Happy New Year!! We wish you a healthy, happy, safe and prosperous 2017.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank each and every person who has visited our croft this year, whether it was via tours buses with amazing tour guides, our fabulous overseas visitors came from all corners of the globe. Our local, regional and national visitors who arrived from all corners of the UK and whether your visit was to pop into the shop, meet the sheep or participate in one of the several courses we ran this year.. Thank you.
We must also say a very special thank you to all of those tradesmen and suppliers who without whom none of what we have achieved would have been possible. We would like also to say a huge thank you to our family and friends who's ongoing support is just amazing... Sometimes we feel overwhelmed with the kindnesses we are shown and we can hardly believe that another year has passed and the progress we have made here on the Croft is just immeasurable!! So here is a brief look at 2016 here at Eilean Oir Croft, Isle of Skye.
Last New Year’s Day (2016) we were up with the larks and did our usual chores – feeding the sheep and walking the dogs ironically, we first footed ourselves (as Kapitein was once upon a time a very dark haired guy - as per tradition - and as we did last year) so here’s hoping we have as good 2016 as the previous year.
We did receive visitors later that day. Then off out again to feed the sheep again. Thankfully we didn’t have to dig drainage ditches this year.
Ironically, we have had some lovely weather here during the month of January – a refreshing change. Here is Stamford aka Wolfie watching for seals on the sea shore just as the sun was setting.
We had huge issues on the island with our Broadband access. But, we were not the only ones here on Skye with problems, this saw a new dedicated Facebook page has well over 1000 people who have had similar problems and are taking BT Openreach (who have the monopoly and are the only supplier of Broadband) to task. We have been very lucky in so much as our local MSP Ian Blackford has taken it up with BT directly and there is to be a public meeting on Friday 5th February. I do hope they manage to get things sorted as soon as humanly possible so we can all go about our business. And they did sort of sort it… All thanks go to Brian for his ongoing fantastic support…
Storm Gertrude struck Scotland in the latter days of January!! We had winds in excess of 80 mph! And mainland Scotland has had gusts in excess of 125mph!! Even the Forth Road Bridge was closed. Ironically, yesterday was the day the concrete floor was being laid within the agricultural shed! The wagon came down at 07:30 yesterday morning and after three and a half loads of concrete he left and just before 10:00pm last night. Neil Montgomery, another fabulous tradesperson from Bernisdale another friend of John MacLeod, arrived with his team and they barrowed and tamped down the concrete all day. The only break they got was when the wagon had to go to refill with cement, gravel mix and water.
Norman, working with the Lazer Level
Ross’s brand new wagon
Cammie barrowing concrete into the lean too.
What we didn’t know was that once the concrete was laid, they needed to use a ‘polisher’ (they call it a Helicopter) which would smooth and even out the top layer of concrete to give it a good finish. Ah, but, you have to wait for the concrete to dry! These guys worked, worked and better worked well into the night. At 11.30pm, Neil said that they would have to come back through the night to finish the job as the concrete just wasn’t quite dry enough!!! You can imagine our amazement! True to their word, they arrived back at approximately 01:00 am and worked until 4:00am in the morning. They did this amid storm Gertrude with the winds howling and the rain lashing down. They are truly an outstanding team I am sure you will agree. And the shed base is amazing, just perfect!!
And finally for January…
We were up very early one morning because of the very high winds. We had a severe electrical storm at around 06:30 am and the lightning struck just above the caravan!!! We were very lucky indeed, we both just got a very big fright at the huge ‘crack’ as the lightning struck. Thankfully all was well.
As soon as it was light we were up checking for any damage and we were then able to go and see that the sheep – and the hens were all ok. I am pleased to report, barring a waterlogged field, due to the subsequent deluge of water, all was well.
The new Agricultural shed completed, and as the winter weather was quite harsh, we moved the sheep into the purpose built lean too. I think they thought it was a Palace! We put the girls at one side and the boys (in the foreground) in the other. I know they were very comfortable as they didn’t wish to go out into the paircs in the morning! I was working in my workshop when the ‘Big Fella’ decided to pay me a visit!!
I don’t know if those of you who have visited us here will remember that we had some trees between the caravan and the shop? Well, our old friend Magnus and a ‘tree surgeon’ Ali from Staffin came to inspect them to find that they were extremely dangerous! We did suspect this as they weren’t your average tree! They were in fact overgrown Leylandii hedging, planted over 25 years ago. During high winds, one of the trees lifted the land surrounding its roots as it swayed with the gusts of wind! This is not a protected species of tree (as it was never supposed to grow into a tree). The decision was taken to clear fell the trees for our safety. We decided to have the trunks logged and the remainder was fed through a machine that chops up the leaves and branches to make chippings – these are suitable for composting and making natural walkways.
The day came and Ali had to go up the trees to remove the thicker branches to secure them so as they wouldn’t fall onto either the caravan or the shed! He was amazing to watch. Magnus was the ‘ground man’ to guide branches securely to the ground without touching either the caravan or the shed.
Ali up the tree
Magnus logging and chipping.
Billy the posty brought us a rather large package, our first consignment of Shetland wool I am thrilled to be able to sell such a prestigious brand of knitting yarn which is produced from their native Shetland sheep. This has brightened up the ‘shop’ with an array of colour – and of course, they have send me many patterns. As I teach Fairisle knitting here, it is just perfect
and is the most appropriate yarn (and patterns) to work with.
My dearest friend (buddy) D’Nanty Sue came for her first visit of the year way back in March. I love it when she is here…
She works hard on the croft while she is here, even helping to clean the lean too and preparing it with clean bedding. She was also on hand to help Kapitein (on a very cold day) with the windbreak around the vegetable plot. It was so cold, she even shared her hat with Sammy!!
We also had some other visitors to the Croft. Karen and Rob from the ‘Scottish Farmer’ magazine decided they wanted to write a feature about us. Karen is especially interested in the sheep and how I use their fleece for wool, knitwear and tweed. They duly arrived and the sun shone for them. The magazine came out with me on the front cover – complete with my favourite old orange jacket!! I was amazed!! It was super to welcome them both and the article is lovely. Karen is coming back to do some knitting too in the not too distant future…
My next adventure was off island for another very special occasion. I had been nominated in 2 categories in the Scottish Rural Awards – Business Diversification and Rural Enterprise. The ceremony was held at Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh and both of my daughters, Dionne and Nelly agreed to travel from Northumberland and come with me, sadly Kapitein had to stay at home to look after the sheep, dogs and hens.
Dionne, Me and Nelly all dressed up for the ceremony.
I was truly amazed when ‘Island at the Edge’ was chosen from hundreds of nominees to become one of the 6 finalists in the two nominated categories. We were told this was a fantastic achievement and we all enjoyed the evening, I shan’t forget it in a hurry – we all had a lovely time, and we met some other small start off businesses from the Outer Hebrides too.
While I was in Edinburgh, I went to visit Gordon NicolsonKiltmakers on the Royal Mile. Gordon is who made Kapitein’s kilt in our Tattersall Tweed. He is currently piloting a new venture, ‘Kilt School’ a SQA (Scottish Qualifications Authority) Qualification to make kilts. We have been in discussions about running this course up here on Skye at Island at the Edge. And for me to offer Traditional Dress Hire and kilt making facilities here too. This is a wonderful opportunity and will develop further during 2017.
Lambing started in earnest with ‘Guffy’ having twin lambs, closely followed by another ewe lambing just as the most horrendous snow storm hit!! Thankfully the girls were in the lean too so were more protected than in years before. We had an interesting lambing this year, what with Mastitis, breach births – back legs first, difficult twins it just went on and on. We were thankful when lambing ended and we counted our blessings.
We received our very first large ‘group’ of visitors here on the croft, comprising of Rare Breed sheep breeders all the way from Germany.
We spent three days prior to their visit getting everything ready. Kapitein had a couple of helpers and together they tidied up the whole croft and stacked logs neatly away. I prepared fleeces and rovings (wool prepared for spinning) for a spinning demonstration in the agricultural shed, got my shed ready and gave Kapitein’s kilt a much-needed press in anticipation of our visitor’s arrival. Our dear friends and helpers all arrived just before the earlier than anticipated arrival of the bus.
We had 37 people and one guide arrived at 09:00 in the morning. They managed to park their huge 55 seat coach off road at the entrance to our croft. And then we divided them up into 3 groups so Kapitein could take one to show them around the croft where they got to meet the sheep including lambs in the lean too, one of our friends had the second group and took them where they were shown how to spin and saw demonstrations about the differences between the fleeces and myself and Sarah had the remaining group and showed them how to knit a Gansey telling them all about the heritage and what the motifs mean (the designs knitted into the garment). The groups were amazing and huge fun, we all laughed a lot and they presented us with books, literature and a small hand woven mat made with their own wool as a farewell gift, what a lovely thought.
They left at 11:00 am and traveled to Dunvegan Castle where another warm highland welcome awaited them.
We all had some hot soup and coffee for lunch as we waited for the next group of 41 and 2 guides arrived at 1:30pm. They too parked their huge coach up at the gates and were divided into 3 groups. And again, this group were amazing fun and as the first group, presented us with some lovely gifts.
We were all very pleased that they had enjoyed their day, as we had too, but as we waved off the final coach at 4:00pm, we all needed to sit down and have several cups of tea as we reminisced about the day.
Not resting on our laurels. We have been running several courses on everything from learning to crochet and knitting to a first for us an introduction to spinning. This course was run by our friend Anne Salter, a renowned spinner and teacher of this skill. We all learned about choosing the right fleece, preparing a fleece and spinning with a spinning wheel, a drop spindle and another spinning device that Anne has invented – based on a football rattle. All of us had a wonderful time and we even managed to spin some fleece into wool.
And finally for May…
You may remember I was a finalist in the Scottish Rural Awards. Well, my daughters and I made it into the ‘people of note’ section of the Scottish Field magazine during this month!! One of our customers has likened this to being in the ‘Hello’ or OK magazines!! Either way we all feel very privileged indeed.
We had a mini heatwave here on the Isle of Skye. This has been recognised by the Met Office that we were the hottest place in the whole of the British Isles with temperatures of 27c!! What a coup this was.
Whilst the sun shone, we welcomed another group of visitors here to the croft. They came on the cruise ship Zuiderdam which came into Portree harbour and one of our tour operators, Tour Skye brought on a pre-booked tour, several groups of ‘knitting and craft’ ladies and gentlemen here to the croft. One very, very special lady arrived with the first group. A very famous lady called Hazel Tindall – she is the world’s fastest knitter and has held this record since 2004. She knits with the wonderful Jamiesons and Smith’s Shetland yarn and she knits Fairisle.
We took delivery of our very own digger. This is mainly due to our needing to get lots of small jobs done that require a digger. Kapitein has never used one before but he took to it like a ‘duck to water’. His first job was trenching in the water pipe ready before the installation of the Poly Tunnel (Greenhouse). He also carried on and trenched in over 100 metres of electricity cable from the back of the agricultural shed to the caravan as he could complete another big job, which was to move the Generator, battery pack and solar panels to the agricultural shed. What a star…
Ably assisted by Calum MacRae, joiner extraordinaire, the Generator was swiftly moved into the shed. The battery pack has taken a battering through the 2 years it has been outside, so this is the best option.
We waited with bated breath for the arrival of our KederGreenhouse. Kapitein had been working for several months getting the foundations ready. This was a very precise job, and we really hoped everything would fit when Dean and Lee from Keder were setting the framework down.
We watched the weather forecast and realised that the wonderful heatwave we had been enjoying was coming to an end!! This didn’t mean a storm was brewing, but more of the ‘usual’ misty and wet weather we usually have here on Skye with a slight 30-40 mph breeze.
The day arrived and the guys travelled up from Evesham in the south of England. They arrived here on the croft at 3.30 in the afternoon and told Kapitein that the foundations were perfect!! He was extremely happy – and so was I…
The following morning the boys arrived on site at 7.10am and started work immediately. I can honestly say, I haven’t met such fast and precise workers for a long time – they put up these greenhouses on a regular basis, but to watch them work was amazing.
And since they have installed it, Kapitein has planted several seeds, bedding plants, slips and cuttings so we can ‘hopefully’ have our own vegetables this year.
Visitors tell us that we have made phenomenal the progress this year, in the next installment, I will tell you all about the progress on our house build and the trip of a lifetime… Japan…
Until then, Bliadhna Mhath Ur - Happy New Year.