As part of the Muskus clan at Laikenbuie, I was lucky enough to have lots of adventures around the local area, with lots of scenic hikes, some wild dancing, mandala making and a visit to Findhorn, an alternative intentional community. There’s certainly a lot to see in the Scottish highlands, even if you can’t eat shortbread or haggis.

Mandala madness

Therese is an extremely creative artist, and regularly makes seasonal mandalas from natural materials such as leaves, flowers, windfall fruits, pine cones and branches. She’s made several smaller centrepieces for the dinner table during my visit, but was also invited to the Edinburgh Royal Botanic Gardens to create an autumnal harvest masterpiece. It’s phenomenal. I mean, seriously, have you ever seen anything quite like this? I’ve been inspired to see the beauty in the everyday during my visit here.

Hiking: so much nature

With a borrowed bike and helmet, I regularly cycled the 4 miles into Nairn from which to base my explorations. Nairn is a small town (much on the same scale as Milton back home), right on a blustery stretch of beach and nature reserve. The Culbin Forest extends eastward from Nairn, and was a great spot for several long autumnal walks, along the beach, through the heath and among the pine trees. It’s pretty easy to lose track of time among these enormous, silent sentinels.

Along Nairn Beach.

Heading inland along the Nairn River one can walk to the magnificent Cawdor Castle and back (about 20 km) along the spine of this pebbly, shaded waterway. Ominous and foreboding, Cawdor is the setting for Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Built in the 14th century, it remains the home of the Cawdor family today. I was lucky enough to tag along with the family to Cawdor Castle for a local fair before it closed for the year (while the dowager countess took up residence for the winter).

Therese and Peter donated a hamper prize for the raffle, consisting of fresh produce from the farm, a haunch of lamb, and fresh eggs (I coloured in the sign, so I totally helped).  I even bought a few raffle tickets in an attempt to win it back for our supper, but alas – I only won a matching milk jug and sugar pot set. Oh well. I did manage to meet Tilda Swinton (aka the White Witch from Narnia), who lives locally and is a friend of the family’s. Wow. She didn’t turn me into an ice statue, nor was I offered any turkish delight. Very disappointing. She was wearing an excellent kilt though, so extra points for that.

Tasty hamper for the local fair.
Cawdor Castle. Beware!

Heading further south, it’s possible to cycle down to the Findhorn River, an impressive, wild stretch of rapids and rocks among pristine forest. Coming across a group of tweed-clad fishermen while hiking along the river one afternoon, I was promptly offered a cigar and a dram of whisky (which I politely declined) and immersed in a cacophony of Scottish. I saw plenty of salmon as the fishermen hurled in line after line during the last few days of legal salmon fishing for the year. I bet all the whisky helped.

Findhorn River!
Deserted chapel on the Findhorn River.

Hippies and hot tubs

Nearby is the Findhorn Community, a beautiful collection of eco-friendly homes forming an intentional community. It’s open to visitors year round and hosts music events, holistic education retreats and the like. I had a good potter around on one of my days off, and even visited with the family to see a live folk music gig (Roddy Wimble, check him out, excellent tunes). There’s a hot tub, extensive gardens, workshops for pottery and weaving, spaces for chanting and meditation, and an excellent wholefoods store. Plus there’s plenty of people in capes and funky beanies. Needless to say, I loved it.

Beautiful homes at Findhorn.
Meditation space, Findhorn.
Oak barrel houses at Findhorn.

What the heck is a Ceilidh?

I tagged along to a local ceilidh (pronounced “kay-lee”), which is Scottish folk dancing. Basically, you get a big group of people together, a band, and smash out some dances for hours until you have a permanent grin on your face. As an aside, it’s an excellent way to stay warm. With an open bar, pot luck food and a raffle, it’s a fun evening for young and old alike. My favourite dances were the large communal ones that got everyone involved – sort of like Australian bush dancing. All the dances have fantastic names like “The Gay Gordons” or “Strip the Willow” to boot. Honestly, it doesn’t get much better than a ceilidh. For a bumbling, uncoordinated novice like me to be able to pick up the moves (eventually), anyone can get involved.

Thus it’s with a jig in my step that I wrap up my last few days in Scotland. Stay tuned to http://www.humusandhummus.com for my continued adventures!

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