Saturday, 28 January 2012

Daffodils showing through, days getting longer

Last weekend we went to meet up with friends at Inveraray. The journey we envisaged when planning this reunion, was to take the ferry to Oban, do the chores in Oban (buying specialist items we cannot get on Mull) and to take a leisurely drive down to Inveraray, arriving mid afternoon in time to meet our friends who were travelling up from just south of the border. We should have known better. XCweather forecasts showed lots of wind for Saturday and going on recent performances lots of wind meant lots of ferry disruption. We couldn't leave home in time to catch the 11am ferry from Oban (which turned out to be the only crossing to Oban that day). Farmer had cattle and sheep to feed before we left. So we decided to aim for Fishnish in good time for the 'service review' mentioned on the Calmac app at 12.45. Nothing happened for a while. The flashing sign continued to give old news for a while. Then we saw the ferry nudging its way out from Lochaline into the Sound. The photograph above was taken before the sea state worsened - in front of our eyes. One minute this gentle roll, the next minute huge swell. The ferry turned round and retreated into Lochaline again. Next review was eventually given as being at 4pm. We decided not to wait at Fishnish, but went to Tobermory for lunch at 'the Pier', a new cafe on the pier, under Cafe Fish. The weather came in in drifts, some moments the bay looked relatively calm and the next wild. We had a very nice lunch. We filled up with petrol at MacKay's Garage.

We went back to Fishnish. We waited. And waited. Then we saw the ferry appear again. The sea state had gone down. The ferry came slowly across and eventually reached the jetty. The ramp was lowered. Cars drove off. 2 cars drove on. Suddenly the staff were not waving us on, but hands up in firm No - Stop gestures. Ferry slid sideways off jetty, wind powered. Out into the Sound again, and tried again to land. And again. Each time the wind blowing it off the jetty. Quite exciting? So near and yet....? Luckily for us on the third attempt the ferry managed to stay attached to the jetty for long enough - we were hurried on up the ramp, waves lashing against the jetty at our heels. Once all were loaded, off we went. Mildly disconcerting then to read a text from Calmac mid crossing, telling us that sailings on that route had been cancelled for the rest of the day! Actually the crossing was not bad at all, and we were soon safely on the other side. Faced with a 94 mile drive to Inveraray. We considered ourselves lucky to have got off the island at all. In the end our journey from Treshnish to Inveraray took longer than our friends journey from Cumbria! Woke up Sunday morning to a flat calm Loch Fyne, and sunshine accompanied us for most of the day, a quick and easy journey home and all the Oban chores done on the way.

Calving will start very soon, and the cows who have been in the cattle shed for some weeks now, need to get their annual dosing against worms and fluke. This cow seen here trying not to swallow her medicine is No 63. She was one of the foundation heifers of our small herd. We bought her from a farm near Huntly along with 5 others. We were given a very generous kick start by a Aberdeen Angus cattle farmer who farmed near where I grew up - she took our heifers in for some months of bovine B&B and put them to her pedigree bull. We hoped the majority of their first calves would be female so that we could increase and improve our breeding stock, but of the 6 there was only one heifer that year! (typical). Anyway that was in 1998 and 63 has been with us all that time! She is the only 'original' one we still have living on the farm, and she will live out her days here. Farmer was impressed, yesterday, that she has all her teeth still and was looking good and healthy!

It can seem like it does nothing but rain and wind here sometimes, but yesterday was sufficiently beautiful that I could not resist the temptation to flee the office and go in search of some vitamin D.

Dusting of snow on Rum (in distance above) translated into hail freezing on the ground here and made for an exciting (icy) run over the hill to Ulva Ferry School to meet Mike Mackenzie MSP along with 2 SNP Councillors - Mike was at Luss when Farmer got to the end of his Cycle for the Schools last May, and he had said then that he would like to come over and see what USCA were doing. The USCA story seems to be attracting alot of attention, and we are grateful for the support we are getting from home and afar. By the time I left to come home again, the road had thawed and the sun was still doing its very best.

This is the lochan next to Duill Cottage. There are 2 pairs of Mallard on it just now, and a patient statuesque Grey Heron most days.

In between regular cattle and hogg feeding duties Farmer managed to get into the garden this week as well. This compost bin had been blasted by the wind during one of the gales, it looked as if it had exploded from within. So here it is rebuilt and in a new hopefully more sheltered position!

The vegetable beds are mostly a mud plain just now, but there is some growth coming in the young rhubarb crowns.

The walls of the polytunnel have so far survived the gales. I know I will really regret allowing the thistles to set seed, but they are so beautiful. Snowdrops are still flowering prettily, and some of the daffodils are already several inches high.

But how much longer this pane of glass will stay put I don't know. This window frame was used in the filmset for the Eye of the Needle starring Donald Sutherland which was partially filmed here in 1981. The sills are rotten too. (something else to add to the never ending maintenance list)

Monday, 9 January 2012

Slivers of snowdrops herald a new year

Happy New Year! We hope that you have had a happy and peaceful festive season and that the year ahead brings good times, health and happiness as well as great holidays.

Treshnish has quietened down, after what turned out to be a busy festive season after all. I was worried that no one would brave the potential weather event situations, and that the cottages would be empty. But in fact we had a full house, all bar one cottage, and from all accounts everyone had a lovely time despite the storms and the powercuts!

Farmer and family left on Hogmanay and drove through pelting rain to Dumfries and Galloway. There was very little traffic, just lots of rain and plenty of puddles particularly on the twisty road between Crianlarich and Tarbet, Loch Lomond. It was certainly a damp end to the year but we woke up on New Year's Day to brilliant sunshine. The sculpture below is a Matt Baker from Dumfries-shire where we saw in the New Year.

Over the next few days we visited friends and family across Scotland, making up for months of being at home almost alone (!), and I have to confess that we did also succumb to the advertising around 2 of Edinburgh's newest residents. Controversial as zoos are, Daughter was keen to see the pandas, so with species conservation in our minds as our 'excuse', we spent a morning at Edinburgh Zoo. I am afraid that despite my mixed feelings about wild animals in enclosures, I felt a little bit of excitement in seeing these rare animals in close range.

We caught the ferry back last Sunday afternoon, and it felt as if we were definitely past the shortest day as we drove off the ferry at 4.45pm there was still a little streak of light in the sky.

It was sad to see the damage along the way from the storms that have affected the whole of Scotland at various times over the last few weeks. I felt particularly affected by the loss of familiar single trees in the middle of fields or along hedgerows, which have been struck down by the wind, tell tale limbs lying on the ground their bright wounds exposed, or worse - trees lying prostrate on the ground, skyward root plates and branches reaching out horizontally. Landscapes suddenly changed by the force of nature - take nothing for granted - things do change.

And on Monday we woke to sunshine! It seemed like a long time since we have enjoyed that experience. The novelty of seeing shadows. And at night the moon has been so bright. On Radio Scotland in the morning, the traffic news includes disruptions to the Leverburgh crossing to Berneray because of the low tides. I love hearing that.

The winds over the last months have meant that the turbine has been working hard. We are nearly at 30,000 kWh now. This is about 30% more than we generated in the same 3 months last winter. (I suppose that means we are lucky that we have only lost one shed roof and some slates!)

The first snowdrops. Short but a nice sign of spring! Farmer has moved the bird feeders away from the grass so that they hang from the sycamore branches. This means that the hens who loiter and graze the fallen wheat at the foot of the bird table/feeder are now scratching around in the deadened long grass under the trees rather than creating muddy patches in the 'lawn' that take months to recover! The hens don't seem to mind.

Farmer and Jamie have been taking advantage of the dry bright day to take the tups out. The ewes were given cobalt and selenium, and sent back to the hill. The tups are now grazing in the field by the house - I get a fright catching sight of the bright orange and red warpaint Farmer marked them with at the start of lambing.

Lots of deer around just now too. I had to go to Oban on Thursday for an USCA related meeting, and saw more deer than humans or cars on the Treshnish to Salen part of the journey. (20+ miles) Deer 4 - Cars 1. Between Treshnish and Calgary, there were 2 hinds grazing just beside the road. They gracefully calmly crossed in front of me, and swiftly disappeared up the hill above the road. A pair of stags grazed in an area of young woodland, having confidently mastered the knack of crossing wires and fences designed to deter them. Coming home in the dark, the field beside Calgary graveyard had lots of deer grazing.

This tin shelter near Dervaig was thrown on its roof in between Christmas and New Year, and hit again by the wind while we were away. The bare earth that had been the floor of the shelter now open to the skies, and beside an upturned rusting wheel barrow, a hoard of empty hazel nut shells.

Below is one of our farming neighbour's handsome Shorthorn bull enjoying the sun near Calgary.

Routine maintenence is underway in the cottages. Farmer is catching up on the chores around the place. Daughter back at school. USCA and Treshnish compete for my attention - in a good way. Prasad has been seeing the big 3 alot. Cottages are booking up fast. The winter rhythm. And every day the sun rises a couple of minutes earlier and sets a minute later than the day before, which by the end of January will have made a significant difference to life!
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