It was simply fabulous spending the last 2 months of winter up in Scotland from Feb-Mar. Fell in love with Scotland the moment I saw the snow-covered mountains as my overnight train passed by Cairngorm National Park in the early morning hours.
I came up to volunteer at my 2nd organic farm in Ardersier, small town 17miles from Inverness. Donnie, a 60yr man who still possessed the energy & alertness of a teenager, manages the farm.
(Taken with Donnie in his traditional scottish kilt)
The first 2 weeks at Ardersier was filled with snow-filled days. Apparently it is quite unusual in this part of Scotland, since it stays relatively warmer due to the Gulf Stream influence. Managed to find some time off to enjoy sledding & playing with the snow amongst the other farm volunteers.
(Overview of farm from nearby hill)
(Storehouse and 2-storey farm house at the back – housing for Donnie & volunteers on the 1st floor)
(Main polytunnel & fields for berry bushes covered with Feb snowfall)
Change from my previous farm host in Nottingham was the mixed livestock on the farm. We have over 500 egg-laying chickens, 6 pigs, couple of sheeps and cows. Volunteers mainly deal with the chickens – taking turns to feed them in the morning and collect the eggs in the afternoon. It is always a joy watching all the happy & healthy chickens roam freely. Don’t think I will be able to stomach the thought of eating any chickens or eggs from intensive farming methods.
(Feeding all the hungry chickens in the morning)
(Happy hens enjoying the great outdoors)
(Cows enjoying their daily carrots feed to supplement their grass grazing)
Another change was living with a bunch of young volunteers in a proper house with the farm owner. It felt like living in a university dorm again, as most of the volunteers are in their early twenties. One of the main challenges is meal times – not uncommon to cook for up to 9 people. Have taken aboard cooking or leading the prep as most of the other volunteers are less experienced in that arena. Don’t mind it since I enjoy cooking and the challenge of jazzing up the meals with the limited ingredients on hand.
(Group pic with rest of volunteers piled on the quad, mini workhorse we used to get around the farm area)
(Bunch of us having a night out at the local pub in Ardersier)
Speaking of food, I had the pleasure of enjoying haggis and the Robert Burns’ poem that is read before it is ceremoniously stabbed and revealed to the diners. Not forgetting several rainbow trouts; sweet fleshy river fishes caught by one of the farm worker and the occasional wild rabbits shot on the farm. Plus savoring different types of whisky – liquid gold of Scotland.
A first for me was making marmalade from Seville oranges. By the end of my stay, I made about 60 jars which was quite popular amongst the customers. Reminded me of my childhood days when I helped my grandma prepared kaya (coconut jam) and the hours spent stirring the pot. I always look forward to the end when I was rewarded with the opportunity to clean out the freshly made jam from the pot with pieces of bread – delish!
(Jars of marmalade with my very own name on it – yeah!)
Learnt how to play bridge from Donnie, the farm owner. Quite an interesting card game, involving fair bit of brainwork and plenty of guesswork as us farm volunteers, being the novice players, grappled with the art of bidding at the start of each game. Spent plenty evenings with bridge till late into the night.
We do ventured out on the occasional weekends to enjoy the local pub scene. Really enjoyed the live bands playing great Scottish music – incredible music with only the fiddle, accordion, guitar and occasional drums. Can’t help but get on your feet to dance when the band plays a lively jig, especially when it involved the bagpipes. Experienced some great musicians – North Sea Gas at Hootananny pub, both Martin Stephenson and MacGregor, Brechin & O hEadhra (www.myspace.com/brucesandybrian) during the Northern Roots music festival.
(MacGregor, Brechin & O hEadhra performing at Northern Roots Festival 2009)