Friday, 30 December 2011

Turning of the tides - and a Happy New Year

This post will be short. Running out of year, before the New one rolls in. Farmer and family are off, before dawn tomorrow, to celebrate Hogmanay with friends and family - a tour round Scotland before school starts again on the 9th. So if there is not a New Year post for a week or so after we get back, please excuse!

The photos on this post are from yesterday (the tin shed near Penmore on its roof - blown out of the ground) and from earlier in the year.

Weather related issues have dogged the last few days. High winds (again and again!). Yet more powercuts! Yesterday's was caused by a fire on a hydro pole between Calgary and Ensay, which burnt through the pole. The hardy team of engineers managed to do a running repair - by lowering the top section above the burned out bit, and bolting it to the rest of the pole, thus securing the line.

Powercuts, coming when you least expect or want them, makes you realise how dependant we all are on electricity. Being connected to the national grid means that the turbine is automatically switched off in a power outage so having our own turbine and solar PV does not mean we are safe from the effects of powercuts - no smug, we are alright thoughts here! But without the electricity the woodchip boiler cannot work either (no controls, no pumps to circulate the heat) and as a result of yesterday's powercut, we discovered last night a safety feature we didn't realise it had - if the power cut comes whilst the boiler is firing, the boiler will 'boil over' and dump the excess hot water on the floor of the boiler room - so that it doesn't damage itself! It soon regulated itself once the power was restored. Thankfully 6 of the cottages have wood burning stoves and we are planning on putting in stoves to the other 2 in the coming year.

Lucky not to lose the 'solardome' greenhouse in our garden in yesterday's blast, as one of the windows blew out, but thankfully the rest of the structure stood up to the challenge.

The grass in the garden has gone yellow, from salt laden wind and excessive rain! Windward side of escallonia hedging salt wind singed and threadbare. Natural selection in the sycamore trees clinging to our garden edge, as dying branch tips hasten to the ground whipped away from tree centre by sudden gusts too strong to withstand.

Lots of candles at the ready for the next powercut - just in case!

The cows are safely in doors - dry and warm, easily fed - as long as you can open the sliding doors. Wrestling with gates in the wind that are almost impossible to open, fighting with feed bags and feeling the full force of battering rain or hail as Farmer goes to feed the hoggs is something else.

The tups are still working but they will be taken out in a week's time, and the ewes will be sent back to the hill once more.

We have had a fairly epic year all in all. Enjoyed almost all of it. Loved alot of it. Hated certain bits of it. And stressed about too much of it. What next year has in store time will tell! We don't expect to win any awards or get quite as much publicity as we got this year. But we will keep on keeping on at what we do - and a few things more than we have done before! 2012 bookings are looking good for a busy season ahead - lots of repeat guests which is always lovely, and some new faces too who we look forward to meeting.

During the coming farming year, we will be monitoring the fields and seeing how the new grazing management is affecting the bio-diversity, we will hopefully be doing something clever with excess wind power heating water for the district heating - and we will look forward to welcoming some of you here in the coming year. Happy New Year!!!

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Mild mid winter

This is the Christmas blog! Our Christmas decorations are down from the attic, the tree went up today, and tattered Polish decorations hang in a window - the streaks are from the salt laden winds of 2 weeks ago. No point in washing the windows given the stormy forecast for Christmas Day.

We certainly do not seem to be having the icy, snowy blast that we had last winter. The mild weather may not be as pretty to look at as the cold clear crisp solar days of the last 2 winters but it is easier to get around, and this year the Christmas play - a combined effort by Ulva and Dervaig primary schools - was actually held at the traditional time - before Christmas (rather than way into January with the children having to sing 'we wished you a Merry Christmas' etc etc). The performance had a Victorian music hall theme this year, with about 30 Victorian children all singing, dancing and quite a few of them playing recorders, cello, violin, percussion and piano! There were two raffles - one for a Hamper, kindly provided each year by a woman from the Ulva side of the hill; and this year the second raffle was for a painting of a Highland Cow by Graham Bruce - which we won! It is now hanging proudly in the farm office!

Last night was the Christmas Party at school, which was a lively occasion with lots of very excited younger children - wide eyed and enthralled when they heard the faint sounds of the reindeer bells, followed by the appearance of Santa in the classroom. (He wears green wellies every year whatever the weather). Lots of games including the most exciting one involving putting hats, gloves and scarves on to attack bars of chocolate whenever you threw a six; and before we knew it, it was 9.50 and time to go home. Thick thick fog on the top of the hill above Burg made the drive home an interesting one.

School finished at lunch-time today. One of the girls in primary 2 told me excitedly, as we were all saying goodbye and Happy Christmas at the school gate, that her mum had seen Santa's sleigh and ALL the reindeer outside the school during the party. The look on her face said it all.

Mixed weather makes for great light at times, no light whatsoever on the darkest days. Today it has been another of those flat days with no sun, the feeling of there being no light, grey cloud clinging to the hills, reflecting in the grey sea. Damp and mild. And the wind is getting up now as it gets dark. The shortest day is over, which is always a hurdle well past.

On the farm, the feeding regime is well under way. Farmer's back is sufficiently recovered that he can carefully lift a bag of feed again so he has been doing the feeding on these dark mornings. The cows are still outside but with the ground so wet, it is likely they will be brought indoors before long. We want to avoid poaching the ground or making a mess with buggy/tractor/quad getting to the fields to feed.

Sunlight hits the Tiree ferry heading back to Oban.

And sunlight on the trees outside my window with that magical about to rain light on the sea behind.

Sincere thanks to all the lovely visitors we have had staying this year and to everyone who visits the blog - wishing you all a very Happy Christmas wherever you are, and a Merry New Year.

Monday, 12 December 2011

In between the storms

We were lucky. The Recycling Shed may have lost its roof, and we may have to spend some time clearing up things that have been blown around, but there was nothing major, and our house is solid and we were warm. We lost the electricity for a couple of hours on Thursday and all day and evening on Friday, but some areas still don't have their power back on.

It was awesome watching the sea. Words cannot express how huge long and high the rollers were making their way up the bay.

Thanks to those of you who emailed to find out how we had fared in the storm! Some die-hards would say we have this weather all the time, but I think this is only partially true. We do have strong winds, but they more often and not blow through within a few hours. In the 17 years we have been here, we have had lots of storms, and whilst the averages around 60pmh might happen quite often (tonight, now as I write!) the peaks of 91 mph on Tiree 15 miles west of here don't happen quite as often! Alot of neighbours I have spoken to found Thursday's wind very distracting, almost disturbing - unsettling certainly. I felt very twitchy all day, and only relaxed when the wind dropped. Watching the shed roof peel off like the curling lid of a sardine can was like watching footage of a American hurricane on the news, and then realising that we were in the middle of it.

I am glad there wasn't anyone staying in Duill! (It was all fixed the next day, well in time for the guests who are staying there now).

A family from northern England were staying at Haunn last week, and I was worried for them during Thursday's storm, but they assured me they had seen similar winds when living in the Far East - typhoons and cyclones! On the Friday, by evening we still had no electricity so we drove down to give them some more candles and tea lights. They were all warm and cosy in candlelight sitting by the fire, but grateful for the additional candles!

Part of the Recycling Shed roof lies in the burn.

Friday morning, we had a little snow - actually thick enough for a time to realise it might folly to send Daughter to school, so she came home again (quite pleased). Within a couple of hours it had melted. The sea was flat calm again, as if the huge rolling, huge breaking, perpetually moving, rising and falling football-pitch-sized waves had never been happened 24 hours before.

Jamie's puppy learns about riding in the buggy.

This little gate into the veg garden was recycled from the original fank, where the wood chip boiler is now. The wind blew its fastening right out of the gate post!

The Aracona hens enjoy the great outdoors. The Keder polyhouse survived the winds, but Farmer had opened the side vents before hand which hopefully saved them from being blown out, as the wind could get out the other side.

A quiet winter rhythm is taking shape. Jamie comes in in the morning to feed the hoggs - as they are in he can do this early before light. Farmer feeds the cows later on. They are receiving a bit of 'hill cow cob' - even though they are still fat from the summer grass, it is better to keep the weight on them, rather than yo-yo dieting. It is not good for them to be too fat before calving so Farmer will do some condition scoring to help assess whether they need more or less additional food. The ewe hoggs are still in the cattle shed. Ewes and tups together in their different groups in the in-bye fields. The cows are in between the Point and the Haunn field. They are all munching on the deferred grazing, left from under grazing the fields during the summer so that flowers can safely flower and set seed whilst ground nesting birds rear their young before the silage is cut.

Another storm is raging whilst I write. Torch by my side, just in case. Goodnight!

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