Officially 4ā­!

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 šŸ˜Š). 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 4ā­ 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

Video

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 Burnsā€™ 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 Scotlandā€™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 poemā€™s sentiments seem entirely in keeping with modern environmental concerns.

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

Image

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.

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 freedom alone…

“It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.”

Declaration of Arbroath, April 6, 1320

These are the most famous lines from one of Scotlandā€™s best-known historical documents, The Declaration of Arbroath.

Written 700 years ago and dated April 6, 1320, the Declaration of Arbroath was one of three letters sent to Pope John XXII in Avignon as part of diplomatic correspondence during the Scottish Wars of Independence. Coming after King Robert the Bruceā€™s victory against Edward II of England at Bannockburn, the letter was part of King Robertā€™s efforts to gain recognition from the Pope of his right to rule and of Scotlandā€™s independence. After 1314, King Robert was widely recognised internationally as Scotlandā€™s lawful ruler, but not by England or the papacy.

Image credit: Scottish Government on Visualhunt CC BY-NC

The Declaration is the only one of the three letters to survive. The document carried the seals of eight earls and some 40 barons but was instigated by the king. Its author is unknown but it may have been written under the supervision of the kingā€™s chancellor Bernard de Linton, Abbot of Arbroath. While its historical importance has been much debated, the ideas it conveys of the sovereignty of the people and an enduring commitment to the nationā€™s self-determination have captured modern imaginations.

“But… we have been set freeā€¦ by our most tireless prince, king and lord, the lord Robert. He, thatā€¦ divine providenceā€¦ and the due consent and assent of us all have made our prince and king.”

“Yet if he should give up what he has begun, seeking to make us or our kingdom subject to the King of England or the English, we should exert ourselves at once to drive him out as our enemy and a subverter of his own right and ours, and make some other man who was well able to defend us our King; for, as long as a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be subjected to the lordship of the English.”

Declaration of Arbroath, April 6, 1320

The letter is the first known expression by a national government in Europe of the idea that a monarch, who fails to keep his (or her) end of the constitutional bargain, could be replaced by the people. This idea of a contract between monarch and people seems surprising at a time when most believed in the ā€˜divine right of kingsā€™, but there was already something of a precedent in Scotland. King Robertā€™s predecessor, King John (Balliol) was relieved of governmental responsibility by his subjects in 1295 because of his failure to stand up to Edward I of England. A council of bishops, earls and barons was appointed to manage the nationā€™s affairs instead.

However, the manner in which Robert Bruce came to the throne was a barrier to his acceptance by the papacy despite his military successes and the support he gained among the ā€˜community of the realmā€™ of Scotland.  

After being stripped of the right to rule by his subjects, John Balliol remained king. Even after Edward I forced his abdication and imprisoned him, and he was later exiled in France, many considered Johnā€™s restoration a realistic prospect. When Robert Bruce had himself crowned in 1306, following his murder of John Comyn, a rival claimant to the throne, he was therefore widely regarded as a usurper because King John was still alive. John died in 1314, a few months after the Battle of Bannockburn. But the Pope still failed to recognise Robert Bruce as King of Scots. From the Popeā€™s perspective, Robert Bruce was a murderer and usurper. He had also refused to meet papal representatives, receive papal letters and had broken a papal truce by taking Berwick. At the same time, Englandā€™s diplomats had enjoyed some success in persuading the Pope to take their part in the continuing conflict with Scotland.

This statue commemorating the Declaration sits near the entrance to the town of Arbroath. Holding the letter to the Pope are King Robert I (right) and his chancellor Bernard de Linton, Abbot of Arbroath.
I am grateful to photographer and blogger Jez Braithwaite for permission to use his photograph of the statue. You can see more on his blog here.

What the Pope really wanted was for Christian kingdoms to stop fighting each other and prosecute a crusade in the Holy Land instead. But his attempts to bring King Robert into line had failed. By the time the Declaration of Arbroath was written, Pope John XXII had excommunicated the king, absolved his subjects of their allegiance to him, summoned the bishops of St Andrews, Dunkeld, Aberdeen and Moray to appear before him and excommunicated them when they failed to do so, summoned the king to appear before him, renewed accusations against the king and placed Scotland under interdict so suspending ceremonies such as weddings, baptisms and some acts of worship. These and other communications, according to historian Edward J Cowan, amounted to ā€œa hailstorm of threatening papal lettersā€ descending on Scotland in the first few weeks of 1320. King Robertā€™s response was the Declaration of Arbroath.

It took a further three years for a formal truce to be agreed but this letter, and its two companion letters, marked a turning point in Scotlandā€™s diplomatic efforts. The Pope suspended the sentences of excommunication on the king and bishops, recognised Robert as King of Scots and urged Edward II of England to make peace in a letter which quoted directly from the Declaration of Arbroath. Perhaps the Pope also took to heart the closing sentences of the Declaration which warned that if he continued to side with Edward of England, further bloodshed would be his responsibility.

“But if your Holiness puts too much faith in the tales the English tell and will notā€¦ refrain from favouring them to our undoing, then the slaughter of bodies, the perdition of souls, and all the other misfortunes that will follow, inflicted by them on us and by us on them, will, we believe, be surely laid by the Most High to your charge.”

Declaration of Arbroath, April 6, 1320

The surviving Declaration is a copy of the letter,Ā made at the same time.Ā It is among the state papers kept by theĀ National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh. For more detail about the Declaration, its history and significance, try this short film made to mark its 700th anniversary.