The Winking Owl, Aviemore

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I always try to live by the following code: Life is to be filled with as many experiences as possible; don’t say no, say yes!  Well at least try to if you think a) you’ll have a good time, b) it won’t taste too odd, c) nothing will get broken (well, it’s a not a party until…), d) life and limbs will remain in one collective piece, e) you learn something new, f) you don’t learn something new, but you have an extraordinary amount of fun trying, g) you realise that the experience makes you feel 142% more alive than before you tried it.  Etc.

For me, life affirming experiences have mostly included some kind of outdoor pursuit. Not sure why, they just seem to provide the necessary mix of pushing beyond the normal comfort zone of everyday life and a healthy dose of humankind’s most accessible drug. Adrenaline. To prove this point, your author has; jumped out of planes, jumped off cliffs into raging seas, dived to the bottom of the sea, flown light aircraft, water skied, ridden a motorbike at 167mph on a track, fallen off a motorbike on a track, tried snowboarding, stopped snowboarding, loved the high speed thrill of snow-blading, had a massive crash on snowblades, windsurfed, sailed yachts, capsized dinghies, climbed up things and abseiled back down them.  Amongst other things.

Which brings me to the location of this post – Aviemore in Scotland. Twelve months ago, one of my partners in crime in many of these adventures (and the host of the New Years Eve post) asked me if ‘I fancied trying some winter mountaineering’. Yes, of course, I said.  Simply put, life is for living.  And Scotland is a beautiful place in February for living.  The Caledonian Sleeper train from London delivered us promptly into Aviemore at 07:40, where we met our weary but highly skilled mountaineering instructors, Mark and Kenny, freshly back from the Alps who were to be our guides for the weekend.

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Once delivered to Aviemore’s ski station, an hour’s brisk walk brought us up to the base of Fiacaill Coire an t-Sneachda. Now, I have seen some beautiful winter peaks in my time, but never by foot and certainly not one that I knew I had to climb soon after…

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To cut a long story relatively short, my climbing partner Thomas and I had to learn a lot about snow, ice, ice axes, ropes, safety equipment, and sub zero decision making in a very short space of time, whilst enduring 40mph uphill winds, flying ice and the pure thrill of looking back down 300m of almost vertical slopes that we had just climbed up.  A truly special experience, the effort of which was neatly summed up by Thomas before attempting our second climb of the day.

But as with all outdoor pursuits, the day must end with a major refuelling, which brings me to the subject of this post. The Winking Owl is one of Aviemore’s finest eateries, and thankfully allowed me to continue the quest…

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Tonights presentation was a Chocolate Orange Brûlée and included both a hand made cardamom shortbread and a beautifully executed rolled chocolate straw.  Experience to date largely makes me fearful when a chef decides to mess with the base custard, however tonights effort was quite remarkable.  It maintained a very original chocolate orange flavour, so much so that this could have been mistaken for a Terry’s Chocolate Orange.  Or as one dining partner suggested, was it the ‘love child of a chocolate mouse and a crème brulee’…?!  Each to their own.  Whilst sporting a somewhat heavy texture, the custard was smooth and light on the palate, again providing echoes to the original Chocolate Orange. In the end, the key question is whether something other than a simple vanilla custard crème brulee really is a crème brulee? Is it like the Eskimos with their 20 different names for snow? It’s all snow, right? A worthy 7/10.  Well done Winky – I’ll be back for more next February…

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