a lot of visitors, and islanders are an inquisitive bunch, non more so than the happy farmer. He has taught me to really value and make time for people. He believes that no matter how busy you are you should always make time for a chat and a cuppa. He enjoys learning about peoples’ lives, and as you travel about the island you realise he is not alone. Everyone has time for a chat, whether they know you or not. You get a hearty wave from each passing car on the road, and, when on the mainland, you have to drive with your fist firmly clenched around the steering wheel, so as not to get queer looks lest you forget yourself with the same hearty wave.

The farmhouse dressers are solid. They have stood grandly in the old farmhouse kitchen and lounge forever, sharing in the each generation’s lives. The old meat hooks still hang from the ceiling from when they were last in use. The heavy metal irons sit in the corner, having lain there since Donald’s grandmother’s day and before.

Sometimes, when I look at the old sepia photographs, I see a woman, her arms filled with babies, and a toddler at foot, and I see myself staring back. The Paps of Jura in the distance, time has passed but the island, in all its beauty remains. Just as we preserve the buildings, the furniture, and continue the way of life, so must we nurture and care for it for the generations to come…..

Until next time…

9th March.
You can tell the days are stretching; we got woken up really early by the cock crowing this morning. I opened the curtains to see the sunshine, a field full of barnacle geese, and Doughball, the pottery cat, sat on top of the dry stone dyke with a mouse clenched in her jaws. It’s good to see her hard at work. It seems everyone was up before us today!!

My eldest daughter spotted a pair of golden eagles just on the hill at the back of our house before she left for school. Donald managed to video them. It is really exciting when you get a glimpse of such rare wildlife. Although I have to admit I am not so keen on the adders. Donald has never seen a snake on the farm, but I don’t know if it is something to do with climate change, but I nearly landed on a pregnant female adder as I crossed a ditch, when going for a run last summer. We decided she must have been a pregnant female as she was quite large, and slow in her reaction. What a fright I got though (she probably did too). I spent the rest of the run with shivers going up my spine, pathetic I know, but snakes seem to bring out that reaction in me. The children then found one out the hill a few days later. I began to go for a run in my Wellington boots after that!!

Donald went off on the quad bike to feed the Highland cows and to check on ‘mud cap’, who seems to be thriving. He is popping to the vets later though, the cows have lice. This is fairly common in Highland cows, and easily treated. They have some bald patches appearing, which indicates they have been having a good old scratch here and there. Megan, the Clydesdale, and Muffin, our pony, are due to be wormed and of course he will be stocking up on all of the essentials for lambing. Anti biotic jags for the ewes, should they need it after any difficult births, and glucose jags for any hypothermic, or poorly lambs that we have to take in, and also some powdered ewe’s milk for any orphans we gather along the way. The lambing will start here in the next three weeks or so, but we need to be prepared for any early lambs. I will be completely ‘ga ga’ by mid April; the lambing really takes it out of you. All of our lambing is done outdoors. It involves ‘shift’ work around the fields. Donald goes out at first light, and then several times throughout the day, with a final round just before dark. You have to be really alert as if you miss any ewes in difficulty you can stand to lose the lamb and the ewe. Birds such as ravens and crows will attack a lamb as it is being born, and will peck out the eyes of the ewe. We had a horrendous time when we used to lamb out the hill. Now Donald does all of the lambing in his fields, and traps are set to catch the crows.

I just went over to visit the happy potters hard at work in the pottery. I had collected a load of articles on smoke houses and other related industries for my brother in law. He is going up north on a smoking course next week. He was a fisherman off the Devon coast for many years, before returning home to help his younger brother develop the pottery. During the summer months, he always has his smoker going in the workshop, smoking some variety or other of seafood. His smoked salmon is to die for, he smokes it using his own homemade blends of marinade and spices. He has got his site organised and is going to be building a small smoke house of his own, another cottage industry in the making. I’ll keep you posted on the developments. Today however he could merely look, but not touch, the stockpile of articles. He was up to his elbows in clay. I am also happy to report that both cats were curled up in front of the wood burning stove in the workshop, enjoying a well earned nap after a morning’s hard ‘mousing’, and no breakages yet today!

Decorating is now complete – hooray! I am looking very colourful, speckled with lilac, blue, white and cream. I had to paint some of the kitchen for the happy farmer this morning too. The house is still ‘upside down’ but the huge clear up operation is beginning. I will attempt to put my youngest daughter’s bedroom back together again; it looks like a bomb site just now. It has been a complete nightmare of an operation re-decorating, stumbling over Barbie dolls and other plastic paraphernalia, as I went. Everything is in a huge heap on top of the bed in the middle of the room just now, but I will work my magic in a bit and we’ll have a princess’s palace by ‘home time’.

Roy is permanently AWOL these days. He can be found with his nose pinned to the rabbit netting watching the piglets every move. I do hope they manage to get all of the digging done. With the horrendous weather we have been having not a lot of work seems to have been done this week. Do pigs not like the rain??

Until next time…
The girls here have make-up parties. They are a great night out. A crowd of us meet at someone’s house and one of the local beautician’s comes and gives someone a facial and make over, or does a few mini make over’s. Over several glasses of wine she then talks us through the pages of an ultra glossy catalogue, filled with lots of sparkly treats, coming in many different shades. Orders are placed, and then more wine or cocktails, at some houses, are consumed, and a small buffet is laid on. It is always a good giggle, and quite often an expensive night out, especially as the said company have now extended their range to include jewellery. It brings that lovely ‘girlie’ make up glow to the island. Of course reality soon steps in when you step outside and slosh your way through the mud to the car. The make up duly arrives a week or so later, all tissue wrapped and dazzling, and even if you are just about to feed the chickens, you can’t resist delving into the tubes and tubs and adding just a splash of colour, before heading out with the bucket. Donald on the other hand, not to be one to miss out, has taken to organising an equivalent event for the ‘blokies’. Before you get worried here, ‘what farmer…make up?!’ I must hasten to add that it involves amber nectar of another kind. Islay has eight working distilleries, with a ninth in the planning stages, and then another on the neighbouring isle of Jura. Donald has got a group of his friends together and they buy their own cask of whisky each year. You can go to Bruichladdich distillery and watch the cask being filled, and also take the opportunity to sample some of their other whisky’s to celebrate the occaision . It is a fabulous day out. I don’t know if any of you have ever visited a distillery. On Islay they all boast a coastal location, so before you even enter the warehouses the views are breath taking. Inside the aroma of the barley, the malting and mashing process gets you into the spirit! The liquid in the cask legally becomes whisky on its third anniversary. Each year you are invited to the distillery to visit your cask and taste a sample of the golden liquid maturing within. After three years it is a case of then keeping it in the distillery for as long as you can possibly manage. The longer the whisky matures, the greater the flavour. Of course it isn’t a cheap past time, and at the other end there will be taxes to pay and the cost of bottling the whisky. The whole process is good fun though and at the end you all get your own bottles with your own specially designed label to take home. The cask tasting in itself has become something of a ‘boy’s’ day out and the amount of such annual events is growing as some of our visitors also have bought casks and you end up joining them on the whisky pilgrimage to Bruichalddich. The ‘cask party’ usually ends up in one of the local hotels, passing through the various predictable stages. Stage one, they are happy, stage two, slightly merry, stage three, the singing begins, stage four, and it is onto an arm wrestle, stage five, hoping the bar won’t shut at closing time. Finally, stage six, feeling well ‘blogged’ and going home to face the music!! Each distillery is very different, as are the varied peaty flavours of the whisky they produce. They have a worldwide following, and people, from whisky clubs from all corners of the globe, visit the island. You can go on tours around the distilleries, where they talk you through the whole mashing and distilling process. They each have visitor centres. In Ardbeg distillery, in one of their old warehouses, you can also get the most sumptuous home made meals. There is always ‘clootie’ dumpling to follow, which is a speciality here. Clootie dumplings are a bit like fruit cakes, the mixture of which is wrapped in muslin, and then steamed for many hours. Absolutely delicious, especially if it is one of the whisky dumplings made by my mother in law. Until next time…..
10th March.

I am feeling a bit bleary eyed today, and no it wasn’t to do with any ‘cask’ parties or ‘make over’s’, our breakfast in bed service arrived at 6.30 am today. Youngest daughter, wobbly tray, laden with cereals and glasses of fresh orange, stood smiling in the doorway. I have managed to up my order from the ‘buttered sandwiches’ to cereal, bless her she made a sticker for the cereal box so she would know which one to reach for, Dad got the buttered sandwich instead! I was a bit mean today though, the novelty is wearing off slightly, especially as we manage a lie of sorts at the weekend, well at least until the lambing starts. I jumped out of bed, grabbed the tray, before we had any disasters with the fresh orange, so far we have managed to avert such a crisis, and did my best ‘grumpy bear’ grunt. It worked and breakfast got postponed for at least another half hour or so.

The kitchen is really starting to take shape now. It’s weird though, there I am standing at the sink, doing the usual mundane ‘sink’ chores, and it doesn’t feel like I am in my own home anymore. The old familiar sink has been replaced with one with unfamiliar angles, and much as I love my new kitchen, it doesn’t yet feel like home. The cupboards and space are unfamiliar territory. It is like having a new room in the house. The photo is of Donald’s handiwork to date, he has been tremendous, when you consider last week we were ‘sink less’. Although there is still quite a lot to be done, tiles need to be picked, a new tap, to replace the temporary one, blinds for the windows and so on, it is getting there.

This morning’s task was to try and find a new home for the washing baskets filled with herbs, spices, drinking chocolate and a whole load of other kitchen clutter, that have been lying in the dining room for the past couple of weeks. I get to this point and it becomes quite difficult. I am a bit of a squirrel in the kitchen. I seem to hoard everything. The problem is I no longer have one of those handy corner shops on my doorstep, which is open all hours and stocks just about everything. I have to keep a good stock in the cupboards, either that or start planning menus, which would be far too organised. The main village is a good half an hour away by car, so if you need to nip in to buy something, by the time you have stopped and chatted to everyone as you make your way up and down the aisles, the whole trip usually takes at least two hours. That is of course if you are quick, when I take my mother in law along, you can add on at least another hour or two. You see shopping here is a very sociable past time. It is a chance for everyone to have a catch up, to find out what is happening around the various villages on the island, and of course to have a good old gossip.

I remember my early encounters of this new way of life. I had been staying on the farm for the summer months, during my holidays from college in London. Donald’s cousin had come over on the ferry for a weekend, and one of his first comments was ‘you are the talk of the ‘steamy’ here; everyone was asking me about you on the journey over.’ I took his comments with a pinch of salt at the time. However, when I next went shopping, sure enough, all of these strangers kept smiling at me, and stopping for a chat. I found it really strange as on my previous trips to the village people had smiled but I hadn’t really chatted to anyone, and had felt largely anonymous. On this particular occasion everyone stopped for a chat. I could only go two paces a time up the aisles. They all seemed to know my name too, and were all asking the same questions, was this me over to stay for good now? Had I moved up? And so on. By the end of the shopping trip I felt really self conscious. Now I realise it is just part of being in a small community and they were just being friendly, making me feel welcome. It was actually one of the things that took a lot of adjusting to, I had been so used to ‘anonymous’ shopping in London, where you keep your head down, scurry round, and leave without so much as a ‘hello’. Island life is never a lonely one; people need one another here and genuinely seem to care for each other.

I do still sometimes wish though that I could just pop a bag over my head and scurry in and out of the shops here without being spotted. Just to save a bit of time you understand.

Anyway back to the kitchen clutter. This is the time when you find out you have several pots of baking powder, oregano and mulled wine spices. All of the things you buy more of because you don’t realise you have some sitting out of sight at the back of the cupboard. Then there are all of the things that are out of date, because they too made their way out of sight to the back of the cupboard. Do you feed them to the dogs? Should they be thrown out? Donald says that with jelly the date doesn’t really matter, teenage daughter is absolutely horrified that you could even consider keeping something past its sell by date. Anyway after much deliberation I have managed to decide what to keep and what not to keep. The cupboards, for now, are looking tidy, and fairly uncluttered. I know it won’t last, but I can enjoy it for a few days!

I went for my run afterwards. Checked on the piglets, they were in their sty sleeping, again! The ground is beginning to look a little mulched though and the patch has that lovely mucky smell that only pigs can create.

I fed the hens and decided to do an egg hunt. With our hens being free range, they tend to have nests all over the place, and when you find one it feels like you have struck gold. I still get really excited when I discover a new nest; you can’t beat the feeling of coming across a heap of freshly laid eggs. Even if it does mean that you have to start baking and making omelettes and quiches to use them all up. I have recently tended to leave the egg hunting to Donald’s hens. Mine were in an enclosure with pine trees and it seemed to put them off the lay. Last summer when I neatly put fresh straw each day for them, they kicked it out and would only lay outside. As I walked up and down the hedge today I could find no sign of any nests, disappointed I went over to the hen house and there, in their old nests were two dozen eggs!! Clever girls are back in business.

Until next time….

11th March

It must have been the village party of the year here last night. A house warming at one of the lifeboat houses at the end of our single track road. A local lad recently landed the permanent post as lifeboat mechanic, and the lifeboat houses have just had a complete refurb, to house him, and the new coxswain and his family next door.
Last night saw great excitement as a marquee was erected in the garden with disco and live music, the house was filled with a sumptuous buffet, and there was a Barbie going outside, all floodlit and full of every local worthy from far and wide. What a night!

My mother in law came up to stay with the children, and a few of our friends called round for drinks, before we set off to the lifeboat houses. It was a bitter cold night, but thankfully there was not a drop of rain or a breath of wind, perfect. I felt like a giggly sixteen year old all over again, I haven’t been to a good party for ages, except our own hogmanay party, but a party in your own pad is never quite the same as going to someone else’s.

Everyone was in good form, and the place was buzzing. Young children were still running around, as their mum’s tried to scoop them up to pack them home to bed. The disco was blaring in the marquee, but it was empty, much too early for a ‘boogie’. People spilled out over the lawn, in the house others were squashed like sardines, especially in the kitchen, could be something to do with the huge vat of punch and selection of other boozy delights! There was laughter and merriment from every corner, you can’t beat a local party, as everyone knows everyone, so the initial awkwardness that can sometimes happen, was non existent, or maybe it was because we were a little later in our arrival. I got a full guided tour of the house, and every room was filled with party goers. The lounge had a more sedate gathering of people chatting quietly around the fire. In the bedrooms were young mums and ‘grannies’ chatting as they nursed babies to sleep. People hovered around the table full of treats and happily nibbled away as they caught up with one another. Outside it was freezing, people huddled in groups, wrapped up warm against the bitter cold evening. Soon a good old Scottish ceilidh had begun. With local lads and lassies taking it in turns to take the mic and have a good old sing song, aptly accompanied by others, on guitars and mouth organs, with the rest of the throng, swaying to the music and singing, or in some cases ‘wailing’ to the bits of the chorus they knew. Dancing followed.

The happy farmer, being a total gentleman, walked me home in the early hours of the morning; I tend to do the ‘pumpkin’ thing if it gets too far on the wrong side of midnight. I am not a great night owl. However I am not too keen on the pitch dark, and it gets very dark here, we have no street lights, except in the villages, so the happy farmer, trudged back up the single track road with me, under the starlit sky. Now not being a very sensible happy farmer, and being much more of a party animal than me, he duly made his way back to the party, once I was safely home. Unfortunately he decided it would be much quicker to take a short cut, instead of having to walk all around the road. As he stepped down the steep slope leading to the lifeboat houses, he skidded, through the brambles and briars, landing in a heap at the bottom, nothing to do with the ‘amber nectar’ you understand, no it was merely a slippery slope, or so he told me anyway, when he crawled in at 4.00am, his back all grazed and scratched, lamenting that he wished he had had the sense to have come home at a more reasonable hour instead. Managing to disentangle himself from the brambles, he went onto have a very happy time at the party, and what had meant to be another hour of dancing had turned into another three hours or so.

Needless to say the cooked breakfast in bed helped ease his pain a little, as he struggled up out of bed and made the weary journey out to feed the animals, looking very ashen around the ‘gills’, and slightly worse the wear.

So, today has been a very lazy day. It has poured with rain continuously. The children have spent most of the time in their PJs, happily entertaining themselves. I have been busy in my new ‘sparkly’ kitchen, yes with all of those eggs; I have been happily churning out quiches and cakes, and making a big pot of leek and potato soup to aid the happy farmer in his recovery. Needless to say he keeps putting in an appearance every now and then, as the delicious smells of home baking drift around the house. He then mysteriously disappears, and has been found to be dozing in various corners of the house throughout the day!

PS He said yesterday that you are all welcome at his next ‘cask’ party….. I have a feeling such a ‘party’ is not in his thoughts today…

Until next time…

11th March

The inky purple rain clouds chased me all the way back down the hill today, I reached Donald, tenderly planting a few trees at his father’s grave just as the first few splashes of rain began to plop out of the clouds. They got heavier by the second as we ran for shelter among the rocks. It is amazing how refreshing a drop of rain can actually be, even if your feet are sodden from running through boggy ground. We huddled into the rocky shelter, waiting for the shower to pass, and just as quickly as it had descended, the storm clouds passed by, and out came the sun once again.

Donald’s father has a simple grave out on the hillside on the farm. It is the farm that he was born on and spent his life on, and it seemed only fitting that he should be buried on the land that he had tended throughout his years here. Life on the islands can be very simple at times, and out of the simplicity, comes the great beauty and peace of the passing of time.

His father was a very soft spoken Highland gentleman, who had an amazing knowledge and love for his home land. As a young boy, he had spent many winter evenings around the fire with his two uncles, listening to stories of the island and its past. He had a fantastic knowledge of the island community and could trace families far back into the long gone distant days. He was a true character, with a wicked sense of humour. It was his father, old Arra, who taught me the meagre Gaelic phrases I now hold. Old Arra was a native Gaelic speaker, only learning to speak English when he attended primary school. It was old Arra who sat chuckling away to himself in the corner, having introduced me to a visiting ‘wee free’ minister, encouraging me to ‘speak the Gaelic’ to our visitor. What I didn’t know was that I was saying ‘It’s devilish wet today’, wee frees never mention the devil. Old Arra had sat back enjoying the response.

When old Arra was a boy the farming was all done with horse power. He loved his horses, they helped him to plough the fields, gather the sheep and so on. Old Arra was the first islander to own a four wheel drive tractor; his father had been so annoyed at the arrival of the new machinery that he went and sold all of old Arra’s horses.
Old Arra developed Parkinson’s disease in his later years, but battled on, with true fighting spirit for many more years. I would often meet him, trolley running away with him down the hill, as he trundled more of his treasures from his old sheds to his new home on the farm. I would often send down a gin and tonic to my mother in law to help her cope with his new structures as he loving recycled old bits of machinery and furniture and adapted them to fit into his new home. Old Arra never threw anything out, believing it would be useful again some day. People used to come from all over the island looking for bits for engines, fences, boats, and so on.

When old Arra passed on it was in some ways a blessing, the disease was all consuming in his latter days. Donald was amazing. He made numerous phone calls, checked everything out and made the necessary arrangements to have his father buried on the farm. With his brothers, he dug his father’s grave the night before the burial. He decided not to have a minister; his father would not have wanted that. The day of the funeral arrived, a gathering of very close friends and family. The hearse was a tractor and trailer, driven by my brother in law, with my young son perched on his lap, at the wheel. Old Arra was aptly piped out to his final resting place. Special words were spoken, a reading from the Gaelic bible, and the traditional sandwiches and whisky at the graveside. We sat, a simple gathering, on a cloudless day in May, reminiscing and remembering this special man, before we each took a turn with the shovel to fill in the grave. We made our way back to the farmhouse, where my sister in law and I had laid out the venison, salmon, whisky and cakes that had been handed in by the islanders. In the late afternoon a memorial service was held for old Arra in the local church, attended by the community, with a gathering afterwards at a local hotel.

It was an incredibly peaceful and spiritual day, one which I had fretted about a lot, would Donald cope with the strain of digging his own father’s grave, would it be okay not to have a minister at the grave, and a tractor and trailer, no hearse, no undertakers at the burial? But of course you see, it taught me a great lesson, sometimes the simpler things in life can have far greater meaning. In my city world, I had come from a place where organisation and institutions have taken over, where sometimes you go along with things, not because you feel they are right, but because it is the done thing. Old Arra’s day was so special and made all the more so by all of the special personal touches from those who loved him so dearly.

So when Donald’s cousin announced she wanted to come to the island to get married last September we all got our sleeves rolled up and set about with enthusiasm planning and preparing for the event in true island style. For our bridesmaid’s dresses we each chose our favourite dresses, colour was not a problem, Donald’s cousin just wanted us to have fun and enjoy the celebrations, rather than clashing, the different shades of pastel colours worked really well together. My sister in law and I spent the morning gathering cuttings from the hedgerow, and picking stems from the garden until we had filled several buckets with beautiful blooms. We sat in the sunshine carefully designing and shaping the bouquets of flowers. We decorated the cars with ribbons and balloons and our good friend piped us all off to the church. It was a beautiful village wedding, made all the more poignant by the personal touches that we can so often lose in the commercial world we live in.

Until next time…

12th March
I could hear one of our pullets squawking away just outside the window today. When I went to investigate, yes I had struck gold again, a nest of eight beautiful eggs. I went and got a bowl and carefully scooped them into it. It is a funny thing nature, I am surprised that hens make such a noise after laying an egg, and right by the nest too, you would have thought they would want to protect the nest, not draw attention to it. The happy farmer says they are just squealing ‘Ooh, my butt’s sore, ooh, my butt’s sore’, whatever it lead me to a fine nest of eggs this morning.

I took the dogs for their usual run. Iona, my parents’ dog is staying with us again. They have gone off camping in their camper van; they are touring round the Trossachs, just now! As you do in early March, mad parents! They spent the month of November touring all of their old haunts in Wales, last February they even got snowed in their camper van while touring. My mum and dad are very nomadic, they always have been. They both managed to get early retirement and moved to be near us when our eldest was a baby. They have a great life; they spend the winter month’s motor caravanning, and the summer months sailing around the Scottish islands, fitting in the odd weekend at home in between!

Iona was one of our old flatcoat’s pups, although she isn’t a pup anymore, she will be eight in May. Iona used to live on the farm; she shared a kennel with Roy, and spent her days out the hill ‘rabbiting’ while I went for my run. She disappeared one day though, and had still not returned by evening. I called and called for her, but to no avail. The next morning I got up early and opened the back door to see if she was home, my heart sank when I realised she was still missing. We had never lost her like this before. When the children awoke we had to break the news to them, and prepared them for the fact that something may have happened to her to prevent her return, thinking that she may have been run over or shot out on the hills.

Our eldest daughter quickly got dressed and went out to search for the dog; she came back a little while later, the tears streaming down her cheeks, shouting
‘She’s alive, she’s alive…but she is caught in a fence. Quick’.
I raced after her and found poor Iona, hanging from a fence, her back leg tangled in the barbed wire; she could only reach the ground with her front paw, and had obviously been there for a good while. Her strength was failing, which is probably why she hadn’t howled when we had called. I scooped her into my arms, to take her weight and sent the children to get help. One of their uncles arrived with wire cutters and we managed to free the tangled paw. We carried her to the house, wrapped her in blankets and made for the vets. Iona had to stay at the vets for nearly a week, her back leg had to be amputated, and it took awhile for her to gain the use in her front paws again, so bad was the bruising. We were all so glad that she survived. My eldest daughter says it was her horse, Rosie, who nudged and pushed her to the fence where Iona was entangled, so we have Rosie horse to thank too.

My parents had just lost their treasured collie dog, Gem. They took Iona to their house after the operation, to help her convalesce in peace (that was the excuse anyway). Iona now lives in the lap of luxury, and is thoroughly spoilt, she only returns from my parents’ house when they go on their travels.

When she comes to stay, she lives in the armchair in our kitchen, much to the annoyance of the happy farmer. That is usually his comfy seat when he comes in for a coffee, but the dog refuses to budge! Last thing at night I have to walk around the garden with her, which makes the happy farmer think I am totally bonkers, she doesn’t like being outside in the dark anymore. If I don’t stay out with her, she comes straight back in and then wakes me up in the middle of the night, howling to be let out. In the day she happily bounds out the hill on her three legs as I go for my run. She doesn’t come the whole way, but sits and waits for me halfway through, and then as I approach her, a huge smile spreads across that face, her tongue hanging out to the side, as her whole body begins to wriggle and squirm with glee, and then she bounces alongside me all the way home, before returning to the comfort of her armchair.

Until next time…

13th March.

Our youngest two children are so lucky. Their school is at the bottom of our front field. It is a lovely, homely primary school, with just 28 pupils. It is the school that my husband and his brothers and sisters all went to, and his father and uncles before them. It is a happy, cheery place and I couldn’t have asked for better for my young ones to begin the adventures of their school years. The head teacher runs a very good ‘ship’. There are five primary schools, four here and one on Jura, and one high school in the main village here.

As I walked with the younger two to school today, along the single track road, all of the daffodils had come into bloom over night. Whenever we travel south the happy farmer can never get over how much greener the hedgerows and fields are, because everything comes into bloom a little later here. I have enjoyed reading about daffodils in other blogs, and the arrival of the spring, but until now I have had to wait patiently for our daffodils to burst into flower here. They provide such rich and vibrant colour along the sides of the hedgerows after the bare, gloomier shades of winter, and bring back so many happy childhood memories of my own school days, when we would cut up egg boxes and paint them yellow, to make daffodils for our mother’s day cards.
The happy farmer planted the bulbs all along the edges of the road up to the farm a few years ago, and now with each passing spring it is lovely to see where once there was a row of single daffodils, now they have spread and are growing in lovely thick clumps. It is a treasured sight for us.

Sheep of course love to eat flowers; it is one of their favourite dishes. The happy farmer is extra vigilant at this time of year, making sure the ‘girls’ are all confined to the maternity wards in the fields, as they get closer to lambing. Yesterday he moved some of them, and it was a lovely sight, a bit like ‘Mary had a Little Lamb’, oh dear I better not repeat that bit to ‘himself’, but if you could have seen them. There was the happy farmer, bucket in his hand, and twenty or so sheep dutifully following him through the field and along the road. Of course it doesn’t usually happen so idyllically. No quite often the air is blue, as quad bike goes one way, sheepdog goes another, and the ‘girls’ go their own way, in totally the wrong direction. Sheep are very intelligent creatures. The happy farmer says their ambition in life is to die. Being a sheep farmer at times can be very frustrating, you go out of your way to help them if they have become entangled in a fence, or stuck in a bog, or had trouble lambing, and they still they go and die on you. He was even interviewed on radio 5 Live last year about how intelligent sheep are. It was when the happy farmer was recalling a hard day working with sheep in the fank, dosing them, clipping their feet, and generally giving them a health check. The happy farmer was commenting on how even then you could pick up on their unhappy mood. John Pienaar, the presenter, asked the happy farmer how he could pick up on these moods, was it their facial expressions? ‘No’, replied the happy farmer, ‘They just don’t speak to me…’

Until next time…

14th. March

The heavens opened, yet again, as I ran up the hill with Roy and Iona. As I set out it was bitter cold and miserable, and I wondered whether the effort would be worth it. The fresh air worked its magic though, as I sloshed through the mud, listening to the trickling of the streams as they gushed down the hillside and the breeze blew away the cobwebs, for a short while anyway.

House is still like a building site, but at least it is confined to one room now, well one room and a bit. The building ‘clobber’ has taken over the dining room and spreads into the kitchen whenever the happy farmer gets a chance to do some more sawing! I am not much better either, as I sit and type this I realise the ‘computer room’ has turned into a bit of a junk heap and a landing ground for all of the pots of paint and brushes. I did store them in the farm shed for a while, not a good idea, things in that shed have a habit of disappearing forever. One of these days I am going to get into feng shui and minimalism…well that is the pipe dream anyway as I make my way through the clutter and ‘guddle’ of farm life!!

I spent the morning trundling the wheelbarrow across the farm yard and out to the vegetable patch, large buckets, bricks and gravel, compost and manure. My eldest daughter had kindly gathered a barrow full of the stuff, so I can get mulching round the flower beds and planting out the seeds. New shoots are starting to appear on just about everything. I love this time of year when you begin to escape the confines of the house and live outdoors once again. Of course in the autumn it is the other way round, after months of days stretching on forever, they shorten once again, and you close the doors on the garden, and the outside world, and spend the evenings hibernating by the fireside.

Typically I get the huge animal feed bins and old fish boxes filled with gravel and bricks, and then smooth the compost over the top, go to my collection of seeds to find I have no cabbage seeds left, no cauliflower, no leek, and no sprouts….at least the broccoli seeds got planted under the panes of glass.

There are others round here, who take the cheats way out when it comes to planting the veg. The photo is of a happy potter planting his spuds last year. I did feel a bit cheated as no one had offered me the old 'tractor' service when I was on hands and knees in the muck!! There was also a bit of good old competition between our two camps. Needless to say the weeds ate his potatoes....tee hee.

Until next time…

15th March
When the weather closes in, and you are exposed to the elements, you sometimes feel like you really do live on the edge of the world here. It is grim today and the forecast is for it to get worse over the weekend. They are predicting snow…snow!! Whilst I have spent much of the winter hoping for that special bit of winter magic, especially in the build up to Christmas, now just feels totally the wrong time. There I was in this week’s blogs, happily babbling on about the joys of daffodils and stumbling back and forth with wheelbarrow planting seeds, and now it’s meant to snow.

We rarely get snow here, we are warmed by the Gulf Stream, it was another thing I missed from my days in the Midlands. I have many memories of trudging for miles through knee deep drifts as they ‘turfed’ us all out of school because the blizzards were getting so bad. Yes in the good old eighties that was what they used to do, never mind that you lived over three miles away, and public transport wasn’t operating because the weather was so bad.

The BT boys arrived on their way home last night, they got the last ferry over from Jura. They come over from the mainland to fix the lines here. They parked up three vans, only one left several hours later with one sober driver. They got a good Highland welcome from the happy farmer, and the kids provided the entertainment with their brass band, saxophone and trombone!

I went down to the Jura ferry to collect a pig this morning, not one for the vegetable patch, but one all ready for the freezer. The ferry Port is unrecognisable just now. They have closed it down to the mainland ferry while they do major works to dramatically increase the size of it. I was talking to a drystone dyker there; he is building a dyke, the traditional way, no cement, what an art. It turns out he used to know one of the happy farmers old uncles from the borders, it really is a small world.

Until next time

PS What is all this about rated blogs? Feeling very insecure now, they seem to be counting the number of comments you get, thought about sending myself 700 comments for a laugh, just to go to top of the list for a day, well a few minutes at least, until Jane and the rest of you toppled me off the perch!! Second thoughts this sight is so slow it would take forever…..

16th March

The hot sun’s beating down, the waves gently lapping against the shore, as I lie on the hammock, a good book in my hand, at the edge of the sea.

Ahh, dream on!! I am of course living in total fantasy land; it is positively torrential here today. The ground is absolutely saturated and it is blowing a ‘hoolie’. The house has turned into an ‘ark’ as the rain batters down continuously, and the farmhouse kitchen provides shelter for one smelly wet dog, who is hogging the armchair, five noisy children, three farmers, a happy potter and his lovely Dutch girlfriend, who managed to make it over on the evening ferry last night, before the weather really closed in, and me.

I battled the winds to feed the animals, the piglets, huddled up in their sty, sleeping soundly on a bed of straw. The hens and cockerel did make it out of the hen house for a quick bite before making a hasty retreat. Only the sheepdogs are mad enough to still be out and about, but even they have sought shelter in the hedgerow.

It is wild and getting wilder….so cheers from the happy farmer (in today’s pic), and me, have a good weekend….

Until next time…

17th. March.

A wild, blustery night, when the weather is like this you feel a bit like a caged animal, especially at this time of year. I could hardly walk against the icy wind today, let alone run.

Donald caught a sheep, legs waving frantically in the air, it was stuck on its back, having rolled over for a scratch, and then because it was so heavily in lamb, it couldn’t get back up again. The girls in the maternity field are getting very heavy now, so he will have to do extra shifts around the fields. When the ewes roll onto their backs if they get stuck for too long, they risk losing the power in their legs, otherwise are attacked by birds, or in this harsh weather they just perish.

There was large lamb aborted (miscarried) in the front field too. Donald says it was probably caused by the sheepdog pup, Mist; she escaped into the field the other night and ran amok among the pregnant ewes. The happy farmer was furious. Fearing for the pup, I sent a quick SOS to the happy potter to go to his aid ASAP. Luckily they managed to restore order pretty quickly, but not without casualties as we found this morning. Honestly you would think these farmers would keep their dogs under control (better not share that quip with ‘himself’!).

The lovely smell of home cooking permeates through the house. Donald’s cooking a joint of beef. Youngest daughter is baking me a mother’s day cake this afternoon, having drawn the design on paper, it is going to be a chocolate cake, covered in white icing with pink around the edges. It sounds yummy; whether I’ll actually get to taste a slice remains to be seen. The three of them presented me with half a box of my absolute favourite Lindt chocolates this morning. Half a box because, as I am sure you will know they are absolutely scrummy. I could hear the children this morning, scrambling up the stairs, giggling away as they went. They couldn’t resist ‘gobbling’ a few chocolates on their way up!

I also got four gorgeous handmade cards, youngest daughter made three, all for me, I feel very special. My son appeared a huge grin across his cheeks, hands behind his back, clasping my ‘special’ present. A MacDonald’s freebie, a plastic, fat man with a huge green head. He says it reminds him of me when I am angry. I shall put it above the Rayburn with pride. Next time I feel myself turning into a grumpy bear, one look at it and my temper will dissolve, either that or it’ll get thrown across the room!!

Happy Mother’s Day – the weather might be wild, but the house is cosy and warm, and full of excitement…..

Until next time…

18th March

We are not missing the back door one bit in this weather, or so I thought. The kitchen is a lot less draughty since a window replaced the door. The space is so much larger and yet cosier than before, where the north wind used to rattle through the edges of the door, it is now sealed. Before when someone opened the door in wild weather everything would go flying off the surfaces and walls in the great gust of wind that blasted through the space.

However we all hate the mains water. We put the house onto the mains system a few years ago, it made life a little easier in the summer months. In hot weather there was never enough pressure from the spring water to fill the hot water tank upstairs and we would invariably run out of water except at the tap in the kitchen. I can still see my mother in law’s face when I first arrived up on holiday from London and said I was going to have a bath. It was my first and last bath for the whole summer!! When our youngest was a baby I would invariably be running to my mum’s or Donald’s parents with baskets full of washing during the long hot summers (yes we seemed to get a lot of those then).

The spring water from out the hill is tapped to where the back door once was. Now the back door is no longer, replaced by a window, to fill the kettle up, involves a trudge halfway round the house and through the farmyard, to the tap, or our well as the happy farmer calls it.. It’s a bit of a journey, especially in PJs at dawn. However it is worth it, the water is crystal clear, icy cold and always delicious, with no traces of chlorine or chemicals.

When the children were toddlers, having drinking water from an outside tap did have its drawbacks. I once got locked out in my ‘miniscule nightie’. Donald was away and so I had put the latch on the door. We never normally lock the doors here, but it had made me feel a bit more secure when he was off the island. Anyway I had just nipped out of the back door to fill the kettle up when I realised I was locked out, with two toddlers locked in. I had completely forgotten about the latch. After a moment or two of panic, running around in just a nightie, I noticed the top kitchen window was open slightly. Climbing up onto the trough full of flowers I managed to haul myself up onto the window ledge and then reach up and lower myself through the small gap, back end hanging out, with two little faces staring up at me as if to say ‘what is she doing now?’. Luckily no one was about to see the spectacle from outside, with two legs dangling from the window, my ‘bahookie’ in the air, as I dived head first into the kitchen sink. I hastily scrambled across the sink, sending plant pots flying, and managed to lower myself safely to the ground, and all minutes before the school bus went flying past up the road!!

Until next time…

I felt like I was auditioning for the next James Bond movie as I headed across the fields today, black balaclava firmly covering any remaining bits of flesh that might be exposed to the elements. Battling the blizzards and gales I went round the fields to check on the animals, tears streaming down my face as the biting wind lashed against me.

The Highland cows have been causing a few ructions with the neighbours who live in the old quarters cottages on the farm. Years ago these small bothies provided accommodation for farm workers. They have now been lovingly restored into ‘picture perfect’ cottages, complete with lovely rose gardens and vegetable plots.

In the wild weather the Highland cows have taken great delight in using the old stone walls of these cottages for shelter, rubbing themselves up against the white washed stone, huddling in close, away from the wind and the rain. To make matters worse they plodded over into the beautiful gardens, trampling them as they went. Of course when they were farm workers cottages there would have been no gardens to speak of. Country living, farm life, it does have its downsides sometimes, like when the sheep get out and eat every last daffodil along the road, thankfully that hasn’t happened yet this year! However I do feel pretty bad that a quick trample by a few Highland cows can ruin a garden that has taken a lot of back breaking work to get ‘shipshape’. An electric fence has been erected, fingers crossed this will lead to better community relations among the cows and their neighbours.

We had two escapees in the back field yesterday too, just as we had sat down to lashings of roast beef and wine, we looked out to see the Clydesdale and Muffin, the cheeky pony, cantering with great glee around the field. They weren’t so much as cantering, as positively skipping up and down, such was their delight. The problem being that left there for any length of time and they will eat every bud and young tree insight. Headache of headaches…it always happens when the weather is wild; just as the dinner is ready….More electric wires later and hopefully problem solved!
I painted the Paps of Jura today. They look so majestic and beautiful, as if they have been sprinkled with icing sugar, a bit like my kitchen table after youngest daughter’s baking yesterday (which was absolutely scrumptious). The Paps are such a familiar landmark, we live in their shadow, and yet they never look the same on any two days. I paint them often, as they change with the seasons, from summer dress to winter, and their colours are never quite the same, with the ever changing cloud formations and sunsets. They are truly magnificent.

Until next time…
20th March
The sun has arrived again, yippee. It is biting cold, but I woke up with masses of plans. I packed the children off to school. My son is going on a trip to the island’s RSPB nature reserve today. They will be outside all day, so finally after much persuasion I did manage to convince him that he would need an extra fleece, waterproof trousers, hat and so on. Sent him off to school with a bag full of water proof trousers to help kit out the rest of the class too, living on a farm we have an abundance of the things. It was a bit daunting making that horrendous journey to the back of the ‘hellhole’ to get them though. Our ‘hellhole’ is a nightmare, I do try and clear it out each year but the clutter of wellies, Hoovers, waterproofs and camping gear seems to grow monthly. Anyway did eventually manage to lay my hands on all of the necessary gear, honestly you would think he was going on a trip up Everest by the time I had finished, and not just him with all of the gear I sent in for everyone else too.
I came back full of plans to separate the snowdrop bulbs and get planting and weeding, sow the rest of the vegetable seeds and so on. However the best laid plans of ‘Mice and Men’, it just didn’t happen. I got caught out, big time. My mistake came when I decided to join the happy farmer on a jaunt out to a clearance sale of out door gear in one of the village halls. Honestly you would think with the amount I cleared out of the ‘hell hole’ this morning I would have learnt my lesson, but I am a bit weak when I feel the possibility of a bit of retail therapy coming on, but an outdoor sale? I must need a mainland shopping fix!! The happy farmer was going along to stock up on waterproofs for the imminent lambing, so I thought I would join him for the ride.
He did the big shop while I just browsed and caught up with a few friends about the hall. I was very restrained when it came to the shopping fix, nothing really caught my eye, and I don’t think out door gear quite does it. We then called at the doctors to collect a prescription for Donald’s mum, and were just heading past one of the distilleries when the happy farmer suggested we call in as he needed to see the accountant there about one of his recent cask purchases. Big mistake! Three large drams for the happy farmer and the accountant later, of some gorgeous cask strength liquid, and I found myself driving the ‘gibbering’, very happy farmer home. He felt it would have been rude not to take a dram when offered.
As we meandered home along the coast road, we happened to meet a tractor pulling a trailer full of silage. Ever the sociable one, nothing was doing but we had to stop for a quick ‘hello’. These islanders don’t take no for an answer, so ten minutes later I am in another farmhouse kitchen, tea and scones in hand, while the two happy farmers guzzle another ‘quick’ dram or two, just being ever so sociable you understand, I would have been under the table at this point so it is probably just as well that I was driving!
I just managed to swing past another happy farmer and his lorry as we made our escape up the road. I decided the happy farmer had been sociable enough for one day!
So the blogging session feels very short and sweet and somewhat curtailed today, and no the planting didn’t happen. I did get a lovely lunch cooked for me though by an extremely happy farmer.
Until next time….

21st March
Okay I am becoming a complete addict when it comes to blogging; the happy farmer never ceases to be amused by the many varied excuses I have to disappear up to the computer just now. I was even watching television thinking how my next move must be to get wireless internet connection and new shiny laptop, then I could multi task between reading blogs, cooking, blobbing on the settee and so on. Pipe dreams are wonderful things, I am sure the children will justify such a move in the not too distant future!
Today we have an early start. We are off to the mainland for a few days. We will be heading for the ferry in just a bit. We’ll get breakfast on the ferry and should reach the mainland by lunchtime and then it is a beautiful drive through some of the most scenic mountainous countryside as we head for Glasgow, travelling along the shores of Loch Lomond, before reaching the suburbs.
I am planning on catching up on some serious retail therapy. If you can count socks, pants, tinned tomatoes (yep we pay a huge premium on them here, something like 48p a tin…oh dear I sound more like my mum every day!), rice, satay spices and curry spices, as retail therapy. The list goes on, but I am looking forward to stocking up. I always feel like a child in a sweet shop when I arrive in the shops, the dazzling neon lights and so much choice, in every colour and design imaginable.
Mum and dad are moving into the farmhouse with the children so it is just the happy farmer and me. The happy potters and my father will share the various farm jobs over the next couple of days to keep everything ticking over. They will be feeding the cows, sheep, tups, chickens, horses, and of course the workers in the vegetable patch, the ‘piggys’, who still remain nameless. I must get onto the children about that. The weather has been so wet recently and with school getting in the way they haven’t had much time to all get acquainted.
The great thing about the happy farmer and city life is he just loves it when there, and believes in making the most of it. So it will be long lunches and meals out at night, in between the shopping fix, getting a new dishwasher, car tyres and so on. Some people’s nightmare I know, but for me, sheer bliss. I am also going to be heading to the CL fair, looking forward to that, the brochure looked promising. I’ll let you know how I got on when I get back. I will be ‘computer less’ for a day or so, and thus unable to keep you posted with daily reports.
I don’t think the happy farmer would forgive me if I sneaked into an internet café…
So until next time….

21st MARCH.
The children were positively brimming with excitement after their RSPB visit yesterday. I collected a crowd of them from school and duly deposited them at band practice in the main village. They had seen lapwings, chough, and a golden eagle, and there was a calf born in the cowshed while they were there. They aptly named it Keills after their school and the centre are going to send in photos regularly so they can check Keills’ progress as she grows (at least I think it was a she, I did forget to ask that question). It is always more fun when the calf is female, in that bull calves invariably go off to the market for slaughter, female calves can be kept for breeding.
I had a lovely pet calf called ‘Jeremy’ when I first moved here. If any of you read my earlier blogs, Jeremy was Val’s calf. She had got stuck in a ditch and having lost the power in her back legs I raised her calf for her. He was a great pal, just like a pet dog. I bottle fed him and when ever I arrived back from work he would come bounding across the farm yard to greet me. He used to walk to heal really well and followed me everywhere, sucking on my hand as he went, always looking for food. Unfortunately because he was a bull calf we just couldn’t keep him. He posed even more of a threat because he was a pet, as a fully grown bull the sheer size of him would have been dangerous had he come bounding over to see me. My big dilemma then was did I send him to market or have him butchered for our deep freeze? It sounds awful doesn’t it, especially as he was such a pet?
In the end he went to market and I had to accept that there were not a lot of other options. If only ‘he’ had been a ‘she’, we could have kept ‘her’ for life. Still that is the way it goes on a farm, you cannot afford to get too sentimental about the animals as they come and go, but you can enjoy them while they are here, and make sure they are happy and treated well during their time with us.
Until next time…21st March
Okay I am becoming a complete addict when it comes to blogging; the happy farmer never ceases to be amused by the many varied excuses I have to disappear up to the computer just now. I was even watching television thinking how my next move must be to get wireless internet connection and new shiny laptop, then I could multi task between reading blogs, cooking, blobbing on the settee and so on. Pipe dreams are wonderful things, I am sure the children will justify such a move in the not too distant future!
Today we have an early start. We are off to the mainland for a few days. We will be heading for the ferry in just a bit. We’ll get breakfast on the ferry and should reach the mainland by lunchtime and then it is a beautiful drive through some of the most scenic mountainous countryside as we head for Glasgow, travelling along the shores of Loch Lomond, before reaching the suburbs.
I am planning on catching up on some serious retail therapy. If you can count socks, pants, tinned tomatoes (yep we pay a huge premium on them here, something like 48p a tin…oh dear I sound more like my mum every day!), rice, satay spices and curry spices, as retail therapy. The list goes on, but I am looking forward to stocking up. I always feel like a child in a sweet shop when I arrive in the shops, the dazzling neon lights and so much choice, in every colour and design imaginable.
Mum and dad are moving into the farmhouse with the children so it is just the happy farmer and me. The happy potters and my father will share the various farm jobs over the next couple of days to keep everything ticking over. They will be feeding the cows, sheep, tups, chickens, horses, and of course the workers in the vegetable patch, the ‘piggys’, who still remain nameless. I must get onto the children about that. The weather has been so wet recently and with school getting in the way they haven’t had much time to all get acquainted.
The great thing about the happy farmer and city life is he just loves it when there, and believes in making the most of it. So it will be long lunches and meals out at night, in between the shopping fix, getting a new dishwasher, car tyres and so on. Some people’s nightmare I know, but for me, sheer bliss. I am also going to be heading to the CL fair, looking forward to that, the brochure looked promising. I’ll let you know how I got on when I get back. I will be ‘computer less’ for a day or so, and thus unable to keep you posted with daily reports.
I don’t think the happy farmer would forgive me if I sneaked into an internet café…
So until next time….

23rd March.
I felt a bit like those good old ‘Beverley Hillbillies’ as we made our journey west from Glasgow, back to our island home. We were well stocked up with those tins of tomatoes, puree and bags of supermarket shopping. The weather has been spectacular so the journeys have been pleasant. This morning we were driving through snow capped mountains, the pine forests spread like aprons across their lower ranges. The climbers looking like ants on giant ant hills. The mountain streams were crystal clear as the snow was thawing gently in the heat of the sun.
We arrived back at Kennacraig to see the ferry gliding across the sea loch, coming to take us home. There on the yellow buoy was the seagull, sat like an old sea dog, his head cocked, watching the vessel berth. The seagulls have been with us throughout the trip, in fact I think there were more of them in Glasgow than on the island. Their familiar calls a reminder of home. The city centre was filled with pigeons, you could tell they were city dwellers; they had that confident swagger as they strutted among the busy shoppers, parading up and down, looking for scraps.
We were only in the city an hour before we bumped into a couple of ‘Ileachs’ (the name given to people from Islay), they had come to the city to see the Dolly Parton concert. As we chatted another local hotelier from the island and his wife walked past. It is a small world; you always meet Islay people wherever you go!
I got taken for my Indian meal too; you can’t beat a good Glasgow curry. We met up with Donald’s sister and her husband. The happy farmer was accosting every passing waiter/waitress with brochures for the holiday cottages and tales of his island home. He is quite a liability in the city. He came to meet me at the CL fair and met half a dozen people he knew, and spent the next hour chatting to people he didn’t know, I just managed to steer him away from ‘Snapdragons’ beautiful store before he completely blew my identity! He got totally carried away at the olive stall; we have a carrier bag brimming with them. I even managed to get the happy farmer to place a stunning diamond eternity ring on my finger, well for a few seconds anyway. It came with a £3400.00 price tag so it went back into its glass case and I tucked away another pipe dream!
Back in the city I headed to TK Max to see if I could get a jacket for my eldest daughter. I came out laden with a carved wooden duck, a wooden cockerel, no jacket, and a pail, the CL feeling had obviously gone straight to my head, but I got these treats at a greatly reduced price!
I am now sitting on the ferry deck, listening to the gently hum of the engines, with the smell of the sea and fresh paint, they are always painting on Calmac ferries to try and combat the rust from the sea air. The mainland is gradually slipping into the distance as we head out across the sea. As we pass the island of Gigha, there are three wind turbines caught in the glare of the afternoon sun, working away steadily. I wonder whether they really are such an eyesore when they provide green energy so effectively. If they are kept in small numbers in carefully located areas they remain fairly unobtrusive and certainly in the haze of the afternoon sun as we sail past, they fitted in just fine….

Until next time…..

24th March
The stark contrast between my city life and life on the island really hit me, quite literally when I entered old Hughie’s kitchen one day. I got slapped in the face by the two washing lines of mackerel hanging across the room drying out. He was preserving them to eat during the winter months. I had often walked past old Hughie’s cottage, it had the most idyllic setting on the shores of a loch. However my picture of what the kitchen would be like and the reality were too different things, this was much much better. This was a kitchen where tackety boots were worn, wholesome meals served up by Hughie from his stove. The banter was amazing. Old Hughie had a fascinating language all of his own. He would ask how the ‘chassis’ was (your back), pass comments on the ‘old coat hanger’ out on the hill, a rather bony looking old cow who had been on his farm for years. His engine was always ‘ticking’ over (he was in good health).Old Hughie had lived on his farm all of his life, he was born there. He was one of the family to us, always checking in to see how we were, lending us his pick up if we were going away to a market, complete with the wing mirrors and doors held together with rope.
I hadn’t been on the island for long. I was racing, getting lunch organised, I had an appointment in the main village. Donald and Hughie came in. Hughie had just called by. We sat and had a cuppa and a chat. Donald insisted Hughie stay for his lunch. Hughie made his excuses, but the happy farmer would not take no for an answer. That is the way it is on an island. Over the years I have learnt to adapt to the welcoming spontaneous ways. Quite often at meal times there are extra mouths to feed, or you call in on someone and a quick five minutes turns into a stay of several hours.
Anyway, racing around, as I was going out I put on an extra jacket potato, cursing as I went, I was in a rush. I served up the potatoes filled with coleslaw and cheese, and we sat down to eat. I could barely eat mine fast enough, scalding my mouth as I went, needing to get away. Old Hughie sat and watched me. He looked at his plate. He picked up his fork and gingerly prodded the coleslaw.
‘Its got a foreign name’ he said in his lovely island lilt, ‘but it’s really just cabbage and carrots…’
‘Hughie, if you don’t want to eat it that’s fine’ I said.
He prodded it again, before scooping up a forkful into his mouth. Old Hughie had one of those faces full of years of character, filled with laughter lines, worn and weather beaten, so when he grimaced, which he did as he pulled the most extraordinary faces as he pushed the coleslaw around his mouth, you got the full effect.
‘Hughie, really, just leave it if you don’t want to eat it.’
He looked at me.
‘We’ll give it the test’ he said. I watched as he placed the plate on the floor and called to his ‘wee’ Jack Russell ‘Fruich’. Fruich came bounding over, sniffed the plate, to my horror, licked the edge and then walked off. A huge grin spread over old Hughie’s face ‘Ha ha, if Fruich can’t eat it then I can’t eat it....’
I would have sworn at the happy farmer there and then, but I couldn’t we had a visitor. So I raced out the door as he grinned at me.
Old Hughie is no longer with us. He died a few years ago, and not because of the coleslaw! We miss Hughie, he was a real character. Donald worries that the old characters are dying out, what he doesn’t see is that he is stepping into their boots. There are a whole new generation of characters in the making.
Until next time…
25th March
The gales and rain have gone, the skies have cleared, and on days like this you realise what a beautiful place you live in. Everything has come to life; it was the first day of spring yesterday, and our first real taste of it. The trampoline was unpacked from the shed, and at 9.00pm last night I looked out of the window to see three happy children, in their PJs, and the happy farmer bouncing around, suddenly you remember what the summer months are all about.
The children were out and about for the whole day yesterday. Our eldest daughter was with the horses in the field all afternoon, only appearing back to get the camera so she could photograph the lizard sleeping on the rocks. The youngest was busy getting deck chairs erected in the garden for Mist, the pup, and spring cleaning her wendy house. Even the pigs were snoozing in the middle of the vegetable patch in the afternoon sun.
I spent yesterday separating and replanting snow drop bulbs, and then mulching the flower beds with manure. Today there is that country ‘stench’ as the farmers all spread slurry in the fields. At least I know I got it right with the horse manure then!
Later we walked through the woods, along the river, on a ‘crocus walk’ to raise funds for breast cancer. We do it every year, although usually we walk in torrential rain and floods. This year the sun was smiling on us, as mums and young children, made their way along the track, purple balloons blowing in the breeze. Last year we raised around £1500.00, which just goes to show how much people care. I sent my sponsor form with the happy farmer when he went for the papers and a pint last night. I can’t ask you all to sponsor me, but if you come across a collection box for breast cancer today, put a donation in for all of us.
Until next time…
26th March
Strip the Willow, dashing white sergeant, Canadian barn dance, I have now mastered them all, well nearly, I still rely on a strong pair of hands to guide me through my paces. I am talking ceilidh dancing here. Ceilidhs are very much part of island life. The venue is usually a village hall. A live ceilidh band plays, which usually consists of someone on the ‘squeeze box’ (accordion), sometimes a fiddler or two, and a keyboard, but it has been known for a whole ceilidh to be run with just one ‘moothie’ (mouth organ to those who haven’t got the lingo yet). It is similar to the barn dances we used to have occasionally back home in the Midlands, except at a Scottish ceilidh there is no caller shouting out the dance steps, there is no need as ceilidhs are a family affair and so the islanders have been dancing the dances for as long back as they can remember. They are wild nights; with lots of ‘whooping’ and shouting as the kilt clad men swing their partners around the floor. There is always a mountain of food to get through and people will take to the floor to sing songs in their native tongue, with a beautiful Gaelic lilt.
It is at such an evening that I met the happy farmer. My brother and I had just arrived on the Isle of Jura for a backpacking trip. We had learnt on the ferry over that there was to be a ceilidh that evening in the village as there had been a fells race on the island. The Fells Race is an annual event; people arrive on the island from all over to run up the Paps of Jura. We didn’t really make plans to go to the ceilidh, but the islanders ferried us there and would not take no for an answer, so tent pitched, we found ourselves in the middle of a huge gathering. The island was buzzing, runners arriving back from the race, campers everywhere, the bar spilling out onto the single track road, the yachts moored in the bay, their tenders ferrying people across to the village. We popped into the bar to get food, when an incredibly tall man came over, the opening line being,
‘What’s a good looking girl like you doing with this ugly ‘mug’?’ Or words to that effect, in reality I can’t print his use of language, a corny chat up line with strong language. I was not impressed, as I scowled and spat out
‘That’s my brother,’
My brother grinned and said ‘Oh she’s just my sister; you are welcome to her mate…’ I should have known I couldn’t rely on my brother.
At this point the tall guy, aka the happy farmer, took my brother to the bar to get him a drink, the two of them leaving me standing. The happy farmer then introduced my brother to his cousin, came back, grabbed me, threw me over his shoulder, and ran off with me. Yes that was my introduction to the man I have spent the last eighteen years of my life with. I did of course take a lot more convincing, but an evening of being swirled around the dance floor at a traditional ceilidh, or maybe ‘flung’ would be more appropriate, helped along the way. The locals certainly know how to enjoy themselves and as I said, there is always a warm welcome!
When we got married, I went home to my parish church in the Midlands. My husband’s family and the islanders followed us down. Another happy farmer stood on my front doorstep and piped as I got ready, then piped me to the church where my brother in law was piping all of the guests in. The islanders took over the hotel where we had our reception, when the disco music stopped they got out their pipes and the ceilidh dancing began.
We left for our honeymoon. On our return my husband and his family organised a huge ceilidh for all of the islanders in the village hall, everyone bussed in from the far flung corners of the island, and from the neighbouring Isle of Jura. We had a Gaelic blessing for our marriage and an evening of singing and dancing, the ceilidh band had come over from the mainland to play at the local show dance. They happily stayed another night to play for us at our wedding ceilidh, along with some local accordion players. I can remember dancing with my husband in the moonlight as a farmer serenaded us on the bagpipes outside.
This week is our day of dance. All of the primary school children come together in a village hall to have a ceilidh dance. Local ladies have been working with them in the schools, on a voluntary basis, teaching them the steps, putting them through the paces.
I sometimes feel sad that this rich culture is not passed onto the children throughout the country. When I grew up in the Midlands, we were never taught about the rich cultures of our lands; we were never introduced to ceilidh dancing or the Gaelic or Welsh languages. When I did my teaching practice in the London schools, the children were learning to embrace the many varied cultures of the world, the Chinese and Indian festivals, their education was wonderful. However there was not a mention of the Welsh or Gaelic languages, of the rich cultural heritage of their neighbours and partners in the world. It is an issue I feel very strongly about as I see the island struggle to hold onto its language, the language of its forefathers, the language which retains the islander’s sense of humour and their identity. As an incomer I am enjoying learning about the rich and varied culture of the islanders, and wanted to share it with you …
Until next time..
I forgot to explain that when the happy farmer threw me over his shoulder and ran off with me (not before bouncing my head off the low ceiling in the pub I hasten to add) his behaviour was not as ‘cave-mannish’ as it sounds. No apparently this was part of the ‘mating’ ritual. You see the Viking blood runs strong in these parts, or so they tell me. Apparently the Vikings invaded the islands years ago, raping and pillaging as they went. This may also explain the happy farmers height and blonde locks, well they were blonde once, until they began to fall out at a rapid rate of knots, all my fault, I say tongue in cheek!!
In the summer months they even ‘pillage’ whisky from the distilleries rowing around the island in long boats, and then auctioning off the pillaged malt for charity!
As I read my earlier blog to the happy ‘viking-esque’ farmer, he pointed out that I had missed out one of the funniest moments in the story of our wedding/honeymoon. You see we flew out from Manchester airport on honeymoon following our wedding, the happy farmer still kilt clad. The airport was absolutely packed out as it was July. However when we went through security the beeper ‘beeped’ loudly as the happy farmer walked through the metal arch. I suspect it was the heavy sporran, but the whole airport came to a standstill, the security guards began to wolf whistle as a very red faced security man looked at the tall Scottish man in his kilt, in the end he reclined to frisk him, saying if any of the other men wanted to take his place they could do so.
I wonder what would happen with today’s security procedures. Must make a note not to let the happy farmer travel in his kilt….
Until next time…

28th March
What is it about a farm house kitchen? There I was racing round trying to get a quiche baked for the tea and organise the packed lunches, in between getting more seeds planted in cold frames, and sat, right in the middle of it all, at the kitchen table are the farmers, going on and on about the new road tax being placed on four by fours. Honestly my head was spinning by the end of it. I was racing around, tripping over them, clambering in and out of cupboards while they went ‘off’ on one of those political discussions. The new tax will of course affect them, they rely on their jeeps to tackle the rough terrain when scouting around the animals, and they use them to transport fencing equipment out the hills, to take a sheep to the vet’s, and for any number of other farm labours. I think they were a bit fed up to say the least, but not in my kitchen, not on a sunny evening. Eventually I did break in and asked them if they were going to tag the calf or just sit around drinking tea. Luckily they can take a hint and they took it well, had a giggle at my outburst and scampered out the door, offering to pierce ears on their way out with the calf tagging clippers.
I saw our first spring lamb yesterday; it is always such an exciting sight. I love it when the lambs arrive. I do realise that while I am going to be recalling our lambing adventures probably where you are they will have been born weeks ago, probably on their way to market as I type.
The sheepdog and I spied the lamb when we went for our run. There it was soft and white, with its mother, on the sunny slopes of the hillside. We changed our route slightly so as not to disturb them, but the mother seemed very keen, casting a protective eye over her lamb, as she watched us. Lambs will happily come bleating after you and follow you when they see you. They tend to follow anything that moves. When the happy farmer does his rounds on the quad bike he often has a few skipping behind the bike, he has to speed off or sometimes double back to lose them. You see the ewes will leave their lambs sleeping in a spot while they go off for a bite of grass. Not a problem if the lamb isn’t disturbed, but if someone walks past the lamb will get up and follow them. It isn’t the first time that we have had a tourist knocking on the door, a bleating lamb in their arms, as they tell us it had lost its mother and followed them. Of course this is a total nightmare for the happy farmer as he tries to locate the lamb’s mum. Ewes will head butt a lamb away if it does not belong to them.
Gimmers, the teenage mums, are very guilty of not taking their role seriously at all and will often skip off and abandon their lambs. In these cases the happy farmer has to place the gimmer and lamb in a pen together to encourage them to bond, allowing the lamb to get the colostrum, the first milk, which is vital to their survival. If the Gimmer still rejects her lamb then Donald will try and adopt it onto a sheep that has lost a lamb. Some ewes will hang around their dead lamb for several days. The adoptive process is complicated. Donald has to skin the dead lamb and make an over coat out of it for the abandoned lamb. This gives the lamb the right ‘smell’ for the ewe, and once the lamb begins to suckle, and the milk is through their system, the ‘over skin’ can come off. It is a lovely process to watch though as the ewe seems to believe her dead lamb really has come back to life and becomes very protective of the lamb. The adoption process is always better than hand rearing a spring lamb. Bottle fed lambs never flourish as well as the lambs with the ewes.
I will keep you posted as the lambing adventures begin.
Until next time…

29th March
There is a buzz in the air, the sun is splitting the skies, and the children have broken up from school. Tomorrow the ferry will arrive laden with visitors coming over to the island for holidays. Spring really is the time when everything wakens up again. After the long winter months of hibernation, people are out and about again. The farmhouse had non stop visitors today, the farrier, a game keeper looking for some hens, a farmer in for a cup, an American looking to hire a bike from the happy potters, and a huge pot of curry is bubbling away on the Rayburn, for a feast tonight when our friends come to visit. When I went for my run today the hill was alive with lizards, at this time of year you always come across them scuttling away through the long grass. They get me every time, I find myself squealing each time one zig zags through the undergrowth, if only I could speak lizard speak, I bet they have something to say too when my big clodhoppers come running along, disturbing them from basking in the sunshine! We’ve got a pair of ducks who seem to have settled in one of the deep ditches, that has swollen to form a pond. They always take me unawares too; they take flight everyday as I approach the boggy land that is their home, startling me as they go. We lost a ewe today. Donald says she had twin lamb disease, with this disease the ewes lose the power in their legs, and collapse and then die. It seems so cruel when they are so close to lambing. No more lambs yet, but tomorrow, watch out!! Until next time…
29th March

Mist, the sheepdog pup has been trying all morning to climb onto the trampoline. Just watching those back legs scramble away like mad, as she hangs on by her front paws is highly entertaining! The children will be so pleased if she manages, I think she may have second thoughts though once she realises what happens on a trampoline. Time will tell.

She reminded me of Rosie dog when she was a puppy. We had a large armchair in the kitchen. How we used to laugh as we watched her everyday try to climb up onto the chair, tail wagging away, back legs wriggling as she tried desperately to lever herself up. Of course there came the day when she finally managed. From that day on, the chair became hers, if you dared to sit on it she would clamber round the back of you and lever you off! It became a smelly old chair as she became a lovely smelly old dog.

When I first met the happy farmer he had a sheepdog called Moss. She was a real character. She worshipped Donald, but took a long time to bond with me, pushing herself between us whenever we were all out and about on the farm. If Donald went away to the mainland she used to sit all day in his tractor cab and pine for him until his return.

When I first lived on the farm I used to walk through the fields to find Donald when I got in from work. I used to call to Moss, but she would never come for a walk with me, she would never go anywhere with me, unless Donald came too. However, one day she seemed to suss that whenever I went for a walk I would always return with the happy farmer. On that day as I drove into the farmyard she was waiting for me, as soon as I got out of the car she ran up to me and followed me into the house, as I got changed I could hear her barking. I am sure she was telling me to hurry up. When I set off for my walk, Moss was at my heal, smiling up at me, her long tongue hanging out. She walked like that the whole way until we reached the happy farmer, and then the tail started to wag as she bounded up to greet him. The happy farmer was equally pleased to see I had finally been given the seal of approval from the most important lady in his life.

Once Moss even followed me onto the Jura ferry. Donald was fencing over there at the time. As we walked along the single track road she kept casting me a glance as if to say ‘are you sure he is here, you aren’t just leading me on are you?’
And then we heard it, the land rover engine, her ears pricked up, and a huge grin spread across that face of hers, as the happy farmer drove around the corner.

As she got older we would all go off out the hill to round up the sheep. Moss would run along, full of enthusiasm, and then suddenly disappear over a hill. The happy farmer would become somewhat disgruntled as he shouted for her, watching as the sheep began to scatter, but no sign of Moss, and then as we walked over the next hill there she would be, out of sight, her having a quick five minute snooze!

Moss used to sleep in the old byre. Donald couldn’t understand how she was getting so fat, so he put her on a diet, but to no avail. The less he fed her, the fatter she was becoming, until one day she was so bloated she could hardly stand and certainly wasn’t fit enough to work. It took a few nights for us to realise that once she was shut in, she was having her meal, and then had managed to make a hole in the rotten old door at the back of the byre. She was sneaking out and heading to the shed where she gorged herself silly on more dog food and other delights.

It was a very sad day when Moss died. We were devastated. Donald managed to buy another working collie from a shepherd who had been over working on one of the farms. She was called Mist. The first night she was in the landrover and threatened to bite the happy farmer every time he went anywhere near the car, so he just left her to settle in. He was up at 5.00am the next morning to go ploughing, he let Mist out for a quick run about while he checked the bolts on the plough and made sure everything was in good working order. When he looked up the dog had disappeared. He whistled but there was no sign. He went into the farmhouse, thinking he had lost the dog, but there she was, tucking into the haunch of venison, which she had lifted out of the oven. She had had a rare feast. Funnily enough from that moment on she became firm friends with the happy farmer that proved to be the bonding session.

Until next time…

29th March.

‘I’ve got a visitor in my garden darling…’ it was Val, Donald’s mum, on the phone at 7.30am. Donald knew the visiting lady in question immediately

‘Is she the ewe with the really grey nose and the black tuft between her horns?’ I heard him ask, of course it was. Donald knows the sheep well. She is the one who, when he has the sheep all gathered in the fank, will clear the fank wall, with a jump and a scrabble, and then stand a few feet away staring at him. Donald says he can even hear her chuckling at his cursing.
The same sheep also stands her ground with Roy, the sheepdog, when he is rounding up the sheep, meaning Donald has to run after her and personally guide her to the others. She is a true character, a sheep among sheep. The same lady also produces twin lambs each year, which she fiercely protects and proudly raises. She knows her home well, and this morning she is having a feast of young buds and flowers in my mother in law’s garden. She is heavily pregnant, so I can understand her actions!
There have been no more births to report, but when Donald fed the ewes this morning he noticed they are beginning to get a vessel on them, which means they are getting very close to lambing. It also means he will stop feeding them in a few day’s time, as once they start lambing, if you feed them the lambs all get mixed up and separated from the ewes, causing mayhem.
I always thought sheep all looked the same. The happy farmer can identify most of his girls by their markings and personalities. On closer inspection I have learnt that sheep are not identical, each blackface or cross ewe has its own intricate colourings around the face, its own speckled markings and tufts of grey.
I never appreciated that sheep are quite intelligent, have their won agenda and do not always follow the crowd, except that is at tupping time. If you walk through a field of sheep in the autumn they will all run together and gather in a flock, more so than at any other time of year. You try rounding them up and gathering them in at another time and it can be quite a skilled and complicated operation, island sheep have a mind of their own….

Until next time…

31st March.

The cheeky sheep found her way into my mother in law’s garden and has been feasting on the lovely array of spring flowers again. She keeps jumping the ‘temporary’ fence the happy potters have put up around the garden. The worrying thing about a ‘temporary’ fence and the happy potters is that there is a very strong possibility that the fence will remain ‘temporary’ for many months to come, even years, until the happy farmer finally fixes it!
Donald sped off on his quad bike through the fields in a bid to try and salvage the situation. He planned to place the cheeky sheep in the big field, away from any flowers, gardens or ‘temporary’ fences. As he chased her back along the road, she only went and jumped over the nearest available wall, sticking her tongue out at the farmer as she went (note I missed out the ‘happy’ part in his title there for obvious reasons!!). A calming cup of coffee on the bench in front of the house, and minutes later he sped off to try again, and so the battle commenced, ending with the cheeky sheep finally making it to the designated front field out of harms way!
Thank you for all of your sympathetic comments yesterday regarding the sad loss of one of our pregnant ewes to twin lamb disease. I must warn you however that the happy farmer believes a sheep’s ambition in life is to die, by any available means. So best prepare yourselves for the lambing sagas, at the end of some seasons here it can look like a mass suicide has occurred. We can only remain vigilant and keep our fingers and toes crossed that the good weather holds out. You can usually tell the lambing has well and truly started, that is when the sun packs its bags again and the hail and gales return, sometimes even snow, and just when you thought spring was well and truly here.
Let’s hope it’s a good spring and an extra good lambing….

Until next time..

1st April

We went ‘abroad’ today. We left the island and headed over the sea to Jura. The sun was splitting the skies; we stood on the deck for the short crossing, breathing in the salt spray and sea air. It is only a five minute journey, but, as I have said in earlier blogs, you are transported to another world.

There is only one single track road on Jura, a twisting, winding one, which led us first to the Jura walled gardens, an oasis hidden in the hillside, sloping down to the sea. As you open the gate, it is like stepping into the ‘secret garden’. There is a maze made from carefully clipped hedges, and an abundance of flowers, bushes and palm trees. I stocked up on a variety of hebes for the garden, as they are grown locally they thrive in the troughs and flower beds on the farm, that is when the sheep don’t get to them first!

Unfortunately eldest daughter was in a complete strop, not wanting to go to Jura at all, she sulked in the car, while we walked through the woods to the gardens. Not yet a teenager she has hit that awkward stage of practising to be one. Luckily by the time we got to the pub for lunch hunger got the better of her, and the mood evaporated, thank goodness.

We watched some of the fishermen head out to collect their creels as we tucked into a hearty lunch. They gave us half a crate of fresh langoustines for our tea tonight. I’m going to steam them and we’ll have them with garlic mayonnaise and salad. My hand made a hasty retreat from the crate as they wriggled and curled round as I went to lift one. I think the happy farmer can get that job!

The deer were feeding from the troughs with the Highland cows as we headed back to the ferry. We gathered shells on the beach as we watched the ferry heading towards us across the Sound. My son disturbed a couple of adders in the undergrowth as he climbed a nearby slope, I must get over my hang ups of all things ‘creepy’!

Until next time…

2nd April.

The plastic ‘poos’ of yesterday have been cleared away, although the youngest is still working on those April fool’s jokes. This morning she told me she was going to get her eye pierced when she is older…eek, as I carefully explained that you couldn’t possibly get your eye pierced because it would cause terrible damage (don’t think they are doing this practice yet, but must confess body piercing only amounted to ears when I was younger…), a huge grin spread across her face ‘April Fool’, well thank goodness for that!!

Yesterday we had a set of twins and a single lamb born, and today, another set of twins, although yesterday’s set were dead this morning. It happens. The happy farmer reckons that they mustn’t have got colostrum, that all important ‘first’ milk which the ewe produces for the first few feeds. So the first ‘trickle’ of lambs have started to appear, by this time next week it will be pandemonium!

The happy farmer enrolled me on a lambing course with the local vet when I first arrived here. We gathered in the surgery where the vet had what looked like a large metal container with a small hole, and a bin liner with a set of dead twin lambs in it. We put gloves on and then each took turns to ‘deliver’ the dead lambs as she placed them in varying positions. If the head is coming first, the trick is to push it gently back in, find the two front legs and carefully ease the lamb out, legs first. There was a plastic contraption with a loop which you could place around the legs if necessary to ease out the lamb.

We then went on a farm visit, where we were introduced to lambing boxes, which were made from wood, and have a heat lamp in them, to place newborn lambs with hypothermia in. We were shown how to inject very poorly lambs with glucose, just by its umbilical cord. How to clear a lamb’s lungs, when they are first born, if they are sickly lambs, by gently rubbing and massaging them, and swinging them by the back legs, to and fro, to clear any mucus.

I found the course really interesting and very helpful when I got out in the fields to do my first lambing. Most sheep lamb themselves naturally and need no intervention or intrusion from happy farmers. However when scouting around the fields you look out for the sheep that are ‘pushing’, if necessary leave them for a while and come back to check on them, sometimes you will see a sheep with a lamb’s head sticking out, and the lamb is quite literally ‘stuck’. My first experience of this was out in the field furthest away. I spotted the sheep in trouble, as I approached, she took off, lamb’s head hanging out, and so the chase began. It ended as she jumped over a stream, but landed in it. What a battle I had trying to heave her out of the water, sheep are twice their weight with wet fleeces. Huffing and puffing she lay on the banks of the stream as I tried to gently push the lamb’s head back in. Luckily the happy farmer appeared on his quad bike at just the right moment and skilfully lambed the sheep for me.

I find the whole process of lambing absolutely fascinating. I had to retire for a few years as pregnant women must not go near sheep when they are lambing, and the happy farmer had to have a whole disinfecting routine going on in his shed to ensure I did not come into contact with any of the germs or bacteria, as they can be very harmful to an unborn baby..
Today’s job for the happy farmer and his troops is to whitewash the farmhouse in between lambing shifts. It is could do with a good freshen up after the harsh winter storms. The happy farmer has got a whitewashing programme organised, to get the farm house and farm cottages all looking bright and white! The children are enrolled on the programme too, after they have fed the pigs and hens, and eldest daughter has finished painting her ‘beware of the Highland cows’ sign to warn the snap happy visitors not to get too close to our ladies, or Pringle, the bull. I think the happy farmer will be able to retire at this rate, instead he is off to finish planting his new hedgerow along the burn.

Until next time…

3rd April
The garden looks like a war zone today, well every day just now. It is littered from one end to the other. The culprit, Mist, our sheepdog pup, has happily chomped her way through plant pots, buckets and spades, a pillow case off the washing line, and has left her tooth marks in not one, but two pairs of glittery pink sandals. She is in her element, but it is a constant battle reminding the children not to leave any of their plastic paraphernalia or shoes lying around the trampoline. Milla be warned!!

The happy farmer lambed a black face ewe today, the first black face sheep on the farm to ‘produce’ this season. It was a big cross lamb, to a blue face Leicester tup. The lamb was ‘stuck’, head and one leg poking out, but the happy farmer managed to save the day. The lamb took a lot of reviving; he had to massage it for ages and swing it to and fro several times, gently easing a piece of grass up its nostrils to clear the passages. He has tied one of his blue gloves around the ewe’s horn so he can check up on them both later, he had forgotten to take his spray can with him to mark her, handy things these gloves!! Yesterday’s lambs are all thriving.

The rest of the new hedgerow got planted out this morning too. Donald has planted a variety of shrubs and bushes, hawthorn, blackthorn, hazel, escallonia, blackthorn, field maple and various wild roses. He finished the job by staggering 30 holly bushes along the length of the hedge, so hopefully we will be able to decorate the house with our own berries at Christmas in the coming years, instead of gathering them from the nearby woods. The next job will be to fertilize the new hedgerow, and then put some chickens in; they are excellent at weeding and really helped to get our first hedge established a few years ago.

The island is still bathed in glorious sunshine. The Clydesdale, Meg, is only three and a half years old. She is an absolute delight and has become our eldest daughter’s firm companion. Jessica was delighted today when she found Meg lying, stretched out, and enjoying the heat of the sun. She sat on her, leaning into her, Meg enveloping her like a giant, comfy sofa. When Meg eventually stood up, she bent down, and ‘slobbered’ all over Jessica’s face. Jessica’s latest trick is to blow gently up Meg’s nostrils, Meg responds by giving her a huge hug, wrapping her long neck and head around her. It is lovely watching the communication and bonding between them. Meg has come to stay with us on the farm, and couldn’t have come at a better time, arriving a few months before Jessica lost Rosie, her special horse. In the summer Meg’s owner is going to break her in for riding and train her up to pull a cart. Jessica is going to be able to join in with this fascinating process, learning with her friend, the gentle giant.
Until next time…

4th April

My hands are blistered and I am covered in specks of paint. The white washing programme finally began with the happy farmer up the ladder in the late evening sun last night. We had planned to get started a couple of days ago, but have had a steady stream of visitors, and then with the lambing and hedge planting, it got slightly postponed.

I thought I had better do my bit to help out so have spent the morning slapping on the paint and staring at the old white stone walls of our home. Whitewashing, although gruelling, is a satisfying job, covering over the scars of the winter storms, leaving the house looking fresh, crisp and loved again! It is again something that I associate with life in the country, in my suburban childhood, our house was made of bricks and we were never lashed by severe winter storms in the Midlands, so white washing was never on the agenda.

On the farm everything gets white washed now and again, not just for appearance, but also to preserve the stone work. The wind and rain eat away at the white walls, and would eventually expose the old stone and concrete, which if left would also be eroded by the weather. In the old ruins around the island, you see the old stone walls begin to collapse as the concrete is eroded, and gradually the nettles and bracken take over as nature reclaims the land.

I always find it fascinating to look at these old stone ruins, and wonder at the stories and history that go with them. Our farm cottage had no roof and a huge tree growing through the old stone walls when I first arrived on the farm. It had once been the home of Donald’s old great uncles; Donald’s father often recalled how, in the winter, as a child, he used to sit with his old uncles around the fire, in the cottage, as they told him stories about the island and of bygone days.

Donald has lovingly restored the cottage, and now it is home to many happy holiday people as they come to our farm and share in our island life. Tomorrow it will be getting its walls white washed again too.

A huge yellow contraption has appeared in our front garden. The happy farmer has borrowed a ‘cherry picker’ from his old school friend, a builder, who lives down the road. So while I tackle the lower walls Donald is in the yellow box, complete with gear stick-like controls, happily painting the upper walls. Well at least he says he’s painting, I think he is just getting carried away with his new ‘toy’, every time I pass he is moving up, down or to the left a bit!! It is so much safer than previous years when he has balanced precariously on the top of his ladder, and then worse still he seems to lean his weight on the ladder and bounce it along slightly to move along the wall, thank goodness for cherry pickers.

Until next time…

Until next time…

5th April

Milly you were right, my shoulder ached all night from my white washing efforts yesterday, and the blisters on my hand throbbed. How do these painters and decorators do it? The white walls of the farmhouse gleamed in the bright sunshine this morning though, making the effort worth it. There is something deeply satisfying about painting over the moss and dirt of winter.

Of course my attention was quickly turned to more pressing matters as I saw the cheeky pup tear my hanging basket to pieces, emptying its contents all over the lawn. Yes, she had a field day in the garden as everything had been moved away from the walls for the white washing programme which for her equalled a whole load of new toys, and for me, a great deal of clearing up. She really went to town, scattering everything everywhere. She even got her teeth into a bag of compost shaking it, as the soil fell all over the slate patio, so the morning was spent sweeping and clearing the garden.

My godmother came round for a coffee this morning; she has come up from the Midlands to stay with my parents. It was so lovely to see her. I was immediately transported back to the magical land of childhood again as we talked about old times and I caught up on all of her news.

Back to reality though, I’ve got ten of us for dinner tonight, and a friend has just phoned to ask if he can stay over tonight, he’s coming to the island on business today. It’s all hands on deck, as I prepare a feast for a good old social evening of wining and dining. The happy farmer was at last persuaded to move all of his tools and bits of wood out of the dining room, his store while he was renovating the kitchen. I’ve got my dining room back at last, yippee!

On the lambing front, we had a set of triplets born today. The happy farmer has taken them in and placed them in a pen in the fank so he can keep a close eye on them to make sure they are getting enough milk, one of them looks very weak. He was speaking to a fellow farmer this morning, he had also had triplets, but it wasn’t such a happy story. The sheep had prolapsed earlier in the week and the vet had put in some stitches, the farmer loosened the stitches as she started to lamb, and then left her at the vets to have the stitches removed. The vet has just phoned him to say they had to perform a caesarean on the sheep. A happy ending it might sound, but the market price for the lambs, if they survive, will not cover the vet’s bill.

We all went out with the happy farmer on his lambing rounds last night. Three of us in the trailer and two on the bike, the kids love the fact that I am a complete wimp on the quad bike, especially when I have to stand in the trailer. I panic at every bump and hill, as we race along, the children screaming with delight, and the happy farmer warning them to keep quiet so they don’t disturb give the sheep .There was nothing doing in the maternity wards (the fields) last night, all was calm. There were a few more welcome arrivals, but no one needing a hand from the farmer and his crew of helpers. We stopped on the road to chat to the plumber as he made his way up the road to the distillery cottages to fix a problem, a car load of tourists behind him. The gamekeeper and his wife passed, out for a spin, and our holiday people were out waving as we went by. The spring season is well and truly here.
Until next time…

6th April.

The happy farmer was delighted today, he found out that one of the guests in our holiday cottages is training to be a vet, better still she had noticed a ewe having trouble lambing. She raced out through the fields on the quad bike with the happy farmer, guiding him to the ewe. On catching her Donald gave the lambing gloves to the student and guided her as she lambed her very first sheep. It went really well, and the ewe was a very keen mother, so there should be no more problems there. Better still Donald is taking his new assistant out again on the evening shift, what a shame we didn’t discover her talents earlier in the week. They have booked for next year, at this rate we could retire for next year’s lambing!

The afternoon visit round the labour wards was a busy one (I can’t refer to the fields as maternity wards today, as lambs are appearing all over the place). The happy farmer was out with quad bike, trailer and five children. Again they spotted a sheep having trouble lambing. They managed to corner her, and then ably assisted by the children, the happy farmer lambed another sheep. They headed back for the fank (a fank for those of you who missed the earlier blogs, is a maze of dry stone dykes where the farmers pen the sheep to work with them, dipping, dosing, clipping and so on). Donald then placed the ewe and lamb in a pen, before milking the ewe for colostrum, which he placed in a tube, and then ‘stomach fed’ the lamb. This involves feeding a thin plastic tube through the lamb’s mouth and into its stomach, you have to be careful you get the stomach and not the lungs at this point as you risk drowning the lamb if the tube is in the wrong place. The lamb was quite weak and had been sick so Donald wanted to make sure she got the colostrum (first milk) especially as this was the ewe’s first lamb, she was a gimmer (teenage mum!). We then all stood in the sunshine and watched, children perched up high on the dyke, as the gimmer bonded with the lamb, gently sniffing her, and the lamb tried to stand up for the very first time on those ever so wobbly little legs.

Until next time…

7th April

The island was busy today as tourists left their holiday homes for the ferry first thing. The afternoon ferry will bring in a whole load of new visitors with the buzz and excitement they in turn bring along, as they start their island adventure.

The happy farmer did his cottage visits last night. He called by each cottage with a dram and some clootie dumpling He is interested in people and loves to know more about them and their lives. It turns out the one lot of guests are related to him, they produced a family tree, as their ancestors hail from the islands. The happy farmer’s ancestors appeared on the same tree. It is a small world. The other guests wanted to know if he had lived on the island his whole life, his reply of ‘not yet’ had them in hysterics.

This morning my son and I raced to see my friend with an Easter card the children had created, some eggs from our hens, wine and a basket of plants. She lives along a lovely twisting, winding single track road, in the middle of nowhere. It is my favourite road on the island. It leads you through some spectacular scenery, peat bogs and heather clad hills. Deer roam freely, coming down off the hills to take their share from the troughs left to feed the farm animals. There are few fences, just cattle grids and dry stone dykes, and just a couple of old stone cottages along the way.

She took us out to the barn to see the latest additions, a huge sow and her seven piglets. The sow was a Middle White and had been crossed with a black pig, so the piglets looked like liquorice allsorts, pink with huge patches of black. They were gorgeous, but very smelly. We couldn’t go in though as the sow is a very grumpy ‘mummy’, so we just watched from the barn door as the piglets toppled over themselves in their race, away from the heat lamp, coming over to see us.

Until next time…

8th April.

I was at the top of the hill yesterday when I saw a car full of people arrive at the holiday cottage. I had just run to the top, and there they were, tiny specks in the distance. I got the mobile out of my pocket and quickly dialled the happy farmer.

‘Hold on, I have just lambed a sheep, we’re in the fields. I’ll be there as soon as I can…’

‘I’m at the top of the hill….’

We needn’t have worried as luck would have it, one of my ‘bestest’ friends had just turned up. She had seen to the guests, settled them in, and made them feel welcome. The happy farmer swerved around the corner, complete with quad bike and trailer full of children, as I arrived back off the hill, puffing and panting. The children all elated as they had experienced, for the second day running, the birth of a new lamb.

I always like to give the guests in our cottages a warm island welcome. We usually leave a bottle of wine and oat cakes and cheese, and some fresh flowers in a vase. I had noted that these guests had two children, so as it was Easter, I had left a couple of eggs from the Easter bunny for the kids. The adults came out of the cottage to meet me; they were followed by two even taller boys in their late teens, complete with long hair and dreadlocks. The children were ‘big’ children, big grown up looking children. However they very quickly reassured me that you are never too old to like chocolate, that I had in fact made their Easter, as you get to a certain age when suddenly the eggs decline in numbers, become non existent in some cases. I know what they mean as I try and pinch a bit of my daughter’s chocolate from her egg today.

I sat on the bench with my friend at the front of the farmhouse and had a cup of tea as we looked out across the fields to the sea in the late afternoon sun. My friend has been coming to the island since her and my children were tiny. They arrive to their island home every school holiday. Our children have grown up together, from the days when the boys used to race through the farmhouse with plastic swords and Robin Hood hats, shrieking and shouting as they went, and the girls making dens in the old out buildings. We have spent the summer’s together exploring the island, picnicking on beaches, in the woods, and by hill Lochs.

My friend is a real ‘pro’ when it comes to the picnics. She always arrives with folding armchairs, flasks of tea, and for the beach a disposable barbeque or camping stove.

We have spent summers out on the hillside while the children have gathered bilberries, the youngest not even walking then, would be happy just sitting among the bilberries and eating them, covering herself in the purple juices, while the older ones competed to see who could gather the most. They would race back to the farmhouse and turn the kitchen upside down as they baked bilberry muffins and bilberry crumbles.

We have spent days on the beaches, watching the children swimming in the sea, scaling the rocks to seek out the best rock pools, nets in hand, while we sat with books that were never opened as we were too busy chatting and catching up on each other’s lives.

My friend has been there through all of the trials and tribulations of my island life. My children love when the school’s break up and their mainland pals arrive for a summer of adventures.

Every New Year, we gather at the farmhouse, a meeting of the two families and all of our and their friends and families, and bring in each New Year together. With the passing of time we watch as the children grow in so many different ways. Their music, their art, their love of animals, and you realise that it is not where you live that is really important, but the relationships you have, the people around you that make up those very special moments in life.

So yesterday on the spur of the moment, in the late afternoon sun, we decided to all head off for a bar supper and another adventure, and after the meal as we chatted, the children went off to the woods to play in the late evening sun.

Happy Easter…..

9th April

It is a misty isle today. Steady drizzle left me soaking when I went for a run in the late afternoon yesterday and I don’t think it has stopped since. The ground is so thirsty I am sure it is a welcome sight. We have been spoiled with the dry, sunny days of the last week. However as I ran along the farm track the dry weather had taken its toll. The ditch, which only last week had swollen to form a pond and had a pair of ducks residing there, had evaporated and drained away, leaving huge slabs of cracked mud and silt. The frogspawn, once floating bulbously in the ditches, had been abandoned by the cool waters and left to die in the heat of the sun.

The happy farmer has had a taxing day too. We got an invasion from Farmer T’s cows, which are grazing in the fields beyond our farm. This morning they were in boxing with our Highland cows. This afternoon they were out the hill, and he has finally given up chasing them and phoned Farmer T to come over and see to his cows, as an hour ago they were crowded outside the farm yard, happily munching at the grass and daffodils.

Farmer T appeared and the two of them duly followed the cows into another field where the happy farmer hopes they will settle.

The cows are limousine crosses, the happy farmer says they are like deer, they keep jumping fences. They are not friendly cows either. They winter out on our hill, and it isn’t the first time they have come stampeding after me when I have been out with the dogs. They even trampled down a fence once as I was walking by, bellowing angrily away, they had been separated from their calves. As a mother I can sympathise, but could have done with a bit of prior warning from Farmer T. Luckily there was a nearby deer fence which I managed to scale and make my escape to safety. The saga provided hours of amusement for the happy farmer and Farmer T though. I always go for my runs armed with a stick now, just in case.

The farmhouse is full of tired children today. It has been a busy old time. Yesterday they were all up far too early searching the house for clues that the Easter bunny had deposited around the house, eventually leading them to a stash of chocolate goodies. Some old friends arrived at one of the cottages on Saturday night. They came with handbags filled with five of the tinniest dogs I have ever seen, each with its own pink fluffy jumper, well a combat jacket actually for the smallest male dog. They aren’t much bigger than guinea pigs. The happy farmer eyed them suspiciously as the children and I swooned over these little characters.
‘Absolutely no way…..’ were his only words. I must admit I was a bit concerned that the sheep dog might mistake them for a rabbit.

I was all set to cook a huge roast for our friends and family yesterday, when a walk to the woods and a visit for a bar snack saw our dear friends treating us all to a hearty Sunday pub roast. When I came in from my run, our friends had come over with smoked salmon, scrambled eggs and champagne as another good evening began.

Until next time….

10th April

I escaped to the beach with the children today. I needed my fix of sea air. We have been so busy juggling lambing, cottage changeovers, visitors and family life; I really needed a bit of space today. I think the children did too as they accompanied me without any argument, not a huff in sight.

Kilchoman has to be one of the most spectacular beaches in the world. The white sands seem to stretch on forever, as the Atlantic rollers crash in from the ocean. It always reminds me of those moments when I was a little girl and adults would hold a large shell to my ear and tell me that if I cupped it against my ear and listened I would be able to hear the sea. The sea recreates and amplifies this sound at Kilchoman. There is a constant hum in the air from the breaking waves. We walked the whole length of the beach, the air refreshing and cool, the salty smells of the ocean carried in the gentle breeze.

We sat for a while on the rocks at the far end and just listened to the sounds of the sea, while my youngest sat down and drew patterns in the sand with her fingers, moulding it with her hands, to form castles of varying shapes and sizes. My son climbed the rocks and explored a narrow cave between two cliffs, before the mist rolled in off the sea, enveloping us, as we made our way back to the car.

I took the children to a nearby distillery on the journey home, stopping for some ice cream and a bit of retail therapy. Several fluffy toys and a few sparkly bits later and they were more than happy. It was lovely to get some ‘us’ time; the only thing missing was the happy farmer. He was off with tractor and trailer to collect a cattle crush he has just purchased from another farmer. A cattle crush is a big metal contraption which you chase the cattle into and then ‘contain’ them while you work with them, either calving, or de horning. It allows the farmer to work with them without getting crushed or kicked; well that is the theory anyway.

We arrived home, refreshed and re energised, to visitors and a welcome cup of tea.

Until next time…

11th April.

The farm animals were positively posing for the snap happy visitors at the pottery today. I looked out of the window and could see a man wandering around, lense in hand, crouching to photograph a cockerel that was proudly strutting around. The photographer was being hotly pursued by a steady stream of chicks, the feathered variety, looking for food. The tups were posing in the fields, making their way over to the fence to see what all of the fuss was about. The pigs, which couldn’t quite be seen, could be heard, grunting their presence too.

The hens first arrived on the farm at Easter time a few years back. It took me years of persuasion to finally convince the happy farmer that hens would be a good thing. He kept harking on about the dreadful mess they used to make of the farm yard and any vehicles parked there in his childhood days. He was not in the least bit keen on the idea.

Eventually I managed to convince him though and he duly built a hen coup and ordered some Isa Brown pullets placing them in a field well away from the farm house. Ten hens arrived and quickly proved a huge hit with the children who walked up the road to visit them daily, feeding them and collecting the eggs. The hens became very tame and quickly made the human equals food link. This began to prove awkward for the happy farmer as he did his rounds of the sheep. He would invariably end up with the ten hens waddling happily behind him; they then began to follow him through the gate as he made his way home to the farm house. He came up with various strategies to try and tackle the problem. He tried to outrun the hens, scattering feed on the ground and bolting. They bolted too, and proved to be as fast as the happy farmer. He then tried placing barley in the coup, and bolting. They didn’t stay in the coup but fled after the farmer. Next he came up with the idea of closing the hatch on the hens when they were inside the coup feeding, and then attaching a piece of string to the hatch, rolling it out as he made his way to the gate, and then as he mounted the quad bike he would pull on the string, which would pull open the hatch. He would speed off on his quad bike down the road as the chickens came running out of the coup. It did work for a day or so. However the chickens then made the link with the hum of the quad bike engine, the happy farmer and food, and began to run through the gate and along the road towards the farmhouse whenever they heard the quad bike. It was quite funny watching the exasperated farmer coping with his ten hens.

Having run out of strategies the happy farmer was left with no choice but to relocate the hens. So, clipping their wings he placed them in the only confined fenced area he had, the newly planted hedgerow. The chickens settled well into their new grounds and quickly made a super job of weeding the young bushes, the hedge thrived. It saved the happy farmer from having to spend hours weeding and the hens were a lot closer to home for collecting eggs and feeding.

So impressed was the happy farmer that he ordered another 30 Blackrock hens. Eventually a few did manage to fly out of the hedgerow, but have wandered happily ever since about the fields and around the farm. They are real characters and rarely come into the farmyard. We even began selling bags of hen feed in the pottery showroom and found that people would happily pay to feed the hens in the fields and hedgerow.

The hens also serve another very important purpose, they slow down passing traffic. I call them my ‘speed bumps’, but on a serious note we have only ever had two run over. We do not get much traffic on our little single track road, it is easy for children staying in the cottages or visiting the farm to forget it is a road at times. With the hens strutting backwards and forwards across the road, it reminds drivers it is a farm, and therefore it is necessary to slow down.

Until next time…

12th April

The sun streamed through the windows first thing, the washing has been billowing gently in the breeze all afternoon.

My eldest daughter has gone for a canter on a horse across the white sands at Kilchoman Bay. I can picture her and her fellow riders, the wind lightly brushing them as the horses race along the tide line, the waves crashing onto the sand.. She was really excited when she set off. She hasn’t ridden since losing Rosie horse in February. We are looking out for another companion for her to ride, but a bad case of horse flu on the mainland has held us back slightly. My mum took my daughter off to the trekking centre, along with my son, who is going to accompany his Grandma for a walk on the sand as the riders go by.

I sat on the swinging bench the happy farmer made for me for my birthday last year, enjoying the burst of sunshine, as my youngest entertained me, gracefully dancing around the garden before taking a big bow, an irresistible smile on her face.

I went out to the flower bed at the front of the house, out of Mist pup’s reach, with the mug full of seeds I carefully gathered from the poppies and peonies, nigella’s and cornflowers last summer. I raked the soil with my fingers, the grit getting caught in my nails as I dug out the odd docken and dandelion. I crushed the seed pods scattering a hundred or so tiny black seeds into the soft soil. Hopefully the hens will keep their distance and not choose my flower bed to wallow in and peck at. If they do it will be one of ‘his’ hens, the Black Rocks, I keep my Isa Browns in the field behind the garden. They roost in the coop at night and spend their days stalking the various bugs they find in the undergrowth around the hedge and field.

One stormy night last summer the wild winds blew the coop hatch shut and the hens were locked out. I discovered what had happened in the morning, we were three hens short, as the others gradually re appeared from various corners of the field and hedgerow, looking bedraggled and glad to get back into their coop.

I found another of the missing brood as I trekked out the hill a day or so later, it was wandering around looking lost, and seemed extremely grateful to see me, and even happier as I scooped it up and carried it home to the other hens in the field. It felt like I had found gold, I was so pleased to see the hen again.

More days passed and I began to accept that the remaining two hens had not been so lucky in their fate. We do not get foxes here, the only threat comes from mink or stoat, and there are not too many of those about the farm, however I wondered how long a hen could survive out in the ‘wilds’ alone. I searched the fields and hill but to no avail, until one day at the very top of the hill my flat coat came bounding after me with what looked like a pheasant in her jaws. As she approached I realised it was a hen, one of the Isa Browns. The thing about retrievers is they have soft mouths. My mum often used to demonstrate this to me when I was a child as our golden retriever would carry an egg around in his mouth without breaking its shell. I looked tentatively at the dog as she approached, gently coaxing her to come to me, she looked a little sheepish, knowing that she is not really allowed to pick up the hens as a rule. As luck would have it I managed to prise open her jaws and the hen, although a little flustered from her ordeal and a bit soggy from the drooling dogs jaws, was absolutely fine. I carried her under my arm all the way home to the others, I thought she stood a better chance if I carried her, Iona, the dog, had done her bit!

The last hen was also retrieved over a week later just when I had given up all hope of ever seeing her again Farmer T arrived with her nesting comfortably on his lap in the tractor cab. She looked very thin and had lost a few feathers but he had found her when he had been out checking on his cows at the very far end of the farm. He couldn’t understand what a hen was doing alone, in the middle of nowhere, looking very lost, so he scooped her up and gave her a lift home in the tractor.

Until next time….

13th April.

It was an early start today. The happy farmer raced around the sheep on his quad bike at first light. He has had to lamb a lot of the sheep in the past few days, they have apparently been presenting themselves in the most challenging and imaginatively difficult positions possible, so the happy farmer’s lambing skills have been tested to the limit and the children have been getting quite an education. Their razor sharp vision has come in really handy and they have been the main ‘sheep needing a hand ultra quick’ spotters on these expeditions through the fields.

I raced up the hill for my run on his return. It was a thought, going so early, but well worth it, what a morning. The views were spectacular, through the haze over the sea I could just make out the mountains of Mull in the distance, and watched for a while as a few fishing boats travelled up the sound, the sea glistening in the sunlight, picking out the white cabins of the boats, as they motored through the waves on their way out to sea to collect in the creels.

The race today is due to the fact that the happy farmer has a ‘cask’ party day today. He is meeting up with Farmer B and Farmer C as they make the annual pilgrimage to Bruichladdich distillery to taste wee Hughie’s whisky which is slowly maturing in a sherry cask in one of the distillery warehouses. The boys have had to make an early start to the cask party day as they only do ‘tastings’ in the morning on Fridays. Wee Hughie arrived first thing to collect the happy farmer and away they went, calling in at a few farms along the way to gather a few more very happy farmers for the adventure.

They will make a day of it. Farmer B has the key to the wave power centre at Portnahaven so he is taking them on a guided tour of Islay’s answer to green energy. Huge turbines harvest the power from the Atlantic rollers and in turn create electricity, of course all this happens in the most spectacular setting imaginable, happy farmer has been instructed to provide me with a more detailed account for tomorrow’s blog!

They will also be calling in at the Port Mor centre, which opened its doors for the first time a few weeks ago after years of planning and fundraising. It is the new community centre in Port Charlotte and has a restaurant, campsite, playing fields and all sorts of other exciting facilities.

The happy farmer is hoping to nip back in between tours to do a quick round of the maternity wards on the farm, but the happy potters or ‘the potty brothers’, as Un Peu so beautifully put it, will be on stand by just in case.

Their day will end at the Port Charlotte Hotel where they will wine and dine on Islay beef and a selection of seafood, fresh from the fishing boats, before the taxi will deliver them back to the farmhouse, which I am sure they will ‘roll’ into, singing and giggling like naughty school boys.

14th April
Luckily the happy farmer was not ‘technically’ challenged with his lambing yesterday, no lambs presenting themselves in awkward positions when it came to the new deliveries. In fact the ladies did a grand job of self delivery, there were no casualties, and this was just as well, considering the happy farmers long morning and extended lunch at the distillery before the lambing rounds.

I returned home from an appointment mid afternoon to be told by eldest daughter that the happy farmer had been on the phone and needed us to go and collect him so he could race round the sheep and check there were no problems with the lambing. I bundled the children into the car and headed off to find that the happy farmer had not phoned us at all, eldest daughter had in fact phoned him, and told him, he needed to come home and check the sheep and that we would be picking him up shortly. This all came about because outside Bruichladdich distillery is Debbie’s coffee shop, and she happens to sell the best strawberry milkshake in the world according to my daughter. If only she had told me earlier, I think it would have been a lot easier to just take her for a strawberry milkshake and to forget about the happy farmer and his cask party altogether.

No surprises to discover that the cask party had not made it beyond the distillery, no wave power visit, or community centre visit, no I found the farmers and wee Hughie holding court in one of the manager’s offices, sampling a few of the finest Bruichladdich malts as they looked out across the beautiful bay of Lochindaal. Islay, per head of population, produces the highest tax for the exchequer in the UK from the whisky it produces. The happy farmer in his merriment decided the island should become independent and he should collect the taxes, for a fee of course!

The happy farmers were in their element when I arrived and as we walked out into the distillery forecourt they set about accosting a couple of American visitors, asking them if they had tickets to leave the distillery, before welcoming them to the island and going on to interrogate them as only they can do with their island charm and wicked sense of island humour. They then got distracted by a party of Swedish tourists and the trio of farmers proceeded to entertain and charm them too.

Finally, all rounded up, and we aren’t talking sheep here, I think sheep are actually easier to round up than a few more than merry farmers, we called in at Debbie’s for that milkshake and a few very strong coffees.

We headed home for the farm and that all important lambing expedition, but not before hijacking one of the distillery managers to accompany us on the adventure.

Back home and Farmer T arrived just as we drove into the yard; he was looking to borrow the tractor, but wasn’t allowed unless he stopped for a quick cup.

I made a plate of sandwiches for the motley crew and let the dogs into the garden, only to discover the cockerel had found his way into the garden too. The dogs had fun chasing him, as did I and the children. We tried in vain to steer him out of the garden, with offerings of food, while the children held onto the two sheepdogs, but he was having none of it. So caught up in the commotion was he that instead of leaving the garden through the gate he decided to leave through the patio doors, heading straight into the kitchen, and on seeing the farmers and distillery manager, fled through the hall. The children were highly amused, and luckily he did not have any accidents while on his visit through our house. The happy farmer managed to rescue him and place him safely out of the dogs’ reach, over the fence and back to his ladies. The children then persuaded the farmers and distillery visitor to join them on the trampoline.

Finally the children took the happy farmer and the distillery manager for a spin around the sheep to do the lambing, and all before dinner at the Port Charlotte Hotel.

Until next time…

PS The happy farmer is up today and fighting fit, or so he says. He did the lambing rounds first thing and then it is the annual spring cattle sale at the market in Bridgend. His American cousins arrive on the farm later on, off the evening ferry.

15th April

The sun has been splitting the skies again, so when my mainland friend arrived over yesterday afternoon the two of us sat on the swinging bench, drinking cups of tea, catching up on each other’s weeks, soaking up the sun and the news. She has just become an auntie again and has had the most exciting rollercoaster of a week as she has waited patiently for her nephew to make his appearance into the world. The worry and anticipation building up to the happy event, and then the feelings of excitement and love when the baby finally arrives into his mother’s arms.

Later I had to do the dreaded shopping for the week’s supplies. I spent far too much money, I think in the hope that I won’t have to visit that awful supermarket again for at least a week that is the plan anyway. I spent half the night fretting about how much it all cost as it came clicking through the checkout. Anyway, whilst shopping, I met another friend who invited, well insisted actually, that we call by for drinks on our way home. This of course made the rest of the shopping trip far more fun, all of a sudden things were looking up.

It felt like we were in the Mediterranean as we sat on our friend’s decking looking out across the bay. As we giggled and chatted, relaxing on deck chairs, drinking pimms and snacking on the most delicious canapés around, I thought I had gone to heaven and back. Better still my mainland friend was there, having abandoned her shopping trip for the Mediterranean balcony too. Friends gathered and the children scampered down to the shore, as we all relaxed in the late afternoon sun. Spontaneity is truly the spice of life!

Of course the reality of reaching home some hours later, scrabbling around trying to patch some food together for an ‘on the hop meal’, while the happy farmer and children raced around the sheep, just as it was getting dark, and all with minutes to go before our American cousins arrived was cutting it a bit fine. I really needed someone to continue that magic from earlier, all that rushing around was not good for the soul, especially after a few glasses of pimms.

The cousins arrived, and it felt like only yesterday that we were last together, actually it was some eight years ago. It was the first time our children had met theirs. They have three boys, and to top it off for my son, he is days apart in age from their twin boys.

This morning the children have shown their cousins around the farm, taking them on the various feeding duties. They then all piled into the quad bike as the happy farmer sped off through the fields with his new team of helpers for the lambing.

We headed off on the ferry to the Isle of Jura in the afternoon. We visited the walled gardens, before making our way through the trees, down the twisting steps that lead to the shore, following the trail of discarded socks and trainers lining the route, as the children raced ahead to the sea. Paddling and splashing, one managed to get completely soaked as he raced along the shore, youngest kneeling in the sand as she built moats around a castle, they were in their element. The happy potter came along too. The children love their uncle, he is the one who has races with them through the sand, wrestles them to the ground, and pretends he’s going to throw them in the sea, as they in turn steal his cap, planking it at the top of a rocky outcrop, before rescuing it to play ‘catch’.

Happy days.

Until next time…

16th April

An empty house again, the children all deserted me for school today, and the American cousins have gone off to explore the island and go for a long trek on the beach. My son was up at the crack of dawn this morning, all dressed and ready for school, don’t be fooled, it had nothing to do with his eagerness to get to school, but rather to get an hour or so with his cousins on the trampoline before breakfast.

I decided it was time to tackle the mundane chores of household bill paying and getting letters posted that have been lying about waiting for the children to go back to school. I totally fell out with the automated telephone systems, getting extremely frustrated, and even the computer wasn’t much help when it came to the mundane tasks, although I did finally find a minute to catch up on a few blogs. I began to wonder whatever happened to ‘Shank’s pony’, I don’t know if you are familiar with the phrase. It is a phrase used often by the happy farmer, and must go back to the days of horse and cart, when Shank’s pony would deliver the mail, or give you a ride home. Anyway I did wish Shank’s pony were here today, I am sure he would have made my life much simpler this morning; it all got very complicated in my little world with all of these automated systems.

I thought about it some more as I made my way on my run along the old cart track out the hill and across the farm. The track used to be the old drover’s route many years ago, until finally someone decided to build a road on the island, which runs some distance away, parallel to the old route, once favoured by the horse and carts, cattle and sheep.

Situated along the track is an old ruin, when the happy farmer was a young boy it was old Sandy’s home. He lived there with his dog, Queenie. Old Sandy was born on the farm, and spent his whole life on the farm. The cart track used to go right past the old stone cottage, in fact at one point the laird tried to evict old Sandy’s mother from the house, but she managed to remain in her home because the old turf dyke that lined the route went around the outside of her cottage, so she was able to argue that it was not on the Laird’s land, much to the Laird’s annoyance I am sure.

The cottage consisted of one room, with a fireplace, the crumbling walls that remain could tell many a tale I am sure. There was no running water, but a stream runs nearby. There is an old stone in the stream where the women used to gather to do their washing; and here we are now, gathered on an internet site, whilst working on computers, logging on to share a piece of our lives. Sometimes if I sit a while I can lose myself in thoughts of those bygone days, as I did this afternoon, away from the complications of the modern world.

Until next time…

17th April

This morning I drove to the other side of the island to get my haircut. The happy farmer did offer to get out his shears, the ones he uses to clip the sheep with, I declined, telling him ‘on your bike’, and so he sped off on the quad across the fields chasing the pregnant sheep instead.

The lambing has been going well. I saw a ewe sporting a number three. It was scrawled across her fleece; I recognised the happy farmer’s shaky print immediately. He marks the sheep with numbers as he works with them, so he can identify those that need a closer eye kept on them after a difficult birth, and quickly identify the ewe’s lambs. We were speaking to a sheep farmer from New Zealand at the weekend. Apparently over there they run such huge sheep farms that they kill any sheep they come across having problems with delivery at lambing time. Apparently the problems often have a genetic link, and by slaughtering sheep having problems they are eradicating problems with lambing altogether. Big sigh of relief that humans aren’t treated in the same way, else I would have been gone a good while back!!

The happy farmer has had a few nasty deliveries in the past few days. The other day he had to cut a dead lamb’s head off in order to deliver it, it had swollen so much. The children were a bit taken a back at this, until they realised that by doing so, the happy farmer managed to deliver the dead carcass, and then save the other twin waiting to be born. He also saved the ewe’s life, so although it sounds barbaric, it was necessary to preserve other life. They all got over the shock though as they watched the sheep bonding with the surviving twin, gently licking and sniffing at it, while stamping her feet at us.

They were burning the heather as I made my way back along the road, past the air port towards the main village. The ground was gently smouldering with puffs of smoke rising from the ground. The farmers and game keepers burn the heather to encourage new growth and shoots, getting rid of the heavy clumps of dead grasses and heathers, enriching the soil with minerals from the charred remains. The happy farmer was busy all morning carefully spreading pellets of fertilizer around each bush and shrub in his new hedgerow today.

There was a lot of passing traffic on the road at the other end of the island today. The ferry is only berthing on that side of the island just now, while the pier at our end is having a face lift costing millions of pounds. It is being developed to allow for bigger ferries to dock, and the quayside is being extended further, out into the sound, so it can accommodate more cars and freight than before. It is a process which has greatly affected the island. The old port had remained unchanged for years, full of charm and beauty; now the cliffs have been blasted further away, leaving a huge scar in the landscape.

Changes were necessary, the amount of cars and freight were often caught in deadlock in the summer months, as Lorries and Caravans struggled to cope with the steep road leading away from the port. There were not enough parking spaces for people queuing to board the ferries and it was becoming dangerous, a juggling act for the staff at the ferry terminal.

The project started over a year ago, and has seen the port change unrecognisably. It has been closed to mainland ferries for several months now, and it looks like it may be a good few months yet until work is complete. The affect has been wide reaching. Not only are our general stores threatened from the impending closure of some village post offices, but are also struggling to survive, as the passing trade has gone, there is no ferry calling at this end of the island.

The pottery has been unusually quiet; there was always a steady stream of people making their way to or from the ferry, calling in for a gift or a quick coffee, on their journey, their passing trade deserting this end of the island. The craft square at Bridgend has also suffered, I was speaking to the lady who designs beautiful batiks of island scenes, and her workshop has been very quiet of late.

A local fisherman who runs fishing trips and island cruises from his boat during the summer months is no longer able to reach the steps at the port with his fishing boat, to allow his passengers to board safely, and because of the new design, will not be able to in the future either. It is going to have a huge effect on his business and he is unsure whether he will be able to continue with his project.

Change is necessary, but I sometimes wonder at the effects the modern world has on small communities in rural areas.

Until next time…

18th April

I felt really sad as we waved goodbye to the American cousins this morning, as I watched them leave I wondered when we will be together again. We have had such a lovely time with them. Vicky, Hugh’s wife has a bubbly personality and is so easy to get on with. It is a shame they live so far away. The children have all had a great time together too. Next time they meet they will be teenagers or older!

This was Hugh’s first visit to the farm since 1970. The world is such a small place when you hop on a plane, or log onto the internet, but the distance between our countries is huge. His parents and brothers and sisters have been all been out at different times with their families, and the happy farmer and I did fly out to one of the cousin’s weddings a few years back, now that was a trip and a half. We had a fantastic week of lunch parties and pre wedding dinners, leading up to the wedding itself, which was fantastic. We were so spoilt; it was wonderful, and so lovely to meet up with the American side of the family.

We got talking at dinner the other evening about the farm, and its history. Hugh’s grandmother was born here, many years ago; his mother visited the farm often throughout her childhood, and has brought her children to visit the farm over the years, and here is Hugh visiting now with his wife and children. It made me wonder about future generations on the farm. Family really is like a fast flowing river, ebbing and swelling, separating, then following different routes.

Last night we all went out for dinner at a local hotel, uncles, Americans, Seanmhair (Gaelic for grandma), us and the children, a big clan gathering, feasting on the delicious delights of seafood crumble and sticky toffee pudding, the children playing pool, before disappearing over to the nearby park.

Today was a day for cleaning and tackling the jobs I had put on the back burner for a while. Back to normality, my mainland friend has left the island and now the last of our visitors from Easter have gone too. It is a strange empty feeling, echoed by the absence of the children, as they have now left for school.

Sat in the corner of the kitchen winking at me though is the huge bag of rhubarb my friend delivered from her garden as a parting gift. So without further a do I got out the flour for a rhubarb crumble. Farmer T called by earlier and left a jar of lemon curd his wife has made for us. It is as yellow as a jar of English mustard, the richest looking lemon curd I have seen, and it is all thanks to our lovely hens’ eggs. You really can’t beat home produced gifts….rhubarb, lemon curd, fresh eggs. I packed my mainland friend off on the ferry with a dozen fresh from the hedge row.

Until next time…

19th April

Just as I was in the middle of preparing the tea, pots and pans boiling away, cutlery and plates being laid out, the farmhouse kitchen was invaded by bleating lambs. Excited children followed, the happy farmer hogging the kitchen sink to mix up some of the powdered lambs’ milk he had bought earlier from the vets. Roll on the kitchen extension; I could have done with that extra sink and utility room last night. The happy farmer assured me the lambs were very hungry and not having been fed for a good while there was no imminent danger of any accidents occurring in the house of the sheep ‘doodle’ kind!

Earlier the happy farmer had come in from a lambing trip looking a bit displeased. He had found a dead ewe with twin lambs. The ewe had given birth without needing a hand, so the happy farmer thinks she may have had internal bleeding or some other complication from delivery, resulting in the orphaned twin lambs. He raced off to the vet to get some powdered milk, returning with a sack of ‘lambkins’, what a name, it doesn’t quite suit the farming fraternity! It added further to the humour of the situation as the happy farmer reluctantly tried to sneak off out of the door to collect the orphans. He hates pet lambs; they can be an absolute pest. They require regular feeds; they don’t thrive as well as a lamb naturally reared, and generally get in the way. As fully grown sheep they can cause mayhem when it comes to gathering because they are not afraid of the sheepdog, they just laugh at him, and stand their ground. As the sheep dog spends its time trying to scare the pet lamb into submission, the rest of the flock run off in the wrong direction. Have you ever seen a farmer try to sell a pet lamb at market? It must take a lot of guts; I can just picture the lambs walking at the farmer’s heel around the ring, softly bleating!

I think the happy farmer was planning on keeping his little secret to himself as he quietly made for the front door, before I gleefully called out
‘Who wants to go and rescue the new pet lambs with dad?’
The happy farmer stopped in his tracks as excited children sprung up from all directions, one from the computer, one from the television, and a third who had been glued to the Nintendo, in the armchair. The happy farmer gave me an ‘ecstatic’ frown as the children clad themselves in warm winter woollies to combat the chill in the evening wind as they made their way out of the door.

They duly returned running into the kitchen, lambs in their arms, with one very happy farmer following behind. Milk mixed and poured into two empty bottles, teats screwed in place, I smiled listening to the happy farmer sounding ever so slightly exasperated as he carefully instructed the children to hold the lambs, gently squeeze the lambs’ jaws open and feed in the teat. It takes a lot of patience that first feed, trying to get the lambs to feed from a bottle when they have been feeding away naturally. The happy farmer and his crew were doing really well and I was enjoying soaking it all up for blogland!

The excitement continued over tea as they debated what names to call the new pets. Two lambs, three children, I am sure you can see the dilemma. In the end they settled on Lucy Rose Baker Nutella and Pepsi Peppermint.

This morning the lambs had settled into their new home well, and no that new home is not in my kitchen! The happy farmer and his crew built a pen out of straw bales in the shed. The morning feed was a huge success the lambs have mastered the art of being bottle fed. Lucy is apparently into leg kissing or so my youngest informed me as she ran into the kitchen a huge smile on her face
‘Lucy gave me a kiss on my leg mummy, and Pepsi gave me lots and lots and lots of leg kisses.’
They approve of their new, hopefully temporary, mum then. The happy farmer is hoping he can find another ewe to adopt the lambs onto, the children hope otherwise!

Until next time…

20th April

I feel very sorry that none of my cyber blogging pals have been short listed by CL in their blog competition. I have spent weeks enjoying dipping into other people’s blogs, sharing in their country lives, posting my comments, trying to decide on who was my favourite, it changed daily. I was so looking forward to the final winner being announced, knowing that I had been able to preview their work, give them my support and enjoy their success both onsite and in the magazine. I was really dismayed that the winner was not part of the community, I have only ever come across dark horse, who appeared so late, the other two did not even make it to the most active blogs list or the rated blogs list. So much has been written by others on this subject, I am beginning to wonder if CL has courted controversy on purpose to get a reaction, even negative PR is better than none at all, and they have certainly upped their hits to the site after announcing their shortlist.

I often wondered if the winner had already been chosen such was the quality of blogs already on the site when I arrived, after all CL did say the competition had come about because of the fantastic blogs that were appearing. Now I feel disheartened because I am left wondering if the ‘team’ ever even read through all of the entries.

I have thoroughly enjoyed blogging though, have enjoyed the company, and the comments are addictive, so I intend to continue my blogs, as long as I feel someone out there is enjoying them and taking the time to read them it will be worth it.

The happy farmer gave me a wry smile yesterday when I told him the results
‘You never really expected to win though did you?’
And he is right, I didn’t, not having written anything like this since school days, but I did expect to be familiar with the winner, to have engaged in chat with the winner…..I did at the very least expect our queen of blogging to be up there, Exmoor Jane, together with the rest of the shortlist of ‘rated’ bloggers, including Briar Rose, and all those before, with maybe the inclusion of Milly, and some of the lesser known bloggers. Still what would I know about writing and magazine editing!

And so onto my life on the island, the happy farmer’s stomach has been swelling recently, he is not pregnant, so I wondered how I could tactfully break the news to him, in the end I just settled for calling him the happy fatty farmer. I commented that his kilt, the one he got married in has, a few loose stitches, he assured me that has nothing to do with his ‘maturing’ shape, or from the whisky, no, he said it was from fighting the women off, they kept attacking him in his kilt, in the end he had to beat them off with a stick! My comments have produced results though; he even asked if I had any ‘ryvita’ in the house at lunchtime. These quad bikes may be a good thing for farming, but can have devastating effects on the environment and on the farmer’s figure, luckily the happy fatty farmer is tackling his before he does get too large, apologies to any of my friends who are reading this, and who know the happy fatty farmer, I know he is tall and slim, but just you look at his stomach next time you see him, hopefully it will have reduced in size a bit by then!

My youngest went to her first night at Brownies last night. We only made it to the door. Her friend had come in the car with us; they were both so excited, the friend, a sixer, had sung every Brownie song to her on the way there. However we reached the door and she crumpled in floods of tears. ‘I just don’t want to leave you mummy’ she snivelled, and no amount of coaxing or psychology worked, so we went and bought an ice cream and some sweets instead.
‘You are a funny onion,’ I said as we drove home, ‘No mummy, I’m an important onion’…

Until next time….