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Storms and fire raisers

Carradale Harbour from Deer HillPeering down through the conifers from the footpath above our village it strikes me just how isolated a community we are, something not unusual in Scotland where towns and villages can be located many hours travelling time away from a big city. So many live this way that the whole economy is geared to accommodate. The fact that services in the remoter communities cost more per individual to provide than in a city is accepted as part of what living here is all about. To avoid population drift away from the countryside the Scottish government actively encourages re-population of the Highlands and Islands – to do otherwise might result in many of these communities stagnating and dying altogether – so we live here confident that we are not going to be forgotten.

We do not, it is true, live on an island but the length of the Kintyre peninsula does put us in a similar category to those who do. We are newcomers to this life but we are slowly learning the tricks needed to get around some of the difficulties that our remoteness creates. Running out of basic foodstuffs like bread and milk, for example, has to be anticipated. We keep a few cartons of milk in the freezer and our bread-making machine keeps churning out the loaves when we need them. So long as we remember to stock up with the right sort of flour when we do a supermarket trip and to buy extra milk, all is well. We keep stocks of what we need in the house and then make lists of things we need to buy to make our shopping trips more productive. That, and also learning where to buy what we need from the limited choice available locally, is important but if it is real choice we want then we must be prepared to travel to Glasgow. Good research on the Internet will tell us where the shops we need are located.

As I write this the wind is hooting down the chimney above our newly opened-up living room fireplace which waits for Robert-the-stove-fitter to come and install a compact multi-fuel stove. With the high winds and rain we are experiencing this is not the time to be climbing up on a rooftop so we must be patient. This is the second severe storm we have experienced since we moved to Carradale. Back in May, when the tree buds were just bursting and small leaves were beginning to form, a blast of air came in from the west, gusts well over eighty miles an hour and salt-laden too, all of which caused widespread damage, not so much by knocking trees over (which it did) but by ‘burning’ the young leaf growth before it could get going. The effects of this, brown wrinkled leaves still clinging to the trees, have been with us all summer like a premature autumn.

Campbeltown harbour in a galeThis latest storm arrives after days of rain, heavy rain, which elsewhere might cause flooding and distress but here it merely disappears into the ground and runs away. In May we lost our electric power for several hours and again this time the lights flicker but they stay bravely on through the worst of the storm. It is unwise to venture out of doors when there is tree debris flying about and driving along wooded lanes carries a risk, however slight, of meeting an uprooted tree on its passage to earth, so we gaze from our windows as the trees bend before the blast and swathes of rain lash down. Unlike in May, the trees now carry a heavy leaf burden. In another month the trees will release their leaves but for now they still cling on to each one, against all the odds and irrespective of the harm this may cause the tree. Twigs snap and fly away downwind, whole branches are broken off but this eases the burden on the trunk which clings on to the shallow soil using every root and rootlet. Most violent are the gusts which drop on our house as it nestles low beneath Deer Hill. The glass in our windows creaks to these onslaughts, every blade of grass in the garden is flattened smooth and water briefly flows uphill in the gullies. It is exciting to watch from inside and the house is used to it – it doesn’t complain.

After a few days the storm passes away somewhere else, a remnant of hurricane Katia so we are told, and we get the telephone call we are waiting for. Chimney cleaningOur stove fitter arrives armed with pipes and brushes to sweep the chimney then insert a steel flue liner and connect this to our stove. My contribution to this part of the project is done – the stone slabs for the hearth I have been engaged on fitting over the past few days are smooth and level – but we watch in horror as his brushing dislodges an enormous pile of soot which descends and heaps up on our new hearth. On quick reflection though we feel far safer knowing that this lot is not still hanging up there out of sight.

Our excitement mounts as the day when we can light up comes ever nearer. Betty lighting the stoveEven though we still have to tile and finish the fire surround we cannot wait any longer. We decide we need just the right important local person for first firing of the stove and who better than our neighbour Betty, who like us is a fan of a good coal fire to keep her home warm. We point her at the stove and seconds later the flames are licking up the chimney (it works!) and soon the warmth is filling the room and seeping through the house, just what we need for the winter ahead.

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