A Letter to our Guests

wp_20161223_12_13_22_proSeason’s Greetings from

Oystercatchers

We hope you enjoyed your stay at Oystercatchers in 2016.  We are continuing to upgrade the property and to that end we have re-painted the outside, created a wood store in the garden, replaced the food processor and put in a new light fitting in the sitting room. We have improvements in store for the 2 bathrooms and are currently upgrading our website to be more phone/tablet friendly.  Any additional suggestions form you will also be considered, so please feel free to make some suggestions.

We are pleased to have held our prices for mid and high season, but have had to increase the low season prices slightly due to increased management costs.  If you would like to come back in 2017 we would be delighted to see you and will offer a 10% discount on the current prices to all returning visitors. In addition, we would be happy to offer a 5% discount to any of your friends, as long as they tell us who you are!

With best wishes for 2017 from Fiona and the team at Oystercatchers

What a Difference a Day Makes

This has not been a wonderful Summer as far as the weather is concerned, but we have managed to get most of the outside of the house painted and should get the rest done before we leave at the end of next week.  Grey skies have now given way to blue and we’ve been out and about, revelling in the fact that our little jeep can go places other cars cannot manage and that even the busiest of roads are not a problem when you are driving something half the width of most of the other traffic!

We visited Duirinish and the most westerly part of Skye, expecting to be blown away at Neist Point, but managed to do so on the stillest day imaginable, which unfortunately meant the midges were out in force.  Fantastic views though from the spectacular old DSCF0785lighthouse buildings.  The landscape on the way there is full of reminders of how populous Skye once was with the remains of many ruined croft houses sad testimony to lives chased off the land many years ago in favour of the now ubiquitous sheep. On a more cheerful note it was lovely to see peat being dug in the traditional way that I remember seeing on the Antrim Plateau when I was young.

We also made it out to Waternish, passing the very photogenic Fairy Bridge en route, having a picnic at Stein and coffee at “the oldest inn on Skye”, as well taking a drive out

past the ruined church at Trumpan, one of nine Dark Skies locations on the island (see http://www.darksky-skye.com/ for more details) and visiting Skyeskyns where, with great difficulty I resisted buying the most beautiful sheepskin hat…and a stunning rug made of different sheep skins…and a hot water bottle cover…and….

We have sampled coffee and cake in several locations – among our favourites are the Blue Shed Café at Torrin where a wonderful selection of cakes is served agaist a backdrop of the most stunning view of the Cuillins; the Shop at Elgol which also provides great cakes, and if you can get parked down at the jetty you feel you’ve actually earned the cake by the time you puff back up the hill to the shop; Café Arriba in Portree is another firm favourite -again with cakes to die for, great breakfasts, and a refreshingly welcoming attitude to dogs; finally Café Sia in Broadford continues to produce the best coffee on the island (slowly) and has lovely scones, though I would recommend it more for breakfast or an evening meal or just coffee, not cake.

The garden is doing OK despite (or because of?) the deluges of rain we have had and one

day of sunshine has brought out the Livingstone Daisies and other flowers once again.  So with the improved weather we have had a barbecue at the bottom of the garden, braving the midges until we could get the fire going in the firepit sufficiently smokily to ward off the little blighters!  Teenagers made it to sometime after 2.30 a.m. – I retired at about 11.00 p.m.  Not much noise from the youngsters this morning!  Girls are now off to Ashaig beach with a picnic, boys are getting ready to take the jeep to the Applecross peninsula, whose mountains we can see from the room with the best view (the upstairs bedroom). Tomorrow promises a Wildife Tour and a trip to Portree, while Friday will see the younger generation aiming for the Fairy Pools (with a recommendation from me to hike in from Sligachan, as the parking on the Glen Brittle side is pretty crowded and I don’t see them getting up early enough to beat the rush.  (I’ll probably be painting something – such is the lot of the old)

Old vs New

It is now exactly 2 years since we bought Oystercatchers and we are lucky enough to be here for the Sumer solstice once again.  I looked back at the photos from 2 years ago and out of the window at the 3 garden areas as they are now. Yes, we have worked hard – they might still be “works in progress”, but what we have achieved, considering we are only here for school holidays and the odd weekend, has been quite remarkable.

The bottom garden was a tip – full of old wire, lumps of concrete, a wreck of a kayak and tons of rock.

The top garden was a tip – full of old wire, lumps of concrete an old generator and tons of rock.

 

The middle garden was ….basic.  A narrow, ankle-turning step led down from the drive to the lower level, past a slope covered in weed membrane and a few rocks, then past a large expanse of gravel.

Access to the top garden was up a pile of rubble, through an old bush and then whack your way through the dock leaves and nettles. IMGP0144

Access to the bottom garden was through half a dead tree, a load of nettles and some truly dangerous hidden rocks.DSCF3493

I would not like to calculate how many tons of stone I have moved around the top and bottom garden – last summer’s sorting stone out in the old bothan was a demonstration of what not to d as James and I sorted the stones into small, medium and I-can’t-actually-move-it piles, then realised we hadn’t allowed for putting the boats back so had to do it all again.  A nice semi-constructed low wall in the middle of the top garden was my next exercise in superfluous stone moving – no sooner had I made a pretty decent job of one end of it than the local sheep’s incursions in to taste our new honeysuckle necessitated taking that one down and properly re-constructing part of the wall above the stream.WP_20160601_19_56_40_Pro

I now have one long and one heaped pile of stones in 2 locations in the top garden, ready for the summer when I have to put back together the low wall I had originally started with.

Other half has dug out hundreds of dock leaves, heaved power tools in and out of the shed,

re-built a shed I brought back form Wiltshire in the middle garden, promised to build another shed to house the power (and other) tools that threaten to squash our wonderful housekeeper every time she goes in to fetch the clean bedding and towels.

James has proved that 17 year old boys have more muscle than 50+ fathers time and again and has manfully put up with his mother’s stone moving and his father’s non-shed building proclivities. He has swum (in the winter), towing a huge tree stump so that he could then sand blast it and mount it as a seating area in the bottom garden (his responsibility); he has planned, and re-planned how to fit his beloved jeep into the ruined bothan, while still allowing access to the stone stored there; he has negotiated with the local quarries for tons of aggregate and gravel; he has driven tons of rubbish up to the one and only dump in Portree – but at least now he can drive on his own he can stop for a decent cup of coffee; and he has horrified his parents by announcing his intention to host a post A Level holiday in the cottage next year!

Katherine has planted and directed her father in the re-furbishment of the top garden.  She has taken thousands of photos in and around the cottage and further afield on Skye – some of which I will put up here this Summer; she has attempted to make every Nutella recipe in her recipe book; she has insisted on eating Margarita Pizza followed by banana and chocolate pizza in Café Sia at every opportunity; and she has added to her father’s grey hair by announcing that braking gently when learning to drive is low on her list of priorities.

You can see that we have had various difficulties while carrying out the work over the last 2 years, not the least of which was the remarkable proclivity of the garden to turn into a veritable jungle if left alone for a week or two – hopefully the addition of Kevin, the Gardener, to our team will help with that in the long run.  The carefully hand made gate into the top garden, lovingly constructed by Katherine and her father soon proved to be a channel for the copious amounts of rainwater that came off the garden, so the boys had to do some serious construction works, re-routing the winter stream through the exisiting wall (and there is more to be done here to stop the road becoming eroded).

But look at the transformation!  There is still a lot to do in the top garden, but we have planted shrubs and fruit bushes and moved in some heavy duty furniture. It’s a lovely spot to sit as the sun moves around and you can usually catch a breeze to help cope with the dreaded midges.

The bottom garden is transformed – although again still with work hopefully to be done to continue – with firepit, benches, the now cleaned and sanded tree trunk all providing a great space for morning coffee or evening Smores.

The narrow steps down from the drive have been replaced and the weed membrane removed to allow grass to be seeded.  The additon of some paving slabs and pots of flowers have made the expanse of gravel much more attractive and welcoming  and encourages more meals aoutdoors if the weather allows.

Even the middle garden has been tackled – with shrubs beginning to thicken up, temprary sheep fencing installed (thanks to our lovely next door neighbours for allowing us in to do this) and we have spent a lot of time feeding the originally rather straggly lawn.  (The planned new shed will go along the back wall of the cottage …eventually … 2017?????)

So it’s not just all cosmetic.  I re-painted every room in the house this year and plan to do so again at Autumn half term and Christmas.  At least we won’t be replacing any more furniture as we are very pleased with the upgrades as mentioned in an earlier post. I have made curtains for all the bedrooms and added blackout blinds to all windows that did not already have them, as well as some cushion covers.  Sue, our housekeeper, continues to be an absolute treasure and acts as emergency point of contact if we are away – so she may well have an expanded role with our move to Wiltshire!  There is a window seat nearing completion waiting to be fitted into the upstairs twin room.  The contents of the kitchen cupboards have been added to (a fine dining set, box of spices and new mugs being the most notable additions).

Now, what just needs attending to?

 

 

 

 

Upgrades and paint mishaps

Well, we are a four star property, so we have been upgrading the furniture over the winter.  This has resulted in a new dining suite and other additions to the kitchen; new oak furniture in the downstairs bedroom; replaced furniture and new soft furnishings in the sitting room; and improved lighting in all downstairs rooms, as well as in the master bedroom.WP_20151003_008.We have installed full glass splashbacks in the kitchen and supplied a new  Royal Doulton dinner service for those who wish to experience fine dining while on holiday.  We’ve made plenty of attempts at this ourselves!

In addition we have re-painted everywhere inside, less the upstairs bathroom which had been done more recently and still requires some plumbing work.  I did manage to get most of the paint on the walls, but was not 100% successful in this.WP_20160124_12_39_34_Pro

We are very proud of these upgrades and have also been working hard at improving the outside appearance of the Cottage as well.  (The teenagers may well find themselves employed as house painters over the Easter holidays if it is warm enough!)  There is work in progress on access to the top garden; a new shed is being made from scratch to take garden tools to the rear of the house; there are new plants battling with the local sheep for survival (we will defeat them somehow)

 

World of Wildlife

I thought I would write a little something about the wildlife we have encountered at the Cottage (and on our way to it).  We nearly always see deer en route from Glasgow – especially in Glencoe and near the Clunie Dam. These are usually the large Red Deer and when viewed close up they are pretty magnificent. Unfortunately they are also fairly stupid creatures, who leap across the road directly in front of you, just when you thought it was safe. Sadly one of these encounters in the snow resulted in car 1, deer 0.  Dusk and early morning you see more of them, but in the winter you have to have your wits about you all the time.  Over time we have learnt the hotspots, but even so, are constantly surprised when they decide to try somewhere new.

Red Deer are not the only deer we see – there is a small herd of Roe Deer living either side of the road from Kyleakin to Broadford, near the airfield.  Supposedly only appearing near dusk, I regret I murdered one at about 7.00 a.m. one morning when it decided to walk in front of my old Discovery.  A costly little exercise and not one I would recommend.

At this time of year one of the funniest road signs provides a timely reminder of other four-legged friends:WP_20151227_11_54_29_Pro

There were several families on the road last week within a mile or 2 of this sign.  Lots of little kids and some magnificent older ones looking as if they were auditioning for the Three Billy Goats Gruff (complete with Bridge – trip trap trip trip trap…)

And they were noisy little blighters ….but luckily for you I can’t work out how to add sound yet …..

We have met otters on many occasions: Christmas Eve 2014 one was wandering along the top  of our road, minding his own business at about 6.00p.m. – probably looking for Santa.  Since then we have seen them 6 or 7 times on the side of the road near the airfield – usually in the dark, about 10.00 p.m.  You just catch a glimpse of their wonderful sinuous bodies, lolloping along beside the ditches,  and a flash f mad staring eyes as your headlights pick them out.  Best of all though has been to see one fishing and dragging its meal out onto a little island about 2 miles downstream from the kayaks – magical.

We have met one Wild Boar claiming right of way in the middle of the road near Eilean Donan; been overflown by a young sea eagle on its way to Pabay (and seen him lurking around the telegraph wires in the township elsewhere. This morning I watched two male Goldeneyes hopelessly pursuing a fairly disinterested female on the inlet, bobbing their heads characteristically and disappearing underwater for snack attacks every few minutes.  These were followed by a lone Tufted Duck, which seemed to spend most of its time under, rather than on the water.  There were fish jumping and the “usual suspects” of Hoodie Crows, Herring Gulls, mallards, Curlew and Oystercatchers (plus innumerable unidentified Little Brown Jobs) – Spring has Sprung.

The lesser spotted tourist is now on the scene again, having been largely absent over the winter. Flocks of these can be seen stopping on the road to Elgol, to take pictures of the locals:WP_20150809_002 1

 

Half Term Holidays (or Whoopers, Muffins and Fairy Pools)

WP_20151017_004What a mixed bag of weather we had over the October half term. We were very lucky it was a two week break for us, so we saw the best of all worlds. Drove up in a mix of fog and light – trip through Rannoch Moor, Glencoe and down to Cluny Dam was incredibly dramatic. We used this time for No. 1 son to get plenty of driving practice in – he may not have met much traffic, but he had to deal with single track roads, sheep, tourists and pretty awful weather at times. Jeep was in its element on some of the lesser frequented roads, WP_20151019_002like this one to Moll off the A87.
The peace and quiet of the area was slightly disrupted by the arrival of more than 100 Whooper swans (apparently or the first time in 15 odd years) who greeted their mates noisily, gathered on the far side of the water, before taking off to further afield. Loads of geese around, also curlews, oystercatchers and herons as usual. Oh and daughter and husband rather smugly encountered a local otter on the road between the Bridge and Breakish when they joined us a few days into the holiday.
Loads of work done on the outside of the house. We discovered that unlike her mother and father, No 1 daughter is quite happy up a ladder outside the house, patch painting after we scraped off old paintwork – she has a job lined up at Easter when it will be warm enough to finish off the outside painting. She and her father got a lot of plating done in the top garden so as long as the water that cascaded through it during the occasional downpours that sadly marked the end of a fabulous Autumn hasn’t washed them away, there should be plenty of bulbs blooming in the Spring.
Kept up the experimentation of cottage cooking – used the little Cakes and Bakes book to make raspberry and blueberry muffins. Second attempt rather more successful, as I am getting more used to the oven – need to cook cakes at lower temperature than recipe states and for longer. Lemon drizzle cake even better!
DSCF0020We also managed some beautiful walks. About one hour’s drive (by slow jeep, driven by learner driver!) and mentioned in all the guide books are the Fairy Pools (head towards Portree, turn left at Sligachan and then left again to go behind the Cuillin. Absolutely stunning day – great walk – son and I did the triangle as described on the Walk Highlands site (copy printed in Cottage handbook), while daughter and father diverted towards Sligachan, where we all met up again in the Hotel for a well-earned drink. Path alongside the Fairy Pools and back down is well marked and of a hard surface; cross track which contours along the hill at the top was very wet underfoot, so proper walking boots are required if you want to do the round walk. Parking was OK, but could be pretty awkward in the Summer season as carpark is small and road is narrow.
As usual, then, we made the most of our time – got outside when weather allowed and stayed warm next to the log burner when it was dismal. You really have to make the most of your time on Skye or you could miss out!

Work in Progress

The finshed tree trunk seat on the bottom garden

The finshed tree trunk seat on the bottom garden

We continued with work on the gardens – the seating area on the bottom garden has now had slabs placed under the tree trunk so carefully rescued earlier in the year (for details including videos, please visit our Facebook page).

Hosing the tree trunk!

Hosing the tree trunk!

The mud surrounding the roots was power-hosed out, some more sand blasting has smoothed the surfaces and we have laid grass seed in the worked areas. Together with the fire pit, wooden benches (still to be completed) and granite table top, this makes the bottom garden a pleasant place to have an evening drink or a morning coffee.

Making a start on the gate to the top garden

Making a start on the gate to the top garden

We also did a lot of work on the entrance to the cottage – apologies to those still visiting for the large pile of sand on the driveway – we have some cementing to finish in the October half term. Most of the loose stone from the Bothan is now sorted and piled neatly for future use. We even managed some planting in the top garden and the wet weather meant the marsh orchids lasted throughout our stay.

The new splashbacks on the newly painted wall

The new splashbacks on the newly painted wall

We have made a start on further improving the inside of the cottage as well – a rolling programme of redecoration began with the installation of new splashbacks and fresh paint on the feature wall in the kitchen. We also started collecting sea glass to add to the candle hurricane lamps – feel free to leave us some of yours!

Wildlife (and not so wild) sightings

Young Shags (or is that Cormorants?) and seals off Ob Breacais

Young Shags (or is that Cormorants?) and seals off Ob Breacais Copyright J Caldwell 2015

On a daily basis we watched herons, geese, redshanks, oystercatchers, other unidentified waders, lots of seals, various ducks, mergansers, tiny bats, terns, gulls, shags, rock doves, robins, willow warblers, finches, tits, blackbirds, swallows, assorted crows, and various LBJs (Little Brown Jobs) – either in the garden, from the garden or on the water. We also came across dolphins/porpoises (too far away to distinguish), an owl and a couple of sightings of the local sea eagle.

Muckle coos guarding the route to Elgol

Muckle coos guarding the route to Elgol Copyright J Caldwell 2015

The all-too-photogenic Muckle Coos hung around on the road to Elgol and also on the way up to the Portree Riding Stables, with young in tow and horns at the ready.

Foodie Corner

Barbecue No. 1

Barbecue No. 1

Oystercatchers is very well-equipped if you like cooking. On offer this Summer we had: a couple of barbecues;

Dinner is served - the teenage meal No 1

Dinner is served – the teenage meal No 1

2 meals cooked and presented by teenagers – main course and puddings;

Variations on a theme of Nutella

Variations on a theme of Nutella

as many of the Nutella recipes as we could manage (the book is in the kitchen!);

Cakes and tray bakes – toffee brownies went down particularly well; a full roast chicken dinner for five; a sit down meal for 9 assorted relatives – including home made quiches, 2 different puddings – Black cherry cheesecake from the Dairy Cookbook and a chocolate mousse. We didn’t have time to christen the fondue set, but did make use of the new Wok for stir fries and curries (all hail St Delia for Thai Green Chicken Curry)