Friday, 24 February 2012

Island Life

Island life can be a little frustrating at times. First it was the ferry on which we rely for supplies, our mail and the inevitable Amazon parcels. When we get a report that our ferry has hit the pier at Oban it is of more than passing interest. This time she was blown against the pier by a 70 knot gust and damaged her bow visor which meant that she was taken out of service for extensive repairs. A replacement ferry arrived to take over the run with the inevitable service disruption. Then there were the deer! Yes, in the garden again during the night. All gates were shut but the agile blighters managed to jump the cattle grid to get at our tasty emerging bulbs finishing off with a mouth full or two of bay tree leaves before checking out the compost bin but not bothering to put the lid back on. So next line of defence is side rails on the cattle grid. So the week goes on, the replacement ferry is in place, bulbs are sorted out, we have mild weather so snowdrops and crocuses are out. We need it to stop raining (about 7 inches has fallen in the last seven days!) so that we can get to work outside. It has been the wettest winter on record here but no snow, yet!!!

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Highland Road blocks

Road blocks on the single track roads are inevitable on the island. They are not permanent and weigh about 1500 lbs so are not easy to move. Patience is therefore a virtue. Highland coos very much own parts of the island and wander amiably at will, taking little account of cars or man. The lady in the photograph was heavily pregnant yet moved with graceful ease despite her condition. Rather than get impatient it is easier to wait and maybe get the camera out. The highland cow is one of the mainstays of the farming economy here. Recently at Oban market a bull bred on the island was sold for a record 10,000 guineas. They are raised for beef, the meat is on the lean side, this due to their double coat which means they grow less fat to keep warm. The outer coat keeps the rain off and the undercoat acts as an insulating layer. The Highland cow makes a good mother, very rarely are calves abandoned as their mother has a high survival instinct for herself and offspring and able to survive out of doors in extreme weather conditions experienced in the Scottish Highlands.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Yet another Cairn

Continuing our exploration of the Lussa River we decided to visit the waterfalls below Torness. These are where the river is held back by a gorge with rocks at its upstream entrance. Leaving the Land Rover near some ruins on the old pilgrim road we looked for a footpath but found it was a stream hidden under the grass. Not being deterred by this we slithered and slimed our way down to the river. We were not only visiting the falls but looking for a cairn that is reputed to be where a local Loch Buie chieftain Eoghann A'Chinn, or for non Gaelic speakers, Ewen of the Little Head fell off his horse during a fight and died at the spot. At first no cairn was visible but the falls were. They were in full spate with water tumbling over the rocks and some spray in the air. We sat and admired the view in glorious warm sunshine. A perfect setting on a perfect afternoon! Though we were off the beaten track, man had intruded at sometime in the past for we found a rusty vertical ladder dropping some ten metres down a vertical rock face to a very private fishing or for the very hardy bathing place at the bottom of the water cascade. Needless to say we did not try either bathing or fishing! The Cairn? Yes, we found it on the way back up a different path.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

A Pheasant Visit

Though at the moment we are experiencing a noisy North Westerly gale with fast scudding black clouds and spray from the Sound of Mull, it is not deterring our regular visitors. I am not referring to the human kind, welcome as they are, but to the tame pheasants that have learnt over the past few months that we and indeed our near neighbours are a soft touch for a snack. The visits started just after we moved in when we were regally inspected by a large resplendent male. He, soon named Amos, was satisfied that we were safe and more at home with a camera than a gun and unlikely to have designs on him for the pot. Moreover, to encourage us he gracefully accepted the offering of a grain or six. After a few days, his lady, Jemima, deigned to visit though not at the same time and also accepted our tribute. One of the joiners who worked on the house happened to call in during a pheasant visit and explained that they were quite used to the site as they had watched the house being built and were unfazed by machines operating or men working. In fact we noticed that they arrived as soon as they heard us outside. He also said that they were escapees from a local estate. Word got round the pheasant community that we were a useful stop over on their ambulation round the perimeter of the estate. This suited us as we now have daily visits by differing birds who call by and are well behaved enough to leave after a few grains of food and shoo'ed onward. Not all are characters and get names, but some are distinctive, hence Ringo is a regular caller and one of the more cheeky. He will pretend to be an oversized Robin and fly up on to the bird table if allowed. If he arrives before we are out doors he will march up and down outside, look in the windows and on wet days wait in the dry of the car port by the house door. Our Pheasant visits are entertaining!

Friday, 10 February 2012

Throwing a shaving or two

Every day I try to get at least an hour or so "throwing shavings". No, I have not taken leave of my senses. It is practice time on my wood turning lathe with the idea that practice makes perfect and nothing is lost if it all goes wrong as mistakes go on the wood burning stove! The timber that I use is either branches from fallen trees, pieces of wood given by friends from a variety of sources, and occasional forays on the the Internet though I try to use Scottish timber from renewable forests where possible. Turning can be divided into two types. Spindle turning is between centres on the lathe and bowl turning using a chuck or face plate. A finished piece of course can be a combination of both techniques. So what have I made over the last two years since I took the plunge purchased a lathe and all the accoutrement's needed even for the most simple pieces. I could do a rather boring list which would go something like ...bowl-firewood-bowl-firewood... But perhaps I should be more positive. I have experimented with a few table lamps, candle and tea light holders, the inevitable bowl and even toilet roll holders but my hardest and I think most successful project has been the "rise and fall" light that is now illuminating our kitchen table. This project started when we had the idea to hang an "electrified" oil lamp over the kitchen table. We could not decide on the height above the table so to make it adjustable seemed a good idea. Many experiments and a good deal of firewood followed until the design of ceiling rose and counter weight were successful. The rose had to carry the transformer and the counter weight needed to be an accurate weight, this being the most difficult to achieve.
Eventually after final assembly of all the bits and testing the great day arrived and our friendly electrician helped fit it above the table, lo and behold there was light!

Wednesday, 8 February 2012


Counting Cairnburgh Castle on the Treshnish Islands (just off our north coast) there are seven castles on the island. On a fine warm afternoon we decided to visit our first one, Aros Castle. As usual this was combined with a walk so our trusty Land Rover was parked off road by the Aros River which we crossed on the old pack bridge to walk along the side of the river estuary to the castle. It is set on a hill top with spectacular views down the Sound of Mull though I suspect the beauty of the view was not foremost in the Chief of Clan MacDougals mind when he planned and built it. Aros Castle, otherwise known as Dounarwyse Castle, would have been easy to defend from seaward, and although less so from landward potential enemies would have to get across a deep ditch. On our visit the only protector of the now ruined castle was a beautiful resplendent cockerel probably more interested in his hens as soon as he determined that we were not bringers of food. The castle dates from the 13th century and was later the stronghold for the Lords of the Isles but by 1690 it was known to be in ruins and subsequently never repaired. Its demise I think inevitable once powerful ship mounted guns rather than claymores were available to enemies.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Memorial to a Warm Hearted Pedlar

One of our favourite walks is a short drive from home. We park the Land Rover off road and walk the old pilgrims route to Iona. Or to be much more precise a short section of it. It is at the very beginning of Glenmore and wends its way alongside the River Lussa from where the river enters Loch Spelve up the Glen. The old road, now not much more than a track is an easy walk sheltered from the wind by trees. Holly, Birch and Beech are the main species, though quite near the northern side of the track the Forestry Commission plantation of Sitka Spruce and Japanese Larch is maturing with some tracts already felled and shipped away. The old woodland is home, of course, to many wild birds including buzzards who seem to manage just to keep out of my camera range. There is an interesting place of tranquility between the track and the river. It is called Pedlars Pool. So named because a pedlar died there in 1891. He was a caring man who travelled the island selling his wares. In his time disease was rife on the Island and it was the end of the infamous clearances. He called at one of the crofts,down on the Ross of Mull, on his round to find a sad scene. All the occupants of the house were dying of smallpox and their neighbours too fearful of catching the disease would not look after them but as an act of kindness left food for them to get. The pedlar, John Jones, was appalled and decided to stay to look after the family. Inevitably, he caught the disease and manage to get to his camp by the pool before dying. He was buried at the side of the pool, a cairn and with a cross erected on the sopt, which remains to this day. The place has an indefinable tranquilly.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Dear Oh Deer!

Wife P found suspicious footprints in the garden, or to be more precise in what will be the garden, this morning. Yes, no prizes for guessing they were the Red Deer that we never see! So the decision was made that the top gate must be closed not only at night but also during the day. A bit of a bind but with friendly understanding neighbours (they have to open and shut the gate, as we have the cattle grid at our end. As the winter grips on there is less feed in the wild so the deer tend to be in the village longer mooching for food. Everyone has to take precautions to keep them out so they are always looking for the easy option. A low or broken fence will soon be dealt with by them, they are good jumpers so a 1.8 metre strong fence is the only answer with access through firmly shut gates. We have even had them jump our cattle grid; so that is being fitted with side bars to deter all but the most determined. Now you know why we like venison on the plate rather than deer on the hoof!

That said, when we are walking or driving on the island, we keep an eye open for them. Lo and behold, whilst walking today we saw one outlined on a ridge too far away to see whether a Red or a Fallow Deer. On the way home, however, we saw a Red Deer stag and what looked like a hind, happily feeding on flat land near Loch Spelve. We stopped and managed to get a few photographs before they ambled off as if to say, "that is your photo op for today."

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Walking in the Sunshine

This afternoon we went exploring again. This time a short easy walk to the "Duart View" on farm tracks. The views were stunning in the bright sunshine and even more enjoyable as the wind was but a gentle breeze (though a cold South Easterly). We could see up the Firth of Lorne beyond Lismore with its brilliant white lighthouse on the nearest point to us. About half way between Mull shore and the lighthouse is another white beacon. This tells shipping coming down the Sound of Mull to avoid its rock. The rock known as Lady Rock has a story with a nice twist about it. One of the Clan Chiefs at Duart Castle had a wife who could not produce him a son. This displeased him so without more ado, his retainers were ordered to take the lady out to the rock and tie her to it so that she would drown when the tide rose. This they did and she was left to die. BUT, a fisherman passing in his boat heard her cries which he thought were a bird. Imagine his surprise when he found they came from a beautiful lady. He rescued her, took her home and they lived happily ever after! Well that is one version! I think that the sheep had heard it before!