Scones and silver sands

We took the ferry from Armadale across to Mallaig to check out the local shops. Being so close to the ferry means that Mallaig is actually closer than our closest town on the island as the crow flies, so it was useful to check it out from a supplies perspective.

There is a fabulous bakery and bread shop in Mallaig called the Bakehouse. They bake a great selection of sourdough breads, scones, cakes and other pastries. The local community stores on our southerly part of the island get bread deliveries from them each week. Alongside a great focaccia we sampled what must surely be the best cheese scones on the planet!

Mallaig is also an active fishing port and here you can buy locally landed fresh fish, langoustine and shellfish. Good to know when the cravings come upon us. It’s getting better, but there aren’t as many outlets for locally caught fish on Skye as you’d imagine.

On the way back to the ferry terminal we took a detour along the coast. Not knowing this part of the coastline at all we were astonished to discover that there are glorious white sand beaches all the way along a ten mile stretch or so. Quite stunning.

We were lucky with the weather. Despite enjoying a mostly dry, breezy day whilst we were out, once we turned for home the rain started in earnest as Storm Dorian swept in and clipped the coast. The crossing was very choppy and visibility almost zero with the rain.

We watched the storm lashing Knock Bay from the warmth of our cosy cottage on the hillside, glad to be home and dry. And thinking, not long now 😊…

The Big Blue

When the sun shines, everything changes.

The storm front moved across the island and left a freshly washed world of brilliant blue behind it.

This is actually the first picture that we’ve managed to take from the croft whilst the sun is shining!

The big blue. No filters needed.

We spent a happy few more hours on the croft in the sun earlier last week measuring, planning and dreaming.

Perhaps because it’s the only building on the land, we find ourselves always gravitating to the barn.

It’s clear that we will have to build a modern metal shed/barn for our croft equipment and storage, as our very picturesque ruin will need mammoth effort and cost to restore. We won’t have the money or the energy to do anything with it for a good few years.

As things stand at the moment, other priorities such as the house build, deer fencing, the access road and tree planting will have to take immediate precedence.

But that doesn’t stop us sitting with our mugs of tea and cake planning for possibilities.

A coffee shop? A library for our spare books? A bread barn? Spare accommodation for visitors? A studio? In between building warrant discussions for the house we skittle between ideas that we know may never come to reality, but are fun nevertheless.

Endless possibilities.

Everything seems possible whilst the sun is shining.

Showers, wind and wild flowers

It’s been a week of squally showers, high winds and at times, torrential rain here on the island. The rivers are full and the waterfalls are torrents of white water tumbling down the hillsides.

We don’t mind the weather at all. It’s lovely to sit in front of the windows in the cabin and watch the weather fronts scud across the sky. There’s a change every half hour or so, and we dodge the showers as best we can.

In a break in the rain we made it up to the croft. Here it’s very much seize the moment!

The lower ground is waterlogged and boggy, although the higher reaches of the land are better drained. We hopped from clump to clump of rushes to avoid sinking too deeply into the mud.

The tiny burn that we saw trickling sedately through the croft in February is now a raging plume of water plummeting through the channel that it has cut for itself.

We headed for the copse of trees on the western boundary and scattered bluebell, wood anemone, pignut and wild garlic seeds as we’d planned. We’re hoping that at least some of them will take.

Although the wild flowers are more or less over here on Skye, we found more than we expected in the ditches and springy turf on the croft: and with our trusty plant identification app we think we’ve recognised black knapweed, common vetchling, broad leaved clover, buttercups, crowfoot, downy vetch and willow herb.

We were delighted to see that we had a hazel tree already established amongst the birch trees – bodes well for more nut tree plantings once we’re established!

Excuse the bad quality of the photos – these were hurried snaps taken with an iPhone.

Growling Woman

Things have been very quiet on the house build front recently.

Too quiet.

Once we’d hit two months post the receipt of planning approval and still hadn’t seen the building warrant drawings, I couldn’t contain my impatience and frustration any longer.

Even with the inevitable summer vacation delays, it simply seemed too long.

It seems that our architect is leaving the company. This week.

He has apparently been in the process of handing over our build plans to a new architect in the practice who will need to pick everything up, and who has promised that she will finalise the building warrant drawings next week.

It’s not the change of staff that frustrates me. It’s the lack of communication. What does it cost to phone your clients and tell them the news? Surely that’s much more reassuring than them discovering that they’re losing their key person after weeks of hassling for a response?

We make contact with Lara who we discover has not been given everything necessary in the transfer – of course – and will need our help to ensure that everything we had agreed with her predecessor is made known.

Poor husband now has a growling woman in the house who is not looking forward to losing a precious Saturday re-marking up plans with changes that should already have been incorporated.

We’re on Skye next week though. I don’t care if it rains and we get midged to death all week. It will just be so good to be back on our little plot of land on the island for a bit.

Deep breaths. Breathe…

Dappled shade and wild garlic

Wild garlic (or ransoms as they’re sometimes known) grow in dappled shade in woodland, on the banks of streams and in hedgerows.

Brushing through undergrowth or overgrown hedgerows as you walk will often release their pungent scent and alert you to their presence underfoot.

For me, they’re reminiscent of old woodland and drowsy, warm days in summer.

They’re also handily tolerant of thin, acidic, damp soils – perfect for the croft.

I can’t wait to get them started – and to be able to harvest enough for wild garlic butter, or to add trimmings to salads or pasta. I’ve even seen a recipe for homemade wild garlic pesto that I’d love to try.

As such I have a bag of seed to take with us on our trip to the croft in a few weeks time, and will try scattering them on the banks of the little stream to the north of the croft as well as in the copse of trees on the western boundary.

That and the bluebells and pignuts will be our first seed sewing on the croft.

It may take some years for them to establish, but the sooner we start…

Managing Small Woodlands in the Highlands and Islands

The Scottish Crofting Federation has recently published this useful little tome, packed with goodies about planting and managing woodland on the croft.

Husband and I have just spent a happy hour or so debating the wisdom of tree shelters vs. spiral tree guards for the protection of newly planted whips and young trees. A lot will depend upon the strength of the wind on the slope, which we won’t really be able to assess until we’ve lived there through a year or so of seasons.

We are travelling up to the island next month and are hoping to be able to walk the land with a representative from the local Woodland Trust, who will be able to assess the site and recommend viable tree varieties. It would be good to start the tree planning even if the trees can’t go in for a further year. And of course, the whole croft will need to be deer fenced before anything much can be planted.

We’re thinking of planting willow to help drain the boggy bottom of the croft, which can apparently act as a pioneer tree and help preparation for other species, along with birch, alder, elm, rowan, hazel, sycamore, sessile oak, bird cherry and others elsewhere. But of course we’ll take advice.

Husband is a just wee bit excited to read that Walnut and Sweet Chestnut are now considered viable species in this part of the world. Being Nut Boy, anything nut-related is worth a try in his eyes!

Wilding, the book

Wilding, by Isabella Tree, is a book based on an experimental re-wilding of a 3,500 acre farm in West Sussex.

Forced to accept that the intensive farming of the heavy clay soils of their farm at Knepp was driving it close to bankruptcy, they handed the farm back to nature.

The results in terms of biodiversity, soil fertility and increased wildlife have been nothing short of astonishing.

This is a pioneering book describing a brave and far-reaching experiment. If we can achieve these results on a piece of intensively farmed, chemically fertilised, biologically sterile land situated under the flight path at Gatwick, with time and patience we can achieve them anywhere.

Books like this provide inspiration and reinforcement of the thought that given half a chance, nature will fight back and thrive.

What we do to our little six acre pocket of land on Skye will be much less impactful than the 3,500 acres at Knepp, and the soil, weather and environmental challenges will be very different, but to the local area of Sleat it will be just as important.

So many ideas and plans. We can’t wait to start.