A female merganser, of the red breasted variety, yesterday circled the pond three times that I saw and then landed on the water. It was before 7.00am and just none of the hostel guests was about. She dibbled and dived for mini trout and other delicacies, swam around to explore and then contented herself on the bank with a meticulous preen. I am no twitcher but put the glasses on her and felt privileged that of the many nearby sheets of water available to her she chose our tiny pond to visit.
I was reminded of the first three lines of D.H. Lawrence's poem, 'Snake'.
“A snake came to my water trough,
On a hot, hot day, and I in pyjamas for the heat,
To drink there.”
Unlike Lawrence, who felt threatened by his visitor, 'the voices of my education' told me not that she should be killed, but revered. Of course, within a very short time when the first up hosteller padded by, she took off in a strong uplifting straight line, cleared the trees and was away. Our sleepy hostel guest though saw nothing of her and went on his way in blissful ignorance. Now we have a note at Reception to alert folks to the possibility of them too appreciating our early morning visitor.
Two days before and with three hostellers for company we had parked our bikes as far up the glen as we could and walked on to the loch where my neighbour Ian had told us there was prolific bird life this month in particular. Plenty breeze today, no midges. This loch is far more remote and another three hundred feet higher than us. It looks straight into the hill. There silently we marvelled at the flights and calls of the curlew, this year outnumbering by far the customary peewits. Of course they saw us before we saw them. It was a true gathering of the avian clans and we were thrilled. A solitary goldeneye male guarded his mate and sitting tight, we guessed, in the reeds on the far side. His striking markings can be seen on several lochs more widely scattered in the strath. Black headed gulls curled not much above us and went their own way.
On the following morning at the post office I bump into Ian, another Ian, who with his brother Donnie, farms those acres and told him of our visit. “ That loch is deep, deep; a mystery,” he tells me. “ We've lost more than one cow in there; I wouldn't like to say just how deep it is.”
So many of this month's hostel guests are coming from all over. Predominantly Scottish but with a healthy flow of independent travellers from France, Germany, Holland, Turkey, USA, Canada, the rest of the UK, New Zealand, Australia – and that's just the last four weeks. What is encouraging is twofold. First, their appreciation of what they find here in terms of location, the welcome and the facilities once they have arrived. Secondly, many have come from other Scottish hostels, usually independent ones and are very happy to tell us of the good times there had there. Often they bring greetings from those hostels to us. I like that feeling of fraternity. Our own team this year is really switched on and robust good company. We are so fortunate and our guests like particularly that aspect of their stay with us.
This hostel's ground has a good track record in accommodating independent travellers. From 1900, for about ten years, Macdonalds travelled from Lochaber on the west coast on their way to the Wool Fair in Inverness. This fair was for the trading of horses. A regular camping spot for these independent travellers was right here. The Gaelic for our ground is interpreted as 'The cool spring in the wood'. Quite often we have found bits of chain, horseshoes and half disintegrated tackle buried not far beneath the surface of the camping ground.
In a remarkable little book loaned to us by our Buckie born friend Madge and which she discovered in Wastebusters at Forres we learn more about these early travellers. In Elizabeth ( Suzie) McKay's ' A Discarded Brat, a tiny's tale of survival' published in 1979 by Highland Printers of Inverness, she tells of such independent travellers.
“ From west the country came the tinkers' carts, traps and caravans, lumbering leisurely along a procession of men and women of all ages. They had hit the trail sometime in April to reap their harvest, bringing with them linen, coloured calico and a glitter of household wares. They were skilled in the art of soldering kettles, pots and pans, in return for a few coppers or some rags and rabbit skins. The tinker tribe were made up of several well known families.
Old Angus brought his family and their children and his aged mother who was very much weather beaten, wrinkled and furrowed about the features and who dearly loved to smoke her little clay pipe. The tribal folk were not beggars, but rather the relics of the ancient clans, forced to take the highway like rolling stones seeking moss: the women folk with their bundles of humanity wrapped in tartan plaids, strapped safely to their backs and a basket of wares over their arms ….........”
Later, 'our' Macdonalds set up home in the wood here, built the start of what became our own first cottage home and earned their honest crust for just a few years before the call of the road took them away north. At least, unlike their own displaced forbears, they had a choice. Hostellers listen to these tales almost with reverence and as hostel keepers with a revived camping ground we have a sense of satisfaction in being their successors.
This morning, George is rebuilding a part of the watercourse, Greg and Thea are preparing the hostel and camping ground for tonight's visitors from Aberdeen, Switzerland, Edinburgh and Cumbria and I am writing this. Have a great summer.