Highland gatherings and roaring stags!

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The boys dug in for the long term.

Well it has been about two months since the last update so this one is I suppose rather overdue. Batten down the hatches and get a cup of tea, this could be a long one. Sorry..

In my last blog I mentioned that I was planning to catch up with Corran, an old school friend who had journeyed all the way over from Hobart in Tasmania with her daughter to the Edinburgh fringe festival, where she was going to reconnect with most of her family and enjoy the festivities for a month or so. I went down to Edinburgh for a week with my camper, the camper was taken because Edinburgh becomes a very expensive place to stay during the festival. Even the campsites were trying to charge £30 per night which is rather rich, but still much cheaper that the £140 per night being asked by the usually reasonably cheap Premier Inn. I booked into the campsite at Morton hall which is about three quarters of an hour by bus from the city centre. There is a night bus which runs (as the name suggests,) all night so there is very little excuse for getting stuck anywhere. I setup the camper and made myself comfortable, water, electricity, food, beer, that sort of thing, checked my computer and after testing most of the messaging options available to us in the 21st century, I managed to get in touch with Corran. She was meeting her three sisters, her daughter and her niece in a pub/venue where her niece was going to sing. Corran’s daughter and niece are both gifted musicians and the venues we visited were usually chosen by which girl was singing where and when. This was fun and made me at least, feel instantly connected with the proceedings. The ‘Bootleggers Bar’ was relaxed and had a sort of ‘run by students’ feel to it, it was all very informal and when I walked in Corran and the girls had all made themselves comfortable on the bales of straw which were arranged about the place for seating, Corran’s niece was singing a rather haunting welsh song on the stage and everybody had that sort of glow about them that indicates this was the first night of a months’ worth of fun. The next day I organised a bus pass for £20 which gave me travel on all of the buses and the tram network for a week and which proved to be pretty good value. The general pattern of each day was that I would get into town early afternoon, catch up with Corran and maybe have a bite to eat and a glass of something, then we would either wander round finding random things to look at or catch up with the extended family at some prearranged location. There are some brilliant free acts which take place all over the city centre and whole days can be taken up grazing on these offerings. Corran’s sister Kirsty cooked a couple of delicious meals during the week and we were usually steered to a venue in the evening by the musical girls. Our usual final end of evening arrangement was a sharpener or two in ‘Sandy Bells’, world famous Scottish folk bar, before meandering back across the meadows with Corran and her daughter to their flat, where I carried on across to Bruntsfield and where I might have a pint of something exotic in Montpelier’s Bar, while waiting for the night bus which runs every hour. One evening I got things a little wrong as a result of an impromptu whisky tasting with a young architect I found myself chatting to in Montpelier’s and managed to miss the bus and then when the pub shut, I had nearly an hour to kill until the next one. I decided to start walking and ended up near the Hermitage in Morningside, when I noticed on the clever digital sign at a bus stop that I had a quarter of an hour until the next bus, so I decided to wait there. While I was there, some youngsters of sixteen or seventeen years old came and occupied the bus stop. They had been taking drugs at a party from what I overheard and were being quite funny, anyway, they regrouped, sorted themselves out and started walking down the street when one of the girls looked at me and asked, “did I have a problem with them” I said, “no, I had found them entertaining”, she then asked me what I was doing there, “well, hoping to catch a bus” I said. “Oh ok”, she muttered, then she said “which one?” Presumably just to corroborate my story, “the number 11 which is due in about three minutes time”, I responded, pointing at the sign. God knows what was going on in her head but she got quite aggressive quite quickly, anyway my answer seemed to stack up, so with one final, slightly paranoid glance in my direction they shuffled off down the road. I had not really intended to get myself into a scene from train spotting, but that was slightly what it felt like.

I did the festival for seven days before heading back home, to be honest a week of all of those people is about as much as I can cope with, the population of Edinburgh doubles over the festival apparently, so I was quite glad to get back to the peace and tranquillity of the cottage.

I had promised to take Corran off to the West coast to visit Arisaig which is a place she has a personal connection with, so I met her in Pitlochry with her cousin Brian, from Dunkeld and after lunch at the Port Na Craig Inn, we set off for the west coast. We arrived at Arisaig and visited the places Corran wanted to see, where we were descended upon by a cloud of hungry midges the minute we got out of the car. We stayed with Carol, a school friend of mine from my Edinburgh days, who lives there and who is always a good and kind host. After Arisaig I thought I would throw in a small cruise for good measure and booked the ferry from Mallaig to Armadale on Skye, yes, all thirty minutes of it, we were hoping to see dolphins or whales but neither made themselves available, the weather was good though and the view from the top deck was just as rewarding. The initial plan was to stay at Glenbrittle, but we opted instead for a small site near Carbost which was a gentle walk to the ‘Old Inn’. The Inn is a long term favourite of mine. I had done some sneaky research and knew that there would be some live music in the pub, which is always good. I know most of the musicians there now and have never had a bad night, so I was hoping Corran would also enjoy the pub and the music. My friend Farquhar MacDonald was playing and that always means it’s going to get lively, he is a well known Skye based fiddle player and plays all over the world. On the night we were there he was playing alongside a nine year old coloured French girl who was on holiday on Skye, she had a precocious talent and seemed to be giving Farquhar a run for his money in the duelling fiddles department. We ended up having a rather wild night and the next day my plan was to take the lovely, community owned and operated, Kylerhea (pronounced kyleray) ferry to Glenelg and drive along the coast through Arnisdale to Corran, a charming little village with a very relaxed and peaceful atmosphere. Corran village is rather dominated by its surrounding Munroe sized mountains, the beautiful sparkling river and Loch Hourn along the edge of which, the little village nestles. I don’t know if Corran was named after this lovely village, but I had promised to take her there and knew she would like it, we stopped for a rather eccentric tea and cake at the ‘Tea shed’ and then had a stroll along the edge of Loch Hourn. On the way back we stopped off to look at the ancient Brochs near Glenelg, we also spotted a good sized salmon resting in a pool under the road bridge, which was waiting for some rain water in the river to help it upstream. We were both feeling slightly ropey after the fun at the Old Inn the night before, so we wandered back to the Glenelg Inn for a small glass of something remedial and a chat with the friends I know there. We walked in and were greeted by the owner, Sheila. I had a bit of a catch up and mentioned I had moved to Pitlochry, she suggested that we introduced ourselves to two chaps who were on holiday and sitting in the garden, so we did. The two chaps turned out to be Roman Catholic priests who had hired a cottage in Glenelg for a week’s peace and quiet, one of whom came from Pitlochry. The two guys proved to be great company, they were both very entertaining and also at times, thought provoking. Their company was very easy, one drink led to another and in this way another slightly wild night was delivered. I was intending to introduce Corran to some good places and interesting people, but I hoped I had not overdone it.

The next day we drove over the amazing Ratagan pass and made our way gently back to Pitlochry. We got back to the cottage and had a very quiet night. The following day was the 135th Strathardle highland gathering at Kirkmichael. Corran was keen for her kids to come up but it didn’t quite happen, they had been with their father on Arran and the logistics proved too difficult. We met up with Brian, her cousin and watched the various entertainments, including a rather emotionally involved tug o’ war during which our team were only just beaten by two ends to one by their main rivals ‘Mount Blair’. The proceedings were brought to a close by a slightly bonkers musical cars event, where cars drive in a circle round the ring and when the music stops a passenger has to jump out and collect a coloured ball from the centre of the ring, after each time one of the balls is removed and those without a coloured ball have to leave the ring. This went on until there was only one car left presumably. I couldn’t be sure however, as we had made our way back to the pub where we had pre booked accommodation, which saved Corran a bike ride back up the Glen at the end of the night. There was more music and a beer festival going on in the marquee on the pub lawn and so another rowdy night was had, there may have even been some dancing. The next day I took Corran to the station for her journey back to Edinburgh and I had a slight feeling she was looking forward to some peace and quiet. Whenever I go somewhere with Corran my car seems to play up, last time it was a cracked chassis, on this occasion it was rather less serious, a wheel bearing had started to complain, I turned up the music so as not to be made constantly aware of it and had it changed a week or so after we got back, we were not at any risk, but it did not make the drive home any more relaxed.

I offered to take a fellow ‘Pitcarmick Angling Club’ member, Gilmour, up to Loch Loch for some fishing in my pickup, Willy the estate digger driver had said that he had levelled and bottomed (placed big stones in the boggy areas) the worst bits of the track, so I thought it worth a try. From the cottage it takes about three quarters of an hour to bump up to the loch. We had taken some wine and beer, my small camping stove and a frying pan for a bacon roll. So we were both looking forward to what we might find. Our plan was to kick off in style with a glass of wine and a bacon roll on the sandy beach at the southern end of the Loch, then fly fish through to lunchtime when we would have more wine and another bacon roll and then spin for the arctic char which are reputedly in the Loch, neither of us have caught char before, so we were rather looking forward to this. While the bacon was being fried we noticed a rather pungent smell which we eventually traced to a dead sheep directly up wind, which added nothing to the appetite. The day was overcast and very blustery and the fly fishing was not easy, we managed a number of very small brown trout and so having had our lunch break we set off again for the main event, a chance of catching a char. This proved to be about as successful as the fly fishing and another couple of small trout were caught and returned, but no Arctic char. We gave up and bumped back down the track to the cottage. I was quite red after this event, a cosmetic arrangement delivered by extended exposure to the elements. During the spinning phase of this trip I managed to snap my very light telescopic rod, luckily I had brought a spare, the very smart handmade rod I had bought in Dulverton, on the edge of Exmoor for salmon fishing, I wandered back to the car to swap over the rods only to find that my big spinning reel would not fit on the rod, I bought it some years ago for a salmon fishing trip in Ireland which never quite materialised, so the rod had never had a proper trial. I managed to sort of jamb on the little reel from my broken rod which allowed me to carry on fishing. The next week I took the rod to the fishing shop in Blairgowrie to see if they could resolve the problem, the owner took one look and said they had fitted a fly reel seat, so a spinning reel would never fit. Oh well, that was an expensive mistake, because it was so long ago, the shop were not really interested in resolving the issue.

There have been a number of fishing parties staying at the Strathardle Inn recently who have been fishing nearby for salmon on the River Ericht, a tributary of the Tay, one of Scotland’s premier salmon rivers. They have all been catching very well with a minimum of a fish per day for each fisherman, which is a very good average for a Scottish salmon river.

While on the subject of game, I was sitting in bed the other day and I could hear some sort of commotion going on outside, when I looked out of the window there were about 30 partridge on the lawn, I had no idea where they had suddenly come from. Perhaps, I thought they had flown over from a neighbouring estate. I happened to mention this to Graham, my friend who grew up at the cottage and he informed me that our estate had stocked about 30 partridge a week or so earlier, so it would seem that the whole lot have discovered my garden. I don’t often see them all together but there are usually ten or so pecking about. I don’t know if they have also stocked pheasants, because my pheasant population has also increased to four males and a couple of females who seem to be about most of the time. They pick up the larger grains from the bird feeder which the smaller birds seem to discard onto the lawn. That afternoon I happened to look out of the dining room window and spotted the teenage (it’s not really a baby any more) rabbit just under the cottage window. I was enjoying the opportunity to admire the rabbit close up when its ears pricked up and it suddenly took off across the lawn followed in hot pursuit by the stoat. There then followed a scene which should have played out to the Benny Hill chase music as the pair bounded round the lawn out under the fence and into the field at the bottom of the garden, I could still see the little rabbit bouncing along with the stoat standing on its back legs to see where its quarry had gone. They chased round for a few minutes coming back through the garden then out of the gate and down the drive and out of sight. As they were disappearing down the drive I was not confident I would see the little rabbit again. This morning though as I drew back the curtains there he/she was, trimming the grass in the middle of the lawn. I would have missed the rabbit, it is pretty tame as far as I am concerned and it barely stops grazing if it sees me getting some wood or going in and out of the shed and I can walk within a metre of it without it displaying any sense of concern.

My brother, Phil came up for a visit for a week or so which was nice. We went for a stroll round Pitlochry, to the salmon ladder where no salmon were seen but about forty Korean students had gathered, followed by lunch in the beer garden next to the salmon fishing pool on the river at the Port Na Craig Inn and then a trip round the Edradour distillery. I can’t recommend highly enough a wander rounds this, Scotland’s smallest distillery. The guide was very knowledgeable and the tour took us for a tasting and a modest video to watch, then we went to look at the distillery proper. The tour led us through the bonded warehouse and onto the workings of the Mash Tuns and Wash Backs, we were actually taken through the Still house while the distillers were going about their day. Most distillery visits I have done before have usually been heavy on multimedia presentations with lots of piping in the glen and poetic discussion of how the smell of the heather infuses the finished unrivalled product. Mostly PR claptrap in other words. This visit though, was much more honest and educational. Phil and I spent the next day with a hike up Ben Earb, this is the second time I have been up Ben Earb. The first time was reported here when Alison and I went up in the spring. This occasion was somewhat warmer and there were fewer deer and antlers to be found. Phil and I sustained our walk by feasting on the Blaeberries that were ripe and found all over the hill. Phil spotted a digger on the ridge between Ben Earb and Lairig Charnach. I have no idea how it got there. When we got to the top of the hill however, we could see that the purpose of the digger was to help with the installation of a new sheep fence, presumably to keep our sheep out of the Dalmunzie estate on the other side of the Ben Earb ridge. The view was unfortunately rather compromised by a bit of foggy cloud which was a shame as it is usually spectacular and was the main reason for going up in the first place.

Phil was going on to stay with Carol, our friend in Arisaig and on the day he was due to travel we looked into what was involved, it seems that from Pitlochry to get to the West coast you have to get a train to Inverness and then all the way back down to fort William and then finally the Mallaig train jumping off at Arisaig. This process would have taken five to six hours, so I took him to Fort William by car which saved him about three and a half hours bumping round the country. This drive goes through Laggan which is lovely, but I seem to have done it quite a lot recently and am now getting slightly bored with the forty mile drive behind an inevitable caravan with very little chance of overtaking (…and relax!).

There have been a group of deer stalkers staying at the Glenfernate Lodge last week, these are the same group who came and had coffee with me a couple of times when they were stalking in the spring, they have been coming up for about 25 years and love the place. The stalking at the moment is for stags and I don’t think they have been having an easy time of it. Their group this time was much larger and included some wives, sons and daughters. They kindly invited me to join them for dinner. I went to Pitlochry for a decent bottle of wine which I hoped would not let the side down. They had a chef for the week and we had a superb meal with some very nice wines and a whiskey or two to wash it all down with. I felt very lucky to have been invited and very much enjoyed the evening which was easy, fun and relaxed. Peter, who had invited me was also the acting disk jockey and it seemed, he has the same taste in music as me. He played three cd’s which are currently being listened to in my cars cd player. This was the first time I have been in the big house and it is a wonderfully appointed place with a full complement of location appropriate furnishings, textiles and paintings, all of which leave you in no doubt that you are sitting cosily by the huge fireplace in a big estate house in Scotland.

I have a chum from the pub who plays a big part in the Atlantic Salmon Alliance organisation and who had a friend staying with him last week. His friend came up to try for a ‘Macnab challenge’. This is where an attempt is made to bag a salmon, a stag and a brace of grouse within one day between dawn and dusk. He caught the salmon in the first hour or so, the salmon is usually considered the difficult part of the challenge. He then spent most of the day trying for and eventually getting a stag, finally he was let down at dusk without the brace of grouse. The grouse are generally thought to be the easy part of the challenge, so he did pretty well. This is a good place to try for a Macnab as the salmon are reasonably plentiful and are within easy reach of the stalking and grouse moors. I am beginning to hear the stags roaring on the hill, as they are coming into the rutting season and as their testosterone levels rise they become very noisy and much braver, I have seen them by the cottage for the first time since moving here.

Finally the weather, what blog of mine does not mention the weather! It’s been bright but quite chilly at night recently, I have relit the stove over the last couple of days and it is taking me a little time to get used to the regime, I have a ton of coal arriving at the crack of dawn tomorrow and I have already enjoyed a couple of nice evenings by the sitting room fire where the logs I have filled the sheds with burn beautifully, much better that the ones I was burning in the spring which had not really had a chance to dry out. The trees are now beginning to show their autumn colours, probably triggered by the colder nights. There is a field maple on the way to Blairgowrie which is just astounding in the autumn, I remember it from last year when I came to view the cottage on a bright sunny day and it was a blaze of golden glory. Another measure of the colder nights is that the mouse count in the traps has been building. They want to come in when it’s chilly and unfortunately I don’t want to share my tidy space with them. I know where they come in and so that is where the traps are, I have been catching one per night for the last couple of weeks. It should slow down once the population has been reduced.Last Saturday when I cycled back from the pub and got to the car there was quite a bit of frost already on the windscreen of the car which had to be scraped for the run back up the track. I have started using my thick duvet and spent some time fitting glazing film. This is basically thin clear film which is fixed over the inside of the whole window frame and when fixed and shrunk until it is taught with a hair dryer, forms a draft proof cover. This effort has definitely made the place feel warmer and also slightly quieter. If all of these interventions work, this winter should be reasonably cosy. I do feel quite prepared for it, although that could be famous last words as things can change very quickly up here.

Well on that note it’s off to Pitlochry to stock up the freezer…

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