This has been the year that living on a croft in the Highlands has had many bonuses. Peter & Thérèse would choose this lifestyle whatever, but they are also aware that it is a good place to be as society faces a downward spiral in a failing ecosystem. However a pandemic was not top of their list of climate and social emergencies. They were chuffed to be given key worker status!
Sam has not been to Laikenbuie all year, and it was hoped that he would be home for Xmas. The new rules have just made that impossible, so Christmas will have to be postponed! Since the end of lockdown Sam has been working very hard, six days most weeks, taking the lead as the most experienced tree climber in the company. The photo shows him in the top of an oak tree doing the kind of work he likes best. His dream is to climb really tall trees and dismantle them with a helicopter taking the sections away! So at the moment he has little else to do other than work as his plans to travel the world are on hold. He has been sharing the house with a very good university friend who has now joined the police.
Sam called the other day to say that a young guy at work had been out drinking with his mates, came to work feeling unwell, got a virus test, came back to work the next day, and then received a positive result! So the whole company has to isolate for 10 days finishing on Boxing Day. The boss then wants everyone back to work to catchup, so hopefully Sam will have plenty holidays to take once he is allowed to come home.
Jo & Owen visited in mid September before the Covid window started closing. It was lovely to see them. They seem very well matched and happy together as they make a new home in Bristol. Jo has [another] new job in which she is very happy. She is a manager with a tech startup which allows companies or workers to make bookings for hot desks and work spaces all around the world. https://desana.io was started by a developer friend of Jo’s, has secured good backing and hopefully has a good future. Within a couple of months of starting Jo was given three new employees to manage. Jo is working from home at the moment, but is very flexible as all she needs is her laptop and wifi. Owen is very good at looking after her and has time for his running and surfing along with a part time delivery job with Argos. Jo used to have problems visiting Laikenbuie because the wifi was so slow, but Peter has installed an external aerial and the mobile wifi is five times faster than the landline ever was! He also made a big effort to complete a bedroom and ensuite in the new lodge, so J&O were the first to use it.
Back in May P&T were asked to contribute to a video being put together by the Shewan family for Mel’s birthday. They are good family friends who started holidaying here about 25yrs ago. Their boys James & Iain are similar ages to Jo & Sam and we have done a lot together. So if you want to see P&T making a fool of themselves …
Due to the virus only two Wwoofers made it to Laikenbuie this year, the smallest number since volunteers started in 1996. Deva [as in ‘never ever’] arrived early March to stay for 4 weeks, but ended up staying 10 weeks. With an outgoing personality and sucking on a Maté pipe with a calabash gourd she kept us in good spirits during lockdown. She won Peter’s heart by making him cookies! During the first lockdown everyone at Laikenbuie took it seriously so we were able to isolate as a community. Her extended stay enabled Thérèse to achieve her ambition of building a sweat lodge and fire pit. It has only been used once due to social distancing. Liza joined us in the autumn with her visit extended to 6 weeks. She was a quiet lass, easy to live with and an excellent artist, so was given the job of decorating Thérèse’s new clogs. She had not done much cooking and inspired by Thérèse’s culinary delights got very into learning the recipes which she looked forward to teaching her mother.
Last winter feels an age ago now, Australia was on fire, and Peter’s cousin from Canberra wrote a very clever, very apt, very evocative poem. Although inspired by the fires, it is just as relevant to the climate and social woes the world over. Here it is read on The Science Show – Melanoma Country
You may remember that last year Peter was recording the stories of his friend Robbie with whom he ghillied in 1971. The project kept growing and many old photos were found. The writing was finished while holidaying at Mar Lodge last month, and a webpage has since been built called Stalkers Stories.
November’s holiday had perfect weather, short days but almost continuous sunshine and only light frosts in the morning. Thérèse and Pip walked over 50 miles over the week. Peter used the electric bike to meet up with them at strategic points and to go on photographic trips for Stalker’s Stories. Thérèse has come to love the area and already has more walks planned than can be completed at their next visit, hopefully in February. Braemar is in Aberdeenshire so now in Tier 3.
A short camping trip at the end of September also coincided with good weather. Peter wanted to walk up Glen Derry [the beat he worked as a stalking ghillie in 1971] and reach Loch Etchachan. It was made possible by his loving sherpa, all he managed to carry was a stick! Electric bikes were used as far as the campsite, so it was a light load from there on.
A folly has been built, maybe it’s an age thing! It could be a double folly because it’s built around a tree, so when the tree blows down … Thérèse has long wanted an outside bath and a large cast iron one was in the garden when they moved into Hazelwood three years ago. Then at the end of last year they ‘helped out’ by removing several loads of Nairn sandstone from a big house being extended in town. The stone has now become a beautiful spiral around the tree and bath at the bottom of the garden. Talking of gardens it has been a very prolific year for Thérèse as she has kept her previous garden and polytunnel at Laikenbuie plus the new one at Hazelwood. This is the first year that she has supplied the organic shop Skydelights with carrots, apples and a few pears through the autumn. She is very pleased that it has covered the cost of all her seeds.
As you will guess Hiddenglen Holidays has had an unusual year. However with the subsidies, furlough and a busy autumn, income has held up and next year looks promising. Thérèse wants to continue running the two lodges for the time being, but Duncan & Piper are taking more responsibility for the chalet and caravan, and Piper is also handling their bookings next year. All that can be said about the new lodge is that it is more complete than last year, and that completion will happen when it happens. Duncan is now running the croft, under Peter’s supervision, with the plan that he will become a tenant of the trust next November. A new joint venture between Peter & Duncan is the fattening of three Oxford Sandy and Black pigs. One each, and one to sell.
Another first this year was a burial in a shroud and a totally DIY funeral. A friend who’s mother is buried in the woodland burial site announced that her father was about to join his wife, and could she get help with a simple quick burial. This was in July. So the day after Norman died P&T drove to Nairn to collect his body as their friend only has a small sports car. Norman lived in a house with only a pedestrian path along the front of the terrace for access. As they squeezed the car up the path an old lady out walking her dog started waiving her stick and shouting “Stop! Stop! You can’t drive up there.” She soon disappeared when informed of the purpose! An old door with a painter’s signature dated 1966 was used to move Norman, wrapped in a large tablecloth, to the car. It was quite moving to see all the neighbours along the terrace standing at their doors as Norman was driven away. Norman joined Patrica with the help of his son and daughter and three Laikenbuie helpers. The confidence to have a DIY funeral came from a workshop hosted by Thérèse at the start of the year. It was run by Kate who set up the charity Pushing Up The Daisies.
The Laikenbuie community is growing, actually bursting at the seams. Last year you were told about Duncan & Piper, the young couple who live in Laikenbuie farmhouse and plan to be tenants of the trust, and Alex the Wwoofer who came with a half built tiny home. Alex lived in the Loft while he finished his home into which he has now moved. Tabi now lives in the Loft. She is a uni friend of Sam’s and a trustee for Laikenbuie Ecology Trust, that is assuming it is accepted by the Office of the Scottish Charities Register. [OSCR is taking many months to rule on applications at the moment. The delay is partly Peter’s fault. He downloaded and printed an application form and posted the almost 50 pages to OSCR. However because he was rather slow, he received an email saying that paper applications were no longer accepted due to the virus and that he must submit a new online application!]. Tabi wanted to move north from the central belt and fits in well here. She is studying online for a forestry qualification and has just landed a part time trainee job with the Forestry Commission.
Then there is Scott & Alice and their 13yr old daughter Isabella. I don’t think they have been mentioned before. They came for a trial at the beginning of last year, fitted in well, were offered the tenancy of the trust, but decided that after 12yrs on the move around Europe it was too big a commitment for them. A month later they changed their minds, but by that time Duncan & Piper had arrived, and anyway would they change their minds again? Well a couple of weeks ago they phoned, Peter answered, “Arrh, it’s the Portuguese.” That’s the kind of thing Peter says now because he can’t remember anyone’s name, but actually they are from Milton Keynes! They had just driven non stop from Portugal, with a horse box full of all their possessions, to a caravan that they had rented outside Aberdeen. The caravan turned out to be an unacceptable dump, so they called for help! Due to a policy of looking after waifs and strays they were invited to continue their journey to Laikenbuie. They are now living in Pisces Caravan with the possibility of having a long term base here.
Hazelwood is the first house up the track and a drop off point for everyone’s post and parcels. Thérèse feels it is like living in a subpost office!
Thérèse has made four mandalas this year. They are never far from her mind, if she is not making one she is collecting materials for the next one!
Peter is very lucky to have good friends who put much effort into his birthday gifts. Here is a needlework picture by Piper based on a photo, and a poem by Marion & Callum. He appreciates the time and effort that went into these treasures.
There are many beautiful spots along the Findhorn River. Ardclach is one of the favourites. Here are two photos of the same stretch of river – in September returning from a swimming trip when Jo & Owen were up, and after the rain last week.
Life has been enjoyed as P&T keep active and are rejuvenated by the younger generations surrounding them. In many ways lockdown has been a bonus, allowing them to spend more relaxed time at home on the croft. No new psychological problems have been detected! They look forward to meeting all their friends when dancing starts, but are in no hurry to go on any long journeys.
With best wishes for a safe Christmas and a healthy New Year, the first without a Hogmanay ceilidh for many years. Love from us both, P&T.