Sunday, 25 March 2012

Bracken fronds, fallen trees and magnolia blossom

This is one of the tall trees we lost in the winter storms. Older and vulnerable hazels have fallen too, but this one is quite dramatically down a gully, the potential firewood will have to be left for the insects, as there is no way we could safely retrieve it for our own use.

Daffodils are out. These are the leftovers from a 1970's farm diversification scheme, called the Hebridean Bulb Venture.

This field has been well nibbled down by the Cheviots. Stock are out of the graveyard field now. Hazy light.

It has been a mainly dry and warm week. The fields have dried up sufficiently for Farmer to do some field work on his tractor, and he is contemplating putting the cows out on the hill again tomorrow.

Time had to be taken to walk through the woodland area above the Ensay Burn. The exotic Magnolia is flowering so strongly. Not quite so wonderful to see are the first bracken shoots - bear in mind please it is only March.

Something very unexpected about staring up at the sky and seeing this in a hazel woodland on the north west coast of Mull.

Our damp climate helps support abundant lichen and fungus. We manage the woodland to protect the hazel glove fungus in particular. This means trying to keep the deer out, but they manage to sneak in when we are not looking. Their tracks follow along the deer fence, down the bank to the Ensay Burn, and across the shallower bits, you can see their tracks continuing across our neighbour's field. And back up to the hill. Some browsing is encouraged as hazel glove fungus needs air and light as well as shelter - a balance.

The forecast is to stay good for the next 7 days..lets hope so. The spring season has started - cottages busy and lots of walkers coming through to enjoy the Headland walk.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

End the week on a high note

Clearing up seems to be one of Farmer's perpetual jobs. This week it was round our house. We now have 'lawn; where there was rubble. Here is Jan enjoying the novelty of sitting on grass where there once was only rubble.

Signs of spring, in montbretia shoots catching the late afternoon sun. The hens love this part of the farmyard, they spend alot of time dusting themselves and use the fully grown montbretia for shade later in the summer. They have been pecking at the shoots too.

The new chip, whilst wonderfully uniform and absent of slithers (and therefore unscheduled stoppages/blockages), does not flow as readily has the old chip. I have probably said this already, but it means Farmer has to climb in and shovel. Not good for the back.

The sliding roof motor rusted through so now the roof has to be wound back manually. It is still better than having doors on the roof which have to be lifted rather than slid, as they would not be able to be opened when it is windy. You can see the water sitting in the sliding roof section - we need to stop walking on it as it has bowed! So Phil is going to come and build a walkway along the side. You learn from experience I guess!

The traditional white paint on the exterior of the house, and cottages, inevitably goes green after a while, and every 6 or 7 years the house and all the white cottages need painting. Farmer decided this year that as he has Jamie looking after the sheep (supposedly saving his post-op back) he would look after the painting himself. First thing is pressure washing the green - hence Farmer in full waterproofs on a sunny day. It looked so good once he had done it, we now think we can hold off the painting for another year.

All but one cow has calved now, but there is still lots of tending to do. All the calves have to be eartagged and the numbers recorded.

In late afternoon Farmer 'beds the cows up' (fresh straw) and 'forks in the silage' (moves the left over silage from earlier away from the centre of the feed passage so the cows can reach it). These phrases are etched in my winter psyche. I hear them every day, and the winter in that respect would not be the same with out them. However housing the cows in doors, as we have done ever since we built the sheds in 1999, is proving tough on Farmer's back and we are having to look at alternatives.

Another gorgeous calf!

It is touching watching cows interacting with each other. The dun cow was giving the black one a good ear lick.

The sun has been out all weekend, and we all feel the better for it. The last few nights people have been looking out for the Northern Lights. I was up late after Farmer and Daughter had gone to bed 2 nights ago - the sky was fantastically starry, with Jupiter and Venus so clear and bright. A band of cloud hugged the skyline obscuring Coll, so dark against the accumulated glow of the millions of stars. A green glow rose above this cloud, so strong and not the usual starlit sky colour and hue. A partial Northern Lights then? It has to be said I was not popular the next day, as I did not think to wake anyone else up to look at its beauty.

The old and the new. The sleigh has seen better days and is riddled with woodworm now, but acts as a good marker for Rob when he is reversing the tractor and trailer on wood chip delivery days.

Clothes drying in the sun, with Shieling in the background. The cottages are getting their pre season 'deep clean' in between bookings.


A first celandine - for me anyway. Lovely to see. Curlews calling today. Lovely to hear.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Webbed feet and held on hats. Looking back and forward.

All of a sudden it is Sunday night. This last week has been Quad Bike Course week. Finally we found someone who could run a LANTRA course on Mull, to get Jamie his Quad Bike license. The other option we had had to get Jamie on a course was back in November when there was a course held on the mainland, near Dalmally, but it would have involved 2 nights away due to the winter timetable. In the end we had people queuing up to take their tests here! Farmer, Jamie and 2 others took theirs on Tuesday, a further 4 on Wednesday and yesterday Jamie and Farmer did their 'buggy' course as well. Ian, the instructor, stayed with us to keep the costs down. Both of them passed both tests. Phew.

I had to go to the doctor this week and ended up going to bed - so the blog will be a little light on photographs probably and stories. (I may add from historic photographs to fill in a bit - just this once.)

It was probably a good week to have courses going on and indoor things to do - an inch and a half of rain on Tuesday! And lots of low damp cloud the rest of the time. But it still does feel like spring. I saw a treecreeper in the garden this afternoon, which was magical, creeping up the sycamore in front of the office window. The trees are backdrop to alot of avian too-ing and fro-ing, hooded crows scaring them every now and then flying past, and I heard a skylark when walking up on the Sitheans.

Whilst I was laid up/off work, I indulged in researching my own solo trip to Harris and Lewis to look for tin sheds to photograph later in the spring. So exciting. Have to say I am really looking forward to spending a week by myself! Maps out, camera rucksack ordered, ferries booked, somewhere to stay arranged, visits to friends anticipated. By the time I go the Wood Anemone will have started flowering again in the Haunn field.

Farmer took the dogs for a walk down to the Ensay Burn mouth this weekend. He is beginning to think about mink trapping. To see if he can cut down the numbers a little, and give the lovely oyster catchers and other ground nesting birds a chance. What a result! He came back with a handful of wild garlic, enough for our first bowl of wild garlic pesto (photographed in a bowl made by my potter neighbour Charlotte Mellis). And making the pesto made me think of how the woods begin to look when the bluebells follow.

The other excitement from Farmer's walk this afternoon was his treasure from the shore. He was pleased as punch by something he found 'washed up' on the shore - an enamel green dog bowl! Daughter and I recognised it immediately as the one we bought on Barra last summer, in the aptly named Top Shop in Castlebay. This souvenir bowl had disappeared in one of the winter storms from our back door step as we sometimes used it to feed the outdoor cats. Presumably it had blown into the burn, and been washed down to the sea. Farmer claims to have never seen it before which made us chuckle.

There has been a lot of wind blow damage in our wood this winter. Huge trees have fallen, we can see them from the main road looking back across Ensay fields. They would be a valuable source of firewood except that some have fallen down treacherous gullies and lie almost vertically, out of safe reach. Even if we were able to reach, getting the timber out to a tractor would be too much for a Farmer with a post-operative back. So we leave it for now. We almost dare not enter the wood, to face the true extent of the damage up close.

We had a lot of guests in the cottages last week with several changeovers to do at the weekend. One couple left as arranged on Thursday, having grown the webbed feet and held onto their hats, they told me as they left that they had been pretty lucky with the weather really.. now that is a good attitude! It has been great having so many people enjoy the cottages over the winter, it just makes the maintenance schedule dance around a bit. Neil is back into Duill tomorrow to fix up the bedroom window recess with tongue and groove which will look lovely. We need some good weather for the outside painting work.....

Sunday, 4 March 2012

And another (sunshine day).

We woke this morning to snow falling. Huge flakes softly fluttering to the ground. Clouds hid the view whilst the snow fell. In no time at all, it was white. Gradually it passed over us heading east to Calgary and Dervaig. The sun came out and by mid morning, washing was drying on the line and the snow had melted.

Sea Bone (by Matt Baker) and the Coll and Tiree Sunday ferry.

Shian and Duill in the snow this morning.

Walked up to the Sitheans this afternoon, enjoying the birch colours against the sky. They have taken on that purplish hue they get before the spring. I love the turfed dyke following the driest bit of ground. It is not that high but the views are wonderful out to Skye, Rum and Canna from there. There is one point at which I could see the white top of Ben More in the distance too over the top of the Reudle road. (Shouldn't be surprised by the snow this morning. In 2006 we made Daughter's first snowman on March 3rd! She was 5 and a half and finally there was enough snow to make a snow man.)

Lines of stones. All lifted and placed by someone. This stone line is on some flat ground out of sight above the farmhouse.

The solar PV has been in almost full production today, with hardly a cloud overhead all day.

Farmer reports that the twins (both male calves) are up and drinking fine now, so that is good news. Their mother does favour one of the first-born though, so he will keep an eye on them for a while longer. Another 2 calves born today.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

The sun shone a second day.

I was working at Haunn today. #haunntherapy I call it. It is only a mile from the farm but it feels like a world away, and it was lovely to be down there getting cottages ready for incoming guests.

We have had a 4 seasons in a day day today. Started with rain, sunshine, more showers, gales, wild seas, more sun, warm out of the wind, hail storm tonight before clear skies, moonlight and brilliant moonlit cloud. I decided to use the sun to test out the new camera again.

Middle Cottage all ready. Fire laid, log basket full. Sun streaming in the large velux.

Ewes graze on the hill side of the deer fence that separates the in-bye and hill - beyond the Haunn Cottages. One of the gates blew open in an early winter gale, and some deer got in. We still have not got them out!

When we renovated the Haunn Cottages in the late 90's, we repointed the walls but no one ever did around the wall bases. Last week, however, we finally got that job completed. (Better late than never.)

This is our first brown calf this year - born earlier today. It's grandmother will have been a shorthorn x highlander from Torloisk. All the other calves so far are black.

I have photographed this bank to show how important it is to get the sheep to nibble the summer grass right down. Later in the year this will have lots of bird's foot trefoil, wood sage, harebell on it.

Farmer had to shovel today. The new drum chipper makes a very even chip, but it doesn't flow as easily as the old chip. It sits more densely in the chip store. So every few days we have to shovel as the auger cannot shift it, and a big hole appears in the middle of the store. It is not recommended to let the supply of chip up the auger run out as you can damage the boiler. Our boiler is nearly 3 years old.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Who would believe that we would be victims of fly-tipping here? But someone obviously dumped these catalogues last summer, and now the grasses along the track have died back, they have been revealed.

After seemingly weeks of dull, wet, dark weather the clouds parted and produced a bright half moon last night. Stars and moon, and a faint line of moonlit illuminated cloud paved the walk up to the cattle shed last night to check the cows. The bull standing over his feeding straw, as always moaning a little. The 3 young steers up excitedly as I pushed the sliding doors open. The cows themselves quiet and contentedly sitting and chewing the cud, until I turn all the lights on, like a nurse on night duty in a maternity ward. All but one stay where they are chewing and sitting, while the one slowly ambles over to the cow brush and has a rub, before settling back down to chew the cud again.

Pebble, the old Treshnish Top Cat, enjoying the morning sun and peering through our salty kitchen window.

I cannot believe how good life felt today just because the sun was shining. As if we have been looking through monochrome specs, suddenly full techni-colour again. Walking the dogs was a pleasure rather than an endurance test.

One of my very favourite trees, near the Boat house.

One of my favourite rocks on the way to the Boathouse.

Farmer has been to Glasgow to see the surgeon this week. In order to get there and back in one day, he left home at 6.30am yesterday morning, having pre-booked the 7.25am Fishnish to Lochaline ferry. He drove to Glasgow, saw the doctor (all fine, apart from some nerve damage which may improve in time), turned the car round, headed back to Oban and caught the 4pm ferry home. It had taken him nearly 12 hours! IF the ferry consultation that is going on just now, comes down in favour of their suggested removal of the Lochaline life-line ferry to Fishnish, it will be impossible to get to Glasgow and back for a quick appointment like that without staying overnight.

Deer damage in the natural regeneration woodland.

An Tobar opened again on Wednesday night with an exhibition from a group of local artists who had done a week's residency on Inch Kenneth last summer.
On our way home, about 7.30 in the evening, we got stuck in a traffic jam in Dervaig, followed an otter along the road at Calgary before it disappeared into a ditch and over a wall, spotted a hedgehog on our track, and a red deer stag silhouetted in the light from the Treshnish Schoolhouse windows. (it was standing in the garden bold as brass.)

The Dragon Lady buoy was a great find a few years ago, washed up on the shore by the Ensay Burn mouth. (The Dragon Lady features in a TV doc about fishing boats from the east coast of USA)

The first King Cup.

It has been a tough on humans winter this winter, so dark, stormy and wet, and today really felt like we had turned a corner. So it seems timely that we have a full house this weekend. All the cottages are occupied. The Treshnish Cottages guests arrived tonight in late afternoon sunshine, but now I can hear the wind in the trees.

The Tups enjoying the sunshine.

Elsewhere on the island farmers have been scanning their ewes so that they know how many of their ewes are expecting twins or even triplets. We haven't done this for a few years now. It can be a good thing as you know then who needs extra nutrition and who doesn't. And it means you can mark the ewes which are barren so that you aren't always checking to see if they have lambed or not! We found eventually having done it for 7 or 8 years that we didn't increase our lambing percentages by doing it, and it seemed better for us to leave the ewes on the hill until just before lambing.

My first primrose though Farmer saw some a few days ago in the Black Park. These are common here where sheep are rare.

A set of twin calves was born this morning. Farmer penned them off so the mother would be undisturbed while they all bonded. The second calf to be borne was smaller than the first, and found it difficult to get to his feet. By afternoon he was up and about, but the mother seems to favour the older one, so Farmer is keeping a good eye on them all to make sure that the younger one gets to drink. If it looks like he isn't drinking then Farmer will have to pen her up, milk her, and feed the calf by bottle.

This is the Old Boathouse. Not much left of it now. But it faces north onto the black rocky coastline where the boat used to be winched up onto the shore, a long time ago.

I am planning a solo trip to the Outer Isles in April to photograph tinsheds and I am grateful to the barefoot crofter for her researches on my behalf into where I should stay. It is very exciting and I am hoping to book somewhere this weekend!
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