gallery, cafe & apartment

Archive for the category “Early days”

Happy anniversary

Today is the first anniversary of our taking possession of The Old Byre – the official start of our time on Skye.  It was a day not unlike today; cool, dry (thank goodness!), mainly cloudy.

A time for reflections...

A time for reflections… [The Storr, from Loch Fada, shortly after sunrise on Monday]

So how to summarise the first year?  Well, read the rest of the blog – I wasn’t just talking to myself you know! But here’s how things stand now.

We had hoped to have the apartment ready for the back-end of the 2012 summer season, but that didn’t happen until October.  But we’re pleased with the results, and bookings are coming on – May is completely booked-out already.  We had hoped to have the cafe/gallery open just after Easter so we could start at a quiet time and grow into it.  Now we’re probably looking at around June.  If we can achieve that we would not only hit the high season, but also hit the ground running (running (running all over the place).

There are still things in boxes, mainly the nine boxes of books under the stairs – at some point we’ll get around to putting up shelves or units there.  As it’s clear that I won’t have working space (only storage) in the gallery I need to do a proper conversion of the spare bedroom into a working studio, which means the bed will have to go and I’ll build a larger workbench (I’ll have plenty of spare wood out of the garage!)  As the garage has had to be emptied, chiefly into a shipping container in Portree and the recycling centre, I’ll be putting up a new shed in the back garden.  It’s just arrived so I’m sure it will get its own blog post sometime!  There’s new vegetable beds to be dug this spring, and hopefully the polytunnel will go up this summer.  I haven’t yet got out as much as I had hoped, but that’s all part of getting used to living somewhere new, with a complete change of lifestyle, and all the practical setting up to do.  There’s always something to be done somewhere inside or out, so I’m not sure how we will fit in work!

Most importantly, do we regret moving here?  Not for a moment.  People have been very welcoming and we have made good friends.  We know our neighbors better than we did in 17 years together in London (and even longer in Claire’s case).  It is a joy to watch the cats chasing each other across the croft land, hunting, and just enjoying life.  I will never tire of the changing light on the loch or looking across to the Cuillins (when the cloud allows).  Heather beats concrete; rock pools trump puddles on the pavement; and the daily commute is the walk across to the garage.  Think of that next time you descend to your tube train or sit in a traffic jam…

Currently listening to: Affric – Duncan Chisholm.  Divine Scottish fiddle playing – traditional with a contemporary twist.

Can I Face it…

or, Brought to Book

So, we’re now on Facebook.  Yes, I know we’re both on Facebook individually, but OldByreSkye now has its own page.  Or rather, Oldbyreskye has its own page, as the grammar fascists at Facebook won’t allow unusual capitalisation, as if it’s any of their business how anyone chooses to capitalise a name.  Yes, I know it’s their site, but after all, iPod seems to be allowed (perhaps because Zuckerberg is in thrall to Apple) – so maybe we should have called ourselves iByre and painted the house silver with a large kumquat on the side, or some such nonsense [although I should warn you that ‘iByre’ is now my intellectual property!].

OldByreSkye Facebook cover

OldByreSkye Facebook cover [it’s actually a masthead, but that would be too ‘oldtech’ for mister Zuckerberg and the children…]

There’s not much on the Facebook page at the moment – the blog is still where it’s at, and the photographic collection isn’t leaving Zenfolio any time soon – but it will build with time, and you can always ‘like’ us.  As we’re a business, I’m afraid we can’t be your ‘Friends’, but you could always come and see us when we’re open so we can be real friends!

Re-engaging with Facebook has reminded me just how clunky and controlling it is [see above rant about capitalisation]. For instance, as a ‘local business’ it will display our telephone number in a preset field on the main page, but not something more useful like our website address.  This is the world-wide web , but Facebook doesn’t want you to go out into the wide world, away from its own walled garden – hey, you can do everything here [badly].  More to the point, if you go to another site Facebook can’t make money out of you – remember, if something on the web is free, you, the user, are the product, and Facebook urgently needs to work out how to make money out of you to justify its over-inflated, but sinking, market value…

And, of course, Facebook pages remain an informational and aesthetic disaster area with long scrolling pages, icons all over the page, different types of information scattered hither thither, and largely full of inane drivel.  I should feel right at home…

Currently listening toShoot Out the Lights – Richard and Linda Thompson [and waiting for the forthcoming release of  Electric].

Two steps forwards…

Things continue to progress at the ‘Byre.

Most importantly, we received planning permission for the gallery/cafe conversion this week, and the building warrant should be through next week.  No surprises.  As expected, we have to improve the bellmouth [where the driveway meets the road]: in particular we need an SDB2 [as opposed to an SBD2 which was a second world war American dive bomber, although one of those might be useful in dealing with certain aspects of local government bureaucracy…] .  An SDB2 is a small service bay on the main road, with room for two vehicles to pass on the first eight meters of the driveway: not quite as easy as it sounds as the road and driveway meet on embankment, the drive being about 30 meters long, rising up to meet the main road after crossing the burn.  Otherwise everything is pretty much as planned.

Here’s an artist’s impression of the gallery, made by superimposing the side elevation from the plans over a photograph of the garage, adding a bit of modelling and ‘cloning’ the gravel to form a car park.

Artists impression of the cafe/gallery (assuming I'm an artist!)

Artist’s impression of the cafe/gallery (assuming that I’m an artist!)

Once building work starts we will obviously have to be mindful of the holiday apartment and try to minimise disruption, as we are starting to get bookings.  I would imagine that the most disruptive phase will be the groundworks (foundations, drains, car-park, drive), and as they are the first things to do they will hopefully be out of the way before the main holiday season arrives. [Hopefully most of the work will be out of the way by then!] We intend to move a few fences so the apartment has its own enclosed garden area, and if we can do that sooner rather than later it might also help.

Also, at the end of the week we completed our Elementary Food Hygiene Certificates [equivalent to the Level 2 Food Safety Award south of the border (though not down Mexico way!)] which fulfills our training obligations  for running the cafe side of the business.  We met with environmental health before we put in the planning application, and so far they have been very helpful.

If there are two steps forwards, there must, of course, be one step back – and not just to admire the view.  At the moment the garage is rather full, not least of bits and pieces left behind by the previous owners.  Where is it all going to go??

Currently listening toMy Life In The Bush Of Ghosts – Brian Eno/David Byrne

The best laid plans…

The big news at the ‘Byre this month is that the plans for the photographic gallery and cafe have been completed, and are now with the Highland Council.  What this means in the short-term is successive demands for money.  Money for the planning application.  More money for the planning application as they decide the plans constitute ‘change of use’.  Money for Building Standards (fee based on their valuation of the work, which fortunately matches ours!)  More money for planning as planning applications have to be advertised in the local paper (and given that there are at least three or four a week, they must make a tidy profit!)

The best laid plans of mice and men (and cats)…

Now the waiting game begins.  The official notifications have gone out to our neighbours – anyone within 20 metres of the curtilage – which on Skye means about three people, who have 21 days to mak any comments.  The notification should be in the paper this week, which has a 14 day response period, so comments should be closed before Christmas.  Hopefully we will have building quotes in by the end of the week as well.

It’s not a huge job – basically  weatherproofing and insulating the existing garage, re-roofing, and adding an extension to the rear gable for the WC and store, and another extension to the side for a small kitchen.  Most of the windows will be rooflights, to allow us to keep the walls for display and avoid too much direct light on the display walls.

The wait begins – the plans had best not gang aglay…

Currently listening to:  the Jimny getting its MOT (written in the service reception of Kenny’s Garage, Dunvegan!)

Open to the world (next week…)

Yes, things have been quiet again on the blog front, but we have been busy elsewhere, with finishing the let and being assailed by visitors.  The big news is that the buildng work and decoration for the annex has been finished (except the stair carpet which I will lay this week).  The work has been signed of by Building Control at the Highland Council, so its all legal, and we have signed up with a local booking agent, so it should be on the market next week, hopefully.

Annex kitchen – it’s bright, it’s modern, it’s fully equipped.  It’s purple…*

To quote from the blurb which we have written to help the agency, and our own publicity:

“Adjacent to the owner’s traditional, croft house home, this newly renovated apartment provides contemporary cottage living for up to two adults. It is completely self-contained and enjoys its own private entrance and parking area.

“The spacious open plan lounge and has been well planned and equipped, creating the perfect sociable space in which to lounge and relax. The furnishings and fittings are of a high standard throughout, and are complemented with little touches of island culture. Large lounge windows allow sunlight to stream in on sunny days, and the wood-burner effect electric stove creates a cosy hideaway whatever the season.

“The apartment retains many of its traditional features, but offers guests all the modern comforts of home with Wi-Fi, i-Pod docking stations and a large flat screen HD television. There is also a DVD player and a selection of CDs, DVDs books and games for you to enjoy.

“The kitchen-diner is situated at the far end of the lounge area and is fully equipped with ceramic hob and oven, microwave, fridge freezer, dish washer, washer/drier and loads of cupboard space full of quality crockery and utensils.

“Upstairs is a large bedroom, with a generous king sized bed which emanates cosy comfort. There is plenty of hanging and drawer space, as well as a hair dryer and clock/radio with iPod docking station. The en-suite shower room incorporates a WC, wash hand basin, heated towel rail and spacious shower.”

As soon as it is available at the booking agent, I’ll post the link.

Lounge area – “the perfect sociable space in which to lounge and relax”.  We say so, so it must be true!

So, as I promised to name names, many thanks to Brian and Sean and all at Altree Joinery, who turned up when agreed, completed the job on time, in budget and to an excellent standard.  Yes, we are talking about builders here!.  A special shout-out to Jimmy the painter/decorator who provides a superb finish and a full run-down of island politics! 

*It’s actually Imperial  Mauve 5, which sounds more like a race horse than a paint colour.  Or possibly a social scientist.  In the mid-1980s, Demos wonk David Ashworth, in a fit of post-modernist idealism (or supreme narcissism), changed his name to Perri 6.

Currently listening to: Danca Dos Escravos– Egberto Gismonti

There and back again (And there again. And back again. And…)

So, to earn a little money to help things along, a few weeks ago we did a little work for a data collection company, riding the rails from Kyle of Lochalsh to Inverness counting passengers getting on and off at various stops.  This means that in three days we went from Kyle to Inverness and back again five times, with a side trip from Inverness to Invergordon on Sunday when there are less trains.

The trip from Kyle to Inverness takes about two and a half hours, with 14 stops along the way.  The first train in the morning leaves at 0621 (to get into Inverness at 0853) and as we like to allow an hour to get from Ose to Kyle you can see what time we had to get up…

Strathcarron Station

Strathcarron station (as if you hadn’t noticed…)

That said it is a stunningly beautiful line. Rail travel can often shed a poor light on the places you pass through.  Very few people want to live right on a railway line, and even commerce and industry backs onto the line showing its least flattering face (unless,  increasingly rarely, it has its own railhead).  Without wishing to be too crude, if you want to see the backside of a town or city, travel by rail.  But out in rural Scotland… It’s the only east/west line north of the Glasgow/Edinburgh corridor but it doesn’t follow the main east/west route down the Great Glen.  From Kyle it hugs the coast, up Loch Carron, then cutting north-east through the mountains until it turns south at Loch Luichart, meeting the line north to Wick at Dingwall.  It’s somewhat surprising that the line, which was fully opened in 1897, still exists.  It was earmarked for closure by Beeching in 1963, and then again in the early ’70s and is still probably on some hit list somewhere, although it’s surely safer under the devolved administration at Holyrood than it would be under Westminster’s supervision, particularly at the moment…

You can see more about the line the Friends of the Kyle Line website.

Currently listening to: Travelogue–  Joni Mitchell.

A room of one’s own

I haven’t posted on  the blog for a while.  Don’t worry – I still love you all, but things have been a little busy of late.  I’ve got a number of posts almost complete, so I’ll be all over the web like a rash next week.

The main recent development is that we’ve got the builders in (after our travails with building control) – and very good they seem to be to (I’ll name names when things are finished!)  As I wrote way-back-when, one of the strands of the new business will be a holiday let, formed from the annex at the end of the house that used to be the B&B accommodation.  The upstairs bedroom was repainted and refurnished some time ago (and two relatives have already slept in it!), but the main job is knocking through the downstairs bedroom, breakfast room and en suite to give an open plan lounge/diner/kitchen.  This has meant putting in two stand-down beams and doubling-up some of the joists as well as the associated plumbing/electrical/general refurbishing work.  It’s looking like a really good space – with the walls gone it’s triple aspect so it’s nice and light.

A rom of one's own...

A room of one’s own.  Piano inspects the site works.

The kitchen and flooring will be delivered on Monday.  We already have the fridge/freezer and washer/drier – the compact dishwasher and hob and oven will be built in.  And we’ve also got the TV, hi-fi, sofa, bookcase, floorlamp. supply of books, CDs, videos, cuddly toy, conveyor belt…  We might yet be open for business in September: Christmas/New Year bookings anyone?

Currently listening toGlorious fool –  John Martyn.  Perfect to recycle for the Republican Party’s adoption of Romney/Ryan…

Cat on a cold tile roof

The perils of Piano and Puzzle: part two

[Maow – we’re back!)

Piano and Puzzle have settled in nicely and are enjoying having a larger house to chase each other round. They decided to recreate their early days with us by climbing everything possible in the house: back up their old familiar bookcases, up on some new (to them) wardrobes, up on the single bed that is currently standing on its end in the annex and the shelves in the boiler room.  They have also done some unofficial exploring.

A couple of weeks ago they managed to find a loose board at the back of the upstairs shower room where the panelling had been cut away to conceal the stopcock.  When I realised where they had gone I thought I would be able to surprise them by opening one of the storage doors under the eaves as they all connect up, but there was no sign of them.  Turned out that a floorboard had also been removed and they must have been in the void between the floor and the downstairs ceiling!  I caught a slightly sheepish looking Piano emerging, and ever since they have been clamouring to get back into the shower room and the door to their own personal Narnia.  I’ve taped up the panel, so the door is now firmly shut…  [Maow – spoilsport!]

So, comes the moment they have been waiting for.  After nearly three weeks inside (plus two weeks in the cattery) it was time to introduce them to their new territory last Saturday.  There was great excitement when they realised they were going to be carried through the front door when it was opened, rather than deposited in the dining room as usual.  At the moment they are being encouraged to stay in the fenced back garden.  The back garden isn’t that big, but there are plenty of bushes and nooks and crannies in the rockery to investigate, and it gives them a clearly defined territory.   They often, however, have other ideas.  [Maow – leg it!]

 Piano the great (black and) white hunter

I saw a vole here yesterday... Piano, the great (black and) white hunter

Piano has been over the side fence towards the garage, and over the back fence and into the sheep field, although he hasn’t met the sheep face-to-face yet.  The rate he was going he would have been visiting the neighbours had he not finally decided that I hadn’t joined him in the field to play hide-and-seek.  He also saw a field vole by the bird table through the kitchen window the other day (the garden is full of vole holes) and now starts his rounds by stuffing a paw, and as much of his face as will fit, down the most promising holes.

Puzzle, meanwhile, prefers bird watching, which has resulted in one major climbing expedition.  He started by trying to stalk sparrows in the clematis like he used to in London.  The sparrows kept one step ahead.  Like they used to in London.  He followed them along the fence, so they retreated onto the roof.  The eaves are only about ten feet of the ground, so it was no problem to follow them.  They retreated up the roof.  It isn’t a very steeply pitched roof, so it was no problem to follow them.  The sparrows eventually go fed up and flew when Puzzle was attempting to use the chimney as cover.  So he went exploring up over the ridge, peered at us from over the gutter on the other side of the house, and then wandered back up over the ridge and along to the utility room (a single storey lean-to at the end of the main building).  [Maow – I can see for miles and miles!] Having decided he couldn’t climb the television aerial (!), it was onto the utility roof, jump across the gate, and onto the side fence, and shortly after into my grasping hands!  The highest he has been today is the top of the wardrobe…

Cat on a cold tile roof – Puzzle investigates the television arial

Cat on a cold tile roof – Puzzle investigates the television aerial

Currently listening toDust – Peatbog Faeries, Skye’s finest!

Digging for victory…

or even peace with honour…

So, having blogged about the wet weather, we are now having a warm dry spell, which for once means we are in step with the rest of the UK. As you have to take advantage of these things, the gardening has begun. It feels odd starting over. In London we had a not overly large, but very well developed garden, even though I say so myself. Working down the garden, there was a large deck with a trellis over most of it, followed by a circular lawn with a pond at the side, then a mixed bed with herbaceous perennials and shrubs on one side and a ‘wild’ area with a willow tree on the other, and then a screened area with a small greenhouse, a couple of raised beds and some apple minarets.

Here we have a very large canvas.  There is a fenced garden at the back of the house, some grass with a screening rockery at the front, and the rest is either grass or undeveloped.  The garden at the back needs some work, but is not especially urgent.  So I’ve started at the other side, putting in some raised beds for veg behind the garage.  The aim is to put in a polytunnel in the corner of the property where there is some protection from some trees, and try to develop the area in between.

The raised beds are about 4 x12 feet (48 square feet), and I can probably do two a day among the other things that have to be done in a day (if I had an infinite supply of soil and wood!)  Now, an acre is 43,560 square feet and we have approximately 0.6 of an acre. So, if I were to put it all to raised beds, apart from having to demolish the house, it would take me over 544 days, or just over 18 months. I surrender!

Digging for victory

Two spades long, one spade across, and one spa... no, hang on, that's grave digging!

Of course, not all the ground will be put to growing (house, cafe/gallery, car park, back garden etc…) and it won’t all be raised beds either, but don’t be surprised by posts on dodgy backs and the relative merits of different gardening tools!

Currently listening to: Twenty-four seven – Coope, Boyes and Simpson

Never mind snakes on a plane, its…. cats on a train!

The perils of Piano and Puzzle: part one

[maow – do we have to?]

So comes time to place the final part of the jigsaw that is moving house – back up the smoke to collect Piano and Puzzle.  As far as we know, the furthest they have ever moved is when we collected them from Mayhew and brought them back to Greenford, when they miaowed constantly.

Step one: from the cattery to Euston station courtesy of friend Malcolm, who provided the transport. Yes, they miaowed almost constantly…

[Maow – are we nearly there yet?]

We then have step two: a couple of hours on Euston station, when they were very good, before: Step three: the Euston – Inverness sleeper.  Now, I’ve always wanted to travel on a sleeper, but I hadn’t anticipated doing so in the company of two cats (not forgetting Claire!)  And I hadn’t anticipated the cat box not fitting through the door into the sleeping compartment (well, not until I saw the size of the door on the journey down…)   Fortunately the cat box is collapsible: unfortunately, the cats aren’t.  Indeed, as anyone who has every tried to put a reluctant cat into a cat box will know, cats can actually expand such that they have a cross-section slightly larger than the entrance to a cat box, however small the cat, or large the box.

So, Piano and Puzzle have to leave the box.  [Maow – freedom!]

This means the carriage doors are closed and guarded by the carriage attendant.  The cat box is brought as close to the sleeping compartment door as possible, the box door is rapidly opened and the first cat to emerge is grabbed and stuffed, somewhat startled, into the compartment.  The process is then repeated with the second cat.  Puzzle nearly managed to go for a walk down the carriage, but wasn’t quite quick enough.  Both cats are then restrained by Claire (having been retrieved from under the bed) while I retreat to the carriage doorway where there is more space, collapse the box, enter the sleeping compartment, re-assemble the box, and cats are then inserted back in the box, and the door closed.  This isn’t helped by my never having actually collapsed the box before (that’s another story…), and the rather limited space in a sleeping compartment.  I don’t fold a small as I used to either.

Cats on a train...

Cats on a train…

After this the train journey was reasonably uneventful.  Piano and Puzzle settled quite well, and having decided that they couldn’t dismantle the box from the inside, were quite quiet during the night.

Then we have a reverse performance of the night before. Remove cats from box; collapse box; rapidly exit sleeping compartment; reassemble box; approach sleeping compartment door [this time I have to straddle the length of the box, from which I will recover soon with enough bed-rest, as it is only about a centimetre narrower than the corridor]; stuff increasingly bewildered cats into box; move box to end of carriage.  All this time the train is in motion, which at least means the doors won’t be opened, but does mean the box has to be raised about five feet in the air to clear the grab handle by the carriage door…

[Maow – this is all getting rather undignified!]

Step four: move cats from train to car in long stay car park in Inverness.  Suffice it to say that a luggage trolley that was clearly marked “Not to be removed from Inverness Station” was last seen on level five of the car park, some hundreds of metres away from its natural abode.  Cats get breakfast on reaching car.  Neil and Claire don’t…

Step five: three-hour drive (including stops, including a belated breakfast for the humans in this story).  Cats very quiet.  Claire very quiet.  Neil very tired!  Arrive at Old Byre and release cats into dining room/kitchen/stairs/landing (there are no doors in this area) to settle down.  [Sleepy maow]

All are now safely gathered in.  Too tired to crack open the champagne, which will wait.  The write-up for the blog can wait.  The other jobs I had thought of for that day can wait.  We can do all that on Skye time…

Currently listening to: Let England Shake, PJ Harvey

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