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Over the years, accounts have been published of Marilyn bagging being combined with other pursuits such as football watching, whisky drinking, vineyard bagging and child minding. One topic which has not yet been mentioned is garden bagging. As with hill bagging, there are a number of possible lists which can form the basis for this. For example, there are the annual 'yellow books' of gardens open to the public. The Scottish version Gardens in Scotland blooms each February, costs about £4 and features over 350 gardens open to the public on one or more days in the year. Some, such as Inverewe, will be well-known even to the black-fingered; others are one-offs, urban or rural, giving a chance to glimpse a world behind fences, hedges and occasionally GOML signs, and to sample some epic teas. The gardens are so widely distributed that there will always be one close to a Marilyn.
The trouble with the yellow book as a target is that it is too variable, changing each year, and in many cases with only a single three-hour slot in which to get your tick (a bit like Conachair by the sound of it). Such chances can be taken: we combined Blath Bhalg with an impressive one-off arboretum near Bridge of Cally, and Deuchary Hill with the occasionally open Murthly Castle, with its champion Picea Glehnii (a fancy spruce tree). Tree bagging (visiting the tallest or girthyest of each species) presents another interesting challenge, to be addressed on another occasion perhaps.
An attractive and more manageable subset is the Glorious Gardens of Argyll and Bute. The free pamphlet describing these 19 gardens appears annually, and most are open all summer, if not all year. They are located in some wonderful west-coast locations, with numerous possibilities for interesting combinations. Last year we linked Barguillean's Angus Garden (basically a large woodland round a loch, with no tea room or toilets, though plenty of trees) with Deadh Choimhead, on which we managed to have a classic Hamilton tree-fighting epic, trying to contrive a circular walk. The next day we made a much more successful circuit of Cruach nam Fearna followed by a wander round Arduaine.
Others on the list include: Jura House; Ardkinglass, near Stob an Fhidleir, Stob an Eas, or Cruach nam Mult; An Cala on Seil, near 19A Beinn Mhor; plus Colonsay and Gigha Houses for island baggers. If, after a day on Beinn Ruadh, Sgorach Mor or 19C Beinn Mhor, you cannot make the time to visit Benmore Gardens, with its breathtaking giant redwood avenue, the tea room is worth a visit for good value food, and no hesitation in providing jugs of tap water for thirsty walkers.
The scale and facilities vary even among the Argyll and Bute 19, but in the world of the one-offs there is almost limitless variety. I can imagine Lucinda Lambton using the yellow book as the basis for a tour of gardeners' lavatories, as on occasion the ablutions are more interesting than the gardens, though similarly run down. I remember one wonderful Victorian creation with a chain which required such force to get any reaction that I thought the whole cast-iron water tank would come down on my head: a flush-and-run situation worthy of any French hole in the ground. By contrast, at another garden the men were directed to a barn with a pile of straw bales.
For many people, however, the main reason for visiting these specially-opened gardens is to sample the teas: most cost around £2 and are a real treat. There is the odd exception: we were seriously disappointed last year with the single Scotch pancake in the millionaire's village of Killearn (twinned with Earl's Seat). Generally the quality and quantity of the food are the stuff of legend, although the drinks may require caution. Tea is king beverage and is usually of the spoon-supporting strength my Auntie Ida used to make. Coffee drinkers may wish to opt for orange squash rather than venture back into the world of Bird's Mellow.
But the real attraction is the home baking. Colintraive (Beinn Bhreac, 19C) is particularly memorable, but the spread which all others have to beat is that provided once a year in the old tennis pavilion at Aberarder overlooking Loch Laggan. This garden is twinned with Ardverikie, set of Monarch of the Glen, and gateway to Binneins Shios and Shuas. It is worth braving the Dutch MotG fans to experience the fairy-tale setting and then to sample the huge array of sandwiches, cakes, scones and traybakes served by the venerable team from the Scottish Women's Rural Institute. This feast, and Naked Ladies (crocuses) for sale at £1.50 a time, make Aberarder worth an annual pilgrimage.
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