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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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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Footprints on the lawn…(Apr 21)


We still haven’t unpacked everything yet because there are too many other urgent things to see to. The lawn is one of them and it’s our (Ed’s) first big job. It’s over an acre in all.

It’s mostly moss, apart from the molehills (see Counting Molehills Apr 25) with varying patches of grass poking through. It’s so spongy we leave our footprints behind when we walk on it. This apparently is not a good thing, although I’m not sure I would have realized for quite some time unless someone had pointed it out. Ed says it’s too soft to use for much and gets boggy.

Neither of us have had a lawn since we were kids so it’s taken a fair bit of research to work out what we’re supposed to do. A sure sign of middle-age, Ed’s bed time reading is now The Lawn Expert and The Country House Garden. The moss is essentially caused by the wet (not much we can do about that up here on the West Coast) and can be made worse by overenthusiastic mowing (one to remember) as well as bad drainage (the drain is still to find…). Who knew? Lawns have drains.

To get rid of the moss we have to spray with moss killer, wait for the moss to die and then ‘scarify’ – basically comb out the moss leaving just the grass behind. We then have to re-seed and re-fertilise. An extra bit of machinery for the scarifying bit is already on it’s way with the new mower.

The new mower has also been something of a research project – and suffice to say Ed’s going to have to sell his motorbike to pay for it. I’ve suggested that he wear his helmet and leathers while he’s doing the lawn and he’ll hardly know the difference!

We’ve been keenly awaiting the arrival of the mower as the speed at which the grass grows up here has taken on mythical proportions. Mr C, the farmer, keeps reminding us that we better get on with it otherwise we’ll soon be up to our knees and then it’ll all be too late…  Although as one of our friends recently pointed out; given the lawn is mostly moss we may have nothing to worry about.

One option would be to rip it all up obviously and start again/lay down new turf but that’s way too expensive. So scarifying it is. As Ed’s only here at the weekends for now, we don’t have that much time to get on top of everything but we’re determined to do as much as we can on our own. Mr C and our various new neighbours smile knowingly at the mention of us scarifying – but not to be put off, Ed sprayed the lawn with moss killer today. Working out the ratio of moss killer to water to square foot of lawn using a 15 litre back pack was challenging to say the least – but fingers crossed we got it right. Now while Ed’s away the moss should start to die… if we got the mixture wrong the grass will die too…

Once we get to the actual scarifying bit (in a few weeks) the view from my desk of a sea of green could easily turn into a sea of brown. I think it’s fair to say I’m just a little bit scared….