Despite the weather starting off foul, I had a great day. I left by B&B, Balcarres, in Fort William after another excellent breakfast of smoke salmon and scrambled eggs, and planned to head towards Aviemore.
However, I remembered seeing a sign yesterday to the Pilgrims Steps. I made a small detour and pulled into a large car park, not really noticing anything of interest. I followed some other visitors through a gate and realised at once where I was! The nine stepping locks on the Caledonian Canal. Ariel views I have seen of them show off their architecture perfectly, but I walked along each one, following the footsteps of Julia Bradbury, to the top and was lucky to see a lock gate opening to allow one vessel up, and another going down. The power of the water is amazing. Around six boat a day pass through, and it takes 90 minutes to complete all nine locks. As the weather was decidedly bad I did not stay too long, and continued towards the Cairngorms.
After about an hour I stopped at a Loch side cafe, and whilst studding the route I was to take, saw, with utter surprise, the name Dalwhinnie. . . makers of my favourite Malt . . .just a seven mile detour.
I have toured several distilleries, and for the most part, all are similar in the procedure they use to make whisky. But it was interesting to hear about the Lock water they use, the oak barrels they use and the method used to produce a soft, honey lemony flavoured malt.
Dalwhinnie, named after the village, is very remote, but set in the wonderful surroundings of the Cairngorms National Park.
I was keen to find my hotel, yes, not a B&B tonight, as I needed to shower and change and be at the Cairngorm Mountain reception by 6.30.
My SatNav has been a lifesaver, and would have been lost o n several occasions without. It got me to this remote mountain base in good time. The road to the base lodge snaked steadily upwards, and I guessed I was at least 1000ft above sea level. When I did arrive there was a sign stating we were 2100ft above sea level, and there was still a vehicular car ride to go to the top. The summit is in fact 3200ft, and without sounding too poetic, we could almost touch the clouds.
In the reception area there was an unexpected treat of beer and whisky tasting, and a superb buffet with canapés supplied by local farm producers. It was a good way to socialise, and being one of the few single people I was soon being asked how I come to be there. The Blas Festival is known locally as the ‘feis’ and I was asked in several times, ‘did I know about fish?’ I nodded politely and played it safe. ‘not a lot’ a answered, and was then given the history of the ‘feis’, which were started over 25 years ago to encourage local children to learn Gaelic and play traditional music.
‘Gaelic’ - that’s another word that could have got me into trouble. I hoped nobody would ask me if I knew any Garlic!’
The musicians were as expected, excellent, and mostly were professional, but some of best was from a group of teenagers form a local six form school. Instruments included fiddles, guitar, flute, small pipes, keyboards and drums, the standard was exceptional.
Those who know me well, will testify to my liking for ‘world music’. All forms of music can fall into this category including, not just jazz. A short, but amazing story follows. Ten years ago I listed to a presenter on JazzFM radio in London (since closed down). He played music once a week from all over the world and I discovered many new and wonderful musicians. One was an Irishman called Michael O’Soulibain, a gifted musician and professor of music. His style was clean, clear and rhythmic, and always with that distinctive touch of ‘Irish’ in it somewhere.
One of the professional groups last night was the Mhairi Hall Trio, with herself on keyboard. A local lass who is adored and treasured. The trios music was unexpected in as far as it was not your conceived idea of Scottish folk music - it was a marvellous mix of traditional and contemporary music; played with passion and energy.
I managed to speak to Mhairi afterwards, and asked her had she ever heard of Michael O’Soulibain? She looked at me for second and said ‘he was my music teacher’.
We talk a while longer and I managed to buy her lasted CD, which if you want to experience contemporary/traditional Gaelic music, then please buy it. Its called Cairngorn - most appropriate.
I was going to comment on my hotel accommodation is evening, but that can wait until tomorrow. I don’t want to spoil the memory for a wonderful day.