A Truly Scottish New Year is as traditional as Turkey at Christmas.
For 20 years we closed Eriska at the end of the summer season and hibernated until the snow drops and daffodils had arrived before Easter. Then all changed in 1993 when we decided to open through the winter and this allowed us to extend into the festive period. It is no secret how perfect Eriska can be at Christmas and it certainly remains one of my favorite times.
However as I sit here today writing out to those joining us over the festive period my mind also tends to wander towards New Year.
I would not be the first to point out that I am not great at Christmas "Good Cheer and merriment" and feel that it has become a bit more commercial than seems necessary - a bit ironic for a hotelier enjoying additional holidays by our guests - but the reasons for Christmas seems to be lost in the consumerism. Not just because if I am in the hotel there can be no family arguments with me at home but really because Eriska - the house - lends itself to that wonderful atmosphere at a houseparty.
As guests cross the bridge the world stops and worries and plights can be left at the gate, the newspapers seem to dwindle and television becomes full of annual wonderful films and shows which disregard the 24 hour news updates.
New Year however is much more brazen as simply being a time to reflect on years gone by and the last in particular and time to look forward and especially to 2014. Whilst the majority of us will all make ourselves promises - resolutions- we will fairly instantly break at least we have thought forward and even thought forward into the distant future and this can only be positive. On this note it soon becomes clear to me why Eriska is an ideal place for this reflection and contemplation. Those with little to worry about can indulge in enjoyment and those with much to consider can use activities and entertainment to raise their heads and escape the pressures. So whilst it is a full list of activities we plan it is enhanced by the early onset of night, the roaring log fires, the wonderful food and hopefully lengthy peaceful nights sleep, this interjected by the activities, newspapers and supporting weather makes it ideal - so what is planned for New Year 2013/2014.
Well after a hectic frantic Christmas week guest will arrive on the Sunday afternoon and hopefully by 6pm we will be able to hoist the drawbridge and start our festivities. The first evening is always a chance for auld acquaintances to recapture memories and for new visitors to bed into the house and settle in. On Monday we will spend the day catching up and relaxing with an afternoon Triathalon for those who remain energetic or those looking to work off Christmas Pudding- although in reality it remains a simple and fun afternoon of activites with something for everyone.
Then on Tuesday- Hogmanay- we always reflect on the year gone by with a grand quiz of the year and a bottle of bubbly to celebrate then a treasure hunt round the island to allow further exploration and work up an appetite for the wonderful Dinner Ross has planned taking us up to the bells. Traditionally we have a piper to join us before 12 with a piped eightsome- the last of 2013 and then the bells. Over the years we have been early , late and even on time but in reality it makes little difference as nobody outside the building needs to know although as we open the curtains at 12 it is always nice to hear the horns and sirens drifting across the water from Oban - although occasionally it can be drowned out by the howling wind or driving rain.
Then Wednesday is the first day of a New Year, a slower start with a Champagne Brunch all morning or however long guests want although some seem keen to start the New Year and others prefer slightly less gusto on the morning after! Then at One we start the first Eriska Golf Championship which is traditionally run whatever the weather and certainly need more good humour and enthusiasm than expertise although we can be guaranteed great competition for the wonderful prizes!
Then more relaxation before the Dinner Dance and Paddy Shaw and his band whirl away the cobwebs and start 2014 in style.
Previously we used to make this the last day of New Year but as we get another days holiday in Scotland and guest found it hard fining petrol and stops on the way home we thought it was best to make the most of it and on Thursday we have a quiet day of refection with a traditional lunch of Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding and an afternoon of Egyptian PT ( a term handed down through my family) involving lying flat and still with your eyes closed for a couple of hours to recharge the batteries and insuring a full charge before the last dinner and departure on Friday morning making the weekend pass like a flash and all the resolutions still in tact or at least nearly.
So for those that thought we relaxed and do nothing all winter then think again and for those looking for a break with a difference then maybe Hogamnay at Eriska is worth considering!
How times have changed over 40 years!
When I was talking with some guests last night and reminiscing on years gone by they mentioned that they had always enjoyed discussions with my father. In particular they remembered him circulating the diningroom at breakfasts and giving his weather forecast for the day ahead. Oh how times have changed as today we simply print out a forecast form the BBC and place it on every bodies breakfast table. There are however three reasons for this- firstly I am not as good a forecaster as my father and would inevitably get it wrong, secondly we believe guests are slightly more reserved and would prefer to find the forecast in their own time and finally there are more interesting things to both tell guests about the area and about the world than simply Eriska's forecast and now with the plethora of indoor non weather dependent facilities on site there is less importance on the day ahead and the potential weather.
So why- I hear you ask- do we continue to forecast the weather ahead- again it is good for those who area bout to visit us to grasp what clothes to bring and what to expect, and it keeps those who like to know what we are up to up to date with all on Eriska. Like last week when heavy gales were reported on the west coast we can assure you that the wind lasted strongly for about an hour and then passed and the rain was as predicted by our forecast as nothing more than expected for this time of year.
So what can we expect for the first week of December?
Today:As I walked down the hill today it was remarkably mild, the wind had disappeared and the sky seems clear so the rest of the day should remain dry with some sunshine.
Monday: A mainly dry bright day with variable cloud amounts but this breaking to allow some sunny intervals, best across coastal hills
Tuesday: Mainly dry with some bright or sunny spells. It will be cloudy over northern hills with more persistent rain later. Freshening southwesterly winds.
Wednesday: Cloudy with outbreaks of rain with stronger winds pushing in and brining the temperature down
Thursday: Drier, brighter but colder .
Friday: Again windy with rain, turning to snow, especially on higher ground, before clearing later in the day.
Saturday:A band of rain will spread southwards during the weekend giving snow over high ground but clearer, colder and windy conditions will follow from the northwest with showers, these falling as snow.
Destination film location!
On hearing about the reforming of Monty Python last week our thoughts immediately turned to the Holy Grail Film, which was shot close to Eriska so we thought it would be appropriate to highlight some of the local locations used in well known films- some you may be aware of and others may be news to you but if you see the films again you may be able to look out for local sights and panoramas!
We have listed some of the local films although we must also stress that they are in no particular order- some involved Eriska others simply had us watching the final results and spotting locations!
Director: Russell Mulcahy
Starring: Christopher Lambert, Sean Connery, Clancy Brown
Synopsis: An immortal medieval Scotsman, Conor MacLeod, must face his fellow immortal peers in battle until only one remains to claim “The Prize”
Locations: Some of this was shot at the head of Loch Creran - indeed I remember seeing a sign in the local shop for extras - £5 per day or £10 if you had a horse! It may have seemed like easy money but I am told it invoved hordes running down a hill in the battle at the start of the movie where Connor and Kurgan first meet but it took several takes so also involved several trudges back up the hill to start the sequence again.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
Director: Terry Gilliam & Terry Jones
Starring: Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle
Synopsis: A comical slapstick take on the tale of King Arthur and his Knights, as they embark on a quest for the holy grail
Locations: Castle Stalker, Appin (Castle of Aaargh) which is now a well visited site for pilgrims on the Monty Python circuit.
Director: Mel Gibson
Starring: Mel Gibson, Sophie Marceau, Patrick McGoohan
Synopsis: A take on the story of William Wallace as he leads Scotland against the English, based loosely on historic fact.
Locations: Aonach Eagach (opening sequence) this is a stunning walk- but not for the fainthearted as there were no special effects used to highlight the drop on either side of the ridge. A lot of the film was then shot in Glen Nevis behind Fort William and indeed the village scenes were all sited here.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
Director: Alfonso Cuaron
Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint
Synopsis: The best story ever told. The third in the series, Harry Potter enters his third year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry while the convicted Murderer Sirius Black, who escapes from the wizard prison, Azkaban, is coming after him
Locations: This was shot in Glen Coe especially the long vistas looking towards Hagrids Hut and indeed Hagrid and many of the grown ups were based here at Eriska; However the most memorable images are probably of Glenfiddan Viaduct and Loch Shiel (Hogwarts Lake – most notably the Dementor Scene at the end)
Ring of Bright Water (1969)
Director: Jack Couffer
Starring: Bill Travers, Virginia McKenna
Synopsis: A fictional adaptation of the autobiography by Gavin Maxwell, about a man and his pet otter.
Locations: A very local film based in story line about Oban and shot on the Isle of Seil (Ellenabeich & Easdale) and in Oban (North Pier).
Eye of the Needle (1981)
Director: Richard Marquand
Starring: Donald Sutherland, Kate Nelligan, Stephen McKenna
Synopsis: Set during WW2, about a German Spy trying to flee Britain with key information about D-Day who gets involved with the wife of a crippled man on a Scottish Island off the west coast as he waits to be collected. Adapted from the novel by Ken Follett
Locations: This was shot in the area but the most notable land mark is Connel Bridge which features quite heavily .
Morvern Callar (2002)
Director: Lynne Ramsay
Starring: Samantha Morton, Kathleen McDermott
Synopsis: Following the death of her boyfriend, a shop clerk – Morvern Callar – passes off his unpublished novel as her own and uses the money he saved for his funeral to escape her dreary life Scotland
Locations: Oban was transformed into a winter wonderland in March for the filming however it also coincided with the Foot and Mouth epidemic so as we had no cows or livestock on the island and the film crew had been restricted for movement much was shot actually here on the island!
Director: Jon Amiel
Starring: Sean Connery, Catherine Zeta-Jones
Synopsis: After a priceless piece of art goes missing, an insurance agent, “Gin” is sent to go after and capture the thief, “Mac” by trying to entrap him, Claiming to be a thief too and promising to help him go after a valuable Chinese Mask from a well-guarded palace.
Locations: Although much was based overseas there was a section shot at Duart Castle (Mac’s hideout), and the main characters were based here at Eriska for the shoot.
Director: Michael Apted
Starring: Dougray Scott, Kate Winslet, Saffron Burrows, Jeremy Northam
Synopsis: During WW2, a young genius is recruited to help crack an enemy code that will help solve the mysterious disappearance of the woman he loves.
Locations: It was shot in and around Oban with the climax being at Tigh Beg Croft (Loch Feochan). the main cast were based here at Eriska.
Local Hero (1983)
Director: Bill Forsyth
Starring: Burt Lancaster, Peter Piegert, Fulton Mackay, Peter Capaldi
Synopsis: An American Oil company send a representative to a small Scottish village in the hopes of securing rights to build an oil refinery, however things don’t go as planned when a local hermit, Ben – who owns a beach which is crucial to the plans – is unwilling to sell his property, leading the company representative to negotiate with Ben on his own terms.
Locations: Although not entirely local as it was on knoydart it remaisn a favourite scottish film for us so had to be included. Morar Beach, Mallaig was famous for beach scenes and northern lights- which we can see from Eriska too- occasionally
When Eight Bells Toll (1971)
Director: Etienne Perier
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Jack Hawkins, Robert Morley
Synopsis: A british secret agent, Philip Calvert, is sent on a mission to investiage the disappearance of a ship carrying £8 million in gold near the coast of Scotland.
Locations: although back in the earlier days this did establish Duart Castle and Tobermory as film locations as well as Fingal’s Cave (Staffa )
Director: Sam Mendes
Starring: Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Naomie Harris
Synopsis: Bond's loyalty to M is tested when her past comes back to haunt her. Whilst MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost. It sees him return to his childhood home and reaffirm his love of Scotland although the house was never here!
Locations: Glen Coe and Glen Etive are linked to the car drive and very apt as he was again back in his Aston Martin
From Russia with Love (1963)
Director: Terence Young
Starring: Sean Connery, Robert Shaw, Lotte Lenya
Synopsis: James Bond willingly falls into an assassination ploy involving a naive Russian beauty in order to retrieve a Soviet encryption device that was stolen by SPECTRE.
Locations: Several locations in Argyll& Bute with sea scenes south of Oban in particular the finale helicopter & Boat chase scene although you have to feel for the poor crew who get thrown overboard into the sea.
The festive season is almost upon us and at least we are thinking about the festive period given the celebration across the pond of Thanksgiving- well at least it gives us an excuse to trial run the Roast Turkey on the trolley and get us thinking of cranberry sauce and roaring log fires. So after a week of colder conditions should we expect snow and ice or mild and warm conditions this week?
Today: After a cold night it will be clear skies so dry with some sunny or clear intervals.
Monday: A dry day with variable cloud and some sunny spells though some pockets of freezing fog may last well into the morning. Frost at first and returning to some areas soon after dark.
Tuesday: Dry with variable cloud and some clear spells. These will lead to a touch of frost especially in glens
Wednesday: A dry bright day with some sunny spells, though with a few freezing fog patches lingering into the day. Perhaps some light showers over higher hills.
Thursday: Cloudier with some rain for a time, turning milder and breezy. Mainly dry though some patchy rain is likely in the evening.
Friday: Strong winds and rain will push in through Friday, with colder air and blustery showers following, some of which will be wintry in the north.
Saturday: Through the weekend, most areas will remain dry with variable cloud and sunny spells by day, and frost and fog by night.
The countdown to Christmas seems upon us.
However it is still over 4 weeks till the shortest day and the depth of winter so it is good to see that is still quite mild although I suspect that is about to change. The majority of the leaves are off the trees and we are certainly through the worst of the leave clearance. It is also a wee window for us to start cutting back paths and trees with less foilage to clear and still reasonably firm ground to work on.
We have also had a dramatic eduction of work on the golf course with the grass now controlling itself and the winter works program underway which we have to balance progress with potentail damage to the course as the water table certainly rises and the sraisn have to work hard to keep the course playable. So will this week be a week of work on course or a week of work off the course?
Today: After a cold start to the night the cloud cover has brought up the temperature and it is now a dry and bright morning but will begin clouding over with rain tonight.
Monday: A mainly dry bright morning with some sunshine after the clearance of early fog and frost. Clouding over during the afternoon with outbreaks of light developing towards the west coast by dusk.
Tuesday: Cloudy with outbreaks of rain, this rain becoming persistent and heavy at times
Wednesday:Cold and sunny with wintry showers, these mainly across higher hills with a chance of rain or snow.
Thursday: Another cold night will give way to mostly dry and bright weather at first but with scattered showers
Friday:A cold night with dawn greeted with showers will be a wintry combination of rain, sleet and snow, maybe giving locally significant snow accumulations over higher ground, and perhaps even to lower levels at times.
Saturday: Slightly more mild with dry conditions and a light breeze ushering in a more settled period of weather for the last week of November
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.