L’Isle Noir

Our three days on the Black Isle were wonderful. No castles or gorillas, neither of which actually feature so as you’d notice, whatever HergĂ© may have thought. We were staying in a boring little hut, but it contained everything one might sensibly need, and looked over the moonstone gulf of the Moray Firth. Behind it was a very Moominish wood, with a soft, springy floor of dropped needles and moss, dominated by larches, which was of very considerable extent, so that it straddled the actual spine of the Black Isle and from the highest point, you could see water both sides. The weather was beautiful, but nobody much was around. Apart from the weather, which was on our side, the trouble with the Highlands is so often the time it takes you to get from one place to the next. We went up to Tarbat, partly for frivolous purposes, but also because I wanted to check out the Pictish monastery (this being one of the sorts of things I find exciting — seriously, it must have been one of the first monasteries in Western Europe, and it had a parchment workshop. So, indirect but absolute proof that people were writing in Pictland in the 6th century. I think that’s thrilling). We did manage to buy some crockery, which was the frivolous purpose, but got to the Picterama at about half past four to discover that ‘last visitors were admitted at 4.15′ — which being interpreted meaneth, if nobody has turned up by 4.15 the person in charge feels entitled to lock up and piss off home, while charging for their notional presence up to the shutting time of 5. However, we had a brief sweep of a very appealing little place called Portmahomack, which we would not otherwise have seen and which more or less merited the detour. In our various excursions around and about, we encountered a variety of picturesque olde Celtick scams: my favourite was — en route to our reliable old friends the plantspersons of Abriachan, on Loch Ness — encountering a sign for some little dorp called Kilterty or thereabouts, distance one mile, with closely adjacent, a brown sign: ‘Highland Liliums Garden Centre’. Let us, I said, give it a go. Crofts are from time to time places where people pursue some esoteric interest to the point of mania, and I do love lilies. Well: we hit the hamlet in question, and came out the far end, to find a ‘Highland Liliums’ sign. Then we went on, and on, and on, winding up into extreme remoteness, with every now and then, another ‘Highland Liliums’ sign. Eventually, and it was a pretty bloody long eventually, we found Highland Liliums. Which turned out to be a bog-standard garden centre in the middle of absolutely nowhere, with quite a lot of the gaudier varieties of rhododendrons, and not a lily in sight. Almost all bought-in stuff from Holland, and not exactly being given away. We threaded through the sort of stuff you could get just about anywhere from Exeter to Ullapool, and exited via the shop, where there was an actual person. ‘Do you’, I asked politely, ‘have any lilies, or have I missed something?’ ‘Oh, it used to be a lily nursery but that was thirty years ago’, she explained. ‘So we called it Highland Liliums Garden Centre ‘ so people would know’. Um. It struck us that while nobody was actually telling fibs as such, the element of suggestio falsi started with the implication that it was little more than a mile away from the main road, and went on from there. It was all most amusing, and after that we went to Abriachan where there were lovely things grown by the people who sold them. It was a most successful holiday: we saw our friend in Cromarty, walked among the larches, wrote things, and were quite untroubled.

One Response to “L’Isle Noir”

  1. Cat Says:

    Hello there,
    I was just doing some research for our website and came across your blog, thank you so much for your nice comments about our garden at Abriachan, we love it very much and it makes me happy when others feel the same.
    I do hope you have had a chance to pop by since 2007, the garden has grown again since then.
    All the best - happy gardening,Cat Davidson
    www.lochnessgarden.com

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