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..