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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The bee man (Jun 16)

The bee man’s been (See Can Anyone Hear a Buzzing? May 30).  He soon established that it’s definitely honey bees we’ve got here.   He had a good look in the attic but there was no hive in there – and he thinks there are probably 2; one on each side of the house, high up between the rafters and the outside walls so we can’t get any access to them.

He brought a spare bee suit for Ed (who’s been expressing a lot of interest in said bees) but given no hives were to be found, he sadly never got the chance to put it on.

The bee man explained that the swarm we saw was a good sign as bees swarm when they’re moving on with a new queen bee, so the majority of them are now gone (in that hive anyway), leaving an aged queen behind and some loyal hangers on. The only other issue we might encounter is honey dripping through the ceilings – but apparently this is quite rare!

So we have bees in the walls of the house and this is where they’ll stay.

Mr C tells us that years ago someone used to keep hives up behind the walled garden (which likely explains where the ones in our walls originate from).  As Mr C also has a twinkle in his eye at the mention of bees, I’m guessing he and Ed are now hatching a plan….

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To do lists…(Jun 12)

I do love a to do list – and as the list for this house will keep me going for the next 20 years I couldn’t be happier.   Today’s list is:

Chase plumber for breakdown of costs for new hot water system

Book in insulation man

Get carpenter to fix leaking window

Pay locksmith

Sign contract for septic tanks

Get in planning applications for new biomass heating system

Apply for a building warrant

Price up wood pellets

Book in Green Deal Assessor

Research salvage cast iron radiators

But then Ed ran through his list with me and now I’ve got list envy….

Move oak tree from orchard

Cut the paths through the paddock

Cut back the rhododendron’s around lawn

Plant magnolia

Research compost toilet

Build sheds

Cut holly

Research yurts

Clear riverbanks

Scarify and aerate lawn

Dig drains

Weed control


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Highland Dancing (Jun 10)

I watched a little girl practice her Highland Dancing on a ferry to Lewis on the West Coast about 8 years ago. I day dreamed then that one day we would live in the countryside in Scotland, that we’d have a little girl and that she’d also learn how to highland dance. Classes in the village start at the age of 3….


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Making hay… (Jun 9)

The thing about scarifying (see Footprints on the Lawn April 21) is that we hadn’t quite taken on board that:

a) you have to wait for a decent enough dry spell to successfully pull out all the dead moss, which has been a bit of a waiting game on the wet West Coast
b) the elusive dry spell has had to coincide with Ed’s weekends at home
c) the whole process produces a huge amount of thatch (grass and dead moss) that must then be removed

The good news is that the sun’s been shining for days, Ed’s home for the weekend – and enough of the moss has turned brown to get started (luckily we got the moss killer to lawn ratio right and the grass is still alive).

As I’m now proficient on the ride-on lawnmower, I mowed and Ed and Gracie followed behind with the scarifier. By late afternoon the lawn was hidden under a frightening amount of thatch – and as the mower couldn’t cope with hoovering it up we had to resort to hand raking it into lots of separate piles, loading up the mini-trailer and ferrying backwards and forwards to the compost heap.  We were out there till late in the evening.

_MG_9585 scarifying

Even so, we’re nowhere near done.  There’s still loads of moss to kill that was missed from last time – and today we only managed a quarter of the lawn.

I’m now beginning to realise why the mention of us scarifying raised so many local eyebrows – but we’re nothing if not tenacious…


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A crutch for the tree (Jun 1)

One of the old sycamore trees by the paddock has a long, low-hanging, gnarly branch running along a stretch of the paddock fence for about 20 feet – and it’s in danger of breaking off under it’s own weight. Ed’s said for some time that it needs a crutch to support it so this evening the three of us headed over to a hazel tree by the burn.

Ed’s knowledge of trees is pretty good and he tells me that hazels are good for coppicing (a kind of pruning for trees so they grow back quickly and produce lots of wood) so he had the hazel in mind for the job. I thought it was a machete in his hand but apparently it’s a ‘bill hook’ specifically used for cutting wood. He shaped a Y section out of the branches and then hauled it over to the paddock. Together we managed to manoeuvre it into place. Here it is…

IMG_1394 crutch

The branch still needs protecting where it’s sitting in the y – to prevent the bark rubbing off when the wind blows.  A bit of old carpet from the kitchen is earmarked to do the job.