It is a year today since we moved from Edinburgh to this wonderful spot. We absolutely love it, and are all enjoying our new life here. An inhabitant of towns and cities all my life, I have always loved the outdoors, and have often yearned to live in the country. . . and being here at last has already made a massive difference to my mindset, my outlook, my work, and most certainly my health. Outdoors walking every day, I feel incredibly connected to my surroundings and the changing seasons: every day is subtly different, and I love tracing the turning of the year through the appearance of wildflowers and the songs of different birds. I have learned the privilege of recognising wild animals as individuals (not just “a hare” but “that hare”) and have enjoyed encountering many different beasties on my daily walks from newts to hen harriers. There are still many mornings when I wake up, find the world around me absolutely breathtaking, and can’t quite believe I actually live here. I wonder if this feeling will ever go away – I rather hope it doesn’t. The eighteenth-century women, whose letters I used to work on, were very fond of quoting Micah 4, the bit that comes after the swords and ploughshares about sitting under one’s own vine and fig tree. All I can say is that here I have at last found my vine, and my fig tree, though, this being Scotland, I’ll definitely have to erect a greenhouse if I actually want to grow them.
Here are some photos from our first year in our new home.
When Tom and I first moved in together in the late 1990s, we rented a tiny house in Sheffield that we affectionately dubbed “claustrophobia”. The tiny house came with a tiny garden, and I cut out a section of turf there and planted sweet peas. In the Summer, there was always a bunch on the table.
The first things that I planted in my propagators early this Spring were sweet peas. I planted and staked them out in May, and left them to it.
They grew vigorously, but didn’t seem to want to flower. I have been eyeing the birds suspiciously – had they been chowing down on the tasty buds? There is a particular pied wagtail who seems to spend a lot of time in that part of the garden and he was my chief culprit . . . but he was clearly blameless, as yesterday some beautiful blooms finally appeared.
I dearly love sweet peas, both indoors, and in the garden. I hope there will always be a bunch on the table for the rest of this Summer.
In other news
I don’t do this very often, but, knowing first-hand just how transformative dogs can be, I wanted to give a wee shout-out to my friend Mairead who is raising funds for the Irish charity My Canine Companion who do wonderful work training and providing service dogs for autistic children and their families. Mairead’s son Thomas has Asperger syndrome and his service dog, Potter has made a tremendous difference to his life, and indeed to the lives of Mairead’s whole family. On August 3rd, Mairead is holding a coffee morning and raffle to raise funds to support the training of more service dogs, and among other great prizes, you could win an Ipad or, if you were, ahem, really lucky, one of my Peerie Flooers kits. 5 euro buys you a ticket and Mairead’s fundraising page is here
Thomas and Potter!
Tom’s appendix-less state means he can’t run or cycle at the moment, but this has been quite good, as he’s been able to join me on my walks. Yesterday we popped up Conic Hill and it was a grand day for it.
Conic Hill is just a few miles from where we now live, and though Tom has run here many times in the past year, it occurred to me yesterday that the last time I climbed this hill was nine years ago when we walked the West Highland Way. Here is Tom looking down from the hill across Loch Lomond in 2005:
And here in a spot slightly further down yesterday:
A lot has changed since then, but as he says, he looks pretty much the same from behind.
I think of all the lovely views of Loch Lomond – and there are many – that this one is my favourite.
Its just something about the sense of space up here – the meeting of sky, land, and water, and perhaps especially the way that the Loch Lomond islands stretching away in the distance lend the view a pleasing and very distinctive sense of perspective.
Dorothy Wordsworth felt similarly about those islands when she saw them in 1803, though her view in this passage is the precise opposite of ours (she’s looking South and East from Inchtavannach and we are looking North and West from Conic Hill)
“We had not climbed far before we were stopped by a sudden burst of prospect, so singular and beautiful that it was like a flash of images from another world. We stood with our backs to the hill of the island, which we were ascending, and which shut out Ben Lomond entirely, and all the upper part of the lake, and we looked towards the foot of the lake, scattered over with islands without beginning and without end. The sun shone, and the distant hills were visible, some through sunny mists, others in gloom with patches of sunshine; the lake was lost under the low and distant hills, and the islands lost in the lake, which was all in motion with travelling fields of light, or dark shadows under rainy clouds. There are many hills, but no commanding eminence at a distance to confine the prospect, so that the land seemed endless as the water.”
I thought of Dorothy Wordsworth yesterday as we looked down toward Inchtavannach, and gave her a mental wave.
If you are ever in the area and fancy going up Conic Hill, I really think the views are best from this direction, and its a much nicer walk this way too. Park at Milton of Buchanan; walk up the track past Creity Hall, join the West Highland Way as it snakes up the hill; descend into Balmaha; stop for a welcome ice-cream, or pint at the Oak Tree Inn, take a look at the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond, and then walk back along the road to Milton. The circuit is 7 miles with around 350m / 1100 ft of ascent.
It is a beautiful time of year, and here in the West of Scotland we have been enjoying some incredible weather. Most days you will find me here . . .
. . . knitting away on my current YOKE, looking at this . . .
. . . and occasionally these . . .
What a joy to have a garden!
The midsummer evenings are truly extraordinary. Around 9.30 the world turns to gold.
Every day I am bowled over by the beauty of my surroundings. I like how connected I feel to the outdoors, the surrounding landscape, its sense of space, the changing light, my lovely neighbours. So on the one hand, these days around the longest day have been delightful. But on the other, they have been kind of hideous. Tom, who has suffered from recurrent bouts of appendicitis had an attack last week in Dublin and finally had the offending organ removed in St Vincent’s hospital on Thursday morning. Thank goodness for the prompt and careful action of those surgeons, because it turns out the thing was dangerously gangrenous. Thankfully he is now doing well on some serious antibiotics, but it has nonetheless been a horribly worrying few days during which I have felt rather useless, there being little I could do. I am so incredibly grateful to Una and Roger, with whom Tom has been staying in Dublin, whose support has really been above and beyond. We are hoping to get Tom home by the end of next week and I can’t tell you how much I am looking forward to seeing him after the grim worries of the past few days. Hopefully he can then spend some time recovering and relaxing in our garden. Its a shame he can’t knit. . . Well, please keep Tom in your thoughts, everyone, and I hope you are enjoying a lovely Midsummer weekend!
Tom is away, working in Ireland at the moment. I really miss him, but I am distracting myself by working very hard on my YOKES, and am enjoying pottering in the garden in my spare moments.
I cannot use a spade (I have tried, and I just fall over), and we knew there was going to be a limit to what I could feasibly do this Spring in the garden in Tom’s absence. But with a couple of raised beds, a plastic lean-to, and many containers, I’m not doing so bad.
I brought salad leaves on in the lean-to, planted them out in a raised bed and have been amazed at how well they are doing. I don’t want to speak too soon, but as yet they have remained mercifully unmolested by pests – the raised beds have a protective cordon of bark and copper tape, which has proved an effective slug deterrant. More remarkably, perhaps, the deer and rabbits have not yet taken the opportunity to chow down on my tasty crops. There are certainly rabbits and hares in abundance in our environs (I enjoy seeing the hares if I’m out on an early morning walk) but so far, there have been surprisingly few in our garden. My neighbours (who inform me that we are usually overrun with bunnies by this point in the Spring) think that Jesus (our cat) has something to do with it. He has been seen out on the prowl in the early hours, and kindly leaves headless rodents on my doorstep, as well as those of my neighbours, from time to time. If the rabbits are concerned that they or their offspring might meet the same fate, it is all to the good. But I have no idea how he is seeing off the deer.
Meanwhile, in my containers, the beans are doing their bean-thing. . .
.. . the cabbages are looking cabbage-y . . .
. . . beetroot is sprouting . . .
. . .and some tatties, which my dad and I planted rather late a couple of weeks ago, are starting to appear.
There will be fruit too – raspberries and strawberries.
. . . and there are tiny gooseberries on the tiny gooseberry bush!
Yesterday I took the squash and courgettes from the lean-to and planted them out in 10 litre pots to see how they do.
If I see a spare space in a container I pop in a petunia. . .
. . .and the back of the garden has presented me with other, unexpected floral delights.
But what I seem to have most of are tomatoes. I started growing them from seed in the bathroom several months ago and their flowers and trusses are now starting to appear.
The lean-to is now taken up with eight very vigorous tomato plants, and I have probably twice that number rotating in and around the house. My mum ventured yesterday evening that I might have grown too many tomatoes.
What do you think?
Please to note the housemartin, to the right of the photo, on its way to its nest under our eaves. Their nests are beautifully compact and sturdy and I love to hear them chit-chattering above my head when I’m sitting outside knitting at the back of the house. Last year, when the housemartins had finished with their nests, a few were occupied by late broods of swallows. Will that happen again this year?
Every day, in one way or another, I am grateful to be living here.
Those of you who have been following my post-stroke progress may be interested to hear how my driving is going. Generally speaking, I have been for the past four years very dependent on others (specifically Tom) for basic travel, shopping, and all the other daily tasks for which a car is necessary, particularly in a rural location. It can be a wee bit frustrating at times. But today I passed a sort of independent-mobility-milestone and it feels pretty good. I have been learning to drive with a wonderful instructor (John) in a small car (an Aygo). I’ve been making reasonable progress, and have even been enjoying the process, though I do feel quite physically vulnerable at times. Our van is bigger and heavier, with poor visibility, and I am definitely much more aware driving it that my left arm remains quite weak. But with Tom I’ve driven in it to a few of the nearby villages, and am certainly improving.
Last weekend I placed a successful bid on a set of four dining chairs in the Glasgow Auction. Tom is away with work at the moment, so he could not pick up my spoils . . . I had to get there myself, and my next door neighbour, Niall, kindly agreed to accompany me. This morning I drove the van with Niall into Glasgow, retrieved my chairs, and drove back home again. WOOHOO! This may seem a small thing, but I can’t tell you how enormously exciting it feels to have got into the city under my own steam and to have accomplished this simple task (relatively) independently.
This is the carver of the set, and it is really rather nice, as you can see. At £30 a pop I think I got a good deal: the seat pads need a bit of work, but nothing more serious than cleaning and re-stuffing the horse hair and embroidering new covers for a couple of the chairs – a project which I shall greatly enjoy. And perhaps when I sit on my chairs I can think about how good it felt to be driving again.