Midsummer muse

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Soft summer light down the track.

Well, summer has arrived and on the longest day it was still twilight until about 1:00 in the morning, getting light again at about 3 am, so not much darkness in the glen. I don’t get a sunset at the cottage because it all happens behind the surrounding hills, the most I can generally see is a pink flamingo hue to the clouds and sometimes the tops of the hills to the east are lit up with red light before the summer semi darkness takes control of the scenery. As the days grow longer the sun sets further to the North which allows for a low light angle at sun down to skip across the surface of the hills and hollows along the glen, providing a contrast to the countryside, illuminating and emphasising the contours and delivering a different view. On a walk up the track yesterday evening I could see, where at some point in the past, probably during the Bronze Age, small areas had been levelled for the growing of crops, this was something that I had not noticed before and which was made apparent by the low light angle. The moorland and hills are now a dazzling fresh green, which makes a change to the dry brown heather and dead grass heath that I had become used to being surrounded by. This fresh growth is bringing herds of deer into the glen and I have also recently heard the barking call of a couple of stags. They are not rutting yet but maybe the sight of large herds of hinds and calves is motivating them to make themselves known. The verdant grass has also fattened the lambs, in the two months or so since their birth they have put on so much growth that the young males are now nearly the same size as their mothers, I did not realise until moving here how quickly they develop. As I see them around the cottage and on the track I have been in a prime position to observe their behaviour. I have noticed that bravery seems to be inherited by the lambs. If I drive past a ewe who is jumpy and nervous she will be accompanied by a similarly nervous lamb, likewise if I drive past a ewe who is feeding close to the track and which is un-phased by my presence, her lamb will regard me casually and carry on feeding without concern. This observation caused me to wonder if the same is true of humans, is being nervous genetic?.

I may have mentioned before that my landlord and estate owner drops in for tea from time to time and on his first visit he mentioned that if I wanted to fish on the estate, I really needed to do some work for the estate, as free fishing was only really available to estate workers. I think this is the first time this rule has been thought of and implemented and I don’t really have a problem with it. I did think though, once a politician, always a politician and that the rule was there to somehow tie me to the estate and perhaps to him a little more. It also has to be said however, that the jobs are offered and he did say I only need to do the ones I want to do. Well, I was given a job painting some fences which surround the electrical transformers on the estate which manage the power output from the Hydro scheme. Not very exciting I am afraid and confirmed for me how little I enjoy painting. I had bought a lawnmower and strimmer / brush cutter to keep my garden in shape and with a view to helping pay for their cost, I mentioned that I could do some strimming. Note: Be very cautious what you ask for in this life, I was asked if I could strim the grass either side of the track from the farm down towards the road. Two days of strimming later and a slight case of vibration related white finger or in my case white thumb nerve damage leaving my thumb numb, (sorry, couldn’t resist). I measured the distance on my digital map and it transpired that I had strimmed 1.25 miles of track. I had to do an oil change on the new strimmer half way down. On my way down the track I thought about trying to define strimming for those that know nothing about it. My definition of strimming is as follows. “Strimming is a cross between a gentle ramble and ballroom dancing”. There you go… Strimming.

Having arrived at my newly found estate worker status, I was taking a stroll down to the river at the bottom of the garden and noticed some trout activity, so I went back to the cottage, dug out a rod and a fly and tried a cast on the river. I caught three of the smallest, but most perfect trout imaginable in three casts and then nothing else. Now enthused, I drove to the fishing loch on the estate, Loch Crannach, where an hour or so was wasted in stately fashion, but no fish were caught. There was no sign of any fish on the surface of the loch so maybe they were gorging themselves on some hatching insect life in the deep and out of sight. So I made my way to a beautiful pool on the river where I caught three small brown trout and a salmon parr (baby salmon before it has left the river it had hatched in). Not a great start, and poor reward for the hours of painting. The good news is that the work is paying my electricity bill, so happy days and come the winter I will be a little more relaxed about the occasional use of a fan heater. Talking of work, I have also helped Abi from the Strathardle Inn with a couple of outside bars. We did a very nice wedding and a retirement party for a local in the village hall. I used to do bar work in Edinburgh years ago and had forgotten how much fun it is and what hard work it can be. It was a great way to get to know more people and reduce my bar bill at the same time.

The weather last month was generally good so I decided to go and get another couple of loads of logs, which went well, but they were sods to split and two loads left me with some fairly large blisters. I have stacked the split logs in the shed and in doing so seem to have spread woodworm into the wooden floor boards of the shed. The shed floor is in a pretty poor condition but the woodworm is frankly not helping, so I might need to treat it with something at some point. I am biding my time to get another couple of loads of logs and I should then have enough wood to keep my sitting room fire going throughout the winter, which cheers the place up and helps keep everything dry.

About four weeks ago we had a thunder storm, it did not rain much at the cottage but I could see the tall, dark clouds all around and heard peals of thunder for a couple of hours. There must have been a torrential down pour over the mountains, because I noticed the level of the river rise maybe two feet in about twenty minutes, which is by any measure extraordinary. When I mentioned this to my landlord, he said that the rain may have caused a landslide up the glen which blocked the river temporarily with a muddy dam, which once the pressure had built up behind it, then burst causing a cascade of muddy water to charge down the glen. That was a scenario which seemed to fit the evidence. It does make you think though, if I had been wading in the river I would have struggled to get out before it became dangerous.

One of the things I don’t miss from Sussex was the constant noise from the air, with light aircraft and aerobatic practice sessions looping the loop in the sky above, day after day. The noise used to really wind me up, particularly as we lived on the coast and they could have flown off over the sea where their antics would have bothered no one. I think I sort of tuned into the noise and then it just used to annoy me. I noticed looking through my notes, that I had written, probably after a visit to the pub, that “The real value of peace and quiet is aesthetic and is a non-tangible asset”, a quirky statement perhaps, but one I still very much adhere to, even if I am not quite sure what it means. The silence here is a very welcome backdrop, there is a depth to the peace which you can almost bath in. The sounds which can be heard are gentle ones, the wind in the trees, the flow of the river, cattle and lambs calling, the Oyster catchers and Curlews, all soothing somehow. Occasionally however the glen reverberates to the shriek and howl of a low level Typhoon (Euro-fighter, can we still call it that?) fighter aircraft. The sound they make is extraordinary and would strike fear into the heart of any one who did not know what was happening. They make a sound like the sky is being torn apart. I have only seen them three times in the eight months since I moved here and they are exciting. They dog fight each other, hugging the glens and hill sides as though they are magnetically connected, sometimes so low I can see the pilot. I don’t mind this, they are so impressive and hammer the senses in the short time they are above you, they charge you with adrenaline, but they are also quite rare, if they were an everyday occurrence, I would not be so impressed.  The other day we also had an extremely low level Hercules aircraft, I thought they were going to take the chimneys off the roof, it seemed to take ages to pass overhead. They were flying so low I thought something was wrong and was partially waiting for an explosion and a cloud of smoke and then I remembered that on the same day in 1993 a Hercules had crashed on the estate and so what I had seen had been a memorial fly past to remember that sad event. When I mentioned it in the pub, I was told they do a fly past every year.

My little menagerie of Red legged partridge seemed to drop in number from two to one, I was rather saddened by this as I have become quite fond and rather protective of them, when I moved in there were three of them. I was told by a game keeper that they are not really hardy enough for this environment, so I assumed another one had succumbed to a Pine martin or a bird of prey. However last week I was looking out of the sitting room window with a mug of coffee in hand, I had just filled the bird feeder and noticed two partridges feeding underneath. I was quietly very pleased then I noticed two fluffy little things accompanying them. I dug out the binoculars and there were two partridge chicks! So presumably the bird I thought was missing in action had actually been sitting on a nest for the last month or so. Happy days indeed.

The weather has been a bit drizzly here for the last couple of weeks, which is always dull. Putting out the washing or getting on a bike always seems to bring it on, which is slightly tiresome, but it is not cold and the drizzle has driven me into the shed where I have been working on a wood carving of a female grouse. I am using some of the bog oak I bought for this project and so far so good, things seem to be going quite well. I am, at this phase of the operation, quietly confident. The work did slip out of the vice and land on its beak, (of course,) but it has glued back so well you would never know it had suffered a beakectomy. Bog oak is not the easiest material to carve, it is pretty hard and while in the bog seems to have absorbed some of the surrounding grains of sand and silt which means that much sharpening of tools has to take place. It also has splits and shakes in the wood, making it technically difficult to work with and around but I am now fairly confident that the finished result will be quite good and the fact that the wood could be two thousand years or more old and is from the Isle of Isla where all of the peaty whiskies come from, hopefully just adds to its unique appeal. I will try and find a suitable lump of local granite or something similar to set it on when finished.

Another task I have undertaken, perhaps slightly reluctantly, is to replace a component on my car which had been causing some problems. I did not really notice any issues with it in Sussex apart from it going into emergency limp mode from time to time. A mode designed to save the engine from damage when something extreme happens, but in the case of my car a faulty electronic valve was causing the problem and which was exacerbated with the cold weather of last winter in Scotland. When I got out of the car to open a gate on the track the engine would stall and it would then be reluctant to start again, running very roughly until the engine warmed up. I became quite concerned at one point, I was worried it might let me down half way up the track in the snow and cold wind, so I did some research on the Nissan Navara owners web forum, I found other owners who had experienced the same problem and having established which component was faulty, I ordered the new part. It has to be said as well that my car has been to the Nissan garage in Sussex twice to have this fault fixed and on both occasions they had failed to identify the issue. Well, a couple of weeks ago I went through the very fiddly process of fitting the new valve and bingo, with a bit of wood touching it all seems to be good. Since then I have searched the forum for some of the other more minor issues that my car has had and have fixed the driver’s window switch and repaired a funny clicking noise which was a part of the heater system which needed stripping down, cleaning and greasing. My semi trusty 4X4 Nissan pickup is now like a new car, so I am very pleased. Thank heavens for web forums and the characters that make them so useful. The quoted Nissan cost of just replacing the valve was £600 so I have saved myself £550, some of which was spent in the pub celebrating the improvement. Most importantly, I am now more confident about the cars performance when the cold weather comes.

I have just realised that quite a lot of this blog has been dedicated subconsciously to preparations for the next winter, wood, electricity and now the car and we have only just celebrated mid-summer, oh well at least I am ready for it.

Well on that happy note, the drizzle has started so it’s off to the shed for me. Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to the shed I go, with my oak and chisel I’ll avoid the drizzle. Hi ho, hi ho, etc….

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