Hot ash and dead sheep.

Arisaig bay from Rhu
Arisaig bay from Rhu.

Since the last update the first thing on my list was to help Dougie fill his horse box with the stuff which no longer had a purpose in his life, old cookers and comfy chairs that were past their prime, that sort of thing and hitch the horse box to my pick-up and tow it all to the council dump in Pitlochry. I am quite surprised that the dump is in Pitlochry as I would have thought that the towns’ entry in the ‘twee’ list of Scottish towns would have more or less ensured that the dump ended up in Blairgowrie. Perhaps the planning department did not think of that, or maybe the Victorian Hotel and Café lined Pitlochry high street have a dump requirement that out strips that needed by the rather ‘utilitarian’ Blairgowrie. Who knows, and who cares I hear you say ‘en masse’. The tip in Pitlochry, come to think of it is a rather ‘twee’ example of a municipal dump zone, it has special little areas for specific things, it is orderly and neat, almost tidy as these places go, so it still lives up to the Pitlochry ethos.

The other night I was informed by Brian, the head chef at the Strathardle that he had recently witnessed the Northern lights, I have an app on my phone which is supposed to notify me of any reasonable likely hood of seeing the Northern lights and for some reason it failed to register that evening’s solar activity. I can’t explain how disappointed I was. Brian is a smoker and as a result he spends more time than I do outside in the dark, so it seems that being a smoker predisposes you to a better chance of viewing the Northern lights. I may have to take up smoking again, where is my pipe?

The Scottish trout fishing season started on the fifteenth of March and so I thought I would dig out a rod and give the river a cursory flick of a fly. The water level was down due to the good weather we have recently been having, honestly, we have had about a month of really nice sunny weather, it still gets a bit chilly at night but all the same the weather has been really quite good. Unfortunately I have subsequently discovered that the fish don’t like, 1) Bright, sunny weather, 2) Low water, 3) Cold water, all of which we had on the day and which is why, rather unsurprisingly I did not even get a nibble. Apparently it is not really worth fishing the river until things have warmed up a bit, but none of that interfered with my enjoyment of walking along the river bank casting a fly which was probably the wrong one into a pool here and there, which probably had no fish on a lovely crisp bright day. Apparently the Lochs are a little more forgiving.

There were a couple of bicycles suitable for teenagers in the back of the big shed so I gave them a bit of a service and mentioned to Ann my landlady that they were being wasted where they were and asked her if there were any youngsters on the estate who might appreciate a bicycle. She said they should have been at Daldhu and were there for the folk who rent the holiday cottage, so I said I would take them up to the cottage on the back of my truck. While driving up the track, out of the corner of my eye I spotted something splashing about in the river and when I gave the subject more scrutiny, I noticed that a sheep was on its back in one of the burns that run off the hill on the other side of the main river, there is a bridge nearby so I parked the truck and ran across the bridge and along the bank by the time I got there the sheep had stopped struggling and its head was under water. I got in the stream and dragged it out on to the bank and grabbed the wool on the side of its chest with both hands and started pushing and pulling in an attempt to bring it back to life, I am not quite sure what I thought I was doing, my treatment was pretty much instinctive rather than educated. I managed to get it breathing again and it seemed to be looking like it might recover. The sheep are in lamb at the moment and I think this one had twins because it was very wide which is probably why it ended up on its back and could not right its self. The ewe was breathing but very softly so I stayed with it for about 20 minutes, it seemed to be getting slightly stronger and I thought if it tried to struggle to its feet where it was, it would end up in the stream again, so I moved it further up the bank, unfortunately that seemed to be too much for it and it died soon after, probably of a heart attack. I mentioned this to Ann and she charitably said that it probably was not quite right in the first place if it had ended up in the stream. I hope this was true. Her husband John apparently says that “After being born, a lambs only ambition is to die”.

There is a Prunus tree next to the cottage, either a plum or a cherry of some sort and over the years it has grown to rather obscure the light from the front of the cottage, it was noticeable even before the leaves came out so I can only imagine how dark the sitting room and guest room would be in mid-Summer. When I bumped in to the owner of the estate a month or so ago, he mentioned that he had asked for the tree to be taken down because he thought it was via this tree, that the Pine Martin that ruined the cottage carpets had gained entry. I thought it a shame to take the whole tree down and also thought that any severe pruning ought to happen before the tree was in bud, so a couple of weeks ago I dug out the chainsaw and took down a large bough which was shading the cottage. Even without the leaves it has made a huge difference to the amount of light and has had a widening effect on the available view. It’s weird but I feel slightly more vulnerable without it there, it somehow used to provide some sense of shelter, all of which was purely psychological of course. I have left two smaller trunks which do not interfere with the view and which hopefully will not encourage Pine martins back in to the cottage. The down side is that the satellite dish is now rather more obvious on the lawn, so I will have to visit a garden centre and find some fast growing greenery to plant round it. One job successfully completed always seems to lead to another for some reason.

Talking of the estate owner, I was pottering about the other day when I noticed him coming up the drive, I had just put the kettle on so his timing was perfect. I invited him in for a cup of tea and we sat and chatted in the dining room. It was the estate owner who mentioned that my fishing attempts were futile because of the conditions. He did however mention that the fishing on the estate is really only free for guests and workers, he then asked me if I would be happy to do some odd jobs around the estate, one of the workers is due to be off work for a month or so and I think he was keen to see if I would step in and help if need be. I told him I would be happy to help if required, but have yet to be asked, so am not quite sure what may be involved. The estate owner as I may have mentioned before was a cabinet minister and it amused me slightly that the fishing rule had been amended slightly, in order to encourage me to help out on the estate, once a politician, always I imagine, a politician. I had already cleared the rights to some fishing with the manager who said it was not a problem. The estate owner was pleased to see that I had in part, already dealt with the tree and asked me if I wanted the two big pine trees taking down as well. I thought not, they are a bit of a feature of the cottage and I think the place would be very stark without them. They do also hide some of the view and will have an impact of the amount of light, but I feel their presence is part of the whole feel of the place and told him I would rather keep the big trees for the time being. I was not really expecting to have to make those sorts of decisions but I am very pleased he did not just cut them down.

Last weekend I was invited by an old school friend from my Edinburgh days to go and stay with her and her family in Arisaig. It was Carol’s birthday and we enjoyed a barbecue in her barbecue shelter. Talking as I was of Dougie earlier, he has one as well, so these little hexagonal shelters surrounding a fire pit and barbecue seem to be quite popular in Scotland. They certainly extend the barbecue season, making a smoky meal available pretty much all year round. I was very taken with Carol’s shelter it was beautifully built and had enough room for about twelve of us to pile in and sit in comfort and warmth around the fire. Carol also has a gypsy caravan in the garden called Zelda which she uses as a money earner on Air B+B. Zelda was to be my bedroom for a couple of nights and was also very comfortable and beautifully made. There was in essence a large double bed which utilised the far end from the door and the center of the room was taken up with some comfy chairs and a heater. There was a composting loo just outside which I have to confess I had not encountered before but which seemed to work very well, being both an easy and fragrant way of dealing with what could otherwise be something of a problem. Having said that I did not have to deal with the compost.

Arisaig is a beautiful little West coast village which is on a bay, the entrance to which is protected from the ravages of the sea by a reef of skerries, the Scottish word for rocky outcrops. I should imagine navigating into the bay could be awkward in tricky conditions. There is a very tidy little yacht haven and boat yard there, some lovely waterside properties and a very healthy community spirit which was obvious from the friends I met at Carols party. The bay its self is a little rocky but if you follow the old coast road to Mallaig there are some beautiful white sandy beaches of the sort often copied by the Caribbean. I took a drive on Sunday down the old coast road to Mallaig where Carol was reading peoples palms at the Mallaig community hall which was playing host to a craft fair of sorts. My hand reading went well and I learnt a bit about myself and had other aspects of my life confirmed in a surprisingly accurate way. Carol did say however that she could see no evidence of writing amongst my skill set as defined by my palms. You may have already arrived at that conclusion without access to, or knowledge of my hands. Carol and her husband Rory had to go South on Sunday evening, but I was invited to stay and so treated their daughter Louise to supper at the local pub. The pub is in my opinion the social heart of a village and its health is a good indicator of the wellbeing of the village. A bad pub probably indicates an unhappy and dysfunctional village. The pub in Arisaig seemed a very nice place, the beer was great, the one I was drinking was ‘Cowabunga’ from the Cromarty brewery in case you are interested and the meal was of the finest quality. The prawns I had for my main course were the freshest I have had for quite some time and probably came straight off a trawler in the rather workmanlike fishing town of Mallaig, just along the coast. Louise and I wandered home and settled down in front of a film on the TV, Louise is studying film and media and we spent some time going through the huge amount of films available to download from Sky, we finally settled on Mrs Doubtfire, which I have not seen for many years and with Louise’s assistance, I was given a complete understanding of how the film had been constructed and how the music was used to create pathos or emphasise a turning point in the plot and how a camera angle can change the viewpoint and encourage empathy with a character. I really enjoyed my media education and will never watch a film in quite the same way again.

Today I have started to do a small carving of a grouse. I have been doing some drawings to give me an idea of the nature of grouses or is it grice, I’m not sure. Anyway, I have discovered a small wood yard just outside Pitlochry that sells naturally dried bits of wood for carving and wood turning. I bought a bit of lime wood, the quintessential carvers’ wood and bizarrely a wood I have never carved before. There was a very famous English carver called Grinling Gibbons who won many religious carving commissions and lime was his favourite. I have some stoats in their white ermine coats planned for the lime. I also bought a couple of bits of bog oak which were dug out of the peat on Orkney or maybe Isla, the chap could not quite remember where it had come from. Bog oak is a wood I have always wanted to try and carve if for no other reason than it is probably about a couple of thousand years old, which should add interest, history and hopefully value to the finished product. I also bought a small oak burr, a burr is a sort of cancerous lump which forms on the side of a tree, the grain is all over the place and frequently dappled in little swirls making this little bit of wood a good one for a grouse, it is also quite forgiving to carve, so a good one to get started with. I have been putting this off for some reason, perhaps because I am hoping to supplement my income with my carvings and if they turn out to be rubbish I will have to rethink the plan. Having done every possible other thing that might need doing about the place and quite a few that didn’t, I finally got started today and so far so good. There is still huge scope to chip its head off with a poorly aimed tap with a hammer and chisel, but so far it’s not going too badly. As a confidence builder it’s fulfilling its role quite well, there is though, I am very aware still some possibility for chaos to take over. It’s never over until the fat grouse is mounted. That somehow did not sound quite right.

Last Tuesday I had to take my car for a service, which is all good, but it does mean hanging around in Pitlochry for rather a long time. I took a bicycle and cycled round the sights and then enjoyed a full fat Scottish all day breakfast, followed by more wandering around. I cycled to the Loch to look at the ducks, then off to the Pitlochry Festival Theatre for a very expensive orange and soda. After reading the paper end to end I cycled down to Dunfallandy to visit the stone. Dunfallandy stone looks like a fairly standard grave stone but was very impressively carved, probably around 700AD by the Picts. It is in amazingly good condition considering the history it must have witnessed. Finally I cycled back down to Pitlochry and up the other side to the previously mentioned Moulin Inn where I drank some less expensive orange and soda and re read the paper for a couple of hours, I was also enjoying some banter with the barmen and the people who came and went, to fend off my boredom. Finally the car was ready and I was able to free wheel from the Moulin all the way back down to the garage about a mile away. Unfortunately they did not quite finish it so I have to take it back next week for an hour or so, now it’s getting boring.

Last Saturday before going to Arisaig I decided to empty the ash bin into the hole in the field and as it was blowing a gale I paid much more attention to where the ash was going to end up, checking wind speed and angle and making sure I was up wind when the bin was emptied. Unfortunately I was less concentrated on where my feet were and managed to tip hot ash down the top of my unlaced boot giving myself quite a nasty burn on the top of my foot. You would never have seen a boot so quickly ejected. Foul language was delivered as I hopped around the field on one foot. I am here to tell you that a burn on the top of a foot is not a good thing, it is still restricting my excursions up a hill or on the bike. On that cheery note I must check my bandage…