Sunday, 27 September 2009

a country mouse is home again

Oh, it's good to be back! We had a wonderful holiday but east west hame's best, especially for a country mouse.

There aren't too many photos to post here however as I was in town mouse mode when I packed the laptop, thinking there would be lots of wifi so I could download lots of photos and even update this blog. Not so. I had to take my camera card to Tesco (and I had promised myself to avoid that evil place on holiday) and get the photos printed before I could delete them and take more.

Here are a few though. This is Little R on Findhorn beach, heading for the sea at top speed and whooping with joy. The two headlands across the water are the Cromarty Sutors, which stand at the entrance to the Cromarty Firth. The folklore is that they were two giant shoemakers (sutors) who used to toss their tools to each other across the firth. Obv.

Findhorn beach is just wonderful. When the tide is out it goes out for miles, with endless stretches of sand with pretty shells like tellins. It's great for flying kites. We brought several with us and when Granny and Grandado came to visit for a few days they had a good time trying them all out. When the tide is in there are ramparts of big white and grey cobbles and beautiful white sands. We also saw seals very close to the shore when the tide was in, about 3 waves out from us, popping their heads up to get a good look. We spent hours and hours on the beach every day, just pottering, paddling and building sandcastle cities.

Below is a photo of DH's and my one night out. The yucky ashtray in the shot is not ours, I hasten to add. When Granny and Grandado came they took us out for an Italian meal then bravely offered to put Little R to bed while we went on for a drink. We strolled round to the Kimberley Inn, a Findhorn institution with fantastic seafood, and watched the sun go down over the bay with a very exotic pear cider on ice. We lasted one hour before the plunging temperature chased us back to the cottage and the roaring log fire. The days were warm (18-20deg) but the nights were not.

During the first week of the holidays we drove up to Sutherland to visit Dunrobin Castle, one of my favourite castles. It's a fair old drive so we stopped at Golspie beach on the way and had a great time gathering white and gold periwinkles. Dunrobin is an incredibly grand fairytale castle right in the middle of some pretty desolate landscape, with sweeping grey seas right at the edge of the manicured formal gardens. It's a physical shock to the senses to see the contrasts. I first saw it when flying from Inverness to Shetland when I used to work up there. The pilot pointed it out between the clouds and suddenly there was this silver brightness on the edge of the winter sea in the midst of unbroken acres of heather and hills. There is a bloody history of course (the Clearances being the least of it) and country mouse has to suspend her revolutionary tendencies when visiting.
We also visited Fort George where I used to work, to say hello to some old friends. It's a very odd place; still threatening and yet useless. It was built at huge expense, going wildly over budget, after the defeat of the Jacobites at Culloden and is heavily fortified with cannon pointing in all directions. It's on a promontary sticking out into the Moray Firth and so there is usually a howling gale waiting for you round every corner. It's still an active army barracks, at the moment for the Black Watch regiment, so the inhabitants are squaddies, historic building conservationists and herring gulls. It's a good place to see the dolphins from though and at around 3pm on sunny days I would sometimes climb up the gun embrasures with my binoculars to watch them leaping.
Speaking of dolphins, we did the tourist bit and went out on the dolphin cruise. We didn't see a single dolphin but had a great time sailing out into the Moray Firth then turning and sailing right under the Kessock Bridge (see photo) to see if any could be found in the Beauly Firth. Amongst other things, we learned from the captain that Margo from The Good Life lives in Fortrose. Country Mouse was thrilled!
We also visited Brodie Castle, a National Trust property not far from Findhorn. It's a sweet little castle which has a relatively happy history other than one very tragic story, which the tour guide told with detail and relish and a complete lack of sensitivity to the presence of horrified Little R. It's the story of Lady Margaret Duff (link to her portrait: who married the laird and had 5 children before dying in a fire around 1800. Apparently she dismissed her servant and settled down in bed with a book, unaware that a burning peat had tumbled from the fire and was smoking on the carpet. She fell unconscious from the smoke and awoke to find that her bed, nightclothes and hair were alight. She ran round the room in panic, of course setting fire to everything she touched on the way, and when her husband (devoted, great love story of defiance of parents to marry, etc) rushed in he had to run through a wall of flames to drag her out. She died 3 hours later of smoke inhalation and shock. A truly horrific story, and told to us as we stood in the very room. Little R has asked me many times since to tell her "about the lady who died in the fire." I have sugar coated it as much as possible but she heard the original M Night Shyamalan version so there's not really much I can do in mitigation.
There were a few more places we visited. Cawdor Castle was a good day out ( It's still a family home, lived in by the fabulously named Dowager Angelika. When my sister was about 20 she saw a poster with the Dowager's title on it when visiting the castle and asked us who is The Doh-Wagger. We haven't let her forget it. The grounds are amazing. Little R, whispering to us,"I'm being an adult in disguise," boldly asked the lady at the ticket desk if bare feet were allowed then gleefully raced round the gardens for over an hour with no shoes on, hunting (large) frogs and eating wild plums and wild strawberries, and had to be bribed with promises of cake if she would put her shoes on and come inside.
We went to Pluscarden twice ( It's very quiet, and DH loves it so much that I think he dreams of joining them one day. It says something on the website about feeling the peaceful atmosphere from the hundreds of years of devotion, and actually you really can feel something special there.
Getting thoroughly secular again, we visited Landmark theme park in Carrbridge on the way home ( That girl of ours is BRAVE. She went on the wild water coaster five times, three times with daddy and twice with me. I was absolutely quaking but did not want her to see that. It was an utterly sickening feeling to whizz down an enclosed, pitch-dark tube in a yellow rubber raft, whooshing uncontrollably from side to side and speeding up and speeding up and speeding up. Little R was cool as a cucumber when the boat came to a stop and I had to sit down for five minutes because I was trembling so much.
Yes, home is safest for country mouse.
And finally, the obligatory blogger's holiday snap of self on beach with crochet:
I have great plans for this becoming a blanket. It took me ten attempts before I could figure out the granny square instructions in my Happy Hooker book. I am a bit dim. The first three rounds are the tricky bit and now it is completely mindless, which I love. The wool is from a lovely old fashioned wool shop in Forres that looks like it hasn't changed since the 50s. In a parallel universe, that is my shop and I stock really great books too, plus coffee and home baking. Since the contents of the piggy bank did not allow me to buy the actual shop I settled for this quick knit arran stuff in various unusual colour combinations which are so ugly they are almost beautiful. Threedoublesasingle, threedoublesasingle.....


  1. Sounds like you had a very interesting holiday and sounds like a great area to visit.
    I've just cracked the granny squares too!
    Looks like Margot is having fun with the planners in Avoch.
    Maybe you need to buy a bigger memory card for your camera - I bought one on Amazon and it was very cheap, I never need worry about running out of space as it holds loads of photos.

  2. Thanks for the memory card tip. I didn't know you could buy memory cards. Was so sick at having to go to Tesco on holiday!

  3. Beer on ice and I thought I was the only one. But, your flavors look way more yummier than our silly water beer here in the states. Reminds me of our trip to Bruges.... By the way, nothing better than a little crochet shot in the sands. Glad to see you had a wonderful weekend.