Friday 31 May 2013

2 Walks, 5 Chapels & a view...


On Tuesday we headed South down to South Uist. We’d spotted one of the local papers had a route for a “wildlife walk” down at Howmore – and as this was somewhere we’d intended to visit in any case, we decided we’d combine the two things. The walk was another that combined Machair and beach to good effect – and with the sun shining brightly it was definitely a good day for it. We were pleased to see a Corn Bunting part way round, also a Great Yellow Bumblebee – both things you are unlikely to see in many other places, but that seem to absolutely thrive here! In part this is due to the low-intensity farming that’s used here on the Machair – with very few pesticides being brought into play, and the fertilisers that are used being natural ones.

Having completed the walk we wandered along the road a little way to investigate something else that Howmore is well known for – an area of five chapels, all now fallen into disrepair, but considered of national importance nonetheless.



Naturally being Uist there are no fences, ticket booths, or officious little men in hi-vis jackets, you simply wander around, and treat the place with the respect it deserves. Some of these remains date back to the 12th century so it would be a crying shame if they were damaged now. They serve as home for an astonishing range of different lichens, mosses and other plants – and as all gardeners will know Dandelions are happy to grow anywhere…



The reason that so much is left is the superb stonework – just look at the arch over this window…


After that we called in at the excellent café in Lochboisdale for lunch, before heading even further South, to South Glendale, just this side of the causeway across to the pretty little Island of Eriskay. As so often happens we spotted a hill that looked like a short climb would give a good view, so we started up, getting distracted occasionally by some interesting looking flowers…



…no, I have absolutely no idea what they are – sorry! Also as so often happens when we got to what we thought was the top of the hill, along comes a higher bit, so we have to climb to that instead. That happened twice this time – pesky hills! It was worth it when we finally got to the top though and saw this view…


…see, told you it was worth the climb!

Robyn

The Golden Hour...


One of the things that I love about the islands, from a photography point of view, is the fantastic light here. At this time of year that is further helped along by the length of the days – there’s still some daylight at 11pm so it’s possible to make the most of that wonderful evening light without having to mess up your entire evening!  We were heading home a little later than planned on Tuesday evening. Having done one walk in the morning, we then got distracted by a hill in the afternoon right down in the bottom of South Uist. Thankfully our time is our own so it didn’t matter a bit that it was nearly 8pm by the time we got back to the car, but it did mean a change of plans for dinner, and that, in turn, meant that we were heading back up towards the cottage just as the sun was making its way down. The light was getting richer and richer as we were driving along, and my thoughts inevitably turned to possible spots to get some nice shots…


…You might remember that I got a very similar shot to this one a few years ago shortly after dawn – a totally different style of photo as the colours in that were all cool blues and greys. This was taken from the middle of the causeway across Loch Bee, a massive body of water mid-way up South Uist, which is home to huge numbers of Swans. A couple of parking areas have been created off the road, mainly I suspect to stop people just stopping ON the causeway! Crossing over to the other side this shot presented itself…


…again showing off the richness of that light. You can just see the swans in the background of that shot too – all those little white marks? Mute Swans!
Robyn

Wednesday 29 May 2013

Join us for a walk...


One of the first walks we usually do on arrival back here each trip is our favourite circuit around the RSPB Reserve at Balranald, over on the west coast of North Uist.  After some light rain early on Monday developed into a lovely bright sunny day, albeit with a stiff wind, and as this is perfect conditions for the walk, off we went! The waymarkers start off by leading you along a track across the machair – the fertile sandy soil that backs onto the beaches that run most of the way down the west coast. You can see the high content of the silvery shell-sand just by looking at the colour of it…



The walk hugs the coastline – initially the white sandy beach, and then, as you continue, you come across a far more rocky, rugged area – which can be spectacular in wilder weather, and this time was no exception…


It’s a bit of a haven for anyone who likes rockpooling,  look…


Although this looks completely inhospitable, it supports a mass of wildlife – Arctic Terns nest quite happily here – there were lots of those about – with so few natural predators ground nesting birds are mostly pretty safe here, Oystercatchers and Lapwings are also nesting not far from where those shots were taken.   Also a good range of flowers – here you can see great drifts of Thrift just coming into flower…


It’s not just the wildlife having fun either – some folk before us had been indulging a passion for rock-balancing by the look of it…



You don’t have to tramp much further before you come back into sight of the visitors centre and the nearby crofting township of Hougharry…


 Of all the Hebridean Reserves Balranald has the best facilities by miles – the visitors centre has toilets and now that a small campsite has opened nearby there is even a van selling tea, coffee, sandwiches and home baking during the summer season – very welcome at the end of a walk! Before that though there is a last stretch of beautiful sandy beach to be walked along – sometimes you can pick up little tiny pink shells here – I think they’re like baby conch shells – we didn’t find any this time but we’ll keep going back and looking!



Robyn

Tuesday 28 May 2013

Not a Sheep...



You might remember that one night last year we came back to the cottage to find a sheep in our garden. Slightly odd one, that. Last night however we arrived back to find several Red Deer in our garden instead. When we first started staying out here at Sidinish, the deer used to come about half way along the road, but we rarely saw them further down than that. Over the last few years they have been advancing further and further along, and on this visit so far we’ve seen them every day, and relatively close too. On the first evening they were on the hillside just opposite, and yesterday morning they were in next door’s garden, munching happily on their (it must be said rather well manicured) lawn.  You have to be very aware of them when you’re driving about at dawn & dusk – we’ve regularly seen them leap fences and run straight across roads, and they’re a good size – if one of those collided with your car you’d well and truly know it. To watch though, or to photograph, they’re beautiful animals. I suspect there’s going to be a LOT of pictures of our little local herd from this year’s trip.



You’ll notice a few spots of rain in these shots. After the torrential downpour on Saturday morning we’ve seen relatively little rain since – although the winds have been quite strong, as in, strong enough that we struggled walking against it yesterday.  You get quite used to that up here though – the 45mph gusts we’ve had over the last 36 hours are considered to be just a “bit breezy” and not really worthy of much comment. It often surprises folk who realise we are visitors how much we take the weather for granted – they‘re used to rather more of a fuss being made of the sort of conditions that they simply take in their stride!

Robyn

Monday 27 May 2013

First day, first beach...


As usual our first “proper” day over here has to involve a beach (it’s the rules) so in spite of a rather overcast and blustery day off we went to Culla Bay on Benbecula. This was chosen for several reasons – but mainly that it’s not too far away from the Co-op where we wanted to call in for some additional food shopping that we were unable to get yesterday due to space in the car being somewhat limited before we’d unloaded all our possessions from it.
Here you go – this was the beach…



…As you can see, a bit grey, although it did brighten up the longer we were there. It’s a fantastic curving bay, one of the most sheltered anywhere on the Islands, so ideal for a blowy, chilly day like today, and walking into the wind on the way out was certainly bracing! The birds were undaunted though and we saw Dunlin, Turnstones, Sanderling and Ringed Plover as well as the usual to be expected Gulls. No shots of any of those though as with the wind that was blowing the sand about there was no chance I was going to be changing camera lenses! Instead I concentrated on some of the detail we came across…



…Limpets minding their own business on a rock.



Seaweed has been used traditionally by the crofters up here as a fertiliser – they collect it up, allow it to rot well, and then spread it on the fields on the machair to enrich the sandy soil and make it viable for growing – and having eaten food grown on it I can assure you it REALLY works! When it’s just sitting happily on a rock though it does look rather pretty…



Of course one thing we’re all familiar with I’m sure when walking on beaches is the amount of rubbish you find – either washed up by the sea or carelessly discarded by someone who was there before you. Thankfully the beaches up here are mostly pretty clean and tidy, with the majority of the rubbish you find having been washed up. Some of it is even quite eyecatching and colourful…



See? No wonder I couldn’t resist taking a shot of that!

Robyn

Sunday 26 May 2013

Hellooooooooo!


So, after a remarkably smooth journey – here we are cosily installed at The Moorings, North Uist once again! From Google maps being completely accurate as to the timings of my initial drive from home to Doncaster on Thursday (Just under 3 hours, in case you were wondering) to the fact that the much-talked-about (mainly by MrEH) roadworks on the A74(M) came to absolutely nothing – not so much as a lurking traffic cone – we were taken by surprise just how “to plan” the trip up went. We were at Mallaig on Friday in time for the ferry before the one we were actually booked on, and the nice CalMac chaps happily changed our booking so we trundled cheerfully off the boat in Skye just before 1pm after a gorgeous crossing – look….



As we had 4 hours to kill before needing to be at the Port at Uig ready for our second ferry, we decided to drive out of a road we’d not been on before, around the west side of the Island, and we rewarded with some fabulous views…



We got to Uig in plenty of time – plenty of time in fact to visit the Brewery to buy beer, and to have tea and cake in a new (to us, anyway) café before wandering back across to the car to wait for the ferry. By ten minutes before departure time, there was no sign of her and everyone was getting a bit twitchy….eventually 25 minutes later we saw this welcome sight…

Phew!  Another lovely ferry crossing followed – not quite as warm as last year (shorts and t-shirts weather you might remember) but wonderfully sunny nonetheless, and with the added bonus of seeing some marine wildlife…



…A Dolphin we think, although there were also what we believe to be Pilot whales about – amazing to see them, and quite close to the boat several times, too! 

Robyn

Friday 24 May 2013

Frugal Friday...

One of our many savings piggies & pots...

We've just made another small lump sum over payment to our mortgage - hurrah! This was once again "unexpected money" saved up over a few months so we really didn't notice the going of it, it's not a massive amount but will make a nice little difference to our mortgage, and will be of far more value to us being paid there than sitting in a savings account earning not-very-much interest at all!

One thing that people tend to forget is that financial products need looking after, and regular maintenance. I'm not talking just about feeding a savings account - although of course if you have excess income and the luxury of saving a good lump of it each month, that's great. HRH The Cat's insurance was due for renewal last week. I'd had a good look around, been through a couple of comparison sites (including managing to get a small chunk of cashback from one just for getting the quotes) and finally had rung the current provider to inform them that I wasn't too impressed at them increasing the premium by 20%! Because she's getting older we know that costs will increase over time but I certainly don't see that as a good excuse for Insurance Companies to be trying it on! Sure enough in the course of the phone call they dropped the premium right down to just 6p more than we were paying last year, too, which we were happy with. I even called from a freephone number so the call didn't cost a penny!

Another financial product worth keeping a close eye on is savings - particularly ISA's. Assuming you're a UK taxpayer you should have one of these - if you're nervous about locking money away then go for an easy access one and it's the same as any other savings account, except that you don't get taxed on the interest earned by the contents. In my book this is a bit of a no-brainer. You go out to work, earn money, and get taxed on your earnings. If you manage to save a bit, and earn interest, you get taxed again on that interest - I mean, the cheek of it! we have no intention of paying any more tax than we have to - we both pay what's due without quibble, but when it comes to paying more where we don't need to - no thanks, ISA's all the way! We just have the one ISA which we transfer about from year to year depending on who wants to give us the best interest rate. You can open a new one each year with a new provider but that could get complicated over time, and we don't have vast millions to worry about! (Shame!) A lot of accounts start of with a special "bonus rate" of some description - our current one has a bonus rate which expires in October so I'll be on the hunt again then for something better.

This one is all mine and does precisely what it says on the...ummmm...tin! 
Another one then - life insurance! Come on, hands up, who took out life insurance when they got their mortgage and hasn't given it another thought since? Maybe your circumstances have changed, and your existing product wouldn't even cover you any more, or you're simply paying for more cover than you now need having been OP'ing your mortgage, or clearing debt? It's well worth having a dig around to see what's out there - we went from paying over £100 a month a few years ago for several different policies to paying just £40 per month for one that definitely covers us and gives us everything we would need. As life, accident and illness cover policies aren't something that you renew annually, they tend to slip through the net when people are reviewing their finances. I've got a reminder set for a year or so's time to look again at this too - maybe it will reduce still further, who knows! In the meantime, that extra saving we made was added to the regular mortgage overpayment!

Finally, with holidays very much in mind, what about travel Insurance. I have a confession to make here - we haven't renewed our travel insurance for the past two years. Now now, stop sucking in air through your teeth like that - the reason is that we have our current accounts with one of the financial institutions who offer FREE travel insurance as one of the perks of having an account with them. best of all, the account is a free one in the first place! Assuming that you don't bank with the same people as us, then travel insurance is another thing well worth not simply renewing on auto-pilot each year - if you just go on one trip a year, then single-trip cover will probably work out far better for you than an annual policy. If looking at annual multi-trip cover, or of an age when finding an insurer to cover you is getting trickier and premiums are increasing, then a packaged bank account that for a monthly fee (typically £10 or £15 a month, sometimes more) offers you a range of other products bundled in with it - perhaps mobile phone insurance, travel insurance and breakdown cover - might be worth considering. The key thing as with any insurance though is the check that the policy will actually cover you. For us for example, there's no point in buying just any old breakdown cover policy for the car as not all of them (even the big providers) cover outside mainland UK - meaning that we wouldn't be covered while we are in the Hebrides - and we can be certain that one of these trips, that's going to be an issue. Just not this time though, please!

Tuesday 21 May 2013

Hebrides Countdown 2013...

...It's getting ever so close now - we can hardy wait!  You'll know when we're actually there because blog posts will start appearing telling you so. ;-)


One of the biggest changes between going at this time of year, and our earlier trips up at Easter, is the number of wild flowers which have made their appearance by the time we arrive now. The machair is just an absolute carpet of them, the bright yellow Iris are beginning to appear, and the waterlilies are beginning to appear on the lochs too - these above being at Grimsay last year. Having spent the last few visits increasing our bird-knowledge, we realised last year that we were going to need to start working on our plant-and-flower knowledge, too! over time we'd like to visit at all manner of times of year - we've already done early and late spring of course, and mid-summer has yet more stunning flowers and plants too. Autumn is meant to be the time of the biggest seas and most impressive waves...but at the moment we're struggling to think of many reasons for winter to recommend itself!

Robyn

Monday 20 May 2013

In The Garden...

MrEH was pottering about outside today while I was cooking up a big pan of curry, when he suddenly called me to come outside, he had something to show me...when I got out there he pointed out these to me...


Those are the Gooseberry bushes we planted last year, to replace the previous spiky hedge that the builders managed to kill when they made an appalling job of the major works on the flats a few years ago. The spiky hedge was useful because being on the ground floor, it's helpful to have a physical barrier in front of our windows, so we wanted to replace it, but with something both spiky AND edible - Gooseberries seemed to fit the bill perfectly! We're extremely impressed that they are looking like giving us fruit this year though - clearly they are happy little Gooseberry bushes!

Also going brilliantly, and just in front of the Gooseberries....


...tatties! We've got that row there, a hessian sack planted up with a few more, and another row, somewhere else, which could best be described as "Guerrilla gardening" as technically we probably shouldn't actually be growing stuff there. Oh well. they're growing anyway so presumably they don't have an issue with being potato-shaped squatters.

Now this next shot shows a bit of an unexpected triumph...look...

 ...what you see there is the currant bush that we planted about 6 years ago. It was so long ago that we've actually forgotten what sort it is - we think it might be a Whitecurrant, but as until now it's never fruited, we can't be certain of this. Until last year it barely even got around to growing leaves - then suddenly, in the middle of last year, it doubled in height and started looking distinctly perky and interested in life. A month ago flowers appeared, and now it's actually forming fruit.We are ludicrously excited about this!

Finally, a rather shorter-term project. The salad leaves....


...these were only sown last week, and are already coming on nicely. Added to that there are signs of life in the bits in the mini-greenhouse. We don't actually know what is showing though as we never quite got around to labelling anything. (You'd think we'd learn? Thankfully it's not actually that important as everything we sowed is stuff we like to eat!)

So there you go - you can quite literally say that everything in the garden is indeed lovely!

Robyn

Sunday 19 May 2013

"But it's not a proper camera...is it?!"

You might remember I treated myself to an upgrade on my phone a few months ago - going from the iPhone 3GS to the 4S. I use the phone a fair amount, saved every penny of the cost before I bought, and shopped around carefully before buying, and I love the new one every bit as much as the old one!

Traditionally one thing I've never used much on my mobile is the camera - I've used it for quick "grab shots" but nothing much more, as in comparison with the other gear I've got, the quality has always disappointed me. The old 3GS camera wasn't bad - it always did a great job of exposure  and never suffered from camera-shake (something which seems to let down a lot of on-board cameras in mobiles) but once I got the pictures onto the computer and started playing, there was always something lacking slightly, which frustrated me.  I've been pleasantly surprised with the 4S though - the results so far have been brilliantly sharp and crisp, and it deals with colours superbly - something else which I always found slightly "off" with the old one. As a result I thought I'd sing its praises with a blog post - the pictures here are ALL taken with the 4S camera.

I've been walking after work again - it makes sense as I have time to kill while waiting to collect MrEH, and when the weather is good it's hard to beat a head-clearing walk after a long day. The gorse is out everywhere at the lake I walk round some days - looking absolutely stunning...


...and this is a wider view of the lake and surroundings - not bad for London eh?


Closer to home - remember those ridiculously cheap plants we bought this time last year? They made our balconies (front and back) look absolutely stunning right through the spring, summer, and most of autumn, but they've not finished yet as these gorgeous violas reappeared a while ago and are flowering beautifully!


...and just to prove that the iPhone's camera can handle contrast as well as colour - this bush with its beautiful delicate flowers is just along the road from us - gorgeous aren't they!


Finding myself at St Pancras with some time to kill last week, naturally I popped upstairs to say hello to Mr B....


...now if it can handle the amount of detail in that scene it can handle anything!  It's no slouch at close up stuff either - one of the pots on the balcony has gained itself a fine collection of mosses and I thought I'd see if I could get a decent photo of some of it...


Not bad, eh? (To give you some idea of perspective, the pot is about 7" inches across).

I have certainly been using the compact camera less since getting the new phone - for anything that requires zoom I'll still continue to use it for sure - that's one thing that the iPhone camera really can't cope with (unsurprisingly considering it's digital, rather than optical, zoom) but for standard shots like those above, the phone will be seeing a lot of activity, I suspect!

Robyn


Friday 17 May 2013

Frugal Friday

We're all familiar I'm sure with the sort of frugal blog that tells you that you should always buy the dirt-cheapest of everything, not "waste money" on good quality meat, and never treat yourself to a thing. For some folk this penny-pinching approach might well work, but for us, there are things that we are more than happy to spend our money on, so this week I thought I'd turn the Friday Frugality on its head, and talk about some of the things that we ARE happy to spend money on.



Food -well obviously you need to eat, but the recent finding of horsemeat in all manner of supermarket products really underlined for me the importance of knowing where your food originates from. Almost without question, the affected items were from the lower end of the market, or in "ready meals", which really brings home the benefit of cooking from scratch! We're quite happy to spend a bit more on the meat we buy, although we also eat far less meat now, than we used to. Meat comes from the farmer's market, or our nice local butchers which opened a few months ago, and very occasionally comes from the supermarket in the form of good quality sausages or bacon. We have also just bought another whole lamb for the freezer - we did this before you might remember, I blogged about it -for us with our two freezers, this is a great and economical way of buying some really good meat, and we will get our money's worth out of every single last scrap! I don't buy pre-prepared, veggies come either fresh or frozen for the most part - unless they are bean-shaped, in which case in tins or dried, and the only foodstuff I buy on a regular basis which says "just add water" is those handy little "Stockpot" blobs. Actually, that's are a good point - branded goods. We don't buy many things in a specific brand - instant coffee is an exception, Nescafe all the way for MrEH and yes, he has tried other makes/own label etc, and he could tell the difference, and he didn't like it much. If we were on the breadline, struggling from one week to the next just to put food on the table, then he would economise happily enough, but that is not the situation for us thankfully, so there is no point in making the small detail of day to day life miserable. See also "cheap toilet paper" - not going there, either! (We pay under 30p a roll, and as we only use just over 1 roll a week, that's not something we feel the need to scrimp and save on, either!). Other branded items include Baked Beans (Branston are delicious, and when on offer, are cheaper than supermarket own brand and nicer than value ranges), Marmite (no comparison), washing up liquid (with our hard water it's those Mild Green liquid fairies all the way) and crisps. Often shopping carefully means you can buy branded as cheaply as own-label or even Value - the Branston beans I bought last week were 32p a tin - and the comparative Value ones were on the shelf at 29p - I'm very happy with an extra 3p!

Car maintenance - definitely not one to be scrimped on this. MrEH's car is now 10 years or 170,000 miles old - we've had her for 3.5 of those years. Mine is 5.5 years old with 80k on the clock. Both will most likely continue until they start costing too much money to run and will then be replaced. We use a good, reliable and trustworthy local garage. They may not be the cheapest but we know their workmanship is excellent. For tyres we use a local independent workshop - again, we could get cheaper online but we know the other chaps, they'll squeeze you in if you're stuck and even stayed late on a Friday for me once to sort a tyre on the Clio. Puncture repairs are free for regular customers on tyres bought from them
.

The Holiday of course - not cheap. 2500 miles worth of diesel, at least three ferries, two weeks accommodation, more meals out than we eat for the whole of the rest of the year...but two weeks of enjoying one another's company, with perfect peace and quiet, in an environment we love? Priceless! MrEH's job can be incredibly stressful - his department is desperately overworked and this has an inevitable effect in him, so we feel that those two weeks are extremely important - yes we could spend them at home but this would almost certainly lead to him getting calls from the office - by going away he gets left alone for enough time to recharge his batteries! Being frugal is great for the finances of course but it's important to pay attention to your mental health also.

Fun - yes we do go off for weekends, for days out, and out with friends, and yes those things cost money. I'm quite certain that there are bloggers out there who would scathingly tell me that I'm "wasting" that money, that we should only do things that are free, or can be done on the cheap, but do you know what, I beg to differ. Not everyone chooses to live as we do, other people have different lifestyles and ways of doing things, but just because of that doesn't mean they are not our friends, or that we don't want to spend time with them. Imposing your lifestyle on others is unfair and unreasonable in our view - and we compromise by using the tent, by staying in Travelodges and by using discount vouchers. Our social life is worth every penny of the money we spend on it, and it shouldn't be forgotten that if all goes to plan we will still be rid of our mortgage 10 years earlier than planned. Thankfully we've never been in the position of running up huge debts, we don't have expensive tastes and certainly wouldn't borrow money to finance those tastes we DO have!

What do you happily spend on because you think it's worth it? Are there branded foods that you think can't be beaten, or have you found anything that is unbeatable within the budget ranges?

Robyn





Thursday 16 May 2013

Champions!

After a long tough season our rugby boys made it to their Cup Final, held at the St Neots Festival of rugby on April 27th. Their route there was far from clear - rather than playing with the other teams in their league, instead they and close rivals Renegades were both seeded into the competition for the league above, putting them up against some seriously strong competition!

Having beaten Saffron Walden in the first round, the 'semi-final' saw a draw against Renegades - a team who had already been beaten reasonably convincingly in the league and the boys were happy to be able to see them off again after a good match.


We took strong support up to St Neots - one thing that other teams always comment on with us is the numbers we have on the sidelines - wives, girlfriends and Mums plus spare and injured players - there's invariably plenty of us, and we're noisy too! At home matches our 4th team boys always have far more folk watching than the first team do! Arriving at an away match to find that there is a mini beer-festival happening at the same time is always good too, and those of us not playing got stuck-in to the ales on offer pretty fast! (Limited in my case by the fact that MrEH had already persuaded me to drive home - crafty boy that he is!)


Our opposition - Bury St Edmund's second team (their first team are semi-professional!) had gone through the season strongly - winning all their league matches (including one with the slightly astonishing scoreline of 133-0!) and several times putting 100 points past their opponents! In their League matches they had conceded just 44 points all year - a phenomenal record, and one which meant we were far from disgraced by our 84 -24 loss. The boys played extremely well, and by their own admission Bury were taken by surprise by how hard a match we gave them.


The fun and games wasn't over at the end of the match either - as we had the presentation for the league trophies which included our league win! Great to see Steve going up to collect our cup - although we only had JUST enough time to get photos done before having to hand it back for safekeeping! We were all delighted though - a lot of work has gone into the results that they have had this season and they thoroughly deserved their moment in the spotlight.



We're still waiting for confirmation of which league the team will be in next year. We've done a lot of travelling over the past few years - up as far as March, Ely and St Ives in Cambridgeshire, and sometimes the teams that are a distance away are reluctant to return the favour and play their match down at ours which is a bit unfair. we lost 4 home fixtures to this problem this year - and whilst we get awarded the match result (As a 15-0 win) this doesn't make up for the boys not getting a match (and in many cases we'd score more than those 15 points, too!) so a new league is being sought where we might stand a chance of more regular matches.

Robyn

Tuesday 14 May 2013

Hebrides Countdown 2013...


You might recognise the building above...I've certainly mentioned it before and we do seem to spend a fair number of evenings inside when we're in the Hebrides...yep, it's the Pub! The Westford Inn, to be exact, Good Beer Guide listed, purveyor of fine ales and excellent food, and owned and run by our lovely friends Elisabeth & Alastair. They've put a lot of time and effort into renovating and upgrading the building over the last few years...


...there you go - you can see the new panelling to the ceiling, walls and bar, and the far lighter, brighter paint job than the place used to have. The two gas-lamps over the bar are original, and the beautiful wood-burner is just to the left and slightly behind where I was standing to take this photo (note MrEH posing with his pint glass, and Elisabeth trying to pretend that she really wasn't there at all, behind the bar!). Every year when we arrive one of the first things is our "guided tour" to see what they have managed to get completed over the previous winter!

We had been going to Uist for several years, regularly driving past the large imposing looking building you see at the top and mentioning how unusual it was (from head-on, it looks exactly as a small child draws a house, pointy roof with chimney atop and all!) and it wasn't until we can across a copy of the Highlands & Western Isles CAMRA branches magazine that we realised that we had been driving past a pub all that time! It's far easier to spot at the time of year we go now though - you wouldn't find it easy to miss this sign...





Monday 13 May 2013

Simplify It 2013...

Well April's challenge for this "Attack the Unexpected Places" fell a bit flat - and instead our focus has largely  been on decluttering the freezers ready for our upcoming purchase of a whole lamb. We've done remarkably well on that front - at the time of writing Freezer 2 has been emptied and defrosted, and freezer 1 has been run down to about half full - the lamb arrives imminently! We started by working through the freezers and picking out things which needed using up sooner rather than later - the bag of leaf spinach which had been in there for ages - the texture's not great as a straight vegetable, frankly, so it had got left. A last piece of the fish bought yellow stickered a while back - abandoned due to not having enough other stuff to go with it to make a fish pie. A third of a bag of frozen prawns, and a very cheap pack of Pitta breads were among the finds. The spinach has been dealt with simply by adding it to other meals - so a beef curry - throw in some spinach. The fish pie that I did eventually cook to use up the fish and the prawns - yep, that had some spinach thrown in and a couple of hard boiled eggs quartered up too, to bulk it out still further. I made the sauce for that using a fish stock-pot stirred in as I added the milk too - to give a more fishy flavour allowing for the shortage of marine-dweller actually contained in it! The Pittas got used up for lunches - saving us money on making bread or rolls. Working to a meal plan has really helped as it's meant we've targetted the things that needed using first.


So, the question is, what next? Do I revisit clearing out places like the airing cupboard, storecupboard etc for my May challenge? Well, no - with our holiday rapidly looming, I'm going to make May's challenge mainly centred around that. So I will:

Toiletries - sort out as many sachets, samples and mini-bottles as I can to take and use up while we're away.
Clothes/packing - get everything which I intend to take with me sorted out and separated from the rest of my clothes to avoid those last minute "It's not clean!" panics
Memory cards - Clear down 2 memory cards of shots well in advance - I use my cards as backup so "good" shots remain on there, as well as being downloaded to the computer and (eventually) backed up to external drives.
Repair - anything that needs it - my Camera Bag could do with a couple of stitches - thanks to British Airways, and my older waterproof coat also needs a bit of velcro reattached and a pocket sewn up...I bet MrEH has socks that need darning, too!
Finances - Check through our holiday budget and ensure that enough money is available to cover what's needed
- Arrange to get our bagged change paid in to the building society then transferred to the Holiday account
- Avoid spending anything unnecessary between May 1st, and when we go (We've already started this one!)
Prepare - once I have got my Broadband Dongle back from the friend who borrowed it, I'll get credit loaded onto it ready to use while we're away for updating this 'ere blog
- work on one room at a time around EH Towers to get the place marvellously clean and tidy ready for both the cat-sitter (Well you don't think HRH roughs it in the cattery, do you now?!) AND for it to be a pleasure to come back to at the end of the holiday.