Every day is different, every view different, every sight different- Simply- it's the West Highlands of Scotland!
This could not be more true than this weekend - yesterday torrential rain with a modest respite in the afternoon and today wall to wall blue skies, snow crisply lying on the mountain tops sparkling in the sunshine and not a breath of wind. Anyway whilst it is one of the problems with living here it is is also the reason why we choose to be here as every morning is different, every dawn unique and every sunset- or not as the case may be- one on its own!.
So what is different about the week ahead:
Today: After a cold and frost start it will be a stunner- No more need be said!
Monday: It cant last for ever so warmer night as cloud rolls in but bringing patchy rain in the morning, becoming drier and brighter.
Tuesday: Outbreaks of rain clearing from the west in the morning to leave a drier afternoon with some sunshine.
Wednesday: Windy with blustery showers leading to even more snow on hills. More wind and rain followed by a risk of gales.
Thursday: After a wet and windy night we will awaken to blustery showers on Thursday, mainly from the west.
Friday:Cloud, rain and strong winds will continue into the weekend
Saturday:It will begin to turn colder and remain unsettled with a mix of cloudy periods and rain or showers, which may be wintry over high ground.
Often you do not appreciate what you have until someone points it out!
Last week i received a wonderful surprise when a parcel arrived by courier. Nowadays with the wonderful royal mail we seem to have continual deliveries of boxes and parcels and since the birth of Amazon - it seems to give people of Eriska a lifeline to the real world- strange when Oban and the touch shops are only 12 miles away but I suppose this is a sign of the times and a perfect example of the computer age- its easier and probably more cost effective to sit on your couch at home and order items than to get ina car and travel and converse with a shop attendant just down the road.
Anyway the courier left and I was confronted by a carborrd box which intrigued me- what had someone seen as being so important to send a van from Glasgow to deliver. So I opened it with caution and was delighted to see a copy of a new hardback book entitled
As one would expect it had a wonderful paradise island on the front cover and an excellent foreword written by Farhad Vladi, in which he explains the mystery surrounding islands and the magnetic draw which has made him photograph and track private islands for the last 40 years- and indeed it is the same draw which made me keep turning the pages to see the next wonderful spot myself .
So it was probably no surprise that one hour later and 96 islands later I was still flicking through and ignoring my long list of jobs left for me. however the perseverance was worth it as I turned the page and came across a very familiar shot- one of Eriska! I had not anticipate this nor had I been aware, I had not thought of Eriska as one of the 101 Best Islands in the World but was clearly thrilled to be included.
In short we are an island, we are in a stunning part of the world and the location scenery and climate has its own charms and personality as individual and unique as Necker Island in the Caribbean or Heron Island in Australia. Sometimes we simply need to stop- look around- immerse ourselves in our environment and simply appreciate how lucky we are!
So it is great to be reminded by the book and I am sure it will become one of the most read books in the drawingroom and I wonder how many guests will get as far as page 184!
This week marks a stark change in the West Highalnd Seasons
Its often amazing how the climate seems to remain the same and then suddenly overnight we flip into a completely different season. So it has been this week as we started with a mild - if damp - Monday and this was soon followed by torrential rain- stories of 6 inches falling in 45 minutes do not seem implausible- and strong winds so that today when we awaken - the leaves are off the trees, the temperature is almost 10 degrees lower and the mountains of Kingairloch and Ben Cruachan have white snow caps adorning them- winter is truly here!
Strangley it seems later than usual and this woudl not be a surprise as the summer seemed to continue longer than normal and this has pushed autumn into November. The Deer Rut and stalking was certainly later and whilst I am hearing stories of a great month on the mountains with fantastic images of Rutting Stags it does play havoc with my plans for collecting leaves in October and we still have a lot of raking and burning to do now to get tideied up for Christmas
It is one of the stregnths of Scotland the ever changing weather and certainly one of te attractions compared with places that never seem to alter seasons- fortunately its one which we appreciate even if its also one we seem to continually complain about! So what is in store for this first week of winter!
Today: Bright with sunny spells and scattered showers today although be warned that the showers will be fierce!
Monday: Bright with sunny spells, but also scattered showers, mainly over higher ground at first, but developing further east during the afternoon, perhaps the odd heavy one later over Eriska. Fresh or strong west to northwesterly winds slowly easing.
Tuesday: Showers will become more isolated and confined to coastal areas , with long clear spells inland, leading to fairly widespread frost over rural parts as the winds fall light.
Wednesday: A few showers continuing , otherwise a dry and bright day with lengthy spells of sunshine for most parts. Light west to northwesterly winds.
Thursday: Rain clearing to showers then bright with sunny spells and showers in the evening.
Friday:After a dry night some heavy and prolonged periods of rain. Windy, risk of gales
Saturday:Rain will soon clear leaving clearer but showery weather for most of the weekend. It is likely to stay largely unsettled thereafter with showers or longer spells of rain, locally heavy.
Throwing out items can bring back memories!
Finally after a couple of weeks of staring at a pile of a box of papers in our office I decided to do the task I have been putting off. many years ago- before we arrived the office at Eriska the area to the left of the front door - like many houses - was the washroom- it is now- refurbished and holds the offices and reception of the house. Above our office is an old store where there used to be a water tank, it has been disused for many years and is now a store for old paperwork and documents of importance to the Inland Revenue but , I thought, of little interest to anyone else. Anyway as it is in part of the old house it is an a fairly high ceilinged room but as it used to be the old water closet for the house it is also quite constrained so requires time and patience in getting a ladder in position and help in transporting any materials in either direction.
Anyway yesterday seemed to be quiet and there was a lull in activity - that combined with a great deal of furniture movement due to one of the rooms in the main house being refurbished that I decided to utilise the added hands and move the document pile into its new home and at the same time clear out some of the older material from above the office.
All a really simple task if only it was that simple!
Whilst the store is dry and warm it is also dusty and cramp so once I had squeezed into the space movement remained constricted and I had to double move some of the boxes just to create enough room operate. Then I realized that moving the boxes out of the space may or already had become even more of a challenge than initially thought so we set up a stream to pass simply the paper work down and then replace it with the new documents leaving the original boxes in place. After a strenuous 30 minutes all seemed to be complete until I came across a treasure trove of a box near the bottom.
My eye was first caught by a wages book dating back to 1980 and a quick flick though showed some names I recognized and clearly some I had no recollection of - however interestingly 34 years has seen the top hotel salary increase by 10 times and the bottom salary increase only by 7 times- maybe a sign of the times. I then came across some menus from back in the seventies and whilst some of the dishes are similar there is certainly a few dated elements- fruit cup and mushroom paste are probably not dishes we would serve today but it certainly raised a wry smile from Ross when he was chatting with my Mum about the old times- still porridge and Oatcakes remain timeless!
Then I came across the quote for the tennis court - £5000 in 1980 seemed a bargain but more impressively was all the documentation regarding planning permission to erect a 2.2m fence around the court to form a ball enclosure- one my father was arguing was a deer fence despite it having a 5m gap in one side to let spectators watch the game! A battle he won although the tome of paperwork and letters may not have seemed worthwhile to most it must have been a moral victory to my father.
Even his drawing of the fence in triplicate to scale - using copier carbon paper -was slightly ironic and appeared to have caused the planners final straw to let them accept his plans. In reality achieving planning permission for a 12m high shed to cover the court two years ago seems to have been easier than his initial battle.
Finally we have come across all the quotations for the work on converting Eriska back in 1973. In reality these documents will have little interest to others but have a small place in our heart and I will now have to reduce down the box for common sense but will keep the heart just in case. 40 years of memories will fill more than a box but maybe all that was discovered and unearthed yesterday will be the catalyst for more! We are still appealing for any memories or images of guests stays at Eriska over the last 4 decades and would welcome any more.
With most of the leaves now off the trees and the wind starting to bring in colder breezes its not hard to believe that winter is just around the corner. However the change of clocks last night at least makes the mornings seem easier even if the down side is that the evenings will start closing in and definately - for us - that will mean that the curtains will be closed even earlier but thats even more of an excuse to snuggle down beside a log fire with a nice book and kind malt to enjoy!
In reality we can look back at tis autumn having been quite kind with a late fall of leaves and then some stronger winds to help them off the trees and make the teams job easier to clear them up and prepare for winter. When I checked my mothers sun machine for the last month it showed that many days had as much sunshine as peak summer and even though it was cooler it was at least dry and bright.
So whats ahead for next week:
Today: Rain at first but soon dying out to clear skies and light winds. Winds then freshen with blustery showers spreading from west,
Monday: Frequent showers, turning squally with heavy rain, or hail and thunder. South becoming southwest winds will reach gale force in showers with surface water and spray making travel difficult.
Tuesday: Bright at first but showers developing, turning cooler and breezier
Wednesday: Fairly repetitive but more persistent rain due in through the afternoon.
Thursday:The end of the week looks unsettled with showers or longer spells of rain, and generally windy so Thursday provides a lull before the storm!
Friday: Probably strong winds possibly gale force and potentially a very wet and windy day.
Saturday: Not much better but the wind will begin to die down later in the day and lead to a period of calm.
The essence of life is learning through enjoyment.
No place is this more prevalent than in our pursuit of further knowlege in the fields of wines and food - so what better way to combine these two fascinating topics than by arranging a weekend of education her at Eriska. Or so we though back in 1993 when we first organised a Winter Wine Weekend. Back in those days we all had so much more time - and it could be argued a far greater thirst for knowledge that we used to run a three day weekend. Guests arrived on the Thursday in preparation for a full day in the kitchen. On the Friday our kitchen team would be joined by experts in their field to help explain and educate. One that sprung to mind was a Seafood and Chardonnay weekend when Andy Race- our fish merchant arrived- late on Thursday because in those days the market on Thursday night physically took place in Mallaig and he had to be there in person to examine, bid and purchase the fish.
On the Friday monring he simply brought in a huge box of mixed fish and with 20 guests sitting round, dressed in aprons and armed with knives he tallked through the box demonstrated how to identify, pick and select the best fish ( a lesson I still utilise) and how to prpeare it for the the kicthen with ease. This, as then, followed by working demonstrations and then the kitchen team took his work and helped show how it could be transformed. All sounded so simple but by the end of the day we had a great lunch and had some wonderful produce ready for dinner.
Then we are joined by some partners who could not escape for all three days and had a wonderful dinner focussing on the proiduce that had been prepared and with an introduction to wines of the world all featuring the Chardonnay Grape.
On Saturday we had anther practical; day with a demonstartion and talk from Inverawe Smokehouse highlighting the skill involved in curing and smoking fish- a skill we then took even further when we opened our own smoker- and then after lunch it was out on the water- some went out with a prawn creeler, some went to a local Oyster Hatchery and farm and some simply wantered on the beach as part of a guided foraging tour.
This was all simply to build up an appetite for dinner which was proceeded by a tasting of Chardonnay wines from around the world highlighting the huge range of grapes and abilities to create a diverse yet wonderful product. Then for dinner, the kitchen having been slightly freer and less invaded by fishmongers and guests- created a wonderful gastronomic dinner which was matched by a variety of wines which complemented the palate.
A greta fun weeknd and everybody learnt something- some more than others but all had left their cares of the world behind and ultimately relaxed.
However those days have slightly slipped away.
Time has become even more valuable but our thirst for knowledge has not waned so we are delighted to be able to announce that we will be joined by Mark O'Bryen, Master of Wine and Taittinger Ambassador to the Uk for our Winter Wine weekend which takes place over the weekend of the 16th November. In order to offer complete flexibility we have restricted the main event to a Champagne Masterclass on the Saturday Afternoon - for those not intersted in the rugby internationals!- and havearranged a tutored tasting to accompany Rosses wonderful dinner. It will allow Mark to Showcase the rangeform tis great champagne house and really introduce it to novices whilst evolving experts palates to appreciate the finer details. Clearly it will give teh opportunity to showcse the range but I am certain that we wil eb able to slip in a glass of still wine to help tittivate the taste buds styill further.
The Equinox - days get shorter and nights get longer!
If only it was a simple as this but in reality it is the end of summer and the official start of Autumn. All the schools are back, the daily basket of apples from the orchard is regular and the leaves are starting to fall added to this the nights are closing in and Autumn is most definitely here. my mother would agree with this as he maintains no central heating for the summer and that Autumn is here when heating is needed- and to think 5 years ago central heating would have been a luxury only required when the snow was on the ground!
Anyway I always think of this weekend as being wet and windy due to the expected equinox gales and the rush in the boat yard to get all the boats out of the water for winter before the winds start to roar. At least this prediction was right yesterday as sitting by a roaring log fire enjoying the comforts of the library was very tempting but as usual today bucked the trend and calm tranquil weather purveyed leaving me a little foolish in my weather forecast but maybe I can do better for this week's west highland weather!
Today: Mainly dry with some clear intervals during this evening and overnight, but generally a good deal of cloud. Some light, patchy, rain with extensive hill fog. Some mist patches developing later in places.
Monday: Mist patches clearing then bright and mainly dry with some sunny intervals developing. Cloudier with any early, light, rain dying out
Tuesday: After a dry start outbreaks of rain spreading south later on
Wednesday: A cloudy damp morning turning to heavy heavy rain for a time.
Thursday: Brighter weather today following yesterdays rain before rain returns northwards in the afternoon
Friday: Rain is likely to affect us at first on Friday but it should become mainly dry with some warm sunny spells in the afternoon.
Saturday: After a dry night rain or showers are likely to spread in from the south so deending on progress we should have a better morning although it will set in for the weekend.
Todays fads are not always tomorrows trends...
In a world of ever changing needs and skills it is often worth occasionally taking a step back and seeing what really matters - not short term trends but long term values. Eriska is now entering its fifth decade under the guise of a hotel. It was established simply back in the early seventies to offer a warmth and hospitality to those who chose to stay with us and today this core remains at our heart.
However we have over the years strived to achieve this in many ways-
Some well planned and programmed others chanced upon and cobbled together but always we have tried to blend our three ingredients- the place the people who visit and finally the team we work with- to create the best final product. We spend hours looking at the guest profiles, we spend every penny we earn to improve the place investing and finally we value our team but in this pursuit of success we sometimes both lose touch with our core and miss out on the simple fixes and most important opportunities.
So when we do gain the chance to simply walk out our back door and look around, stop and enjoy the environment, pause and soak up where we live it is not surprising that it keeps bringing us back to the basics and even more importantly the simple things upon which Eriska was established. To some when we come across these Eureka moments it seems like an obvious "No Brainer" - to others it is to simple to matter - and to others it may seem like a pointless crusade and time wasting concept- to the final category I would suggest Eriska is not for you!
When Eriska first started it was not only a country house hotel but more a working farm and its largest producer of its own raw material - we had dairy herd that produced- milk, butter cheese and cream, hens for eggs and gardens for vegetables. A very large Deep Freeze to benefit the heavy summer harvests and hold for a longer winter , and also to take account of the lack of regular summer supplies. Today we have had to give up the farm but the garden still produces herbs and salads along with the orchard looking after apples and pears for a couple of months of the year.
We can access world markets and get regular deliveries but are we really catering for our customers bringing products and ingredients from across the world - are we selling ourselves best showcasing the world to the world or would we be better showcasing Eriska and Scotland to the world.
It seems a simple and logical step in our pursuit to be unique and individual that we take what we believe is best and showcase this, and even more logical would be that the best fresh produce would be that which has come out of the ground most recently and traveled fewest miles. So under the guidance of our New Head Chef Ross Stovold and his team we have set about changing our view from the kitchen. Luckily this is supported by a resurgence in foraging - although in our view forgaing is not only about trapsing round the island looking for produce but also about working with local businesses to help and encourge them to deliver products we want and where necessary it is up to us to support them as we persuade them to go do a different route to market.
So it is probably no surprise to hear that Eriska was yesterday Awarded its latest award by Visit Scotland of "Taste our Best". This is a new scheme both supported and backed by the Scottish Government which highlights properties which showcase more than 40% of their menu from the locality. Although apparently the locality to the customer ranges greatly but for ease in this excersise- and I am sure nothing to do with the push for independence- Local means Scottish.!
However the scheme does not stop a simply awarding a plaque but also offers feedback to business about where they could make a difference and has been linked to the Food and Drink suppliers with a website to help identify other potential producers which may currently be anonymous and unknown. We were delighted to not only be one of the first to be recognised but more imporantly that this recognition aligns so clearly with our principles. Hopefully the scheme will take off and be a great success and that will require the customers to grasp and support it too.
In the meantime it is out on the island between showers, to pick more Brambles and Chantarelle otherwise we will have some hungry guests tonight!
I try each day to learn something new in an attempt to improve myself daily.
This may sound like a grand foolproof plan but at this rate I am not really making progress and sometimes not even standing still as I seem to become more forgetful-- well that's what all the team around me keep highlighting!!
So today as I drove out to get the papers I was listening to the history of St Swithens Day and hence the new obsession with the weather forecast for tomorrow
Swithun was initially buried out of doors, rather than in his cathedral, apparently at his own request. William of Malmesbury recorded that the bishop left instructions that his body should be buried outside the church, ubi et pedibus praetereuntium et stillicidiis ex alto rorantibus esset obnoxius [where it might be subject to the feet of passers-by and to the raindrops pouring from on high], which has been taken as indicating that the legend was already well known in the 12th century.
In 971 it was decided to move his body to a new indoor shrine, and one theory traces the origin of the legend to a heavy shower by which, on the day the move, the saint marked his displeasure towards those who were removing his remains.
The name of Swithun is best known today for a British weather lore proverb, which says that if it rains on Saint Swithun's day, 15 July, it will rain for 40 days.
- St Swithun's day if thou dost rain
- For forty days it will remain
- St Swithun's day if thou be fair
- For forty days 'twill rain nae mare
So what is ahead for this week and in particularly tomorrow!!
Today: After a stunningweek last week today will remain- Dry with some sunshine but rather more cloudy than yesterday.
Monday:Rather cloudy with still a little rain over higher hills- maybe at tis point we should highlight that St Swithen is burried in Winchester which is expecting a sunny day!
Tuesday:Rather cloudy and breezy with still a little rain, mainly over higher hills
Wednesday: It will be a dry and bright day with sunny spells.
Thursday:Rather cloudy but shuld at least remain dry
Friday: Dry, brighter and warmer on Friday with sunny spells and light winds.
Saturday: Largely fine and dry at first but it may change overnight into sunday where there may be some cloud and outbreaks of rain.
As I stepped onto the platform this morning I wondered how many other commuters had experienced as enjoyable a Saturday as I had? On Friday night I had the good fortune to hear Jools Holland and his big band play in Perth. After the concert I drove across to Eriska. There was a thick dark blue band of light on the horizon even though it was close to midnight. The longest day is just around the corner and hopefully some better weather is on it way.
I arrived at Eriska around 2:00 am, and Beppo met me with the news that we would be leaving shortly after six. Moments after my eyelids closed it was time to get up. Our task was to pre-position Beppo's boat in the Clyde ready for racing over the Bank Holiday weekend.
Things were looking promising. Seona had arranged scrambled egg and bacon rolls and a suitably highly calorific picnic. The passage down toward the Crinan Canal was wonderful. A northerly wind pushed us down past Oban and on past Easdale and Seil. We had clear views of Ben More on Mull, and we speculated on the progess of the boats in the Scottish Islands Peak Race. The runners of the slower boats would have been on Ben More in the dark, but they all should have been well on their way to Jura to tackle the Paps.
A little later we passed Corryvreckan. I remembered that that George Orwell's brother-in-law is famed as the first man to swim the whirlpool. This is more of an achievement because he only had one leg. We arrived at the start of the lock system in relatively good time, although there was still a fair chance that we would not make it out the other end before the locks closed. Seona had come down to lend a hand and give us a lift back to Eriska. The lock system provides a critical safe passageway for boats to move between the west coast and the Clyde. As well as being a fantastic example of engineering, the canal is a very peaceful interlude between the rugged seascape of the west coast and the wide estuarial waters of the post-industrial Clyde.
In my view the west coast provides the most amazing yacht cruising of anywhere in Britain, but the Clyde is a close second. Therefore to be able to link both of these areas up in a single day trip is especially appealing. I always find the seaward approach to Eriska very dramatic. If you are ever leaving by boat and going south, take a glance over your shoulder and you will get a unique glimpse of the Baronial elegance of the main house. Using the canal makes a trip to Eriska for dinner followed by a return passage home the next day a viable, and very attractive, possibility for Clyde-based yacht owners.