One of many photos I took in the garden on the night of 10-11th May. Absolutely stunning.

There is no question about the highlight of last month. We were so lucky to be in one of the UKs best dark skies areas to witness the most impressive Aurora Borealis show in 20 years. I still can’t quite believe we got to see this from our garden! Whilst it was much brighter through the camera, we could see these colours with the naked eye. As you might imagine, I took quite a few photos and have included a few of the best at the end of the post. Even grainy phone imagines are pretty impressive.

There was some glorious weather in May, often being warmer than down south. Perhaps it was all the summer we will get, so we made the most of it. We slowed down on projects to spend time with family and getting out and about. We hosted my in-laws for a week and a half, and spent a long weekend with friends in Northumberland at the start of the May, so it feels like we have not made much progress with the house this month.

I have taken a few afternoons to begin removing the plastic masonry paint from the outside of the house. I started on the gable end, where we are working inside, to help the wall to dry out from both directions. It took a while to develop a technique that works, but after a total of around 12 hrs work in 4 stints, I have made some progress. The top layer of paint comes off fairly well with a heat gun, but there are many layers underneath including some kind of cement slurry, which is thin, but very hard. I found the use of a pointed hammer to chip away all the layers at once, to be the most effective way of getting back to the stone. I have uncovered a lot of cement pointing at the bottom of the wall, which I have also started to remove. This will need to be replaced with lime. I am trying not to focus too much on the enormity of the task ahead, and take one day at a time. It is definitely going to be a marathon not a sprint.

I will need scaffolding eventually, but there’s plenty more within reach to keep me busy for quite a while. The stone and original lime mortar which has been exposed longest (on the left) has already started to change colour as it slowly starts to dry out. In the last photo, you can just about see a colour gradient in the mortar joints from left to right.

With the warmer weather has come the emergence of the midges. We knew that with so many trees (they hide out behind the bark), there were likely to be plenty of midges in the summer, but that doesn’t make them less irritating on a still, humid day. We have experienced much worse in the highlands, but there are plenty enough to be annoying. In contrast to mosquitos, they seem to prefer to bite Mr Wombat than me, but you certainly know about it when they are out in force. We keep reminding ourselves that without the numerous insects, there would not be the bats, birds and amphibians either. Apparently a single bat can eat up to 3,000 midges in a night! When there is a breeze, the midges disappear, so we just have to pick our evenings to sit out. In the last week or so they have died down a bit, I’m not sure if that is due to increased wind or just that they hatch out in waves and the bats have been out in force too…… this space.

It’s hard to appreciate the scale of this female sabre wasp

As well as midges, we have been slowly identifying all sorts of other flies, butterflies, moths and beetles that we have never seen before. One particularly impressive kitchen visitor turned out to be a female sabre wasp. A type of parasitic wasp. It was a bit of a shock, as she was huge (almost 10cm in length), but she was certainly magnificent. What initially looked like a huge sting, is in fact an ovipositor for laying eggs on / in unsuspecting larvae and beetles 😱. Whilst completely harmless to humans, I am very glad I’m not a wood-boring grub.

The proliferation of birds nests continues with 2 new nests in the log store (blackbirds and we think yet more wrens). The location of the blackbirds’ nest means we have to walk past about 6ft away on a fairly regular basis. As long as we don’t look at them for too long, they don’t seem to mind.

Now the chicks have hatched, they do a comedy synchronised ducking down when we approach. Hopefully there won’t be a cold spell that requires us to get any more wood out any time soon!

The end of the month has seen the first fledglings venturing out into the world and taking their first clumsy flights. It seems like there are baby wrens hopping about in every corner of the garden waiting to be fed. We have also spotted a young siskins, chaffinches and a pied wagtail.

On the whole, it has been a pretty relaxing month. Late spring has always been one of my favourite times of year, but up here, it has been particularly special. With new wildflowers appearing every week, and different birds returning to the area. We now have spotted flycatchers to add to the list, and we are lucky to be able to see them hunting outside the window, returning to a few favourite perches waiting for the next unsuspecting insect meal to fly past.

We have been slowly evolving the kitchen garden and learning what grows well here (and what doesn’t). I had to delay planting out squashes, when a leveret took up residence in one of the beds in the walled veg garden for a couple of days. Thankfully hares don’t seem too keen on eating what I have planted – not yet anyway.

While we’ve been enjoying the wildlife, the freedom fund has enjoyed some new growth of its own.

Financial Update:

  • Freedom fund value – £1,285,480 (up £38K on last month)
  • Expenditure – £3,064 (or a 2.9% withdrawal rate)
  • Earned income – £50

The freedom fund hit another new all time high this month, up £38k from the end of April. It’s always nice to see our wealth growing with no effort on our part, but we are all too aware that in the early years of drawing from the pot, we need to be cautious.

As predicted, May was a very expensive month for vehicle bills. With £374 to service the van and £296 to insure the sports car. We only taxed the sports car over the weekend, so that will fall into June. We would SORN it, but we’ll need to get it out of storage to MOT it soon. The largest single spend was for ferry tickets for a trip to the Isle of Man later in the summer. It is somewhere we have wanted to visit for some time, so when a house sit came up to look after a couple of dogs, we jumped at it. It is just as well that the accommodation will be free, as the £418 return ferry ticket was a bit steep. We are told the company (the Steam Packet) is government owned, and is locally referred to as ‘The Steam Racket’.

We also spent £56 on a couple of campsite nights for a short trip next month and £110 on an organised wild swim adventure in September, which is such a rare opportunity that Mr Wombat decided to come too. More about that in a few months 🙂

The £50 income was from selling an outdoor log burner / firepit which the previous owners had left and which we will not use. I wasn’t sure how easy it would be to sell things online for collection in such a rural area, but so far the response to Facebook marketplace ads seems good.

Non-Financial Goals:

Forage something every month – Nothing to report here this month after a busy month in April. I did make rhubarb and ginger jam with rhubarb from the garden, but that doesn’t really count as foraging. I have been experimenting with sourdough after a friend who has gone travelling for a month gave me their starter. It is a slightly daunting prospect, and I don’t currently have all the correct equipment, but I have not yet wasted any of the discard.

Wild swim at least once a month in as many different places as possible  – The run of beautiful weather in the middle of the month made this goal very easy, and inspired me to add the first coastal swims of the year. I managed to swim in 3 new places and totalled 6 swims in the month.

The first was a group swim at Girvan beach called ‘dips and chips’ (a swim followed by fish and chips), with Ailsa Craig in the background. We were so lucky with the weather on that Wednesday evening, after a run of cold wet days. This was followed by a swim with 2 others in the gorgeous (if a little weedy) Loch Trool, 2 swims in our local inland Loch, an exploratory trip to Carrick Bay, and a group swim in a local river.

All in all a great month for swimming. Even Mr Wombat took off his wetsuit for the 2 trips he came along for.

Document our house renovation progress in an illustrated journal – There wasn’t much to add this month other than starting the mammoth effort that will be getting 200+ years worth of paint and other coatings off the outside stonework. I have tried to capture the feeling of the enormity of the task ahead. Hopefully at some stage I will be able to reflect back on it and report that with steady progress we got there in the end…….

It was very difficult to select just a few images of May, as I had taken so many. We did a lot of walking as well as swimming and I had almost forgotten about the bluebells at the start of the month. Then there were those northern lights…….

If you’re still reading, I’ll add just one last thought. I came across the below graphic this month, which I will be saving for discussions about thoughtful prioritisation with future coachees. A picture says it so much better than words:

Have a great June wherever you are 🙂

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