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!

Watching the wildlife

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There is wildlife aplenty at Tigh a’ Mhaide and in the surrounding area but many of our resident or visiting creatures are shy – or nocturnal – so spotting them isn’t always easy.

Image credit: Cazalegg on Visual Hunt

However, thanks to a wildlife camera in the woods, we’ve recently been treated to images of foxes, deer and a local badger.

We’ve even caught a fleeting glimpse of a passing otter which came almost nose-to-nose with one of the foxes before retreating hastily to the river. There are an estimated 8,000 otters in Scotland, living along the coasts or beside clean rivers and lochs and although the population is flourishing, it was still a surprise to see one.

Image credit: Cazalegg on Visual Hunt
Keep an eye on the lower right quarter of the video.

Our most common visitors are roe deer. Along with red deer, these are native to Scotland and are a common sight.

And the winner is…

The holiday accommodation at Tigh a’ Mhaide has been named Scottish Newcomer of the Year, 2020 in the LUXlife Magazine 5th annual resorts and retreats awards.

It’s our first award and we’re chuffed!

In customary fashion we would love to say thank you to whoever nominated us, but we don’t know who that was so instead, we’ll just say a heartfelt thank you to all the guests who have stayed with us since we opened and to the many who have left us kind words and glowing praise in our guest comments book.

Having opened for business mid-way through the 2019 summer season and spent a significant part of the 2020 season closed because of Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions, we now dare to hope that 2021 will be our first full summer season. But regardless of when we can reopen, we will still be striving to create a holiday home for our guests that is as perfect as we can make it.

We hope to see you soon.

Details of all the LUXlife winners are here.

For Auld Lang Syne

As Scotland is in either Covid-19 Level 3 or 4 over Hogmanay and Ne’erday, celebratory shindigs will be of the online and socially distant kind instead of the more usual crowded and close-up variety. It’s traditional the world over to sing Burns’ song Auld Lang Syne at the bells (midnight) and this year, perhaps more than any other, its message of friendship and remembrance of times gone by seems appropriate. While the song is attributed to him, Burns acknowleged it was a much older song and that he was simply the first to write it down. Although it was initially set to a different melody, the combination of words and music familiar today has been used for more than 200 years.

As we reflect on an extraordinary year, here’s Dougie MacLean with his version of Burns’ famous song. We wish everyone a healthy and prosperous 2021.