This past week it hasn’t felt like being in the Highlands at all.
The sun has shone and there has been warmth in its rays, out of the breeze.
The birds are singing, daffodils are bursting into joyous colour, and there’s a feeling of hope in the air.
Spring weather tempted us to unearth our bikes from the shed.
With oil on our chains and air in our tyres, we took to the roads.
Cycling is nothing without a stop for coffee and cake, but mindful of our route on Saturday, and the notoriously haphazard opening hours of the facilities at our destination, I made sure to pack a flask and took a couple of scones from the freezer as well.
And I’m glad I did.
We arrived at Dores beach at around 11am but, despite the beach being as busy as I’ve seen it, both the neighbouring Dores Inn and The Spot Coffee Shop were firmly locked up.
A Highland welcome? Hardly.
We settled ourselves on the jetty in front of the closed pub.
The water was glass still and the sun warm enough for us to wish we had worn shorts.
The ducks glided in, hoping for a few morsels of scone – no chance.
And, with everything around closed, they weren’t getting crumbs from anyone else either.
The voices that floated across to us were in French, Dutch and Spanish.
I couldn’t help but wonder what they thought of everything being shut.
Here we were, drinking in one of the most beautiful, iconic views in Scotland, on the warmest day of the year yet, and there was nowhere to buy a coffee or a bowl of soup – or to go to the loo.
Neither we, nor any of the scores of people enjoying the beach, the loch and the weather could have spent money if we’d tried.
What a missed opportunity.
Luckily, it was a different story in Inverness.
Back in the city we headed for the riverside by the Cathedral, to enjoy the fabulous new Highland Food and Drink Trail.
The brainchild of “Bad Boy” Douglas Hardie from Bad Girl Bakery in Muir of Ord (soon to be anchor-tenant of the revamped Inverness Victorian Market food hall), the place was buzzing, with street-food stalls doing roaring trade.
We joined chattering, good-natured queues for mouth-watering pork tacos, and stood blethering for hours with friends who were enjoying scallops, smoothies and venison.
The Cathedral Café joined in, and there was ice-cream, cake and coffee if we’d wanted it.
I’ll carry on bringing flasks to Dores, but I’d really rather have the chance to support a local business.
It takes someone with vision, and with the tenacity and passion to push that vision forward, to make our places better.
It needs the support of locals if these ventures are going to thrive, but it also needs some consistency.
The businesses must offer good food, and they must be reliable.
Thank you, Douglas, and Ollie’s Pops, for the festival atmosphere, the unexpected catch-up with old friends and the best tacos I’ve ever eaten.
See you next time.