Summer Isles Festival

How would you like to live in a village called Achiltibuie? I just love the name, but much more importantly it is home to the Summer Isles Festival just celebrating it’s fifth year this last weekend on the 27th of August and I got to visit the festival held in the village hall. I also love traditional Scottish music, it is part of my heritage. From some of the most haunting songs to the most incredible foot-stomping fiddling it tells the stories of a people now spread around the world and they have taken their music with them from the Celtic music of Atlantic Canada to the Appalachian fiddling of the United States.

Achiltibuie is a tiny village of only 300 on the south shores of the Coigach Peninsula and looking out across a couple of miles to Tannara Mor, the largest of the group of islands called the Summer Isles. The Isles got their name because local crofters used to transport their sheep there for summer grazing. The village, like so many in the highlands, is a mix of old homes, new homes and the ruins of old abandoned crofters houses. There is one road that runs through the village perhaps 300m from the shoreline and all the homes are built along it. We park and wander down to Coigach Community Hall, a modern building with a large hall, a great meeting area with sofas, a local crafts gallery and cafe.

We arrive in time to see the festival kicked off by a group of local pipers lead by a young lady in her twenties. This is the first event of the day where you see how music  is just a natural part of the culture. There are no kilts or traditional garb, just a group of people in their jeans and t-shirts. Not long after some of these same players are sitting in a circle of seats in the communal sitting area and jamming on fiddles, accordions and a tin whistle. This is the true meaning of a ceilidh, which is just a social gathering of folks to sing, play music and dance. For those who are musical there are a series of workshops, but for those of us who don’t play there is plenty of seafood to eat and a series of talks.

I end up sitting in the front row of two cooking demonstrations. The first by Yungyung Kan, a professor from Oxford University who, with his family spends the summers in Achiltibuie, is a very entertaining lesson in how to cook Chinese Lobster Noodles. The recipe is below but you will note that there are no quantities shown. Yungyung assures us that this is typically Chinese. It is all about creative license, something that seems very appropriate to me at a music festival. The second demonstration is a Langoustine Linguini by three young ladies from a new and very successful cafe in the village, Salt Seafood Kitchen. Started by Suzie Macgregor the goal of the restaurant is to use the very freshest local seafood all sustainably sourced. Ironically the chef, a really fun comedian and character, is from Kamloops, BC!

The big event is the music line up in the evening with five different groups running from 5pm until after midnight and a couple of hundred of us squeeze into the hall for some incredible entertainment. I am most excited that Blazin Fiddles are playing, a group who I already know and have a CD of their music. Four fiddle players, a pianist and a guitar player who play the most rousing music possible, all the more so for the sound system that insures the beat of the music drives down to your very core (the YouTube video below is just to give you a taste of how good they are).  Watching their fingers fly defies imagination, there is no room for thought, their fingers just need to know what they are doing automatically. I am mesmerized and this is a concert that will, like the time I saw Donald Black, the Scottish Harmonica player, perform in Arisaig two years ago, be indelibly imprinted into my mind.


Chinese Lobster Noodles

Ingredients

  • Spring onion
  • Ginger
  • Coriander (cilantro)
  • Corn starch
  • Sherry
  • Oyster sauce
  • Soy Sauce (optional)

Method

  1. Heat some oil on high
  2. Add a handful each of ginger and spring onion and cook until lightly browned
  3. Add the lobster and just heat through
  4. Add some sherry
  5. When mix is nice and hot add some oyster sauce
  6. Dissolve some corn starch in cold water and then add to the mixture to thicken sauce
  7. Just before serving add raw spring onions and coriander
  8. Cook noodles separately and, when ready layer lobster mix over noodles to serve
Andrew

2 Responses to “Summer Isles Festival

  • Barbara M
    1 year ago

    Great way to spend your day!

  • John Ferguson
    1 year ago

    Blazing Fiddles sound great!
    We will have to find you some local fiddle music when you come here. We heard a great concert just two weeks ago right here in the village.
    Has Ingrid arrived yet?

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