Island at the Edge

Island at the Edge
The Gathering, Cable Bay, Colonsay

Friday, 9 February 2018

A Year in Review 2017– Part 2

July 2017
It was only half way through the year and we were already rushed off our feet with visitors and we were expecting many more, not to mention trying to find time to work on the house and tend to the rest of the jobs that needed doing on the croft. That’s why we employed our first ever full-time employee – Alexandra. Alexandra started out as ‘girl Friday’ as she loved coming to help with the donkeys and before we knew it she became girl Saturday – Thursday as well. It has been super having an extra pair of hands onboard to help with all the visitors and animals, she is a wonderful addition to our crofting business and has been readily accepted by all of the animals too!! We couldn’t have wished for better.

Alexandra at Dunvegan Show  

                                       Alexandra helping to set up at Portree Show

Once again, we attended both Dunvegan and Portree show where we showed our sheep. This year, to our surprise, the judge at Portree show liked black sheep!! This is a bonus for us as usually, judges are only interested in white sheep. He felt the breeding was excellent and I was awarded 9 second places for my Black Cheviot sheep. A huge success for us, especially when there were up to 16 sheep in the ring at one point. And the bonus, this year was that there were several more competitors at each show as had been in the past. We were also informed that we won 2 trophies this year, one of them is the most coveted ‘Crofter with the Most Points’ which I jointly won this year with the previous winner of the last 5 years!! We are genuinely delighted.
On the 19th July it was exactly a year since Trevor marked out all the foundations for the house and a year on he was insulating the boot room. We can’t believe the amazing progress that has been made on the house.
The 22nd of July was another very busy day for us indeed. We started out the morning by welcoming ten Americans (mainly Texans) who are all avid knitters, spinners and fellow wool enthusiasts who came to the croft to of course meet the sheep, admire the fleeces and see the wool and products that we produce here. Cindy (who brought the group to us) and I had been in contact online for a while so it was fantastic to finally meet her, and she even brought us some rovings from her own sheep back in Texas! It was a pleasure to have them here and the exciting news is that they are currently trying to organise for us to go across to Texas later in 2018 and hold a Gansey course, in which we would design for them their own unique Gansey and teach them how to knit it – we are really looking forward to visiting this wonderful group of ladies in their home country.

August 2017
We were privileged to welcome, for the second year running, two groups in August who had come to Skye as part of their Craft Cruises trip. We took them to meet some of the boys before introducing them to the fleeces from our own sheep, as well as fleeces from different breeds from other crofters here on Skye. Finally, we took them up to the shop to show them the wool we produce from our own sheep and the products we can make from it, including Trevor’s famous Gansey. On the whole it was a lovely day, and everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves, despite the dark overcast weather but that’s nothing new here.

                                          One of the Craft Cruises Groups

 As well as independent groups we had visiting we also had many bus trips that brought visitors from every corner of the world to see us and get a tour of the croft. Trevor, Alexandra and myself take great pride in taking people round the croft and to see the sheep, giving all our visitors a taste of what it is to be a crofter and an understanding of the lifestyle here. The majority of our visitors have no experience working with sheep and some have never even seen sheep before, least of all black sheep, so this is something completely different for them to see and experience. Plus, it makes the sheep very happy with the extra treats they get when the visitors come to see them.
We have welcomed new tour operators to our croft this year including the newly formed Go Skye, a local tour group catering for individual and group travellers and also offering a new ‘Shuttle Bus’ to and from many of the major tourist attractions and sites here on Skye.
We have also greeted ‘Heart of Scotland’ (The Wee Red Bus) tours this year with George and Scott two of their experienced drivers, we also welcomed Rabbie's, DiscreetScotland, Gold Scotland, several private tour companies, Skye Minibus Tours and for the third year running we have had Timberbush bringing a wide range of visitors. It is an absolute delight to welcome not just the visitors from all over the world, but to meet such enthusiastic and dedicated tour guides, some of which are with their travellers for up to 6 days. We have forged friendships and several of the guides support local events and businesses, including Portree Gaelic Choir Ceilidh’s in the Well Plaid rooms of the Royal Hotel Portree – a good night was had by all…
It is only for us to say a huge thank you to the guys and girls who bring these tours to our croft and to the many, many visitors who have and continue to support our wee business here on the Isle of Skye.  

September 2017
There was no slowing us down in September as there is never a dull moment on the croft. On the 18th September we had a group of 45 lovely American, Canadians and one Dutch lady who came to visit us on our croft as part of their Celtic Quilters Tour. They arrived shortly after 9am and their fabulous driver Rab is the only individual who has reversed a big bus all the way down the hill to our shop!  We took them all to meet and feed the sheep before splitting them into two groups. One group went down into the shed where they got to see the fleeces, find out about crofting and participate in a spinning demonstration, as well as there being a small quilting exhibition for them to see. The other group came into the shop to see Trevor’s famous Gansey and the fascinating story it tells as well as being able to see all the other products we design and make on the croft. The groups then switched and they were treated to coffee and home-made cake, an essential for any visit to our croft! We were honoured to have them here and Trevor, Alexandra and myself had a splendid day – not to mention it was a beautiful sunny day and it didn’t rain.

                                                        The Celtic Quilters Meeting the Sheep

At the start of September we also held one of our Gansey courses which we had 4 ladies on, all who did exceedingly well (one of whom is now finished her Gansey). They were with us for three days and everyday we were in tears from laughing. As part of their package they receive home-made soup each day for lunch as well as cake and endless cups of tea and coffee. On one of the days the group was in we also had a visit from a Japanese film crew who were making a tourist film encouraging those in Japan to come to Skye. They filmed our knitters working on their Ganseys and of course no visit to the croft is complete without meeting the sheep, so we took them up to meet and film the boys! 

                                           Four of our Fabulous Gansey Knitters

A few of you may remember Norman and boys from the hard work they did for us last January putting the concrete into the lean too, well they were back again this month but this time putting up the concrete blocks outside the framework of our house.

October 2017
We had a further two Gansey courses this month with more fabulous knitters. One of the Ladies who attended, Lee, had come all the way from Canberra and taught knitting over in Australia (no pressure) but had never knitted a Gansey before.

                          Our Knitting Group - In Stitches with Lee and Pippa doing their Gansey’s

Another exciting event this month was the Royal National MOD which I participated in with the Portree Gaelic Choir. This year it was held down in Fort William and despite the fact there were more competitors this year we managed to achieve our best results yet.
In the house we have installed sheep’s wool insulation, for which we are now stockists here in the Highlands and Islands. This wonderful product – Thermafleece, is far more environmentally friendly than the ‘rock wool’ a man-made fibreglass product that has been used to insulate houses here for decades. We have returned to the traditional – which makes sense as we are in the business of sheep wool. We have progressed further than the insulation and now have walls and doors in the house too, as well as having installed nearly all of the bathrooms.
                                                          The sheep’s wool insulation

November 2017
November was another exciting month for us, not least because we expanded our sheep family. Trevor and I set off to Inverness to buy curtain poles, however it happened to be the day of the rare breed sales in Dingwall and this wasn’t an opportunity to be missed. By the end of the day we didn’t make it to Inverness but did come home with four new sheep. These came in the shape of two incredibly rare North Ronaldsay lambs, a ewe lamb named Peerie Lass and a tup lamb called Thor. The other new additions were two 'white' Cheviots who came from the Queen mother’s estate, Mey and Ealasaid (which is the Gaelic for Elizabeth). We purchased these two fine girls as they have a Black Sire and Black Dams so this will add a new 'black' bloodline to our already successful flock of Black Cheviot sheep. This also means in future we will also be able to sell our own North Ronaldsay yarn as well as the Hebridean, Black and now White Cheviot wool also, watch this space for more details on our wool stock as it arrives.
                                                                 Our new arrivals

November is also 'tupping' time, so many of our boys go away out on hire, some have been with the girls here, so hopefully we will have a busy month in April with lambing, especially if they all have twins! 
We will be keeping a close eye on the girls over the Winter and into Spring to make sure there are no problems or complications and keep them as calm as possible as too much stress and worrying can cause issues which can lead them to miscarry. This usually comes with unattended dogs or owners of dogs who will insist 'their' dogs are fine with sheep!! Our sheep aren't fine with dogs!! so please remember to keep your dog on a lead when around livestock please...
                                     Harry listening to his pep talk before he goes!

At the start of November I did a talk down in Broadford for a ladies group. The talk was about what we do here on the croft, the business and crofting diversification. I also discussed my incredible trip to Japan last year and the opportunities this opened up, including when we hosted them here back in May.
With the dark Winter nights drawing in this is when we offer several courses, one that we hosted this month was Crochet for Beginners that we held offer three weeks. The lovely ladies who attended the course learnt lots of different tips and techniques and made many wonderful things including a crochet bowl, a Santa and snowman decoration and granny squares. They have all been working hard and one of the ladies showed us a lovely crochet cowl she had made just a couple of week after learning to crochet! Talent indeed...
and of course there was cake - as no course is complete without home-made cake...

                                            A snowman one of our beginners made!

December 2017
On the 9th of December it marked the four-year anniversary since our house on Colonsay was lost. This gave Trevor and myself the opportunity to reflect on the hard work it has taken to get to where we are now, and we are so grateful for all the support and kindness we have received from Crofters, locals and those further afield, so thank you to all. 
The exciting news now is that we are now staying in the house! After all of the hard work and the occasional hiccup, and the floors/carpets have been laid courtesy of  Harris Home Furnishings, we now have electricity, the furniture has arrived and the Rayburn is working. This means after a long and hard days work outside in the bitter cold weather I can go and put my feet up in a warm and cosy house, finally!  The water is connected too which is brilliant as we are able to enjoy a nice hot bath. A big thank you to the talented young plumber and crofter Kenny MacKinnon who has worked incredibly hard since the Summer to help get us to where we are now. During the installation of the Megaflow water system Kenny created a masterpiece of pipework, so much so that some friends of ours have asked for it to be replicated in their own house - well done Kenny!  Although we are staying in the house there is still plenty of work to be done.

                                                       Me Cooking in my House

December may be quieter in terms of visitor numbers that doesn’t mean we get a break, quite the opposite! There are endless rounds of feeding and looking after the animals as well as the usual work to be done, which all has to be squeezed in during the few hours of daylight that we have. Alexandra is such an asset to us, and works well with us to achieve all that needs to be done in a day! Occasionally, she can be as muddy as I and we convince ourselves that the 'mud' is good for our skin!! 
We have to feed the animals because the grass stops growing over the Autumn and Winter so we have to supplement feed all the animals with Hay and mixed grain for the sheep and hay, barley straw and hard feed for the Donkeys and we hope this keeps them all healthy over the winter.

We have made a vast range of different products this year which are available in our shop, as well as our usual favourite items. This year we have produced little sheep fridge magnets on cards that are wrapped in the wool, we have also been busy knitting to produce a variety of Fairisle hats and Shetland cardigans. 
A first for us this year was that we were commissioned to make two different styles of bespoke tailored jackets out of Harris Tweed, with the customer coming all the way from Germany to have made, which turned out very successful and the customer was thrilled with.
 Me and Martina with one of her bespoke Jackets

 (Pictured below is a hand-knitted cashmere shawl and the Skye Tartan waistcoat complete with stag head brooch which are both currently available)


Trevor, Stamford and I had a lovely quiet Christmas down in the house this year, complete with my Christmas tree that I have been growing over the years. At least this year I was able to cook my Christmas dinner in a nice warm house and we could sit at our dinning table and enjoy the stunning views over Loch Greshornish. We also took a much-needed break between Christmas and New Year, although there were still the animals to attend to every day, but it meant we could catch our breath and prepare for the busy season ahead, as well as all the big changes we have in store for 2018. Follow us on Facebook, or stop by and visit us here on the croft to see what we are up to! 

You might need to take a seat for this one!! We have exciting news to bring you!
After sending the wool off way back in August, the Black Cheviot wool has finally been delivered. It is a beautiful dark brown with a subtle grey fleck and is ideal for hand-knitting, crochet and other craft skills. We ship worldwide so please get in touch if you are interested and we will happily send it out to you.

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