Rabbie Burns an’ a’ that

Today is poet Robert Burns’ 264th birthday and Burns suppers, with the traditional fare of haggis, champit tatties* and bashit neeps*, will be taking place this week all over Scotland and beyond. Burns was a prolific writer whose poetry ranged from railing against social injustice to sympathising with a field mouse evicted from a ploughed field, and embraced both the natural and the supernatural.

Generations of Scottish school children enjoyed (or endured) learning and reciting Burns poetry in the run up to Burns’ night. Sometimes, the challenge was simply to learn a piece of poetry in Scots, whether or not it was written by Burns. Few writers are so celebrated internationally as Burns (there are no Tennyson teas or Shakespeare suppers, after all) and Burns’ poetry is undoubtedly meaningful to, and enjoyed by, millions around the world. However, the focus on Burns overshadows other poets writing in Scots. For this reason, for many years after I had learned to recite it, I thought the short, humorous poem The Sair Finger was a Burns’ classic, when in fact it was penned by another Ayrshire-born poet, Walter Wingate.

Writing more than a century after Burns’ death, Wingate contributed poems to the Glasgow Herald among other newspapers and magazines while working as a teacher of maths in Glasgow. His work was published in anthologies but, unlike Burns, Wingate didn’t have his own book of poetry published until after his death in 1918. So here, to give Wingate his due, is The Sair Finger:

You’ve hurt your finger? Puir wee man!
Your pinkie? Deary me!
Noo, juist you haud it that wey till
I get my specs and see!

My, so it is – and there’s the skelf!
Noo, dinna greet nae mair.
See there – my needle’s gotten’t out!
I’m sure that wasna sair?

And noo, to make it hale the morn,
Put on a wee bit saw,
And tie a Bonnie hankie roun’t
Noo, there na – rin awa’!

Your finger sair ana’? Ye rogue,
You’re only lettin’ on.
Weel, weel, then – see noo, there ye are,
Row’d up the same as John!

But it wouldn’t be right to exclude Burns’ work from a post celebrating his birthday so here also is a beautiful rendition of one of his most famous love songs, A Red, Red Rose, sung by the wonderful tenor Jamie MacDougall as the soundtrack to a short film by his lovely daughter Laura MacDougall.

* Champit tatties are mashed potatoes. Bashit neeps are mashed turnips.

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Last day of the year. Here’s to 2023

Hogmanay is a great day for reflecting on the year past and the new one to come. As the first dry day for ages, it was also a welcome opportunity to get outside and stroll along to Loch Venachar through the Great Trossachs Forrest.

Low cloud, ice-fringed water and snow on the hills made for chilly, monochrome views but there was some colour in the landscape in the shape of a pair of intrepid canoeists exploring the loch from the water.

Two years ago, Scotland was in festive lockdown and the usual Hogmanay celebrations could not take place. Instead, a light show with drones and poetry marked the end of a difficult year and the hope for a new and better one for us all. While much of life has returned to normal, many of these sentiments are just as valid now, so here is another look at the wonderful Hogmanay Light Show of 2020 with words by poet and former Makar Jackie Kay, music by Niteworks and readings by some very well known voices including Siobhan Redmond and David Tennant.

Bliadhna Mhath Ùr!

Officially 4⭐!

This year has been the first full, uninterrupted season for Tigh a’ Mhaide self-catering and we are beyond chuffed to mark it by achieving four stars in the Visit Scotland quality assurance scheme. We welcomed our first guests in June 2019 but thanks to two lockdown closures, 2022 has been our first full year.

In total, we have hosted over 100 amazing families and groups of friends in the private annex of our traditional cottage and we learn something new each time, not least how to cope with a major, winter power failure (though we have Storm Arwen to thank for that rather than our lovely guests!). Since day one, we’ve wanted to offer a high-quality place to stay, the kind of place we would love if we were on holiday ourselves (some would say, living here is like being on holiday all the time 😊). We’ve worked hard, sought advice, acted on guest feedback and nicked good ideas when we’ve come across them, so achieving the validation of a 4⭐ award is very exciting. We’ll keep working to make Tigh a’ Mhaide self-catering the best it can possibly be. In the meantime… come and stay!

https://www.tam.scot

Bluebells, wild hyacinths and harebells

This is my favourite time of year; the days are getting longer and it’s already light well into the evening, there are often warm and sunny spells of weather, and our woods are carpeted with beautiful blue flowers.

Most people would call the flowers in the image above bluebells, but in Scotland they are also known as wild hyacinths because Scottish bluebells are a different flower altogether. The blue flower that appears in ancient woodland in spring is the Hyacinthoides non-scripta (below, left). The Scottish bluebell is Campanula rotundifolia which flowers in the summer and is also known as the harebell (below, right). If this leaves you feeling somewhat confused, you are not alone. A public poll conducted by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh found the ‘Scottish bluebell’ was second only to the Scots Pine as the nation’s favourite plant but sparked debate about which species of flower voters actually meant.

Large colonies of bluebells (wild hyacinths), comprising millions of bulbs, are particularly associated with ancient woodland because they take many years to become established.Traditionally, bluebell sap was used as an adhesive, in making arrows and in the book trade, while crushed bulbs were a useful source of starch for stiffening cloth. Bluebells have magical associations too. Anyone picking bluebells risked being spirited away by fairies and hearing a bluebell bell ring was said to herald a visit from a malicious fairy. Perhaps more usefully, a garland of bluebells was thought to compel the wearer to tell the truth.

Nowadays, bluebells are a protected species and the concern is more about their loss as a result of damage to woodland from development and trampling feet than their use by fairies to trap the unwary … but still, better not pick them, just in case.

Winter wonderland

January in Scotland is frequently cold, dark and dreich. Sometimes it snows, often it rains. It can be stormy too. It is the middle of winter after all, so none of this is a surprise. But when the clouds clear and the sun shines, the winter landscape is spectacular, especially on crisp, frosty days. Our local Ben Venue below, for example, looks majestic cloaked in snow rising above the blue waters of Loch Venachar.

Not convinced? Then have a look at this wonderful short video of the beautiful wintery Scottish landscape from rewilding charity Scotland: The Big Picture. (Did that mountain hare just wink?)

You can find out more about Scotland: The Big Picture online here.

More wildlife

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Much of the local wildlife is most active at night so it can be hard to spot. Occasionally, however, we are treated to daytime sightings of some usually elusive creatures. In the first video, a golden-ringed dragonfly performs its mating dance at the edge of the river near Tigh a’ Mhaide, beating its tail in the water at the river’s edge until its mate arrives.

The young pine marten below has discovered a liking for peanuts and is hogging the bird table outside the kitchen window to get its (more than) fair share. Pine martens are often nocturnal visitors to this window ledge but it is unusual to see one in broad daylight like this.

Header image credit: cazalegg on Visualhunt

Burns summer (not supper)

Today (July 21st) is the anniversary of Robert Burns’ death. Usually we celebrate his birthday on January 25 with Burns suppers the world over, but it seems a pity to only consider his poetry once a year. To mark the passing of Scotland’s national bard in 1796 at the age of just 37, here is a poem of his that you might not hear at a Burns supper. Burns penned songs and poems on many subjects, some rather unexpected. This one, to a mouse he found in one of his fields while ploughing, is no exception. Despite being written more than 230 years ago, some of the poem’s sentiments seem entirely in keeping with modern environmental concerns.

Photo credit: cazalegg on Visualhunt.com
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Boathouses at Loch Ard

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Loch Ard is one of the 22 lochs in the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park. A few kilometers west of Aberfoyle, Loch Ard is about 20 minute drive from Tigh a’ Mhaide and is a good choice for walking or cycling with some 16 miles of trails to explore and plenty of wildlife to spot. But one thing that sets Loch Ard apart from others in the area is its abundance of boathouses. Here’s a brief tour of just a few at the eastern end of the loch.

These two boathouses face each other across the water just before the River Forth flows out of the loch towards Aberfoyle.
This jetty and the boathouse opposite are popular subjects for local and visiting photographers.
Keeping the boat secure.
Moving west along the loch shore, this collection of boathouses nestles in a sheltered bay close to the road through the Pass of Aberfoyle.
Some of the boathouses have seen better days.
The final boathouse on our tour is tucked away under the trees at a point where the land descends steeply to the waterline.

The delights of Loch Ard are many and varied, from sculpture trails to water sports. But for us, the boathouses are one of its finest attractions.

Brig o’ Turk tearoom re-opens

In what must be one of the most eagerly anticipated events in Brig o’ Turk in recent years, the village tearoom re-opens today. Just a short walk from Tigh a’ Mhaide, the Brig o’ Turk tearoom is celebrated far beyond the village after it was used as a location in the making of the 1959 film The 39 Steps starring Kenneth Moore.

The Brig o’ Turk tearoom ready to re-open

The tearoom has been a welcome refreshment stop for visitors and a popular lunch/dinner venue for locals for many years but closed in 2017 when the couple who had been running it successfully for several years moved to take on a larger restaurant in nearby Callander. Now, after an extensive refurbishment and refit, the tearoom begins a phased re-opening today (Friday April 30). Initially offering take-away coffee/tea and cake with pizza in the evenings at the weekend, the tearoom’s new owners, Kay and James Hill, plan to expand their menu and graduate to indoor serving over the summer months.

Having tasted two of the tearoom’s new pizza options (goat’s cheese with caramelised onion and vegetarian chorizo), we can safely say the pizza is delicious. The garlic and cheese flatbread was an unexpected, and also delicious, bonus to our tasting task.

For opening times and the latest information, check the board at the door or see the tearoom’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/BrigOTurkTearoom. Initially open Friday to Sunday for take-away between 10.30am and 4pm for cakes and coffee/teas, with pizzas available to pre-order between 6pm and 9pm, the tearoom is also dog-friendly with a charging point for e-bikes. Please visit!