Leaving Loch Carron, we relocated to Millside Cottage in Blair Atholl, a supremely comfortable cottage in a pleasant village. We stayed here last year and were initially disappointed that it wasn’t more remote, but its many charms won us over – being next to a small train station provides a kind of evocative rhythm; the village is friendly and offers all amenities; the showers have demigod-power levels and tree-covered hills fill our field of vision.
On the way, we visited the Highland Folk Museum, a well-run outdoor history museum, though Jennie’s praising comment that they could ‘take the Sussex Weald and Downland Museum in a fight’ went over the head of the ticket lady (unless her poker face hid a guilty secret, and the WADM lies in smoking ruins even as we speak.)
Along the way I acquired another paper box of poetry: Soirbheas/Fair Wind by Meg Bateman, a gaelic collection with English translations – more troubling beauty. Then a brief stop at the House of Bruar, a sort of Highland Harrods, unexpected after mile the desolate beauty of the long drive through Glen Garry: plenty of luxury tea and artisan fudge, precisely calibrated (smoked/organic/wild etc) morsels for inconceivably discerning pallets.
Settled in to the idyllic Millside.
One day I walked up the back of the house, onto the ridge that overlooks the village, thinking: I’m not used to continuous pleasure. Perhaps I should find a chemist – plead that I’m an anhedonic who has lost his prescription – get a modest supply of misery capsules. However hauling myself up a steep hill, panting and faint, looking back at Blair castle gleaming white in the rain-cleaned air, brought me back to steady-state, with just enough hardship to allow some joy.
Later I explored Blair Atholl’s two bars, preferring the hotel serving Moulin’s four local ales (food miles x6), with its ‘local’s entrance’, friendly staff and dark privacy.
The next day, I got my wish for a dosage o’ misery, in the form of the onset of some kind of virus (cold/sickness). This kept us indoors but enabled me to finish a few books I had started With fuel shortages a distinct possibility, we’ve planned to use the nearby station to good effect, by making day trips on the train…
In one of the books I finished (Pattern Recognition by William Gibson), the American protagonist experiences London as a ‘mirror world’, superficially similar to home but with an accumulation of tiny differences (three-pin plugs, triangular sandwich boxes etc.) reminding her that no, it’s a different place. Scotland has some of this quality for me, except that the differences are mainly that things are better. For instance, the unattended station in Blair Atholl is immaculate, well-decorated and has a small waiting room. The train was on time, clean, modern and had sufficient carriages. The dismal equivalents in England, on the other hand, don’t bear thinking about.
We went to Perth, where I stumbled along feeling like a 90-year old (through the lens of my man-flu.) The ‘Scottish colourist’ works in the J.D.Fergusson Gallery cut through the fug – decades-old moments alive in the rhythm of pigment.
Getting back, we had tea in the watermill beside which our Millside Cottage is built – still a mill as it has been for centuries, now grinding coffee and tourism alongside bread and oats.
A trip to the next town of Pitlochry, which has become a bit of an enormous tourist shop, but with some good places like the whisky shop which introduced us to a useful spectrum of flavours. The dam and fish ladder are impressive, looking like a film set for a thriller of some kind
(perhaps a Bond story with a villain planning to interfere with the migration patterns of salmon.) We ate at the Old Armoury (which was great) and saw an energetic production of She Stoops to Conquer at the industrious and well-run Pitlochry Festival Theatre. I had never seen this bawdy comedy, even though the expression ‘You would be for running away by night, without knowing one inch of the way’ is part of Jennie’s regular vocabulary.
We finally made it to Edinburgh on Friday (having planned to go on Monday.) The train journey started and ended mere yards from our doorstep, and had spectacular moments including crossing the Firth of Forth. We descended on Transreal Fiction in the spirit of fur trappers encountering civilisation at a once-a-year rendezvous, acquiring a bucketload of SF books, and meeting a famous tapir (pictured, foreground.)
And that was just about it. Leaving the cottage was painful, though learning its history from the next-door neighbour who talked to us as we loaded up (it was originally two railway cottages, built in 1900, and his wife was born in one of them) was oddly comforting. On the way back we stopped at Doune Castle
and Dunblane Cathedral.
Our last moments in Scotland, Europe’s last civilised country, were spent in Primo Coffee at Gretna Green services, watching rain fall outside orange walls and planning next year’s return trip.