Through the eyes of others

Holiday friends, with benefits.

This week, good friends from Manchester have come to stay. In more normal times this would hardly be news, but it’s the first time since last March that anyone other than our immediate family has spent the night, and it’s the first time we’ve welcomed these friends to the Highlands. In more normal times we’d have been on holiday together in Greece or France. But – in case you’d not noticed – these are not normal times.

It’s not the first time they’ve been here – M worked as a GP in Ross-shire for a few years in the late 80s, and N had visited him once or twice. But it’s decades since they’ve been back.

Old haunts and new favourites

M & N looking suitably appreciative at Fairy Glen, Rosemarkie

We spent the weekend clocking up steps on our Fitbits as they revisited old haunts. But graciously allowed us to show off some of our favourite spots too. Rosemarkie’s Fairy Glen and Swallow Den elicited appropriate levels of visitor appreciation. It’s a walk that has it all, with the beach, the burn and the waterfalls, a million shades of green, and flower-strewn country lanes. There are the dens that inspired geologist Hugh Miller in the 1800s, and that panoramic view over Chanonry Point and Fort George. There was even a stall selling fresh Black Isle berries. We scoffed the berries on the beach.

The rigs off Cromarty

Cromarty never disappoints. The quaint wee streets and indy shops (Cromarty Pottery for souvenirs), the rigs and beach, Hugh Miller’s house, and my favourite of all – the pirate’s graveyard. It’s the atmosphere there that keeps me returning; that and the skulls and crossbones and the view across to North Sutor. Gravestone inscriptions, dating back to 1675, remind us how fragile life is.

A hit-list of Inverness highlights

We swam in a loch (of course), walked at Rogie Falls, and rediscovered Black Rock Gorge and Evanton Community Wood. We ate incredible fish and chips in MacGregor’s Bar, and drank local beer, local gin, and local whisky. As I write this they’re heading into Inverness with a ‘hit-list’ of highlights – Leakey’s bookshop, Eden Court and the Ness Islands. Then they’re taking their golf clubs to the Cairngorms National Park for nine holes at Carrbridge.

It’s fabulous to see our friends, but I am struggling. You see, I’m furiously resentful to be working this week. Their enthusiasm for the landscapes and the history we have here has reignited my already zealous passion for this corner of Scotland. I wish I could join them on their daily adventures; to Ullapool, Assynt and the beautiful north-west, to the beaches and dramatic cliffs of the coastline, to the brochs and castles of Caithness, and into the splendour of Moray Speyside, from Cairngorms to Firth.

Holiday friends at Black Rock Gorge, Evanton

Burns wished we could ‘see oursels as ithers see us’. But more rewarding is to see our home through the eyes of others. Our friends’ photographs are of the views we daily take for granted. Their holiday highlights are the lochs, mountains, beaches, and paths of our weekend walks. All I can think, is lucky, lucky us.

Stress and pain on Monday afternoon

While Scotland met the Czech Republic in a wee match at Hampden on Monday, I was in the dentist’s chair undergoing root canal treatment.

As the dentist poked and prodded, injected and aspirated, drilled and filled, I could hear the strains of music coming from the radio. The focus here was on distracting the patient, and on a job well done, and not on whatever might – or might not – have been reaching the back of either net.

I exited the surgery, numb of mouth, and checked the score. I then wondered who had a more stressful and painful afternoon. Me, under the drill for 90 minutes, or Scotland’s football fans? It’s a tough gig, following our national team. But we do it anyway, whether we’re football fans or not.

Off the Payroll…

First class student with her first class pup.

This past year has been tough, not just for sports fans, but for students too. Daughter #2, in the final year of her Master’s degree in biomedical engineering, should have been completing a project at Harvard University in Boston. Instead, she was holed-up in her childhood bedroom in Inverness, analysing the mathematical modelling for drug delivery by coated balloon. Not quite the same.

But her results came out this week and, in spite of everything, the girl did herself proud. So, indulge me for a moment, as I celebrate. That’s them both officially off the Marr family payroll. Pass the gin!

This column is published by Highland News and Media in six of their newspapers across the north of Scotland. If you can, please support print media and the future of independent  journalism by buying a paper, or subscribing online. 

If you’d like to receive it by email every week, why not sign up? It’s completely free, with no spam, ads or other undesirables. Just pop your email address into the widget on my home page here.

Feedback and comments are welcome, as are your stories and ideas for future pieces. Stay safe and well.