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…


Uncovering the secrets of the walled garden (Jul 16)

When we first moved here just thinking about the amount of work that needed doing to the walled garden was overwhelming.  See – The Walled Garden (Easter Weekend – Mar 30, 2013).     The old vegetable patches hadn’t been tended for years, the green house was filthy and many of the glass planes broken, the orchard looked like it had never been pruned and that winter, before we arrived, the north wall had been seriously damaged in a storm.

Below – the back of the north wall. The repairs were meant to have been carried out by the previous owners…


 Nearly all the garden was rough grass


April – and Ed gets started on one of the 2 overgrown vegetable patches…


The unloved orchard surrounded by mole hills


Despite the daunting task ahead, we were smitten – and one step at a time, our secret garden is starting to bloom.   Ed has worked a year of magic on it and walking up the winding path to the garden door is now more exciting than ever as there’s such a treat in store…


We now have 4 impressive plots of burgeoning green; fruit as well as vegetable patches.   This is our main veggie patch


The green house has had a total make-over and is currently the happy home to 5 tomato vines


At long last the north wall has been properly fixed with stone and lime mortar; a massive job that the previous owners eventually paid for…


The moles hills have also gone, the apple trees have been fed and pruned, and the meadow patches are underway – and there’s so much more to come; hedges and paths, flower borders and a DIY summer house, restored railings and replacing a section of ancient tumble-down wall with old barn doors as gates (the search is on…).   It’s a vision of loveliness.   We are one year in and it’s already taking shape.

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Apples apples everywhere…(Aug 31)


The old orchard in the walled garden (half a dozens trees) has produced hundreds of apples despite the fact that none of the trees have been pruned for years.   They are almost ripe and we’ve been wondering what we’re going to do with them all…

I mentioned this to one of the mum’s at the local toddler group and it turns out her husband and his mate make their own cider.  Happy days.  They live in the village and have a hand-made apple press in their garden shed.

They’ve apparently been on the look out for a good source of local apples for years – so they’ve come up today to check out their potential new supply.    They’ve brought a sugar measuring device with them and seem pretty happy with the results.   2 of the trees are dessert apples for eating and the rest are for cooking, as we suspected.   Both can be used to make their cider.    They’ll come back to pick them next week while we’re away.

250 kilos will make 250 bottles and they think that’s roughly what they’ll collect.  So we can expect a crate or 2 in return next year.

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The Walled Garden (Easter Weekend – Mar 30)

Today was fresh and dry so Ed put our willing new friend Claude to work pruning fruit bushes in the walled garden.   Fiona and I admired the view.

It looks like we have blackcurrants, gooseberries and raspberries – and as yet several other unidentifiable berries.   We planted our first tree – a young apple next to the old. We have half a dozen old trees that obviously haven’t been pruned for years and we’re not sure what to do about them,  although they look beautiful just as they are.  Twisted and ancient and covered in lichen.

What we are actually going to do with the walled garden itself is a much bigger question. It is of course wonderfully romantic; a little winding path leads up to a faded painted wooden door that opens onto a secret garden enclosed by huge stone walls and rusted iron railings. The railings make up one wall and are overgrown with bushes. Today Ed found a pretty iron gate hidden behind them; presumably the once grander entrance for the family of the house with the gardener’s wooden door set in the wall to the side.

But… the walls are crumbling in places and the faded, rusted bits will all need attending to if we are going to maintain this beautiful place properly. There’s the grass to keep under control and the fruit trees to look after – and then we need to decide what to do with the rest of it … vegetable patches? an orchard? greenhouses? flower beds? The previous owners even suggested a swimming pool which has got to be crazy up here right? Then whatever we decide, we need to work out how we’re going to find the time to do it.

It’s easy to be seduced by the magic of this place but once in a while we realise the enormity of what we’ve taken on. It can be overwhelming at times but I’ve quickly worked out it’s best not to think about it too much – you just have to deal with whatever is in front of you. I suppose it’s a kind of love affair – and as long as we have the energy and passion for this wonderful place we’ll find a way to make it all work.