I am determined to try cooking Cullen Skink with REAL smoked haddock, (not the flabby bright-orange version we find in so many western supermarkets…!) when I visit my roots in Scotland.
I have found a recipe by Jamie Oliver which adds something interesting…mussels!
Yum…. must try that…
but first, back to the beginning!….
After the heartwarming presentation of the Prince William Award for Conservation in Africa to Clive last month in London, we have proudly taken the trophy on a safari around the lowveld areas that we are honoured to call home…Senuko Ranch in the Save Valley Conservancy, Gonarezhou National Park, Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge.
Now we again head to London, for the Tusk Trust Conservation Talk at the Royal Geographic Society….and to attend the World Travel Market…
Clive talks with PASSION and APLOMB, to an audience of over 500, at the Royal Geographic society…what a sense of auguste history within those walls…
I am so proud of Clive, and the sacrifices he cheerfully and constantly makes, for the sake of the bigger picture of Conservation in our communities and wilderness areas…
Tusk Trust kindly displays my artwork, to raise funds for their admirable rhino and elephant conservation efforts in Zimbabwe and the whole of Africa…http://www.tusk.org/
New friends are made, old friends re-established, at the reception after the Tusk Talk, and a fabulous dinner is enhanced by Painted Wolf Wines generously supplied by Jeremy Borg… www.paintedwolfwines.com/
Yet again the wonderful Draycott Hotel hosts us in London…and we are accompanied by a Gogo Olive knitted rhino, who is destined to be given to a special little girl….
After the exciting Tusk Trust Conservation lecture, we have taken a few days off to explore my roots in Scotland…
Arrive by plane into Edinburgh, running before the huge storm due to hit the South Coast of England by Monday, and are kindly met at midnight by Bruce and Colin Allen!
Colin is an artist, living in London …
We take a dark, fast car ride over the Forth River, the Victorian railway bridge glowing majestically alongside our more modern bridge.
Arriving at their house in Crieff, we are greeted by Paddy, sister to darling Mo who lives near us in the Lowveld of Zimbabwe, and now have woken to a bright sun shining in our east facing window.
Oatmeal porridge, a cup of tea, admire Paddy’s garden and view in the sunlight!
Holly berries attract a myriad birds to her garden……
Off for a walk down the High Street, to 7 Burrell Square, birthplace of my Grandfather, Thomas Harold Barrie, 24 June 1904..his father being Arthur Penman Barrie, a dentist by profession, born 1875 in Dundee.
Clive, with his true lowveld blood, looks cold, but walks with me for the sake of history!
The facade of 7 Burrell…
7 Burrell, seen from the other side……
The original slate roof tiles still top the building behind the house…were these a shed, or stables?
If only the walls of this house could talk…..I would listen so intently!
Fascinating cellar under the forecourt of 7 Burrell……
Fettykil House was where Thomas Harold Barrie also lived, with his Aunt Liz.
and just down the road from Fettykil House, is Morrison’s Academy, where he went to school, from which he took plenty of time off for walking all the rivers in the area and fishing for trout! I suspect he played truant from school a great deal…..loving the wild as he did.
Through a garden gate…….exquisite form and Autumn colour are everywhere…
We walk with Paddy and her other sister Leonie along the River Earn and through Lady Mary’s Walk, which apparently was a favourite of Lady Mary Murray, whose father, Sir Patrick Murray of Ochtertyre named it for her and opened it to the people of Crieff in 1825. The walk is an avenue of mature oak (Quercus robur), beautiful autumn-yellow beech (Fagus sylvatica), lime (Tilia vulgaris) and sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa) trees alongside the fast flowing river. Ducks are paddling madly against the strong current but failing to make headway. They give up and fly upstream instead….
I am enthralled by the egg-yolk yellow colours of the Beech trees
I buy real smoked haddock from the Crieff Fish Shop- sweet smelling, no artificial colouring, bouncy flesh…lovely piece of fish! Now I get busy and cook Cullen Skink, embracing my love of smoked fish! It is a hit! We all have second helpings
In Comrie we watch a fly fisherman peacefully casting for that elusive big one….
In Comrie, clever Paddy has found the House of Tartan, wonderful lads who have stocks of my family tartans!
Dad’s family tree:
My great grandfather was a dentist, Arthur Penman Barrie, and this is his tartan….
Both the Mackenzie and Penman tartans are available at The House of Tartan in Comrie!
Have bought great scarves and tartan beanies, in our family tartans.
My mum Daisy Ormonda Cox, wore the Mackenzie Tartan with pride…
our drives through the country side reveal vistas of stone walls, a ‘Wuthering Height’s dead tree…my Dad walked here years ago when he came to his father’s birthplace….
We are on the great divide, between the Scottish lowlands and the true Highlands, poetic country. entrancing vistas…..
A visit to Martin and Jenny at their farm is an idyllic way to spend an hour…see a pair of Red Kites interacting gracefully on the slopes of the farm, where we find the family gathered around their patriarch, Martin…they have just placed a monumental stone on a high point in their field, for future christenings, marriages, events…..
A farm to admire……………
The farmhouse is a pretty place, functional and hard working….
We go in, meet gorgeous Jenny, drink good coffee, share Scottish and African stories, share good friends….
Martin and Clive share conservation ideas and we discover that many landowners are embracing the government subsidy which encourages logging out of existing exotic pine trees and re planting of indigenous birch and scots pine…
As we drive away, we discover stands of newly planted Birch, standing stiffly in strong plastic sleeves to protect them against the marauding Red Deer!. So encouraging….
Still searching for more family history, I am given a suggestion by the kind owner of the local sweetshop in Crieff, (famous for its sugar mice!)
I then meet Colin Mayle at the Crieff post office, who is a lecturer in genealogy at Perth University….he is taken on board to assist in further investigations into our roots! Funnily enough, some of his own family live in the house next to 7 Burrell!
Paddy gives me a very special gift for Dad, her painting of the Cherry tree in Burrell Square, painted last spring, in full and glorious bloom…the exact old tree that Grampie Barrie would have looked out on from his windows at 7 Burrell Square…
Paddy has a meadow behind her Church in Crieff where they are establishing indigenous wild flowers…part of an awareness initiative set up by Prince Charles to try to re-establish wild flowers over Scotland….
Today was a fascinating drive around the Loch Earn, the surrounding hills patched with sunlight falling golden on the beeches…
We are thrilled with spotting a Dipper along the way, a tiny bird with powerful legs who kept plunging to the icy depths to walk along underwater hunting for molluscs !
Strathearn is the flat bottomed valley that we drive through, the namesake of the old cattle ranch in Matabeleland that my own father grew up on….memories abound around every corner of this special place…
Lunch is a welcome stop in a place of character, Mohr 84….delicious leek and potato soup with venison sandwich for Clive…
we do not indulge in a drink at the Rob Roy bar since we are driving!…
Visit an ancient Church where the grave of Rob Roy, a MacGregor, is sited,
I am entranced by a magnificent tumbling fall of water nestled in dark grey rocks and glowing under the almost edible yellow light (Paddy’s words!) of the embracing Beeches.
Paddy feels that this would be a beautiful spot for a christening. She is so right……
A train ride from Perth to Inverness through the Cairngorms, Blair Atholl, Aviemore, (gorgeous Victorian Station), to the delightful town of Inverness. As birch-clothed hillsides flash past,
I realise that I have forgotten the Arbroath Smokies that I bought at the Crieff fish shop, grrrr…was looking forward to my first taste of those famous fish!
The Arbroath Smokie is one of the few foods that has been awarded PGI status… Protected Geographical Indication… such as Parma Ham and Champagne. Arbroath Smokies originated in the tiny village of Authmithie where the Scandinavian influence of its old inhabitants brought about this delightful delicacy……
We are met by Gordon Burnie, guide for Wilderness Scotland and passionate about the Scottish Highlands in every sense.
At Inverness we see red kites and buzzards and there are often bottle nose dolphins on Murray Firth…but not today.
On the road, near Beulie, we double back in excitement to park and view Whooper Swans in a pasture….and then are stunned by the realization that, behind the swans, dropping from the sky in swathes of grey and silvery white undersides, are arriving multitudes, platoons, squadrons, of Pink footed geese.
The geese love farm pastures, and as they land immediately begin feeding voraciously. Armies of geese still to land stretch high as far as the eye can see…escapees from the now-frozen winter lakes of Iceland.
Whooper swans are special to see on pasture land, more normally seen in lochs and on water…
They are magnificent birds, at risk from power lines and lead pellet poisoning…
Two very similar breeds of swan make the Highlands their home during the colder months – the Whooper from Iceland, and the Bewick’s from Siberia. Both are similar in appearance, but the Whooper is the larger of the two by a good ten inches. Both are snowy white with a yellow and black bill.
Stopping at Rogie Falls, (a salmon spot but no salmon leaping today) we photograph gorgeous red Rowan berries against the tumbling, peat coloured water.
Rowans have a faerie reputation from my memories of Scottish fairy tales, and Gordon tells us they were traditionally planted outside homes to ward off witches…
Pit stop at a snack joint for fish cakes and hot chocolate and meet a young lad hauling a huge lorry load of tubs to collect a consignment of farmed salmon.
He stands in his shirtsleeves, rosy cheeked and oblivious to the biting chill of the wind.
Two lads arrive with two dogs and a sheep in a trailer….they invite us to follow them and we watch their three border collies working a large herd of sheep, fascinating interaction between man, dogs and sheep….one collie being a daughter of the British Champion!
3 thousand sheep they own, steep steep hills, hard work!
Ons ewe sadly lying in the grass, weak jaw so struggling to eat…she would be collected and overwintered inside….
On we drive through Ullapool, spectacular harbor town on Loch Broom, a sea loch.
We get our first taste of the special light that bathes the Highland waters of Scotland…a window opens above Ullapool…..
To Achiltibuie, seeing a Stag with his harem sitting on the side of a hill. Red deer move to lower ground for the colder months so are much more visible, with autumn the best time to see them. Most active in cold weather, they love the rain and wallowing in mud! There’s a population of about 300,000 living in Scotland.
Base up at Williams Cottage, a delightful house with views across the summer isles.
Mr Kumba, the knitted warthog, is given to young Harris, grandson of Gordon and son of Neil and his wife Clair who wait for us at the cottage. Dinner is baked Salmon…good company, and a wee dram…..
Early morning drive along the coast reveals sunlit vistas of the Summer Isles and Torridon Mountains. Shafts of light in the majestic landscape rival a Rembrandt painting…
Everywhere are the remains of black houses, old crofters dwellings, long deserted, which were so called because of the black stain left on the stone walls from burning peat fires.
Three types of heather, tussocks of grass and intricate mosses decorate the turf between dozens of rushing rivulets. Every rock is adorned with a multicolored festivity of lichens..never have I seen lichens as gay and prolific as this!
Some old beached anchors and the broad beams of disintegrating Salmon fishing boats catch my eye, and catch the attention of Gordon’s camera!…the stories those anchors could tell…
A modern Eco friendly house is roofed with turf, comfortable in the landscape.
A rabbit carcass on the road attracts two Buzzards and Hooded Crows, wheeling away on the wind at our approach.
Afternoon finds us exploring rock pools for barnacles, mussels, and various seaweeds, sun alternating with rain.
We shelter behind a Torridonian Sandstone outcrop as stinging hail rains down around us, watching the slate green waves of the outgoing tide as a pair of Great Northern Divers, in transition Summer/Winter plumage, ignore the rude weather and go about their business of diving for small fish such as herring, haddock and sand eel, and small crustaceans.
The hail bounces away and shafts of sunlight vie with the rain to make a ‘Monkey’s Wedding’!
The added bonus of a Grey seal is thrown in , as she makes her way towards us, plunging along the edge of the rocks and coming close to eye us with great curiosity!
Scotland accounts for 40% of the worlds grey seal population and in autumn they land with their fur coated pups on the islands off the west coast of Scotland.
Sea otters abound here…just not today.
Shags and Eider Ducks rock on the low swells before they become white froth.
Oystercatchers in black and white dinner jackets, prod the sand with red bills where the incoming waves spread out into sheets of thin silver.
A Gannet rides the wind effortlessly above us.
Later we drive past a salt flat, where sheep graze…
So many Lochs and Lochans abound…water water everywhere, dripping off the edges of peat layers, rivulets running through Gorse and heather, tumbling over rocks into sparkling waterfalls. The higher waterfalls cascade down from tumbled peaks, reminding me of the waterfall that John Doone climbed in search of eels for his mother, finding his way to a high hidden valley where he met the fair and fateful Lorna ….
Two ravens croak and confer on a grassy knoll, then indignantly take off as we approach.
Grey heron stands sentinel in a grassy pool.
Gordon is our dream guide, and we travel from the East across to the West of Scotland with him, entranced by his warm enthusiasm, and the breadth of his knowledge.
Redwings, migrated from Iceland, are busily foraging along a hedgerow. Beautiful little birds, pale eyebrows and rusty underwings, they pose obligingly for us to identify them. They fly at night during migration and sing as they go…
Dry stone walls divide the hill slopes, punctuating the foreground views in every direction, with the jagged teeth of distinctive and fondly named mountains behind.
Rust and gold bracken glows in the Scottish light that I have become entranced by, colours bouncing against the Paynes Grey skies and scudding clouds.
Bracken becomes waves of rust beneath the twisting trunks of Birch forests, interspersed by deep pillows of multi coloured mosses and fungi.
The hillsides are mostly clothed in birch (Betula pendula), gorgeous silver bark glowing, with the occasional beech (Fagus sylvatica), oak (Quercus robur), rowan (Sorbus Aucuparia) and Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) scattered throughout.
The north west coast of Scotland is spectacular. Cliffs of Torridonian limestone butt into jade coloured waves, as gannets, and seagulls soar above. Lochans abound, often with seal heads visible, and islands populated by Birch, Rowan and Elder display the glory of the indigenous vegetation, which on the mainland has been ravaged by centuries of sheep, grouse and red deer farming.
Wilderness programs are working with schools and local authorities to repopulate woodland with species such as Birch and Scottish pine.
Interesting projects are afoot in Scotland to reintroduce Beavers, and in some places such as Alladale, the likes of Paul Lister are currently re-introducing Wild boar into controlled areas, and hoping to bring wolves and bears back to their traditional grounds…
Sphagnum moss comes in glowing red tones to herald winter, as fine hail bounces off us and light snow dusts the peaks of distant mountains.
These highlands were home to a singular breed of people, tough, shoeless men who, in the days before kilts as we know them, drove their cattle down from the hills to market clothed only in yards of woven wool, wrapped about them in defense of the cold. The only shoes worn in those far off days were soft leather shoes for the cattles’ hooves, to protect them from the hard roads before getting to market!
I have handwritten stories from my grandfather, who left school and drove cattle in his own youth, telling of the hardships of managing livestock in all weathers, and he was lucky, he wore shoes!
The silver and black abstract of a birch trunk, wearing a hairstyle of long green moss, is a joy….
Bell heather glows, a miniature work of art…
and Gordon is passionate about catching the beauty of the tiny blooms in his lens…
One of our car journeys takes us to small fishing villages, lobster boats drawn up at low tide and away from the rough seas.
Last day in Achiltibuie, after a fulfilling trip around the spectacular coast line, we are graced by a stonechat who perches on a wire fence in the deepening dusk as Hebridean Black sheep lift their heads from grazing and roll their eerie, pale eyes at us. Gordon hunts them to get a last photograph ….
A farewell to the day as the sky lights up cumulus clouds above a loch on our way homeward to Williams Cottage…
Last night in Williams Cottage is Lemon sole, coated in Gordon’s special oatmeal batter and pan fried to perfection…
Then on to Bath by train from Inverness…a train trip from way north to way south! Long but interesting.
Rescued from the railway station by Steve Butterworth, and taken back to the lovely Bath Sandstone home he shares with his wife Kate and their two adorable children Cesca and Will. A Sunday morning walk around the pretty town centre reveals a little music shop, where I find the pink and blue ukuleles that are an even better buy than the pink glitter and purple glitter guitars that Jade and Rayne our musical grandbabies, requested from me! These are beautiful little instruments, song book to go with, and all I need to do is add glitter…..!
Clive presents a talk to the High School in Bath, a stunning school with historically rich buildings, as so many buildings in this gorgeous city are, then back to London for World Travel Market, and further presentations, interspersed by fabulous dinners with Ian Poynton, and young Ben who is set to volunteer himself at Chilo Gorge Lodge in the New Year…
Meet Rob Reid to travel to the New Forest, where Lapwings, sunshine and both ends of a rainbow enhance our afternoon walk! We spend a day with the Reid family, Rob, Amy, Annabel and Toby, in that delightful area. Visiting a nature centre, I am, (predictably!), fascinated by the Grey Wolves, tussling over a carcass in their well appointed enclosure. Originally resident in this forest, these magnificent animals were exterminated by Henry the Eighth, since they competed with him in his hunting space…..story sound familiar?!
Eat a pub lunch, drink Somerset Cider, and walk the salt marshes to spot multitudes of ducks, gulls, geese, herons and turnstones. Delightful curry dinner created by Amy.
Last presentation to Expert Africa clients on Sunday, at Evetham House, on our way from the New Forest to Gatwick Airport. End of a long but satisfying trip…….