Life at the end of the road

November 21, 2011

400m out :-)

Filed under: daily doings, hydro, life off grid — lifeattheendoftheroad @ 9:43 pm

As usual the boys were up shortly after me and long before daylight, only this Sunday morning the disruption to my  ‘quiet time’ was welcome. Normally I like an hour or two to myself in the morning to batter away on here, drink coffee and generally soak up the peace. Not today, I couldn’t wait to get out, we’d much to do and the three boys were an integral part of my plan for the day.

The most important part of which was to try and get the 800m of armoured cable laid for my hydro turbine, but first of all pigs had to be fed and coal delivered. So we made a start long before the sun was up, as days are short and we’d guests coming for dinner.

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The half ton of coal we took over to the ‘Old Schoolhouse’ at Torran in two loads, four bags in the trailer and one on the back of the Honda. What the people do with all the coal at the schoolhouse is beyond me, it’s only been let three times since I last took ten bags over. I know they’re not stealing it because my mate busses them in and out and he’s never reported baggage full of coal leaving the island 🙂 I’m certain that if they knew that a bag of coal up here cost about £16 delivered and it takes a few hours to get it there then they would feed the fires like the boiler on a ship 🙂

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Now this is one road that is in worse condition than ones that the council are supposed to maintain and this is not an uncommon occurrence 😦 Still I do know a man with a digger 🙂


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Once the first lot of coal was in the bunker we returned with an empty 47Kg cylinder of gas

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and repeated the process without tipping the trailer 🙂

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Only this time we met Bramble and her three piglets on the track, almost half a mile from her ark 🙂 This litter of hers certainly cover some ground and it’s a pure joy to see them so happy. Sure pigs can be kept quite contented in a small field, give them food water, a wallow, some shelter and a little company and they’re quite content. Give them free range, heather, bracken trees and the odd walker to annoy and they positively bloom 🙂

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After depositing the last bags in the bunker it was time for the fortnightly ‘battery check’, topping them up with distilled water and checking the ‘specific gravity’, though not in that order.

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The SG is checked before you dilute the acid with water, I never put much faith in what the actual reading says on a hydrometer, it’s the comparison between the cells that is important. They should all read the same, or within a few percent anyway, you soon get to ‘know’ your battery bank by using one of these and an accurate meter on the individual cells. Again with the voltage it’s uniformity you’re looking for and not an actual figure, for the voltage is quite meaningless while the batteries are in service. To check the voltage properly they need to be ‘at rest’ for a good hour with no load or chargers connected, only then can you get an accurate reading of the ‘state of charge’.

Lead acid batteries need allot of care and must never be too deeply discharged, 20% is good 10% is even better, fortunately the ‘Harris hydro turbine’ keeps these well charged and even with one dodgy cell the bank still performs quite well.

If you want to know more about lead acid batteries and there care I can recommend this link



The cable epic begins

You would that it’s far easier to lay 800m of relatively light cable on two 400m reels than 800m of 90mm stiff pipe in  30 to 90m lengths. Well it might well be if you can get a quad over the ground like we could with the penstock pipe but getting the Honda up the side of the red rocks of Arnish seemed unlikely 😦

However, the first thing that we needed to do was to make up a cable reel holder, each of the two 400m rolls weighed in excess of 140Kg so it would have to be quite substantial.


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I may not have mains electricity but I do have plenty of old bits of telegraph poles 🙂 Which is a bit like Meccano for big boys 🙂

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I’d like to say the ‘we knocked up something quickly’ but that would be a lie, the truth is that searching for bits of pipe and drilling very large holes in thick steel,


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took far longer than I would have liked.


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Eventually though, by late afternoon we were in position with the first reel.

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Map picture


Now any sensible person would think that the place to start reeling out the cable would be at the ‘pushpin’ on the right, which is where the barn is going. Only problem is that that is now a big muddy hole with a 7.5ton Hitachi digger in it and you can’t really drag a roll of cable over several hundred tons of sticky blue clay. So we opted for the spot on the left, the site of some old but still clearly visible ‘lazy beds’ and with a bit of luck we could drag the first 100m off the roll with the quad.

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Well, we did

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but it was not without its problems 😦 Here’s the trusty old Honda Fourtax perched firmly, almost a foot off the ground on a rock 🙂 The quad did a wheelie under the strain of pulling the cable off the drum and landed plumb square on the only rock for yards.

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Lesson learned, after removing the quad we started pulling the cable off the drum and flaking it out. This did indeed get 100m of the cable laid but it was time to call it a day and get the boys home. We had guests for dinner, pigs needed fed and light was fading.


Well it was a mighty fine dinner, great ‘craic’ and a late one so it was down to me this morning to get the boy to school 🙂 And a proper wildlife safari it was on the way south, no sooner had we left the croft and passed the Land Rover that was still by the cable reel than we saw a fine stag by the Rubh Crion. The ‘nine pointer’ crossed the road in front of us and scrambled up the bank on the left as we passed, then as we rounded the hairpin there was again in the road. Once more he bolted up the bank, this time back the way he’d come with a couple of hinds behind him.  Rabbits, snipe, woodcock by the dozen and a couple of buzzards all got caught in the car headlamps befre we arrived at the ferry.

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Hard work on your own 😦

After saying goodbye to my son for the week I turned tail and headed north to get on with the cable.

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It was a long hard slog without the ‘three amigos’ but eventually Molly and I had 400m of cable hauled by hand up the hill a few bights at a time.

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Apart from stopping a few times to share a coffee with my fellow ‘grafter’ Hugh

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we never stopped until the late faded, him with his ‘pecker’ and me with my heaving and hauling. The constant ratatattat of the rock breaker and roar of the diesel being the only sounds I heard all day, well apart from my own cursing and wheezing 🙂

After spending hours dragging the cable over the wet rock and heather, cursing myself for not buying 8 x 100m rolls instead of 2 x 400m I came in sight of Tarbert and the downhill stretch.


Map picture

I still had a long way to go but could see light at the end of the tunnel 🙂


    • however hard the work is, i have to add it really looks like the most beautiful view there.

      Comment by jeannette — November 22, 2011 @ 3:53 am

      • Morning Jeannette, another bonny day in paradise awaits 🙂

        Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — November 22, 2011 @ 6:25 am

  1. we will have to get you converted to the Lithium Ion type. No maintenance and a 100%- 5% useable range.

    Comment by John Salton — November 22, 2011 @ 8:29 am

    • I reckon by the time I retire those Lithium Ion batteries will be ready for changing on the new build, sure I could ‘salvage’ a few good cells 🙂

      Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — November 22, 2011 @ 10:07 pm

  2. Morning, Paul

    I’m surprised that the Old Schoolhouse burns coal, with all that wood around. Wouldn’t it be more cost effective to change the system? I have only passed by the house – haven’t been in there so i don’t know what the heating system is. I don’t think the schoolhouse’s efficiency rating will be as high as the one for your new house!

    Cheers from a very damp and foggy Bacup.


    Comment by Sue — November 22, 2011 @ 9:22 am

    • Hi Sue, it’s bad enough letting ‘holiday folk’ loose with a box of matches, can you imagine letting them have a chain saw 😦

      Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — November 22, 2011 @ 10:08 pm

      • Ah. yes – that didn’t occur to me. I’m used to the ways of wood and, when younger, sawing the stuff, whether at home or as one of the ‘holiday folk’ but I take your point.


        Comment by Sue — November 23, 2011 @ 7:42 am

      • Hi Sue, ‘sawing stuff’ hope you filled in a ‘risk assessment’ 🙂

        Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — November 28, 2011 @ 2:53 pm

  3. Hopefully not Lithium ion, Lithium ion sucks, the only reason there is so much research into the technology is that it promises high energy and power densities an can be used in the transportation sector apart from that lithium is in short supply and cost a arm and a leg you also need a cooling system otherwise it has a tendency to burst into flames. The battery for the Tesla motor car costs about 40,000 pounds for about 40 kilowatt/hours, pure utter nonsense.

    Paul’s needs are completely different, he doesn’t need a battery to drive a motor car, but to sit nice and quietly in the corner of his shed stores lots of energy is cheap, and very importantly has a charge/ discharge ratio in the thousands and not the hundreds like lead acid, most of Paul’s time spent on his battery bank is to try and extent the life of the batteries. The best system for Paul or any other trying to get off the grid under present technology would be the NiFe Nickel iron alkaline battery where you only have to change the drain cleaner every 10-20 years unfortunately the cells cost about three times more than a lead acid cell and because they only work at 1.2 volts you need two thirds as many.

    Fortunately there is light on the horizon, this is one approach, that seems to fit the bill. I dismiss most things I read as bullshit and hype but this seems to be possible. If it works and I say If it works it would fit Paul’s needs. It is still in development but I would expect that it will take at least 10 years too ramp up production too bring the price down, that is if it works as predicted.

    A question Paul what is the size of that cable 6mm or 10mm? Oh and while I think of it get a shave or you will frighten off all those female admires that seem to frequent this blogg.

    Deep Regards


    Comment by Yorkshire Miner — November 22, 2011 @ 3:44 pm

    • Dave, I share your cynicism with regard to new battery technologies. Until something’s actually available to buy it’s just vapourware. On the other hand, if you’re buying lead-acid batteries now it would be silly to design your system (selection of charge controllers, etc) on the assumption that the replacement in a decade or so would be lead-acid as well. You want to make sure that the ancillaries are flexible enough to deal with batteries with different characteristics.

      Lithium ion (specifically lithium iron phosphate or lithium iron yttrium phosphate) are well worth consideration though. Cost is still a bit of a problem but the price is tumbling:

      These cells are much safer than the standard mobile phone ones. If you charge or discharge them too fast or overcharge them they don’t have the thermal runaway effects; they can split open and be destroyed but they don’t burn or leak anything too toxic. Their charge and discharge capabilities are way above anything you’re likely to want for off-grid so that’s not going to be an issue anyway.

      Comment by edaviesmeuk — November 22, 2011 @ 6:59 pm

    • Hi Dave, the beard is off 🙂 Think I’ll stick with FLA for the time being, but who knows for the future :-)Cable is only 2.5mm square but still 1kW at the shed 🙂

      Cheers, Paul

      Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — November 22, 2011 @ 10:12 pm

  4. Hmmm… I hope you did a continuity test between the 2 ends of the cable before you started to drag it… I hate to think what you’d say on the blog if you got it all into place and then found there was a break in one of the cores! (I’ve had it happen to me… luckily that was only about 20m running through a duct).

    Very impressed by your determination and perseverence… but if that’s the easy (flattish) section, I dread to think what it’ll be like doing the hard half.
    Good luck!

    Comment by acresswell — November 22, 2011 @ 7:03 pm

    • “Hmmm… I hope you did a continuity test between the 2 ends of the cable before you started to drag it… I hate to think what you’d say on the blog if you got it all into place and then found there was a break in one of the cores! (I’ve had it happen to me… luckily that was only about 20m running through a duct).” This is not what I want to hear matey 🙂

      Cheers, Paul

      Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — November 22, 2011 @ 10:17 pm

  5. Paul,

    nice to see that the blogg is back in semi pornographic mode, full frontal facial nudity is the way too go, give the ladies a treat.



    Comment by Yorkshire Miner — November 23, 2011 @ 8:15 am

    • Freshly shaved Dave and felling better for it, well, apart from when I was on ‘dumper duty’ in the teeth of a gale 🙂

      Comment by lifeattheendoftheroad — November 28, 2011 @ 2:55 pm

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