The cat whisperer

Remember Merlin, our stray cat from a couple of posts ago?


So much hate and power, and also so scared and confused.


However, I think it’s fair to say that the Shepherdess has worked some kind of miracle on him.


Although as ever, the way to a man’s heart is clearly through his stomach!


OK, OK, we knew that snow was forecast. So what? We’re 200m up a hill here, so we often get snow during the winter, even when nothing much falls down at lower levels. Still, nothing quite prepared us to wake up to our road looking like this:


It wasn’t so much the depth of snow (TBH we probably only had a foot of snowfall), but the depth of the drifts – up to 10ft in places. Since these were far too deep for a snowplough, our farmer neighbours tried to clear them using their telehandler…. which promptly got stuck as well.


So, since it was clear we weren’t going to get out any time soon, we set about making ourselves and the animals as comfortable as possible. The truth is, the sheep don’t seem to mind snow very much – it’s driving rain / sleet / wind that they hate. Even so, since they’re quite heavily pregnant, we made the decision to move them up to the top field, where they could get some shelter.




Our porch grew an impressive crop of icicles too!


However, just as we got ourselves settled in to wait for the thaw, we heard that one of our neighbours had run into a spot of bother. His Mother-in-Law from Edinburgh (no, not THAT beast from the East!) had come over for dinner four nights previously, and had ended up stuck and rapidly running out of her medication.

I mean, can you imagine anything worse than that? Snowed in with your Mother-in-Law for nearly a week!?!

So, there was nothing else for it but to strap on the snowshoes and make a mercy dash to where they’d cleared the road, to pick up fresh supplies of alcohol for him…. oh yes, and the drugs for her!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAImage00007Image00008Image00003

The conversation at the road end was quite amusing too. “Are you John?” “Have you got the drugs?”….. Not the sort of thing I’m used to saying!


Humanitarian efforts apart, it was good to get back to the house.

Home is definitely where the hygge is.


She said, there’s something in the hayshed, and I can hear it breathing. It’s such an eerie feeling, darling.


He said, Get this into your sweet head, there’s nothing in the hayshed, except maybe some hay…….


…..oh, and a rather large and ferocious feral cat, now you come to mention it!

Still, that’s nothing an engineer can’t sort out with a bit of impromptu welding….

catcaughtOh yes! curiosity trapped the cat! 🙂


Unfortunately once we’d caught him, it turned out that he was actually a very big, fierce, strong male cat, complete with bollocks. It also turns out that the SSPCA get incredibly grumpy if you trap feral cats yourself (oops!). They view them as wild animals, who have every right to be wherever they are, and no, they don’t give a damn if they’ve been fighting with your own pet cats or spraying all over your precious hay supplies!


The Cats’ Protection League were a bit more understanding, but told us that they couldn’t take him in for rehoming if he wasn’t tame, and that the best they could offer was a voucher to cover the cost of neutering, provided we then released him where he had been caught.

Honestly, poor Merlin. All he wanted was a bit of shelter over the winter, and a supply of field voles (which, going by his condition at the point we trapped him he’s very good at catching!).


It took quite a while for the CPL voucher to come through though, and by that time, the Molecatcher had become rather fond of Merlin (kindred spirits I suppose ;-)). So, we figured he might as well go and live at Mole Mansions for a bit after his operation, just to see if he comes round a little. The truth is, he doesn’t actually want to be aggressive – he’s just very, very scared.

Anyway, after a week or two, he’s starting to get used to us and has pretty much stopped hissing. He even gave up his hobgoblin box in the corner yesterday and has installed himself under the Molecatcher’s bed instead. Watch this space for updates! 🙂



Spot the sheep!

I usually say that Zwartbles are great because they’re easy to see in both mud and snow. However, I had a bit of a panic this morning when I couldn’t find the tups anywhere! Usually they’re sitting under the truck top waiting for their breakfast…boysbut this morning they were nowhere to be seen!

Perhaps they had just gotten fed up of their balls dragging in the snow, and booked themselves a cheap week in Benidorm?


Either way, could I find them?  Could I hell!  even walked around the snowdrifts looking for places they might have climbed up and over the fence, until I eventually spotted some hoof marks heading off to the far corner of their field, where…… can you see them yet?

spot the sheep 1

How about now?

spot the sheep

Ah, there you are, boys!

spot the sheep 2

Nice camouflage. Now, who fancies some breakfast? 😀

How to catch a mole

Our friend and neighbour makes a living during the winter catching moles for local farmers, so when a mole moved in on our land, I decided to follow him with a camera to find out how it’s done.

I’m sure that (despite what Jasper Carrott says), there’s more than one way to catch a mole. However, this is what our friend does, and it seems to work well enough for him!


First you must find a place with two molehills close together. Then probe the ground with your heel or a stick, to find where the tunnel runs. (If you work your heel along in a line, there should be a place where the ground ‘gives’ a little. This tells you where to dig).


Then dig a small hole about half a spade depth deep, and push at the earth with your hands until you find where the mole’s tunnel enters and exits the hole you have just dug. Wear gloves to avoid contaminating the hole with your scent. If you find more than one entrance and exit, life just became far too complicated, so give up and move on to somewhere else!


Once you have the hole cleared out, and know the run of the tunnel, put some of the loose earth back in, and compact it to ‘re-make’ the base and walls of the tunnel in as natural a shape as possible.


The trap can then be set and inserted over the top of the tunnel / channel you just created.



Now wedge small pieces of turf at either end of the trap, to stop loose soil from filling the tunnel and trap during the next step.


Next, make a bank of earth around the trap, so you’re effectively re-making a hollow molehill.


Then loosely cover the trap with earth. It is apparently really important that all light and draughts are excluded.


Next replace the initial clump of turf you dug out, putting it back on upside down, and building loose earth around the edges, again to exclude light and draughts.

Finally mark the position of the trap. Here, we just used multi-coloured pieces of bailer twine tied to a 6″ long nail.


So….. if you’re lucky, when you return after a day or two, you should have caught your mole!


I guess there’s not much more I can add! Funny looking things though, aren’t they? 🙂


If you have any top tips for catching moles, or have any questions you’d like me to ask The Molecatcher, please leave a comment below!

Photo from space?

Nope. Just the roof of my wife’s car on a particularly cold evening! 🙂


I’ve been looking for a boat to get me back into dinghy racing. OK, so I’ve still got a Musto Skiff, but realistically I don’t have the time or fitness any more to ever hope to be competitive in it. In Scotland, the only really active single-handed traveller fleets are the Laser (just not my thing),  Musto Skiff and the Solo. So, the Solo it is then!! 🙂 .

The key thing that swung this decision was that the Solos have an excellent Scottish traveller circuit, which typically attracts ten to twenty competitors to each event. These are usually one day events, which cuts down the cost and hassle considerably, since there is no need to pay for accommodation.

solos downwind

The Solo Dinghy was originally designed in 1956 by Jack Holt, and since then nearly 6000 have been built, mainly in the UK. This means that there are loads to choose from on the second hand market. However, although the Solo is a ‘one design’ boat (i.e. all hulls and sails must be pretty much identical), design methods have changed over the years, and boats are available from many different manufacturers.

To cover just the real basics, the different construction materials available are:

solo construction methods

The Solo has no weight equalization system. However, by choosing the correct mast and sail combination, Solos are competitively sailed by helms across a wide weight range.

I had originally hoped to buy an FRP Composite boat for around £2,000 but was advised by other sailors to save my pennies to buy a fully FRP boat, and that I should be looking to spend between £4K and £5K for a boat that would be competitive on the traveller circuit. The reasons given were that an FRP boat will be faster, require less maintenance, and will also hopefully hold its value better.

In the end, I did follow most of this advice, and picked up a 2004 Winder Mark 1 Solo for £3,500. She’s definitely been raced hard over her life, and has a few dings here and there. However, I think she’s pretty good for what I paid. I’ll post some photos of her once I get her on the water, but since there is currently 4″ of snow outside, that won’t be today!

Along the way however, I compiled some information on Solo prices, which might be helpful to others in the same situation. The graphs below show the asking prices of boats for sale in the UK between about September and December 2017, and were taken from places like the UK Solo Association website, ApolloDuck, Ebay, and the UK Dinghies & Bits for Sale Facebook group. Obviously these take no account of the condition of each boat, whether it came with a road trailer or covers, etc etc. However, it should hopefully give a good starting point for anybody looking for a second hand Solo dinghy:

Solo Prices all construction methods

FRP Solo Asking Prices

For anybody interested, the full spreadsheet can be downloaded here.

I’m looking forward to getting on the water with my new boat now – as soon as the water isn’t quite so frozen! 🙂

Why not follow these simple step by step instructions on how to make this lovely Zwartbles sheep themed Christmas decoration?

Zwartble Bauble

  1. Buy one Zwartbles ewe lamb.


2. Feed and water regularly, until fully grown (this will take 1-2 years).


3. Buy a sarcastic looking Zwartbles tup and leave him in the same field as the ewe for a while.



4. Wait approximately 150 days until one or more smaller versions appear.


5. Feed and water the small versions for approximately 14 months (they will become considerably larger), before paying an off-duty fireman a small fortune to remove the fleece for you.


6. Spin the fleece into a rough and rustic yarn (as if I know how to make any other sort of yarn?!?).


7. Cut two doughnut shapes out of cardboard and wind the yarn around them. Be sure to to ignore the increasingly hysterical laughter of your assembled friends and relatives who are sure that you’re doing it all wrong, and that the whole thing is going to fall apart the moment you cut into it.


8. When the doughnuts are full, cut around the perimeter to make a pom-pom. Trim off the rough and mis-shapen bits. Take care to ensure that there is still something left after you have done this.


9. Cut a face and ears out of felt. Add googly eyes for comic effect.


10. Sew and glue everything together.


11. Hang on Christmas Tree.


Zwartble Bauble

And that’s it! – simple eh?

Be sure to check back regularly for more easy craft ideas 😀

DIY Hay Carrier Sling

At this time of year, I get really fed up with carrying hay bales around. If you pick up a small square bale using the string, it cuts into your hands if you have to carry it any distance, whilst if you carry chunks off a big round bale, you lose half of it whilst you’re opening the gate.

What’s more, my colleagues at work have started laughing at me when I turn up at morning meetings covered in the stuff!

So, I made this (which I feely admit is not exactly rocket surgery):1Basically it’s a square of nylon fabric with two loops of car seatbelt webbing sewn on.

It works very well for carrying square bales comfortably2

It can also be used to carry loose hay


However, loose stuff does tend to fall out of the ends a little, so if I was making one specifically for this, I’d put the straps nearer the corners, or even make one with straps all round, like a parachute.


It’s working well enough for me though, and saves me from getting mugged on my way to the hay feeder…. well, most of the time anyway! 🙂


So it seems I owe (both of?) my loyal followers an apology – where did this blog go?  Why so few posts of late? The simple answer is that we moved to a Smallholding, and to quote a friend, “Give your enemy a smallholding, and he will work himself to death”.  Well, not quite, but I have found that I’m busy enough these days that I can either do things OR write about them, but not both!

However, a few months ago it really felt as though the walls were closing in on me, and I knew I had to “get some wild”, as my wife would say. So, since this trip has been on my bucket list for nearly ten years, it didn’t take me long to make up my mind to go to Loch Shiel:


“The Loch Shiel Round” is a classic canoeing route, but most people start in Glenfinnan, then paddle down the River Shiel and out to sea at Loch Moidart, before paddling back up Loch Ailort and getting the train back to Glenfinnan. However, I fancied something different, so one rainy May day saw me putting into Loch Linnhe, at Inversanda Bay.


This wasn’t the greatest of starts, but what the hell – better a bad day on the water than a good day in the office, and all that! 🙂

Since the tide at Corran narrows is pretty severe, I aimed to get there just after the tide turned to come back in. However, it was evidently running a little late that morning, and I ended up eddy hopping up the West bank of the narrows and waiting for the ferry to leave before paddling past the slipway and into the upper loch.


Soon after this, the wind built to a steady force 5 at my back, and I spent the next three hours or so concentrating on keeping upright, rather than taking photos. However, this meant I made quick progress, and was able to get through the narrows at the entrance to Loch Eil on the same flood tide, and eventually stopped for the night a couple of miles past The Narrows.


The next morning, I paddled to the top of Loch Eil, and then paddled and lined my way up the river



Before finally giving up and dragging my kayak over a field full of bemused looking cows and up to the main road.


It’s at this point I must give a huge thankyou to Ronnie at Kayak Carrier Systems. After much research, I decided that the KCS Expedition Trolley would be the best choice for this trip, and it surpassed my expectations in every way. Not only did it cope perfectly with two long portages, but it also dis-assembled to fit in front of the foot-pegs in my Scorpio LV (low volume) kayak, with just the axle slipping easily into the stern hatch. This meant that I didn’t have to strap any gear onto the back of the boat, which made things far easier in the wind down Loch Linnhe.


The portage along the A830 was straightforward enough, although to my alarm oncoming cars tended to slam on their brakes when they saw me, rather than just going round as they would have done if I had been wheeling a bike (which frankly would have taken up the same amount of road as the kayak). This meant that I had to listen for cars coming and then pull up onto the verge, which was not ideal. However, ninety minutes later, I reached the Rvier Callop, which was to take me down into Loch Shiel.


Although I had paddled this section of river a few years ago without incident, I found this time that storms and floods had washed many trees across the river, making passage very slow and difficult. For this reason, and for road safety, I must regretfully say that if you are thinking of doing this trip yourself, try to arrange transport from Loch Eil to Glenfinnan. Suffice to say that after rather a difficult day, I decided that nobody could really blame me if I went for a steak and a pint at the Glenfinnan Hotel, whilst I watched the rain lashing down!

The next day gave more sunshine and showers as I paddled down Loch Sheil. One minute I would be paddling through this


then five minutes later looking back to this


and then forwards to this!


until I came around the corner near Pollach, and was able to sail for a bit too 🙂


I camped for the night at Crudh’ an Eich, looking over towards St Finan’s Isle


and the next day paddled to Acharacle and portaged up and over to Salen on Loch Sunart



before paddling the length of Loch Sunart and ending up back at my starting point of Strontian.


All in all, this was a fantastic wee trip. Nothing hardcore (I was on my own after all), but wild enough to feel as though I’d had a proper adventure. I just wish I could find the time these days for more trips like this!