We had the most enchanting day off yesterday: plan A was to go to the opening of the Pittenweem Festival, so we had allowed a day for the purpose. But the weather forecast indicated sullen and persistent rain over Fife, whereas here in the north it was coming up pretty settled. We considered the prospect of squelching from one art event to another, driving for two and a half hours through lashing rain (or, even worse, driving back), and all that fun stuff, and decided to bunk off up the Spey instead. Where, through a mostly sunny day, we had a lovely time. Rather than pelting off South, we had a long, complicated, leisurely and beautiful lunch cooked by our French Correspondent, and at three o’clock, began reluctantly to think that if we were going to do anything we had better start doing it. Tearing ourselves away, we piled into a car and went up to Speyside. Due, doubtless, to Virtue, we were both awarded a Prize for Virtue by our employers this month (the end of the financial year), and consequently, had an unusual and pleasant sense of having a just a little bit of spare money. Thus, when our antiquarian friend in Dufftown produced a Roman ring in a possibly original setting which was entirely wearable, I acquired it. I haven’t bought anything for fun for such a long time, due to domestic tediosities too wearying to recall, and I am very chuffed with it. The stone, which is not exactly top of the range, is a haphazard reinterpretation of Pheidias’s Zeus, in a setting which, while more or less pure gold, is making a smallish amount of gold go a fairly long way — thus it offers a fairly coherent story of ‘provincial bling’, of perhaps the 3rd century. Whatever the rights and wrongs, I will wear it whenever I am feeling Jovian as opposed to jovial, e.g. at examiners’ meetings. Subsequent to the shopping, we went for a nice long walk up the Spey, in the course of which we met one of the silliest dogs I have seen in years — I will not give the breed name since there are probably about 6 in the country and the owner will read my blog and be cross — doubtless it was a perfectly nice critter in a large and abounding fashion, but the Breed Standard required it to be clipped in the most extraordinary way, quite regardless of the needs of the actual dog, which struck me as daft. Chance encounters aside, this extensive walk among ferns and birches by the chattering, Ruskinian, bank of a small highland river may explain why, despite an enormous lunch, we ended up driving back over the Cabrach and having dinner in a Highland Hotel — an extremely nice example of the type, which retains a cook who can cook. It is a very soothing place, efficent without being plastic, surrounded by a dramatic planting of mature trees (it is, in origin, a 19th century magnate’s Scottish Baronial palace), and in all kinds of ways reminiscent of the world of John Buchan, though the food, I am happy to say, is nicer than almost anything implied in the works of the Master, which persistently seem to regard buttered scones, ham, and ginger biscuits as the apogee of gastronomic happiness. Question: was John Buchan actually a labrador?