At long last, the drooping main gate to Carrick Eriskay has been fixed!
The gate – together with all the fences around Carrick’s garden were installed by … well, I’ll just say “not by me”, in early 2009, as construction of the house was nearing completion. Back then, my previous experience of fencing works – as part of civil engineering projects on the mainland – was manifestly of little use to me, faced as I was with the peculiarities of fencing a rocky-boggy Hebridean croft! The guys who did the work for us came recommended by others, and I had no reason – and no other option – than to trust them to get on with the job, not least because I was completely tied up with the main building work AND income-earning work on the mainland.
Not a single one of the gates they installed actually fitted. Two had posts that were too far apart. One had a bent hinge pin and a leaning hinge post. And the main gate to Carrick itself sagged so badly that even with the hinge bolts adjusted as far as they would go, the sliding bolt fell short of the catch that was waiting to receive it ; and the posts were too far apart, anyway. The one rectification they attempted was a hopeless as before. For the gate to the house, a temporary rope, tied to the gate with a loop to throw over the nearby (but not nearby enough!) post, soon became a fixture ; and after years of guests leaning on the (unsupported) gate end whilst in conversation with someone outside – resulted in the gate scraping on the tarmac of the drive. Putting things right would be complicated and difficult, I knew, because if there was one thing the fencers didn’t take short-cuts with, it was concreting in posts : it woud be impossible to remove the offending posts without extensive damage to our very nicely tarmacced drive ; and there were water supply pipes, buried electric cables and drainage very close by to both posts.
In our garden, there’s bushes and plants and trees a-plenty – all planted by us, but nurutured by Mother Nature alone – which provide guests with shelter from the wind, and some degree of privacy. The deep, densely planted borders also provide a habitat for blackbirds, wrens, goldfinches and many other birds, and small mammals ; and of course they simply look nice. The thing is, though, that they are, also, apparently, quite tasty. At least that’s what the stravaging cows and ponies – and even a few sheep rediscovering their genetic origins as goats – must think, because they keep coming back for more. They lean over the fence and browse on the nearest leaves and twigs, stripping the bushes bare and stunting growth. As the easy-to-reach leaves are depleted, they press down with their tough necks – the barbed wire doesn’t seem to trouble them – and thus reach lower and further. I’ve even seen horses put their hooves into the mesh and press down firmly, leaving the wire mesh permanently distorted, the top wire of the fence lower than ever, and posts leaning like they’re drunk. It serves little purpose to shoo them away – they’ll be back as soon as the proverbial back is turned.
So, for one thing, this would be a job for winter time, with no guests a-coming and a-going. Unfortunately, for a second, that’s when the island cows ponies and sheep are permitted to roam freely around the island. Thus, I needed to ensure that there was a closure across the gate at all times that I wouldn’t actually be working on the job. In the end, though, it was those free-ranging animals themselves that led me to the most practical (though not the cheapest!) solution.
So, nothing for it, but to replace the fence as well. Last year, I replaced the fence on the other (east) side of the house – damaged by similar means, topping it with a line of 8000V electric fence wire (well out of the reach from anyone staying at the house!) This year – this Winter and early Spring, I’ve replaced the whole line of fence – including two gates – on the west side of the house.
The problem of keeping the animals out whilst the work is in progress has been solved by replacing fence and gates on a new line – slightly ‘out’ from the original (and, as it happens, closer to the ‘correct’ position – not that it matters much, as we own the land on both sides off the fence), and only demolishing the old fence once the new is fully complete. And though having no guests for the last six months is not something I’d ever claim to be a desirable state of affairs, it has at least allowed me to get on with the job in my own time, without feeling rushed into short-cuts, especially when having to navigate a way amongst all those pipes and cables (annoyingly, the water pipe heading for the Byre in Field 1 keeps appearing in post holes – I have to dig very carefully!
Unlike the work in the roof void, the satisfaction of completing this difficult jobis something that I can readily share with others. Our long-standing guests, especially. I rather hope that they will agree, that a gate that opens and closes in a conventional manner, without the need for ropes, is better done late than never at all.