A couple of weeks has passed since my last catch-up and in that time spring seems to have taken hold of the glen. The sun is now making its way higher into the sky we are getting noticeably more daylight day by day. The last couple of weeks have been snow free, largely dry and generally sunny. If we have a few days of sun, the moorland heats up which releases water vapour which the evening’s cold air condenses into fog or low cloud that hangs in the valleys. This is not every night, usually only after a particularly warm day. According to my thermometer, the temperature is still dropping to minus one or two at night but we have seen daytime temperatures recently of nearly 14 degrees Centigrade, which is positively balmy compared to the winter months. I have snowdrops in the garden which seem to be about a week behind those in the village bizarrely, perhaps the difference in elevation accounts for that, who knows. I have also discovered a drift of crocuses under the fir tree which are beautiful and pale and look very delicate, luckily the conditions here have been fairly benign so they continue to survive. The recent warm weather, particularly if we have had a couple of days of sun without any fog, releases the aroma of the surrounding country side, the other day I opened the door to be greeted on the warm Spring morning air with an aromatic peaty fragrance, I could also smell the fir tree which gave a gentle bathroom cleaner sort of ambience to the proceedings. All very pleasing to the nose.
I went to Pitlochry last week to replenish the larder from the ever reliable Co-Op, where incidentally I discovered lurking, on a shelf in a plastic container, advertising it’s self as, ‘The taste of Scotland’, a brace of pre battered sausages. So I suppose, you bung these tasty heart stopping delicacies into a microwave and the arteries are treated to a hardening in under two minutes, all good stuff, heart disease for the culinary challenged! Any way I digress, on the way back up the hill coming out of Pitlochry I decided to try a refreshing early March sharpener at the Moulin Inn. The Moulin is a great place, it is basically an old Victorian Hotel of the standard Scottish mini castle type of design with an Inn attached at one end, where fine ales of the establishments own making are dispensed, produced by the microbrewery, which can be found at the back of the Hotel. It is also quite a good place to eat but it is the bar and the beer which I enjoy from time to time. I amuse myself by making little quips to the bar staff, telling them how well their beer travels. They usually either choose to ignore me, or perhaps don’t get the joke, such as it is. Anyway, I was in there after the shopping and I got chatting to Ian, a retired RAF forces doctor and quite a local character. He was an effusively friendly fellow who was able to educate me on all matters Moulin. Moulin it seems has some impressive standing stones and evidence of Neolithic settlement for a period of around 2000 years, it is thought that an increase in cold weather around 700 Ad drove the settlements down the hill to a slightly warmer and less exposed location. At about that time the church in Moulin was founded and dedicated to St Colm or St Colman. I think probably the latter as there is modern evidence on the road back to Enochdhu (my village) of a new, rather architecturally industrial, holiday type of home, albeit on a rather grand scale owned by Colmans’, the mustard people. So a tenuous link and one which can probably be ignored. Moulin it seems was located at a cross roads of droving and trading routes and a market naturally formed there which brought some prosperity and some nuisance to the area. Robert Louis Stevenson stayed in a cottage in Moulin where he wrote “Thrawn Janet” and perhaps more famously “The body snatchers”. There is some evidence of monarchy including Robert the Bruce, Mary Queen of Scots, James the 6th of Scots and 1st of England, King George 1st, Queen Victoria, to name but a few, having strayed through the village at various points in history. There is also rich, historical evidence of the Picts and Vikings running up against each other, so historically a busy place it would seem. This bustle has largely all gone now, leaving the sleepy village of Moulin to enjoy its brewery off the beaten track, a mile or two to the East of where the A9 takes folk North and South in equal measure. I have summarised Ian’s potted history of Moulin and probably added some translation here and there, but that was the gist of it. While I was being tutored in the local story, people started to gather at the bar and it appeared that I had inadvertently found myself gently absorbed into the Moulin Five O’clock club. A great bunch of people who gather at the end of the day for a verbal catch up, there was talk of lost sheep, things to do near my house, bad tourist driving, musical events which could not be missed, my contribution was to start a discussion based on which beer travelled best (a poorly judged ‘Bon mot’ which nearly started a fight). All very nice. So I intend to go to the Co-Op at about 4:30 next time, specifically, so I can catch up with the Moulin five O’clock Possy once again, now I know what to expect and what not to say.
The Thursday before last saw me donning my salopettes etcetera and taking to the sunny slopes of Glenshee. My friend Ian, who I have mentioned before is a ski instructor at the ‘Shee and we had discussed my “going for a slide” as Ian refers to skiing. He sent me a text suggesting Thursday would be a good day, due in the main to the weather forecast showing sunny conditions, it was not a weekend or a school holiday and so in short, it should be optimal conditions for un-hindered sliding. I rather nervously went to the ski hire place, which incidentally smelled rather overwhelmingly of stale socks. Was measured, weighed and fitted for some skis’, boots and poles. I then even more nervously set off up the hill to Glenshee. I found the Fresh Tracks ski school building where I had agreed to meet Ian, only to discover that he had gone for a jolly up the hill. I chatted to his colleague who had radioed Ian and who informed me that I was expected. Once we caught up, Ian took me up the drag lift to a piste on Sunnyside, where he analysed my technique for a couple of runs. He gave me some very good advice and some exercises to try in order to break some of the bad habits which have been with me since my very early skiing days. His assistance helped considerably and after an hour or so my method had become slightly more graceful and flowing. My confidence had been helped as well, so we decided to go and try some of the other runs. The highlight for me was Coire Fionn and then on to Glas Maol. The snow was perfect if a little powdery at the top of Glas Maol. Ian and I skied for about four hours, covering pretty much all of the runs at Glenshee, so I could get a feel for the place. I was completely exhausted by the end of it. The conditions could not have been better and there were no queues for any of the lifts. A great day out and something I want to do again, unfortunately with all of the good weather we have been having recently I think the season is now over, so I may have to wait until next year. I really enjoyed it though and Glenshee is a wonderful resource to have on the doorstep. I really do not know why I had not gone earlier and am very grateful to Ian for persuading me as he did, otherwise I doubt I would have made it this year.
Thursday seems to be adventure day, for this week’s Thursday adventure I cycled up to loch Loch. Hurrah! I have been banging on in this blog about cycling to Loch Loch and yesterday I finally made it. It is an eleven mile round trip from my back door but it has to be said they were eleven Scottish miles and it was quite hard. The day was beautiful, getting quite warm in the afternoon, so much so that I overheated on the way up and had to take my shirt off having completely overdressed for the occasion. Normally I am quite shy about stripping off but as there was no one else for miles up or down the glen, it made no difference. So I was mountain biking topless in the glorious sunshine, probably not a good look. I could sort of see where the Naturists are coming from, any way enough of that chat. I have noticed recently that we are in ‘frog on the move’ season. I think at this time of year they all migrate to other ponds to mate, whether this is driven by pheromones or the phase of the moon or what, I really don’t know, but I had also noticed this phenomenon when I was living in Sussex, where there would be frogs all over the road around about March time and because they are generally small they are unnoticed and therefore get driven over in their millions. Here luckily there are fewer cars so the survival rate is probably much greater. So while I was cycling up the track I noticed what I first thought were small fish in the ponds and pools along the way. It was only after some close inspection I found the place to be awash with frogs, every ditch, every stream and every puddle. It was like a froggy night club or Glastofrog or something similar. Having puffed my way over the hill I could see the glint of sunlight on water. I had made it. What a place, Loch Loch is, a long thin Loch with pinches in two places and the end I arrived at slopes away from a white sandy quartzite beach, very gently into some crystal clear, slightly deeper water. At the other end according to the OS map the Loch achieves a depth of around twenty meters so quite deep and it is at the deep end apparently where all the big fish are so you have to walk to find them. The Loch is over a mile long and was, I should imagine, originally sculpted by glacial erosion which usually gives a landscape a soft rounded look and feel and the Loch is no exception. At the shallow end I could see clumps of lilies under the water getting ready to break the surface and put on a floral display. These water lilies are very common in the Scottish lochs and Lochans (a small Loch) and when in flower can produce a spectacular splash of bright yellow flowers surrounded by lily pads floating on the surface tension of the Loch water. I will go back with a decent camera in a month or two when hopefully the lilies will be in full bloom. I put up a dozen or so grouse on the way to the Loch, none of which seemed to have witnessed a half-naked middle aged man on a bicycle before and which took to the air in all directions.
The cottage jobs I have undertaken in the last couple of weeks have gradually dwindled to some fairly insignificant chores, I applied some silicon sealant to the roof of the big shed with mixed results. I have raked up the copious pine cones from the lawn which served to illustrate that the lawn is mainly composed of moss and that pine cones in a gale can travel quite some distance. I did have a slight disaster with a radiator. Last time I was in Pitlochry one of my favourite shops is the hardware shop. It is a proper old fashioned sort of place with little pots of screws and nails and bird food and paint and fire lighters’, all manner of things designed to ensnare a casual peruser. Well I was perusing the other day and I discovered radiator paint and as the cottage has three rather old, rather rusty radiators amongst its collection I thought I would give them a face lift with the appropriate paint. So last Monday after reading the instructions I got out a wire brush and tackling the bathroom radiator gave it a vigorous brushing which resulted in a pin prick leak which sprung out from the bottom of the radiator. Ah blast, I thought quietly to myself. I managed to turn it off and covering the hole with my thumb and then with my spare hand I distributed toilet paper on the floor to catch the escaping black liquid, I shot down stairs to turn the heating pump off. I managed to temporarily fix the leak with two screws, two rubber washers and some mastic type stuff called ‘Sticks like..’ probably also procured from the Pitlochry hardware shop. So I had to ‘fess up to the estate manageress that there was a leak in one of the radiators. Actually I think the only thing stopping the leak from arriving earlier was the paint it left the factory in. Another thing which I had a go at, while we are on a shed based handy man topic, was an arty attempt on a piece of quartz crystal rock that I may have mentioned before. Well my new tungsten tipped chisel arrived and so I had another go at shaping my bit of hard rock. That chisel lasted about half an hour, quite impressive considering the outcome of the previous attempts but still pretty much a non-starter. I have officially given up with that bit of rock and can now see why shiny white sculptures made of the stuff do not adorn the shelves of the galleries and museums around Scotland. There is other rock around though, so I will find something a little more malleable to play with. Or maybe just go back to making things from wood. Talking of the hardware shop, as we were, I also bought some bird seed, I am currently filling the bird feeder every day. Is that normal? They are even getting fussy, discarding grains that they don’t like onto the ground, which I got slightly annoyed about, in a parental, eat your greens sort of way, until that is I noticed that there are other birds which are only attracted to the discarded grains, amongst those less fussy birds have been the two red legged partridge, yes two. From the foot prints in the last snow I thought I was down to one, but this morning they were both clearing up the mess that the other birds had discarded. They are becoming close friends and I like to see them about the place. Talking of the wild life I have not caught a mouse for weeks now, but yesterday I saw one emerge from the garden wall by the gate and sort of bask in the sunshine, so they are around but just not in the cottage. I did wonder whether, with all of the spilled grain under the bird feeder, they have no need of a dangerous cottage when they have the option of heaps of delicious corn based nibbles on their door step.
Last Sunday I was led astray by the characterful Ellice, who works as a doer of everything and is also the trainee manager at the Strathardle Inn. I usually drop in for a Sunday lunch and Ellice had the afternoon off and so decided to join me. We ate and chatted for an hour or so then she left and cycled off to see her boyfriend Dave, who is one of the Chefs at the Strathardle. I was just about to drink up and go home an hour or so later when she got back and re-joined me for another drink. Ellice at this point got the bit between her teeth and rang Richard and Linda, some mutual Kirkmichael friends to encourage them to join us at the pub, so the four of us enjoyed a chat and some increasingly lively banter at the bar. At some point it was decided, I am not too sure why or indeed when, that we de-camp to Richard and Linda’s lovely house just round the corner from the pub and carry on. I think Ellis brought along a bottle of something fizzy which we celebrated, um, something with. Richard had recently bottled some whisky on a small commercial basis, so at a later point that evening, some whisky was also consumed and that was more or less the last thing I remembered… I awoke on Monday morning to the sound of a dog barking, I remember lying in bed with my head under the sheets trying to avoid daylight and thinking, that’s odd, I don’t have a dog, when gradually I began to realise that I was not at the cottage but still at Richard and Linda’s house. They kindly filled me with coffee and we discussed their new house in Arisaig, which will be their next home destination. Their departure will be considered a shame and they will be missed locally, Richard is also a fellow Pitcarmik Angling club member. I have an old school friend in Arisaig who I will introduce them to so they can get a social jump start in their new community in the same way that they helped me when I first arrived here. This was the second time in three days that I had ended up at someone else’s house after the pub, on Friday however I was still able to peddle a bicycle despite the Port and Brandy shots that we had been experimenting with.
When I awake in the morning my daily routine is usually tending to the stove, after which I have breakfast, a mug of coffee and a bowl of muesli to kick start the day. There is a spoon, and this observation will surprise no one who knows me very well, I am interested in and have a small collection of spoons, but there is a spoon which seems to find its self on top of all of the other spoons in the cutlery draw and which every morning offers its self somehow, for selection as the spoon for the daily morning muesli. I tend to always use the same one, it is a comfortable spoon and its ergonomics suite my hand. Anyway, the other day I happened to be reading something over breakfast and therefore had my reading glasses on and as a result of which, a small inscription on the spoons handle caught my eye. On closer inspection the legend “Somerset School meals” could be seen embossed on the spoon. Now I have lived in Somerset, but I did not bring this particular spoon with me, it was already resident in the cottage before I arrived. My landlord however, was at one point the Conservative member of parliament for Wells in Somerset, so I can only assume that while meeting and greeting the dinner ladies in a school in Wells he must have inadvertently pocketed the spoon which then found its way over the border and up the road to Perthshire and finally, up the glen to my cottage where its past life lay hidden until it was forensically uncovered by me over breakfast. I started that day with a sense of how Conan Doyle’s mind may have worked, albeit briefly.
On that note, is that the time?