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 drip drip effect (Feb 13)

We knew it was wet here on the wet west coast but even Mr C says he’s never known anything like it and he’s lived here all his life.  It must have rained for at least 100 days and every day more rain is forecast.

It’s creating a few issues – firstly the drive.   We can’t fill in the potholes as the road planings get washed away as soon as we lay them in.    Ed did the drive just before Christmas but a couple of weeks later it was like it had never been done.    We’ve been waiting ever since for a dry-spell but it’s never arrived…

Secondly the gardens – it’s almost impossible to do anything outside.   We were listening to Gardener’s Question Time on the radio recently (this is what happens when you move to the country) and they were discussing how “soothing” gardening is.   Ed laughed – clearly they’ve never had to garden in Scotland.   And the impact on our almost moss-free lawn doesn’t bear thinking about after all that hard work last summer….

The third problem is inside.    Water is dripping into some of the bedrooms from above the windows.   We’ve put this down to holes in the pointing above the lintels outside.     We had someone give us a rough assessment of all the pointing from ground level when we first moved in and they estimated around 60% was in tact.  It appears we’ve located the other 40.    Resolving this is a big job as most of the windows are very high up so the builders will need a lot of scaffolding and scaff’ is expensive…

We weren’t so naive when we bought the house to think that maintenance wouldn’t be a big issue here; the roof, the drive, the walls, the land – it all needs looking after and we expected there’d be some big expenses.   The extended rain’s just given us a crash course in what our priorities should be.    So our plan is to try and set aside a pot of cash every year to do 1 big maintenance job – and it looks like this coming year it will have to be the pointing.

It actually feels quite satisfying uncovering these problems and putting plans in place to resolve them despite all the effort and expense (apart from the lawn, which I fear may be a losing battle  – although Ed is ever optimistic).  It feels good to be investing in the house, that we are learning how to live here and that everything is slowly being repaired.    And given that our initial aim was to be warm and water-tight, we’re already half way there.

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The last cut (Oct 16)

IMG_1786Autumn is setting in and these last dry days have given us one final chance to get all the grass mowed and the lawns in order for winter.

Gracie and I collect 3 buckets of apples from the orchard and then mow the walled garden on the small wheel tractor.   Yes I can now drive a tractor (Ed fixed up the mower attachment and it works brilliantly).  I can also drive a tractor with Gracie sitting on my knee, singing and eating apples and grapes (there’s a tiny vine in the old green house that’s managed to produce a few small sweet clusters without any assistance).   Ed takes care of the paddock and drives.

Then the lawns.  Gracie and I rake leaves while Ed gets back to the never-ending scarifying (see Making Hay – Jun 9).   Various attempts at scarifying have produced so much thatch that it’s an overwhelming amount of work and our many compost pens are overflowing so we’ve downsized our plan with Ed’s recent efforts focussing on the main lawn outside the house.

He’s taken to calling it the croquet lawn which is an admirable aspiration – flat, hard, no moss and well drained.   The ‘croquet lawn’ has now been scarified 3 times and what’s left behind is patchy grass but thankfully no moss.  After a spread of sand (to help with drainage) and some new seed the make-over of the croquet lawn is complete – but it looks a bit naked.    Ed says if the grass doesn’t grow then he’ll have to cover it all in top soil and reseed again.IMG_1811

And as moss is catching –  come the spring, we’ll need to re-start the whole cycle and get to work on the rest of the grass.   Having a good looking lawn it seems requires some serious effort….


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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…