Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Castlehill - then and now


I loved it from the moment I walked in - it welcomed me - it was home. It was drafty in the westerly gales and subject to mildew. Sometimes it had sheep in its front garden. But it was cozy and warm and wonderful and had traditional highland charm. It held us close for three years and was filled with music, comradship, holiday celebrations and ceilidhs, teas with friends, dinners with neighbors, and presents from a beloved visiting cat.

Castlehill is still there today. It has been transformed into a beautifully appointed holiday home with under-floor heating, a well appointed kitchen with all the mod-cons, a lovely bath with heated towel racks, inviting bedrooms and a fabulous view from the new sun porch. You couldn't ask for a better place to relax, watch the sea and revel in the wonderful changing light on the islands and mountains across Loch Broom.

But gone are the bright red gates that marked our home even from out on the sea, and supported Old Glory on the 4th of July.

Now there is a proper drive going up to the house with an ordinary gate that says "House for Let".

The back of the house has been torn off and rebuilt and the house has a much more modern open plan. Everything has been improved for comfort and efficiency and is done very well. Gone is the clapboard kitchen with the diabolical sock-eating washing machine and the two tiny stacked refrigerators. The new kitchen is everything you could wish in modern conveniences.

Gone is the coal shed that I loved - the shed of sheep-lust fame. My seed wall no longer calls the birds to sing and swing in the rowan tree outside the kitchen window. Now there is a proper back entry to keep out bugs and slugs and things that go squish in the night.

The old steading has been cleaned up and landscaped - the jumble of artifacts from long ago no longer clutters the floor and crowds the spaces. Everything is neat and clean and well-ordered.

A graceful arch now leads from Drake's next door to Castlehill, where a wire-topped stone wall was once the only way to cross - a challenge to darling little boys climbing over to appear in our kitchen in their wellies - waiting for a natter and a drink with ice cubes.

Castlehill would be a wonderful place to spend a holiday.

But it is no longer our highland home.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Home again

We're back from traveling the Wee Mad Road and I'm still trying to sort out my impressions. So I'll give you my thoughts on one thing at a time. First of all - friends!

We were welcomed with open arms by many dear friends that we haven't seen for years. It was a joy to see them again and meet their children and grandchildren. When you get together with old friends it's as if you've never been apart - and even though we all may have a few more gray hairs (or a few less) - the years fall away and it's like old times. It is still a joy and a pleasure to be together and to swap stories of days gone by and to catch up with recent happenings and future plans. To be with these people again was the most important reason for going back to Coigach - and it was lovely!

"Should auld aquaintance be forgot ......"

Our first stop was on the east coast at Portmahomack - home to Jimmy and Ruth Philp who brought wonderful music across with them to Castlehill and were the occasion for many a great ceilidh. Their children are grown now, with children of their own.

This was yesterday......

and today................................................

On to Coigach and the village of Polglass where Anne (Irish)and Iain Campbell were our gracious hosts - giving us the use of Iain's father's old homestead, Tigh Abbie (see complete description in future post). Anne and Iain have visited us several times in the US and it was great to see them again! I can't believe they're grandparents now - and it was fun to meet their grandchildren - the youngest of whom is the same age her mother was when we lived there.

One of our first calls was to the Summer Isles Hotel pub, where we met "Big Leslie" - happy, healthy and not at all changed from when we first met her some twenty years ago.

The five of us in good form........................

Our neighbor Peter Drake, whose beautiful boat, Sea Swallow, was the source of our many fantastic seafood meals, still lives next door to Castlehill. His children are grown and flown to other parts of the world. But he still fishes for lobster and he and his wife, Midge, run a busy B&B business - including the rentals of Castlehill - now a self-catering cottage. We had a delightful visit with them.

.....Then ............................and now.....

At Achnahaird we spent a lovely evening with Ali and Jane West and Aileen Muir, owner of the Polbain Gift Shop, who came up from Polbain for the visit. What a joy to remember old times and hear stories about old Alisdair and Margaret West and our favorite storyteller, Jim Muir - and to catch up with the latest village gossip.

.....Then - Ali with Alisdair

....................................Now with wife Jane.........

Back at Polglass we had a visit from Ken the Bread, world traveler and reconteur. It was wonderful to see him again - and as usual he regaled us with very funny stories of his past escapades and local goings-on. Ken had worked with Jim Muir at the salmon fishing during the time we were in Coigach - and he misses Jim a lot.

....In the kitchen at Tigh-Abbie

....At the salmon fishing with Jim Muir

Back to Achnahaird and a visit with Ann and Ali Beag. Ali plays a mean accordian - he used to be shy about playing but now writes tunes and has several CD's to his credit. He and Peter Drake play in a Ceilidh band for local dances and we have a CD of their music which we play along with our slide show at fiber fairs. Ali has a devastatingly sharp wit and he and Ann are delightful conversationalists.

While we were visiting, Ali had to nip off to the school where he was to speak Gaelic with a tinker who was giving a talk about a tinker's life to the children.


....................and now......

Down to visit Evelyn Bolster. We used to spend many happy evenings with Evelyn and her husband Arthur and our neighbors Joy and Ian relaxing by a cosy fire and solving the problems of the world. A good dinner and a fine dram or two filled us with the wisdom needed for the job.

Evelyn and I used to practise a few
tunes together and even played for a lady's tea once. Evelyn has kept it up and now plays with a local music group and is doing very well. I, on the other hand, have let my guitar languish unplayed for many years, and now only join the singers at our neighborhood music nights. Sic semper gloria.

Our next visit was with Annie Sinclair, who with her husband, Boysie, owned and ran the Achiltibuie store and petrol pump for all the years we lived in Coigach. She always had a lovely smile and made a trip to the store a pleasure. Now retired she lives a few houses down from the store and it was delightful to visit with her again.

Finally we got to spend time with our friends Kester and Diana Armstrong and their lovely twin daughters. They own the cottage down beyond the very end of the road at Culnacraig. We were so lucky that that they had chosen this very week to come up from their home in Hexham to Holiday in Coigach. We have known Kester and Diana from before the time they were married and were finishing their legal studies back in the 80's. Their friendship has been a treasure for all these years.

We spent our last evening in Coigach at the now spiffied-up Fuaran pub having a delicious dinner with Anne and Iain and the Armstrongs. We had a wonderful time - warm and funny and filled with memories and plans for the future and just plain fun.

We thank whatever gods may be for the joy of knowing all these wonderful people and the priviledge of calling them our friends.

As Burn's song has said ....
"seas between us braid ha'e roared sin auld lang syne ...."
So .." here's a hand my trusty frien' and gie's a hand o' thine
We'll tak' a cup o' kindness yet for auld lang syne"....