A couple of years ago, my dad upped-sticks and moved from the bright lights of Glasgow to one of the most remote places in the whole of the UK: Ardnamurchan. This peninsula in the Scottish Highlands boasts the title of most westerly point of the British mainland and, as a result, it’s a place of genuine rugged beauty. Just getting there is no mean feat, taking around four and a half hours by car, but the scenery encountered along the way makes it well worth the journey. The route winds along the western banks of Loch Lomond before taking on the drama of Glencoe. A short sail on the Corran Ferry marks the halfway point before an unnerving couple of hours on the meandering single track road which connects Ardnamurchan to the rest of the world.
Whenever I visit my Dad, I know I’m in for a very good feed. He’s always been an excellent cook and now that his skill is paired up with the beautiful produce from the area, mealtimes are pretty special. Whether it’s venison fillet from the local estate or pork belly from his friend Angy’s farm, the quality of life of the animals grazing there is directly translated into the quality of the meat produced. With an unfettered freedom to roam an area untouched by pollution, the livestock are living a similar life to the one they would have done a hundred years ago, unaffected by industry or modern ‘cram-as-many-in-as-we-can’ farming techniques. It reinforces my belief that free range food – aside from being ethical, too – just tastes better.
I was smart enough to pick up some venison mince to take home with me from the local shop, but now I’m kicking myself that I wasn’t smart enough to buy more of it! Coming in at less costly than decent beef mince, it represents excellent value for money and is incredibly lean. I cooked it up with just a smidgen of oil, chopped onions and beef stock for about 30 minutes. I’ll admit that I expected it to be a little on the dry side, but I was willing to trade this in for a healthy alternative to beef. In fact, it had a beautiful texture and that intense, meaty flavour I can’t get enough of. If I had a regular supply of it at this great price, I would seriously consider using it as a tastier alternative to beef mince in my bolognese and chilli.
We also enjoyed a great little day trip to the quaint harbour village of Tobermory on the Isle of Mull which – despite being on an island – is the nearest hub of action to Ardnamurchan. Just 35 minutes from Kilchoan on a cheery wee Calmac ferry and we arrived at the paintbox-hued seafront which must be one of the most commonly depicted views in Scottish art and photography.
As the seafront comes to life with tourists during the summer season, it’s home to many gift shops punting locally produced arts and crafts as well as pub, after pub, after pub: our kind of place. Inevitably, our visit centred around the liquid offerings of Tobermory, but we did enjoy a decent haddock and chips for lunch at Macgochans where it was actually warm enough to sit outside in the beer garden and take in the chocolate box views. After spending a couple of hours sampling the Isle of Mull Brewery Island Pale Ale, we paid an impromptu visit to the Tobermory Distillery shop where Craig treated himself to a bottle of the 10 year old malt. As I’m not a big whisky drinker myself, I declined to taste it but now that I’ve read that it offers a hint of spicy gingerbread on the palate, I might just have to reconsider. We’ll see how Craig feels about that . . . Flavour aside, it’s housed in a beautiful green bottle which I plan to upcycle into a striking candle holder when the golden liquor’s long gone.
An unusually pleasant Saturday afternoon was topped off when, emerging from the Co-operative having been instructed to pick up some custard doughnuts for my dad (his vice), our path was crossed by a curious, oil-slicked creature dashing only three or four feet in front of us. Incredibly, we had intersected an otter on its way from the sea to its nest somewhere nearby! I only wish I’d managed to capture this rare moment on film, but the sneaky little guy was too fast for me. What had already been a fantastic day became a truly memorable one thanks to our chance encounter with a ballsy little otter.