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.

Cobnuts or filberts

Whilst browsing for seeds to take with us to the island in a few weeks time, I noticed that one of the online smallholdings that I was shopping from had filberts, or cobnuts, for sale.

Husband loves nuts, and has reminisced often about eating fresh filberts as a boy in Istanbul. I recall picking them too as a child, where they grew in the woods adjacent to our house in Dorset.

As soon as I saw these I couldn’t resist.

The small box arrived at the house yesterday, hand-packed with a layer of hazel leaves on top of the nuts to keep the dampness in. Opening them released the scent of woodland.

They have a unique taste and texture quite unlike dried hazlenuts. Slightly sweet, nutty and milky. They are only semi-hard with a moist, almost chewy texture. If anything could taste of ‘green’, this is it.

It’s inspired us again to make sure that we plant plenty of hazel on the croft.

The hazelnuts that don’t get eaten in handfuls off the tree can be dried and stored, chopped or whole, for use in bread, cakes or puddings. Or preserved in jars of honey for spooning as luscious toppings over cooked apples, pears or ice-cream.

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.

Definitely wall hung.. as the actress said to the bishop

Only those of you of a certain age and a certain lack of delicacy will get that….I am not going to explain for those of you who don’t.

Apparently, the latest thing in bathroom chic is to have your bathroom appliances (eg. toilet and washbasin) suspended from the wall. Nothing between them and the ground except fresh air and a tremulous fear of suspension.

Why? I asked the bathroom consultant. What’s wrong with them being floor mounted? Have they not been that way since time immemorial?

Difficult to clean, he said, delicately. You have men in your home?

I sort of get that swishing a mop under a wall mounted toilet is easy, but seriously? How difficult is swishing it around the base of a floor mounted toilet?

Perhaps it requires manoeuvres that the current generation haven’t evolved or mastered. Maybe I get that. But I also get that the process of house specification has a lot to do with trends, and I had seriously missed that even a basic croft house would be subject to that.

I am finding the process of specifying flooring, sanitary ware, tiles, kitchen units and worktops much more tiring than I expected.

It’s such a privilege to be able to do this in some ways, and so important to get right, but the endless choice is so wearying. Some days I just want to curl up and have someone present me with my perfect kitchen/bathroom and say…

Yes! It can be yours, and it’s within budget….

I’m focusing on the fun.

Planning Permission Approved!

We’ve just heard from the architects that planning permission for the longhouse on our croft has been approved. It’s a major milestone for us on this journey, and I’m so happy! Our home has just moved one step closer to becoming a reality.

Next it’s starting work on the building warrants and the more detailed specification for the build, which we are lined up to do in the coming weeks.

In preparation for this we’re travelling up to Fife soon to meet with the kitchen and bathroom planners to discuss what these rooms will be composed of, what we like, and what we can afford.

It’s been a bit of a revelation to me that people can (and do) spend many thousands of pounds on a bath… I keep repeating the mantra “keep it simple, keep it simple” so that I don’t get sucked in by the sales pitch on the latest and shiniest new version of anything.

We are not shiny people. Stone, wood, plaster, paint, wool and linen fabrics. Natural finishes, and as little plastic or gloss as possible, that’s our philosophy. We want to have a home that’s comfortable and functional to live in rather than a showhome.

It goes without saying that whatever we don’t spend on the house leaves us more money to spend on trees.

A glass of fizz this weekend may be in order.. 😋