So what is a Sheiling?

It’s a summer dwelling for the herdsperson while the stock, in Scotland usually cattle, feed on the higher pastures.  Ruins of these dwellings can be seen in many parts of upland Scotland; they remained in use until the  early19th century when land enclosure ended the practice. It can also refer to the pasture land.  The hill farms of Northumberland used the same system, and if you travel around the hills of Wales you might notice many buildings called Hafod. These were the summer dwellings of the shepherds, distinct from the farmhouses Hendre found down on the gentler valley floors.

But this house doesn’t fit that description,  it’s not on high pasture, the sea washes  the bottom of the garden. Because even though parts of the house have been here for over 150 years it hasn’t always been called Sheiling. Many years ago it may have been Clachan cottage, perhaps part of Clachan farm just over the bridge? An early postcard view shows hay stacked in the “garden” which suggests livestock. The settlement around the bridge was once bigger, there are remains of at least two other cottages nearby and another one clearly marked on the old maps has disappeared without trace.  Even before the bridge it seems to have been a crossing point to and from the mainland.

We’ll be keeping the name though, because we’re offering a temporary home. Though please, don’t bring your cows!

old photo


A peek into the past

Do you keep a diary? Alice MacLachlan did. She was the teacher and wife of the Minister of St Kilda in 1906-9. The National Trust for Scotland are posting weekly episodes of her diaries on their website,  St Kilda Diaries, The Diary of Alice MacLachlan . They are are fascinating, beginning with the MacLachlan’s life near Garve,  then documenting Alice’s initial dismay at her husband’s posting to St Kilda and subsequently their life there.

As the diaries are being released weekly it’s possible to follow life as the seasons turn. At the moment hay is being gathered and there’s great excitement as a whaling ship visits. The steamer service has already finished and soon the islanders will be facing the winter….

Alice probably never imagined her diaries would be read let alone mind published. Her carefully recorded domestic details take us to the past in a way that photographs and artefacts can’t. We share her excitement, moments of boredom, sadness and joy. Today many of us share our lives through blogs, Facebook and Twitter but these tend to be edited to show us at our best. There is still a place for the diary recording those things we may not want to share.  Yet.


Branching out

I’ve had a move away from family recipes to explore gluten free baking. My initial attempts substituting gluten free flour in regular recipes had varying success, shortbread ok, bara brith (a Welsh tea bread) less so. I decided to look for recipes which were designed  flour free. A quick search took me to Nigella Lawson’s website nigella.com which has lots of delicious flour free choices.

So far I’ve tried her chocolate olive oil cake (also dairy free), flour free brownies and clementine cake. All turned out well, I’m blaming my ancient oven for the burnt top of the clementine cake!


I cut off the “overcooked”bits and added lime buttercream

All three of these use ground almonds as their main “filler” so beware if you have a nut allergy. They are pretty rich and calorific too, enjoy in moderation….

Nigella advises that they are best enjoyed fresh and perhaps even warm but  you’d need quite a large party to polish them off. The  brownies at least freeze well.


chocolate brownie – I had to “test” after freezing

I have cooked a version of the clementine cake using polenta rather than almonds but can’t find that recipe at the moment, if I remember correctly it produces a denser cake.

After all that “testing”  thank goodness for sunshine and some lovely walks.