Late March 2017 :
Spring has at last sprung, and the land and sky around Eight Askernish is stirring with promise of new life. Skylarks soar and sing, and Lapwings swoop and dive …
Lapwing acrobatics at Eight Askernish
Indoors, final preparations for our first guests of the 2017 season. Outside, spring sunshine is spurring the willows to bud, so now’s the time to take and plant cuttings, making good the wear and tear of the past winter – from wild storms and hungry deer.
Late December 2016: A few weeks back, at Eight Askernish, Denise and I were packing up having completed our winter programme of redecorating (including, this year, new carpets throughout). My final task before leaving was to set up the wildlife camera. On each of our visits to the house, I’d noticed ‘calling cards’ left by deer visiting the garden in search of food, so on this last visit I attached the wildlife camera to a rainwater down-pipe, and directed it at the area where the deer paw the ground in search of the naturalized crocosmia/mombretia bulbs (which are rich in carbohydrates and minerals). Today – with Alex and Frazer Fotheringham from Wester Ross about to arrive for a Hogmanay holiday, I removed the camera and checked the contents.
Disappointment, yet again! About 300 each of stills and videos, but no deer – no wildlife of any kind. In fact the only movement of living things caught was of the grasses and shrubs rocking about in the wind! The sensitivity of the infra-red detector is adjustable, and I’d set it to react only to movement within about 50m, but it appears that the camera was far more interested in passing traffic, on the Askernish road, which is about 150m away!
Passing Traffic – Tractor
Passing Traffic – Wind & Moonlight
What’s really interesting from the hundreds of images, capturing passing traffic – day and night, is that almost half of the traffic on the Askernish road is agricultural – and almost all of that tractors. In Askernish, at least, crofting is very much alive and well!
Early November 2016: Our guests from Germany, planning to spend Hogmanay in Uist, have had to cancel, due to problems with travel. So, we now again have vacancies at Askernish throughout the ‘holiday season’, and we can offer a discount of £10 per night (see note, below). To take advantage of this, you’ll need to call us and book over the phone – we can apply the £10pn discount manually and take card payment there and then.
Note: 12 nights of £10pn discount are available. This discount is in addition to any other discount you may be entitled to. First come, first served!
Update: Who says blogging is pointless? Within a few hours of the above post we received a provisional booking for Hogmanay and beyond. We’ll still have room for guests over Christmas, and up to £40 (£10pn) of special discount still available.
End October 2016: We’ve just secured a 10-day booking for Eight Askernish. Our guests are coming from Germany! So, with Carrick already booked right through the Christmas and New Year holiday season (and there’s a German on the guest list there, too!), anyone looking for a cosy Christmas in Uist will have to make their mind up soon! Our remaining vacancy is at Eight Askernish, which is available up until 29th December.
Late October 2016: Guests consistently tell us they’ve had a wonderful holiday, though it’s not often we get to know what they’ve doing during their stay in Uist. So they could be just being polite – saying what’s expected. That said, a good proportion of guests stay a second or third time – or even more: so maybe they mean it after all!
The days of the Guest Book has been pretty much been consigned to history, but – contrary to what the likes of Mark Zuckerberg would have us believe – few people really do document every detail of their holiday on social media – or even the fact they’re on holiday at all! – and certainly do not write reviews just because they are asked for them. With almost every business clamouring not only for our custom, but for our feedback, we’re all now somewhat review-wary, feedback-weary. We let our guests know how they can leave feedback or write reviews if they really want to, but leave it at that. Very few do – and we’re okay with that. Their holidays are about them, not us!
Just recently, though, guests at Eight Askernish left for us a wee note telling us a bit about their walking adventures – including a long walk out to Sheisinis lighthouse on the wild and remote east coast of South Uist. They’d managed to get some great photos of Golden Eagles and White-Tailed Eagles. It’s good to use this website to showcase guests’ photos, and perhap a brief description of their walks: not so much to promote Eight Askernish as to promote the extraordinary wildlife of the islands, and to encourage visitors to be more adventurous in exploring Uist.
Here’s some images from Neil Milton.
Eagle soaring, by Neil Milton
Uist Atlantic beach walk, by Neil Milton
Uist Atlantic coastscape – by Neil Milton
Askernish Sunrise, by Neil Milton
We were at Eight Askernish today to cut the grass and open the house ready for guests arriving this evening. We’d pretty much finished, and as we had some time to spare, we decided to take the opportunity to get some fresh photos of the exterior of the cottage – perhaps from a new angle, for the website. That done, we returned to the van to pack up. Perhaps a few last photos of the landscape – especially across the lochs and glens to Beinn Mhor.
[D] What’s that perched on the electricity pole just across the road? [J] Is it … could it be? [D] No! [J] Camera – quick! Why won’t it take the d— photo? [D] Battery’s flat? [J] Aaagh! Too late – it’s gone.
Yes, really – right by the cottage itself!
So, all we could manage is a new photo of Eight Askernish.
Late August 2016: Calmac have now published the ferry timetable for winter 2016-2017, from the last Saturday in October through to the last in March. We’re pleased to see the return of the Oban-Lochboisdale service! This is in addition to the now firmly established Mallaig-Lochboisdale route (and of course the Uig-Lochmaddy service as well). The pattern of sailings is irregular and difficult to summarise, but Calmac seem to be doing the best they can to meet conflicting demands with limited resources. Although much of the winter season you might well be able to just turn up and go – without vehicle registration, we don’t recommend it, and for some periods (especially school holidays) we recommend you make your ferry reservation as soon as your accommodation booking is confirmed.
Ten Years After?
Ten Years after renovation was completed (just! – only just!) and our first ever self-catering guests arrived! Ten years after to the day, 27 May 2006. Penny Ritson – and her husband, from Warwick on Eden in Cumbria (coincidentally just down the lane from where we used to live in Wetheral, when Denise and I were first married).
For us then, in 2006, buying a property – especially one in such poor condition – to renovate and let out was a major project – way out of our experience and comfort zone! The house had to be stripped back to just the bare concrete walls (and even those needed repairing): even the concrete floor was ripped up and all the incoming services replaced. In fact that turned out to be just the first of so much other and far bigger building projects … but that’s another post, for another time!
Here’s a slideshow from back then. And if Penny Ritson is reading this and would like to return some time, we’ll be happy to offer a generous discount as a thank you for putting up with our beginners’ blunders!
April 2016: We’re working on a ‘picnic place makeover’ at Eight Askernish (and also at Carrick – The Blue House, Eriskay) to make outdoors as inviting and as practical as it is indoors. They’re very different cottages, of course, used in different ways, and tend to be booked by guests with different needs, so what we’re doing is … yes, that’s right, go on … similar. At both houses we know – from you! – that when the occasion and the weather are right, you want to be able to sit outside – comfortably – for a meal, and it could as well be breakfast or morning coffee and toast as lunch … it could be anytime. Good food, conversation, bird song … perfect! Our own experience tells us that outdoor furniture has to be safe when a storm suddenly blows up, summer or winter, and that means picknic benches, and at Carrick it means bolted down! At Carrick we’ve just completed a deck of larch, to complement the house ; but at Eight Askernish we’ve kept it simpler – again, in keeping with the house, widening out the stone path to create a clean, dry, level area for the picnic bench – so much more satisfactory than on wet grass! Next? New island-built picnic benches: in our extreme climate, the softwood and plain steel screws of flat-pack products don’t last long!
March 2016 : This morning – a glorious sunny morning, almost as warm as summer, Jonathan went round to Eight Askernish to open up the house for guests arriving for a three-day stay – and a wedding. So, that’s the start of this year’s letting season – and means improvement and maintenance jobs done – for now. There have been three main improvements this winter: the whole-house ventilation and heat recovery system, completed just last week. Before that – before Christmas, in fact – we widened out the path around the house so as to create a firm clean area for the picnic bench to stand on, instead of grass. And in-between we created a decent wheelie-bin stance, storm-proof, customer-facing (ie it has labels explaining what should go in each bin) and bin-men (sorry! meant wheelie-bin emptying technician) friendly. Okay, nothing very exciting ; but, you know, it’s the little things that matter most. Just as J was leaving, he spotted the first daffodil flower of the season, and as he knelt down to take this photo, the guests arrived!
Eight Askernish – from East
Eight Askernish – front window
Eight Askernish – roof terminals for new ventilation system
Eight Askernish – First Daffodil of 2016
March 2016: Recently we’ve been spending the occasional half-days at Eight Askernish installing the new whole-house ventilation and heat recovery system. But we’ve not been alone. and that’s not all that’s been going on there. Most of the willow trees now look as though they’ve been through a shredding machine – and a malfunctioning one at that. The blanket of orange-brown leaves fallen and decaying over the banks of mombretia have been scuffed away and there tubers are scattered over the ground. And were there any room for doubt as to the nature of our nocturnal visitors, there are little piles of dark brown nuggets – like sheep poo, but bigger and more pointy. Red Deer! At this time of year they are very hungry, and come down from the wild hills that line the east side of Uist to maraud our gardens. They’re stripping the bark off the younger willow branches, and the mombretia tubers are full of starch and vitamins.
Many islanders insist there are too many deer, and they need to be heavily culled to reduce numbers. Disturbing the mombretia is not really much of a problem – the tubers they leave will soon multiply, fertilized by the deer poo ; but the willow trees – and indeed trees of any description – are extremely difficult to grow and short-lived, and after the deer have finished with them they don’t exactly enhance the garden – and anyway will die off very soon. We’ve decided to respond by expanding our planting of rosa rugosa, the thorny stems of which protect it from deer, but which provide numerous benefits to all concerned: they grow well even at this extremely exposed site ; they provide excellent low-level privacy, shelter – for humans and for birds and insects ; they produce lovely flowers over a long season that scent the air, and then colourful hips which feed birds through late autumn and early winter ; and in early spring the green tips are tolerant of browsing by deer, as the taller shoots need pruning back anyway – it stimulates stronger growth nearer the ground.