Go to for the latest posts

Sunday, 24 July 2011

The racing / composting sedan chair.

With the Beer Moth slowly closing in and the extra pressure that will put on the bathroom, the time had come to equip the yurt with a compost loo. Next years Insider includes a historical Olympiad so a multi purpose heraldic racing composting long drop sedan chair made perfect sense...

It is going to get curtains front and sides but the yurt is isolated enough that you can leave them open if you fancy a poo with a view.

That is my 200th Inshriach House blog entry.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Unexpected weekends part II.

The Hebridean Celtic Music festival in Stornoway was always in the back of my mind as one to hit but the means to do so didn't reveal themselves until it was almost too late.

Aidan O'Rourke was performing with Kan among the Saturday night headliners and he threw an invitation and a place to stay in my direction, all that remained was how to get there.

I asked Isobel of Bygone Drives if I could borrow her Morris Minor but instead she offered a Mazda MX5. It's a 2004 plate Euphonic, meaning a 1.6 engine but with bigger wheels, leather, heated seats, a decent stereo and a few choice extras. I thought that heading to Ullapool on Friday night would keep my options open. I would pop to the Ceilidh place, catch a tune or two then find somewhere sensible to stay before the morning ferry. I hadn't factored in the Tall Ships. Ullapool was mobbed and soaked and there was not a room in town so it was either back to Inverness or North into the unknown. It turned out God's own country starts a few miles North of Ullapool. The hills come at you in layers and as the rain eased I peeled off along an extraordinary single track road following signs for Achiltibuie.

It's been a while since I had a proper drive in an MX5, I have a Mk1, I cant justify running it but cant bear to part with it. This one is quieter, a bit heavier and more civilised so it feels slow at first but then you find a good road and hang onto the revs and the steering gets into its dance, it's really poised and well damped with so little inertia you can balance its movements in all directions and don't need to do 100 to feel like it's flying. You can also have the roof down in a flash between downpours.

In the pub that evening the locals spoke of the road to Lochinver as being a wild one and I figured that at a push I might just do it and make the ferry. It bucks and weaves across moorland one minute, past lakes, peaks and through woods, rattling between dry stone walls and cliffs, the road all the time barely wider than the car and with odd cambers, changing surfaces, blind crests and invisible tightening bends. The MX5 is such a wriggly responsive little cart of a car it might have been made for here. I got back to Ullapool feeling like my blood had been carbonated, and missed the ferry.

That meant an unexpectedly pleasurable afternoon back at the Tall Ships. The coastguard put on a display, I explored a Danish square rigger and a couple of pubs and 500 folk gathered along Shore street for a Strip the Willow.

Then it was time for Heb Celt. Arriving in Stornoway at 9pm on the last night is hardly fully committed but I slid in, caught Kan folking up a storm, dropped in for a few minutes of KT Tunstall then headed across to the Arts Centre for Saltfishforty with Anna and Mairead, a dash more Kan, caught up with loads of friendly faces from the Insider and went on to a late (all) nighter in the Royal Hotel.

We took the 2.30 ferry back to Ullapool on Sunday afternoon (full of even more lovely people), I picked up the car and was back at Inshriach in time for tea. Next year I'm planning on taking the car over, staying for the whole festival before camping my way down through Lewis, Harrisa and Uist, probably catching the ferry back to Skye and perhaps getting home in time for tea on Thursday. I'm taking the MX5 if someone doesn't get there first.

This rather lovely little video by Tom Pickles, appropriately and coincidentally set to music by Lau (Aidens's other band - see all the Insider festival chat if you don't know them) shows the Lochinver to Ullapool bit.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Richie - this one's for you.

Last time Richard Jefferies was here he looked at the game larder and said,

'Please fix that - it makes me cry a little bit every time I see it.'

So I am.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Unexpected weekends part I.

A few weeks back I noticed a company was starting up in Aviemore by the name of Bygone Drives so I looked up the address and went to introduce myself. Isobel was in the process of putting together a classic car rental fleet, an MGB roadster lurking in the garage, a very pretty Mk2 Mazda Mx5 and a Range Rover sport on the driveway and a tidy silver XJS V12 up for sale to make way for a few more sensible and rentable motors (namely a Daimler 250 V8 and some form of Aston).

A good car chat ensued and a couple of days later I found myself heading for Edinburgh to collect an old English white 1953 split screen Morris Minor convertible, bought unseen. It turned out to be a really nice once, smooth engine, good brakes, nice ride, obviously much loved. Being early it has an Art Deco styled dash (in bronzey gold) and the interior of this one has been fully retrimmed in burgundy leather. Its meagre original seats have been binned in favour of comfy but not incongruous modern ones and it has a new hood, which, even though its designed like a vintage pram, kept most of the rain out as we parped our way into the city.

Its nearly 60 years old so you have to think, then wait, then ease your way through the gears. There's not a lot of grip or go and 55 is flat out. Stopped in it people want to mother it, it makes them smile and wave and come to chat and everyone has a moggie story or some moggie trivia.

Then the weekend started to get odd. By 10.30 I was in Queensferry with a bottle of wine, 2 deckchairs, a chainsaw, 3 rolls of gaffer tape and 2 giant inflatable bananas. Myself and the Moggie had fallen in with the organising committee of - and been drafted in to compete in - the Edinburgh raft race. By midnight we had drunk the wine, chopped down a tree to make paddles and come to the conclusion we were seriously short on buoyancy, time, skills and materials.

Morning came, the sun was out and the moggie promptly broke down, top down, bananas proudly in the air. A clutch rod many million gearchanges old had snapped. Intrepid mariner engineers such as we were we whipped the rod off, failed to improvise another - first out of rope then out of heras fence, then found our mate Donald with a welder who stuck the old one back together and we made it to the canal with minutes to spare, whereupon a kindly stranger, seeing the moggie disgorge our raft ingredients, solved our buoyancy problem with 4 large water cooler bottles. We built a raft in the few remaining minutes, hit the canal, looked totally ridiculous and unstable but made the final.

The drive back to Aviemore was in pouring rain (a lot of it with the roof still down) but the Morris didn't miss a beat. This is really its natural habitat, trundling the B roads round the highlands. It is certainly £120 odd per day worth of fun if you have the right excuse and, dare I say it, it's my kind of wedding car.

Next up - Lewis.

Friday, 15 July 2011

The Dark Knight Rises (and lands).

Inshriach airspace has been unusually busy this last fortnight as Warner Brothers prepared aerial scenes for the forthcoming Batman sequel. An ex US military Hercules has made regular low rumbling flypasts and will apparently be filmed landing on a local B road (permission was refused to use the A9). There is also a charter helicopter, a private jet and a little single prop plane, some or all of which have been dropping black clad stuntmen into the woods a couple of miles away, around Lagganlia gliding club. Last week one of the stuntmen was blown off course and went through the roof of a holiday cottage. Batman had to be rescued by an old fella with a ladder.

If it wasn't a beautiful day and I didn't need to fix the game larder and it wasn't Heb Celt Fest this weekend I would be up there wheedling a job out of them.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Cairngorm Soapbox.

Last weekend was the Cairngorm Soapbox race, the fastest and longest gravity race in the UK. As a bit of variety from our usual business we had 40 of the competitors camping here in the field recently vacated by our main stage. The technology ranged from shed built rattlers to wind tunnel honed carbon fibre streamliners and for all the effort there were a few surprises in the final running order (well, the guy responsible for Aston Martin's 1990s Group C Chassis did win, but apart from that).

I headed for the workshop first thing Saturday morning and the first team to come my way were the works Triumph motorcycles team with this extraordinary looking blue lozenge, its wheels canted so far in at the top it looked like a 1920s illustration of speed. A splodge of welding and fabricating saw that complete the day intact. Another three teams came through with varying degrees of bent and broken from qualifying then it was up the hill to watch them rattle down at 75mph...

Next year I'm in...

Saturday, 2 July 2011

The Insider.

This is some time coming because I have put a lot of writing into the Insider on the festival blog so I'm going to keep it to a few pictures here and will probably come back and edit this and be more effusive. It was an extraordinary weekend and an absolute pleasure to see so many old friends, people who have stayed here, married here or stayed in the yurt amongst the revellers.

An amazing artistic and photographic response is gathering on the Insider Festival Facebook page.

Here's to next year.