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Published: July 31st 2017
June – 15th
July Kilts, Bagpipes, Clootie Dumplings and Haggis
We’re doing it again: setting off in our motorhome for that bit at the top of the UK where it’s bound to rain bucket-loads, the midges will be out in force and many of the roads will be frustratingly winding and slow. Yes, it’s Scotland and the Highlands once more: the little bit of the UK untouched by the Roman Empire, the land of warring clans, sword swinging, tartan skirted, hairy warriors with tam o’ shanter bonnets and their wailing bagpipes waking the dead. This time we’re travelling in convoy with our Australian cheese-maker friends, Jan and Trevor, from Redhill, Melbourne, in their own motorhome.
So, yes, it’s raining in Stirling, our starting point, when we arrive to take a look at the castle, but it fails to dampen the spirits of the visitors and their guides, stepping warily over the gleaming-wet courtyard cobblestones and into the castle itself. Sadly it’s a bit over-restored, but fascinating all the same for its spectacular history that helped to shape the UK as it is today – and a hint that there are
those who would see fit to change it again tomorrow!
Stirling is but a stopping off point on this journey, as we are heading further north into the Highlands via pretty Bridge of Allan to the delightfully unadorned Doune Castle, managed in a nicely rustic manner by Historic Scotland and helped in no small way by its association with Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Game of Thrones, both of which featured this extremely enigmatic relic. You’ll love it for its sheer simplicity – even, nay, especially, in the rain!
It would not be a tour of Scotland without dipping into the odd bit of whisky on a chilly day would it? By the look of the master plan put together by that special lady in my life, Janice, there will be numerous opportunities for us all to partake of a little before this holiday is out. The first one came rather early, with a brief stop-off at Crief to visit the Famous Grouse distillery.
A wee dram (very wee, I hasten to add) was shortly followed by a wee drive on to Dunkeld, so quintessentially Scottish with its white-painted
cottages with roses round the doors, the stone church, a market cross and a high street with its modern-day share of charity shops.
Having only recently returned from Iceland, we’re quite accustomed to a bit of rain. But other than rain and the luxury of wilderness so rare in the UK, Scotland is not really anything like Iceland: the Fjords here are called Lochs for a start, it’s not obviously volcanic and it’s just a tad warmer. We have come to the conclusion it’s more like Norway with midges at this time of year. But the one thing they all have in common is wildlife in abundance if you’re prepared to go hunting for it! A few miles away at Loch of the Lowes, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds offers stunning views of nesting osprey across the water from the hide; this year a mother and her two, six week old chicks. Red squirrels and otters can also be seen here on a good day, and there’s the remote chance of spotting beavers, recently introduced. We have high hopes of seeing otters as we venture on to the islands later.
By mid-afternoon we
arrived in Pitlochry, a touristy little town of touristy shops. Here we chanced upon the ‘Moulin Inn and Brewery’ for a flight of three very good ales and a hearty lunch. Nearby, there’s a chance for the more adventurous amongst you to leap from the high rocks into the gushing waters of the River Tummel in your wetsuit, at the Pass of Killiecrankie, if that’s what turns you on. We elected for the rather more passive walk from the Visitor’s Centre to ‘Soldier’s Leap‘ instead– but that’s another story. Don’t bother, unless you’re in desperate need of exercise. They’re working extremely hard to find some most obscure reasons for people to visit Scotland these days.
Vast fields of buttercups, rushing rivers White painted cottages with grey slate roofs Sheep on the foreshore, sheep on the hills Sage green grass on cloud shrouded mountains Shimmering lochs and wide sandy beaches. Bonny Prince Charlie, haggis and bagpipes And tartan to smarten a true-born Scot
It occasionally happens in Scotland. The sun shone for the start of the school holidays. The downside of the latter is to expect everywhere
to be crowded. ‘Castled out’, which is also possible in Scotland, we gave Blair Castle a miss and headed out to Glen Feshie for some truly excellent walks in scattered pine forest overflowing with sparkling ferns, heather and bilberry amongst the rocky outcrops, and glorious birds: spotted flycatchers, goldcrests and those delightful, tiny siskins, bright green in their best summer outfits. That’s our kind of walk.
Somewhat damp of foot, we ventured into Aviemore where we all invested in new waterproof hiking gear – water finally seeping through well-worn boots, and soggy socks! I know it’s hard to believe, but there are more outdoor shops than charity shops in Aviemore. The Winking Owl at the top of the town offered a magnificent shared cheeseboard to round off a good day - and ‘free camping’ for our two motorhomes overnight in the car park! That’s Scottish hospitality for you.
With this fine weather it is finally possible to see the tops of the mountains: those magnificent landscapes we, from the flat fields and marshlands of East Anglia, yearn for: a canvas of greys and greens, shades of bronze and stone grey, a hint of white
cloud like the steam from a kettle against a stunning azure sky.
It won’t last long, so wear your new boots and keep your jacket handy.
But it did last just long enough for us to travel up through Glenmore to the Cairngorm Mountain funicular Railway for those wonderful views we remember from our last visit here way back when. There are a few reindeer here now to excite the visitors and some careful scanning from the viewing platform with binoculars revealed a single ring ouzel; I can hardly remember the last time we saw one in the UK. There are snow buntings and ptarmigan to be found at the very top of Cairngorm too, but It’s not possible to get there anymore unless you are prepared to hike up from the bottom. I don’t have a problem with that if it helps to maintain the fragile environment.
Our preferred hike came on the Rothiemurchus Estate at Loch an Eilean, a good four-hour leg-stretch on sound tracks through mixed woodland around the shimmering loch, the wind rustling through the trees. A loud wailing sound from the loch stopped us in our tracks – not an
animal, perhaps a cry from the earth seeking refuge on the shore, a sound with the resonance to search your soul, an alarming scream of pain echoing across the water – so surely the territorial call of that most wonderful serpent of air and water; the red throated diver. This is the male: his blood-red throat and proud, graphically striped neck, that piercing eye of glass and his powerful black beak. What a magnificent bird!
Now, its time for something else rather special; I don’t know about you, but in all the years we have travelled these Scottish roads, I had never heard of clootie dumplings. Hands up if you have! Some of the best clootie dumplings are served in the delightful tea shop at the Speyside Centre at Dulnain, a sort of garden centre, gifty shoppy tea room, currently recovering from a devastating fire. I don’t want you drooling over your laptop, but just take a moment think of this: a traditional Scottish afternoon pot of tea of your choice, with fine china cups and saucers and a generous slice of steaming suet and fruit dumpling, dripping with hot fruity jam, and topped with fresh cream
or custard. Excuse me a moment – I must put the kettle on.
You’ll see red squirrels on the bird feeders here too and there’s always an outside chance of seeing pine martens.
Our road took us on to Inverness and along the western shore of Loch Ness to lovely Drumnadrochit to search for that very elusive Loch Ness Monster of myth and legend, and on to Cannich; a devious route to find new territory for us. It’s another showery day, but the challenge is two short walks on magnificent rocky paths through pine forest with mossy banks and the shining waters of Glen Affric. These all too brief moments shared with nature are so special to us: the air a fresh zephyr flushing the cheeks and rustling the leaves of birch and aspen, a dipper on a rock, bobbing its white bib as is scours the rushing river floor for insects, and yet another sight to set the heart racing – a black throated diver on the lochen! ‘Make my day,’ as Clint Eastwood might say.
There are few roads we have yet to tread here in the Highlands. This must be
our tenth visit over the years, but there’s one long track from west to east we’re about to try: taking the A9 across the Black Isle, by-passing Dingwall and up to Lairg in the east, then crossing Scotland, up and over the top on the dramatically scenic single-track A838 to Scourie in the west! This is truly the moment: the sudden realisation that there are still such wild and remote places in the UK, where peace and tranquility nestle and few see fit to travel. Glorious – even amidst the sleet and showers!
It will come as some relief to all of you that we have not to date encountered a single sword-swinging, tartan-skirted, hairy warrior with tam o’ shanter and wailing bagpipes. We did however, chance upon a tall, heavily tattooed, pint-swilling local in the pub the other day. “We’re not all like that,” he assured me.
Tune in again in a day or two as we head for the Islands. We'll be looking for white-tailed eagles, red deer and otters!
David and Janice
The Grey-haired-nomads.....and Todd came too!
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