Jonathan: D is right. So much done, but when, and what? It’s all a blur! Let’s think now: Indoors repairs, maintenance and decorating finished at Askernish, and some guests – ah yes the first night of their 4-night visit was spent in a B&B in Oban due to bad weather, and once they’d eventually arrived it was wet, grey and windy all the while – until they boarded the ferry back to the mainland! Coming off the same boat were guests for Carrick, who enjoyed a week of fine sunny days, with the daffodils in bloom and the birds and bees all a-stir with the excitement of spring. Before these guests arrived we’d completed all the indoors tidying up, re-decorating and deep-cleaning after all the work on the doors, but didn’t manage to get all the larch cladding back around the windows – there’s a few difficult ones still to do and then all the disturbed cladding to repaint. I’ve given the high hen house a ‘deep clean’ with pressure washer, and altered the layout so that the straw on the floor (and the nesting boxes over that) is now where the wind doesn’t drive rain through the rubble stone wall – so I won’t need to change the straw so often. In the same hen house I’ve added to the three-year occasional series of failed attempts to stop the birds perching in the roof trusses from where they can crap over anything and everything, including me – especially me!: a plastic mesh (ususally used to protect fruit bushes from birds) was simply torn to shreds. (The milestone in this case is that I’ve concluded finally the only way to deal with this is to modify the trusses so that there’s no horizontal perch rail to perch on at all!). The doors we removed from Carrick have been collected and gone back to the supplier – almost two years after Carrick was first ‘completed’! – and that frees up at long last a huge part of the workshop floor!). We’ve planted trees at Askernish, Carrick and our own garden: here we’ve also moved huge New Zealand flaxes to create a new planting layout around the new shop, I mean studio. We’ve cleared out the old shop ready for eventual demolition/dismantling for firewood. D has planted the first potatoes of this year, and we’ve been carrying trays of tomatoes seedlings evening and morning between greenhouse and the warmth of our own house. There’s more hens eggs in the incubators for hatching, and in other folks’ incubators as well, as we’ve continued selling hatching eggs on ebay, though this weekend will be the last of these for this year as demand has now all but fizzled out. At Askernish I’ve spent days picking away at loose masonry paint and render, and making good the render (the traditional form here is a single coat that is really just a fine-aggregate concrete. I’ve updated websites, refurbished all hive components, repaired a leaking exhaust pipe on my car, sawn up wood for the fire. Denise has finished my Eriskay gansey – and I’ve worn it to three public meetings in as many days (not that anyone took any notice); today she’ll finish her own also: photos will follow soon! In and amongst all this I’ve somehow found the time to continue working on the design of Burnt Mill Roundabout on the A414 in Harlow, Essex, advising on the condition of the bridge on the machair track at Kilpheder, and continuing discussions about getting involved in a major engineering project not far from here – but more on that in good time. Phew. All this in just a fortnight – and yet my back has got better, not worse (thanks in good measure to daughter Catherine’s remonstrations on good posture). My, I could do with a mug of coffee!
Denise: Here’s some of the colours I’ve been dyeing in the past few days. White sheeps wool – mostly Cheviot X – dyed with (clockwise from top left) Alkanet, Ragwort, Anatto, Cutch. Only the Ragwort required a mordant (alum in this case) to fix the colour. I shall soon start spinning these into yarn.
Denise: I dyed today – in fact I dyed twice; and in both case due to natural causes. First it was with Anatto and then Kutch,. I survived these strong doses, but there’s two batches of (formerly) white sheep’s wool now hung up to dry which are vibrantly coloured orange-red (Anatto – as photo) and mahogony brown (Kutch).
Denise: Here’s part of my firs Eriskay Gansey knitting project. You can see the band that goes across the chest: In Eriskay knitting the patterns above and below this line are completely different. The arms are different again, but I haven’t started them yet. This first gansey is meant to be for Jonathan, but at the moment I’m doubtful it will be big enough. Someone asked me if I would knit one for them: well I’m just learning myself, so I might well get quicker, but at my current rate I’d have to charge £400 to £600 (according to size) just for the labour to make it worthwhile, plus £50-£70 for the wool! This is by far the most intricate traditional style of gansey I’ve ever tried. Last Monday was supposed to be the last evening class, but we’ve all got so much more yet to do, and so much to learn, that the lessons have been extended until Christmas.
Jonathan: First off today was to deliver 32 skeins of our own Hebridean wool to Rona in Hacleit, Benbecula, as agreed payment for the Hebridean sheep we bought from her last year. She’s had to wait a year for her payment, but we’ve had to wait a year for the mill to process it! I also collected from Rona her fleeces from this year: there’s very little value in the raw fleeces, but Rona’s s happy first and foremost that the wool gets put to a good use: if the raw fleeces are of any particular value, then we pay her in vegetables, or preserves or something like that.
Next to the crofting township of Aird, also in Benbecula, for my first lesson on dry stane dyking. £30 for four 3-hour lessons. Learning from a recognised master – Neil MacPherson, hard-working crofter on the island of Benbecula, and also a talented dancer and teacher of (traditional) dancing. There were ten students, all very keen to learn, and believe it or not 4 of them were women, of ages from 20s to 60s. Most of my walling experience has been with repairing the high wall around our garden, but generally re-packing into the face of the wall stones that have fallen, and repointing with lime: very different to building up a dry wall from scratch! After registration and safety tips, we had a brief introduction to the types of stone we’d be working with (essentially square rock from the ground and round rock from the beaches!) and then got on with stripping turf from the line of the wall, setting-up A-frames, and then building up the wall. Three hours passed very quickly indeed! Thankfully it was, if cold, sunny bright and dry.
After that it was round to the croft next door to collect three lovely Hebridean ewe lambs I’d agreed to buy last time I was home. (I already have two from Catherine MacLennan. They have good pedigree sheep, have lovely fleeces, and have been very well looked after.) They were all ready and waiting for me, and I just needed to transfer them to my trailer, do the paperwork and pay up, and then we were away home. Oh, and with a bag of fleeces as well!
45 mins or so later, at the croft in Eriskay, I had to gently persuade the sheep out of the trailer: they are very used to people and were very easy to handle: I needed to get the details off their ear tags for my own records. The other sheep were the other side of the house, out of view, so I’ll be back tomorrow to see how they are integrating.
And finally back home to find the last batch of parcels I sent from Welwyn Garden City have arrived, and to unpack and find a home for all the contents. The oil-filled radiator I bought in Comet, Hatfield, is now here in my office, keeping my fingers warm as I type this.