You know, it’s true – first impressions do tend to stick.
Although I never saw it with my own eyes, Robert Combs, assistant engineer at The Crieff Hydro Hotel, created an amazing picture for me; describing how a professional diviner was engaged by the hotel to locate a productive fresh water spring on in its grounds, to supplement the existing – and costly – metered supply.
With an imaginary hazel twitch in his hands, he began animatedly striding across the wet lawns, enacting how the said water prophet, criss-crossed over the entire estate, stooping and bending to place brightly coloured flags in the ground – like fluttering totems – as his magical wand wavered earthwards, bowing and dipping like a mating crane, at the source of its potential joy!
An engineer by trade and outlook, Robert had such a lovely way of presenting the nuts and bolts of how his department were minimizing use of costly serviced resources, like utilizing their own natural spring (discovered by the water diviner) to adopt a greener approach to business, in a very passionate manner which you couldn’t help but warm too.
I was on day two of a series of film recees – for a project commissioned by Perth and Kinross Council and the Green Tourism Business Scheme to glean more information about initiatives which Robert and his colleagues had created to help make their business more cost effect by adopting a greener approach to their business.
Up at the self-catering lodges Alexandra MacDonald, who manages 28 properties, also had that same cheery disposition as Robert, and an enthusiasm for her work which is so infectious.
It’s not only their candid belief that it’s the right approach to their work, Robert and Alexandra are also making a genuine and conscious effort to reduce waste and recycle whatever they can where ver they can to everyone and their own benefit.
Last stop on the visit was Robert’s source of greatest pleasure, his CHP unit, which in laymen’s terms means, a combined heat and power source. It’s a basically a big diesel engine which has been converted to run on gas and has a generator stuck on the end, which produces electricity to power the hotel. Through all sorts of technological advances Robert and his team also capture the hot exhausts from the engine, and integrate them into the hotel heating system, which also reduces costs and minimizes impact on the environment.
In the last twist of the story Robert explained, with a twinkle in his eye, that the data from his all singing, all dancing, big hot box is gathered remotely from the generator by a company in California. Rob then accesses the information by logging into California to obtain the data he requires from the CHP,which sits less than 50 meters from his computer.
I love it! The paradox of the old and the new. The hazel twitch and the micro chip working alongside each other. One operating remotely from the other side of the world, the other tapping into unexplained earth rhythms known by the ancients. And both work!
Now you couldn’t make that up – could you?
It’s strange, isn’t it?
You know that feeling which sometimes overtakes you, when you have lived in an area most of your life – or return to from time to time – and quite suddenly you see the lay of the land or city, from an entirely different perspective?
The Atholl Palace Hotel sits perched like a fairytale castle on a little hill to the south-east of the village with with the River Tummel sweeping itself away from it’s lower slopes, southwards through the Vale of Atholl.
Directly to the north, Ben Vrackie displays its early autumnal russets like samples of rough new tweed ready to dress the afternoon hillside.
The air is thick with the unmistakable ochre smell of heather and hill.
Appearing – as if from nowhere – Innes Smith meets me with a handshake that’s as strong and assured, as the land he lives on. I also feel an immediate sense of his physical presence, which is as firmly rooted to the sub-strata, as the giant red cedars which surround him.
In his early days as a pioneering organic sheep farmer, with a flock of 1800 Cheviot ewes high in Glen Tilt, it’s fair to say Innes was probably well ahead of time. Some twenty years later when he left that part of his life as a high ground hill man, to join the hotel as estate manager, he very quickly became a principal driving force force in the hotel’s work towards Green Tourism Business Scheme accreditation
As we make our way through the verdant grounds to a hidden fruit and vegetable garden – which he has created – his eyes light up as he describes his passion for his work and the ability to visualize the changes needed to benefit the immediate and wider environment.
We wander over to the young orchard. All the trees have been handpicked and planted by his good self.
His thick grizzled fingers reach out delicately to the fine maturing skin of a Bramley.
‘This,’ he say’s ‘Is what it’s all about!’
Later I remembered the lovely lyrics in a Fleet Foxes song;
If I had an orchard, I’d work till I’m raw
If I had an orchard, I’d work till I’m sore
And you would wait tables and soon run the store
Gold hair in the sunlight, my light in the dawn
If I had an orchard, I’d work till I’m sore
If I had an orchard, I’d work till I’m sore
Someday I’ll be like the man on the screen
Well someday I’d like to be like Innes in his orchard, self assured and as solid as the earth he stands on.
For the moment though I now view that particular piece of our planet, which he is carefully nurturing, quite differently, and of course, know it’s in safe hands!
How could I not?
It’s impossible not to feel inspired walking along the bank of the River Tay at the Dunkeld Hilton, through the grounds and up towards Kings Seat.
A Cathedral of trees arch the entire length of the river driveway, dappling the light and permeating the air with their alluring scents
Ancient larches planted over 250 years ago by the 2nd Duke of Atholl began a revolution here, which resulted in over 27 million conifer seedlings being distributed throughout Perthshire in the first large scale managed forestry project in Scotland.
I grew up on our family farms a stone’s throw from this very spot; have fished the rivers and walked the hills and forests, yet despite a lifetime of travel from Africa to the Arctic, and beyond, I can honestly say this area has a unique and mystical like quality to it.
So, it was a very real pleasure to begin a new journey recently, under these magnificent trees and embark on a series of film recees for a project commissioned by Perth & Kinross Council & the Green Tourism Business Scheme
The initiative is not only a practical and serious business response to these had pressed economic times, it’s also creating out of the box thinking and new initiatives where local communities can help shape and develop sustainable practices in business in their area.
The enthusiasm with which this approach is being embraced at the Dunkeld Hilton became immediately apparent when I sat beneath a Giant Redwood in the company of Deputy Manager Will Macpherson, and Green Manager, Dougie Reader.
Their passion was not only infectious, it also underlined the power of diversity in a great team where differing skill sets dovetail together and create a dynamic response to any project.
As I left Dunkeld I reflected on the capacity of the human spirit, not only to embrace the potential of the wider spatial landscape, but how it encompasses it into it’s own interior landscape, to the benefit of others.
It’s a theme to which I will return, but for the moment, another recee awaits!
There’s something about a bike journey that brings out the best or the worst in people.
A road trip on a Harley through Montana and Wyoming earlier this year with Al (pictured here with our friend Patrice) cemented a friendship of five years and all that’s best about the human spirit.
It was also my fifth journey through Montana and a watershed for many reasons, one of which was waving. Yes, waving.
When I was a boy growing up in the Scottish countryside, everyone who owned a car knew everyone else, and a courteous wave from inside the Land Rover was as good as saying hello to your neighbour.
That memory came sweeping back on the long beautiful road miles across a swath of Montana as we two crazy Scots – on late season May snows – were being waved at by complete strangers.
We took our time and often stopped to take photographs at the side of the highways.
Cars, SUV’s, trucks or other motorcyclists would slow down and make sure we were ok, and that help wasn’t required.
I’ve driven about a 1000 miles a month on my Harley since returning to the UK and have to say what a miserable lot motorists and bikers in Scotland and Ireland actually are. As I pass other motorcyclists I give the obligatory wave only to be met with stony girning faces.
Al and I have spoken about this and have come to the genuine conclusion that in America – a country where the pioneer spirit is still alive and kicking – there’s an acknowledgement in that wave of, ‘Hey, ok, right on man, you’re living your dream!’
Back in blighted old blighty to even consider you have a dream, let alone live it, is met with contempt and facial ridicule, on it’s overcrowded byways.
Yes back here in the UK we’re not waving, not smiling, we’re just girning and drowning!
For most of his life, my Father has worked and farmed the same area of loam rich land, in the undulating Howe of Strathmore, deep in rural Perthshire.
Agriculture has been core to our family for countless generations just as medicine, academia, high finance or public service has for others.
As a son of the soil his life has been shaped by the vagaries of the weather and politics of the day.
He has watched his children grow, celebrated births and weddings, mourned the passing of close friends and the tragic death of his first Grandson.
And like many of his generation, he has done so with a stoic good grace, and fortitude of spirit, that I and others of my time can only aspire to.
My overriding memory of my Father will always be of an unrelenting and hard working man whose kinship with the land, knowledge of livestock and the network of farmers across Scotland, is legend.
That was, and still is, the public face of my Father.
Privately he is someone who would pull his sleepy children out into the steel cold of a winters’ evening to awe in wonder at the splendour of the aurora borealis or suddenly pounce lion like into a summer meadow as he unfolded a delicate skylarks’ nest!
That I should even consider to write these words will be a source of deep embarrassment to him!
However today is his 80th birthday and this is my tribute to the person who created a fabric into which each of us has woven our own tapestry, and to which I now accord my thanks and gratitude.
Happy Birthday Father!
I don’t know about you, but I’ve often wondered how individuals in positions of influence make decisions and why?
They’re allegedly considered to be our opinion formers, and the backbone of society!
Yesterday – at the Balmoral Show in Belfast – I approached a former colleague, Martin Cassidy, who is lead Rural Affairs Correspondent with the BBC in Northern Ireland.
I explained that my client, David Laughlin, the first Organic Dairy farmer in Ireland, was going to present – in person – to HRH The Prince of Wales, a groundbreaking document on the future of organic food on the day of its public launch!
It’s a subject which is not only of massive global importance, it’s also very close to HRH Prince Charles own mantra, about local, and national food production.
Martin, who was at the Balmoral show with his film crew, said he’d inform his TV producer.
Inevitably, they did not appear for this significant, and topical story!
My client also contacted DARD (the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture and Development) co-supporters of the document, who said The Prince of Wales schedule was full and could not receive the report ……. which we chose to ignore!
Six years ago HRH The Prince of Wales was the guest of the Laughlin family at Culmore where he had lunch with David and national food and industry leaders!
It seems that many senior civil servants, and the BBC, have very short memories!
The old days of the fourth estate – the press and conventional media – is crumbling rapidly in advance of Web 2.0 and Social Networking yet why do they refuse to take notice?
Perhaps every picture tells a story, but not always, in its entirety!
Yesterday I was given direct information about a major £16 million contract in agriculture and the environment signed at the Balmoral Show …. was that broadcast on the BBC?
As they say in the States… go figure!