Visitors and visits

Picture of a sundial in the middle of a path in a Scottish Highlands gardenOne of the things about living here in such a beautiful place is that people actually want to come and visit! Some people round here seem to have visitors from all over the world and others, like my friend Julie, welcome holiday makers into their homes to provide them with shelter for the night and breakfast in the morning. As for us, we have just four or five visits a year from family and close friends.

The best thing about having people come to stay is mostly of course seeing them and catching up on all the news and gossip, but also it offers us a chance to get out and about doing things we wouldn’t otherwise necessarily make time to do. For instance, our young friends from our time in Lincolnshire come to visit every year. Since they now have two young and rumbustious boys, they take a holiday chalet in Culkein Stoer for the purpose of sleeping. And just the fact of their arrival and the need to “help settle them in” gives one an opportunity to go and enjoy that most attractive part of Assynt, with its lovely view of the surrounding peaks and Handa Island.

The family spends the days with us and while they are here there are naturally plenty of trips to the beach, and also into Ullapool to run around the park there and play “Pooh sticks” on the bridge over the river (this year we spotted a number of young trout in the water, which was a sight that few people had seen in many years and one that gives hope for the future, for sure). After we have rushed round enough to feel that we have earned it, we stop to eat Capaldi’s ice cream sitting on the sea wall looking out over the boats moored in the trots, with the mountains of the An Teallach range behind them. My husband, Chris, and I very much enjoy their visits, and watching a four year old and a two year old make the most of what our area has to offer is truly one of life’s blessings.

My sister, Tana, was here for a few days last week along with her man, Andrew. They are both professional gardeners and also have a big garden of their own to care for, which they open to the public for charity a few times a year. Both of them are passionate about gardens, so we picked what looked as though would be the best day of the week and stravaiged south to Attadale Gardens, which lie tucked away down on the other side of the loch from Lochcarron in the Torridan mountains on the road to Skye.

In the foreground, lush plant growth on a pond; in the background, a Japanese bridge over the water - in a Scottish Highlands garden These are beautiful gardens – smaller and less well-known than Osbert MacKenzie’s huge garden at Inverewe and still a work-in-progress, but much more intimate. The present incumbent is an artist, and you can certainly see that the gardens have been laid out with an artist’s eye. The planting is very simple – just one or two exotic plants suddenly appear among the native plants which abound there, to add that extra spice to the planting. What is more unusual is they sport several superb purpose-made statues, mostly bronzes, including one of a cheetah which totally captures the fluid motion of the animal when it is in full flight. You might wonder how a representation of a cheetah could look right in a garden in the north of Scotland – but somehow it all works…

Good use is made of the water that comes down the hills behind the gardens, which I imagine also offer them a certain amount of protection from the weather. I especially loved the fern house and a conservatory filled with plants and ferns superbly well planted in stone walls. The whole set up fills one with inspiration and just a wee measure of envy!

There are not very many people to run the place, and one of the nice things about it is the general air of informality. There is a wee café which is run on an honesty-box basis. It offers tea and coffee from a machine and soft drinks from the cool cabinet, bars and biscuits in baskets, and places to sit inside and out. The members of staff that are around are always happy to stop and answer questions and generally have a chat.  There is no gift shop, but there are a few plants and a guide to the gardens for sale.  Being just 20 acres, the gardens are also not too exhausting to get around! I would recommend them to anyone, but with the warning that they had better go and visit soon before they get too popular! We certainly had a wonderful long, sunny, warm afternoon just strolling around and enjoying.

We had driven down the “quick” way, which takes us over Diridh Moor via Garve and down the main road to Skye – about a 3 hour drive. We planned to go back via the coast road, which takes more like 5 hours on a good day, so that called for a quick stop in the café in Lochcarron for refreshment – i.e. ice cream! – to set us up for the short three-quarter-hour journey north to the Old Inn at Gairloch, and a delicious and much welcome supper (the Old Inn being one of Chris and my favourite watering holes). The road beyond Gairloch is pretty long and winding but full of interest – going as it does through Poolewe and past Grunyard Island of anthrax fame. Unfortunately on this occasion we didn’t see any of the herd of feral goats that inhabit the land surrounding the road in and around Dundonnell and can be frequently seen along there. I have also seen feral goats on Skye, but they don’t seem to come as far north as here.

Image of an old stone bridge over the water at Poolewe, in the Scottish HIghlandsWe arrived home pretty tired but still in daylight at about 10.15 pm and pretty quickly all collapsed into bed – especially Chris, who had done all the driving!

[Photos of Attadale Gardens by Andrew Woodthorpe. Photo of bridge by Clarinda]

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