The Scottish Highlands in Spring

We love the Highlands of Scotland all year round, but Springtime holds a certain charm for us.  We feel blessed to bask in the glorious colours that this season brings with it.  From the blue bluebells, to the yellow gorse and fields full of rapeseed.  And when you get a couple of those sights together, it’s even more magical!

Mixed colour cows near a yellow field of gorse near Abriachan

There are lots of rapeseed fields wherever you go, especially around our area near Inverness as it’s quite agricultural. And we are very lucky to have some beautiful bluebell woods near Pinewood, let alone all the hedges along the small roads are covered in them right now.  For woods, we love to do the River Beauly Circuit and pop along into Croiche Wood.

Blue bluebells in a green wood near the River Beauly

I wrote about this walk in one of my recent newsletters – have you subscribed?  The wood is ablaze with a carpet of bluebells at this time of year.  It’s wise to remember that if you’ve travelled up from further south, we usually get our seasons a little later than you. So while the bluebells have all gone now in the south of England, they are still a riot of colour up here.  They only popped their heads out only a few weeks ago.

And as for yellow of the gorse – well, we don’t need to go much further than our own garden to get a sight and a whiff of that!

Yellow gorse in the foreground with dark mountains behind from our garden at Pinewood

Do you know what smell the gorse gives off? It’s coconut! Most folks consider gorse a nuisance, as it’s very widespread!  And most gardeners up here spend a lot of time cutting it down.  It’s a large, ever-green shrub covered in prickly needles (watch out!) Very interestingly enough, we just found out that you can in fact eat the yellow gorse leaves!  We had it at Nourish Inverness where Capability Browns held their first vegan Supper Club (look that up, that’s a must go to!)  She used the gorse flowers to decorate a pearl barley risotto with AVVA Gin spiced butternut squash. Other garnish was rocket, dandelion leaves, all drizzled with sweet fig vinegar.  Anyway, I digress….

Come up north during Spring time and savour some of these colourful sights for yourself.  Next stop – Summer!

 

Outdoor activities in the nearby area

One of the many good things about our location here at Pinewood, is the multitude of places to visit, mountains to climb and activities to pursue.  This month’s blog will focus on some of our recommended activities to do in the nearby area (watch out for a future blog specifically on walking and mountains).

So, where to start!  Do you like messing about on the river, do you like canoeing?  We are 10 minutes from the village of Beauly, which sits on the River Beauly – a great river for novice canoeists. The River Glass becomes the River Beauly – both riverbanks brimming with lush vegetation and wildlife. Paddling through the spectacular Aigas Gorge is like being in a scene from Lord of the Rings!  Or try canoeing on Loch Ness, this very famous loch and look out for Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster as you go.  While we’re talking about Beauly, there is some great fishing along the river too.

Back to Loch Ness – how about a cruise on this famous loch and visiting Urquhart Castle, or journey from Tomnahurich Bridge and cruise through the Calendonian Canal.  The Jacobite Cruises have many different tours on offer.

Seems like we have a water theme going on today – so how about dolphin watching? One of the most popular places to see dolphins is at Chanonry Point, between Fortrose and Rosemarkie on the Black Isle.  You can even go on a dolphin cruise. Chanonry Point is a good place to spot dolphins as it’s a favourite spot for them to find food. This part of the Moray Coast is not only famous for bottlenose dolphins, but also harbour porpoises and even whales, especially the Minke whale.

Back to dry land, a local company called In Your Element, offer many great outdoor activities in the Loch Ness & Inverness area, from abseiling to archery, bushcraft skills to climbing, gorge swimming and gorge walking.  The list is endless! Photo below courtesy of their website.

And why not bring your bike when you visit?  We have some super quiet, empty country roads around Pinewood which are great for taking your road bike on, with many routes giving excellent views over the Beauly Firth and Loch Ness.  Or bring your mountain bike.  Abriachan Forest just a few miles away has purpose made mountain bike tracks.

Just a wee taster of some of the many activities you can do during your stay!

Sampling the culinary delights

One of the best assets in Pinewood Steading is undoubtedly it’s kitchen!  And I’m a big cook and I really love it when I have the opportunity to use the kitchen.  If you can take your eyes off the stunning view (which looks out towards the Beauly Firth), the kitchen is a super size and very well equipped. It has everything you would need from knocking up a gourmet dinner to simply warming up a pizza!

But what if you don’t fancy cooking one night and want to go out and about and sample the local Scottish cuisine?  Well, there are lots of wonderful and interesting places to eat out at from Pinewood Steading, so here are a few of our favourites.  But do bear in mind that I am vegan, so this comes from a vegetarian/vegan perspective!

Remembering that Pinewood is nice and secluded, it does mean you may have a short drive to some of these eateries, and with Oakwood Restaurant, it will take you about twenty minutes in the car.  Oakwood is run by Gus and Gaby and focuses on traditional Scottish fayre.  They pride themselves on obtaining the very best from Scotland’s larder, during the whole year, sourcing the finest foods.  They have an extensive menu and daily specials and cater exceptionally well to many dietary needs, from dairy free to gluten free, vegan and vegetarian.  It’s like eating in their own personal dining room when you visit – it’s cosy with only a small handful of tables (so worth booking in advance); and the service isn’t stuffy or formal.  They also have a gift shop which is open during restaurant hours, selling a wide range of leather and Harris Tweed goods – usually at very good prices!  Located in Dochgarroch, its sits on the River Ness and there are some great little walks around the area.  You could even walk down the Calendonian Canal from Inverness and have lunch outside here.

The lovely pink Oakwood Restaurant

The vegetarian/vegan menu at Oakwood Restaurant

One of the wonderful vegan dishes at Oakwood Restaurant

Closer to Pinewood is the wonderful Bunchrew House, which sits on the banks of the Beauly Firth with spectacular views.  It’s about a 15 minutes drive towards Inverness.  The house is over 400 years old and makes good use of promoting its history. Bunchrew comes from the old Gaelic word ‘Buncrev’ meaning the ‘root of the tree’ or the ‘wooded slope’.  The house when built back in 1505 only had 2 rooms! I like the long, tree-lined drive up to the house (which is pink!) and its comfortably large drawing room.  Taking a drink in there before entering the elegant dining room makes me feel like I’m in some period drama! It’s especially nice in the winter when it has the log fire on.  It’s quite pricey at Bunchrew House, so maybe one to save for a special occasion.  It does have special promotions on regularly too which are worth looking up, as is its afternoon tea. They serve fine cuisine at Bunchrew, with 4 courses at £44.50 or three for £34.50 and have an extensive wine list too.  We went recently (14th February) for the special Valentine’s Day six course tasting menu (see menus below) and the vegan food was amazing, so well thought out.  It was so good, it was hard to choose my favourite course.  We hear there is new staff in the kitchen, and if they keep turning out food like that, I am sure we will be back soon.  Jimmy (husband) thought his menu was fantastic too.  Worth the cost to get a taxi there as he also enjoyed the flight of wine that accompanied the meal, plus we had champagne on arrival as part of the promotion.

Bunchrew House

 

The vegan mushroom tart from Bunchrew House’s Valentine’s six course taster menu

The Valentine’s 6 course taster menu from Bunchrew House

Another of our favourites is the Loch Ness Inn, in Drumnadrochit.  It’s a great traditional-style pub with super food and a fire for those cold winter nights.  It was built in 1838 but has a contemporary feel.  The artwork on the wall is great to look at, by local artist Dot Walker.  They cope reasonably well with vegan requirements, but focus on Scottish and local fayre like Cullen skink, West Coast mussels, Applecross Bay prawns, Black Isle rib eye steak, and East Coast haddock. Reasonably priced from £11.50 to £22.00 for main courses.

Worth a quick  mention is Fiddlers, a pub with an award winning whisky selection with good traditional pub food, again in Drumnadrochit. They serve good honest food like salmon, beef, game, to award-winning haggis.  Not a great selection for vegetarians or vegans but worth putting up with if you like a great malt whisky selection!

That was just a small handful of the eateries that we like to frequent when we go out for something tasty.  And there are of course a lot of others, like Corner on the Square in nearby Beauly or Rocpool Restaurant in Inverness.  Maybe I’ll leave those for another day…

 

Like a Good Walk? Abriachan and Upper Reelig

Do you like a good local walk? Why not have one when visiting a local community wood.

We are very spoilt here at Pinewood by having two great community woods nearby – Abriachan and Upper Reelig.  Reelig is a short 2 minutes drive from the Steading, or for a slightly longer walk, you can actually walk to Upper Reelig right from our door.  Once there, there are a number of possibilities to explore the woods through a network of formal and informal paths. There is also a community log shelter (see photo) and a wooden xylophone which you will find if you explore the main path in the upper wood.  The xylophone and shelter were built by woodland group volunteers in 2015/16. All the timber comes from the wood and even the nails in the shelter roof are reclaimed.  By the shelter, you may also see “Reelig”, which is a large reindeer that the group volunteers built at the end of 2016 – including myself!

Just five miles from Pinewood is the Abriachan Forest.  There is so much here!  There’s an excellent woodland and moorland walk using trails laid out by the Abriachan Forest Community Trust. Stay in the Forest and follow the Peace Trail, walk to Loch Laide and sit in the wildlife hide, or find the ‘wee tree house’.  Or get high on the hill with its many paths and super views. There are some beautifully carved benches made out of tree trunks up here, as well as some wood sculptures (see photo). Make your way to the top, and stop awhile at  Carn na Leitire, an excellent viewpoint at 434 metres.

You will also find a reconstructed shieling (see photo) – which is where I went with the dogs today!  The shieling is a low stone wall base made of peat turfs and crowned with a turf-covered roof.  It’s worth stopping here for a while, maybe with your picnic lunch, and soaking in the views of Loch Ness.  On this walk, you should also look out for the hidden ‘whisky still’!

It is amazing to think that both these community woods are maintained by volunteers and that they have created so many wonderful things to see while visiting them. I am sure if you visit during the volunteer days, you would be warmly welcomed to help maintain the woods!

Christmas at Pinewood: come and visit in 2017

Snowman at Pinewood Steading

This was our first winter in our new home and we were blessed with many friends, family and neighbours visiting us over the Christmas period.  We were spoilt to have snow, and even for a few days we had a snow blizzard, but we still managed to get out into the garden to build a snowman.  One of the wonderful advantages of the location of Pinewood is being on top of the hill overlooking the Beauly Firth, which kept coming in and out of view as the weather improved or got worse.  But we were never cut off.

We managed to drive down to Reelig Glen, which is just less than a mile away, to walk the dogs on Boxing Day.  It was snowing still, but a lot of the time we were under cover from some of Britain’s tallest trees.

Hopefully in 2017, we will have visitors in Pinewood Steading for Christmas and New Year, but we have a little way to go first in decking it out to the high standard we are aiming for.  Come the New Year, we will complete the furnishing and decorating and aim to be ready for February.  We wish all our friends and family, and new visitors in 2017, a happy, healthy and joyful New Year!