An Enchanted Weekend in Pitlochry

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One of the events I look forward to every October is our annual trip to the Enchanted Forest in Pitlochry. This was the sixth year that my husband and I visited, but the first year that schedules allowed us to visit the forest with a couple of good friends, and it was lovely to be able to share the experience together.

We have always been lucky with the weather, and although the path was a bit muddy in places, it was a mild and dry evening with a waning gibbous moon just visible above the tips of the tallest trees. The Enchanted Forest follows a path around Loch Dunmore in Faskally Woods using the bridge across the loch to create a figure of eight circuit. It is only a couple of kilometres long but there is always so much to see that we can easily spend an hour or so meandering through the forest savouring all the different sights and sounds of the show, and we always wander around more than once.

The theme changes every year, but the designers often draw their inspiration from nature; this year the show was called Oir An Uisge meaning Edge of the Water in Gaelic, and both weather and water were recurring motifs. I’m often guilty of viewing life through a lens and it’s especially challenging to remember to lower my camera and actually experience the Enchanted Forest because it’s all so wonderful and I want to capture it all.

We have stayed in a few different hotels and guest houses in and around Pitlochry over the years, but this year we returned to the Atholl Villa for a third time as the rooms are clean and comfortable, the staff are friendly and helpful, and it is conveniently located just a five minute walk from where the shuttle buses collect and drop off visitors to the Enchanted Forest. The following morning, we took a wander around Pitlochry itself, which is a pretty town full of boutiques, gift shops and cafes, and although I don’t really start getting excited about Christmas until after Guy Fawkes night, I can’t resist a quick look in the Christmas Emporium whenever we visit Pitlochry.

This was the first time we’d left our cat Mara alone overnight since moving into our new house, and she gave us a very warm welcome when we returned from our little adventure. It’s lovely to be cosy at home again after an enchanted weekend away with friends. Have a lovely week.

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A very special anniversary… ❤️

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Just a quick post to mark that it was two years ago today that we adopted our cat Mara from the SSPCA. As Mara is a rescue cat we don’t know when her birthday is or even how old she is but we like to celebrate the day we adopted her, and this is a very special anniversary as we weren’t sure that she would even still be here to celebrate it at all.

Back in January when our vet diagnosed the lump we’d found on her tail as a mast cell tumour, they had warned us that she might only have six to twelve months left. The vets amputated her tail to give her the best chance of survival, but the next six months were full of blood tests, ultrasound scans, x-rays and fine needle aspirates to ensure the cancer had not originated or spread elsewhere. It was a relief for all of us in July when the oncology department at the small animal hospital finally gave us the all clear, and we’re so grateful to all the vets who have helped us.

We all still miss that fluffy, tabby tail crooked like a question mark when she walked around, thrashing from side to side when she played or curling round our wrists when she was asleep, but nowhere near as much as we’d miss Mara if we hadn’t found the lump in time. Mara has been so brave and resilient throughout it all, she made a full recovery and adapted with no continence issues or loss of balance and mobility, and she is still every bit as affectionate, mischievous and curious as the day we adopted her.

Back then, we were newly-weds just back from our honeymoon, when we visited the rehoming centre to look for a potential new addition to our little family. I still remember seeing the tabby and white cat pressed up against the door of her enclosure and rearing up on her hind legs to let us stroke her when we went in to say hello. Bringing her home, we were almost as nervous as we were excited, as she was the first pet either my husband or I had had since leaving our family homes, and it seemed like such a big responsibility, yet Mara easily settled in with us, quickly becoming the centre of our world and the beating heart of our home. Now, two years later we are happy to have an excuse to spoil her a little more than usual today – even if she steadfastly refuses to let me take a photo of her wearing a party hat. Have a lovely week.

Review of ‘The Wolf Wilder’ by Katherine Rundell

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The cover of this book caught my eye in a bookshop a few months ago, but I held off reading it over the summer until the stormy weather in our part of the country last weekend gave me the perfect opportunity to settle down in front of the fire to read as the wind howled and the rain pattered against the windows.

The Wolf Wilder has something of a fairy tale quality and the story is beautifully illustrated throughout by Gelrev Ongbico. Set in Russia before the revolution, this is the tale of twelve-year-old Feo, who like her mother is a wolf-wilder, teaching wolves that were kept as pets by the aristocracy how to howl, hunt and live in the wilderness once their masters have bored of them. When her home is burned to the ground and her mother is arrested by the tyrannical and cruel General Rakov, Feo embarks on a quest to rescue her mother.

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At times, Feo is hard to relate to, she can be reckless and coarse, and she much prefers the company of her wolves (simply named White, Grey and Black) to people. Yet over the course of the story, Feo softens as she makes friends with members of her own kind who offer her food, shelter and help when she needs it most. There is almost a sense of reversal as the wolf-wilder girl is not exactly tamed by the end of the story but regains some of her own humanity along the way.

The Wolf Wilder is a story that doesn’t shy away from describing cruelty, injustice and death, but also one that reminds us that sometimes we have to be braver than we feel, that challenges can be overcome and bullies can be defeated. This a thrilling adventure ideal for dark and stormy nights. Have a lovely weekend.

September’s Golden Glow

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There has been an avalanche of gold and amber leaves in our street over the last week, and every day the sun seems to hang a little lower in the sky on my morning and evening commute. September is always a busy month for us, and this month has swept by in a blur of happy anniversaries, birthdays and annual traditions.

Every September, one of my closest friends hosts a get-together in the countryside. Over the years, we have become good friends with the other guests despite most of us living so far apart that we only see each other a few times a year. Our annual weekend get together is something we all look forward to, and it’s always a relaxed and wonderful time spent enjoying delicious food, rambling walks along the Solway Firth and long conversations with old friends and new around the fire-pit as the stars twinkle above.

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In August, my grandmother was in hospital for a procedure that was not without risks due to her age, yet she recovered in time to celebrate her 91st birthday this month. I feel very grateful to have had my grandmother all through my childhood and well into my adulthood, and while she is still fiercely independent, I can’t help noticing that she’s slowing down a little bit more every time I see her, which makes the time we spend together very precious.

At home, the cooler evenings have given us an excuse to light the wood-burning stove. My husband – a modern man in every other respect – relishes the opportunity to get in touch with his inner caveman and takes great pride in his ability to create fire, while our normally lap-loving cat Mara has firmly established herself on the hearth.

As the calendar edges towards October, it has been a lovely month full of family, friends and cosy moments, all suffused in September’s golden glow. Wishing everyone a lovely weekend. X

Our Little Kitchen Garden

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I love this time of year when the sun is still warm, there is a slight chill in the air and the leaves are just starting to turn but the evenings are still light enough to tend the garden after work.

Our attempts at growing some of our own fruit and vegetables have been somewhat less successful than our wildflower garden, yet this year was very much an experiment and we have learned some valuable lessons that we’ll be able to apply in the years ahead.

My husband and I are both novice gardeners so we chose what we hoped would be simple vegetables, though we decided against onions, carrots and potatoes as our garden is fairly small. As we weren’t expecting anything to grow, we took a gung-ho approach, planting all our seeds in April and ignoring the advice to start the courgettes and squash off inside.

We were both surprised and delighted by how many seedlings appeared and we’ve had a respectable yield of radish, spinach and broad beans, all of which we plan to grow again next year. Despite not being started inside, three little courgette plants appeared and produced a modest crop, though the squash never surfaced. My dad gave us two little pumpkin plants that we planted in the same bed as the courgettes hoping that they would fertilize each other’s flowers, and two little pumpkins reached the size of tennis balls before the slugs got them. By far the biggest disappointments were the chard, beetroot and peas, none of which got past the seedling stage, and I suspect that overcrowding and a cool, wet summer were to blame.

In the herb bed, the sage and rosemary we bought have done really well, as has the little thyme my green-thumbed friend started off for us. The chives got leek rust but have bounced back after we hacked them back to the soil.

The tayberry, blueberry and strawberries have all done relatively well, and I’ve pegged down a few new runners from the strawberries. We struggled to find a suitable home for the rhubarb my mum gave us before settling for the partially shaded bed with the strawberries.

Over the winter, we’ll plant green compost to replenish the nitrogen and nourish the soil. We’ve started our own compost bin at the bottom of the garden, it makes me feel a little less guilty about the food we waste, but it’ll be a while before the compost breaks down enough to spread over the raised beds. My husband is also planning to build a glass box out of salvaged glass shelves because he wants to try growing tomatoes next year.

Even though our harvest was modest this year and our garden is too small for us to ever be self-sufficient, it has been so rewarding to grow some of our own food, and we’re both excited to start all over again next year. Have a lovely week!

Broad Bean and Pea Risotto

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Ingredients:

1 Cup of risotto rice

1/2 cup of frozen peas

1/2 cup of broad/fava beans (if using fresh 500g in pods: remove from pod, blanch for 2 mins in boiling water, drain then submerge the beans in cold water and remove the outer skin)

1 medium onion finely diced

500ml of vegetable stock water

1 lemon

1 tsp of fresh thyme

1 clove of garlic, crushed or finely diced

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Method:

Pour about a tablespoon of olive oil into a medium sized pan on a medium heat. Once the oil is warm, add the onion and garlic. Cook for five minutes or until the onion starts to turn translucent.

Stir in the rice, add two tablespoons of stock water and mix well. Cover the pan and bring to a simmer, stirring frequently to prevent the rice from sticking.

Once the liquid reduces, add another tablespoon of stock and add the thyme, stir well to mix through. Continue adding a tablespoon of water at a time until the rice is cooked.

Add the broad beans and frozen peas, cook for another five minutes, stirring frequently, or until the liquid has reduced.

Remove from the heat, squeeze lemon juice into the risotto and stir through. Allow to stand for a couple of minutes, stirring frequently to allow the risotto to thicken before serving.

 

Flora and fauna in the garden

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This was the first year that we’ve had a proper garden of our own and we’ve thoroughly enjoyed tending it. My husband and I weren’t really expecting many (or any) of the seeds we sowed to appear and vastly over-seeded all of our beds, next year we will be a bit more sparing with the seeds and also more selective about what we plant. This year, we scattered wildflower mixes and particularly loved the cheerful marigolds, poppies, corncockles, cornflowers and the striking mallow flower that appears to have self-seeded.

In June, we took part in the Great British Bee Count and enjoyed identifying all the different varieties of bee that visit our garden, such as early bumblebees, honeybees, tree bees, banded white-tailed bumblebees and red-tailed black bumblebees, all of which loved our very wild and colourful wildflowers. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen many butterflies, just a few cabbage whites now and again.

Although we suspect our rescue cat, Mara, has always been a house-cat she also loves sitting on the windowsill watching all the wildlife in our garden from the insects flying around the flowers to the sparrows nesting in the hedge, the odd cheeky grey squirrel that visits and the little family of fieldmice we spotted when the wildflowers started to die back. We’ve tried taking Mara out into the garden wearing a harness a couple of times but she seemed quite overwhelmed by all the strange smells and sounds, and seems to prefer the safety and shelter of the house; though that doesn’t stop her becoming territorial when other cats decide to pass through our garden, and it always gives us a fright when our gentle girl starts making angry whale noises at the trespassers.

This weekend, I put on the gardening gloves and spent some time tackling the weeds that have also flourished in the garden over the summer. Although we have a lot of dandelions and other weeds to deal with, my priority is halting the progress of the horsetail invading our garden; I fear we are fighting a losing battle as it grows prolifically in our neighbourhood but if any readers have advice on how to get rid of it or at least keep it under control I’d be very grateful.

Yesterday, we also spent a few hours with my parents in their gardens, admiring dad’s pumpkins – that are the size of footballs now – and helping mum pick white currants, we even spotted a little frog near the marjoram.

Gardening is a rewarding and mindful pastime, and now as summer falls into autumn we’re already making plans for next year, planting the bulbs for spring and making the most of the last of the light evenings in our little garden. Have a lovely week.