Scotland, Part One

Okay, you all know how insufferable I am about travel. Especially overseas travel. Now, having returned from a week in Scotland, you’re going to have to indulge me for awhile as I inevitably cannot talk about anything else. All the lovely people we met and chatted with.  The staggering beauty everywhere you look. The history. The sheep!

For those of you who don’t follow me on FB (you’re always welcome to, but beware I’m a wee bit more political there), you’ll need some background. (There’s also more pictures there from my phone that aren’t here)

My friend Kim and I rented a campervan from Big Tree Campervans out of Bankfoot in Perth and drove it through the Cairngorms to Thurso, on the northern coast, where we caught the ferry to Orkney. After Orkney, we drive down through the Highlands, past Loch Ness and down to Kennacraig where we caught yet another ferry to the island of Islay. Uopn leaving Islay, we drove back across the mainland to Bankfoot where we caught a train to Edinburgh for our last few days. It was magical. The van was absolutely perfect, and I cannot speak highly enough of the folks who run the business. Simon, Hazel, and Andrew were some of the loveliest people we’ve ever met, and I want to be their friend forever! (Plus there was a cat named Crunchy and a dog named Bob. I mean….what more could you ask for?)


We named the van Fergus. It was just what we needed for two of us: a bed, heat, a sink, and a stovetop, with plenty of storage space. And though driving on the left (correct ;-p) side of the road was weird at first, it quickly became easy.

When we reached Thurso the first night we quickly found the ferry so we’d know where to go first thing in the morning. After that we headed out to find a spot to park for the night and came across Murkle Caravan Park  overlooking a field full of sheep (they really are everywhere. You cannot throw a stone in Scotland without hitting one).

We ate our dinner overlooking the field of sheep, which in turn overlooked the sea. (Yes, I asked. They were Texcel sheep, and I made friends with one by giving it a few salty crisps). Although we were hoping to see the northern lights, we sadly missed out. We did, however, see the Milky Way more clearly and densely than either of us ever had before.

The ferry to Orkney, the MV Hamnavoe, was gorgeous, and absolute luxury compared to the plane we had so recently taken.  We both tried to stay awake for the scenery, but the gentle rocking put us both to sleep for most of the trip. Since they were not allowing anyone on the outside decks, I couldn’t have taken pictures anyway.

As for Orkney itself…..I’m not sure I’ve ever been this deeply in love with a place before.  I’ll only get through part of it in this post, because I have far too many pictures.

Again, sheep and cows everywhere (actually we were so disappointed to see so very few Highland Longhorns that we took to calling the rest of them “Basic” cows.)

Our first destination on-island was Skara Brae, the 5,000 year old neolithic settlement on the coast.


Along the way we stopped for pictures (and hoped to find the small village of Twatt. We ended up driving through it a bunch of times but never found the sign. Oh well. Opportunity for shenanigans missed).



We did see quite a lot of Shetland ponies (and were offered one. If only he’d have fit in my carry on!)


The path leading out to the village site is like my dream of where I’ll take my daily walks with my dogs one day, walking stick (or crook) in hand, wrapped in a hand-knitted shawl of wool from my flock.


The unearthed settlement is incredible. It was found by the property owner after a particularly nasty storm had exposed some of the top layers, and was subsequently excavated over many years. The dwelling were dug out and supported by stone, with earthen roofs. They very much reminded us of hobbit homes, and were very intelligently laid out. It’s remarkable, given that this site is older than Stonehenge.


Believe it or not, the climate is actually quite mild here (thanks to the Gulf Stream). There are even palm trees! If I had to pick a prehistoric site to live, this would be it. Abundant sea life, wild hares all over, pheasants and water fowl, plenty of land for grazing livestock, a climate that’s neither tool cold nor too hot (they don’t generally get snow in Orkney).



As an aside, this roof. I love it! We did see one while we were there that was completely sod covered. Talk about fantastic insulation!


Along the beach just below the village are so many rocks that people have taken to stacking them in various configurations.  When Kim and I saw we could access the beach, there was no way we weren’t going down there!



We spent some time collecting little shells and rocks to bring home.


And found crab parts everywhere. I’m guessing the seagulls feast on them and drop bits back onto the beach, because when I say everywhere, I mean everywhere.  Legs, claws, bodies. I stopped counting how many we found. Giant blobs that I think were jellyfish were caught up in the sea detritus as well.




The colors! I am so inspired to start dyeing wool again.


From Skara Brae we drove to Kirkwall, Orkney’s  main town. While strolling with no real direction in mind, we came across St. Magnus Cathedral, founded in 1137 by a Viking called Eric Rognvald. The entire island, in fact, has quite a lot of Viking influence.







We could have wandered around Kirkwall for hours, but we had already overstayed our parking, so we headed over to the pier for a final look at the town before heading out to find the standing stones.




Stay tuned!



Suddenly, Lambs!

What happens when you look at your sheep in the morning before work and think, “Looks like we’ve got a good week” ?

What happens is that you get a text at 9 pm that one of the ladies has birthed twins.

Carina had apparently waited for the two hour window in which no one was looking and then birthed, cleaned, and began nursing twin rams. In a panic, Neve ran out with towels and iodine to take care of umbilical cords and drying off. By the time I got home the boys had full tummies and were ready to nap. I hustled them into a pen  and filled a shelter with plenty of dry bedding and hay for Carina.





The white boy is called Harris. The black one, Orkney. This year’s theme is Scottish islands.












Well, it’s raining. Again. Still.

My vegetables and flowers are so waterlogged from all the rain that I’m tempted to scrap the garden completely and start over. We had to cancel our plans to pick peaches and roast marshmallows for Solstice. It’s too wet, and there’s flash flood warnings for town. Last time (a mere few weeks ago) this happened, people died locally from swift-moving and swollen creeks. Instead we are watching movies and hoping no one lambs in the deluge.


We managed to get out for cherry picking not so long ago, and the orchards aren’t faring much better with the weather. The cherries were splitting and then molding on th vine faster than they could be picked.  It was a small harvest.



We did have enough to make a small batch of Brandied Cherry Jam, though.



Granola has gotten used me to being out to check on the Ladies (we are in the lambing window now!) , and though he still won’t let me handle him much, he does like to check my pockets for treats.




While we wait for the rain to end and the lambs to arrive, we are going to eat our weight in blueberry gateau.

Hopefully your solstice is more summery than ours!


Coming Soon: Lambs!

Wednesday was shearing day, and as usual Emily made quick and easy work of it. My favorite part is, of course, getting to catch up with her and hear her stories of the past year of life on the road.

It also great to see the color of the wool as it peals back from the shears, and imagine how it will look spun up into yarn.


Emily has some amazing colored wool woven into her hair this year. I’m in total awe.


This might be Granola’s first shearing. I’m not actually certain. She says his wool is much more Rambouillet than BFL.   I’ll be interested to see both how it evolves as he grows, and how his offspring will look.


I love how dark they are underneath the sun-lightened outer layers.




While Darby is a dark, inky black underneath,and Lyra  is not grayish black, Carina tends to be a lovely silver.


The good news is that we were thinking it may be too early to tell if anyone was bred. But, in at least Carina’s case, all indicators point to yes! She’s already got a bit of an udder and her sides are bulging in the best way.

Within the next month I’ll be on lamb watch!

The Still Before The Storm

The weather began to hint at an impending storm, so I ditched my garden tools and grabbed my camera. There’s a certain stillness that overtakes everything right before a good storm, and I wanted to enjoy it. It’s not easy to find still moments here just now; between work (and the Escape Room moving locations downtown), school, and the mountain of outdoor work that must be done this time of year, those small moments of calm are fleeting, and I do my best to catch them and linger there.


In the meantime, Oona has made far too much progress growing up. Her sisters are excelling in their respective programs of study and are headed full-steam into adulthood while I try to hold on to my last baby a little longer.


I’m loving these azaleas I planted this year!



The Americauna chicks are out free-ranging now, and seem so much bigger every day. I can’t wait for blue eggs!



Today I saw the water snake for the first time this year. I’m cool with him as long as he stays in the stream, as in previous years. I’m not thrilled he’s eating the frogs, but he’s part of the ecosystem, so it is what it is.  I think I’ll call him Herb.


Wild irises along the stream.




My Spirea looks amazing right now!


Inside, things are a bit different. The newly-shorn dogs are cowering at the sound of the thunder. I’m still cracking up over how different they look. Thankfully they’ll be cooler this way, and I can access Scout’s hot spots better with the spray the vet gave me. They feel like velvet, shaved so close.  Pretty soon, the sheep will be getting the same treatment, and then hopefully I’ll have a better idea as to their bred/not bred status.


Scenes From An Early Spring


One of the chickens has taken to laying eggs inside the haybale, where the sheep have made indentations from snacking. When done with her daily task, she’s been known to pause for a nap on Darby’s back for a bit.


I’ve always seen sweet pictures on the internet of sheep with other little animals on their backs; usually cats. I’ve never had it happen here before, and I seriously doubt Samson cat will ever get up the nerve to nap on a woolly back. It’s a happy circumstance for me, then, to catch this hen hanging out with her ovine companions.


Most of our hens now are laying darker brown eggs; a fact I realized today when getting ready to boil eggs to dye with the kids. Nothing worse than having four dozen eggs in your fridge and having to buy more so your kids can play with pastel colors.


My Shepherd Sweater is flying off my needles with much more speed than any of my previous projects. I’m guessing this is due to the huge amount of time I’ve spent this year waiting. Waiting for Neve to get out of school. Waiting for doctor’s appointments. Waiting for the garden to wake up. I’ve got the main portion of the body done, and am about to finish the second sleeve.


I still have to do the pockets as well. They are done as steeks, and I haven’t ever worked one before, so I’m a bit nervous.


Handsome Granola. I hope he’s done his job!


The Bradford Pears and Forsythia are finally blooming, and the Cherry Blossoms are on the verge.


The peonies have only just started poking up, and I’m seeing the very beginnings of the radishes I planted starting up, as well as one lone asparagus that has broken up through the earth. I’m really hoping the rest will show themselves soon!

Not For The Squeamish

Something I’ve learned over the years is that farming and raising livestock is not for the weak. Not only is it physically (and emotionally at times) demanding, but it can also at times be downright gross. This is one of those stories, and I’ll warn you: if you can’t handle light gore, this post is not for you. But, it’s something that happens, and because it has a happy ending, it’s taken on a dark comedy aspect.

A while back, one of my older ewes, Willoughby, was being bullied pretty hard by our goat, Caramel. She was keeping her from eating any hay or grain, and by the time I caught in to what was up, Wils was feeling a bit weak and anemic. At that point, I separated her out and put her in her own pen with fresh grass and fed her with high-protein alfalfa hay and grain so she could regain her strength. At the same time, Caramel turned her bad behavior on another ewe, and earned herself a ticket to a different farm with other goats where she wouldn’t cause so many problems (she’s doing very well there, btw, and has happily fallen into line).

Willoughby recovered fairly quickly and before long I had her back on regular hay and was preparing to release her back in with the other sheep.  Except for one thing; she was favoring one leg. It wasn’t a terrible limp, but I checked out her hoof for signs of injury or infection, and found nothing amiss. I felt her knuckle and squeezed her leg a bit, but it all looked and felt normal. So I kept her secluded a bit longer. I figured at worst it was a sprain, and I’d let her recover with minimal interference.

But….days went by. Then weeks. She wouldn’t put weight on her leg. In fact, it started to look like she was curling it up under herself. I was wracking my brain trying to find anything wrong with this leg when we had an unseasonably warm spell. That’s when I noticed that this leg of hers had a smell to it. A smell that was undoubtedly rotting flesh. Immediately I started inspecting further up her leg, completely frustrated and feeling helpless. I still found nothing to explain this. That is, until a hunk of wool pulled off as I brushed by her knee joint. Under the wool was a tiny, thin line indented into the flesh, as though some very thin band had wrapped tightly around her leg in that spot. Some very thin band like……..a strand of plastic hay wrap?

Now, when we get our hay bales, they are delivered with plastic mesh wrapped tightly around them. When I put them in the field, I leave that mesh intact, because even though I don’t like it (and it gets into the ground and just is a nightmare), taking it off means that the hay bale falls apart and gets mostly wasted. I’ve had a metal round bale holder on my wish list for ages, but they aren’t super cheap. Now, though,  I’m going to work harder to make that happen sooner, because this is where it all clicked into place.

That leg of Willoughby’s had been tourniqueted by a thin strand of that plastic at some point, and her leg had been slowly starved of blood until it died.  Now I was left with a whole new dilemma: amputate the leg or put her down? Either way I’d need a vet, and I couldn’t decide how to handle it. She seemed happy and healthy otherwise, but goodness, how much was a farm visit to amputate a sheep leg going to cost?

The first thing I did was get antibiotics on board. The leg above the knee looked absolutely fine, and her temperature was normal, but I wanted to make sure that she didn’t become septic. Also, I felt like the worst shepherd in the history of the world for not figuring out the issue sooner.

This whole thing coincided with one of the busiest few weeks for me. I had picked up extra hours at work, Neve had extra-curricular stuff going on at school, and I kept pushing off deciding how to handle Willoughby.

Then one day at feeding I noticed that when Willoughby came galloping up to the trough (even on three good legs she can move!) that something seemed……off.

And by off, I mean OFF. The offending leg portion was simply gone.  Her remaining stump end was clean and scabbed over, and she didn’t seem to have any issues with it.

After a few moments searching, I found the leg part in the field where she likes to lie in the shade, sitting there as though when she stood up, it had simply opted to stay behind.  I sprayed her stump end with an antibacterial wound spray and sealant, just to be safe, and kept careful watch over her behavior for the next week.

It’s been well over a month now, and she’s still fat and happy. Her temperature continues to be normal, so it seems that the issue really did stay local to the lower leg and went no further.  I’ll be adding “plastic bale wrap tourniquet” to the list of things to look out for.




I feel pretty bad for my little tripod lady, but damn if she’s not a hardy one! Now that some time has passed, I can tell the story of how my sheep’s leg fell off. And maybe get a laugh or two.