October at home

Late September was wild, wet and windy. That’s nothing out of the ordinary here in the Highlands and Islands; weeks of brooding, oppressive graphite skies (I’m seriously considering buying one of those daylight lamps) and rain hammering against the windows. The bright spells are fleeting, and the days often follow a pattern where it’s dry very early in the morning before descending into deluge, only to clear again shortly before the light fades.

So the most useful part of the day - i.e. most of it - has recently been spent indoors avoiding the showers.

What to do? Well, if you do decide to venture outside (and that’s important for the sake of sanity) you should always Be Prepared. Wellies, waterproofs, umbrella. An emergency carrier bag folded into a pocket for camera protection. I always check the forecast even though it’s not really very reliable. Sometimes I set out into the breach, determined to get my quota of fresh air and vitamin D (although I also supplement with the latter - I suspect it’s quite a dilute dose the sun’s producing just now). And other times I stay at home.

Because for all the autumnal treats the outdoors has to offer: woodsmoke, damp earth, conkers, bright leaves and berries… there’s something about not straying too far from hearth and home. Sometimes the closest I get (other than the day being bookended by school drop-off and pick-up) to going outdoors is leaving the kitchen door wedged open.

I do that most days, actually. If that means sitting typing away at the table swaddled in my warmest coat, then so be it. A big part of observing the seasons is letting them in. So here I am, listening to the stream rushing past and the cawing of the crows who congregate in our gnarled old beech tree. Crunchy leaves are swirling about and some find their way inside.

It’s not just flora paying us an autumnal visit. A few spiders have joined us, taking up residence on the stairs and the snug window respectively. And the other night I spotted a familiar dark shape lurking in the corner of the living room: a baby toad. It may or may not have been the same one who came in a month or two back. Joe was fast asleep at the time, so I put the toad into a glass teapot (empty, save for a few millimetres of water in case you’re worried) and in the morning after they’d become acquainted we released it into the safety of the overgrown rockery.

We’re making the most of any dry weather we do get, and going out exploring as often as we can. The kitchen table is host to quite the collection of leaves, conkers, sycamore keys, feathers and seed heads. Because the castle closes in two weeks for the season, we’ve been visiting a few times a week - sometimes more - and I’m feeling sad that soon the gates will be locked until April.

It’ll be a case of keeping it wild on the one hand, walking in the woods and by the shore, and pottering about in the garden. We were out raking leaves last week; in addition to the big old beech tree there are two equally large and imposing sycamores. They all need cutting back and I’m in the process of trying to find out of they have preservation orders. I suspect not, but trying to get a response from the Highland Council is quite wearying…

Back indoors, and we’ve more or less finished painting the living room. It’s much brighter now we’ve lost the old yellow walls and mushroom ceiling, and the orange pine skirting boards. Everything is white (although the door needs stripping back) and that’s a good thing; we’ll need as much light as possible once winter arrives. We’re going to do a little bit of furniture rearranging too but for now it’s fine.

I have an old wire basket filled with blankets and a wicker one with my autumn reading: magazines (Creative Countryside, of course), and Country Living - I can never resist the colder season’s issues. I also borrow a copy of Gardener’s World magazine from the library each month.

In bedtime reading, I’ve just finished The House of Unexpected Sisters by Alexander McCall Smith and am now on Daughters of Jerusalem by Charlotte Mendelson. I love the McCall Smith books (but have yet to try his other series) - they’re the perfect escapism for just before going to sleep, all positivity and optimism and restoring faith in human nature.

The latter book I haven’t read enough of just yet. It’s interesting though that I seem to have a bit of a thing for fiction set in Oxford; my go-to viewing is Lewis on catch-up, so I was really happy to find loads of episodes ready to watch on Netflix.

I bought a selection of scented candles last time we were in Inverness and we’re steadily burning our way through them. Unashamedly naff scents like ’Seasalt Pumpkin’ (???) and ‘Honeyed Pear’, and anything that smells of maple syrup or cinnamon. Yes, I do have some lovely beeswax taper candles too but they remain as yet unused.

I’m on the lookout for empty jars. The freezer is full of raspberries and I want to transform it into jam before we go out picking blackberries (there are a lot of them about and they’re at peak ripeness just now, so the window of opportunity is about to close). We have a Rapunzel-worthy tangle of brambles in one corner of the garden and intend to clear it at some stage. But there are also a few shrubs - cotoneaster, according to Google - smothered in red berries which I take clippings from for the house, and hawthorn. But I won’t bring that indoors as I’m too superstitious. And the rose hips are left for the birds.

So: feather quilts are back in circulation and Joe’s already getting excited about Halloween. Jay has a birthday coming up so we’re planning an evening get-together with friends and neighbours, possibly out in the studio if we can get it tidied a bit and string up some lights. If the weather obliges we might even do an autumn barbecue (if not, chilli and baked potatoes). I like the idea of mulling cider and making some kind of traybake. Or is it too early for parkin?

Lots to do, lots to look forward to. Happy October!