Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Arbroath part one

Louise and Colins fabulous house that's our home for three weeks

Yep, we've done it again, fallen firmly on our feet, the house is spacious and airy, though slightly confusing with one bedroom downstairs with the movie room, utility, kitchen and dining room, plus one and a half bathrooms. Upstairs are two further bedrooms, the living room and two more bathrooms. I think it's lovely, B keeps losing the kitchen!

The open plan first floor living room with views over open fields
Angus with Jackie and Letham Grange in the distance
The animals are fabulous, as sensibly suggested by Louise we were home before Angus was dropped off, and it was as easy as that. He obviously missed the family as he laid by the front door, but was that because the tile is cool? He is now Brian's little shadow and seems much more accepting that we are ok.

Saturday we kept promising him long walks while we explored the golf course, sadly every time we went out it started to rain, not much just enough to make you question how far you should walk! We did a nice hour long circuit though, guided by Angus, he seemed to know the route. Out again later for a smaller circuit, helping us get our bearings at least. Followed by ball in the garden, though he turned his nose up at the tennis ball in a thrower thing, he wanted to play with his big football. Great fun, we all love that ball!

Toby cat doesn't seem too concerned his family have gone on holiday. The temporary staff must be OK
Oscar cat looking very handsome
Bit of excitement on Saturday night as Angus started barking about 01.45, we got up to see a group of half a dozen or so with possibly a dog walking towards the drive, by the time we got downstairs they'd headed off in the other direction, fortunately, as we weren't really dressed to receive visitors! Bearing in mind we are at the end of a group of four houses in one of the secluded enclaves of houses, they must have been very lost! At least we know we have a good guard dog.

Afternoon cake on the patio
Walking on Lunan beach with Angus. Crowded isn't it!
Woke to a lovely morning on Sunday so off to Lunan bay, a beautiful beach Colin had taken us to, knowing it was going to be busy, but feeling we owed him a good walk after all the previous promising, he understands every word, obviously! Busy is all relative, so there was no problem, out along the beach, back through the dunes, he thought that was it, ha, no, through the village to the red tower and back onto the beach the other side of the river, far fewer dogs. 
A hole through the rock on the beach. No it's not a patch of snow - Ian please note!
Lots of photos of the lovely Angus (and lovely Jackie of course!)
B wanted to walk to the headland, good views the guide had said, but I was hungry and Angus really wasn't keen. As soon as we turned round though the spring came back in his step, and he wanted to play with a ball we hadn't brought! Here, fetch this bit of driftwood then, he did, a few times before deciding it just tasted too horrible! The river wasn't quite as the guide had led us to believe, so easiest way back was to take off sandals and paddle! 

Walking up to Red Castle, an old fort built to defend the coast against the Vikings
And what a lovely coast it is
Yesterday was beautifully sunny so we went climbing, B wanted to go and do a couple of Munros but my Achilles' tendons have both been giving me gyp so we've started on a regime of icing, ibuprofen and gentle stretching. Back to where we'd recce'd some short bolted climbs, I led the first, but so I jolly well should have, at a 3+ however it is very strange rock, red sandstone which is very soft so grippy but with layers of pebbles in it that look like you could just pull them out, and obviously they do come out, occasionally and they do shear in half, but not very often, and you have to trust them, as there is nothing else! 
A windswept Angus
Being wimps and everything else then being harder we set up a top rope and had an enjoyable few hours. We saw no more dolphins, but having been told by Peter from the B&B that he'd never seen any, and by the family who even on a spotting boat trip had never seen any, perhaps it was not to be surprsed at. Makes our first wildlife event that much better!We had to pop into the tourist info, and do a little shopping but should still be home before Angus, only we parked in front of the chippy, so it would have been rude not to...... It was ok though, he was pleased to see us rather than guarding the house from us! 

Angus playing with his big ball
Cycling on the old railway track to Arbroath
Today we again managed to miss his return as the planned out and back cycle took longer to initiate than expected! There are some very expensive bikes in the garage, and if anything is going to make me fall off it's that. At the back though, some older looking touring bikes, quite heavy but we were only planning on the nature trail into Arbroath, along a disused railway line, it'll be flat then, so that's ok. By the time he'd pumped up tyres and played with the gears time had passed, I still had to make do with only two of the 21 that appeared to be on offer. Oh well, it's flat, and keeping him out of mischief now as he tries giving it some TLC.

Jackie outside Letham Grange. Built in 1830 by John Hay, it is now closed and the extensive grounds converted into two 18 hole golf courses. Louise and Colins house is built in the grounds
Letham Grange West Lodge entrance
Apart from all that, we've had stunning nature watch, a red squirrel from the bedroom window, rabbits on the lawn and the fledgling buzzard taking it's first flights this morning! They have nested in the garden, and we've heard a lot of noise but only seen the odd coming and going. This morning however, I took a couple of great pictures of one outside the bedroom window, feeling very smug it explained why I'd kept B waiting for breakfast. However back upstairs to clean teeth and he's still there. Then another one flew in and then we watched him psych himself up to hop from one branch to the next before a short flight, then longer.... We must have watched for the best part of an hour, it was amazing. 

The young buzzard perched in a tree in the garden getting ready to fly
Then there were two of them....
Is that it? Nearly, the man has just been to deal with the wasps nest just outside the front door. Colin had tried to deal with it, but the rubbish powder he'd got wouldn't go directly up, so we'd agreed we'd get the council in. Lovely man, full bee keeping hat, gauntlets etc, must have been one of his easiest jobs, no nooks and crannies, there in full view. He was also good enough to squirt above the patio door where we'd seen some coming and going, so hopefully sorted that out too.

Stretching wings preparing to fly
Apart from a bit of gentle snipping of the fur balls that Oscar has and tidying up the four birds outside, one inside, two mice, what is that you are eating on the lawn Oscar? And the red squirrel...... Presents are all very well, but.......

Still stretching wings and hopping from branch to branch
And finally away...
Not the same one, but this is what it was aiming for
But his friend was still there for a while
Here's the wasp nest being attended to by the workers
And here's the council wasp killer about to spray
And then removal of the nest
This is the queen wasp with eggs protruding. It's between two and three times the size of worker wasps. I found myself feeling quite sorry for the poor creatures
A playful Oscar jumps for the camera
And a very content Toby cat
While Jackie fusses Oscar and snips away at some of his fur balls, Angus seems a tad jealous and sits on Jackie!

Friday, 24 June 2016

Hard work in Clochan

Our journey through Scotland so far

We packed up at the cottage and left to travel right across the country from west to east, taking a leisurely drive not in convoy. We stopped to look at viewpoints while they dashed around filling up with fuel before meeting up for lunch. It doesn't take as long to cross the country as we thought so we arrived at the appointed place at 11.30! Hmm, bit early so we drove round a bit looking for castles, one we couldn't find at all and the other the dog wasn't even allowed in the grounds, but hey, that had filled some time! Back for a much posher lunch than expected, but very nice before we headed off again, stopping in Elgin to buy wine, lots of wine! 

Out walking the dogs with Helen, Ian, Tony, Nicky and Jackie
Monty meets his match being persued by Duke the Doberman
We arrived to the usual warm welcome from Nicky and Tony, though the kettle wasn't put on "we'll be away up to Wilson's, his wife is having a charity tea and cake" so who are we to argue? Wilson is the local farmer who appears most evenings at about 21.30 just for a chat! He does lots for T&N, but equally they do lots for him too!

Wilsons house on the hill, extended beyond all recognition and designed by his architect daughter Ruth it is now huge!
At the Womens Land Army memorial, Wilsons house in the distance
Tea and cake on Wilson's decking was fabulous, we could see the sea and all sorts! It's odd to realise we are that close to the sea as we are in a little bubble while on the Steading of WORK! It's the third time we've been, the first time we all slept in the big caravan, while T&N stayed in the loft space of the garage, we missed the year when the caravan was moved into the building as the roof had been finished so it was much more sheltered! 
Tony and Nickys houses in the making. Left is a massive two story garage with caravan in front (our accommodation for the stay), then the 'L' shaped building now nearly finished and, beyond and right, the ruin of the separate house to be yet to be started. That will be another huge house. Our job was to lay the patio on the concrete slabs and pathways you can see
View from the caravan
Last year we stayed in the now smaller caravan, while H&I were in T&N's normal bed, in the utility room, well the utility, bathroom and kitchen were the only finished rooms, and they hastily constructed a bed in what will be a bedroom, only at the time was one of the rooms we were running cable though before insulating  and boarding. This year we were again in the caravan, while the others were in two boarded, but not finished bedrooms, but with the longest trek to the still only one finished bathroom! 
Wilson arrives in his JCB to position stacks of slabs and bricks and to tip out huge quantities of scalpings for hardcore
Jackie operates the whacker plate machine to flatten the scalpings
We were en-suite! I did get to see the sea last year as after a trip to 'bag the bargains' in Tesco Nicky had taken me to see the seals frolicking on the rocks in the evening sun. 'Bagging the bargains' involves hovering around the man doing the mark downs at 19.00, which along with Nicky's staff discount means the three freezers are always full, and we all eat very well. When large chickens are marked down to £1.00 and the BBQ kebabs and marinated chicken are at 50p a packet, and you get the three for two offer knocked off as well, she can almost get paid for taking things away!

Work begins on the slab laying, Tony in attendance
And progresses at a reasonable rate
Helen had been told there would be a break in tradition, so we hoped this meant we might get a day off or something? No, it meant that Ian who doesn't like heights would be allowed to stay at ground level. We were to be laying the patio.

I had hoped that as no work was to be done on Saturday we might actually get dinner at a 'sensible' time, but no, Helen won the sweepstake as it still ended up as 22.00 after several G&T's and starting on the wine. This pattern continued, as the morning starts got later so did the evening finishes, but that's what we expect.

This is Duke and Myah, Tony and Nickys two Dobermans. They look fierce - and can be - but they are really quite soft
This is a view through the caravan window of Ghengis on our bed
Sunday Wilson arrived with a bucket of scalpings to be used as a base layer for the gravel yet to be delivered, I say bucket, that's four tons in the bucket of a digger that he positioned beautifully in the right place, while I started levelling it with the whacker plate machine he positioned the crates of tiles strategically about the place with his fork lift truck. Tiles bring a loose description, they were slabs of rock 30cm X 30cm, 30cm X 60cm, 60cm X 60cm and the 'heavy ones' at 60cm X 90cm, all in the region of 2cm thick. To try and be random in size, shape and colour, as although natural they went through grey, lilac, sand, orange, green and purple, with everything in between was incredibly hard. Ian was working with the cement mixer, T&N were working together while Brian and Helen worked together with me being 'sponge lady' as the cement will stain them terribly. Slow progress was made as getting used to the weight and selection, and trying to not make them level, but have a gentle slope in all directions from the central point to encourage the water to run off was quite tricky. Didn't matter though as we ran out of sand well before daylight or energy, so a relatively early finish. The pork had gone in at about 17.00, hurrah, but no, it was still 22.00 before dinner!

Ian operating the whacker after more scalping deliveries (our car doors open trying to dry the carpet after the wet tent incident in Cannich)
Patio looking good. Jackie and Helen on grouting duty
Tony had tempted us (me) with the suggestion of Tufty, a fluffy orange cat in the van with us overnight, so he had been taken out of the cat pen, where he had been put for safe keeping, along with Smokey and Puss Puss, both 18 years old and Tripod, who unsurprisingly only has three legs (it's how Tony and Nicky met, each in the vets with a three legged cat!) out of the way of Monty dog, who isn't very good with cats! This still left Ghengis, Gummy (who only has one tooth) and Cookie (who has a back leg missing) at large. However somehow between Tufty coming out, and us going to bed Ghengis had been bundled into the van. Slightly nervous, as when they adopted Ghengis it was because the whole village was against him, they thought he stalked the children on their way home from school, we retired to bed. We wanted to make a fuss of him, but as soon as our heads hit the pillow, he went to our feet and we were asleep. I went to the loo at about 04.00 and he decided he had cat things to do so could he go out please. Brian was so upset in the morning when he woke up and Ghengis wasn't there.

Monty asleep in the car with Helen and Jackie working in the distance
Monday dawned beautiful and bright, Nicky went off to work, Brian went off with Tony in the landrover and trailer to get more sand, Helen was on chicken, duck and Guinea fowl duty and I was on cat duty. Ian? who knows but he certainly wasn't idle. Tony had a meeting with occupational health so after returning with the sand and getting everyone started, he toddled off, leaving Helen moving bricks and B, Ian and I carrying on with the slabs, proportionately progress was much better as we were old hands by now. We finished the patio and again, lack of sand prevented starting on the many paths. We did have an earlier dinner as we had decided to have a BBQ! In Scotland? Yes. We did manage to eat, in down jackets, before the midges descended, didn't expect them on the east coast! Ghengis had been in the van most of the day, having obviously worked hard on his cat things after going out, but come bedtime he was nowhere to be seen, so again, sad Brian, fortunately I woke up to his miaowing at the door to be let in at 03 something, few biscuits and settled on the bed. Happy Brian in the morning.

Ghengis on our bed in the caravan with half an eye open
We thought it had been back breaking hard work up till then, little did we know! Helen and I were on grouting duty, 'I've got a special gun, it'll be easy' Tony said. Pah, it didn't work, despite our best efforts, back to the old fashioned way, on our hands and knees, or bottoms with a little trowel and scraper! All day! Talk about aching backs. The boys didn't fare any better, having had a slight lull in the middle of the day, Tony came back on a mission, half a path to the front door, requiring a lot of level raising so  B, N, I and T set to, two wheelbarrows of cement for three slabs! Fast approaching the end of our barrow of grout I sneaked off to get the oven on, came back and washed up some of our tools before dashing off again to get the chickens in, yes two chickens, for five people (Helen doesn't eat meat), should have served 12 according to the packets! All set for a 21.00 dinner, B even in the shower when Wilson arrived, not just with a bucket, but a digger from which came about half a dozen buckets, maybe more, so 20+ tons! Dinner on the table for 21.30! I did my best!

This is how light it is at nearly 10:00pm. The sun is still shining
Earlier to bed for us, again, lightweights! This time picking up Ghengis en route to the caravan, there he was, appeared from nowhere and trotted straight in!

We were meant to have another day working hard, but due to one thing and another we had to head off to Arbroath to meet the family and animals at our next Housesit a day early. Sad as we were to leave the gang, the fun, food, wine and laughter we are not sure either of us could have done another full day. But could the others? Not so sure, Helen has sent a picture of them in a pub garden in Lossiemouth! Time off for good behaviour?

Baby robins in a nest outside the guesthouse in Arbroath
After a lovely drive we arrived at our next beautiful Housesit to meet Colin who introduced us to Angus the rough collie and Toby the rescue cat (who has just managed to change 'introduced' to nitty, while trying to sit on my lap as I type!) Oscar the Maine coone was unavailable for introductions as he was out doing cat things. Colin then took us round many of the local walks, beaches, parks etc, for when we are  walking Angus. I say when as for two of the three weeks we are here, he is in doggy daycare. We then went to check in to our luxurious 4.5 diamond B&B, as although it is a big house, with all the family in residence there is no spare room, so they were putting us up for two nights elsewhere, spoilt or what?

Dolphins in the sea at Arbroath
We returned to meet the rest of the family and go out to dinner, so after a very nice Chinese meal and lots of chat it all felt much more 'normal' though very strange that we will not actually meet face to face again as they don't get home till early evening so we will have had to head off before that.

With a day to ourselves we had a leisurely breakfast at the B&B, me enjoying my first Arbroath Smokie, a whole haddock lightly smoked and absolutely delicious, I had another one this morning! The plan was to write the blog, but it was such a beautiful day we had to go out, so we headed off to the coastal path from Victoria park, one of the dog walking areas but also the home to some bolted rock climbs, so just doing a little recce for the future. Setting off up the path we met two Americans saying if we hurried, we'd see the dolphins, I need no more encouragement than that, so dashed off and sure enough we did. Lovely walk/recce before returning to the B&B to do our homework, just got started on the lawn with tea and cake when the lovely Peter came to join us. A most interesting and slightly off the wall guy we passed a lovely afternoon. Blog only half written, we adjourned for the salad we'd bought for dinner, while Peter set up the home cinema for our viewing delectation. Said we were spoilt!

Afternoon tea and cake at the lovely Willowbank House B&B in Arbroath
The clifftop coastal walk in Arbroath
Up this morning, did a food shop, and came to the house where both cats were in residence, hurrah. Angus has just been delivered from daycare, and so starts what we hope will be a fab three weeks.

We have done something we've not done before, 'simul blogging ' while I've been writing this, B has been writing about the week in Gairloch with Helen, Ian and Monty dog, so scroll backwards as there are actually two blogs to read.

Scrambling down to look at some of the climbs
Theres climbing bolts up those cliffs! Can you see two young seagulls on the left of the depression just right of centre?
Here's a close up of them. Not yet ready to fly, but not far off
A bay full of nesting seagulls...
Heres a close up of them on their little perches
Not sure Jackie realised how close to a big drop she was
Jackie standing on top of Needle E arch
A low flying plane over the promenade at Arbroath