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 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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Apples apples everywhere…(Aug 31)

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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 fruit bushes (Aug 1)

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We’ve got 4 gooseberry bushes and they are weighed down with fruit.   Our other fruit bushes (blackcurrant and redcurrant) were stripped by the birds.    They had a feast one evening – and when Ed went in the next day, so many had gone he initially thought that someone had crept into the walled garden overnight and stolen them all…

Covering the fruit bushes with netting WAS on our list to avoid this happening but like many things on the list there are never enough hours.   Clearly though the birds are not keen on gooseberries so we’ve had quite a harvest.   Today we collected more for a crumble and the rest to freeze for gooseberry fool.


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Veggie patch guinea pigs (Jul 22)

 

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The veggie patch is now looking much more professional.  The new wooden posts arrived a few days ago and Ed put them in with the help of Mr C and his digger.  Mr C is also an expert on leeks – and apparently ours weren’t deep enough – so Ed replanted them.  Ed ordered a huge piece of net to cover the whole thing which will keep out the birds. The carrots (in the front) have a finer net over them to stop carrot root fly – put together by our friend Dan who came up from London last weekend.  Clearly we need all the help we can get!

We’ve offered the patch next to us to Mr C but as it all needs digging over he’s going to start on this next year    I think he’s keen to assess our results first…


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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.