Denise: Even before the gooseberry harvest was over, we’d started picking and podding peas for the freezer (and feasting on the sweetest as we worked!), and broad beans too. For about four weeks now we’ve been picking peas steadily, piling them up in big seed trays for Jonathan to pod in the evening whilst watching TV, me knitting. But the legumes are now all gathered in, with 20kg or so of peas and about half that of beans in the freezer – enough to keep us supplied with both right through to next summer. (In fact today I’m using the last of last year’s peas in a pea and mint soup). Friday was the last day of the longest run of dry weather we’ve had since – well, probably last September! : just four-five days, but enough to dry out the onions, and for us to pull them and get them under cover before Saturday’s rain. It’s not been a good year for onion: not sunny and warm enough (after all culinary onions did come from the Mediteranean to Britain with the Romans!), so not many are large enough to store well, but the largest are in the greenhouses to dry further. And the rest? Well, Jonathan’s been busy this weekend making a large batch of pickled onions! The winter weather here is very very mild, so carrots and parsnips stay in the ground, still growing – just – until we need them, even as late as March, but potatoes have to be lifted and stored in bins, safe from wet, slugs and rodents. So next to harvest – our last great gathering of Autumn Bounty in the Big Garden, will be the spuds.
Jonathan: Today, as we made the final finishing touches to the re-surfaced drive down to the house, we also finished – after 4½ years of worry and hard work – the renovation of An Gàrradh Mòr – house, drainage, outbuildings, drive – everything! Well, there’s odd jobs to finish, and a few refinements to make, but nothing requiring the help of anyone else, and only the sort of thing one might tackle when the mood takes one, and ticked off after an hour or two – or perhaps a couple of afternoons – of pleasant busy-ness. (Well to be truthful I’m kidding myself – some tasks will take quite a bit more than that!) As anyone with building experience would know – the drive is the first thing to get messed up and the last to be put right (or should be): so now, after pick-axing away the 4-year high mound of cement where the mixer stood, laying drainage, regulating the old beach-gravel surface, and finally dressing with 17 tonnes of 20mm-size crushed gneiss (and all that by hand I have to say!), we can now arrive at our own house, or invite others in, with style and satisfaction. We no longer live on – or in – a building site! We no longer have any building work -anywhere, not even for clients! Here’s some photos of the drive taken over the years: January 2003 – a few weeks after moving in ; 2004, re-tiling the roof (we broke up all the old tiles, by hand, with hammers, to form soakaways and the base layers for paths and parking) ; 2009 – when we were busy building Carrick, in Eriskay ; 2011 when we’d nearly finished the extension and just started the renovation ; 2013 during a lull in renovation work (look – no mixer!) ; 2015 – the final phase, completing the new front ‘sun-room’ and finally the work on the drive itself. Goodness, it almost makes me feel nostalgic!
Jonathan: Before the thatched house at Sgarasta I had responsibility for design and construction of a house at Borrisdale, east of Leverburgh, also in Harris. I say house, it’s actually two houses, plus a detached self-contained annex itself the size of a small house! The owners, Rob and Carol, have recently published their first proper Sound of Harris website to market the self-catering at The Big House. The professional photography and website really does do justice to the location, the building itself, and the interior design. Anyway, you can see the kind of thing that kept me busy over the past few years.