Sunday, 28 November 2010

It has been a beautiful cold and dry week. Ice on the puddles. Sun in the sky. Sharp outlines of silhouetted Mull hills against clear sunset skies, as the sun drops and darkness falls. The time of year when the island is even more of a haven - free from the mainland Christmas frenzy (as we discovered in a mobbed Fort William yesterday). Owl box 2 is in position in the Black Park, easy for everyone going past to Haunn to watch through binoculars without having to go too close.

waiting for 5pm ferry to tie up at Craignure

Out and about this week... The dreaded Council meeting took place on Thursday at Lochgilphead where Argyll and Bute Councillors voted 19 - 17 for the flawed school closures Proposals to go out to Consultation. The flaws in the papers and the way the Council has handled them give no one any confidence how the council officers will handle the consultation process.

The end of the Consultation period is 24th February so it feels at the moment like we have a long haul ahead. So if anyone reading this can pull a road safety expert out of their hat (or a writer or a pet journalist on a national newspaper or the author of a thesis on the benefits of small schools or an authority on the social and economic impacts of closing schools in remote isolated areas) please get in touch.

I have to admit having been to the inaugural meeting of the Argyll Rural Schools Network (ARSN) the night before in Lochgilphead, I felt (naively) confident that morality would win the day and that the Proposals would be thrown out, so when the result came and it was so close, I was fairly gutted.

ARSN is open to any 'closing' and any 'receiving' school. There is power in a united voice, and in pooling knowledge and information. There is a website. Locally in Argyll there is a community orientated website called For Argyll which has been running stories since the Proposals were made public. They blogged from the Council meeting, a sort of twitter I guess, so that the many folk who were not allowed into the Council Chamber could pick up the gist of what was going on. Only one representative from each meeting was allowed in, despite calls to move the meeting to a venue suitable of accommodating all those who wanted to attend what was after all a public meeting.

Behind the scenes support from the Scottish Rural Schools Network (SRSN) has been excellent. In the run up to Thursday's meeting they quickly hosted a website to hold useful information relevant to Argyll and Bute school closures, and worked away in the background to look into the facts and figures. SRSN has been invited by the Scottish Government (Mike Russell) to contribute to a working group to strengthen the statutory guidance for rural schools under threat of closure which is a good measure of the respect they deserve.

On the farm, the hoggs are all the cattle shed learning that there is more to food than grass - every year at this time, Farmer brings the hoggs in and lays out a snaking line of sheep troughs. To begin with the troughs are trodden on, upturned, and the sheep nuts scattered on the earth floor of the shed as they don't know what the food is. If there are animals in the shed who know how delicious the nuts are - like the pet lambs (Brownie etc) - they have the troughs to themselves to begin with, until the others begin to copy them and once that happens they have 'got it'! Soon they are all waiting for the sound of the shed door opening, and running in a big wave towards the man with the bag. Once they all understand, Farmer can let them out again into the fields and know that they will all come to the trough. When we first moved here in 1994, the sheep weren't fed supplementarily. What this meant was that the older ewes didn't know to come to the trough so you couldn't supplementarily feed any of them carrying twins or who were ill. It took 4 or 5 years to get the whole flock feeding, by teaching the new ewe lambs each winter to feed. Having done this now for years, it means if Farmer brings a ewe in to the shed at lambing time, he knows she will know to eat the food on offer in the shed.

Farmer tying old duvet on to lid of water tank to reduce chance of freezing.

I can see snow on Macleod's Tables (Skye) this morning gleaming in the far distance beyond Canna and on Canna and Rum too, those distinctive mountains rising above Calaich Point, dusted with a freezing covering of snow. There isn't any here, just ice on the puddles.

We had a night away visiting friends in Lochaber, and had a whirlwind trip to Fort William. Good ferry related signs caught my eye yesterday. Corran jetty is being upgraded so the wee ferry is on, and they are using a floating jetty, so no lorries - as a consequence the Harbro lorry which delivered feed to us before we left on Friday afternoon has to detour from Lochaline to Salen, Acharacle, up to Lochailort and back to Fort William that way, as there is a low bridge on the Loch Eil alternative route round to Fort William from Ardgour - Corran ferry! An extra 2 hours drive for him. Once he had been unloaded at Treshnish, we leapt in the car and drove like a snail through the ungritted Glen road at sub zero temperatures to get to Fishnish for the extra late sailing. People complain about Calmac but it is a pretty good service to be able to ring up and book an extra ferry. The only passengers were us and the Harbro lorry.

And yesterday on our way back, at Lochaline. 4 o'clock.

Monday, 22 November 2010

No matter what - it is tupping time

No matter what else is going on in the world. It is the 19th of November so the tups must go out. Well, a couple of days ago, it was the 19th and so the tups got their war paint painted on, and numbers scribbled on their sides.

Their feet were all checked a couple of weeks ago, and the special foot bath stuff we brought home from a huge farm supplies place on the edge of Dartmoor put to good use. Trailer loaded and off they went. Farmer took Friend with him to take a few pictures as I am a bit distracted by the Education Dept of Argyll and Bute at the moment (to say the least).

And that's it - the tups are out. These guys standing under the wind turbine are the Reserves -they have to wait a while longer. The hoggs - blackface and cheviot - are indoors at the moment, taking a few days off from grass ration to learn about lamb and ewe nuts. They are very skitterish, not at all used to farm buildings initially, but they soon calm down and learn to love the shake of the bag.

Serious neglect continues in the garden but a few long suffering veggies survive. We have already had a few frosts but miraculously sweet peas still flower in the Keder, and one last delphinium flowers, unbelievably, in the tunnel. The strawberry leaves have turned as have the blueberries which are so beautiful in every season.

There have been one or two serious blasts of wind in the last week and the turbine has been working hard. We have just received a quote for solar PV panels which we are going to install on the roof of the steading above the laundry.

The Councillors for Argyll and Bute meet again on the 25th, and we are hoping that they will vote to throw out the very flawed Proposal to close 25 schools. We will be there with our banners. Wish us luck!

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

A helping hand and an owl box

Winter light, short days. The wood is in shadow by early afternoon. Farmer and visiting Nephew got one long awaited task done. The first of our two owls boxes is up. Telegraph pole, tractor, rope beach-combed from the shore, beautiful locally made owl box made to Barn Owl Trust design, drill, nuts and bolts, and a bit of luck. It is sited facing a southerly direction (being extremely heavy, it was quite difficult to manoeuvre into exactly correct position), near the Ensay Burn in the 3 hectare area fenced off to allow natural regeneration, back into native woodland.

And on his way back to the house at dusk, Farmer saw an owl sitting on the electricity line.

The birches beside the track from the Ensay Burn up to Treshnish are nearly bare now, very few leaves left on them now, but bright fresh ivy green curling round stout trunks, in the sunshine.

The hens have been enjoying the calm today. This moulting hen is the mother of 2 chicks, who seem to have suddenly doubled in size, but still have that mother dependent high pitched call, and keep close to her at all times. They are shy of the rest of the flock, and the last to come to the food.

Despite being November we had a busy week in the cottages last week. All but one had guests - either enjoying a few nights, or some here for the full week. There were even a few walkers going through the farm yard at times, and walking along the coast. It is also whelk picking time - there have been big tides and with those, and any section of accessible shore line is picked over by one or two regular locals who gather the whelks here every year - they are sold via various dealers on the island and end up in France or Spain for Christmas. It is back breaking hard work, and approaching Christmas the price goes up and it finally becomes more lucrative.

This next week Farmer is needing to gather the ewes. Already some of them are coming down from the hill, to cast their eye over the tups in the little turbine field above the Treshnish steading, standing near the fence, getting in line for the magic date when the ewes are sorted into groups and matched up with an unrelated tup. This is a good chance to mob graze some of the fields and clean up the grazing after the cows.

The owl box can be seen from the track between the main road and the bridge which marks the march between Treshnish Farm and Ensay Farm. It is ever so slightly not standing straight....but I shan't tell the Farmer that.

Friday, 5 November 2010


Not much news from the farmhouse tonight.

All week has been taken up with school closures. We do have a petition online and it would be great if you felt like signing it.

I will write again soon. In the meantime here is a letter I sent to the Oban Times this week.

On Thursday 28th October, pupils at Ulva School were awarded a Green Flag for their achievements as an Eco School. The next evening they held a Halloween Party - the small school packed with family, neighbours and folk from the Ulva area.
In September, 3 of the older pupils sang in Gaelic at the Mod in Tobermory - winning 2 Seconds and a First in the Solos, as well as performing as a group and getting a Second.
At the Harvest Service on Ulva, the same 3 children sang (and played recorder and violin) to a packed church.
In the spring they performed in a play at the Mull Drama Festival and won 2 prizes.
As they do every year they sang to a packed church in the Easter Service on Ulva.
During the summer term, as in previous years, the children grew their own vegetables in the playground. Before half term they harvested those vegetables, baked bread and made bramble and apple jelly from brambles they had picked near the school.
The children are integrated with their local community and have a strong sense of place and belonging - as illustrated by their contribution to a National Library of Scotland project producing a state of the art Mediascape presentation for visitors to the island of Ulva.

These are some of their day to day achievements and as well as all this, the children succeed at their school work, easily keeping up with learning targets. These children are confident individuals, with a strong sense of responsibility for their fellow pupils and their environment and they contribute an enormous amount to their community - in short, they EMBODY the Curriculum of Excellence.

On Tuesday 26th October, the parents of the children received a letter from the Council telling them of their proposal to close this wonderful school.
eXTReMe Tracker