Thursday, 24 December 2009

Winter Wonderland at Seafield

Visitors often ask if there will be lots of snow at Christmas and usually my answer is ‘probably not’. Typical Argyll festive seasons have been wet, windy, mild and green but this year has proved the exception and we have a covering of snow and thick frost. It is stunningly beautiful and the monochrome snowy scenes of the day have given way to stunningly colourful sunsets. The one year that we could have provided the perfect Scottish white Christmas for our visitors, we decided to have a break and leave the cottages empty until New Year.

The weather is not without it’s challenges, with frozen water supplies and icy roads to contend with. Bundles of willow which should have been baskets by now are frozen in the soaking tank and will take days to thaw when the temperatures rise. Fortunately we have plenty of firewood to keep us warm and cosy in the house.

We continue to keep an eye on the beavers. Both families have built lodges and stored winter supplies of food underwater. Coming from Norway, the cold weather will not cause a problem for them. The tree felling activity has increased in recent months and hundreds of trees have now been felled and many will die through being flooded. While this may create habitats for some flora and fauna, it will undoubtedly displace others. If the damage to the woodland had been caused by humans, it would be called vandalism; because it is done by a wild creature, it is considered beneficial. With a landscape covered in Sitka Spruce, it is nonsense to laud the environmental benefits of opening up the canopy in tiny areas of scrubby woodland.

We wish all our visitors a happy and peaceful Christmas and New Year.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Knapdale Beavers in Observer Magazine

The beaver debate got an airing in the Observer Magazine on Sunday 6 December. To read the article, copy the link into your web browser

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Winter Arrives at Seafield

Normally I wouldn't welcome winter but crisp, dry, sunny weather is a joy after what has felt like weeks of rain.

Life at Seafield has been busier than usual in October and November with lots of visitors in the cottages and the house. We managed to get away for a week of sunshine in Greece and enjoyed a relaxing time, swimming, walking and eating out every night. There were instructions on cooker cleaning in the villa but all our cooker needed was a light dusting after a week of inactivity. We stayed at Daphnes Villas at Vasilikos on Zakynthos which is a lovely place and very peaceful apart from the Skops owl which hooted incessantly.

The beavers continue to chop down trees, build dams and lodges and flood a favourite walk around Loch Coille Bharr. Having seen what two families of three can do, the prospect of a larger population being let loose in Scotland is worrying. One or both of the missing Creag Mhor beavers have been found on private land North of the release site but have managed to evade capture so far.

Achnamara had a bonfire and fireworks party. The weather was calm and clear and the fireworks display was excellent, reflected in the calm waters of the loch.

Tayvallich held a Christmas Craft Fair so I had a stall with my baskets and caught up with friends from across the other side of Loch Sween. The sunny day provided a good opportunity for a walk around Taynish Nature Reserve. At this time of year with the leaves off the trees you can see so much more and the blanket of green is replaced with fantastic autumn colours.

Basketmaking has taken a back seat over the last year but I have been busy this month teaching two courses, one at Kilmartin House Museum and the other at Logie Steadings near Forres. I have been making much more use of my own home grown willow which now provides a good crop of fine weaving rods in a variety of colours.

We had a walk to Seals Bay, half a mile down the track at the back of Seafield, just as the sun was setting. A seal obligingly put in an appearance but I wasn't quick enough with the camera to catch the gull silhouetted against the sky or the heron waiting patiently at the edge of the water. The clear sky is great for star gazing but we have not seen the Northern Lights this year which are sometimes a feature in November

Photos 1. Taynish Nature Reserve, 2. Daphnes Villa, Vasillikos. 3. Picnic at Stronefield Beach near Achnamara. 4. Beaver Lodge on Dubh Loch. 5. Achnamara Bonfire. 6. A hard working student. 7. Seal at Seals Bay. 8. Sunset on Loch Sween. 9. Autumn Colours on Loch Coille Bharr.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Autumn Arrives Early in Argyll

The summer of 2009 has definitely been a summer of two halves. The gloriously sunny half and the disappointingly wet and dreary half. The summer house had its own lake to look out onto when the burn came over the top of the bridge and flooded the garden for the first time in living memory. Brambles hang unpicked in the hedgerows and in the vegetable garden, the harvest is battered and waterlogged instead of golden and ripening. Visitors have been stoical in their determination to get out and about but I am sure their well deserved holidays have not lived up to expectations.

The shed roof which has dominated our summer is finished at last. It was a mammoth task in which James had help from several extremely capable and hard working Wwoofers (willing workers on organic farms). Now we have a dry space to store timber, firewood and machinery for as long as we need it. The next refurbishment in about 30 years is unlikely to be our problem.

The beavers continue to have an impact on the area. The very popular waymarked walk around Loch Coille Bharr is closed because the damming activities of the beavers which, in conjunction with a lot of rain have flooded the path. The closure signs give no indication that it is beaver activity which has caused the problem as there seems to be a policy of only putting out 'good' beaver news. The fact that only one family out of four or five families, survived the capture, transportation and quarantine regime was kept very quiet as was the information that two of the released families had been imported by the Royal Zoological Society in Scotland, a partner in the trial, three or four months before the licence for the Knapdale trial was granted. These beavers were kept in Edinburgh Zoo and Highland Wildlife Park before being released in May 2009 as part of the trial. Of the original November 2008 importation of beavers destined for Knapdale, only one beaver remains in the trial area after he was re-captured from Loch Craignish following nine weeks on the run. The adult female and female kit remain lost and unaccounted for. The beavers have been sold to the public as cute, cuddly individual animals with names and personalities but the number of beaver deaths caused by the trial has not been advertised. The current situation as far as I know, is that we have two families of three, one each on Coille Bharr and Loch Linne, one single female which may or may not be on Caol Scotnish and one single adult male on Loch Creag Mhor - unless he has gone walkabout again.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Summer at Seafield Farm Cottages

As usual, the summer is going too fast with far too many things to do and keeping up with the blog seems low on the list of priorities. The glorious early summer has given way to a rather more drizzly, dull August which must be very disappointing for our visitors.

Replacing the roof on the Big Shed has been occupying much of James' time but with help from Thomas and a succession of very hard working Wwoofers (Willing Workers on Organic Farms), the job is now 80% complete and we will have a great dry space for timber drying and firewood storage.

Beaver monitoring has taken up quite a bit of time too. Only six of the original eleven beavers currently remain on the release lochs but they have managed to fell significant numbers of trees and have flooded the Coille Bharr walk by building dams. The adult male which had travelled 7 miles north from the release site has been trapped after 10 weeks out of Knapdale. We are told it will be returned to Creag Mhor Loch where it will be home alone - until it heads off again towards the Crinan Canal in the vain hope of finding a mate. For more beaver related information look at

We have had our first honey harvest from the bees which have been working hard all summer. The chickens hatched at the end of May have grown quickly and unfortunately rather a lot of them look like cockerels. The garden produce is getting a little overwhelming with courgettes turning into marrows overnight and an abundance of french and runner beans. The strawberry crop was wiped out by a badger which clearly preferred them to slugs. Our Wwoofers have been a great help in keeping the weeds at bay.

The flowers are looking lovely and the buddleia has been covered in butterflies. Painted Ladies, Small tortoiseshell, Red Admirals have all visited but today there were only Peacock Butterflies in evidence. A large dragonfly alighted on a hoe in the garden conveniently posing for my camera. Buzzards wheel overhead and jays screech in the trees. The ospreys will be getting ready for the long flight from Loch Sween to Africa.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Loch Linnhe & The Alternative Beaver Blog

Tuesday 23 June, a stunningly beautiful evening so off to Loch Linnhe for a spot of fishing. Lochgilphead Angling Club has rowing boats for hire for fly fishing on Loch Coille Bharr, Loch Linnhe and Loch Barnluasgan - available from Seafield Farm. Loch Linnhe is about 3 miles from Seafield but you could be a million miles from anywhere. It is a beautiful loch surrounded by woodland and forest; a heavenly spot. At the moment the water lilies are just coming into bloom and on the eastern arm of the loch there are smaller yellow water lilies. The surface of the loch was occasionally disturbed by skating sedge flies, a favourite food for trout but on this evening they floated undisturbed. Loch Linnhe is another one of the lochs chosen for the beaver introduction and two of them were swimming about. They seemed fairly oblivious to the boat as we rowed past. One of them swam to the bank and proceeded to gnaw very noisily on an ash branch. There was no sign of the other two but we hear that of the eleven beavers released, one has died, one has disappeared, one was in the canal and one is in the Fairy Isles. The official beaver blog is remarkably lacking in information and the information board in Barnluasgan asserts that they are all still where they were put.

About twenty swallows flew overhead and Daubenton bats swooped over the water picking off insects.

Stable Cottage is still available for one week from 3 - 10 July and Kirkland Lodge from 12 - 18 July. Visit our lovely area and discover that we have a lot more to offer than imported Norwegian beavers. They are supposed to be good for biodiversity but it would be hard to create more biodiversity than already exists here in Knapdale forest.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Wildlife Watching on Loch Coille Bharr

We have had some beautiful evenings here recently and as long as you keep moving, it is possible to avoid the midges. On Friday 12 June we took a stroll around the loch to see if we could spot the beavers. Eleven were released, three on Loch Coille Bharr, and four each on Loch Linnhe and Creag Mhor Loch with one young beaver dying shortly after release.

The silence was broken only by the sound of trout sucking in insects from the surface of the loch and the call of the woodcock as it flew overhead. Starting from the Forest Track behind Knap Studio on the Achnamara Road, we walked anti clockwise around the loch. The main beaver signs were of the man made variety - signposts with more than a touch of anthropomorphism; a manifestation of the Disneyfication of Knapdale. Stopping at the landing stage we spotted a beaver which rapidly disappeared around the corner heading south. Later, stopping at the bench at the southern end of the loch, we watched a beaver swim across the loch from east to west. Whether we saw one beaver twice or two beavers is uncertain.

Apart from the beaver itself, we saw few signs from the path. The water lilies are just starting to flower, a known favourite of beavers. The next night we took to the water for a spot of fly fishing in addition to beaver spotting. The loch was perfectly still, the reflections so perfect it was hard to see what was reflection and what was real. Once again, the lone beaver was at the north end swimming from east to west and seemingly unconcerned by our presence. It came close enough for me to get a reasonable photograph. Beavers really aren't particularly attractive, they really do look like oversized hairy rats in the water. However, they are not as hideous as the carved beaver model which is in the log cabin at Barnluasgan. Our native otters are far more entertaining to watch. Later, paddling south along the eastern side, there were plenty of beaver signs. The cut ends of branches clearly visible in the fading light. Birch, oak and rowan seem to be the favourites with alder left untouched. A birch branch was stripped of its bark with the teeth marks clearly visible.

At this time of year, it is hardly dark at all so it was after 11 pm when we left the loch. No trout were harmed during our trip. Many broke the surface but were not tempted by the fake fly, having an abundance of the real thing floating on the surface. A mist was rising over the whole surface and there was quite a chill in the air after the heat of the day. On the way home, we stopped to see if the glow worms were in their usual spot and counted five along the road verge - tiny green lights shining intensely among the grass.

If you are passing the Crinan Canal, keep a look out as a beaver has managed to make it overland into the Canal but I haven't heard if it has been retrieved. I hear the radio tags have caused problems too. How exactly do you glue a radio tag to a Beaver?

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Badger in the Compost Bin

Byre Cottage has now got a new 37 inch HD ready tv but haven't quite got around to getting the Blu Ray Player or HD Sky just yet. If you have a PS3 or Blu Ray you can bring it with you.

Stable Cottage only has a boring old widescreen tv who needs television? As I was writing this, a badger wandered across the grass but disappeared before I could get the camera. However, I sneaked out of the front door and caught it raiding the compost bin - low light levels didn't provide the best snap but here it is anyway.

We have a summer house in the garden so I will put out some peanuts tomorrow night and wait with my camera in the hope of getting a better photo. The badger visits quite regularly and as long as it stays away from the chickens, we are happy to see it.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Beavers Arrive in Knapdale

On 28 May three families of European Beavers were released on three lochs in Knapdale near Achnamara and on 29 May another family will be released on Loch Coille Bhar. According to Radio 4, 11 beavers are being released, 2 have died in quarantine and 4 are not ready to be released. According to the beaver team, 25 animals were imported from Norway with 5 dying in quarantine so we seem to have lost 3 beavers somewhere - and that is while they were in captivity.

The beavers are not contained in any way but they are radio tagged and we are assured that if they stray, they will be returned to their designated lochs. This hardly constitutes a trial of how beavers will behave in Scotland when left to their own devices. This is a fantastic area with a wonderful habitat for many wild creatures but it is far from being a wilderness area suitable for free ranging beavers with an insatiable appetite for broadleaf woodlands. It is ironic that the beavers are being encouraged to munch on our hardwoods while deer are shot for doing the same thing.

Our holiday cottages are two miles from the release sites so if you fancy a beaver safari, you know where to come.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Beekeeping at Seafield

This week, Andy from the village brought a couple of his hives to Seafield. After years of thinking about keeping bees and failing to do anything about it, I now have the opportunity to try it out or at least watch while someone who knows what they are doing, gets on with it. The bee suit, gloves and hive tool are ordered. Now all we need is some fine weather, lots of flowers and hopefully the bees will thrive and produce lots of honey. We are hoping for a swarm or two which will obligingly hang about until we can catch them and of course they will be very docile, and I will not get stung - ever.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Basketmaking at Seafield Farm

In addition to running holiday cottages, I make baskets when I have the time and the inclination. I grow various varieties of basketmaking willow and make many different styles of baskets, most of them traditional and functional but some more decorative and creative. There is a selection for sale or you can just have a look. Sometimes I run basketmaking courses for beginners and host gatherings of fellow Argyll basketmakers which usually involves a lot of chatting and a great deal of cake eating.

The willow provides a fantastic habitat for insects and birds and creates a shelter belt for the vegetable patch. It grows at a fantastic rate with the larger varieties growing up to 14 feet tall during one growing season. Willow comes in many different colours - red, green, brown, purple, yellow and orange with all shades in between.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Holiday Cottages, Achnamara, Argyll

Here at Seafield Farm, we have three holiday cottages. Byre Cottage, Stable Cottage and Kirkland Lodge. It's a fantastic place - off the beaten track but only fifteen minutes from the nearest town. For anyone who wants to walk on empty forest roads, breathe fresh air and hear nothing but birdsong, then this is where you should be.

Our cottages are warm, welcoming and environmentally friendly with heating and hot water from our log fired boiler. The wood comes from the forests around us, a local sustainable source.

If you want to learn more about our cottages and check out the availability, have a look at