Achnagairn 2014: Heaven on earth (part 3)
Our excitement had been mounting as we worked our way up to the highlands in our car. We passed beautiful vistas, lochs, fields of bluebells gracing the hills and snow capped mountain peaks. We listened to ‘Everything is awesome’ from the Lego movie on repeat (especially for the birthday boy) interspersed with ‘California’ by Phantom Planet (a request from Eve graciously granted from Josh). Even the pounding downpour that greeted us at Achnagairn couldn’t dampen our spirits. We had hoped to arrive first to welcome everyone and set up for Josh’s party, but we were locked out of the house. We made our way to one of the lodges to shelter from the rain and wait for the house to be opened. We had a great time at the lodge with some of the other early arrivals and before we knew it, the rain slowed and the house was opened up.
It was thrilling for us to enter the house and see different factions of our families milling around the same space. At first glance I saw Corbin’s, Shaw’s and Deacon’s busying themselves bringing in luggage, greeting each other and exploring the rooms. I remember catching my breath and feeling a tingle down my spine as I drank in the atmosphere of having all these different sections of our family, together in the same place. It was truly magical!
The house itself was unbelievable! Each room was waiting to be explored. There were so many nooks and crannies, and the attention to detail in each room was astounding. I particularly loved seeing the ballroom and seeing the reaction of the other guests as they entered it. I felt the anticipation of the ceilidh on our last evening bubbling up inside of me every time I went in that room. A good portion of that evening was spent exploring fancy bedrooms, looking for the library, happening upon the cinema room and of course lounging in the lounge with the fire on later. But first it was time to enjoy Joshua’s party, complete with Loch Ness monster Piñata and enjoy the warming soup Sid and Jean prepared for us.
Finally everyone had safely arrived and we settled down for the night, looking forward to the days ahead.
We had a pretty packed schedule of activities for people to enjoy, some of our favourite things we did were Josh’s party, the family hike, the murder mystery, visiting Eilean Donan castle, quiz, playing capture the flag with the girls, Aunty Ruth’s school for princesses and Matthew’s school for warriors and of course the ceilidh.
The hike was beautiful. Thanks Dan! I think it was the most vibrantly green forest I’ve ever visited. It had an old world charm and mystery that made me feel as though I was stepping in to the movie ‘Brave’ or ‘Lord of the rings’. I loved the high, straight trees (tallest in the UK), babbling brook, moss covered branches and vibrant canopy. The beautiful old stone bridge was a definite highlight that i wasn’t expecting to come across. Some of the girls collected lovely wildflower bouquets along the way. Adults and children chatted and played. It was great. It certainly tired out some of the troops, especially those with little legs and Uncle Len who’d just had surgery!
The murder mystery was that same evening. We were happy to get the kids to bed on time (thanks to being tired out after a day of hiking and Nessie spotting) and made it downstairs in time to start the evening activity. I was blown away by some of the costumes people put together. They looked great. A special shout out to Uncle Jimmy and his moustache!
Mark and Kathy did a great job organising the murder mystery for us and it ran really smoothly. Everyone had a brilliant time but i don’t think anyone guessed the murderer correctly (well done Laura!)
Eilean Donan castle was another highlight. We had been before in autumn/winter time and knew how spectacular it was but were looking forward to seeing it in another season. We knew the drive there was gorgeous and we weren’t disappointed. This time however, we were able to go in the castle. We were pleasantly surprised by how great great it was. There were interactive displays sharing the history of the castle on the lochs, still life scenes set up, lots of workers answering questions and dressed up. The children (and Dave) enjoyed holding swords and getting photos taken. By the end of the visit the temperature felt really high so most of us enjoyed ice creams, looking out towards the beautiful view. We then raced home for dinner (always a highlight when Sid and Jean are involved), and cinema night (most highly anticipated by the children).
That evening were the Gentlemen’s/ladies nights. We both had a good laugh at our respective parties. After some fun games (and chocolate) Heather particularly loved playing capture the flag and laughed so hard at the various shenanigans going on. Kathy A. hiding in the scrub, Jude scaling trees, general biting (Beth!), screaming, cheating (Mel C.), Lucy’s impressive flag catching and Viv’s attack on Debbie K’s hair to name but a few incidents of the evening. Such fun!
The last full day began with the school for Princesses and school for warriors. I don’t think there could have been a better way to start the day for the children. Wow. They really had the time of their lives. While Matthew taught the boys all they needed to know to be true warriors, they were provided with special outfits and swords and taught important moves. Matthew completely captured their imagination. It was magnificent to see the concentration on their little faces as they completely listened and obeyed him. It was as though he had his own little stripling warriors paying attention to every command he gave and giving it their all.
Ruth and Marian taught the girls all about being true princesses. One of the most magical moments here happened when the girls were gathered round colouring their princess books to the frozen soundtrack then all started belting out ‘Let it go’ in unison. There were no inhibitions, they were all just so comfortable, happy and carefree. To me that was one of those priceless moments that can’t ever be planned or contrived or even repeated. I think there were a few damp eyes in the room as the air thickened around us for a few minutes and the adults drank in what was happening between our beautiful little princesses.
That evening was the Ceilidh, we had a formal group photo outside the house which Heather kept everyone waiting for (sorry, we lost the girls’ shoes!) Followed by the most amazing banquet provided by Sid and Jean. Oh the food!
After the food Dave made a speech, thanking everyone involved in making this such a wonderful experience for us:
Sid and Jean for the food with a lot of help from Erin, Paul and Carole for organising the ceilidh band, collection of money and ordering on the food as well as continuous help in the kitchen – along with Melanie, Ruth and Marian, Hilary for organising the popular early morning runs, Mark and Kathy for the murder mystery, Dan for the hike, Marian for the quiz, Annie and Hilary for the quiz, Debbie for organising the bedtime story and cinema night, John for organising the gentleman’s evening and Melanie K for the ladies night, Dave C and John for the children’s games, Tom and Lyn for help with Joshua’s party, Amy and Ashley for taking photos plus everyone else for their contributions towards the whole experience, general clean up, looking out for each other and helping us make some amazing memories.
After some fabulous desserts Dave and Heather were treated like royalty and were ‘King and Queen’ for the night. The princesses performed a dance for us and we presented them with a certificate and special handkerchief as they lined up and curtsied one by one. The warriors then lined up just so, leaning on their swords and came forward one by one to be Knighted.
Much to our surprise Paul and Lindsey said a few words about Dave and Heather and we were presented with very generous gifts. Thank you!!!
Finally it was time for the Ceilidh. The band had waited patiently, observing, perhaps with a little bemusement, the various happenings. They introduced themselves and the dancing began. The ballroom was perfect – large enough for galloping down long rows, a wooden floor for foot-stomping and a fitting atmosphere. A few kilts were on show from Toby (I guess his mission was in Scotland – we’ll allow this) and Ali, the only person in attendance with a genuine claim to the kilt. It was lovely to see everyone really getting involved, dancing, laughing and having a great time.
Heather wore fresh flowers in her hair, as did our girls and they all looked fantastic. We’re not really sure where the flowers idea really came from – Dave had it in his head right from the moment we first discussed the idea of a ball for our anniversary. The flowers gained significance once we decided to move to San Francisco, because, according to The Mamas and Papas, “if you’re go-ing to San Fran-cisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair”.
Growing up I (Heather) often went on holidays with my extended family. One particular holiday in Pembrokeshire we rented a few houses to share that were next door to each other. I remember thinking ‘this is what heaven must be like’. I loved being surrounded by my family, I loved that we were all neighbours, I felt so safe, so content and had so much fun.
I had the same feelings on this holiday. I loved being surrounded by my family. When we first arrived at Achnagairn I felt thrilled to see different sections of our family all in the same place, but by the end all I saw was one group of people, all our family. I loved that we were neighbours, I felt so safe, so content and had so much fun. Surely that is how it must feel in heaven. I feel privileged to have had a glimpse of what it might be like, and to have felt a little bit of heaven on earth.