West coast phenomenom are not few nor far between so each I am never surprised with what I discover- it's one of the charms of living on Eriska!
As I walked home the other night I noticed two figures on the ground by the hotel- two guests lying on their back gazing up at the dark skies above. Initially I thought something tragic had happened and then I noticed they were looking at an ipad screen and enjoying the view . After a brief discussion I found out that they were lying looking at the dark skies- a natural occurance with little or no light source close by casuing pollution and working out the sights and shapes with the help of a trusty app!
Unlike the big cities (i.e Glasgow, Manchester and London) where you’d be lucky to see more than just Orion’s belt on a good night, Argyll has very little light pollution so on a clear night you really do see it all: stars, planets and the occasional satellite casually moving in-between.
As well as all the usual constellations that can generally be seen from anywhere in the northern hemisphere, like Ursa Major (which is partly made up of the “Big Dipper” or “Plough”), Ursa Minor, Cassiopeia and Draco; those out stargazing locally get to enjoy some truly phenomenal sights without having to use a telescope.
Being consumed by complete darkness at night allows a great view of small clusters of new born stars resulting from a supernova; the edge of the Milky Way and an a whole other galaxy in the Andromeda cluster. Even without a powerful telescope it is possible to make out shapes and details if the skies are clear although the use of any form of magnification is always
going to help the star gazers. In addition you can also enquire in the office and there is always a helpful guide on hand to assist or at least point you in the right direction or ipad address!
So before the nights get too short and the days too long it is worth getting out of cities to see the real dark skies
Well it’s official: Spring is here.
With daffodils shooting up light rockets all over the island and another week of dry and sunny weather, our guests this week have really been able to make the most of their stay with us: enjoying our variety of nature walks; sitting outside in the sunshine with a cool glass of lemonade and some of our younger residents even went on an outdoor Easter egg hunt, around the gardens, earlier in the week.
Though the mornings are still a little too frosty, the days are getting warmer and warmer, with temperatures having gone into double digits most days, leaving some of our unprepared visitors with a little bit of sunburn.
Let’s hope that our luck with the weather persists another week and we can avoid the dreaded April showers
Today: Expect a cloudy day, with some sunny intervals later in the afternoon.
Monday: After a dry night, we’ll be greeted with lots of sunshine, with some white clouds.
Tuesday: Another cloudy day with sunny intervals and slightly stronger winds blowing in from the east.
Wednesday: Following a calm and cloudy night, expect a cloudy day with some sun in the morning.
Thursday: Expect to see the first signs of dark grey clouds and some light showers ln the afternoon.
Friday: More dark clouds and light rain showers expected to fill the sky throughout the day
Saturday: Another day of April Showers, though with temperatures expecting to be higher than earlier in the week
Spring and a middle-aged man’s thoughts…
Each year I look up the method by which the date of Easter is derived but, try as I might, I can never commit it to memory. It does feel like Easter is early this year however. We have passed the equinox (equal periods of night and day) and longer days are coming our way. The clocks have sprung forward, so it is fair to say that spring is with us.
Spring, the season when a middle-aged man’s thoughts turn to hillwalking.
Hillwalking options in Scotland are legend. In a nutshell Scotland has 284 mountains over 3,000ft above sea level. This dwarfs the four in England, eight in Wales and seven in Eire. At this stage it is worth pointing out that the measurement and classification of mountains is an activity that is fraught and there are various (generally quite tedious in my view) disagreements regarding definitions. Using any definition of what constitutes a mountain Scotland has many more.
There are some alluring aspects to the Scottish hills. The most important is that they are invariably set in scenic locations. Their remote nature restricts the numbers of visitors, so they are a great place to enjoy a little solitude. Most of the summits can be reached on foot without any technical climbing, and virtually all of them can be undertaken as one-day trips. Many of the hills are relatively family friendly and the summits are accessible for both the young and the old. Caution is required however, as the weather can change rapidly in the hills making the environment hostile.
Many readers will have already hiked in the Scottish mountains and know a fair amount about their history and location, and therefore might like to skip the forthcoming passage. The Scottish mountains that are over 3,000ft (913m) and are known as ‘Munros’. Sir Hugh Munro was the author of the first table of Scottish mountains back in 1891. There is a distinction between ‘Munros’, which are the separate mountains, and ‘tops’ which are all of the pronounced points or peaks that exceed 3,000ft.
What constitutes a separate mountain has been the subject of many heated discussions.
There is no definitive set of criteria and such distinction as does exist is based on the drop in height, the distance between adjacent summits, their character, the nature of the intervening ground and the time taken to travel from one to another.
Walkers who are in the process of ticking off, or bagging each peak are often called ‘tickers’ or ‘baggers’, whilst those that have achieved the feat are called ‘completers’. Munro managed to climb most but not all of the peaks. It is widely held that the first person to complete the list was the Reverend A.E. Robertson, however some interesting detective work from my former University colleague Dr Robin Campbell has cast doubt on this fact. Therefore Ronald Burn might be the first person to have completed the Munro list.
This Easter we experienced a fantastic spell of weather that was ideal for Scottish hill walking. A high pressure system seemed to have parked itself over Scotland. We managed to get to the summit of several Munros that we had not visited previously. Despite there being some very cold easterly winds, the skies were blue and we could see for miles. On the way home from this trip we dropped in to visit our family on the Isle of Eriska.
Eriska is a fantastic base from which to undertake some hillwalking day trips. Beinn Sgulaird is a short drive from the hotel. One guide book describes this as ‘an easy traverse for a lazy afternoon with fine coastal views of Benderloch and Appin’. The views are indeed spectacular but the ease of this trip will depend on your fitness, it is about 4 miles and 3050ft of assent. The four Munros that tower above Loch Awe (Ben Cruachan, Stob Diamh, Beinn a’ Chochuill and Beinn Eunaich) also make for easy day trips from the hotel. Slightly longer drives clockwise to Glen Coe, or anti-clockwise to Tyndrum open up a wealth of other options for bagging Munros.
There are a number of quaint Munro related records. These include the fasted completion, completing the list multiple times and the first completion in a single winter. A while ago I was told that most people finish their Munro list on Ben More on Mull which is also easily accessible from the hotel. I wonder who will be the first completer to celebrate at Eriska?
Vernon Gayle EON ( Eriska's Official kNowledge)
It's no April fool there is really a whale in the Bay!
This was a common phrase in Argyll over the easter weekend. and to date our underwater visitor remains in the bay, he is however not always easy to spot! Indeed two of our guests on Sunday set off for Oban Airport and a planned trip in the skies. A clever entrepreneur not only decided to base himself over Easter Weekend at the airport and take visitors up in his plane to see Argyll but more importantly chose a stunning weekend- one in a million bank holiday weekends seem dry and sunny- and consequently some great shots of the area were possible.
However despite flying down towards Islay, out to Mull and Duart and then on up the greta glen to see Castle Stalker and the Coran narrows they returned in time for Afternoon tea to show off their shots. As we looked through the array of shots which really not only showed off the area but also the scale of Argyll we asked in an innocent manner if they had seen the Whale in Oban Bay. Despite a quick precursory look at the Oban views no whale seemed present so the immediatley got back in their car and set off for Oban in search of the Whale.
No sooner had they departed than it seemed they were back and pleased as punch to have been able to capture the images the trip in the plane had failed to offer.
Indeed whilst they were simply not unique shots they will probably never again see either a whale in oban Bay or Oban basking in Easter sunshine as we have this last week!
All in all it has been a great spell of weather but given the lack of foiliage on the trees and bushes it has also been a really interesting few weeks of wildlife spotting. Firstly the badgers have woken from their winter sleep and are now back- the clock change on Sunday did not seem to concern them- on their summer schedule with visits every evening, the otter has been spotted by the 5th Green on the golf course, the Sea Eagles are circling the driving range and the golf course remains inundated with geese - who clearly are enjoying the sunbathing before their long flight north and who could blame them - seem a constant target.
So in addition to these foreign and unusual visitors the island is really starting to wake up with bird song each morning alerting us to spring. The binocular collection has never been busier and whilst it can be cold sitting birding the views and sitings have been worth the wait and certainly reinforced what a wildlife treasure trove Eriska really is.
With the nation knee-deep in snow and ice, everyone can agree that this spring hasn't been the most enjoyable.
This time last year, we were all sitting out in the sun with an ice cream in hand, or grilling something up on the barbeque to make the most of a brief heatwave.
However, all hope is not lost. Here, at Eriska, we can boast of considerably milder weather and slightly higher temperatures compared to most and have even had a spot of sunshine.
With flowers finally starting to bud and nice blue skies, it's starting to feel like Spring at last. There's even some warmth in the ground, which is allowing us to start planting out from the greenhouses.
So let's hope we've seen the last of the frost.
Today: After a clear night; today will be mostly cloudy with small burst of sunshine.
Monday: Following another clear night, expect a dry and sunny day with modest temparutre, magnified slightly by the sunshine
Tuesday: Similar to Monday, expect a dry and sunny day, with slightly tamer winds
Wednesday: Expect a dry and cloudy day with minimal sunshine and grey clouds appearing in the evening
Thursday: Starting dry, expect to see grey clouds appear in the afternoon and some light rain
Friday: Another dry and cloudy day, with temperatures expected to be slightly higher.
Saturday: More clouds, that should start to break up in the late afternoon
Given all the press that Arran has had over the last week due to the lack of power it only seems right to highlight a good reason to visit the island.
Arran distillery is one of the youngest in Scotland and indeed the only dstillery on the Island.
In 1994 Arran Distillers was founded by Harold Currie, former director of Chivas with the intention of building a distillery on Arran the following year production strarted.There used to be about fifty distilleries on the island, but most of them were "moonlight" or illegal distilleries although clesarly these have been absent for some time indeed!!
The distyillery was small and compact so initially a large proportion of the casks were stored in the warehouses of Springbank, due to a lack of room . However, the distillery now has a revolutionary storage warehouse, on site, that allows easier access to barrels. The distillery offers a cask purchase scheme which offers private individuals the opportunity to own their own cask of whisky, which can be stored on site at the distillery.
The whisky of Arran is mostly used to produce their Single Malt Whisky, but a small proportion also goes into the production of their range of blended whiskies : Lochranza Blend, Robert Burns Blend and Arran Gold Single Malt Whisky Cream Liqueur.
Arran is a unique island known as 'Scotland in Miniature', for it has all of the scenery of Scotland, with mountains and lowlands, glens, lochs and royal castles (including one at Lochranza). Early in the 19th century there were more than 50 whisky distilleries on Arran, most of them illegal and carefully hidden from the eyes of the taxmen. The malt was acclaimed at the time as the best in Scotland, only rivalled by those from the 'Glen of Livet'.
They use only the traditional methods of distilling, with wooden washbacks and copper stills designed to our exact specification. The location - just outside Lochranza- offers perfect water for whisky production, cleansed by granite and softened by peat as it comes down from the mountain above. The atmosphere of sea breezes and clear mountain air together with the warm flow of the Gulf Stream matures the Arran Malt to perfection in earth floored warehouses.
They use no peat in the production process and no caramel for artificial colouring - unlike most other whisky companies.
As a result our products are rightly described as 'the true spirit of nature'.
The colour is yellow (straw) with greenish glints.
The nose is close to malted barley and the fragrances are issued from the distillation (spices) with however slight chocolate hints, coming from the ageing in sherry casks.
Firm, rounded, light to medium.
The palate is full and mellow and confirms the nose.
The finish is long and sweet-bitter and goes on on notes evoking nuts vanilla and barley.
I am sure like everyone else in the Uk we have been surprised by the weather over the last 7 days although maybe at Eriska we have been surprised for different reasons. Whilst everyone has been buried under snow and near arctic conditions we have been basking in sunshine and enjoying another week of sunshine. It was very windy mid week and we were without power for a few hours but nothing like the central belt or even Arran which seems to have born the brunt of the weather and the tail end of winter.
Regrettably however I neither took my own advice last week nor my wife's advice this morning and proceeded as normal to light my monthly bonfire to burn rubbish and clearings from a weekend of work in the garden. However no sooner had I succeeded in getting the light to take than I was running with buckets of water and beating the ground with a brush to try and contain my now rampant muir burn.
In reality it was contained nearly by the cliffface and I was simply concerned that it might jump and head for the sports hall but when Anne appeared over the hill concerned that my house was on fire and explaining that the phone was not being answered- so they had imagined the worst- and the main hotel was engulfed in smoke maybe it was not quite as contained as I had initially imagined.
Anyway the ground is dry- I can vouch for this- and with the wind at its back the fire was moving quite quickly but after a few minutes of worry and a few buckets of water it was all nearly under control so next time I promise to listen to my wife! But is the cold front set to change or stay the same for the week ahead?
Today: After a cold night it will be dry with some sunshine. Staying cold and windy.
Monday: After a cold and frosty start to the day it will stay dry with only a few clouds overhead.
Tuesday:The dry weather will continue with sunny spells. The best of the sunshine again towards the West . Still feeling cold although easterly winds will be lighter.
Wednesday: Staying dry and cold with lighter easterly winds. There will be sunny spells by day with sharp frosts at nights.
Thursday:Starting dry and cold with some sunny spells, though a few snow showers possible,
Friday: Cloudier, windier and more unsettled conditions are then likely to spread in from the west, slowly heading northeastwards during the Easter Weekend.
Saturday: This rain may be preceded by snow, but it is certainly changing with cloud pushing in and tempertures rising along with precipitation! Typical Bank Holiday weather!
'Good Evening Mr Bond'
Tonight we hosted our very first James Bond Martini Masterclass. The scene was set with the Martini glasses on chill, the ice ready to be shaken and stirred and our resident mixologist on hand to transport the guests back to 1954, Duke's Bar where Ian Flemming created Casino Royale and the famous Vesper Martini.
It was during the 2006 Casino Royale blockbuster that Daniel Craig really brought the Vesper Martini to the mainstream when he ordered a Dry Martini..."three measures of Gordon's, one of Vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it over ice and add a thin slice of lemon peel." Despite his initial precision and following a nasty run-in with the 'baddies' James Bond proceeds to order another martini, but when challenged by the bartender on this occasion to his preference over shaken or stirred, Bond replies "Does it look like I give a damn?
Which leads us to the basis for our Martini Masterclass...Was Bond right not to give a damn??
Although 007 specifies Gordon's in his concoction, we opted for Tanqueray 10...At the time that Flemming invented this drink, Gordon's was a very different gin; now you're better off using something with a little more 'kick'. Vodka was the same way, so we opted for smooth as silk Belvedere. Finally, Lillet, which is a beautiful French Apertif made from a blend of wine, liqueurs, fruits and herbs and has a distinctive orange flavour to it and makes a fruitier alternative to your average vermouth.
Our recipient for the martinis this evening were Australian natives and told of how hard it is to obtain Lillet at home, I even found out that we obtained our very own bottle from Bordeaux! I can't help but think that this makes our little concoction even more of a luxury treat as it something that will be very hard to recreate once you leave our island.
Armed with plenty of 007 knowledge having visited some of the sets of Bond films close to Eriska, watched the dvds in their suite and even taken the boat adventure to see Duart Castle on Mull they were ready for the next phase of their training.
First up, was what we like to call the 'Alternative Vesper Martin', the martini Bond was likely to be served when not giving a damn...three measures of Tanquery 10, one of Vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet was controversially stirred with ice and served with a thin slice of orange peel to compliment the Lillet. Our guests took their first tentative sip and remarked on how the orange peel affected the martini flavour.
Finally, we created the Vesper...three measures of Tanqueray 10, one of Vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet, shaken over ice and served with a thin slice of lemon peel, a drink to make even the most suavest of killers weak at the knees!
So...was Bond right not to give a damn??
Our guests were divided; one preferred the chilled, clean and bitter taste of the Vesper whereas the other opted for the warming, fruitier alternative. Either way both agreed that it was a
drink not for the faint hearted and suitable for anyone about to start a mission!
With one Materclass under our Oddjob Bowler Hat we are now ready to take on the next guests who dare to take on the thrill of the James Bond Experience. For now though the Martini glasses will stay on chill, and the ice will remain un-shaken and un-stirred!
In a week that Britain seems unsure whether it is winter or Summer- Eriska once again seemed oblivious to the climate outside.
As I walked the dogs tis morning it was clear that the change in conditions has not been far way as Ben Cruachan is now coated in snow down to 1000ft and the peaks around all have white caps when you look north, east and south but as you look west all is green and starting to move into a new season. Indeed whilst we had a cold but dry day yesterday guests arrived for the weekend filled with stories of snow on the M6 and driving winds keeping temperatures below freezing.
How lucky we seem to have been this winter as we are certainly getting set for Spring and even the ground is warming up and ready for us to plant the start of our herbs and vegetables in the green house. As I drove back form Edinburgh last week it is obviously dry on the ground as I was confronted twice by billowing smoke from the muir burn coming across the road and in one spot a fire engine stood by in case the blaze took off out of control.
Anyway as I keep telling visitors one of the attractions to life in the west coast of Scotland is the unpredictability to the weather and the ever changing seasons - although when we say this we do not always want the seasons to change each day never mind each hour but at least it stops us either getting bored or complacent!
So what can we expect over the next seven days as we move toward the clocks changing and Easter Holidays?
Today: Mostly cloudy with scattered showers, these falling as sleet or wet snow on higher ground. However betwen these showers we should see some brightness and sunny spells
Monday: A few showers overnight will lead to a frosty start with cloud pushng in through the morninng bringing in showers and a light breeze
Tuesday: Mostly cloudy with patchy rain but then starting to cool and turning to snow at low levels. Then later in the day brighter conditions pushing in.
Wednesday : Cloudy but it should remain dry although the stiff easterly breeze will drop temperatures to freezing levels.
Thursday: Mostly dry after a sharp overnight frosts but breaks in the day will bring sunshine which may make it seem warmer
Friday: Turning much more unsettled with cloudy, wet and windy conditions settling in for the weekend
Saturday: There will be a mixture of heavy showers and sunny spells throughout the day so dont get caught out or lulled nto a false sens eof spring!
In an era when millions of people watched the announcement of a new Pope we could be persuaded that religion is and important part of most peoples daily life.
If this were really the case then I am sure that our reaction and plans for Christmas and Easter would be centered round the religious festivals and not around the fact that we could all take a well earned break form the normal daily chores and life at work. However to assume that this has been a sudden change in life would probably be incorrect as it has been a gradual eroding of religions influence over many years.
Much of this is down to how many families have changed attitudes and how it is passed down through generations. I am sure that having been born to a family with a minister as a father many would assume that religious festivals would all be observed to the letter but as a child Easter did coincide with the annual opening of the hotel and this clash had only one winner in that my Brother and I were always farmed out to our Grandmothers- under the aupices of it being part of the Easter tradition, when in reality it was to allow our parents to open the hotel unhindered and free from two screaming childrens interference.
Yes we climbed Pulpit Hill- in Oban- on Easter Sunday morning before breakfast to hear the service from the local minister before descending for breakfast and chocolate eggs, yes the story of the crucification was evident in the service and discussions with our grandmother but all that time our parents were busy serving breakfast to a full house of guests and keeping the hotel in operation.
However times do change- in those days Easter was one of the "special" times of the year, rates were at peak season levels and the whole week was full of the same guests returning and enjoying the first signs of spring and as today the opportunity for a break form normal life.
But now - gone are the days of the house being booked for a week with everybody arriving on Easter Friday and leaving the following week, now a short if slightly extended weekend break is the most that
many guests can afford in terms of time out of the office. Others take the opportunity to take three days away midweek and avoid the bank holiday distractions and with this change so have we. We now offer special three day rates which run not only mid week but also over the Easter period to allow a reason to come to Eriska.
Gone are the days of guests trudging back inside soaked from a day out on the island as now the temptations of the swimming pool and indoor facilities insure that children both you and old can be continually amused and exhausted. Whilst our Easter Egg painting and then rolling competition may have gone by the ways side we can direct guests to the local egg hunt on the Sunday afternoon and we will still be serving Hot Cross Buns and Simnel Cake for afternoon tea and I am sure there will still be plenty of chocolate Eggs to over indulge on.
Whilst my mother no longer makes posies for the guests ( I remember sitting at a kitchen table helping collate these late on a Saturday night when I was old enough not to interfere in the hotel reopening!) there will be a plenty of daffodils in the grounds this year given the mild spring we have enjoyed.
So even with Easter being earlier than usual there remains pelnty of reason to come and whether guests celebrate the religious angle or simply wish to escape normal life ther will be plenty to enjoy here at Eriska