Sunday, 27 September 2009


I expected, when I began this blog, to be moving away in a year and created the blog to record this special, though maddening, place before I left. Well, it's taken another year and a bit but I am finally moving house; making a fresh start and glad to be doing so. But I will miss this piece of land that has sustained me through some difficult times. This will be my last posting on this blog. I'll leave it open as a commemoration of the plants, the rocks and the animals in this wonderful two and a half acres and comments will still be welcome. I thought I'd end the blog as I began it, with some photographs of my Two and a Half Acres:

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Buckets of Snow

I was persuaded by a friend and neighbour to go for a walk in the snow on Sunday. It was pretty hard work wading through knee-deep snow, and uphill, but the photos made up for the aching muscles:

Of course, now that I'm back and the muscles have recovered, I wish I'd taken more pictures but concentrating on staying upright distracted me and I will have to make do with what I have...unless my friend persuades me to do the whole thing again next Sunday!

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Neglecting the Patch

I started this blog back in August 2007. I knew I wouldn't be able to carry on living here much longer, despite the attractions, and I wanted to record the plants, the animals and the magic of the place.

Well, I've struggled on for 18 months but I know it's time to go now. Come the Spring I expect to be putting the house up for sale (then holding my breath and crossing my fingers for a nature lover with cash in their pocket). I have proved that I can do it, I've kept the grass cut (6 hours work every week in the growing season), I've just about (no I haven't really) kept on top of the housework but the fact remains that this is a family house and I ain't a family any more - apart from my demented little dog of course.

All this is by way of explanation, I suppose, for not posting since October. I have felt disconnected from the place. But now that I am almost certain to be moving by the summer, I really want to get the magic of the place on record, before it's too late.

It is possible that the disaffection these last few months has more to do with the time of year than anything else, of course. Daylight is beginning to return to the Highlands. At the end of the day we already have an hour more daylight and it is really making a difference. My energy is higher. I feel like a pony whose head has been down all winter but who is now noticing the sky and the mountains and the new growth. I'm even wondering whether I DO have a future here after all. But deep down I know it's time to go. I might come back in a few years but I need to find my own path.

Anyway, after that digression, back to the job in hand. Now that I am almost definitely sure that I will be moving on soon, I must share the pictures and observations I have made.

I thought I'd start with an icon of the Highlands - the passing place. I'm not sure if they are found elsewhere - they must be, I suppose - but they are all over the place up here. Off the main roads, many roads are single track (including, confusingly, some main roads!) There is an etiquette to using them which does not fit well with modern life - you drive slowly and you give way.

My house is a mile and a half up a single track road and that fact was nearly enough to stop us buying the house, as the Golfer thought I'd find driving it every day stressful (a tad patronising but that's what husbands are for.) So long as you obey the two maxims above, they are perfectly safe. They are a wonderful, obstinate, infuriating, enforced return to a slower time (and the signs look quite pretty too.)

Saturday, 11 October 2008

October Images

I haven't written about my two and a half acres for far too long so here are some October photos to fill the gap slightly:

I was walking my old dog a few days ago, in the rain, and came across this gorgeous little chap sitting in the middle of the road. I ushered him into the grass, well away from the cars, but not before I'd taken this shot of him - what a gorgeous colour he is, and what striking markings!

This image is typical of the things I find on the hill - it's insignificant, not colourful, not exciting, yet how beautiful is that lichen?

At the risk of looking far too pleased with myself, I am thrilled with this photograph. I was wandering round the garden in the rain (as you do), and thought this might photograph well - very chuffed that it came out so well.

And finally, do you see what I see in this photograph? I pass this tree stump every day on my walk, and I see the same thing every time. Do you see anything?

Look a little closer...

In case it's just me, I'd better describe what I see - a rather indignant squirrel, one ear up, one arm stretched out, as if making some point. Please tell me someone else sees this, and that it's not just me having hallucinations on my very slow walks with an old dog.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

The Fifties Croft in August

I'm going to cheat a little here and pretend that I wrote this post in August. I've been busy in the real world and haven't had time to post the final extract from a year on Wendy Wood's croft in the Highlands in the 1950s. She's in reflective mood this month. You can almost smell Autumn's approach in her writing.

"Having a room with a skylight is half way to sleeping out of doors, yet it keeps all the luxury; one sees much more of the sky and the elements than one would either in a tent or with any other kind of window. One sees the rain as the grass sees it, falling straight down to arrive in large round drops instead of slanting streaks. When the sun is making only a confined slit of light in the downstairs rooms, it floods my attic like a lamp in a box. The birds do not recognise it for a window, and when the wren sits on the roof I could touch her with my hand without stretching. A robin sings for his breakfast on a twig of the nearby holly tree; I can see the glint of his eye and a ruffled feather in his breast, and feel that this close-up performance is really meant for me. The tom-tit who prefers to be upside-down seems enormous at such close range. The young bats use the edge of the window as a rest when making their first flights, and chitter right into my face, whether with delight, fear, or just excitement at a world so big after confinement in the dark roof, I do not know.

Of course there are times when I do not appreciate this proximity to the sky. One of these is when the thunder seems to fall off the hill at the back and roll down the roof right beside my head, and the lightning floods the whole room, indeed seems to come right inside at each flash. I like the skyliught most on a calm frosty night when coloured leaves fall and make a pattern on the glass; when the moon silvers the loch, when the whole twinkling regiment of stars is in that small square patch, silently marching actoss the line of my vision."

I hope you've enjoyed reading this lyrical account of life in a simpler time. Reading about her way of life has just strengthened my own dilemma about country living. I feel just as she does about the animals, and the closeness to the change in the seasons, but it is such an isolated life. The pull to be amongst other people is very strong too, especially as the nights draw in and one's aloneness is emphasised by the long hours of darkness. I go visiting the city and I love participating in the best of what humanity does - the culture, the beautiful buildings, the interactions, the buzz of it all.

When I began this blog, it was intended to record what I thought would be my last year here on my two and a half acres, as I intended to move on - to a smaller house and people to talk to. Now, a year on, I will probably move on quite soon. But when I reread Wendy's book, I am reminded of all the magical experiences I have had, amongst the difficulties and the sadness, and I'm not so sure.

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

A Fifties Croft in July

Phew! Almost didn't make it, but here is the extract from Wendy Wood's book for the month of July. There's such a lot of interest this month, but I have made do with two extracts:

"My field generally looks quite small to me, but covered with new mown hay it looks the size of the Atlantic. I turned the whole field twice - that sounds as if I were a female Cuchullin, but I mean of course that I twice shook and turned all the hay on it. The task was frequently interrupted by the need to remove toads, big ones and little ones, to a place of safety and better usefulness. I like them, for they have so wise an air as they sit humped up and stare into your face, or clamber clumsily away as if they had on outsize trousers that impeded their movements. It must be a shock to them to have the whole roof of their world suddenly removed, exposing them to the scorching sun. Suppose you were in a wood and without warning the trees all disappeared! I remove the toads, tickling them under the chin, which they like, and put them in the garden among the lettuce, where they can gorge themselves on slugs to our mutual benefit."

The same month, she had to attend the funeral of a good friend:

"Returning from the funeral we were wrapped in a heat haze which blotted out the hills, rolled over the water and came creeping up to hide the rocks beside the road. The silver of the rising moon that night shone subtly through the mist, a light so diffused that the whole earth seemed luminous, a place of strange mystery. In the early morning when the mist rose, it wafted up the hillsides on the breath of a breeze, leaving the glen below freshly washed and every blade of grass individually polished. Combined with the lights on the sea, it looked like the beginning of an entirely new world. All among the heather tufts, the spider webs still held the entangled mist in millions of gossamer saucers at every angle, as if flocks of angels had moulted on the hillsides. When the sun had fully risen, each web imprisoned a rainbow, and as the moisture evaporated, the airy threads disappeared against the varied background. As I climbed the hill to look for the cow to milk, the land below showed lochs and seas of cloud mist, studded with magic islands."

Monday, 16 June 2008

June on the Croft in the Fifties

Reading the chapter on June in Wendy Wood's little book From a Highland Croft, published in the 1950s, was less exciting than I had been expecting. I thought June would be full of the glories of a Highland summer but in those days, even more so than now, summer came late and June felt more like the back end of Spring:
"The first of our calves came today. The mother is an old hand and so I was lucky to catch her on her way to a hidden place on the shore. It would have been unnecessary work to have had to put the calf into a creel and carry it back home, with an infuriated cow bringing up the rear and bellowing to the whole neighbourhood about my kidnapping. It is a bull calf. Some years it is nearly all bulls that arrive and some lucky years nearly all heifers. I hope that this first event does not presage a "bull year". I gave the mother half a bucketful of chopped raw potatoes. I also gave her a hot drink of pease-meal, and because it was not the more usual oatmeal, she gave me a look like a gillie offered sixpence at the end of a hot day. I have no oats left. Preparations for the sowing of this year's oats started a long time ago in the building of a new hen-house in the woods away from the proposed crop, and the purchasing of rolls of wire for a fence to protect the latter.

The ploughing of the field was not easy, for it had not been disturbed for many years, and the soil is very shallow. The ploughman was young and new to the job. He turned up in a bright blue shirt, a joy to see, and I strongly suspected that he had anointed his head with oil, as one appointed. It is always a thrill to see the first brown wave in a green plain, and I could tell by the ploughman's worried face that his job took a bit of daring, like cutting out a green velvet dress without a pattern. I noticed too that when I was in the house, all proceeded in silence, but when I came out, the horses had to be "clicked" and sworn at with terrible swears. Not that the creatures behaved any differently; they just plodded on good-naturedly with the job they knew so well.

It must have been a lonely life, and a hard one, living out in the wilds but it had a rhythm and a balance that we lack today. Have a great summer everyone!