Eigg-entually it is time to head back to the real world.

So our island hopping time comes to an end today. I’m currently sat in a shepherds hut on the Isle of Eigg, which is a stunningly beautiful little island, a mixture of glacial and volcanic land formations. The weather has been remarkably kind to us, unlike the midges and the flying ants, which have been less forgiving.

Due to a failure to read the ferry timetable, we didn’t realise that the ferry actually takes about 5 hours calling at Canna and Mallaig on its way from Rum to here. That meant our first day was rather brief, being a run to the shop and then a wander out along what turned out to be the path we were taking the next day.What was quite stunning though was watching the mist descending on the glen and looking at the hills and moorland disappearing into it.Amusingly for almost our entire walk we were joined by a small dog that jogged alongside us, peeing on every large shrub and being terrified and run-off by a very fierce lamb.

The next day dawned clearish and we headed for the opposite coat of the island, where there’s an arts and crafts church, a crofting museum and a little teashop. We followed an increasingly invisible path that led us to…a patch of bracken, then turned back and found the right route. One of the exciting things about this place is there are few enough visitors that many of the paths are barely discernable.Eventually, with the help of the map and a mixture of faith and luck we made it to the path down the steep cliff to the beach where we perched for lunch and watched the tan coloured sand washing over and across the volcanic black sands. It’s amazing to watch and quite mesmerizing.

Eventually we made our way up to the church, which has apparently been restored from ruins, and then to the fascinating little crofting museum. It’s more about the life of the people than the process of crofting and is in what was once a blackhouse (the crofting houses originally had no windows and the small, low, thatched buildings were heated (and probably kept midge free) by a continuously burning peat fire that left the walls and the roof blackened with soot). The house the museum’s in was a blackhouse that in the early 20th century was improved with the use of a loan – adding a bit of height to the walls and a gable roof made from galvanised steel.It turned it from a one room house to one with a kitchen / best room and a couple of bedrooms. The museum really tells the story of the lives of the generations of the family that lived there…

We pootled from there down to our next stop, the cafe… Which disappointingly turned out to be closed for a few days. Understandable as the owner’s daughter is apparently graduating (congratulations! :) ) So instead started wending our way back up the steep climb out of Cleadale and back over to Galmisdale where the shepherd’s hut lurks.Despite extremely soggy, and in my case malodorous and somewhat sore feet(thanks to the shoe rubbing on a bite), the isle worked it’s magic, making us both find of the idea of living there. It seems that many of the islands occupants are understandably very aware of the impact of climate change, the island is dependent on the Gulf Stream for it’s weather patterns and sea level rise would destroy a lot of the existing infrastructure. So it’s not entirely surprising that the island’s population, who teamed up to buy the island from a lackadaisical landlord in the midst of an investigation, have made the island 100% renewable powered. Although waste does still seem to be burned, as there’s no rubbish collection, just metal and glass recycling.

On the ferry, we have trundled to Muck, and are now making our way to Mallaig, Where we’ll be going on a train to our next destination. We managed to cram in a visit to the Massacre Caves in which apparently, the entire population of the island was, at one point in history, murdered in one go, presumably to clear the island.It’s a weirdly beautiful place, the island has a whole bunch of natural cave formations around the coast, and the volcanic rock has eroded in an incredible way, whatever the horror of its history.

So we head back to the mainland for the much more sociable but of our trip. We have a couple of days near Fort William, then a sleeper (ha!) train to catch, before heading to see friends and family. For that we have hired an EV. Specifically a Kona EV. I hope we don’t like it more than Raven (our Niro EV).

Let’s move on, the midges have found us.

This year, our ‘summer hols’ have a fairly remote bent. We’ve both been feeling an increasing urge to be far away from people, and get some remote, quiet time. As we were heading back to what remains of the UK, we arranged an incredibly complicated holiday where we hopped on a plane, and having endured a 9 hour flight, promptly took ourselves for a 3/4 day in London with no sleep. We arranged to leave our luggage behind in a left luggage store, pausing to arrange us popping back later to grab what we needed for Scotland, then went for a massage.

No ordinary massage, this. But a Russian massage complete with being lightly smacked with leafy twigs. In an amazingly hot room. Also the cold tub / shower, hot sauna room alternating thing similar to those Skandi saunas of which we’re both fond. It was both our first experiences of the Russian Banya… And I would go back. It’s intense, and invigorating, and the massage definitely erred towards discomfort that will eventually make you feel better rather than mellow. It was not exactly pleasurable in and of itself, but it felt really good afterwards.

Anyhow, we did that. Grabbed a small lunch, then we pottered to Gays The Word and, it turns out, The Observatory – which it turns out is a real cafe. We gleefully pointed out that Gays The Word, which is one of my favourite book shops, was in the background of a shot in Killing Eve. But the cafe she’s in is, we discovered, a real cafe. The view opposite, that she’s supposedly looking at, obviously isn’t. But it was quite fun to be stood there and Kathryn did get a photo of me grinning like an idiot.

Having killed quite a lot of time (and bought a non-zero number of books) we meandered to the British Library just in time for most of the exhibits to close, then grabbed our rucksacks from our luggage and made our way to Euston for the Caledonian Sleeper, which we’d booked for the run to Fort William. Hoping that sheer exhaustion would win over any challenges we might have sleeping on the train, and looking forward to the shiny new trains when we’d booked it, it had seemed like a reasonable idea. Unfortunately a week or two prior we got an email that informed us that it would not be the shiny new trains. No, due to technical problems it would still be the shonky ancient trains. These trains have been running since before I was born, and they pretty much feel like it.

The trains are rattly and squeaky, the fittings are well worn and in the case of the bathroom nearest us, barely functional. Still, exhaustion beat upon us and we clambered into our bunks… And waited. And waited. And eventually started checking. And realised that a signal failure meant our train was going nowhere.

Eventually, I decided that – fuck it, I was going to sleep. I have no idea what time the train moved off, but a fitful night’s sleep followed, waking for some reason or other as we scaled the country. When we finally pulled in to Fort William, 2 hours late, and after I’d had my tiny breakfast (£3.50 for 1/3 cup of ‘vegan smoothie’, with what appeared to be one walnut chopped up and in a pot as one of the ‘nuts’ it came with. Also instant coffee… Provided as a disposable cup of warm water and a sachet of granules.).. we were both tired and ready for something not transport food related.

It turns out there’s a really good vegan cafe in Fort William (no, we’ve not suddenly gone vegan) where they had some fantastic food options…which we took full advantage of, before a bit of a break with us lying in the park enjoying the sun and then we clambered into the next train, to Mallaig. One night in the very pleasant Sea View guest house and a properly yummy Scottish breakfast, and we were on the final leg – the ferry to Rum.

Which is where we’ve spent the last four days – away from people (apart from a protracted prone call to my British bank, who’s representative seemed unable to grasp the concept of being on an island small enough to not have a bank), and meandering around the wilderness.

We walked across a quadrant of the island from Kinloch (where we’re staying) to Kilmory (which is a beach, a deer monitoring project building, and a long abandoned crofting building). It’s about a ten mile meander – not hard, just long (by our standards). The beach was lovely, we were sharing it with a few people who seemed to have arrived on a small boat, but they were far enough away we didn’t even need to do the socially acceptable wave of greeting.

In the distance we’d watched from the deer hide as the red deer – who are heavily researched – munched on the moorland plants while we munched on our sandwiches.

And we pottered around the abandoned village’s cemetery, looking at the sad loss of 8 children in one go to diptheria.

Most of the gravestones had been rendered illegible by the passage of time. Apparently at one time there was a very early stone cross laying on the ground. I’m not sure if it’s still there… We didn’t know to look for it until we came back and were noseing at one of the books about the island. Unfortunately, we missed it if it is.

Yesterday we had a more gentle day – first up was the protracted battle with the bank (which allowed us to briefly break the ice a bit with one of the locals who seems fairly… uninterested in tourists) and a bit of laundry. Then we headed to see Kinloch Castle. Which isn’t a Castle at all, it’s a 1900s manor house sized shooting lodge built using factory building techniques by a guy who clearly had much more money than sense. It’s a heartrending place. Scottish natural heritage have been kinda lumped with this sort of stately home, complete with its contents, since being sold the island to turn into a nature reserve. It’s very clear they don’t really know what to do with it. At points it’s been a hostel and a hotel. It was sold complete with all it’s Edwardian frippery, and apparently much of the Bulloughs personal stuff (including, allegedly, some S&M gear!) which means it’s a fairly rare beast. Unlike a lot of other preserved houses of the same era which have era appropriate but not original stuff in them, this house is the real deal.

The Orchestrion (a barrel organ built for queen Victoria (but who died before it could be installed)) with one of the largest collection of musical scores for it still lurks, more or less functional, under the stairs. Apparently there are only three in the world, and only 2 still work. This is one of those two. The insane Edwardian shower-baths with multiple jets powered by a 100m pressure head from a water source tapped high up on the hills – they’re still there and working. The interestingly privacy heavy ballroom (raised windows, orchestra behind a curtain, butler in a closed separate room with shutters opened from the ballroom), still has it’s couches. The bedrooms have their beds. The library appears stocked with books.

It’s a time warp. But one which is suffering horribly. The building is damp and they’ve battled with the island weather to stop the rain getting in. The house had a heated conservatory that only lasted 10 years after being built before being destroyed by the harsh weather out here. A century of rain beating on the sandstone has left the blocks soaked and rusting out the steel frame hidden within.

And 50 years of a tensions about spending money on a building, rather than the environment, has definitely not helped. Anyhow, we had a highly entertaining and certainly the most relaxed tour of a house I’ve ever had – at least of the bits of the house that are still accessible (some of it is engaged in a a battle with dryrot).

Then we headed down to the Otter hide, where we singularly failed to see any otters, but had a very nice view of the sea to enjoy, watched some fish leap our of the water, and we saw a Sand Piper and a bunch of hooded crows on the wander back. We also got to meander around another abandoned village, which is always good. And of course, being Friday night, we stopped at Kim’s Kitchen for Friday night Fish and Chips, with the locally caught fish. Yay :)

Today was our final day on Rum, tomorrow we head to Eigg, (5 hours on the ferry due to unfortunate scheduling) and we made good use of it – walking up to Coire Dubh then going a little off piste to Cnapan Breaca then back down to Kinloch. About 350 – 400m up, with great views despite the mizzle… We both got a trifle damp which is unfortunate because we need to pack up and move tomorrow and so we’ve been trying to dry everything by the fire. It is, at least, cool enough for us to be having a fire, despite the battle it’s taken for us to get it lit (wood but no kindling).

It is making me feel like we are doing life wrong. I feel so much better out here. So much more calm.

Of course, making enough to live on is a lot harder out here, too. That’s the challenge.

Busy busy

It’s been a somewhat chaotic and stressful month at chez us. Our new car arrived and we had to go pick it up. Despite all the promises of “It won’t be a problem that you’re away, we can work around that”, when the car we’d ordered arrived they wanted money immediately or threatened to sell it to someone else with no likelihood of another one with that trim/colour option being obtainable.

This is because we wanted a Kia Niro EV which, as we know, is made of unobtainium. Apparently people called from Texas offering to buy it when it appeared on the stock list.

And if we are paying a frankly terrifying amount of money for a car, it damn well better be the colour/option list we want.

Mind you, it was a little unclear exactly what we were getting because the dealer had no clue exactly what the spec would be on the “launch edition”, but at any rate, it arrived and is very shiny.

The down side of that is that, of course, we had to sell our much loved Rav4EV. We’d both become weirdly attached to Ravtastic, with the excellent reliability, comfort and somehow personable and friendly nature of the car. Part of it is no doubt, as Kathryn pointed out, that she (Ravtastic) had been around through a bunch of hyperstressful experiences.

She’d taken us out to our house building project where we failed to get a permit and had to do battle with Thurston county. She’s carried us through 2 years of crazy busy stuff in building the house; ferrying tons of tools and bits. She’s been our car through my burnout and depression when teaching. And let’s be honest, she was our first big purchase in this country.

At any rate, I’ve never been so sad to sell a car. We both thanked her for being so good to us, then sent her on her way to Michigan!

Of course getting through the selling process has been a mare, the person buying her wanted to finance her and – well, although it went fine it has taken us right up to vacation time. Basically everything we said needs to happen before our vacation has. But by a matter of days. Ravtastic left yesterday, our plasters got shifted by a week, meaning that the first coat of plaster only went up on our house this week too.

That was cool, though. Our plasterer teaches plastering and since this was the scratch coat (and so while the thickness needs to be fairly consistent, the final finish on this coat is rough), we got to do some of the application. We can still point to the walls and say it’s us.

Interestingly, to help with bonding to the drywall/plasterboard, they added thinset (tile adhesive) to the scratch coat. That won’t be the case for the top coats, so I’m curious to see how that differs. I’m also hoping that we can get good enough that we can apply some of the topcoat. I have done a little with regular old plaster (over lath and on brick) but not with lime and definitely not quickly.

The amount of water in the house is bloody terrifying though. We checked in and our plasterer confirmed that we could keep our (borrowed) dehumidifier running. But at the end of the first coat it was saying 80% relative humidity and the floors had water soaking in. Since the only direction of exit is up, in this case, the dehumidifier is working overtime.

Then we have the ceilings. We could’t afford to get the ceilings lime plastered, so they are coming around to spray them with gypsum based drywall stuff and then go for a smooth finish. That’s all arranged, but it’s pretty much antithetical to our policies to let people work on the house when we aren’t here. It’s the only way it can happen in a reasonable timeframe though, because all the builders around here are crazily busy. Our job is small enough that they can just ‘fit it in’, but finding someone with a gap that works has been tough.

Of course, because it’s us, our holiday also falls when we have a bunch of bills and payments due, and because we’ve been cramming on the housework (it needed a coat of paint over the entire inside before the plaster could go up), we’ve neglected our adulting meaning this week while we’ve been getting the car sold, and plastering the house, and I’m working a lot, and Kathryn has a lot of work stuff on, is the one where we need to get adulting done. It does mean some things have got left, somewhat, to the lat minute. Neither of us are packed for the holiday. There’s a long list of payments and bills to sort before we go.

I’m just hoping we can forget about then when we leave enough to really enjoy being nicely isolated.

The unlaid plans of mice and women.

So, let’s start with the way things were ‘meant’ to work out. We had a plan that looked like this:

  • Knock down high spots on filling
  • Rough coat of plaster (with mesh embedded)
  • Skim coat plaster (walls and ceilings)

Simultaneously:

  • Pour foundation for garage
  • Arrange for garage to go up shortly after plaster is dry
  • Move contents of house (Wood for battens, offcuts of drywall and stuff etc) into garage
  • Start laying floor.

Of course, it’s not quite worked like that. So, first up, it worked out that we couldn’t reasonably justify the cost of plastering our ceiling (despite it’s unevenness), so we’re looking at getting regular joint compound and a “level 4” finish (filling the joints) and imperfections, then sanding back to smoothness, then coating in paint. Hopefully we can justify the cost of our plasterer’s recommended drywall person. I’m not sure about the carbon footprint of a much smaller volume of joint compound and a coat of paint VS clay or lime, but I’m going to try not to think about it.

Then our plasterer talked to his plaster-guru type person (who will also be working on the project) who said that while you don’t end up with dips if you don’t fill the screw-holes, you can get colour differences (because of the black screwheads on the light grey board). So he recommends filling the screw heads. Also, to cut costs further, we’re looking at a thinner skim coat which means the mudding has to be sanded back.

Cue what we’re doing at the moment – frantic filling and sanding.

We’ve filled 4000 holes* (Or there abouts). We have also sanded them. Well, most of them. We still have the laundry and the little pantry to do (which is a task for tomorrow, because 6pm rolled around quickly today).

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We did take a brief break at the weekend to run and grab a free tablesaw. Our lovely friend has a lovely workshop with a very nice saw, but to save us carting the many sheets of ply over to his house (and ruining a blade) on a job that is, frankly, not one that requires fine work(wo)manship, we have been on the lookout for a tablesaw so we can just rip the ply into the strips required for the underfloor heating. Ideally, we wanted a jobsite saw, but those do not get given away free.

Not yet, anyway.

But up popped this tablesaw, which allowed us to christen our new EV with a goodly coating of sawdust.

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There’s nothing like spending a terrifying amount of money on a car, then filling it with dust. Incidentally, don’t, in future, put an extremely dusty object in the car then open the sunroof. It’s a very bad plan.

Anyhow, so we tidied the house, we checked and set screws to a better depth for filling (not all our screws (by any means) were perfectly set. That was fine with a mesh and 1/8″ skim over it, but not fine with a 1/16″ skim…), we filled, we sanded, we cursed. After pushing solidly for a week we reached today when it was almost…almost done.

And then…

And then…….

Yeah, so I called Tuff-Shed today and found out that our shed plans have been delayed… possibly 4 weeks delayed (which is impressive since they were only meant to take 3 weeks to arrive and that was 2 and a half weeks ago). That means that our carefully scheduled concrete pour is not going ahead. So I cancelled that. Which means that we’re going to have stuff sat in the house… for a while. Because…no garage.

Then, we got a message today from our plasterer saying one of the team he was getting in for our job isn’t available for another week… which potentially runs into a period when we’re not available.

Which means another delay :(

Balls.

*In drywall, plastershire.
And though the holes were rather small
They had to fill them all
Now they know how many holes it takes to make them hate drywall,