Friday, 30 March 2012

Farming Fish

When we are walking on the path that runs along the shore of the Sound of Mull at Garmony we quite often see a fishing vessel with a difference. It is a modern trawler like vessel, about 50 metres long, that it gets it's "catch" by going alongside a fish farm and vacuuming the fish from the farm tanks into the ships tanks for delivery either to a processing plant or a to another farm for fattening up. The vessel, Norwegian operated, carries either Salmon, Trout or Cod in large tanks. The health of the fish during transportation is even monitored by video. Fish farming is big business off the West Coast of Scotland with many new farms being planned or installed in sheltered bays. They are not always welcomed by the locals for a number of reasons, on being that they cover large areas of traditional inshore fishermen and can also obstruct access to places.

It is big business up here providing many local jobs and so is important to the local economy. Scotland is the largest producer of farmed Atlantic Salmon. There are also farms breeding Rainbow and Brown Trout, Arctic Char and a few developing Cod and Halibut stocks. Whilst discussing farming fish I should not forget Shell Fish farming, We have a local mussel farm where the mussel spats are grown on ropes that hang down from long lines placed between buoys in the loch. Their tasty mussels are sent in vast quantities to a central marketing point but luckily for locals a few bags are packed in a cool box where we can call in, drop our money in an honesty box and take home a bag of very fresh mussels.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Our Rocky Foreshore

A five minute walk from our house takes us to a rocky foreshore overlooking the point where the Sound of Mull meets the Firth of Lorne. It is an ever changing vista both on land and on the sea. Out of the tourist season we have it to ourselves except, of course, for the wildlife that abounds. On a sunny day it is a perfect place to wander, exploring the rock pools and observing the bird life. To the north up the Sound of Mull we can see the light beacons on Eileann Glas and the Morven shore at Ardtornish. To the East we see Lismore lighthouse, Lady Rock beacon and in the far distance on a clear day the metropolis of Oban. Duart Castle is on the point just across the bay beyond Torosay. It is the ancestral home of the Clan MacLean and now opens to visitors. The Torosay estate extending inland from the foreshore was a major island tourist attraction. The Castle, a mock Victorian edifice, with its own railway link to Craignure is no longer open to the public though the grounds are. The railway has been sold to Balloch on Loch Lomond though the unused track still has to be dismantled. It is the end of a successful enterprise as the railway carried 18,000 visitors every holiday season. To seaward the view towards the highlands is spectacular with a storm over Glencoe well in progress. There are always ships sailing past. Large 50,000 dwt sand carriers moving majestically to and from the super quarry at Glensanda up the Firth of Lorne, inevitable Calmac ferries are passing, either our own MV Isle of Mull or MV Lord of the Isles returning from the Barra or Colonsay run. On recent visits we have found wildflowers such as primroses starting to bloom and the bog irises emerging from their winter dormancy. Birds are busily nesting whilst the Oystercatchers are easily disturbed from their nests taking off and calling to distract possible nest predators, the gulls just sit tight and watch you pass by. There is evidence of other creatures’ presence, deer prints, rabbit droppings and otter spraints all tell a story. A fallen Scots pine has been well and truly “drilled” for grubs by the woodpecker but like the otters conspicuous by their absence.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

First day of Spring?

At last the sun shines, the wind is not biting and the ground is not too wet to work. So it is time start to planting though tempering over enthusiasm with the thought that we are 56 degrees North here and need to hold back on some planting. We have the garden area roughed out with wildlife pond marked out with an old hosepipe to give its shape. The raised beds are in place and filled with a mixture of soil (from the pond site), seaweed and compost. The potato growing boxes likewise are ready. This year we are trying Charlottes and Pentland Javelin. We have already planted the first box with Charlottes in the garden room where hopefully the light and warmth will bring them on early. The strawberry raised bed is ready but we will need to wait a few weeks before planting. All the raised beds will have mesh covers to deter birds and rabbits with the bonus that the mesh also breaks heavy rainfall into a wet mist thus protecting the emerging plants. I trialled this in our previous garden and it worked well, so hopefully the idea will work again here.

The bulbs we planted are now in flower in spite of the ravages of rabbits and deer. The Rhododendrons that we planted a few weeks ago seem to have taken. Other plants given to us over the past few months in the main have wintered well. The cuttings taken from a neighbouring garden (with permission I hasten to add!) and over wintered in the garden room are coming on and will be ready to plant out as soon as the spring warmth is firmly established. Today might be the first day of spring officially (though the Met Office think differently and say it is March 1st in their bureaucratic way) but we will wait before planting out. We think the deer problem has been resolved with culling, but are still taking precautions at night as there are still plenty of deer on the island. A neighbour recently photographed one actually jumping the cattle grid in mid afternoon so now we are looking at an ultrasonic device to try to deter them from even approaching the grid with intent.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Back on the island

We have been over on the mainland hence the gap in blogging! The plan was to take our Land Rover back to the dealer in Perthshire to have electric window winding mechanisms fitted, and some warranty jobs done. So we allowed them three days for all the work, which as it turned out was over optimistic. The dealer, Lix Toll, have a great reputation for customer service and had organised a loan car for us.

Our intention was explore the area around Doune for a few days so we stayed in the delightful Red Lion Inn in the middle of the village. Mine host was Jamie Oliver, no not the TV "star" but a young man supported by his family running his own pub. It was friendly, welcoming, comfortable with an experienced chef Donald who produced great food; so what more could you want. Jamie's father provided the icing on the cake. He was always ready to help whether carrying luggage or giving details of nearby attractions. It was he who sent us to the Argaty Red Kite Centre just outside the village.

We spent a happy afternoon watching numerous pairs of kites feeding, though at times frustrating trying to catch them on camera as they are so fast on the wing. Tom, the guide was amine of information about the kites and other wildlife of the area. Leaving the centre, the mobile phone rang - it was the Land Rover dealer to say that there were problems and they had run out of time and needed two more days.

This was not an option so we compromised and arrange to collect the vehicle mid-day Saturday giving them four more hours to complete the windows, and leave one job that was not urgent for a later date.

Saturday turned out to be "one of those days". We arrived at the dealers at the agreed time to find long faces and much head scratching. The electric winders would not work properly so to take the pressure off we went into nearby Killin for lunch and a look around the town. By now we had changed our ferry booking to the last ferry. To cut a long story short, many apologies but no Land Rover (needed a relay no available until Monday), so we were given a Land Rover to get us home. but none of the door locks worked and we were going to Tesco to do a "big" shop on the way home. So more apologies, and another Land Rover quickly appeared with a full tank of fuel and at last we were on our way home. Lix Toll's reputation untarnished as they agreed that they would complete all jobs and then bring our vehicle to the island and recover there own vehicle which in the meantime we are using. When it all goes wrong good customer service saves the day! Pity that some of the larger companies do not put customer first as with Lix Toll and Red Lion Doune!

Monday, 5 March 2012

Pilgrimage to Iona

We followed the old pilgrim track to Iona. Not a difficult task, as the route follows the old road still visible in many places alongside the main single track "main" road to Fionnphort which is the ferry port for Iona. Both roads wend their way through the spectacular Glen More, great when the sun shines but quite foreboding in the misty conditions more normally encountered. For pilgrims of yesteryears it must have been a weary toilsome journey, " not another hill to climb!" They would have, needed to be aware of local marauding bands who did not welcome strangers in their territories, but mostly allowed bona fide pilgrims to pass through unharmed. Glenmore was also reputed to be the home of a dragon ( mental note to follow that story at a later date).

So after avoiding dragons and brigands, on a blustery March day we boarded the Calmac ferry. We rocked and rolled our way across the Sound of Iona, well noted for it's ability to stop the ferry if winds stir up the waters too much. Before Calmac's modern diesel ferry yet another trial in a small boat for the medieval pilgrim! At this time of the year the island has few visitors and no "facilities" open but at least it is possible to enjoy the Abbey in peace and quiet (apart from one noisy infant!) instead of sharing the experience with hordes of visitors from all over the world. The Abbey is one of the most visited tourist attractions on the west coast of Scotland even though it is in such a relatively remote place. We even found a quiet seat in the cloisters to eat our sandwiches, whilst admiring the carvings on the roof supports.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Good Neighbours

Whilst Jerusalem Artichokes are not every ones ideal vegetable I like them. So in spite of the risk of"windy" side effects, I was delighted when a neighbour called by with a couple of handfuls of the tubers. They are tasty sliced raw on salads and also when baked. We did not eat them all as some are to be planted, not only for eating but because they also make an interesting colourful display in the garden.

After it became known that the deer had chomped their way through our daffodils and crocus plants, we arrived home one afternoon to find a large box of snowdrops all ready to plant out. No note with them, but eventually it transpired that they had been left by yet another kind neighbour. Our battle with deer continues. We now have temporary sides fitted to our cattle grid to stop the blighters jumping the over the side of the grid so now they are searching for and finding ways through the boundary hedges, sadly we are still losing plants!

Now the local estate are taking matters in their own hands as the deer which have not been culled for a number of years are becoming a major problem not only to us but to many other homeowners in the district; so a cull is to be done and instead of wrecking gardens the culprits will end up in our freezers! It is sad but inevitable that culling has to help maintain the balance of nature, but hungry deer are not happy deer.