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Locals and Heroes

august 14, 2018

This last weekend we drove up to the beautiful north east coast of Scotland at the very outskirts of Aberdeenshire. I’ve said it before and will repeat myself in saying ‘that is one of the most magnificent things about living in Aberdeen – that it’s so close to epic scenery and beautiful places’.
Gardenstown
from above gardenstown
It’s a roughly one hour drive, and we try to make a trip up to this coast once a year. That almost sounds like we have to make an effort to travel up there. It’s not an effort, I long for the fresh seabreeze, its little villages tucked away and hidden under cliffs in remote bays, with the only noise coming from seagulls, oystercatchers and the waves trying to grab hold of the rocks and then letting go – over and over again.

We had a room waiting for us in Pennan, more specifically at the Pennan Inn, the only Hotel in the tiny village with about 10 remaining inhabitants.pennan#1 the pennan inn
There are plenty more houses though and nothing that implies that it shouldn’t live more people here permanently, but most of the lights in the houses are lit by tourists and holiday-home-owners these days.pennan#5 One can debate whether this is a sad and bad turn for the previous fishing village where in its hey days every single household probably owned a boat, which the men would take out fishing, while the children and wives would be assigned the task of selling the catch. Or if it in fact keep Pennan alive and make sure it doesn’t go into disrepair and turns into a ghost village. I don’t have the answer, but we were in fact afraid that the latter would happen to the hotel we were staying at. While doing a bit of research for our «holiday destination», I came across an article about the young hotel owner and his prospects for moving the hotel forward, or rather the lack of it. In the article from May 2018 in The Press and Journal, we could read about Peter Simpson and his struggle to keep the business alive mainly in the low season, and his decision to close the doors for good on August 26th. That meant we were short of two weeks before it was all over.
Peter says in the article “It’s just me running things here now…” and I don’t think that’s an understatement. He was the one who checked us in and showed us the room, he made the excellent evening meals and the early morning meals, and he was there to check us out when we left. He seemed to be very ‘hands on’ on his hotel. In addition he had a small crew of assistants who served, plated, took orders and kept the bar. To us everything seemed to run smoothly so upon departure we had to ask Peter if the rumors (if one can call an article ‘a rumor’) were true on which he responded that he’d gotten a lot of those questions recently. The fact he said, was that there were two articles, one that said he had to close down, and another one that said he wasn’t. This was of course great news to us, as it meant that we could revisit this little gem in the future. The stay overall was really nice and the fact that it is so small just makes it feel more homely and ‘cozy’. You would probably find the words ‘cramped’ and ‘narrow’ about the room(s? at least number 5 which we stayed in) on TripAdvisor and the likes of it, but hey this just reflects the whole village – everything is cramped, you don’t go to a small fishing village and expect to live like a queen. The room had everything it needed: a good comfortable bed, a small ensuite bathroom and a closet to hang your clothes. There were of course things that could benefit a better solution, such as the smallest sink I’ve ever seen, the overall lack of hooks and the piles of hair in the bathroom rug, but i found myself ignoring that, blinded by the charm of minimalism or rather miniature-ism.
I don’t know why I thought it was a good idea, but I had made a table reservation for a very late dinner at 8pm. The ‘problem’ with that is that there isn’t much to do in Pennan, which simply forced us to slow down, relax and most important: enjoy. We enjoyed a shared scone with jam and clotted cream from the little shack “Coastal Cuppie” while cuddling the owner’s two old dogs, we enjoyed the surprisingly lovely sunshine and warm weather which we had not foreseen at all and forced us to drop the sweaters, we enjoyed a walk up over the village through a rough path tucked away behind fields, shrubs and cliffs,pennanfootpath# footpath behind pennan
we enjoyed several walks back and forth the harbour only interrupted by occasional sitting down on a bench, seagulls shouting at us and friendly people’s greetings.pennan#7 pennan#8 harbour walks And to be completely honest and unnecessarely cheesy, this was only the beginning of a very perfect weekend getaway.

The restaurant at The Pennan Inn can only seat 20 people at a time, and is divided between two rooms. We felt lucky to be seated in the cozy pub section of the restaurant, with rough stone walls, a small (of course) window looking out on the harbour, and a fake log burning stove providing charm and atmosphere.pennan#2 kopi the restaurant at the pennan inn
The menu was relatively simple but contained everything you could wish for, with seafood, meat and vegetarian options. We had the Haggis Bon Bons, Fish Goujons, Fish and Chips, Stir Fried Scampi and a Sticky Toffee pudding to share and also to die for. The restaurant didn’t feel cramped at all despite being in a small room, however i felt the large furnitures, massive chairs and robust table were a bit unnecessary in a space were you’re already struggle to make room, also they were a nightmare to try to lift and move around. There’s probably a reason why the restaurant in the movie Local Hero had slim and simple furnishings. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’ve probably not seen the movie, and we hadn’t in fact either before we came to Pennan. So after retiring from our evening meal and stocking up on “bar snacks” we sank down in our bed with this iconic early 80’s movie on demand. It’s filmed almost entirely on location in Pennan starring Peter Riegert, Peter Capaldi, Burt Lancaster etc. It’s not often you watch a movie where the movie is actually supposed to have happened, but the two main actors stays at the village’s hotel, although it’s not exactly the same house as the current Pennan Inn is located. Actually not a bad movie at all, neither the story, acting nor the scenery.
pennan#6 evening in pennan

When I woke up at 7 the next morning, it couldn’t have been because of any noice outside, apart from the occasional seagull of course, but it hit me – I’m not sure if I’ve ever stayed at a more quiet, calm and peaceful accommodation. There was not a sound. We had arranged for the breakfast to happen at 9 o’clock in the morning, and so it did. As usual the husband had his full Scottish breakfast and I decided on the porridge, both accompanied with a full-bodied stark black coffee to wake us up – bravo! The day came along with the same lovely weather as the previous, and almost made it a bit sad to leave the lovely Pennan. But as we assured Peter as we were leaving – We’ll be back!
pennan#4 morning in pennan

samandrag på norsk:
i helga var me ein tur til nord-aust kysten av skottland, og første stopp var i den vesle (tidlegare) fiskarlandsbyen pennan. der hadde me bestilt eit rom på det koselege hotellet «pennan inn» som hadde vore nær ved å legga ned, men som no hadde kome på andre tankar -heldigvis, for hit reiser me gjerne tilbake! pennan har berre 10 faste innbyggerar, men mange turistar som held liv i plassen. det er ikkje så mykje å gjere anna enn å slappa heilt av her og nyta ro og fred, ta ein tur på havna, og opp ein sti bak byen, kjøpa ein scone av den vesle sjappa «coastal cuppa» og eta den på brygga i selskap med dei to hundane som tiggar etter ein bit, og sjølvsagt nyta eit godt måltid i restauranten på hotellet. alt dette gjorde me, i tillegg til å sjå filmen «local hero» frå 1983 som er spela inn her.
og dette var berre starten på ei veldig fin helg!

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