gallery, cafe & apartment

Archive for the category “Island life”

Season’s Greetings

Season’s greetings to all the followers of the OldByreSkye blog, and anyone who just stumbles across it.

Season's greetings

Season’s greetings.  Bring back the snow and take away the gales!

It’s been a stormy week.  If you follow us on FaceBook you will know that we’ve been off-line since Monday.  There was a brief power-cut in the gales on Saturday night, and then on Sunday night we lost power again, for eight hours when the local sub-station was hit by lightening, and the resultant power-surge fried our [and a lot of other people’s] router. On Wednesday night/Thursday morning we had ferocious gales again and we got up at three in the morning and went downstairs as it was too noisy to sleep.  Although last night was quiet it’s blowing again tonight and the forecast shows no respite.  No snow but lots of brief hailstorms among the rain, which is when we get the lightening.  The image was taken earlier in the month when we did have some snow!

Currently listening to: Winter Songs – The Albion Christmas Band


Progress, progress…

It’s been a while since I posted anything on how the gallery build is progressing [although if you follow us on FaceBook you will have seen more recent pictures: if you don’t, sign up immediately!]  Things are progressing apace.  The outside isn’t that far off being finished.  The extensions have their larch cladding and roof flashings.  The new door has been cut out and the old garage doors have been blocked up [quite literally] and await the final coat of plaster.  It’s all looking rather smart.  Inside is still largely just a shell, although the extensions have already been insulated. Next major step is the floor in the ‘old’ building, which has to be built up so that it can be insulated – the ‘new build’ has insulation under the concrete base so just has to be raised up to meet the new section.  The old concrete floor is somewhat less than even and there has been much muttering and drilling out and smoothing over, but it’s looking good, even if I did go skidding over the floor last Saturday as I didn’t know there was a patch of wet concrete!


All looking good: but what is the piece of wood doing on the extension roof?

At the top of the drive the dreaded SDB2 is taking shape.  Taking shape rather quickly, as in one day it has gone from being something on a plan to being ready for tarmacing, following the addition of 100 tonnes of crushed rock of various grades and some nifty work with an excavator. Whereas before it was a concave slope with an awkward lip at the top it now has a wide flat junction with the road.  Our builders got their van up it second go before it had been rolled – I tried it in the Jimny [in four-wheel drive] and glided serenely to the top.  Since it has been rolled it’s been fine – they’ve been driving in and out all day today.  It gets tarmaced on Thursday. I then need to quickly put some marker stakes up as it’s a steep drop if you come off the edge!  The fence will go up in a couple of weeks when the soil has settled.


Now, if I just reverse a little bit more, there’ll be a large pile of stones and no digger…

We’ve started some planting around the finished end of  the car-park although the final layer of gravel has still to be added.  Time to start ordering the fixtures and fittings: after all, it’s only money…

Currently listening to: The Vice of the People – The Albion Band

On the road again…

So, we’re at the annual Clan Donald Craft Fair down at Armadale in Sleat on Saturday and Sunday, the largest event of its type on Skye.  Sleat is the south-western ‘arm’ of Skye, so that’s a 100 mile round trip each day…  We’re in marquee B if you’re around.  Then on Monday, just for relaxation, we’re at the Craft Fayre [sic] in Waternish.  Don’t forget to visit our Zenfolio gallery to see the full range of images available to order.

Highland cow

Handsome beast am I not? If you visit the OldByreSkye stall you can buy my portrait. McMoo.

Currently listening to: Nothing Can Stop Us – Robert Wyatt [augmented version with Shipbuilding, which isn’t on the original album]

A new benchmark

Are you sitting comfortably?  Then, to coin a phrase, I’ll begin…

There’s a lot of waste wood around the property at the moment, some left over from the work on the annex, some from the ongoing work on the garage, and some from old fencing that was dumped behind the garage.  It’s a good supply of kindling for the woodburner but I have designs on some of it – I need a larger workbench for the studio for which I’ve started to cut wood.  But today’s project was a different bench – a bench seat for outside the house.

Kit of parts – either that or a bench dropped from a great height...

Kit of parts – either that or a bench dropped from a great height…

I’ve been designing a simple bench in my mind for years, for the leftover wood from the deck I built years ago back in Greenford but never got around to building it.  It’s a more practical life up here on Skye, so I set to work yesterday sorting out timber to experiment with.  I did, however, have one disappointment.   Out of interest I did an online search for bench plans and found that my fledgling design already existed.  Not only did it exist but it even had a name: it’s an Aldo Leopold bench.  No, me neither.  But perhaps I should have.

Leopold, it turns out, was an early player in the American environmental and wilderness conservation movement, becoming professor at the University of Wisconsin. Here’s a quote from A Sand County Almanac, a collection of his writing published shortly after his death in 1948.  “… a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such.”  And amen to that.

By a  happy co-incidence with my discovery of Aldo Leopold we also recently discovered that 2013 is The Year of Natural Scotland [don’t know how I missed that!].  The more observant of returning readers may have noticed that I’ve added their logo to the blog’s banner.

Anyway, back to the bench.  It’s a very simple design that can be made from a few lengths of solid timber [the original spec seems to be 8″ x 2″ by enough to finish] a few screws and coach bolts: all things that have been found lying around rural properties for generations.  It’s true to the original conservation ethos that the timber has been reclaimed. Unfortunately I couldn’t reclaim quite enough 8 x 2 so the back is made from two pieces of  3 x 2, which gives it a lighter look, although weakens it a little.  There’s a very slight lateral wobble [although no worse than many commercial garden benches!], so I may make a few tweaks – maybe a stretcher on the rear legs.


The finished (for the moment) result

As there is an environmental flavor to this post I also can’t help but note that today the Scottish government has given consent to the building of a wind farm off Aberdeen.  This is in plain view of the controversial golf complex being developed by American egocentric and bewigged buffoon Donald Trump, and which he has been opposing as it “will spoil the sea view for the golfers” and “will definitely be the destruction of Aberdeen and Scotland itself”.  This is the same golf course that was built on, and destroyed, a Site of Special Scientific Interest.  Sorry Donald, your opinions on anything related to the environment are as valid as what ever it is that seems to have gone to sleep on your head.  And less intelligent.  Goodness knows what Aldo would have thought…

Currently listening toTraces – Karin Polwart

Mind the Gap

We have had a gap in our lives this past week.  A big gap.  A big gap where the bridge across the Allt a’ Mhulaig (the burn that runs across the front of the property) used to be.  As part of the work to convert the garage into the cafe/gallery we have had to replace the bridge, as the builders didn’t think it could be trusted to bear the weight of the cement and aggregate delivery lorries given that we didn’t know exactly how it was constructed, other than that it appeared to be a cast concrete slab sitting on concrete piers.  So, in short order, it was demolished.

Mind the gap

Mind the Gap

Demolition revealed that replacement was a good idea.  You would expect to find some reinforcing mesh in a concrete slab such as that which formed the bridge.  The only signs of any steel whatsoever was what appeared to be a car or trailer chassis that had been set such that it sat on the concrete piers on either side, but otherwise did little to hold the slab together and help resist the tensile forces that cause such structures to fail.  Truth be told it was an accident waiting to happen and is best buried under what will be the car park…

Te Gap Filled

The Gap Filled

As you can see, the new bridge is formed from culvert piping with concrete on top.  What you can’t see are the two steel girders sitting on the piers a lorry axle’s width apart, and the steel reinforcing mesh that was missing in the old bridge.  In due course we will think about putting up some form of side rails, when the rest of the building work is done, and we are landscaping.

The concrete was poured last Thursday: on Friday morning there was a set of cat paw prints leading across the bridge away from the house.  Piano was in the house all the time: Puzzle was in the house all the time.  If anyone in Ose sees a cat with concrete boots on, let me know.  Piano says cats with concrete boots sleep with the fish (and not from a Whiskas tin…)

Currently listening to: Ashore – June Tabor

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.

Weather Report

No, this isn’t a belated record review or celebration of the departed – Joe died back in 2007, although Wayne is still going strong at age 79.*  It’s what you thought it was: a report on the weather…

Despite what has been happening in the rest of the UK, we haven’t had snow here, although we see plenty looking over to the Cuillins.  What we have had is wind.  We’ve had two gales in the past couple of weeks that were both stronger than any last year, and both blew for a couple of days, rather than just twelve hours or so.  Dunvegan weather station recorded gusts up to 54mph, so you can probably add 10-20% to that over here, and some more over the other side of the road if there is a westerly component in the wind (as there usually is), as we get a surprising amount of shelter being down below road level.  The first gale was unusual in that it was from the south-east, on the gable end of the let.  Pleasing to report that the new bedroom window there is weatherproof!

G clamp

Mark 1 Skye window catch, model G [pat pending]

No real damage done although I’ve done some remedial work on the fence where a few bits were coming loose and put some draft excluder on the utility room window.  This gave Puzzle the excuse to climb out of said window, even though the front door was open [our front door opens into the utility room] and then jump on the fence and go for a walk on the roof.  The window, however, now won’t hold properly on the catch and is being held shut with a G-clamp while the draft excluder compresses, so I may have to replace the catch.  Life on Skye is one long improvisation – a bit like jazz really…

*For those who haven’t worked out what I was rabbiting on about (which was the general idea), Weather Report was a seminal jazz ‘fusion’ group (a fairly meaningless term as jazz isn’t a pure form, but then what music is?) founded in 1971.  The central members, through a shifting lineup, were keyboard player Joe Zawinul and saxophonist Wayne Shorter.  Jazz – see what I did there, how I started and end the blog – clever eh?  Oh please yourselves…

Currently listening toRace the Loser: Lau [which isn’t jazz, but folk, or avant-folk to those who are afraid of the continuing evolution of musical and other creative forms.  Don’t get me started…]

Season’s greetings

Season’s greetings to all who follow the OldByreSkye blog, follow a link to it, or just blunder across it.

Black Cullin, winter evening

Black Cullin, winter evening*

As tomorrow is the winter solstice and the beginning of the astronomical winter it seemed the right time to do this.  Oh, and if the world does end tomorrow, at least I got it in in time.  Not that it will, of course…

* the Gaelic greeting means ” Health, wealth, and happiness”

Currently listening toFire And Sleet And Candlelight – Coope, Boyes and Simpson

Skye at night


What the hell are they doing in Staffin?

First a note on the main title.  I actually started this post shortly before the death of Sir Patrick Moore . For those of you outside the UK, Moore presented 703 episodes of The Sky at Night, starting in 1957, making it the longest running television programme with the same presenter in history.  He was Britain’s greatest ever populariser of astronomy and a gloriously eccentric figure. I can’t claim to know if he would have objected to my appropriating the title or invoking his name, but as he was quite happy to send himself up, I somehow doubt it…

The night sky on Skye is a joy to behold on those occasional clear  nights, an astronomer’s paradise.  If you look up the milky way (our home galaxy, seen edge on) is clearly visible drifting across the 3000 or so stars that might be seen unaided*.

Admittedly if you look up normally you are, if there is sufficient light, far more likely to see  drops of water falling towards you at between something like 3 to 8 metres per second (larger drops fall faster, but break up at around 8 metres per second apparently), and more of them than Patrick Moore ever saw stars through his telescope.  They may still be accelerating too, as if the cloud base is just above the chimney pot they won’t have reached terminal velocity.  There again, they are  just as likely to be coming at you closer to the horizontal at somewhat greater speed…

What got me started on this is that NASA recently released new images of the earth at night (the so-called ‘black marble’), composites of cloud-free night images of the earth taken by the Suomi NPP satellite.  I’ve downloaded the ‘big’ image, the Google earth version, and very nice they are too.  Here’s the extract covering Skye, slightly enhanced.

Skye at night

Skye at night © NASA

You can clearly see the bright light of Portree in the centre, and the lesser lights of Broadford and Kyleachin lower down. We’re not far from the fuzzy blob that is Dunvegan (and you can take that description how you will!)  All is as you would expect.

However (there’s always a however – although preferably not at the beginning of a sentence!) when The Guardian (along with other newspapers) published the global image as a centre spread on 7 December it had a few detail images, including the UK, that were not drawn from the ‘Black Marble’ set, and actually date from 27 March.  The quality isn’t as good, but the brightest light on Skye seems to be coming from Staffin.  Staffin is a small village, yet in this image is almost as bright as Inverness, the ‘capital of the Highlands’ on the extreme right. So what the hell are they doing up there??

Skye at night3

What the hell are they doing in Staffin? © NASA/AP

*This is the normal figure given as the approximate number of stars visible to the naked eye from one non-light polluted spot on the earth’s surface on a cloudless, moonless night for someone with good vision.  There are a lot of qualifiers in there, and I don’t know if this includes other visible objects such as galaxies and nebulae, so if you want to argue about the number go somewhere else…

Currently listening toMule Variations – Tom Waits (which, not at all co-incidentally, includes the marvelously paranoid spoken track ‘What’s he building’)

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

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