Fingers crossed for a good harvest
We're hoping for a bumper year for apples here at Shandon Farm and Appletree Cottage.
The last two years late frosts put paid to spectacular blossom leaving it a dirty brown colour. Very little fruit pollination and setting survived the frosts.
This year however things are looking more positive
We started planting one hundred trees in 2014. Since then we have grafted the scions (cuttings) from the trees onto root stock bringing the total number of trees up to 400.
Some apples grow in clusters of more than two or three. These clusters require thinning to bunches of about two or three. Thinning is also required on thin branches which have too many apples and are in danger of breaking. Thinning can be done chemically or by hand. We do it by hand - which takes a bit of time but is a very satisfying day in the orchard.
So hopefully things are looking up and we'll get a good crop this year. We press what we grow into apple juice which we pasteurise so it last longer and also use the apple pulp for making jellies, marmalade and our popular black butter.
An Unexpected Surprise
Well, surprises are unexpected generally.
A friend of ours has just moved to the village of West Wymess in Fife. Just east of Kirkcaldy this former ancient mining village is right on the shore of the Firth of Forth with fantastic views across to Edinburgh.
We'd never been to this area before. After a wander around the village we found our way by accident to Wymess Castle which has a fantastic walled garden open to the public.
More can be found out about the gardens here: www.wemysscastlegardens.com
Open during the summer months the walled garden is on the large Wymess Castle estate. It takes a little bit of finding but there were a couple of helpful groundsmen who showed us the way. We discovered after we left that the estate prefer you to book - see link above
The walled garden dates from the mid 18th Century. Designed by Walter Nicol it had vented walls with the idea of providing stone fruit. There is there remains of a Neo classical orangery along with many other features.
The gardens had lain derelict with just a few trees and a number of geese for many years until Charlotte and Michael Wymess started to put things in order in 1993. The results of their efforts over the years are quite stunning and well worth a visit.
The walled garden is just above the coastline and slightly to the east of West Wymess village.
After a wander round the gardens we headed back to the village and took a stroll down by the harbour and along the Main Street where an impressive talbooth tower is awaiting some refurbishment.
The village - a former coal mining village - has been derelict in places over the years. Slowly however buildings are coming back to life. It is very peaceful and well worth a visit if you're over that way. Its about an hour and a half drive from Appletree Cottage.
West Highland Line Excursion
Earlier this year we took a fantastic trip up the West Highland Line to Mallaig.
Our starting point was Helensburgh Upper. The station, about half an hour's drive from Appletree Cottage, is at the top of Sinclair Street, the A818 as you drive into Helensburgh.
This is not to be confused with Helensburgh Central down closer to the shore.
We asked the guard who had alighted the train which coaches we should be boarding for Mallaig. He told us the rear two coaches were going there.
Climbing aboard we were pleased to find table seats were available and sat down to enjoy the journey.
It was quite a good day to be doing this journey - overcast and damp! The trees beside the track had nearly a full compliment of leaves but the views were still good. We effortlessly passed through Garelochhead,and it was not long before we were winding our way along the shores of Loch Long
At Crianlarich junction the train split. The front portion left first (conveniently!) and headed west onto the former Calendar and Oban line to Oban. This line was truncated by a landfall in the sixties, causing closure of the section between Crianlarich and Callander one month prematurely - before the Beeching Axe was to fall.
From Crianlarich the Fort William section starts to climb the northern slopes of Strath Fillan. Far below on the other side of the glen we can see the railway line to Oban threading its way through the trees beside the river.
After a brief stop at Tyndrum Upper (the tiny village of Tyndrum has two stations. Often mispronounced Tindrum it actually derives from the Gaelic Tigh an Druim (house on the ridge).
And soon we are over the ridge, the march summit and heading towards the famous Horshoe Curve
Horseshoe Curve between Tyndrum Upper and Bridge of Orchy is a three mile meander for the railway on an almost constant gradient of 1:50. The railway hugs the hillside to maintain gradient crossing a nine span viaduct over the Alt Kinglass burn
After our next station, Bridge of Orchy we start the long climb up to Rannoch Moor. Since last visiting this area in the late 1990s there has been much forestation and for several miles we travel through planted pine forest. Eventually, not long before reaching Rannoch Staion the pines give way to the natural moorland.
From Rannoch to Corrour there are some good views across Rannoch Moor. A wild and lonely place. There are the remains of Corrour Old Lodge on the distant eastern slopes. Popular since Victorian times with shooting parties it burnt down in 1946. All that remains now are the desolate ruins.
TuAfter Corrour station we start our descent to the shores of Loch Treig then through the villages of Tulloch, Roy Bridge and Spean Bridge to Fort William.
The stations on this section are well maintained and preserved.
After a brief stop at Fort William the train reverses to Mallaig. This journey like the section before it is stunning, with views of wild moorland, sandy bays and magnificent hills.
The rain had started to come down quite heavily so pictures from the train are not brilliant but the rain in no way spoilt our views of beautiful surroundings.
On our arrival at Mallaig Station we were greeted by a magnificent steam train on the other platform. This train forms part of the "Jacobite" service. A steam hauled excursion from Fort William to Mallaig running twice a day in the summer months.
The rain had stopped so we had a wander round Mallaig village. The harbour was busy with fishing vessels as well as private boats and of course the ferry to Skye.
We had just a couple of hours to explore Mallaig before it was time to board the train back home.. The journey was four and a half hours each way from Helensburgh Upper to Mallaig but the time flew. What a great thing to do on a rainy day!
One of the oldest Agricultural Shows in Scotland has made a stunning return this year.
Established in 1816 the Drymen Show has been an annual event usually on the last Saturday in May. The last two years's Covid problems caused cancellation but this year 2022 it is back in style - and by all accounts with a record turn-out.
The show is always scheduled for the last Saturday in May. Only major downpours have interrupted events.
On this year's return after two years.attendees were not disappointed with the huge array of entertainments, competitions and sunshine on offer.
Entry by cash or card was speedy and a vast free parking area is provided. Souvenir programmes offered the chance to win prizes in the draw later in the afternoon.
A great array of craft tents, stalls selling local gin and whiskies, cakes, food outlets and many other wares align the entrance way to the event.
Cattle and Sheep
The judging of cattle and sheep takes place next to the main ring and commences not long after the show opens in the morning. There is a huge variety of sheep and some very fine highland cattle on show. Sheep shearing demonstration start later in the afternoon..
Teams of heavy horses were spectacular, drawing their drays around the main ring. It is so seldom one sees these magnificent animals at work.
The main ring was fully operational by lunchtime with displays of horsemanship, tractor pulling competitions, races, vintage car and tractor rallies, tug of war, fancy dress parades and prize givings.
Other attractions are many. A stage with many musical performances is close to the main ring. A series of musicians performed in successions
For the young and energetic brigade there is a good funfair at one end or the site behind a good array of agricultural equipment supplier stalls. . Occasional screams of excitement and terror drift across the informative commentary of the main ring.
Other tents include the local schools art tent, pet tent and of course the beer tent,
The days proceedings were rounded off with a tug of war and an Orcadian Strip the Willow.
On the return walk back from the show we took the public footpath from the south side of Drymen Bridge back to Appletree Cottage. (we'd gone down the railway path and through Croftamie Village on the way there) On the way we snapped this fantastic view of the distant Campsie hills with Dumgoyne' peak evident in centre frame.
All in all a great day out.
Stirling Old Bridge
,A quick nip across to Stirling at the weekend was enhanced by some sunshine and clear spells of blue sky. Only thirty five minutes from Appletree Cottage, Stirling has a great selection of shops and restaurants, Famous for its massive medieval Castle this small city also boasts Argyll's lodging, the Church of the Holy Rood, a magnificently preserved old town, close by National Wallace Monument and in the summer months Blair Drummond Safari Park. Today we stopped by the Old Stirling Bridge to explore and take a few photos.
The Old Bridge was built around 14-1500, replacing the earlier wooden structures, one of which had been the focus of The Battle of Stirling Bridge (11/Sept/1297), when the army under William Wallace defeated the English forces by allowing so many to cross the bridge and then blocking that route for the remainder of the troops.
The original wooden bridge lay a little upstream of the current Old Stirling Bridge, the stone foundations of the former being visible at low water.
The Old bridge was the lowest crossing point of the River Forth for several centuries until bridges were built at Kincardine and South Queensferry.
Perched on top of Abbey Craig, where legend has it that William Wallace's troops camped to the hill's commanding position over looking the town of Stirling and the Forth Valley, sits the National Wallace Monument commemorating the thirteenth century leader. The monument is well worth a visit, particularly on a clear day as the views from the top are fantastic, looking towards Edinburgh in the east and Ben Lomond in the west.
During the 1945 Jacobite uprising the southern most arch was blown up and thereby removed by General Blackney to prevent highlanders and supporters of the Jacobite movement crossing the river. The arch was rebuilt and the bridge repaired in later years.
In early days duties were charged on goods entering the borough. Customs men were installed in a covered recess in the centre of the bridge to tax such goods.
Stirling New Bridge
Just down stream is the New Stirling Bridge - opened in 1833 and designed by the famous Scottish Engineer Robert Stevenson, father of the author Robert Louis Stevenson (Treasure Island). The new bridge is open to this day and carries the A9 trunk road north to Perth and beyond.
This is a continuation of a blog of our cycle ride along part of Sustrans Cycle Route 7 in Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park.
Starting at Lochearnhead we joined the former Callander and Oban Railway trackbed and continued up the spectacular Glen Ogle. Although steep sided the route of the railway line contours the hillside to maintain gentle gradients throughout.
As detailed before the line to Glen Ogle opened in 1870 but following Dr. Beeching's infamous report on the railway network produced in the early 1960's the section of the Callander and Oban line between Crianlarich and Callander was scheduled for closure on 1st November 1965. However, before that date, in the early hours of Monday 27th September 1965, a rockfall occurred in Glen Ogle. This area had been a constant headache to the operators of the line since construction as landslips and rockfalls were not infrequent. Following the an engineering assessment of the damage it was decided by the powers that be that there was no economic benefit of clearing the line and shoring up the bank as the line was due to close in just over a month's time.
The rockfall not only closed the Callander and Crianlarich section of the line it also meant the closure of the five mile Killin Junction to Killin section.
A photograph of the rockfall taken in the 1960s soon after the track had been lifted can be seen here: www.railscot.co.uk/img/28/647/
Towards the top of Glen Ogle is a very impressive 12 arch viaduct at the foot of Meall Sgliata which can be seen clearly from the main road which runs along the opposite side of the glen.
Glenoglehead station is the summit of the line at this point with the route descending gently thereafter towards what was Killin Junction.
We pass the occasional surviving wayside shed, the severed bases of signal posts and other indications of earlier activity until we come to Killin Junction station.
As we arrive at the former Killin Junction station site we see the station has almost been entirely cleared away - only a small portion of the central platform remains. The route of the line to Killin can be seen in the picture, dropping off to the right.
Killin junction was distinctive as there was no road access. The station was entirely a junction for the line to Killin. Older people have recorded memories of long waits at this station for their connecting trains.
After a good look round its time to return to Lochearnhead. After a short clime up to Glenoglehead station we have a fantastic long gentle freewheel back to Lochearnhead.
A great day out in Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park
From Lochearnhead to Callander and Oban Railway Line
Some of the buildings en-route were in a poor state of repair but none the less provided a reminder of a harder way of life in days gone by.
Soon the road up the hill turns into a well made path. This takes a couple of hundred yards until it reaches the railway.
As the path climbs the hill it passes under a bridge which carried the former Lochearnhead, St. Fillans and Comrie Railway.which ran between Balquhidder (where it joined the Callander & Oban railway) and Crieff from where one could continue either to Perth or to Stirling via Gleneagles (formerly called Crieff Junction. Unfortunately traffic was poor from the start and the Balquhidder to Crieff section closed to all traffic in 1951
When the path from Lochearnhead reaches the railway we are greeted by a fantastic view along Loch Earn which is at the north west boundary of Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park. As well as the view there is a selection of National Cycle Network signs showing a range of possible destinations. This is part of Sustrans Cycle Route 7 which in its circuitous 547 miles runs from Sunderland to Inverness and, as it happens, passes the gates of our own Appletree Cottage.
Once on the railway line cyclists and walkers are greeted by several signs...
The Callander and Oban Railway
We are now on the trackbed of the former Callander and Oban Railway.
Formed in 1864 construction finally started in 1866. The company, seemingly permanently short of funds constructed the line in phases as and when they could afford. The first section from Callander to the top of Glen Ogle opened in 1870 although coal traffic had been running from Callander to Lochearnhead as early as 1868. John Anderson who had been appointed Company Secretary in 1865 was renowned for his entrepreneurial drumming up of all possible business to help fund the line and its construction.
There was a rumour that the rails when lifted after the line's closure were sent to Mexico to form part of the transportation system for the 1968 Olympic Games. However so far no evidence has been uncovered to substantiate that assertion.
As we continue gently climbing the slopes of Glen Ogle the views along Loch Earn become even more impressive.
See the second part of this blog for our journey along the northern edge of Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park past the former Glen Ogle summit station and down to Killin Junction.
Snow and Sunshine!
Here at Appletree Cottage in Croftamie, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park we're had our first dusting of snow of the year. Beautiful sunshine, snow on the hills and roads passable - that's how we like it!
Few cars were out today - though quite a few walkers. We had an excellent lunch at the But&Ben in Croftamie Village. Opened just over a year ago the owner lovingly restored the former pub known as the Wayfarers. The But & Ben is a hugely welcoming change serving excellent food throughout the day and with occasional steak nights. Well worth a look: www.thebutandben.co
In this weather everything just looks fantastic. Warm when the sun is out but a little chillier when it goes behind a cloud.
However one assuredly warm place is Appletree Cottage which has proved very popular with guests over the last couple of months with its underfloor heating, wood burning stove and fantastic panoramic views.
A beautiful autumn day here at Appletree Cottage and we go down to the shore of Loch Lomond at Ross Priory near Gartocharn to check on the boat. The view up the loch is stunning. Hardly a breath of wind and only the odd cloud in the sky....
Looking to the north west we could see the Luss Hills in the distance with the islands of Creinch and Torrinch rising out of the water in-between
Looking to the north east we could see the white buildings of the village of Balmaha nestling on the far shore
Autumn colours are everywhere - not least on the drive out of the grounds of Ross Priory.
Ross Priory is the out of town club for the University of Strathclyde. Although attached to the university it is open to the public for its excellent lunches. Well worth a visit.
From Ross Priory at Gartocharn we decided to pay a visit to Balmaha to see what the trees were like there. The statue of Tom Weir was still in the same position as you would expect. Behind him the bay of Balmaha was like glass.
Although it was out of season there were still quite a few people around. Balmaha is a very popular stop off on the route of the famous West Highland Way. The Oak Tree Inn is an excellent pub in this tiny village - sometimes brewing its own beers and ciders and providing excellent food.
Our hour at the car park was nearly up so it was in the car and back to Shandon Farm and Appletree Cottage. Hoping this weather continues!
The Maid of the Loch has been successfully winched out of the water for essential repairs and we went along to have a look whilst killing a few moments in Balloch.
The Maid is a paddle steamer and was the largest of its kind on Loch Lomond. Licensed for 1000 passengers, she was built at A&J Inglis on the Clyde and then dismantled for transportation to Loch Lomond.
The hull was floated up the Leven - just making it under Dumbarton bridge(!) This was in the days before the weir at Balloch had been built. The superstructure was transported partly by rail and the entire ship was then reassembled at Balloch and then launched into the waters of the loch on Thursday 5th March 1953
After many years of neglect The Maid of the Loch is currently undergoing extensive refit and refurbishment in anticipation of her once again ferrying passengers up and down the loch on pleasure cruises. The ship has recently been lifted out of the water at Balloch using a 1902 built steam winch housed in its own building at the end of the slipway. The winch is open to the public several days throughout the year and for a small fee you can toot the whistle.
.All went successfully on July 14th this year and the steamship was lifted out to the water as you can see in this video:
However it was a different story in January 2019 when the boat broke free from the substructure and transporter which supported her and headed back into the water.
Crew had to jump to safety and out of the way of the 430 tone vessel.as she careered back down the slipway and into the water.
A video of that unhappy day can be seen here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=XSJtTRi43JM
For those interested in visiting the Grade A listed which house and having a toot on the whistle more information can be found here: www.maidoftheloch.org/steam-slipway-winch-house
Although restoration work has been continuing for a number of years now there is still much to do on this majestic paddle steamer to once again make her ship shape for recommencing sailings up the loch. Much of the deterioration appears superficial - that a coat of paint may fix. Other renovations run much deeper - including the provision of a new boiler.
"Hard hat tours" are currently available around the interior of the ship and they can be booked here: www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/maid-of-the-loch-hard-hat-tour-tickets-169854843409?aff=esfb&utm-campaign=social&utm-content=attendeeshare&utm-medium=discovery&utm-source=fb&utm-term=checkoutwidget&fbclid=IwAR0A9CAlsCH0WFbQQAr-toh2mU0hAs7KXSbia18UB7D1awVVShzMpRfgyD4
Recent good news is that with the aid of a steam boiler located on the adjacent shore it was possible for the crew to run the engines and turn the paddles and so check all was in order and ready for when a replacement boiler is located (or manufactured) and fitted on board.
The paddles which give the steamer its name appear to be in good order. Paddle steamers were known for their manoeuvrability which aided docking.
However, the paddle steamers were less agile in rough seas as unlike their screw propellor cousins their paddles were apt to pop out of the water now and again in the choppy water making steering difficult..
The many small wheels of the supporting carriage can be seen in the bottom of the above picture. They are secured every so often with wooden chocks to prevent the ship rolling back into the water. A good thing.
More can be found out about The Maid of the Loch at the organisers website here: www.maidoftheloch.org.
We look forward to when all the work is completed and The Maid of the Loch is once again able to offer tours up and down the length of Loch Lomond.