"Well, here we are, our one year anniversary in Aviemore. This time last year we had just completed the 10 hour drive from London and were frantically trying to find our winter clothes, unpack and acclimatise to the cold, having just spent five weeks in South East Asia. The year has flown by and it has been a blast.
When we arrived last year we had big ambitions for the business, and if anything they are now even bigger! It is very easy to focus on all the things we haven’t yet had time to do here and forget quite how much we have achieved. I guess an anniversary is a good time for some reflection.
The work stuff
We now have two cabins completely refurbished and another one on the way. All units now have flat screen TVs, and many have iPod players, new carpets, curtains, sofas and bed linen. Outdoors we have created new picnic areas and the gardens have on the whole been manicured and replanted. New bathrooms are set to be installed over the next few weeks in several cabins and our house is almost redecorated. Mostly done by our fair hands. Phew! Not a bad start, now what’s next on the list...
The fun stuff
Our time in Aviemore started with an early dump of snow and skiing in November, then my first attempt at cooking a Turkey, and swiftly in a blur of mulled wine came along our New Year party and some hunting on Highland ponies. Then lots more skiing, attempts at learning cross country skiing and snow boarding, and of course Burns night celebrations. We can’t forget to mention the arrival of Bennett into our lives early in the New Year. Next came some early sun, BBQ’s, cycling, beaching, quad biking, shooting, sailing and even some zip lines. And of course there were also plenty of summer festivities to get us through those long summer days.
With both mine and Simon's 30th out of the way and our wedding to plan for, there has been plenty of cause for celebration. However the most important birthday is coming up in a couple of weeks – Bennett turns one and with that apparently has reached some level of maturity!
Snowy season is coming...
The buzz about town is now the build-up to what everyone is saying will be another bumper ski season. If last year is anything to go by, we hope to be on the mountain in a matter of weeks.
We are currently very busy clearing fallen leaves, and collecting and chopping wood for the winter (well, that's Simon's job really). It is a completely different lifestyle up here; although we are not exactly in the middle of nowhere, the demands of life in the Highlands makes you a little more self-sufficient. The climate means we have to be ready for all it throws at us, especially if it reaches -27 degrees like it did last year. As horrid as that sounds, there is something quite special about wrapping up in loads (and loads) of layers and heading out in to the mountains. I’m actually looking forward to winter this year – I really have changed!
“This is our first summer in the Highlands and we are thoroughly enjoying ourselves. With a move to weekly bookings for the holiday months, full chalets, happy guests and long evenings, we now have lots more time on our hands to relish the great outdoors.
It seems Aviemore becomes even crazier in the summer with a real buzz around town and the odd shindig to look forward to at the weekends.
The Insider Festival 2011
The talk of the town has been the Insider Festival held just a few miles outside of Aviemore. What a weekend it was! Sunny days filled with fine local foods, afternoon teas and cakes, entertainers, pipers and folk music running in to debauchery filled nights of cocktails, cider and rock music. Who thought it was a good idea to throw an Absinth bar into the mix? The estate was decorated in a multitude of colours and after a few beers in the darkness if felt more like Neverland - every woodland path was beautifully decorated enchanting you to follow it to yet another bar, stage or event. Finally once the sun was well and truly up and the last of the fantastic bands have strummed their final chord it was time to work out how to get home. Unlike most of the guest we weren’t camping on the site. We had work to do the next day, however productivity was limited that weekend.
Wedding drainage issues
Of course the big event for us personally was Simon asking me to marry him. As you can imagine I am still reeling with excitement and every catch up with an old friend or chance meeting with an acquaintance is the perfect excuse to order another wee glass of champagne. Having considered various wedding venues we finally decided to hold it at our very own Pine Bank Chalets, in tipis in the garden. This however is not quite as straightforward as we first thought. Our first task was to get a utility survey done of the garden to ensure that when the tipis are secured the guys don’t accidentally burst our drains and leak raw sewage all over our garden two days before our big day. Oh, the glamour involved in wedding planning.
A ramp, a river and a raft
The last few weeks we have been eagerly watching the construction of a rather large ramp across the road from PBC in anticipation of the Aviemore Big Splash this weekend. Since 1974 the Big Splash has brought out the bravest, the weirdest and the craziest to challenge each other at this unusual extreme sport. The 14 foot ramp of course provides an ideal platform to bring together all of the local outdoor sports. This sees people hurtling themselves into the River Spey on anything from skis, mountain bikes, kayaks and even the odd wheel-barrow. This coupled with more great food and live music, it is set to be another great weekend.
Not to mention thunder in the Glens, the Harley Davison rally that descends on us the weekend after. To think we moved to the Highlands to get away from the craziness of London!
I hope you have all noticed our progress around the grounds and we have had some great feedback on our refurbs! Please do make sure you follow our progress on Facebook and our website www.pinebankchalets.co.uk. Enjoy the rest of the summer.
Jose's demos go down a treat at the New Forest Show
“This month when the CLA Game fair came to an end, my wife Charlotte and I travelled down to the New Forest where both of us would be working in the Countryside arena.
A new venue
This is a new show to me and I was a last minute booking as the organisers had been let down by their usual chef from a local hotel due to a mass influx of business. Because of this, I was a bit wary as to what to expect in the way of equipment and the type of demonstration they wanted. The brief was prep and cooking of game and they would supply a selection of game for me to use. I prepped a few bits to take with me and once I was there found a great kitchen set up with everything I needed.
The first demonstration was breaking down a haunch of venison into it primal cuts and showing the first and second class cuts from the joints, followed by a tasting of venison steaks cut from the topside. Each demonstration followed the same sort of layout there after with Pat, a local housewife, doing home cookery in between my demos. By the end of the first day, all was going well and the organisers came to see me saying that this was the first time they had had butchery demos and it was going down a storm.
Ron, the manager of the Countryside arena, mentioned that he had a roe buck in his farm shop chiller at a place called the ‘Owl Barn’. I asked if he could bring it in so that I could show the crowds how to skin and break down a whole carcass. The next day the roe buck was brought in and a large crowd watched and enjoyed as I set to work. This is a great show in a beautiful part of the country and with some really lovely people. There is everything here from the massive equestrian presence to the country sports, food and local produce. I also had the pleasure of meeting fellow H&C blogger Howard Kirby for the first time and had a natter about my dog and its ability to go deaf on me every now and then. Howard and his guys put on a great dog display that was entertaining and very informative at the same time which I really enjoyed, you can tell that his dogs love what they do and love to please their master. All in all a great show and one I hope to be at next year.”
“What crazy weather this month! After a scorching April, I think the April showers finally arrived in May.
Four seasons in a day!
We have had sun, wind, rain, sleet and snow and that’s just today. Unfortunately there has not been enough snow to get the ski season started again, but there was an impressive storm last week that cut the electricity to the whole of the Highlands, from Glasgow to Inverness.
The big storm
Simon was away on a trip to the big city in the south and I had finished work for the day and was enjoying a wee glass of wine on the sofa with Bennett when everything switched off. Jumping to the window I realised it wasn’t the house but the whole site. Thanks to it being light until almost 11pm at the moment, there wasn’t too much of a problem with lighting. I reluctantly grabbed a coat and set off into the storm to check on all of our guests, who it seemed were on the whole enjoying the excitement of the wild Scottish weather, and a few chalets had even decided to have rainy BBQs as their electric ovens had switched off. Fortunately, the power cut only lasted an hour or so and the storm subsided shortly after that.
The main point to note this month is Bennett’s success at puppy training. He now has a big purple rosette and a certificate on the wall above his crate boasting a pass in his puppy exams. He apparently came third in class (out of 15 pups), which I have to admit did surprise me a little; our little genius is currently lying beside me trying it seems to fit his whole back leg into his mouth… Regardless, training has now begun at home for his bronze award.
All about the garden
On the work side of things we’re very busy getting the site prim and proper for the summer. We have a massive task in planting 100 odd plants along a bank. Little did we know what was lurking just below the soil; roots galore and large chunks of Cairngorm stone. It makes digging holes a real mission. Bennett being (fully) trained now means that he is free to roam with us, shame he focuses his efforts on trying to dig up the plants we have just put down rather than fresh holes.
Final mention, for anyone planning a trip up to Pine Bank Chalets, we now have mountain bikes for hireso guests can jump in the saddle right here and head off exploring.
“Spring is finally here, the sun has been shining now for about a month, and it’s hot – even in the Highlands! I’m writing this in the garden, wearing shorts and a vest. All I need is a refreshing glass of Pimms and life would be pretty good right now!
Simon’s new toy – boys will be boys
Simon turned 30 at the start of April which of course meant a great excuse for a party with friends old and new. We had a fun packed day of off-road driving, shooting, tree zone and quad biking, followed by an evening of food, drinks and some great music at our local. There were suitably sore heads the next day.
Simon did what most men seem to do when they reach a milestone birthday and bought himself a ridiculously impractical and unnecessary car. Thankfully it is a 1994 mini and not a Ferrari (second thoughts I would have preferred the Ferrari!) and now loves wasting away the summer evenings burning round the mountain roads in his new toy. You may see it parked out the front of Pine Banks soon emblazoned with our new logo. Boys and their toys!
Boating on the Loch
We have also just launched a friend’s boat into Loch Morlich ready for a summer of sailing, I do hope the weather holds. Being in the middle of a stunning Scottish Loch in blazing sunshine and southerly breezes enjoying a few summer ales is one thing, being dragged out there in the driving rain and north wind is something different entirely.
Bennett hits the beach
Bennett is also enjoying the warmer weather and has had his first trip to the beach where he managed not to steal any children’s ice creams or balls - phew. He is however still afraid of the water, and the small waves from the breeze on the loch proved far too scary and he wouldn’t even get his toes wet. Maybe he is waiting for the water to warm up.
He is proving a star at puppy class and absolutely loves going there – his favourite friend is a four-and-a-half-month-old Westie called Jock, who looks more like a ball of cotton wool. It really is little and large when they get together and their favourite game seems to be who can make the most noise which isn’t that conducive to class. Despite this he will now sit, stay, lay down, and we are so confident with his recall we have nervously let him off his lead for his morning runs and he loves running up and down the banks on either side of the path, bounding in the heather.
In between all this (and a little work of course) I managed to bag my first munro (only 282 to go) and have made it to ladies night at a local yard a few times and we’re now training up for the beginning of the Aviemore show season in June – I just have to get used to riding these little Highland Ponies.
Cross-country training is on Sunday and I’m hoping I’ll be on my usual ride Aimee, a 14hh Highland who is a little rocket, hilarious fun. There is also talk of some horseball – which should be interesting to say the least!
I must dash and apply some more sun cream to my pasty skin before I burn, not a problem I envisaged I’d have in Scotland! I’m not complaining though and long may it continue.
"The last few weeks at Pine Banks have been busy, busy! The snow returned with a vengeance, so two days were spent shovelling and ploughing so that guests and staff could make it around site. Every time the snow comes down like this, Simon has been asking everyone if they require a tow so that he can test out the Landy power, and finally, last week, he was taken up on the offer by a chap in a very inappropriately sporty BMW. He excitedly jumped to the rescue and after an initial splutter, thankfully, the Landy performed!
Disappearing snowballs and spectacular wipe outs
This week was also Bennett’s first experience in proper snow and it was well over his head. It was hilarious to watch as he attempted to bound around in it falling on his face more than once, and chasing snowballs wandering where they were disappearing to.
Thanks to the snow flurry, the Cairngorms have reportedly had the best conditions in Europe this last week that proved too tempting even for me to resist. I decided to try snowboarding for the first time and loved it. I am by no means good at it yet but after I found my feet and in between a few spectacular wipe-outs where my board dug in and my body kept spinning (ouch!), I managed to get down a few green runs and executed a few good turns.
A few wee drams
After a day on the slopes we headed to a local bar for an alternative (belated) Burns Night for charity. I have had my fair share of haggis and the odd wee dram since we moved to the Highlands, however until last week had not experienced a proper Burns Night. I recommend it to everyone – what fun! It began with a few light ales and some short warm up speeches on Robert Burns and of course a toast with Scotland’s finest. Then there was the dressing of the haggis with a local piper playing the traditional songs followed by another toast. Having enjoyed the haggis, neaps and tatties the reading of some of Robbie Burns’ more famous quotes and poems began and of course, another wee dram.
Then we listened to an extremely rude and very funny, rather male chauvinist speech that is probably too racy to divulge, followed of course by yet another shot of Scotch!
The lassies then had our chance to retaliate and drink a little more whisky before the reading of some racier, old Scottish poetry Ode to a Fart is probably the only one I can quote on here without using too many rude words but I think it’s worth reciting!
“Oh what a sleekit horrible beastie
lurks in yer belly efter a feastie
Nae matter whit yi try an dae
Abody`s gonnae hiv tae pay
Even if you try to stifle
Its like a bullet oot a rifle
Haud yer bum tight to the chair
to try an stop the leakin air
Shoogle yersel fae cheek to cheek
An pray tae god it disnae leak
Oot it comes like a clap o` thunder
Ricochets aroon the room michty me like a sonic boom
God aw michty it fairly reeks, hope I huvnae **** ma breeks!!!!”
And of course several more wee drams…
Back to work
After the fun and games last week, this week is all about decoration. Stripping off several layers of rather dated, brightly colored and textured wall paper and painting woodwork, coving and walls in what we hope are more modern, classy and timeless styles. We have also upgraded our TVs around site and unfortunately no longer offer VCR players!"
"Since we arrived we have been inundated with friends and family. It's been great to see so many people up here and to get out skiing, cycling, walking and riding. The rest if the time we have been working hard implementing a few of the many changes we hope to make to the business. Our new website and online booking system was launched and seems to be doing well, our first newsletter went out and generated a great response and we have been fully booked for the whole of February! Phew!
However, due to the extreme weather we have experienced over the last few months we have been unable to start on the outdoor work on site to tame our wild gardens! While there is still fantastic snow cover up the mountain, we've had some welcome respite from the sub-zero temperatures down at the house and chalets, which has given us the opportunity to crack on with the much needed ground works.
It quickly became apparent that with just the two of us to do the work this task was extremely daunting. We spent many hours walking around site discussing what we wanted to do and making lists, but not actually doing anything!
The attack of the rhododendron
Fortunately our friends came to the rescue and for a small payment of homemade cakes and a constant supply of tea the extra hands came in very useful. All were armed with pickaxes, forks, shovels, rakes and a saw for shifting rocks, digging holes, log splitting, taking down trees and demolishing an out of control rhododendron. Needless to say the rhododendron didn’t stand a chance and before long a large pile of debris had formed, so much so that we are no longer welcome at the council tip for a little while! We are hoping that the local wildlife park may come to collect some of it for the animals, we certainly hope so and otherwise a sizeable bonfire could be the answer!
A great big thank you to all that were involved – plenty more work for anyone else interested!
While the ground clearance was in full flow, and after he had carried his fair share of twigs around the garden, Bennett took a little time out to have his photo taken for the local newspaper along with all of the Aviemore Business Association members. He is now the Business Association as well as the pub mascot; we hope all this doesn’t go to his head!
Famous Faces in Aviemore
After a few good days work we rewarded our friends and ourselves with a night out at our local next door, where a great band, Panda Su, were playing. If the rumours are true The Vaccines will be gracing the venue next month – perfect after a day on the slopes and/or doing the gardening."
Follow Simon and Tanja's journey as they settle into Highland's life
“Having sacked our careers, sold the London flat and furniture, traded in my sleek little city sports car for something a little more practical, had various 'farewell' drinks parties we loaded up our newly purchased and very country Landy and set off up to the Highlands of Scotland.
We had agreed with little hesitation to take over the family business providing self-catering log cabins and wood chalets in Aviemore in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park.
Welcome to Scotland
The drive up here although long was stunningly beautiful and we made quite good time, with a few minor stops along the way to refuel us and the car and to take a photo (in the rain) of me standing under the ‘Welcome to Scotland’ sign! We were thrown straight into work as soon as we had unpacked the car as with 13 chalets and two apartments to look after there is always something to do!
Baptism of fire
It had been suggested to us that we had set ourselves up for a baptism of fire moving up in mid October and this did indeed turn out to be the case when just three weeks after we arrived, two feet of snow fell in approximately two days, and the daily temperatures plummeted down to an average of minus 10, even reaching minus 27 one night. A real rarity even way up here in the Highlands. This of course brought with it plenty of work clearing snow and defrosting frozen pipes! Then came the thaw which brought with it its own problems when Simon and I were rudely awoken about 5am one morning by the sound of running water in the bathroom only to find that the pipe had defrosted and was now gushing freezing cold water all over the house!
Despite the chaos we managed a fun-filled Christmas with every chalet fully booked over Christmas and New Year and lots of Christmas cheer around the village. Santa visited on Christmas Eve pulled by two of the Cairngorm Reindeers, the UK's only reindeer herd, and New Year was celebrated in great Scottish style with street parties, dancing, fireworks, live music and plenty of not so wee drams.
Shortly after New Year Simon and I were joined by Bennett (our nine-week-old Hungarian Wirehaired Vizsla puppy) who is settling in just great. Bennett was intrigued by the recent annual Husky racers held in Aviemore, which resulted in us having close to 50 Siberian huskies on site! Unfortunately he hadn’t had his injections so wasn’t allowed to go out and play with them! Next year!
Right now the village is gearing up for the annual Cairngorms Open Ski Championship. There has been plenty of fresh snow recently and the ploughs have been working hard to keep the runs in great condition! The snow has all melted down in the valley now which is great news for me as I’m not much of a skier and would much rather be sat on a bike or a horse! More on the racing and riding next time.”
“It has been some time since I last updated my blog. There is no excuse apart from the fact that I have been working seven days a week and have not had the time to edit the videos I take on a daily basis as I go about my work.
A busy time
In the time since the last blog we have run both the farm and water businesses plus attended court, lunch with our local MP, a meeting in London, investigated large scale solar panels, been interviewed by the paper, asked to be a school governor, started work on Godlingston Manor Kitchen Garden where we intend to sell home produced vegetables, attended carol services, Christian Aid, church committee and PCC meetings, Isabel’s piano exam, spoken at the launch of the Royal Agricultural College’s Grand Idea competition, bought a bull (a pedigree Aberdeen Angus) and very sadly had to sell half my cows when the National Trust joint venture fell through at the last minute. Christmas was fun with the purchase of a family present in the form of an Xbox! Needless to say I turned out to be singularly useless trying to control a racing car with two thumbs on the controller they provided. I therefore felt compelled to invest in a steering wheel and pedals so I could enjoy my part of the present!
However, I have now had a chance to compile several videos taken from these daily snapshots of our life here at Godlingston. Some of the dates have overlapped from previous videos but that probably comes from me doing the editing in the middle of the night!
The life and times of newborn calf Henry
Henry has, as always, been a part of our lives and, because there has been so much interest in him from local and national press and TV, I have compiled a short video showing his life from the early days until recently. Watch it on the link below.
Another departure from a straight video diary is a video that I made about cutting gorse. This was mainly for the benefit of a machinery dealer who supplied me with an Austrian hill climbing tractor and I wanted to show him what we were doing with a homemade gorse cutter. It may be of interest to some people!
As I mentioned, I have been asked to be a judge for the Royal Agricultural College’s Grand Idea competition. This is an annual competition for entrepreneurs within the student body. I feel greatly honoured to be asked and for those of you who wish to see more details click on the following link:thegrandidea.co.uk/Default.aspx?id=477252
Autumn at Godlingstone
The video, ‘Autumn 2010 at Godlingston Manor’, below speaks for itself. We had a major scare when one of our cows tested ‘inconclusive’ in what is now an annual TB test. The cow in question had to be segregated and then re-tested two months later. Luckily, she passed but it was a very tense time as had she failed she would have had to be slaughtered and the whole herd tested again. Some farmers have had this go on and on for months whilst having a ban on movements off the farm which can put them out of business.
The video ‘November 2010 Godlingston Manor Farm’ below saw Henry getting a virus, probably from introducing him to the main herd. We also did hedge and gorse cutting and various maintenance work amongst other things.
A snowy December
December was dominated by the weather. Things take twice as long when you have to defrost water troughs and feed animals hay. We ended up sending water to Scotland as the spring up there that supplies Aquaid was inaccessible. Even so I had to tow our lorries in and out of the plant. The sale of half the herd was a disaster, but was clearly my fault for assuming that the joint herd venture was going to go ahead.
George becomes a rock star
Finally, I was having a chat with my eleven-year-old son George a while back, when he asked me if I would mind if he joined a rock band before becoming a farmer. Bang goes any hope of early retirement! Nevertheless he doesn’t make a bad sound for a child of his age so I thought, for a bit of fun, I would make him his first rock video compilation. At least I can become his agent! What do you think of the video below?"