Friday, May 30, 2008

More days in Glen Affric

I got back from working at Glen Affric Hostel yesterday afternoon. The days went really quickly this time, with few electrical/plumbing issues to deal with, and no guest accidents!

All photos are here.

David (Inverness manager) drove me in Monday morning. We were joined on the trip by Dave's wife Ailsa and their two dogs, Ash and Cillie. The last time Dave brought the dogs there, they ran up a mountain on him, so this time Ailsa was able to keep an eye on them so they didn't do that.

We all sat in the front of the Land Rover with the dogs sitting in the back, Cillie constantly trying to perch on top of my box of food, so my bread ended up with a squished-in lean to it.

At the Affric car park, we were joined by Carl the water treatment guy, so I moved to sit in the back with the dogs to let him, being taller, sit in the front (having experienced the track ride in both the front and the back, I can definitely say the front is more comfortable. Riding in the back involves holding on to the wall and sort of riding on the balls of your feet more than sitting down at times.)

A rocky section of the track in; you can see why it's bumpy.

The last 7 miles of the trip takes about an hour due to the roughness of the track. From what I remember reading about horse-and-wagon speeds, I think 7 miles per hour is on par with that.

We arrived at the hostel to find Stephen cheerful and even more tanned than last month. There were other changes: the glen was much greener, it now being late May instead of mid-April.

If you look at my pictures from last time, you'll see these same two trees, but without any leaves on them:

The bridge by the hostel that had been washed away in the rains before Easter has now been put back in place by the National Trust guys, and labelled.

After some business, everyone else eventually headed back out. I spent the afternoon sitting out of the wind in the sun (it was warm without the wind) reading my book and waiting for guests to arrive.

Later Monday evening, we ran out of water, which I had known might happen since the burn was so low due to the lack of rain. With the help of the hostel guests, we got the inlet pipe back under water by damming up the burn with rocks, then removed the airlocks from the pipe and got it flowing again. Because the bottom of the tank had contained much silt, the water flow then stopped around 10pm that night because the mechanical filter had clogged up. A couple of the guests again helped me clean it out and reassemble it, and then I cleaned it again in the morning and the water was fine after that.

On Tuesday, I did some cleaning and water works as I mentioned. While working, a fellow popped his head in the back door, asked me if I was the warden, and then asked "Are you serving food during the day?" in a tone of voice that implied that he was sure we'd be serving in the evening. I informed him that we never served food, and he seemed quite surprised. He asked me if the Cluanie Inn served food (a 7-8 mile walk back to the main road), and I told him that they would. Fancy expecting a restaurant in the middle of an otherwise empty glen!

By the time I got out the door for a walk it was about 1pm. I walked down to Loch Affric along the path, here's some photos I took along the way:

A couple of little waterfalls:

Mountains before the loch.

Loch Affric:

Part of the forest the National Trust is working at restoring:

I walked back to the hostel, arriving just after 4pm. Again the evening flew by with having dinner and chatting with guests.

Wednesday was cold and rainy, so I didn't go for a walk but stayed in with a book. I never managed to read much of the book, because the weather meant that lots of people stopped in - people who had been camping and wanted to stay, and also those who had booked in. I didn't have enough space for all the campers, but they sat around and dried out by the fire for a bit.

The weather started clearing up some in the evening, with the low cloud gradually receding on Thursday morning.

Then before I knew it, Thursday had arrived, when I was to be picked up. Not knowing exactly when Kevin would arrive with Stephen, I went for wander up the mountain path out back just for an hour or so. Took another requisite photo of the youth hostel from above:
Kevin and I had a bumpy ride out, as the rain had softened the ground and allowed for several potholes. We also had to haul out bags of rubbish that people had sneakily been leaving behind (lazy people!). So it was a smelly and noisy ride out of the glen with bottles clanking in the back. Fortunately, once we got back to the road we got enough air circulation from the open windows that we couldn't smell the rubbish anymore.

So that was my few days in Glen Affric once again. And so ended my career with the SYHA, as I'm now finished work. The first of my trips starts this Sunday, when Tina and I are going to visit Alysha in Belfast.

Back in town

I'm back from Glen Affric, and will post about that later today or tomorrow.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Last of the sheets!

I'm nearing the end of my last shift at this hostel. Tomorrow I'm going to Glen Affric to work there until Thursday, and after that I'm finished work. For those who don't know, I'm then doing a month of holidaying around Scotland before returning to Canada.

It's been a busy enough last shift. I just finished the sheets about half an hour ago. Who knows what jobs I'll do in the future, but for the moment I've folded my last laundry professionally (well, paid laundry folding - if there's a professional laundry folding association, I'm afraid I don't belong to it).

There's no bed linen provided at Glen Affric, so that's why I'm done doing laundry if you're wondering.

A few things I've never gotten around to putting in a post that I'll do now. I'm sure they'll be more at another time.

There's a cat that lives at the train station - I've only seen it next to platform 6, so I'll assume it sleeps somewhere around there, maybe under the floor that's built for the operators to use. The railway workers must feed it, as there's often a dish out for it. It's a little black cat, quite friendly, lets strangers like me pet it. I call it Station Cat (how original), but I'm sure the railworkers have named it something themselves. I like it when businesses can have animals around like that. We don't have official office pets here, but our manager's dogs are in sometimes, and his cat pays visits when he's lonely or roaming at night.

I don't know if I've talked about the instances of men wearing kilts over here before, but it does happen, generally for weddings where it goes with the fancy shirt and jacket. It does look quite sharp. An odd/funny thing about this to me, is when you see a guy kitted out in the full Bonnie Prince Charlie (i.e., the formal jacket, shirt, socks, shoes, dagger, sporran, etc ), looking like he's stepped out of the past, and then you see him pulling his mobile phone out of his sporran. Old and new.

Anyway, I'll once again be away from the internet for a while, so it'll be Thursday or Friday before I can post again.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


The past two days I spent hanging out and playing tour-guide a bit with Kelly and Sean (some photos are here). Kelly lives in Dublin but is from Nova Scotia, I met her when I first arrived in Scotland and then visited her when in Ireland. Sean is a friend of hers from back in Nova Scotia, where he lives now. It was his first trip overseas, and he and Kelly had done some touring in Ireland before coming over here on the ferry in Kelly's car (a Nissan Micra).

Tuesday morning I caught the bus down to Fort William to meet them, and we did some hiking in Glen Nevis. Kelly was well amazed by the twistiness of the road through Glen Nevis and the way there is so many blind crests on it. We didn't walk up Ben Nevis (the highest mountain in Britain), as it's a long ol' slog, but instead walked along a burn into the glen.
We then started the drive up to Inverness, stopping to view Loch Ness at a few locations along the way. The fresh air in the morning had made us all a bit dozy on the rest of the drive up. Went out for a really good Indian dinner once in town, and then went to Hootananny's pub to satisfy Sean's mission of trying one new beer per day of his travels.

On Wednesday, we went out to Cawdor Castle, another sight on Sean's list. Although the castle is quite old (around 14th century), it's a fancy modern home inside with the owners still living in it outside of the summer months (we figured they must have a "summer castle"). So there's old portraits and books mixed in with modern art, some carefully chosen family photos, and fashion magazines. The descriptions of the rooms were often funny in a dry sort of way due to the language used; a fireplace in one room was described as "hopelessly off-centre".
We took a walk in the castle grounds and found some gigantic old trees; here's Kelly demonstrating the size of one.

Next we went off to the Black Isle to tour the small brewery run there on an organic farm. Then we went up to Foulis (across the Cromarty Firth) for lunch. The rest of the day was spent taking care of errands back in town and then just hanging about. Thursday morning saw Kelly and Sean heading eastward to visit a friend in Aberdeen.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Kite Flying and the Water of Life

Two completely unrelated topics in the post title.

I've had a cold this past week, and when it was in it's filled-sinus stage I was treating it with whiskey (and bed rest, I should add - I read 4 novels in 3 days). I've had people back in Canada recommend the spirit for head colds to me, but I never tried it back then. At some point in my sojourn in Scotland I was given whiskey, in the form of a hot toddy, when sick and it is rather miraculous stuff. Truly the "water of life" as its Gaelic name indicates. Honestly, try the stuff - whiskey, hot water, and sugar or honey if you don't like the taste of whiskey.

Unfortunately, I'm now at the irritating cough stage of the cold, which whiskey doesn't really seem to help with.

The weather's been holding up nicely - it's a bit cool due to the breeze at times, but it's still largely sunny, and not raining anyway. When it was warm enough (i.e. out of the wind), I've done some of my convalescent reading in the sun. Inverness is a really pretty town on a sunny day - walking down the High Street you see all the old buildings, and then the river and hills glimpsed in between them. Along the river loads of people are out for walks with their kids or their dogs. I think it's really nice that Inverness has a clean river, so that animals like ducks are in it, people can let their dogs swim in it, and people fish in it

Taking advantage of the sunny weather, I went kite flying with Sam out at Findhorn on Saturday afternoon. He bought a kite that has two lines on it, which means you can steer it, so it was unlike any kite flying that I've done before that was basically just holding on to a string. I crashed it a few times when trying to make it dive, and occasionally got it twisted up from loops and couldn't remember which way to make the kite loop to untwist it, but over the course of the afternoon I can say that my flying improved and it was lots of fun. And with a kite that you can steer, you can use it to chase people who annoy you, although I didn't put it to that use.

Monday, May 12, 2008


It's sunny and warm again here today, not as hot as last week but still quite nice.

It hasn't been that busy a morning today. Yesterday, we had 170 people checking out, which made for a busy morning of check-outs for me and trying to get laundry done. I was wading through sheets. This morning, there was only 26 check-outs. I was able to take time to feed the ducks - there's 3 mallard ducks, 2 males and 1 female, that have been coming by the hostel everyday for the past couple of weeks. I'm told they come every year. They usually stop out at the back door of the kitchen (they come in shifts lately - only one or two at a time, but several times a day) where Gail, our chef, will give them some bits of bread. When Gail's not in, they wander up toward the main doors, where I can spy them. The other day they got muesli, today it was cornflakes. The female's quite accustomed to people; she had no fear of waddling right up to me.

The nationality of our guests goes in phases. For a few weeks, the coach groups were either French or German people. Then we got some Swedish groups, and another French. In the last week, the Americans and Canadians have started to appear, first as a trickle and now in droves. We had a Haggis Tours group of them the other night - a nicely behaved group, I should mention, if you remember my previous experiences with those groups.

The odd thing to me is how few of the Americans and Canadians realize that I'm from Canada. I don't think my pronounciation has changed that much - it's more intonation of speech, changing to the rhythm that people speak with in the UK, and using the vocabulary. It's enough of a difference that most North Americans don't pick up on my accent unless they talk to me for a while - longer than the usual check-in conversation. I have my work voice, I guess, just like I have a telephone voice, and it's those voices that have changed. If the conversation gets more informal, then I slip back into my old speech and the guests start to clue in to my origins.

Of course, no one Scottish ever mistakes me for Scottish - they might wonder where I'm from, but they usually peg it down to me being a native English speaker, so from a former British colony.

Friday, May 09, 2008

More photos and sun

I've put up my photos from Nairn and Elgin in the linked albums.

The weather's been sunny and even hot the last few days, up to the mid-twenties by times. I've been having to wear sunscreen and walking around in shirt-sleeves, a rare occurrence for me over here. I had the last two days off and spent some of it with Tina who stayed over Wednesday afternoon until Thursday afternoon. Otherwise I've been going for walks along the river, rollerblading, or reading outside - just taking advantage of the weather while it lasts. It's supposed to start raining tomorrow, so that'll be the end of it for a while.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Daytrips in Moray

My days off this week were Wednesday and Thursday. I took a daytrip each day; here's a map to show you where I went (described below) relative to Inverness. I haven't gotten my own photos uploaded yet because the library has been closed due to the Bank Holiday weekend and I've been busy other days. I'll add the photos when I get the chance, until then there's some to see if you follow the links I've posted.

I went to Nairn on Wednesday, hoping the predicted rain would hold off (as it looked nice and sunny when I left Inverness). It was a 30 minute trip on the bus, and getting there I wandered down the High Street before taking a stroll on the sandy beach. Around then it started getting rainy, so I sat in a shelter on the beach for a while, watching the waves, before heading back into town to get some lunch. The rain was keeping staying pretty heavy, so I headed back to Inverness at that point.

Nairn's not a bad looking little town, although it unfortunately has some not-so-nice looking abandonned buildings on the main road that you see driving past (the High Street being one street over). At the cafe where I had lunch, they had three clocks on the wall, labelled Nairn, Auldearn, and Cawdor. The first two clocks had the correct time, and the Cawdor clock was 20 minutes behind. I'm not sure if that's a local joke about Cawdor folk being late all the time or what.

Most interesting street name I spied in Nairn: Society Street. Sounds rather la-di-da.

Back in Inverness that afternoon, I went to the local musuem, which is free, and learned a bit about Scottish geology and early.

Thursday the weather predictions were for better weather, so I had saved a trip to Elgin for that day, primarily to visit the ruined cathedral. Elgin town itself, once I found it, was nice (I was navigating from the train station to the town centre by looking for small, old buildings and more people on the streets, and ended up in New Elgin (a relative term) first). Although the High Street has all the chain shops you expect in any UK town nowadays, the layout is still the medieval streets that open up on a marketplace around St. Gile's Church (you can see this on the page I linked to).

I picked up some lunch and ate it at the base of the Lady Hill Monument, a pillar to the last Duke of Gordon (and called the Gordon monument on the Elgin page I linked to). There's a small ruins of a castle at that site as well, although sadly it's become a local drinking spot judging by the empty cans and broken glass.

Interesting street names in Elgin: Seceder's Close (it was closed off by a door) and Lazarus Lane.

Despite the guidebook saying that the cathedral was "clearly signposted", I found no sign for it in the town centre, although there was directions to just about everything else a tourist could want, and beyond - a shop for mobility scooters was signposted everywhere as well. I eventually found it by following my books directions to go north-east of the tourist office, once I found the tourist office.

The cathedral lies in ruins primarily because it fell into disuse after the Reformation and people looted bits and time took its toll on the others. From what I read, back in the day when the central tower was still standing and the rest of it, it was a pretty big player as far as cathedral stature goes.

One of the in-floor tombstones in the cathedral that I could read was for one Colin Innes Glover, a former official of some sort in Elgin. No idea what year he died, but it was in February and in a time when "life" was spelled as "lyf". The stone had a skull and crossbones on it, and that motif appeared elsewhere in the cathedral carvings, more than I've seen in any other I've been in.

The two towers around the main cathedral entrance are still standing for so many stories, so I was able to climb up the winding narrow staircase to get an overhead view of the ruins after I'd wandered around in them. As I was coming down, a coach tour group was arriving, so I figured by then it was a good time to leave to avoid the crowds, and high-tailed it back to the train station to catch the next train back to Inverness.