Friday 29 June 2012

Frugal Friday...

Yay! I've just made an extra payment to the mortgage - what a great feeling! This was in addition to our regular monthly overpayment, and it was made using "Money we didn't expect to have" - in this case a tax rebate, we work on the basis that if we didn't have it in the first place, we won't miss it if it goes against the mortgage!

To give you an idea of the benefits - we took the mortgage out on this flat in 2003, expecting to be paying it off until 2028. it was the standard 25 year term that most people end up with, and at that stage, the idea of overpaying hadn't really occurred to us...thankfully, in 2008, we "saw the light" and started paying whatever extra we could manage. Last year the time came to look at a new deal - our fixed rate product was nearing expiry, and as we were luckily in the small minority of Northern Rock mortgage customers to be taken over to the "good" bank when they split from what is now known as NRAM, we had options to choose from. We ended up choosing a 5 year fix, but, better than that, with the drop in interest rates, we were able to reduce the mortgage term by a full 5 years, whilst leaving the basic payments at the same level. Of course, we continued to overpay as well - the reason for leaving the basic payment at that level rather than increasing it was a "safety net" really - so long as we were still paying more each month, it made precious little difference what the amount we were *supposed* to be paying, was! So, now we have a mortgage which is scheduled to end in 2023 - 11 years from now. In fact, my spreadsheet tells me that so long as we maintain our overpayments at the level they are at currently, we are on target to make our final payment in September 2018 - just 15 years after starting on the path to home-ownership, and a slightly scary six years from now. Needless to say, we're still trying to knock a bit more off that, too! not only will we save ourselves 10 years of being tied to a large chunk of our income going out to the bank every month, but we will also, over that time, have saved ourselves a positive fortune in interest too (I have been told that at the point where we are now, every £10 we overpay saves us a whopping £3 in interest!).

Another big advantage of overpaying is that it gives you more options for better, and cheaper products when you come to change deals. The more you pay, the less capital you still owe, meaning that the LTV (Loan-to-Value) on your property becomes more favourable - once you get to the stage of having 75% LTV (ie you have already paid for at least 25% of the value of the property) lenders are falling over themselves to offer you deals, in our experience.  In four years time when our current fixed-rate ends, we will almost certainly go for an off-set deal - where your savings are used to offset the interest on the capital balance outstanding on the mortgage. The days of trackers being a winner are, in my opinion, over - the banks all learnt a stuff lesson when interest rates plummeted, and as a result there won't be tracker deals with the rate set 1% above base rate again for a very, very long time. The fixed rate was the one for us as although we were going to end up paying slightly more interest than on some other deals, we wanted the stability of knowing precisely what our monthly payment would be for a long enough period of time that when the deal ended we would have a small enough balance left that it could be hammered away at fairly fast. So far that appears to be going to plan...

If you're not already overpaying then why not give it a go? You will need to check the terms and conditions of your mortgage product, but most allow some form of overpayment. Ours stipulates that you can overpay no more than 10% of the capital balance in any one year, others have a fixed maximum sum you can pay, and there are some with no restrictions at all. Watch out for getting charged a fee for extra payments too - if this would affect you then it's still worth doing, but you will be best to use a savings account to put your overpayment money into and then pay a big lump off in one go at the end of the year, say - this way you only pay a single fee. For those of you with Northern Rock Plc - you can pay by cheque through a branch, or with a card over the telephone. Or of course you can simply call them and let them know that you would like to increase the amount you pay each month. All you need to do then is sit and watch that balance falling!


Wednesday 27 June 2012

Better Bread...

You might remember that we are quite fussy about our food. Oh, not in a "Oh no, I don't eat that!" kind of way - although Ben is a bit funny about carrots, and tomatoes - but in that we like to know where it's come from, and that it hasn't travelled too far, and if it's been alive at any stage, that it had at least a reasonably cheery existence while it was still living. We eat relatively little pre-prepared food, don't buy ready meals, cook mostly from scratch and steer clear so far as we can of the sort of stuff that seems entirely unnatural to us - Turkey Twisslers and Quorn spring to mind....we shop on a budget, yes, but we don't eat rubbish just because it's cheap.

For the most part, we make our own bread - we have a breadmaker and we either use it to mix & knead the dough, and then bake in the oven as rolls, or let it bake right through if we want a loaf. The results are extremely good - it's not an expensive machine and yet the bread it turns out is excellent, we have no complaints. Sometimes though, something more is needed - something a bit special.....

We are extremely fortunate in that "Something a bit special" in the bread line can be found just a couple of miles along the road at Mayfield Farm Bakery. From the moment you walk in through the doors you know you've found somewhere very special pick up your wicker shopping basket ready for your chosen loaf (or loaves, more likely!) and someone greets you with a cheery smile!

Bread in many different shapes, sizes and flavours, pastries, pies, cakes and ciabattas, whatever your "bread itch" Nick & his team have a loaf or a tasty treat to scratch it - the work of preparing and baking all these marvels takes place right in front of you too - the bakery is in one end of the building with the shop right next door, the smells defy all description but are tempting in the extreme!

They have bread variants you'll never even have considered possible, and from what we have sampled so far, they are all utterly delicious. From a straight white, to Beetroot and red onion, through to Stilton & Raisin (Raisin? Yes, really!) think of a flavour combination and not only will Nick probably have tried it, he will have found a way of combining the ingredients to make it damned tasty, too. On the right hand side of the pic above is one of our favourites - Nigella Seed & Jacket Potato.....yum!

They don't slack on the cake front either - and even better, if you simply can't resist sampling sooner rather than later there is now an on-site cafe serving their own produce - perfect for a tea & cake break!

As so often happens I ended up with a Sourdough loaf - a particular favourite of mine, you can see ours right in the front of the shot above, actually, it was every bit as delicious as it looks, believe me.

If you live in Essex or Hertfordshire, I can't urge you strongly enough to pay Mayfield a visit - small local businesses need all the help and support they can get from their local communities, and at just two miles away from here we certainly count as their local community! These guys may be small, but their products speak for themselves in terms of quality, and they work ethically sourcing as many local ingredients as they can - the flour for the bread for example comes from just a few miles up the road in Chelmsford, Tomatoes and honey from Hertfordshire, and rapeseed oil from Suffolk. If you're too far away to make Mayfield practical, then why not scout around locally and see if you have an artisan bakery nearby? You won't regret it when you taste the spoils, trust me!


For the avoidance of doubt, I should say that although Mayfield were aware I was going to be blogging about them, they only know that as I explained when I asked for permission (readily granted) to take the photos. They had no idea what I was going to say, nor have I been offered any inducement or sponsorship to sing their praises - it is simply well deserved praise from a very satisfied customer.

Monday 25 June 2012

Back to the Farnes...

Remember these chaps? Puffins, of course, and photographed on our trip across to the Farne Islands in 2008. One of THE best places in the UK for wildlife photography, and somewhere I had been dying to get to. The trip out in the boat was fine - bright and cheerful if with a stiff wind blowing. The boat did a cruise around some of the islands, coming in close to give us good views of seals...

...before dropping us off on Staple Island for the first of our two scheduled landings. Initially all went well - there were literally thousands of Puffins, and once I'd got over the tendancy to stand staring at them saying "aaaahhhhh!" a lot, I got some cracking shots of the strange looking little creatures.

Then the light started dropping though, and the wind got up a bit more, and then the rain started falling....a short while later the National Trust Ranger approached to explain that the weather was closing in badly - the boat company were getting concerned about being able to land the boat back to pick us up any later, and accordingly they were evacuating the Island. The journey back across was - frankly - quite grim. Rough, windy and very, very wet. Most of us had camera gear we were desperately trying to protect from the worst of the weather, and one or two folk were looking distinctly green. We got a refund on half the cost of the trip, but that was precious little consolation - we were bitterly disappointed.

Now though, we've booked to go back! We're crossing our fingers for better weather, and lots of puffins, and a second Island too, this time, with Terns and Guillemots. You'd think we would have had enough of Islands, wouldn't you? No, OK, you know us better than that.


Friday 22 June 2012

Frugal Friday

SatNav won't do you much good here...
For the most part, we try to live by some rather frugal rules when considering purchasing anything. These are:

Do I need it, or am I at least sure I want it and have the funds to pay for it?
If one of the above is true, can I get it, or something that will do the same job, for free?
If not free, can I get it at a discount?
Having decided what I'm going to pay for it, can I get cashback on that amount?

Only after having explored all the options do we go ahead and pay out for *stuff*  - and it's surprising how many ways there are savings to be made: Let's take as an example a product a lot of people have these days - a SatNav system. Useful little gadgets if you do a lot of driving for work or pleasure, particularly if you are often unaccompanied, with it's attendant problems of not being able to read the map and drive. A quick glance at a well known Electrical/Computer store's website shows that these start from around £100. Firstly, let's translate that into a simpler language shall we - for this example, we'll use "a month's food" as our "real terms" description. OK, so we've decided we either need it, or that we want it, and the money is sitting there ready for us to finance the purchase - how about getting it for free though? Surely you can't get an item of that value for free, anywhere? Well actually, you can - if you have an iPhone, for example, the excellent NavFree is available - as the name suggests - absolutely free. There are "add-ons" you can pay for, but the initial app, zero cost. Hurrah! I believe there are other options available for other smartphone users too, so well worth looking to see what's out there. Let's assume you don't have a Smartphone though - unless you get VERY lucky on your local FreeCycle, we're probably going to have to examine the "at a discount" option.  For our example, we will use the reasonably standard "TomTom Start 25 Europe" unit, which our well known electrical superstore are retailing online at £149.98 - the first thing to remember is that the online price and the instore price may differ. Many retailers will match their online prices if you ask, though. Next stop is to use the price comparison or "ShopBot" sites - Pricerunner is the one I've chosen for this, but the more you search, the more options you'll have - that immediately brings the price of our chosen SatNav down to £120.49 - a saving of nearly £30! (Or "one and a bit weeks food") Next - eBay - no saving to be found here on the price of a brand new product, but there are refurbished ones available from £99, and a quick "completed listings" search reveal that used ones sell for around £70 - £80 - that's a reduction of almost 50% on the original price we started with! I've done all that inside 5 minutes - 5 minutes which, if I were actually buying said SatNav, would have saved me in the region of £75 - a pretty good hourly rate, wouldn't you agree?

Shop frugally...for then you shall have enough left over for Tea & Cake

This kind of cost-saving isn't only for big ticket items either -  it's when you start translating these principles to everyday life that you really see the savings mounting up. Food for example - shop around - the MySupermarket website is great for comparing prices, and then there are all the bargain/discount stores - Home Bargains, B&M etc. For a long time now we have operated a "target price" of 10p per packet for buying crisps - we always try to buy as close to this price as possible - well and truly achieved today as B&M had 20 packets of Walkers for £1.59! There is also your local market which may well have food stalls worth checking, and of course good old Approved Food - every Frugalista's friend!  Car tyres - I always get prices from a couple of local places - although through choice will still use our local independant place - having said that, they are usually cheapest! Insurances, obviously always follow Martin Lewis's instructions on tracking down the best prices on - it is to be hoped that they stay neutral on such things! Printer ink is another good one - a bit of shopping around can make a good saving, and there are plenty of companies offering Cashback through TopCashBack too - I bought a set of Laser Toner Cartridges this morning for £96 (cheapest price I could find online, remanufactured cartridges, and utilising a 10% discount code I found for my chosen supplier) and £8.14 cashback has already tracked! Remember also that if both Quidco and TCB are offering the same Cashback, choose TCB as they don't charge an annual fee. Remember also never to make a purchase based on the cashback available as this is not guaranteed to track! If you're not a member of TCB and wish to join, then the following link is my referral link which I would be delighted for you to use - I earn an incentive from this, just so you are aware. >

You will rarely have to buy anything so urgently that shopping around a bit isn't possible, and of course it shouldn't be forgotten that the most frugal approach of all is to go without - but on the other side of the coin, life is for living, and we're only here once (other views on reincarnation are available) so we'd jolly well better enjoy it, don't you think?!


Tuesday 19 June 2012

Accidental Success...

We returned from our recent Islandy Adverntures to a lovely surprise - the hanging basket, hanging pot, and planters that we had planted up with "rescued" plants just before we went away all bursting with life and colour! Just look!

Fabulous, hey? Thanks go to MummyEH for kind watering attention whilst we were away, both the assorted pots on the balcony wall and elsewhere and the contents of the mini-greenhouse too. The contents of these were a complete bargain. MrEH's newspaper had a voucher for a free tray of bedding plants from Homebase, so we decided to trundle down there and get them. Turns out that Homebase reduce all their ailing and unsold plants to silly money - we got a large tray of petunias (using the voucher), a large tray of Viola, a tray of Lobelia and a tray of something else...ummmm, Ageratum? (Where's OrkneyFlowers when you need her?!) for a total spend of about £2.50 - bargainous! I should add that we had absolutely no idea what colours we were going to get out of any of these as they were mostly marked up "Mixed colours" so we just planted them - higgledy piggledy and all crammed in - into the waiting hanging basket, trough and pot. And then into another hanging pot because we still had some left. And then into two more pots and the pocket handkerchief of a garden, because we STILL had some left....and finally into the front garden, which eventually got rid of the last of the little blighters. That was a LOT of plants! We gave everything a good soaking, and headed off on holiday half expecting that everything would be dead by the time we got back..... wasn't.....

In fact, it appeared to be thriving.....

All of it.

Wonderful things, plants!


Friday 15 June 2012

Frugal Friday...Don't do it!

The other day, I sat and listened to a friend talking about taking a loan to pay for a holiday. She has no debt, not even a mortgage at present, and yet is looking to create around £5000 of it simply to go on holiday... I asked where she was going that was going to cost this much - as this seemed a lot for a fortnight away, and she explained that the holiday they want (note the word "want") was 'only' £3000, but the other 2k "Will come in useful". I felt like telling her not to be so mad - that to create this level of debt - which she will be paying off for the next three years - was simply madness - and to create a full two thousand pounds of it just because "it will come in useful" was even madder! Another friend was talking about refinancing a car - a car that her family currently own outright, and yet she is looking into creating a debt on it. The thing in common with both these situations is the time factor - in both cases, another of the same thing as that around which the debt is being created, will be wanted within the time that the loans are still being paid off. There is no way that friend A will not go on holiday next year and the year after, and the year after that, in spite of still paying for this one, and friend B changes her car more often than some folk change their socks, so there will be further finance created there in due course, too!

(I freely acknowledge that I have no relevant photos for this post....the macro lens has been out, though!)

We all go through spells of wanting "stuff" - cars and holidays are on the larger end of the scale, but shoes and new lipsticks might ring a bell, or a new game for the XBox...or an XBox come to that! My last "want" was an iPad- I "wanted" it for ages, and eventually gave in and bought it - but the point that I bought it combined neatly with the point that I had saved up the money to pay for it. Having been "wanting" it for around a year previously, I was also confident that I wasn't going to regret the purchase straight afterwards - another major factor when buying something from your "want" list.  I know, the word "want" is getting stressed quite a lot here, isn't it - how often have you bought something - maybe that lipstick or new shoes, and told yourself that you "needed" them? You know what though, I bet you didn't - I bet you had several more lipsticks of a similar shade, or pairs of shoes that would do the same job as the pair you were looking at. The item you were considering was not actually needed at all - not in the same way as a bag of apples or pint of milk might be for example. Once you can differentiate between the two states, you are heading in the right direction to be able to make informed decisions about how you spend your disposable cash. It's not wrong to "want" things, not at all, after all the Frugal Friday series is about enjoying life while still paying off our mortgage ahead of time, not making life miserable and lecturing others about every last penny spent on something non-essential - there are other places you can go to read about those sort of sacrifices - so we definitely allow ourselves the odd "want" - but only when we have saved and budgeted for them.

Chive Flowers - lovely, aren't they!

That brings us on to point two, quite neatly. If you want to manage your money better, then the key to this is ensuring that so far as possible you use your own money for things, not somebody elses. Martin Lewis splits debt up into "good debt" - a mortgage for example, or a loan for education, and "bad debt" - which would be a loan for something that is wanted, but not actually needed. That holiday, then, perhaps? Better by far to save up your own money and pay for that holiday of a lifetime in two years (Something that Friend A would have no difficulty in doing) rather than being beholden to the bank for the next three, and paying interest, to boot! With the uncertainty in the financial climate at present, very few of us can feel totally secure in our employment, which is another good reason for not creating debt unnecessarily - what happens if you lose your income and are unable to service the payments? (County court judgements and a decimated credit rating, is what). The money mantra comes into play again - "Do I need it?, Can I afford it?, Can I get it cheaper anywhere else?" - the answer to the first question can be no, but only so long as the answer to the second is "Yes, and without getting a loan to pay for it!"


Wednesday 13 June 2012

Hawks! Red Ones!

I had a bit of excitement the day we set off for our holibobs. I'd been keeping an eye on the Red Arrows training schedule out of RAF Scapton in Lincolnshire, as I was heading in that direction anyway, to collect Ben from Doncaster station where he was joining me for the trip north. With just 24 hours to go though before I was due to set off, there was no news of any planned practise at all, and I had given up hope - planning to leave here around mid afternoon and take a steady drive up the A1. The the news I had been hoping for came through - two practises, the first too early for me to get to, but the second just perfect at midday, and then a fly-out at 3pm when the team were leaving for RAF Valley - brilliant! A hasty change of plans, and some manic rushing about, and we were all set - I dropped Ben at the station for his journey to work and headed off...
A somewhat frustrating journey later - thanks to some lunatic drivers seemingly determined to take me off the road, and a sat-nav which had it's own ideas - very different to mine - of our desired route, leading to a detour through central Lincoln, I got to Scampton with 15 minutes to spare. I'd done my research and knew that the best spot for photos was at the end of the base, where there is a lower section of fence...however, this spot is a good 15 minute walk away from the car park so I knew I was going to be pushed for time - sure enough as I was dashing along the fence-line I heard the thrilling sound of the Hawks thundering along the runway, and taking to the air just to my left - wow! They take off in pairs, and you find yourself counting them as they go - I was expecting three pairs, then a single, so was a little surprised to see that the final takeoff was another pair - presumably Red 8 Dave Davies was getting a run-out! By the time they had assembled into formation I was in position, camera at the ready....

Sadly the hazy although bright conditions made getting many useable pics a bit of a nightmare. That notwithstanding though, there is something rather cool about standing in a field, in the middle of the countryside, with the sun beating down, watching the Red Arrows display with absolutely NOBODY else in view! *grin* Slightly odd seeing only 7 planes displaying, with the 8th kind of hovering around on the edges, like the odd man out at a party!

Practise completed, I had a bit of a drive around the area to check out suitable spots for watching the fly-out later, and then as a nod to the superb weather and roastingly hot temperatures, a quick stop at the shop for an ice-cream! Then back to my chosen spot for the fly-out, which quickly proved to be the right place as someone else turned up. A slightly more local chap, he confirmed straight off that the position was good "you see them taxi out, but can't see much of the takeoff from the direction they're heading today - this is as good as anywhere though" he said. So it proved...

You don't get much closer to the Reds than that! The high chain-link fence proved to be a bit of an annoyance - my fellow watcher found some breeze blocks and stacked them to get high enough to *just* see over, but there weren't enough to get me to the same situation although he did gallantly offer me first dibs! The right camera settings got around it well enough though and I got some nice shots as they rolled by, and even a wave or two...

Great fun! If I find myself with a day to spare and am in the right direction, I would certainly go and watch up there again. Now though, I'm working through the display schedule to decide where else I might be able to see them!

Sunday 10 June 2012

Gneiss Rocks...

This rock is amazing. No, really - properly amazing stuff. For a start, when you see it on the beach it looks like massive humbugs, all stripey. Secondly, some of it is pink. Or pink and grey and white and  black stripes. If someone bought you a scarf in these colours and patterns you'd be itching for the cold weather to come so you could wear it. The other thing though - and if I'm honest this is the really amazing bit - is that this stuff is truly ancient, we're talking around three BILLION years old - THAT sort of ancient. It's Lewisian Gneiss, and in the Hebrides, you take it a bit for granted - it's everywhere, in fact, it's the bedrock that the Islands are built on. The Standing Stones at Calanais are built of it, and those are older than stonehenge. There's some technical stuff about it on Wikipaedia if you want to know a bit more. For now though, I just felt it deserved a bit of "bigging up" on here.


ps - it's pronounced "nice"....see what I did with the title?!

Saturday 9 June 2012

On the way home...


View from CalMac ferry M.V.Hebrides crossing back from Lochmaddy to Uig, Skye.


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Friday 8 June 2012

Another trip nearly over...

It’s Thursday night as I write this - and we’re beginning the task of getting our things together and getting packed up. The more we do tonight and tomorrow morning, the less there will be to do tomorrow night, when we’d rather be heading out for a meal and going to the pub.

We’ve been tremendously fortunate with the weather this year - sunshine every day, and only one day with any amount of rain (although as I write a determined looking cloud is emptying itself outside!). It’s been breezy, at times chilly, but at other times almost still, and plenty warm enough for short sleeves, sandals, and even paddling.

On Tuesday and Wednesday we headed up to Harris & Lewis for a couple of days, taking the tent and finding a campsite to stay on overnight meant that there was none of the rushing around of previous years, when we’ve whizzed up there and back in a day. It also meant that during a slow amble back towards Leverburgh yesterday we had plenty of time for a picnic and a walk at Luskentyre, (above) one of the best beaches in the world. (And that’s official, there have been votes on it, and everything!) Naturally, there was also quite a lot of photo-taking! Here, have another…

I’ll leave it at that for now - there ARE more, and a good number of them may also be getting run through the rather lovely Photomatix Pro HDR programme - it is the ONLY way of recreating the colours and textures we’ve been seeing up here, quite truthfully. Most commonly heard phrase in the car when we’re here? Probably "Oh wow! Look at THAT!" It gets used a lot. I guess looking at the shots above, you just might be able to see why?

If you want any information about travelling to the Hebrides, or want to know anything about the Islands, either check out the tabs above which have various bits of information on them, or failing that, contact me via a comment on here, or the contact form at the main site - there are lots more pictures from previous years trips there, too.


Thursday 7 June 2012


Remember me (well, Ben really) telling you the other week about RSPB Balranald? It’s somewhere we always enjoy spending time while we’re here, and a couple of days ago we headed off on the circular walk right round the reserve. Balranald is unusual in terms of RSPB venues as the Society doesn’t actually own ANY of the land - they are there thanks to the local crofters, and the North Uist Estate, being happy to help in their work, specifically in relation to the Corncrakes. No Corncrakes this time round for us, but we did see some other fabulous stuff…..

A wonderful beach bathed in sunshine….


A field full of flowers…

And some trying a more solitary lifestyle...


And birds - lots of them, some fairly common, here at least….

…and some far less so, and not exactly where you’d expect to find them!


Wednesday 6 June 2012

A Roam With a View...

We usually try to keep the middle Sunday of our holiday as a bit of a quiet day. If we can decide on a walk without taking the car out, then we do so, and it’s nice when we spend the rest of the time pretty much reliant on the car to have a day when she gets a rest - after all, this is her holiday, too! (Well she doesn’t get to go many places of a non-mundane persuasion other than this!). We were definitely in agreement about our choice of walk this time round - Burrival, the small humpy hill next to Eaval - the large scary hill. Ben fancies climbing Eaval, I don’t. Burrival was a fair compromise.

The small humpy hill next to Eaval...
At 141m high, Burrival is not much of a climb for experienced walkers, but I’m not one of those, I’m a slightly reluctant, happy to climb up a bit if there is a view to be seen, and if those I am with don’t whinge about me taking photos of said view when the top is reached, walker. For me, it’s a fair climb, particularly when you take into account that the ground on the walk-in is rough, uneven and covered in heather. Fortunately with so much of the surrounding ground being low lying, you are guaranteed a view at even the modest heights of hills like Rueval (Benbecula, 124m), Beinn Langais (North Uist, 91m) or indeed our humpy little friend of Sunday’s adventures. Anyway, first to get there….you have to navigate what the OS map calls "Stepping Stones" but is actually more like a little mini-causeway -

Beware of high tides...
See - fun eh? Well it was at mid-tide, which was the time we chose to go - it was just on the other side of these however that we found that party of stranded walkers last year - do you remember, the ones we ended up having to call the coastguard for? Needless to say, we learnt from their mistake and remembered to check the tide times carefully when planning our walk today! Anyway, those safely navigated, we walked on, and eventually started climbing… to about a third of the way up, where we stopped for a rest. And some photos.

The first view worth photographing
See those little houses on the right hand side? That’s roughly where we started from. Hardly any height gained and already that view - you just know the top is going to be spectacular! Good enough motivation to carry on. After a bit more climbing, we reached the bit below the summit - good enough reason in itself to stop and have a break, but when this view was spotted…

Looking "over the sea to Skye"
…it was all the better. That is looking across the coast of North Uist, to Skye. The CalMac ferry "Hebrides" was in view when we got there as well, although way too distant to photograph! Now it was around now that we hit a problem. See that lumpy bit at the top of the hill in the first pic? Well that’s pretty rocky, and steep, and tricky to climb. We tried a couple of routes, and had to admit defeat, as they we simply too steep, and with the wind that was blowing making things tricky, too risky to ascend there. Hmmm. We retreated to the high point on the bit below the summit to think, and it was from there that we spotted the path around the back of said lumpy bit….woo! We wouldn’t be beaten after all! Off we went, and after some clambering, and scrambling (OK, those were mostly me, Ben climbed the steep bits like a proper walker-person would) we made the summit (Which was where I posted the pic from on the day itself - see how proud I was?!). And the views were undoubtedly worth it. Phew!

View with helpful added notes of points of interest...

Point 1 is where we started from, and point 2 is the pub - which gives you a pretty clear idea of how far we have to travel in our dedicated search for Good Beer!



Tuesday 5 June 2012

Another Day, Another Sunset...

(written Friday 1st June) One thing that the Western Isles do really well is sunsets - we’ve seen some stunning ones during our visits, and a common theme of a lot of folks’ Hebridean photos is sunsets in a range of different colours. One of our favourites from the times we’ve been here is the one in the site top banner above - hence it getting used both here, and on the main site, as well as in a few other places online! I’ve been collecting more this year though - the one that went along with the photo of "Sanctuary" for the "Favourite Art" post the yesterday, for a start. Then there is this:


I wonder if this is to do with the temperature dropping sharply this evening? It’s been around 18 degrees C all day, but by the time we’d got home this evening the car was showing 10 degrees C, and I suspect it’s a few degrees below that now. It certainly felt damned cold when I popped outside to take that photo for you,anyway!


Monday 4 June 2012

Favourite Art...

This is "Sanctuary" - just about quarter of a mile from where I am currently sitting here on North Uist. It forms part of the "Road End Sculptures" Series of artworks on the Islands - I was sitting on another of them eating my lunch today - that one takes the form of a wavy tiled bench, in beautiful muted colours to reflect the sea, sky, machair and moorland around it. I’m not generally the sort of person who has a favourite piece of art - but if I were, I rather think this might be it. Just imagine the surprise that would give the sort of person who would ask about such things, eh?!


Sunday 3 June 2012

Pass the mint sauce...

But not yet. Altogether now…..ahhhhhh!


The view from the top...

...of Burrival. Posted while sitting at the summit- such as it is for a relatively baby hill!


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Saturday 2 June 2012

Going Wild...

It’s not difficult, up here, to see wildlife if you want to. From the hundreds of species of birds (we saw 83 different species last year, just in a fortnight, and without going out of our way - simply noting down what we’d seen) to the mammals (Otters, Red deer & seals) and then the masses of wildflowers peppering everywhere you look at this time of year, there is wildlife around you, wherever you go. Let me show you what I mean….

Walking along the Machair at Balranald…

On East Beach on Berneray…

Then just along the road at Bays Loch, Berneray…

And of course leaving the RSPB Reserve….

…but then you get a little too close, and everything scatters…

Still, it was nice to see it while it was there!

Friday 1 June 2012

Frugal Friday...

You would be forgiven for assuming that when we go on holiday all thoughts of frugality fade into the background. To an extent that's true, we go where we want to go and do what we fancy doing without the cost dictating entirely. We eat out a lot more than we usually would obviously, and happily treat ourselves to the excellent seafood available in the Hebrides, for example. However, where savings can be made without compromising our holiday we are happy to make them.

We carry forward some of the values from home in relation to grocery shopping, although for the most part try to buy locally (ie on the island) rather than taking stuff with us - this applies also when we head off for weekends camping - the damage done to the local economy in many tourist-spots by people arriving laden down with all the food and drink their family will require for their stay is horrific. Local shops that should be thriving aren't, as the "townies" shop from their personal supplies in their cars all weekend! There are some exceptions - things we know we either can't get, or which will attract a really high premium up there. Other than those few items though, we have a list, and our first job having unpacked the car at the cottage is to go and do the shopping. As at home, we buy unbranded or basic brand goods, and look for reduced stuff as much as possible too - we have the use of a freezer so if for example we are passing the Co-op and they have bread at 10p a loaf, we buy a couple and then get them out half a loaf at a time, as we need it. The same applies to veggies - often the evening meal will revolve around what was cheap that day, and with the Co-op's policy up there of "price to sell" there are often great bargains to be had. (It's impractical to remove unsold food from the islands due to the cost of carrying it away - so price to sell is the policy operated throughout the islands).
A strong priority when we're in the Hebrides is tea and cake, and plenty of both! However, the cost of tea and cake on a daily basis would soon mount up, even for a fortnight, so some days we take out a flask of boiling water, some tea bags and milk, and maybe some cake we've found on the reduced counter, and create our own tea-and-cake emporium in the car, or on the beach, or at a handily placed picnic bench....all the tastier for being able to hand-pick the view!

One massive expenditure for those living on Islands is vehicle fuel. As a rough guideline, whatever the cost of diesel down here in the South East, you can add on another couple of pennies by the time you reach Skye, and by the time you make it out to the Outer Isles that has escalated to a shocking additional TEN PENCE per litre! Bear in mind that this is allowing for the 5p per litre reduction in fuel duty for the Scottish Islands recently brought in by parliament, and you can begin to see what the scale of the problem has been. Most Islanders if travelling to the Mainland at all will drive their car onto the ferry running on little more than fumes, and will then top the tank up as much as they can before travelling back, but for those without a mainland trip planned, who are tied to using their cars due to the limited public transport options, the cost of just getting about ones day to day business can be a major factor in the monthly budget. The rules of driving economically hold just as true when we are away then, as they do at home, and we try not to carry more stuff in the car with us than we actually need for our day out, too. Bits of shopping that are needed are planned to get as we are passing the shop anyway, as even the local shop to where we stay requires a 10 mile round trip! Getting to the pub and back is a 30 mile round trip, but oddly we don't tend to economise so much on that!


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