Lemon and Old Gold

Denise: I was so pleased with this new colour of twill lamswool scarf I did something very unusual – I wove another one just the same. (Well, to the same design, but not identical!)  Other colours I’ve recently woven for next summer’s sales at The Hebridean Woolshed have been interesting melanges as well, but my favourite of this autumn is this Lemon and Old Gold!

The Beast is Back

Tolsta Foalan at The Big Garden Croft, Isle of Eriskay

Tolsta Foalan at The Big Garden Croft, Isle of Eriskay

Jonathan: How does the saying go? Blood Will Out ?  We exchanged our two sweet little darlings of ewe lambs for Tolsta Foalan – The Beast of Tolsta Moor, we call him!  He was bred, born and raised in Tolsta, becoming ram-in-chief, lord of all he surveyed, which apparently was quite a lot.  And then he got put in wee field in Eriskay, shared with the sheep equivalent of one spotty teenage boy and six others still in their shorts, dozens of pecky hens – not to mention a mob of cockerels forever at each others throats and who have the temerity to steal – from under his very nose – his morning ration – food being his one remaining pleasure in life. Those ewes he was promised?  Each morning he’s been allowed to look at them, smell them, through the bars of the gate, but …

Well, a couple of days ago he was at last let out, swapping places with our home-bred Baghasdal.  He was like an old-fashioned clockwork toy car:  wind him up, and let him go! And go he did – with all the charm and grace of a the proverbial male bovine in a shop dedicated to the purveying of fine porcelain. Poor Baghasdal was distraught! But he’d get over it! Woudn’t he?

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Wish You Were Here?

Jonathan: A glorious day as autumn finally starts to give way to winter. A light dusting of snow yesterday (unusual for November) but today the Outer Hebrides has been the sunniest and mildest place in the UK. Wish you were here?

Weaving v Worrying

Jonathan: Denise is weaving and singing to Gloria Estefan (I Can’t Stay Away From You –  Gloria at her very best!), turned up real loud.  I think the speakers are outdoing the thrum of the severe gale.  Great music to take your mind off your worrying about the wind.

and after Abigail came …

Jonathan: After windy night with heavy rain, a Severe Gale in now progress. Not cyclonic, just a head -on onslaught out of the west. Thankfully it’s dry – and in fact the sun is shining. Normally a straight westerly is no problem to us at An Garradh Mor, but alas Abigail, which was categorized as a Storm, and presumably the Hurricanes, Severe Storms and just Storms of last winter must have taken their toll on the house, because I’ve just heard something go rattling across the roof tiles. On going out to investigate there’s two gutter brackets at the back of the house, and a length of gutter on the office dormer flapping in distres – which could wreak much more damage. Alas can’t do anything about it until tomorrow afternoon, as I’ll need to put up ladders and scaffold towers, and the severe gale continues through the night until late tomorrow morning. Should have some spare brackets somewhere – I’ll find them out ready. As if I don’t have enough to do! Island Life!!


Jonathan: This evening we can hear, outside, the build-up to Abigail – the first storm that the Met Office has named.  Thankfully – well, for us in Uist, the strongest winds will be further north, in Harris and Lewis. In South Uist and Eriskay we’re expecting gusts to reach about 70mph.  Buildings that are neglected, and objects left lying around, are where the damage will be worst.  Here at An Garradh Mor, we find that – because of the layout of the garden walls and the house, a severe gale will be strongest when from the west, yet least likely to cause us damage: it’s often less powerful winds from the SW or NW that do more damage, and a wind from the NE – coming down from the heights of Eisebhal and across it’s southern corries, resulting in turbulence that make it unpredictable and violent. (Thankfully storms from that direction are extremely rare: in fact, I can’t recall one in all the time we’ve been here). For the same reason, Carrick is very vulnerable to a SE gale: Mother Nature seems to have designed Beinn Sgiathan to stir up the wind into a frenzy of extremely violent twisters that you can hear whistling across the ground towards you! At Eight Askernish, it’s winds from the SW that seem to do the most damage, due to their frequency and sheer brute force. In short, whatever the weather, we have to prepare for the worst – don’t chance it!

Every autumn we re-fit to the extraskeleton of each greenhouse boards that keep the worst of the wind-pressure (and flying debris!) off the glass and the aluminium of the greenhouse itself.

Although built only of softwood, the extraskeleton is much much stronger than the greenhouse, and more resilient: the whole thing is designed to disipate wind energy and take any physical impacts. At worst, even if the glass broke, the aluminium frame should remain intact and in shape. Though we have occasionally suffered damage to the cladding boards – on one occasion cut through like butter by a flying piece (maybe 1.5m x 0.5m) of metal roof sheeting – neither the greenhouses themselves – nor even the basic extraskeletons – have never been damaged in a storm.  The timber frame of the extraskeleton and boarding together give about 50% coverage (horizontally – there’s no boarding across the top), but measurements show that this reduces light only by about 20% at most.

Aga On Day 2015

20151110 (2)Denise: Talking over an autumnal lunch of delicious home-made soup with home-baked sour-dough bread. The kettle starts to whistle, lazily and unevenly at first, then working itself up into a very good impression of The Royal Scotsman. J gets up and lifts the kettle off the Aga for our first cup of Aga tea since the cold and wet of spring – it seems an age ago.  We flicked down the switch this morning at 7am, and certainly by noon it was up to full temperature, and now the kitchen is cosy, and we could cook, dry, bake, fry, roast, simmer, warm, dry herbs – anything we like, any time, at no more cost than keeping the room warm.  A bit too warm, to tell the truth – certainly since we completed the renovation of this part of the house, with the house now sealed, insulated etc. Ironically, it’s at this time of year that we have to keep the butter dish in the fridge.  This is – by far! – the latest in the year that we’ve switched the Aga on for the winter. It’s nearly mid November … and it’s still not even cold outdoors, with night time temperatures still in double figures. (There’s no other heating on – just the Aga.) But it’s the wind: because houses suffer wind-chill just the same way as we do (or so J says – and it’s been his business to know such things); and believe me it’s windy!!!

Beauty and THE BEAST

An Garradh Mor Cataraidh (left) and Canach (right)Jonathan. Late Friday, rounded up the ewe lambs and plucked out of the fank the two best that I’d registered with the Hebridean Sheep Society, ready for taking away to exchange for a ram. An Garradh Mor Cataraidh is really lovely. Large for her age, good shape and strongly built, she also has a very dark fleece of long, soft, glossy and slightly curled locks – just gorgeous. In the photo of them both eating, you can see the difference in character of the two lambs’ fleeces. Cataraidh is on the left. Her half-sister Canach has a really good fleece too, finely crimped, more uniform, perhaps softer and warmer, but lacking the tendency to form those luscious locks that make Cataraidh’s fleece so exceptional. The close up of Cataraidh’s fleece doesn’t really do it justice: it’s been raining steadily all morning, so they don’t look their best! Cataraidh doesn’t seem to mind her fleece being fondled – which is odd because she wasn’t a pet lamb.  With their big dark eyes, long black eyelashes (I’d swear they flutter them!) they are Beauty personified!

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Mr Jackson

Mr Jackson (left) when just one day old, April 2008

Mr Jackson (left) when just one day old, April 2008

Jonathan:  Our croft Embden geese are currently four in number: one can never be certain about gender with geese unless you follow their behaviour very closely (well, in spring it’s perhaps not necessary to pay attention quite so closely!), but we do know that we have one gander, and probably one goose and two other ganders.  The gander we’re certain of is in fact from our first ever hatching (from bought eggs), born in early 2008. He’s something of a character!  He lost his beloved partner a couple of years ago, and rather lost his way as leader of the gaggle. But over the past year he’s grown in confidence again, and has re-established his position of authority.  And – despite being 3-4 years older than the others – it looks as if he might be at the beginnings of a new romantic relationship.  Well, certainly, there’s one of the young ones that he doesn’t boss about as much,  and has started to allow into the henhouse with him when he goes there for his Zweite Früstuck (second breakfast). And this is where the narrative proper of this post begins.  The old gander has learnt that when I’ve been in the henhouse a while, and he hears the sound of grain falling into the galvanized troughs, and the hens start their cacophony of pecking and fussing and chasing, there’s some grain that gets scattered, and some of it reaches the sliding hatch of the automatic door.  Now the hatch is definitely designed for chickens, but gander has learnt that if he pushes his body in far enough and paddles his webbed feet vigorously, he will eventually pop right into the hen-house, landing right in amongst the hens and their food.  (It is, after all, called a pop-hole!)

Jonathan, feed bag and followers

Breakfast time, Spring 2012. Jonathan with feed bag, twin pet lambs, Mr & Mrs Jackson and their babies

A while back I adjusted the pop-hole slider to make the opening smaller, but that’s not put him off – he simply pushes it up with his back!  However he has also learnt that if he does that I will open the door proper and shoo him back out.  So over the past year he has taken to standing outside, with his neck through the pop-hole, scoffing up every particle of food within reach!  Thus self-invited to the hens breakfast party, every time it puts me in mind of Mr Jackson in Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Mrs Tittlemouse. “Tiddly, widdly, widdly! Your very good health, Mrs Tittlemouse!”  Well, I have to open the main door (into which the pop-hole is set) at some point, to let myself out: Mr Jackson – as I have now decided to call him, rushes in, his girlfriend a little timorously behind (but bolder by the day).  It’s not enough that he greedily joins in the breakfast party: once the troughs are empty, he picks them up in his powerful bill and tosses them to one side, so that he can get at the grain caught in the wooden holders the troughs sit in.  And once he’s done that he pushes the heavy wooden holders around too.  I’d love to capture all this ‘on film’, but alas I’m encumbered with tools and buckets and feed and a heavy proper camera is too much.  For now, here’s some very poor photos taken on my phone. When I can, I’ll replace them with some better photos.

An Garradh Mor – Bornais

Denise: Jonathan has taken some good new pictures of An Garradh Mor – Bornais to update information on him on our Hebridean Sheep page.  He is so good looking, with a wonderful fleece!

An Garradh Mor - Bornais