Island at the Edge

Island at the Edge
The Gathering, Cable Bay, Colonsay

Thursday, 1 February 2018

A Year in Review 2017 Part 1

January 2017
Another New Year rung in our caravan, but with the hopes it would be our last in our trusty ‘tin can’.
Despite the festive season we haven’t rested here as we have been very, very busy on our house site. So much so, we have been able to complete the foundations. Neil – one of the Bernisdale Boys, Norman, Dave, Cammy and Ross in his concrete wagon, Trevor driving the dumper and Calum driving his tele-handler all arrived one morning at 06:45 ready to pour the final layer of concrete which will make up the finished floor of our home.
Preparations prior to the pouring of concrete included fitting a steel frame to help support the concrete slab.


We have waited 2 years for this day as we had to monitor the tides and the sea defences we put in to be absolutely sure that the site will never flood, and it will be just perfect.
The boys worked well into the evening but as the temperatures dropped we hoped that the concrete would be ok!

We awoke the following morning to ice on the ‘inside’ of the caravan windows!! This was not a very good sign as concrete does not like low temperatures. However, we went down to the site and thankfully all was well…
Neil and the boys arrived later that morning to smooth out the top of the concrete and were happy that everything had worked out extremely well for us.
Trevor has worked tirelessly to build the individual wooden house panels, helped only when he hurt his back then Calum and his boys came to help. 34 panels needed to be built in total and one in particular, that Trevor built, needed 1000 nails hammered into it!!

This particular panel I am looking through is for the kitchen wall and what will be my Kitchen window! Calum and the boys are putting the waterproof membrane on the outside of the panels for us. Notice it is quite dark in the shed, this is because we have to work with portable lighting, it is dark here during the winter as early as 2:30pm in the afternoon!
Some sad news to bring you this month though was the tragic loss of our beloved tup Ewan-San. Through circumstances out with our control we lost one of our best tups, with his magnificent horns and top-quality fleece (not to mention his lovely nature), he will be sorely missed by all.

February 2017
We are delighted to tell you that our house is standing as a house and is no longer in pieces in the shed!! The concrete floor was put in and on February 24th Calum MacRae our neighbour and local joiner and his team began to erect the panels down on the house site.

Trevor built nearly every panel himself, so it was obvious he had to put up the very first one. The ground floor panels were up in no time at all, closely followed by the roof trusses which had been strapped to the sides of a big blue container over the winter months, just in case they blew away.
As well as working on the house we have been doing plenty of work on the croft as well. We have been working a lot more with the donkeys and they are now quite happy for us to walk up to them and give them a good cuddle, Muffin in particular loves her chest scratched, and they are more comfortable around new people as well. We have also been working on their halter training and now take them short walks around the croft, so they can have access to some fresh grass, which of course they love and are usually well behaved for. This is huge progress from when we first got them, and we are looking forward to seeing their continued development.
We have also been working with the sheep, bringing the boys in for a much-needed pedicure and their annual medication. We were ably assisted by Euan, who helps us quite a lot here, he is a learner crofter and is working and saving hard to purchase his own croft. He is also working towards his crofting qualification which Trevor and I have been helping him with the practical side of things.
We also had a young chap called Hedser who came all the way from Friesland (Netherlands) to help out at Dunvegan Castle as an Intern with a specialist painter who restores paintwork. He wanted to find out about Crofting, so our friend Jeroen, the custodian of the castle contacted us and asked if Hedser could come along to help. He really enjoyed working with the animals and both Euan and he helped me with the weekly mucking out of the donkey stable – I was very grateful indeed.

Trevor, Euan and Hedser giving the wee man his oral dose of medicine and Ralph Percy and his son Big Laddy enjoying the hay after they had their medication. They wouldn’t allow any of the other boys into the hay – greedy boys.

March 2017
Our house is now classed as ‘wind and water tight’ which means the only job needed for the outside is the breeze blocks, render and a coat of white paint then the house is secure for all weathers. This last push won’t be until later in the summer when we have saved enough for the blocks and for Norman, Dave and Neil to come and lay them for us.
In the meantime, Trevor has worked tirelessly inside the house, putting up dividing walls and setting out bathrooms etc. He is just amazing…
With all the current work being completed on the house, I managed to take a tiny wee break away with my friends on the Isle of Iona. The four of us were invited to sing in the Abbey with Siosgeul – the Gaelic Gospel Choir. What a privilege to sing in the Abbey with some other wonderful singers including the very famous Gaelic singer Joy Dunlop and Mary-Anne Kennedy. We did a workshop with a Gospel Choir Conductor all the way from London, where we learned songs they would sing, then these were translated into Gaelic. We finished the evening with a Ceilidh in the local village hall, where there was dancing, singing and general merriment. A good time was had by all as we left Iona first thing on the Sunday morning. Our second ferry from Craignure to Oban wasn’t until much later in the afternoon, so we had time to visit Ardalanish weaving house. They weave their own tweed from their own flock of Hebrideans, it was lovely to meet them, especially while we lived on Colonsay they were our near neighbours.

I have also been getting commissions ready. Many of my hand-knitted garments take time to make, mainly because they are knitted on fine needles and have lots of patterns. I have just sent a commissioned Hebridean wool Gansey to Italy, which took me nearly 200 hours to complete.

Then a Gansey and Crofters sweater, made from pure Hebridean and Black Cheviot wool were sent to New York, closely followed by a Tam-O-Shanter (traditional beret type hat) sent out to Denver and wrist warmers to England and Germany. I have a white Kiloran to block ready to send out to Minnesota, and one white and one black Kiloran sweater to sew up and block ready for the Lake District. I then must order the wool for some Fair Isle cardigans I’ve to make, some are for Japan and others for the UK! Plus, we are still getting bus tours down each week, so myself and my knitters are working hard to get beanie hats and wrist warmers made too.

April 2017
Lambing time again… Trevor and I take it in shifts to check on the ewes and sure enough, I was checking at quarter past five in the morning when Tessie was lambing. Out popped a lovely little ewe lamb, a first for Tessie, as she has usually produced tups (boy) lambs. Trevor came down to the shed at quarter past six in the morning and she began again with a second lamb – another first for her, she has always produced singles. Sure enough, the same as last year, a small tail appeared!! This is not what you want to see, you want to see a wee nose and two front feet, so we knew this was another breech birth (backside first) I had to hold Tessie down while Trevor managed to find a wee foot and out popped a little tup lamb.

In the meantime, we had let Marsaili the Hebridean out into the field, and blow me, didn’t she just deliver a tiny ewe lamb within minutes of Tessie! We managed to bring her in too as the weather wasn’t particularly nice, and didn’t she go and have a second ewe lamb too! This is also unusual as this was a first-time lambing for her and she also had twins. Ironically the father of the Hebridean lambs was Ewan-San who sadly passed away earlier this year, so at least we have his progeny in two lovely little girlies.
We also had a lovely group of Americans who came to visit us on the croft in April, there were 20 of them in total who had come all the way from Pennsylvania and all had connections to a knitting shop in Pittsburgh. Whilst they were here they learnt all about what it takes to be a crofter, knitting in the round, Fairisle knitting and were given a spinning demonstration, as well as an opportunity to give it a go themselves. We brought in one of our expert Tutors Pat to give the demonstration and help the ladies to take away some hand-spun yarn of their own.


May 2017
May was a big month for us because we had some very special and much anticipated visitors come to see us and that was our friends from Japan – there were 22 of them in total! They are readers of the Japanese magazine I write for, Mr. Partner which is about all things British and they came over here as part of the Mr. Partner tour. Before they arrived, we had spent all afternoon in the kitchen preparing a feast for them, this included the best seafood – Langoustine and Cullen Skink (an East Coast delicacy) made using fresh ingredients off the boats in Portree that very morning and supplied to us by our dear friends down at ‘Just Hooked’. Luckily it was a beautiful sunny day and when our guests arrived we took them to meet the sheep and introduce them to the fleeces and explain about what it is we do here.

After this we took them down to the shed where we provided them with entertainment. This came in the form of a young and very talented piper from Edinbane (Archie Maclean – aged 13 years) who is a pupil at Portree School and also some Gaelic singing by Uiseag (Skylark) a small Gaelic band which is a spin off from Portree Gaelic Choir in which I also sing. I believe the group didn’t know anything about this – only Jeffrey the tour guide. It was a nice surprise for everyone. Although we didn’t have that long with them, we managed to pack a lot in and everyone had an amazing time and we look forward to them visiting again one day.
                                      Our Japanese Visitors enjoying their food and the piper

June 2017
Shearing time again! This year Malcolm White, a good friend of ours who also happens to be an excellent shearer and fencer, brought with him his usual partner in crime Marty from New Zealand and Scott from Australia. We were hoping to have a big demonstration for people to come and watch but unfortunately the good old Skye weather let us down as it was raining that day. Therefore, we had to bring the sheep inside the night before to keep their fleece dry – they cannot be sheared when wet, it is both difficult to remove the fleece and is more dangerous for both the shearer and the sheep with everything being waterlogged. Although we weren’t able to hold the big demonstration we wanted to a few of our friends and neighbours popped down to watch. They all thoroughly enjoyed the experience, especially Jaine one of our spinners

                                                    Marty shearing one of the girls

                                                 Some of the sheep after the shearing

Part 2 of our Year in Review will be posted next week, happy knitting till then...

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