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This week marks the ten-year anniversary of moving to Lochaber.
A decade since our family arrived, in a battered 4×4 dragging a trailer filled with all of our possessions, a new puppy collected in Fort William along the way and heads full of hopes and dreams to start a new life on the Isle of Rum.
After seven years on Rum we moved to Ardnamurchan which has been home for the last three years.
April feels like the right month to have arrived in the west Highlands, as spring wakes up.
The first cuckoo is due to call any day; this week I have spotted birds gathering nesting
materials and pairing up. Neighbouring croftland which surrounds our house and garden is dotted with the first lambs of the season, bleating and leaping about.
Suddenly the trees have bright green leaves, the scent of wild garlic is in the air and roadsides are adorned with primroses.
This was an exciting time of year on our croft, litters of piglets would arrive, surely the cutest of all the baby animals. Chicks and ducklings would hatch, geese would suddenly be ferocious protectors of their large nests holding the promise of bright yellow goslings in the coming weeks.
There is both a poignancy and a slight sense of relief to not having responsibility for livestock of our own while vicariously enjoying spotting lambs and calves on crofts now.
The stop/start nature of April weather, with wildly fluctuating temperatures giving us overnight frosts followed by sunny days of well into double figures centigrade, means I am holding back fragile seedlings in the hopes of hardening things off a bit more before sending them outside into the cold hard ground.
Even without our previous acres, this time of year still inspires grow your own enthusiasm.
On a warm March day when spring felt almost present and summer a believable
promise, we set up a length of recycled guttering to move our strawberry plants to. Last year’s crop was shared rather more generously than we would have liked with a couple of mice.
Despite having two household cats, the mice were audacious in their feasting and we twice caught live mice and took them several miles away to release elsewhere – with warnings to ‘think about what you have done!’.
The transplanted plants are runners from last year as strawberry plants have a productive lifespan so a balance between ensuring enough energy is focused
into flowering and fruiting to get something to wrestle from the mice for eating ourselves, while allowing some new plants to establish was part of last year’s plan.
Strawberries have shallow roots so a length of guttering with good soil, plenty of watering and a liberal dose of a seaweed plant food bartered from a neighbour will hopefully net us a better crop this year. We may even get enough to spare some for jam making.
In other croftless crofter news, we are eagerly awaiting one of our hens going broody to increase our flock of chickens. Our healthy crew were sadly picked off one by one last summer by a fox, reducing us from double figures to just two hens and a cockerel.
Whilst we could have bought more hens, it is far easier to let them hatch a clutch of their own chicks and do all the hard work of integrating them into the pecking order, showing them where to roost at night and hopefully teaching them to be a bit streetwise about the inevitable predators who lurk around waiting for a chicken dinner.
It is lovely to be heading into an eleventh springtime here, even if part of me knows it is just a matter of time before I am cursing the midges, clegs and the 3am call of the cuckoo!
Photograph (July 2019): NO F30 Nic Goddard byline pic