Frozen Chickens

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Down the track.

I have, as I may have mentioned before, been feeding the local bird population and now they have discovered there is food to be had, I am beginning to understand Hitchcock’s vision, when he produced the film, ‘The Birds’. Their abundance is almost frightening and what’s more the sheer quantity of food they consume on a daily basis is no longer a joke. When I first moved in to the cottage I was delighted to see that three Red Legged Partridge seemed to grace the property, they were timid but could often be seen under the fir tree nibbling up dropped pine seeds or something similar, (do things with beaks nibble, pecking just does not seem right?). Then one day they vanished, I had no idea where and was beginning to think the worst, when last week they made a re appearance, well, when I say they, more accurately only two of them returned. One seems to be missing in action somewhere. Red legged Partridge are not indigenous, they are introduced onto the Scottish estates for game shooting, their country of origin is I believe, France and apparently they struggle with the conditions up here. According to Doogy they get wet and depressed and sit under trees with a disgruntled look, which makes them easy prey to the polecats, mink, foxes and sabre toothed tigers. I was a bit sorry to see one vanish as they are nice to have around and if things get really bad on the snow front, I have an air rifle and they would fit nicely into my slow cooker. Red Legged Partridge are apparently not the only things to suffer from the cold. According to Ellice in the Strathardle, who has kept and reared chickens, it seems they too can during exceptionally cold conditions be found in the morning frozen to a perch. Aren’t chickens derived from jungle fowl? No wonder they find Scotland a challenge! Ellice was telling me that she had even found a squirrel frozen on the road with a sort of teeth clenched grin and posed in a clinging to a branch stance. She surmised that the poor little creature had been exposed to too much overnight chill and mentioned that she had moved it off the road to a place where it would not get run over. Now, I like Ellice but I do feel the main damage had already been done. Maybe this lack of sympathy for dead animals is one of the gender defining properties which separate men from women, a bit like goats cheese.

Talking of game, when I arrived at the cottage and was unpacking boxes of stuff that had been in storage for so long I had more or less forgotten their contents, I found an old Gin trap, a particularly nasty thing which was used by game keepers to catch, or more usually maim foxes. It looks like a small bear trap with two jaws that are forced open and set with a small and delicate latch, the trap is then placed in a run where foxes are known to roam and when trodden on the jaws snap shut catching a leg in their grasp. I think these traps have now been banned and their only use these days is to decorate the walls of country pubs where the locals will regale townie visiting tourists with stories of how they were used to catch ‘children for the pot’ and other spurious yarns. Anyway I dug the thing out and not quite knowing what to do with it I stuck it in the shed. While cleaning the swallow poo off the flat surfaces in the shed the other day as part of phase two of operation ‘’clean the shed’, I spotted the gin trap on a nail where I definitely had not left it. This caused some confusion and I was beginning to wonder whether old age was creeping up on me quicker that I had imagined, or maybe I had a poltergeist, the haunted spectre of a long dead game keeper whose tormented soul’s only manifestation on this mortal pile was the constant moving around of old gin traps. Then I discovered the trap I had placed, which was more or less where I left it and all I had actually done was to unearth another one which was already resident at the cottage, and part of the shed furniture.

Another shed based account I have to recall in this week’s epistle has been the task of waterproofing the roof. The roof of the shed / lean to, at the side of the cottage has always leaked. This is annoying, as the whole point of a shed is to keep things dry. The shed in question failed this simple task to the point that my bicycles which were stored in there were getting rusty without having any use, which is not how it should be. So after some inspection I discovered that for some reason, best known to themselves, a person or persons who have since moved on, nailed the corrugated iron to the wooden rafter in about five places, placing the nail in the trough of the profile of the tin roof. Now everyone knows that you fix a corrugated tin roof through the peak of the profile and seal it with a rubber washer so the water runs off. Well this had not been done, and in any case the roof was already perfectly adequately fixed down. So bizarrely it looked a bit like there had been an attempt to discretely sabotage the roof, or at least compromise its effectiveness, or maybe my imagination is beginning to run away with its self. Either way it is now fixed. I had cut some patches from a sheet of corrugated iron and sealing them with large amounts of silicon sealant, I then riveted the patches in place over the holes and I can now say with some confidence that the roof is no longer leaky and the bikes already look shinier and altogether happier. While on the subject of sheds I spent some time fixing the doors of the big shed which did not shut properly and which always provided a tussle with the bolts when going in and out. I had got bored with this so realigned everything and now the bolts click open and closed with a slick and easy action and life has become easier in a slightly immeasurable way.

While I was being induced into the Pitcarmick angling club last weekend, the owner of the Pitcarmick estate happened to mention that the Loch on the estate was in fact due to its construction technique officially a reservoir. The proper description of a reservoir is a lake (or loch) which is formed with the use of a dam at one end. The original construction had been done by a Victorian land owner in the 1800’s and as a result of this reservoir designation every few years a chappie from the department of ‘something to do with lakes and lochs’ turned up, nodded at it and awarded it a certificate of compliance for leisure pursuits etcetera for another year or so. This was how things had ticked along for years, quite satisfactory to everyone. Recently however we were told things had changed and the responsibility for the safety of such land marks, reservoir or otherwise had been bestowed onto the department known as SEPA which stands for ‘The Scottish Environment Protection Agency’. The way they now do things, is to notify the land lord or owner of the reservoir and explain that the structure is no longer deemed safe until the landowner has, at his own expense had the thing fully investigated by a civil engineer who has to then submit a full report to SEPA’s accepted guidelines. This is apparently a very expensive business and will have to be done for every fishing pond bigger than four Olympic swimming pools, which is probably all of them every year. The one at Pitcarmick has stood without any repair necessary since its initial construction, so why make things so complicated? Sorry, that was a fishing rant and it is now over, I don’t know why I am so bothered, I don’t even own a gold fish pond for god’s sake.

We have here on the estate a couple of Lochs, one of them is called Loch Loch. It is so named because the Glen in which it is found is Glen Loch, so did the loch get or give its name to the Glen, who knows? This Glen is however the site of a tragic accident involving the RAF Hercules XV193 aircraft from RAF Lynham, which crashed on the night of 27th May 1993, this accident resulted in the loss of all of those on board. The Hercules was one of three engaged in a formation and low level navigation exercise. There is a cairn near Loch Loch which marks the spot where the aircraft went down. According to locals the track which runs up to and past my cottage was very much enhanced by the MOD who laid a high quality tarmac road over the existing estate track for the recovery exercise. The clean-up operation was a lengthy and scrupulous affair and the only evidence of this tragic accident is oil residue which permeated the peat and which periodically makes its way back to the surface.

I have bought a chainsaw and all of the appropriate PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) clobber to go with it, which should in theory prevent me from severing a limb in the search for flammable combustibles to go on the fire. Now, I am not new to the use of a chainsaw but a few years have gone by since my last encounter, so I am taking it very gently. While rambling around the estate, I have discovered quite a few trees along the edge of the woods which have been blown over in various bouts of intemperate weather for which this area seems to be prone. Some of these trees have been lying on their sides for a few years and should therefore be, at least in theory, nice and dry and fireplace ready. I have to confess I haven’t broached the topic of logging this timber with the estate manager, but don’t think it will be a problem. When it gets cold there is nothing better that lighting the sitting room fire and listening to the crack and pop of the flickering flames with a book, a good malt and some gentle music on the noise machine. It actually gets too hot if over stoked, it is quite a big fireplace and rather a little room. I did look into doing a ‘chainsaw awareness course’ or whatever they are called these days, but the cheapest one I could find was about £250, which would buy quite a few logs and therefore I have decided not to bother.

Last night I did the usual Saturday thing and went for a drink at the Strath’, it is still February so the drink was Becks Blue, a rather bland alcohol free lager, it does give a slight beery impression but that is probably as much to do with the glass its served in as the drink its self. I have noticed that two or three of them is about as much as I can take. Bizarrely if the lager had alcohol in I could probably keep going until closing time or the stocks ran out depending on whichever came first. On arrival I noticed that the car park was unusually busy and once inside I discovered that the Strath’ was playing host to the Kirkmichael Tug of War team. This was, as you can probably imagine, quite a rowdy affair, a good mannered and easy going group of youngsters who were enjoying their Christmas meal, at least I think that is what it was all about. Talking to one of them at the bar, I was informed that they are classed as a professional team. There is not a team in mainland Scotland that they have not at one point or another beaten and they did seem to take it very seriously. They travel to every event, usually a highland games where a tug of war is one of the scheduled activities and due to the points based nature of the sport, the team which does most tugs of war, is the team most likely to win. They train twice a week and in the winter they can be seen training in a field by the rived illuminated by the lights of a couple of cars. I had seen this out of the corner of my eye while driving past a couple of time and had wondered quite what was going on.

The last week has seen the cottage more or less on the snow line, the snow had fallen and settled a couple of times but it had melted quite quickly the next day in the morning sunshine. The hills nearby have been getting snow while it was usually falling as rain in the village. The last couple of days however have been quite cold so the snow flurries have not been melting. When I say quite cold it was -6 yesterday on my way to the pub and I think it got colder during the night. This morning was absolutely beautiful with bright sunshine and a clear flawless blue sky, there have been flurries of snow, you can see them coming, they look like fog on the hills until they blow through, the Bright morning sunlight was sparkling on the delicate, filigree snowflakes as they were drifting through the air, the effect was quite magical. I came in this afternoon from wandering around with my camera, to watch the rugby and noticed after a while that it had become quite dark. When I glanced out of the window we were in the middle of a white out and the wind had got up, blowing the snow into drifts around the garden and along the track. It has been quite wild for about three hours now so my late Sunday lunch might not happen. I might pack a snow shovel and a blanket and give it a whirl, if only to add some excitement to the day’s proceedings’. Last night when I got back from the pub, I made a drink and turned on the TV to see what was going on with the world, I settled down in front of the BBC news channel for about fifteen minutes when the TV went on the blink, it could not tune in to any channels , so after checking the cables etcetera I put on some warm clothes and went out to check the satellite dish, to discover that it had become plastered in snow, after dusting it off I returned to the sitting room where the TV had settled back into delivering the news. That is why satellite dishes are so close to the ground up her.

Well on that note my stomach is suggesting that it is roast time, I should hopefully have missed the Valentine’s Day mob by now. Valentine’s Day seems to me to have been hijacked by those folk who are in a relationship and who therefore have no need of St Valentine, there you go, you have just been served with my grumble de jour. If you do not hear from me by this time next week, ring the estate and ask them to check the track for rictus squirrels, frozen Partridges and lost tenants…

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Gertrude and Henry

 

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The Sitka spruce with my hill in the background and a guiding moon.

Well, storm Gertrude delivered so much snow last Saturday that I was snowed in for the day, which was not quite what I had planned, I was intending to go and push the boat out in the ‘local’ before the beginning of February and the aforementioned month of self-imposed purgatory. So Saturday evening’s fun was some rather lightweight popular flotsam on TV and a refreshing can of Stella served at just above freezing straight from my front porch pantry. Sunday morning however saw the arrival up my track of the estates snow plough, Halleluiah, my link to the outside world was reinstated.

While wandering down the track with my camera that morning I met a chap in a Land rover who turned out to be my landlord, the estate owner and ex cabinet minister, David Heathcote-Amory. We had met before, some years ago when I was one of his constituents in Somerset, we once ended up on the same tug of war team during Pilton day, the village fete for the small village we both used to live in. What are the odds for that I wonder? He is a very nice and affable sort of chap, easy to talk to and very informative. He mentioned that my cottage had at one point been the temporary home to a polecat. It seemed that the animal had been gaining access to the cottage via the cherry tree growing by the cottage, it had scrambled up over a shed roof and then down the guest room chimney. The animal apparently created such a mess leaving its mark around the place that the carpets had to be replaced and some extensive decorative work needed to be undertaken. How many people can say that the new carpet was thanks to a polecat? Talking of wild life my mouse traps have been making steady progress against the rodent population. I think I have found the place where the mice come in to the cottage and have set a couple of traps that the fluffy intruders more or less have to tip toe through to get inside. I catch one or two then it will go quiet for a week or so, then I will catch another couple. I think this is caused by the mouse population building in the garden to the point where they get brave enough to try and come in. Apart from a couple earlier on this week the traps have been quiet. I don’t particularly like catching them, but if I don’t, I fear the place will be overrun very quickly.

The estate’s deer stalkers are taking hinds at the moment, this is the hind season and apparently the Scottish estates are given a target for culling the deer herds and our estate at the moment, is struggling to hit its quota. My landlord was up at the estate to look things over before some paying guests came up for a week’s stalking. I did think that they had chosen a pretty inclement week, as apart from storm Gertrude, there was another named storm, ‘Henry’ lining up in the wings. When I made my way to the pub for a final January libation and Sunday lunch I met the estate’s guests who were staying at the Strathardle Inn. They were a jolly lot, four chaps who all lived near each other in Gloucestershire, a couple of whom had been coming to Glenfernate for years and knew it well. One of them had a bad back and was planning to go and see ‘Star Wars’ in Perth instead of lying in the mud up a hill with his chums. I casually mentioned that if they were bored while passing, they should drop in for a cup of tea.

The guests mentioned that according to the estate’s keepers there were definitely salmon in the river by my cottage, although I have so far not seen any evidence of them. The verified existence of salmon has caused me to look for them even more, having a salmon river at the bottom of the garden is something that I have dreamt of since I was a small boy.

While on the subject of fishing, this evening is Friday the 5th February and I have been invited to join the Pitcarmick Angling club by one of the club members who I met in the pub a few weeks ago. This evening is their Annual General Meeting and the event where new members are proposed and seconded etc. The event is being held in the Kirkmichael hotel so this will be a first for me, as I have not set foot in there yet. The angling club is as far as I can understand it a very cheap way to fish about five miles of the river Ardle, the river that lends its name to the Strathardle inn, a Strath is a Scottish word for a wide, shallow river valley. According to my new chum there are some very good wild brown trout and salmon in the river, so something to look forward to and more fishing friendly folk to meet.

This area is one of the muddiest places I have ever lived in and considering I have spent large chunks of my life in the agricultural areas of Dorset, Wiltshire and Somerset where mud flows unrestricted, that is saying something. Now, I know I am here in the winter months where rain and snow is the norm but still, the sheer quantity of mud around the place is remarkable. Yesterday I washed my car, it had reached a stage of mud encrustation where the next obvious thing to do would have been to plough it and sew a crop. So while in Blairgowrie I found a pressure washer into which I shovelled coinage of the realm and after some scrubbing and spraying, my car’s sparkle was once again made available to the human eye. By the time however that I had driven back from Blairgowrie and up the track the car looked much like it had done when I left earlier that day, with mud plastered up the passenger window and sprayed delicately down either flank, oh well, I tried.

I have taken to wearing some booty (not the American rapper meaning of the word, you understand) type of things which have short rubber welly bits where your feet go and a sort of nylon upper, held fast with two strips of Velcro, I think they are known as “Woof boots” or some such thing by the horsey community. I imagine they were probably designed to be worn for mucking out horses. They are not attractive and are an extreme example of function over form, but generally keep my feet warm and dry and are easily mopped down when (not if, but when) I get involved with some mud. To hell with style, I want warm and wipe clean on the boot aptitude list. I was particularly pleased with my boots when as prescribed by the Met office, storm Henry arrived, Henry was warmer and windier than Gertrude. I had in an attempt to keep some of the expensive warm air in the cottage, placed rolled up bundles of bubble wrap up the unused fireplace chimneys around the cottage, but the wind was so strong that it very nearly, via the science of the ‘venturi effect’ sucked the bubble wrap up and out of the top of the chimney. It was wild for about two days. One of the larch trees in the garden lost another couple of branches and it took me two days to work out where they had got to. The branches had been blown over the fence and half way down the field to the river. I was slightly worried about my little camper which I have not yet managed to strap down to the lawn with big steel tent pegs and lorry load straps, which is the standard thing to do with caravans’ etcetera in this neck of the woods, to prevent them from blowing away.

On Thursday I was pottering around in my ‘before the morning bath’ outfit, some warm and fluffy trousers and a slightly scruffy but warm woollen jumper, when there was a loud knock at the door. I nearly leaped out of my skin, I am very used to the quiet here and any loud banging usually only occurs in the middle of a named storm. When I went to the door to see what was up, I discovered a couple of the chaps who were visiting the estate for deer stalking. They had taken up my offer of a cup of tea, I welcomed them in and we sat and chatted for an hour or so, I think they were quite intrigued by the cottage as they had been to the estate many times but had not really explored anywhere other than the big lodge. It was nice to have them round and I enjoyed the chat and the company, I think they had decided that tea with me was going to be somewhat more comfortable that a morning on the hill. The chap with the bad back had been to visit Inverness on Wednesday and they were planning to go and see another film in Perth after tea with me. He was probably having more fun that those more keen on stalking. I am a bit like that, when salmon fishing in Ireland a few years ago I decided that the weather was too bad and went for a drive round in our hired car and had a good lunch and a giggle with some locals in a nice pub instead of thrashing the water in a howling gale with an accompanying down pour.

Speaking of the quiet, the peace here has made my tinnitus all the more obvious which is rather a shame. I probably damaged my ears during my agricultural years when machinery was very poorly silenced. I used to drive a Hymac digger which had a six cylinder ford diesel engine which roared away behind my head at full revs and with a largely unvaried sound wave frequency. While digging and landscaping a fish farm in Mere, Wilts, I was probably in the digger constantly for about 8 weeks, during this time I developed a sort of industrial immunity to the noise, which was it seemed, more or less at the same frequency as my girlfriend’s voice, I really could not hear her properly for a couple of months after the job finished and I think that sowed the seeds of the tinnitus that I am now experiencing. I was aware of a high pitched whistle which comes and goes when I was in Sussex, but at the cottage I can hear it all of the time and have since discovered that there is also a sort of low level diesel engine noise that I get as well. This was particularly annoying while I was waiting for BT engineers to arrive in a diesel van. I kept thinking I could hear them coming up the track. At first when there was no sign of an elusive engineer, I went round the cottage looking for the source of the noise, I thought it might be a water pump or the boiler or something to do with the stove, only to finally realise that it was in my head. I read an article on the internet which explained that scientists are experimenting with high level magnetic energy (transcranial magnetic stimulation) to retrain the brain into tuning out the background noise that tinnitus sufferers have to live with. I hope they crack it soon, it’s getting a bit dull. “Sorry did somebody whistle?”

Yesterday I went for a walk through the rather overgrown woodland on the other side of the track by the cottage and on emerging at the top of the woods walked up on to the grass and rush covered hill, I pushed on to a small summit to get a glimpse of a new horizon, once there I spotted another summit not far away as is often the case and in this way was led summit by blind summit up to the top of a hill which I had not yet explored. The view from the top was spectacular and gave me a fresh appreciation of some of the larger peaks in and around the estate. This part of Scotland is really not that often visited unless you are a deer stalker, fisherman or bagger of Scottish hills over 3000 feet (Munroe’s), and I really don’t understand why. The countryside here, matches in terms of rugged untamed beauty any of the more popular destinations in the Cairngorms and on the West Coast. This area is something of a hidden gem it would seem, I did not really know this part of Scotland before coming to look at the cottage, I did what most other tourists probably do and plug on up the A9 to the highlands further north and on to Aviemore and Inverness. This area has the benefit of stunning, undiscovered and therefore peaceful countryside providing an easy proximity to the rest of Scotland with Glasgow and Edinburgh both about an hour and a half away and Inverness and Oban on the West coast manageable within the hour. The A9 seems to be the artery that delivers tourism to the North, a few minutes in Pitlochry (on or just off the A9) will reward you with more shops designed to ensnare a tourist than Blairgowrie for instance which is much bigger and which panders very much more to the needs of the local population.

While talking to my landlord, he mentioned that the stand of woodland that I had walked through was mainly Sitka spruce planted in the seventies, he was not it seemed, a fan and explained that his preference would be to cut it down and replace it all with a more interesting and diverse indigenous broad leafed tree stock. There are however SEPA (Scottish environment protection agency) rules for the replacement of woodland after logging has taken place and they incur large cost and responsibility, so he did not have any plans to do anything with the woodland immediately. The woods do at least provide a habitat for the wildlife with deer, red squirrels, polecats and a wide variety of bird life found locally, so on that basis at least, the woods do have a function. I was secretly quite pleased, living next to a clear fell woodland area would make the cottage seem very exposed. Clear felling of woodland leaves a scar on the landscape which takes some years to blend back in.

Well after last night’s Pitcarmick Angling club AGM, I am addressing you as a new member, having been proposed, seconded and voted in. I have paid my £10 joining fee and my £2 annual membership fee and spent a few hours last night chatting to my fellow members on the virtues of the club. There is apart from some very good fishing on the river Ardle and Pitcarmick Loch to be had, the club secretary has also arranged a season studded with fishing events around the area, mainly loch fishing from boats all organised by the club. What great value for money and a very friendly bunch of people. This year we voted for a social event which the ‘Chair’ of the meeting and owner of Pitcarmick estate, Sir Michael Nairn agreed would be a good idea and offered his bothy as a venue. The bothy has been done up recently for meetings etc. and boasts a beautiful location with enchanting views and a kitchen, log fire and other basic amenities, so something to look forward to, frankly I would be happy to pay my £2 just for that!

Tonight is Saturday so it’s off to the pub for me and the challenge of thinking of a good alcohol free, beer replacement which will induce good humour and encourage relaxed and easy conversation. I think I might have my work cut out..

 

 

Burns night and other things.

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A hind spotted on my wander up the hill behind the cottage and an interesting insect in the river ice.

The last weekend went by in a slightly non-descript way due in the main to some paperwork which needed to be done and the rather uninspiring weather. I enjoyed a couple of pints in the Strathardle on Friday night chatting to locals and guests at the bar, this was followed by much the same on Saturday. While in there on Saturday I got talking to a couple of lads with unfeasibly strong liverpudlian accents, their brogue was so rich that I had to translate for the waitress when they were ordering food. They had come up to the area for a weekends skiing at Glenshee together before one of them became a father and the other marked his place as a best friend by going travelling round Nepal and Thailand, making himself unavailable for any best friend baby related assistance for about a year. A bit selfish perhaps, but I could see his point. The pair had arrived after being chucked out of the rather posh Dalmunzie Castle (pronounced Dalmungy, I know your guess is as good as mine) which is in The Spittle of Glenshee. Their removal was based upon a manager’s perception that they smelled rather like they had been smoking skunk cannabis, it was probably just their aftershave or some out of date midge repellent. I did notice however that the dad to be was almost asleep for most of the evening while the other one was rather animated beyond the normal influence of a pint of brown ale. Either way they were happily ensconced in the Strath for the remainder of the weekend.

I have installed an app on my phone which will notify me of any Aurora borealis activity and as yet, the only two notifications I have had have been during a cloudy sky so there is still an unticked Northern lights box on my to do list, but you will be the first to know when it happens!

The social week was started off rather prematurely by the unruly arrival on Monday of Burns night, this is another uniquely Scottish celebration which happens all over the world and once again I was encouraged to celebrate my fondness and appreciation of ‘the bard of Ayreshire’s’ poetry at the Strathardle. Now I know that this blog is beginning to sound like a running advert for the Strathardle but apart from being a fine and friendly place the alternatives in Kirkmichael are not great and there is no bar at all in Enochdhu, my nearest village. So I booked myself in for the Burns supper and cycled to the pub on Monday evening in time for the 7:00 kick off. The event was not particularly busy, partly because January the 25th was a Monday evening and partly because, what with the completion of her year-end accounts and the general running of the Inn, Abbi did not get a chance to advertise the event very widely. In a weird way this made the whole thing better, it was a small, cosy and easy group made up with a few locals, Abbi, Colin and Kailyn their young daughter, Ellice who works in every area around the Inn and Brian, one of the chefs whose birthday it also was, which probably meant his head hurt more than mine did on Tuesday morning. My menu choice was the ever popular ‘Cullen Skink’ a thick and creamy smoked haddock, potato and onion soup made famous by the fishing folk who work from the pretty little harbour at Cullen on the Moray firth and who probably rely on such rich and tasty fare just to keep them from freezing to the deck of a storm bound trawler. My next course was Haggis, neeps and tatties, of course, there is no other choice, unless you include the veggy haggis which was on offer at the Strath’ both are considered acceptable. The haggis has to be piped in (that’s bag pipes, not squeezed in through the corner of a plastic bag like mash in a posh restaurant), it is then addressed (subjected to some poetry) and finally consumed, traditionally there will be also a Selkirk grace recited at some point. Once this course had been consumed we pudding’d on a choice of chocolate mousse or the more traditional ‘Cranachan’ which was my choice of post haggis fattener. Cranachan is a traditional Scottish pudding which is probably best described as a Whisky trifle, apparently it’s also known as Tipsy Laird for reasons which probably need no further explanation. We then all wandered back to the bar for, well some…. research, yes that’s the word, an in depth examination into the produce of some of Scotland’s finest distilleries. The evening was banter filled and fun and when we were all done I walked down to the village, pushing my bike with Ellice and Brian, whereupon I jumped on the trusty ‘Treader Rusticata’ and peddled silently and serenely home.

My next morning was a premature affair, driven by the necessity to get my car to its MOT in Pitlochry on time and the start to the day was marred with slight regret over the previous night’s unbridled social activities. The car passed its test but while waiting for it to do so I spent a rather unhappy hour and a half trudging round Pitlochry in the rain, finally I capitulated to one of the rather expensive cafés and sat with a paper for half an hour or so before walking the couple of miles back to the Garage.

On Tuesday I was invited to visit Dougie’s house (pronounced Doogie), Dougie’s home is like many of the houses round here, it is to be found at the end of a long track which leads up a hill from the main road. His house is much bigger than mine but probably built at about the same time by the Victorians whose fascination for all things Scottish prompted massive development in the form of farms and estates all over Scotland at about the same point in history, therefore they all look rather similar, they have a vernacular in the words of Kevin McLeod. My cottage is described as a traditional one and a half storey cottage and there are literally thousands of them with the same design, footprint and window arrangement around Scotland.

At Dougie’s I had a coffee and a chat and was shown round his man cave, essentially a converted garage with a full sized billiard table and bar and full of drinking and billiard memorabilia, some fishing equipment and the huge scull and antlers from an Elk which had lived on the Isle of Egg for a while and which developed a fondness for the local hinds with some interesting results, there are now apparently some very big deer on Egg and the surrounding Islands. I had noticed when on the Isle of Jura a few years ago that the red deer were absolutely massive so maybe some of the cross breeds made their way as far as Jura. Dougie also had a superb cast iron barbeque, bricked in and with a five sided wooden shed providing cover over the pit, he had run some copper pipe round the cast iron fire pit container through which water at one time flowed into a swimming pool to provide extra warmth to the water, I thought this a brilliant idea but it did not really work apparently, due to the sheer quantity of water in the inflatable pool, a good effort though. The wood for the shed reportedly came from the dismantled Santa land in Aviemore. Dougie, like many people round here has about 4 jobs and is constantly on the lookout for things he can do, he was in the process of making some deer antler candle sticks while I was there, they looked really good and would I am sure go down well in any boutique in the country. The antlers came free with one of his jobs, he does some stalking for a local estate in his spare time.

While I was in Pitlochry on Monday I decided to do some shopping at the CoOp. (For those of my chums who live abroad a CoOp is a cooperatively owned not for profit grocery shop with outlets all over the country, bizarrely their produce is more expensive than the definitely in it for the profit Lidle, so I am not quite sure what is happening to the excess cash at the CoOp.) The CoOp is where most of my groceries are gathered and the format of the CoOp is basically the same as any other CoOp in the UK Having said that there are one or two Scottish variations when you examine things more closely. The meat counter probably is the biggest giveaway that you are in a shop north of the border. Sausages are called ‘links’ up here, sausage also comes in a format described as ‘square’ which looks a bit like a slice of spam but is apparently sausage meat, there are also a number of puddings available, black obviously but also white and fruit pudding and also haggis which is by proper definition also a pudding. In the CoOp you can but a heart attack inducing selection called a breakfast pack which has pretty much all of the above in a cling film wrapped carton. The cereals section also displays more type and variety of oats than is the norm down south and the drinks shelf has much more Whisky choice than many off licence drink shops in England, so a few pointers to look for if you are blindfolded and taken to a CoOp, you will, with the above information be able to deduce the you are somewhere North of Hadrian’s wall.

During the week I have been watching the very informative “Winterwatch” provided by the BBC, this program at the moment has particular pertinence to me as it is all based in Scotland on a National Trust estate in the Cairngorms with the winter hill sequences being filmed at Glenshee which is as the hooded crow (a Scottish variant) flies, about four or five miles from my cottage, so I am learning about my countryside without having to leave the comfort of the cottage. I have seen some of the animals they have been describing on my wanderings and am particularly taken with the mountain hares which are in abundance on the hills around me, wearing their white winter coats.

Talking of wildlife I have been feeding the birds and am building a catalogue of some of the visitors to the feeders so I am being dragged reluctantly into the gentle world of the twitcher.

This weekend will be the last one to be enhanced by alcohol for 4 weeks, I have decided to take to the wagon for February, I have done this before and I think for me it is quite a good thing to do from time to time, I do get rather bored of orange juice and the like after four weeks though. It does however mean I can drive to the pub.

Storm Gertrude arrived here this morning and did so with some ferocity, I did the usual thing, I got up and riddled the stove and then with the tray of ash, ventured outside to the steel bin where ash goes, the minute I opened the door I was instantly converted from a sort of bland pink colour to a grit blasted grey. Gertrude accelerated the hot ash out of the tray and onto the front of me. Not a good look and I will, in accordance with the Brussels health and safety executive rules wear a snorkel, grinding goggles, welding gloves and a boiler suit next time I attempt something similar.

While writing this note it has become rather dark in my study/sitting room multipurpose space and so I went to switch the light on only to discover that storm Gertrude is currently delivering snow in large quantities. We have been on the edge of the snow line for about a week now and any snow that has arrived overnight tends to melt quite quickly in the morning. Today however the flurries are rather more active and look like they might settle.