Momentum

Things are starting to move forward at the Old Manse. The first wave of work was always to make the building wind and watertight this summer and we believe we have been able to co-ordinate professionals to do these works for us starting with a scaffolding company. The logistics of carrying a significant amount of metal on the ferry and erecting said scaffolding in itself presents a challenge and it is not without significant cost.

Next comes a team to who I most grateful. The plan is to start stripping render from the building, a task which we are unsure how long it will take until we begin work. We are of the understanding the concrete render was never suitable for the building, suffocating the airflow that is associated with the Georgian build. Where the render is damaged water ingress has been trapped against the outer wall permeating inwards and causing damp. Hence, removal is essential.

What comes next is wholly down to what we find underneath. If the stone is good enough we would like to leave it exposed and likely will employ a stone mason to point with lime mortar to establish the finish we want. This may or may not be practicable from a cost perspective. Again that comes back to the discovery phase over the next couple of weeks when we expose the gable end and seek advice on ‘what lies beneath’

Also planned for next week is the delivery of the shepherd’s hut kit. On Wednesday I intend to drive to Gigha with my good friend Paul, and take receipt of said package. I’m not one to often compare myself to Brad Pitt, but for anyone who remembers the final scene of the film ‘Seven’ where Brad drives to a location to meet a man with a package that’s what I’m referring to. The transport cannot take all the way to the island so I have organised a clandestine meeting in the car park at Big Jessy’s tearoom to move the load onto a trailer. The trailer I am borrowing from another friend on the Island, Richard, so likely I will first have to make the ferry trip over to bring back the trailer. The package size and the trailer size are a bit mismatched and why I quote the film ‘seven’ – I’m not entirely sure what I’m getting until it arrives having ordered online. I imagine though the story will be much less macabre.

In the meantime I have son to thank for his efforts in clearing ground to the final destination of the hut. He has also been doing pub research with our friend Campbell who has previously built huts on the Isle of Lewis,.

For some reason the uncovered outhouse puts me in mind of the Aztec zone in the Crystal Maze (another reference for those of a certain age). Still more strimming and clearance to do but we are tooled up for the job and looking forward to an exciting building project come July when I can dedicate more of my own time to proceedings.

Oh yes and one final footnote, as a teaser, the bees are coming on the 20th. More on that later.

Outdoor kind of person

In a week where COVID restrictions have been relaxed to allow friends to be invited inside we decide to have a dinner party…. outside. Outside dining has long been popular in our home with many a barbecue being used to destruction as the kids have grown up, but of late we’ve become more adventurous cooking over the firepits we have created or bought.

At our last house we were fortunate to have a large garden, and within it we created a large permanent firepit. I was gifted a large cast iron cooking bowl and tripod by my wife for my birthday that year, the type associated with the kadai firepits that we have later purchased. This fueled my passion for learning to apply my cooking skills to the outdoors using the intense heat that comes off either charcoal or simply wood fires, learning to adapt the height of the bowl or chain to regulate heat and gain a marvelous smoky flavour.

I vividly recall trying to cook lamb directly over the flame the first time as the season turned from autumn to winter. Our friends Wendy & James joined us waiting for the lamb to cook as darkness descended. Hunger getting the better of us we enjoyed rare but beautifully smoked lamb. A dish that’s been repeated again and again, boning out a leg and stuffing with a variety of spices, usually harissa, cumin, garlic and chilli to marinade and the tie up directly over the wood fire.

But the type of dish that always seems to gain most favour is the spicy goulash or curry who’s flavour is further enhanced by the smoke from the fire. As was the case last night when I cooked from the Hairy Bikers curry book, a lamb dopiaza. Hard to decide on a personal favourite but a flame grilled steak with a decent red and a baked potato wrapped in foil and nestled in the coals takes some beating.

It’s been a few weeks since I have been able to dedicate a run of days to renovations on Gigha but that’s about to change and the absence of a kitchen is the reason for this blog post. Rather than see this as a disadvantage I am relishing the challenge of being able to create some fantastic dishes in the meadow where I will be relocating the kadai to in the coming weeks. I’m hoping that many of our good friends can join us in this experience as the company is always what makes for great nights around the fire. I’m employing a ‘Field of Dreams’ mentality in thinking ‘cook it and they will come’. Or maybe just put free drink on?

This week at the Old Manse, scaffolding has started to arrive to fully surround the building. That job should complete next week with the stripping of render to start the week after. That week the shepherd’s hut kit also arrives, so plenty to write about.

The first shepherd.

So first a story of old. The Yorks have had many a family holidays and many a family skiing trip, 5 I think. For me they have been wonderful times bonding with our two children, great snow on three occasions and blue skies and sun every time. Absolute bliss and would love to ski again if my mind can convince my knees they are up for it.

Ask any member of my family the thing they remember from all those trips and either child will tell you the story of the time we picked daughter up at Charles De Gaulle airport. I refused to pay the high premium of the short stay car park, of which I discovered there were two on the airport ring road, both offering 10 minutes free parking with no restriction on return. I decided for the hour wait for daughter’s arrival to park for 9 minutes, drive to the next car park, and so on. On the 3rd or 4th pass the barrier appeared to be stuck and I was close to having to pay so chanced an exit without sticking my ticket into the machine. Barrier came down and appeared to fair worse than the top box as it flew forward now being detached from the usual mechanism. The French attendants didn’t seem that bothered, swore at me a lot in French that I didn’t understand and re-affixed it without too much bother. Daughter and friend joined us and we drove on to our destination, Valmenier, in some pretty foul whether. At some point we realised, alerted by furious waving of French drivers, that our top box hadn’t faired as well as we first thought and was now spilling its contents over the motorway. Our daughter still blames me for the loss of revision notes for less than perfect higher results.

The point in telling the story is we have tried throughout life to enjoy it to the fullest and we have lots of stories like this of when we’ve pushed a boundary and the result hasn’t been quite as expected. Some have been worth the gamble other have left us with a story of a glorious fail like that above. And the next paragraph is me letting you into the start of the next one.

I have bought the kit for a shepherd’s hut. Now there’s a sentence, coupled with my knowledge of building structures and the words son spoke to me today on the phone, “I was thinking of going to Gigha to do some random shit with a hammer” that has all the ingredients for a story. Let’s see together how it unfolds.

The kit is from a company called Tuin, https://www.tuin.co.uk/shepherd-hut-600.html if anyone’s interested, and the instructions can be found further down the page in the form of PDF. I am still trying to figure them, so if anyone reading this has built such a structure and can debrief me go ahead.

First decision is to try and find a suitable position and lay a foundation for the hut. Next, whilst there is advice to insulate the floor there is no clear instruction on how to do so. The insulating is left to the individual to make their own decision. In our case, knowing the high rainfall of the West coast of Scotland we are already discussing the addition of marine ply to the underside that allows us to first install a DPC and then drop insulation into the cavity before installing the floor.

Likewise planning to upgrade the roof structure with a galvanized steel roof over the kit provided structure with a layer of insulation in-between. Walls likewise need insulation and I’m sure the previous fitting out of the garage at Nethermill will give us some clues to this.

Karen is going to start a Pinterest board that I have asked permission to share on the blog and I will provide pictures as soon as delivery occurs. Oh delivery, that’s another story. No delivery direct to the island so I’ve asked the company to meet me in the Tayinloan ferry car-park. The delivery address, Big Jessies Tearoom, I kid you not.

So I will meet the wagon bearing the two packages in the bottom right of the diagram for onward carriage to the Island on the ferry sometime in Delivery Week: #24 (Jun 14, 2021 – Jun 20, 2021). Again I refer to the instruction sheet I mentioned earlier and I am now trying to work out what I can get in the back of the Hilux versus the cost of hire of a larger transit. Undoubtedly, I am going to have to break down the cargo to be able to carry it into whichever vehicle I choose, and likely I will be looking for volunteers to accompany me!

You already know the story that after driving the tractor/mower into the back of the Hilux I had no room for the grass box? I don’t think I’ve admitted to that here…..

Get the flock out…

We have been postulating this weekend how we can spend more time in Gigha and ultimately do more of the renovation ourselves, within the parameters of our current living situation. It would be good not to have the expense of our current rental (not insignificant but comfortable) that is approximately a 3hour drive to our new home. Consideration though has to be given to mum, now in her 80s, it simply not being fair to ask her to camp in a tent as Karen and I would be prepared to do.

So we have begun to look at both temporary, semi-permanent and permanent structures that could be deployed to the land surrounding the Manse. Ideally the structure(s) would home the three of us comfortably without spending a significant portion of the renovation budget in doing so. Alternatively, we could spend a bit more if the accommodation could be used to bring in a future revenue.

First consideration, was a static caravan. A friend who works in the industry gives us access to a fair price for a second hand model but for the life of me I cannot figure the logistics of getting an already constructed box measuring (lets say) 3m * 12m * 2m (high) into the Manse grounds. Lets assume it can be transported to the ferry and on by a low-loader. I am looking at the turning first onto the main road and then into the Manse as problematic… So we have fast come to the conclusion that a prebuilt space isn’t for us. At least a large one.

Towing caravans do not have the same issues of turning space but we are uncertain if they will give a big enough space for us to live in long term. Looking at ebay and gumtree the market seems to be strong for sellers since lockdown and value for me as buyer seems low. Again doesn’t appear to be a good option for us.

This has brought our attention, not for the first time, to log cabins and shepherds huts. The theory here being that we can have either / both delivered as a series of parts for self assembly. With a less than perfect history of assembling IKEA furniture taking on a project of much greater scale will, if nothing else, make for a good story on these pages. In addition, if built well, we surmise that this could be rental accommodation for paying guests in the future allowing us a way to claw back the initial outlay and perhaps a future income stream.

Log cabins and our first port of call is a company we have looked at in the past at nearby Milton. https://www.logspan.com/ offer a wide range of cabins we like but we are immediately concerned by the lead time. Some 3 weeks before we can get an appointment and likely 26 weeks to wait for most offerings we understand – something that doesn’t fit our ambition to have built and fitted out this autumn to allow us to accommodate us or contractors in situ. It’s not only travelling caravans that are in great demand.

And so to shepherds huts. A friend has pointed us to the following website https://www.tuin.co.uk/bespoke-shepherd-huts.html and at first glance the lead times look much better than that for log cabins. I’m also surprised by how big they can be and the photos of finished designs look very inviting. So Monday’s job will be to enquire further and see if they are a realistic option. And while the hut is an option I stick don’t see myself owning sheep or ever having to use the line “lets get the flock out of here”.

Hashed Tags

As a middle-aged bloke, in my youth, when I wanted to search for a piece of information I either asked an adult or went to a library. The former usually proved to be unreliable and the second took me on a long journey. The library was a relatively short distance on my push bike, but often it didn’t resolve my query at first ask, re-routing me to the city’s larger library or another information source such as the tourist information center.

And it strikes me, as I try to increase my footprint and footfall on social media, the same is true today. I quite often find that the information I’ve pulled from a google search is unreliable or out of date and, more often than not, I have to navigate several web pages in a similar journey to that of my youth.

So my younger friends and children have pointed me to #hashtags to help signpost my own pages for others to find. Apparently this is a good tactic for Instagram who’s algorithms are driven by #hashtags – though this is likely another of those unreliable or misunderstood bits of information from another generation of the York family.

This gives me a dilemma as I now try and figure out which #tags I should be adding (or searching on) to indicate to the like minded folk of the internet my fantastic writing.

So geographically the first one is easy, I’ve made my home in and love Scotland so #Scotland and #visitScotland. More specifically, once complete, will will live on #Gigha #IsleofGigha and in my newly created #oldmansegigha. The latter, I am told, reads more like ‘old man’ Gigha – somehow appropriate too and should be proceeded by grumpy I am further prompted.

Next, I can see that the most obvious purpose for anyone to come look at my words or pictures, as per my last post, is to glean knowledge about the renovation. So again referencing Instagram, I can see that #renovation is included in 10.6m posts and #renovationproject a further 1.2m. So I assume the pursuit is a popular one? In addition, I’ve realised of late that #Georgianhouse for which the Manse qualifies being built in 1812 and #georgianarchitecture are worth a consideration.

Bike rides of my youth were often sidetracked by finding more interesting topics to the one that was the target of my first question. Again the analogy holds true as I now look at posts that begun from the threads of renovation and georgianhouse to see what other tags those posts contain…….

So plenty more to consider in my current distraction of social media before the real work starts again in June. The Instagram account (oldmansegigha) has started to accrue followers as I compile pictures from the first stint on the house and I am sure there is plenty more fuel there to bore others with! I just need a lesson in what TikTok actually is from son to complete my training.

Paperwork

I’ve for the most tried to keep the blog posts light and amusing to both encourage others to read them and remind us of what we have achieved to date. In the last week I have also tried to publicize the blog to a wider audience through my Facebook account, something I hadn’t done before and, in tandem, set up an Instagram account – ‘theoldmansegigha’.

What I also learnt from a friend that was that he would be reading the blog as he wanted to do similar in the future. This made me think that every now and then I should write a post for those who wanted to know the pitfalls as well as the highs of this renovation project. So if you aren’t one of those folk maybe just skip the rest of this particular page and wait for the next installment of pictures and progress.

Anyone who looks back at the dates on this account will realise that the journey to buy a property started more than 2 years ago. We suffered a protracted negotiation for the house after finding it in February 2019, first being outbid under the Scottish system for house purchase only to re-enter the sale when the first buyer pulled-out. We had our offer accepted in January 2020 with caveats, and with COVID this took a significant time to navigate and negotiate. Even in February 2021 there were still concerns to boundary lines and access that almost caused the deal to fail.

So the uncertainty of when we would be in a position to call the house our own coupled with a world effected by COVID has not allowed us to plan and have workers lined up and ready to go. We had attempted to assume start dates throughout but have, if anything, turned trades off by moving dates again and again. It is fortunate that the trade I need to make wind and watertight has stuck with me and provisioned time at the start of the project.

Then comes the logistics of the location and island life. There always needed to be a premium attached to moving materials and skills to the island that we accounted for, but perhaps failed to account to the right value. Our first experience of this is a higher cost for scaffolding than we anticipated, perhaps understandable in having to transport several tons of metal across on the ferry. I didn’t necessarily account for the availability of trades and hence a higher charge associated with demand that has happened, again, because of COVID.

My next frustration comes in the form of transfer of utilities and council tax. We are already paying a full council tax contribution at our rental (which is also in Argyll & Bute) and had anticipated a holiday of 6 months whilst the new home underwent renovation. Sadly, that’s not the case, although my council do grant a 50% discount, the decision is based on how long the property lay empty before we finally purchased and I had wrongly assumed there would be more incentive for us as new owners. Utilities on the other hand, which should be seamless, has itself been a tale of poor customer service by the provider and I shall now be finding a new supplier.

Out of respect to the Church of Scotland we also believe we should change the address from ‘The Manse’ to ‘The Old Manse’. There is some administrative work to do this and that carries a fee of close to £100. So whilst it seems correct to do this, in a time when every pound is a prisoner, it is harder to justify.

So this weekend whilst we cannot travel to do physical works on the property we will work through paperwork and try to arrange forward. Budgets need to be reviewed. Trades need to be coordinated. We need to work our way through planning and applications to the conservation officer. Along with an attempt to minimize outgoings that occur in regular life. Plenty to do.

Maps

After recently swapping messages with one of the Gigha residents (Keith) I have become very much fascinated with the library of maps he has pointed me to. For those that know me, geography has never been a strong suit in my quiz knowledge, but now my community can be determined by an Island I am determined to learn more of its geography (and possibly history too).

Keith piqued my interest by sending me a photo from a screenshot that led me to the following website: https://maps.nls.uk/os/ . It led me to a exploring a number of maps but the most fascinating I attempt to describe below with web links to where I started my discovery…….

I found the map above at the address of: https://maps.nls.uk/view/74481007 with a publication date of 1870. We know the Manse was built in 1816 or thereabouts so focusing in on the area gives the image below:

And from that I can draw a line around the Manse and associated land that we have recently purchased:

I found another map from 1882 at : https://maps.nls.uk/view/74488605 that looks great at first glance but doesn’t have the same granularity when zooming in to the area occupied by the Manse.

I next turned my attention to a map titled “The Sound of Jura” from 1926 : https://maps.nls.uk/view/190219055 . Again looks great but granularity is lost when zooming in to the areas I am interested in.

So turned to a more recent affair: https://maps.nls.uk/geo/explore/#zoom=17&lat=55.67742&lon=-5.73850&layers=168&b=1 not that much more recent though. This map has the interesting feature of being able to fade in to current satellite technology to see how the land is now – I like it a lot and the following screen grabs are from it:

Interesting? Well to me it is. Not much has changed in the years and our goal is to make the old Manse both a tribute to its former glory and historic past whilst being a comfortable and functional home for ourselves. There is a volume of easily accessible stuff out there if you know where to start. I have given the starting points for Scottish maps but presume ONS maps are equally available for the UK and from other sources beyond?

One man went to mow

I am hoping when referencing the old nursery rhyme people, like me, will know of it. When I heard it some time ago I never thought or intended to own a meadow to actually mow one, but that’s the position I find myself in today. On our last visit to Gigha the meadow was certainly in need of a mow and neither the hover mower or the petrol push along really seem meaty enough to do the job. So to further fuel my mid-life crisis of buying farm vehicles it has been decided that a sit on mower is required.

After consulting with my good friend and tractor specialist, James, he tells me that I need the ‘tractor end’ of sit-on lawnmowers. As my budget doesn’t stretch very far he has also hinted that longevity of tractor life coupled with a rudimentary knowledge should allow me to buy in the second hand market. So small budget and no knowledge, other than that I have borrowed from James already, should make for a safe plan right?

So to facebook marketplace where I immediately find 2 suitable candidates only to quickly realise that to be able to collect said mower I was going to need a way of getting into, and securing it in, the Hilux. Ramps soon bought and cargo straps too – no chance of disaster right?

First problem, whilst I am waiting for ramps to arrive the first mower get sold from under me. However, second one is still live and all going to plan will be picked up on Friday evening.

Part1 sort of successful. The main body of the mower fits in the Hilux with the cutting deck removed but a return trip is required for the collecting box, which simply would not fit. To Gigha tomorrow to unload.

4 days after I started writing the post I am happy to report that the tractor was transported to Gigha without incident. The Hilux coped well wit a 300kg machine in the back and the driver was sensible enough to rise at 5.30 and drive empty roads at a moderate speed – most unlike me. I reversed the machine off the truck (Karen didn’t manage a video of this feat) again without too much stress only to lose it to my wife for the afternoon….

But no York story is quite complete without one mishap. When putting the mower to bed on the first night in Gigha I found a discarded fragment of gripper rod from our early renovations. I am currently searching the interweb for tyre inner tubes.

Day trippin’

I learnt some time ago, in conversation, that Gigha has approximately 70 beds for rent across the hotel and various B&B’s. In the last few weeks we have been able to travel and rent cottages under an essential work clause during lockdown, which in a strange way, has been a blessing for us. Now lockdown is easing we are told that those 70 beds are all booked until October. So we need to think of a way to accommodate longer stays for ourselves and any willing work parties going forward, but for now we are resigned to making a day trip to advance works on the property.

That meant a 6.15 alarm call for Karen and I, and likely too our friends, Graham & Elaine, who had volunteered their services for the day. Blessed again with superb weather we arrived in plenty of time for the 10am crossing and set out to make the most of the 5 hours before needing to catch the 3.30 for return.

Not the most exciting task but we needed to clear the last remaining leftover items from the shed such that we could clear the house of tools (displacing said cast offs). Ideally, this would mean that when we are guaranteed good weather we can set up beds in the house for sleepovers amidst frenzied gardening duty. Task done relatively early to allow further cutting and burning in the garden.

First thing to note is how the garden is blossoming in spring. One of the trees we freed from bramble in previous weeks has sprung into life with cherry blossom:

More ivy was stripped from walls, with Graham attempting to cut much of the ivy near the root to suffocate life from the destructive plant still winding its way thru the brickwork of the outhouses. Elaine and Karen did much work in further stripping back the previously christened orangery and I set about burning as much as possible in the time allowed. Graham took on the flax that had defeated us the week before but didn’t fare much better.

And that was about it, we achieved everything we intended and more but the reality is that 5 hours doesn’t allow the amount of time we need to take on the garden with spring now blossoming and plants growing faster than we can pare back. In fairness Graham also managed some good photography and will finish the blog this week with my favourite of his shots.

Exhausted….

I sit to write the blog of the weekend’s activities on a Sunday night, feeling both exhausted and satisfied with progress over the last couple of days. As it is more of the same I’m not going to split the days up but I will attempt to show how far we have come over this and previous weekends. In addition, now lockdown allows travel within Argyll & Bute I owe thanks to friends who joined us for periods over this stay on the Island.

First I think some context is worthwhile to the challenge we face in the garden and wider grounds where we are currently concentrating effort. I’ve been using this website to navigate the island : https://satellites.pro/Isle_of_Gigha_map and I think it trumps what google has to offer. I’ve borrowed an image from there.

The walled garden that belongs to the Manse and now to us is outlined by the white lines, each of those lines is approximately 50m in real money, making it a sizeable area. We know from what we have uncovered and also from the satellite photo that it was magnificent in its day and the elders of the church took great pride in it. Over recent years, with no tenant of the Manse and the sale taking an elongated time, nature has claimed the garden for itself. The orange lines attempt to show some demarcation within the four quarters of the garden: nearest the house is the formal garden and the two orange lines that bound it are the hedge that you will see in pictures to follow. The second area bounded by orange lines is an orchard, with the other two quarters given over to a vegetable garden.

So our first point of attack has been the formal garden. When we took over the property the formal garden appeared as the photograph below:

The front and sides had structures of fence and a green mesh to bound it. The front can just be seen on the left of the picture, but the left hand side shows the fences construction more fully. The rear similarly had fence but this time using a material that I can only describe as a thick fishing net (behind many brambles).

We had tackled the front fence on our previous visit, and with good weather again, set to the task of making the formal garden more formal. On our last visit we had also uncovered a water feature in the centre but hadn’t progressed much further than that half way mark.

Armed with brush cutter I set to make some more headway for the troops joining us later. The pond in the centre is bit more obvious in this photo but no time to dispose / burn of what was cut. I left after my first night with a small amount of progress and charged for the remainder of the weekend:

The remainder of the weekend saw much more progress as Karen and I were joined by our friends Paul, John & Kathryn. So once the fire was started to it didn’t stop until we left on Sunday with no shortage of material to fuel it. John was set to work on the border, first dismantling the fence to gain access to the hedge behind it.

I continued to focus on the central area, dismantling displays leftover from the Church and some more work with the brush cutter. Karen and Kathryn set to work on the right hand side stripping away more displays and more fencing, removing black fabric and carpet that had failed in stopping the onset of brambles. Paul later joined the work party in the afternoon set on removing the remainder of the fencing and found more displays to dismantle.

Marked progress was there already by mid Saturday, but the first major landmark was achieved when John completed the pruning of the hedgerow (the one dividing the formal garden from the orchard). Work was started previously by another good friend and the amount of light coming into the garden improving the feel was now clear to see. We also knew that cutting of the hedge would give clear line of sight from the house to the orchard something we were keen to view later.

I’ve tried to show evolution of the work over the weekend but I’m now going to fast forward to where we left it all on Sunday. Not complete, but a significant difference to the first photo on the post. Given how exhausted to how all the work party were left feeling on return home today I know we put in a good shift, but with less than one quarter of the walled garden brought under control we also know that there are many more weekends like this to come.

A few short weeks back when we purchased the view from the first floor living area looked like this:

Today this: