There are few advantages in getting older, but the occasional financial concession helps, especially if it is not too far from home….. and so it was that when the Lady of the House recently noticed that one such offer was being made across Scotland, it could not be missed!
VisitScotland (the successor to the Scottish Tourist Board) was encouraging us all to get out and visit our local Countryside Estates to see the snowdrops in bloom. Scotland abounds in such places and one took our fancy. We had passed it numerous times over the years, when we were ‘going somewhere else’, so this was a real opportunity to venture through the gates at long last.
It was only half an hour away by car, so it was a gentle ‘tootle’ south over the Erskine Bridge spanning the River Clyde near Bowling. I’ve always been a bit suspicious about the safety of box-girder bridges, but with it being such a beautiful shape, one falls for it as one does for a well-proportioned lady! There is a good website with photos at www.erskinebridge.co.uk . It was a cloudless blue sky so the views up and down the Clyde were spectacular to say the least. It was but another 10 mins until we reached our destination near Port Glasgow.
Finlaystone Country Estate (www.finlaystone.co.uk) has been the home of the Clan Macmillan for some six generations and is still looked after by the current Chief. It has a marvellous setting overlooking the Firth of Clyde. Even although I am proud to belong to another Scottish/Irish Clan (or maybe because of that) I can certainly feel that I am wandering about on someone else’s private grounds, and tend to treat it with respect.
When we arrived late morning, and left the warmth of the car, we were immediately hit by a wintry blast of air and I would have willingly gone straight to the tearoom. However, ‘She Who Must Be Obeyed’ dictated that it was far too early and we should undertake one of the walks first. I should perhaps explain that there was to be a ranger-led Snowdrop Stroll at 2pm and this was only 11.45, so I suppose she was right (but don’t tell her I said that!).
There were no maps of the Estate walks available, and we were simply told that a short walk was available if we followed the red markers, and were shown the general direction of a starting point. We have walked several times in such estates at this time of year, and should really have come two or three months later when there was more foliage and colour. However it was easier to see the successive markers along what turned out to be an already-well-used path. The many feet which had already trodden this route had formed a gooey, slippery path, which had to be treated with caution, especially on the steep slopes. I have no problem with muddy paths in the wintertime as long as I have my sturdy old walking boots on….I suppose it’s equivalent to splashing in puddles with welly-boots on, as a child. Very satisfying squelches could be achieved!
We have had some storms this winter and this was evident in the number of trees lying at crazy angles. Some were precariously prevented from falling with the help of their neighbours. So our walking and talking went on apace until we came upon an unexpected obstacle….
….our way was blocked by a victim of the storm. I would have climbed-over, or even through, the foliage….just as I would have done as a boy, but Lady insisted that this was not to be an option for her! In my normal magnanimous way, I succumbed to the gentle statement and found an alternative route, and we proceeded on our way. Perhaps they will remove the tree or maybe just re-route the path! One thing I really liked was how many trees were left to rot away by themselves or grow a coat of beautiful gree moss.
It just seems ‘right’ to see what had been a magnificent specimen of a tree, returning to the soil and not being chopped-up for some useless item, which will end-up on a shop shelf.
However, by this time, hunger pangs helped me find a short-cut to the tearoom and home-made soup and a baked potato and salad….well I would need sustenance for when we went on the main walk! But we were still too early for this walk, and we decided on a wander to the Formal Garden.
This mainly consisted of shrubs cut back to encourage growth and we spent some time guessing the names…..should have had our resident blogging expert, Flighty, to help us! Children had great fun breaking the ice on the fountain, and the cold didn’t seem to bother them. The Kitchen Garden looked sad as if it knew that no-one really was there to see what leeks and brussel sprouts looked like in February! There was also a Smelly Garden, for the visually-impaired, but it was in-explicably closed-off! The Chinese area was based on a small pond and archetypical bridges……
….but it was from here that you had best views of the Firth of Clyde……
……but we still hadn’t seen many snowdrops…..so we continued to the steep slopes and waterfalls where my Lady recorded a bank of our little un-assuming friends hanging their heads in shyness…
…..with me sneaking off to the top left!
…but for me, they are more attractive in a little bunch, huddling together for company and warmth in the cold, dark days. But the different waterfalls were something to see…some falling into deep gorges, others into a pool, and whilst there was not a lot of water around, they still had sufficient to make them worthy of note with that haze you only get when near them.
Well, time was pressing on and we thought we should get back to the meeting place for the formal stroll. In the event we went on it by ourselves, and got back to the tearoom before the group would get there. Even then, all the inside seats were taken, and Cappuchinos and a shared muffin (we’re dieting, you see) taken outside in the cold, made us feel very virtuous!
But were we glad to get back into the relative warmth of the car and return home after a bracing day in the great outdoors….you bet we were!! We had had a great day out, for an entrance fee the same as a pint, (and meals of course) and returned to look out on our little garden, whose problems suddenly paled into insignificance after what we had seen….