The track begins

And so it begins. The builder has been sending us photos and videos of the emerging access track whilst it’s being excavated. Very exciting. It looks wide enough to be a motorway in this picture! Sadly building regs dictate that it has to be wide enough for a fire truck to get up to the house, so it does seem wide, but it’s the minimum width we can get away with…

As we suspected, the gradient is very steep in places. The builder has excavated a borrow pit on the croft for extra soil and rock for infill and will try and smooth out the most extreme parts of the slope, although it’s always going to be a steep climb up to the house.

As we also suspected, the boggy bottom of the croft at the base of the hill is actually almost a lake once the soil has been removed. You can see the water level clearly in this photo, right where the entrance bellmouth will be connecting to the communal village road. The video from the digger shows this clearly too.

There will be drainage into both the culvert and back onto the land so that we can remove enough water to make the road viable, but also further along in the process we can perhaps dig a wildlife pond in this area. That plus willow and alder planting and we hope that it will dry out enough to be useable. If not, it’ll be a big natural wetland area, which I’m sure will do wonders for the croft’s natural diversity!

The builders seem to have managed to circumnavigate the two big granite outcrops at the top of the croft and run the road between them. Which is good. Rock blasting and removal is another expense that we are heartily glad not to incur on an already massively expensive road.

But it’s progress! We are so cheered to see this. At last, for the first time after all these months of planning, specification and permissions, it actually seems real.

Digger on the croft

The builders have just emailed to say that they’ve moved a digger onto the croft in the expectation that they will be able to start groundworks (the access road and hard standing for the house) any day now.

This small positive piece of information has lifted my entire week.

It’s starting at last…😆

Going back to proper meat

Since lockdown began and we started experiencing problems with supermarket deliveries, I began to source alternative places to buy meat online.

It’s proved to be a revelation and I’m not going back. It may be more expensive, but I’ll balance that by buying cheaper cuts of meat and buying less often.

I found an award winning organic pork producer in Lincolnshire who makes the most delicious sausages I’ve ever eaten. Plain pork, pork and apple, smoked pork, pork and leek – they’ve all been so good that I now get a regular fortnightly order delivered. We freeze them and use them crisped to perfection in butties or baked in lentil casseroles.

An old fashioned butcher who sells the cheaper cuts of meat as well as high end ones, and who delivers? I’ve found one in South East London. We’ve been enjoying beef short ribs and steaks from old cows that have huge depth of flavour, and also oxtail, brisket, flank, skirt, and onglet yet to try.

Cuts that I remember my mother cooking many years ago, but which I’ve rarely if ever seen in supermarket fridges recently.

These cuts take longer to cook, often simmered or roasted slowly for hours in order to release their flavour and render down into tenderness, but as time isn’t an issue at the moment, I’m glad to rediscover these skills, and the results are delicious.

I think that small businesses need all the help that they can get at the moment, and I want to support companies that produce organic, great quality produce.

I am one of the many millions in the U.K. that stopped using these businesses regularly some years ago when time was at a premium, and when long business hours meant that convenience was the most important thing to us. It was too easy to click and add all that I needed for the week in a one-stop shop.

No more. I don’t want to be in a position where we no longer have the choice, which is where we were headed.

If nothing else, this awful virus has shown me that we need to live more slowly and mindfully, and that there is a better way. With better quality, better tasting food and people that care how it’s produced.

The Seventh Week

We are about to enter our seventh week of lockdown.

I’m getting quite used to our new normality. Of course I miss restaurants, galleries and live music a little, but the truth is that we didn’t used to do these things that often.

I find myself baking and cooking much more than normal with four hungry adults in the house. We’re going to roll out of lockdown, I suspect, based on the trays of brownies, shortbreads and breads that we’ve been eating. Whether it’s comfort eating or what, we’re certainly eating a lot.

Where I’d normally do a supplementary shop each week to top up on bread and fresh vegetables, I can’t do that now, restricted to one delivery slot a week by the online supermarkets and not wanting to send anyone out on an inessential journey.

I have to plan ahead meticulously to ensure I don’t forget anything essential. It’s made me more careful and certainly more creative, substituting ingredients where I don’t have exactly what I need.

I made a malt loaf last week, my first ever, and couldn’t get black treacle for love nor money for some reason. Baking goods such as flour, yeast, eggs and sugar have all been really tough to get. So I substituted a few tablespoons of pomegranate molasses instead and it tasted delicious. The smugness at my own ingenuity was not pretty to see.

Bread baking skills have been essential, so I’ve been baking rolls, baguettes and loaves, finding some brilliant basic recipes. The offspring aren’t fans of sourdough so there’s been less of that.

In the first few weeks of lockdown I couldn’t get a supermarket shop at all, and resorted to midnight trawling of websites to see who would deliver what. As a consequence we’ve found the worlds best sausages from a farm shop in Lincolnshire (seriously good), and a South East London butcher whose beef is to die for. Small producers, both, with care for their animals at the heart of their production.

The experience has been so good that from now on that’s where my pork, beef and sausages will come from. I think that anything that we can do to help support small farms or producers at this time is a good thing. Once up in Skye we’ll source local equivalents and eat them less often to make it affordable.

It’s heartbreaking to think of how many small makers and companies will go to the wall in these tough times.

Stay safe, and I hope that you are all managing to survive this new reality, however temporary it may be.

The kindness of strangers

We haven’t really met our new neighbours yet on the island.

Through sleuthing and other nefarious means, I’ve tracked down a few of them on Facebook and Instagram, and reached out to make connections. It’s felt like a way of keeping in touch with our dream and starting the process of getting to know people, even if we can’t be there right now.

Almost everyone has been warmly welcoming.

One particular couple have gone out of their way to send us frequent photos from our croft on sunny days, and videos of the local shoreline or the burn with the soothing sounds of water in the background to keep our spirits up.

I can’t tell you how uplifting it is to receive such kindness.

At times it seems that our whole world is on hold through this pandemic, and the thoughtfulness of strangers who send pictures and videos, along with messages of encouragement and welcome is wonderful beyond words.

Thankyou, Di and Ruud. We look forward to getting to know you better once we are on the island later this year. It’s so good to have you as neighbours.

Easter bread and no eggs

The chocolate eggs I ordered two weeks ago for the family didn’t arrive in time for the Easter weekend. This feels like a bit of a first world problem, to be honest, so we’ve all agreed that we’ll enjoy them if and when they arrive later this week, and in the meantime to mark the day, I made Tsoureki.

Hugh remembers this from his days in Istanbul. I’d never tasted it before, but was up for a voyage of discovery, and bizarrely I had most of the ingredients needed in the cupboard.

This is a special Greek Easter bread sweetened with sugar, enriched with egg yolks and made fragrant with orange zest and mahlep, a curious spice made from cherry kernels. I had a packet of mahlep powder gifted from a visit from relatives a year ago and had never used it, not really understanding what it was or what it added.

The bread was soft and doughy, a cross between cake and bread in texture, and sweetly fragrant. We nibbled some as it came out of the oven yesterday, and will eat the rest with honey for breakfast with our coffee this morning.

Thinking about it, if the chocolate eggs had arrived in time I wouldn’t have searched for a celebratory alternative. A perfect example of creativity blossoming in adversity in our current captivity! And a delicious one that will form a part of our Easter celebrations from now onwards, I think.

New beginnings.

Week four of lockdown

We are just going into week four of lockdown. We are all well, for which I remain eternally thankful.

Our small London townhouse houses us all plus Bertie the ancient spaniel, who seems perpetually confused by the presence of his tribe around him.

We are managing, despite the absence of outdoor space which is the biggest hardship. Evenings are Cards for Humanity games doing our absolute best to gross each other out. I bake bread when we run out. The kids are starting to go stir-crazy. There’s only so much Xbox a body can play.

Sleep patterns are totally screwed and new routines need to be forged before peace can return. All are trying their best, but grumpiness and flare-ups are happening, which is normal, I guess. The Easter eggs that I ordered didn’t make it in time.

I learned to make Waterford Blaa rolls, which seemed to go down well. I’ll be making another batch of these today as they’re relatively quick and easy to turn out.

The blossom is out. We have sunshine during our days and we are all well. In these times of extremity, there are a lot of people doing a lot worse. We have food. We have each other. I am grateful.

Once lockdown is over, our Skye life beckons, and seems tangibly close. Despite the news that no work could start and is delayed until people can move freely again, Francis emailed a photo of the house sign that he’s been able to carve whilst the island is in lockdown. It was a wonderful and unexpected boost to our spirits.

We will get through this.