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 flowers and memories (May 23)

We wake up to sunshine so Gracie and I take a basket each and head out into the paddock.  These days the paddock is regularly mown to keep the nettles and brambles at bay but Ed has left some well chosen places untouched; along the fence line, under the 2 huge sycamores and on the bank that leads up to the bee hives.  In the shade and among the long grass, wild flowers now grow.  It’s a very pretty sight in the early morning sun and when Gracie starts chasing butterflies I’ve a mind to start laughing out loud.

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Our plan is to collect flowers for the white room as our friend Anna is coming to stay.

I’ve a little knowledge of the names of wild flowers that comes from meandering summer walks with my mother when I was about Gracie’s age.  An Observer’s pocket book in hand, she’d seek out quiet country lanes with vast overgrown verges and shady banks running down to the river.  Anything she couldn’t identify we’d take home – just the one and as long as there were plenty.   I’ve a memory she impressed on me that we should never pick primroses – but she knew where to take me to see them and I can still remember the delight of each new discovery.

Gracie too gasps with delight at each new patch of flowers in the paddock.   We collect red campion, pignut, germander speedwell (my mother called this Bird’s Eyes), tall buttercups and the last of the bluebells.   Of course we don’t know the names of everything so back at the house we turn to the books.    I think the buttercups are bulbous crowfoot and we quickly identify the the common bugle but one delicate lilac flower that grows here in abundance eludes us for several days.    Ed eventually assists and it’s the leaves that clinch it as they taste like beetroot – it’s pink purslane.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claytonia_sibirica

It turns out we have the perfect climate here – it’s native to Siberia – but the recent memory of cold, dreich Scottish days is readily forgotten on a day like this.

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Busy bees (Mar 1)

We have bees.  Well almost – they’re not quite ours yet.   They belong to the local beekeeper Neil, who came to help with the bees in the walls of the house last summer (see The Bee Man – Jun 16).  He’s put two of his hives in the paddock and when one of these is about to swarm it will provide a new colony for one of our own.

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Ed and Mr C got to know Neil through the local monthly Bee Association meetings which they’ve both been diligently attending since the autumn last year.  After reading several books and asking lots of questions they are now raring to go.    I’m a bit apprehensive about the whole bee thing so I’m putting off getting involved until Ed’s become an expert.

Neil put some foliage in front of each hive (you can’t quite see in the pic) to alert the bees to being in a new place as soon as they fly out.   This means they’ll then create a new map of this area instead of relying on all their knowledge about their old location.    Bees are of course super-sophisticated and all my primary school education keeps flooding back – like the “dances” they perform to tell each other where the pollen is.   Ed says a key “dance” is like a figure of 8 – I’m trying to get him to demonstrate but he isn’t willing….

Currently the bees are pretty sleepy as we’re just coming to the end of winter – but towards the end of the spring they’ll be much more active.   So when Ed gets back from his trip it will be swarm-catching time.    Apparently there’s a plan to catch another swarm from the bees that live in the walls of the house.  This is a more complicated arrangement and involves hanging some kind of scented ‘bee-catcher’ in the yew tree close by but I’m not totally clear on how that plan works!

We have 2 new hives on standby…


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Adding up radiators (Jul 16)

We have a mishmash of radiators here and as part of our heating overhaul we’ve worked out that some of them (all the ones from the 50’s) have either no impact because they’re not big enough or they’re rusty and leaking.  We need to replace just over a dozen.

However the handful of Victorian cast iron ‘column’ radiators we have, work well and look lovely.  So our plan is to get more – as cheaply as possible.

Working out what sizes we need has involved a mind-blowing set of sums;    I’ve had to work out the heat output (in kilowatts) we need in each room based on the room’s dimensions.   I’ve then had to deduct the heat supplied by any existing radiators to establish what’s missing.   All my kilowatt figures then have to be converted to old fashioned BTU’s – as this how the heat output is measured in old cast iron radiators.  Once I know what heat output I need I then have to find the right size of radiator with the right dimensions so that it will fit into the space (often under a window). At this point my eyes are squinting as there’s a number of options depending on how the columns in each radiator are arranged  –  from tall and thin to short and fat…Much like the 2 different plumbers who reneged on doing the calculations for me.

It’s all going to be worth it though as I’ve worked out that reconditioned salvage is going to cost us at least half the price of new (a whole other set of calculations) – and hunting around for them is obviously much more fun.

So I’ve been scouring ebay, gumtree and the local flea markets and I even found a farmer nearby who sells stuff that’s been thrown out of old farmhouses.  I’ve found 4 on our list this way.  But the most obvious place is salvage yards and as there are two near here we headed over today with my copious notes in hand.

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Several hours later and I’d ticked off another 8.   So we’re nearly there.  They will all need to be sent off to be pressure tested, sandblasted and painted (colour still to choose) and given that this is a 6 week turn around (with a round trip to Edinburgh) they should arrive in time to coincide with the installation of the new boiler…

Surely this can’t all go to plan….