“Spring to the north has aye come slow”

The week after Easter I headed north again, up that A9.  And then, beyond.  I’m more and more convinced that this is the best time of year to visit, with snow still on the hill tops, the wild flowers starting to show, the absence of midgies, the brighter and lengthening days with the promise of summer to come.

On one of the days with a better forecast, I went west to Inverewe Gardens with RMF.  We stopped for a break at the Garve Hotel as I was in need of coffee and a toilet. With no other cars in the carpark, at first I was sure they were closed; luckily I was seen shoving ineptly at the front door and was ushered inside by a guy who was coming out to do some building or gardening work.  Going inside was like stepping back in time.

A somewhat surprised receptionist took our order for tea and coffee and a few minutes later, another couple of folk arrived looking for beer and sandwiches.  I was fearing the worst with regards to the coffee, imagining another spoonful from a giant catering jar but when it came, it was Brodie’s and absolutely fine.  When she put our cups down, she laughed and told us that usually they didn’t see anybody till after 5 so I was doubly impressed as I had the idea she was the only worker on duty.

An advertised Erythronium Festival had enticed me to go back to Inverewe but unfortunately with the snow and cold weather, they were weeks behind and in most cases where they had put up signs with the names of the different varieties, there were only leaves to be seen.  However, there were some buds and even a few which had come out.  The daffodils and wood anemones were in bloom, and so were many of the rhododendrons but the walled garden was still kind of bare looking.

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They’ve opened up Osgood Mackenzie’s house since I was there last, or at least the downstairs rooms.  It was well worth seeing, most rooms set up as if folk were still living there, magazines from the 1930s lying about and a telephone ringing occasionally in the hall.  There was a good interactive display in the kitchen and RMF took some of the  wildflower seeds which were available in return for a small donation.  The toilets in the house (for visitors to use) are of a very high standard with fab soap in the female one.

We’d turned down the offer of snaisters at the Garve Hotel, so by 1.30 we were both hungry and headed out through the carpark to the restaurant.  There was a large board telling us that they’d finished selling hot meals for the day but there was soup available and we both had the roast chicken. After I’d pointed out to the guy on the till that 1.30 seemed a bit soon for the serving of hot lunches to be over, he said they hadn’t started doing them yet this season so that board must have been up from the final serving day at the end of last summer.  I quite enjoy quirky things like that: we musn’t let the tourists have it all their own way.  Anyway, their roast chicken soup was sublime; the building was light and airy, clean and nicely decorated.

On our way back into the gardens, I noticed for the first time the machine on the wall for parking tickets.  I thought that was a bit much, given you had to pay to get into the gardens.  Not wanting a fine – though would there have been a warden within a 100-mile radius? – I duly bought a ticket but I still think it’s a bit mean of them.

I like a round trip so having come by Loch Maree, we went home via Ullapool and RMF spotted Jeremy Clarkson and his cavalcade heading east alomg the road by Loch Broom.  Wonder what he’ll have to say about our northern landscape but as I don’t have Amazon Prime (is that the one?), I may never find out.

On another day, I was back in Dornoch and stocked up on chocolate bars in Cocoa Mountain as presents for the bairns.  I have to say their flat white was a tait lukewarm  but  I drank it down quickly.

I had another just a wee while later in the Carnegie Courthouse upstairs restaurant, much hotter this time though their cup was a bit on the toatie side.  (Maybe the loon is right and I never stop complaining, though, in my defence I’ll say that I voiced neither of these criticisms.)  For lunch, I had quiche, salad, pink homemade coleslaw and spiced chips – all very good.  When I ordered a drink, I WAS ASKED IF I WANTED ICE; that was a big plus point for them in my book and of course, I said no, and no straw either for good measure.  They were very busy so I had time for a good look at the decor: there’s a mural of local worthies + Madonna, black and white framed photos of various Carnegie-related buildings.  I like that blue-green colour of the paintwork and in their (unisex) toilet, they’d kept the long straight single copper tap and the wood panelling.

In the very fine Dornoch Bookshop, I got a copy of Catriona Black’s “Sly Cooking”.  ( See: Return to Turadh )  You can find out more about her Gaelic words at http://www.slycooking.com.

I went for a look round the Dornoch Stores which has replaced the old Spar shop in the front street.  It’s all upmarket stuff and very pricey.  I spotted a shelf of “Spey Valley” beers and couldn’t restrain myself from complaining – out loud this time.  Why is this replacing Strathspey?  If it continues in usage, the old name will be gone in a couple of generations.  The shop proprietor defended the name on the grounds that the beer was made “there”.

My other bugbear is the use of “gorse” for whin.  Arran Aromatics use it for their scented candle (on sale in the Old Jail nearby) and though I’ve brought it up with folk serving in shops, I’ve not got in touch with the company yet to ask why they don’t use whin, but I will.  Whin is of Old Norse origin, with evidence of its use in Scots from the 17th century.

By the way, I took some nice photos of whin at Loch Fleet and will shortly risk asking the loon to help me put one on here.  It’s only lovely for a very short time – but when spring does come, what a transformation and what a scent!

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2 thoughts on ““Spring to the north has aye come slow”

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