The A9 between Inverness and Perth is a long haul. Not so much as you’re heading upwards, towards Inverness, because you know that calm and the sea will pander to you for a least a few days before you go back, and you’re heading towards family that you haven’t seen for a while. But on the way down that sign indicating no stopping for 127 miles as you enter the Cromarty bridge can be something of a demoraliser. I will see it again in a few weeks, just before the start of the Autumn Term.
Having said that, the view of the Cairngorms is usually better as you go down. Not sure why. I also like to look out for a small area of woodland and grass with a couple of miniature lochs, next to the road just up from layby 110, and imagine that I live there. In the tourist season the noise of the traffic would of course be unsustainable, there would be issues with drainage and probably no broadband connection, but it’s a thought worth exploring if only for a few minutes. Such sanctums of mental peace can be hard to find.
A sanctum of tweed, also on the A9 and about 35 miles from Perth, is House of Bruar. It represents a very English conceptualisation of the Scottish Highlands, somehow intrinsically linked to the fishing of salmon in privileged circumstances and the eating of picnics from large wicker hampers. A few years ago I saw a coat on sale there made from hamster skins. People didn’t quite believe me at the time, and the passing of years has fuzzed the memory a little, but I’ve recently discovered that the animal rights issues it raised at the time made it into The Guardian. A favourite of mine on recent visits has been to marvel at the £12.95 fruitcakes and imagine the consternation if I happened to drop one on the fake stone rustic tiled floor, leaving just a pulp of dried fruit in a cellophane wrapper. Maybe they would put it in a stomach with some giblets at call it haggis. And then there are the faux granite toilets where the luxury soft paper towels descend through a hole in the worktop into, yes, a wicker basket, along with urinals that flush manually. If you have to do it by hand, it must be traditional. Don’t get me wrong: it’s cleaner and more comfortable and has a better view than most service stations. But it is essentially a tweed service station masquerading as a downmarket Harrods in the middle of nowhere. I sometimes think it would be an interesting place just to sit for an afternoon and have several £5 bottles of beer, watching the hideous clothing merge into the authentic feudal marmalade. But that would be a long taxi ride home.
Today I have accomplished less than I wanted to, and have battled shoulder pain probably brought on through having slept in an awkward position. I’m not accustomed to pain, don’t tend to have it for long and very much admire people who put up with it on a daily basis. This evening? A few more eposides of CSI season 7.