Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Finishing A Walk

My last essay talked about my arrival at my sister’s home called Leckmelm three miles east of Ullapool on Loch Broom in the far northwest of Scotland. We took off on a family walk. 

We ambled a couple of gentle miles until we got to a steep slope down to East Rhidorroch Lodge shown above, in which picture you can see the ladder which we climbed over the dry stone wall, Lucy (below) carrying the dog. 

These communities are isolated, off the Internet and cellphone and television grids but they all know each other. The daughter of the home was delighted to see us as she hadn’t had much company for weeks...photographed later in Ullapool. 

These are resilient people who live outside the mainstream in a way that feels reminiscent of a tougher self sufficient life two hundred years ago. They welcomed us with hot tea and more food in the general purpose sunroom - which was comfortably warm for my weak tropical skin.

This is lambing season so that was where the talk went. Lucy only has 14 lambs to be born whereas Iona has 30 more so Lucy is winning that race. Iona and her mother entertaining us. 

My portrait photography needs work I know but I wish you could have been there. It was a dialogue from another world talking about sheep characteristics and the nature of lambs. They name their favorites then send them off to slaughter. I found that a bit weird but I chose not to be a farmer...Duncan is Lucy’s eldest at 15 and the contemplative one. A first rate bagpiper I’m told. 

Farmers talk also about Woofers. They are Willing Workers On Organic Farms to the farmers though the volunteer farm workers find positions through World Wide Opportunities On Organic Farms. They work for board and lodging and learn farming skills. Much talk then of woofing. One of Iona’s woofers was an American Mennonite first glimpsed behind a wall building something with an electric drill. I didn’t think it acceptable to take her picture but she was dressed in a bonnet and long dress and yellow boots and a big smile. All in the organic black mud of a Scottish vegetable garden. 

So I took some pictures around the house as we gathered for the next part of our non walking walk. The Scobie family enjoyed the company so much we were delayed by chatter and begged a ride to meet Scott  further up the glen (valley). 

Guest house for rent if you like true Scottish isolation and if they have an opening for you. Look up East Rhidorroch Estate, Wester Ross, Scotland. 

I could have spent all afternoon here but time was marching on. So we walked across the burn (creek) to the Land Rover which would take us to Rhidorroch Estate a few miles up the valley. First we had to cross the burn on a bridge. My wife would shit her pants on this wobbly thing: 


The car area is a walk away from the house. There is a river crossing but it can get too deep even for the Land  Rover so they keep their vehicles across the bridge in case of flash flooding. 

Iona told me a funny story about how the passenger door flew open once and her sister pushed her out. This is the eccentric branch of the Scobie family so I should not have been surprised but I noticed a steep drop off inches from the left wheel. I was riding shotgun as the honored guest so I had an excellent view of the peril from which I was separated only by an insecurely closed door. I took pictures to take my mind off it. 

I hopped out at the gates to open and close them and when I say “hopped” it was more like an ungainly leap into the void as the Defender Land Rover is a true off road tank very high off the ground.  Not a yuppy SUV it is a proper work vehicle with no concessions to the human anatomy. Window handles are out of reach by your ankles, seats are planks and doors can get sloppy over time apparently.  Iona drove casually looking back to talk to my sister, one hand on the wheel, a heavy foot on the gas and hit every pothole unfailingly for three miles. Until we saw our cab across the peat bogs.  Scotty unfailingly patient: 

A fascinating day but then we were back in Ullapool for ice cream and a chat with Johnny my sister’s neighbor on the other side of her estate and a wild man of his own style: 

Johnny Whitteridge has promised us an outing today so we shall see what my last day at Leckmelm will bring. More sunshine at least I hope. 

What a place. 

Monday, April 30, 2018

Ullapool, Wester Ross, Scotland

There was once a hotshot lawyer in London, England and he worked hard and smart and made enough money to enjoy a new hobby so he bought 7,000 acres of land in the Highlands of Scotland near the small  (pop 1500) fishing town of Ullapool. 

My father was as happy as I have ever seen him when he took me on road trips to his farming land almost at the northwest top of Scotland. We talked in the car and he told me of incidents in his long life, cycling through Nazi Germany before World War Two and visiting the Spanish Civil War. 

In the fullness of time the laywer died and his young second wife died young leaving behind their young daughter who had gone to Agricultural College but had no money or experience to run her farming enterprise. But  twenty years later she had three children a husband and a viable business. And also a brother who came to visit from America.

Which visit is an excellent excuse for a walk on the heather covered hills. So they put together a picnic and got Scotty to drive his family up the hill on a bouncy Land Rover track. 

We rode to the top of the mountain where Scott dropped us off and drove back to work.

Lucy the three kids and two dogs and myself set off for East Rhidorroch estate across the peat marshes following a rough track. 

The walk required fuel so when eight year old Brenna  suggested it was time for a picnic we found a rocky knob and sat on it. 

And there down below was our goal:

East Rhidorroch and our adventures there will come later. 

Sunday, April 29, 2018

England On Autopilot

After landing at London Gatwick Airport and going for a short ride through the countryside of my youth I have to remind myself “the past is another country; they do things differently there.”
I was born in Dorking and spent my early years in an idyllic corner of England now known formally as The Surrey Hills an area of outstanding natural beauty? Who knew? To me it was just the place I was confined, up a steep hill hard to bicycle, during vacations away from my real home - boarding school. But this piece of England south of London still is utterly beautiful even on a 40 degree (7 Canadian) overcast damp day. 
The flight on British Airways from Fort Lauderdale was wonderful. The plane was empty in the rear so I had room to spread out. The staff were professional and reserved, the food was good, the temperature of the cabin perfect, and there were more movies than I could imagine.

No need for WiFi and no need even to watch my own downloads on my phone. I was still on my night shift schedule so I didn’t sleep much but the eight hour flight was a breeze. 

We arrived a half hour early which was all to the good as I had a six hour layover and plans to rent a car for a quick drive. I pulled out my British passport and made my way to the U.K. EU line for quick processing. Normally I travel on my US passport but because both countries allow dual nationality and because I was traveling alone I entered the U.K. as a British Citizen. My wife the American would get pissed if I left her behind in the foreigners processing queue...
My first surprise was passport control. There were no immigration officers - just a line of booths.  You put your biometric passport on the screen, look at the camera without squinting or moving and after R2D2 takes your picture the gate opens and in to England you go. The bag pickup was the same. Help yourself from the carousel. Customs? No one to be seen in the nothing to declare room. No sullen suspicious glances no random baggage checks from angry customs officers. And there you are in Gatwick Airport struggling to find the car rental and completely free to cause chaos across the lovely British countryside. 
Remember in Britain they still drive the way everyone did originally before Napoleon and Hitler switched their vassal states to the right. That is you have to drive stick shift with your left hand on the gears and your steering wheel on the right side of the car. Yeah even though I grew up learning to drive like this I was glad it was 7am Sunday morning and there was no one around. Just getting out of the lot was a trick trying to remember there was four feet of car on my left and the roadway in the parking lot  was narrow. 
I only screwed up once on an expressway dawdling in the right lane pissing off a delivery driver as in England you must pass on the right unless an idiot tourist forgets he’s supposed to be on the left. And no right turns on red traffic lights. That would freak  them out. And drive real fast all the time even if the road is only as wide as your car.
The other odd thing was that all service jobs, bars gas station ($8 a US gallon) and store clerks were done by people with accents from the European Union. What jobs the native English do I couldn’t say between automation and immigration.  It was very odd. But in any event...
Welcome to England!  And now I fly to Scotland.