Jonathan: At the end of last year’s holiday season, we committed ourselves to making improvements to the ‘outdoors’ at both Eight Askernish and at Carrick Eriskay. We want to make the outdoors spaces as inviting and as practical as are the indoors. They’re very different cottages, of course, used in different ways, and tend to be booked by guests with different needs, so what we’re doing is … yes, that’s right … the same! At both houses we know – from our guests – that when the occasion and the weather are right, they want to sit outside – comfortably – for a meal, and it could as well be breakfast or morning coffee and toast as lunch … it could be anytime. Good food, conversation, bird song, the sound of the sea … perfect! Now, our own experience tells us that outdoor furniture has to be safe when a storm suddenly blows up, summer or winter, and that means picnic benches, and at Carrick it means bolted down! (Which, in turn, means something solid onto which to bolt!) So, we’ve made a start on improvements at both houses with a picnic place makeover!
At Eight Askernish, with the help of a friend, I dug out an area of grass (truth be told, a rather damp and weedy patch) adjacent to the path around the house (where the picnic bench was, in fact) and extended the stone of the path out to form a nice level, clean and dry all-weather area for the picnic bench. Hard work, cost about £600 in all (plus my labour) but simple enough to do and it took just three half-days. And with that success under my belt …
Well actually at Carrick it’s a lot more complicated. There’s the complicated shape of the house, the fact that the place has to be wheel-chair accessible throughout, yet hard paving (or more specifically, the fill under it) can’t be built up to indoor floor level against a timber house … We’ve always known the answer has to be decking, but it’s been difficult to decide how it should be laid out, how far it should extend, how much to spend, and whether we’ll regret it. After years of prevarication, we finally committed to buying the materials for 50 sq.m of decking at the back (seaward side) of the house, and make the best we could within that constraint. Well, after eight days and probably sixty hours of difficult and heavy work, it’s now finished. The decking boards are of Scottish larch, fixed with stainless decking screws, and just those two things cost the best part of £2000 (10% or so of which was delivery) ; but that’s what’s needed to stand up to the extreme environment here. As can be seen from the photos, the deck is not elevated, it’s ground-bearing, not even 100mm above the original and surrounding surface, and there is definitely no silly ballustrade to block the view. The larch is untreated (though we’ll probably apply a clear anti-fungicidal treatment, in a year or so’s time), and the natural colour will, over the course of this year, naturally fade to silvery grey, and thus blend back in to the surroundings.
Whilst the weather has (thankfully!) been sunny and dry all week long, I’ve had to wait for the sun to swing round far enough to reach the back of the house, and anyway there’s been a bitingly cold north wind all week long! Working on the deck, outdoors all day for a week, I’ve spent more time at Carrick – and certainly outdoors there – since we built the place in 2008-2009, and as a result I’ve discovered that there’s a ‘sweet spot’ at the back of the house – the north, where the sun lights up the ground at 11am – at least a couple of hours before anywhere else at the back, and remains in the sun right through until it gets dark (at nearly midnight in mid-summer). Amazingly it’s also more sheltered (relatively sheltered!) in winds of almost any direction. And – by very happy co-incidence, it also happens to be an obvious place for the picnic bench. And thus, with that cheery lift in spirit that comes with serendipity, I’ve bolted the picnic bench down to the decking in exactly that spot!
(The observant may have spotted in the Carrick photos suggestions of incomplete workmanship. Well that’s because this is Phase 1!)
Next? At both houses, new picnic benches, island-built: in our extreme climate, the softwood and plain steel screws of flat-pack products don’t last long! But at Carrick there’s much more than that to do. A few weeks ago we ordered a pair of garden benches and low table – for the deck in front of the big sitting room windows; but the island joiner we ordered them from seems to have disappeared, so we’re not sure when we’ll get them! Over this summer and next we’ll work patiently to extend the semi-wild and cultivated planting closer to and between the new decks, so as to increase shelter, privacy, and to bring wildlife ever nearer to the house ; but doing so without impinging on the view.