Scottish Daily Mail

How the Mid­dle­tons do LOCH down

- By James Mid­dle­ton Dogs · Pets · Hobbies · Berkshire · London · Scotland · England · United Kingdom · Liverpool · European Union · Greece · Spain · Alizée · Bucklebury

De­spair­ing of Covid iso­la­tion? Read this en­thralling ac­count of how Kate’s brother James and his fi­ancee found a mag­i­cal es­cape in the High­lands: their ice-cold dips at dawn... the joy of a wood-burn­ing stove... life’s sim­pler plea­sures... and you’ll al­most feel you’re there

AS A soft grey dawn breaks over Loch Af­fric in In­ver­nessshire, my fi­ancee Al­izee and I stand at the wa­ter’s edge in bathrobes, sip­ping our morn­ing tea. We’re steel­ing our­selves for a shock — the sen­sory jolt of our daily dip in the icy wa­ter.

A l ow mist hangs over the moun­tains; there is prom­ise of a golden winter’s day ahead. We gird our­selves for the leap, then jump. The cold i s numb­ing, l i ter­ally breath-tak­ing. Ev­ery nerve- end and sinew tin­gles into life with the star­tling chill of it. And as we duck our heads un­der the wa­ter, we shiver and laugh.

The dogs have joined us now — my three black spaniels Ella, I nka, Luna, and our golden retriever Ma­bel — swim­ming with their noses above the wa­ter­line. We strike out into the freez­ing depths for just a few me­tres, then i t’s time to swim back to the shore­line, shake our­selves off (the dogs in a rain­storm of shiv­er­ing droplets) and r ush i nto t he cot­tage to shower.

I never feel more ex­ul­tant, more thrillingl­y alive, than I do af­ter this morn­ing dip. The dogs are rugged up snugly in their lit­tle turquoise tow­elling coats; Al­izee and I are cosy in jumpers, thick trousers and stout boots. A wood fire blazes.

Next there is break­fast: por­ridge with honey from the bees I keep at Buck­le­bury Manor — my par­ents’ home in Berk­shire — then newly l aid eggs and my home­made sour­dough bread.

This has be­come our new ear­ly­morn­ing rou­tine, how Al­izee and I have be­gun our day since the lat­est lock­down — or lochdown, as we have come to call it — sent us scur­ry­ing from Lon­don to this re­mote and beau­ti­ful Scot­tish re­treat.

I am fortunate be­cause the Glen Af­fric Es­tate, where Al­izee and I are stay­ing — we came up just be­fore the lat­est Covid re­stric­tions pro­hib­ited all but es­sen­tial travel — is owned by my sis­ter Pippa’s in-laws.

The main house, a Vic­to­rian lodge built in 1857, sits peace­fully on the wa­ter’s edge, look­ing west up the loch. There is a cot­tage in the grounds and this is where Al­izee and I are holed up: in con­tented iso­la­tion in this glo­ri­ous wilder­ness, with just our dogs and wildlife for com­pany.

In the week we work, of course — Al­izee for a fi­nan­cial start-up, while I run my own busi­nesses — but the joy is, we can both do so from our re­mote High­land out­post.

But our l eisure hours and week­ends are crammed with ac­tiv­ity, with the rugged out­door pur­suits we both love.

There is the loch flanked by an­cient Cale­do­nian pine forests, where we sail and pad­dle­board — the dogs join­ing us, too — into sun­sets so stun­ning they bathe the whole glen in rosy light.

Feed­ing the es­tate’s horses — Rosco, Menno and Marcus — has be­come a happy rit­ual.

The dogs trot be­hind as we drive the quad­bike, laden with hay bales, to the field where they are wait­ing, frisky with an­tic­i­pa­tion, for their fod­der.

They nuz­zle the dogs, who dart and gam­bol with them, ex­cited by the sud­den flurry of ac­tiv­ity.

The great Lake­land walker and writer Al­fred Wain­wright once ob­served: ‘There is no such thing as bad weather, only un­suit­able clothes,’ and this adage could not ap­ply more keenly than in the High­lands.

But Al­izee and I, dressed in wool­lens and wa­ter­proofs, are never per­turbed by the cold or wet. Driving po­lar winds and hor­i­zon­tal rain do not de­ter us from our 20-kilo­me­tre hikes and runs in the Mun­ros.

Last week­end we laced up our fell­run­ning train­ers and re­solved to race to the top of the nearby peak. It is lonely, rugged and chal­leng­ing; there is no path, but we fol­lowed a se­ries of lit­tle cairns, the dogs, ex­cited, scam­per­ing along­side us.

The wind had a sharp edge and icy rain whipped up as we be­gan the as­cent.

Sleet stung our cheeks l i ke nee­dles and on one wind-lashed ledge Al­izee could barely stand. We al­most made it — within me­tres of the peak — when the cold and wet of the gath­er­ing dusk de­feated us and we turned tail to skip and leap our way down­hill again.

There’s a fish­er­man’s bothy — a tiny one-room hut, warmed by a log-burn­ing stove — two miles from our cot­tage, where we stop to light a fire and in the steamy heat re­vive

is part of my own. His Scot­tish fa­ther had worked as a miner in the pits of both the Cen­tral Belt of Scot­land and i n Eng­land’s South-East. Both talk and talked with noth­ing but love for that lost trade.

It was a love born of ca­ma­raderie and shared ex­pe­ri­ence in an of­ten dan­ger­ous world.

Un­der­ground it hardly mat­tered where you had been born, as long as you could do the job and cared to look out for the well­be­ing of the other men on the shift. Min­ers were min­ers.

IHavE no­ticed that dif­fer­ences in ac­cent and di­alect, style and de­meanour, the count­less idio­syn­cra­sies pro­vid­ing the dizzy­ing mul­ti­colour of the ta­pes­try of Bri­tain hap­pen mile by mile, be­tween one val­ley and the next, and are not all about na­tional bound­aries.

Most of all, and best of all, I can say with hand on heart that I have been re­ceived with noth­ing but af­fec­tion in ev­ery town and city, nook and cranny.

Year af­ter year, as a Scot abroad, I have been made to feel at home all over. When I toured Bri­tain with one of my books last year and the year be­fore, go­ing f rom the­atre to the­atre, I stepped out on­stage one mem­o­rable night in Liver­pool into a wel­come of cheers that took me aback so much I al­most burst into tears.

I have no con­nec­tion to that city on the Mersey and yet I was nearly knocked to the back wall of the stage by the wave.

I know that might sound self­ind­ul­gent but I have to write about what I have ex­pe­ri­enced as a cit­i­zen of Bri­tain, to make clear why it all mat­ters to me the way it does.

all of this is per­sonal in the end, per­haps for all of us. How could I not love this place – this whole place – and so hope with all my heart that it re­mains one place?

If so much is cut away from me I will feel the itch of miss­ing limbs un­til my dy­ing day. I have been around enough of the wider world to know that most places are not like Bri­tain, not at all.

Ev­ery time I hear the place be­ing run down for some or other al­leged fail­ing I want to ask: ‘Com­pared to where?’

That any­one at all would imag­ine it were pos­si­ble to break this won­der into pieces and yet some­how re­tain its frag­ile, pre­cious gifts in each of the tat­tered rem­nants is be­yond me.

a torn frag­ment of a work of art is not enough. Once it’s gone, it is for­ever and we will all be di­min­ished by its pass­ing.

This Bri­tain of ours has been and re­mains a bright light in a dark and dark­en­ing world, a mag­net for hu­man­ity mov­ing in hopes of some­where bet­ter.

When the EU was con­jured into be­ing, it copied our Union in hopes of hav­ing a frac­tion of its suc­cess. What­ever the in­ten­tion, those builders fell short of the mark. There is no EU wel­fare state, and Ger­man taxes do not pay for health­care in Greece or pen­sions in Spain.

Most of the wider world would rather it were more like us, that it might have what we have had. When it comes to western lib­eral democ­racy, ours is the orig­i­nal mar­que.

What I said in 2014 I will say again. The idea that we Scots might look on at a whole Bri­tain in need of re­pair, in need of re­align­ment and up­dat­ing to cope with the fu­ture, and choose to cut and run just makes me blush to my fingertips with shame. I am a Bri­tish Scot and the Bri­tons are my fam­ily, all of them.

I don’t give a fig for politi­cians and I cer­tainly don’t al­low my feel­ings about the present bunch to blind me to what Bri­tain ac­tu­ally is – no more than I would let this year’s crop of midges blind me to the beauty of the High­lands.

I set aside my feel­ings con­cern­ing the lat­est in­cum­bents of var­i­ous par­lia­ments on the grounds that they – and all of us be­sides – are tem­po­rary ten­ants.

Th­ese is­lands of ours are rented ac­com­mo­da­tion whether we like it or not, and sooner or later we will va­cate the place for new oc­cu­pants. You don’t burn down the house just be­cause you don’t care for those liv­ing in it now.

Keep the house to­gether. This house of ours is the work of 300 years (and the rest). If there are re­pairs to be done, then so be it.

LET’S treat it like the grand home it is, and make it wind and water­tight for the whole fam­ily again. The whole fam­ily. Let’s not break it into flats like a dodgy con­ver­sion job by cow­boy builders.

I don’t base my de­ci­sion on pol­i­tics or eco­nomics or even his­tory. I make my choices based on the re­spon­si­bil­ity I feel for peo­ple – alive now and yet to be born.

I love Bri­tain more than any­where else in the world. With all my heart I de­clare that those of us born here, or who have made a home here by choice, are the luck­i­est, most blessed of all peo­ple.

I am Bri­tish. I will al­ways be Bri­tish.

 ??  ?? Morn­ing rit­ual: A warm­ing brew; and (top) the dogs post-swim
Morn­ing rit­ual: A warm­ing brew; and (top) the dogs post-swim
 ?? Pic­tures: JAMES MID­DLE­TON ?? Still wa­ters: Al­izee takes Ma­bel for a pad­dle
Far from the madding crowd: From left, mist over the loch; Ma­bel, James and Al­izee; pad­dle­board­ing; feed­ing horses
Pic­tures: JAMES MID­DLE­TON Still wa­ters: Al­izee takes Ma­bel for a pad­dle Far from the madding crowd: From left, mist over the loch; Ma­bel, James and Al­izee; pad­dle­board­ing; feed­ing horses
 ??  ?? A toast to na­ture: Al­izee raises a glass by the lochside
A toast to na­ture: Al­izee raises a glass by the lochside
 ??  ?? Ties that bind: The fu­ture of the Union is once again in ques­tion
Ties that bind: The fu­ture of the Union is once again in ques­tion

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