Exploring the croft

We’ve spent the last few days exploring the land. The croft is situated on a south east facing slope. Because it hasn’t been used for many years apart from occasional grazing, rushes have overtaken much of it, and there is little tree cover with the exception of a few small birch groves acting as a shelter belt to the west of the land.

There are exposures of lewissian gneiss in various places, but there also appear to be layers of shale, as exhibited here in an exposed cut above the stream. You can see the soil layer overlaying the shale. Local spot PH testing shows that the soil over the shale is around 6.5-6.8, so not as acidic as we had feared.

There is also a sheltered valley to the north, where the burn flows. It’s lightly wooded and overgrown, with the stream running through the cut.

It’s much more diverse and untouched in nature than I thought from our first viewing, which is wonderful. We’re already hatching plans for where we could plant a small orchard, and where we could create a pond.

Now to focus on planning permission and building warrants…

Sunrise over Knoydart

No filters. We woke up to this stunning sunrise over the Knoydart hills this morning at 6.40 am. Can’t wait until we’re enjoying this from our own Croft house! It makes early morning rising something to look forward to.

One day soon .

Fallen trees and a soggy bottom

It’s been a bizarely warm, cloudy day today on Skye, but we’re here! We spent the afternoon taking soil samples and exploring the croft with planting plans in mind, and it was so mild that we left our waterproofs hanging on a fence. Not at all like February.

On the western boundary of the croft is a grove of trees, providing a welcome shelter belt. At some point in the past an enormous fir tree was felled, and the trunk, denuded over time of it’s branches, still lies there.

We explored the bottom of the croft more thoroughly, a rough, overgrown area that borders the high moorland and common grazings at the back of where the house will be built.

We knew that there was a burn on the western boundary of the croft, running between us and our neighbour, but what we didn’t know was that there was a small tributary stream that runs through our land which joins the main burn, hidden in a low dip to the north.

It’s quite magical. The trees overhang the cut that the stream has carved for itself out of the bank. Everything is green, mossy and lichen-covered. Today the only sound was the gurgling of the stream, the occasional bleat of sheep and the song of the birds.

Our very own soggy bottom.

Consolatory cheese scones

We may not be on Skye this weekend as planned, but we are sitting with our feet up at home, a much happier little spaniel, a rescheduled flight, and a plate of hot, cheesy sourdough scones for supper.

There’s always an up side if you look hard enough for it ☺️

Of sick dogs and cancelled flights

We’ve been waiting impatiently for the opportunity to get back up to Skye for the last three months now.

Work schedules, family commitments, and the time it took to complete the croft purchase all conspired to stretch that time out to what seemed like an agonisingly long wait.

But eventually the week of the flight to Inverness approached and we started packing our bags and finalising the visit arrangements. And then disaster struck.

In the week before we were due to leave, our lovely old spaniel got sick. Up several times a night, my husband slept downstairs on the sofa with him so that he would be close in case anything happened. Bertie was listless and weak, had continual diarrhoea which his medication didn’t seem to be helping, and we were terrified that his time had come.

We cancelled the flight and the accommodation. We cancelled the dog sitter. We couldn’t leave him.

Exhausted from several nights of worry and scant sleep, we despaired of when we would get the chance to make the trip again, feeling both frustrated and guilty at voicing our feelings at a situation that was of no-one’s making.

Last night he turned the corner. He brightened. He started to eat again. We breathed again and watched in delight as he gained in energy. We dared to wonder whether we could get him comfortable enough over the weekend to squeeze a short few days in on the island out of the original week that we had planned.

The bags are still there, still packed on the bedroom floor, awaiting the outcome of the next few days.

Wilding the land

We want to wild the land. And that means trees. Lots of them. I have always been drawn to trees.

Woodland Trust (those wonderful people) are taking applications now for grants for the November 2019 to March 2020 planting season.

It’s pretty amazing to me that they will help with up to 60% of the cost of planting mixed, deciduous woodland, as well as providing advice and tree protection. We are going to need all the help we can get as we plan to use around 1.5 hectares of the land for trees, and along with the deer fencing will plant edible hedges around the perimeter of the croft.

Husband is a a total fruit and nut fiend, and is especially taken by the idea of wild fruit and nuts in the hedging – blackberries, sloes, wild strawberries, cloudberries, raspberries, haws and rowan berries. We may even try planting some hazelnuts.

On a recent summer trip to the island we were blown away by the plant diversity of the hedgerows on the lanes in Teangue, just up the road from where our land is. It was like going back in time.

We’d mainly visited the island in winter before. Summer on the island on a calm, sunny day was an experience that took me straight back to my childhood, with bird and insect life in sleepy, buzzy, happy profusion. We want to help protect and build more of that and to grow as much wild, edible fruit as we can.

I’m being a bit premature I know, but I’m already stacking up crabapple jelly and blackberry wine recipes in happy anticipation…☺️

Reading Lists for the Weekend

It’s a blustery, wet February evening here in London. We’re tucked up and relaxing after a heavy week, winding down and recalibrating for the weekend.

A weekend isn’t down time without something in the form of a book in my world, and on my reading list this weekend are three things that I’m looking forward to:

    The winter issue of Permaculture magazine
    Skye the Island by James Hunter
    A Sting in the Tale by Dave Goulson

Permaculture magazine is just there to top up the dream-pot with pictures of wildflower strewn farms, woodlands and hobbit homes built of driftwood and reclaimed windows. It keeps me inspired by what others have achieved in their desire to live sustainably. I doubt that we’ll ever live like some of the people featured in it, but it’s an inspiration!

Skye the Island is a wonderfully interesting book written by a historian who lives there. It is written without the usual romanticism and sentimentality about the island, and is a moving, evocative and hopeful text on the bitterness of the island clearances and the possibilities for the future. James Hunter is a lecturer at the University of the Highlands and Islands.

A Sting in the Tale is a book about bumblebees. Written by one of the UK’s most respected conservationists, whose passion for these fascinating insects shines through every page, it’s also a warning about the destruction of their populations and the potential dangers if we are to continue down this path.

All this material nurtures my desire to revitalise the land that we’ve bought and create an environment that is as rich, biologically diverse and as wild as we can keep it.

I can’t wait to get started.