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  • Martin Castle

"S mairg a ni tarcuis air biadh,"

As a June baby the arrival of the 1st June is always the real beginning of summer for me. With a lifetime in schools, boy and man, it also heralded the bit of the school year when you spent as much time outside and shared the time between exams and activities that were nothing to do with sitting at a desk - cricket, rounders, athletics, competitions, and eating outside. Then there were also the trips out to see interesting spots, growing excitement about a trip away for a week without parents on a residential and the plans being firmed up for a family holiday in July or August.

However, this June 1st seems to presage a strange sense of freedom after our recent restrictions. Maybe I'll get to wander in the Lake District - something that's been, at least an annual, part of my year for some 50 years. They'll be some time on the beach and of course the joy of our garden. Can't say, however, currently I feel like rushing to my former existence - even the archers has slowed down - loved David's musings from Brookfield.

I hope you enjoyed some of the flowers that have appeared in our garden in the glorious sunshine and if you remember I promised myself a week of reading - which in between moving 5 tons of soil by hand (last seen as the glaciers retreated at the end of the ice age) - which I thoroughly enjoyed, reading several books on varied topics. It was a lovely indulgence.

One book was The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd. Written in the 1940s but not published until the 1970s, it reads as if written yesterday and has been cited by many as an influence on their own writing about the environment. For me it is simply the most sensuous book about being in the hills I have come across. Beautifully vivid descriptions of water, mist, rock, air and heather that place the reader strolling beside the author and enjoying the explosion in the senses she highlights - I thoroughly recommend it in paper form or as the Audible version (which I also listened too). This is only the second book I have read twice in quick succession - the other was Jaws!

... but it is the August-blooming Ling that covers the hills with amethyst ... for many many miles there is nothing but this soft radiance. Walk over it in a hot sun, preferably not on a path - I like the un-path ... and the scent rises in a heady cloud ... one walks surrounded by one's own aura of heather scent. For as the feet brush the bloom the pollen rises in a perfumed cloud. It settles on one's boots or, if one is walking barefoot, on feet and legs yellowy-fawn in colour, silky to the touch yet leaving a perceptible grit between the fingers ...

Nan (Anna) Shepherd (1893 – 1981) was a Scottish Modernist writer and poet. She is best known for her seminal mountain memoir, The Living Mountain, based on her experiences of hill walking in the Cairngorms. She also wrote poetry (Interestingly, I found the prose of Living Mountain more poetic than her poems - In the Cairngorms and other poems) and three stand-alone novels set in small, fictional communities in North Scotland. The Scottish landscape and weather played a major role in her novels and provided the focus for her poetry. She was a lecturer of English at the Aberdeen College of Education for most of her working life and revelled in ensuring her students (future teachers) were not just products (as an old friend expressed in another context) of the 'sausage machine of formal education'.

I have spent some time in Scotland with friends near Forres, often in Edinburgh, on a driving tour of the Highlands and Islands with family and a glorious week on Harris last summer with Katayoun. We ate in many hostelries but my favourite summer Scottish dish was served to me for the first time, some time ago, at a friend's house in Granton, Edinburgh. Here it is for your delight:



A traditional Scottish Cranachan is a very quick, easy recipe and is also very festive recipe so is perfect for any celebration and especially at Christmas, Hogmanay and rounds off a Burns' Night Supper beautifully but for me it screams, 'Eat me in Summer'!


55 g/2 oz steel-cut oatmeal (or pinhead oatmeal)

250 g/ 8 oz fresh raspberries (Scottish if possible)

475 ml /1 pint double cream (heavy cream)

3 tbsp malt whisky (good quality)

Optional: 1 tbsp (Scottish) honey, plus more, to serve


1. Heat a large heavy heavy-based frying skillet on the stove until hot, but not burning.

2. Add the oats and continually stirring, toast the oats until they have a light, nutty smell and are only just beginning to change colour. Do not leave the oats unattended as the oatmeal can quickly burn, so they will need constant attention. Once toasted, remove immediately from the pan.

3. Keeping a handful of the raspberries to one side, place the remainder into a food processor and whiz once or twice to create a thick purée. Do not over blend. It's okay if there are a few bigger lumps of fruits. Alternatively, you can simply crush the raspberries with a fork, if you prefer.

4. In a large, clean bowl, whisk the cream and whisky to form firm peaks. Take care not to over whip.

5. Finally, fold in the honey (if using), followed by the toasted oatmeal.

6. In either a large glass trifle bowl or into individual serving glasses, layer the dessert. You can start with a layer of the cream or raspberries; it is up to you. Always finish with a layer of the cream and oatmeal, scattering a few oats on the top.

7. Cover the bowl or glasses with clingfilm and chill for a minimum of one hour.

8. To serve the Cranachan, drizzle over a little extra honey (optional) and if you fancy, a piece or two of shortbread.


The dessert does not keep more than several hours.

If serving children, feel free to leave out the whisky.

Word of the Day is ...

"Cameleopard" - a giraffe by another name!

ps: My peony jelly (made from the petals of the yellow peony in the garden) is a little soft-set (more pectin?) and it is an unusual (pleasant) taste and an amazing colour, especially when the sunlight pours in. (See post of May 25th)

pps: The Gaelic saying of the title translates to, "He who has contempt for food is a fool."


"Nothing in life is to be feared; it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more so that we may fear less." - Marie Curie
"Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

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George Castle
George Castle
Jun 03, 2020

This episode of Open Country (BBC R4) is worth a listen, as are many in this series: Nan Shepherd's Cairngorms -

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