The Good, The Bad and The Hairy.

The definition of adventure is really exclusive to the individual - from an early age I always believed I could have an adventure inside my head even on the shortest of journeys. But I seemed to have forgotten that this summer, insisting that I was too busy and too tired.

It was while giving a lift to my pal Climbing Kev on the way to work, that I was reminded that this in itself was something one could write home about. I suppose that’s just what happens when you get into conversation (or a vehicle) with Kev - who had originally hoped I wouldn’t bother conversing at all, and that he and his electric bike would make it all the way to Kinlochourn on The Rough Bounds of Knoydart in companionable silence. This was his 2nd attempt hitching a lift with the original idea being to cycle all the way back to Fort William - a distance of 50 miles. Unfortunately, heavy rain, inadequate clothing, and a bike designed to require less effort, therefore generating less body heat, meant a rescue package from Running Girl at Invergarry to avoid hypothermia. (It was also the same day that saw me being towed through 2 flooded lochside sections of the road by the Stalker in his 4 Wheel Drive in order to get home.) This time, he parked his own van at Invergarry and added extra layers of clothing and a better attitude. At least this time he was also more realistic about the companionable silence. In fact I was just giving him a lecture on not wearing all his layers of clothing in the van, quoting my mother on the wisdom of ‘getting the benefit of his jacket’ if he put it on once he was out the van, when we came upon a jaw dropping sight.

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Surprisingly, it wasn’t the landscape that took our breath away. It was a middle aged woman standing with her back to us in a passing place, who suddenly turned and started running towards us. She was wearing a bra and a shower cap (and running trousers.) Having just been discussing Climbing Kev’s likely hypothermia if he didn’t take his jacket off right now and put it on at the end of the journey, I couldn’t quite reconcile this image of light attire on a cold drizzly day in the middle of nowhere. Climbing Kev couldn’t reconcile the shower cap. We sat in stunned silence until I blurted out - “A bra????” And Kev blurted out “A shower cap???” Then we wondered if we’d really seen her. Kev was worried that he’d come cycling back to find the shower cap hanging on a tree. I figured that was ok as long as the bra wasn’t hanging on the tree too.

Kev worried about this for a while, until he realised there was much worse to face……..

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As we drove along the 22 miles of single track, we encountered 3 separate herds which would threaten his capacity for peaceful communing with nature all along the route, blocking his way to Invergarry.

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There is absolutely nothing one can say to reassure Climbing Kev that these are docile creatures (any more than one can persuade him to remove an outdoor jacket inside a warm vehicle). He has read all the literature on the matter and can quote how many deaths there are a year at the hooves of cows and mostly to farmers who would tell you that these are docile creatures. As we continued along the road, the biggest herd was to be found at the top of his first climb up from the shores of Loch Hourn - at least 20 of the hairy, ferocious mammoths. After surviving with his life intact, and no stabbings from sharp horns, he could tell me later that one of the beasts was standing at the far end of the bridge, ginger locks blowing in the wind, a menacing glare in his/her eye……

 No cow in this image, but it was there, he assures me.

No cow in this image, but it was there, he assures me.

I could hear the haunting strains of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly as he pondered his options - one of which was to avoid the bridge all together and take the very long, old route which this bridge shortcuts. But the cows were at the top of the old road too.

By the time he got to any trees that might have shower caps hanging on them, his electric bike was on full turbo power and everything passed in a blur. He considers himself lucky to be alive and it’s unlikely there will be a 3rd attempt.

He missed some nice views……..

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I would like to thank Kev for his company and apologise for my uproarious laughter at what is a very genuine fear of the bovine kind. It was really him who had the adventure and me who enjoyed it vicariously and it was very rude and unkind of me to laugh quite so much. If we learnt anything from this, it might be that adding just a shower cap under his helmet when he gets out of a warm vehicle, could make all the difference and be enough to scare off the cows.

Sgurr a Mhaim and Scurry ower The Devil's Ridge

As I went to pick up Mrs B’Dass at 4.15pm I was wishing I’d said I was too busy. After all, they’re used to me saying that - whether anyone believes me or not is neither here nor there.

As we met Curly and Lady N, it was recording 27 degrees in Fort William - at 4.30pm. N had misinterpreted Curly’s message suggesting "an evening walk - no running." The no running part was because Sgurr a Mhaim is so steep that even Mrs B’dass is fine with not running up it. N had envisaged a stroll by the river and an early night - a slightly different kind of evening.  By the gate through the deer fence higher up the lower slopes I was feeling dizzy and extremely uncomfortable after about 30 minutes of ascent. Curly had meandered and chatted as if it WAS a stroll by the river but I’d put so much effort into appearing fit that I was feeling sick. We waited for N and Mrs B’dass. N was experiencing some discomfort too, so we encouraged the other two to continue their exchange of pleasantries without us. Funnily enough,despite the steep gradient, ravaged breathing and heat, we couldn't quite resist conversation but the reduced pace was a relief and as we got our feet and breath into the same rhythm I no longer felt that the task was too great. I haven't done any exercise that doesn't involve being attached to the end of a vacuum cleaner for at least 2 months - probably 3 - and each year I do get a little older. There was no pressure from the 2 companions above but it just felt better to let them make their own easy pace which was an entirely different pace from ours, which was merely about ensuring that the motion was upwards. But they were happy to wait and in this warmth, there’s none of the accustomed shivering as the sweat cools. It was a walk of about 4 parts. The first was to the summit....

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The mountain is famously topped by quartzite that looks like snow from the distance.  It was a long time before we even saw this.

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As my companions assumed power positions, discussed gin and ice that lurked in houses far below and firmly out of reach, I couldn't quite keep my eyes off stage 2 of the walk....

The Devils Ridge - described as "airy" in the guide books.  There was just no point in my hanging about and putting off the inevitable so I headed off myself.  I knew we were destined for stage 3 - the wee lochan nestled between this mountain and Stob Bhan, on our way down the hill.  

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If only I could survive that far.....

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At one particularly unnerving point, I heard guffaws of laughter and a shout encouraging me to stand up to make a better photo.  I didn't even look back.....

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 From the Sgurr a Mhaim side it’s not such a frightening start (though bad enough) and I met 2 mildly unnerved young German men slithering down a rocky section on their bottoms as they glistened with sweat - heat or fear, I couldn't say, but probably both. I laughed and said I wasn’t loving it either. They said it was a little discomforting and the biggest issue was not knowing what was coming next or how long it was going to go on for.  With a sympathetic grin, I pushed on without considering the optional reassurance of female companionship - fear is a lonely place!!!!  I couldn't believe how long it took them to catch me up but my fevered breathing suggested that panic had leant wings to my feet (or rather my knees.) There didn't appear to be any panic in the rear guard.

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 Lady N said she was pretty nervous, but she hid it well - so much more dignified than myself.

 Finally we got to the 3rd stage. The lochan. It was freezing, stony and alive with tadpoles so there was a fair amount of screaching echoing around the hillside. But there was no way these women were not getting submerged.

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It's a gradual process...

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Are they or aren't they?  You'd have to be hanging around, high in the hills, late on a summer evening to find out.

 I had to get in there too, despite my allergy to anything that makes me feel uncomfortable. But then there is always that magical photo opportunity. Otherwise, why get out of my narrow comfort zone?

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It was time for Stage 4 - the long and winding descent as the sun set.

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There's no need to hurry on a lovely mid-summer night.

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 We came off the hill around 10.30pm all of us feeling a sense of something special, I think. Such a feeling came from a little adversity (or a lot depending on whether you were at the front or the back) and good companionship, along with truly majestic landscape. I’m so glad I resisted my very very strong temptation to say no to the invite. As time has gone on, it has become easier and easier to say no. But I’d forgotten how deeply a little effort nourishes the soul. (Various levels of effort are available. No terms and conditions apply).

Tallulah Spoons

There's something out there for everyone, you just have to find your own thing.

 Aileen told me a hilarious story about her skydive a few years ago.  She was sick several times during the dive, and her captive instructor was unable to avoid the 'fallout'.  He was not pleased.  It was funnily comforting to hear that not everyone takes such scary stuff in their jumping stride.  Not that she was the first person I'd heard of who hadn't  conducted herself with total dignity - like Sheila, when at the last moment, back in 2007, and not long after the bombing attacks in London,  she became convinced her buddy diver was a terrorist who was going to kill her.  As they tried to exit the aeroplane she made herself as large as possible, trying to wedge herself into the doorway.  When her innocent instructor tried to open the parachute,having managed to get her out the plane, she clung onto his legs as she was sure he was trying to unhook her.  Now, I can relate to that level of irrationality when faced with fear.  Running Girl then proved that Aileen's experience was not a one off, as she jumped last weekend, and was sick 4 times in what is presumably a very short time.  The Instructor was very understanding at first, and somehow found the time to ask her to stand on his feet and shut her eyes so that she would get the sensation that she was standing on the ground.  "Feeling better now?"  Nope - barf.  "Oh god, any better now?"  Nope.  "Turn you head away, then."  Barf. Barf.  "Ok, that's enough.  You have to stop being sick now as we are about to land."  Almost a week later, she's still feeling nauseous. 

This is not for me.

A couple of months ago I was having breakfast with my current neighbour and The Girl Next Door (who doesn't live next door anymore,) and TGND showed us a tiny wooden spoon that a young man had whittled for her baby daughter - Tallulah.  

 

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Now - it wasn't long before the oohing and ahhing over the exquisite wee spoon became oohing and aahing over the young man who'd made it.  It's so gorgeous/he's so tall/isn't his beard lovely?????  There was something about a man whittling a tiny baby spoon that was melting them.  When I bumped into his girlfriend, I asked her how long he'd been whittling, as he was clearly an expert.  But it was a spontaneous creation out of a kindler for the fire, had taken 3 evenings and had been polished up using her beeswax moisturisor.  And I thought - maybe this could be my thing?

I bought a stanley knife, selected a kindler and dived into the wonderful, safe world of whittling.

 

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Actually, the first wee spoon was made out of driftwood and was too soft, but the process was incredibly absorbing.  I bought a proper whittling knife.....

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And a very expensive 'gouger'.......... and I whittled for hours, and hours, and hours

 

 

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It was messy.......

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But I could do it anywhere.  Once I'd started a spoon, I couldn't stop until it started to look like a spoon, and then I needed to sand it to see it's true potential, going to bed too late and trying to resist all attempts to make me put the spoons down.  After 30 minutes of Spook glowering at me one night, because he'd invited me to walk up the hill behind the house so that we could watch the Aurora Borealis which the forecast assured him we would definitely see, I had to put the spoon down, walk away from it and climb up the hill in the huff.  True, there was a sky full of stars, and yeah, yeah, it was a lovely night.  But Spook and I are destined never to see The Northern Lights and sure enough, there was not a glow to be seen.  Thankfully Spook salved the situation with a Highland Park whisky which he'd packed into his rucksack......the man is wise.

 

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He went away for a night soon after, so I was free to whittle at will.  I could whittle in front of the TV, in between meals, get into my jammies early and get in some last minute whittling before bed, and no one to look at me as if some kind of madness had consumed me.

I was in bed, sound asleep, snuggled up in my pyjammas, when he came home late the next night. He hopped into bed, yelped and hopped right back out again.

"what the hell's been going on in this bed????"

  "Have you been whittling in here????"

This was a very rude awakening and I assured him I wasn't so stupid as to whittle in bed.  But when I felt around the sheet, it was gritty, sawdusty and a little jaggy in places. Ah!  Whittling in my pj's was the problem.  As I snuggled up next to him, he told me to move over as it was like sleeping with a porcupine.  Now I have to whittle in overalls and remember not to sleep in them.  So I wear overalls all the time, a bit like Frances McDormund in '3 Billboards in Epping, Missouri' (great film - nothing to do with whittling.)

 

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It seems that it's not only Spook who finds my new habits challenging.  Climbing Kev wasn't sure how to respond to my raiding his log pile and then insisting that I'd added value to it by whittling a log into a spurtle which I then gifted to him.  He really wants to put it in the fire as originally intended but knows that I will do spot checks when I come round for a cup of tea.

 

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Not content with annoying Kev, I gave Running Girl a spoon and insist she has to eat her porridge with it.   She's a good friend and tries to eat everything with it.......

 

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A new friend, who doesn't know me very well, asked me to make a special present for an anniversary present.  She has no idea the commitment she is making in taking possession of my spoons.

First, you take a cut down tree, and then you convert it into something equally knobbly.

 

 

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But such frantic whittling comes at a price.  Now my hands hurt!. I mean, really hurt.  The whittling has had to be kept to a minimum, and I have to go out on my bike or go for a run every now and then, and I'm not allowed to refuse romantic dates with my husband on account of spoon completion issues.  Kev does not need to lock up his wood pile and I need a safer past time.  

 

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There IS someone who can enjoy her spoon without harassment.  That's because I didn't make it.  Ah - who's oohing and aahing now?

 

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Slip Sliding Away at Nevis Range

As my first encounter with ski slopes happened back in 1977 on the 1st year school trip to Austria, one might think I'd have got to grips with them by now.  The whole trip including full board, gear and all week lessons cost £99.  This was not wasted as I did learn to ski to a perfectly competent level but unfortunately I haven't improved and with little practice in 20 years, I've lost the 12 year old's competence I'd developed that week.  There weren't lot's of opportunities to top up my skills - the next chance being on a trip to Aviemore with 3 school friends when we were 17 and I'd passed my driving test.  We stuffed ourselves into my pals mothers Datsun Cherry, squeezing in around the 4 sets of hired ski's and drove up the long mountain road with the windows open and the skis sticking out.  We'd never been there before and when I encountered a junction quite high up I turned left instead of continuing up to the main ski resort which I only learnt in hindsight would have been the only sensible thing to do.  The left turn took us to a chairlift and run that was like a half pipe - icy and narrow.  One of my friends had skied before and the other two had never had a pair of skis strapped to their feet - ever.  Getting on the chair lift was no problem, but getting off at the top proved to be impossible and they had to be allowed to stay on to get a lift back down, much to theirs and the operators disgust.  I still remember the look of judgement on their faces as they glowered at me, having ignored all my impatient yells of "just jump, for goodness sake!"

Karma came quickly in the terror I experienced in trying to get down this run alive and we were all so discouraged that we went back to the village and had a nap instead.  I still feel the shame.

When our friend Irish Kate came to live in Lochaber and was terribly homesick, I encouraged her to get out and have some fun to keep her mind off Galway.  Why not get up the ski slopes and try something not available in the ol' country?  Now aged 30 and having recently taken up snowboarding myself (due to becoming so scared of falling whilst skiing and therefore never improving) I thought Irish Kate should give that a go too.  It would be a good equaliser as I had only just learnt to stand up on the board - there is no fear of falling down when you can't stand up, so I was enjoying the new experience.  What stopped it from being an equaliser was that I at least was familiar with a ski slope whereas Kate had never been on a ski slope in her life.  She was so relieved when she was allowed to get off the chairlift carrying her snowboard that she sat it down to take in the view and appreciate still being in one piece.  Her board immediately shot straight down the hill, gathering speed at an alarming rate and thankfully not cutting anyone in half.  She had to walk all the way back down, and never really developed much of a love for the sport.  Clearly I had not learnt how to look after my friendships any better over the last 13 years.

On a much later trip to Italy, Spook and I were doing a recce of the facilities and were to report back to The Boss who was coaching our children down on the nursery slopes.  We met a rather handsome ski patroller who said he would show us around.  He didn't speak English but he and I managed to converse in stilted French.  I may have been flirting a little, it's hard to say - it was a long time ago - but it all went wrong when I skied through the stile to access the chair lift and encountered my first ski conveyor belt.  I ground to an instant halt on the rubber, non slip surface, and fell over with my legs all tangled up, ski's pointing in very uncomfortable directions.  Worse than this was that the belt kept moving and the empty chair kept approaching and I thought that bits of me were going to be cut off as I desperately tried to flatten myself to the ground.  The handosme ski patroller, the lift operator and Spook were all laughing heartily as the operator lazily leant forward and stopped the machinery. I think I may have been whimpering.

I went on to learn how to stand up easily on a board and slip slide down a slope, but never to do that 'falling leaf' motion that makes snowboarding look so comfortable and fun.  That there was only one plank and not two attached to different legs had it's attraction, but I then became afraid of falling over again and that was that.  Back to square one.

In an online conversation with our friend Canadian Ken, he suggested I give snow touring a try and perhaps discover the pleasure of walking in snow shoes.  It all sounded a little expensive until I discovered that Nevis Range hire out snowshoes for £14 a half day or £18.50 for a whole day.  These shoes cost well upwards of £150 so that sounded like a bargain.  I had in mind something from a Grizzly Adams movie - like a couple of tennis rackets strapped to my feet.

 

 

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Seems things have moved on since then.......

 

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I'm not sure if these are the exact ones - ascent summit shoes - but they look like them......

 

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And they had tails attached to help with deeper snow.

 

The snow was plentiful and the sun was shining.  I hadn't been to the summit for years, and was determined that view up there would be mine for the seeing.  I picked up my shoes at the bottom and took a lift on the gondola to get a head start up the hill.  At £16 that's a whole lot of effort saved. 

 

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T'was a wee bit blowly for sure, but this isn't Italy.  And I forgot goggles.......

 

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And I forgot ski poles.  And I forgot that going up a hill under your own steam no matter how fancy yer shoes, is bloomin' hard work and nothing short of a jet pak was going to help seeing as how I wasn't on the slidy equipment that functions on the tows.

 

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Lot's of people called out encouraging words, held out hands that were of no help, or reassured me that I was nearly there.

 

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This is WAY steeper than it looks and I wanted to crawl, but snowshoes are not conducive to crawling.  Really - I have got to take a snowboard lesson!

 

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My spirits lifted on the final walk up the summit run as Spook and The Boss glided by on their skis.  

 

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I was pleased to see them, and even more pleased to see the view......

 

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All I had to do now was get all the way back down.  I'd climbed 1815ft, but only travelled 1.4 miles.  The staff at the summit tow had assured me that the shoes would perform well on the way down.  They had certainly saved me a lot of effort compared to the set of boots that I could see had forged their way ahead of me on the T-bar tow route, their prints deep in the snow, compared to mine on the surface.  But they were probably fitter and less naive than me.  The Boss and Spook said they'd wait at the bottom of Summit Run to see how I was faring.

 

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A last look at the effects of the snow and I was off at reasonable speed.  The shoes demonstrated their real potential immediately, as I chose the off-piste lovely thick but light snow.  They cut through the surface to slide comfortably on a layer below and softly came up for the next step. Old creaky knees didn't creak and it was like walking on how you imagine clouds might be if you didn't just fall straight through them.  I wasn't far behind the two skiers, though they had waited for me.  I chased them on and having tested the shoes on the pisted slope, went back to choosing powder snow of which there was an amazing abundance.  Instead of dragging my feet in thick snow, it was like having springs on.  No fear of falling, despite a couple of gentle tumbles when I stood on my own shoes, this was the most fun I'd had on a slidey surface for years. 

I know that the Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team are trialing them for their long walks into and up the hills and no wonder.  

As I soon descended and met up with my companions, we did all wonder at my determination to go to the summit.  I hadn't considered that I could walk out either side from the top restaurant to take in great views on pleasant routes that would not have torn my guts out.  I didn't even have to come up the hill at all, as there is lot's of snow in Leanachan Forest and I could have hired the shoes and gone for a long walk along the trails.

Thanks to Canadian Ken for his suggestion and so much to Chris, Nicky and Nevis Range for letting me give it a go.  I may not have inspired the skiers and boarders as they slid past me up that tow, but I was grinning widely on the run down.

 

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The uninspirational Mo hanging on to The Boss, not realising at this point that the fun was about to start.

P p p picking up treasure.

One moment day dreaming about the romantic life of the Hermit and the next in flight from an imagined unhinged one - the irony wasn't lost on me - once I'd had time to reflect.  Whenever I wander along a shoreline, I do usually end up quoting my favourite fictional Hermit "there's plenty of work left in this beach, yet."  (loose quote from memory.)

 

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Less than 10 miles from my house lies Loch Arkaig which stretches towards the west and legend has it that it was part of the route taken by the Jacobites as they fled Culloden with Prince Charlie.  The Jacobite Gold was abandoned somewhere along here as presumably it was weighing them down.  No doubt someone came back and got it, but there might be a wee bit treasure lurking in the undergrowth still.

 

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There are still signs of the old road, in particular, near the 'new' road which is so close to the loch it floods in heavy rain, but that leaves the old road undisturbed in places and maybe that means there's a better chance the treasure lies undisturbed.  However, it was a different kind of treasure I was looking for.  The perfect piece of driftwood that would finally inspire me to know exactly what I want to do with the growing pile I've got at home.

 

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But most of the wood I found was still attached to the trees, so that was that.  

 

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As beautiful as the day was, it's still too early in the year for hanging out the washing.

 

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No suitable driftwood, but the loch is a treasure in itself.

 

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Plenty of wildlife close by.

 

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Loch Lochy from Achnacarry.

 

To celebrate the last 2 miles of January's 100 mile Challenge, I did a fast march down to Caol shore.  I must have walked at least 20 of my miles, but anything that gets you out of the door in January no matter what the weather is doing, has been a really good thing.  I'm fitter and happier than I would have been without the challenge and by not running all the miles, my creaky knees are slightly less creaky.   So thanks for the challenge yet again, Curly.

 

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After a stormy high tide, there was a lot of work to be done.  Fulton Mackay would have been very happy.

 

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So much treasure!

When you live in Lochaber, you're rarely far from a loch.  The Monday morning dip in Loch Linnhe (the loch above) has continued unabated.  -7 temperatures out of the water make the loch seem almost warm.  But mild temperatures that melt the snow make the water so damned cold it attracts penguins.

 

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It's a very long drive from Antartica.

Railroading and Drifting on the West Coast

Beautiful blue skies above cloud inversions don't last long in Lochaber.  Bleary and grey with damp sleet was the Sunday morning greeting and little hope of it improving.  However I was up and packed for an adventure as my neighbour had texted the night before to say he was heading to Mallaig for a few hours and did I want dropped off near a secluded bay for a few hours so I could go searching drift wood and he'd pick me and my finds up on the way back.  He was fairly sure that the bay in question would have some good stuff as apart from the archipelago of Muck, Eigg, Rhum and Canna, there was nothing to catch anything drifting from Nova Scotia.  We called in to pick up his colleague at Glenfinnan and his wife, who is also a colleague, decided she and her 2 and a half year old daughter would come for part of the walk to have a wee adventure themselves.  So we altered the plans for a drop off further on at a more accessible point and I would walk around the coast and meet at the layby nearest the original bay at 2pm.  This allowed for 4 hours of raking around the coast and my companion would turn back and drive her and her daughter home at a suitable point.  That point came sooner than expected as the coast line was rugged and the sleet was biting.

With Bear Grylls survival programmes in mind, I slogged on alone in a mindful state, ignoring slushy bogs and examining fallen rocks and sheltered coves.  There was precious little drift wood, but I'd imagined a roaring fire when I got to the bay so gathered fallen tree branches broken into twigs to add to my pre-packed fire raising equipment of newspaper and fire lighters - and a lighter as I'm not too good with rubbing sticks together.

Layers of clothes plus effort were keeping me cosy as I was wearing a rucksack full of spare clothing and carrying an empty one for beautiful and rare specimens from foreign parts.

 

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Not so long ago, someone had made a shelter here and I imagined the simplicity of the Hermits life, gathering wood all day to keep warm and finding food.  

 

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These thoughts were happily consuming my attention, but to get to the next cove involved negotiating that rocky promontory on the left of the above picture so I decided to cut over the hill thinking my bay would be the next one.  But it was a much wider piece of land than I'd expected and my next find was a more recent shelter than the last......

 

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Oh!

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Right!  That looks a wee bit more recent - and resourceful.

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Yikes!  This is particularly out of focus due to speed and fright but below that sign is a much more recent looking structure that looked occupied.  That was it!  I was off like a bullet.

 

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Whilst intent on a quick exit, I couldn't resist taking a photo of what was a slabbed path and I was curious about the hanging rope.......

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It was attached to a sign which said 'Old Inverlochy Castle' and pointed to the ground.  As I continued my flight, I noticed large footsteps in the snow.  I couldn't be sure whether they were going towards the shelter or away.  I passed a large metal shovel which could have been for clearing the snow, a potential murder weapon and handy tool for burial.  A large viaduct appeared ahead, but the footsteps and path continued under the bridge.  So dragging my rucksacks and still clutching a large bush of dried heather which had seemed a sure bet to get a fire started, I puffed my way up on to what I assumed was the safety of the road.  But it wasn't.  It was the West Highland Line.  And no sign of the road.  Now I do know about the law, Scotrail, health and safety and all that, but when faced with certain death at the hands of a deranged Hermit, and the irregular train service on the Highland line, it didn't take long to decide that a sprint across the bridge was preferable to the unknown below.  Me and my cargo staggered over the long bridge, listening intently for the singing noise that an oncoming train might make on the metal rails, but hearing nothing above my pounding heart.  Once off the bridge, I was effectively on a causeway with flooded plains on either side so I pushed onwards to a humped back bridge ahead.  At last.  This must be the path to the bay which was my original destination.  Equilibrium quickly returned.  A left turn would take me to the arranged meeting place and a right turn, to the bay.  About 20 minutes took me over bog and jagged rocks to an old settlement of about 7 houses nestled in a sheltered bay.  Not a bit of driftwood in sight.  Nor wood for a fire.  Thankfully I hadn't shed my load in panic so I picked a house and set up camp, thinking I  could soon dry out my socks and make Mr Grylls proud.  

 

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No smoke without fire, they say.  Hmmmmmmm.  Not exactly the case here.  And the only food I had any chance of catching was the shell fish clinging to the rocks in the first cove I'd been in.  And they would have to have been smoked.

 

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I did find a nice wee pot that would have done for cooking anything, had I had the gumption to forage it.  Thankfully I'd brought a flask of home made soup and a supermarket sandwich.  And with only an hour to go until my rendezvous, my feet were unlikely to fester.  Note the heather bush to the right of the picture which turned out not to be as flammable as I'd hoped.

 

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In times gone by, the main access to this bay would have been by boat, and the Hermit in the neighbouring cove wouldn't have been a Hermit at all, but a fellow fisherman.  With that thought in mind I made my way back up the hill to a dry lift home.

 

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My neighbour looked askance as I regaled him with tales of terror.  Did I not consider that the Hermit might have been a woman?  Ok, but she definitely  had bigger feet than me.  And was it a woman thing to assume one was likely to be murdered?  I don't know, but I had just finished Fiona McBain's book - Glasdrum - which is set on this very coastline and there was plenty murder in that.  He sighed and apologised for the lack of driftwood.

Back home, the chopper was hovering around Ben Nevis and there was a full team call-out for 3 missing walkers.  And this morning, there was a report of a stranded train on the West Highland Line between Arisaig and Glenfinnan.  Thankfully the report said it was a landslide and all 5 passengers were safe, and there were no reports of a crazed woman running along the line, clutching a big bunch of heather.  You don't need to look for drama in Lochaber.  It's here anyway.

Fiona McBain is at the Highland Bookshop in Fort William tomorrow night at 6pm Jan 23rd.

https://www.facebook.com/events/455423738193863/

Happy Place

T'was a dull and cloudy day at home despite the thick snow.  Looking across the Great Glen it was obvious there was a thin cloud inversion and a little effort on a personal level would reveal the sun.  With skiers on a mission to get to the slopes no matter what, it seemed a good time to get in a quiet Half Ben.  My dodgy old knees have taken exception to the Ben in recent years and the place of happiness has become a place of torture as I constantly glance at my watch in an effort to get halfway in 1hr to meet Ben Race requirements.  I like going up the hill, but when I get to the top, someone sticks metal rods through my heels and all the way up my thighs, and another one across my shoulders.  They stay there for the entire journey down the hill.  The only way I can meet the 3hr 15min cut off for the race is to get up a lot faster.  I'm thinking this doth not equal fun.  But a thin cloud inversion, a trail that had been cut by early walkers, and glorious sunshine within easy reach - it was turning into a place of promise.  Spook, Running Girl and Ted the Collie were happy to accompany me.

 

 

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We didn't meet many people but anyone stepping off the path to let us by ended up more than thigh deep in a big hole, so it was better to get up close and personal to pass each other.  But that was only a very few people.  Folks were mostly turning back at half way which was borne out by no sign of footsteps on the higher reaches.  For those not in the know, there was little guidance on a route.  There were a couple of skiers further up and one group cutting up the hill on the wrong side of the Red Burn for the summit.  We saw them heading down, before we turned ourselves.

 

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We were on the plateau at half way near the lochan, but we were not on the path.  The trail had been cut straight up from the 'Baskets' and had avoided a whole zig.  Nice peace of rule breaking.  

 

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Spot the skiers in the distance.  We met them further down the hill, bathed in sweat.  The first part of their ski-ing had been fun.  The lower path was hard work and not so much fun.  

 

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It was difficult to say who was happier - me or Ted.

 

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My survival of 14 Ben Races and all the training in between, is a bit of an enigma.  I just can't do that downhill stuff with any kind of grace. But with snow even-ing out the rocks, it was the most fun descent I've ever done. Happy, happy, happy.

 

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Slim pickings.  Back below the clouds - reluctantly.

 

Mid Winter Blues Buster

Lochaber's a pretty good place to pass the darkest days of the year.  Though not if you have influenza A or pneumonia.  Nowhere is a good place to be with that.  On the other hand, the support from NHS 24, the Belford Hospital A&E, Out of Hours Service and GP's has been phenomenal for my Horizontal Boy who is now horizontal out of necessity rather than laid back nature. (Not to mention the out of hours service provided by friends on their day off.)  Maybe Lochaber really is the place to be in your darkest days.

But the fun stuff that one gets dragged into whether one wanted to or not, has made mid winter a blast.

 

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Manic Mondays have continued unabated and Christmas day fell on a Monday, so it was a wee party on the water.  I never go for my dip with enthusiasm, but I always leave the apres breakfast with a positive outlook for the week.  It's about the buzz and not the exercise as the most energy is expended in putting on and taking off our wetsuits (and all the other stuff that I put on to cover every piece of skin possible.)  The only sign of the true swimmers is usually a couple of pairs of crocs by the sea side (the footwear - not the man-eating type) and sometimes a head torch in the distance as Mairi, Ed and sometimes Emma, get their mile in (I've even seen paddles attached to hands and this is a daily routine for them - not once a week.)

On the last day of the year we got an invite to cross the border into Speyside from Linda Lu and Dashing Dave.  A bike ride was suggested to balance the excesses of the festive period.  I've known Linda Lu a long time but I was still surprised at the contents of her cycling rucksack - apart from the whisky liqueur - that wasn't a surprise at all.

 

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The roads and tracks were so icy that we only made it to the top of Kingussie golf course.  Dashing Dave didn't even get that far as he was called out by the fire service.  We weren't sure if this created the correct balance but we thought we should toast Spook, the sober driver anyway.

 

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Spook has a reputation to upkeep in Kingussie where he as recently been re-named as H20 Munro.

 

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If only he could bring that reputation back to Lochaber.  He did well on Hogmany but that was only because he had the promise of a night at the B'Dass's on the 1st.  Meanwhile, the first day of the year was a Monday, but we decided to go up a wee hill instead of a swim.  We'd missed the deadline to enter the Aonach Mhor Uphill race so decided to go up Melantee which is the nobbly bit in front of Ben Nevis.

 

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Running Girl took her 21st wee dram to bring in the new year, which is the last one as she doesn't intend to do any more Ben Nevis Races. (you always get a miniature Ben Nevis Whisky with your entry to the race.) She doesn't like whisky, but gave it a fair go.  Then we raised the bottle to the runners over at Nevis Range.

 

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Curly issued her yearly challenge of 100 miles for January and only this counted for a paltry 2.5.  I had to run round the car park and get out of the van at the bottom of the road to run up the canal.  It's going to be a long month.  It's a challenge just to run at all, so I'm keeping it to little and often so as not to build an impossible deficit as the month goes on.  we ran up the red route at Nevis Range to see what was going on up the there and to offer a bit of variety.  Spook and Running Girl got up there way ahead of me and I puffed my heart out trying to catch them.

 

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Kim, herself.

It took me 1hr and 17mins to get to the targeted hot chocolate.

 

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it was a guy wee cup for sic an effort but apparently it was so busy they'd run out of mugs.

The next day, we'd heard that there were cute babies up there and Meg and her pals were going up sledging, so we decided to walk up and rest our legs from the effort of running. (this is a 3 mile uphill effort.)  RG started a long time ahead of me and arranged to see me there.  I enjoyed a pleasant walk and had every intention of claiming the 3 miles for the challenge even tho I didn't even attempt a run.

 

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Endomondo which is recording my miles and lap times, confirmed that it had taken 1hr and 17mins to walk up the hill.  Exactly the same time as my run the day before.  Who am I kidding with this hill running lark?

 

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Fun in every direction.  Thanks for these 3 photo's Amy Cameron.

Campaign K, who lives next door, invited me out on her wee routine cycle round the forest on our side of the glen.  I'm up for a jaunt but hate having to change outfits for work, shopping, running or cycling.  So I just went as I was - straight from some stick cutting on the croft.

 

 

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I had hoped the oily boiler suit would be water resistant but it wasn't, so I had to get changed afterwards, anyway.

 

 

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My daily run took me past Torcastle at sunset.  There are many benefits from the challenge like running past old castles at sunset and despite the tender knees and now almost half way through the challenge, I'm already feeling more energetic.  No one needs to run every day, but something that makes you go out that door, even after a long working day to get some fresh air in any weather, has to be a good thing.  Thanks Curly.

Fun comes at a price and I have done quite a bit of work over the festive period.  I insisted on new dungarees to inspire my clients that I was a true professional.  Meg said that they needed to know I was a professional cleaner and not a professional plumber.  She has taken to calling me Luigi.  I like a lot of pockets but even these didn't have enough for my dusters.  I stuck a couple inside my bib.  When I called into Running Girl's for a cuppa after work, she thought my knickers were falling out my trouser leg when she saw the pink material nestling on my foot.  I'd hunted all over for that bloomin' duster.

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The weather has continued to be better and brighter than it was in summer.  Perhaps a little colder.  I'll end with James Crightons photos from his snowboarding day up Nevis Range yesterday.  Thanks James - don't know which this is the best advert for - Nevis Range, your new Google phone with camera, or your photography.  But it certainly helps make the point about Lochaber.

 

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Bent Spoons

On a rip-roaring Saturday night, Spook and I were stymied when our internet provider would not provide Netflix.  At 9pm it seemed a bit early to turn in, even though we were already slumped by the fire in a state of sleepiness.  How has this happened???? (not the lack of internet - the lack of energy for a high jinx Saturday night.) I suggested we take a wander up the croft to check out Finn and his mate Aiden's igloo, which they had toiled over all afternoon with Meg 'cementing' in the gaps. We grabbed head torches, some candles and a small rug - it is a sad sign of the times that we didn't grab a wine bottle and some glasses, but there you have it.

 

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We were a wee bit lack-lustre as we trudged up the hill in the freezing temperatures, and planned a quick photo opportunity and then maybe a game of Snap back home.

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This was all very well and impressive, but a wee glass of something would have added to the ambience.  At this sad realisation (about 5 minutes after we'd got the candles lit) Meg phoned to say that a couple of scary guys with a big stick had appeared at the door.  Thankfully it turned out to be The Big G and Mr B'Dass - neighbours, and the big stick was to inspire me in my much talked about stick-making efforts as Mr B'Dass won Best Stick at the Agricultural Show.  Meg provided them with croft-suitable footwear and pointed them up the hill where they were welcomed into the hold, especially as they brought copious amounts of whisky......and the big stick.  

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That' s a prize-winner, right there!!

The Big G was clutching a bottle of Dutch whisky presented to him by a very kind Dutch man and worth a penny or two.  He was celebrating the on-set of his birthday - that's probably why we risked hypothermia in order to make it past midnight to reach his birthday at the other side.

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Spook and The Big G discussed the possible merits of Dutch whisky while Mr B'Dass wielded a bottle of 12 year old Highland Park and the remains of a Glenlivet as he nostalgically remembered games of shinty played out in the village of the latter.

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I helped out with the Highland Park which was my mother's favourite but got a row for taking such a 'girlie' sip.  I'm already wondering if there might be too many photo's of me slugging out of bottle's of whisky - girlie fashion or not.

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We did get a bit excited about the Netherlands role in the igloo party and couldn't wait for a wee taste.  Smooth and caramelly, I thought - while I was still able to.  Mr B'Dass was full of nostalgia for the big win at the Agricultural Show and keen to see if he could retain the title.  After a few drams I was pretty sure I could give him a run for his money as the croft is full of hazel trees just waiting to be transformed.

But time nor tide waits for no man, and the hour approached when butts and feet were undeniably chilled, so a stagger down the croft and back to the warmth of the kitchen for a few tunes was the wisest move.  I'm not saying the transition happened very smoothly or without a couple of tumbles (that was just me,) but once the feeling had come back into our guests hands, we had The Big G on the mandolin and B'Dass on the spoons.  He did make a bit of a fuss about the quality of the spoons, but was able to ease them into the shapes required.  Unfortunately, the soup wont stay on them any longer but it was worth it for the performance.

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Good sense finally prevailed and our visitors supported each other off home.  The Big G snuggled into bed with his sleepy wife who yelped "Where have you been?  The bloody North Pole?  "No" he replied "I've been in Mo and Spooks igloo."  Oh my god, she thought, how much of that Dutch whisky has he drunk??

Meanwhile I went back up the next day to make sure there was no evidence of shenanigans in our son's igloo.

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Oh thank goodness.  He'll hardly even know we've been there........

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OH NOOOOOO!!!!!!

I had to call in help and got Mrs B'Dass to call in on her way over the hill today to check that everything was back in order.

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Sorted.

 

Scottish Trad Awards - Gaelic Singer of the Year

When my friend Roberto came over from Dundee for a few days in October (he originally comes from near Algeciras in Southern Spain), we took a road trip out to Mallaig, calling in at Glenfinnan to watch the steam train pass by and to watch the waves when we hit the west coast at the smaller viaduct that you drive under.  A trip out west isn't complete without a wander through the sand dunes to Camusdarroch beach and on the way home we put some music on and sang at the top of our voices.

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As Roberto and I can't sing in Gaelic, we chose the Robert Robertson song in the link below. It seemed a good idea to introduce Roberto to Scottish music via his Scottish name sake and as he is a bit of a romantic,  the rather cheesy video is right up his adopted Scottish street, as dancing with a Highland girl where the skies reach out for miles was all he wanted to do after our trip........

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uzbzMRyinyE

Scottish Trad Awards - Instrumentalist of the Year

Saturday nights used to see my sister and I taking the floor in a small space in the house, listening to the radio and trying to squeeze in Canadian Barn Dances and Gay Gordon's.  A generation later the cheery voice of Robbie Shepherd has been replaced with the cheery voice of Gary Innes and without doubt, a gentle, gradual modernisation of Take The Floor.  A Lochaber man down to his ex-shinty playing toes, he won the above title of 2017.  Below is a video taken from the drivecam on his homeward bound journey on the A82 at it's most iconic point, to his own tune of The Road to Lochaber.  I get a little travel sick, so if you do too, you might need to stand back from the screen, or just listen. (to the sister who used to whirl about to Robbie Shepherd - you'll need a sick bag.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q50g8NJlI3s

The 2nd video is his song-writing - not his winning instrumental skills - and the voice of a further winner of this years awards.  But I love the song and the video as although one might not call it a romantic part of highland life, it's an undeniable part of the culture, which links people up and down the highlands, the lowlands and even across the world and to my mind, that IS part of the romance of a strong connection between people.  Even enemies on the field, are linked by their playing of the game. That's the essence of the song and the video also features Gary.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qyt74s-9J6o

Someone will need to write The Caman Woman as these women are a whole other level altogether.............

Scottish Trad Music Awards

I don't claim to know much about music but bopping up and down to fiddles, accordians, pipes and drums started when I could sit up in my big, well sprung pram in Ayrshire.  My mother told me that she had a request played for each of her children on the radio and asked them to play anything overwhelmingly Scottish to suit the baby.  Pestering my mother on family holidays to take me to the weekly pipe band marching through a contributing Highland town was the norm - and much to the horror of my granny I developed an enduring love for Andy Stewart.  As I sat with my face glued to the television when he was performing, I remember being shocked when a large tattie appeared across the screen.   My granny had nipped through from preparing the tea to back up her view that he had a face like an old tattie and was offering me the chance to make a comparison.  Dancing the night away at the Kyle of Lochalsh Hotel when I was 19 it dawned on me that a dream had come true.  When Andy sang about The Dancing in Kyle he sang "there was Mairi and Duncan and Morag and Calum".  I knew then that I was meant to dance in Kyle.  The Incredible Fling Band played the night away and the names of local villages that I passed on my way to the dance were there in that song of my Ayrshire childhood - Inverinate, Dornie, Ardelve.  I grew up thinking the Highlands was the most romantic place in the world and the stirrings of that deep held romantic view are easily brought to the surface - by the humour, warmth and support of its inhabitants but most of all, by the music.

The Trad Scottish Awards 2017 were held in Paisley last night, and without having to look closely at the results, it's clear that there is a strong Lochaber contingent amongst the winners.  So I thought I'd post a piece of music each day for the next few days to provide a wee flavour of something very special.

Event of the Year was won by A Night For Angus - a celebration of Angus R Grant's life.  My heiland husband has always had a much finer and more select love of Scottish music and Shooglenifty was a big favourite.  He knew Angus, who grew up in Lochaber, and was in awe of his fiddle playing.  He managed to get tickets to the event at Celtic Connections in Glasgow and it was the most enthralling evening.  Below is an exert from the full video of the event.  250 to Vigo is my favourite song and I sometimes put it on and dance round the kitchen when no one's in.  It starts slowly and builds to the most lovely, uplifting crescendo of positivity.  In this video there is quite a long tribute to Angus from a Galician artiste - in her own language - but love and respect seems to pour from her and when the players pick up the tune again, it backs up the love - and romance.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zWu8Gc4yMlU&list=PLpis9b8e9cVqPrKJb8KwMQY1tVFOldkGv

 

The Devil's in the Detail

You're never too old to go back to school - science was never a subject that made any sense to me, but like so many of the subjects that stumped me, a bit of practical application would have worked wonders. 

So I signed up to try out the new Gin School at The Loch Leven Hotel in Ballachulish, with Craig Innes of Pixel Spirits Ltd in their new Craft Distillery.  Practical application and an opportunity to take home the product of your day sounded like a good all round learning experience - and it's even on the bus route back to Fort William.....

 

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You get your own mini still.......well - not THAT mini.

 

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This is big enough to get you a whole bottle full of your very own bespoke brew.  But you don't just chuck a load of berries in and hope for a quality product.  This is school, and this is science......

 

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There must be juniper berries for it to become gin.  And there's some coriander that apparently has to go in.  We're talking very specific measurements, and for the botanicals which will give your gin it's unique flavour, there's a tiny wee set of scales for the tiniest amount of hibiscus or citrus or cinnamon.  Too much of anything and any subtlety of aroma is gone and your precious bottle isn't going to be very precious.

 

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Once you are supplied (by Craig) with your very high content alcohol which is your base, you must check the temperature

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There's no messing around and no setting fire to your mates with the Bunsen Burners here.

 

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Your wee still has to get up to correct heat for the gin to start flowing gently into your glass jar below the table and before you know it your bottling it.

 

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And then you're naming and labelling it

 

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The only test involved here is to test the product.  This is my kind of school - but it's off to the bar for a little ambience and an opportunity to try out Craig's carefully crafter creations.........

 

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 There was a choice between Neptune's Staircase which was tempting as I live close by to that staircase on The Caledonian Canal, and The Devil's Staircase which is on the edge of Rannoch Moor.  Over 20 years ago I remember trying to extricate my husband from this very bar and I always promised him that some day he would have the pleasure of returning the favour - so I opted for a taste of the Devil to see if it would bring out the best and worst in me.

 

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Depending on which gin you choose there are delicious additives to complement the flavours.

 

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Craig's passion for his craft is contagious - rattling up a quick bottle of gin at his school is fun and satisfying, but creating a whole distillery requires drive and dedication, therefore hitching up at the cosy bar or taking the air on the balcony with a refreshing drink is a little more relaxing.

 

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Woops!  Getting a wee bit wobbly.

 

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For a night out or  making a weekend of it, don't think you have to rush off to Edinburgh, Glasgow or destinations further afield.  I found myself extricated from my bar stool far too early by my sober driver and I realised that my husband might not bother coming to get me anyway and with no bus timetable to hand - well, I cut my losses.  But it's the kind of place you could be drawn in to..........

http://www.pixelspiritsltd.co.uk/ginschool.html

http://www.lochlevenhotel.co.uk/

Starting Again.......

After a long, wet, warm summer in Lochaber and adjusting to having to grow up due to the loss of my mum in the spring (who was unwell for many years and was no spring chicken), it's time to kick start the winter with a new approach to the blog.  There's a wee bit of the recluse within me, but thankfully Running Girl chooses to ignore that and refuses to allow me to wallow for too long.  Many of us will suffer episodes where we experience noisy brains and a tendency to low mood and the noisier the brain the lower the mood.  Challenging the mind and body can change the thought process from needless inner chatter to focussing on the predicament you've put yourself in.  For example, RG announced that cold water was good for physical and mental health and that a Monday morning swim in the sea would set us up for an active and positive week.  Now, I can put on the wet suit, waterproof socks (lol), bootees, neoprene gloves and double wetsuit hats - but that doesn't mean I'm going into the water.  I've proven this on more than one occasion even in beautiful full summer conditions.  But several Mondays on from RG's original announcement and I am already managing more than 5 minutes in the icy waters of Loch Linnhe!  Does my noisy brain quieten?  Most certainly.  You can't make that much squealy noise in between sharp intakes of breathe and still mull over useless items of an unsolvable nature.  So she has a point.  "Wait until we're scraping the frost off the windscreen in the morning" she giggled, in an ever so slightly maniacal manner. 

  So far I haven't even got a salty face and have given up the goggles and the double wetsuit hats as I have not yet wet a cheek - not a facial one, anyway - nor got my hair wet.  But apart from 2 weeks in sunny Spain, I'm still there on Mad Mondays.

 

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I'm not thinking this is a very good idea.........

 

 A wee word of encouragement...........   

A wee word of encouragement...........

 

 I'm hoping this counts as 'in'.   

I'm hoping this counts as 'in'.

 

 Apparently not - but I'm pretty sure THIS does.         

Apparently not - but I'm pretty sure THIS does.