Sunday, 30 December 2012

Time for walks and fires

We have enjoyed a lovely family Christmas. And sincerely hope that you have too.  We even had a barbecue on Christmas Day - Farmer cooked our dinner outside in the windblown moon light. Said he enjoyed doing it too.

It feels, in the middle of the short winter days, perfectly natural to want to hibernate and to have no school bus to rush out of the house in the dark for is a real treat. And as the cows are still outside there is no point in Farmer leaving the house to feed them before it is light enough that he can actually see them. Then by 4.00 it feels like fire lighting time again, and in by the fire with the wind raging around the chimneys.

We managed a day out in between the storms. We saw the wild goats at Kingairloch and some snow between Ardgour and Lochaline.

A wild winter walk this morning as the westerly gales were disrupting ferries across the Hebrides.  It was invigorating to say the least.  Watching squalls fly in from Coll and Tiree, obliterating the view as they moved swiftly over molten silvery grey seas. Sheltering like the sheep do behind a knoll until it passes and the sky brightens again and Coll reappears.  The surface of the sea changes colour constantly.  

Ragwort is a constant source of work for the Farmer. In the summer he spends hours at the back-breaking job of pulling it up and disposing of the flowers before they set seed.  It is important for the Cinnabar moth to allow it to flower.  At this time of year the ragworts shoots are lush and green in amongst the stationary grasses which don't grow at all.  The sheep do eat it when it is this small and survive the experience! I think the ill effects are accumulative so in sheep they aren't deadly, which is just as well as it would be impossible to keep them away from it.

This dump in an inaccessibly gully predates our arrival at Treshnish.  It is a relic from the Hebridean farming past and days before council dustcarts. Sheets of tin and old bits of machinery frozen in time tumbling down the slope.

And we walk along the raised beach edge and down onto the Ensay burn beach, with its finely smoothed pebbles and stones which echo under your feet as you walk. Farmer was interested to find a bag of Emergency Drinking Water. 


The kelp line.

Perhaps an unusual subject for a festive photograph but this is the proof that using the correct medicines helps improve bio-diversity.  We avoid medicines with certain ingredients which are known to harm wildlife.  Here you can see the healthy poo is attracting birds to pick amongst it for insects and bugs.

A huge log in the round carried up the beach and into the burn by the sea.
 Fantastically luminous green bottle catches my eye. Years ago, we scoured the beaches after a storm for wooden fishboxes which were treasured.  Now the finds are more contemporary.  As much as I would like to see clean beaches everywhere with no rubbish, no plastic pollution, I do find my eye is pulled to the gaudier bits of plastic that land on the shore. 

Shags sat, as if glued to the spot, as their rocky perch was blasted by the wind and occasionally by spume and froth from the waves below.  Searched for otters in the shallow waters and found rafts of kelp swaying on the surface instead.

Farmer thought this was the back of a chair. I was not so sure.

  Into the hazel wood at the edge of the graveyard field.  The lichens so fresh in contrast to the bare branches. 

These old stands of hazel are unfenced from the field and provide important shelter in some winds for the animals. It was great to see that they are managing to regenerate even though the stock can in theory get in here.

The cattle shed feels empty without the cows although it is full of machinery, feed bags and bags of drying logs for our woodburning stoves.

I haven't done a summary of the year as such on the blog, but sitting by the woodburning stove and looking back, it has been another good one for us.  We have enjoyed seeing all the familiar faces who arrive and depart each season, playing an important part in the calendar of our year - and we have equally enjoyed meeting the guests who stayed with us for the first time this year too! The cottages and farm are inextricably, holistically, linked and your visits help us to continue to look after the land and the bio-diversity dependent on farming in this way.  Thank you all.

We wish you all a very Happy New Year!

Wednesday, 19 December 2012


Farmer is well and truly into the winter feeding regime now.  The bull is in the cattle shed with a young stirk (bullock) and our oldest cow No 63 to keep him company, and the rest of the cows are still out enjoying the roughage in the Black Park and a bite of 'cake' in the mornings. The hoggs are in the park near the cattle shed, and are mostly coming to the food now. Disappointingly there are about 15 out of the 100 who have not got the message about the 'tup tup tup' call accompanied by a rattling bag and so Farmer is going to get them in again and see if they will learn.  It is likely that they are eating the hay so they are not losing condition, it is just useful to know they will eat ewe nuts if they ever have to come into the shed at any time. 

We are busy getting everything ready for Christmas and New Year visitors, the first of whom arrive in a day or two's time. Neil has been busy painting in West, Middle and East and now he is finishing off a wee job in Duill kitchen and helping me order the right amount of materials for the new bathroom, which we are doing in January. 

The builders have been putting the plasterboard on in the Studio, the new window upstairs caused a bit of hassle but it is finished now, and floods the gallery bedroom with westerly light and views of the Point and the sea.  (I will be ordering thermal blackout blinds soon!). I will post some photographs when I have some record of the progress.

We have had some good dry frosty mornings with ice on the puddles, and pockets of frost staying white all day, but the wind is getting up tonight bringing some warmer wilder weather overnight.  Today was another of those beautiful still bright days so I stole an hour to go and look at the cheviots and enjoy the golden orange sunlight on the bay.  The tide was very low. 

Fuchsia growing through our garden wall.

A sculpture given to us by our friend and artist Matt Baker.

The Cheviots and Zwarties are grazing the field below the house.  There is still plenty of grass for them. The tups have been out for 4 weeks now so Farmer would expect the majority of the ewes to have been served by now, but this tup was showing an interest in the ewe, so just as well they are all still together. The tups will come out at the beginning of January, and will come in through the fank to get some health care before they go back to the hill. The tups are then kept separate from the ewes and the hoggs until the same time next year!

You can see the second turbine on the skyline in the photograph above.  It would appear that I have been reading the meters correctly. Having in the last post noted a 30% difference between the new and old turbines I thought I must have made an error so now  I am re-reading them every few days just to see what happens, and on the latest comparison, the new turbine was still generating more than the older one, and this time by about 50%. It will be interesting to see if that continues or not.

We have the Energy Savings Trust coming to do an energy audit in January. I am hoping that I will get some hints as to how we can reduce our reliance on electricity for heating down at Haunn. Being the largest cottage at Haunn, Toechtamhor is the largest user and we are working on reducing the amount of electricity we use. The cavity wall insulation installed last year should have helped as should the new windows going in in February, but I am hoping the EST auditor will come up with something really radical to help reduce energy use even more!

I think you could call this 'extensive' grazing. At this time of year it can feel so wild, and so sparse compared to the abundance of summer, when the fields are carpeted with wild flowers and herbage.

It is getting close to the solstice, and lovely to have this rich sunshine which lengthens the daylight preciously at this time of year when the days are so short. I sat a while and looked at the view out to sea, it was so quiet and peaceful. No sound from the sheep, almost no movement from the sea, occasional gulls flying past soundlessly, and again I was reminded of how lucky I am to have this on my doorstep.

The dark pool in the foreground of this picture is the Treshnish 'swimming pool'. It is often filled with kelp fronds but today I could see its sandy bottom.  There is another pool at Haunn on the beach where Donald Sutherland gets shot in the last dramatic scene of the 'Eye of the Needle' which was filmed here (and at Cameron Farm, Loch Buie) in 1981. East, Middle and West were used as the dressing rooms, and there was a lighthouse built on the Dun at Haunn.

Thank you to all the new faces we have met at Treshnish over the past year, and to the more familiar ones who keep coming back - you are an important part of what makes Treshnish hum.

I will leave you with a photograph of Iona to wish you all a lovely Christmas/winter solstice and a Happy New Year. 

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Gearing up

Possibly the biggest excitement of the week has been Prasad's photographs of the chough that he and others have been seeing over on the other side of the headland.

The weather has been cold, crisp and clear over the last week or so. The ground is frozen and I have been enjoying walking across the bogs. I love the way the frost picks out the shapes of the mosses and the way the low sunlight picks the detail out.  A good photographic challenge.

I was quite surprised to find a thistle looking as if it was about to flower, given that it is December. I will keep watching it now to see what it does.

Farmer put the 'chaser' Tups out on Saturday while Daughter and I were away.  The premier team of tups were 'put out' 3 weeks ago, and the idea is that these chasers will catch the ewes that the first lot might have missed.  The blackface ewes are still on the Point, but there is plenty of grass and they are doing a very good job in eating the 'foggage' down. 'The Point' is a mixed habitat having some good areas of coastal heath, and pockets of herb rich grass, it isn't in our 'scheme' which means we can be flexible with when we graze it - an insurance policy for times when we are short of grazing, perhaps due to a cold late start in the spring or extra long dry spells (yes, really) both  inhibiting grass growth. Farmer deliberately leaves the Point for tupping knowing that there will be more than enough for the ewes to eat, and more than enough ewes to take the grass down to the level that we need for the flora and fauna.  

This gate leads from the field which surrounds Shian and Duill into the boggy new woodland area.   The thin shrubby plants in the foreground of the photograph below is the evidence the natural regeneration is working, and it is really good to see.  Our aim to create a wildlife corridor across the in-bye connecting the small areas of woodland to each other - it doesn't happen overnight!

Calgary Bay and the pier just showing up in the distance.  

The cows are grazing in the Black Park at the moment, and are being fed some 'cake' every morning.  As long as it is dry, we are quite happy to keep them outside, but if it turns wet we will bring them in so that we minimise the damage they make to the fields in wet weather.

James has been doing some road works with the digger, creating better access for tractor onto the Point so that Farmer can cut the bracken up on the flats where 50 years ago they grew wonderful crops of oats.  We won't start ploughing it up, but it will be good to get the grazing back.  There are lots of 6 spot Burnet Moths in that area in the summer.

With this steady spell of clear skies during the day, we have enjoyed some fantastic clear night skies at night too.  One very bright planet reflecting on the sea in the same way the moon leaves a path on the water.  Stunning!


Near Shian and Duill there is a small lochan, and today it was frozen over. Gary the electrician is working in Duill just now putting LEDs in the bathroom and a fantastic almost silent bathroom fan.  Neil is working at Haunn with lots of paint pots whilst Angus and Ben try and squeeze a new window into the gallery bedroom in Studio! The insulation makes the place feel so cosy already - and the wood burning stove arrives next week.  

While we were away at the weekend, I went to look at some furniture for the cottages, that I had initially seen on Ebay and then found the seller's website on google. It was all a bit cloak and dagger as I was given a mobile number but not an address, so going against everything I am teaching my daughter about internet safety, off I set - into the sunset (literally - see below) and I was guided to the farm step by step.  (I had surmised that they are not really a 'showroom' and possibly that the farmer they lease the building from frowns upon visits from the public!) Anyway, I turned into a tarmac drive (Farmer would like one of these) with neatly mown verges (no wild flowers then) and drew up to 3 huge towering farm buildings.  My armchairs were lurking in the middle one, through steel doors into a cavernous shed, stacked high with salesroom buys. It was a successful foray into unknown territory as I bought bedroom chairs for Studio and Toechtamhor, and a lovely faded  Victorian mahogany bedside cabinet for West!  Plus they are being delivered to Oban!

I have been keeping an eye on the turbines and how they are working.  It is unnerving when you see the new one not turning, when the older one is. So I wanted to see how they perform in relation to each other.  There is no risk of me turning into too much of a geek with this as I clearly have alot to learn regarding record keeping!  In the last 2 weeks it looks as if Turbine 2 has made 30% more electricity than Turbine 1.. which leads me to doubt that I actually took the meter readings on the same day - so I am going to start again!  

This is the field where we fenced off an area of boggier ground to see if natural regeneration will occur from the birch and hazel woodland below.  It is rewarding to see it is working and that the existing woodland edge is spreading.  

A robin was enjoying the self seeded young birches, almost matching its red breast. I was excited to see my first Great Spotted Woodpecker today in the trees around the house. I have seen them elsewhere but never here!  Alot of fast and furious pecking in the sycamores. 

The zwartble hoggs are looking good. They seem to be thriving in this cold weather.  We have Guy putting in a new fence in the Park which will help hugely at gathering time, and give Farmer more flexibility and control on grazing.  

Coco the puppy seems a bit better than she was last week, and was merrily destroying Christmas decorations and Santa hats this evening as we got the boxes down from the loft and pulled out all those old familiar decorations to dress the tree.  

We have been seeing alot of the vet recently - a couple of weeks ago, Farmer had a meeting with The Vet to write his Animal Health Plan, which every farmer has to do in conjunction with a vet;  last Wednesday Coco had a blood test taken by The Soon To Be New Vet as we continue to try and work out what is wrong with her, and then on Monday just passed, The Vet came over to Treshnish with Soon to be New Vet to do the routine BVD testing that all herds in Scotland have to have done by February 1st. I dont know when we will hear the BVD blood test results but Coco's came back showing she was in need of some Vitamin B12!  So we will be off back to the vet for her to have an injection next week.

We had an interesting visit a few days ago, from a couple who had lived and worked at Treshnish in the early 1970's.  They knocked on the door just as I was pulling on my wellies and going out somewhere.  Off they went for a walk down to Haunn, but came back the next day for tea. It was fascinating to hear what it was like when they were here. It was also lovely for us to hear their impressions of how things are now!  They lived in Shian, and it was his first farming job.  He worked with Tommy and Colin, and together they looked after 30 cows and about 300 sheep.  There was a manager from Dervaig who would come in to see how they were getting on every now and then! They made silage with the tractor (Massey 35) we bought with the farm in 1994, using the silage pits you can still see in the Haunn field and down below the house.  East, Middle and West were rented out as holiday cottages then, and she looked after that side of things.  There was no mains electricity, though the diesel generators were replaced finally with mains electricity while they were living here.  He talked about what we knew as 'Tommy's shed', long since renovated into an office.  By all accounts, many a dram had been taken in Tommy's shed after working in the fank, and many a story told! 

Looking over the tree tops to Caliach Point and the faint mountains of Rum behind. 

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Winter light

I am re-discovering winter light, as I probably do every winter, and then forget as the long days of summer take over. We have mixed weather, but this brings wonderful extremes of sky light - from dramatic sunsets to softly tinted cloudy skies - at all times of day.  We have enjoyed a strong full moon with clear skies at night - so bright I could walk the dog without a torch. 

Guests in Shian this week have been out enjoying still dry days almost every day, and one took his mountain bike round the headline as far as below Crackaig before deciding to return the same way rather than lug his bike up the zigzag path.

Yesterday morning - over Coll.

I dont know whether it is the price you pay for a designer mongrel, but Coco seems to have something up with her digestion. She is not a dog to eat 'hungrily' - she picks at the food and consequently has always been thin - so like a neurotic I have been trying her on all sorts of different foods, getting more costly each time! And with varying degrees of success - but recently she has not been well and so 2 weeks ago, she was put on boiled chicken and rice and has been undergoing tests to see if we can find out what is wrong.  Yesterday she had an appointment with the vet to have a blood sample taken and her urine tested (it was clear).  

There was quite a queue at the vets, so we stopped off for lunch at Arlenes in Craignure afterwards on our way to Mull Building Supplies for some pipe. It was quite busy even though Wedensday is not a busy day for the ferry.  The views up Loch Linnhe were wonderful.

On the way back we stopped to collect the last kindling Ali will be able to supply us.  As I mentioned in the last post, hee is giving up doing the kindling as it has become so difficult to get dry timber.  This is on an island where there are thousands of acres of softwood plantation, but it appears most of it is being cut and sent off the island in boats to supply inefficient woodburning power stations - not enough is being stored  and dried for local use.  Unfortunately for us the Community Woodland at Dervaig dont do kindling either.  

Collecting the kindling always reminded me of the sawmill my father ran on the farm where I grew up in Angus. Coming from forested Polish mountains, working with wood was second nature to him, and one of the first things he did when he took over the farm from my grandparents was to plant small softwood plantations.  His sawmill burnt down which was tragic but luckily no one was there - and consequently no one was hurt. He called it a day at that point and "Finavon Fencing and Garden Furniture' became a thing of the past. 

The sawmill at Killiechronan which Ali used to run closed as a result of road restrictions a few years ago, as he could no longer have island timber delivered to site.  But he continued with the logs and kindling, which he has been supplying us with for as long as we have been here I think.  So it was nice to go and collect the last 10 bags, in lovely golden sunlight over Loch na Keal and enjoy the nostalgic moment of smelling the wood, the oils and the machinery one last time.

It was the Holiday Mull AGM on Tuesday, and we were shown the leaflets that they had printed and distributed over the summer - very pleased to see the view of Treshnish Point on the front cover!! I rashly volunteered to look after the Holiday Mull Facebook page.

The builders arrived to start work in Studio.  I wish I could say that we were using sheeps wool insulation (below) throughout the refurbishment but sadly it was a choice between Kingspan (above) and improving thermal qualities of the building or sheeps wool and not doing it at all, because of the cost!  However there is a tiny bit of sheeps wool being used, to improve the insulation around the velux windows!  This apparently comes as standard with some velux type windows specifially to be stuffed into the spaces around the openings. It felt good enough to knit.

The tups are still out, and every few days Farmer and one dog goes off to check to make sure they are all still doing their duty, and that none have disappeared.  It is a funny time of year because the hill is devoid of our sheep and left to the deer - walking down to Crackaig last week it felt empty without at least a few sheep dotted across the hill.

Ben More and a light dusting of snow.

Looking back towards Knock and beyond to the back of Glenforsa.

Gribun in watery golden colours yesterday afternoon.

Neil from Dervaig who helps us every winter is back in post.  This is another sign of winter for us and his first tasks are down at Haunn, where he has been sanding and re-painting West Cottage bedroom floor - using Ecospaint and it is going to look lovely. As with many jobs it seems, suddenly now the walls look as if they could do with a freshen up again.  Guests arrive for Christmas in 2 weeks so we need to hurry. The Bengal Rose paint which has been on the kitchen cupboards for the last 10 years has been painted over too.  Felt a bit of a pang when I saw it had gone - I loved that colour! 

Above the road to Reudle.

The cows are coming in for testing on Monday - for BVD, which is a horrible  virus that can cause fatalities in calves.  Our herd has been BVD-free so far, as has the rest of the island herd I think, so we should be fine.  The BVD virus is spread by air, so there is a risk if you buy animals from a market, that even though they have been tested BVD-free prior to sale, they could pick the virus up from an infected cow in a neighbouring pen, and before you know it, with the best intentions you buy a tested animal but unbeknownst to all it has been infected during the sale process, and you unsuspectingly bring that disease home.  This risk is unacceptable to Farmer, which is why when we bought heifers recently they came from a tested Mull herd - farm to farm, rather than through the market.

And over Loch Tuath to Ulva.

The new turbine is working away when it is windy. It is slower to get going from a windless standstill (yes we do have wind free days in the winter, when the air is so silent and the sea like mirrored glass) than the older one, so we are watching that - not sure if it is because there is something wrong with it, or whether it is just a slight difference in manufacture. Once it gets going though it generates just as much if not more than the older one.  

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