As the year draws sleepy here into a new, this blog now returns to its homeland, where it originated and whence it was born: Scotland. 10 years after we met, we returned in November for calm, wildness, and time with the dearest of friends.
I had arrived in London about 5 days before Walker, and took a tour de friends: meeting up with so many in London, Leeds, Edinburgh and St Andrews. I took trains each step and met Walker up in the capital of the north of Scotland: Inverness. The plan was 6 nights in the barren Highlands before half a week back in Edinburgh with our friends.
At the recommendation of our first hotel, Alladale Wilderness Reserve, we stopped at a a restaurant and shop called Storehouse for lunch. The crispy fish n ships and thick soup warmed us from the damp, and the sun setting over the water, around 3pm, was beautiful.
Our drive to Alladale was a bit rough, as the hotel had mentioned GPS could be wrong, and, forgetting, we took us down a 'road' that could in no sense of the word be described as a 'road', especially not in a 'miniature SUV' rental, which in American terms can only be described as a tiny car. To make a very long story not as long, the road deteriorated, and we had to turn back, over 90 minutes out of the way, in the dark, to get to the hotel. If not for the below logging area, we may have gotten stuck deep in the Scottish forest with no where to turn around, which this area provided.
We arrived late to Alladale, an incredible old estate now working on conservation, to discover we were the only ones staying that night; what a treat to have a whole estate to ourselves, with warm meals. We woke the next morning to stags right outside our room.
Of course, I rushed outside to capture them, only to discover they came each morning to feed right there, new guests exceited for the serendipity they imagined each morning.
A warm dinner, thick tapestry drawn, and we slept like lord and lady in our personal estate for the night. Next morning, we had booked a 4×4 tour with the gamekeeper, Ryan, to learn about the property and see parts unreachable by our very insufficient car. We drove down into the deep Glen Alladale, past a few rental properties the estate rents, and into pure wilderness.
The aim of the owner of the estate is to 'rewild' the highlands; this basically entails growing native species, including Scottish Pines, back by controlling the deer populations, and perhaps, someday, re-introducing natural predators. We learned that since the predators of deer (wolves) disappeared hundreds of years ago, the landscape of the highlands has lost a vast quantity of pines by being over-eaten.
While it is stunning, it is not all that healthy, we learned.
Speaking of species, we walked up to these seemingly empty cage-like cupolas with Ryan, and then discovered his pet project: the wildcats he cares for.
Perhaps someday the landscape will be healthy enough for them to roam safely, but not quite yet.
We could see what care Ryan took in making sure they grow healthy and safely, and being face to face truly mesmerized us.
A bit more of a bouncy drive, over rivers, through peatlands,
And there was the golden autumn of the highlands.
As we approached, the fluffy Highland Cows streamed toward our Rover.
Ryan said they were docile but the width of their horns and their size was too similar to a buffalo to feel comfortable, and I hid in the car,
telling myself over and again: they are just cows, they are just cows.
Some friendly blokes wandered up to the van and I was whisper-yelling at Walk "get back in the car!" while Ryan calmly fed them and assured us all was fine, which is certainly was.
They very vocally yearned for some feed,
and then calmly strung out eating peacefully. Their strategies were funny as a few in the front powered their way to the first fruits, and others were happy with the remnants.
All of them were beautiful ranges of colors. Majestic.
We drove a bit more before we stopped for lunch at the Alladale-owned Deannich Lodge, which is used for group retreats. I ate my sandwich standing next to the radiator, one of the great joys of the U.K.
and we watched this view as we crunched on apples,
something out of a medieval tale, full of mystery.
Ryan whistled and the stags came down from the hills as well,
with their huge racks and magisterial stance.
By the early afternoon, the sun that is already hidden falls, and the darkness sortof casts a spell on the waters. Looks how mysterious.
Ryan took us across a very narrow and thin bridge, where we
tried to take deep breaths, and
found salmon swimming in the very finest layer of water.
I'll share more in the next post, but the integrity and perseverance for the land and its species that Alladale Wilderness Reserve displayed was so inspiring. The entire staff, from the chef Natasha to the manager, Pieter-Paul, were passionate about this place and its preservation.
The lack of cell service, the late evenings playing chess and chatting in the drawing room, and waking up to hike to this view: how could you not be?