Wednesday, 2 September 2015

August 2015 - another blog for the bin?

Clavering is an odd creation and has been stopped and started more times than I care to consider.  Originally begun in 1999, when we bought a home in Naples, to keep people posted as to where we were and what we doing it has gone on doing that  (ad nauseum) every since.  With the possibility of selling our Naples home in sight this may be its death throws. Whether Clavering bites the dust or transforms into something else time will tell.


The last month before we go back to Naples is always a time of building a level of tension for me.  I have been wanting to leave Naples for three years (plus) and, at some level, actually 'dread' the 'going back'.

It is a really lovely place and all that glorious weather during our miserable winters makes this hard for others to accept.  I am not immune to its lure in that sense but I am bored with the fixed life that we have, being bound by owning two houses.  It is incredible really that I have done the same something for fifteen years!!  This is the longest pattern in the whole of my life.  (imagine)  I am now very bored on the other side of the pond and dreadfully homesick.

So, as I was saying, the approach of Naples hung over me for most of this month.

Happily August is also Ken's birthday month, so we arranged a week's break around his day and toddled off to Scotland on the 13th.  He originally wanted to do a week of solid driving up to John O'Groats staying in a different place each night but I persuaded him that this would be exhausting and not very productive in terms of getting to see anywhere.  He then moved on to maybe doing some sailing so we booked a wonderful place in Fearnan, overlooking Loch Tay.

He decided to do an overnight break on the way there in Helensburgh so we could visit The Hill House next day.  On our way to Helensburgh we stopped off at Pollock House. (I seem to be writing this backwards!)

Pollock House is very much one of the National Trust's corporate/wedding venues and it felt and looked exactly like that.  It is three miles outside Glasgow so is a good location for such things.  

We managed to arrive on the day that the electricity had been 'out' and therefore there was no cafe (our main reason for visiting!).  The house had only just opened and with a skeleton staff.  This isn't why we were underwhelmed.  It is the first NT property (I think) that has ever left me joining the debate about why do we want to preserve these houses en masse?  It was in no way unique or beautiful.  Maybe it earns them good money - I do hope so.

I edited out the vans and wedding marquee
On to Helesburgh and our hotel, The Rosslea Hotel.  

It was the usual quintessential Country House Hotel.  Three floors, but no lift.  To be fair our bags were brought up for us - that's not always on offer.  You can have sandwiches in your room twenty-four hours a day but not in the bar after 5.30pm.  You get my drift.  How easy it must have been to write Fawlty Towers.

To be fair it may have been the usual quirky service but it was very pleasant and the staff were excellent and location hard to better, overlooking the Firth of Clyde (Rhu).

The next day, and Ken's birthday, we began our day visiting the overwhelming Hill House.  I chose my adjective carefully.  As a bit of a Rennie and Margaret (MacDonald) Mackintosh fan for many years I was very familiar with images of Hill House.  I loved the designs and total originality of the work in the way that you like any piece of art which pleases you but to stand in those rooms and understand what it was like to have lived in them was a whole other experience.

The images I had seen were a sort of beautiful but sterile landscape of large overly-white spaces; the house, in a way, is nothing like them.  The rooms are human-sized and it feels very much a home - just a uniquely beautiful one.  

Mr and Mrs Blackie were hands-on in every inch of the designs and were as obsessed with detail and functionality as they were with RM's work and the house really was a creation of a lovely workable home for them.  You can feel it in every inch of the place.

Quite an odd approach to the house

The 'prettier' rear of the house

the bedroom is smaller and softer in reality

incredible table

This table is a perfect example of detail.  The small inlay in the centre changes its appearance through the day as the sun moves across the windows.  It looks like mirrors, or mother of pearl, or takes on colours or even looks like glass - just stunning and is one very tiny thing among many such beautiful objects.

the hall

Somehow the rooms don't lend themselves to photography.  The hall is just glorious and much more welcoming and warmer than this.  I get the feeling that all the photos show something sharp, angular and rather cold whereas the reality is much softer.  The warmth of the wood and beautiful fireplace and the way the light is used in every room is gorgeous.

Yes, I know I am raving but it is in hopes that if you have the tiniest interest in Mackintosh you will go and visit the house.  Not many things are a unique experience but this one is.

Onwards to our accommodation for the week - another beautiful place - Tarmachan, Fearnan, Loch Tay.  I commend this to you if you ever need a place around there.

bedrooms downstairs and 'living' areas upstairs to take advantage of the views

our view, our red car and Loch Tay

S & S joined us for a few days and helped us celebrate the old man's (!) birthday with a lovely meal at the Bridge of Lochay.  Ken had been very good and saved his cards and gifts and cake for after dinner back at the apartment.  A very low key 70th (that's us) but very nice.

The next day we were off to hire a boat.  After much searching around we kyboshed that idea, having seen what passed for luxury sailing - not what we imagined.  We did the next best thing and went to eat at The Smiddy in Killin followed by........

The Rannoch Highland Gathering in Welley Poley Park (could it sound any more Scottish).  Great fun.  We bought exciting things like socks and hats and tablet and watched others' exertions.

races round the field at the same time as caber tossing.

Tossing the caber - we thought you had to toss a lump of pole as far as you could - actually you have to flip it and try to land it at 12 o'clock from yourself.  How they lift it is beyond me never mind toss it.  Look at the the 'hill' in the left of the photo - it will feature later.

non-stop highland dancing competitions, yes they are levitating

just about everything piped in and out of the field

the very top of the hill you saw earlier with a couple of people up there

The point of the hill pictures is that there was a hill race.  The top in the above photo is about one sixth of the total height and a fairly long way away from the field.  I have a good long focus on my camera.  The competitors were to run round the field (400 yards), through the village, up the very steep and rough hill and back.  The announcer said twenty minutes - we assumed we had misheard.  23 minutes 59 seconds later a fairly decrepit looking (not young) man ran through the finishing tape.  He was followed closely by another three runners - all of whom were a good way ahead of the rest of the pack.  Bravo to the others who kept going.  We were mightily impressed and munched our tablet in admiration.

Tablet, incidentally, is Scottish fudge.

Even Stuart born and bred east Lothian  said he'd never experienced so much Scottishness in one day.

Glad we never found a boat, this was warmer, drier and much more fun.

The following day it was time to find the obligatory ice cream farm for Ken and my daughter - both ice cream faces.  This was Stewart Tower in Stanley (Perth).  Ken is happy to put in the miles for the proper stuff.  Sitting outside sharing flavours in the sunshine watching the ducks and geese and goats on a farm seemed like a proper holiday!

On to Scone Palace.  Scone pronounced Scoon.  This is a building simply bursting with history of all sorts not least of which was it being the home of Dido Elizabeth Belle (book/film).  Seek out her real story it is an interesting one and helps to remind us that we have some very fixed ideas of about 'how things were back then' and we always need to take into account that not everyone fitted expected patterns of behavior or expectations.

not the real Stone of Scone but then it is believed the real one isn't the real one either!!

S & S left us the next morning and Ken and I drove up to Oban to revisit his old diving haunts of yesteryear.  It is always odd to think that our 'recent' memories are now sometimes thirty plus years old.

No cruise liners in Oban Bay in Ken's day.

We had a bit of a more relaxed day the following day with a trip out to visit Pitlochry and then feet up time.

Wednesday came with a fun trip to a Winery - Cairn O'Mohr Winery and Ciderhouse, East Inchmichael, Errol.  They make wine and cider from every fruit under the sun - well under Highland sun - not to mention oak leaves.  Very good it was too. 


We had one of the best eats of our trip there.  Always amazes me how you get these fantastic cooking couples in the back of beyond - almost un-lauded.  Probably like anyone with talent once they become 'known' it gets spoiled, so maybe not a bad thing some don't.  

huge stainless steel vats everywhere, taps not locked!

Our last day and we just trotted a couple of miles up the road to Bolfracks Garden.

Tranquil pool

This is a large private house and garden.  The garden is open it to all and sundry with a system of trust for paying for your entrance (in a box on the wall) and buying plants (a loose cash box on a table).
the original house (inside this frontage) is 18th century

a detail of the Wendy House

We were at the back end of the season really but the gardens were still lovely in that sad blousy way that August has.  They are certainly a challenge being North facing on a very, very, steep slope overlooking a valley.  The views are incredible, the variety of plants immense, and the gardening challenge - quite something.  A lovely peaceful place to visit, tucked away and not over run with visitors.

This was a very nice way to spend our last day in Loch Tay and we stopped off to say goodbye to the Loch from our private beach!

where did seventy years go?

Our trip home the next day, including a wretched traffic jam for Blackpool and environs and a meal break, took Ken just 5 hours 22 minutes.  Hope the 1200 miles we drove that week filled his lust for driving for a while. 

As we always seem to do we got to the last two weeks of our stay here in Bury with a ton of tasks to tidy up before decamping.  In the main these were boring things like the dentist and minor repairs to house things and the car windshield.  I like to do some 'auditing' of the garden and the dolls house hobby so I don't forget what's what when I get back.  By end of March it has all changed and I can't remember what's what.  

Among all this irritating trivia though we saw friends and ate out as we usually do for our farewell 'fests' and Ken had a great half day riding a Segway round Heaton park with some chums as a belated birthday gift.  They had all done it before in Naples so it was a bit of a contrast in all kinds of ways but they loved it.

My 'ayjed' aunt had her 83rd birthday so we made that out last visit to her before we left.  As she said she 'is blessed'.  There are people who remember her and send cards and gifts and she had us and two other people visit her.  We took gifts and a birthday cake for teatime and wished her well.  She is physically very well but 'confused'.  We are her legal deputies so do see her each week when we are here and have lots of stuff in place for when we are not.

Worse case scenario, if that is my destiny, it isn't too bad from where we are standing.

On that cheerful note I'll leave August and wander off absentmindedly into September.

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