Aboyne: August ’17

(As ever, best photos courtesy of my Dad.)

My siblings live in the US – for that fact, I’m lucky to usually see them a couple times a year. This summer, to celebrate our Dad’s homeowner status on Skye, we all went up to Scotland to see him and our Aunt Anne. We brought Mum and the dogs, because we couldn’t possibly leave without any of them.

The photos that I’ll post and the adventures I’ll describe will be largely about our excursions; but for the sake of truth and completeness, we spent the vast majority of our time together like this. You can’t tell, but I’m definitely in my pyjamas at this point.

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We’re all board game fans, and this holiday was dominated by Ticket to Ride, Catan and Carcassonne. If you’re fans of organised fun, you’ll love these.

(I particularly adore how this photo looks like Wilson is playing the game too. He’s a predominant member of our family, but he hasn’t quite got his head around Ticket to Ride. Soon.)

It was a glorious day. We went over to Anne’s house for the evening, and the weather incandescently perfect.

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Anne’s house is beautiful; she’s spent a lot of time & effort on its restoration, and in tending her (rather spectacular) garden.

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Siblings. So weird.

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Anne’s front garden looks onto the River Dee – it’s quite lovely, and has the frequent attention of dog walkers & joggers.

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It’s also where my grandfather’s ashes were scattered, and where we had decided to lay my uncle’s ashes to rest.

My uncle Alan died four years ago. He was a really, really great guy. He was fun and funny, generous and kind, and his early death was a colossal loss. Growing up, he was the kind of adult that could just let you be – he didn’t ask a million questions about what you were doing, and what you wanted to do later in life, and why are you watching television when it’s such a lovely day outside. He was laid back, and just comfortable to be with.

He loved a bargain. If he saw something on special offer, he’d buy three times as many as he needed, to stockpile for the future or give away as presents. He had a knack for bringing the most fattening, calorific and utterly delicious food to any family gathering. Poppycock as an example – a delectable treat of popcorn generously fused together with caramel, with pecans stuck in the mix. Heavenly.

And he played games with us. We were en masse a selfish bunch of children, greedy for entertainment at all times – and Alan was always there for a game of hearts, rummicub, monopoly etc. He was particularly good at pontoon, I remember – but have to say, we absolutely whipped him on the Shakespeare game.

Every Christmas, he’d give everyone a pair of socks. Great socks, the kind you can hike in, and wear around the house during winter. Everyone in my family has about six pairs of Alan socks, which we wear all year round. In this small way, as in many others, his legacy lives on.

This was the first time we’d all been up in Scotland together since Alan’s passing, so we decided to scatter his ashes this summer.

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Harpers are a dispassionate folk, and we don’t go in for long speeches or emotional farewells. We shared a few memories, and then we sang the song that he had at his funeral – ‘Lord of the Dance’, one of his favourites. It was sweet, and sad.

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Alan is very much missed – but I’m hard-pressed to think of a more beautiful resting place. I think he’d approve.

After saying farewell to Alan, we started on the very serious business of starting a bonfire. Step 1 – chop wood.

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This was so much fun.

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Manly fire-building skills.

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Anne suggested that the roast our vegetable kebabs on the Aga, but we declined in favour of the fire. Got to love that smoky, charred flavour.

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It worked pretty well! We had a griddle, and a barbecue grill set up.

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And – we had sweetcorn wrapped in foil and hurried in the embers. So, so good. Only way to eat corn, from now on.

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Bliss. All food should be cooked on an open fire.

After eating, a cajoled my family to take a photo together. Herding cats.

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But eventually… we got a decent photo.

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And a selfie 😛

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Niceties over, we started on dessert. This was a bonfire, so obviously we were going to make s’mores.

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If you haven’t had s’mores, I’m horrified on your behalf. They’re singularly divine, and are a must-have in terms of your life’s culinary achievements. They consist of a toasted marshmallow, stuck between two digestive biscuits and a slab of chocolate. The heat of the marshmallow melts the chocolate, and the gooey-ness sandwiches the biscuits together. Impossible to eat daintily, but oh – so worth it.

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And this – an Alan recipe. Cut a banana down the middle (keep in the skin), and insert a slab of chocolate. Cover with tin foil, and place in the embers of a bonfire. After some time, the banana will soften and the chocolate will melt, in a glorious symphony of flavour. Would recommend.

The next morning, we made our way to Skye. I came back at the very end of the holiday to another beautiful day in Aboyne.

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Until next time.

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