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.

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.

Barn challenges

First the good news… there is still an old barn on the croft. Agricultural buildings are an absolute necessity for equipment, feed, seed storage and the like.

Secondly the not so good news. It’s more hole than barn…

There’s a massive gap in the back wall of the barn, where the stone collapsed many years ago. There is no front wall at all except some rickety boarding that looks like it’s held up by sheer hope. The beams are unsupported, rotten in places and swaying in the wind at the back where there is no wall left to hold them. The tin roof is full of holes but is mainly still in place, which is what’s saved the rest of the walls, I suspect.

However, it’s salvageable. Let’s hope it’s doable and actually not too expensive, because after we’ve built the house and started the land drainage and tree planting works we’ll be restoring this with a bit of a wing and a prayer, and not a lot else!

A sense of home

As I sit here at the kitchen table in London on the last few days before Christmas, tapping away on my laptop and watching the clouds scud past the window, my thoughts turn to what we mean by the term home.

For me, home is where love is. And my love is my husband of two years. His presence and his companionship immediately make anywhere that we live home. Having said that, there are places to be in that feel more comfortable and more aligned with our core values and way of life than others. London would never be that place for us. It’s just where we have to be for work. It’s too fast and impersonal, too urban. Too concrete. Too polluted.

I’m sure we’ve all seen dogs slowly and endlessly circling around, trying to find that indefinably perfect spot to settle in. I seem to have been that way for most of my life, living in Germany, France, Holland, England and America, yet never fully settling or feeling that deep sense of belonging in any of them.

The closest I’ve ever got to that is the island.  For me, cold, wet, bleak, and as wild as it is, it speaks to me at some deep level that makes me feel that this could be home. When I’m on the island I feel a sense of something deep within me unclenching, and some of the anxiety that is ever present in urban life starting to relax it’s grip on me.

Some people count the nights until Christmas in the anticipation of the day. I’m counting the months and years until we are on the island in our own little home.

Ancient Thinking Stone

At last, a trip up to Skye with husband to walk the boundaries of the land and check out tree cover and renovation options for the barn.

The weather was truly Skye – blustery skies and squally showers interspersed with shafts of bright sunshine. It was November, so also cold and windy. We wrapped up warmly.

We spent a couple of hours on the plot, aligning the house plans with the best of the sea views over the Sound of Sleat and working out the best shelter. We’re lucky, as there are already trees on the South Western boundary which provide good shelter from the prevailing winds. We’ll need them…

And there is this beautiful outcrop of what we believe to be Lewisian Gneiss poking out of the moss at the top of the Croft.

An ancient stone. A stone for sitting and thinking, or maybe just watching the world go by.

And it’s the inspiration for the name Stone Croft..