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Sailing homeward [May. 29th, 2015|10:51 pm]
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We lunched yesterday at the Café Kisimul in Castlebay:

Kisimul Café

It may not look anything special, and the eclecticism of the menu is disconcerting (" A family run licensed restaurant specialising in Indian and Italian cuisine and local seafood") but the food is terrific: we should have tried to get in the previous evening, instead of eating at the big hotel where we were staying - we might even have had a bottle of Château Musar with the local lamb. For lunch we had scallop pakoras (sweet local scallops in the finest crust of spicy batter), a spinach and chickpea curry to share, thick and warming, and a delicate lemon tart ('mellow yellow' on the menu). If they'd just do away with the accompanying jazz it would be perfect.

At 3.30 (slightly late) we sailed out of Castlebay on the MV Clansman:

Leaving Castlebay

(Photo taken through a water-spotted window - please make allowances). It's a long trip back to Oban, especially as we called at Tiree and Coll; we had time for both sunshine and showers, and a double rainbow, and twilight and sunset:

Sailing homeward

before we came into Oban at 10.30. And today we drove home. There was more rain, and memories of our first visit to Oban, one bright frosty November, and there was the long road alongside Loch Lomond, with the water high in the loch to our left and woods full of bluebells sloping up to out tight. There was a lunch break at Cairn Lodge, the motorway service station by the gates of Castle Douglas, and there was a visit to Waitrose in Hexham to pick up supplies.

And there will be more holiday posts in due course, but right now, we're home.
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Things to do on Barra when it's raining [May. 27th, 2015|07:29 pm]
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  • Drive out to the airport: the road - like so many Hebridean roads - is single track with passing places, and it skirts Tràigh Mhòr, the Big Strand, the beach which is also the airport's runway:

    Keeo off the beach...

    and then you can have coffee and a cranberry scone in the airport café.

  • You can read about the tragic story of the Clearances, and what happened to the village of Balnabodach - and then you can try to spot the site as you drive round the road that girdles the island. If the rain eased up, you could maybe stop and see whether you could locate the remains, but it doesn't, so maybe you don't.

  • You could visit Dualchas, the Heritage Centre, and learn many more sad stories about the history of Barra and smaller islands like Mingaulay, and the misdeeds of the landowners - and the odd more cheeful item, like a book of music which once belonged at Eoligarry House, and contains such songs as the Skye Water Kelpie's Lullaby (children, do not listen when the water kelpie sings you a lullaby).

  • After this, you could restore yourself with more coffee! more cake! (I recommend the chocolate and peanut butter brownies) and staring out of the window to see if it's brightening up at all - I think it is...

    Has it stopped raining yet?

    Macroon's Tearoom has only been open three days, and it's quite well hidden, in the Post Office, so we were pleased to have been tipped off about it.

  • And by now perhaps you might risk the boat trip out to Kisimul Castle - it'll be worth it:

    Kisimul Castle
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Eurovision [May. 24th, 2015|05:50 pm]
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Specially for athenais, the Scandinavia and the World version.

Why yes, we were watching: I baled after the songs, but durham_rambler stayed up until the bitter end of the voting. I thought the songs themselves were unmemorable, but there were some interesting themes in there. Anyone who elected to sing in their own language gets bonus points from me, but the stand-out WTF Eurovision moment was surely Serbia's entry, "Let it Go" from Frozen as it would have been if Elsa had been played by Meat Loaf.
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What care we, though white the Minch is? [May. 21st, 2015|07:40 pm]

The short version is that we did not make it to St Kilda on either of the days we might have gone, and that instead we spent two days having fun exploring Harris, and have now moved on to Lewis. Also, thankyou to everyone who has said nice things about wanting pictures: the photographer is willing but the broadband is weak. But I have uploaded the first few, and here they are. - under the cut, as usual.Collapse )
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Harris: first impressions [May. 17th, 2015|09:48 pm]
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Despite alarming us with reports of high winds and an amber alert (risk of cancelation) the ferry from Uig to Tarbert - from Skye to Harris - was only a little delayed, and the crossing was perfectly smooth and comfortable. We sat in the observation lounge of what is, by Orcadian standards, a large and modern ferry, and drank surprisingly drinkable coffee and watched the islands come and go in the mist.

It's a pleasant drive from Tarbert to Leverburgh, where we are staying (in Sorrel Cottage). At first the scenery seemed very like that of Skye, without some of the grander flourishes, but then I began to see diferenes. We drove through uplands in which brown heather and grey stone were woven together like tweed, dotted wih mirror-like pools of water and finished off with a single button, a discarded hub cap propped against a boulder. At the far side of the island, the mist thined, the sun began to gleam on pale sands and a sea like turquoise satin.

It looked tranquil and mild - then it unleashed a sudden squall of rain, just as we arrived, and we scurried into Sorrel Cottage, deferring unloading the car until it stopped - which was only ten minutes. Since then it's been a fine sunny evening, with a chill wind. No-one seems certain what this means for sailing to St Kilda tomorrow, but we've been told to assume we will go, and to be down at the pier at 7.45. So it's an early breakfast tomorrow and an early night tonight.
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There is no escape [May. 15th, 2015|07:20 pm]
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When our hosts at the Glenspean hotel learned that we came from Durham, they each talked to us about the place, she last night and he this morning. I promise that we did not start it, and that while we may have expressed some reservations about 'isn't it a lovely place to live!', it was they who commented on the domination of the city by students. As we were leaving our host told us about a couple from Durham who visited the hotel regularly: they had lived all their lives in Durham, but were now moving out. They had had enough.

We are now sitting in the bar of the Rosedale Hotel in Portree, reading the documents which have just appeared on Durham County Council's website: it seems that the Council are seeking a judicial review of the Inspector's condemnation of their Plan.

Damn it, we are supposed to be on holiday.

In other news, we are on Skye and it is raining. We are having a lovely time.
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A conundrum [May. 14th, 2015|10:12 pm]
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If one of you wants the crab cocktail starter, and the venison (with haggis mash) for the main course; and the other chooses the smoked haddock fish cakes and the vegetarian main course, which is a stack of Mediterranean vegetables layered with goat's cheese; what wine will you choose to drink? We cut our losses on the starters - once upon a time we'd have ordered a half bottle of white, but we don't have the stamina these days (even if there'd been anything on the list to tempt us) - and went for the Small Lot Mendocini Zinfandel, which I liked very much: fruity and ot over-tannic, which worked with the tomato sauce on my vegetables, but complex. structured, not over-bright.

"That's not a Durham accent," said the proprirtor, who served us. "Whereabouts in Durham do you come from?" "Durham City." "Ah. I'm from Langley Park."

I wished I'd taken my camera down to dinner. For one thing, the food was elaborately presented. Anything that could be piled up, was: that vegetable stack, obviously, but even the fishcakes were balanced one on top of the other, and as for the chocolate dessert...

For another thing, the dining room has a panorama of mountains. It's perched above the road above the Spean, and looks across to the slopes opposite, and down the valley to more snowy summits. Once upom a time, says durham_rambler, it wasn't the Glenspean Hotel, it was the Nevis View - and yes, that is Ben Nevis just visble beyond smaller but closer peaks.

Tomorrow we will drive down that road and take a closer look.
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Another country [May. 14th, 2015|07:30 pm]

Road works on the A1 provided a reason to take the A68 north, riding roller coaster up through Northumberland, between shades of yellow: rape fields in lemony acid full bloom, gorse deep honey golden, verges bristling with cowslips - what's going on? I think of primroses as common, cowslips as rare, yet here they were, and no primroses south of Perthshire.

A late lunch at M&S on the Edinburgh bypass, and by mid-afternoon durham_rambler had to wake me up: "This isn't the time to nod off, we're getting to the pretty bit!" The Highlands were splendid in the sunshine, which picked out the silver birch trunks and the brightest of the spring-green leaves, and the patches of snow on the higher slopes.

We didn't enjoy the scenery as much as we might have, because we'd half-seen warnings of a road closure, signposted far enough ahead to make us fear it was major. There were points where the road being closed would have forced us to detour via Inverness, so we were jumpy until, beyond Dalwhinnie, we turned left and the road to the right was closed: phew!

I don't think it was just relief that made the final stretch, along the valley of the Spean, the loveliest of all: the wooded hillsides came down to a series of lakes, dotted with buildings from the Extremely Silly end of the Scottish Baronial range.

And now we are in the bar of the Glenspean Hotel, and the staff are keen to serve us dinner. I shall allow myself to be persuaded...
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After the Gold Rush [May. 13th, 2015|02:58 pm]
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There've been several times in the last few days when I almost posted something here: but what would I post about? The fall-out from the election, the post-election campaigning, has been even more depressing than the election itself, and I'm torn between having altogether too much to say about it, and not wanting to talk about it at all. There is a dentistry crisis: everyone's teeth are fine, thanks, but we are growing weary of the administrative ineptitude of our dentist. This is pretty much resolved, but I'm not in the mood to talk about it. We go on holiday the day after tomorrow (tomorrow, now, due to this post being longer than intended!), and that's a good and happy thing, but also a stressful one: so much still to prepare, I should be ironing, cleaning my boots, checking the weather forecast (which is not so good) instead of dilly dallying on LJ...

So here's a post about last summer in California, behind a cut, because long, and photos!Collapse )

The post should end there, but I can resist adding that my notes for the following day begin: "Everyone wants to ask about the Scotland independence vote." Next time you hear from me - internet access permitting - I'll be in a Scotland that's just had another interesting vote. What goes around comes around.
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Two buckwheat loaves [May. 9th, 2015|09:34 pm]
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The last two loaves I made have both contained a proportion of buckwheat. I was a bit hesitant about this, as none of my bread recipes mention buckwheat, and the bag has been at the back of the drawer for quite a long time. In fact, "quite a long time" is several years: it must be, because I bought the flour in France, and when did I last have an opportunity to do that? I buy buckwheat flour (sarrasin or blé noir to make savoury pancakes, as they do in Brittany, and just had to check that buckwheat really is the English name. My French/English dictionary won't tell me the French for 'buckwheat', but it's willing to tell me the English for sarrasin, so that's all right. Books tell you that flour becomes rancid if you keep it too long, but I've never noticed any problems.

Proportions were: the usual starter, made with white flour, plus a third each of (wholemeal) spelt, buckwheat and the crunchy wholemeal from Lode Mill.

First time round, I used sunflour oil, and added sunflower seeds at the last kneading, so that most of them were on the crust, for added crunch. I ran out of time, so it didn't have as long for the final rise as I would have liked, but it wasn't too dense, and had a good nutty flavour. It made excellent toast, but it was too crumbly to make good sandwiches (they tasted fine, but tended to disintegrate).

Next time, having remembered to buy some sesame seeds, I used sesame oil, and I may have been too mean with it (it's quite strongly flavoured, and I didn't want to overdo it) as the resultant loaf had a rather cracked crust. It tasted fine, but bits fell off when I sliced it. I meant to give it longer to rise in the tin, but forgot to do this before we went out for tea with J., so this loaf, too, had a short final rise; despite which it rose very nicely in the oven, and the sesame seeds made a very tasty crust.

That was the end of the bag of flour; no more buckwheat loaves until I've been to France to stock up again.

And in other culinary news, dinner was a gammon joint with Jersey new potatoes, asparagus and Provençal rosé, with raspberries to follow. Despite the grey clouds, I am trying to will it to be summer - we head north on Thursday.
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