From Ullapool on the west coast of Scotland and the ferry from The Isle of Lewis, I take the waiting bus to Inverness and then another, one hour south past Aviemore, where I learned to ski in the Cairngorm Mountains so many years ago, to Newtonmore, a small village on the A86.
It's a very unassuming stop on the road, with about 1,000 souls but there is more than meets the eye. I am met by old friends Dave Macintosh and his mother Lyn, who have a cafe called The Tuck Shop for the last 20 years and a nice lunch and a cup of tea. Lyn's husband David passed a way a few years ago but he took his wife and 4 children to work in USA and Wales and then Canada. He always missed his home in the Highlands and returned to retire here. He was a terrific referee and when they lived in North Wales near Wrexham, Lyn refereed a school match and was received well. Despite many matches in North America the reactionary British RA-Referees Association wouldn't register her in the late 1970's, but she still did many matches because she was very good referee.
It's been 30 years since we last met and we are off to the Glen Hotel down the road to do some catching up. I am introduced to 15 year old single malt Dalwhinnie Scotch whisky, made in the distillery in the next village, and it goes down warm and smooth. I had tried whisky once before and almost threw up, but this was very nice. I also had a Hertfordshire cider and a water as a 'chaser'. The friendly landlord is a Yorkshireman Chris Goodhill, and we have a lot in common.
I take a walk to the outskirts-not very far and the 'stadium' of Newtonmore Camanachd -Shinty Club 'The Eilan', used since 1896. It's much longer and wider than a soccer field and the teams have 12 instead of eleven players. A curved stick or Caman, made of ash or hickery, is used. I learn that the local club won the prestigeous MacTavish Cup last season, beating rivals from 3 miles north, Kingussie, who have been the powerhouse of The Highlands for 20 years or more, 5-4 in the final. Unfortunately they lost to their rivals in the Scottish Hydro Premier Division on goal average.www.shinty.com for all you need to know. www.newtonmore.com. Newtonemore play in blue and white ho0ped jerseys and blue shorts.
I am staying at yet another pub, The Braeriach Hotel, and have a huge steak pie and all the trimmings for dinner made lovingly by Mrs. Shona Cheyne. I watch the first half of Liverpool v Benfica on the T.V. and I am then invited to yet another pub for the second half, a VERY unique place. The Shinty Bar, tucked away behind the Balavil Hotel. This is the home of all the trophies and photos and framed press cuttings of the history of the club. The rules are explained and I have a photo with the Cup and chat with Monkey, Sonic and other regulars. What a friendly place this is! Craic is what you call such friendly talk in this gaelic country. The warmest of welcomes in The Highlands. Go visit and see what I mean.
I learn about Orsten Gardne a local player so passionate that when he moved to London he came back for every match for 6 years, traveling 250,000 miles on the overnight bus from London Victoria to Edinburgh, where a team mate picked him up for the final hundred or so miles. Of course, I am given another 15 year old single malt Dalwhinnie to sooth my tired mind as I take it all in! It's a pity that I will miss the next match but with the magic of the internet I will keep informed.
There is so much to do here in The Highlands. Aviemore and this whole area has skiing, snowboarding, canoeing, wind surfing, archery, a reindeer herd, even sled dog rides, pony treking, a Forest Adventure Park, white water rides, pipe bands, castles, hiking, mountain biking. www.visitaviemore.com, not to mention Highland Games. You have heard of the game of Quiddich, 'the sport of the warlocks', in the wizardry world, from the Harry Potter books and movies and this is derived from shinty.