Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Four Seasons Inspired Head Chef

Hi Folks,
Just a quick note on what is happening here in the Four Season Hotel kitchen right now!!  All change with the seasonally inspired menus both in the Fine Dining Meall Reamhar Restaurant and the Tarken Bistro.

As far as the Bistro is concerned, we have kept some of the old favourites like the Beer Battered Haddock and our ‘famous’ Scotch Steak and Spring Onion Pate, served with Mary’s favourite ‘tomato and sweet chilli jam’ (got to keep the management happy).  We have also added other delights such as Salmon and Crab Fishcakes, our own Thai cured cold smoked Salmon (an absolute must try) and due to popular demand, a spicy Curry (fresh spring Lamb and Apricot).  There is also a twist on a classic ‘Surf & Turf’ – prime Scotch Rib Eye Steak with grilled Langoustine. 

The menus in the Meall Reamhar Restaurant have had their three monthly makeover, (in keeping with the four seasons, no pun intended).  We have some night light summery dishes such as smoked Salmon and Cucumber Panna Cotta, Goat’s Cheese, Orange and Beetroot Salad and of course, our signature dishes of hand dived Scallops and Gateau of Angus/Limousin Beef Fillet, both of which are always well received. 

Over the past year, we have had very good feedback about our vegetarian food (not just from vegetarians) and we continue to make dining for vegetarians as interesting, varied and delicious as everyone else. 

The team at the Four Seasons, (kitchen and front of house) which is largely unchanged from last year, are always striving for excellence and will continue to push ourselves towards this goal, to which end, I need to return to the stove!  We look forward to greeting guest’s – old and new – in the coming seasons and if you wish to meet me during your stay / visit, please just ask.

Bon Appetit

P J Woods

Head Chef.
The Four Seasons Hotel- St Fillans

LETI: The Four Seasons Hotel is in the picturesque village of St Fillans with stunning views  over the east end of  Loch Earn.

Monday, 28 May 2012

The Broch Project at Strathyre

Brochs are only found in Scotland. Dating back to The Iron Age; they are Drystone hollow walled structures.

Find out more about Brochs and The Strathyre Broch project from John Hemingways blog here .

Also have a look at Glenvarloch self catering  accommodation in Strathyre between Perthshire and The Trossachs.

LETI:  John Hemingway joined LETI at the beginning of 2012. He offers self catering holidays in Strathyre for 6 people in an architect designed open plan house not far from the Strathyre Broch. The holiday home is open in all seasons, conveniently situated adjacent to Sustrans National Cycle route 7 and The Rob Roy Way which is part of Scotlands GORE-TEX national trail.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Balquhidder Bomber Crash

Whitley Bomber Crash Balquhidder Glen 1940
On the 24th November 1940 about one o'clock in the morning a Whitley Bomber crashed in Fhathan Ghlinne (the ringed glen) just over the top of the hill from Balquhidder Glen. The plane had left Ardoyne in Ireland on coastal command patrolling the Irish west coast and had become lost. 

My father, James Fergusson better known as ‘Jimmy Muirlaggan’, had been out till late that night and on his way home saw a glow in the sky but it was a bitterly cold wet night with poor visibility and he did not think of a plane crashing in the hills.

Whitley Bomber wreckage in Balquhidder Glen 1940
Next morning he and his shepherd were out on the hills checking the sheep, my father on Muirlaggan, and Angus Robertson the shepherd, heading for Tuarach, came across a man trying to cross the river between Lochs Voil and Doine. Unfortunately Tuarach house was unoccupied and the man was trying to reach Monachyle where there were people living. He had a plank of wood and was hoping to swim the deep channel when Angus found him. Having ascertained that the man was British and that he was Sgt. Hamilton the rear  gunner of a plane that had crashed on the top of the hill, Angus tried to help him back to Muirlaggan but he was too weak to walk far so Angus ran the three miles to the farm to get a horse to collect the gunner and bring him to safety.

Someone from Muirlaggan went down to the Post Office in the village to send a wire to the police and by the time my Father came off the hill much later in the day he was met by a policeman who asked if he had seen a plane or survivors on the hill. The police wanted my father to turn round and climb the hill again looking for the plane or survivors but he insisted on first speaking to Sgt Hamilton who was lying on the couch in Muirlaggan kitchen being looked after by my father’s housekeeper. From Sgt Hamilton my father knew exactly where to look for the plane but by this time it was after three  o’clock  and darkness was falling. Joined by another Constable and some specials they all set off to climb the four miles to where the plane had crashed but they found no more survivors . The police Sgt had instructions that if the plane was found someone had to stay on guard all night, but my father would not allow him to stay in the bitter cold and lashing rain and quite forcibly brought him back to Muirlaggan having guaranteed that no-one would interfere with the plane in the night and that he would surely have perished himself if he had stayed on the hilltop all night.

The Police, joined by ten men from the Air Force all stayed at Muirlaggan that night and set off at first light next day. My father and Angus had two horses with pack saddles to bring the bodies down to a waiting Army truck .

Sgt Hamilton’s account of the flight to my father was that the plane had left Ardoyne on their mission although the wireless operator and the observer were strangers to the rest of the crew and that one man had gone up for a joy flight (sic). The observer lost bearings then the wireless failed so they got completely lost . Having flown over Glasgow thinking that it was Belfast and that they were over the sea they flew low over Aberfoyle coming north before turning west straight into the hillside about fifty feet from the summit. The tail broke off and Sgt Hamilton had to crawl along the wreckage to get out. The front of the plane went on fire with the rest of the crew inside. As soon as it was light he climbed to the top of the hill where he could see the glen and Lochs Voil and Doine . Thinking that he was looking at the Lakes of Killarney and that he could be interned he decided to risk coming down the hill to rest in Tuarach house before attempting to cross the river to Monachyle. 

The guns were salvaged by the Air Force at the time , the bombs that were on board were set off in the hills and the propeller was later  taken to the Forestry Commission’s small museum in Strathyre, now moved elsewhere, possibly to the air museum at Scone. All the remaining parts have been removed over the years.  Further information gleaned much later were that the Whitley bomber crew was Sgt Barnfather, Sgt Westoby, Sgt Curtis,  Sgt Perfect, Sgt Hamilton (the survivor) and P/O Whitsed whose relatives came over from South Africa in 1990 to ask me if they could see where the tragedy had taken place.

Postscripts to this story;
Fhathan Ghlinne my father’s correct Gaelic spelling of the area not as now spelled on OS maps. Sgt William Stanley Hamilton disappeared after he left Muirlaggan and has never been found to my knowledge. The other airmen were buried in Grangemouth. Some say that the plane left from Aldergrove  airfield in Ireland but Sgt Hamilton said Ardoyne in his statement to my father.

The photographs were sent to me by Mr Forshaw who had been to the crash site some time soon after the accident.

LETI: Catriona Oldham, who wrote this account of an event that may otherwise have been forgotten, still lives at Muirlaggan in Balquhidder.  Alongside her husband Lawrie, Catriona  runs Muirlaggan's Lochside Cottages and caravan holiday accommodation in BalquhidderVoil. Catriona has also written for the Loch Earn Tourism Initiative website about Clan Fergusson and her families presence around Balquhidder for generations. 

Monday, 7 May 2012

Tales From A Frustrated Astronomer

In June 2010 I received a marvellous present for an important birthday, a Meade ETX-125 telescope. I had an interest in astronomy decades ago in my youth partly inspired by early ‘Sky at Night’ programmes seen  at my uncle and aunt’s home late on Sunday nights but my interest lapsed over the intervening years. What  a great opportunity to rekindle my interest, I thought!
Paul's Meade ETX-125 telescope  

Well, two years on I can report on a great deal  of frustration, setbacks but eventual success until the last few weeks of inclement weather. Yes, of all the places to start this hobby, I chose the west of Scotland with its rain and lack of summer darkness!

 A few months after getting the telescope, once we had a few clear dark nights, we enjoyed wonderful views of the moon, Jupiter and Saturn with its renowned rings.  But what I couldn’t  do was to set up the telescope so that I could use  the handset with its ‘Goto’ facility which enables you to select the object that you wish to view and get the telescope to point to it and then track it across the sky. The latter is very important since the telescope came with just one lens yielding 73 times magnification which results in objects moving quickly out of view because of the earth’s rotation unless the telescope is set up (aligned) correctly.

I trawled the internet for the solution and tried all manner of ideas. I spent 15 minutes at the start of each observation session trying to get the base and telescope horizontal with a spirit level and trying to point the telescope at precisely due north but to no avail. The solution turned out to be to manually set the latitude and longitude of Strathyre rather than use the default setting of Edinburgh. Most of the Meade telescopes are sold to the US market and if you’re located in the US then you can enter the zip code which pinpoints where you’re located reasonably accurately but in Europe the simple set up process simply asks you to specify the nearest city.

Having got over this hurdle, I was eagerly looking forward to an evening’s observation one Thursday night in April 2011  when the telescope began to misbehave badly and in an entirely unpredictable manner. We arranged a mad dash down to the shop in Stockport where the telescope had been purchased, left it for repair and spent  a couple of nights with friends in Burnley before returning home. A few days later I received a telephone call:
‘We’ve hooked the telescope up to our own power supply and it works fine.’
‘Were you using rechargeable batteries?’ ‘Yes.’
‘Did you mix two different types?’ ‘I’ll just go and have a look – yes and two different voltages.’
‘That’s your problem then’.
The telescope was then posted back to me and during the glorious weather of the 2nd half of April 2011 and early May I enjoyed some fine evenings’ observations.

Autumn 2011 and I managed to snap a battery contact. This led me to find an interim solution involving a bent paper clip. This was courtesy of a wonderful character called ‘Doug Dickens’ with a fascinating life story which you can read here . His early years were reminiscent of Steinbeck’s novels.  The permanent solution was a ‘Power Tank’ which is basically a highly packaged (and priced!) rechargeable 12 volt battery. But if I hadn’t broken the battery contact, then I’d never stumbled across Doug with whom I’ve exchanged a few emails.

Next problem was that I messed up the pre-loaded night sky tours with which the telescope came. This turned out not to be my fault but an incompatibility between the software used to maintain the telescope and the firmware in the handset. The solution was eventually provided by a guy in Melbourne who had developed some very clever software of his own designed for people doing photography and needing very accurate tracking for long exposures. He’d extended the software to do other things including maintaining these tours. It was worse than I’ve indicated because I couldn’t get his software to work either but sent him all the details of my set up and location and got a reply within 24 hours identifying the problem in his software and an easy and effective work-around.

  This winter I’ve had great fun finding my way around the night sky and observing open clusters and nebulae in particular. The cold was yet another problem with ice on the telescope on more than one occasion and a frozen sloping garden making life even more interesting. I started wearing apparel that I’d last used in anger during my many treks in the Himalayas in the 1990s in  a previous life. I was tempted to carry a hip flask with a warming single malt but alcohol and a sophisticated telescope together with icy conditions a good mix do not make!

  So that brings us up to date with me hoping for some clear skies before the light summer nights intervene. Given the infrequency of clear night skies here I’m not promoting astronomy weekends or similar but I am very happy to set up the telescope for interested guests when conditions permit especially if a late breakfast is acceptable!

LETI: Partners Paul Holt and Mal Dingle run Rosebank House,  a pet friendly bed and breakfast in Strathyre.   Their accommodation in Perthshire and The Trossachs is popular with British and European holiday makers whether they wish a relaxing break,  a stopping point at the gateway to the Highlands or an ideal base for walking, biking and other outdoor activities near Scottish lochs and mountains.