A photo journey from Fort William to Skye…. Inverlochy Castle, the Commando Memorial & some characterful wildlife

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Warning: this is quite a long post as I didn’t want to leave too much out. My apologies if it’s a bit tedious!
(Written on Monday, the day after my ski trip to Nevis)

‘Time you enjoy wasting is not time wasted’

If you asked me what my perfect day here might be like, I might say a day something like today. A day of ambling, exploring, stopping and pausing. And maybe some cake.

I’ve just got home from a walk around the bay. It’s a still evening and the snow is reflecting the light of the full moon so that everything is illuminated in black and white. No need for a torch.

Moon face

I waded out to one of the big rocks and sat there for a while with my hipflask and music until my bum hurt from the cold. I got up and wandered along the road to warm up. It was so peaceful, if I didn’t have to be up early tomorrow to start back at the gallery I could’ve walked all night.

Sitting on the rock in the bay…

So that’s how my day is ending, I’m getting this the wrong way round… I’ll begin again…

I stayed at the SYHA Glen Nevis hostel for a second night last night. There was no way I was going to risk getting caught in a blizzard in the dark again. Now I’ve tried it, four-wheel ice skating isn’t something I particularly enjoy.

Inverlochy Castle hotel

A quick wash and dress and I was away. No wellies and scruffs this morning though, I had to pop into Inverlochy Castle Hotel to sort out a reservation.

I visited the restaurant at Inverlochy on my Scottish tour in 2013. Of all the Michelin starred places I ate at, I felt there was something extra special at this place. Apparently Queen Victoria said it was the most romantic place she’s ever visited. I can certainly see why she liked it, it is old-fashioned but also warm and charming.

Crackling fires and cosy cushions

Crackling fires and cosy cushions

Anyway, spending a night there has been on my bucket list ever since and last year my parents kindly gave me a voucher to stay for more than just one meal.

I popped in to book my weekend but I couldn’t resist ordering a cup of tea and a slice of Dundee cake whilst I was there. If only every morning could begin like this!

You know you’re somewhere special when your cake is served with three other baked goodies on the side!

It wasn’t easy to leave the crackling fire and impossibly comfy sofas but however much I tried I couldn’t justify staying all day. Not sure I could afford it much either…

Back on the road I had to put my sunglasses on, perfect white snow dazzled against the blue sky; a perfect day.

The commando memorial sign with Ben nevis in the background

Just outside of Fort William is the Commando Memorial. It’s a place I’ve passed many times but never stopped at.

The memorial sculpture by Scott Sutherland with ben nevis behind

As I pulled into the car park it struck me how beautiful the monument looked as it was silhouetted in the sun against the snow. It reminded me of the bomber crash site that I wrote about on Remembrance Day; that weird juxtaposition of sadness and prettiness all at once.

A tribute to the commandos of WWII

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Brushing the snow off the wreaths at the foot of the statue I thought how striking the red of the poppies looks against the purity of the snow. Again, a kind of sorrowful loveliness.

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There’s a little memorial garden nearby to remember those who have fallen in more recent conflicts. The remembrance plaques are low to the ground so most are covered or partly covered by snow. Little gaps revealed engraved messages or peeks of photos; smiling young men in stiff uniforms.

A plaque in the memorial garden

A number of the plaques had been adorned with rubber wristbands emblazoned with charity names like Help For Heroes or Walking With The Wounded. Wristbands similar to the ones I’ve been given by my friends in the army.

Wristbands around a cross in the memorial garden

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I suddenly found it quite overwhelming. I don’t think it was from worry about my friends; I’m not sure what it was. Maybe it’s because it felt like such a ‘relevant’ form of mourning, in which I mean it’s very current, somehow more accessible than a carved stone that could have been made yesterday or thirty years ago.
Despite the peace I couldn’t linger for too long.

The Commando Memorial at Spean Bridge

The Commando Memorial at Spean Bridge

*Just a note to any of my military friends who may be reading this (or their friends/family): If you have a connection to the memorial and want me to place a wreath, wristband, note or whatever here just let me know. It’s a meaningful place but I know it’s far away for most people. I don’t pass here often but I’m more than willing to place something for you.

The shores of Loch Cluanie

Back on the road I was soon distracted from my melancholy by the scenery. It was a landscape that doesn’t seem to suit the UK and round each corner it was slightly different. On one side it looked like the Swiss Alps, on the other it looked like Lapland as imagined in Elf.

A simplified snowscape

A simplified snowscape

Loch Cluanie

At the Cluanie Inn I slowed down to see if my old deer pas were about. Sure enough there they were, hanging out around the red telephone box and bins like a gang of misplaced teenagers.

I stopped and said hello, took some photos and let them sniff me. When a clang announced the sound of a back kitchen door opening they turned and trotted over to the back of the Inn.

Hanging around at the Cluanie Inn

That answered my question about whether they were tame because they’ve been fed scraps. I suppose it’s better than if they had lost their natural fear because they’re starving.
A brief conversation with one of the ladies at the Inn revealed that they even have names! The hinds are Florence, Flossie, Clicky and little Muddy. The young male doesn’t have a name and isn’t fed because it can cause aggression. But he’s got a lovely harem so I don’t think he’s doing too badly!

A handsome young man

Leaving Cluanie I passed through Glen Shiel. I’ve never stopped there but the brown crossed-sword signs indicate that it will be an interesting place to explore in future.

As I came to the sea lochs around Lochalsh I noticed how still the waters were. The mirrored surface reflected the hills and clouds so clearly that they looked like nature’s more detailed answer to a Rorschach test.
I parked up outside Kintail Lodge (closed for winter) and picked my way along the rocky shore. The water was so still that I could see every fragment of shell and frond of seaweed under the water. The only ripples on the surface were made by me and my boots.

The calm waters of Loch Duich

Old modules

There was a fishing boat nearby with it’s name hand-painted in fading reds and oranges like the letters on an old fairground carousel. I couldn’t get a nice picture with my phone but there was something particularly charming about this mouldy old vessel, quietly retired on this peaceful shore.

An old fishing boat

Lovely old paintwork

I skated my way along a slippery jetty and sat down on my jacket at the end. The water beneath my feet was a metre or two deep now but I could still see right down to the grains of silt on the bottom. It might be the clearest water I’ve ever seen, it almost seemed easier to look through than air.

Sitting on the dock of the bay… Popping bubbles!

I sat and watched the little grey trout darting between rocks at my feet. As I did so I fiddled with the bladder wrack seaweed I sat next to and I found that I could pop the little air pockets in the ‘leaves’ …like a natural kind of stress-busting bubble wrap. Not that there was any stress to be found in a place as calm and serene as this.
An hour or maybe two passed before I realised it was probably time to be on my way.

A place to while away the hours

I didn’t get far down the road before I noticed the horns of a large feral goat waggling around in some heather down next to the shore.
I’m not sure what it is about these creatures but I find them endlessly fascinating; it must be something about their strange, wild character.

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I turned off the main road and crept up a nearby dirt track still in the car. Because the goats tend to feed next to the roadside they seem to be much less afraid of people in cars than of humans on foot.

More appeared as I inched closer. This was the biggest group I’ve seen so far and they were much less nervy than the others I’ve come across. I got out and softly made my way towards them.

It looks calm and peaceful but there’s a great clattering of horns as they push each other out of the way to feed

If you can get close enough to them the smell of feral goats is amazing. It probably sounds incredibly weird to say it but they’ve got this satisfyingly warm, livestock-y smell (a bit like healthy cattle) but it’s so… goaty.
I suppose the only way I can describe it is to say it’s like the most expensive, well-aged French goats cheese you’ve ever tried. Those ones rolled in grey ash and licked by monks who live in caves, you know the kind. I know it sounds horrendous but somehow it’s really nice too. Just trust me on this one!

Wild looking beasties

As I got closer I noticed something small and dark nearby, on the other side of the road.
A cat maybe?

Something small and dark in the distance

No, not a cat, a tiny kid goat!
Cute can’t even describe this tiny thing. It’s was as adorable as a lamb but smaller and with more character.

The kid rejoins it’s mother on the brow of the ridge above the road

I watched them until I was joined by an ex-forestry ranger walking his dog. We discussed the pros and cons of goats, beachcombing, otters and forest fires before parting ways.

The sky was stunning as I neared Skye Bridge. Despite the fact that there are a million photos of Eilean Donan Castle out there I couldn’t resist getting one quick snap whilst it was looking so lovely (and a million isn’t an exaggeration by any means).

Eilean Donan Castle, the most photographed castle in Scotland after Edinburgh (I think it’s earned it though)

Eilean Donan Castle, the most photographed castle in Scotland after Edinburgh (I think it’s earned it though)

I always feel a barely-perceptible swelling of happiness inside my chest when I cross the bridge; a feeling of coming home. I get it even when it’s dull and drizzly so crossing on an evening like this feels extra special.

Skye Bridge and the lighthouse on Eilean Bàn

I had a couple of things to do before heading home but both had been cancelled. With the extra time to spare I treated myself to some mussels and chips in the pub before meandering home through the twilight.

The sun setting as I drive North

My wandering mood hadn’t gone by the time I reached home. I threw on some more warm clothes and grabbed a torch then set out for the shore.
Which brings us back to the start of the story 🙂

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Rosy apple cake truffles

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2nd November 2011

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Rosy apple cake truffles as a thank you gift for our cider-making hosts.

Truffles are made with chocolate chip loaf cake, dipped in coloured white chocolate, then decorated with apple stalks and mint leaves. Bottoms are trimmed with a scalpel and polished with gold lustre dust.

Experimenting with loaf cake was fine but not as smooth a texture as a chocolate sponge (slightly grittier).

I also think it’s time to invest in proper chocolate colourings since the white chocolate kept seizing. Still happy with them though.as they’re mighty pretty!

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Above: The apples/cakes all packaged up and ready for their journey to Somerset.

I can’t stop using egg boxes as packaging, they kept the cake truffles safe throughout hours on the train and they just look so lovely and rustic. Mint leaves needed replacing (as you can see here) but that was no biggie. For longer periods of time perhaps I could make coloured chocolate leaves or candy them. Hmm…

Cider pressing and a trip to the seaside!

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1st November

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A seafood platter overlooking the sea at the Harbour Inn in Lyme Regis on Sunday.

Last weekend was one of those that the British autumn was made for. 
My friend, Andrew MacDonald, invited a large group of us down to his house near Crewkerne, Somerset for the weekend to help him press his orchard apples for cider. So on Saturday, armed with wellies and waterproofs we all left the noise of London for the joys of the country. Hosted by Andy’s lovely mother (in the most beautiful home you might imagine), we were treated to two days of excellent food and drink as well as chocolate-box views and smashing company. Picking, washing, smashing, pressing and bottling the MacDonald family’s apples was followed by a Saturday night supper of cider-roasted pork stuffed with figs and Caerphilly cheese stuffing. Dessert was a ‘Maman-Blanc’ style apple and custard tart served with homemade gooseberry ice-cream. Not to mention lunch, breakfast, the veg and Bex Macdonald’s amazing blackberry jam, this weekend was a foodie heaven.
(More about the cider making later)

On the Sunday we all squeezed into the cars and drove for 30 mins to Lyme Regis. Lyme is one if my favourite places in the UK, if you can prize me away from the sea view then I’ll almost certainly be diving headfirst into one of the rock shops or the fishmongers, lost for hours and never to be found.
After much wandering and debating we ended up at the Harbour Inn, a popular but not inexpensive bar/restaurant with a seating area on the beach itself. For the prices I would expect no less, but I have not yet had a bad meal here, and this platter was no exception. Not to be fobbed off with a few defrosted prawns and some mediocre salmon, this was the most varied version I’ve had so far. You could tell that the fish was fresh and local. It included:
•Potted prawns
•Fresh mackerel pate
•Pickled seafood salad
•Rollmops
•Marinated anchovies
•Smoked salmon
•A huge mound of freshly picked crab.
Plus all the usual accompaniments, bread, salad, coleslaw etc.
The Boy had a huge bowl of mussels that were also good. Our friends mainly had fish and chips which I cannot comment on (although at twice the price of the nearby chippies I hope it was good). Washed down with a pint of local cloudy cider in the salty October sunshine, this greedy girl was in her element!

A little hindsight now has reminded me that Mark Hix has recently opened a restaurant in the Lyme area, Hix Oyster & Fish House. Given my never-ending appetite for seafood and Hix’s reputation for food provenance I would have jumped at the chance to sample the menu. Which is probably why it’s a good thing we missed it otherwise we’d all be going home with full bellies and empty, grumpy wallets! With the upmarket Rumours, the traditional fish bars and the Devon tea rooms, you really are spoilt for choice here.

 

Below: Apple pressing in Andy’s garden. Photo lovingly pinched from Miss Lizzie Gardner

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Welsh rarebit beefburgers

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23rd October 2011

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Simple Sunday supper -Welsh rarebit beefburgers.

To make, flavour beef mince with rarebit seasonings (Worcester sauce, mustard, cayenne pepper, splash of Guinness/cider etc). Mix in salt, pepper and egg. Shape into patties around a small slice or lump of good mature cheddar. Cook and serve with the whatever takes your fancy (inc the rest of the cider/Guinness)

*Apologies for the quality of the picture, my iPhone camera never recovered from it’s little swim in a pint glass!

Secretts Farm Shop

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22nd October 2011

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I was ushered into this place as we passed it today by my grandmother. What an incredible surprise (I’m trying hard not to make a bad joke about it being a Secrett gem…)!
Not only does it sell squeakily fresh farm produce, it’s also packed to the rafters (literally) with really interesting speciality produce. I can honestly say that the variety and quality easily rivals Harrods food halls and even the best supermarkets. It’s an overused phrase but this really is the epitome of foodie heaven. If you like your food and hapen to be in the area don’t pass this place by!
www.secretts.co.uk
 
 
A few more additional points:
1. The Boy and I often bemoan the fact that you can’t buy anything from a farm shop for under £3. This place bucks the trend and is remarkably cheap in comparison to Windsor Farm Shop/Newlyns.

2. I managed to buy 3 different sizes of silver balls from their pick n’mix cake decorating section. Even in Squire’s Kitchen I only found two sizes.

3. It’s also worth checking out the PYO, the veg boxes for delivery and the tea rooms. There’s also been a garden centre/farm on the site for over 100 years. It’s great to see a traditional family business diversifying to keep up with the modern market.

 

Chinese steamboat -super social eating

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22nd October 2011

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A Chinese steamboat (or hot pot), courtesy of my fab friend Michelle Daley’s lovely mother, Janet.

A steamboat is a sort of Asian fondue-stew, with similar ingredients to a Japanese ramen. It’s a fantastically social meal where meats, vegetables, fish, dumplings and noodles are all simmered in a communal pot of stock on the table. The various bits are fished out and eaten with or before the broth they’ve been cooked in, often with some yummy dipping sauces.

This was my first steamboat and I was crazily eager to try it. I was not disappointed. Healthy, delicious and super-social, it was great fun. Thanks Janet!