Events - Climbing and Walking (Scotland)
In early 1999, we decided that the upcoming Millennium chaos was best avoided and the consensus was that we needed to find a place, far from the madding crowds (we are bigger party-animals than most, but there's something about New Year's Eve ... it often feels like forced fun and we prefer our fun on our own terms and time.)
To that end, Andy and Triona booked a wee cottage in Brora, which is about 50 miles or so north of Inverness in Scotland.
They drove up with Tosh in Andy's Range Rover, a few days before Christmas and we flew up just after Christmas to join the rest of the gang (unfortunately poor Rebecca had to work through the break and was unable to join us).
Andy, Tosh and Tri drove down to Aberdeen to pick us up and we then headed up to Brora, about 2 hours drive away. It was dark by the time we reached the cottage, but once we got our gear squared away and got a decent fire going, the place took on a decidedly more cozy atmosphere.
Andy prepared a real treat for all of us; a genuine Haggis, properly cooked to perfection and accompanied by roast carrots, swede and freshly steamed green beans, glazed in honey and sesame seeds. We washed it down with some great single malt whisky and sat around the table, chatting and laughing for a couple of hours before moving into the lounge and settling down in front of a crackling fire.
Scotland has some fantastic scenery and Brora especially has some spectacular walks and hikes. I'd never walked or hiked above the snow-line before and so I found the climb a little hard work (that and the fact that I am very unfit!) but it was all well worth it once we reached the summit.
It's a fantastic feeling to climb to the top of whatever hill or mountain you have chosen and enjoy the wonderful views all around, before heading down along a winding river trail (with a large herd of Deer silhouetted against a clear dusky sky) back to the cottage for a hot meal and a large cup of mulled wine in front of a roaring fire. Excellent.
We celebrated New Years Eve in our own way and it was with a pretty fair-sized hangover, that I joined the others for a drive north to John O'Groats (Northern most tip of mainland Britain) on New Years Day.
We stopped at a terrific little pub on the way back for a hot meal and a couple of pints of Guinness, before returning to the cottage for a few more beers and a late night board-gaming session.
The owner of the cottage we stayed in, is a professional falconer and showed us his hawks, eagles and falcons. He has been training and flying birds of prey for some 24 years and was happy to answer all our questions.
This part of the world is definitely worth a visit if you're looking to get away from the rat race for a week or two. The people are hardy, friendly and helpful, the scenery is breath-taking and the whisky is wonderful.