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Sketchbook 

Global Correspondent Report

 

 

 Sally Evans

Report from CallanderóCentral Scotland

 December 2006

our town in winter:
enough light to navigate
rivers and mountains

 


Winter Night in Callander

 

Central Scotland 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 plain.

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 day.

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.
 

These are our watermeadows.
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 the 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 two nearest, were lined with paddlers on sunny summer days.
 

Heat-haze 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.

Sally Evans, Callander, Scotland

 

 


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