A Castle in the Sky

In March 2013, after years of talking about it we eventually sell up and move out of the city with our 2 year old, Gracie. We both grew up in the countryside and this is what we want for our daughter. So we swap a 2 bed flat in London for a small country pile on the west coast of Scotland that needs a lot of work. I've done a bit of interior design and my partner, Ed has a good knowledge of the outdoors – but we're on a tight budget and we've both got a lot to learn. It's a life time's project and this is a record of our adventure…


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Can anyone hear a buzzing? (May 25)

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Last Sunday evening Ed noticed a wasp or two outside and heard a significant buzzing above. Then way up around the main roof gutter at the back of the house he spotted a small swarm. The gutter is 3 floors high so we can’t get up for a closer inspection (not that we’d want to) and if there’s a nest up there it’s likely to be in the attic space anyway….

The thing about the attic though is the size of the hatch… It’s a very tight squeeze and certainly not the size of hatch you want to be squeezing yourself out of with a swarm of angry wasps in hot pursuit. Hmmmm…

Then a few days ago I also noticed a buzzing. This time outside the front door – and when I put Gracie down for her nap a good number of what looked like honey bees were bobbing around outside her bedroom window and one or two had made their way inside. I have to confess I wasn’t totally sure how to tell the difference between wasps and bees but having looked on the internet I’m pretty convinced these are bees. Now I’m wondering whether it’s bees at the back of the house too. Either way it’s certainly been a problem before; after a bit of investigation I discovered several bits of old loo paper shoved between the sashes of Gracie’s window and dozens of dead bees caught up inside…

Guests are now here to stay and yesterday when I was putting Gracie down again my friend Louise came running up the stairs; ‘I think you better come and look at this!…’ Outside the kitchen window the mini-swarm on the roof had turned into a massive swarm about 30 feet high and 10 feet across. It quickly reduced in size but the thought of thousands of wasps suddenly appearing out there is not very nice to say the least.

I’ve since been spending quite a bit of time on the phone…

The man from the council can help us with wasps but he can’t help us with bees and at the moment he can’t help us with anything because he’s off on holiday for a week. The man from Rentokil can deal with wasps AND bees – but there are 2 kinds of bees (don’t ask) and if these are honey bees we have to get a bee-keeper to come and try and save the nests first. I’m loving that – so I found the local bee-keepers association and as luck would have it there’s a bee-keeper who lives in our village – I’ve left him a message. The carpenter’s coming on Monday to widen the hatch…

I’m not sure how this is all going to end but Ed’s now home for the weekend and a quick look through the binoculars has at least established that it’s bees at the back of the house and not wasps after all – which at least feels more comfortable.

It would be lovely to think the nests could be retrieved and that our kindly local bee-keeper might adopt them or perhaps deposit them in a local wood – but this whole bee thing has given Ed a twinkle in his eye and I think he may have other ideas…


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The paddock (May 20)

We’ve been mulling over what to do with the paddock and while we mulled, wild flowers started to grow.    Wherever we ended up we’d always hoped to have a wild flower meadow so we decided not to mow the paddock and see what happened.   Already we’ve had bluebells, birds-eyes, campions, wild primrose, herb robert and pignut – and around a dozen more flowers we’ve still to identify…

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But as the flowers have grown the grass has grown too and now it’s taking over, along with the nettles and docks.    A bit of research tells us that wild flower meadows come up in fields that are left to grow where animals have been grazing.     We have rich soil here (you can tell by looking at it and lots of nettles are also a sign apparently) which is great for grass and veg’ but not so good for wild flowers.   If we put animals in there they would take a lot of the nutrients out of the soil by eating the grass – and at the same time create a good bed for next year’s flowers by churning up the ground.

So animals sound like the answer.   Oh if it was that simple.  Much of the fence needs to be fixed and there are rhododendrons creeping over the sides which are poisonous to horses, sheep and cattle.  As always here, nothing is ever straight forward.   An alternative would be getting in a JCB to take off the top layer of soil in the paddock which is way out of our budget.

So if we want a meadow next year, we’ll have to fix the fence, prune the rhododendrons (which are running rampant everywhere but that’s a whole other story) and then find some animals before the end of summer.  As there are other more pressing jobs to get done, it looks like our wild flower meadow is going to have to wait.