MacLeod Organics

The above is a fairly standard view for us for nearly the last two weeks. The yellow is a shrub of some sort (couldn't catch the name through the accent of our wonderful but very Scottish host) that seems to cover the hillsides like a weed and, despite the good looks, hides some pretty vicious thorn tangles. Fun!

We have now been at MacLeod Organics in Ardersier for just about two full weeks, having arrived last Monday the 16th, and are due for an update here. Ardersier is about 11 miles northeast of the small city of Inverness, which lies right at the beginning of the Highland area of Scotland. Inverness is considered to be the hub of the northern part of the country and, though it is a bustling town, ~55,000 people isn't huge by any means. It's nice that way. It is small enough to feel a little less like your standard big city, but big enough that it has the necessary amenities: an airport (where the next Batman movie is rumored to have a scene shot), some live music venues, and, after a little searching, some worthy dark chocolate. We visited last weekend and wandered the downtown center where we discovered that A) the Andean flute players really are in all of the major markets worldwide, B) the Inverness castle isn't quite as old as it should be, and C) print studios don't have to be messy and covered in ink. The latter was something we had been looking forward to seeing since Casey found it in a little research months ago and it's every bit as great as it seems. Workshops, open studio, screen printing, digital, mono print, etc. etc. The Iist goes on and on.

But enough about Inverness.

We have been pretty excited to have a full month to work with the farm and really spend some time with the people that are integral to its existence. It is a family farm, run by a life-long resident of the area, his daughter and son-in-law, along with a large extended family of helping hands. MacLeod is not unfamiliar with WWOOFers and has three bedrooms in the house dedicated to traveling farm help. Another couple from Hungary are in the other room currently and have been with the farm, in some form, for about a year and a half, having spent the better part of that time at the sister farm about 30 miles away. They have been incredibly helpful in both orienting us to the farm work and giving us advice on where to explore beyond the small village of Ardersier. Plus, Casey has been learning small bits of Hungarian from Monika throughout the day - most importantly the word for chocolate covered cottage cheese. And, of course, beer. This may also send us to exploring Budapest for a little longer than expected.

MacLeod Organics is a small farm, the main gig of which is organizing a weekly box scheme that delivers produce (all organic, plus meat, dry goods, dairy, etc. sourced as locally as possible) all over the highlands. This means that our jobs, so far, have consisted largely of planting, watering, harvesting and boxing produce that is grown on site, as well collecting eggs from ~600 chickens (2x daily), rounding up sheep or cows, and then starting over on Monday. In short: we are farmers for a month.

MacLeod is an active member of the Soil Association of Scotland, is intensely resourceful and self sustaining, participates in multiple farmer's markets each week, and fully supports neighboring organic farms. We are learning a lot about growing in polytunnels, under-planting...or maybe it is called something else..(i.e. planting lettuce between and under runner beans), and generally how to get the most out of your soil and land with the most natural processes. We also find ourselves saying things like ... maybe when we have some land, we can also have some chickens? Woohoo!

Location:Ardersier, Scotland

The Road To Inverness

The ride from Glasgow to Oban is, along with the bit of Utah where I-15 splits and heads south from I-70, one of the more powerful and beautiful bits of scenery I've ever been through. Given that our bus on Sunday morning left at 8:30 am, we were both still half asleep, and the sky was pretty overcast, I really wasn't too well prepared for what awaited us along the way, and I found myself wishing wishing sleep wasn't calling so loudly. In all of my Scotland daydreams in middle school, high school and since (There were many. Thanks, Travis.), I always sort of pictured the cities as being in sort of ho-hum flat spaces, and it wasn't until the highlands that things got hilly and green and picturesque. To be honest, I'm not sure what exactly counts as the highlands so perhaps the whole Sunday morning bus ride was part of it. Mountain after mountain shrouded in a dreamy, low hanging fog, waterfalls spilling out of nowhere headed toward the nearest loch (lake) and the road winding up and over and through it all. I wish I could've asked the bus driver to pause so I could take a few photos. When we arrived in Oban (pronounced: oh-bin, with the latter almost just "bn"), we weren't really sure what we'd find there except, sadly, that the distillery is closed on Sundays. I say sadly because we would've loved to have poked around and taken the tour but what we found instead was far better (especially given the amount of distilleries near where we are now). We checked into the hostel in town and one of the more friendly and helpful people we've met on the trip so far happened to be working the desk. She informed us that not only is there a small island called Kerrera just off the shore of Oban, but there's a free hourly shuttle boat (ten minute ride) that'll dump you off at the marina on the other side where you're immediately free to wander the entire island. There was a small sign pointing the way to the "foot path" but that's pretty much the only guidance. This map might help illustrate the size of the island, which takes four hours to hike all the way around (and includes a bunch of sheep, 35 residents, one restaurant, one castle and one monument), though not the views from it.

Off the other side of it is a seal colony (we didn't see any) and the isle of Mull, which we were advised is more of a full day trip. Despite the misting rain, we managed to have a picnic at the top and then get our shoes completely soaked on the walk back before retiring to what turned out to be a really great hostel overall for the night.

Monday morning brought our bus from Oban, through Fort William, past Loch Ness (Huge lake! No monster, but I won't lie: a little part of both of us kept looking, just in case...) and on into Inverness, the "capital of the north". Since we had a little time to kill before catching the bus that would take us out to the farm where we will be for the next month, we decided to wander around the downtown area and try to find a cafe or pub. In hindsight, some things seem like such great decisions even though in the moment they can feel so unimportant. Getting a coffee at Bar One turned out to be one of these as we ended up talking to an inspiring couple in their 60s from Lancashire, England who were waiting to catch their own train home after hiking for a month from Glasgow to the top of Scotland. For the better part of an hour they couldn't have been friendlier or more interesting, handing off stories of other hikes they'd done and what they'd seen.

Next stop: Ardersier, where we'll be working on an organic farm through most of June, temporarily trading in our wandering shoes for our work boots.

Highlights: - The black Guillemots that reside in Oban. They fly and walk as awkward as a penguin on duck feet, but can dive underwater to 150 meters because their bodies are built to be able to withstand the pressure. Funny AND awesome.

- The Oban Backpackers hostel, which was not only helpful but also had Nutella in the complimentary breakfast. Win!

- The British captain and owner of the 10 Contesto, a 36-foot Shetland style sailboat that we were originally just admiring for its uniqueness. While we were standing on the pier looking at it, he came out and chatted away, eventually getting to the part in his story of where he learned to sail: Cape Cod, MA. It is a small world.

Location:Inverness,United Kingdom