Scything on Skye

We’ve been looking at the practicality of using a scythe to keep the rushes and weeds under control between the trees on the croft.

We find the idea of using manual tools one that sits comfortably with our philosophy for the land. No fumes, no noise, no pollution…πŸ€”

There are times and certain tasks for which mechanical tools would absolutely be needed, but it would seem that scythes can be an effective alternative to keeping the grass down between the trees. I’m in touch with a couple of crofters and gardeners in Scotland who use and recommend an Austrian scythe.

Scything it seems, is undergoing a renaissance in Britain, fuelled in part by the increased interest in the permaculture movement and the desire to become less dependant on gas guzzling implements.

Used here from Anglo-Saxon times right up until the 1940s, they’re a genuinely simple and effective tool, and as the great Paul Kingsnorth says, ” they will doubtless be around long after the Flymo has faded into legend. Keep the blade honed, and know how to use them, and you have probably the most efficient tool for cutting grass ever developed. This is proven entertainingly year after year at the Somerset Scythe Festival where the annual β€˜scythe versus strimmer’ contest is always won by the scythe.”

Paul Kingsnorth is a compelling voice, and a very talented writer. This article really resonated with me with regard to not just the renaissance in the use of old tools, but the reconnection with the land and inherited skills that once lost, we never fully recapture. Here’s the link to the article

https://www.resilience.org/stories/2010-07-27/snatch-old-song/

Reading About The Clearances

Whilst we wait to hear about whether planning consent will be granted, we sit in London and try and fill our time with useful things. Paint, trees, space planning, registering for schemes, permaculture learnings and reading about the history of the place that we are soon to live in.

On the reading pile this weekend is this rather impressive tome from one of the Penguin imprints, Allen Lane. Written by TM Devine, an expert in his field and Sir William Fraser Professor Emeritus of Scottish History and Palaeography at the University of Edinburgh, he is described as “a towering and fearless intellect” and this book as the definitive reference guide.

There are deserted villages dotted all over the Isle of Skye from the clearances in the eighteenth century, as is true across the whole of the Highlands and Islands.

They are sad and beautiful places, empty of all but the low, overgrown ruins of the house walls, and visited by few people.

The story of the forced clearances and the destruction of entire communities, enacted in the name of economic efficiency, is one that is both shameful and terrible. Truly the story of the dispossessed.

I think that we should be mindful and respectful of sensitivities on the island, shaped so brutally by this period in history. So many of the local names have family links and ancestors affected by the clearances. It will be sobering to hear their stories.

Urban Life Pruning

Husband and I have what I think of as a typical, complicated, overloaded modern existence, made worse by the coalition of our previous lives into one when we married three years ago.

With the relationship came lots and lots of stuff accumulated over many years from previous houses, studios and flats. Far too much stuff, to be honest.

We have multiples of everything and many thousands of books. It became clear when we started planning the move to our croft that we had to start pruning our possessions before we moved. Because what we’re building is a small house on Skye which hasn’t got a hope in hell of holding it all.

So it began this week.

To be honest, after a long, hard day at work the last thing that either of us want to do is carry boxes up from the garage and sort through them, but we’ve set ourselves the goal of five boxes a week.

Every week for the rest of this year.

We’re already looking at bulk loads of bin bags and the local charity shops are going to love us πŸ˜‚…..

It’s like a penance….

If this doesn’t cure us of a tendency to buy too much or hang onto things that we don’t need, I don’t know what will!

Sobering reading

The sun is shining this Easter weekend and most folks in the U.K. are heading to an overcrowded beach in the rush to escape the cities, or consuming their body weight in mass produced chocolate eggs. Perhaps for our generation it has ever been thus.

In this home the long weekend break is a little different. This book is on the side table pile for consumption, and I’ve just started it. I’m two chapters in so far.

It’s not a book about the science of climate change. I’m sure that we’ve all heard about that, and although it’s something that I totally believe in, the most frightening thing for me is that I see that it’s almost impossible for many others to sustain strong feelings about it, such is its’ enormity. It’s simply too large and horrific to believe it’s real.

Others won’t believe it until it affects them directly. I watch people struggling to equate the facts with their protected urban reality in their continued disconnection with nature.

This is one of the reasons that we have decided to live at the edge and grow woodland, trying in our small way to leave a small patch of the planet able to support biodiversity and wildlife.

This book is about what it will be like to live on this planet should we continue the trajectory that we’re on. It’s a depiction of real Armageddon.

The writing is clear and powerful. I’d urge you get a copy and to read it.

The waiting game

It’s Easter weekend, and we’re in London in body but our hearts and minds are on our croft in Skye.

We’re at that stage where there’s little we can do until planning permission is granted, and so we wait, and wait, and plan next steps.

Fast on the heels of planning permission comes the need for a Building Warrant, and for that decisions need to be made about interior house specifications, so in the interest of ensuring that there are no delays we are working through plans for flooring, heating, kitchen and bathrooms.

All good stuff, but with the sun shining here and Spring firmly in place it’s so difficult not to get distracted by planting schemes and tree decisions. All of which should sensibly wait until after the access road and groundworks are agreed, as we can’t really start until this has happened and the lower part of the croft drainage has been improved.

Patience. Patience. A virtue that I sadly lack and which I have tried to develop all my life. I breathe. It will come.

I resign myself to planting out pots of herbs on the London house balcony and focussing on the positives. I bake bread (honing my skills for when we don’t have easy access to good bread on the island!) We start sifting through our many boxes of books and possessions, weighing what we will really need for the future.

I dream about the croft.

Horticulture for crofters

I’ve just received this copy of Horticulture for Crofters, a fabulously useful handbook published by the Scottish Crofting Federation.

I’ve been trying to get my hands on this for months, and so its arrival in the post this week was a cause for much excitement on my part.

It’s an incredibly detailed read on vegetable, fruit and tree production in Scotland, with lots of advice on crop shelter, soil care, crop selection and drainage. There are plenty of examples from growers in the inner and outer Hebrides, many on Skye. Just what we need to provide solid advice on local conditions and challenges.

Not to mention the wonderful illustrations by Chris Tyler, generously scattered through the chapters, which sadly I don’t have the rights to share here.

Bring it on! That’s the next weeks reading sorted.

Kitchen conundrums

Kitchen – Image: The Indigo House

I think of the kitchen as my space in a home. It’s where I spend most of my time, where I create, and more often than not in recent years, where we eat. So I want to get it right.

Despite being ancient and having lived with more kitchens than most people have had hot dinners (which you would think would have filled me with the wisdom of Oracles) I’m finding myself struggling with the design of my perfect kitchen.

There’s simply too much choice.

I’m trying to keep it simple, basic, streamlined and uncluttered, but with the important elements being the best quality that we can afford. We hope that we will have this kitchen for a very long time. What doesn’t help is that we have a lot of stuff…

In support of this, and as well as a mammoth clear-out planned, we’ve designed in a separate pantry and utility room for all the cleaning stuff, laundry, home bottling, dog things, preserves, bags of flour and all the less glamorous yet essential bits of everyday living that drive me crazy if I have to battle my way through them in order to cook.

I’m sure about a couple of things, though, born of many years of kitchen frustration.

1. Worktops – I want my kitchen worktops to have heat-proof surfaces, because I’m tired of trying to wrestle things out of the oven and having to balance them on trivets or onto the hob in order to get to their contents.

2. Cupboards – I want accessible cupboards, or preferably, drawers. Being only 5″4′ I find that most overhead kitchen cupboards are just too high to be usable for me, and badly planned low-level cupboards require the arms of an octopus to get to the areas at the back.

You have no idea the number of times I’ve cleared out a cupboard after many years of use only to find something pushed to the back which has developed a new life form..

3. Lighting – lastly, well planned lighting. Most kitchens that I’ve used have badly thought through, non-directional, inadequate lighting. There’s nothing worse (or dangerous) than trying to chop things standing in your own shadow.

We will need to plan this well πŸ€”