curiosity about the ways of the world

Too cold for (igloo) snow

IMAG0755The pond taken by Dougal standing where he really shouldn’t ought to.

The night we arrive we have to abandon the car by the gate and carry the cats through snow so deep it comes right over our wellies. It’s so cold the cottage feels like a scene from Dr Zhivago.

“Diesel freezes at minus 15,” says Ray, matter of factly, remembering that winter when the generator didn’t work because the oil froze in the pipes.  Outside the cottage, the windmill, blades blanketed in white, is facing resolutely north and standing absolutely still. Inside is obviously much warmer than it feels because oil and water are still flowing.  That means we can light a fire and start the tractor. Ray makes tracks to retrieve our booze and food and clothes from the road end while I guard the fire willing the thermometer to rise ( a hard job but someone has to do it).


Like that scene in Dr Zhivago the icy, shrouded house slowly comes to life; candles burning, fire blazing, food cooking, steamed up glasses filling, cats purring on the sofa. I know it’s not quite like that in Varykino, in the midst of the Russian civil war, but in the absence of Omar Sharif and Julie Christie, Beth and Marley will just have to do. Besides, according to Wikipedia, the ‘ice palace’  scene was shot in Spain in a house with icicles made from beeswax. Huh.

Our snow is real and it keeps on coming for the four days of our holiday. Moon on snow, sun on sun, snow on snow and when the New Year’s day pheasant shoot starts in the neighbouring wood, blood on snow.

There are stalactytes and stalagmytes growing by the back door.  A couple of Christmases ago, before recession set in, village houses were festooned with electronic icicles.  Now we have the genuine articles hanging from anything that would drip.


Each new  fall transforms every mundane object and turns every  task into an endurance test:  filling the log basket is an expedition to the North Pole. “I know it’s been said before,” says Ray, “But I am just going outside. I might be some time…”

We watch chaos on telly and wildlife through the window: crowds of birds visiting the feeders, one crow loads his beak so full of goose fat it is a wonder he can take off.

Last time we had snow this deep was 15 years ago (second thoughts, make that 17 years ago) in Aboyne where we built a fine igloo, big enough for the six footers in our company to stand upright inside. This year Dougal, Anny and I find it hard going.

“It’s the wrong kind of snow,” says Anny after an hour or so. And it really is. Too dry and powdery to stay together though we keep trying until our fingers and toes go on strike.


With an old biscuit tin (mine) and some rudimentary geometry (Dougal’s) we reach waist height (Anny’s) but when it’s time to start curving inwards for the dome the building material defeats us.


That was the holiday. We’re home again now and it’s still snowing.  We left the cottage and the igloo and the ducks on the frozen pond a little wistfully thinking it would all be back to normal next time we come.  Watching today’s weather forecast I am not so sure. We might manage to finish the igloo this weekend. As long as the anti freeze keeps the diesel flowing!


  1. Administrator

    PS Corrour looks beautiful, a great place to get snowed in – but I hope you get there and back!

    If you want any inspiration for the Burns supper Dougal has produced a great CD for Clan Radio on how to organise the perfect Burns supper….

  2. Administrator

    Happy New Year Peter, lovely to hear from you – I saw the forecast last night and thought of our diesel too! You would think a Burns supper in two weeks would be a safe bet but our windmill is still facing north and that could be a sign of more to come.

    something that puzzles me, do Inuits always have the right kind of snow?

    x Fay

  3. Peter

    Hi Fay lovely post and the girls next door also failed in their attempt to build an igloo. They blamed the wrong type of snow as well. Some of our icicles are 4 ft long and if the forecast tonight is to be believed, -20, your diesel may not be flowing next time.

    I spent the evening planning a Burns supper at Corrour in two weeks time and wondering if we’ll make it in at all as it is 10 miles off the main road. Ray might not be pleased if I make it in and get stuck as we’ve a strategy day on the Monday!



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