This quote is borrowed from Tolkien for two reasons. Firstly, 2023 itself is going to be a big adventure with work starting on the house (by hired help rather than ourselves) and shortly we are about to embark on a trip to New Zealand. The latter is long overdue, our daughter moved to NZ in late 2016 and her round the world excursion never got beyond her first port of call. The dream job secured and boyfriend acquired later in 2017 stuck, and now six years later, she is a NZ citizen.
First, a look back at year so far. A tremendous Christmas break was had, a fantastic Christmas meal that supplies boxing day (and beyond) buffets. Whilst I do say it myself, the process of curing salmon (using Laphroaig whisky) may be long, but very worthwhile. New Year was quiet but very pleasant, enjoyed with a glass of single malt and a large helping Jool’s Hootenanny. Singular mention in the food extravaganza goes to turket-flette. I’ve bastardized a recipe I first found on the ski slopes of France that used leftover ham, onions, cream and as smelly a cheese you can find to top of this calorific consumption. Diets starts soon, as I can feel my arteries screaming in submission.
We did manage to walk off some of the indulgence over the holiday being blessed with good weather for part. But only part as the wind and storms have reeked havoc both with ferry cancellations and tree felling. Achamore Garden, where we often walk saw trees fall across paths which put the one up-rooted apple tree in our walled-garden into perspective. The woods at the rear of the Manse will need further inspection and management this year.
I’ve been very grateful during my time in the contract market to find work on a regular basis, I also hope this says something about the experience and work ethic I’ve learned over the years but most of the time I have been fortunate to work with good people to manage. I am very fortunate o n this occasion to take a long sabbatical with a contract to come back to and, undoubtedly, funds are more important than ever this year.
Having visited both kitchen and bathroom showrooms during the holidays we are moving closer to understanding the look and feel we would like for The Old Manse but equally understanding better the budget for our aspirations. Conversations have progressed with builder and heating engineers and quotes obtained to pursue energy efficiency grants but let us say that retirement is postponed for now.
2023 here already and this is going to be a short blog entry as I don’t intend to write about the amount of food and drink I have consumed over the festive period. Instead I want to put down a quick marker to set intentions (not resolutions) for the year.
Building work starting on The Old Manse is imminent. I hope to be bringing news of developments to the blog soon but will wait until I have a confirmed date for that work to start. That hopefully will give Karen and I time to concentrate physical exertions to the garden, having completed all we can inside The Old Manse for now. Equally, we need to furnish the shepherds hut as a prospective dwelling whilst the renovation continues.
Travel is very much on the cards. We have been waiting for covid protocols to cease before visiting H in the Southern Hemisphere once again. That trip to New Zealand is already booked and will not be the last of the year. Portugal is the base for a significant birthday celebration for a friend this summer and Paris for a weekend of Rugby World Cup action beckons later again in the year. More of all that later.
And lastly, looking back. I did eat a lot of turkey & these were some of the favourites from Insta last year.
Like most men, I think, I’m not very good at present shopping. Truth is I failed miserably come birthday present time this year and Christmas may not be a whole lot better unless I get myself into shape on the next planned trip to the mainland. Island life brings about a whole new dependency on the Amazon parcel service but I still like to hold and feel an item before I buy (old school). So one chance to get this right next visit…..
But before Christmas there is another month to look back upon, including that birthday I didn’t plan well for but others did. A surprise visit from four of our friends to coincide with Karen’s birthday saw some great weather for walking. The picture below is one of us on Liem beach where we stroll to work up an appetite for the lasagna that lay in waiting for us back at the cottage. Elaine’s cooking never disappoints and was happily washed down by copious amounts of red wine to celebrate another year.
The weekend also saw myself and other friends on the island put the finishing touches to the infrastructure that will be the Dark Skies Theatre on Gigha. Benches have been waiting at the Manse for a while and with a plinth and information panel there time had come to be anchored in place. Fortunately, some good weather whilst doing the job allowed everything to complete without a hitch.
The Dark Skies Festival including an opening of the now prepared ‘Theatre would take place the following weekend. A mobile planetarium was deployed at the village hall and exhibits of local photographs, space suits and Virtual Reality kept visitors amused for the evening. A special mention to the troops from Cosmos Planetarium who, in the day, had hosted events for the local primary school before two shows in the planetarium that evening. A formal opening of the the theatre on the Saturday was followed by an evening lecture on robotic telescopes and an informal ‘ask the expert’ session hosted by yours truly. Very proud of what we as a group (take a bow Keith, Kenny, Casey-Jo & Julie) have achieved and my small contribution towards that. Much happens on this small Island to make it punch above it’s weight in terms of population and is evidenced by this and the support received from other groups and individuals. More than a third of all residents (guessing with the kids closer to half) attended events over the course of the weekend and input from Gigha Brewery (Dave & Anna), the Gigha Hotel, local comic book authors (Adam & Lisa), OGAM Project (Maggie) and Bookbug (Hannah) all made for an astronomical success (pun intended). My apologies if I have missed anyone from the list.
December has brought with it some clear skies and cold weather making for some great scenery both around the Island and at the Manse itself. It has also reminded me that whilst the caravan would have continued to provide us with cheap accommodation it would not have been warm accommodation. The log burner at the cottage has been well used.
Our friend Wendy commented, when she visited the island recently, that much of the social life revolves around food. No event can take place without the expectation of at least one of a sandwich platter, bowl of soup or (mostly present) cake. It isn’t helping my waistline but it has been comforting to share in the traditional whist drives with a perfect example of this catering.
Meanwhile, we continue our own traditions of a martini on Sunday afternoon before a traditional roast dinner. The apples that we have in abundance, are being steadily dealt with and cooking remains one of my favourite hobbies. So much so we have already had our first Christmas dinner when our son and his partner visited last weekend. More clear skies and walking on Sunday to walk off the excess of food completes the summary of the month.
Another month behind me when I look at the last blog date and will try and take things chronologically, jogging my memory from iPhone photos – first OMP (Old man problem) to note memory loss. That wasn’t quite what I had in mind though when titling the blog entry, another birthday has passed and the hernia I acquired through heavy lifting in the summer has been dealt with, but more of that later.
Knowing that the Manse needed emptied for imminent arrival of workmen we employed local joinery services to reroof the shed. A good solution to storage problems in the short term supposing we could make it waterproof. Very pleased with the new tin to keep out leeks and further application of sealant to the window seems to have done the trick.
Over the last month we have got back to walking, not as regular as I would like but the next photos on my phone remind me that at the start of the month in relatively good weather, we found the path from Ardailly Mill to Springbank. I say found as on at least two occasions we lost sight of the next waymarker making it difficult to navigate in a straight line. The walk though provided good views of the West Coast of Gigha and one I shall repeat with knowledge provided OMP#1 and my ever failing sense of direction doesn’t impede that.
OMP#2 lifting heavy things in your fifties can cause damage. I am very thankful though to the local health services that have speedily put me back together. A diagnosis of hernia in the summer was resolved on the 6th October with an outpatient visit to Oban hospital. The visit gave me the excuse to buy Richard Osman’s third book ‘The Bullet that Missed’ and read it in 48 hours of pre-op and post-op recuperation. All went well and, for the main, I have regarded the advice to ‘take it easy’ for a few weeks.
Pleased to report though, that I was in rood health for my birthday 9 days later and did the things I enjoy. The weather was less good for the scheduled walk of the new Southern loop but we managed all the same. A few difficulties again due to finding markers, but more to due to lack of strength in my core to clamber over slippery rocks. Came back very wet but a shower, bottle of good red wine and a steak dinner concluded birthday celebrations nicely. OMP#3 too many birthdays makes it difficult to buy for. However, I’m pleased to report new walking trousers, a new toy for the camera and a Scotland rugby shirt made for a pretty good day!
The week following my birthday saw the last week of our caravan summer. We are moving back to solid walls for the duration of the winter months but feel I should pay tribute to the steel box we leave behind as it has served us well this summer. Lately, also, the walk back to our home has provided great views of the night sky and when the skies cleared I was able to test out my automated shutter release birthday present (photo below). More of a concern in the Manse garden was the first mink attack on the chicken coop. Karen dealt admirably with the predator but a new chicken coop and mink trap had to be ordered as a consequence.
Last of the three walks this month I want to mention was the path to Fisherman’s cave. Another wet October day saw our mission to find the cave on the West Coast and after the first boggy field to reach the stone path, the effort was worth it. Some lovely views when you find the entry point and again a walk to be repeated on a summer day. I can tick the walk of the list I have from the book below that I would highly recommend to any visitor to Gigha.
So a flurry of moving into the cottage, attempting to pick any remaining apples and turn them into something worthwhile, building a new chicken coop before a weekend off-island fell largely to Karen. First batches of (experimental) cider underway and a complete coop below are evidence of what a tremendously hard working wifey I have. All of this set us up for a lovely weekend of seeing friends and family just gone. A chance to indulge my passion of rugby watching with our good friends proved an excellent highlight to start the weekend. A trip to the concert hall in Glasgow to see Squeeze book-ended a great three days of good food and the odd indulgence. But I don’t miss Edinburgh / Glasgow traffic.
It’s been a long while since the last blog, my apologies to my readership, it’s been busy. So I’m first going to talk about one of my great loves food before giving a more chronological account of the last couple of months.
We are blessed on Gigha to enjoy three fantastic food eateries who all thrive on the fantastic seafood this island offers. Before posting pictures of those I want to talk about the community on the island and how blessed I was to find a knock on the door asking if I could use a couple of lobsters. A swift yes to Ben B allowed me to make lobster, asparagus and pea risotto the following night and boy was it good!
In no particular order I’ve had the pleasure of eating at the Gigha Hotel, The Boathouse and The Nook in the past fortnight. I’m a regular at the Nook for their Fish and Chips but enjoyed the pickled fish platter today to celebrate finishing the deck (more later). I treated the deck builders to The Boathouse last night and enjoyed the Linguine Vongole, highly recommended. And the Hotel last week for a visit from a good friend, thoroughly enjoying Gigha oysters before a well cooked burger. Again more of this later but look out for the food in the stories.
Back to late July to pick up the story from the last post. We continued to remove parts of the first floor that were to no longer remain in the new version of the Manse. Ceilings came down and more lath and plaster were placed in front garden and wood piles respectively. Surprisingly one of the two bedrooms yielded three ceilings, one above another that was hidden at first look. It does give the height back to the room though.
We then tackled the last of the living room on the first floor. And thinking that was most of the demolition, we set about emptying the house. The decision prompted us to move the caravan to a location we could construct the awning. After a couple of false starts (to move behind the house) we settled on a sheltered spot in the front garden. As long as we don’t sink after the weekend’s downpour it will remain home for a while.
We have been blessed with visitors and a great social life too of late. Delighted to host Andy & Emily Peake for a couple of nights who both played a part in cutting the meadow. Their timing was perfect to join us for a great party down at Liem too, so much so I cannot recall the following picture being taken. Nedless to say we had a good time (and plenty of red wine).
I have also been working throughout August. And whilst I make no secret of attempting to transition away from the IT industry I am grateful for being able to work from home and earn a decent wage that all is going on with the cost of living at the moment. What makes the day at the desk easier is that I have moved into the shepherd’s hut and have some great views from there.
I got to indulge another of my passions as the days grow shorter, that of stargazing. Some lovely night skies and I managed to capture a moonscape of which, I am quite proud. Though not as good as my friends at Argyll Auroras who produced the latter stunning image that was then annotated by my good friend and Dark Skies expert Keith.
Our social month continued with visitors aplenty. Murdoch and Rhona arrived by (push) bike as did Steve a week later. But the prize for most stunning travel to the island was taken by Julian who upstaged all by arriving by plane. Steve put in a great shift emptying the Manse and Murdoch has returned to photograph the estate for us. I think I need a whole blog on what he has produced……
Either side of our wedding anniversary we spent time on the garden, something we both love. Whilst I dont put these pictures on to say look how great it is looking I’m still pretty chuffed that we are holding back the weeds to keep the canvass looking ok. Hoping for big things next year if we can keep control for a while longer. I must mention the wedding anniversary and a cheeky lunch at Skipness Seafood Cabin – a great way to celebrate with the woman I love more and more each year xx.
And back on the house front there were decisions – again prompted by food – choosing the kitchen components. The layout though is still up for grabs so will talk about that in later months. We did come up with some novel design tools mind, or archaic possibly? We concluded we would order from Wren and do so now before prices escalated further.
Now bang up to date the bill of fare for this weekend was to build a deck in front of the shepherds hut. Lots of pictures on Insta for this one and a hearty thanks to our friends Kathryn and John who endured the wettest day of the year to build the frame. The weekend ended in glorious sunshine for me to screw down the last remaining boards and enjoy that decadent pickled fish platter from the Nook washed down with a glass of champagne delivered by plane earlier in the week. We have some great friends!
On return from holiday the race was on to take as much of the Old Manse back to brick as was humanly possibly between the three members of the family. Son, having finished all University commitments, was free to visit as much as his social life allowed and to be fair he has prioritised us over other more fun activities. So this post is probably going to be as interesting as paint dry but very much a document of all recent renovation activity.
First week back from holiday saw attention to the ground floor and the room that will become an ensuite bathroom to a ground floor bedroom for mum. Other than the salvation of a period fireplace the room exemplifies what we are attempting throughout the property. First pic shows that when the first layer of framed plasterboard is removed the stonework itself is plastered and needs stripped back. No insulation to the walls has yet been found, Using the chipper the original stone is revealed in the second picture, with the third showing the lath and plaster finish that came after the original plastering of walls. Finally an empty room clear of rubble.
Similar process again for ground floor bedroom. Though I will mention that we have been separating out lath for use as kindling later and dumping all of the discarded plaster onto the front garden of the Old Manse to provide type 1 for dressing later.
Before I tell you about the progress on the first floor (I promise I will keep it brief) the other momentous event this month was Dan’s graduation. I am immensely proud of both our children’s achievements and it was no mean feat for our son to graduate with a 2i in Networking and Cybersecurity. After a number of job offers he starts a new career on the 1st August and we wish him every success as I know it will be. His sister also began a new job in New Zealand this week after being head hunted from her previous role, also on the up for her.
Back to the reno. The first floor presented the additional challenge of gravity. Having hauled rubble from the top floor last year we were keen to avoid doing this again in volume. Fortunately, we managed to borrow a ‘chute so the race was on last weekend to break / chip / clear as much plaster from the walls as was humanly possible in 3 days. The room that will become the living room and the two bedrooms were targeted and I will let the pictures tell the rest of the story (I said I would be brief).
Since I last wrote, the weather has been unpredictable to say the least, but our caravan home remains cosy and we have survived to date. The small living space has tested our patience more than a couple of times, but thankfully the respite of mum’s new home allows cooking and tv as home comforts during the evenings.
Back during the second week of April we took to demolishing the last structure in the walled garden that had remained from previous ownership. We had planned at some point to own hens and the opportunity to take some from friends on the island prompted us to rebuild the chicken coop. The mail order hen house arrived just in time to accommodate two black hens that we have re-christened Mavis & Mabel; M&M were shortly to be joined by a further four hens and a cockerel. The cockerel remains Rhubarb, as he was originally named, but is now king over Blondie, Rosemary, Sage & Thyme (the former being a white hen, the latter three brown hens that I still find indistinguishable).
What I do know however, is that however much we attempt to constrain hens with a six foot fence, netting, and walls they still manage to escape the coop. Well, M&M still do at least, Blondie seems to have stopped now with latest amendment, whilst the other three brown hens were always content to stay put until released. Since the relaxation of rules around poultry concerning avian flu, we have let them roam the walled garden during the day. This has only been a problem once, most out of character Rhubarb decided to try and assert his dominance over Karen and myself. The latter involves an amusing tale of the cock sneaking up behind me and screeching as loud as possible causing me to jump feet in the air!
We must thank John and Kathryn for their help in the demolition of the original structure and John for a repair to our original garden tractor come lawnmower. Paul joined us for the construction of the new coop in what was a busy month for guests. We were delighted to be joined by family members en-route to Islay and an old work colleague & his partner who joined us for a day. The latter were treated to a walk to the South shores on a glorious day of weather.
The garden is again advancing at us after much cutting back in the winter months and we need to be alert to not allowing the control we have gained slip back. There have been glorious sights of daffodils early in the season now replaced by a forest of bluebells. We learnt recently on a guided forage walk to hunt for Spanish bluebells diluting the crop of native bluebells – so I’ve been watching for that! To that end I bought a new (smaller) ride on lawnmower that is intended to run around the walled garden but there have been a few technical issues with it preventing me doing so to date. I did manage to mow the meadow this weekend on a glorious sunny Sunday but I am again trying to figure how to restart it after it failed near the end of that cut.
At the beginning of May we committed to some major re-landscaping at the Old Manse. The render, stripped from the building, has been lying against it since last summer and we always knew we needed to find a solution. To that end, we decided to use it as a base layer for an expanded drive come car parking at the front of the Old Manse. Rather than do this ourselves we hired a man and a digger who completed that element of work within a couple of days.
That left the dilemma of what to do with the remainder of the week. So attention turned to reducing the amount of blackthorn in the meadow and scraping back the area behind the Manse. We understood that at one time there was a path here so the challenge was to remove enough earth to reveal again the gravel path that was once a track down to the ferry. Donald, our digger man, had some degree of success but it doesn’t look as if the gravel path continues all the way back to the Manse itself. A good find made though in the external shut off valve for water and still time to remove both unwanted stumps from the orchard and unwelcome trees and roots from the outbuildings.
During the operation the caravan has had to move several times and we have had fun with both the motor mover and towing with the Hilux. We have realised the importance of a direct water supply to combat the heavy task of filling and moving a water barrel as a temporary reservoir. We have also realised the timely removal of waste for the equally heavy task of taking water away.
The last bit of news is that I am a working man again. Fortunately, the contract I have taken allows me to work from the Old Manse but it does frustrate me that I cannot spend as much time on the renovation as I would like. Needs must as Karen tells me. All a bit more mentally taxing, but I’m still making time for a brain workout of wordle, heardle, quordle & octordle!
Hard to believe that it is now almost a year since we exchanged on The Old Manse. Equally, we have now lived on Gigha for almost 6 months meaning our time in Ferrymans’ is coming to an end. The latter means much of the next three weeks will be around our exit, with mum moving to a single bedroom bungalow on the Island, and Karen & I taking up residence in the caravan adjacent to the Old Manse. Let’s hope the storms have abated before that!
And those storms that I spoke of last time have continued into March. Strong winds have meant disruption to the ferry schedule and a couple of cancelled trips to the mainland. Not quite in chronological order since the last post, but the cleanup of the damage to the woods has started and I can now walk unbarred from the back of the walled garden to the meadow once again. Whilst I have some firewood there are a number of casualties in the tree population that we are really disappointed for.
The other repair that was really important to us was that of the shepherds hut roof. Crucial that we protect the interior from the elements and without roofing felt or tarpaulin for a couple of weeks water has been getting in. The temporary nature of tarp’s hasn’t been successful so we took the initiative to try and patch as best we could with leftover roofing felt from the initial work. Some scars in what’s gone on but a mixture of glue to patch those holes and batoning to prevent lifting will hopefully have kept it in place until we can get the tin roof on.
With the storms raging we have had the opportunity for more planning and more administrative tasks. The move of mum has necessitated the usual move of electoral register, bills and council tax. All of these systems appear to have you wait in queues for hours or portions of hours at the very least. But Karen has also had the opportunity to start drawing and planning the walled garden and that is certainly more pleasurable.
And our other indoor task, painting. The colour scheme we inherited was not to mum’s choosing so Karen and I have been doing a makeover in simple white for now. I shall not be sad to see the back of this task that should be complete tomorrow. Then to storage for the furniture that wouldn’t fit into the cottage and hopefully we will have mum installed by the end of next week.
Not all work though. Paul visited, as earlier pictures showed, but as well as putting his skills to good use we had time to walk the Southern paths of the island with him. Coming back through Achamore gardens the camellia walk has started to bloom and is well worth a look. It certainly helped to walk off the fuzzy head gained at the previous nights pub quiz!
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.
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.
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 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 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!
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.
Further proof of clement weather throughout the majority of January is the abundance of snowdrops and the early appearance of daffodils.
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.
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.
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.
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!