Jul 10

Biggar and better

What a difference!

After a simple ~25 mile bus ride, southwest from Edinburgh, I alighted in the small village of Biggar. After a phone call announcing my arrival, Gordon rode the 3.5 miles from the farm to pick me up in one of 3 or 4 old Land Rovers.

A classic little farm, it’s around 15 acres, with Hebridian Sheep, chickens, gardens, and plenty of good projects!

View from the farm
View from the farm

Immediately upon arriving at the old stone house, I met Juliet and we tramped over to where the new sheep were and gave them some shots.

In contrast to the last spot, here I have a little apartment all to myself. Julie already had a fresh loaf of bread cooking for me and I only need to give notice when it is time for another. Yum! Hot bread and homemade jam is a fine start.

We went to the supermarket and I stocked up on whatever I wanted, as I cook my own lunch and breakfast and then join them for dinner. Eggs are straight from the chickens and plentiful.

I guess relative to the previous helpers, I have my shit somewhat together and they were pleased that I could build things with little supervision. The first couple of days were spent finishing the open shed at the top of the property.

One of my walls
One of my walls

I finally got a start at getting rid of those computer hands and got a good workout.

But the real fun began a few days ago when we starting digging 12 post holes, each 3.5 ft. in rocky soil for the 20’x50′ wool shed we are building. Now this has been a real workout. Post hole digging is hard enough when you have soil, but here we have layers of rock, crumbly thank god, and have to use a heavy, 6ft steel bar and smash away the layers, 2 inches at a time. I am painfully sore right now, but in that good bootcamp kind of way.

I have a ‘before’ photo but it’s a boring field. I will post a pic when the posts are put.

Between that and the hilly 3.5 mile bike ride to town, I have a ways to go fitness-wise but happy to be on the path.

Weather has been better than Harris but still lots of overcast and rain.

Saturday was spent at the Biggar Agricultural Fair, where the cows and sheep were on display, along with tractors and other farming things. But I did get a line on a chocolate maker down the road that I need to visit. It was a fun day, meeting the locals, seeing my new little friends/neighbors on their horses and getting to hold the amazing owl!

I promised the kids I would teach them to make s’mores. Turns out that no one here has ever heard of graham crackers, let alone sell them, and Hersheys is nowhere to be found. So my dad is going to send me a s’more package and then it will be roasting galore.

So off to a great first week here in Biggar. I am looking forward to getting the posts in and doing some good building.

I am going to take a couple days next week to explore old Abbeys (and the chocolate maker!) and should have good pics next week.

Sunrise on the farm
Sunrise on the farm

Jul 10

The Highlands and First Host

The Scottish Highlands are quite beautiful. Rugged and wet, the landscape is dotted with single houses, far from anything but sheep and rocks. They are clearly a different way of living.

I didn’t get the full splendor due to rain but it just added to the mood and to the difficulty of living that this land has provided for centuries.

I got to Uig and then the ferry to Tarbert with no issue.

My host, John, is a kind and reverent gentleman. As a long term resident and a post man, he knows everyone in town and is a walking history book of the island.

His house on Grosebay is right on the water, 7 miles with a lunar landscape, assuming the moon is awash in lichen and peat.

Of the 10 days I was there, all but one were rainy and/or windy in some respects. Rare for the time of year, it still was sub-optimal, but it kept the annoying midgies away. The blood-drawing big flies managed to weather the storm though.

The work was straightforward and varied. John had suffered a house fire this past January and had enough smoke damage to warrant a gutting and complete rebuild of the interior. We spent time unpacking new things and moving stuff in.

The 40-odd chicken had to be fed twice a day and the ~30 eggs a day collected and washed. It was always obvious when you were downwind of the coop. There are 3 Highland cattle on the farm and they don’t need a lot of work in the summer, but we had to keep an eye on them as they would escape under the fence and take a walk down the road. The locals would call to keep us abreast of their current location. That meant that Nick (his kind and patient other helper) and I would have to fix the hole in the fence and pound in the posts again. The landscape is treacherous: muddy and pocked with cowsteps forcing one to watch everystep, lest an ankle be sprained.
I didn’t get to shear sheep as it was too early, but I can’t imagine how you would even catch one.

We did a bit of concrete work, replacing a cattle grid that the construction trucks had wrecked. That was fun work, chiseling out the old and pouring in the new.

The area is pretty amazing and the landscape changes quickly. While technically one island, Harris and Lewis are referred to as separate isles and it is clear why. When you pass the threshold into Lewis, the landscape changes very quickly from rocky/hilly, to rolling and pastoral. Even on Harris itself, the east where we were is rough and rocky and the west side smoother, with grasslands and long, shallow beaches.

And this is the Harris as in Harris Tweed, its most famous export. Hence all the sheep, it’s a tough business. John said that 60Kgs of raw wool only brings in $4.

In the end, there isn’t much to do there outside of the work, esp considering that we were internet-free for the duration. There was little to discuss other than the weather and the location of the cattle.

So I took and early leave, getting a ride back to Inverness with John’s brother Sammy, a kind and funny builder who came to install the grid.

Now I type from a small cafe in a neightborhood in Aberdeen, my ancestral home, hoping that my relatives show up. I couldn’t get in touch with then before I got here, despite many attempts, so we will see what happens when they answer the door. They weren’t home the first time…

After a time, exploring the old family environs, I head to a farm between Edinburgh and Glasgow, where I will do more farm-y stuff and help out with the website.

It’s summer and I will be a simple bus ride from the Military Tatoo, and perhaps some Highland Games. Should make for some good video and a fine way to bring forth 40.