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Adventures in Design: The Scottish Highlands Part 2

The holidays are upon us and as I was getting out festive plaids for the house and for Maze, tartans immediately came to mind and I realized I hadn't finished sharing my trip to Amhuinnsuidhe Castle in the Scottish Highlands with you!

This Amhuinnsuidhe trip was all about the fishing - and you know my motto,  "It's all about the outfit." A match made in heaven! Ha! Really I just wanted to show you all the layers (and layers and layers) of gear we sport to stay warm and dry for a day out on the lochs and rivers. The area is famous (or infamous?) for its "changeable" weather so we had to be prepared for temperature dips, showers and gusty winds. It rained every day yet like clockwork the sun came out each evening as we headed back to the Castle for happy hour. My favorite time of the day!

We started our day in this area, called the Tackle Room, where we gathered each morning to load our gear and map out our loch location for the day's fishing. I love the mounted trophies and the decorative and informative maps and fish charts, and the comfy yet functional furniture was a welcoming sight.

Photos from successful expeditions of the past gave the room a personal touch - and gave us hope that we'd share some of their luck!

Our ghillies (guides, pictured lower left below) were critical in selecting the right flies, rods, etc. As we were putting on our layers, I asked one of the ghillies, "Where are your Gortex layers?" He said, "Oh ma'am, we've on our tweeds. The wool is so densely woven it's water proof." I had planned to shop for the famous Harris Tweed wools before, but now I was going for sure!

Critical to any fly fishing trip - the fly box, with just what it will take to get the salmon to "rise"! Now that is a man righfully proud of his beautiful collection!

Selecting the right fly depends on the species of fish and the location. Since the salmon don't feed much once they've moved from the salty ocean water to the fresh rivers and lochs, the fly doesn't necessarily need to mimic their natural food source. Rather, the key is to catch their attention so brightly colored ties are in order.

The Castle provides recommendations on their site, including ties with great names like Sweeny Todd, Goats Toe and Blue Zulu.  Just in case though, the room has the trusty local favorite flies. Among the flies we brought with us was a Green Highlander, which we normally use on our salmon fishing trips in Canada.

Green Highlander. Source: FlyTyingForum.com

We were fishing for salmon but there are also sea trout and parr - which are actually young salmon that stay in the fresh water for several years until they grow large enough to head out to the ocean. The salmon run from mid-June through September or October, so the season is short.

This map shows the "fishing beats" of the 10 distinct river and loch systems on the estate. The estate has a catch and realease policy (based on weight and species), and requires that every fish caught, whether released or retained, be recorded. That allows them to monitor the population and ensure no over-fishing. Conservation is a large part of their mission and of course helps keep their legacy secure.

Our ghillies used this 3-D map to show us the route of lochs and rivers we'd cover on the day's outing.

Our handsome ghillies! I swear they have fish brains - and that's a compliment. They know how the fish think, where they've been, where they're going and how to catch their attention. They can even tell how old a fish is and whether it's male or female. Their knowledge of the salmon, land, water and weather were invaluable in helping us set our strategy. They are so passionate about fishing they could stay out there all day and night! And isn't that 125 year old boat amazing?

We drove and hiked inland to start each day. Our strategy for flies, rods and techniques had to change as we progressed from the calm waters of the lochs, down gorges and into rivers with varying degrees of white water.

As my husband, Chris, says, it's all about the art of presenting the fly. Every cast is a quest for perfection. Depending on the water, you may need to do a lot of stripping - pulling out a length of line and casting to land the fly at the right place in the current to allow it to float back toward the fish, then repeating the cast in succesively larger arcs to work your pool.

And we couldn't have done it without our ghillies at our side, coaching us all the way.

Look at this gorgeous place! This photo gives you an idea of the scale of the mountains and lochs. With no trees, the land looks like a green moonscape.

A catch! We were each allowed to keep one salmon and two sea trout per day (assuming they met the weight requirements).

This photo looks back toward the castle, with a storm rolling in over the loch. Those layers (and layers and layers) came in handy!

Once the fog rolled in it was difficult to see our fellow anglers along the shore line. Though most loch fishing is done "Hebridean style" from a boat, sometimes you just have to try it from the banks, too.

Throughout the Highlands you will find a system of green-doored shelters known as "bothys." They are rustic buildings open to travelers and sportsmen alike, as dry cover to take a meal, a place to warm up or even to spend the night, though your bed may be a stone bench or floor. You have to bring your own "comforts," as there is no food, bedding or indoor plumbing (spades may be available for outdoor use!).

Our bothy - located on the estate - was well stocked with fuel for the fire and was a welcome sight after a wet and windy morning on the moors!

And what bothy lunch would be complete without a dram of Scotch whisky (no "e" in this whisky)? I am a Scotch drinker but this one, made on the Isle of Skye in the Outer Hebrides, was differernt from what I'm used to. They use alkaline water from the Highlands which is filtered through peat and the result is a whisky so smooth I swear I couldn't taste the alcohol!

After a quick bite and a warm up by the fire, we headed back out, this time to hike into the rocky gorges and white water. Our friend is a native Highlander and takes his walking stick everywhere. He's had this one since before he was married! We could all have used walking sticks as we hiked over the challenging terrain. Check out all that gear!

As you can see, our ghillies stayed close by, ready to advise and share their knowledge. I never tired of hearing their recommendations. They really know their stuff!

After a long, chilly day, the castle's Picnic Room was a welcome respite. It's also where we had prepared our lunch of sandwiches and "crisps" in the morning and it's where we gathered at day's end to warm up with a hot cuppa and a trip to the drying closet.

What? You've never heard of a drying closet? Maybe that's becuase the only two known drying closets are here at Amhuinnsuidhe and at Queen Elizabeth's beloved Balmoral Castle in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. And they are GENIUS!

See those white closet doors with what I first thought was a clock?

Well, it's not a regular closet and that's not a clock, it's a thermostat.

See the metal tracks in the floor in front of the doors?

Pull out the doors along the tracks and you can see the drying racks inside! So clever.

Load up your soggy socks and sweaters (and layers and layers) on the racks, push the doors back in and let the closet work its magic. It even works for the dog beds!

What a wonderful, toasty way to end the day! Here in the Midwest we love our mud rooms and this would be an incredible addition (if our mud rooms were as huge as a castle's).

Sure, it's a bit wet and cold - I'll bring the hand warmers we use for skiing next time - but it's Mother Nature at her finest. Fishing on the amazing Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides is so Zen for me. Outfitted in waders with the water up to my hips, the constant roar of white water, breathing some of the cleanest air on the planet. Enveloped in all that nature offers, I am calm. I am one with the fish. For me, it just doesn't get better than that.

Except of course for the shopping. Wait untiil you see the amazing, colorful Harris Tweed wool tartans I found . . . . Did you notice the tweed baseball cap I was wearing in the first picture? It works well for Winnetka weather, too. Keeps my head dry.

Until next time!



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Cindy's Blog

I'm Cindy Galvin, owner of MAZE Home Store and Bardes Interiors. In my blog I hope to inform, inspire and entertain you with lessons I’ve learned, insights on the beautiful things all around us, and stories from my adventures in design. I hope you'll join me on my journey through the world of design!

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