I’LL TAKE THE HIGH ROAD AND YOU TAKE THE LOW ROAD

Continuing the story of my trip to Scotland……

Our coach driver Eddie told us the origin of the famous song ‘Loch Lomond’ which was pretty sad.  It was written by a Jacobite highlander in the Invararey gaol at the time of the 1745 uprising when Bonnie Prince Charlie was fighting James II of England’s grandson. The Jacobites were part of the political movement that aimed to restore the Roman Catholic Stuart King James II of England and his heirs to the thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland. The Jacobite Rebellion was an important time in Scotland; this ended at the Battle of Culloden in 1746 the final confrontation which was primarily a religious civil war.  These Jacobite highlanders were taken prisoner and were systematically being killed; ten hung per day. One son in each family was allowed to be spared. There were two brothers in the Invararey gaol, one brother said to the other, “you must go home to the family, and I will stay to be killed and buried. I am taking the high road and will be in Scotland before you.” His meaning was his soul would be in Scotland. This song is sung when a person gets very melancholy at the end of Hogmanay and reminisces over the past. Listening to the words of Loch Lomond will never be the same for me after hearing that story of familial sacrifice.

Industries

We passed the forestry region of Dumfries as we drove along the M74 towards Glasgow.  BLTR6Pine Trees The hillsides were clad in native Scots Pine, a tree that adapted to climate change over the previous centuries; it has a natural range confined to the Highlands, covering about 17,000 hectares, mainly growing on north-facing slopes. Forestry is a big industry in the area. Thirty five years after the trees are planted they are cut down and two more planted in their place. There is an enormous demand for trees worldwide and Scotland is the third largest producer of wood in Europe. Running under the A73 is the Longannet Coal Mine, now closed. This was the deepest coalmine in Scotland. – The mine shafts run for 9 miles in all directions, the area is now landscaped where it was built over and beautified by  roadside sculptures; the ghostly Andy Scott’s ‘Arria’ metal mermaid sculpture, overlooking the M80 motorway near Cumbernauld and the Clydesdale Horse, facing Glasgow with its backside towards Edinburgh on the M8.

Another major industry is whiskey, manufactured from the abundant supplies of barley and the pure, clear spring water from the peaty burns, an environment rich in the highest quality ingredients which have made this liquor magic and a top export. Each distillery has its own distinctive handcrafted characteristics with £8billion of whiskey sold per annum.

Scottish Terms

The boundary between the highlands and the lowlands of Scotland is at the town of Comrie which sits on the Highland Boundary Fault where the tectonic plates butt against each other. To the north are the mountains which are called benns or tors, Ben Nevis is the highest at 4409 ft above sea level. A loch is a stretch of water, a glen is a narrow valley, and a strath is a wider valley.  A munro is a mountain over 3000 feet named after Sir Hugh Munro, (1856–1919) who listed all the mountains. ‘Bagging a munro’ is a mountain climber’s ambition, and each year people die trying to achieve this. There are 282 munros in Scotland.  Clans are tribes or children and Mac means ‘son of’.

Spikes of purple wild flowers poked through the white daisies and Queen Anne Lace as we bypassed Glasgow onto the Stirling Road, we skirted Bannock Burn where Robert theBLTR6 Callendar Bruce won the battle against the English 700 years ago.  We past Stirling Castle and the Wallace Monument, and turned off to Callendar.  This area was quite flat and was at one time under the ocean, where the Oceana Germanica or North Sea covered the area.

Sheep stood watching us showing off their newly clipped fat bellies as we past the lake near Monreith. The game of Curling was a very popular game similar to Ice Hockey which was played on this frozen lake, although health and safety do not approve of it these days as the ice has to reach a certain thickness before you are allowed to play.

Eddie asked us all to disembark and go to the loo at Aberfoyle to make sure we had empty bladders before we drove down the winding narrow road to the hotel at BLTR6Inversnaid HighwayInversnaid. This road is called the ‘Inversnaid Highway’ and wound its way alongside Loch Ardon on the one side and lovely stone houses lining the way on the other and inbetween were clumps of purple heather on the open hillsides. We drove along the valley floor on a very narrow road with few squeeze places for cars to pass each other.  It took an hour to drive the 15 miles as we had to stop at times to let other vehicles pass. At one stage Eddie tried to pass a wide bodied truck and it took several backwards and forwarding and holding of breaths to pass with a hairsbreadth between us.

We were all relieved to arrive at the hotel at Inversnaid and settle into our cosy rooms and enjoy a very welcome cup of tea.

To be continued Loch Lomond………

BLTR6 Inversnaid Hotel

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DOING THINGS FINNISH STYLE

MY FIRST EXPERIENCE OF DOING THINGS FINNISH STYLE

I was visiting my son’s new in-laws getting to know the family who lived in the small town of Rantesalmi in Karelia, Eastern Finland in May 2008. Sirkka (Phillip’s mother-in-law had previously visited me in South Africa to learn our culture, now it was my turn to experience theirs.

The day started with a breakfast of oats porridge with berries, rye bread and cheese/ham bl4trfinland2-001with cucumber and tomato and a cup of coffee after which we set off for the summer cottage. This cottage is built on the edge of Lake Haarpaselkä in a lovely forest setting with birch trees and various pine or fir trees growing right down to the side of the lake. Upstairs the wooden cabin had space for two single beds and two sets of double beds under the eaves.  Downstairs the living room was equipped with sleeper couch, a sink, a gas and wood stove.  The entrance hall led into the anteroom of the sauna where buckets of water from the lake were stored.  There was no running water at that time, but the cottage has since been renovated and now has a kitchen with running water.  Through the anteroom was the sauna which consisted of wooden seating racks and a wood fired stove, with stones on top and a water cylinder to the side. (This is used for hot water purposes in the household as well).  The sauna has also been replaced with the upgrade to the cabin and is now in a separate building about thirty meters away.  There was a front porch running along the length of the house with steps leading into the garden.
The outhouse some 10 meters away from the main cabin consisted of a bio-toilet and storerooms.  There was no running water in the toilet either and it had a container at the back filled with ‘forest floor’ material and a scoop, so after using the toilet you just put a scoop of the biodegradable material on the top and eventually it turns into compost.

blg4trfinland1-001The other structure near to the cabin was a wigwam-like building which was the outdoor cooking area used in bad weather. It had a fireplace in the middle of the floor with a chimney that went up through the middle of the structure to let out the smoke.  There was seating around the perimeter of the fire and a table at the side for working on. There was an open hearth (braai) area near the lake for better weather. This too has been replaced with a more modern but similar structure.

After settling in and looking around we had coffee/tea on the front porch served with delicious Karjalanpiirakka, a rye pastry filled with baked rice porridge, which is a traditional Karelian snack.  Such a beautiful environment enticed to do some exploring and sketching.

We ate a cold lunch of smoked bream and salad as well as a baked potato, onion, cheese bl4trfinland5-001and asparagus dish which was cooked in foil over the coals in the wigwam.  Later we went into the wigwam whilst the coals were still hot to cook pancakes on the open fire. The pan is on the end of a long handle and the pancakes are made individually by each person.  We then ate them with homemade raspberry jam.  Delicious!

MY INITIATION INTO THE SAUNA..

After the meal we rested and I did some drawing and painting in Sirkka and Osmo’s visitor’s book. Later, Osmo cut some vaasti (leafy birch twigs) for the sauna.  He then had his sauna after which we ate rye bread, salads, cheese/ham and a cup of tea before Osmo went home.  After he had gone home it was Sirkka’s and my turn to sauna.  The water had been carried up from the lake and the fires lit.  First we had to strip in the anteroom and take a plastic sheet to sit on.  We entered the sauna room and sat on the top wooden rack.  The procedure was to wet ourselves all over with cold water. Sirkka just went and jumped in the lake, I wasn’t that brave so used water in a basin that was there for that purpose.  Sirkka then threw water on the hot stones which sent a wave of steam through the room.  She held the vaasti over the stones and again threw water over them.  This had the effect of wilting the leaves and sending a up a lovely aroma of green tree into the closed room.  We then sat and slapped ourselves all over with the vaasti (not hard) which was quite nice001 as it was reasonably soft and stimulated the circulation.  After a few more scoops of water onto the rocks the room was VERY hot and Sirkka said it was now time to jump into the lake.  I went down to the lake, but it was very cold, so I only went in ankle deep. I have since got braver and enjoy swimming in the cold water!  We went back to the sauna where we steamed some more.  She went back to the lake a few more times, but said I should get washed and dressed as I was not yet used to this!

bl4tr-finland6-001After enjoying the sauna and getting dressed we then lit the outside braai fire and had a glass of wine (it was Sirkka’s birthday) and toasted sausages over the fire.  We sat and watched the sun setting over the lake with its rays turning the lake to gold – it was magnificent.  God sent a special birthday gift, a rainbow appeared and was reflected in the lake, this was really a remarkable occurrence and we commented on the fact that it was God’s promise to us.  The sun set around 11.00pm (but the sky was still light as it does not move far off the horizon at this time of the year.  We went to bed and I was woken at 4.30 am with the sun shining brightly in my window, ready for another day of learning Finnish culture.

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