The Croft Diary 1999 - 2012
The original diary contained images but these have not yet been added, all in good time....
My croft is 8 acres of fairly poor land (just left of center in the banner picture) that barely provides enough pasture for a small herd of sheep. However the sheep prevent the whole area from being overrun with bracken. This effect is very noticeable when you look at two sides of a wall separating a croft in use and one that is derelict. Remove the sheep and the landscape would be very different.Most crofters in this part of the world are cutting back of the flock size and some keep crofting due to family traditions which they do not want to see die out. However there are very few new crofters, mainly due to the low financial returns from an occupation that needs a lot of work. The true spirit of crofting which entailed keeping livestock, growing essential food etc is only practised by a hardy few. There are a growing number of people (not just crofters) who now rely on cutting peat for winter fuel. Not surprising given the cost of all types of fuel. I am currently experimenting with willow cultivation in the hope that I will one day be self sufficient in wood for the fire and perhaps add value by selling willow hurdles. Not doing too well so far and realised that fencing will be very expensive, especially if I have to put up deer fencing to minimise the risk of my crop becoming breakfast.
Well this was the month that, after 21 years of employment & association with the British Antarctic Survey, I finally left. I guess that I had been building up to this for some time but even I was amazed as to how easy it was to leave. I was sorry to say farewell to so many good friends but modern communications make staying in touch so much easier so it won't be too bad. I know that many people visit Scotland so I will be happy to see anyone who is "passing". I am sure that the 650 mile journey from Cambridge will not put too many people off... The croft consists of 8 acres of rough land on a small peninsula in Loch Inchard near Kinlochbervie. Rhuvoult is only 15 miles south of Durness which is the most northern village on the west coast of Scotland. Inverness is 100 miles away and also my nearest Tesco, not much chance of home deliveries !. The next time you watch the weather forecast have a look for the topmost bit of the map - that's where I am. Naturally the weather is a hot (?) topic round here and it is a nightmare for weather forecasters. BAS people can equate this area with the Falklands so it's quite easy to get all four seasons in one day. Many of you will know that I should have started a part time job at the end of September. Unfortunately the contract for this year has not been taken up and there will not be any work for me until Feb 2000. This was a bit of a blow and it means that I will not earn anything for the next 5 months !. This has put me in a bit of a spot and it means that I will have to patch up the house to get through the winter. Oh well I will just have to call this place Bluff II. The good news is that I now own 12 sheep ( so at least I won't starve ). I have setup an e-mail address for sheep jokes at firstname.lastname@example.org and will quite happily publish the best. I have also been volunteered as secretary to the local crofters union. This post became mine because of my vast experience of crofting ? - no it's because I can use a pc to write up the minutes and mail-merge adresses etc. Oh well it's good to see that my skills are being utilised....
I have not had much time to pen anything interesting this month. Most of my time is spent keeping one step ahead of the weather. The new road was nearly finished at the beginning of the month but had to be abandoned when the flood gates opened. We estimate that around 400 tons of gravel have been laid to provide the new surface. The gravel came out of the hill behind the house and I now have room for about 25 Landrovers !. Several luxury items have been added to the house. A fan heater in the bathroom stops me shivering and even keeps the floor dry. The shower went "on line" today (11th) so perhaps people will start talking to me again....
This has been a busy month so far. Not that I have been earning anything but have had plenty to keep me occupied in the house and on the croft. Firstly some good news. I have discovered that there will be work for me for a month in November so this will help matters. Mind you I have just received my council tax bill so that will put a big dent in it. Still at least money will be coming in.
The house is still standing but I have just started to investigate what's behind the wooden panelling and found - not a lot !. I realised that the house was completely un-insulated but there also seems to be a lack of timber in the walls. I am reluctant to start pulling the tin sheeting off the external walls as I might cause all sorts of problems. The simplest solution is to build an insulated box inside each room so this will start next week. Finally managed to get the washing machine "on line". This nearly turned into a disaster. The layout of the house does not allow me to group everything logically so the washing machine is in the kitchen which is in the front hall. The only place with water is the bathroom so I used a hose pipe to provide a supply for the washing machine. The hose pipe has to run through the living room.... All was ok until I turned on the water. I had expected to have problems with the connections but I ended up with a water feature that Charlie Dimmock would have been proud to have built. The problem was a tiny hole in the hose pipe. Thankfully the water went in the opposite direction to my PC etc. !.
Anyway the system works well and I can stop relying on my friends machine. Other improvements to the house include a new ring main, so that I can dispense with the dozen or so extension leads to power everything, and a light in the toilet !. Popped down to Inverness last week and bought some plumbing bits from Travis Perkins. I set up an account with them last year and they have given me some great discounts. Anyway I bought a load of copper pipe, fittings and a pipe bender. After a bit of experimenting I manufactured a copper coil. The coil sits in the top of the fireplace and is connected to a small radiator. The system is filled with water through a vent pipe and naturally circulates as the water heats up. This is only a trial system but the results are very promising. With a good fire (ie most of the time) the radiator becomes too hot to touch. My temperature sensor only goes up to 50c but the water is well above this. The idea is to install a second storage tank to feed a series of radiators and be able to choose between domestic hot water and space heating. Fuel is plentiful at the moment as I am still "recycling" the old kitchen through the fireplace.
I have just returned from a three week break in Ireland. It's all part of my bid to recover some of the tax paid during the year so going over there was not such a daft idea. Most of my time was spent with friends who live in County Wicklow near Dublin. This is also near to the vale of Avoca which is the setting for Ballykissangel. I had my photograph taken outside Fitzgerald's pub (as you do) but no sign of Asumpta or Orla !. I did manage to get over to the west coast and even saw some good scenery inbetween the showers. The big problem is the state of the roads and I have to confess that driving around for about 7 hours each day did get tiring. I will never complain about UK roads again !. I did enjoy the Guinness in Ireland - it really does taste different and dosen't seem to give me a hangover.... I can also recommend the new bottled Guinness, it's very different to the original bottles and the more recent cans. Just make sure that the top is removed quickly else you will end up with a glass of flat black liquid.
Well it looks like I have returned to the start of some cold weather. Thankfully the house patching & insulating will make life easier but I have a feeling that I will be using a lot of coal over the next few months. We have about an inch of snow but thankfully in this part of the world things don't stop just because the roads are white.
I am having to write this in February as my web software decided to eat my web site just before Christmas. The software also refused to load the three backup files so I had to start again from scratch. To add insult to injury the software then decided to place the same files on every one of my pages - just as I finished recreating the site. This was enough to make me buy Dreamweaver v3 which I should have bought in the first place !. More unnecessary expense but at least I now have the "best" html editor on the market. I cannot really advertise myself as a "webmaster" if my clients sites keep going awol. Christmas and New year were celebrated in style, the usual excesses of food & drink by all and sundry but very enjoyable.
I had to attend a course at the Met Office College in Shinfield (Reading) as part of my new job. This was a journey back in time as I did my Army apprenticeship (1969) at Arborfield which is just down the road. I did have a drive around and was pleased to see that all the old wooden "spider" buildings have been demolished and replaced with far more suitable accomodation. I needed the course to qualify as a met observer for air traffic control which is part of my job at the range. It was very strange to be back in the classroom, especially as the majorority of the other students were about 19 years old. Thankfully we all managed to pass and I then spent another week at RAF Lossiemouth to work with proffessional met observers.I popped into BAS between "courses" and was quite amused when my ex-boss asked if I wanted my old job back. Tempted ? - nah.
About a week later I went on holiday to Fuerteventura (Canary Is.) to complete the days out of the country for my tax claim. Travelling from the highlands is not easy and I had to leave at 3.30 am on saturday morning to catch the 2 pm flight from Gatwick. I booked the holiday through the internet and Airtours. The problems started when we were dumped at the hotel and realised that the good beaches were in the north and south. We were in the middle of the island. There were other problems with our hotel, food etc but it's not really worth wingeing any more. Enough to say that I cannot recommend the Island and will not use Airtours again.
Anyway the good side was we had great weather (max 28C) and I met some good people. Maybe they will keep in touch (Mo, Marc & Ruth - hint). So it's all back to normal now. I do not intend to do any more travelling which will upset Mastercard as they are happy to collect interest from me. The priority is to get the new house designed so that work can start around June/July. I need to complete the new wing before next winter so that I will have somewhere a bit more practical to live. It will also provide a storage area so that I can move out of the old building and demolish it. I am going to be very short of funds so will probably end up building most of it myself.
Is it possible that winter is over ?. Trust me to move up here just as we have the wettest winter for many years. I feel sorry for the sheep, it seems they never really dried off before getting wet again. Today the weather is great and I even managed to sit outside and bask in the sunshine. My sheep are due to arrive back on the croft and should start lambing in about a month's time. I am still hoping to get a digital camera and will post pictures as and when. I had to attend a four day first aid course in Inverness at the begining of the month. This is part of the job requirement for my range work and I need to keep my certificate current each year.
My plans for the house re-build are still changing by the week but I really must make some firm decisions soon or else I will be spending another winter in this tin hut - not! I guess there is not much going on at the moment. I am still looking round for a Border Collie but they seem to be in short supply. According to my web statistic software I am getting around 1000 requests for pages per month which is very encouraging. Most of the requests are from .ac.uk so I guess that a lot of BAS people are keeping in touch although I haven't had much e-mail. There have been several requests from .com, .ie (eire) and .nz (new zealand). Trying to keep my site popular with the search engines is a pain especially when I created a string of keywords but forgot to put spaces after each comma. The net result was a single word of about 100 characters that could not be recognised by any search engine. Hopefully I will now get more interest from casual surfers.
Funny how things work out.... In my last newsletter I mentioned that I was looking for a Border Collie. Last tuesday a friend told me that he knew of a collie pup that needed a good home.... well I now have a 5 month old energetic fluffy pup called Nell. This is going to be an interesting few weeks for both of us, especially as she is not house trained and I do not have a kennel - yet !. We went shopping on friday to get food, doggy bowl, worming tablets etc (no the tablets are not for me). At least she travels well. I have the materials for building a kennel but the weather has just turned bad and we have gales from the north-east. Not good building weather. Nell will have to live in the house for a while and I will have to watch her like a hawk - especially after meals !.
The above picture was taken with a low res camera connected to the pc. Trying to get Nell to stay still and pose while I press the camera button is no easy task so apologies for them being out of focus. 1 April...... I should have known better than to assume that winter had finished. I heard Nell moving around the hall at 6.30 on saturday morning so I thought I would let her out for a run in the garden. I opened the front door and we both looked out into a blizzard of Antarctic proportions. Nell turned round and went straight back to her bed. This left me with a slight problem. I knew that, despite several walks, she had not "been" for at least a day and was probably a tad uncomfortable. So I had to chose between a "loaded" dog and a blizzard...... The blizzard won ! I have started to train her with the basics such as sit, stay lie down etc but Nell seems to translate these commands as "do whatever you want to ". I guess it will take time
8 April I have sheep !. No it's not a personal problem. The bad weather took us all by surprise last week so my flock have arrived today. I have just returned from a walk along Oldshoremore beach with Nell. It's her first experience of the sea but she will be ok. I am still building the kennel & run for her but I may have to make it from wrought iron - she chews & eats everything. Next: June 2000
There goes another month and still not a lot has happened. Stopped bottle feeding Leo(!) last week as he was having trouble getting it all down his neck. I guess he would have been happy having a bottle each day for the next 6 years. All the sheep have moved onto pastures new for a while to let the croft recover a little. Having said that it does seem to be a much better shade of green than the surrounding land so overgrazing should not be a problem. My experiments with solar water heating are proving interesting. I have built a panel of about 1/2 sq metre using 15mm copper tube and lots of black paint. I managed to get a double glazed window insert from Wickes in Inverness and sealed the whole thing up. I was amazed to see the panel air temperature shoot up to over 50C (the limit of my thermometer) in a matter of minutes. I then added 50mm of insulation to the back panel and forgot about it. The next day I found the inner glass panel had cracked. I can only assume that the air temperature had rocketed and caused the break. The glazed unit was bedded on silicon sealant so there is no mechanical strain. Anyway I have since discovered that most panels use single glazing..... The panel is now connected up to my hot water tank and I will be interested to see how the whole thing works.
I now have to develop a logging and control unit to ensure that the circulator pump does not operate until the water in the heating circuit is greater than the tank water. To be honest I am surprised that more people do not use this technology - it is so simple. Anyway if it works up here then it will work anywhere !. Hopefully I will be able to add windpower to my house before the winter arrives. Unfortunately this is an expensive area but I may find a company that will supply a wind generator in return for advertising. That's all for now. I should have some pictures of the Kinlochbervie raft race for the July page.
Well what can I say - another two months have almost passed and I apologise for not keeping my site up to date. The above picture is of yours truly bottle feeding "Leo" (the name was quite popular a while back) but unfortunately he did not survive so I have ended up with 10 lambs from 10 sheep. I experienced my first sheep auction a couple of weeks ago and the price seems to be rising so most farmers are a bit happier. Of course for most of us there is little or no profit in keeping sheep but I feel that it is a worthwhile tradition that needs to be kept alive. The Scottish landscape would be very different if these fluffy four-legged hoovers became extinct. That reminds me - the price of wool is almost the same as the price of having a sheep sheared. There is no local market so if anyone wants some genuine wool from Coopers croft let me know around June next year. And another thing - would anyone like to sponsor a sheep for the winter !. Just a little idea that would help pay for winter feed, jabs, milk etc. I was thinking that a donation of £10 would be about right. You would get : The undivided attention of a 6 year old ewe, although I have to say that their conversation is a bit limited, they only talk about baar's and you only see them at meal times. The chance to "name your ewe" A photograph of your ewe with a personalised cloven hoof print as a mark of authenticity. I will publish a list of all sponsors and their adopted sheep names. Send a cheque or postal order and your details to me. See contacts section for my info.
I have realised that many of you will not know that I returned Nell to her owner in late April. There were a number of reasons for this but basically I could not cope. I was not prepared for her and she arrived just before the lambing season. I had very little control over her (not surprising) and she had to spend most of her time on a lead. I did not feel it was fair and arranged to take her back. I was gutted but it was the right thing to do. Nell is now being trained and will probably turn out to be a very good working dog. One day I will think about getting another but at least I will be better prepared. I have finally got most of the items I need to start producing framed pictures, calendars etc. The idea is to be able to offer a complete service for weddings and other occasions and I seem to have had a reasonable start.
I was the official photographer for two of my local friends a couple of weeks ago. This was my first wedding. It was hot, humid and the midges were driving everyone nuts. I did manage to rattle off 4 rolls of film and ended up with a fair set of pictures. Thankfully I am able to scan and tweak the pictures on my PC so the final results are quite good. I have another wedding in September so hopefully I will get better with practice. On the house front nothing has changed. My idea of building a temporary living module in the front garden requires planning permission and it would seem that my best bet is to get proper plans dawn up for the main house re-build and find somewhere local for a few weeks during the actual construction. I have a friend who is generating ideas for me which I will pass on to a timber frame company.
My finances are, and always will be, severely restricted but I am sure that a good design need not cost the earth. I will insulate and draught proof the existing living room, create a better kitchen and add a porch to get me through this winter. I have had a few visitors over the last couple of weeks but the season is very short and I doubt that I will see anyone else until next year. I have to confess that it will be much nicer for visitors when I have a proper house but until then I just take them to the top of my hill to soak up the view. Funny how my tin shack gets forgotten after that. My range work starts up again in mid September and it will be nice to get back into it. Funny, I was sitting at home shelling peas the other day and I thought it was an appropriate thing for me to do. The raft race: Despite a great deal of 11th hour work by myself and Alan Taylorson our raft did not win the day. Unfortunately the wind was howling down the loch and our craft had too much windage. Before you ask - I was not rowing. The four girls from the Rhiconich Hotel tried really hard but the elements were against them. Never mind there is always next year...
Whoops, there go another 4 months since I last wrote. Amazing how time flies. I guess the problem is that very little has happened that is worth recording and life just drifts by. I seem to remember August and September being fairly wet and full of midges. More work was done on the house to make it warmer and less drafty. I even replaced the front door and removed a wall to make the kitchen bigger. An alcove has been built to house the kitchen sink but I haven't installed this yet... The hot water tank has been on it's travels again and is now a feature of the living room. The idea is to connect it to the fireplace heating coil which will give me the luxury of running hot water in the kitchen. At present I wash up in the bathroom and use the shower to fill a washing bowl. A Calor gas fire keeps the kitchen area at a reasonable temperature and encourages me to cook proper meals instead of eating pre-packaged stuff. Another luxury has been the purchase of a tumble dryer - how did I exist before !.
A surprise e-mail from BAS led to a short contract to provide cruise support on the JCR. I flew to the Falklands around mid November and returned a week before Xmas. It was a great cruise, good weather and met up with a lot of friends. I am sure that some did not realise that I had actually left BAS. Xmas day was spent up at the Rhiconich Hotel. Somehow I had been placed in charge of the turkey - a great but worrying honour. It nearly turned into a disaster when the hotel kitchen ovens decided not to work properly and after a couple of hours the bird was showing signs of boredom. A quick burst of panic saw me taking the turkey for a walk to the hotel flat and another oven. By some miracle it was ready on time and tasted pretty good. Not sure if Delia Smith wants to publish my cooking style but it seemed to work. The whole day was excellent and it even snowed in the evening.
New year was pretty quiet. I decided to "pop" down to Inverness on Jan 2 to do some shopping but had no idea that Scotland has an extra day's holiday. 100 miles is a long way to travel to find that Tesco is closed. Eventually went back on thursday to re-stock my food shelves. Of course shopping at Tesco now takes much longer as they seem to add new items every day. I am still waiting to see someone purchase a widescreen telly and put it on the conveyor belt - swipe that then !!.
The landrover is still going strong and I had the timing belt replaced just before I went south. It is now due for a 60k mile service so I hope not too many problems are discovered. My range work starts up again in a couple of weeks time and should be fairly intense for a few months. The first week is always bad as I have to get up at 6 am - not something I have done for a long time.
My "sheep adoption" progam has not been very successfull, in fact I have not received any sponsorship at all so I guess it was not such a good idea. The sheep are still away from the croft at the moment but should be back soon. 9 Jan Saw my first eagle today !. Just looked out of the window and noticed that the skyline towards Foinaven had an extra bump on it. Not sure what sort it was but there have been reports of a sea eagle that visits the area on a regular basis. Unfortunately it sat still for a long time and of course I was not watching when it flew away.
The other event today was the eclipse. Did not think we would see anything as there was a lot of cloud and it even started raining. However the weather cleared long enough to view the initial shading and it was quite clear by the time the eclipse had finished. Ok that's enough for now, I don't want to get carried away with this writing lark.
Update I wonder if the sight of an eagle combined with an eclipse is actually a bad omen. It certainly was for me as the following day I received a letter from my employer informing me that my contract had been terminated. Apparently the company has been making cut backs and of course sub-contractors are the first to get the chop. It is ironic that the only reason I left BAS and moved up here and bought the Land Rover was because of the job. I could not afford to miss out on a 5 (or more) year contract. My original plan was to get enough cash together to rebuild the house and then take my chance with getting a job. Naturally this was not good news for me and I now have 4 months to find alternate employment. Not easy in an area that is suffering from reduced fishing and a slump in fish farming. I have a few ideas but will have to wait and see if anything turns up. Thankfully I did not re-build the house so I have no mortgage etc.
On a happier note.... I spent last weekend connecting the hot water tank to the fire heating system and routed pipes into the kitchen. The sink has finally been fitted and I now have the luxury of hot and cold water. I am amazed at how efficient the copper coil is. I put the immersion on to get the water hot initially but have not had to use it since. Bearing in mind that I am using heat that would normally go straight up the chimney so it is effectively free heating. The cold weather continues to hang around. My drive has been like a skating rink and has not thawed for over a week. Two days ago we had a very sharp frost (unusual round here) which froze my shower - looking forward to the weekend when it is supposed to get milder.
The car has now had it's 60k service and I am told it is in very good condition. There is a good chance that I may have to part with it if things get tight but I am reluctant to do this as I would lose a lot of money and it is such a useful vehicle. Maybe I will have some better news next month.
Apologies for not updating this site but I guess things eased off after christmas and I did not have much news to pass on. We had a dry winter, very different from last year when it seemed to rain non-stop from november to may. There was an unusual amount of snow that stayed around for a couple of weeks causing a few delays to our postal service but life quickly returned to normal. Thankfully foot and mouth did not reach this area and most of the movement restrictions have now been lifted. Following my contract cancellation in January I was unable to work my notice as the range area was closed off. The range has now opened but as I officially became jobless on 10 May it is no longer of any relevance. Naturally I have had a lot of time to contemplate my future.
There is little or no work in the area and I cannot see myself commuting 4 hours a day to Inverness. The local PC/Photography work still arrives but is unpredictable and certainly not sufficient to live on. A new twist has been scanning & printing watercolour paintings from a local artist. My investment in high quality equipment is paying off as the results are indistinguishable from the originals. It was a natural progression to provide a complete service including picture framing and I used the last of my cash to purchase everything nescessary to start the business. It is amazing how expensive this gear is but the results are impressive and I can confidently turn out framed pictures as good as any I have seen. It will take a long time to recoup the outlay but at least it is another service I can offer. I have started to advertise locally and show a few pictures in the Rhiconich hotel. Hopefully the tourist industry will recover and I can sell some work.
The three pictures at the top of the page are examples of my work and are printed in widescreen format with a black border and frame. This works well and I have also produced A6 miniatures of some watercolours also with a black frame. Black does seem to set everything off well but I have to be carefull not to become the "Henry Ford" of picture framing - any colour so long as it's black !. think the hardest part is matching frame moulding and mountboard to the picture but I will get better at this as time progresses. My kitchen "extension" now has a window so that I have a great view of Ben Stac while I am washing up. I added a couple of shelves and started growing herbs. These have now been transplanted to a series of growbags on a shelf outside the house. I needed to keep the plants out of reach of the sheep as they are partial to corriander.... Talking of sheep, I now have 8 lambs from 7 sheep. Just one to go but she seems determined to hang on. The ewe's are 8 years old now so this has to be their last season. Problem is that there may not be any sales this summer so I may have them as "guests" for next winter as well.
I'm back... Those of you with eagle eyes may have noticed that this site and the diaries have not been updated since 2001. The reason is that I quite simply ran out of money, applied for my job back at the British Antarctic Survey and have been working for them for the last 6 years. However it was always my intention to get back to the croft and had planned to return sometime in 2008. I had a change of heart in September and moved back on the 21st. So it's back to the tin hut which is even more cramped as I have all my clatch from Cambridge to fit in as well. At least I have everything I own in one place again even if I can't find anything. If the definition of retiring is quitting work and drawing my pension then I guess I have retired !. I hasten to add that I am retiring earlier than necessary so I have a way to go before my 60th. Leaving work early and drawing my pension does have a financial penalty so I need to work to boost my income.
To this end I have struck a deal with Barry Pearson who operates the Container Gallery in Kinlochbervie and he is lending me half the gallery space until I can find suitable facilities of my own. The idea is to resume the picture framing business I was running in 2001 and also offer a photographic service (portraits etc). So far from lounging around all day I have been very busy fitting out my workspace to suit the picture framing equipment. The work is almost complete and I should be able to startup again around 12 November. I do not expect a great deal of business over the winter period so I can concentrate on generating stock framed pictures. Hopefully I can sort out an exhibition of my Antarctic pictures sometime next year. It would be nice if the pictures sell as I think my slide collection is pretty comprehensive. Mind you when I advertised 12 of my "best" pics on ebay I only sold one at £4.95 !. Not sure if I will try that route again.
Portrait work is something I have not tried before but I am devouring books on the subject and have invested in studio lighting. Amazing how many gizmo's there are for this sort of work and I have to check my spending or else I will never break even, let alone make a profit.
Life on the croft is pretty quiet as I have no sheep or other livestock to worry about. I do not intend to keep any animals except maybe a few chickens next year. The croft needs to be used so I have decide to plant a few areas with willow which I can use as biomass. The theory is that in a couple of years time I can be harvesting enough willow to fuel my house fire and perhaps turn any excess into willow hurdles or something just to add value to the crop. Incidently this form of heating is carbon neutral - carbon absorbed during growth is released during burning. I think that biomass from timber could be a massive energy resource in Scotland, after all we do have a few trees... I do actually have one 4 legged visitor that has kept me awake for a few nights. No it is not a pet sheep.... It is a stoat.
A couple of years ago I was sat outside on a glorious summers day (yes we do have them) and spotted some beady eyes looking at me from the dry stone wall in the garden. A few minutes later there were four stoats playing around in some bits of timber just by the house. I quietly went inside, got my video camera and started filming. They seemed oblivious to me and at one point came within a couple of feet. This went on for 45 minutes and most of the filming was done on full zoom so it is all a bit wobbly. Anyway the experience was tremendous and I felt highly honoured. Anyway a week or so ago I was woken by a noise in the kitchen. At first glance I could not see anything wrong but then noticed that things had "moved". I have a George Forman table top grill which has a plastic drip tray. This tray had moved from one side of the grill to the other. No mean feat as it is fairly large and does not fit underneath.
My first reaction was that I have been visited by a rat which prompted a complete cleaning of all work surfaces and other stuff. Later I rigged up a camera with infra- red capability and was amazed (and relieved) to see that it was a stoat. Since then I have had this camera in various positions inhside and outside the house and I am slowly building up a pattern of his activities. I will post pics on the next update.
That is enough for this first diary entry. I suppose it should be called a blog but I am a bit traditional at heart so will stick to the word diary. Just need to say a fond farewell to my many friends at BAS, sorry I did not have time to say goodbye but the decision to leave was spontaineous and speedy. Hopefully I will still see a few people if anyone ventures this far north but I will not be moving far from here for a long time.
I am considering naming my house "Duntravellin"....
Happy New Year ! The last few months have been spent getting the picture framing workshop organised. I have had a small amount of work so far but given that everything is generally quiet at this time of year it's not surprising. At least I am well stocked and it will be a nice change to have money coming in as opposed to the endless invoices during the setup period. Keeping enough, and the correct, stock is quite tricky. Quoting for a frame in a moulding and mount that I do not stock means £50 minumum moulding order, 20 mountboard sheet minumum order and a delivery charge of £20. That is quite an investment for a single frame so the object is to use existing stock. However it is also important to frame using the right combination of materials so once a month I will bite the bullet and place a new order. I guess it will be a year before I know if the business is a success but at least it keep me off the streets.
Not too much happening on the croft as I am still deciding what to do with the land. The Land Rover went down to Inverness for a very expensive service. This one involved replacing every single fluid on the vehicle and I had a new battery fitted as well. I also invested in a block heater. This is esentially a 2.5kW heater that sits in the coolant circuit and can raise the block temperature to around 85C in 45minutes. The advantage is that the engine will be warm before starting on a cold day. This reduces engine wear and also means the interior is toasty instead of arctic.
I mentioned in my last diary entry that I had a Stoat as a house guest. Well after 6 weeks of almost 24/7 recording I managed to "capture" him. It was quite an effort to edit 24 hours of film to extract a couple of minutes so I started to use telltales in the places he visited. This made editing a little easier as moving the telltale was obvious even when scanning through at high speed. At some point I will put the video together but for now I have a few stills. Bear in mind that Stoats do not hang around anywhere for long !. These pictures are taken in the "kitchen" just by the front door. Fats (as he is now called) managed to steal the drip tray I mentioned and it is now probably hidden between the walls. Fats managed to find three ways of getting into the kitchen but all are sealed so he should lose interest soon.
Apologies for the low quality but the camera is low resolution and these are captures from video. Also the camera colours are poor in low light and it captures infra red when the lights are off. Anyway you can see that Fats is adopting his winter white camouflage.
This is a cute image of Fats when he returned to retrieve the drip tray he hid in the wall. Just to the right of the heater is a wall void that I filled with expanding foam to keep the wind out.
This did not stop him and he spent quite a long time digging a hole to get at the fat store.
This was his next tunnel into the kitchen which I discovered by accident. The lid is a telltale that allows me to see activity when editing the video clips.
This was a funny sequence. I came home at about 4.30 pm which was a favourite time for Fats to visit. I think he must have been busy chomping through the insulation again and did not hear me arrive. Having seen that the telltale lid had moved I replaced it and stopped the video and immedialy restarted it again.
Checking throught the video I saw that Fats had come into the kitchen but had not left. So he must have been caught out and still in the kitchen when I arrived. I stopped/started the video and saw the tell tale had moved again so more activity.
The yellow arrow shows Fats in mid air and blurred as he takes his chance for freedom.
The next picture shows him in full flight at the back of the fridge...
And back down to safety !.
I have timed this sequence and he made the journey in 2.18 seconds. No wonder they are hard to see on video. Incidently the black dots on the mat are not what you think !. I spilled some bird seed... honest.
So that tunnel has been sealed as well so that takes care of Tom & Dick but what about Harry ?. Well we finally came face to face one night after he had found a way throught the roof !. I opened the kitchen door and Fats was sitting on the draining board. I swear I saw his eyes roll... Anyway he did an amazing set of acrobatics to get back into the roof which deserved 10/10. I have only seen Fats once since and that was when he managed to trip a mouse trap with his nose. He lept into the air (without the trap) and disappeared never to be seen again. I will keep my eyes open for him again but he was becoming a bit of a pest so perhaps this was for the best.
Enough of this excitement.... More next month.
Well January passed with a whimper. I seem to have spent the whole month just trying to stay warm and the weather has been poor to say the least. Not very much happening round here, I think most people just keep their heads down and look forward to warmer times. The gallery is ticking over and I have had work from a long way off so word seems to be spreading. My only competition in Ullapool (80 miles away) has ceased trading so that may be good news for me. I did set a record by going for exactly one month between Tesco visits. Quite a change from the 4 times a week in Cambridge. Have to confess it was a challenge to find a square meal towards the end but a new chest freezer has made the difference. Mind you the temperature on my kitchen floor is generally 1 degree above ambient so I put stuff into the fridge to warm it up...
I have added a picture sales section to display some of the framed pictures in the gallery. These will be mostly my own work and I will add more as time goes on. I am looking forward to tourists returning to the area and will be interested to see which pictures sell well. The Rhiconich Hotel has finally changed hands and hopefully the new owners will be bringing it back to life. I have passed on the hotel website to them so will have to cross it off my list of sites. However I still have this one and www.antarcticimages.co.uk which is getting a lot of attention but no sales as yet.
Another new addition is the visitor location map from Google, just a bit of fun to see where my website hits are coming from. Curiously my site seems to be popular in Arizona so a big hello to y'all. Sorry about that. The house has put up with some fierce winds over the last month but everything is still hangin on ok (fingers crossed). However during the really bad storms I did hear water drops on my living room ceiling. I guess that rebuild clock is ticking. Ok not really anything else to mention so that is all until March.
Well the run of poor weather continues but at least we will not have a water shortage for the next 350 years. Gallery picked up well at the beginning of the month and I located a source of cheap glass & mountboard in Oakham. Oakham is just north of Cambridge which is a long, long way from here. However a few calculations showed that even with the fuel and other costs it was still a good deal. En route I caught up with the family and also a few friends so that made the trip worthwhile as well. The glass was loose, 2mm thick and 1200x915mm. I had to construct a carrier for the back of the land rover to ensure that all 120 sheets made the 700 mile journey. I have to say that listening to the timber frame creaking behind me concentrated the mind for the whole 18 hour journey back. Thankfully everything arrived in 120 pieces and the weather even smiled on me during unloading.
I used the farm jack to lift one side of the land rover.....
So that the glass could be slid out sheet by sheet. It only took 4 hours.....
My new oval mount cutter arrived as well so I have been spending a long time getting to grips with the machine and producing even more scrap mountboard. However I did get an immediate order for a triple cutout. Think it came out ok for a first attempt.
Well the time has flown by and 5 months have passed since I last put finger to keyboard. I guess not too much out of the ordinary has happened, the gallery is getting busier but most of my trade still comes from local people. Not sure how the summer went in terms of tourists but I think we are all feeling the pinch. To attract a bigger market I decided to introduce some new lower cost items. This started off with a new local telephone directory commissioned by the Xmas lights fund. 140 copies were made and they sold out within 3 weeks.
The equipment and techniques used on the directory formed the basis for my range of notebooks (see menu on left) and the Sunset Calendar. The notebooks have been a great success and will be very popular as Xmas gets closer. I have produced several bespoke versions and just had an order for 40 of the A6 versions for a local business. Producing the calendar has been problematic as most people would buy in bulk to get the cost down. I have no idea how many I will sell so they are all hand made. This takes a long time and I had to resort to a bulk ink system on my printer just to make it possible. If this proves to be a good seller than next years will not be produced in house and I will take a gamble on sales.
Something else that is taking up my time is the arrival of a mobile home. This 38'x12' structure had an interesting journey and we had to shift around a lot of earth to get it located. Well worth it though as it is luxurious compared to living in the house. Just need to do a few mods to make it a bit warmer for the winter...! Not sure how many people actually read these diaries but always happy to hear from anyone who is is interested in this part of the world.
You may remember from my earlier diaries that I have been experimenting with heat recovery from my open fire. Well I have the system fairly well tuned now and just a single pipe is sufficient to raise the water temperature to around 50 C. Initially the pipe was buried in the heart of the fire but I was producing too much hot water and had to drain the tank a couple of times just to "quieten" things down a bit. Anyway I have not had to use the immersion heater for several weeks.
I did manage to bring back some of that good 'ol southern flu and that has been quite intense for the last 10 days. Worst part is not being able to sleep horizontal as I start coughing really badly. So resorted to sleeping upright on the sofa. Very poor quality sleep that is slowly catching up with me. Latest problem is completely blocked ears. Actuall painful to talk to people so I have shut up shop until next week. Oh well that will teach me to get a flu jab next year.
That is my first full year in the gallery completed and I have been looking at just how I fared financially. Not too bad considering we had a lousy tourist season, the credit crunch is having an effect and this festive season was not all that festive in terms of turnover. In anticipation of an even worse year ahead I have decided to cut my losses and move from the gallery up to the croft. This has several benefits such as more space, my own display area, reduced overheads and proper working room for photographic portrait work. So I am fitting out another old mobile home and turning it into my new workshop.
The extra space will be a blessing but there will be a lot of work to replace the floor, insulate etc. Some good news though as I have been getting other work (scanning, printing etc) so this will help offset the downturn in framing. I am chasing other ideas so we will see what happens. Life in the mobile has been interesting, especially when we get 80mph winds. Sleepless nights and my fingers are crossed everything stays together so I can get the new roof on in the summer.
Fuel consumption (electric) is far less this year than when I was in the house. At least the mobile has some insulation and the bit I have added does make a difference. Still need to look at wood burner (probably outdoor) to get bills down even more. Not much else going on at the moment so more next month
Well not the greatest month so far. Had to cancel xmas with the family due to illness so ended up going south about 2 weeks ago. Good to catch up with friends & family but wintery weather puts a damper on things. Thought I was being clever by buying extra Indian takeaways from Pipasha in Cambridge (best in the area if you need a recommendation) but managed to leave them behind. No doubt they will not last long..... Made it back to Rhuvoult ok and my concerns that the pipes had burst were unfounded. Unfortunately the pipes in the mobile were totally frozen and, as they are routed under the house, would stay that way until the weather improved. In preparation I fitted new pipework inside the mobile but ran out of fixings.
Went to Inverness the following day, set off at 1000 and arrived at 1730.... Had a minor detour off the road on a steep hill in poor conditions and ended up with a wheel on the wrong side of the crash barrier. Mutter mutter.... Eventually recovered by a local garage who straightened out a few bits and I was on my way again. That night at 0005hrs precisely the water came back on. All would have been well had I not left a tap fully open. Flooded the bathroom, hall and part of the bedroom. Quite a feat in a mobile home. More muttering.... Continued the new plumbing next day and discovered that the gas water heater had not survived being frozen.
Another dash to Edderton (3 hour round trip) to get a new heater. Running out of mutters at this point. The good news is that all is working now. Unfortunately I have no excuse to use a friends power shower and am back to the feeble one in the mobile. Oh well. So I am now back to the state I was a few weeks ago but little to show apart from a reduced bank balance. The new workshop is taking shape, all the inside has been gutted and a new insulated floor laid. Just about to construct benches and storage so I can move stuff in soon. Will post pics when finished. Not much more to report - thankfully....
Time flies.... So winter is long forgotten and I took full advantage of the first rays of warm sun to sit outside an sunbathe. A rare occasion up here and there is only a short window when you can do that without being bitten. Speaking of which I had my first midge bite on 22 May so that is a worry. The workshop is turning into a proper working space but it was a lot of effort to shift everything from the gallery. Thankfully the 100 sheets of glass survived and the mountboard was also undamaged. I hate to think how much weight has been added to the mobile and extra support blocks are in place under the frame. Biggest problem is that the whole roof lifts up when the weather is bad. Now have temporary straps in place but need to add an over roof before next winter. Just something else to do...
I have had a bit of work since moving up to the croft but as expected life is very much quieter. Swings and roundabouts as I no longer have to pay rent etc so running costs are very low. Hope to have some sort of central log burner installed to heat workshop and mobile. The mobile home and framing workshop are still works in progress. Just realised that I did not post any pics so here are a few to get on with.
Site preparation, another few hundred tons of gravel to be shifted.
Negotiating the tight bend.
38' x 12' Luxury !
Not used to this level of comfort.
Connecting power, phone, satellite & soil pipe.
Start of the woodworking & storage shed.
Green building is the new framing workshop.
I decided that the house needed a more convenient access door so I just hacked a hole in the side of the house. Luckily the weather forecast was accurate for a few days.
Time flies....again !
I seem to have spent most of my days building but at least I have something to show for it. The workshop is almost finished, just the profile sheet roof and wall cladding to do. At least it is dry (ish) inside and is a useful place to work. The decking solves the problem of wading through mud and I can get out of the car and unload the back without getting muddy. There is now a new room that joins the living mobile and framing workshop. Many problems trying to get this section watertight but it is not too bad now. Inside I have installed a wood burning stove which produces hot air to heat both buildings. Works quite well but the weather has not been too bad so far. I seem to spend a lot of time in there with the fire door open. Very relaxing.
The plumbing is an experiment to collect some of the flue heat to warm the water tank. Only real problem is the amount of wood I am getting through. Still getting used to the stove but on the other hand I need to heat a large, poorly insulated area so something has to give. Of course you can cut this lot with an axe but one of these is much better !! Actually I found that using an axe or wedges plays havoc with my right shoulder. I have a problem with the joint that won't go away. So I guess it was a good excuse to get the machine. Next project is to create a heat store so I can move away from gas to provide my hot water. A large red calor gas bottle costs around £75 and the last one went for 66 days. Very expensive.
Work has been fairly thin on the ground but I will not be fully ready until the start of next season so not been advertising. Also the continuing closure of the Mission in Kinlochbervie has snookered my plans for a local outlet for my notebooks etc. Maybe next year. The picture framing workshop is also coming on well but many things still to do. However (when it is warm) it is a good workspace.
Like everywhere else in the UK, the weather is a major source of conversation. In this part of the country the bad weather started early and we seem to have had more days below freezing than above. On several occasions my drive has been a sheet of ice that even the land rover cannot cope with. I ordered a set of snow chains before xmas which finally turned up the other day. Ironic that the delivery driver had decided his front wheel drive transit was more than a match for the conditions. I returned home to find his van well and truly stuck and blocking my drive. Fitted the chains but only managed to gouge big grooves in the track. Eventually had to get a local + JCB to get him out. The wood burner has been doing sterling work but with such a large area to heat I have to resort to electric heating as well. It takes many hours before the fire can overcome the heat losses from the uninsulated gallery etc. Generally it is warm enough to work by mid evening, just when I really don't feel like it !.
Another problem is getting some of the equipment up to temperature. Still managed to do quite a bit so must not grumble. One bonus of the cold weather is that I have been able to get out with the camera on a few occasions. The best one was a few days ago photographing deer. They are having a really bad time of course and many will not survive the winter. However there has been an explosion in the deer numbers in recent years so this weather will have an impact. Although they are cute they do a lot of damage to trees and crops and are regarded as a pest by most people.
Hopefully this weather will ease off soon but of course we are only just heading into what should be the coldest time of the year so who knows.
Just when you think winter is over it starts snowing again. Normally the onset of lambing is a sign that the weather will change but we had a few great days last week so now have to pay for it !. Work has been thin on the ground recently and I have just started this years accounts. Always dread doing this and I will make a loss again this year. So I have decided to stop framing for the general public and concentrate on selling my own framed pictures. That way I can control stock much easier and will not end up with a lot of stuff I cannot sell. I wiil of course keep framing for one or two of my best customers.
A few weeks ago we had an open day at the police station and all the major services turned up. Unfortunately the star attraction, sar helicopter, was called away to deal with an incident. The weather was not brilliant but around 150 people attended over the course of the day so that made it worthwhile. I was commissioned to photograph the event and managed to get a few decent pictures.
The other big attraction was a police dog who looked cute but we were reminded of its real purpose.
Another dog but this one is called Moilly and she is a blond labrador. This was taken as she was being chased by a large (friendly) alsation on Oldshoremore beach.
This aircraft landed on the beach at Balnakeil, Durness.
By way of an example the next two pictures show the difference that a good frame can make to a picture. It is part of a set of six that I reframed for a prestigious customer in Achfary, about 20 minutes south on Kinlochbervie. When they came in I thought the job would be straightforward but it turned out to be a bit of a challenge.
The prints are from etchings and I found a frame moulding that also looked as if it had been finished in the same way so the final result really compliments the picture. My aim is always to frame in such a manner that neither adds or detracts from the original picture and I was really pleased with the results.
I have finally got round to planting a small stand of willow, around 100 trees. The idea is to eventually be self sufficient in firewood and as Scotlands forests will be a lot smaller in 20 years this is the time to start planting.
Beach at Durness
Ok, so who spotted that this site has not been updated for another year...just me then !.
In a nutshell... I think I spent every non-rainy day working on my roof and had it completed just in time for the winter which of course arrived early. It has so far proved to be very useful and I no longer have to worry about the caravan roofs peeling off. There are a few areas where water still get through but this just lands on the original roof and runs away. Another addition was to create a front porch and new front door. This acts as a buffer to any easterly wind and limits the amount of cold air getting into the "atrium" and wood burning stove area. So I am not losing so much heat and more ends up in the workshop.
Yet another feature is a wood store which also contains the hydraulic splitter. The bedroom/office also had a revamp and I now have an insulated and carpeted floor so no real problems with cold feet. All of this has had an impact on my energy consumption and although electricity has stayed the same I purchased £70 of logs and £50 coal in december, still have 50% of the logs left and one bag of coal so much less used compared with 2010. Workwise I had a good winter season with the tablemats and calendars but most sales dropped off after xmas as expected.
I am currently adding postcards to my repertoire and have about 25 standard and 25 panoramic format cards on sale. Once again I can turn any picture into a card so hopefully there will be some bespoke orders coming my way. Selling these items in Kinlochbervie is still a hassle as I have no outlet other than the Ceilidh House. However I may be opening up in the Gallery again on a saturday with a view to getting my products out to a wider audience ie tourists.
The big problem with selling low cost items through a third party, shop etc, is that everyone naturally needs to make a profit. The margin on some stuff is so low that I would end up working for pennies per hour !. Anyway who knows if our wonderful government may find money to invest in this part of the world and create some new retail units, we live in hope.
Well I think we did actually have some nice days this summer but no long periods of dry weather. Still it was good for some things, trees in particular seem to have flourished. After a hectic summer last year installing the new roof I have done virtually nothing outside this year. This is good as it does save money and anything I spend on the caravan etc is money not available for the rebuild. No chance of that happening in the near future but perhaps next year if the plot of land gets sold.
Sales of notebooks etc have been quiet but my market is only just starting about now. I am building up stocks and hope to get a table at the Achfary Fair this winter. The fair was cancelled las year due to poor weather, must have been bad as life generally goes on despite the conditions. My new calendars are already selling well which is promising for the xmas rush !.
I did manage to get a short trip away to Eisdale Island (Near Oban) a few months ago but had very poor weather. The island used to be a slate quarry and the tiles are on house roof's all over the world.
Eisdale Island is about 150m from the mainland but only a small boat service connects the two. This make life interesting when returning from a shopping spree in Oban. It can get a bit wet.
Disused slate quarry, with a bit of sun the water takes on a wonderful aquamarine colour.
Dry stone wall
Please visit my links section for more information.
Well the Achfary fair went well and it was interesting to meet up with other people in the trade so to speak. I did make several useful contacts so this year I hope to be getting my pictures, mats etc out to a few local businesses so fingers crossed I will make more sales.
I have finally mastered the techniques for laminating prints onto Aluminium Composite Panels (ACP). ACP is two sheets of thin aluminium either side of a plastic core and about 2mm thick overall. It is very rigid, light and a perfect base on which to fix laminated prints. The back of the panel has a wooden subframe that is used to support the picture after hanging. The subframe spaces the panel off the wall by around 15mm which gives it a 3d shadow. I had many problens with getting a clean cut on the panel edges, my large board cutter will do the job but leaves a deformed edge that spoils the picture. To get round this I have manufactured a sliding router table with vacuum bed so the edges can be trimmed to perfection.
The table is made from two pieces of mdf separated by strips of neoprene to create an airtight chamber connected to my shop vacuum. Similar strips of neoprene are fixed to the top surface to create individual vacuum chambers. Each chamber has a small ball operated valve that connects to the vacuum area between the boards. The valve only allows a vacuum to form when the ball is pressed. This means that a sheet of ACP pressed onto several of these vacuum chambers is held firmly, even down to a 110mm square coaster.
The router slides on two rails and trims off around 2mm from each side of the panel. This leaves the panel perfectly square and no distortion on the edges to spoil the picture. The current chamber layout is a prototype but very simple to add more as needed. Overall length of the table is 1.5m and I can secure ACP panels up to 1.2m which is big enough for most panoramas.
The reason for using a vacuum bed was during a eureka moment when I realised that I could not clamp small panels without fouling the router sled. This may seem like a lot of effort but but there was no way I would be happy selling the panels and I considered them sub standard. Anyway this has allowed me to build a unique machine which may have other uses.
I have sold a few of these panels and given some as xmas presents, all have been well received so I am hopefull they will be a good seller. The main reason for getting this sorted is to move away from conventional picture framing and therby cut the vicious circle of trying to control stock but at the same time keep sufficient variety to cater for all types of print & pictures. Since I stopped framing for the general public I have actually saved quite a lot of money.
Naturally any new technique requires new tooling so I have had to invest in a professional cold roller laminator. Expensive but worth it's weight in gold. Mind you it does not stop me making mistakes.
Another angle to using ACP is that I now use it for all my tablemats/coasters. The mats are completely handmade including the cork backing. This opens up yet more possibilities as I am no longer restricted to the size of the blanks I was using. Theoretically I can produce a mat 420mm wide and 3m long !!. I think that smaller sizes are in order for the time being.
A major event before xmas saw the arrival of a new printer. Well the first one was dead on arrival and it was 3 weeks before the replacement arrived. The printer is a beast, weighs over 105lbs and takes up a lot of space. It took two of us to install it but once again is worth every penny. One advantage is that the 4900 uses larger ink cartdridges that the 3800 which lowers the running costs. Ink is a major expense with any print, not a problem when selling A2 pics as the ink cost is added to the sale price. The issue is with lower cost items such as calendars. I am hopefull now that I can produce an A4 calendar for 2012 alongside the panoramic & cd types.
Another major improvement with the 4900 is the roll paper facility. Previously I have been stuck with a maximum print size of A2, big enough for normal prints but too small for panoramas. I can now print up to 420mm wide and 10m long if necessary..... however that would cost my customer a tidy sum. Normal panoramas are now printed about 1.1m long which is large enough for most people.
After nigh on 3 years my wood workshop finally has lighting. It has also had a makeover and a clearout so I actually have space to work. I am hoping to start making presentation boxes for the table mats and other small boxes so I need to hone (find!) my woodworking skills. Having blocked up a few holes in the workshop and added a heater the room is now quite pleasant to work in, even when it is sub zero outside.
On the subject of the weather we finally seem to have shaken off the spell of continuous rain and wind. I say "spell" as it has gone on for several months and even the die hard locals are complaning.
The shop has now been open for a few weeks and I am reasonably happy with progress. It will take time for the word to spread and a lot of people are looking round to see what is on offer. I have added a lot more pictures and the full compliment of notebooks. The latest supplier is "Otterypottery" from Latheron Wheel in Caithness. I hope to get an advert in the local papers over the next couple of weeks and produce flyers so that should help.
The 2013 panoramic calendar is almost finished and I will start printing soon. Normally I would not be producing these until September/October but many people have been asking for them already. It has been quite difficult to find another 12 pictures that work as panoramas so I need to get out with the camera more often. However this is more difficult now that I have to be in the shop for 3.5 days a week and I don't have the free time.
The picture shows a sun halo caused by ice crystals in very high sirrus clouds. The crystals are all roughly the same shape and refract light at about 22.5 degrees. Only light from the sun that hits the crystals at a certain angle are visible hence the impression of a halo. All other light is sent in different directions which creates the hole inside the halo.
Not really much else to mention this month, it seems that our run of good weather might be broken as the jet stream moves north and we go back to "normal".
End of diary.......