I spotted this little tree on the way to the stone circle and I imagine it is much older that its size suggests. I believe that lichen takes at least ten years to establish it’s self on anything, so this little tree is at least ten years old.
Last week I decided to take a bike ride up the track towards the Fealar estate, I got about 3 miles up beyond ‘Daldhu’ the next estate cottage up the glen, when I arrived at the snow line and gave up due to having the right bike but the wrong tyres, i.e. not the snow tyres. That part of the track is not very frequently used and I therefore decided, it would not be a great place to fall off a bike on the ice, so it will have to wait for another day, a bit like the ride I attempted to Loch Loch. I am building a list of failed cycle attempts, oh well. Fealar Lodge at the end of the track is reputed to be Britain’s most remote, inhabited house and is according to the ordnance survey map 9.35 miles up the track from me, so they are about 12.5 miles from the public road. Apparently it takes them an hour to drive down the track due to the poor condition of the track surface. I quite like remote, but that is way too far from the village for me. Talking of Loch Loch, I was doing some perusal of the map and there is a Munroe (a Scottish mountain over 3,000 feet in height) on the edge of Loch Loch called Beinn A’Ghlo, and looking at the map, the sandy shores of the loch would make quite a good camping spot for a climb up the Beinn, a sort of base camp type of thing. Beinn A’ Ghlo is listed as the twelfth highest mountain in Scotland at 1129 Meters. So I have been hatching a plan for when the weather gets better, to cycle to the loch with a tent and a fishing rod as there are also Arctic Charr, a species of fish related to salmon and brown trout, in Loch Loch. Arctic Charr are not unique in Scotland but still quite unusual. So the plan will be a Ray Mears type summit of the Beinn with a night at Loch Loch and a barbecued supper feast of increasingly fashionable, freshly caught wild Arctic Charr. I can’t see any flaws in that plan, apart perhaps from foul weather up and down the hill, a freezing night in a tent after a fishing fail, providing no supper.
The previously mentioned ‘Daldhu’ is still largely operated by the estate as a holiday cottage, it is a couple of miles up the track from me, so about five miles up the track from the road, if any one fancies a nice, out of the way place to spend a week or two with, or even without, the kids. The power is supplied by a generator in a shed in the garden and there is a trouty river nearby, a stand of Larch and Sitka spruce behind the cottage for foraging barbeque materials and the walk to Loch Loch is about three and a half miles. I believe that temporary estate staff, like deer stalkers and shepherds who are brought in for lambing and shearing use the cottage from time to time but that is about it. It is a beautiful spot, providing a remote and peaceful idyll.
Last week I got out the chain saw, I had a dead tree at the cottage which I had decided to take down and a reasonably small, dry, dead tree in the garden, I thought would probably be quite a good starting point in getting used to my new saw and re acquainting myself with the whole wood cutting process in general. Something that I have not done for years. It all went well I managed to take down the tree which was overhanging the fence without destroying anything and I am pleased with the new saw, which seems to do all of the things it should, efficiently and without fuss. It is a bit smaller than the chain saws I used to use, so it is light enough for an old boy to use all day. Cutting down the tree got me thinking of filling the shed with logs and whilst on the bike trip up the Fealar track the other day, I noticed a whole load of blown down trees at the edge of the small wood at the back of Daldhu. I went and found John, the manager of the estate, principally to borrow a sledge hammer to drive in the steel stakes I had, had made by the blacksmith to fasten down the camper and while chatting I casually asked if I could log up the fallen timber in the woods. He gave me one of his looks which indicate I might be slightly mad and said I was free to cut up anything on the ground. Happy days! So this week I have been quite busy, I have nailed the camper to the Grampian Mountains and put about two tons of split logs into the shed. Bizarrely cutting and splitting the logs seems to have helped the tennis elbow, don’t ask me why, but I don’t imagine for a second that a physiotherapist would recommend such activity. The shed, now clean and tidy and with a good supply of smartly stacked logs has become somewhere where I like to sit with a cup of tea and gaze at the view from. It is now one of my favourite places, out of the wind with the sun shining through the open doors, it’s all a bit sad I know. Is a fondness for sheds one of those things that defines a person as being over 50?
Talking of the tennis elbow, I put a boiler suite on the other day to do something mucky and nearly got stuck in it. The tennis elbow would not let my arm bend enough to get out of the damned thing, I probably looked like a stranded beetle on its back wrestling with its arms and legs, trying to get out of the suite. Not a good look and luckily I don’t think anyone saw me.
Last Sunday I decided to go for a walk to look for a stone circle which according to the OS map is on the estate. The round trip was about four miles which generally is not much, unless you are yomping about in a bog for most of it. I set off from the cottage and followed a direct route up the hill and over towards a saddle between two higher peaks, this led onto a moor and I could see a wood once at the moor which marked the way to the stone circle which was according to the map located at the most Northerly point of the wood. Once there I plodded about for about an hour looking for the stone circle, finally I found it. The problem with finding the circle was in essence that I had a picture in my mind’s eye of a circle of rather obvious standing stones, a small Avebury rings or Callanish, the very impressive stone circle on the Isle of Lewis, something obvious. This stone circle once found, was not in any way obvious, in fact the only way I found it, was that someone who had been cutting the heather had left a circle uncut on top of a small knoll, which on very close inspection had some rather diminutive and low lying stones loosely arranged in a circle. Callanish had, when first discovered also looked like a circle of small stones but after some excavation of the surrounding peat the true majesty of what was under the surface was discovered. Perhaps it is the same with the little circle I walked to, I doubt it somehow. While there I spotted a huge herd of hinds on a nearby hill, which was good to see, there were forty or fifty of them and they seemed to be pretty relaxed with my presence, which surprised me given the large population of gun owners in this part of the world. My walking plan was to return via some hut circles but I ran out of time, bizarrely however, on the way back I stumbled upon some hut circles which were not even marked on the map. I think this area was at one time, probably around the Iron Age period, much more inhabited than it is now, which is slightly unusual and more or less the opposite of what has happened to the population density everywhere else in Britain.
I was at the pub last week and was sitting at the bar ‘enjoying’ an alcohol free lager, as one does when it is a booze free February, when Dougy called out “Steve, come quick” he was having a cigarette outside the front door of the pub, so I rushed out to see what had caught his eye and what might induce him to engage me so eagerly. He was looking up at the sky and he said, “now what can you see”? I looked and I have to confess, could not instantly see anything out of the ordinary, once however he pointed out a star, I noticed that it seemed to be moving in a sort of spiral motion, another friend Graham, came and joined us to see what the fuss was about and he too noticed that the star seemed to moving strangely. I have no idea what caused this and have tried to Google an answer but without any success. I have a slight feeling that it was a sort of optical illusion, who knows, but we did all seem to see it. Talking of Graham, chatting to him last week he casually mentioned that he had been born in my cottage, his father was a shepherd on the Glenfernate estate and they were given my cottage to live in, as often happens up here. So another coincidence. Grahams sister was up for a visit which is why they were in the pub and after he told me they had lived at the cottage I suggested that next time she was up they should come up for a barbecue and a tin or two. Well, any excuse for a knees up. I did suggest however that perhaps they should avoid February.
One evening while sitting at the bar in the Strathardle, I got chatting to couple of guys who came in, one was a deer stalker and the other a game keeper. We discussed the deer population and the fishing season and all things in general to do with the country side. They asked me where I lived and when I told them Creagloisk Cottage, they both said they knew it well. The keeper had been working at the previously mentioned Fealar Lodge up the track and one winter the cottage he had been staying in had caught fire in the middle of the night. There had been a fault with the diesel generator which had set alight to the fuel oil tank and which then caught the cottage and the whole thing went up quite quickly, apparently it set fire to the river so there was quite a blaze. He had been offered my cottage to stay in while his cottage was being repaired, so he knew it very well. He asked me if the frost still comes out of the walls. I explained that it hadn’t while I had been there, but that I tend to keep the stove lit so the cottage stays reasonably warm. My cottage had, at that time been used as a holiday cottage, so I imagine that when he moved in the stove had not been lit for some time and as his cottage burnt down in mid-winter there probably was frost in the walls of my cottage. Incidentally, I have been here for about three and a half months now and have still only lit the stove once, it has not gone out in all of that time, which I find quite remarkable. I asked the two if they had always been locals and the game keeper happened to mention that he had worked all over the place, his last job was on the Elgin estate in a place called Charleston, near Dunfermline in Fife. I mentioned to him that I had grown up in Charleston and asked if he had been the keeper there. He said he had been, so at that point I came clean and mentioned that my brother and I used to poach the odd trout from the hidden lake on the Elgin estate, he would have been there long after me, but nevertheless it was proof of the small world in which we all live, and I still felt slightly guilty, discussing my poaching past life, especially with a game keeper.
Talking as we were of stoves, Ann my landlady mentioned the other day that they had a guest who had stayed at the big Lodge who was very well to do and who bizarrely had a passion for chimney cleaning, now I know it all sounds a bit unlikely, but when a chap has a fondness for a chimney it is best just to accept the situation and move gently on. Anyway this gent had a tip for a well-groomed chimney, you can spend good money on chemicals which when burnt help to clear the flue, or, and I tell you this in a “don’t sue me” sort of way if it all goes horribly wrong, you can apparently, also put an empty beer can on the fire and it will have the same flue cleaning effect. How’s that for a hot tip? Sorry just couldn’t resist the pun.
I went for a haircut the other day in Blairgowrie and the girl that cut my hair asked me if I wanted my eyebrows trimming, I mentioned that I thought they were fine and paid her and left. This did however unnerve me slightly, as she had asked the question perhaps they did need a tidy up. Once home I put on some reading glasses and gave my eye brows some close scrutiny in the mirror and low and behold, they were quite hirsute. So I gave them a cursory trim. Why do eyebrows suddenly put on a spurt of growth just at the point in life where the eyes need glasses to notice, I wondered. Another one of gods pranks no doubt.
There are some highland cattle on the estate and from time to time I encounter them on the track down by the farm. They are real characters and are not flighty or jumpy or indeed dangerous in any way, I have John’s reassurance, he does not and would not have dangerous or temperamental animals on the estate. Apart, that is from the rams which according to little John (Ann’s nephew) are head butting bruisers, when confined. The estates’ highland cattle are in fact so laid back that when I come down the track they tend to stand and stare at me, giving me a sort of blank look suggesting that I might be in the wrong place. Last Sunday after lunch at the pub I had to actually engage 4 wheel drive and take to the edge of a field to get round one who showed absolutely no sign or intention of thinking it appropriate to get out of the way. Well I suppose it is their estate and home as much as it is mine and perhaps there is an unwritten local law or indeed their pure physical bulk which dictates that it is always their right of way.
I am beginning to appreciate the lengthening of the days, the cottage is tucked down in the glen and the sun in December made a very shallow arc of the horizon, rising slowly above the hills to the East and setting prematurely, behind a hill on the Western side of the glen. So now the suns arc is beginning to make its way up, I am getting more sunlight on the cottage which is a good thing, lifting the spirits and providing, perhaps falsely a sense of warmth. These little one and a half story stone cottages have a bit of a shortage of windows. At the back of the cottage only the kitchen and the bathroom above it have small windows looking up the glen, while the front of the house has rather small South facing windows for the sitting room and the dining room and the bedrooms above, the windows are set into the deep recesses of the thick cottage walls which tend to focus the available light into quite a narrow pattern. The bedrooms upstairs benefit from small side widows which look out to the hills either side of the glen but which do not at this time of year, add much to the quality of the light coming in to the rooms.
Tuesday was the first of March and its arrival heralded the end of my alcohol free month. So I had a couple of pints in the pub early on Tuesday evening and a whiskey at home and woke up on Wednesday with the mother of all hangovers. My body was really not ready for the new month and as a result I have not been out this week, preferring instead to light the fire in the sitting room and enjoy a can of beer and the TV, (I put the empty can on the fire to freshen up the chimney of course). Tonight however, is Friday night and therefore I will be preparing some warm fleeces, a bicycle and a freshly charged light and will make my way to the pub for a proper celebration of the beginning of March. I will prime myself for the evening with the fillet steak that I bought in the butcher in Pitlochry on Tuesday and which I had been saving to celebrate the logs in the shed with. I know it all sounds daft, but if you are knackered and your back hurts and you are splitting logs in a blizzard in your T’ shirt as I was this morning, just knowing there is a lump of steak for supper is all the inducement needed to see the job through.
Righty ho, fine Angus fillet steak eaten, fleeces donned, cottage tidied, temperature check, 3 degrees so not too cold. Look out Kirkmichael, here I come…