our town in
enough light to navigate
rivers and mountains
Winter Night in
is an area north of large firths, part riverside, part glen,
part carse & part mountains. A firth is a long estuary not as
steep as a fjord, a glen is a wide valley and a carse is a river
Callander is something of a frontier town. From here north, the
Highlands postal system of "You'll know so-and-so" operates.
Carla is a Canadian poet and chef who lives on Mull. I had come
by a three pint jelly mould decorated with fish, and I knew this
was right up Carla's street as she cooks gourmet seafood. I
didn't want it broken in the post, and I wasn't going to Mull.
But our road goes to Oban, the port for Mull. One morning I saw
a van, lettered Iona Hotel, parked opposite our house. So I ran
out and asked the driver, "Do you know Carla Jetko at Fionnport?"
He did, and he
took it for her.
The roads haven't been easily passable the last week or so.
We've had our annual floods. Huge mountain and moorland areas
send their rain and mist down into a few large river systems,
and in the last fortnight
practically every system has been on floodwatch or flood
warnings. Stirling Rivers: Floodwatch. The Teith at Callander:
Flood Warning. Sandbags are available, and needed. Some of the
older houses and shops near the car park are badly sited. As for
the car park, it's often under six feet of water. Even main
roads can be closed or passable only in big vehicles. Because of
the mountains, the routes are rather sparse and there aren't
enough roads for diversions. A skewed
lorry, a river over its banks, and our road can be empty all
But it's beautiful. The river turns into "Loch Occasional,"
rushing and shining in great volumes of the clearest drinkable
water, straight through the town and on to the sea. (The river
becomes tidal at Stirling.) A waste of water? No, the sea's
where it comes from, that's how it works.
Two buttercups raise petals
full of yellow light
Birds and otters
enjoy the water. Last week we had a Barrow's Goldeneye, a bird
from Iceland very rarely seen in Britain. It attracted
birdwatchers who alerted each other through websites. One came
by plane from London and hired a car at Glasgow Airport: that's
clever way to travel from London.
It's been a warm autumn after a warm summer. Large groups of
schoolchildren swam in the river in the hot summer weather. You
could even swim in Loch Venachar, which is said to be one of the
warmest Scottish lochs, while Lochs Venachar and Lubnaig, our
were lined with paddlers on sunny summer days.
round the loch.
Warm pebbles under water.
A breeze makes a disturbance.
It was an
excellent autumn for fruit of every kind. Blaeberries, usually
slow to pick, were really plentiful. We have a favourite picnic
table on the Aberfoyle road with a really fantastic view,
surrounded by huge blaeberry patches. Many people know these
fruit as blueberries, but it's sacrilege to call them that here.
There were also rowan berries, sloes, blackberries, elderberries
all in profusion, and any amount of apples. If you didn't have
more apples than you could use, you were given as many as you
could use by somebody else. So I've made apple and tomato
chutney, apple and blaeberry chutney, rowan and apple jelly,
apple, blackberry and rowan jelly, apple, onion and elderberry
chutney and wait for it, apple, blaeberry, rowan, plum, tomato,
onion, cucumber and ginger chutney. Would anyone like to suggest
a name for this?
The railway, once the lifeblood of Callander and closed in the
1960's in the Beeching cuts (a British political disaster,
rightly deplored at the time), is now being gradually brought
into use as a cycleway. Indeed you can walk it. The line was
built on an embankment beside the river, and now makes a
beautiful walk through & above the flooded area. It has
strawberries that were thrown out of the tourist passenger
trains & seeded, & it is also a walkway for wildlife, hares,
deer, & straying sheep. Keen cyclists such as my son use it in
season. Last summer he asked me to take him up to Killin, 20
miles of steep hillside away, so he could cycle back to
Callander. I drove him up, dropped him off & no kidding he
nearly got back before me.
Callander is a place where you get visited (except by people who
can't cope with sparse country buses). I tell my friends there
is a daily bus from Edinburgh to Skye in the summer months,
which stops at Callander, but they don't come on it. They get
trains and they get lifts, or they drive here. My cousin Liz
Price came and took photos of a hot day at Loch Venachar, and
some of the flora. I have written haiku for them.
A king of
the hogweed tribe
stark in the summer sunshine,
blue of Scottish braes.