Scotland just keeps getting better…and (unfortunately) colder. Winter is definitely coming. After a fortnight at Laidlawstiel House, I travelled onwards and upwards to Laikenbuie, to continue my WWOOFing odyssey with the Muskus family. I’ve now spent a month at Laikenbuie, a 140 acre croft in the Scottish highlands near Nairn and the Moray Firth. If you look it up on a map, it’s well north. Not too far from Nessie at Inverness, either. It’s 140 acres of fields, pine trees, fluff-ball sheep, bellowing cows and keening hens, with the calming rush of the loch mingling amongst it all.

This lovely farmhouse is covered in trailing ivy and asserts pride of place above the loch. Inside, inspiring and thoughtful quotes dot the walls between hand-woven and carved decorations. From the toasty kitchen complete with wood-burning stove pops the lovely, pig-tailed Therese, while her quiet-spoken husband Peter can often be found working on the accounts on the computer. This fairytale-like home forms their life’s work, encompassing extensive vegetable gardens, polytunnel and orchards. The Muskus family is self-sufficient in fruit and vegetables, eggs, meat and honey. They are also off-the-grid, with solar panels and fresh spring water drawn from their property. It’s really a world apart from the mainstream life of supermarket dependence. A hidden sanctuary, if you will.

I was lucky enough to meet their son Sam (23) and daughter Jo (26), who were also visiting Laikenbuie while I worked there. Sam is a geologist and Jo an environmental scientist, and both were excellent fun. Plus there’s border collies Lexi and Pip, so I was spoiled for company. After a month among this rambunctious lot I definitely feel like part of the family.

Laikenbuie farmhouse.

The family hub forms the centre of a kind of unintentional community (as Therese likes to describe it) with two additional families living on the croft and assisting in the day-to-day running of the farm. Rob, Bianca and their two young boys Joshua and Jonah live in the cute, cosy loft apartment next to the house, while Andy, Iona and Aylah live down the track in a gorgeous turf-roofed home built by Peter. Both families are extraordinarily kind and lovely, and their presence turns Laikenbuie into something really special and unique. I’ve never been to a place like it and feel very lucky to have been welcomed here.

In addition to this community, there’s also three beautiful wooden holiday lodges (all designed and built by Peter) and a caravan, which collectively form “Hiddenglen Holidays” (check them out at:Β http://www.hiddenglen.co.uk/home.html). If you’re ever in the Scottish highlands looking for an extraordinary getaway, this is the place. It’s the special touches, like a hand-written welcome card, farm-fresh eggs and helpful advice from Peter and Therese that turn guests into extended family members who come back year after year.

Generally, Peter has his hands full with building projects, overseeing the livestock and the general day-to-day of running the farm. Therese is no less busy with organising the holiday home rentals, managing the vegetable garden and running this busy household. I can see why the odd wwoofer would be helpful around here, and I have certainly been keeping busy!

A day in the life

A typical day starts at 8am, feeding the lambs, ewes, and cattle. This involves a bit of a trek across the croft, counting the animals, dispensing food and minerals. It’s hard to call it a hardship when the new day is brightening through the pine trees. Everyone reconvenes for breakfast at about 9am, then it’s my job to feed the hens and let them out to free-range across the croft for the day. Laikenbuie is home to 60 free-range hens, who produce quality fresh eggs that Therese and Peter sell in Nairn (as well as to holiday guests). Of course, quite a few find their way into Therese’s quiches and cakes too. After the eggs are collected, graded and sorted, it’s on to general farm work for three hours or so until lunchtime at 1pm. The work is extremely varied, including helping in the garden, mucking out animal pens, harvesting produce, painting, and cleaning the holiday lodges each week ready for the new guests. After lunch, there’s a break until 3.30pm, when the afternoon shift starts. By 6pm, everyone finds their way home to the roaring fire and a delicious meal concocted by the incredible cook Therese. After dinner, it’s time to put the hens to bed and relax with a cup of tea, and perhaps a novel or board game.

The loch.
Fresh eggs, every day!

No two days are the same, and my favourite jobs are definitely in the garden and kitchen with Therese. Pruning, weeding, digging and sorting potatoes, braiding onions and garlic for storage, picking apples, pears, tomatoes, green beans, kale, chard, celery, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower….there’s always something to do in the veg garden. When the sun is out, the robins are twittering and the odd pheasant pokes his resplendent head among the flowers, it’s hard not to grin at the general wonder of it all. Therese is efficient and knowledgeable, but also in tune with the seasons and the flow and ebb of the energy that seems to surround this special place. After a day in the garden, it’s been fantastic fun to cook with her of an evening and learn some new dishes (including a super tasty courgette nut bake and vegan quiche recipe). The family is vegetarian, except for Peter, who loves his home-grown lamb chops.

Stay tuned for my next post about the various highland hijinks I got up to during my time on the croft….there’s scottish dancing, hippies, and plenty of hiking. Get psyched.

The vegetable garden, complete with companion planting.
Cabbage galore.
Companion planting in the vegetable garden.
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