This title sounds like a tailor from Saville Row but ending up in these places north of the border all started eight months ago whilst on the last few weeks of our travels across Canada. We signed up for a HelpX volunteering adventure in Scotland. We have always felt rather ashamed that we have travelled a lot in Europe but never seen much of Scotland, Wales or Ireland. So in our first attempt to remedy this we made a few inquiries about what was involved and then firmed up a six week stint.
Will it be Platform 9¾ ?
Our train was due to leave Kings Cross at 12.00 noon. As always we had plenty of time in hand and took part in the minutes silence at 11am as a mark to respect to those who lost their lives only a few days before at the London Bridge attack. It was sobering to think that while we were both enjoying ourselves at the respective Hen and Stag do’s that this atrocity was taking place. The least we could do was give a minute of our time to pay our respects.
We still had plenty of time to marvel at the queue of Harry Potter fans lining up to have their photograph taken with the half a luggage trolley in the wall at the station with a Hogwarts scarf strung around their neck at a jaunty angle so it looked like they were running. Don’t get me wrong, we are fans of the books but why can’t they just have the trolley there for people to take their own photos rather than have to cash in every time. Wasn’t enough money made via the books and films?
We were due to leave from regular Platform 6 where our Virgin train awaited for the 6½ hour journey direct to Pitlochry in Perthshire. It was at this point that Jonno and I had a bit of a rush of blood to our heads. We had received an email a couple of days before to say that we had been randomly chosen to opt for an upgrade on the train to First Class. It would cost us £20 each but as we had got what we thought were bargain tickets at £39 each and Jon had a poorly knee following the Stag shenanigans so we decided to give it a go. We found a couple of non-booked seats in the First Class carriage and duly waited for the servants to arrive. Well we were not disappointed. During the 6½ hour journey we managed to eat our way through two small hot meals each, two muffins each, two bags of crisps each, two pieces of fruit each, 2 cups of coffee each, 2 gin and tonics (for me!) and 2 bottles of coke (for Jonno). Add in the extra leg room and reclining seats and I think we well and truly had our monies worth. Would we do it again? Definitely if we needed to arrive at your destination relaxed, fed and watered and you haven’t got your own food supplies with you. Realistically though, I think it was a one off for us, unless of course, Virgin trains would like to enter some sort of sponsorship deal for a feature article blog post.
Trains have been our main form of transport for the last 6 months and overall they have been very punctual, clean and comfortable and this one was no exception. After a blustery, rainy journey up through England and Scotland we pulled into Pitlochry station dead on time to meet our HelpX host, Norman. Fifteen minutes later, we arrived at a large stone house which was full of smiling faces and lively dogs. There to greet us was Norman’s wife, Tina, their son, Callum, Tina’s parents, Joan and Peter, two other HelpX volunteers and their 5 dogs (Millie, Tala, Whiskey, Cocoa and Beauly).
No Room at the Inn
They made us very welcome and over supper we chatted about anything and everything. The two other HelpX volunteers were from Perth, Australia and were on their last few days before heading off to Glasgow and Edinburgh. Norman and Tina seemed to have had a house full of volunteers whilst renovating various properties but this time the help was needed to do the weekly and/or mid week turn around in their self-catering lodges near Aberfeldy (about 25 minutes away). They also have a large property about 20 minutes in the other direction called Foss House which needed a similar turn around when guests depart. Both locations also needed a fair amount of garden maintenance to keep them looking smart which is fitted in as and when the weather and bookings allow. All in the all the work was going to be varied.
It was at this point that Tina and Norman explained that their house was bursting at the seams so they had planned for us to stay in the Yurt in their garden for the first few nights but there was a gale blowing and it was lashing with rain so they decided we should head up to their self-catering lodges called Drumcroy Lodges. One of them was vacant for three nights so they passed over two great big bags of food and the car keys to a little red Renault Clio who Jon named “Patra”. Get it? Clio “Patra”.
With verbal instructions on where to go we headed off into the fading light and rain, another one of those surreal moments. Thirty minutes later we arrived at Drumcroy Lodges and found Lyon Lodge our little home for the next three nights.
All the lodges had recently been renovated with our lodge, Lyon, still having a few finishing touches but it was well kitted out with a fabulous view across the valley and River Tay.
Helping Out – Day 1 of 38
We slept so well but were up and ready for our first day when Tina and Norman arrived. Jon was introduced to what has become his new best friend, a strimmer. They like to keep the long drive to the lodges cleared either side so while Jon fired up “MacDuff” (another inanimate object that has been christened), I took my paintbrush (with no name) and painted all things wood, ie picnic benches, decking and fences.
About 10am Donald arrived. Donald is the local go to Mr Fixit who was finishing off the bathroom in our lodge. This is where we show our age because we both had the same thought, Donald Wheres your Troosers? This catchy tune was by Andy Stewart back in the early 60s.
Here is a link for those brave enough to give it a go’Donald Where’s your Troosers‘
Loch Tay and Kenmore
After about 4 hours work in warm weather, the time was our own. We intended to walk down to the nearest town, Aberfeldy, but Donald, or Troosers, as we like to secretly call him said something like, “Nay ya da nit wint ta gay there, gay to Kenmore. Is only 6 mile”. Kenmore is at the eastern end of Loch Tay and you have to trust a man who has lost his troosers so we jumped in Patra and off we went. It was the first loch of many that we have encountered and it was very picturesque. We needed to stretch our legs after spending the whole of the previous day on the train so we walked the mile or so to Taymouth Castle. This castle stands on the site of a much older castle, Balloch Castle which was built in 1552 and demolished by the Campbells of Breadalbane in the early 19th century so the current much larger one could be built on the same site. Built in a neo-Gothic style on a lavish scale, it was completed just in time for a most important guest, Queen Victoria. She stayed there in 1842 during her first visit to Scotland and it is regarded as the most important Scottish castle in private ownership. It has had a bit of a varied past, as a home, then a hotel, a military hospital for Polish WWII casualties, a civil defence training establishment, a boarding school, a speech and drama school and is now currently under going a huge refurbishment and will open as the UK’s first seven star hotel in 2018. It is now surrounded by a pristine golf course that looked totally unused. We found out that it is in fact closed until next year because it is being remodelled and extended.
The Campbells of Breadalbane liked a bit of building because they also commissioned the building of the Kenmore Hotel in 1572, reputed to be Scotland’s old hotel. As if this isn’t enough it has another claim to fame, Robert Burns was so taken with the village’s character that in 1787 he wrote a poem about the beauty of the area. He later wrote the poem in pencil on the chimney breast of the fireplace in what is now called the Poet’s Bar in the Kenmore Hotel. All this history was thirsty work but instead of indulging in the Poet’s Bar, we headed for the post office/shop which is still called the Telegraph Office for an ice-cream which we devoured while sitting by the Loch.
What is a Crannog?
We had seen the Scottish Crannog Centre signposted in our way to Kenmore and weren’t too sure what it was all about. We discovered that a Crannog is an artificially created island which were built and used as dwellings and refuges against unruly neighbours and bears and wolves back in the Middle Ages. They originated before 2000 BC and were typically a roundhouse perched over the water on timber stilts. There are the remains of around 20 on and submerged in Loch Tay and the Crannog Centre has an authentic reconstruction.
For a little town Kenmore was a brilliant first place to visit here in the Highlands and probably slightly off the main tourist trails but so picturesque and lots of our favourite things like history and ice cream! Troosers is not only the go to handyman he is my new tourist information guru!
5/6 – 10/6/2017