Dodgy cabinet, not political.

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Spirit level any one?.

 

In wandering around the bits of the estate which are reasonably close to the cottage, I have noticed that there is evidence of historic human habitation. Some of the visible remains of previous buildings are square and are therefore probably more likely to have been cleared settlements or old shielings (Scottish farm buildings), some however are round which indicate a much earlier Iron Age origin. On the Ordnance survey map there are hut circles shown near Loch Crannach on the estate and there is even a stone circle nearby. Bizarrely the square building remains do not seem to get a mention on the map, this may be due to the fact that my map is 1:50,000 rather than the better 1:25,000 which has more detail. I have tried to do some Google research on this topic but any searches have not really returned much relevant information. There was apparently a battle in 903AD near the estate at Tulloch, the battle was fought between the Danes and the Picts, a punch up which according to the-glens.org.uk website, the Picts won. Near to the location of the battle a rather up market six meter long grave can be found with a two meter high standing stone at the head and a smaller stone marking the foot of the grave. There is some speculation that the grave owner was possibly a Pictish prince “Ard-fhuil” (‘of noble blood’) who probably gave his name to Strathardle. The area before the battle was apparently known as “Strath na muc riabach”, the meaning of which was is reported to be the ‘strath of the brindled sow’. I am not surprised they felt the need to rename the area, I have been here for about three months and I have not seen a single brindled sow in all the time.

Last Wednesday I went to the Doctor in Pitlochry. After moving in to the cottage my elbow has been quite painful, I think this may have been something to do with lugging heavy boxes and furniture up the stairs on my own. The pain comes and goes and I think the cold might have some impact on it. Anyway it seems, following the sort of in-depth surgical analysis that the NHS allocated ten minutes of chatting to an unfamiliar doctor can afford, that I have ‘Tennis elbow’! What, where has that come from all of a sudden? I have certainly not been filling in my spare time with lengthy games of tennis. I haven’t played tennis since I was fifteen and at School in Edinburgh. Perhaps, while asleep, I spend every restless night relentlessly serving for an imaginary grand slam championship. Who knows, the human body apparently moves in mysterious ways. I have wondered whether tennis elbow is a side effect of too much Popcorn. The only reason I mention this is that I have discovered microwave popcorn, a fluffy, salty and somewhat tasteless snack which for some inexplicable reason I have found rather irresistible recently. I don’t know why, perhaps it’s something to do with being off the booze. In the interest of science I will report whether this salty indulgence returns to the darker recesses of the snack cupboard on the first of March, by which date I will be back on the sauce.

Last Thursday I ticked off another of the jobs on the cottage ‘to do’ list. The estate joiner had fitted some kitchen cabinets and a work top to the cottage cheffing area, some of which are frankly less than plumb. I have a kitchen cabinet that rather humorously has a perfectly level, square, door fitted over a rather un-level, un-square, rather rhomboid cabinet carcass. The door serves to emphasise the lack of the use of a set square in the installation of the cupboard. Anyway, there is also a very narrow opening to a corner cupboard by the cooker, which did not even have the door fitted. This is because with the cooker in place the cupboard door, if fitted would not have opened. So I have been thinking about this dilemma for a while, do I fit the door and forgo the use of the cupboard, or do I fit a curtain, or maybe just do without. Too many options, finally, after much mulling, I fitted the door on magnetic catches which means the door shuts and opens albeit in a pull the thing off sort of way, but at least it looks right, so function and aesthetics all bundled into one rather unorthodox solution.

The Estate Ewes are getting close to lambing and running up to this busy time of the year the shepherds and farm workers have been corralling the sheep into groups presumably arranged by their ‘due to lamb by’ date. So in order to enclose and contain the sheep new gates have been setup closing off parts of the track up to the cottage. On Saturday to put out the rubbish, I went through five gates just to get to the public road where the bins are. This is a nuisance especially in bad weather as I drive up to a gate, park, get out of the truck, open the gate get back in to the truck, drive forward, park, get out of the truck, close the gate behind me, get back in to the truck and proceed down the track to the next gate where the whole boring process is repeated. I of course, have then to do the whole thing in reverse returning back up the track. So five gates equals in and out of the truck ten times, then ten more times coming back. So it took me about an hour just to dump the rubbish, it’s like a pickup based aerobics class. Very dull and to make it duller some of these gates are nothing more that sheep hurdles tied loosely to each other, which once untied, tend to throw themselves on to the track. The hurdle nearest me was such a nuisance, especially with my newly diagnosed tennis elbow that I tied it top and bottom to its adjacent post, allowing it to swing, which has enhanced the whole experience beyond measure. The estates sheep were, when I went through the farm the other day, emerging one by one from the side of a farm building, as the track was blocked with a temporary hurdle fence, I parked up and wandered into the shed to see what was going on. They were processing the sheep through sort of small, sheep’s length, fenced in area with a gate at either end, Known to those that know these things as a sheep crush. This crush had been fitted with some high end electronic wizardry, which it turned out was essentially an ultrasound pregnancy tester. So they were doing pregnancy testing on an industrial scale, jolly clever stuff. I don’t quite know what they would have done in days of yore. Stick them in a field I suppose and see what happens. I did, perhaps rather contentiously think they could have used something similar to the sheep crush pregnancy test on the young girls in Shepton Mallet in Somerset, who leave school at 15 in their droves and then engage in a life of pregnancy and handouts as part of their life enhancing long term strategy.

On Friday I decided to go to Perth and visit B+Q. The purpose of this visit was to get something which I could use to carve, grind or file a piece of quartz crystal that I found on what I euphemistically call ‘my beach’, the small gravel sand bank alongside the river at the bottom of the garden. I have tackled this lump of rock, firstly with a grinder, this just did not seem to touch the ‘diamond tough’ quartz, I then bought a chisel bit to go in my SDS hammer drill. The chisel seemed to work well until I noticed that it was being worn away very quickly, the end of the chisel was vanishing before my very, ‘protection spectacled’ eyes. So this stone it seems, is pretty tough. While at B+Q I bought some heavy duty stone cutting disks, which I have subsequently proved don’t seem to scratch the surface and a flappy abrasive thing which works quite well for about two minutes, by which time it needs replacing. So, I am essentially back to square one. I am now looking at Tungsten carbide tipped comb chisels with replacement tips on E-bay. Sorry to drag your mood down with all of this grinding nonsense. I will let you know when I have cracked it, or if indeed, it has cracked me. On the way home I had noticed on a previous Perth trip, the presence of a blacksmith in a place called Bankfoot. Another thing on my ‘to do’ list and which I may have mentioned before, is the popularity in Scotland of nailing your camper or caravan to the garden to prevent the pride and joy being blown into the next county. Well discussion of this with the estate manager had left me feeling slightly insecure and in need of some sizable tent pegs to fasten the camper down with. So I popped into the blacksmith on my way home on Friday to discuss the possibility of getting some steel pegs made up. Half an hour later I found myself the proud possessor of 4 huge meter long pegs with nice rounded tent peg type ends to stop the chain hopping off and sharpened to a point at the other end to assist with getting them through the permafrost and into the lawn. All for the marvellous price of £10. Yes £10, that’s £2.50 each, very good value for money I thought and a very nice chap to boot. I will definitely be back when I can think of something else metallic he might be able to help me with. I have already checked with the farm manager that there is nothing which might be damaged under the camper, a water pipe or something similar. I can just imagine the mirth with which I would be greeted, on reporting to John, the rather serious estate manager, that I had driven a long spike through the septic tank.

I have mentioned in previous posts the red legged partridges, well, the weather recently has been quite warm and bright, interspersed with falls of snow which usually fall at night and have been laying to a depth of a couple of centimeters. This fresh snow provides a canvas for me to look at the footprints of the various animals which roam around the cottage and to help me get a bit of a feel as to their movements. The prints left by the pair of partridges are very individual and bless them it looks like they do everything together, like a slightly neurotic married couple. I can tell by observing the prints that the two birds have a very regular route which they take round the garden and along the edge of the surrounding fields every day. They are like a couple of fat policemen doing their rounds with their thumbs tucked into their waist coats. The same daily routine, stopping every now and then to inspect a hedge or peck at the ground for the dropped corn beneath the bird feeder. There is also evidence of mice, I can see where they seem to come and go into little holes which appear to lead into the foundations of the cottage. I am sure these holes do not actually lead inside the cottage because I have not caught a mouse for a couple of weeks now, perhaps because I have pushed appropriately sized pebbles into some of these little holes.

On Sunday I decided to do something that I think I may have been subconsciously putting off. I inherited some pictures and paintings from my parents and they had been wrapped up and kept in storage after we sold my mother’s house six years or so ago. The pictures have up until Sunday been sitting under the guest bed, waiting to be unpacked and arranged about the cottage. Paintings and pictures are a bit like smells and music they seem to be invested with emotional content and memories and I think it was the unearthing of these memories that I have been inadvertently delaying. Once out however, they were so out of context that they did not quite have the heavy duty emotional impact that I had been slightly afraid of. After setting these memories about the place the cottage now resembles a small tucked away, rather difficult to find art gallery. After curating the ‘Anderson’ collection at the Creagloisk Tate on Sunday, I did my usual thing and made my way to the pub for Sunday lunch. Recently I have been going to the pub a little earlier as I am still enduring my February prohibition, therefore I tend not to get quite so involved in the early evening bar side banter. I came back at about six on Sunday evening having extricated myself from the members of the Pitcarmick Angling Club who had arrived late in the afternoon. Once home I stoked the stove and settled down in front of the rather sparse entertainments on offer via the TV. By the time early evening arrived I had become rather peckish, so I tucked into some cheese and biscuits. I did not really think much more about this and in due course climbed (in the words of a Sussex chum) the ‘wooden hill to Bedfordshire’. I settled down and slept well. This morning however (Monday morning) I remembered that I had at some point in the night been engaged in a rather vivid dream involving the catching of mice in the traps under the kitchen sink. So, if cheese induces dreams, does cheddar induce a mouse trap related dream? I don’t know, it’s just a thought.

I have been putting off a visit to the ski center at Glenshee, mainly on the basis that last week was half term for the schools and as a result the slopes were very crowded with huge queues of goblins waiting for the lifts. Not my idea of fun frankly, the weather was rather windy and cold as well, which compounded my lack of enthusiasm. Glenshee has had some quite good falls of snow recently so at least that should not be a problem. When the slopes are very busy, I am informed that the snow gets swept off the pistes just by the action of so many people skiing and snowboarding on them, this movement of snow from the pistes has the effect that the slopes become very icy, which unless the edges of you skis are sharpened to perfection, produces conditions which are rather difficult to ski on with any degree of grace or control. The forecast is looking quite good for the coming week, so I might go and brave it when the sun comes out. Ian, a friend and one of the barmen at the Strathardle is also a ski instructor and he has very kindly offered to take some time off when I come up, so he can give me some private instruction. God knows I need it. I am not sure what to wear, probably everything, would be the obvious choice. It often feels colder here than the thermometer would suggest, I am not quite sure why, perhaps it is wet cold, or an unfortunate effect of the often accompanying wind. I don’t know, but I think thermals might be on my appropriate clothing list for Glenshee, or ‘The Shee’ as we locals casually refer to it up here.

Facebook is for me, a thing which is both ‘good and bad’ in equal measure, a digital curate’s egg if you like. It is obviously a good way for me to keep up with friends from all over the world and to be able to enjoy their conversation, entertainment and wisdom and in turn for me to connect from my remote location. I do however, have to  ensure that my Facebook filter is securely fitted before immersing myself into the tepid pool of day to day inconsequentiality that Facebook often delivers. I have to maintain a rigid approach to Facebook to avoid being dragged into gossip and discussion which at times verges on the scurrilous. There has, I have noticed recently, been a change in the way people interact on Facebook. One of the things that Facebook provides is a mechanism for people with a heartfelt message, point of view, cause or concern, Facebook can empower these people by offering a very wide public stage. We can, as recipients, accept these offerings in various ways, we can ignore them, we can ‘like’ them, we can ‘share’ them and more recently, I am being beseeched to copy and past these views and comments onto my ‘wall’ or personal space. This is usually delivered with a message telling me “It is not good enough” just to ‘like’. I ‘have to’, I am instructed, copy and paste. Now I am afraid I don’t function well under pressure, if the cause is a good one then it’s profile will be raised organically, that is after all one of the things that Facebook does quite well. If people like it, they will ‘like’ it. There we go, that was this week’s whinge of the week. I feel better now I have got that off my chest.

Perhaps I should have posted that on Facebook!

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Frozen Chickens

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Down the track.

I have, as I may have mentioned before, been feeding the local bird population and now they have discovered there is food to be had, I am beginning to understand Hitchcock’s vision, when he produced the film, ‘The Birds’. Their abundance is almost frightening and what’s more the sheer quantity of food they consume on a daily basis is no longer a joke. When I first moved in to the cottage I was delighted to see that three Red Legged Partridge seemed to grace the property, they were timid but could often be seen under the fir tree nibbling up dropped pine seeds or something similar, (do things with beaks nibble, pecking just does not seem right?). Then one day they vanished, I had no idea where and was beginning to think the worst, when last week they made a re appearance, well, when I say they, more accurately only two of them returned. One seems to be missing in action somewhere. Red legged Partridge are not indigenous, they are introduced onto the Scottish estates for game shooting, their country of origin is I believe, France and apparently they struggle with the conditions up here. According to Doogy they get wet and depressed and sit under trees with a disgruntled look, which makes them easy prey to the polecats, mink, foxes and sabre toothed tigers. I was a bit sorry to see one vanish as they are nice to have around and if things get really bad on the snow front, I have an air rifle and they would fit nicely into my slow cooker. Red Legged Partridge are apparently not the only things to suffer from the cold. According to Ellice in the Strathardle, who has kept and reared chickens, it seems they too can during exceptionally cold conditions be found in the morning frozen to a perch. Aren’t chickens derived from jungle fowl? No wonder they find Scotland a challenge! Ellice was telling me that she had even found a squirrel frozen on the road with a sort of teeth clenched grin and posed in a clinging to a branch stance. She surmised that the poor little creature had been exposed to too much overnight chill and mentioned that she had moved it off the road to a place where it would not get run over. Now, I like Ellice but I do feel the main damage had already been done. Maybe this lack of sympathy for dead animals is one of the gender defining properties which separate men from women, a bit like goats cheese.

Talking of game, when I arrived at the cottage and was unpacking boxes of stuff that had been in storage for so long I had more or less forgotten their contents, I found an old Gin trap, a particularly nasty thing which was used by game keepers to catch, or more usually maim foxes. It looks like a small bear trap with two jaws that are forced open and set with a small and delicate latch, the trap is then placed in a run where foxes are known to roam and when trodden on the jaws snap shut catching a leg in their grasp. I think these traps have now been banned and their only use these days is to decorate the walls of country pubs where the locals will regale townie visiting tourists with stories of how they were used to catch ‘children for the pot’ and other spurious yarns. Anyway I dug the thing out and not quite knowing what to do with it I stuck it in the shed. While cleaning the swallow poo off the flat surfaces in the shed the other day as part of phase two of operation ‘’clean the shed’, I spotted the gin trap on a nail where I definitely had not left it. This caused some confusion and I was beginning to wonder whether old age was creeping up on me quicker that I had imagined, or maybe I had a poltergeist, the haunted spectre of a long dead game keeper whose tormented soul’s only manifestation on this mortal pile was the constant moving around of old gin traps. Then I discovered the trap I had placed, which was more or less where I left it and all I had actually done was to unearth another one which was already resident at the cottage, and part of the shed furniture.

Another shed based account I have to recall in this week’s epistle has been the task of waterproofing the roof. The roof of the shed / lean to, at the side of the cottage has always leaked. This is annoying, as the whole point of a shed is to keep things dry. The shed in question failed this simple task to the point that my bicycles which were stored in there were getting rusty without having any use, which is not how it should be. So after some inspection I discovered that for some reason, best known to themselves, a person or persons who have since moved on, nailed the corrugated iron to the wooden rafter in about five places, placing the nail in the trough of the profile of the tin roof. Now everyone knows that you fix a corrugated tin roof through the peak of the profile and seal it with a rubber washer so the water runs off. Well this had not been done, and in any case the roof was already perfectly adequately fixed down. So bizarrely it looked a bit like there had been an attempt to discretely sabotage the roof, or at least compromise its effectiveness, or maybe my imagination is beginning to run away with its self. Either way it is now fixed. I had cut some patches from a sheet of corrugated iron and sealing them with large amounts of silicon sealant, I then riveted the patches in place over the holes and I can now say with some confidence that the roof is no longer leaky and the bikes already look shinier and altogether happier. While on the subject of sheds I spent some time fixing the doors of the big shed which did not shut properly and which always provided a tussle with the bolts when going in and out. I had got bored with this so realigned everything and now the bolts click open and closed with a slick and easy action and life has become easier in a slightly immeasurable way.

While I was being induced into the Pitcarmick angling club last weekend, the owner of the Pitcarmick estate happened to mention that the Loch on the estate was in fact due to its construction technique officially a reservoir. The proper description of a reservoir is a lake (or loch) which is formed with the use of a dam at one end. The original construction had been done by a Victorian land owner in the 1800’s and as a result of this reservoir designation every few years a chappie from the department of ‘something to do with lakes and lochs’ turned up, nodded at it and awarded it a certificate of compliance for leisure pursuits etcetera for another year or so. This was how things had ticked along for years, quite satisfactory to everyone. Recently however we were told things had changed and the responsibility for the safety of such land marks, reservoir or otherwise had been bestowed onto the department known as SEPA which stands for ‘The Scottish Environment Protection Agency’. The way they now do things, is to notify the land lord or owner of the reservoir and explain that the structure is no longer deemed safe until the landowner has, at his own expense had the thing fully investigated by a civil engineer who has to then submit a full report to SEPA’s accepted guidelines. This is apparently a very expensive business and will have to be done for every fishing pond bigger than four Olympic swimming pools, which is probably all of them every year. The one at Pitcarmick has stood without any repair necessary since its initial construction, so why make things so complicated? Sorry, that was a fishing rant and it is now over, I don’t know why I am so bothered, I don’t even own a gold fish pond for god’s sake.

We have here on the estate a couple of Lochs, one of them is called Loch Loch. It is so named because the Glen in which it is found is Glen Loch, so did the loch get or give its name to the Glen, who knows? This Glen is however the site of a tragic accident involving the RAF Hercules XV193 aircraft from RAF Lynham, which crashed on the night of 27th May 1993, this accident resulted in the loss of all of those on board. The Hercules was one of three engaged in a formation and low level navigation exercise. There is a cairn near Loch Loch which marks the spot where the aircraft went down. According to locals the track which runs up to and past my cottage was very much enhanced by the MOD who laid a high quality tarmac road over the existing estate track for the recovery exercise. The clean-up operation was a lengthy and scrupulous affair and the only evidence of this tragic accident is oil residue which permeated the peat and which periodically makes its way back to the surface.

I have bought a chainsaw and all of the appropriate PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) clobber to go with it, which should in theory prevent me from severing a limb in the search for flammable combustibles to go on the fire. Now, I am not new to the use of a chainsaw but a few years have gone by since my last encounter, so I am taking it very gently. While rambling around the estate, I have discovered quite a few trees along the edge of the woods which have been blown over in various bouts of intemperate weather for which this area seems to be prone. Some of these trees have been lying on their sides for a few years and should therefore be, at least in theory, nice and dry and fireplace ready. I have to confess I haven’t broached the topic of logging this timber with the estate manager, but don’t think it will be a problem. When it gets cold there is nothing better that lighting the sitting room fire and listening to the crack and pop of the flickering flames with a book, a good malt and some gentle music on the noise machine. It actually gets too hot if over stoked, it is quite a big fireplace and rather a little room. I did look into doing a ‘chainsaw awareness course’ or whatever they are called these days, but the cheapest one I could find was about £250, which would buy quite a few logs and therefore I have decided not to bother.

Last night I did the usual Saturday thing and went for a drink at the Strath’, it is still February so the drink was Becks Blue, a rather bland alcohol free lager, it does give a slight beery impression but that is probably as much to do with the glass its served in as the drink its self. I have noticed that two or three of them is about as much as I can take. Bizarrely if the lager had alcohol in I could probably keep going until closing time or the stocks ran out depending on whichever came first. On arrival I noticed that the car park was unusually busy and once inside I discovered that the Strath’ was playing host to the Kirkmichael Tug of War team. This was, as you can probably imagine, quite a rowdy affair, a good mannered and easy going group of youngsters who were enjoying their Christmas meal, at least I think that is what it was all about. Talking to one of them at the bar, I was informed that they are classed as a professional team. There is not a team in mainland Scotland that they have not at one point or another beaten and they did seem to take it very seriously. They travel to every event, usually a highland games where a tug of war is one of the scheduled activities and due to the points based nature of the sport, the team which does most tugs of war, is the team most likely to win. They train twice a week and in the winter they can be seen training in a field by the rived illuminated by the lights of a couple of cars. I had seen this out of the corner of my eye while driving past a couple of time and had wondered quite what was going on.

The last week has seen the cottage more or less on the snow line, the snow had fallen and settled a couple of times but it had melted quite quickly the next day in the morning sunshine. The hills nearby have been getting snow while it was usually falling as rain in the village. The last couple of days however have been quite cold so the snow flurries have not been melting. When I say quite cold it was -6 yesterday on my way to the pub and I think it got colder during the night. This morning was absolutely beautiful with bright sunshine and a clear flawless blue sky, there have been flurries of snow, you can see them coming, they look like fog on the hills until they blow through, the Bright morning sunlight was sparkling on the delicate, filigree snowflakes as they were drifting through the air, the effect was quite magical. I came in this afternoon from wandering around with my camera, to watch the rugby and noticed after a while that it had become quite dark. When I glanced out of the window we were in the middle of a white out and the wind had got up, blowing the snow into drifts around the garden and along the track. It has been quite wild for about three hours now so my late Sunday lunch might not happen. I might pack a snow shovel and a blanket and give it a whirl, if only to add some excitement to the day’s proceedings’. Last night when I got back from the pub, I made a drink and turned on the TV to see what was going on with the world, I settled down in front of the BBC news channel for about fifteen minutes when the TV went on the blink, it could not tune in to any channels , so after checking the cables etcetera I put on some warm clothes and went out to check the satellite dish, to discover that it had become plastered in snow, after dusting it off I returned to the sitting room where the TV had settled back into delivering the news. That is why satellite dishes are so close to the ground up her.

Well on that note my stomach is suggesting that it is roast time, I should hopefully have missed the Valentine’s Day mob by now. Valentine’s Day seems to me to have been hijacked by those folk who are in a relationship and who therefore have no need of St Valentine, there you go, you have just been served with my grumble de jour. If you do not hear from me by this time next week, ring the estate and ask them to check the track for rictus squirrels, frozen Partridges and lost tenants…

Gertrude and Henry

 

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The Sitka spruce with my hill in the background and a guiding moon.

Well, storm Gertrude delivered so much snow last Saturday that I was snowed in for the day, which was not quite what I had planned, I was intending to go and push the boat out in the ‘local’ before the beginning of February and the aforementioned month of self-imposed purgatory. So Saturday evening’s fun was some rather lightweight popular flotsam on TV and a refreshing can of Stella served at just above freezing straight from my front porch pantry. Sunday morning however saw the arrival up my track of the estates snow plough, Halleluiah, my link to the outside world was reinstated.

While wandering down the track with my camera that morning I met a chap in a Land rover who turned out to be my landlord, the estate owner and ex cabinet minister, David Heathcote-Amory. We had met before, some years ago when I was one of his constituents in Somerset, we once ended up on the same tug of war team during Pilton day, the village fete for the small village we both used to live in. What are the odds for that I wonder? He is a very nice and affable sort of chap, easy to talk to and very informative. He mentioned that my cottage had at one point been the temporary home to a polecat. It seemed that the animal had been gaining access to the cottage via the cherry tree growing by the cottage, it had scrambled up over a shed roof and then down the guest room chimney. The animal apparently created such a mess leaving its mark around the place that the carpets had to be replaced and some extensive decorative work needed to be undertaken. How many people can say that the new carpet was thanks to a polecat? Talking of wild life my mouse traps have been making steady progress against the rodent population. I think I have found the place where the mice come in to the cottage and have set a couple of traps that the fluffy intruders more or less have to tip toe through to get inside. I catch one or two then it will go quiet for a week or so, then I will catch another couple. I think this is caused by the mouse population building in the garden to the point where they get brave enough to try and come in. Apart from a couple earlier on this week the traps have been quiet. I don’t particularly like catching them, but if I don’t, I fear the place will be overrun very quickly.

The estate’s deer stalkers are taking hinds at the moment, this is the hind season and apparently the Scottish estates are given a target for culling the deer herds and our estate at the moment, is struggling to hit its quota. My landlord was up at the estate to look things over before some paying guests came up for a week’s stalking. I did think that they had chosen a pretty inclement week, as apart from storm Gertrude, there was another named storm, ‘Henry’ lining up in the wings. When I made my way to the pub for a final January libation and Sunday lunch I met the estate’s guests who were staying at the Strathardle Inn. They were a jolly lot, four chaps who all lived near each other in Gloucestershire, a couple of whom had been coming to Glenfernate for years and knew it well. One of them had a bad back and was planning to go and see ‘Star Wars’ in Perth instead of lying in the mud up a hill with his chums. I casually mentioned that if they were bored while passing, they should drop in for a cup of tea.

The guests mentioned that according to the estate’s keepers there were definitely salmon in the river by my cottage, although I have so far not seen any evidence of them. The verified existence of salmon has caused me to look for them even more, having a salmon river at the bottom of the garden is something that I have dreamt of since I was a small boy.

While on the subject of fishing, this evening is Friday the 5th February and I have been invited to join the Pitcarmick Angling club by one of the club members who I met in the pub a few weeks ago. This evening is their Annual General Meeting and the event where new members are proposed and seconded etc. The event is being held in the Kirkmichael hotel so this will be a first for me, as I have not set foot in there yet. The angling club is as far as I can understand it a very cheap way to fish about five miles of the river Ardle, the river that lends its name to the Strathardle inn, a Strath is a Scottish word for a wide, shallow river valley. According to my new chum there are some very good wild brown trout and salmon in the river, so something to look forward to and more fishing friendly folk to meet.

This area is one of the muddiest places I have ever lived in and considering I have spent large chunks of my life in the agricultural areas of Dorset, Wiltshire and Somerset where mud flows unrestricted, that is saying something. Now, I know I am here in the winter months where rain and snow is the norm but still, the sheer quantity of mud around the place is remarkable. Yesterday I washed my car, it had reached a stage of mud encrustation where the next obvious thing to do would have been to plough it and sew a crop. So while in Blairgowrie I found a pressure washer into which I shovelled coinage of the realm and after some scrubbing and spraying, my car’s sparkle was once again made available to the human eye. By the time however that I had driven back from Blairgowrie and up the track the car looked much like it had done when I left earlier that day, with mud plastered up the passenger window and sprayed delicately down either flank, oh well, I tried.

I have taken to wearing some booty (not the American rapper meaning of the word, you understand) type of things which have short rubber welly bits where your feet go and a sort of nylon upper, held fast with two strips of Velcro, I think they are known as “Woof boots” or some such thing by the horsey community. I imagine they were probably designed to be worn for mucking out horses. They are not attractive and are an extreme example of function over form, but generally keep my feet warm and dry and are easily mopped down when (not if, but when) I get involved with some mud. To hell with style, I want warm and wipe clean on the boot aptitude list. I was particularly pleased with my boots when as prescribed by the Met office, storm Henry arrived, Henry was warmer and windier than Gertrude. I had in an attempt to keep some of the expensive warm air in the cottage, placed rolled up bundles of bubble wrap up the unused fireplace chimneys around the cottage, but the wind was so strong that it very nearly, via the science of the ‘venturi effect’ sucked the bubble wrap up and out of the top of the chimney. It was wild for about two days. One of the larch trees in the garden lost another couple of branches and it took me two days to work out where they had got to. The branches had been blown over the fence and half way down the field to the river. I was slightly worried about my little camper which I have not yet managed to strap down to the lawn with big steel tent pegs and lorry load straps, which is the standard thing to do with caravans’ etcetera in this neck of the woods, to prevent them from blowing away.

On Thursday I was pottering around in my ‘before the morning bath’ outfit, some warm and fluffy trousers and a slightly scruffy but warm woollen jumper, when there was a loud knock at the door. I nearly leaped out of my skin, I am very used to the quiet here and any loud banging usually only occurs in the middle of a named storm. When I went to the door to see what was up, I discovered a couple of the chaps who were visiting the estate for deer stalking. They had taken up my offer of a cup of tea, I welcomed them in and we sat and chatted for an hour or so, I think they were quite intrigued by the cottage as they had been to the estate many times but had not really explored anywhere other than the big lodge. It was nice to have them round and I enjoyed the chat and the company, I think they had decided that tea with me was going to be somewhat more comfortable that a morning on the hill. The chap with the bad back had been to visit Inverness on Wednesday and they were planning to go and see another film in Perth after tea with me. He was probably having more fun that those more keen on stalking. I am a bit like that, when salmon fishing in Ireland a few years ago I decided that the weather was too bad and went for a drive round in our hired car and had a good lunch and a giggle with some locals in a nice pub instead of thrashing the water in a howling gale with an accompanying down pour.

Speaking of the quiet, the peace here has made my tinnitus all the more obvious which is rather a shame. I probably damaged my ears during my agricultural years when machinery was very poorly silenced. I used to drive a Hymac digger which had a six cylinder ford diesel engine which roared away behind my head at full revs and with a largely unvaried sound wave frequency. While digging and landscaping a fish farm in Mere, Wilts, I was probably in the digger constantly for about 8 weeks, during this time I developed a sort of industrial immunity to the noise, which was it seemed, more or less at the same frequency as my girlfriend’s voice, I really could not hear her properly for a couple of months after the job finished and I think that sowed the seeds of the tinnitus that I am now experiencing. I was aware of a high pitched whistle which comes and goes when I was in Sussex, but at the cottage I can hear it all of the time and have since discovered that there is also a sort of low level diesel engine noise that I get as well. This was particularly annoying while I was waiting for BT engineers to arrive in a diesel van. I kept thinking I could hear them coming up the track. At first when there was no sign of an elusive engineer, I went round the cottage looking for the source of the noise, I thought it might be a water pump or the boiler or something to do with the stove, only to finally realise that it was in my head. I read an article on the internet which explained that scientists are experimenting with high level magnetic energy (transcranial magnetic stimulation) to retrain the brain into tuning out the background noise that tinnitus sufferers have to live with. I hope they crack it soon, it’s getting a bit dull. “Sorry did somebody whistle?”

Yesterday I went for a walk through the rather overgrown woodland on the other side of the track by the cottage and on emerging at the top of the woods walked up on to the grass and rush covered hill, I pushed on to a small summit to get a glimpse of a new horizon, once there I spotted another summit not far away as is often the case and in this way was led summit by blind summit up to the top of a hill which I had not yet explored. The view from the top was spectacular and gave me a fresh appreciation of some of the larger peaks in and around the estate. This part of Scotland is really not that often visited unless you are a deer stalker, fisherman or bagger of Scottish hills over 3000 feet (Munroe’s), and I really don’t understand why. The countryside here, matches in terms of rugged untamed beauty any of the more popular destinations in the Cairngorms and on the West Coast. This area is something of a hidden gem it would seem, I did not really know this part of Scotland before coming to look at the cottage, I did what most other tourists probably do and plug on up the A9 to the highlands further north and on to Aviemore and Inverness. This area has the benefit of stunning, undiscovered and therefore peaceful countryside providing an easy proximity to the rest of Scotland with Glasgow and Edinburgh both about an hour and a half away and Inverness and Oban on the West coast manageable within the hour. The A9 seems to be the artery that delivers tourism to the North, a few minutes in Pitlochry (on or just off the A9) will reward you with more shops designed to ensnare a tourist than Blairgowrie for instance which is much bigger and which panders very much more to the needs of the local population.

While talking to my landlord, he mentioned that the stand of woodland that I had walked through was mainly Sitka spruce planted in the seventies, he was not it seemed, a fan and explained that his preference would be to cut it down and replace it all with a more interesting and diverse indigenous broad leafed tree stock. There are however SEPA (Scottish environment protection agency) rules for the replacement of woodland after logging has taken place and they incur large cost and responsibility, so he did not have any plans to do anything with the woodland immediately. The woods do at least provide a habitat for the wildlife with deer, red squirrels, polecats and a wide variety of bird life found locally, so on that basis at least, the woods do have a function. I was secretly quite pleased, living next to a clear fell woodland area would make the cottage seem very exposed. Clear felling of woodland leaves a scar on the landscape which takes some years to blend back in.

Well after last night’s Pitcarmick Angling club AGM, I am addressing you as a new member, having been proposed, seconded and voted in. I have paid my £10 joining fee and my £2 annual membership fee and spent a few hours last night chatting to my fellow members on the virtues of the club. There is apart from some very good fishing on the river Ardle and Pitcarmick Loch to be had, the club secretary has also arranged a season studded with fishing events around the area, mainly loch fishing from boats all organised by the club. What great value for money and a very friendly bunch of people. This year we voted for a social event which the ‘Chair’ of the meeting and owner of Pitcarmick estate, Sir Michael Nairn agreed would be a good idea and offered his bothy as a venue. The bothy has been done up recently for meetings etc. and boasts a beautiful location with enchanting views and a kitchen, log fire and other basic amenities, so something to look forward to, frankly I would be happy to pay my £2 just for that!

Tonight is Saturday so it’s off to the pub for me and the challenge of thinking of a good alcohol free, beer replacement which will induce good humour and encourage relaxed and easy conversation. I think I might have my work cut out..