Thursday, April 17, 2008

THATCHED COTTAGE, SOUTH UIST



This derelict cottage is a good example of the housing that many people in the Outer Hebrides would have been born and raised in until relatively recently. It was occupied until about ten years ago by an elderly man who eventually died in the house at the age of 101. Like many other similar cottages, it is slowly rotting and will soon just be a pile of stones. Some of these houses, particularly in the Uists, have been renovated and are let as holiday homes .They look very pretty when painted white and rethatched, but cost huge amounts of money to restore to modern standards. The earlier versions of these cottages had no chimneys and were/are known as Blackhouses. They had a peat fire in the centre of the living room floor and the smoke from the fire simply curled up into the thatched roof, where it remained. Every couple of years, the soot enriched thatch would be removed and dug into the garden or croft land as fertiliser and the house would be rethatched with straw. This was a good sustainable method of maintaining fertility on the croft but not very good for the long term health of anybody living in the cottage. Historic Scotland maintain a fully restored Black house at Arnol, here on Lewis, which is open to the public everyday. It was lived in by a family until the late 1960's and the custodian lights a peat fire on the floor daily, for the tourists. It's well worth a visit, as is the completely restored Gearrennan Blackhouse village, which is situated in a lovely position by a cove on the West Coast of Lewis. The village was occupied until about 1974 and comprises several holiday cottages, a youth hostel, restaurant, working museum and public loos. It is free to walk round and has been beautifully renovated over several years. Further information on the internet.

Now, my own restoration works. I had hoped to be able to tell you this time that the show was over and the circus had gone home. I was fantasising that I would wake up one morning this week, discover that the house was finished, all workers gone and that I would be writing 'That's it folks, nothing else to say, the blog is closing down.'

Unfortunately, not so. Yesterday was a bad day. When I woke up, water was dripping down the walls in the hallway and forming a puddle on the floor. General panic. Not sure at that point if the problem was a plumbing leak, or water coming through the roof, which would be the responsibility of the builder. Called the builder, who came and cut a big hole in the wall upstairs and discovered a leaking pipe joint to be the problem. Then phoned the plumber, who arrived, had a good look, conceded that the leak was caused by a loose joint and expressed absolute astonishment that this could have happened. -- "It's never happened before mate, just unlucky." Whilst all this was going on, the postlady arrived with a letter from the Building Inspector. He has refused me a certificate of completion, which I desperately need, until a total of 29 items of building work have been completed or rectified. The majority of the points listed are very minor and the builder should be able to fix them quickly. He considers the refusal letter to be a 'snagging' list, while I think most of them are symptoms of sloppy workmanship, which should never have occurred. What infuriates me most of all is that the builder and plumber seem incapable of admitting responsibility, or saying sorry, even when faced with evidence of damage, or poor quality work, caused by them.

I moved back in to the house last week and was quite overwhelmed and almost paralysed by the amount of internal fitting and decorating I've got to do. I've been sitting on chairs in empty rooms wondering where to start and have not come up with a plan of work yet. The longer I dither about it, the worse it's getting. I think the solution is about to present itself though because a friend is coming to stay for two or three weeks shortly to help with the decorating and I've got absolutely nowhere for him to stay. He'll be here in two weeks time and I need to clean, decorate and furnish a room for him before then. Oh the pressure. He's a tolerant, understanding sort of chap though, so I'm sure he'll be fine if I have to house him on a bench in the loom shed for a while. I've been working away a lot recently and have to go South this coming weekend for a birthday celebration, so goodness knows when I'll manage to get the decorating started. It's quite difficult to get motivated after a long day at work during the week.


The weather here has taken a definite turn for the better during the last few weeks. It's still raining a lot and we've had a bit of snow recently, but it is generally warmer and the island seems to be waking up after the Winter. There are lots of new born lambs gambolling about on the moors and crofts with their mummies, and lots of Ravens, Blackbacked Gulls, Buzzards and the occasional Eagle trying to eat them. Nature raw in tooth and claw.


Once again, the frogs have been daft enough to spawn in the deep water filled ruts on my access road. Last year when they did this, I was able to take out a bucket, collect up much of the spawn and empty it carefully into a nearby drainage ditch. Unfortunately, with the builders in this year, they managed to drive their white vans through the ruts and over the spawn before I spotted it. There are plenty of suitable wet ditches on and around the croft and I have no idea why the frogs persist in spawning in the ruts.

1 comment:

Sarah W-M said...

Just found your blog and I am enjoying it immensely....will be on the island for 2 weeks this summer, so reading your blog is getting me in the mood!
Thanks
Sarah W-M