Sep 20th, 2014
This morning we left the cats in the capable hands of J and set off North for Aigas. It is about 120 miles from Lochgoilhead, near Beauly on the Black Isle. Although it is good (by Highland standards) roads all the way, we reckoned it would take us over 3 hours because of general congestion. The problem with roads like the A82 is that they are one track each way and very bendy with few chances to overtake. Because of this it only takes one slow caravan or coach (or tourist deciding it would be a good idea to drive at 30 miles an hour) to hold up everything.
Sure enough the A82 was jammed with boats, cyclists, camper vans with canoes on top and many drivers who (frankly) aren’t competent to be on the roads. But aside from that, what a beautiful beautiful journey it was. First the Rest and be Thankful, Loch Long, Loch Lomond, and up to Crianlarich . When we got there, R saw a plume of smoke and we realised it was a steam engine and got out to take a look. Actually it was two steam engines pulling double headed the famous ‘Jacobite’ train between Glasgow and Mallaig. We took some pictures as I am very fond of steam engines.
Then we continued over Ranoch Moor to the high peaks of Glencoe and the Nevis range. I had actually never driven this way before today, although I have walked through the area doing the West Highland Way (twice). Near Glencoe we stopped for more photos (which don’t really do it justice).
We then headed on north, this time up the side of Loch Ness. The traffic was even more hideous here, with no less than six buses in the park at Urquart Castle.
We finally arrived in Beauly more or less on the money at 2:50pm, picked up V and headed for Aigas which is only about five miles further on. This area is a bit of an anomaly as part of the Highlands – because to me it doesn’t quite look the part. There are lovely rolling hills and green fields dotted with cows – in fact way less ‘Highlandish’ than Argyll, for all we are much further south.
The Aigas field centre is in an old Victorian baronial house which had fallen on hard times and was about to be demolished when it was rescued by the great naturalist John Lister-Kaye (author of ‘Song of the Rolling Earth’ and others) and turned into a centre for nature study, ecology and wildlife watching. Small groups of people go on either general ‘wildlife weeks’ or specialist studies such as Fungi, nature writing, photography etc. Meals and communal activities take place in the big house and accommodation is in separate wooden lodge houses a few hundred yards away.
Our lodge was lovely. Clean warm and comfortable with a large lounge and two separate private areas, each with a small kitchen and bedroom with en-suite bathroom. Because there were three of us, we had the whole lodge to ourselves. We went up to the main house for tea, scones and shortbread. In a very nice touch – V who is a vegan found that a special cake had been made for her and labelled with her name. We also got to meet the rest of the people staying the week – a pretty varied bunch from all over the country, though seemingly only two people from abroad (a couple from Canada who had originated from Scotland). We had an orientation to the events of the week to come, given by Sir John’s son Warwick Lister-Kaye.
Basically each day would have its own Ranger led activity during the day (for example going out in a boat for whale watching), plus there are lots of different hides and walks around the grounds where you can get the opportunity to observe some of the iconic wildlife.
After a drink in the common room we had dinner in the Grand Baronial hall, watched over by family portraits and the melancholic view of stuffed deer heads (I have to say I hate this Highland practice). We had pea and mint soup, salmon with hollandaise sauce (V had mushroom rissoles), and gooseberry fool. All freshly prepared and very good.
As it was our first night we picked up our rented high performance binoculars and went back to our lodge. Tomorrow we will get up at dawn and see if we can see a beaver down at the loch.