Dark Skies

If I spent time praising the good weather of January last time, I need to start by describing the storms that February has brought with it. The skies have been dark with rain and winds have been gusting in excess of 80mph. So far this month it has been quite difficult to achieve anything much at all outside other than to repair damage that the storm, or more specifically the high winds have caused.

I mentioned last time that the roofing felt of the shepherd’s hut had become a casualty of the weather and we spent a comical afternoon earlier this week attempting to fix a tarpaulin to the top of the ‘hut, similar to that of the shed the week before. The shepherd’s hut apart from a damp interior has suffered no further damage I am glad to report.

Nicely tacked, and although this looks calm, it wasn’t!
Karen both thoroughly enjoyed the task and this photograph.

The woods have seen trees uprooted and many branches have been snapped. Another job of clearing to be added to the list once the winds have calmed, which isn’t in sight at the moment. In fairness the woods needed some attention and the damage has only prompted us to get in and start looking at what is required.

Some examples of branches down
Last week this was a clear path through the woods at the rear of the Old Manse

I started writing the post before the weekend and before the third storm to hit us, Storm Franklin, appeared. The tarpaulin on the shed roof is no more and that was three hours spent in vane!! I know that Kintyre Firewood reported gusts of 90mph at Machrahanish so it comes as no surprise. I wont show pictures of more fallen branches but ivy has acted as a sail and brought part of a stone dyke with it into one of the hazel trees. A perfect excuse to coppice the first of the three though – be brave as the local gardening expert told us!

The Ivy pulled some stonework down with it
More Ivy removed to prevent further damage to the wall
Initial pruning of the Hazel tree
And after advice from Achamore Gardens, now coppiced down to a foot

The bad weather has allowed me time to indulge another passion, or at least some administration thereof. I belong to a talented group (them, not me) of stargazers on the Isle of Gigha. The Island has virtually no light pollution and registers a 2 on the Bortle scale (I hadn’t heard of it until months ago either). And the name of the group, Dark Skies Gigha.

The dark skies of Gigha

The group has been very active, especially for a small island community, and has attracted official recognition to being a Dark Sky Discovery Site in the last month. Also as a recognised Scottish Charity we are seeking funding and opportunities to link up with Glasgow University. No doubt, much more on this to come!

Fantastic recognition for this small isle

The wrong trousers

The good weather continued long enough for us to completely clear the orchard of brambles. No mean feat I might add! With Karen and I working in tandem we are pretty pleased with the result, all of this in preparation for (hopefully) pruning the apple trees in February.

Karen putting the finishing touches to the orchard with strimmer

Further proof of clement weather throughout the majority of January is the abundance of snowdrops and the early appearance of daffodils.

Not sure these will last now February’s storms are here

The weather also made for some excellent walking in January allowing us to find some new routes on this small Island. It may be small but the walking routes are plentiful and with advances in the paths project moving apace, it will surely encourage more visitors in the summer. The Isle of Gigha Trust and the Ranger Service (hope I have that right) must be commended for this initiative and the pleasure the paths have already given us.

The route we have walked the most is that from just North of Achamore Gardens down towards Leim beach through the Island’s wind farm. The first pictures are from earlier in the year with the sun splitting the winter sky, but I have a hazardous tale taken from yesterday’s walk. I dressed in waterproof coat, hat and gloves before setting out for my hour of exercise. On the most exposed part of the walk, which until that point I had enjoyed fair weather, the hail started. At which point I remembered that one shouldn’t walk in jeans as they are indeed the wrong trousers for bad weather. The hail did not take long to permeate the denim and the return leg of the walk had me carrying more weight and some discomfort from my saturated choice of legwear.

However, two new routes have been found. One to a beach on the East just south of and opposite the gardens and a second to the highest point on the Island. We braved the climb, which in all honesty is neither steep or of great altitude, but affords fantastic views to all coasts of Gigha and beyond. Some pictures taken from these walks below.

As often the case in these months we had the beach to ourselves
A bit of advertising for Kintyre Firewood who are keeping us warm with regular deliveries throughout winter
Down towards the Mill and Roundhouses
CREAG BHAN – The highest hill at 100m
Back towards the mainland

All play and no work makes Andy a happy boy, not quite the proverb but I need to talk about some other gains made however small in the house. The stormy weather that started just before February rolled in drove us inside and we re-commenced the rip out of the Old Manse again. Starting top down as we promised ourselves the stair well between first floor and attic rooms has been stripped.

We knew that the outer wall was prone to condensation as warm air hit the cold wall and it became apparent why when we stripped plaster directly onto brick. The decision has been made to introduce insulation to where it isn’t currently on the outer walls, the challenge is doing so without compromising the space. For now it’s about stripping back and the outer stone has been revealed and the internal walls stripped of wallpaper.

More of the roof revelead
Plaster removed from stone wall – insulation required

February’s storm have also thrown up some new challenges. The shepherd’s hut has lost the roofing felt we were so proud of applying in November and we have had to take emergency measures and the application of a new tarpaulin to the shed roof to stop water ingress.

Re-tarp’ed (not retarded as was spell checked on my Insta post)

Lastly, I have to mention it’s back to play today with the start of the six nations. February delivers a feast of rugby and starts with the Calcutta cup. I predict a close match accompanied by a couple of pints of Guinness!

C’mon Scotland!!!!!!!!

Apple Watch

What a mild start to the year weather wise. You good folk have had to wait a couple of weeks for a blog because I’ve been nowhere near a computer, instead making good use of the weather spending time in the garden. Having had a lovely break courtesy of good friends who hosted us for Christmas and New Year, we returned to Gigha refreshed and ready to work at the start of January. Thinking the clement skies wouldn’t last we decided on a plan of working outside for a couple of days whilst we could. As I sit here today, hoping I haven’t cursed it, that good weather is yet to break.

The Orchard March 2021

I quite often look back at photos from when we bought to remind ourselves how far we have come so I will reference the above to say that our walled garden, approx 45m square, was very much in need of attention. We had always planned to lend about half of that garden to the pursuit of self-sufficiency. A note of caution here because there are others doing far better at the self-sufficiency than I ever will, what I mean is eating fewer meals that are centred around meat and growing the vegetables to make dishes to replace that.

So with help from knowledgeable gardeners on the Island of Gigha we set about a list of tasks to get started on that particularly journey. Suggestions included making compost bins, defining raised beds where they were before and resurrecting a poly tunnel from the frame where one once stood. In addition recognising it was time to prune both hedges and apple trees a longer time scale was given to those two activities. That and the general clearing of the newly christened vegetable garden and orchard.

Poly tunnel frame – not a series of croquet hoops taken from ground level

Ambition started high in that we could own a poly tunnel by clearing, resetting the hoops that had dropped and ultimately providing a new skin for the structure. Clearing took the best part of two days with brush cutter and strimmer. A realisation that the remains of the cover were still embedded in a trench that needed to be re-dug around the sides and ends of the ‘tunnel also were conquered in those two days.

The poly tunnel today

So as (hopefully) can be seen in the above picture we have managed to clear the ground but not managed to reset the height of the middle hoops. (Below) In fact after digging out one set of the sleeves that hold the hoops, allowing the hoop itself to be tensioned once the cover is in place, we have come to the conclusion that mechanical help is required. Not as simple as first thought, like many jobs in the renovation, the sleeves have sunk in the ground too far to be able to simply reset them so need excavated and the whole thing rebuilt. Well in my opinion anyway.

I must also thank Graham and Jacqui who dug out and postulated with Karen and I to a solution to the problem. Agreeing in the end that the two senior men should not continue to dig further.

Sleeve had about 3 foot of digging to find the bottom

Focus then turned to preparation of beds and compost bays. The material for the former had been sourced from a friend on the Island earlier that week – finding a new spot that afforded great views of the East coast and back to the mainland. But the makeshift materials for the bays were already at hand so the weekend concluded by building those:

Sides for raised beds
The compost bays constructed this weekend

Before the beds though, clearing of the ground was much needed. To finish this episode of the blog a few more pictures of clear(er) ground. It probably doesn’t come across as much in the pictures as the success I think it is. A once weed laden patch, with brambles consuming the apple trees in the orchard, and saplings fighting for limited space and light, have now been cleared. There is a distinction between each of the trees that remain that wasn’t there before and at last the boundary of the garden can be viewed.

From the orchard back to the house – smaller trees have their own space
Brush cutter and strimmer put to use
The well and orchard beyond clear of brambles
Karen working until the last of the light

Oh and the apple watch, well we will have to wait to see what appears. Meantime my own personal device tells me I’m hitting my step target each day in January so far.

A Year in Review (2021)

I’m often warmed to receive cards, or now emails, from friends telling me what they and their families have been up to during the year. I also realise that not everyone will want to scour through many long winded descriptions, on this blog, of what has happened since January 1st so I thought I would try and write a potted history of the last year by reviewing those posts myself and giving you my highlights.

JANUARY: the year began with a wish that the worst of COVID and lockdowns were behind us, which goes to show what you wish for doesn’t always happen. The negotiations to house purchase were in full swing but certainly not over the line.

FEBRUARY: I continued to write about our attempts to walk more and eat more healthily as restrictions around COVID continued to stifle social life. No more news yet on the house purchase and we are close to pulling out not being able to agree terms around access and the drive ownership.

MARCH: I at last wrote “The path to buying said property (sic. The Manse on Gigha), or alternative with equally good views, afforded by location with space to build a business, was fraught and has proved to be significant in time. However, I am delighted to announce at last that we have completed on the purchase of such a property and can begin planning the next stage of our life.”

Also bought this beast to help with the renovation and the trips to and fro Gigha

“Next week will tell us how fit we are and how good our estimates are to what we can do ourselves.” I wrote back in March – the answers were not very & more than we first thought.

This remains one of my favourite photos to this day. I again repeat “The photo attached is there to remind us of the beauty and potential we are saw on one of our first early morning visits to our new home. I will hold this image in my head next week when ripping out carpet and searching for the septic tank. Say a little prayer that it isn’t blocked and the bright start I envisage materializes.

APRIL: Still working and still travelling Cardross to Gigha on a regular basis (something that will continue until the end of June). Lots of help from friends made a good start on clearing more of the garden where we decided to concentrate effort until planning permissions were in place.

….. after

MAY: Mower purchased and field cut before we handed over the Old Manse to STV for filming. Whilst it remained secret at this time the house became the location of the murder in the autumn showing of (the hybrid crime drama / reality solve) Murder Island.

JUNE: The month the scaffolding went up and the removal of the concrete render started to be removed. We had identified that we wanted to get the externals of stonework, roof & gutters and windows completed in 2021 and this was a real landmark for us. The concrete render had, over the years, allowed water ingress that was trapped between it and the original stone causing damp. The task was always going to be huge to repoint and make watertight again.

JULY: Emphasis changed this month from Karen and Dan carrying the burden of work on Gigha, to myself and Dan as my contract ended. Delighted to be spending more time on the island and continuing the good work that had gone before. The month was spent clearing more of the outbuildings and making a start on the shepherds hut foundations.

AUGUST: Still enjoying great weather, further inroads were made in clearing the garden. Significantly, we identified and dug out the well in the walled garden – big thanks to our boy, Dan, who put in a big shift this summer and without his might we would have struggled to complete many jobs. Likewise, there are too many friends to mention, but Pete decided to drive from his midland base to holiday with us this year, a week spent cutting hedges probably wasn’t top of his bucket list but he tells me he enjoyed it! Another milestone too in windows being removed for renovation.

SEPTEMBER: The York family avoid divorce and serious harm to each other when building the shepherds hut. Joking aside it was a great project to demonstrate that teamwork can happen between us completing the majority of the build over three days in the month. Meanwhile window restoration was happening in a workshop far away, but stripping of render had stopped due to the wait to have scaffolding removed.

OCTOBER: First and importantly we became residents of our temporary home on Gigha, moving possessions either to the island, storage or the odd friend holding stuff. The scaffolding was removed to reveal the full glory of the Old Manse stonework. Unfortunately our builders have now committed to other jobs and with forecast weather the job won’t be completed in year but a good result on the aesthetic of the building. You can see the repair to the gutters, render to the chimneys and the monochrome finish that will adorn the exterior. We were also joined by approx 30,000 other in the shape of our bee population.

NOVEMBER: A flurry of activity saw the arrival of our caravan purchase (likely accommodation for 2022), and the start of the Old Manse windows arriving back from the workshop. In the gales of Gigha we took strides to making the shepherd’s hut watertight, struggling to purchase a tin roof as we had intended, roofing felt provided a significant challenge. No match for Karen and I though!

DECEMBER: The weather, after a cold snap in November, has again allowed for outside work and great results have been achieved in clearing the front garden. Difficult to show in pictures how much this has given back to us in space. In the wet weather though work on indoors is prioritised and we have now stripped out the attic rooms. They now provide storage as we move down the build.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!! Wishing everyone who reads the blog and follows on Insta a very happy and prosperous New Year. May 2022 be all that you wish for, from us all at The Old Manse xx

The Renovation Diet

For as long as I can remember I have been overweight and in an attempt not to be I have followed many unsuccessful diets. There was the cabbage soup diet – a strictly prescribed eating plan for a week that involved, as you may guess, cabbage soup whenever you were hungry beyond the basic meal plan.

The cabbage soup diet worked at first shedding weight the first time I used it but second time around around saw zero weight loss. Until that is I went to the local hostelry to banish my blues, drank my body weight in lager, and was so ill for 48 hours I did indeed lose weight. Most unhealthy.

I had more joy nearly 10 years ago now when I tried the 5 2 diet. Eating sensibly for 5 fasting 2. But in the end with the regime abandoned the weight went back on. I have now though discovered the renovation diet, on which I have lost a stone in the last 6 weeks. Let me lay out some key points:

1. Move to an Island where there are no takeaways or convenience stores open for a quick fix when hungry or craving food.

2. Buy a house with 4 acres of land that you dedicate to clearing for waking hours of the day.

3. Buy 2 weeks food in advance, plan this to fill 3 meals a day for those two weeks. Place it in a freezer / fridge in a house approx 400 yards from the one you live. Only retrieve the food you intend to use that day to said living abode.

4. Ensure the weather in you chosen island is suitably wet and cold that you are not tempted to retrieve more when cravings hit in the evening. That’s it.

Back to the diary or the exercise regime for the last week or more. Two bigs jobs to tick off as progress.

Firstly, a big shout out to Paul who courtesy of storm Arwen stayed on island for a couple rather than one planned day this last week. Paul contributed to cutting back outdoors but had a huge input into ripping out the second attic room.

Back when we bought the room looked like this

Like the first of the attic rooms we intended to remove the strapping that was there to hold plasterboard. The remove the plaster from the gable wall to reveal the stonework beneath. As I often do, I’ll let pictures tell the story.

Paul removing the last of the strapping
The exposed boards and skylight facing the hill
The exposed stonework of the gable wall
A view down the island to the south

To have three of us concentrate on this task allowed us to complete the rip out in under 48 hours compared to days spread across 3 weeks for the other room. Karen and I the took a trip to the mainland to dispose of approx 30 sacks of rubble – again great exercise no gym required on the renovation diet.

The second task, I again must give thanks, this time to Donald and his chainsaw. With his help the front garden has been reclaimed. First Karen and I removed the dead buddlea and hydrangea before cutting the boundary trees to a height of 6 foot. The latter where the chainsaw came in handy.

The montage of pictures above shows the front garden when we bought. The reality was that over the summer, when concentrating on other areas, the plant life / weeds / bramble took over much more of the lawn by the time we started this task. There are pictures of interim states on previous posts and on Instagram @oldmansegigha but here is the result of which, we are very proud.

In front of the Old Manse the magnificent bay tree
Panning from left to right
The brown earth in front of the tree line indicates how far the garden encroached over the lawn
Some work to repair, but the drive is no longer impeded by overhanging bushes.

Most recently, to complete the inventory of tasks, we collected roofing sheets for the shepherd’s hut from the mainland. Our thanks to Ros for taking delivery at our old address and Dan for help in offloading in our absence. The sheets travelled safely in the back of the hilux yesterday to Gigha through wind, sleet and rain. All of which making me think I need a new waterproof.

Safely tucked away whilst more Christmas provisions bought at Morrisons Helensburgh.

It wasn’t all work though as I had the opportunity to indulge in no less than three of my favourite passions. In pictures below, first my photographic attempts to match present day Old Manse to photo archives of yesteryear. Second, my attempt at goose stew – those who know me, know how much I love to cook and a gift of goose breast prompted this meal. And third, but by no means least, a photo borrowed from @darkskiesgigha, of the recent planet watching hour. My friend Keith really knows his stuff and provided a fantastic tour through stars and time on the night.

One of the oldest before and after?
Clockwise, the gift of goose, prep, 6 hours of slow cooker, the result
Blessed with clear skies for views of Venus, Saturn and Jupiter.

The week that was

The weeks are passing quickly now we are Gigha, each day we are managing to do something productive against one task or another. It may not be quick, as we are starting to realise more and more, setting our expectations accordingly, but it is progress in the right direction.

With wet and extremely windy weather becoming a feature of the Island this week we decided it paramount to get the shepherd’s hut protected with a couple of coats of paint and the final facing plates to make it watertight. It’s not a particularly interesting story – you might say as interesting as watching paint dry, but the results we think are pretty good!

Andy on the tools, getting more paint on himself than on the hut. A look described midweek as ‘Santa post falling in a ditch’.
Karen doing the intricate stuff whilst I ‘slap it on’.
A couple of coats later and now in a reasonable state to leave until other things fall from priority

Back inside the less draughty house with windows now in place and natural light to complete jobs again we have started to plan those next tasks. Of prime importance is to make good the walls behind the shutters to allow our joiner to return and complete work on the shutters themselves. I have been doing just that and realizing how fragile some of the plaster is. A conversation with a local builder this week is making us think that we will have to strip back to brick as we originally intended to get the right level of finish that we desire. The challenge is to retain the character of the property whilst adhering to modern standards and making the home both comfortable and suitably insulated.

A look at the building where shutters are removed and the crumbling plaster that needs removed / cleaned

Walking has again been a feature with the opportunity to explore one of the new paths that are currently being established here. The Gigha pathways project has completed two of the intended routes, one the path to the Twin Beaches and one from Sandybank to Liem. It was the latter we walked this week and photos are shared below. The paths will make Gigha so much more accessible for visitors and ultimately present a network opening up the whole island. I will no doubt report more on this as we walk more in the future.

A windswept Karen enjoying the views to the West coast
The dancing ladies of Gigha
The walk winds through woodland giving a contrasting view to the coastal walk
Sunsets are something to behold here and lucky enough to time walking to see this.

The remainder of the working week has been shared between two tasks. The first of these was to clear more space in the front garden and reduce the height of the boundary by cutting the trees to a height of six foot. We had hired help for the latter and use of a chainsaw made light work of the cutting.

That left Karen and I the unenviable task of dragging the fallen branches to the meadow for later disposal. Without leaving the Old Manse in an afternoon my step count grew to the 13,000 or a distance of 4.8 miles maintaining shuttle runs of foliage for a couple of hours. Readers of posts of previous posts will note aspirations to walk more and lose weight are being achieved in this new regime of physical activity.

The challenge to reduce the boundary to the height of the already cut trees.
Mid cut – the trees to the right need more selective surgery holding rose trees and other treasures.
The view back to the Old Manse beginning to open up.

The second task we have undertaken is to strip the attic rooms. A task started in the summer but the time is now right to take this to a conclusion. The theory being if we can fully strip the two attic rooms we can take and store all our belongs in the Old Manse to the top floor and seal off that area. That will leave a clear run at the first and ground floors with no obstacles to similarly stripping back those rooms.

We love the features of the beams in the attic and have removed unnecessary strapping that held the plasterboard with the intention to take the new rooms to full height of the roof apex. It is further the intent to leave exposed the stone walls that we are uncovering and cleaning but the challenge with both is to suitable insulate. We are slowly learning more about the challenges of the build…..

After stripping plasterboard in the summer the framing now needs removed to further expose the eaves and full apex.
Full height of the room with the framing removed from the previous ceiling
The gable wall to be stripped of plaster.
Mid job – starting to uncover the old.
Hammer drill and crowbar laid down with the majority of the wall uncovered. Clean up now required.

New Light through Old Windows

Where to start? Plenty happening at The Old Manse since last writing, let me start with an update on the caravan. All looks good with our new purchase and we have started modifying to suit our own needs. The small bedroom that contained three bunks have been ripped out with the intention of this being used to store clothes etc. which currently sit in an overcrowded cottage. Rather than seating at the bay window, we will have a permanent bed essentially turning the caravan into a large en-suite bedroom with a small cooker punctuating the area between bed, bathroom and the new (walk in) wardrobe.

Modifying the caravan – a work in progress

Some progress too with the shepherds hut. The door, which had swollen and was refusing to shut has now been resolved and working as intended. The said door and windows have all had their first coat of varnish with and if a break in the weather comes as forecast this weekend the paint job on the ‘hut will continue.

More importantly we first braved the high winds of Gigha to complete the job of felting the roof. At this point I must apologise to locals within earshot who enjoyed some choice language from myself when just as I thought the first run was affixed a gust caught and ripped the felt. You live and learn.

First roll of felt secured, brave lady in that high wind
Second roll on – learning from mistakes of the first
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First varnish on door and all the windows

We continue to walk. In fact we took a lovely walk the morning of Karen’s birthday, walking from the cottage to Achamore Gardens, then via Cuddyport Beach back over the hill and the standing stone to descenct behind the Gigha Hotel. The opportunity for a pint and a burger was not lost on us and helped make good the birthday celebration. Walk highlands has this, and more excellent walks that can be taken on Gigha: https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/argyll/achamore-gardens.shtml It should also be mentioned that there is a huge project to improve the path network on the Island and we walked to one of our favourite spots at the twin beaches to find a vastly upgraded route to the one we were used to – a much safer and encouraging affair for anyone visiting that beauty spot. Photos of both below.

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Birthday girl after climbing the hill
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The keen eyed will be able to spot the Old Manse – stone gables with white chimneys
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Later in the week a much less soggy walk to the Twin Beaches – the new path is excellent

But the big story of the last week has to be that we have windows back in the Old Manse and couldn’t be more pleased with the result. One of the biggest reasons for buying the property was the views it affords so to be without them for the summer was strange. From previous stories you will know that it was always difficult to tell the time of day when inside the building due to the lack of natural light.

All of this has now been restored and credit has to go to our joiner, Lewis who has done a great job in the restoration of the frames and reglazing (we have opted for double rather than single glazing in the reno). I put the first of the pictures below on Instagram and it perfectly illustrates the upgrade. The left hand window is the last to be upgraded and will be replaced but at the start of the project it was the newest and arguably the best of the windows. In comparison, the right hand window is one of twelve renovated windows that arrived from Helensburgh this week. I cannot do them justice with words so a few photos follow.

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Old versus new – what a difference!
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Allgood above the first floor, ground still needing a window and completion of pointing

To and fro

Typically for us, with the Island of Gigha our new home, there is business we need to attend to on the mainland. It did however allow the opportunity to finish the removal of all possessions from Cardross and I am very grateful to Paul who played removal man for the day. A tiring week that hasn’t allowed us to fully concentrate our effort on the Manse but there are some things to tell you about and pictures to share – life is never quiet, unlike the Island.

Firstly, murder island the tv show. Completely hooked after 4 episodes, as much in identifying people and places of the Island as I am to identifying the killer. The show has inspired both a Facebook group and an excellent post show podcast by @presentsjam (I think I have that the right way round but it may well be @jampresents). I’ve swapped the odd photo with them that I was allowed to take before the set in the Old Manse was disassembled (but sworn to secrecy before the release of the programme). Still as much in the dark to the killer as everyone else but I do have access to the odd fingerprint that neither STV or I have yet wiped clean.

So needing a rest on our return to the Island before starting any form of work we sought out somewhere new to walk. Whilst we have enjoyed the boathouse many times we hadn’t ventured out onto the floating harbour that is the first of the pictures below and only a stone throw from the cottage.

And then to a beach on the South Western shore (Leim) that had bee recommended by friends. A little more difficult to find if you don’t know where to look, but after navigating a field of cows we found ourselves to be the only occupants. The peace and tranquility with only the sound of the waves coupled with excellent views were much appreciated and a route we will walk again soon. One of the reasons we choose to live on the West coast of Scotland is the stunning scenery when the weather is clear. The probability of finding such good weather is likely why there aren’t crowded beaches too.

Then to the first business of the week, the receipt of the caravan I spoke of in the last post. Happy to say that again the delivery happened without incident and the capable driving skills of Donald navigated the entrance to the drive with much more diligence than the scaffolding lorry of the previous week. All of us had envisaged several de and re-couplings between Hilux and motor mover but in the end none of it necessary. The caravan was slotted, for the time being, alongside the Old Manse for us to use as a place of sanctity when the cottage is too crowded. We need to make the space more appropriate to our own use, which immediately means removal of bunk beds to exchange for storage space so some more work there before we have our new bed.

I’ve saved the last topic until the end although chronologically the main event happened on Saturday night prior to the caravan’s arrival. I’m delighted that my passion for astronomy and star-gazing is shared by others on Gigha. There is a group already in existence promoting the dark skies we enjoy on the Island and I am delighted to be welcomed to their committee at next sitting.

To explain a little further as my learned friend Keith did for me earlier. There is a recording taken against the Bortle scale – a nine-level numeric scale that measures the night sky’s brightness of a particular location. At the higher end, (unsurprisingly) with high light pollution, is the inner city sky – almost impossible to star gaze from. Whilst not quite achieving the highest ranking Gigha sits at a measurement of 2 – a typical truly dark site. All this gleaned whilst searching for a different phenomena on Saturday night.

Aurora hunters had been promised a display that may ‘reach as far South as Wales’ by the many apps that track solar flares. More so in Scotland and, just as important, it looked as though the sky would remain cloud free at the time of maximum exposure. Sadly the great show didn’t quite happen as predicted, only being visible to the naked eye much further north. However, that didn’t stop Keith and I exploring the north of the island (where the dark skies theatre will eventually be) and attempting to photograph the horizon. Whilst there were no ‘dancing ladies’ we were encouraged to see both greens and reds in the images captured below. To accompany the shots of the Northern lights are a couple I took earlier of the night sky above the Old Manse to practice focus and one of the milky way. The latter I find mesmerising and now need to find a better framing against one of the many points of interest that are to be found here. Watch this space.

The plough above the Northern Lights on the horizon
Credit to Keith for this one: plough upper left, Old Manse bottom right framing the Aurora.
Different exposure for a more muted colour.
Old Manse under starry sky
And again
Can’t quite tell from the upload but a black canvas pierced with millions of stars – the milky concentration being the many that make up the Milky Way.

Plan Bee

First and foremost, we are now resident on Gigha.  The stress of moving is behind us (for the moment) and we have once again counted the amount of possessions we retain by placing them in each of a storage container, the cottage we now occupy, overspill to the Old Manse and still a transit load left behind to redeploy to one of the aforementioned locations.  Very grateful though to be here and within walking distance of our new home.

After clearing unwanted items in the summer
Adding surplus furniture…
…..and then everything else.

We always stated our new life was one that started to track toward self sufficiency and whilst we have made inroads to the garden vegetable patches will have to wait. The time was right however to bring bees with us to the Island. Understanding that the previously the Manse has had an apiary we were keen to introduce bees again. Karen has been learning the ropes prior to and through lockdown helping two friends with their own hives and the opportunity to take one for ourselves was too great a pull to ignore.

So last Sunday saw operation hive move begin at 6:30am with a bleary-eyed Andy helping to load some 30,000 bees cling wrapped inside a hive onto the back of the Hilux. With supervision by Wendy & the capable muscle of James, we managed the journey to the truck without incident. The whole affair went smoothly in fact with Wendy & Karen taking the lead once the hive was placed into the walled garden and the bees unwrapped and subsequently released.

Securing for transit
Suited & Booted

We look forward to future production of honey to accompany the great yield the orchard has produced this year. I am delighted that new-found friends are collecting apples from us to turn into juice, sauce, vinegar and cider (no doubt the odd apple pie too). My good friend Julian suggests a future in both cider and mead, which doesn’t sound a bad idea.

Hive 1

At last, the scaffolding is down and the Old Manse can be viewed without the metal cage that has surrounded it for the last few months. I’m delighted with how the exterior is now looking with the render removed and grateful to Karen who persuaded me this was the right look for the exterior. Our builder has done a superb job and now the scaffolding is down we are hoping the ground floor can soon be completed too.

The Old Manse looking splendid today

Likewise the windows. Our joiner, like much of Britain it would seem, has experienced supply issues but the glass to finish the glazing of the sash windows has now arrived to his workshop and the first windows should be back into the Old Manse next week. Not the same for the tin I have ordered for the shepherd hut’s roof. For now we wait for a dry day to put roofing felt on to try and prevent any further water ingress but the full roof looks like having to wait a little longer.

Taup’s have been very useful.

With the Old Manse renovation looking like it will have many months still before we can make it a home we are planning for next spring and the end to our tenancy at the cottage already.  The shepherd hut is part of that equation, but we have also bought a caravan to go onto the grounds of the Old Manse recognizing that we will need more space should beds not be ready by April.  Plans are underway for both hard-standing and French drains to allow for the caravan to be placed to the front garden (eventually).  More on the caravan next time hopefully.


I have been a little quiet of late and there is little to tell about things at The Old Manse as focus has had to be on our exit from Cardross. The week has come when we have to be out of our rental there and the four bed house has be packed into either a) storage b) our smaller let on Gigha c) the Manse or now d) friends who are willing to look after items for a while. Oh and Facebook marketplace has been a frenzy of activity, in the latest kitchen stock-take we still own 3 slow cookers though…..

At the beginning of the month we began to let a small holiday cottage on Gigha and took the opportunity to scope out the temporary home with our good friends Kathryn & John. Weather not allowing for further work on hut or Manse that weekend we drove the Kintyre 66 – this time (for me) with more success in finding the Antony Gormley statue at Saddell Bay. I have to credit John with the first photo below as he was brave enough to scramble out onto the rocks for the vantage point. https://www.wildaboutargyll.co.uk/destinations/kintyre-and-gigha/the-kintyre-66/

View from the rocks looking back towards Saddell Castle
GRIP looking out to sea

Lovely to have some leisure time in the middle of sorting out the move and an excuse to show some picture of something other than storage units and rented transits (still to come). We even managed lunch at Skipness and were greeted with a fabulous rainbow captured at Inverary.

Credit to Kathryn for this great shot at Inverary

Back to the serious stuff. Storage is reaching capacity – largely because I wont sacrifice the large dining table and twelve chairs that, for me, symbolises our love to socialise around food. Boxes are stacked high and today will see the last bits of furniture ‘tetrised’ into place. The rented van has seen two trips to Gigha in as many days to transfer all the garden furniture and a collection of tools for the garden shed make their journey to the Island.

Still several bits of furniture to go..
Full use of the transit (twice so far)

So that’s the week’s update – nothing majorly exciting to tell on the blog this time but a marker to all the practical things that have to happen when moving home. Our eventual new home was looking as great as ever when snapped by fellow Islander Keith this week and he again reminds me why we are moving to this beautiful Island. Hopefully the next time I write you will be seeing us working on the Manse to keep warm throughout winter!

The Old Manse