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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Wild flower meadow patch (May 31 weekend)

We dream of a wild flower meadow in the paddock (see last year’s The Paddock  – May 20) but as this is going to take some time, I’m getting started on a beginner’s patch in the walled garden instead.

Last year we let a lot of the grass grow unchecked – partly to cut down mowing duties and partly to see what would happen.  Unlike the paddock the walled garden has no brambles, docks or nettles to deal with – so we left 3 sections of grass to grow wild this year.   It’s a daily treat to open the garden door and see the pretty long stems swaying in the wind.

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Now all we need is flowers…

So I’ve taken on one patch as my first real garden project.  I’ve been keen to take ownership of something outside, but so far the house has taken priority.  I’m also not naturally green-fingered but I’m keen to improve so I’m hoping this will kick-start me into action.

This weekend was my last chance to get going as we are away for most of June and then it will be too late to plant seeds.

I picked out blue cornflowers and red poppies (both grow wild here) from the packets Ed bought me for my birthday last year.  He also found a strange implement in the gardening shed which looks like it might have been used for cutting holes in a golf course – it has a tall handle that sits on a hollow cylinder about 5 inches wide and 3 inches deep and as you twist the handle bar it cuts out round sections of earth.   Armed with this and a bucket of soil and compost – I planted 18 random holes in amongst the grass – it seemed like a fitting number.

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It’s a bit of an experiment.  A more fool proof method might have been to plough up the earth and spread seeds mixed with sand (the gardening programmes I’m watching with Ed are starting to have the desired effect) – but the golf course version requires much less effort.   Soon after we get home we should see if it’s paid off .  If it has, then this could also be the answer to turning our 2 acre paddock into a meadow – as well as the beginning of my gardening career…

 

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Our first hive (May 11)

The weather is good and the bees are busy – so Neil ‘The Bee Man’ is here to split one of his hives and get us started on one of our own.    Catching a swarm is one way to start a new colony (see Busy Bees – Mar 1) and ‘splitting a hive’ is apparently another.

So Ed and Neil transplant the queen with a load of her followers into our new hive…while I keep my distance.   The rest of the bees are left behind.  These will now create a new queen by fattening up a female larva with loads of royal jelly.   I’m learning the ABC of bee-keeping through Ed – it’s totally captivating and slowly drawing me in.  Although my bee-suit’s still on order…

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Up in the walled garden we also have a swarm-catching plan.   It’s less whimsical than a scented ‘bee-catcher’ in the yew tree, as described by Mr C – apparently the yew tree is too close to the house.   Instead it’s a box with some old honeycomb inside perched on top of the wall – but the fact that ‘scout’ bees might locate it and then guide a swarm there to start a new colony is still a pretty enchanting idea.

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So we have our first hive in the paddock and a hive-in-waiting in the walled garden.  If all goes to plan we should have our first honey by the end of the summer.


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A taste of things to come.. (May 10)

The refurb’ of the old wing (originally a cottage built in 1700) into a high-end holiday let is on hold (see Sledgehammer happy – Mar 4).    When we can afford to do it, it’s going to need a lot of work, including putting in a new kitchen, 2 new bathrooms (possibly a new shower room) and acquiring a whole load of furniture.   So our plan in the short term is to rent it out.

It’s only been possible to do this since we upgraded all the heating.   When we first moved in the heating circuit for the whole house criss-crossed between both wings, and the hot water was on 4 separate immersions heaters – a thoughtless concoction built up over decades.  Thankfully the electrics were already separated.

So when we installed the biomass, we got the plumbers to reconfigure everything. Now the old wing is a fully functioning separate unit and when you turn on the taps there’s instant hot water – a luxury we have yet to experience in the main wing.

To rent it out though it still needs some sprucing up.  So we’ve invested a bit of money in some basic redecorating while making a few inroads into our longer term plan.  The wood chip in the hall has gone and the walls replastered, every room has had a coat of paint, we’ve revealed an old doorway on the first floor (which we’ll need later for our holiday let) and we’ve painted the boards white in one of the attic bedrooms – a transformation that has given us an inspiring glimpse of things to come…

Attic bedroom.  Before and after with salvaged column radiator.

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A scary crack on the top floor hall wall; it turned out to be the seam where the apex of the dining hall roof meets the roof of the old wing

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A couple of ‘pretend’ pigs (May 3)

Friends are here so we go up to the farm to feed the lambs.   While we’re there we meet the pigs  (see Oink Oink – Apr 9).  Mr C has never kept pigs before so it appears they have our name on them…or I should say Ed’s name on them.  I’m abrogating all responsibility at this stage.

If they are going to make their way down to us then we’ll need to fence them in and like all animals they’ll take some daily looking after, so we can reconvene on this subject once Ed is back from his trip.

Ed and I have vaguely talked about the possibility; they could clear our brambles, eat our annual surplus of apples from the orchard, and help us get started on turning the paddock into a meadow.  All sounds very idyllic but then comes the difficult bit; as once this is all done, at the end of the year they would then provide both us and Mr C with a freezer full of meat…

The prospect of slaughtering animals is something I’ve thought about over the years – I’ve wondered how I would react if I had to do any killing myself or get nearer to it.   I’ve watched lambs in the fields here skipping about this spring and for some reason I’m more aware than ever of where they are headed.    I suppose the practicalities of country living are more apparent once you’ re living it instead of just day-dreaming about it.

I’m not suggesting that I should do the actual deed  (there are clearly those better qualified) but rearing and eating our own at least feels like a step in a more responsible direction.  Having said that chickens might have been an easier way to start…

Gracie meanwhile has independently come to the conclusion that the meat we eat is ‘pretend’.  So faced with a chicken dinner she’s liable to say “It’s not real chicken though is it mummy, just pretend chicken?”   We are going along with this for now as she’s only 3 and I figure this particular horror can wait.  However, I’ve been told that when it comes to it young children are very matter of fact about the slaughtering of animals that are home-reared…as long as we don’t give them pet names.  So ‘the pigs’ it is.

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