Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Pier Fire, Weston-super-Mare

How sad I felt when I heard of the destruction by fire of the pier at Weston-super-Mare yesterday.  The photograph says it all really.  

Back in the 60s I started my hotel management training with Trust House Hotels who are no longer in existence.  It was a national company which owned quality hotels of all shapes and sizes.  I was one of the first females the company decided to train in management which was, until then, a male dominated vocation.

My first trainee management post was at the Grand Atlantic Hotel, Weston-super-Mare.  A splendid victorian building it rightly dominated the residential part of the promenade.  In those days it was a 4 star hotel and definitely deserved that status but I see, from some comments on websites, that it has deteriorated badly in recent years.  Such a shame that a building of great dignity should now be denied the tender loving care it received and appreciated for over 100 years. 

At the Grand Atlantic I concentrated on the housekeeping  and function part of my training and it was tough.  Miss Reid, the housekeeper, took no hostages and her standards were exacting. We started work serving morning teas/coffees to bedrooms at 6am (no DIY trays in the rooms in those days!) and were lucky to finish before 4pm.  A few of us had to also work evenings as each floor had to have staff available in case guests required laundry facilities, beverages and many of the other services which have now vanished.  It sounds as if it was all work and no play but, to be honest, there was always time for laughter.  Happy days.

During my time at the Grand Atlantic I met some 'superstars' such as Cary Grant, Patrick McGoohan (he used to use the outdoor pool early every morning and would be sitting in the sun lounge when I reported for work), Jayne Mansfield, Diana Dors and many more.  Most were starring at the Weston Theatre which was widely recognised as one of the 'best in the west', but Cary Grant regularly visited because he still had family in the Bristol area.

What has all this to do with the pier fire yesterday?  Well, the pier was only about 200 yards from the hotel and I have spent many a happy hour, at all times of the day, strolling down the pier just to relax.  I didn't spend much money because I didn't earn much as a trainee and had a car to keep on the road.  I know I received much more from this dignified victorian structure than I gave and I still appreciate that fact.

Thankfully the new owners have decided to rebuild it and I will definitely visit when it's completed.  For me, I'm just happy I had the experiences of its differing atmospheres. The Grand Atlantic set me on a career path with a training which stood me in good enough stead for me to manage large hotels in Europe for some years and the pier at Weston-super-Mare was my therapeutic escape from a greatly enjoyable, although demanding, part of my career.  Oh happy days!

Monday, 28 July 2008

Botanic Gardens, Dundee University

It's a beautiful sunny day and around 25 degrees.  Too nice to stay indoors, now my work is finished, so I'm going to have a trip to the wonderful Botanic Gardens at Dundee University.  The gardens are just a 20 minute drive from here on a pleasant road.

These gardens are exceptional and so much of the work is done by volunteers.  Unfortunately, owing to the restrictions of the bed and breakfast business, I'm unable to be a reliable volunteer but I can enjoy the results of their toils.

The photograph is of a beautiful climbing, highly scented rose on the front wall of the house here.  It was just coming into flower.  I was told a few years ago it was a very old rose, possibly having been planted not long after the house was built in the 1840s.  So today, I'm taking a stem complete with a flower, in the hope that one of the experts at the Botanic Gardens can identify the rose or at least give some idea of it's heritage.  Doubt if I will get the results back for a while but they should be interesting.

Here in Scotland, there are few opportunities to really use air conditioning in the car, but today is one of them.   It's not so long ago it was thought air conditioning would never be used in a place like Scotland but I have used it for the past few months quite often.  Perhaps we don't get enough days like today but our climate isn't as bad as it is pictured at times.  England often gets far worse weather than Perthshire!

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Clunie Loch near Blairgowrie, Perthshire

Had a few hours free yesterday afternoon having completed all the work required for the bed and breakfast, so decided to go for a short walk.  A ten minute drive took me to the Loch of the Lowes, which has been famous for nesting ospreys since the late 1060s, but it was very busy so I decided to drive round  the other side and make my way back via Clunie Loch (doing more or less a circle from Blairgowrie).  

Clunie Loch is charming.  It's a small loch, although trout fishing is permitted, but it's just the right size for a short walk.  I parked by the church and strolled round enjoying the peace and the lapping of the water on a warm summer afternoon.  'Clunie' means 'meadow' in Gaelic I was told today by a friend and I would agree it is in a meadow-like setting.

When I returned to the car a party of cyclists arrived.  They had been practising for a big competition and decided to relax there for an hour before continuing their gruelling training.  Most set off round the loch with gusto although some sensible ones (in my opinion anyway!) sat at the edge of the water and enjoyed the calmness.

My apologies for taking the photograph too far away but I assure you the loch is there!  Just a slither of it shows about two-thirds of the way down right of centre.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Scottish Boys Golf Championship, Blairgowrie Golf Club

It's been such a pleasant week.  Not only has the weather improved beyond belief, we've been basking in sunshine with temperatures well over 20 degrees.  My guests have all been excellent company and I do hope they've enjoyed staying as much as I've enjoyed having them in my home.

The photograph is of James Hendrick who is competing in the 47th Scottish Boys Golf Championship which is taking place at Blairgowrie Golf Club this week and he's been well up the rankings.  James was accompanied by his Dad and I've learned a great deal about the really tough competition there is around for youngsters like James to 'make it' in a sport such as golf.  The odds are unbelievably high but so are the rewards although I'm not sure it's reward that motivates James.  An intense love of the game seems to be his reason for getting up in the mornings plus a natural ability to hit the ball well.

This particular competition is open to boys under the age of 18 and this will be the last one James is able to enter as his eighteenth birthday is not far away.  His Dad was explaining to me the next steps in James' golfing career and it's quite a leap.  I do admire the parents and families of young people who enter this type of popular sport with the intention of making it their career.  The support and care parents give is quite remarkable (and that's without making comment about the financial support required).

So James, you'll be playing your final round and I wish you all the very best  You're a lovely lad with a most pleasant personality and I'm sure you'll go far.  Do wish you'd eat a good breakfast though!

For those of you reading this - golf isn't just for experts and people who luckily have the natural ability for the sport.  Anyone can play. In this area of Scotland there are so many courses to choose from that we're very spoilt for choice.  (I say anyone can play - unfortunately I'm one of these people who couldn't hit a ball even if it was the size of a melon!)

James has given his permission for his name and photograph to be used in this wee story.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Scottish Rainbow Trout

Had the super gift of a rainbow trout from my lovely  fishermen this week (nearly 2lbs).  Their catch was average over the week but not quite as good as last year.  Part of the problem appeared to be the rain and also the cold wind which is most unusual for this time of year. Dull days seem to be best for fishing but chilly winds are not appreciated and neither is bright sunshine I'm told.  

Regardless, my anglers set off with great enthusiasm every morning to tackle (forgive the pun!) some of the surrounding rivers and lochs.  There are so many good fishing destinations in Perthshire that they are completely spoilt for choice, but as they know this area well, they are able to make informed decisions about places suited to the differing weather.

A comprehensive website relating to fishing in Perthshire is http://www.fishingnet.com/.

I love trout and I am always delighted to receive such a generous gift.  All I have to do now is plan a spare hour some evening when I can barbeque the handsome 'catch' and enjoy the pure pleasure of eating it.  Can't wait!

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Beech Hedge, nr Blairgowrie, Perthshire

When driving into Perth yesterday on the A93, I was suddenly struck by the imposing splendour of the Beech Hedge at Meikleour near Blairgowrie (see photo).  I have driven past this for the best part of 20 years and just accepted it as part of the landscape, but for some reason yesterday - perhaps the sunlight on it, I realised it really is spectacular.

It stands 120ft tall at the highest point and is approximately 600ft long.  Since 1966 it has had the accolade of the tallest beech hedge in the world and it has a romantic history.  It is said it was planted by a woman named Jean Mercer and her husband Robert Nairne.  Both lived in the small nearby village of Meikleour.  Robert Nairne, it is believed, was later killed on the battlefield of Culloden.  The hedge is now maintained by the Meikleour Trust and it takes 4 men around 5 weeks to keep it looking good.

Unless you know it is there, it's quite easy to miss.  On the A93 from Blairgowrie it is just at the end of the long straight on the right hand side.  Coming from Perth on the A93 it's not so easy to see.  Once you're over the Isla bridge (with the traffic lights) continue along and round the slight right hand bend.  You will see a small lay-by on your left.   Park there if you can.  The hedge is above you but the best view is from the north side.  There is a pavement which you can use to walk the length of it.  Shame it does not have a larger sign, as it has such a 'claim to fame' with a world record, but now you know where it is at least!

Friday, 4 July 2008

Scone Palace Annual Game Fair

Another lovely day of sunshine!  The weather forecasters have certainly been wrong this week.  The predictions of rain and heavy showers just haven't materialised and we have had lovely warm weather.  This weekend (today, tomorrow and Sunday) is the annual Game Fair at Scone Palace.  It is attended by thousands, lots of whom are from the farming and agriculture communities.  So much to see and do it's no wonder it lasts three days.

I'm not going this year but I was there 2 years ago.  The final day (Sunday) was my choice and, you've guessed it, it rained.  Walking in wellies isn't something I do regularly, or even non-regularly, but it was a challenge which was certainly worth it. Everyone seemed to just ignore the weather and get on with the fun.  That kind of attitude is infectious and, truth be told, I had a wonderful day.

It's another warm, sunny summer evening right now and I await the company of my lovely Irish friends who visit regularly.  Both the men are gamekeepers, one now retired, although his hobby of fly fishing is now his full time job, (according to his wife).  They have never missed a Game Fair for many years.  The forecast is decent weather for tomorrow and Sunday and I sincerely hope the professionals are right this time.