Well it has now been about thirteen months since I moved to the cottage and those months have been fun and adventure filled, thanks largely to the friendliness and generosity all of the nice people I have met since moving up here. I think that because the lifestyle up here is less stressful than down on the South Coast people are easier to meet, they don’t have to contend with traffic jams or train strikes or tired angry people who work in London, therefore they are more open and have more energy to greet new people. The cottage has opened a door to a quieter, slightly more serene life style and the area in general has proved to be an exciting and beautiful environment to explore.
I have had a number of visitors recently which has been great, Karen, an old friend from Salisbury and Alison, Dave and Ann from Sussex have all been to stay. The weekend that Ann, Dave and Alison chose to visit was the same weekend as my friend Fiona’s birthday party in the village hall, I had been invited and was keen to go because she and her husband Graham are such nice people, I mentioned to Fiona that unfortunately I had friends staying that weekend, her response was to invite them all as well, which was typically kind of her and so we all descended on the village hall. Ann and Dave were staying at the Strathardle which is a gentle stroll from the hall and Alison was staying with me, so she and I cycled. A great night was had, there was a disco playing age appropriate music for a 50th birthday, plenty of nice food and a well-stocked bar. As the evening went on there might even have been some dancing, there was a bit of a Scottish country theme to the music towards the end of the evening and Ann who seemed to know all of the correct steps was seen on the dance floor for a reel or two. The music finished off at about midnight with the ‘crossed arms and holding hands with your neighbours’ sort of dance which is usually associated with ’Auld Lang Syne’ at Hogmanay. The dance did, as this type of dance is prone to do and became a slightly uncontrollable bundle at the end. It was a great night, I met some more friendly people and my visitors enjoyed themselves. What could be better? We all went home with a warm rosy hue, apart from Alison and myself who had the ride back up the glen to endure before hues, rosy or otherwise might be enjoyed.
There are a number of touristy things I can do with visitors but they all shut after October which means we do more walking and driving to places, not that those are bad things to do. With Dave, Ann and Alison, I drove up to Glenshee which is always slightly interesting even if there is no snow. While we were up there I noticed a number of dead mountain hares that had been run over on the road, their coats had turned white as they do on the hills in winter and I should imagine that the camouflage was so good that the drivers had not seen them when we had some snow in November. We drove over the hill down to Braemar, catching sight of a large herd of red deer stags on the way and ended up, rather randomly in a carpark on the Invercauld Estate which had a map with a number of marked walks, we opted for the shortest one, a walk of about three miles that took us along the edge of Craig Leek hill where there were some rather superior views over the top of the ancient Caledonian forest which still survives on this estate, I have never been there before but it was a good stroll and one that does not require extreme levels of physical fitness to enjoy. On the way back we attempted to get a late lunch at the Glen Isla Hotel, a funny little place in the middle of nowhere with good food and ales and which always seem to be surprisingly full, on the occasion we were there they did not have any spare tables, so we had a pint and made our way back to the ever reliable Strathardle Inn. On Sunday Alison wanted to do a more serious walk, so I left Ann and Dave at the cottage to relax or go for a stroll while Alison and I went up three hills on the western side of the Glen North of the cottage. We did Druim Cul, Meall Daimheidh and Creag Uisge (don’t ask me how to pronounce those), we then walked back down the track where we bumped into team Stamp (Ann and Dave), who had ventured out to take a walk along by the river.
One of my staple visitor attractions when it is open is the Scottish Crannog centre on Loch Tay. A Crannog is an Iron Age dwelling for a small community or an extended family which is built on wooden posts or piles which are sunk into the mud of the loch bed and which suspend the main construction of the Crannog above the water. The floor plan is circular with a thatched cone roof and would have originally housed people and animals. The Crannog centre is always a good place to visit with those who have never been before and as a result I have now done it three times. The archaeologists think that placing the structure above the water of the Loch was done to make the Crannog more difficult to attack. They guides who show us round are all very knowledgeable and often amusing. On my last visit with Michelle from the pub, her son and his girlfriend, we were asked to look up to the top of the roof from the inside and describe what was missing. The correct answer was a chimney, but on one occasion apparently, a tourist with a surreal sense of humour had suggested that a chandelier should have been hanging from the ceiling. I rather liked that.
Talking of surreal, we had a rather surreal weekend in October when the pub played host to a friendly final, end of season tug of war competition. A team from Elgin came and there were a number of members of other teams the boys and girls had been competing against over the year. This involved quite a lot of post season drinking and merriment. There was also a group of five girls who had rented a house in the village for the weekend, they had been at university together and had booked the house for a catch-up weekend, and what a weekend they chose. Myself and a number of the tug of war team were invited to join them in what was a rather girly drinking game, which involved the singing of pop songs when a card was drawn or the sipping or downing of a drink when another card was drawn, I never did quite know what was going on, but the merriment continued and we all somehow ended up in their hot tub back at the house they had rented, which was not quite how I saw the day playing out as I awoke that morning. The next afternoon I went back to the pub for my now customary Sunday roast and got chatting to some German deer stalkers who were frankly equally surreal and who treated those of us at the bar to a number of rather serious Bavarian hunting songs while dressed in their shooting uniforms of lederhosen and hats with what looked like shaving brushes stuck to the side of them. The moon must have been in a quirky phase or something. I went home wandering if I had gone through some sort of ‘Alice in wonderland’, portal and vowed never to drink from a bottle marked ‘Drink me’ ever again.
The weather has been unseasonably warm up here, we had a bit of snow in November and a week or so of frosty weather but that has all gone and it has been generally mild and dry, certainly by comparison with the weather I had last year. I am slightly weary of that and wondering when, not ‘if’ but when, it is going to get cold.
The stags have more or less stopped rutting now, I haven’t heard one for a week or two so I should imagine they have gone off to lick their wounds and gargle something to sooth a sore throat after all of that roaring in the glen. I have spotted some salmon in the pool under the bridge at the bottom of the garden and when Alison, Dave and Ann were here we startled one of about ten pounds which took off up the river like a torpedo. I think they have more or less stopped spawning now, when we had the cold snap the river became quite frozen, there is not much water in it at the moment so the freezing process takes place a lot quicker. While Karen was here we spotted the stoat chasing the young hare which has been living in the garden since it was small. The next morning Karen mentioned that it looked like the hare had been killed in the back garden, I went to investigate and sure enough there it was barely marked lying on its side on the grass. I have no doubt that it was the stoat that killed it, apparently they are territorial and just don’t like sharing their environment with anything else, so it was not killed for food, which slightly annoyed me. Don’t these stoats have any morals?
I have been doing some beating for a couple of the nearby estates, there is a lot of game shooting in this area and it accounts for quite a bit of the money brought into this part of Scotland, a situation not reflected by the pay I hasten to add, beating rates are from £30 – £50 per day, so the day is usually a series of organised rambles with a bit of flag waving and shouting, to be presented with a small envelope containing enough cash for a few drinks and supper on the way home. I quite like it though, I enjoy the beaters banter and it gives me a chance to look round some of the other estates in the area. I have also met some interesting people who have come for the shooting, some of whom knew my old stomping ground and with one group I even discovered that we had a few friends in common. Apparently I also qualify for the keeper’s day, where if I can borrow a gun, we beaters get the chance to rid the countryside of surplus pheasants etc. Not that I think I will prove to be too much of a threat. On one of the Estates, bizarrely the one with the better daily rate we get fed at elevenses and then get a lunch with cans of beer and on my first day there last week, I was also served a largish slice of 12 year old ‘Old Park’ whisky to enjoy, what a delight to the senses!
Well we have Christmas fast approaching, Alison left me some battery powered fairy lights which I shall drape over something seasonal by way of appeasing the elves. Ellice at the Strathardle is getting quite excited because we can once again practice singing Alma Cogan’s hit song, ‘Never do a tango with an Eskimo’ a tune deemed suitably festive and one we both enjoy when not entirely sober. My plan will be the same as last year and I will go to the Strathardle Inn for something delicious to eat and maybe a glass of spirit lifter to celebrate the end of the two month long commercial ordeal we all have to sit through at this time of the year. Bah humbug! Hogmanay, always a better evening for me will also be enjoyed at the pub and I have been invited to a pre party, party, so things are looking good.
So on that festive note, wishing everybody seasonal mirth and merriment in large measure and the Happiest of New years.