A hind spotted on my wander up the hill behind the cottage and an interesting insect in the river ice.
The last weekend went by in a slightly non-descript way due in the main to some paperwork which needed to be done and the rather uninspiring weather. I enjoyed a couple of pints in the Strathardle on Friday night chatting to locals and guests at the bar, this was followed by much the same on Saturday. While in there on Saturday I got talking to a couple of lads with unfeasibly strong liverpudlian accents, their brogue was so rich that I had to translate for the waitress when they were ordering food. They had come up to the area for a weekends skiing at Glenshee together before one of them became a father and the other marked his place as a best friend by going travelling round Nepal and Thailand, making himself unavailable for any best friend baby related assistance for about a year. A bit selfish perhaps, but I could see his point. The pair had arrived after being chucked out of the rather posh Dalmunzie Castle (pronounced Dalmungy, I know your guess is as good as mine) which is in The Spittle of Glenshee. Their removal was based upon a manager’s perception that they smelled rather like they had been smoking skunk cannabis, it was probably just their aftershave or some out of date midge repellent. I did notice however that the dad to be was almost asleep for most of the evening while the other one was rather animated beyond the normal influence of a pint of brown ale. Either way they were happily ensconced in the Strath for the remainder of the weekend.
I have installed an app on my phone which will notify me of any Aurora borealis activity and as yet, the only two notifications I have had have been during a cloudy sky so there is still an unticked Northern lights box on my to do list, but you will be the first to know when it happens!
The social week was started off rather prematurely by the unruly arrival on Monday of Burns night, this is another uniquely Scottish celebration which happens all over the world and once again I was encouraged to celebrate my fondness and appreciation of ‘the bard of Ayreshire’s’ poetry at the Strathardle. Now I know that this blog is beginning to sound like a running advert for the Strathardle but apart from being a fine and friendly place the alternatives in Kirkmichael are not great and there is no bar at all in Enochdhu, my nearest village. So I booked myself in for the Burns supper and cycled to the pub on Monday evening in time for the 7:00 kick off. The event was not particularly busy, partly because January the 25th was a Monday evening and partly because, what with the completion of her year-end accounts and the general running of the Inn, Abbi did not get a chance to advertise the event very widely. In a weird way this made the whole thing better, it was a small, cosy and easy group made up with a few locals, Abbi, Colin and Kailyn their young daughter, Ellice who works in every area around the Inn and Brian, one of the chefs whose birthday it also was, which probably meant his head hurt more than mine did on Tuesday morning. My menu choice was the ever popular ‘Cullen Skink’ a thick and creamy smoked haddock, potato and onion soup made famous by the fishing folk who work from the pretty little harbour at Cullen on the Moray firth and who probably rely on such rich and tasty fare just to keep them from freezing to the deck of a storm bound trawler. My next course was Haggis, neeps and tatties, of course, there is no other choice, unless you include the veggy haggis which was on offer at the Strath’ both are considered acceptable. The haggis has to be piped in (that’s bag pipes, not squeezed in through the corner of a plastic bag like mash in a posh restaurant), it is then addressed (subjected to some poetry) and finally consumed, traditionally there will be also a Selkirk grace recited at some point. Once this course had been consumed we pudding’d on a choice of chocolate mousse or the more traditional ‘Cranachan’ which was my choice of post haggis fattener. Cranachan is a traditional Scottish pudding which is probably best described as a Whisky trifle, apparently it’s also known as Tipsy Laird for reasons which probably need no further explanation. We then all wandered back to the bar for, well some…. research, yes that’s the word, an in depth examination into the produce of some of Scotland’s finest distilleries. The evening was banter filled and fun and when we were all done I walked down to the village, pushing my bike with Ellice and Brian, whereupon I jumped on the trusty ‘Treader Rusticata’ and peddled silently and serenely home.
My next morning was a premature affair, driven by the necessity to get my car to its MOT in Pitlochry on time and the start to the day was marred with slight regret over the previous night’s unbridled social activities. The car passed its test but while waiting for it to do so I spent a rather unhappy hour and a half trudging round Pitlochry in the rain, finally I capitulated to one of the rather expensive cafés and sat with a paper for half an hour or so before walking the couple of miles back to the Garage.
On Tuesday I was invited to visit Dougie’s house (pronounced Doogie), Dougie’s home is like many of the houses round here, it is to be found at the end of a long track which leads up a hill from the main road. His house is much bigger than mine but probably built at about the same time by the Victorians whose fascination for all things Scottish prompted massive development in the form of farms and estates all over Scotland at about the same point in history, therefore they all look rather similar, they have a vernacular in the words of Kevin McLeod. My cottage is described as a traditional one and a half storey cottage and there are literally thousands of them with the same design, footprint and window arrangement around Scotland.
At Dougie’s I had a coffee and a chat and was shown round his man cave, essentially a converted garage with a full sized billiard table and bar and full of drinking and billiard memorabilia, some fishing equipment and the huge scull and antlers from an Elk which had lived on the Isle of Egg for a while and which developed a fondness for the local hinds with some interesting results, there are now apparently some very big deer on Egg and the surrounding Islands. I had noticed when on the Isle of Jura a few years ago that the red deer were absolutely massive so maybe some of the cross breeds made their way as far as Jura. Dougie also had a superb cast iron barbeque, bricked in and with a five sided wooden shed providing cover over the pit, he had run some copper pipe round the cast iron fire pit container through which water at one time flowed into a swimming pool to provide extra warmth to the water, I thought this a brilliant idea but it did not really work apparently, due to the sheer quantity of water in the inflatable pool, a good effort though. The wood for the shed reportedly came from the dismantled Santa land in Aviemore. Dougie, like many people round here has about 4 jobs and is constantly on the lookout for things he can do, he was in the process of making some deer antler candle sticks while I was there, they looked really good and would I am sure go down well in any boutique in the country. The antlers came free with one of his jobs, he does some stalking for a local estate in his spare time.
While I was in Pitlochry on Monday I decided to do some shopping at the CoOp. (For those of my chums who live abroad a CoOp is a cooperatively owned not for profit grocery shop with outlets all over the country, bizarrely their produce is more expensive than the definitely in it for the profit Lidle, so I am not quite sure what is happening to the excess cash at the CoOp.) The CoOp is where most of my groceries are gathered and the format of the CoOp is basically the same as any other CoOp in the UK Having said that there are one or two Scottish variations when you examine things more closely. The meat counter probably is the biggest giveaway that you are in a shop north of the border. Sausages are called ‘links’ up here, sausage also comes in a format described as ‘square’ which looks a bit like a slice of spam but is apparently sausage meat, there are also a number of puddings available, black obviously but also white and fruit pudding and also haggis which is by proper definition also a pudding. In the CoOp you can but a heart attack inducing selection called a breakfast pack which has pretty much all of the above in a cling film wrapped carton. The cereals section also displays more type and variety of oats than is the norm down south and the drinks shelf has much more Whisky choice than many off licence drink shops in England, so a few pointers to look for if you are blindfolded and taken to a CoOp, you will, with the above information be able to deduce the you are somewhere North of Hadrian’s wall.
During the week I have been watching the very informative “Winterwatch” provided by the BBC, this program at the moment has particular pertinence to me as it is all based in Scotland on a National Trust estate in the Cairngorms with the winter hill sequences being filmed at Glenshee which is as the hooded crow (a Scottish variant) flies, about four or five miles from my cottage, so I am learning about my countryside without having to leave the comfort of the cottage. I have seen some of the animals they have been describing on my wanderings and am particularly taken with the mountain hares which are in abundance on the hills around me, wearing their white winter coats.
Talking of wildlife I have been feeding the birds and am building a catalogue of some of the visitors to the feeders so I am being dragged reluctantly into the gentle world of the twitcher.
This weekend will be the last one to be enhanced by alcohol for 4 weeks, I have decided to take to the wagon for February, I have done this before and I think for me it is quite a good thing to do from time to time, I do get rather bored of orange juice and the like after four weeks though. It does however mean I can drive to the pub.
Storm Gertrude arrived here this morning and did so with some ferocity, I did the usual thing, I got up and riddled the stove and then with the tray of ash, ventured outside to the steel bin where ash goes, the minute I opened the door I was instantly converted from a sort of bland pink colour to a grit blasted grey. Gertrude accelerated the hot ash out of the tray and onto the front of me. Not a good look and I will, in accordance with the Brussels health and safety executive rules wear a snorkel, grinding goggles, welding gloves and a boiler suit next time I attempt something similar.
While writing this note it has become rather dark in my study/sitting room multipurpose space and so I went to switch the light on only to discover that storm Gertrude is currently delivering snow in large quantities. We have been on the edge of the snow line for about a week now and any snow that has arrived overnight tends to melt quite quickly in the morning. Today however the flurries are rather more active and look like they might settle.