The seasonal spraffle.

frosty rosehip

A very frosty rosehip.


You can thank the Poozies. A rather great, Scottish West coast band for the loan of the word spraffle, I have done some research and I think Spraff means to waffle or gossip idly about something, so quite pertinent in my chapter heading.

Since the last update the first block of woodland has now been harvested on the estate and I have to say that on the face of it the contractors did a pretty tidy job. The missing trees have left quite a scar on the hillside but the woodland harvested was not really that visible from my cottage, therefore the impact on my immediate surroundings has not changed dramatically. The woodland was always there as a harvestable crop and the time is right at the moment to start extracting the wood, prices are good and demand is up for building materials and wood pulp so the commercial reasons for extracting the timber are very compelling. But, there is it seems, always a but, the trees soften the countryside, they give cover to wild and farmed animals and can also shelter dwellings and farm yards from the ravages of a Scottish winter. I think my cottage would be much more exposed once the surrounding woodland has been removed. The harvested area will always look a bit “post nuclear disaster” but I am reliably informed it will regenerate after five to six years. The estate also has a replanting program which will probably speed up the process and they plan to replant with indigenous broad leaved hardwoods which will be much better in the long run but in the short term I may be living in a bit of an unsightly mess. I am reserving judgment until the logging gets closer to home. Another slightly negative thing which has happened recently is a change to the way the fuses work with my power supply. Now if the power goes down from the national grid, our hydro scheme shuts down and a fuse is tripped in a shed at the farm. This in essence means that the trip switch for the cottage is three miles down the track and without power I have no phone or any other means of communication. So I have to drive down the track to see if the switch needs to be reset or whether we are all in the grip of a long term power cut. This new innovation has led to my freezer defrosting a couple of times this year which was not so good. I made a bit of a fuss at the time, so hopefully that has been resolved. It seems to me a shame that, as we have our own electricity generation plant in the form of the hydro scheme, we can’t disconnect from the grid and use our own power when the rest of the world is in darkness, but maybe there are good reasons for this current arrangement (sorry about the unintended pun).

I mentioned in the last update that my television satellite dish was being plagued by a small owl, the problem went away for a couple of weeks then came back with a vengeance, the owl it seems had become quite at home on this man made perch and after too many trips to the garden with a torch to discourage it, I finally decided to make an anti-owl cover for the satellite. I cut the ends off an old plastic bottle and cut down one side so it could be slid over the arm and then reassembled the bottle with some tape so that it formed a rotating sleeve over the satellite arm. This seems to have done the job, time will tell, but so far so good. Life here is a constant battle with the wildlife. Another recent, slightly more common nuisance, has been the mice who have been making their way into the cottage in the cold weather. I can see why they might want to come indoors and they would be welcome if they were house trained and kept themselves to themselves, but they aren’t and they don’t! So the traps have been re-deployed and I have been round the base of the external cottage walls stuffing any small gaps with wire wool, this procedure kept them out for about eighteen months but recently they have obviously found another little weakness in my mouse defences. Hopefully the Owl will take out its annoyance at the lack of a perch on the mouse population and then we can all be happy, well, apart from the mice obviously!

I was lucky enough to be asked by my friend Carol to house sit their lovely home in Arisaig again, I happened to be there when storm Deidre hit Scotland, covering my cottage with snow and bringing down trees, power and phone lines with its combination of strong winds and heavy wet snow. I was sitting snugly in Arisaig while all the chaos was going on. The West Coast did have some very strong winds and lots of rain but missed the snow. Last time I was house sitting for Carol, the family chickens were murdered by Pine Martens and on my recent visit I vowed not to let that happen again. So I went out on Friday evening to put the chickens into their roosting box, I had been reassured they would put themselves away and all I had to do was close the door. However the entrance to their run had blown shut in the wind, so while two chickens had made it to their box another two were missing. This discovery led to a little panic and with my trusty head torch I set off around the garden to find them, the first one I found quite easily, it was roosting on the rotary clothes dryer and was being blown slowly round and round, like a very slow fairground ride for poultry and with a rather terrified look in its little black eye. The other I finally found in a huddle under a shrub, so once returned to the box they were all safely home. I was glad to find the last one as it would definitely have been on the Pine marten’s snack list that evening. I was hoping to do some exploring while at Arisaig, but the weather was so wild I abandoned that for a comfy chair and a book. I went to the pub on Friday evening for the open mic music which is usually to be found there and to catch up with my friend Jen, who has moved from Fort William to Arisaig and is now on the verge of moving back to the Isle of Colonsay where she grew up, to take up the life of a crofter, lucky girl. Apart from the Friday musical adventure, after my duties were over I travelled home via the Moydart peninsula and the rather remote and storm bashed Ardnamurchan point. I had been meaning to explore the peninsula for ages. My plan was to stay at a B+B in Strontian rather than travel home, but as the weather was being foul and Strontian looked decidedly miserable, I decided to take the Corran ferry shortcut to Fort William and make my way home to the destruction and candles that Deidre had left behind.

Storm Deidre with its heavy snow also delivered record breaking amounts of water when the snow melt was accompanied by heavy rainfall. The river by the cottage came up five feet during the melt and I was trapped at Glenfernate, as both the Kirkmichael and Pitlochry roads were flooded to the point where they became unusable. I mentioned storm Deidre which brought the snow, but we had an earlier storm, Diana, I believe which brought lots of rain and wind and I was sitting in the comfort of my front room watching Ross and John from the estate replacing some fence posts in a ‘biblical quality’ deluge. I don’t know how they managed not to get washed away, I would have probably given up and found something in the dry to do, but that is probably why I would not survive as a shepherd up here, it is a job which offers little in the form of physical comforts.

All of this windy weather has not been helping our game bird beating season too much either, pheasants seem to enjoy a little bit of a breeze to fly into, but the gales just blow them around, I have seen them narrowly missing trees and flying into each other during this rather wild and windy season.

During my stay at Carol’s house, while looking for something to accompany a cup of mid afternoon tea, I discovered a rather delicious treat in the form of a pack of “Mcvities digestive classic caramel” biscuits. I had never tried this variant before and was amazed by these tasty delights, with the crunch of the biscuit, the rich flavour of the chocolate and finally the luxurious layer of soft unctuous caramel. I was transported into a tea time reverie, which up until now no other biscuit has managed to invoke. So a packet of these biscuits was added to my shopping list and on getting them home I endeavoured to re-live the tea time joy, in my own surroundings. Well, recently the weather has been somewhat frigid, last night was about -8C and the temperature inside the house has been hovering between the eight to ten degree level for the last few days. So, I made a cup of tea and dug out a newly purchased caramel digestive. I had not read the instructions on the side of the pack, well I am a man after all, but the effect was disappointingly, just not the same. With the reduced ambient warmth in the cottage the luxurious caramel layer which had been such a surprise and delight in Arisaig had become brittle, cracking and crunching on the pallet, rather than the silky smooth chewy experience I was hoping for. So I will have to warm them on the stove or pop them in the microwave in future. The cottage always seems to have a way of taking the normal experience and shaking it up slightly.

Christmas this year was lovely and was hosted by my friend VJ at her beautiful cottage in Kirkmichael, she kindly invited me and a few other “waifs and strays” as she described us, to enjoy a Christmas feast with fun and games. We were an eclectic collection of characters and I think we all complimented each other well enough to provide a fun filled, humour packed and entertaining festive event. The main meal was an extra ordinary chunk of fillet of beef, just my sort of thing, no dry turkey for us. New Year was spent with my friend Kenny, he has had a son with his girlfriend recently so we brought the party to his house this year, one which lasted two days in the end. I am always quite glad when it is all over so life can drift back to some sort of gentle norm. I had a school friend who joined the 3rd Battalion Paras after leaving school and his way of dealing with the festive season was to dig himself into a snow hole in the Cairngorms with a slab of beer and a slab of baked beans and survive like a hibernating bear until the second or third of January and then re-emerge after the world had calmed down. I always quite liked that idea, but I am also fond of a party, so a snow hole has not so far happened for me. Maybe next year we should dig a really big one and all share it, in hindsight I might end up on my own.

I mentioned in the last update that I had gone to town in the logging department, well recently I tried to burn some of the harvested wood and it seems the stuff at the front face of the stack is rather damp and does not burn all that well, so the other day I dismantled the log pile and rearranged it so the dry stuff is accessible. So I have moved it all about five times now between the woods and the stack, proving the old saying that cutting logs will warm you a few times before you actually burn them. I am beginning to see the attraction of oil or gas which just warms you the once, when you actually need it!

A couple of weeks ago on my way to an MOT in Alyth I had a rather slow and mostly uneventful collision with a tractor, a rather large John Deere if anyone is interested. This is the first physical contact type of accident I have had in about 30 years, I sank a couple of cars in the sea at Bosham a few years ago, but that’s another story. Happily the tractor did not suffer any damage in the collision but my car ended up with a broken headlight and crumpled wing. The accident happened on a blind bend in some woods where the unsalted road was covered in ice, which due to the shade provided by the woods had not melted in the mid-day sunshine. Because I was on my way to the MOT I could not actually get an MOT until the damage was fixed, the broken headlight would have caused it to fail. So I had to try and get the car through the insurance claims process into an acceptable repairer to be fixed before the MOT ran out, which I only just managed to do. The courtesy car I have been given is a rather elderly Peugeot 308 or something with rather slick summer tyres. So the good news is that I have a car to drive around in, but as the track is now covered with snow, the car is largely useless. I only just got home after our keepers shoot day on Saturday evening. It’s typical, I swan around the countryside all summer in a 4×4 truck and each time it snows I seem to have to get the truck fixed and run the gauntlet of the slippery track in an inappropriate courtesy car. Last year the ABS and the 4 wheel drive packed up just in time for the snow! Thank you Mr Nissan.

We it seems recently we have not had as much snow as the rest of the country, rather unusually, we have however had some very cold nights, -12 was about my coldest. There were some beautiful patterns in the ice on the inside of the bathroom window. I am praying for it all to warm up until the end of the week, when I will hopefully get my 4×4 truck back and then the weather can do what it likes. The long term forecast is reportedly still for a cold and snowy winter, but so far the snow has largely evaded us and the Glenshee Ski centre has only just opened to the public, with just a few of the slopes in a useable condition.

So as usual, the weather has brought another episode to an abrupt halt (a bit like the John Deere tractor). So until next time…