Friday, 14 August 2015

Summer Weather

Talk to pretty much any Skye resident, and the opening topic of conversation will be the dreadful weather we have had here this summer. It has been continuously chilly - temperatures have not gone above 15C, and we have barely seen the sun at all. Rainfall hasn't been dramatically more than usual, but the lack of growth of everything in the allotment is testament to how poor growing conditions have been.

Visitors are philosophical  - they just wear extra layers and continue to point their cameras in the direction of the Cuillin, though their pictures will only be of  the thick bank of cloud where the Cuillin would be on a fine day. Then they can tick off 'visit Skye' and dash on to their next destination, where maybe things will be a little warmer.

It can be a bit tiresome for us who live here though. I'm not one to bother too much about the weather, and the long wet winters don't get me down, but now we are having to prepare ourselves for the coming winter following on from a long grey summer. A bit of summer sunshine would have been nice!

However - yesterday, we had just that. A beautiful, dry, sunny, calm Skye summer day. And suddenly, all that is so wonderful about Skye in summer was there to enjoy - and there was even a wonderful big evening sky to end the day.

But it's damp and grey again this morning....

Evening sky from Roskhill

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Barn Works Update - Kitchen Finished!

With Sue away visiting her Mum, I have at last had the chance to 'close down' our kitchen and tile the floor. Drying time for the tile cement was 48 hours, so I tried to be organised, and moved some of the food, plus the kettle and microwave, but still managed to forget several items. I solved this problem by crawling round on the worktops and reaching down into cupboards. Washing up was performed on my knees using a bowl in the bath - not an experience I am in a  rush to repeat.

So now, with the new tiles grouted and plinths fitted, I can declare the kitchen to be fully finished.

In the rest of the barn, there's still quite a bit of decorating to do, plus the hall floor to tile (which will have to be done in two stages, so we can get in and out...!!!) but I am slowly getting there!

The new kitchen at Roskhill Barn

Monday, 3 August 2015

What’s it like to LIVE on Skye?

So, you’ve been here on holiday. It was summer, when the evenings are long and the grasses are high and full of wild flowers. The sun shone and the sea was breathtakingly blue. The scenery was magnificent, and you saw eagles and seals and deer, maybe even an otter. Skye is magical. It draws you in. So you glanced in the estate agents windows and saw that prices of pretty little cottages are not as high as you expected. But then you wonder - what is it actually like to LIVE here…?

This is a topic I wrote about a while ago in this blog (24 November 2009...) (click on this link, opens in new tab/window...)

Now that Sue and I have lived on Skye several more years, my advice is still very much the same – think long and hard before selling up and relocating to here in the far north. Here’s some further information you might like to dwell on (all personal views of course).

Good things about Skye:

  1. It is beautiful. Even having lived here for several years, we still sometimes stand and gaze in awe at the light, colour and dramatic majesty of this wonderful place.
  2. It is quiet. Even in the peak tourist season of July/August, there is never a traffic jam on Skye… apart perhaps from when the Council have their road repair gangs operating a convoy system past their road works…or maybe when you are stuck behind a line of three or four Italian-registered camper vans, swaying along the middle of the main road at 35mph…. In winter, it is very quiet. VERY quiet.
  3. It is healthy. There's no pollution here. The air is so fresh and clean that long-haired lichens grow thickly on every available tree, and the hill and coastal scenery is so good that every time you go for a walk, you have to go on that extra mile or two to see a bit more of it.
  4. It is safe. We don’t have gangs of rowdy youths wandering the streets. Theft and burglary is very rare, physical violence even rarer. There may be an occasional drunken local lurching his way home after a few too many drams in the bar, but that’s about as bad as it gets.
  5. It is friendly. Skye is fundamentally a very big village. Live a few years here, and you will get to know a lot of people – at least well enough to wave to when you pass them on the road. (And if you don’t know them, you wave anyway – in case they know you). People look out for each other, and have time to stop for a chat. Basically, they want to know all about you and will tap you for all the latest gossip that you picked up from the last half-dozen people you spoke to. They will then pass-on everything they have heard (with embellishments) to the next person they meet. What they can’t remember, they will make up. When it all gets published in the West Highland Free Press (local paper, and 75p – not free) it then becomes completely true. Skye myths and legends are a legend in themselves.
  6. Summer. In mid-June Skye never really gets dark. The moorland is green with waving grasses, and unimaginable numbers of wild flowers are in bloom everywhere. Occasionally, the sun shines all day and the moorland is dry enough to walk on without sinking up to your knees in the bog.
Less good things about Skye:

  1. Shops – there aren’t many (which some may consider to be a 'Good Thing'). Forget about trying to buy much in the way of clothes or furniture or white goods here. It’s the long trek to Inverness to buy a new pair of shoes or a few rolls of wallpaper. (Inverness is three hours drive - each way - from our part of Skye)
  2. Prices. Everything you buy in the shops has to get here from a long way away, so everything costs more than in more urban parts of the UK. The Co-op is our only supermarket, and there are only a few petrol stations, so competition to keep down food/fuel prices is very limited.
  3. Age. The resident population of Skye is too old for lasting sustainability. The relative lack of younger adults means that there are not many children here. (Some may also consider this to be a 'Good Thing')! The island’s primary schools have very low (and falling) rolls, while the sole Skye secondary school currently has just 530 pupils on roll – so that will be pretty much the total number of 11 - 16 year olds on the whole of Skye. 
Bad things about Skye:

  1. Weather – It is cold, wet and windy in winter, and (usually) cold, wet and windy in summer too. Yes, there are occasional days when the sun shines and puffy white clouds dot the blue heavens, but all year round, any day can bring leaden grey rain soaked skies and the wind will be chasing its tail round the house.
  2. Winter. Winter lasts from September to April. From August, the hours of daylight get noticeably shorter and shorter until at times on dreary driecht days in mid-December it never really gets properly light at all. In winter, the moorland goes a bleak shade of brown and the hills are often swathed in mist, which can be quite atmospheric - especially if you like brown, and mist.
  3. Housing/Heating. The cost to buy a house here is probably around the national average - £200,000 will just about buy you a 3-bed house, but at that price - don’t expect a sea view. In Skye weather – a high level of maintenance is crucial. Walls, render, paintwork, gutters, roofs – they will all need constant attention, and can cost ££££s. Once you have bought your house, you then have to heat it, and because it is mostly pretty cold here, plan to have your heating at least ‘ticking over’ throughout the summer and at full blast in winter. Here, it is very popular to run a wood-burning stove in the living room, and then just wear lots of extra clothing everywhere else in the house. There’s no piped gas on Skye, so the choices for total home heating are, in order of cost: solid fuel/wood: ££££; oil. ££££; calor gas: £££££; electricity: ££££££.
  4. Distances. Everywhere is a long way. From our home to our nearest supermarket is about 21 miles (and 21 miles back again). There are plenty of places more remote than us. To live on Skye, budget for driving at least 10,000 miles per year just to do the shopping, visit the dentist and doctor, and for the occasional visit to a film show or live act at the Portree Arts Centre. That’s a lot of wear-and-tear for your car, plus the cost of the fuel (at inflated Skye prices). The nearest proper shopping is in Inverness – a 160 miles round-trip from the Skye Bridge, plus however far you live from the bridge. It is more than a four-hour drive from the bridge to Glasgow, and five and a half hours from the bridge to the Scotland/England border at Gretna.
  5. Friends and family left behind. If by moving here, you are leaving behind close friends or family, then you must accept that you won’t be seeing them again as often as you used to – it is expensive for you to travel south to visit them, and they won't be enthusiastic about traveling such a long way to see you, in what they will perceive as that dreadful dark, cold, wet, brown place that you have moved to.
  6. New Builds. Almost everyone who owns a few acres of land (and here, that is a lot of people) is now offering a chunk of it for sale, usually with planning permission for the erection of a dwelling house. I suppose this is just a move towards getting Skye to be as fully populated as it was in the mid 1800s, but I personally hate seeing new-builds under construction, especially in the more remote locations. But - if you are thinking of a new-build, do not forget to factor in the cost of connecting power and water, or the potentially huge cost of transporting building materials all the way to NW Scotland. Have you thought about renovating and maybe extending an existing derelict house? Definitely a better way forward!
So - my best wishes to you all. Please do come and visit! Marvel at the lifestyle, landscape and wildlife, but please think long and hard before uprooting your present lives and making a move to live here. I look forward to receiving your questions and comments!

New Wheels For Sue

Sue’s little black Corsa has been with us for three years now. It was two years old, with 20,000 miles on the clock when we bought it. Sue has added some 47,000 additional miles in our three years of ownership, and I am delighted to report that the car has behaved well throughout, and cost us nothing other than fuel and regular servicing during our ownership. It has a tiny 1248cc diesel engine, and the trip computer has shown the fuel consumption to have been 66.1mpg during our three years. The car recently passed its MoT test, but with a couple of ‘advisories’ for things that will need attention soon. I already knew of a couple of other pending issues, so the decision was made that we would part with it now, before having to spend money on it.

We made the marathon trip to Inverness about ten days ago, spending two days there looking at a wide range of nearly-new cars, and trying a few of them.  I was hoping to persuade Sue into a slightly larger car than the Corsa, as I feel that a larger car would be better suited to the high mileage she does for her job. But Sue was insistent that she ‘didn’t need all that space’. So, to cut the long story short, we ended up with a choice between an ex-demonstrator Skoda Fabia 1.6TDi-105ps Elegance with 4,000 miles on the clock, or a pre-registered but brand new Citroen C3 1.6 e-HDi Airdream… and coming out some £1000 cheaper to buy, Sue chose the Citroen.

I don’t fully understand the policy of pre-registering cars and then offering them for sale at massive discounts, but many of the dealers seem to be doing it, and we certainly have benefitted. I feel very sorry for anyone who pays close to full list price for a new car though. Our discount from new amounted to over 30%.

I collected the new car from Inverness yesterday. It was interesting to drive the Corsa over there, and come back in the new C3. Almost as soon as I set off back, it was apparent that the C3 is a better car in every way than the Corsa. It is smoother, quieter, more comfortable, more powerful, rides better, steers better and is even cheaper to run - on arrival back at Roskhill, the odometer was now showing a total mileage of 140, and the trip computer showed my fuel consumption to have averaged an impressive 76.3mpg. Even the road tax is free! In short, I was quite delighted with our purchase, and once again wonder why Citroen cars are so often under-rated. You don’t see many C3s on the road, whereas Corsas are everywhere. 

Here’s our last picture of the Corsa, and the new C3, today (in the rain)! The C3 will get Sue’s S200SOO number plate in a few day’s time, when the transfer process has been completed.

Sue has loved her little Corsa...
...and I'm sure she'll love her new C3 too