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 😊…

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.

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!

Bluebells and pignuts

Our next trip to the croft is in September, and itching to make a start, any kind of start, we’ve bought some seeds to sew in the established patch of woodland on the western boundary.

We can’t start anything on the main croft land until the drainage and groundworks are complete, which won’t start until the Autumn, so the little woodland belt is the place to begin some underplanting.

First off, I’ve bought pignut seeds.

Pignut is small perennial herb, whose underground root resembles a chestnut and is sometimes eaten as a wild or cultivated root vegetable. It has fascinated me for many years.

The name Pignut comes from its popularity with pigs, who root it out for its flavour, which is said to be similar to water chestnut. Wild food foragers also love it and jealously guard their sources.

Secondly, I’ve sourced some bluebell seed from a small, licensed croft on the Isle of Eigg. Eddie’s Croft.

Bluebell seed can be procured from many places, but I particularly wanted to find Scottish bluebell seed, and being so close to Skye, seed grown on Eigg will, I think, be more naturalised to the climate and conditions there. We will scatter it in the birch grove and hope that in a few years we’ll have the beginnings of a sea of blue.

It’s a small start, but it’s a start, and it’s exciting to be making our first mark on the land, however modest.

On the Crofters Trail

On the reading pile this weekend (between flooring catalogues and kitchen cabinet fittings) is this poignant read.

Written by David Craig and originally published in 1990, this is now out of print and was a purchase from a second-hand bookseller.

It contains interviews with the descendants of those cleared from the Highlands and Islands who settled in Novia Scotia.

Some have letters from the period describing the atrocities in faded but visceral detail. Some have tales passed down through three generations from their great, great grandparents and recount them in detail.

There’s is something incredibly real and intimate about a book that contains a reference directly to the croft or township that you live in. For me it creates a tangible link back through time.

I look over the ancient but still visible lazy beds on the moor above the croft and feel a real link to the lives of those who wrestled them from the soil.

The frustration of over-engineering

When you’re eager to be somewhere, time passes slowly. This is a picture of the rocky shore down from the Church on the Sleat Peninsula, close to where the croft is. This image helps me with the passage of time.

Every now and then when we’re knee-deep in roof light specifications, or looking for the fiftieth time at how best to configure the bathroom, I pull up all the photos that I can find of the township, the croft or its views, and remind myself why we’re doing this. And I breathe more slowly…

It’s difficult to describe what we want so that architects and kitchen or bathroom planners understand clearly. We are realising that anything that deviates from the perception of the norm causes problems. Because we are clearly not normal.

For example, it appears to be inconceivable to certain kitchen designers, who have a preconceived idea of what needs to go into our space, that I do not want a steam oven. Or why a single small kitchen sink with no draining board area would not be perfectly adequate. Or why I could not live without individually programmable humidity-controlled salad drawers in the fridge….

Trying to keep things simple these days is clearly out of fashion.

Believe me, I know that this sounds strange coming from the lips of someone who has spent a lifetime working with technology, but I don’t want to have to programme my appliances. Even the induction hob that we were shown had reconfigurable cooking zones….

I’m feeling a bit like a frustrated Luddite.

I’m happy to listen to experts and take on what works for our lifestyle, but over-engineered appliances just seem to me an exercise in unnecessary expense.

I am looking at my calming picture of the shore. I am breathing.

We are making progress…

We’re owners of a croft!

*Natasha Newton Art

Yesterday we received confirmation from our Skye solicitors that we’re at last confirmed as owners of the croft!

Never before has a small patch of permafrost in Scotland caused so much excitement.

It’s been a five month journey to get to this point and it feels so good to have reached this milestone. I can sense the slightly bemused expressions of friends, family, and passing strangers, but what we’ve bought isn’t just a patch of land. It’s a promise of a completely new way of life, which we are so ready for.

Now, as the snow settles on the fields we can start the real work … registering the croft, designing a house, securing planning permission, building an access track, groundwork, utilities connection, planning the land use, tree planting… so much to do.

I know that there will be frustrations, tears, hard work, midges and compromises along the way, but there will also be joy and a sense of achievement as we move through these things.

And fresh air, trees, sea, bees, dark skies, peace, space and wellies. After a lifetime of cities you can’t imagine the pull of all of these things.

One day soon we will wake up to sunrise over the Knoydart hills and start our other lives.

Hell yeah.