I for one am glad to see the back of January. It started badly with a major cock-up by Niall and I. We got our days of the week very muddled after Hogmanay (it wasn’t the whisky, honestly…!) and convinced ourselves that a changeover was occurring on a Saturday rather than a Friday. Imagine our collective horror when the new guests appeared at the castle a day early, politely enquiring if we were expecting them. I am still cringing about it now and can’t imagine anything worse than arriving after a long drive to find a holiday cottage not remotely ready. Fortunately they are regular visitors and soon-to-be neighbours when their house is finished, so they thought it was really quite amusing. I’ve never seen Niall move so fast with a cleaning box and our lovely friends mucked in too so it was soon habitable. (I drew the short straw and stayed with the kids). Not a great start to 2015 but a stupid mistake that will hopefully never happen again.
The winter storms have taken their toll but apart from losing the TV signal and phone line a few times (neither were hugely missed!), the damage as been fairly limited.
The biggest loss occurred last week when we heard an almighty crash during lunch. Having quickly ascertained nothing had fallen on or off the roof, we discovered an old oak had toppled onto an even older bridge. Luckily the damage was limited and the tree itself had been earmarked as ‘at risk’ so actually Mother Nature did us a big favour. It’s still very sad though as this beautiful tree was estimated to be around 100 years old and there is a noticeable gap where it once stood. It was a variety of oak but because it wasn’t in leaf, it’s difficult to tell if it was Turkish or English. The English variety fetches a significantly higher price as it is superior in quality and popular in the high-end furniture trade.
Our lovely wood-turning friends who frequent Garden Cottage have requested some of it for their wonderful creations. It was a big tree so there is plenty of raw material for their beautiful hand-crafted products. Certainly none will go to waste.
The loss of this tree has made me pay more attention to the other beautiful trees around Torrisdale. Visitors frequently comment on the variety of interesting specimens we are lucky enough to share the estate with. Several are at least as old as the castle itself.
There is a particularly imposing Cupressus macrocarpa, half way up the avenue, which you can’t fail to spot if you are lucky enough to arrive in daylight. Even in the dark though, this evergreen giant makes its shadowy presence known, it’s ancient branches reaching heavenward, like a gnarled hand.
We don’t know who planted it or when, so it’s difficult to age the tree, but the vast girth would suggest that it is at least 150 years old, very possibly more. It is affectionately known to the family as ‘Maimie’s tree’, after Niall’s grandfather’s nanny who was secretly courting the gamekeeper, Neilly Brown. The story goes that they would meet under the tree for their romantic trysts and the name has been adopted by each generation since. Maimie and Neilly eventually got married and lived in Lephinbeag Cottage on the estate, but only after a proper bathroom was installed, on Maimie’s insistence! (Legend also has it that Maimie never, ever used the new bath, preferring instead to use it to store her jars of homemade jam!).
High on the (lengthy and infinite) To-do list this year is to produce a map of the estate, highlighting the various woodland walks and identifying the most prominent trees, as well as other points of interest. This was suggested to us by a guest last year and we think it’s a fantastic idea. We will hopefully complete the task before we lose any more of these sylvan treasures but there was a distinctly spring-like feel to the air today so we might be over the worst of the winter. Excuse me while I run off and touch all the fallen wood….