Three glorious days spent at my Uncle’s place in the northern tip of Scotland taught me that weather is no obstacle to Scottish picnickers. Whilst 12 degrees celsius, driving rain and Hurricane Highland may be the kind of summer’s day you’d find the average Brit all cosied up indoors with their hands wrapped around a mug of hot tea, the Scots will be sauntering out into the heathered hills geared from head-to-toe with their picnic baskets and fishing rods.
It’s not just the Scots themselves who love to picnic. The Highlands attract avid sportsmen and women from across the world. Rivers flow with Atlantic salmon (the Salmo salar) and the moors proliferate with grouse and deer. With the stunning scenery icing this sportsmen’s cake, it is perhaps no surprise that country sports (shooting and fishing) tourism injects £155 million into the Scottish economy every year, according to last year’s report “The Benefits and Volume and Value of Country Sports Tourism in Scotland”.
If you love these kinds of activities, chances are you’re also a lover of the great outdoors. Entire days, and even evenings for the sporting addicts, are spent waist-deep in the Spey, Dee or Helmsdale rivers or knee-deep in the heather thickets that help to conceal you from your prey.
But no holiday is a holiday without a certain emphasis on food, and the beauty of this (admittedly marmite) holidaymaker’s sport is how every single day, come rain or shine, is punctuated by the not-so-marmite activity of a picnic (unless cheese and marmite sarnies are on the menu).
So you must be wondering, where do these sportsmen and women eat their picnics? They can’t actually be having them in the rain whilst sitting on spongey moorland?
You’re right. Scotland is what I consider to be picnic country. It’s propensity to be grey and drizzly is also well-known. As such, the people of Scotland have to know how to serve up a picnic in other ways than on a blanket. There’s the car option, which, when the rain is pattering on the windows and the radio is buzzing in the background, provides a perfectly cosy environment in which to have a picnic. And for the fishermen and women, well, they have their own designated picnic havens.
Generally, every section of fish-able river, called a beat, comes equipped with a small hut – a bit like a river’s version of the beach hut. It’s inside these tiny sanctuaries that the fishermen and women huddle over their Thermos soups and Scottish smoked salmon sandwiches with a tipple of whiskey or a bottle of beer to celebrate the holiday festivities.
And finally, there’s the option that we took – find a derelict house and have a picnic feast in that.
This particular cottage has been empty for forty or so years, and my Uncle is lucky enough to have this as his regular hamper haunt.
We picnicked here twice in our short three-day stay, once on a beautiful sunny afternoon, and once in the unrelenting rain. Both ended up being cosy, memorable occasions. With a roof over your head and yet maintaining that outdoor feel, derelict houses, if you’re lucky enough to have one in your vicinity, are a very romantic location, especially for a rainy day picnic.
The nearest shop to my Uncle and Aunt’s is a good forty-five minutes away. And the contents of that shop go as far as milk, margarine, and those red, rubbery looking sausages. After that, the next store is two hours away. Being somewhat self-sufficient is therefore a necessity if you’re living in these isolated areas, so my Aunt took it upon herself a few years ago to start her own vegetable garden, and my, what a vegetable garden! There was an abundance of broad beans, whose flowers I used to garnish my roasted vegetable couscous salad, as seen below.
Rows upon rows of gem lettuces line the vegetable patch, with kale, spinach, potatoes and carrots threatening to crowd each other out.
A nearby farmer brings his eggs every week, and meat, well, with so many deer, rabbits and birds in the vicinity, you can bet that there’s an abundance of the most delicious meat. And we were also lucky enough for the postman to bring a whole stack of fresh, sea-caught mackerel to bolster my picnic.
With this, I made mackeral sandwiches, some with Hellman’s mayonnaise, others with hollandaise sauce, and finally some with horseradish and grated apple (this is a great side to go with smoked fish – definitely recommend).
Apart from hard boiled eggs, without which, in my father’s own words, “a picnic isn’t a picnic”, I also made some honey-glazed sausages. This is such a simple recipe. All you have to do is get about 10 chipolatas, fry them, and once they’re ready, drizzle 2 tablespoons of honey over and if you have any sesame seeds, sprinkle those on them too. I generally have expensive taste when it comes to food, but sausages are the one foodstuff where cheaper = more yummy (in my opinion).
All these gorgeous ingredients came together to create a delightful picnic. With the knowledge that all this food in the hamper was accumulated via the collective effort of the (few) surrounding residents, we sat in our derelict house, dotted with candles and with the rain tinkling on the roof, eating our hearts out.
The Scots have shown us that rainy day picnics are not only an option, but preferable if you’re looking for that romantic, cosy vibe.
So the next time it rains, don’t let it stop you from packing your hamper. Bring a tarpaulin or tidy your car, find a nice spot, and picnic away!