Here we have one of the coldest weeks for years, everything frozen, stock feeding heavy on the sheep food. Deer hungry, (that is another story) but stunning days with wall to wall sunshine for 7 days, to-day cold and cloudy but even then the clouds were unusual to say the least. Heather was getting burned on Raasay, Gairloch and not a lot of boats about or planes passing over, just very noisy wind.
Just a quick post to-day before breakfast. I’m trying my best to take time off at the weekend at least. Yesterday morning after a good fall of snow there was much excitement. Not from me but from Lorraine, my thoughts immediately go to the sheep and deer, it is tough with the rain and wind here but when the temperature drops and the snow comes there is added danger. But the sheep certainly turned up as usual (early) so the snow was not deep enough to cause any problems. But all the same it is lovely to see the snow on Rona, we do not see much of it here at sea level. I always like to head out over the Island at this time, there are often many tracks in the snow, showing just what is on the ground.
Once I fed the sheep it was time to head off on a walk to the Base. I was not disappointed to come on Otter tracks up at the top gate, a favourite crossing place. But then very disappointed to see Mink tracks heading along the road.
I wanted to see some if there were many deer about too and to touch base with the guys at the Base. Masks, gloves and hand sanitizer even on Rona was the form.
Enjoy the photos.
It is a strange time, we are normally planning ahead, trying to meet our deadline for guests arriving, dealing with enquiries and getting a little stressed as the days pass all too quickly. This year is completely different. In fact it feels like we are in limbo, it is different from last Lockdown, in fact I would say it is quieter. Even on the sea and in the sky above us, the birds and animals seem to be locked down, apart from the Hen Sparrowhawk that flew into the window first thing this morning. She lay there for 20 minutes stunned, no camera unfortunately, only when I went to feed the sheep did I came across her and she immediately flew off.
The deer are looking good despite the poor weather this last week and continual heavy rain. It is cold and snowing to-day in between sunshine but I am sure it will not lie.
We missed most of Storm Christoph, but overnight it never stopped raining, it was a surprise to see the sheep there all present and correct first thing.
Thinking on weather I am reading this book just now, published by retired Factor Richard Sidgwick, it is £25 but worth every penny. The stories are really fascinating and it is a window into a lifetime in the Badenoch area. Not to mention a brief visit made by the author by invitation of a Stalking tenant to India which again is an eye opener. But Finlay MacKintosh’s description of the weather and living conditions at that time in Scotland are a valuable reference. Anti deer people would benefit from reading it for sure. As it is not available on Amazon or elsewhere just now if anyone is interested I can pass on information for ordering a copy. I do not want to post the email address here.
We read an awful lot just now and because of the ever expanding bookshelf I have been issued with a ‘Kindle’ for Christmas (it is not the same). But I have re-read three John Le Carre books so far since Christmas. I can say I think I read faster on the Kindle?
The thing about this time of year out here is that you have long periods of Grey, then we get a half day or even a few days of glorious sunshine and the grey days disappear. This half day was exceptionally clear and cool last week, the poor days become a distant memory.
But all too soon we are back to normal, Storm Christoph certainly missed us but the Northerly wind was quite fierce. I think the new fishfarm directly across from Dry Harbour had a hard time with a huge swell testing the anchors, not to mention the one at Portree which has lost a lot of fish due to Seal predation and the nets getting burst by them.
Repairs carry on here too, the JCB is going to be a horrible repair as it is right under the cab and trying to determine the length of the pipes to replace the solid (rusted) steel ones is proving difficult, as well as the cost!!!!!!! with 8 to replace. First of all I have to power wash it and have not had a suitable day to do so.
Repairs are a daily occurrence, with the amount of machinery and kit here no wonder, I lent across the batteries in the Lodge generator shed to check the water level and this lead came away in my hand. Panic. I had no idea what that would mean but the power stayed on so I could at least see. A quick call confirmed I had two strings of batteries not just one but I had to hurry up and replace it. I had to hand a longer lead so that did the job. Another lesson in electrics (my least favourite job).
Our winter project continues but now with no pressure. The February guests, we had a full house for two weeks, cancelled so no worries. However the work still has to be done and most nights when at Dry Harbour we work till dark or 5pm.
We are turning the two smaller cottages into one, something I have been wanting to do for years.
Lorraine is busy shifting seats, settees and pictures from place to place, not my forte I’m afraid.
I’m more hammer and chisel!!!
Wednesday our ferry arrived, loaded with mail and stores, belated Christmas cards and a couple of presents which were lovely to get.
Ewen our ferryman dropped of some langoustines for Christmas, very welcome when we cannot get out ourselves to fish. I cooked the lot yesterday and froze them down. Apart from a bowl of them for tea last night, yum.
I had made an outdoor kitchen (it has been called a mud kitchen?), I had hardly used it so it was pressed into service and worked very well. Especially the quality control to see if each batch was cooked, that meant eating at least one per batch. Which was probably not a good idea given I had my first Gout attack last weekend. The list of foods to avoid are everything I eat, not so good.
Finally to-day it is a paperwork, computer day. It is snowing outside now and lying. Tomorrow I’m heading North so hopefully the weather will be kind, I am looking forward to the walk and trying out my toes.
Just after New year the first signs of snow coming arrived, colder, East wind turning North. So we woke up on the 8th of January to just a few centimetres of snow but enough to be exciting, we do not get many snowy days on Rona, being as we are not much above sea level.
Tough on the sheep but it would not last long so the plan then was to feed them, check them over and head out to see Rona under snow and for me to try to spot some deer, just checking on the numbers.
Over to the cottages on the start of my early morning outing, not a lot of marks/tracks on the road which told me the snow had not been there that long. There was a mark of an otter at the top gate. I guess I could have followed it but it was good to see the tracks and I suppose it was having its morning wash in fresh water. I left it alone.
I headed up North into the wind, left the bike and headed up to the highest point. The view was fantastic but the disappointing thing was that the deer were nowhere to be seen, my count still in single figures with only a couple of stags disturbed whilst driving.
More marks up top in the heather though of disturbed deer that must have heard me or were just on the move.
Over on the West side I did see one solitary hind standing very still in a birch clump, trying to hide but easy to see which told me where all the deer were, deep in the forest.
Talking about forests, here is a book I read over New Year. A fascinating account of life on a highland Estate by retired Head Stalker, Duncan MacLennan on the Glen Afaric Deer Forest. What a wonderful history of observation and folklore recorded in this book. It is a good read and valuable reference to the way it was in his time. The most interesting chapter was the last where he gives his interpretation on the decline of many of our species which is applicable all over Scotland and why (I totally agree). The book is in short supply but I got two for gifts from Cannich Stores and hear that Morrison’s of Beauly have some.
Back to the day, it was a cold trip out on the bike, my deer count was very low. I saw more from the car on one trip on my way to Dry Harbour this week
It was nice to see the snow but good to see it go and despite the condensation in the shed dripping on everything I had to get back there to continue with the resurrection of the old Lister TS2. The alternator on this generator burnt out (rusted) three years ago. We replaced it with the idea to rebuild it as a spare. Now that the new TS2 we installed at Big Harbour has developed a serious oil leak it was time to replace the alternator and get it ready for the day we repair the oil leak. A good job for winter days.
Not such a good job is the continuing deterioration of the steel hydraulic pipes on the JCB. I saw a drip and on investigation found it was the most inaccessible set of pipes that had rusted to the point of leakage.
Not a good discovery, having replaced one set before with rubber pipes, it looks to me like a complete set of rubber replacements are necessary. Joy, I guess there will be a few cold hours lying underneath the JCB shortly!!!!
Well, here we go again. Another lockdown, another month of no visitors, plans on hold, cottage visitors and Mark our ‘Winter’ stalker stood down. When will it end. For us, no problem but for others we feel for them. I would go mad stuck in a city during these times and we are very aware how lucky we are not to be plagued by masks, gel, two metres and social distancing (until someone arrives).
To-day we had the last of the Christmas mail delivery, masks on gloves on as we prepared for Ewen and Janice to arrive. But it was a really cold dawn that greeted me when I woke up this morning.
It was a promise of a good day though despite the cold. We lost one of our Gimmers yesterday in the severe cold night, which is always a downer, the biggest one in the 11 of course. But onwards as they say. I fed the sheep this morning and the daughter of the famous ‘Julie’ did not disappoint. All Gimmers accounted for.
Julie was our semi tame hind, now deceased and it is obvious that she had taught her daughter very well on where to find the sheep nuts.
There was a bit of a stand off for a while but the sheep lost interest and Julie 2 went back to cleaning up.
Going over to Dry Harbour with fuel to-day I never get tired of the views that unfold.
Round the next corner and we could see the Clisham, on Harris clear as a bell.
Finally to Escape to deliver 400 litres of Kerosene and the view of the Trotternish Ridge was crisp too, stunning.
Just on lunchtime MV Seaflower arrived, lots to unload, a new cooker for Skyescape (now knocked into one cottage ‘The Mission House’), Sheep feed, Mail, lots of it and shopping.The afternoon warmed up in the very hot sun, lots of Vitamin D for sure and then it was time for Seaflower to leave and the sun to go down.
It looks like it will be a different story tomorrow but it was really great to get a spell of good weather at last, makes up for the months of grey.
Happy New Year to all from Rona, on Hogmany it was Baltic so the kilt was left in the cupboard.
Been good clear nights here, very cold though with the full moon, the high pressure and the East wind.
Looking West it looked grim on Skye during one of our walks but looking East, not so bad.
Been a tough lead up to Christmas. The weather was poor to say the least, very wet and grey. The sheep were not liking it. Lots on and by the time Christmas came we were knackered. Bordering on exhausted. So we looked forward to this time very much.
So for the last fortnight we have been taking it a lot easier, trying to get in a walk every day.
Rona is not a big place but you can go the same walk time and time again and it is always refreshing, with new tings to see everytime. Sadly the deterioration of the ruins but we cannot re-build them all.
This week up until to-day we have not had a lot of rain, a touch of snow one day and rain through the night but for a change a good bit of sun, bring on the vitamin D.
Sadly our guests Lisa and Linzi could not come due to Covid for New Years week, what a bummer in such a good week but the weather for the ferry was dodgy on the Sunday, they may have had problems getting here that day anyway but Covid finished it.
We took a walk up to the mast yesterday to check it over for ‘Applenet’, all good, nothing much to it to be honest but, there will be rusting stays to replace one of these days. No hurricanes lately although we did find a blade from the time that one wrecked the wee Rutland? windmill. embedded into the ground.
One side of Rona was snowing (yesterday) the other glorious sunshine.
But to-day it was wall to wall sunshine, such a lift and we will take that anytime, cold though, very cold.
This morning the hinds that come down overnight to eat the sheep’s grass were in no hurry to return to the hills around Big Harbour.
It has been good walking this last week or so but to-day was quite special. Down South we sat for a while and just took it in.
I was surprised to see a yacht out in the Inner Sound, looking at the AIS the yacht had traveled from Duntulm? A bit early for the season but a lovely day for a sail.
The fishing and cargo boats are starting to move, wonder what the year will bring for them.
All in all a good Festive Season for us, quiet just the way we like it. Tomorrow back to work and as usual plenty to do.
Yesterdays post was about the first three weeks in December but in the last week it was as busy as all three put together apart from the boat trips I had to Portree. The weather had been poor, no surprise there at this time but with an odd weather window it was imperative to get over stores, mail and sheep feed before Christmas.
I mentioned our trip to Portree for shopping, we were also selling too. We tried to get our Rona Venison onto Skye Free Adds/FB page but they would not allow it stating it went against the rules. We searched but could not find any rule to say you could not. But hey ho, we’ll get on with it and thank goodness for Dan’s Chip shop who has sold hundreds of Rona Venison Burgers in his chip shop this year.
Here’s a wee selection of what we do, I’ll have more photos up on the Rona Food page soon. All four freezers are full too.
Back to the day job and it was more issues with the power. This time Dry Harbour.
On checking the Sg readings of every cell on the batteries, I found two dying cells on the Rolls batteries at Big Harbour, this was part of the problem there. Regular checking of all the cells of the Rolls batteries (three cells per unit) would have shown this but we were only checking the middle cell, Doh! So once I had found that I decided to check the Dry Harbour batteries. Fortunately I had old batteries from BH stored there when the Rolls ones had arrived three years ago and despite sitting there off charge some of them were still good. So after quite a few checks I found three duds and replaced them. Equalised them and now we are running well. With proper checks now all should do well. Fingers crossed.
Ewen was busy at the Fish Farm so I decided I’d go myself to Portree on the Wednesday before Christmas, but the forecast was not looking good on the day. I was in the middle of butchering two hinds, so, I called Dan in the morning arranged Mike to gather stuff and would he come over.
He kindly obliged and unbeknown to me a delivery of wine had arrived at Skye Express, so 44 cases x 6 later we had a Wine lake!! There was much mail and food but the most important thing was the two replacement Rolls batteries.
I was as pleased to see them as I was the wine and they are now fitted, working well.
It was kind of Dan to step in but I was not too sure about Campbell’s Drone which arrived too. But after a quick demonstration and a few aerial photos taken I was impressed with this quiet drone, not like the ‘wasps’ I have seen and heard here. But they are not good for the wildlife having seen birds abandon nests due to Drone disturbance by a certain ‘Yachtie’!!!
Before they had come I had minced up 24 kg of venison, I mixed it and chilled it down so that next day (Christmas Eve) myself and Lorraine would be making 257 burgers, half for Dan’s Chippy, the other for sale. The Lodge kitchen works as a ‘factory’ just now but next years plan is to build onto the larder.
We are particular with our burgers and we have quite a lot of trimmings from the butchering. Rhona Campbell our Vet has kindly promoted our trimmings (minced) for dogs who have problems with manufactured (especially dry) foods. We have a few customers and keep them going with our Venison Trimmings minced. Zero waste. In fact I have been asked if it is good enough to eat, yes but no, just leave it with the dogs!!!!
The burgers are individually frozen then packaged the next day, quite an operation but after 1000 burgers made at least this year, not a problem. They are here now ready to go off to Dan’s Chippy as soon as the weather allows.
So we are up to date, as far as can be, Christmas Day, Wind Down. But on Rona you cannot 100% do that. The sheep need fed and when we woke up on Christmas morning it was foul, it was the first time that the sheep (hoggs) had taken shelter in the shelter. I fed them and was just on my way back to the house when I saw an escapee Ewe. Being Christmas Day I wasted no time catching it then this time back to the house.
The mail bags had been pretty full so with great excitement the presents were opened, many lovely things and too much as always. Dinner prepared then a pre-dinner walk was in order. As we walked down to the Lodge I spotted another three sheep out of the fenced area. It never ends. So instead of chasing them as they took off into the forest. We had our walk and thought we would try on the way back. As it happened we found a gate that had blown open up top so that was their escape route. I tied the gate and we walked down the path to find the three Ewes by the bottom gate again. This time they were kind and ran into a corner. I sorted out some gates and quickly got them in. Panic over, now we could enjoy our Turkey. Merry Christmas.
Leading up to the end of the year it is always a rush, a finality to it by getting all the jobs done in time for Christmas. This year end has been no different in that way but completely different in others. I see it was the 7th of December I had the last post, we will rectify that right now.
It has been weeks of grey again but when the sun has made an appearance all the grey fades away.
Mike and Lorraine were over staying in the Lodge with us for a week earlier this month and it was good to get a hand with Mr Tup the first job to do, he had been busy with the ewes. He was most upset to be caught, bundled into the trailer/boat and off to Portree, especially in mid chase!!!
Called into see Erlet and John in Fladda on our way back, they had been in isolation there returning home when Lockdown was lifted but were back up as soon as it was possible for them.
We were back in time to catch the tide and quickly unloaded the boat, Mike on banksman duties.
The firewood stock was diminishing so a bit of a fill up took a full day and chopping for a few hours of the next, the store was almost full after this lot. We managed a few more jobs but their visit was over too soon.
That night Mike and Lorraine were up for Christmas dinner, second for us of the season.
Next morning, early after arranging another fuel pick up at Portree we took off, the weather forecast was bad for the week-end so we elected to take our guests home. It was a peaceful trip, grey but the clouds everywhere were pretty special.
It was a perfect day and good run back to Rona. Winter days like this I would rather spend on Rona doing something, probably stalking but you cannot be in two places at once, especially single handed.
But it is equally as pleasant having a boat trip so no complaints.
Ok having the boat trip but nearly forgetting to catch the tide just before dark is not on. It was late when I remembered that I had to unload the boat and the tide was around the tractor/JCB tyres. No worries though and all unloaded with no problems.
Since August I have been monitoring the power at our end of the Island. I was aware of an oil leak on the generator, the alternator seemed to be acting up but just could not put my finger on it.
I checked out this and that, unfortunately it was not apparent when we were ultra busy on the conversion of the two small cottages into one. Otherwise Calum could have dealt with it but with phones and emails (for advice) I set to work.
First thing to do was to get the old generator going. Myself and good pal Brian put the new alternator onto the old generator engine in the first two weeks of November, Calum wired it up in December. I finished it off and ran it up for 6 then 8 hours, powering the larder at that time with two hinds chilling in it. It ran well so now I had a back up plan.
Working at the genny shed it was poor weather so I was surprised when I stepped outside to phone to find the sun bursting through after a particularly wet afternoon.
In the week before Christmas with the generator now ready to replace the main one it was no problem to head off to Portree for blood tests and shopping, the weather was good but looking at the forecast we thought better to ask Ewen and Janice to take us over and back. Much more pleasant that the Alu’ boat (and safer for Lorraine!!).
It is not easy to see here but the sky that morning and Clouds were amazing, a good relaxing day, dashing about Portree.
The weather next day was nothing like the forecast, it did blow a ‘Hooley’ at 3pm precisely just after we got back and MV Seaflower got most of the way to Portree. I’m noticing that there has been occasions this year (and in the past) when out of nowhere a great wind arrives invariably with heavy showers, not necessarily from the direction the Met office say, quite worrying if out with a load heading to Rona say. So it is important that we study forecasts for Rona trips, the Voe Alu’ boat is good but we could do with a more comfortable boat for Rona, I’m looking!!!
It was a good day to-day, probably the last for a wee while but nice to have such a calm spell. Always welcome in December.
I was up early after a weekend of generator woes.
Headed down the ‘Sound’ at first light, porpoises popping up which was a surprise, there was a wee jabble and a big swell, a sign of what is coming. 40 minutes later I was in Portree and it was -1.I defrosted the car thanks to Angus the Harbour Master and set about the shopping list, being careful to avoid the horrible Traffic Wardens of Somerled Sq. Picked up Mike and Lorraine who are over to help us for a week. Loaded with some fuel (and their hens!!!) then back to Rona.A bigger lift on the way back but a good sail, sun splitting the sky, I was chatting to Calum about power issues most of the way back. As we came to the top of Raasay we did see stags on the Ailean Tighe shore and on the tops of Rona but not a lot of sealife on the return.Back into the harbour and the tide was perfect for a drop off at the landing stage we built for the landing craft. Saves walking up and down the gangway. But we had the fuel to lift of with the JCB, so just perfect.Over to Dry Harbour at last light to check on the cottages and generator shed, the views as usual never disappoint.
Roll on tomorrow, Firewood!!
Here are a few Sunsets from the last while.
Jim my Northern Irish friend wonders why I am not posting regularly like I used to, I wish I had the time Jim. So I had an idea last night to photograph my every move to-day. Or at least try to. I kept forgetting.Up at 5.45am, couldn’t sleep with the excitement of a trip to Portree. Not quite, the wind was howling, the rain sleet against the windows, then the shower cleared and the moon came out.It was so bright, if it had been calmer I would have taken off earlier but I could not see the sea, it certainly did not sound too good.
Ran the tap and fed the cat, the pump started making funny noises which sounded like the water had run out, on with the working gear checked the pump, went out to check the tank, the sleet came back on, but thankfully the tank was full. Checked the pump but can’t work it out. It seems to be working. Must get a spare pump.
Venison orders are coming in for Christmas, we have a few regulars and with the current situation with Covid the only thing to do is to butcher all our deer and sell them locally. We usually put away half to the Game Dealer. So it was good to get a couple of orders for Portree to-day. Fed the sheep and ewe lambs, then gathered up the rubbish, fuel tanks and empty gas cylinders, then time for the boat.Got the boat in to the pontoon, in the dark then loaded it up and then back to the house to pick up the mail.Of around 8ish, the wind dropped off completely just about then, there was a bit of a jabble left but it was fine, wind dropping. It was cloudy but clearing, the promise of a good day.The joys of Portree, dump the re-cycling, pick up gas for Fladda, then fuel up after picking up the post, lots of post. Heading for 10.30am by this time. Back to the boat to load up, shift the boat the tide was dropping then fuel up for the return journey. Back to the filling station to fuel up the empty can, then down to the Bank.Met up with friends from Shieldaig for a quick coffee which became expensive after the local traffic warden left a wee yellow envelope on my windscreen. The parking place where I always park is now a Taxi rank, great!! Where’s the sign? Oh! under the slush on the road.Did the shopping, then all the other bits and pieces, the kids were out from school so it must have been 1’ish. Parked the car and then off to Fladda to drop the gas off.Passed James trawling home I guess.Turned into Loch a Sgurr, then into North Harbour at Fladda.Of course the tide was perfect!! But we have a system for unloading, so half an hour with John and Erlet who are enjoying a late stay on Fladda then off home.It was starting to get dark but there was no wind just a clear cool late afternoon leaving North Harbour.Some special clouds to-day, lots of weather out there.Lorraine was waiting to help unload the boat, the tide perfect again!! Lots of stuff and I wondered as I was taking the last box up. How many times in 18 years have I been up and down this gangway.Boat back on the mooring, the forecast is grim.
Up to the house with two sacks of mail, it must be Christmas time, it was nice to see a bright crisp evening instead of rain.Put the shopping away.Opened the mail. Lots of it, ebay was busy, Amazon too, how did we ever manage.Been a beautiful day, just another day on (or off) Rona am getting tired now at 9pm.
More this weekend coming though.