Settling in to routines…. .

Ok, so we felt we needed a break from vanlife to remain in one place for a while.  But what are we going to do during our static four months with so much time on our hands?  Certainly this lifestyle we have has given us the luxury of time.  Time to do as we please, live our life on our own terms and pick and choose what we want to do and what we don’t want to do.  I can’t deny it’s a super luxurious position to be in and it’s one we try not to take for granted.  Having so much time though also throws up a few challenges.  At least for me.  Tim is a much more laid back, live in the moment, don’t analyse it kind of person.  Me?  I can analyse something to the nth degree and then some!

I’m not talking about boredom here.  I’ve never been bored on our travels.  Yes, there have been times where I’ve felt flat, frustrated or cooped up during prolonged periods of rain but I wouldn’t say I’ve been bored.  I’ll always find something to do.  Pottering. It’s one of my favourite things to do but I’m not yet quite of an age where pottering about ALL day is fulfilling enough.  Maybe in a year or two;)  For me, the amount of time we have on our hands is more a question of purpose.  Throughout our travels I’ve always been plagued by the ‘P’ word.  Or maybe there’s a bit of guilt thrown in there too.  Drifting around from place to place with no end game in mind can, for me, feel a bit like I have no purpose.  I think I’m just the kind of person that needs a bit of structure and a ‘why’.  It was one of the reasons we had decided that as part of our travels we would do some volunteering.  We viewed it as a chance to meet new people, learn new skills, experience different lifestyles and ideas and generally make a difference to someone.  It was also a chance to have a focus for a while.

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Painting the railings of the village War Memorial whilst on a Helpx in France in 2016.

It can be difficult to have a focus when you’re moving from place to place for an extended period of time.  It can also be difficult to justify what we are doing.  Lots of people nowadays take a midlife gap year which is totally understandable. Take a year or so out, explore, recharge and then pick up from where you left off.  People can understand that.  But take off with no idea of how long you’ll be gone for or if you’ll ever go back to a conventional life is a bit harder for people to take in.  If we meet people and get into a discussion on our current lifestyle we have occasionally had the awkward question of ‘yes, but what do you do all day’? If I’m honest it’s not an easy one to answer without sounding a bit lame.  It generally goes something like this: ‘Oh well, you know, we walk a bit, maybe go for a cycle, plan where to go next, sort out emptying and refilling the van, read, erm, go to Lidl, volunteer a bit, erm, you know, erm, stuff like that’.  You see.  Wishy washy and lame.  You can see in people’s eyes they don’t really get it and are probably thinking we’re just a bit work shy.  I think it’s partly an age thing as if we were in our late sixties or seventies I don’t think anyone would question what we do with our time.  You’ve earnt your retirement so live it large and put your feet up.  Or maybe it’s just my own perception of things.  I don’t know but it’s not always easy to justify what we do with our time and where it all goes. But it goes.  And very quickly too.  Filling the time whilst on the road in the van is pretty easy though as you’re constantly stimulated by new sights, different landscapes, a changing set of neighbours, the odd challenge and hundreds of questions going through your head about this and that.  Filling the time in one place though is a bit different.

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Where does the time go?!

So, after nearly seven hundred words I’ve still not answered what we’ll be doing during our extended time here.  Well, for Tim one of the biggest sacrifices he made when taking on this lifestyle was leaving behind the music scene where we lived.  Music IS a huge part of his life.  HUGE.  He’s had to adapt to not being able to be a part of several bands.  He hardly played at all in our first year away but in the last two or so years he’s adjusted to playing solo.  In an ideal world he’d want to be playing in several bands but playing solo has been a compromise.  Over the last three weeks he’s been busy making contacts and putting out feelers to get into something here and/or start something new.

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The compromise…. .

For me I have the donkeys!  I’m spending a few mornings a week cleaning up after them and generally enjoying some donkey time.  Mucking out wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea but I find it quite therapeutic and of course I love spending time with the donkeys.

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Sunrise over Donkey HQ after a wet night.

One of the things I wanted to do when travelling was to learn a new language or two.  I’d dabbled in French on and off since 2016, did a few months of learning German when we were in Germany and then promptly forgot it all again and ditto last year for Spanish.  Unfortunately, spending an extended period of time in a foreign country doesn’t mean to say you miraculously absorb the language.  Alas, it takes consistent time and effort.  Consistency had never been my strong point regarding languages.  Or anything else for that matter but this lifestyle has forced me into creating a few routines as I know I feel more content if I feel I have achieved something each day whether that be physical or mental.  At the beginning of this year I set myself the challenge to improve my French and I’m glad to say, even though I’m not yet where I want to be with it, I have made some mprovement.  So a consistent effort at continuing to improve the French and learning some Portuguese will be a feature of my day too.

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Time for a cup of tea and a French podcast.

Then we have some dog walking to do.  The AEZA refuge is a non-profit association taking in stray dogs and cats.  Three days a week volunteers are welcome to walk a dog or two.  Tim unwittingly gave me the idea when he said ‘I don’t think it would be a good idea for you to do the dog walking at the dog refuge’.  As a dog lover and having had four of our own dogs in the past he knows I have a weakness for them but when our last one went to the big kennel in the sky in 2013 we agreed we would have a period without the responsibility a dog brings. I’ve done pretty well in sticking to it.  It took all my resolve not to take home half a dozen strays from Greece a couple of years ago.  But, the dogs need walking and I have time on my hands so it was a fait accompli.

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I don’t normally do selfies but needs must………………Gwen enjoying her walk!

I just have to hope I don’t fall in love with one…………or two.

Até já!

We’ve said our goodbyes to Donkey HQ…. .

Ok, so the last time I updated the blog Christmas was upon us.

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Watching ‘White Christmas’ on Christmas Eve.  What can I say?  It’s a tradition for Tim!

I seem to have lost six weeks somewhere.

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Christmas Day picnic on Amoreira beach.

Where it went I couldn’t say.

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A trip to the circus at Monchique with our friends Di and Chris.

But there is no denying that it has gone.

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A very low key New Years Eve in Portimao.

Christmas and New Year are but a distant memory and we are now firmly into February.

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I’m going to do a short post today.

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One of many swims in December and January.

It has to be short.

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Tim found some new musical friends in Aljezur.

If I don’t get a post out today and breathe some life back into this blog it may well expire before my eyes.

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There’s nothing like a good roll to start the day off right.

It’s difficult to write a blog post after a gap of being incommunicado.

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Okami, Mel, Falco, Emil, Luna and Flor swapping news after a coupe of weeks apart.

My memory and attention span are limited.

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Flor and Luna returning to donkey HQ after a little holiday with a Dutch family who live in the hills nearby.

The previous weeks at Donkey HQ passed by so quickly it is hard to believe we spent eight weeks there.

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Xiquito ready to carry the packed lunches for a two hour trek.

We said a sad goodbye to our host and our charges over a week ago after experiencing many great days with them under warm sunny skies.

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Time for some relaxation on a two hour trek.

And some not so warm sunny mornings.

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It went down to below zero overnight for most of January but the days were into the twenties.

We’ve taken treks and trips.

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Kali loaded up with the recycling.

Some have worked out…………………..some haven’t!

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Tim loaded up with the recycling after Kali refused to go further than the Donkey HQ perimeter!  I think the writing was on the wall in the previous picture.

Jojo and Filipa, two young inexperienced donkeys, made a successful day trip to the beach under the guiding hooves of Xiquito.

 

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A days trek to the beach with Xiquito, Filipa and Jojo. (A training day for Filipa and Jojo who are young and have much to learn).

There really is never a dull moment when looking after them.

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Trekking through Rogil village on the way to the sea.  It took Jojo (middle one) a while to pluck up the courage to go over the pedestrian crossing – the stripes fazed him for a bit!

They all have their own personalities, friendships and foibles and it does take time to get the measure of their individual ways.

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It was a sixteen kilometre round trip.  The young ones had to cope with marauding cows, barking dogs, cars, lorries, traffic lights, bridges, a busy road and a river crossing.

It’s been a great learning experience though and I hope to be able to spend more time with donkeys in the future.

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Taking a well earned break on our days trek.

Of all the animals we have looked after on our travels (cats, dogs, sheep, alpacas, pigs, cows) donkeys are definitely my firm favourite.

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The donkeys relaxed whilst we went down onto the beach.

It’s not all been donkeys though.

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Vale dos Homens beach.

We hired a car for three weeks and made the most of the beaches on the wild Atlantic coast.

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The coast at Carrepeteira.

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We captured the lunar eclipse at the beach at four o’clock in the morning.

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The total lunar eclipse seen from the Atlantic coast of Portugal on 21st January 2019.

And then it was time to get back on the road.

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Praia da Marinha beach.

Tim spent the last week or so back at Mikki’s campsite on the Algarve whilst I made a fleeting visit back to the UK to see my parents.

But tomorrow it’s time for pastures new.

We will miss Portugal.

But Spain awaits.

Até qualquer dia!

 

Week three with the donkeeees…. .

Time is running away with us here at Donkey HQ.  I can’t quite believe it’s been three weeks since we arrived.  It feels like only yesterday. And Christmas is now upon us.

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This way to the donkeys……..

We’ve had another action packed week.  Well, as action packed as it gets for us!

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Mel and Mina…….I think!

Music has featured again with a trip last weekend to see a saxophone player at Moagems, a funky café in Aljezur.

P1140795 (1).JPGWe were left home alone with Kerstin, our roomie and fellow volunteer, to look after the donkeys whilst Sophia took a road trip with a friend for a week accompanied by two of her long eared companions, Kiko and Xico.

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Xico gets loaded up for his roadtrip.

We waved them off but met them the following day to hand over Florin, Sofia’s dog.

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Sofia,Carla, Xixo and Kiko ready for the off.

Florin loves to trek with the donkeys but he couldn’t stay at their planned overnight accommodation for the first night.  He really wasn’t impressed he’d been left behind and had to be put inside for the afternoon lest he followed in the donkey’s hoof steps.

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Florin not impessed he can’t go too.

We took a quick side trip to Odeceixe beach for a spot of yoga and a swim before meeting up with the donkeys.

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Odeceixe beach.
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Beach yoga.

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Florin joins day 2 of the trek.

Meanwhile back at the ranch I tried my hand at some clay modelling on Mimi’s legs.  Mimi is a natural victim.  The other donkeys don’t like her and can be mean to her, the dog sometimes snaps at her legs and even the wasps and flies have a good old go at her legs causing open sores.  To combat this she has clay slathered over her lower legs to try to stop the flies getting at them.

P1140842.JPGIt seems to do the trick.

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Tada……….the latest in donkey fashion.

Even though Mimi seems to be a natural victim in the animal world she most certainly isn’t when it comes to people.  You have to watch her.  Give her an inch and she’ll take a mile.  And she can move when she wants to.  Despite the ungainly look of her she’s quick and you do have to keep one step ahead of her.  She’s so friendly and cheeky that you can’t help but love her though.  We’ve taken her for a walk a few times and once she’s stopped looking for Romano and gets into her stride she’s a pleasure to take out.

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Jeko and Mimi……….don’t be fooled they’re not friends.  

Meanwhile away from donkey care we’ve discovered the woodburner has space in the top to cook a few baked potatoes.

P1140850.JPGIt’s a real treat having a woodburner here and we love our evenings by the fire.  All the other rooms are freezing mind!

Kerstin flew back to Germany to spend Christmas with her family so we couldn’t let her go without cooking a traditional English meal for her.  Toad in the hole, mash and onion gravy washed down with a bottle of Prosecco. Pastel de natas followed accompanied by homemade Medronho schnapps.  Perfecto!

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Kerstin’s last evening before flying back to zero degrees in Berlin!

Christmas is much more low key here than in the UK but there are signs around the town that it is alive and well.

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All made out of recycled materials.
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More music at Moagems.  It was billed as Fado with a difference.  Absolutely brilliant it was too.

It must be Christmas.  We had a surprise present tied to our front door earlier by our friends who are staying at the campsite outside Aljezur.  Thanks Di and Chris 🙂 Proper job!

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Ingenious wrapping paper.

Tim is playing some Christmas music on his clarinet in the room next door whilst I write this.  So, I guess it’s time then for a bit of mulled wine and to say thank you to all of you who read this blog.  We wish you all a very Happy Festive Season wherever you are.

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More news from Donkey HQ next week.

Saùde!

Feliz Natal e Feliz Ano Novo!

We’re back at Donkey HQ…. .

Well, our first week back here at Donkey HQ (aka burros & artes) has flown by.  We were last here two years ago and coming back we wondered if we would feel the same about the place as we had back in 2016.  We had intended then to stay for about three weeks but ended up staying eight as we enjoyed the whole experience so much.  When we arrived we left the van at the bottom of the hill and walked up to the top of the drive in the sunshine smelling that fragrant Portugal smell.  And there they all were.  The long eared ones.  How happy was I to see them all?!

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Meeting some of the donkeys again after two years away.

I’m in donkey heaven.  I can’t really explain what it is that I find so appealing about donkeys.  I love that they’re not too big.  The hang-dog expression that they so often put on.  The hee-hawing.  Those silky long ears.  That they can be stubborn.  That they are definitely cheeky.

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Mimi thought she’d join us for morning coffee.  She was later in the day caught red hoofed in Sofia’s fathers polytunnel.  He was not amused.  But you’ve gotta love her!

I’m a fan of terriers even though they can be difficult sometimes and donkeys seem to share some of the same traits.

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Note to self: Don’t leave your jacket lying where a donkey can reach it.
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Donkey HQ.

It’s great to be back here and we (I say we but it’s more me really) have been spending time reacquainting ourselves with the eleven that we already know and getting to know some new ones.

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Yay, we were soooo happy to see Romano is still here.  He’s well into his thirties and the oldest donkey here.
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And look at Kali now………..he should be renamed Kurli!
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Here he was two years ago a few weeks after he’d arrived.  He’d had a good home and was very affectionate but his owner was ill and could no longer keep him.

Seven of the nine new ones are brown and to my untrained eye look like identical septuplets.  After spending the last week with them though I am beginning to be able to tell them apart but I’m not quite there yet.

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Romano and Jeko.  Jeko now has arthritis in his hip so he needs extra care.

Anyway, the long suffering readers of this blog will know all about where we are but for any of you new readers who are wondering what all this donkey thing is about I’ll just get you up to speed with a quick recap.  Sofia, our host, who owns the donkeys runs different donkey trekking tours mainly throughout Spring, Summer and Autumn.  Anything from a two hour gentle walk along the beautiful tracks surrounding donkey HQ to multi day treks along the Rota Vicentina on the Atlantic Algarve coast.

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A neighbour moving some of the manure.

This is no cash cow business though.  Sofia is passionate about and cares deeply for her donkeys.  Many are elderly.  Others have come from poor beginnings with ‘issues’ that only time, care, love and patience will improve.

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Kali’s previous owner taught him to do this.  He’s just lovely and one of my favourites.

So we’re here to help in the day to day care of the donkeys, do a bit of maintenance and generally help out wherever help is needed.

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Mucking out.

This week has been a busy one.

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Hi-Ho, Hi-Ho…………….

Sofia was offered the loan of a large piece of land three kilometres away big enough for half a dozen donkeys to enjoy a vacation.  It was mostly fenced but Tim and I spent a couple of days repairing some areas, clipping back vegetation which interferes with the electric fencing, creating an entrance and generally making sure the whole area is donkey proof.

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The morning commute to work.
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Cutting down the vegetation and repairing the original fence.

The two families who will be looking after the vacation donkeys came down to Donkey HQ yesterday and we all walked them up to their new holiday home.

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There was much excitement when the families came down armed with carrots.

Flor, Luna, Kiko, Olivia, Xiquito and Emil will stay in their new home for a few weeks at least.

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How can you not love them?
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The vacation donkeys going to their holiday home a few kilometres away.

One of the amazing things about the area around Aljezur is the sharing of skills, the helping of neighbours and the exchange of goods.  For example, the French neighbours came to collect a trailer load of donkey manure in exchange for three big bags of carrots.  It’s only fair.  The donkeys produced it so they get paid for it in carrots.

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Tim fixed up the donkey HQ bike for Kerstin (another helper) and in exchange Kerstin cooked dinner!

Whilst we were fixing up the fence for the holiday donkeys we met Dan, a yoga instructor who has been living on a friend’s piece of land in his camper van for several months.  He invites people to join his free yoga classes to share his love and knowledge of yoga.  It’s a kind of gift economy whereby no money changes hands.

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He invited me to join their morning yoga class.  How could I refuse an opportunity like that?  I left Tim to the rest of the fence and spent an hour throwing out some shapes on a yoga mat with two other would be yogis.  And hallelujah, I managed to touch my toes for the first time in probably thirty years.  Later on in the week I’ll gift them something in return.  I haven’t thought of what yet!

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Kerstin and I doing a spot of yoga in the garden.

It’s certainly an eclectic mix of people living in the area with many cultural, music, art, dance and theatre events to get involved with.

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A cool vegetarian restaurant in Aljezur called Moagem.

We are loving being back.

 

 

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It’s not all work!

More news as it breaks from Donkey HQ next week 🙂

Ate  mais tarde!

 

Helpx Number 8….. .

Our lazy days trundling through Brittany came to an end a couple of weeks ago as we were booked in for our 8th Helpx in the Poitou-Charente region of France.  This was a return visit to a Ralph and Sue who have 10-12 acres of land, a horse, two donkeys and two pigs to look after as well as running a small kennels and cattery.  We last visited over two years ago and we were looking forward to going back to a familiar area and getting stuck in to a bit of physical work after an idle couple of weeks.  The pounds had been piling on and we were in need of shifting them. Sue had also booked Tim in to play at two bars during our two week stay which he was also really looking forward to.

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A gig for Tim in a bar at Finioux with an equal mix of French and English customers.

After getting acquainted once again with our hosts and what was expected of us we set to work.  The main areas of work they needed help with were clearing some areas of two of the fields which have become overgrown with bramble and bracken, moving about a thousand roof tiles to another property a few miles away and general tidying up in the garden behind the house. They’d also had a number of trees felled a while ago which needed cutting up into smaller manageable chunks to be used for firewood.  The only problem was that they were all buried under overgrown bracken which needed to be cleared first before we could get to them.

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Clearing an area of one of the fields accompanied by the donkeys Cafe and Chocolat.

We worked our way through the roof tiles in the mornings and cleared a bit of land in the fields for an hour or two in the afternoon.  The weather couldn’t have been better with clear sunny skies and temperatures in the low twenties.

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Unfortunately the little tractor is not man enough for the bracken.

By the fourth day the tiles had all been moved so we made a start on the felled trees.  Things were going reasonably well with Tim and I using the petrol hedge trimmer to cut the bracken and raking it all out of the way of the trees whilst Ralph used the chainsaw to cut up the wood.   So far so good.  But then the pig’s got a bit too close for comfort.

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Nosey pigs.

We met the pigs on our last visit when they were but tiny wee things.  They were bought not to be eaten but to act as eco friendly lawnmowers for the bracken that was getting out of hand on the land.  Their job would be to trample the bracken, eat the young fronds and plough up the land making it difficult for the bracken to flourish.  Unfortunately it seems that the pigs have trampled, rotovated, ploughed and eaten everything else but the bracken so they haven’t really fulfilled their job.

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The pigs on our frst visit over two years ago.

Once they got bigger and outgrew their small enclosure they were given free access to two very large fields.  The two very large fields we happened to be working in.  Oh, they have had a whale of a time making it their own.  Numerous pig pits and dens have appeared where they like to sleep and the ground has been trampled and turned over by their two snouts   They are friendly beasts and being the nosey creatures that they are couldn’t help but stick their snouts into what was going on.

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They’re a bit bigger now.

By the fourth day of us clearing various areas they seemed a bit put out that: a) they’d been woken up early by the buzzing of a chainsaw and a hedge trimmer and b) that people were muscling in on their space.  I mean it’s not like they only have a small area to call their own as they are free to roam across ten acres of land and with all that space you’d think they’d be a bit more charitable with letting us work in a small area for couple of hours or so to cut down some bracken and chop up and clear a few logs but no they were having none of it.  The pig’s said ‘NON’ with a capital ‘N’ and believe me it’s a bit disconcerting when a 200kg mardy pig comes up behind you whilst you’re trying to work with power tools.  It was an accident waiting to happen so in the end the pigs stopped play.  That particular job will have to wait for another day when they are in a more cooperative mood.  Like when they are in the freezer.  Alas, after two and a half years of a charmed life they have now become a liability.  After a recent spate of escapes by them the necessary decision has been made that they have to go and it’s going to be a one way trip.  They are, in the next couple of weeks, destined for the freezer.

P1130659.JPGSo with the field work put on hold until after the pigs have departed we spent a few days instead tackling the overgrown bramble in two areas of the garden at the back of the house.

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Gig number two at a fish and chip night in another village.
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A little taste of home!

Working outside clearing land (hard work though it is) under sunny skies is one of the things we have most enjoyed about our new life but it does come with a caveat.  We wouldn’t want to have the responsibility of owning and caring for any land ourselves.  Looking after land takes a lot of work and it’s not for the faint hearted.  There is always something to do and it just keeps on growing (why not state the obvious Jane).  Returning here after more than a two year gap just reinforced that for us.  Like all these things we like the idea of living something like the ‘Good Life’ but the reality is a different story.

After a couple of weeks of clearing land we are more than happy to down tools and say ‘Au revoir’ to it all.

À tout à l’heure!

The Uists, Benbecular and Berneray…. .

Across the causeway from Eriskay brings you into South Uist, home to long, white, sandy beaches on the west coast and rolling peat moors, inlets and rocky hills on the east coast.  There are sooo many deserted beaches on these islands.  Waking up in the morning and rolling out of the van straight onto a sandy beach all to myself to do my morning exercise routine has been another highlight of our trip.  Swinging about a couple of little yellow dumbbells whilst watching sanderlings skitter up and down the shoreline or listening to a couple of terns squawking their displeasure at having unwanted company sure beats wiping down the sweat of the previous occupant on the equipment at my local gym before using it.  Of course I don’t do this routine every morning as I’m really not that disciplined but when I do remember to do it and make the effort it is always worth it…….even more so on an empty beach without curious onlookers making me feel acutely self conscious and ridiculous…….except on one occasion when two gorgeous coffee and cream coloured young bullocks watched me with expressions that distinctly said WTF?

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A beach all to myself:)

After our first night on South Uist the fickle hand of the weather had us scuttling off to Lochboisdale on the other side of the island to seek some refuge from the wind which had battered us overnight at our exposed position right behind the beach.  As I’ve mentioned before high winds have us praying that our roof vents will still be intact when we wake up in the morning.  Being made of plastic they really aren’t the best and the wind manages to get under them constantly making them rattle.  Tim has solved the problem on three of them with a simple system of elastic bands and suckers to hold them in place but we have one which is a wind up affair with an integral fan within it which makes it impossible for that solution to work without taking it to bits and punching a hole through a fly screen.  On the second night of the ruddy thing rattling and constantly waking us up Tim got up in the early hours to deal with it.  I woke up a few hours later to find the temporary solution in place.  Mmm, not ideal but it did give us a few hours of uninterrupted sleep.

 

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The temporary fix to the rattling roof vent.

Cable ties have sorted the little blighter out now.  We can’t open it or use the fan and the fly screen is in tatters but that’s the price we have to pay for a better nights sleep and it’s preferable to a hole in the roof.

 

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Lochboisdale on not such a good day.

Once at Lochboisdale we found some shelter behind a couple of containers in the harbour and sat out the inclement weather until it was time in the early evening to visit the hotel bar, sit round an open fire and upload the last blog post.  As there are next to no trees on the islands I asked the lady behind the bar if it was expensive to import wood or coal.  She said they buy a tonne of coal at a time which a few years ago cost them £700 but now costs £1300 and they sometimes mix it with peat if they’ve cut any that year.  Peat used to be an important natural fuel source here on the islands but now electricity, oil and gas have largely taken over.

 

A couple of days later we were waylayed by the most perfect pile of peat we’d ever seen before.  It was a work of art I tell you.

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The perfect peat pile.

We had to stop and take a photo of it.  The owner of the house was pottering about outside and after checking it was OK to take a photo he very happily answered all our questions about it.  He gathers it once a year from the moorland which has been allocated to him and it takes six people just one day to cut enough peat to supply his home with free energy for cooking, hot water and heat for an entire year.  After it’s cut it’ll take him three to four days of numerous trips to get it back to the house where he spends the next two weeks of his spare time building his masterpiece to dry it out before it can be used.  Marvellous.  The actual pile in the pictures is half of what it was and he showed us a framed picture of the completed work of art.

 

P1120801.JPGHe also told us all about how the peat is cut and showed us the tools they use which he keeps submerged in water all year round.  We were so glad we stopped and it is good to see an old tradition alive and well.

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Two consecutive days of clear dry weather had us out on the bikes again.  Apart from the punishing wind it really is a great place for cyclists and we’ve seen many a happy smiling cycle tourer blasting along with a tail wind heading north.  Those heading south are generally grimacing but I’m sure they’re enjoying every minute of it.  For us, as we are doing circular routes or out and back routes, it’s fifty fifty for the wind with or against us…..grimace on the way out and smile on the way back.

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Loch Druidibeag.
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Shetland ponies?  Not being a pony afficianado I wouldn’t know.
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Overlooking Loch Sgiopoirt.
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Shame about the car in front!
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A novel way to hold down the wire netting covering the thatch.

A day of walking followed where we had intended to walk to Uisinis Bothy and back on the eastern side of the island but was curtailed when we realised, when the path fizzled out after an hour or so, that we’d taken the wrong fork earlier on so retraced our steps and spent a while listening to the birds over a long lunch overlooking the sea.

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Peat cutting.

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Striding out on the wrong path to reach the bothy…..or not reach the bothy.
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Overlooking Loch Sgiopoirt again.

 

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Ah well, back after retracing our steps to just relax and listen to the birds.  We saw two cuckoos here.  We’ve heard them often enough but it’s the first time we had actually seen a cuckoo in the flesh.

The cycle of the weather has been such that a couple of days of decent weather have been followed by a wet and wild one.  Either a library or a museum come in handy on those days.  The Kildonan Museum on the A865 is a very pleasant place to while away an hour or so followed by coffee and cake in the attached cafe.  It tells the story of Island life through its exhibits, collections and pictures.

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Another restored croft house.

Benbecula gets quite an unkind write up by our guide saying ‘the only reason to come to Balivanich, Benbecula’s grim, grey capital, is if you are flying into or out of Benbecula airport, or you need an ATM or supermarket’. As the weather had closed in again with mist and drizzle I confess we did what most people probably do and that is drive straight across it to get to North Uist.  It is apparently pancake flat but we couldn’t tell as the mist denied us seeing it.  We did stop at the Co-op to do our weekly shop though to spread our spending on all the islands less one feel left out.

North Uist is more of the same landscapes as we had seen on South island but I don’t mean that in any disparaging way at all but I’m running out of superlatives to describe how fabulous these islands are.

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Moorcroft Campsite on North Uist.  They’ve thought of everything here.  Well kept grounds, spotless facilities, campers kitchen,  washing machine, tumble dryer, bunkhouse and three little hobbit houses to hire. 

You see some curious things when out either walking or cycling.  From a couple of fields away, through the binoculars, I spotted a sheep with all four legs in the air.  I dimly remember reading something somewhere that said if a sheep is on its back then it’s not that way deliberately and will die if it’s not turned over.   Well we got to her and got her turned over but she was too weak to get up so we went to the nearest house to let them know.

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If you see a sheep in this position it needs to be turned over.

The very friendly lady who answered went next door to talk to who she thought was the owner.  We didn’t linger around as there wasn’t anything else we could do so hopefully she was saved.  I looked it up later and, when the sheep is in the upside down position like that, it’s the gasses in their stomach from all that grass eating that swell up and eventually press on their lungs eventually suffocating them.  They don’t get into that position on purpose but it can happen if they are carrying lambs or their fleece is heavy with water.

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Traigh Ear beach when the tide is out.

Another curious sight also involving sheep happened after we’d done a long walk around the peninsular at Granitote.  Traigh Ear beach at low tide is a vast expanse of hard packed sand.  Just as we were finishing our walk we watched a ewe with her two lambs trailing behind her wander down onto the beach.  She then just kept going.  And going .  And going.  She was on a mission.  She must have walked a mile or so to get to the grass on the other side of the bay.  Obviously ‘the grass is greener’ isn’t just a human thing after all.

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Traigh Udal beach – that’s Tim in the middle above the seaweed line!

Later, when the tide had come in creating a vast expanse of knee deep water, the farmer with his dogs, rounded up his flock and walked them all down into the water where the dogs held them there for about ten minutes or so.  They were only in up to their knees so I doubt it was a swimming lesson. The dogs looked to be thoroughly enjoying racing around in the water making sure they kept together.  They then all ambled back up the beach to recommence eating grass.  Maybe the salt water stops them getting foot rot?

 

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It was polystyrene but it was still quite heavy!

The final island before getting the ferry across to Harris is Berneray linked by a causeway to North Uist.

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Berneray.

It is just a wee thing measuring two miles by three, with a population of just 140.  It is just delightful.  I think it could be my favourite island so far.  Mind you, that could be because the constant blasting wind we have had everyday had finally tempered down to a light breeze and we could actually hear the silence .  I even had a burnt face by the end of the day.  Sun burn in the Outer Hebrides.  Who’d have thought?

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Restored Black houses.

P1120889.JPGThe little museum run by volunteers tells the story of island life with hundreds of donated photos to peruse.  Seals bask off the rocks close into the shore without seemingly a care in the world.

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Who couldn’t love a seal?

As our friend Chris would say………..happiness on a stick!

Time for a ferry ride to Harris and Lewis, the last island we’ll be exploring on the Outer Hebrides.

Feumaidh mi ruith!

 

       

 

 

 

Eriskay…. .

The forty minute boat ride to Eriskay with a tail wind and sunny skies, making it actually pleasantly warm out on deck, proved to be a very enjoyable one with seals spotted basking off the rocks.  Such is the fickle nature of the weather here that the ferries were cancelled the following morning due to inclement conditions (aka: it was blowing an absolute hooly).  If you get some bright weather here you have to make the most of it immediately as it’s sure to change in a matter of hours…….or minutes.  I’m not whinging, just making an observation.

 

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A dozen or so seals came into the beach for more sheltered waters.

In the week or so we have been on the islands we have had sunshine, wind, rain, wind, cloud, wind, mist, wind, drizzle, wind, sunshine, wind and wind.  As you can see the wind has been the only consistent element within the mix.  The windswept look is definitely ‘in’ up here.  Again, I’m not moaning I’m just letting you all know that even though it looks all sunny skies in the photos they don’t portray the full picture so to speak.  I’m not about to go out taking pictures of greyness just to show the other side of the weather and anyway even if I’d wanted to I can barely get the door of the van open at such times.  It’s too windy.

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I wonder how much washing is lost to the wind on the Islands?

On these occasions (about fifty fifty so far) you’ll find us hunkered down in the van, in our sleeping bags, reading our kindles whilst gently swaying in the gusts.  ‘3’ doesn’t seem to have reached the islands as our mifi hasn’t had a signal since we have been here.  It has actually been really good for me to have an enforced lay-off from the internet as I’ve enjoyed reading a whole lot more when I’m not constantly distracted by the thoughts of ‘oh, I just need to look up such and such’.  There’s too much else to look at anyway.  For example, last night I spent a good couple of hours just enjoying watching two Hebridean lambs frolicking around together on the grass outside the van.  They were having a whale of a time skipping around playing together it was just a joy to watch them.  It had me thinking out loud ‘do only lambs miss out if they don’t have a sibling or do they make friends with other lambs’………..’what, like on Fleecebook’………..très drole Tim, très drole.  The two were joined by another two later in the evening which, I guess, answered that question.

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The quartet of quadrupeds who kept me entertained for a couple of hours (photo take from inside the van on South Uist late into the evening).

Back to Eriskay.  Although only measuring just over two miles by one it does have some interesting stories to tell.  Probably the most famous was the sinking of the SS Politician in 1941 on her way from Liverpool to Jamaica which inspired Compton Mackenzie’s book Whisky Galore.  264 000 bottles of whiskey were on board at the time.  Great, finders keepers thought the islanders but Custom and Excise officers thought otherwise and nineteen islanders were found guilty of illegal possession and imprisoned in Inverness.

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View to South Uist from Eriskay.

The only pub on the island, the Am Politician, has one of the original bottles.  An Olde Worlde pub it is not but it is welcoming and has a conservatory that heats up nicely when the sun is out which it was when we were there.  Handily, it also has free wifi which was pretty fast so I could upload my photos and the last blog post.  If you have a dog though there is no room at the inn as they aren’t allowed in which is a shame as with all those deserted beaches to play on I can see why dogs would choose the islands as a holiday destination.  Equally the Polachar pub on South Uist (owned by the same people I think) doesn’t allow dogs in either which is a shame if you are either a dog, have a dog or are a dog lover.

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More fabulous beaches and coastline.

As an aside, we went to the only pub on Barra at Castlebay and hardly flinched when we were charged £9.80 for two pints as we thought it must be the going rate for the islands.  Later though, and after a change of barman, we were charged £7.20 for two pints of the same beer.  Mmm, odd.  After being charged £6.80 for two pints in the Am Politician the beer barometer says that £9.80 was extortionate and we will be more vigilant next time.

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The Post Office within the well stocked village shop which also has a tiny coffee shop.

Another of Eriskay’s claims to fame is that Prince Edward Charles Stuart, or Bonnie Prince Charlie to his friends, landed on the islands main beach in July 1745 at the start of his campaign to regain the throne of Great Britain.  Following his defeat at the Battle of Culloden in April 1746 he fled into hiding on the Outer Hebrides with a price of £30 000 on his head.  After a couple of months keeping a low profile he escaped to the Isle of Skye helped at great personal risk by Flora MacDonald.  You can follow his story by visiting various places associated with him on the islands along the Bonnie Prince Charlie Trail.

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Another lovely, simple Hebridean dwelling.

We walked up to the top of Ben Sciathan, the islands highest point, which gives views as far as the islands of Skye, Rhùm, Tiree and Coll.  We were lucky to have clear weather even if it was a tad blowy.   The semi wild Eriskay ponies that roam free on the island can, apparently, often be spotted grazing in the centre of the island around Loch Crakavaig which is the islands only source of fresh water.  Alas, we didn’t spot them.

 

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Views towards the causeway which has linked Eriskay to South Uist since 2001.

So that’s Eriskay.  Onwards now across the causeway to South Uist.

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Not a sign you see everyday 🙂 

Feasgar math!