Monthly Archives: December 2011

Keeping the home fire burning

When I moved to the cottage I fancied I’d collect my own firewood, driftwood from the beach and fallen branches from the woods, to keep me toasty through the winter. Ha! Not a chance. As the nights drew in and the air sharpened, I was burning what seemed like half a small forest a day. So, first lesson learnt, I ordered a load of logs. Now they’re sitting outside soaking up the rain because my wood store’s a shoogly thrown-together thing, nothing more than a discarded door resting on my compost heap. Not surprisingly, it doesn’t keep the wood dry in this drenched place. So my next job (when it stops raining) is to build a proper wood store – one that lets the air in and keeps the water out and can store a tonne of logs. Any tips welcome.

My wood-burning stove

My wee wood-burning stove serves as a kettle, cooker, heater and light when the leccy goes off.

I’m learning though. I’ve become pretty nifty at slicing logs into satisfying piles of kindling with my trusty axe. And I’m finding out about different woods – how they season, the heat they give off and the smell of their smoke. My neighbour felled a few birch trees last spring. It burns longer and brighter than the lemony spruce and the smell is on the edge of sweet, like a smoked oyster. Throw in a few bits of driftwood and you get a whisper of the sea. The oak that I dragged up from the beach in the summer has a fierce, unstoppable heat and the old telephone pole burns like a demon (what was it treated with?). Every now and then my auntie brings a bag of off-cuts from my uncle’s days as a joiner; the little bits of plywood and pine are as dry as a bone and never fail to stoke a damp squib of a fire.

Once the fire gets to a certain state – its heart roaring and red – nothing can resist it, not even damp logs. I can’t resist it either, this gentle warmth that holds me in its purring glow. I unwind, sink deeper into my chair, maybe have a little snooze. Now, what was I saying about building a wood store?



Filed under Uncategorized

A blast from the past

Calm Loch Fyne

Yesterday the loch was calm, the only trace left by Hurricane Bawbag was a smattering of snow on the hills.

All’s quiet in the west today, but on Thursday Portavadie was pummelled to within an inch of its life by Hurricane Bawbag. It screamed its arrival, roaring and howling, unleashed and wild. Mighty gusts brought belts of rain and hail that hammered at the door. I watched from the window, jumping as gravel, whipped up and hurled at the cottage, smacked the glass. Telephone wires swung in giant loops, shuddering and straining to break free from their poles. One lone tree stood in the field, brittle branches waving, crazed, to the skies. Two small firs, just babies, seemed less bothered. They were pliant in the onslaught, supple limbs bowing until their tips touched the ground. Bits of plastic – a dustbin lid and a couple of plants pots – clattered up the lane, hurtling along like they were heading into town for the night.

And the sea. I’ve never seen it so furious. Giant waves, row upon row, pushed onshore, relentless, crashing over the pier and smashing onto the rocks.  Birch Isle was being sucked under. A low mist whirled and danced over the surf. As the sky darkened and the sun set, this mad, boiling loch turned a menacing pink.

View of the cottage

The cottage is small and squat – perfect for the wild and windy west coast.

Later that evening the electricity went off, so I went to bed. I lay in the dark as the hurricane raged on and thought of the people who’d lived here over the years. They too must have listened to the winds howling outside, safe and protected by these four walls. Then, as suddenly as it came, the hurricane went. But it left behind (along with a smashed back fence and two bemused chickens) a sense of how enduring the cottage is; just what it’s stood up to over time. This squat little home (close to the ground like all proper Highland things are) with its thick walls, is so perfectly formed for this weather-beaten place, this wind-battered land.

In the silence after the storm all I could hear was the creak of a floorboard and the sigh of a beam – the cottage settling, relaxing its flexed muscles. I almost caught it mutter under its breath ‘another one taken care of’. Hurricane Bawbag was, after all, just an awful lot of wind, and there’s nothing new about that around here.


Filed under Uncategorized