The Loch Maree Hotel is arguably the most famous hotel in North West Scotland.
In an age where the word hotel has become sullied somewhat by the proliferation of soul destroying bleak concrete monstrosities adjacent to motorways and airports, it’s important to remember what they originally symbolised. In this part of Scotland they signified the opening of the Highlands to tourism; one of the most important developments in Scotland’s economic history.
If a child were to draw a mountain then the chances are that it would look something like An Teallach. Driving down the hill towards Dundonnell you are suddenly faced with this scarcely comprehensible hulk of a mountain.
One can only imagine what this home would have been like to live in during a massive storm. From experience I know that the wind howls up the loch so the thought of living spitting distance from the sea is quite something.
The Malcolm Mowat’s Gruinard scarf is named after Gruinard Island which is located in Gruinard Bay, Wester Ross, Scotland. Given the islands seemingly remote location it has a scarcely believable history involving biological warfare.
In 1942 British military scientists working near Salisbury decided to test out the effectiveness of anthrax as a biological weapon when dispersed with explosives. They also wanted to see how vulnerable British forces would be if Germany decided to launch a similar attack against them. These scientists knew from past experiences that testing anthrax on any land would render that land unsafe for many years, so they needed a remote location where no people lived.
Gruinard Island, being uninhabited, was seen to be a good spot for trials so the British Government bought it outright from the owners. The other advantage the wider area had was that it was very sparsely populated and only contained a few small communities which meant that spies would find it almost impossible to blend into the area.
So now that the scientists had a deadly strain of anthrax (Vollum 14578) and an uninhabited island they now needed to formulate an experiment. They ultimately decided that the best way to test the anthrax was with sheep so they took about 80 local sheep to the island, tied them to posts in small groups and proceeded to set off small bombs filled with anthrax spores nearby. Over the course of the next few days all the sheep died. The conclusion was worrying; that anthrax was tough enough to be dispersed with explosives and remain deadly.
Some of the dead sheep were burnt whilst others, it seems, were taken to the base of a cliff on the island. The cliff was then blown up – the idea being that the sheep would be buried under thousands of tonnes of rock. What actually happened was that some of the sheep were blown out into the sea. It is said that as these few sheep washed up on the mainland that nearby cows died.
To avoid panic and press, the official story was that some Greek sailors had tossed some diseased sheep overboard. The British government then reimbursed the crofters, whose sheep they were, on behalf of the Greek government.
What makes this story even more fascinating - or scandalous, perhaps - is that the island is not actually that remote at all. In fact, people live on the mainland on all three sides of Gruinard Bay. The island is not far from the mainland, either. At its nearest point it’s only c. 900 metres from shore. When you consider that anthrax can easily be carried by the wind and that this area is particularly windy, the whole operation begins to look almost farcical.
In 1986 there was a major attempt to rid the island of anthrax. This operation lasted until 1990 and involved the removal of topsoil, controlled fires, hundreds of tonnes of formaldehyde and more tests on animals to make sure that the island was safe. In 1990 it was declared safe and the original owners bought it back from the government for £500.
Even now, though, many doubt that the island is truly safe based on evidence elsewhere in the world which clearly show that deadly anthrax spores can survive for hundreds of years underground. As a result it remains uninhabited and it is only very rarely visited by curious boat owners.
The silver lining to this story is that the same military research facility, in 2001, produced an anthrax vaccine.
Many of you will know that much of the North West Highlands of Scotland has been burning. Vast areas have been set alight by man. ‘Arson!’, some cry. However, the truth of the matter is that they are focused on giving nature a helping hand. This process is known as Muir-burning and it occurs in Scotland every year between October 1st and April 15th. Any later burns are outlawed in order to protect ground nesting birds such as grouse and, on occasion, Golden Eagles.
The people who start these fires are usually gamekeepers and hill farmers. They aim to burn the very tough grasses and the old straggly heather on the hills. This allows for young shoots to pop up which are both sweet and succulent. Grouse, deer and sheep find this sort of grazing much better. These animals are therefore healthier and more able to stand up to the elements when things get tough.
It should be noted that not all of the heather is burnt. Most of it is left long so that birds have shelter to nest and hide in. So in June if you look at managed moorland you will see a patchwork quilt type of landscape. Long heather, short heather, long heather, short heather – usually in long strips or big squares.
Ticks are another reason why the muir-burning occurs. If it didn’t occur then the tick population would boom. This would make the lives of the sheep and deer a misery as ticks can transmit deadly diseases to both of them.
Usually the landowners in an area will team up to help each other burn the hillsides safely. But sometimes fires can get out of control or, on peat, continue burning underground. This can result in dramatic and dangerous wildfires which easily have the potential to kill anything living in the area. Sometimes the fire brigade will be called in to help bring the fires back under control.
So when you next see a hillside alight in a Scottish spring bear in mind that you are probably witnessing the careful management of the land. However, if in doubt it’s always better to give 999 a call just to be safe.
As the pictures show, muir-burning is often a beautiful process to watch. Seeing bright orange flames against a blue spring sky is a memorable event. All three of our lightweight worsted wool spring scarves have at least some flash of red or orange in them. They can be purchased here: http://www.malcolmmowats.com/collections/all
Loch Broom and Little Loch Broom.
Both of these lochs are sea lochs; meaning that they are sea inlets. Both open onto the Minch. This stretch of water up the North West Coast of Scotland attracts sailors from around the globe. Also present at the end of these sea lochs are the well-known set of islands called the Summer Isles. Only one of these islands is inhabited, the rest being left to nature.
In the lochs you will often see dolphins, basking sharks, puffins, seals and eagles. The area was also once filled with wild Salmon which was at one point commercially fished. However, the advent of artificial fish farms in the area has meant that the sea lice population has boomed to the almost fatal detriment of the wild salmon. That said, the sheer concentration of wildlife in the area is still astonishing.
We believe that our Broom Worsted Wool Spring Scarf is really special. It is our personal favourite because every one of the colours present in it is fresh, modern and bright. These qualities are not what you would traditionally expect a tartan to offer as most tartans are relatively sombre in tone. The Broom, however, is anything but sombre. Bright oranges, blues and greens are just some of the unexpected colours on show. Taken as a whole, the scarfs bright colours mean that it is perfectly suited to being worn on a bright Spring day. It’s a cheerful item for a cheerful season.
As with every scarf we produce, the Broom is handmade in Scotland by a dedicated team of truly skilled workers. Real energy and enthusiasm goes into the making of every single one produced. The Broom Worsted Wool Spring scarf is big, beautiful and breathable. It is, we think, a fitting homage to an exquisite part of the world.
Buy the Broom online for a very reasonable £35: http://www.malcolmmowats.com/products/broom-scarf
This loch is located slap bang in the middle of an area referred to as The Great Wilderness in the North West Highlands of Scotland. It is as remote as you can get in Britain and you are at all times acutely aware of that fact. You will rarely see anyone else in the area – even in peak Summer season. You can literally walk for days without seeing another soul. There are no pylons, wind turbines or roads anywhere in sight. You are just entirely engulfed by jagged mountains covered in heather, peat, stags and sheep. In the air you will see grouse flying low, whilst both Sea Eagles and Golden Eagles dominate the sky; their eerie cries ringing deep into the glens.
The Fionn Worsted Wool Spring Scarf reflects many of the colours present in this landscape. In it you will see the deep reds present in the rocks and lichens, the blue of the perfect sky and the greens of the mossy bogs. Taken all together, the scarf is a genuinely evocative piece of fine attire. It would be a fantastic investment for Spring.
It almost goes without saying, but the quality of the Fionn is astonishing. Every detail has been carefully thought of and every stitch made with skill. These qualities are immediately noticeable to anyone lucky enough to own a Fionn Spring scarf.
The wool, being finely constructed, really shows off the vivid colours of the scarf brilliantly. It also protects the neck from those stiff winter breezes all too common throughout March and April. Please note that the scarf is handmade in Scotland, so you can rest assured that your money is helping to preserve the manufacturing skills we have in this country.
I can honestly say that in my experience I have never seen a better scarf. Even ones priced elsewhere for £200 just don’t cut the mustard when put alongside ours. If you don’t believe me then I urge you to order a scarf, feel it and live with it for a while, and then if you don’t like it you can make use of our generous returns policy. You have nothing to lose and perhaps a fantastic item to gain.
Buy the Fionn Worsted Wool Spring Scarf here for only £35: http://www.malcolmmowats.com/products/fionn-scarf