Well once again some time has passed since the last update, this reflects how busy life seems to have been in the last five or six months.
So looking at my notes following the last update, the weather warmed up just in time for me to get my car back so I did not need a 4×4 after it was fixed rather typically. This always seems to happen, the weather always plays up at exactly the same time as the car, meaning I usually have to navigate a very slippery track in a completely unworthy courtesy car, I think I may have found one of the mechanical issues which has plagued me and am looking for an automotive electrician to re wire my ABS sensor. I am sorry, that may well have been too much tech info for an audience which probably is not that bothered. 🙂
A friend from up here who has since moved south, Katie Purdie was up visiting with her boyfriend so I asked them if they would like to come up to the cottage for lunch, she and her boyfriend turned up on a quad bike which I thought was pretty cool and we had ham, egg and chips for lunch because her father had mentioned that that was one of her favourite meals. I am obviously a male because I can’t multi task and because I was chatting as I served the food, I forgot the eggs. Everyone was too polite to mention it, I found them keeping warm in the oven.
After the warmer weather arrived the surrounding hillsides thawed out with the accompanying fragrant peaty aroma which I always love to smell, it is the smell of Spring for me and usually heralds some generally better conditions which can however still surprise us with a fall of snow well into May, the snow never lasts but you have to expect that it will happen. It’s called ‘Teuchter snow’ up here, which means farmer snow, or lambing snow. Teucht can also mean hard or difficult.
Well Spring finally did arrive (as it sometimes does), it seemed to be about two weeks later at the cottage than in Kirkmichael just six miles away, I am quite a bit higher and my daffodils were barely out while the ones in the village had bloomed and died, my snow drops were a spectacle this year, I think they quite like a cold winter, I prefer them on the whole to the daffodils, they come and go in a tidy sort of way, but the daffs add colour for a bit at a drab time of year, even if they are a little gaudy but then they hang around in messy clumps until everything dies and you can finally tidy them up with the strimmer. I have some normal crocuses which come out in the spring, they are beautiful delicate pale blue things and rather lovely, I also have some weird crocuses which throw out a huge bunch of green leaves in late Spring which sit on the lawn until they die, I thought they were tulips the first time I saw them, they do nothing other than produce leaves until the Autumn when suddenly long after the leaves have gone they produce a bunch of unaccompanied flowers, very odd, I have never seen anything like them before. Further floral delights this year are the plants that my new neighbour Nicky gave me last year, I was worried that they would not like the winter, but they have all come up and are preparing to add colour, texture and floral delight to my little garden, amongst these plants I have also found some mint this year, so a mojito might be on the cards. I have never really been a gardener before but I am rather enjoying trying to make my surroundings nicer. I noticed another harbinger of spring buzzing around the sitting room window, it was an enormous dopey dust covered wasp, I think it was a queen, just because of its size. I have found their nests before in one of the sheds, they over winter on their own in a small papery nest and emerge in the spring to find a good place to raise a colony and presumably advertise for a mate on the “Plenty of wasps” dating website. Apparently there is a dating website called “Bumble” which might be more appropriate for an amorous queen wasp.
Another Spring advertiser is the male Pheasant who starts to get rather vocal once the weather warms up, he wanders around the garden squawking to attract a mate or repel other males, I am not quite sure which. I think his behaviour is triggered by the lengthening daylight hours. He is prone to make a bit of a racket until I feed the birds when I get up, which usually shuts him up for a few hours. I also had a big White Mountain hare in the garden again this winter, this year the hare was not predated upon by the stoat which I have not seen recently, so maybe the stoat has been eaten by something more ferocious. The hare is still a regular guest and has now changed into its summer attire of a more traditional blue / brown. The first time I saw one of these in the garden I thought it was a wallaby, they have massive back legs and look more marsupial than mammal. They are also known as Palearctic hares due to the climate that they have evolved to cope with. Up here I think they are the main meal for the Golden Eagles as well, so when they go white in the winter and we have no snow, they stick out like an eagle’s meal. They are I believe also the only indigenous hares in the country the more common brown hares having been introduced by the Romans. A couple of months ago I was on my way up the track and a few hundred meters from the cottage when I spotted my first Pine Marten, they are pretty big and may account for the stoat having gone missing. I have seen evidence of their scats in the garden before but never actually seen one of these rather reclusive animals.
I was watching the TV a few months ago and I found myself watching Top gear, I am not particularly fond of the new format, but there was nothing else on, so that is what I was watching. They were doing a bit of the program which explored the merits of small 4×4 cars. I was not really concentrating until I noticed that they were driving through Pitlochry, they then turned up through Moulin and came over the moor towards Enochdhu, my nearest village. This is not unusual, they love Glenshee and are often up that way, blasting along the great and winding ‘snow road’. I was watching the program with a little more interest by this point and noticed that they had come up my track! What, ‘Top gear’ up the track? When did that happen, I imagine that any Top gear filming is usually accompanied by a circus of attending vehicles, food vans, make up girls, film crew and sound recordists, and anyone else who might be needed. So all of this came up my little track and past the cottage without me even noticing! I imagine I was away, or asleep, or writing a blog (probably not), who knows.
There was a young keeper helping Tom up at the Fealar estate, up the track whose name was also Tom, he was a nice lad who I used to bump into from time to time on the track. He was telling me that he had handed in his notice because he wanted to work closer to his girlfriend, I asked where his girlfriend lived and he said “you would not know it, she lives in a little village called Elphin”. As it happens I do know the village, I have been to the Elphin music festival more by random accident than premeditated planning, but I have been there and it is a lovely little place, so I am sure he is happy. I am thinking of taking the little camper to the festival again this year, so hope to bump into him again in his new environment.
I hung out some washing a few months back and just after I did, a neighbouring estate started heather burning, the net result was that my clothes smelled a little like smoked salmon by the time I brought them back in. A couple of days later a friend of mine who is the keeper at Pitcarmick estate rang and asked if I would be interested in helping them burn some heather, I had nothing else going on so readily agreed. I have never done this before so was not quite sure what to expect. The process is basically to go up to the grouse moors and determine which way the wind is likely to drive the flames then light a strip of heather with a back pack sprayer full of diesel, in such a way that it will burn its self out when it comes to a track or a bog, or a bit of young heather burned in a previous year. The flames can get very hot and heather burning is not for the feint hearted. The point of heather burning is to burn back the ‘rank’ (old and woody) heather and to promote the growth of young fresh shoots of heather which will be much enjoyed by the grouse. There are also some other positive benefits with heather burning, it can reduce the number of deer and sheep ticks on the moor which is good for everything. The burning takes place before the ground nesting birds arrive and there is a finish by date which varies according to the altitude of the moor, this is because the ground nesting birds will nest lower down to start off with. This is only one of the things that Game keepers do to improve the health of the grouse population and with the tick reduction everything which lives and breeds on the moor will be improved. Mark was telling me how they test the grouse for parasites. He was explaining that he goes out at night with a lamp and a net and dazzles a grouse so it can be caught in the net, he then places the grouse in a pen where it can be monitored for a few days. Grouse, it turns out, have two digestive tracts and produce two types of poo, (I bet you never knew that) they produce little pellets from one tract and from a different tract they produce a ‘cecal pat’ which is a runny sort of poo, the keepers collect these from the pen and send them off to a lab to be tested for worm infestation, the lab provides a traffic light sort of measure where if the pat tests as green no action needs to be taken, but if the pat returns a red sample then the keepers will use medicated grit in little heaps on the moor to try and combat the parasitic worms, if the sample is amber the keeper might use medicated grit or leave it until the next testing cycle. The grouse will eat the grit to aid digestion, medicated or otherwise.
More recently I was contacted by my friend Willy Manning, who asked if I would like to do some tractor driving on his estate, I was pleased to be asked and have cleared out some slurry and rolled all of his fields, I used to work for an agricultural contractor after I left school so this was all work I have done before. I rather enjoy it. I have more recently been extremely busy working on the track on our estate. We have been widening some of the track to make life easier for the timber Lorries which will be working here when they start to harvest to woodland. We have been working seven days a week which is a little too much for me these days, I like at least one day to myself to go shopping and do the washing etcetera. In the middle of all of this I was also asked if I would drive a tractor and dumper trailer for the contractor who came to resurface one of our forestry roads, we did about a mile of track in nine days, the contractor’s hours were 7am to 7pm with half an hour for lunch. So life has been very busy, another reason why this blog is so late. Bizarrely I have been applying for IT jobs with local businesses, ‘Castle water’ to name but one and never even get to the interview stage, so I am beginning to think that I am probably now considered too old for IT work, but still young enough to bounce up and down a track in a huge tractor and trailer for twelve hours a day. At least someone thinks I am useful! The beauty of working on the estate is that I can cycle to work, which is amazing, given that I live miles up the track.
One of the jobs we have coming up is to replace the water pipe to the big house and farm, we did some of this last November in the snow which was less than pleasant and have the rest to do now that an area of fir trees has been harvested. The water for the farm and the lodge (big house) comes straight from a burn, so we will also have to setup the rose where the water enters the pipe and bury a tank near the rose. We have also recently concreted in some fixed surveying points on the dam at Loch Crannach on the estate. This is due to a new rule from SEPA (the Scottish environmental protection agency) which dictates that any dammed loch larger than two Olympic swimming pools has to be surveyed every year to ensure that there is no movement in the dam wall. This is on the face of it is a safety thing which would highlight any dam walls that were in danger of collapse, but the reality seems to be more that this is generating income for SEPA, who are not government funded and who are under constant pressure to find funding, so I think we can expect more of these sort of interventions. The fact the dam was built by the Victorians and has lasted over a hundred years seems to have passed them by. They apparently want to ensure that a once in a thousand years event will not collapse the dam, whatever that sort of event might be is anyone’s guess.
While on the subject of work, (“outrageous publicity alert”) I have finally had my little book published, it is called ‘Campers, ceilidhs and occasional cramp’ and is available in a number of formats in most online bookshops. It describes a couple of trips to Scotland in the little camper while I was supposed to be looking for somewhere to move to. The book proved to be a good winter project, with all of the proof reading and repeated re reading of the publishers versions I now, more or less, know it off by heart. The whole process was quite fun though.
Because of all of this busyness I have not been anywhere recently other than the estate and the village. I have had to turn down the offer of some sailing in the West Country and have missed a couple of weddings I would dearly have liked to have gone to. I am hoping to take the little camper to the West coast at some point after the school kids have all gone back to school, things will be a little noisy at the moment, bah humbug.
So, the weather this spring was unseasonably warm for a couple of weeks, unfortunately this did not last and it has been generally wet and cold so far this year. I had to put some soft cheese in the enclosed porch the other day because the kitchen was not warm enough to ripen it, and it’s nearly the middle of July. My landlord was up last weekend and he said, in all the time he has known the estate (70 years or so) the hills are as green as he has ever seen them. The farm has started making silage and the crops this year have been ‘bumper’, so there should be no feed shortage come the winter unless it is a long and cold one. I have been gathering more wood, some ash and sycamore trees were trimmed on the estate so I asked for and took the wood and now have a really good supply of high quality logs in the shed. So I should survive a once in a thousand years event, even if the dam doesn’t. Lambing went without hitch this year and the estate is full of very fat and healthy black faced lambs. I learned the other day that apparently the male lambs are born with horns, which would not make the birthing process any more comfortable for the ewes, I would imagine.
So on that cheery note, it is time for a pint as we have officially been rained off. There is thunder on its way apparently, that will annoy the pheasant!