Its been a week now since the off from home in Ditton to make our home on Gometra. We still have things to sell from the studio in Ditton, which I’ve kept on for that purpose, and we now also have a staging post on Mull near the ferry port at Craignure. Last week we did one journey there and back with a rental transit can to drop off the possessions we’ve decided might be useful, which are mostly bushcraft bits. I got a taste for the van. It was nippier than my heavy Post Office one: lots of fun! But we needed the windows down, doing it in the heat wave, so the noise was appalling, especially on the M6 through the miles and miles of roadworks stop-starting all the way next to artic’ lorries.
We’d left Ditton in the early afternoon on Monday 23rd July, after a morning packing the van with the help of Josh Munn, and in the evening we camped near Inverary – midged horribly. Then on the 24th we took a mid-morning ferry from Oban, off-loaded in early sunshine, and crossed back, followed by an overnight drive back to Ditton. Like the Labours of Hercules, we were thrown successions of problems:
The M6 was closed for a small stretch taking us onto a road jammed-up by lorries that had gone the wrong way and couldn’t get under a railway bridge. After finally seeing that through, we decided to take the Chester route to Shropshire in order to avoid the M6 roadworks further south, but the A5 was close near Montford Bridge, taking us off and around single tracked country roads and spitting us out in Shrewsbury. At 3am on Wednesday the 25th July we reached Ditton Priors and slept in the cabin/shed in the back garden so as to not wake Katy, animals and Granny.
We took a day off to return the van, take Granny home, clear the house and clean it down (though not to most people’s standard, granted). The old cat Percy had been wearing a harness and lead. bought by Katy, Granny and Katy’s cousin Jess, while we were off enjoying ourselves in the van, and he was getting used to the idea, but still fell over sideways when Katy tried to lead him anywhere. She had fitted his wire crate with a cover made from a blanket, and inside with a cushion cover stuffed with newspaper. We had no idea what to expect of him, but there was no choice about it. Percy is ‘high maintenance’ and behaves more like a dog than his own species, so he isn’t easy to re-home, even if we wanted to. Helena and Mike from Oreton offered to have old Stella dog, so Andy took her there, knowing that it is one of the few places that she will be happy to live. That leaves Faffy-dog, whose like jacket was dug out ready.
It was a squeeze in the small car, but with the animals in the back seat with Katy and all the foot wells packed with food, clothes and shoes, we managed to take the rest of the stuff we wanted in the boot. And then we set off on Thursday 26th of July at the civilised time of 9am.
It went well until the inevitable happened. We’d avoided the roadworks by going the Chester way, but then someone on the M6 had managed to drive into a ridge near Preston, so it was closed on the worst possible section between Preston and Kirby Lonsdale – a very long stretch indeed. We doglegged east thinking the old A6 to the west would be at a standstill, but soon hit gridlock again, and weaved our way slowly round the North Yorkshire Dales for hours. Andy had reached his limit and wanted to stop for the night, but it was only the middle of the afternoon, so he saw the sense in carrying on regardless of the traffic.
We changed the ferry tickets to later sailings twice, until we were destined for the last one, with, once we’d finally managed to get back onto the motorway and make up some time, only a few hours to get from south of Glasgow in the rush hour to Oban. Time ticked as we sat in queues through the city, though you had to pity the folks going south since they weren’t moving at all, their queue even stretching all the way up to the Loch Lomond road. This was where we, though, finally began to be able to move properly again.
The longer but faster road from Tarbet towards Campbeltown rather than alongside Loch Lomond is becoming our favourite route. It goes to Inverary then right through a stone archway, which looks like the entrance to someone’s drive, and takes you up over the hills towards Crainlarich – Oban road. I was very fortunate to have a local to follow at top speed, all the way to Inverary, then I took it from there by myself, thoroughly warmed up to rallying with the help of Andy on the nav.
We needed to get to the ferry by 7.30pm for the last check-in, but made it there for an acceptable 7.40pm, and snuck into the queue before the tickets had been taken.
Percy cat behaved extraordinarily well, with Katy’s help in feeding him venison treats and checking on him. We decided to take him up into the ferry with us, since it was noisy and smelly on the car deck. AS usual Faffy headed for the kitchens, but we dragged her outside to sit together in the sunshine and laugh at our success.
We weren’t laughing for very long, though, after we got to the other side. Getting ourselves into the Shielings campsite, that you can see from the ferry with it’s odd white structures (large ‘tents’ made of stretched plastic that offer extreme comfort and all conveniences), we managed to get a pitch for our dilapidated tent, but found it hard to comprehend the luxury all around. BUT, when it came to leaving the next morning as planned, Friday 27th, the car was completely dead. All sorts of possibilities reared their ugly heads, but all we could do was push on. As luck had it we were at the top of the site, so there was a prodigious slope to bump start it.
Katy and Andy went over to Oban as foot passengers to buy Katy’s school uniform and get supplies, whilst I sorted through the container for the stuff we needed. The animals stayed with me, though Percy managed a Houdini stunt from his harness and escaped for a bit, so I was made to mount an ambush as he ducked under successive containers.
All we could do was try to con ourselves that the battery had been flattened by something (though nothing we could detect) having been left on overnight. However, when it came to collecting them from the ferry, after their shopping trip, it wouldn’t start again, so I walked to meet them and we walked back to it and bumped it again.
The garage confirmed a completely dead battery, needing replacing, but none in stock. We would need to get one from Oban , or possibly, Tobermory in the morning (Saturday 28th). We were dog tired, and felt defeated, yet another situation to get our heads around.
Eventually Saturday morning, we were able to make progress – a new battery and marine oil from Tobermory, one trip to drop the boat and outboard at Ulva Sound, and the final trip with people and animals to meet up with the boat.
It was still quite calm and warm when we got the dinghy in the water (this time with the right fuel mix, which made all the difference to the operation of the outboard), and once Katy, Faffy an Percy were safely on the other side, Any did a few more runs for myself and the gear. I had the benefit of my first lesson in starting and ‘driving’ the dinghy just as a squall picked up and made landing it hard work. Both Katy and I protested that this was NOT the time nor place for a lesson in seamanship. Once we were all on land at th Boathouse the wind strengthened, leading us to feel that the Gods had spoken: “Well you’re here now. Don’t expect to ever leave.”
The only time in the journey when Percy shouted at us was when I loosened the waterproof coat that we’d fitted over his crate. It was getting hot, and the track must have been throwing this crate around, which was secured above the haul bag on the stroller, so I thought I’d let some air in and look-in on him. I quickly covered him back again though, since this quietened him down again.
We continued the long stagger towards Gometra, this time even Katy having a heavy pack, and with us having absolutely no capacity to provide relief. We toiled hard, and thought this was definitely the craziest thing we’ve ever done. But Andy’s pessimistic ETA was proved wrong, and we arrived at 7pm rather than 9pm, with time taken to watch a Golden Eagle over Gometra, and a Red Deer stag meandering alongside us, giving us inspiration and incentive.
The house was cold, but fortunately we had a few warm days to begin with, so settling in was made easier. Percy was kept on his lead and followed by Katy as he walked around the house, and I collected sand from the beach and made a litter tray. After the 4 days that we’ve been here (Saturday evening to Wednesday morning), he is now as ‘at home’ as I’ve ever seen him. Though he doesn’t shout and chatter as much as before – yet! Faffy follows me around like my own personal shadow, but has the great treat of sleeping on our bed at night.
We’ve worked hard clearing out the old junk from the living room, including two cathode ray type T.V.s, two food mixers, a gas heater and empty gas bottle, a full size new metal bath (too big for the bathroom), baby chairs, books and much else besides. We’ve salvaged a filing cabinet to use as a mouse-proof larder, a wardrobe, two sets of drawers and an old table. All were mildewed, fungus-dusted and worm-eaten, and covered in pulverised wood from the worm activity. But they have come-up alright and make the place feel more homely.
It’s hard to know what to do with all the electrical things, except to pile them up in the chicken shed until we have the means to take them away. The old rusty cooker and washing machine are out in the elements at the back of the house, and some of the metal and fixings have already been up-cycled and raided for our mending jobs. We found little plastic bits on the cooker panels that are used behind the bolts instead of nuts, giving us the solution to the problem of securing our solar panel. We decided to fix it to a pallet so that it wouldn’t blow away, but didn’t have any nuts for our bolts.
On the last sunny day so far we took a walk out to the other side of the island to find the ruined ‘Black House’ that might become our next home. At the same spot as before we saw the Golden Eagle, then another gliding in figure-of-eights down quite low over us. Through the monocular we could see their true magnificence. I’ve learnt to look closely whenever the crows and gulls start sounding, because likely as not its eagles that they’re talking about.
The Black House was further away from the water’s edge than it appeared when we’d seen it from the summit a few months ago. It is on a sheltered patch of ground, much used by deer, and also has the benefit of a strong EE signal! I found my first antler to add to the collection started by Katy an Andy in April. The collecting habit is irresistible here since there are so many interesting, useful and downright gorgeous finds.
We picked our way beside the stream-be down to the bay, which has a small area of sand to mitigate its rockiness, to Katy’s relief. The diversity of seaweed got me excited, and it was annoying to be at a loss due to having forgotten most of the things I’d learnt earlier in the year. I will take my books to the beach with me next time.
Now that our solar panel is fixed outside we have light in the kitchen and a way to charge phones. We don’t have a signal, though, so it is a walk to the headland (which has been in cold, wind and rain so far for me), to chance a connection. Though not reliable, when it happens it is 4G, fast and strong, so at least it’s possible to download things – in theory. I’ve been trying to set up my phone as a hotspot for my ipad, so that I can synchronise my writing app (Ulysses) and upload it to the cloud from my phone. It isn’t going well. If you get to read this it will mean that I’ve succeeded, or found another way.
The cockerel next door wakes us each morning with his call of “Ship Ahoy”, and since Monday we’ve had stormy conditions, signaled by the sound of the blowhole. The damp in the house is much more of a problem when the weather gives out, so Andy’s been out collecting driftwood and dead heather stalks, whilst I’ve been collecting a stack of mouldy novels from the living room to burn.
We’ve been eating well, but we’re going to have to slow down a bit or we’ll run out of food. Andy’s already made a run out to fetch more supplies, which is fine if you can put on running shoes and go, but now as there is just Katy and myself here, I can’t spend most of the day away, leaving her by herself.
The reason we are now alone is that Andy left this morning, on his way on foot and bus to Craignure, then on the ferry to Oban to catch the Glasgow bus, and swap to the overnight coach to Birmingham. Then he gets the train to Wolverhampton where, we hope, sister Louise will be able to pick him up. He’s off back to Ditton to carry on working and earn enough to keep us going until we can find or make (some kind of) living here.
Katy starts school on Tuesday 14th August, giving her the shortest Summer Holiday ever! We are still not sure how we’ll get her there and back to the hostel each week, but continue on our quest for ideas with Argyll and Bute Council.
Having finished the blog and tried to send it, I found there was no signal to be had anywhere, so I’ll need to sit on this for a while.