Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Holiday time

We've had a great extended holiday with N and J near Banff- DH's uncle and aunt. We had planned to be there a week, but with things not working out at Echo's, we stayed a little longer. We managed to fit in some carving- I made a spatula and a cooking spoon ( the best I've made so far, so we left that as a gift) and DH made a few eating spoons ( ditto- his best so far left for them). We were able to relax, do things at our own pace and not be obliged to work! We couldn't help it though, after a few days we were itching to help with their woodland. They have 30 acres, and had some thinning done last winter. They can thin without license, and although much of the thinnings is left for wildlife, some was being extracted by hand for firewood. With bad backs etc, this was getting a bit hard for N&J, so we were happy to help and have a go using timber tongs for a few hours some days. I really enjoyed that we could just do as much as we wanted- no obligations- and really enjoy what we were doing. We managed to find some carving wood- some sneaky sycamore was either felled and starting to put roots out, or still had a tiny bit of  bark to attach it to the stump, so was still growing and green. Dh said we couldn't bring it all, but he found some room for a bit of apple J asked him to prune while he had his chainsaw out.
N and J also very kindly let us use their caravan while we sorted out all our kit from the mud- giving us oppertunity to unpack the van and have a bit of a sort-through as well. We all happily squeezed into a 2-berth 40 (ish) year old caravan, and it has us really looking forward to a caravan of our own (with enough beds for us all!). We had about 3 nights in there, and especially enjoyed sitting at a table (without an audience for the girls to play up to/other people around for them to watch).
Moving back into our tent was like coming home though, and we appreciated the  nice short grass, level ground and generally fabulous camping place N & J have for us- even a couple of nicely spaced trees nearby so DH's hammock got an airing ( for the girls to play in, of course!).

I managed to finally fasten together some of the squares I've been crocheting. No plan or design, just squares Big One picked out of the book for me to crochet, in the yarn mother-in-law gave me ( along with book, hook and scissors!) for Christmas. One dolly size snuggle blanket. I've even adapted the design of a couple of squares to do what I want! I'm not too keen on the counting bit of following patterns- I still find it hard to figure out what constitutes a row, but squares seem a nice forgiving way to get on, and I like small things to do and complete, rather than a huge project that I forget where I'm at with- while we're travelling at least! Pic appeared in a previous post.
Previous posts have beach and McDuff aquarium pics, so I won't say much more, except we really had a great time.
Its taken me so long to finish this post, we've had another holiday, this time near Loch Ness. We stayed in Cannich, a lovely campsite but a bit midgy and very damp. The Loch Ness exhibition was really great, and the visit to the Isle of Skye was beautiful, though a long drive. A friend from back home made a 20 mile detour to visit us, and it was really, really lovely seeing them- just too short a visit!
We'll definately be holidaying up the west coast again. Ben Nevis on the drive down was shrouded in clouds, and Fort William looked worth another visit ( seeing as we just drove through). We almost met up with Wondering Wanderers, but they had to work so we'll manage that another time.
The Premier Inn that was our home last night is the newest we've been to- an even larger room than normal ( not that usual rooms are small), air conditioning, and smaller wardrobey shelves thing that's great for the girls to play in. We weren't sure about buying a meal, but when the pub had an all-you-can-eat chinese buffet, well, we did and it was a nice change.
Right, must get packed up so we can get to our next campsite for midday, and then enjoy grandparents visiting this afternoon.
We're realising our time on the road is coming to an end, but we've still got a bit more fun to have first!

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Daytrip to Skye

We've not got there yet, but we found a lovely picnic spot by a sealoch and a view to the bridge. It's been a good drive across the country, but the best scenery is here at the coast.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Holiday day

Midges aren't too bad right now, and we found the Skin so Soft as repellant! All of us busy and happy.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Crochet

My mother in law got me started with crochet at Christmas. Here's a few of the squares Big One has had me learn to make, made into a dolly's blanket. Thanks mum-in-law!

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

McDuff Aquarium

This was last week- I didn't have phone reception properly until yesterday so these didn't send. Big One is enjoying the 'hands on' part- starfish, anenomes, hermit crabs, etc all to touch!

Phone pictures

Big One milking a goat on our last morning at Glasgow.

We got a couple of beach days in last week as well :-)

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Soggy Glasgow

We’ve just had an interesting week near Glasgow.


We’ve been staying with a lovely lady called Echo ( really!) who has a lot to teach about market gardening. She’s run an organic veg box scheme for about 20 years(probably more actually), has gorgeous goats, delightful ducks and a couple of geese who weren’t actually scary. She also has a couple of dogs.

The goats are lovely- she has 11 of them. Apparently goats normally live to about 12 years, but she expects hers to live to 15 usually. Her goats are deep-littered (mucked out annually) so she can no longer sell the milk, and two of her milkers never had kids- they just decided they wanted to produce milk (I think that’s quite unusual!). Big One loves animals, and the goats were particularly interesting for her here. The goats have a regular feed (which Big One just about knew how to mix by the end of the week), alfalfa if they’ve been kept in ( they don’t like getting muddy wet feet) and daily ‘goat treats’ of perhaps willow cuttings,or rosebay willowherb, or currant bush cutting, but definitely not rhododendron- its poisonous to them. We tried to be around for at least some of the evening feeding and milking, and there were tears on our day off when we didn’t make it back in time. Packing up on our last day went slower as we girls got involved in the morning milking- Big One and I getting a final milking practice in. We’re quite sure we’ll have a couple of goats- Big One just has to learn to like the taste of the milk! Fresh goats milk doesn’t taste strongly- and is very different from supermarket goats milk. I’m looking forward to learning how to make feta cheese one day ( I’m remembering Pat’s cheese from Canon Frome!).

We were all welcome to teabreak and lunch, and the meals were really delicious. Echo has the smallest kitchen I’ve seen in a house- there isn’t a wall long enough for the sink and drainer to go along, they’re set at an angle into the windowsill! She and other volunteers made delicious soups, salads, we had our first duck egg omelette- fabulous. The times varied, so we generally had tea-break as lunch, and as lunch could be 4pm some days, that was an early tea! Little One’s nap often just nicely fit in between shared meals.

The work we were doing was all interesting, and Echo is very good at explaining things. She uses rock dust to improve her soil (and goats!) and I hope DH will blog about subsoiling so I can learn about it- the downside to one of us working is we both don’t learn everything. He also reckons he knows how to hoe properly, and wants to buy a good one ( not a dutch hoe). We did all work together one evening making a handmade ‘bale’. It was more a net or bag of hay, but it was really interesting to see what we could do without a baler. The girls did a great job tramping down the hay- less goat food to buy in!

Her place is on the edge of Hardgate, with a rough estate nearby. Unfortunately that means everything must be carefully locked up, and they’ve been vandalised in the past. The dogs aren’t vicious, but they are expected to look aggressive to strangers, and the younger dog hadn’t experienced young children staying there before. Nothing happened worse than growling, but for once the girls becoming more confident as the week went on made things more tense, rather than better.

We also had our wettest week so far. We may have had rain on a similar number of days in a week, but this rain was fairly constant, with heavier spells as well. Bits of Glasgow flooded! This has definitely been the muddiest week- Its one thing having muddy paths, but when under the tent is so squelchy the bed sinks, it really is rather wet. We were camped near the pond- thankfully the drain for that worked well, and we weren’t flooded any more than the rest of the field!

Echo has planning permission for some great communal spaces (still waiting for some official paperwork)- but this week the inside space was a bothy she cleared out, so there was just enough space for her and the volunteers to have teabreak and lunch together. Tables aren’t great for the girls to play on, and there wasn’t the floor space in there to play, though we were very welcome to use the bothy. We had the fire going ( this is the first time we’ve really needed the fire during the day, and its August in Scotland!) and the girls were happy playing in the tent. Not surprisingly, they weren’t always keen to get out in the rain! This really brought home to me how lovely our tent is, but also how important to us somewhere more sheltered from the weather is- a house, a caravan, a shed- somewhere relatively clean and dry for the kids to play about in. It was just bad luck our worst mud and rain happened in one of the few places we’ve been without child-friendly shelter. We were welcome in Echo’s living space- but she hardly has any indoor space and her younger dog really wasn’t happy when the girls came in (so neither was I).

This is the only place I’ve really been aware of business pressures. One of us was working, with the other expected to be with the girls and the girls not to distract them, or anyone else working. This was a little tricky, not least that Little One naps in the afternoon, and Big One doesn’t. Thankfully it wasn’t a problem that Big One had to be around DH working in the afternoons. At other places we’ve been able to be more flexible, with both of us working some of the time, and then sometimes needing us both for family things in ‘work’ time. That didn’t work for us here. Echo had specific instructions (we were there to learn!) on what needed doing, and tasks were completed so I didn’t feel I could go back to a job from earlier on my own, I’d need to check first. Echo is a very busy lady, instructing a team of volunteers who vary most days- a couple of longer term WWOOFers, a couple of employees, and a variety of weekly volunteers; but this sometimes meant a wait for the instructions or clarification of the instructions once you got started. We mulched the wrong currant bushes (Echo thought one guy had done some the week before and he hadn’t, so didn’t know where they were), we missed a patch of peas that needed picking (the person instructing us didn’t know about the other patch). I suppose a possible solution is Echo having a deputy, someone who is there full time and she trains up to be her assistant and let her be in two places at once! I don’t quite know how that’d work in real life though.....

The original plan was to stay for three weeks, but we and Echo agreed after 1 week, that was enough. The last day we had a day off and visited old friends in Edinburgh- lovely for us, great for the girls, and Echo said she realised just how aware she’d had to be of where the dogs were and what was happening. DH and I both loved the work and what we were learning, but the hours (evening milking wasn’t finished until 7 pm sometimes- and I forgot the WWOOF book said 9 hour work days), the dogs, the weather and the mud all together made this not right for us as a family. We definitely want to go back, but that’ll be in a few years when Little One is older (and the younger dog has grown up too). I think Echo’s a lovely person, a great host, very generous with her time and even sent us on our way with a delicious veg box. Her place is great for individual WWOOFers, and I think a family with older children would find it brilliant too.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Haymaking

Today we had a go at making bales without a baler- using two small girls jumping on organic hay in a builders bag lined with the net from an old bale. Then we carefully rolled it in the mesh, keeping it all together. Its good hay, more a bag than a bale but if more were needed we think girls jumping on a board would help. A family effort that worked rather well I think!

Monday, 8 August 2011

Scotland!

We had a wonderful time with Jo and Phillip at Colt Cottage, near Kirkcudbright last week. It started off quite well when we got to Kirkcudbright and found an Arts Festival, as well as a laundrette. We had a little wander around, and saw Rapunzel at the castle and artists sculpting by the quay, amongst many other things.

We were camping in their garden, and welcome in the house which was really lovely for us. We could see the sea a mile away from the house, with a lovely view of the weather coming in.

We spent our first morning sorting kindling and firewood, getting it chainsawed and started stacking, and using a hydraulic wood splitter. Its a bit slower than using a maul, but I felt alot safer using it. We stopped for elevenses, as they had a friend call round- so it was lovely homemade pancakes, and icecream from the farm just down the road,  for break. We lunched together as well.
 The evening had us heading to Taliesan Community Woodland, meeting Jem and others and having a shared meal cooked over the open fire that Big One lit ( first time for her, with matches). Someone had been doing pest control, so brought a few pigeons they’d shot \(Pigeon breast tastes lovely!). Lots of homegrown sausages- Big One was helping with all the cooking on 'her' fire. We had a little walk up to see if we could see the adder that’s been spotted before- but it wasn’t around when we looked. However, just after that we nearly trod on a slow worm, and then as Little One and I headed to the fabulous compost loo, we saw a snake curled up on a rock catching the evening sun. We didn’t go near, as we wanted to share our sighting, but by the time we fetched the others it had gone. I wonder if we saw our first adder? I’m not sure, but I think so. An amazing evening, and we still weren’t troubled by the midges.
They had built a cruck barn and a log cabin there- and of course we didn’t have a camera with us. Big One learned how to toast marshmallows properly- what a fab evening. Little One enjoyed herself as well, especially having a stick for the marshmallows. She didn’t go anywhere near heat, just standing by the bag and popping them on and off the stick before eating!

We had a couple of days doing ‘proper’ work, with a baby hedge to weed and DH finishing off the firewood stack. Hens to feed, eggs to collect, ‘looking the sheep’, feeding Gilbert (the ram, recovering from a touch of flystrike)- all jobs Big One was involved in and reminding us all that needed to happen.

Tuesday was market day at Castle Douglas, and we had a lucky escape. They had some wethers 'cutting grass' at a friends some distance away, and these were the ones for sale. Our help wasn’t expected to be needed, so we were heading straight to the mart to meet them there once they got the 7 of them in the trailer. I think they spent a couple of hours catching them, running around a field in pouring rain, really hard work. We on the other hand, had a very civilised look at the sheep auctions for about an hour (in the dry) and then sorted our lunch out. We were just finishing up when Philip and the other WWOOfer found us- they’d just got the sheep dropped off for auction. On our way to Castle Douglas we spotted a Police Tractor- it didn’t have its flashing light going, but there was an impressive queue of traffic behind it- no one daring to overtake? We’ve never seen one of them before!

The next task was heading to a World Peace Prayer Place ( I forget its name!) north of Dumfries. Another fair drive, but with the weather brightening up, we were set for an afternoon helping build a roundwood timber building. The wall uprights were up, but what they needed ( it was Jem from the woods) was round pegs shaping from dry oak. With shave horses ready to run, draw knives at the ready, DH and Hayley ( the other WWOOFer) spent the afternoon working. The girls and I were booked to play in the woods with a group organised by a Ranger called Tom- that week he was running a tracking session. It was really interesting seeing how some of the older children were really into it. We saw some track traps Tom had set (unfortunately mostly obliterated by the mornings rain), but the girls both had fun following a rope trail. Set up to be blindfolded, but they had fun both with and without blindfolds.  When I got talking to Tom, he’s also into green woodworking, setting up a woodland workshop there! Its a small world. Big One also learned a new knife cut there, for making shavings to start the fire, and we all helped to put up a shelter in case it did start raining again. Quite a good afternoon. I got to work on a bit of oak before we left, and we gained a bag full of dry oak shavings, which is proving excellent for the Kelly kettle and lighting the stove.

We managed to fit in another day on the hedge (its a long hedge), and finished the day with a picnic tea on Carrick beach. It was hot and sunny, not windy, and a lovely way to finish the day. We didn't quite get the hedge finished, but we haven't left them with much to do, honest.

We still had one more day, which started off wet. That meant an indoor job, so we were in the shed sorting through the fleeces from when Phillip sheared the sheep. We were mostly pulling off poo-ey bits (dags) but there wasn’t much so it was a nice job. Big One enjoyed assessing the bags of fleece to sort, guessing (usually correctly) how many were in. Not as easy as it might sound, as the black Hebrideans have much smaller fleeces than the white Romneys.

We ‘looked the sheep’, I managed to gather some meadowsweet (its drying so I can try to make infusions from it), and then fitting in a few hours at Stewartry show in Castle Douglas. It brightened up fabulously for us going to the show, so we enjoyed seeing the Best in Show being selected, and having a look at the sheep being collected up. The beer tent started off full ( when we arrived mid-afternoon) but was taking up a huge amount of the field by the time we left! The girls (Both of them!) had a ride on a roundabout, and finished off the afternoon with the final bounces on the bouncy castle. We managed to fit in an organic icecream (from the stall from the farm just down the road) and see the Police Tractor up close. I wonder if it had been heading to another local town a day early for their show when we spotted it on the Tuesday? It seemed a novelty to our hosts as well- I thought the police would use contractors if they needed a tractor.

This week had us really involved in what our hosts were doing, what was going on in the community. Its the first time we’ve spent so much time off the farm, yet generally still being helpful. I don’t know if that’s made the difference, but we both agree on Galloway being somewhere we could consider settling down. I loved being near to the sea, and I realise that’s important to me.

I'm still feeling a bit WWOOFed out, but Jo and Phillip made us feel so welcome, so part of their local community ( I didn't mention tea and cakes in the village hall for the Open Garden event, did I?) and the children were so welcome- Jo was wondeful at explaining things to Big One when she got in from work, and they really seemed to enjoy the company of all of us. We were all welcome to share all meals, which isn't always the case, and we really appreciated it. I'm trying to think of some downsides to our stay, but I'm really struggling. Too much good food? The cock crowing at 5 am occasionally? I suppose the biggest impact was the free range chickens. That's great for the birds, but means their poo ends up everywhere, so we had to be careful to remove shoes going inside (in dry weather I've not been so careful in the tent). I'lve learned that our chickend might have a big run, but won't be free range just for that reason. One place used an electric fence so the chicken run could easily be moved, but still contained them. I like that idea.

As we drove northwards, we saw the land change to the open moors, and valleys of forests, and then got up to Ayr. Ayr is where I was born, but I preferred the hills of a little further south. We fit in a quick visit with a friend of my parents, and then it was heading north up to our next hosts, NW of Glasgow.