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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Our most common visitors are roe deer. Along with red deer, these are native to Scotland and are a common sight.
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.
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.
Gaelic was a native spoken language in The Trossachs until at least the 1950s and is still evident in the place and house names in the area. The name Tigh a’ Mhaide means ‘house of the timber’ and may have been coined because of the sections of tree trunk used to support the porch at the front of the oldest part of the house.
The familiar English names of some of the most popular places to visit in the area derive from Gaelic names which are often wonderfully descriptive of the location or feature. For example:
Ben A’an comes from the Gaelic name Am Binnein meaning the pinnacle or apex. It’s easy to see why the familiar triangular peak earned its name.
Loch Achray comes from Loch Àth a’ Chrathaidh which has the intriguing meaning of Loch of the ford of the shaking.
Ben Venue comes from A’ Bheinn Mheanbh meaning the small mountain and though it may not feel like it on the long walk to the summit, Ben Venue is a mere 729m high compared to neaby Ben Ledi at 879m, or local munro Ben Lomond at 974m.
Loch Venachar’s name is from Loch Bheannchair meaning the horn-shaped or tapering loch and a look at a map shows that it’s a good description.
Gaelic may no longer be the usual native spoken language of people living in The Trossachs, but it remains an important part of the landscape and much else in the local environment and wider culture of Scotland.
There was great excitement here last month when we were joined by four young Khaki Campbell ducks (actually, three ducks and a drake to be more precise). They have kept us entertained, and on our toes, as they have adjusted to their new life on our duck pond.
The drake quickly earned the nickname McQueen, after US actor Steve McQueen’s famous, fence-leaping, motorcycle stunt in the 1963 film The Great Escape. In our McQueen’s case, the leap was wing-assisted rather than motorbike-assisted. Happily, we persuaded him back into the enclosure in which the ducks spent their first few days here while they became accustomed to their new home.