24th May 1998 was a memorable day here at Ballintean: we welcomed our first guests to the only-just-finished-in time Steading. For those of you who are not familiar with ‘The Steading’, it’s our converted barn, which plays host to our photo-tour guests here in the Cairngorms and it was 14 years ago – almost to the day – when we opened its doors for the first time.
10th May 1998 was another memorable day but for very different reasons. Seemingly every tradesman north of Glasgow was on holiday, had fallen sick or had a more lucrative job on at the time. Our own house was stacked full of furniture, cushions, bed linen, pictures, ornaments – you name it, it was there, all ready to take its place once the work was complete. There was even stuff crammed into our bedroom and although it’s a bit of a blur now, there may well have been a night or two when I parked Pete in the corner bolt upright, coffin-style, to get his sleep. Sam was two and was as demanding as two-year olds inevitably are.
We called in reinforcements. Pete’s favourite helper, aka my mum travelled north with her intercooled, turbo-charged iron and The Irish Sea provided safe passage for Aunty Helen and Uncle Pat who came from Dublin complete with toolboxes in hand. Believe me, we desperately needed their help. Anything at The Steading that is now fixed to anything is thanks to Uncle Pat. Aunty Helen worked wonders with her rubber gloves to clean every surface and mum’s infamous ironing skills took care of 11 sets of curtains and 11 sets of bed linen (Pete’s underwear remained full of creases that month!).
One night I remember looking around the place at midnight and listening to the resident tawny owl sat on the newly completed roof. It wasn’t like this on the telly and I can recall feeling absolute dread at the prospect of definitely (in my mind) not being finished on time. But we managed it…just. Uncle Pat was rewarded with a game of golf and I took mum and Aunty Helen to every tearoom within 20 miles!
In the last 14 years we have welcomed many people from all over the world and from all walks of life. They bring with them stories and more often than not, the foundation for great friendships. That dining table has seen (and heard) many a tale and if it could laugh, I’m sure it would, in the same way that so many other people have laughed sitting around it. It’s a great source of pride for me that not only have we made great friends with many of our guests, but also they have made friends with each other. Here’s to the next 14 years – are you listening Uncle Pat?