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Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Christmas News.

Its been a busy few weeks so there are a few updates to convey. Congratulations to Pippa and Angus on having a baby boy, Culbin, and to Henry (who designed this website) and Adeola who also have a little boy, Louis, and made me a very proud godfather.

Courtesy of a recent film based in a 1970s newsroom, we now have a projector and a 6 foot screen set in an unpleasantly beige wall which will go into the barn where there are lots of sofas and a woodburner. There is a cinema opening in Aviemore but for some bizarre reason word is going round it will only show 12 rated films. With the advice and support of a few discerning film aficionados the Inshriach film club will have much better showings, then be full of children and probably show 12 rated films the rest of the time, provided the projector survived the journey north.

Thanks to Hannah and Zoe from the National Park our grant applications are finally in for the barn conversion and the woodland Earthship camping scheme and our planning applications will be ready in the New Year. The cinema may move to the squash court when the barn gets underway.

With a big New Year party only a few weeks away its time to get on with the bothy.

Saturday, 29 November 2008


This week we hosted a party for the BBC at which there were 20 plus children running all over the house. Every few minutes we would get a snippet of wisdom on how many mirrors there were, or on the steps into Mrs Blacks bed, then a servants bell would ring and they would run off. The names given to the rooms are loosely based on the first owners of the house, the Black family, and taken from the servants bells, which all work. A nod is due here to Dennis Severs house in Spitalfields.

Hannah is back and between working on the drawings for the barn we have redistributing some of our weirder acquisitions, this monolith will be part of a treasure hunt and many other things are collecting in a huge pile for a possible treehouse, we also have a number of boats and will shortly have a movie projector for the squash court.

With the snow starting here are the latest photos

Sunday, 16 November 2008

The latest.

Following on from the piece in the Guardian we have been listed by BBC Homes and Antiques Magazine as one of the loveliest places for a winter holiday. Unfortunately I cant link to it because its a magazine piece so you have to go out and buy it.

We hosted our first photo shoot, Gisela and Emma adding a touch a fur clad New York glamour to the Inshriach forest, one of their pics is shown above.

While thinking about fur coats we revisited the highland wildlife park for the first time in 15 years. Its no sprawling Longleat but its manageable and lovely with its suitably massive upland animals, yaks, bison, wolves, siberian tigers, snowy owls. I would like to keep the mini red pandas and furry alpine foxes.

We had a big party in the house on Friday, 55 people, catered by us. The brownies, fruitcake and stew will keep us going for weeks. The next foreseable time this will happen is a wedding coming up in September.

Post BBC we have a farmyard full of amazing props. Those of you already planning on coming for the buildathon in the spring have something to work with and any other friends who fancy a sabbatical from bad news and a few months living in the woods will be very welcome.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Alastair Sawdays.

Its time to thank the lovely people at Alastair Sawday Publishing, they have been super supportive to us getting Inshriach off the ground, given us this listing, been full of advice, good PR and quality introductions and their discerning approach is reflected in the enquiries we receive. If anyone reading this is considering getting themselves into a similar situation I couldn't recommend them highly enough.

We also have them to thank for this in the travel section of Saturdays Guardian...

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Dem bones.

Is the farm flat possessed?

Having spent all day searching Inverness for plastic skeletons, skulls on strings, prop bones and halloween teeth I got home to a call saying there are bones coming out of the hot tap in the farm flat. My best guess is that a bat has found its way into the system. There are a lot of bats in the Cairngorms, pipistrelles and horseshoes, they swoop in around you fishing at night and squeak between the rafters in the barn.

We had the house rented last week, 2 families with lots of food, fishing and clay pigeon shooting on Rothiemurchus, since then it has started snowing in earnest, this pic of Loch Morlich was a beautiful break in yesterday's largely challenging weather.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Stock the loch.

Restocking the loch had taken on a ceremonial significance. The means fell into place when I found myself working just round the corner from Craig Ireland's organic trout farm. Craig is a lovely guy, full of fishy enthusiasm. He has huge tanks bubbling with spring water and trout, a growing sideline producing delicious smoked fish and he was happy to come round on a Saturday afternoon to spoon in a few hundred lively silvery little fellas. They are mostly yearlings, 4 to 6 inches long to put on weight for next year but there are a few dozen big monsters to splosh about. They set off in a clockwise direction, rising, exploring, probably looking for the side of the tank in which they have spent the last 2 years.

We have a few families and lots of youngsters arriving on Tuesday, I would like the fish to settle so rather than catch them we will chuck handfuls of food at them, lulling them into a false sense of security.

Thanks to Dan Light for keeping me connected with the world through the media of online Scrabble and his US election coverage, the only coverage worth following.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Demons in the midst.

The onset of Autumn has shown the skill of Jack Drake, who lived here until 1970 and was responsible for the Nursery Garden next door; the trees round the house are now rich reds, oranges and yellows mingled in the evergreens.

No wonder the highlands is such a popular place for filming. This week has been a roll call of beautiful locations, Glenfeshie, Pattack falls, Laggan. The kids have been climbing, rafting and paddling among other activities and in the course of this I have got to know expert guides for winter climbing (the Cairngorms being world renowned), canoeing and mountain biking so we are putting our heads together to offer these to guests.

Between other jobs a few of us were called upon to be demons.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Loch Laggan.

Last week there was an early dusting of snow on the hills and today we have had a day filming at Loch Laggan. Loch Laggan has a great pale sandy beach at its east end and tremendous views up to the mountains, the crazy spires of Ardverikie house (Glenbogle in Monarch of the Glen) poked out from the mist mid morning and the light and cloud and haze on the hills changed all day.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

A benefactor.

A certain gentleman brought an experimental party here some months back when the house was nearly but not quite finished and said that he had a decent fridge we could have in Edinburgh. Today I went to Glasgow and, despite grotty weather and train strikes, planned to cross over to collect on this kind offer. On leaving Glasgow he instead told me to head back north to an industrial estate in Kingussie (12 miles from Inshriach) and introduce myself at Unit 2.

Now, in the scullery, is a fridge that means business. A huge, catering grade machine from the True Manufacturing company of St Louis, Missouri, square jawed and stainless with fat louvres round the base and beautifully utilitarian. Its opening growl has settled to a hum. The old fridge would fit inside with space for cheese.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

TV, Folk and Squash.

The producers for a childrens TV show came here a few weeks back looking for locations and came away with me so for the next 10 weeks I'm making shields, boats and spears and not a lot of progress at Inshriach.

Abbie and Hannah came for the weekend so Thursday night we took in another Alvie musical evening, an excellent gig by Session A9, some seriously talented local folk musicians. Continuing with the folk theme we went to the Newtonmore museum for some inspiration for next years projects. They have relocated such endangered oddities as a bothy, a tin school, a railway office and a church then built a little village of mud and thatch blackhouses in the medieval style that persisted probably until the early 19th century. This is a worthy and excellent operation, entry is free and next year they are rebuilding a sleeper house, another rarity, so I might well volunteer.

Today the squash court came in for some attention. The business wall had been dropping chunks of plaster for a while so I'm patching that up, Abbie got down and scrubbed the stairs and the gallery and Hannah had the windows out and got busy gluing, clamping and puttying them up. We thought the court dates from the 1930s but I'm starting to think it might be the same date as the house, ie 1907. The planning officer from the National Park was extremely excited by it as a rare example of a large corrugated building built purely for leisure and if there was any danger of it coming down the Newtonmore museum would be an excellent home.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Even more foraging.

As Rufus and I continued on the bothy Molly embarked on a mushroom self education mission. There are hundreds of strange species around at this time of year, growing on everything from tree stumps to gravel, and our staple, if indulgent, diet of chanterelles was getting monotonous. Each day she retrieved a basket of bizarre fungi and persuaded their insect occupants out of them, then they were either dried or fried or avoided depending on their scariness. This monster was identified as a birch boletus and therefore fell into the fried category and was actually pretty tasty.

All the photos used on the blog, on the website and lots more from about the place are on the Inshriach Flickr page.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

One from the archive.

I'm waiting on photos from Jo's 30th birthday party which devoured the weekend so in the meantime here are some pics from when we were young which have just appeared on my desk.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Trimming, recycling and rebuilding.

A kindly neighbour had a hedge trimmer available so he came round this morning with his brother in law, a Swiss German gent, and some safety signs with suitably Germanic syntax and we sorted the long beech hedge along the road. Such unprompted acts of generosity have been an unexpected and amazing feature of the last year.

This afternoon Rufus and I are back to the bothy, which, as of yesterday, has a new window and a door (reconstructed out of last week's salvage) in what was previously a windowless workshop with only legless chairs, spare slate and a thick stench of creosote.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Inedible foraging.

With the house now finished the bothy is getting an overhaul. In our usual Borrowers style we are spending nothing on it so every time I drive past a building site or a refurb I swing in with some unusual barter. This week a 1950s house was being pulled down and in exchange for 4 slices of cake we lightened their skip to the tune of the floor, the windows, some joists, bits of bathroom and a smashed conservatory. Over this weekend Rufus, Molly and I are cunningly transforming our haul into doors, walls, window frames and a raised bed.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Birthday Party.

An exceptionally lovely and talented bunch of people came from across the country for a big birthday party this weekend. By Thursday the house was full and by Saturday the roasting pit had benches around it, steps in the dry stone walling and a table fashioned from a slate pig salting slab. We drove a stake through a whole lamb and feasted through Saturday night, partied our way through Sunday night and now, Monday afternoon, some signs of normality are returning.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Further foraging.

Bob and Miranda had seen a video on youtube of folk fishing for razor clams. You pour salt into little pits on a beach, the clams pop out, you then grab them by their slippery invertebrate bodies and work them out of their holes. We headed north to Findhorn (about 45 minutes) to see if it would work for us. We arrived just after high tide armed with a spade and salt from lidl and wandered the beach leaving little white mounds as the tide raced out. Not a single clam poked out but that was of little consequence as the most astonishing sunset stretched out across a huge soft sandy beach, then half a dozen inquisitive seals came to see what we were up to and we wound up the evening with haddock and chips in the Kimberley Arms, which, in an oddly broad sounding awards scheme, had been voted one of the 'Hundred best things in Rural Scotland'.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Party time.

Thursday night saw the last of the gutters back onto the house and a mad cross country dash to make Oban in time for the first dance of the Argyllshire Gathering. The great and the good, the suited and booted of Scotland turned out for two nights of reels, champagne and extravagant sporrans. Thanks to everyone at Achnacloich for their hospitality, late breakfasts, tight reeling and for the stay in their splendidly potty baronial house overlooking Loch Etive.

Then it was home for a clean shirt and off to Pitlochry for the McKerrow birthdays and a third straight night on the dancefloor. Despite getting back to Aviemore at 3am Jonny was still on the river and had 2 excellent sea trout to show for his persistence. This is his 4th visit this year, he has postponed his train twice and he now knows the river so well he might have to become a ghillie rather than a guest.

Now the excellent Captain Bob is back, with Miranda in tow, so a week of moderate constructiveness is on the cards. We have an unknown number of revellers descending for a birthday extravaganza this weekend.

Monday, 1 September 2008


After 2 weeks of cleaning, 2 dead angle grinders, a dozen wire brushes, 9 kilos of putty, 18 litres of paint and a selection of natty safety wear
the gutters are finally back on the house. We matched the original grey from a flake, replaced a lot of the soffits, taught my mum how to drive a telehandler, endured rain and wind and the house now looks fantastic and doesnt drip on you outside the back door.

The trade off for our watertight house has been the desecration of the croquet lawn. It was always challenging, lacking the careful attentions of groundsman and roller but now, after a 10 ton JCB has zigzagged its way along the length of the house, I should alter the website to say we have a croquet set.

Huge thanks are owed here to Angus who runs Spey Building and Joinery, quick on the draw, kindly on the bill, we couldn't have done it without him.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Thunder in the glens.

The Scottish Harley Davidson owners clubs are in town for their annual 'Thunder in the Glens' so Aviemore has taken an apocalyptic twist, it's full of big guys in leather and every conceivable shape of motorbike. Over this side of the glen the screech of the angle grinder means the guttering continues. The only thing that makes this apparently endless task bearable is the prospect that the paint I'm using ought to be visible on google earth so when I'm finished the house will have skinny red lips.

In the meantime Jonny and Peter have been fishing. Jonny has caught 2 salmon in the last 2 days, had each in the net and each, with a gymnastic wriggle, got clear of him, bounced off a few rocks and somehow slithered back into the water. I was going to get Jonny to come into town for some hairy 1980s revival rock but his blood is up so we probably wont see him till dawn.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Making jam.

Take one fisherman, in this case Jonny Page, distract him from his flies. Take one 10 ton yellow telehandler, left in the driveway by friendly contractor. Combine to elevate fisherman into otherwise totally inaccessible cherry tree. Flushed with success, try to persuade someone else to make jam.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

It never rains but...

The gutters on the main house are a lovely profile in cast iron but the ones on the front were looking crooked. On Thursday I finally got round to getting the long ladder out and, wobbling my way to the top, a great can of worms was opened. Plastic filler, impermeable and unprimed paint, seams of silicone holding water in the soffits, rotten woodwork, splits in the lead and an infestation of both wasps and bees. The last decorator now has a price on his head. The yellow pages gave us George the wasp man, who turned up the next day, and Angus from Spey Building and Joinery stepped up to the plate with a huge yellow telehandler and the help of two excellent guys. By yesterday evening Nick and James had all the gutters on the ground and by this evening we had remade most of the soffits, repaired the woodwork, raked huge tongues of dripping honeycomb from between the rafters and started the arduous task of cleaning up each section of gutter, welding up any cracks, priming and painting them, so far 6 sections done, probably 60 to go.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Rich Pickings.

After a fortnight of partying both here (our first party in business, pictured) and at Standon Calling, it is back to being wholesome. We started with a little get together of everyone from the estate. Ewan and Sulekha run their company, Northern Greens, from the vegetable gardens and they brought a delicious salad of lettuce, rocket and nasturtiums (apparently Grace Jones eats a lot of flowers). This set the ball rolling and our neighbours invited us to make sure their splendid veg patch doesn't waste while they are on holiday so we dived in for sweet peas, beans, lettuces, spinach, more rocket and big juicy redcurrants.

To compliment these amazing flavoursome home grown vegetables there are the wild foods. The place is covered with little sweet raspberries, sorrel, chanterelle mushrooms, cherries and a carpet of blaeberries. After much debate about what a blaeberry scoop really is we have improvised with a bowl and a coarse nit comb. Half an hours sweeping gathered me a mug of berries and a similar volume of spiders, it's all sitting outside overnight in case it wants to escape.

If anyone has foraging recommendations please let me know, this time next year we will certainly run a found foods course. Hedgerows and roadkill or similar.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

The New Look.

We finally stopped eating and Marco has, in the last 2 days, got some amazing photos and stitched them together, 'Putain quelle discipline!' We really like the results so we are going to let him loose on the website. Look out for an entertaining update of the 'House' section of the site over the next few days.

It's been a beautiful week, which is a good thing because the oil for the aga just ran out.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

The Grand Anniversaire.

With the renovation of the interior pretty much complete the tallest Frenchman has been here this week celebrating his 30th with his tall father. It has been quite a party (of which more later). We were sad to find that the Wee Spey Dram whisky shop is no more, an event I'm sure was reflected by this incredible apolcalyptic cloud which descended today.

Monday, 14 July 2008

The Home Straight.

The kitchen and the back corridors are finally done, the red lino has come up and gone out through the windows, we have scraped the glue from the floorboards, spent the weekend sanding and waxing and making shelves for the pantry, caulking cracks, polishing pans and touching up the paintwork.


Monday, 7 July 2008

Wiv a little bit of luck.

The house will be ready to rent in 3 weeks...

Been up the chimneys and cleared the flue for the boiler.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

The kitchen.

Today we are finally tackling the kitchen, keeping it Edwardian and keeping the chickens out of the paint.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

India Alba at Alvie House.

Alvie House have been hosting some remarkable concerts recently and last night was the turn of India Alba. India Alba combines two Indian classical musicians, Sharat Srivastava and Gyan Singh, and two Scottish folk musicians, Ross Ainslie and Nigel Richard. Sharat's sliding fiddle, Gyan thundering through the drums, Nigel on the Cittern and Ross on pipes and whistle. Last night they were joined by the local talent, Bo Jingham, Charlie McKerron and Adam Copeland, on the pipe and two fiddles respectively. The result was electric. The crowd (90 odd) loved it, the musicians loved it and the after party in the North Wing was a real privilege.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

The Earthship Project.

We had a preliminary meeting with the Cairngorms National Park on our alternative camping scheme. The plan has evolved in the month that Jimmy has been here to comprise a large central earthship building, buried into a hillside with a thick earth roof planted over with heather and with wood fired hot water, no electricity, space for 30 to eat hostel style and the accommodation built on the same principles but spread thinly through 13 acres of birch woods.

The initial response was very favourable, we still have to run a feasibility past highways, SNH and a few other bodies, plus its going to be a weird thing to draw for a planning application, the first draft looks like a hamburger. Watch this space.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

The Solstice.

Dan, James and Eliza made an unscheduled return after a wet week on the wild north coast around Durness. Ironically Dan was lost to a slightly squash related accident in the early hours of Friday and he decided to take the sleeper back, leaving the rest of us to mark the shortest night by fishing our way through it. It got slightly dark around midnight and by half two was getting light again with mist rising in a ghostly ribbon all along the river.

On the subject of ghosts the previous occupants of the house are proving a benign team. The house is so Edwardian that Petra compared it to a Nancy Mitford novel and mum wants to develop Inshriach Cluedo; 'Captain Bob, in the bathroom, with a newspaper' and so on. While Eliza revelled in the luxury of Mrs Black's four poster James has been the first occupant of the poor room, and the consensus is that it should stay poor, or get poorer. We are going to put in some secret doors. The only slight worry was the apparition photographed here but I'm sure that this unfortunate will rest peacefully when I get round to a new light fitting.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Home Work.

This last week we have had 'Health and Safety' Dan to visit with Eliza and James, and we had the Buss family back. My new favourite book is 'Home Work, Handbuilt Shelter', by Lloyd Kahn, which Hannah brought for me after I set them up with a night in a bothy and we talked about putting an eco hobbit scheme in the woods behind the house. The book is packed with determined and imaginative scavengers, a model we are going to have to follow, and on our rounds Jimmy and I took to Aviemore, retrieved a Crittal window, a wrought iron gate and a bike from the tip and most of Victoria Wine on the way home (the physical building, being refitted, and Jim doesnt drink anyway).

We have also been having a clear out round the farm, Jimmy has adapted the monkey bike, a bread crate and a golf trolley for moving small items at great speed.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

The Cruiser.

The renaissance continues...

We have cut out the floor, removed the doors, finally managed to roll the car onto its side and hired a grit blaster that cuts through everything. Also found out that shipping the necessary parts from Texas will cost as much as flying there myself and collecting them. Any ideas?

Thursday, 12 June 2008

The Cavalry III.

As Hannah, Lucinda and Ollie left so Mirra and Jess arrived. To the lilting French strains of Georges Brassens the scullery and pantry became a soft lemony yellow, highlighted rather than blighted by the orange shutters. Now just the kitchen remains....

Monday, 9 June 2008

All work and no play...

As the saying goes...

So we have been swimming in the Feshie.

Taught Bob and Hannah how to fly fish, staying out till midnight at dalnavert with a fire and fish and chips for when we didn't catch anything.

Hacked out into the monadliath mountains in Jim's Landrover for a barbeque on the Alvie moor, up past the tree line, over the ridge visible from the Spey valley and over open moorland to the Dulnain bothy where there is a beautiful waterfall, a good 6 miles from the nearest person.

Now it's Monday morning, Jim and Bob have made a better start than me and have Jerry Lee Lewis belting out so I had better get on with it.

The Cavalry II.

Bob and Jimmy are unstoppable. The last coats of paint are going on over the orange and between coats the land rover has had a new clutch, we have started stripping the landcruiser and the monkey bike has had a sort out.

Lucinda and Ollie thought they were having a romantic break in the isles but donned the scruff and the workshop got painted, workbenches in, tools arranged and the bothy cleared. Hannah mucked in with the paint, skipped an Architecture lecture at university and reworked my drawings for the barn, making sense of my nonsense. Mum has been making cushions for the veranda and is now changing sheets with Mrs Ramsay for the next influx...

Monday, 2 June 2008

The Cavalry.

Just when I hit a stumbling block someone turns up, takes a working holiday and makes things right. Ben helped me tackle the ongoing forestry demand, sorted the credit card payments for the website, went swimming in the Feshie and tackled the orange issues and the day he left the phone rang and the excellent Jimmy Whitmore and Captain Bob Wheelden have decided that now is the time for their visit, heading up from Devon and Derbyshire respectively.

I'm absolutely bowled over by the sheer helpfulness, I thought we would feel isolated but the house is never empty. In a few weeks we will be running the oddest B&B in the highlands.

Tackling orange.

There must have been a special deal back in 1972 because the poor room and the servants bathroom were both orange. The scullery, pantry and kitchen ceiling are orange too, the scullery like an orange grenade has gone off, the walls, shelves, brackets, shutters even the taps and pipes having had the treatment. Its glossy and horrible, peeling in parts and stuck fast in others and it stays visible after 3 coats. Benedict has been with us since Knockengorroch and it took the motivation of someone who missed the poor room to drive the deorangification.

Flushed with his skills at grinding down anything orange Ben then put on his best negotiating voice, borrowed my phone, called Orange and sweet talked my phone bill in half.