Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The last entry of the year...

This shall be my last blog of 2011. My goodness, what a year it has been! It has seen us go from flu-ridden and then homeless to happily settled in the Highlands in a lovely home with a couple of cats, a business that is doing fairly well for less than a year "out there" and being sincerely happy.  So many blessings this year and we are so grateful for all of them.

Tomorrow we head down to Edinburgh to meet my stepson and his girlfriend who are there for a quick pre-Christmas holiday. It will be wonderful seeing Olly again and I can't wait to meet Natalie. We have made lunch reservations at The Hard Rock Cafe, so looking forward to that. I must admit I've not been to one before, so this will be a first time.

Our travels will take us through the Cairngorms, but, as time will not be a our friend, we won't be able to stop and get photos along the way. However, we are planning some road trips over the next couple of weeks - our Christmas presents to ourselves, and I will report all once we have seen in the New Year. We may even venture into Tain for Hogmanay and raise a dram to 2012. We are so excited about the year to come. Ailleas Designs will go from strength to strength, I am sure, and we are going to start working on Chris' photography business as well. Watch out world, here we come.

In the meantime, may I take this opportunity to thank you all for my reading my little blogs and letting me know how much you enjoy them. It is so lovely to hear. I just write what is in my heart.

So, until 2012 then, Nollaig Chridheil agus Bliadhna Mhath UrI don't think I need to translate that...

Monday, December 12, 2011

Finding our way...

This past weekend found us traveling for a Christmas fair in Gairloch on Scotland’s west coast. The weather was wintry, but not so wintry as to impede our trip. We did, however, take it slowly.  But what a breathtaking and stunning drive it was.

As we left the civilisation of Dingwall and Strathpeffer, we entered the area where houses are few and far between. Arriving just east of Garve, the snow started to fall with great purpose. The road was rising higher and higher through hills and winding through the countryside of woods and lochans and falls. As we traveled alongside Loch Garve, the road began to disappear under a layer of white. We slowed our progress and, looking at the evergreens frosted with snow, started to feel very, very Christmassy.

The sun trying to peek through over Loch a' Chorsig
The snowfall was heavier still as we reached the turnoff to the A832. The tops of the hills were covered in white now and from time to time, I would see the figure of a deer on the hills beside the road - a lovely doe at one point, a majestic stag at the next, with his antlers seeming far too big for his head to bear. It was only mid-afternoon, but the snowfall gave the area that ethereal feeling of an indeterminate time of day. As we approached the roundabout at Achnasheen the blizzard seemed to lift a little. As we headed down Glen Docherty, we glimpsed the sun trying to appear through the clouds over the hills bordering Loch a’ Chrosig.

Loch Maree and Slioch
The pass required slow and steady driving, with the snow beginning to lift as we reached Kinlochewe and the shores of Loch Maree.  Such glorious landscapes. Loch Maree is the last freshwater loch in Scotland unaffected by any industry, farm fishing, forestry, etc.  It was the home of the 7th century Irish monk, St Maelrubha, who came to “Christianise” the area. His monastery was at Applecross, some 40 or so miles away, but as Loch Maree was a centre of paganism, he felt his direction was clear. Loch Maree, therefore, has great significance for both Christians and pagans.  St Maelrubha’s followers would come see him at the small island on the loch that became his home and where you can still see the ruins of his cell. Those who were sick would immerse themselves in the water three times in hopes of being cured of their maladies. It was no wonder, looking at the loch and the hills beyond – notably Slioch, which means “spear” and rises at the other side of the loch – why this had been, and still is, a sacred and spiritual site. We loved it so very much – with the snow falling softly and no sign of anyone in the area, it was a place that felt peaceful and very spiritual indeed. The bare trees, with gnarled branches reaching upward, seemed to become living spirits in this place. I believe they are and need only be in a place like this to feel their presence.  John Whittier, the poet, must have felt this as well, as after a visit to the Loch, he wrote, “And whoso bathes therein his brow/With care or madness burning/Feels once again his healthful thought/And sense of peace returning.”

We continued along Loch Maree until we reached more wooded areas and then found ourselves once more beside a loch – Loch Bad an Sgalaid. Behind it we saw the high hills, covered with snow and appearing as Christmas pudding iced with sugar. Our travels took us north now, as we traveled along the River Kerry and the great gorge through which the river travels. We looked ahead to find ourselves now traveling along the sea with the hills of Skye’s most northern tip visible across the water. The snow-covered hills of Torridon were behind us and we were left speechless by the natural beauty around us.

We followed the directions to our B&B, a modern eco-house run by a charming couple – Isabell and Graeme. The house was amazing – so similar to the “dream house” I have had in my mind for probably 20 years. We were so warmly welcomed. We drove back to the village for dinner and, after dinner, as we drove back, we had to stop for the cattle that suddenly appeared in the middle of the narrow road – the biggest among them had a horn span that must have been nearly three feet. We are used to seeing sheep in the road at any given time of day, but this was a first. Needless to say, for the remainder of the drive we were very vigilant.

Our evening concluded by joining Isabell and Graeme and chatting until nearly midnight before going off to our room to sleep until 7am. Up to shower, dress and have a delicious breakfast before heading to the community hall for the Christmas fair. What a wonderful time we had! We recognised one couple from other fairs we have attended and will attend with them once more this coming Saturday at Inverness. We are enjoying this artisan’s life. Our neighbouring table was occupied by a wonderful lady called Lizzii who became a dear friend by the fair’s end. We will see her again in the spring when the fairs recommence as we hope to attend twice a month.

The fair was a successful one, but so much more valuable than my takings were the experience, the new friends and the sense of wonder we felt in such a beautiful place. We look so forward to returning in March.

Snow-covered hills beyond Loch Bad an Sgalaid
Our trip back home on Saturday afternoon was as magical. Snow had fallen overnight, making the hills look even lovelier. We stopped along the way to enjoy the scenery - although the temperature was often below freezing, it still was worth a short delay in our trip home. The deer were plentiful - lovely does in heavy winter coats, their breath visible in the cold air. Where water had gathered in low-lying areas, frozen ponds appeared and I felt all that was missing from the scene were children with their ice skates, bundled up against the cold. We saw a man on the side of the road cutting down his perfect and natural Christmas tree, possibly as had his ancestors for generations. On the long stretch of road between Achnasheen and Garve the few deer we had spotted on our way up seemed to have multiplied many times over. The snow made the deer, in their dark coats, stand out even more and there were possibly three or four separate herds grazing in the fields. The snow was falling once again as we approached Milton, arriving home to find the snow deeper than when we had left, but we were so filled with joy from our time in Gairloch, it did nothing but add to our feeling of great happiness.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Winter Wonderland

Sunrise Monday morning
We've had four days of intermittent snow now, and I don't mind. We have plenty of tinned goods to make several batches of chili and when Chris gets to the store next, we will do the same with ingredients for curry and some stews. Warm, stick to your ribs, winter comfort food (with minimal preparation).

When we ventured out on Monday, we found the scenery enchanting, as if someone had gone along with a sieve and sprinkled icing sugar on the trees and fields. The sheep (looking less white against the pure whiteness of the snow) were keeping warm in their wooly coats and the birds of prey that live in the area were seen congregating on power cables and bales of hay, puffed out and trying to keep in the warm. It will be on my to-do list for the next time we are out to get a bird feeder for the garden. I am already aware of the birds in the front garden looking for food - made doubly aware by the chattering of the cats as they peer out the front window.

Today the postman arrived with the hardback copy of Rosamunde Pilcher's book "Winter Solstice." I have read this book half a dozen times, but knew that I couldn't spend my first snowy winter in the highlands without it. It is the book equivalent of a cup of hot chocolate or a warm bowl of porridge. I look forward to opening it this evening and starting the tale of Elfrida and friends once again.

The old mill wheel

We are supposed to go to the west coast this weekend for the last of the Christmas fairs. I do hope the weather will allow us to do so. We are booked into a B&B the night before the fair and it sounds lovely. The blurb for Solas B&B reads, "Modern ecohouse by the sea in the crofting community of Big Sand by Gairloch...amazing views across Loch Gairloch to the Torridon mountains and out to Skye." Sigh. I do hope the weather behaves itself. It sounds so lovely. Solas is Scottish Gaelic for "comfort", "contentment" or "joy." Sounds good to me.

Other than sitting and looking out at the beautiful snow-covered scenery, I am, as always, working on my business. I relaunched the website (yet again) last week - new host, new design. I am thinking a great deal about how I am going to promote the business next year and where I am going to place the emphasis. I have some ideas and will have to cultivate them before I have a definitive vision, but I'm getting there.

So, from the snow-covered mill in the highlands of Scotland, beannach leibh (byon-uhchk layv), or blessings to you, until next week.