Sunday, 26 February 2012

It's spring

Spring is declared here at the first primrose in flower on the croft, and that was yesterday morning. We actually spotted one in the woods on the south side of the loch a fortnight ago, but that doesn't count. It has to be on the croft for spring to be officially here.

The potatoes are now chitting, the onion sets are in, and various seeds are sown. Fantastic. It'll no doubt be a slow motion towards the cherry blossom and the arrival of cuckoos and warblers, and we'll no doubt have plenty of snow, sleet, hail and frost yet, but the hazel catkins are yellow already and the grass is growing fast.

Compared to the last couple of years it's an early first primrose, but there have been two even earlier in February in the past 12 years, not forgetting one completely anomalous year when we spotted one out on 28 December.

Particularly exciting yesterday was the emergence of some bees from the hive, looking pretty groggy, just doing feeble little flights, then bumbling around by the entrance. But I like to think they looked as if  they were pleased to be getting some fresh air. It's not warm enough to open up and see how they're getting on, but signs of life at all are most gratifying.

I was intrigued recently to discover that contrary to what you might expect, a really cold winter is not as hard on bees as a mild one like this one has been.When it's really cold they huddle together completely dormant and eat very little so their stores last well. During a mild winter they're less dormant, therefore need more food and there's also more condensation and that increases the risk of disease.

Willow pollen and nectar will make all the difference to the bees in the next difficult month. So you'll find me chanting under the willows, urging their catkins on.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

ingos + architraves = domestic bliss

Some people do DIY. We do Domestic Bliss. Very, very slowly, our big shed (The Great Hall) gets closer to completion. Being incomplete doesn't mean it's not habitable, it simply means that on sleety days like today, progress can be made on fiddly finishing jobs. Planks of wood lurking up in the loft can be brought down, measured up, sawn, drilled and hammered, all of which is deeply satisfying, indeed blissful. 

To add to the bliss, woodwork and joinery has its own, delicious lexicon, as resinous and evocative as the scent of sawdust. Today saw the completion of the ingos and the architraves (for those that have the same understanding of these terms that I had until a few months ago, these are the wooden surrounds for windows and doors etc - ingos are the bits that go in perpendicular to the wall up to the window frame, and architraves are the overlay onto the wall to hide the joins).

So now the last two windows and all the doors have handsome wooden surrounds. They're Douglas Fir, grown in Scotland, and are currently a rather magical pale pink against the honey-coloured pine window frames. They'll darken to a deeper copper colour in time.

It is one of the perpetual pleasures of hut-life that home is built of trees. Wood smells good, it looks lovely and I know of few deeds more satisfying than sawing up bits of wood and nailing them together into something useful. I get the same, profound sense of good-job-well-done from making a basket, but today woodwork is the business.

And miraculously, neither of injured ourselves at all today - no cuts, no hammered thumbs, no aching backs.
Pure bliss.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

The croft - turret

There's a patch of ground at the top of the croft which belongs to me, and on it a proper house was planned. For a while. As part of the plan, an access track was put in, and while the digger was there it was supposed to dig some test holes to check where the bedrock was for the structural engineer. It dug and dug, finding only a seam of fracturing rock, until I cried about the devastation and called a halt. The result is a big hole, which is now a pond, and the house plan on indefinite hold. Since then, recession and caution on the part of mortgage lenders means that it's unlikely I could ever get the finance together to build, and anyway, who needs a house when you've got a caravan on the shore, several sheds, and a turret?

The turret is actually a B&Q potting shed, at the top of a wooded crag, with a stunning view of the mountains and the sea. It's my private writing place. It used to have a wood-burning stove in it, but the chimney leaked and the stove was rubbish, so I've ripped it out. It's in an implausibly exposed position, but it's tied down to its foundations with lorry straps but even so part of the roofing came off in a recent storm. It's repaired again now, and dry once more.

I always loved Rapunzel. Now I too can let down my hair.

Monday, 6 February 2012

The croft - downstairs toilet

The little caravan down on the shore of Loch Roe needed a toilet and this is what we came up with. A good use for an old, holed boat. It blows down every now and again in big gales, but it's been there now for 10 years.

Almost but not quite visible is the toilet itself - a standard sawdust composting bucket with a normal toilet seat. The view is out over Loch Roe, and the tree shelter makes it feel quite private, especially in summer when all the birches are in full leaf.

It was such a glorious day today that we had a picnic down at the shore, on the decking in front of the caravan, basking in sunshine. The loch was flat calm, so the shoreline, the buoys and every island were all mirrored in the water. Also basking were about a dozen seals, and as the sun warmed them, they steamed. It was quite magical - each seal perfectly reflected, complete with its little cloud.