Blog from the North – Dec 14

Bunty Gunn
Bunty Gunn

December came in like a lamb up here.  We couldn’t believe that we didn’t have to wear jackets to go out.  The sun shone, obviously the globe warmed and we were the lucky recipients.  A different tale a bit later, though.  High winds, and snow on the higher ground started about a week ago.  When I say “higher ground” I actually mean anything over about a rise of ten of twelve feet.  The Achavanich road to Thurso is a nightmare if there is even a flake of snow in the air.  My poor, bald neighbour was caught out there one year, without either a hat or gloves.  He had to dig himself out, but keep getting back into the car in order not to freeze to the road.  As I write, sleet and hail are trying to destroy the windows and even the geese that were feeding in the field have departed.  They seem to like the salty grass – or whatever creatures live in it – and they are a beautiful sight as they roam the territory.


When I think of the geese, I think of the late Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.  She always used to have a really private holiday in Caithness during October and at her last visit, when she was at least a hundred years old, she was regretting the fact that she hadn’t seen the geese flying south.  On the day she was leaving the Castle of Mey, the oddest thing happened.  As she got into her car a perfect skein of geese swooped low over Mey.  I don’t think they did a Victory Roll or anything like that, but they did fly over Her Majesty who said  “Now I’m content.  At last I’ve seen them.”  And that was the last time that Caithness saw her.


Of course, other people think of geese as a delicious feast and to all of you who will be celebrating, Iain and I wish you a very happy time with a profitable New Year to come.   What is it the newspapers used to say?  “And a Merry Christmas to all our readers.”  My sentiments exactly.

Blog from the North – Nov 2014

Bunty Gunn
Bunty Gunn

If I may, I’ll paraphrase the poet and say “no flowers, no fruit, no Blog, November”. I’m late with this.   Here we are nearly into December and the weather is still, occasionally shirt-sleeve.  Our little corner of the country has done rather well. Earlier we did have the iciest strong winds, straight off the Urals I think, which, if you park your car the wrong way in the village street, can slam the door and take your leg off.  It pays to test the direction before you get out.


It’s odd looking out of the window and seeing in this November countryside how farming is changing before our eyes.  We face onto beautiful open fields which are completely empty.  The cattle will be in barns by now, but there are no sheep.  Those that were there have long gone to the sales.  Nothing moves in the landscape.  Even the two horses which, wrapped up in their blankets, usually weather the winter outside,  are absent.


I say nothing moves, but our neighbour with the cherry-picker is in much demand.  Now is the time to clean out what are called up here “rhones”.  In my English way I would say “gutters”, but up here a gutter is the draining edge of a lane or farm road.  And there’s a difference between “bucket” and “pail”.  The former is something to put rubbish in;  the latter is for liquids like water or milk.


In the case of our house, the cherry-picker was being used to try and discover the reason for some damp patches that had emerged.  A lot of picking out and filling in went on during which time a neat little sealed up window appeared.  If it had been reglazed it would have lit the closet very dramatically.  It became obvious that the inside of the house had been quite materially altered at some point and that two rooms and a closet had once been one apartment.  There will be other windows hidden away, no doubt, because of this.  We do know that there were at least  two fireplaces in the hall – now hidden by Victorian tongue and grooved pine planks.  Old houses are truly fascinating.  Our oddest discovery, years ago when having the wiring renewed, was that originally the trunking under the floor boards had been lined with moss as a sound absorber.  It was good, too.  The modern stuff isn’t nearly as effective.


Speaking of poems, brought up as I was on  “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness”, I was fascinated the other day to talk to a man who only discovered what this meant when he went down to England.  Caithness has its mists, but not a lot of mellow fruitfulness.  There aren’t too many plums grown, or pears.  We tend not to have late-harvested apples and tomatoes only grow in greenhouses.  What we do have, in plenty, are rowans.  They make wonderful jelly and as an added advantage, they keep the witches off.  I’d like to see a pear tree do that.