Cottaging on Dava Moor

I have a dream. To live in an old cottage far away from civilisation. And every now and then I travel over Dava Moor (between Nairn and Grantown on Spey) and I can see the remains of what must have been a well populated area in days gone by. Old and derelict cottages, tracks and bridges can be seen in amongst the heather and peat of the moor.

A holiday in Carrbridge presented itself as a great opportunity to take a closer look. An early start meant I caught the sun rising over the moor and some of the abandoned buildings.

My route around the cottages at Easter Crannich, Wester Crannich, Anaboard and Rychorrach totalled about 7km and the warm air and lack of breeze were really noticeable, even at 5am. A breakfast of wild raspberries was pretty tasty and more refreshing than the nutrigrain bars I’d packed.

Anaboard Cottage – The fireplace gives an idea of when the lintel was put in.

Wester Crannich Cottage – The most ruined of the four buildings with no roof or internal fittings but lovely stonework.

The last two cottages were the most interesting. Quite snazzy if you like your history.

Easter Crannich Cottage – Very steep steps and horrendous contemporary wallpaper downstairs. But upstairs I found a wall plastered in old newspaper, the newspaper in question being The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News. Not one you’ll see in the stands today as the last day of publication was in 1970. And it reported on just what the title suggests, sports and theatre.

I’m assuming the newspaper was used as an insulator, as I imagine winters in Dava would be pretty chilly. The date on the paper was pretty interesting, Saturday 25th March 1905. 1905!!!!….

Rychorrach Cottage – A beautiful setting higher up with views for miles, including the Cairngorms. The occupants of this house had followed the lead of the Easter Crannich residents and put extra insulation on the wall, but had taken the idea a step further, thicker cardboard boxes this time instead of newsprint.

They were tacked to the walls incredibly neatly and looked almost artistic as the collage of brands wouldn’t look out of place in a gallery. Corn Flakes, Vim and Scott’s Oats, which are still going strong today. Others I’d never heard of such as Smedley’s carrots and Oxydol washing powder.

The most interesting box was one labelled dried eggs and “For European Recovery” and was part of the post-WW2 Marshall Plan to revitalise Western Europe. A fascinating discovery and quite something to see the item in real life and how it was used after.

I found a calendar at the house from the year 1950. And after a bit of research I think the last occupier was a man called James McDonald. Maybe he was the decorator but I can’t be certain, there isn’t much online about Rychorrach to be sure.

On the one hand what a lucky man to have lived in such a beautiful place, especially in summertime. But what a harsh existence it must have been for James, his family and the previous generations of McDonald’s who farmed there and at other cottages on the moor in winter conditions

Would I live there? Probably. 21st century heating is a wonderful thing.

What I Did in 2018

img_8824-1Don’t let the title fool you, it’s not 2019! Happy new year to one and all. 2018 is here and it’s a good looking number. Much more attractive than 2017. More curvy? Bigger? More contemporary?

I’ve got a few resolutions. Take on the challenge of a new job (that I start in 7 short days). Spend more time with my wife and family. Lose a bit of weight and get a bit fitter (a daily box of salt and vinegar Pringles has added a few rolls). More outdoor adventures in my boots, on my snowboard and in my tent.

I’ve got one more resolution or plan which is going to be tricky but fits in with my love of the outdoors. This year, I’m going to walk 1000 miles. By New Year’s Eve, I’ll have walked at least 1610km in 365 days. In everyday life as well as in the hills. Easy? Well, I’ve managed a solitary, single kilometre on day one. So I’d better get a move on!

And the post title? Let’s just say I’m an optimist.

Whatever you’re planning this year, good luck and happy adventuring!

Fossil Watch

The West Highland Way.  The phonics that blend to give this short phrase its meaning are a source of huge excitement in our house at the moment.  Many have walked this 96 mile snake of a walk, rounding its neighbouring high peaks and rivers through some of the most gorgeous bits of Scotland.  Many have walked into Fort William or Milngavie with blistered heels and heavy shoulders wondering why they put their bodies through it.  But in a few short weeks I will be able to stand proudly and happily and say that I’ve walked the West Highland Way.  That is, I hope I can still stand.

The walks and trails we follow in the hills of Scotland and elsewhere are like fossils or remains of our past, both recent and ancient.  The West Highland Way was only opened in 1980.  However the old drovers and military roads that it is built on and around have existed for hundreds of years, long before the first “man in a berghaus” made it look easy.  I like looking down at the different path surfaces and imagining who once walked there before me.  Their footprints are so deep in places it seems hard to imagine the scars could ever be removed from the earth.

Over the last few months our training miles have steadily grown, as has our fitness and confidence.  Last weekend we decided to do 2 days walking, roughly 10 miles each day.  Saturday saw us venture up to Cairn William.  Our walk on Sunday was in the Correen Hills near Alford, a circuit with views of Bennachie, Tap o’ Noth and, most pleasingly, an old abandoned farm called Hillock of Terpersie.  I’ve become a bit obsessed recently with dilapidated structures and urban exploration and the sight of the grey granite set against the greens of the surrounding hills was one of many highlights.  It might just have been its age, but the building looked so organic, as if it had always been there, not a man-made construction at all.

I was further reminded of how exciting our hills are when passing an old quarry and wooden workers hut.  Kirsty found something lying on the ground.  She thought she had found a fossil, a clay pot perhaps.  It turned out to be a gorgeous rock.  No less marvellous but I immediately thought back to the farm at Terpersie and was in genuine awe at the things you can find on a simple walk in the Scottish hills.  Each one a remnant of a bygone age, whether millions of years ago in geological terms or 200 years in human history.  If only they could tell their tales like clyping children.

We didn’t have time to stop in at Terpersie for a look.  That possibly increased my sense of wonder as I wasn’t quite close enough to get the best view of it.  The old abandoned farm, and a thousand others scattered across the country like the seeds farmers sow, are part of our historic record.  Through clearance, failure or death, these old homes have been left to nature and reclaimed by her with glee.  There is something hauntingly beautiful about a building being overrun by nature.  A few of them dotted around the West Highland Way would make the painful blisters and pulled calf muscles worth the effort.  Even if I need the services of a wheelchair, a bottle of whisky and a nurse by Fort William.

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Kirsty, Gordon and Tilly on Cairn William.  Lunch being munched.