Thursday, May 28, 2009

Winding down

Ah-hah! Edinburgh finally --the last week and a half have seen us roving along the west coast and back in the Borders, finding lots of castles and trying to avoid the sheep.

It's almost the end of our vacation, and we're beginning to drag a bit. Our vacations are not usually very relaxing -- more like "get up at 7 and go go go until dinner at 7". And then crash like rocks, of course. We end up walking all over the place and I still contend that anything worth seeing in Scotland is UPHILL, so by the end of the day, I'm ready to just lay down and sleep wherever I happen to end up. Seriously, we'll need a vacation to recuperate from our vacation!

We arrived in Edinburgh yesterday afternoon, and I can only reinforce the mantra of "don't drive in Edinburgh" if you don't have to. Oy! Road construction and one-way streets and the rather random parking make it awfully hard to navigate if you aren't familiar with the area.

It's a lovely city, though. We're in a great hotel on the outskirts of town and will head in tomorrow to stay at the Witchery by the castle - -should be fun!

We had a slow morning today - got up late, had late breakfast, basically sat around until 11 when our laundry is supposed to be done. It's rather nice. I'm reading the guidebook to see what's what in the city, we're trying to decide when to do the Mary King's Close tour, and we are considering one of the open-top get-on-get-off busses to get around to the major sights. We have almost three days in Edinburgh this time, so we're not going to rush too much! (or so she says, having not yet seen the Old Town).

And we're back off into the world! See everyone in a few days!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Roman Camp or ringfort?

As we were careening around the curvy roads to our B&B for the night, the light was just perfect and we saw the outlines of this huge ringfort on the hillside near Peebles.

We think it's Lyne Fort, but we're not entirely sure. I'll have to track it down when we return. It's enormous, and we were glad that we saw it when we did--the next morning, in direct sunlight, it didn't look like anything at all. We'd have shot on by without a second look.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Technology marvels

Another lovely sunny day - the forecast says rain, but the blue sky certainly doesn't agree. We stayed in Stirling last night, about a five minute walk from the old town, and maybe fifteen to the castle (all uphill, of course!) We walked into town last night and again this morning, just to enjoy the weather. Stirling is a lovely town, and the castle is fabulous. When we were here ten years ago, they were restoring the "great hall" in the courtyard, it was finally opened about two years later. it was interesting to see the finished product now, ten years on. It's really spectacular - and they are tackling the "royal apartment" now, to make them look and feel like they would have in the 16th century. We couldn't get in to see the work in progress, of course, but it was a great trip this morning.

We drove the Tower Trail in Stirlingshire and finally headed down to the Falkirk Wheel -- the huge rotating boat lift - -raising boats from the Forth and Clyde canal up over a hundred feet to the Union Canal. It's quite a balancing act, with counter-rotating barge "bins" that are rotated around a huge axle, like a giant ferris wheel. Quite cool!

Visited a few roman remains, and a few crumbly tower houses ("oooh! Look! a crumbly one!" was the sign to STOP NOW so i could hike out to take pictures. ) We usually end up walking a half mile or so out to some of the ruins, usualy without really knowing if they are there or not. It's always an adventure!

We're going to follow the Antonine wall (really, the Antonine Ditch, nowadays) a bit tomorrow, and may decide to go stay in Glasgow for a while. For the moment, the rain -- which arrived at dinner time -- has driven us indoors and we're going to crash. More Dots tomorrow!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Things I have never seen before

Well, despite our misgivings, we took the advice of the hotel clerk to try the mexican restaurant just down the street. Sancho Pancho. We were thinking, "Mexican food in Scotland?This is going to be...ah...interesting."

Oh, we were so right.

Chips and salsa. Ok, seems normal so far. Wait...the salsa has cucumbers in it. And it's sort of sweet, rather like italian salad dressing. Still, pretty tasty. Mark doesn't do salsa at all, so I ate the little bowl by myself. The chips are tortilla triangles, but entirely unsalted.

Ordered a beef-and-bean burrito, the house speciality, called 'the famous wet burrito', which implied that it was smothered with sauce, which is what the description said "ground beef, refried beans, tomatoes, lettuce covered in our sauce...". Mark ordered just a regular beef burrito.

His was fairly normal - chunks of beef, red and green pepper, and lettuce. He asked for no tomato. Pretty good so far. The "sour cream" is obviously someting different here in Scotland;it's almost sweet, not tangy like I'm used to

My burrito, however, is a Serious Surprise. I have never in my life had a burrito in any sort of mexican restaurant that included lima beans and carrots and PEAS.

LIMA BEANS. In a beef burrito. And little half-cherry-tomatoes. And P-E-A-S. Peas!

I pretty much collapsed in fizzy laughter just down the street from the restaurant and mark had to drag me back to the hotel. i should add that this point that the burrito tasted pretty good - not too spicy, but quite good.

Lima beans. I may now have seen everything.

Still Alive!

Finding WiFi has been harder than it should be -- even the couple of B&Bs that we picked that advertise "free wifi" simply wouldn't let us connect properly. We still can get email and everything -- Mark's iphone does that over the phone connection, if nothing else is available -- but it does mean we aren't getting any updates posted.

Since we got back from the Orkney's, we headed back down the coast to Aberdeenshire and wandered around looking at castles, fabulous old houses, and lovely scenics. We stayed in Deeside for two days and are working our way back to the west coast and eventually to Mull.

The weather has been stunningly gorgeous - sunny, warm, perfect. This morning dawned with fog that burned off by 10am and the rest of the day was perfect. No one is going to believe that we went to Scotland for our vacation - we'll come back tanned!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Why is that chicken wearing pants?

Just to prove that Mark and I share the same brain, we were driving up to Wick and passed by a house with chickens in the yard, including this huge rooster.

We turned to each other in the car and said - in unison - "why is that chicken wearing pants?"

We got a couple of days worth of giggles over it, and on our way back down the coast, we actually stopped at the house and took pictures of the chicken. We met the people there, who raise chickens, ducks, geese, and have a pony trekking business. They thought we were insane, of course, but we did try to explain about the chicken and the pants.

I don't think that helped.

The chicken is German, of course. They bought the eggs off eBay. After hearing this, we spent the rest of the day talking about Leiderhosen chickens..... Yes, we are strange. Very, very strange.

Monday, May 11, 2009


Posting a bit late, but we went up to the Orkney Islands and wandered around the neolithic and viking remains on the islands (as well as the much more modern stuff at Scapa Flow and the Churchill Barriers.

Absolutely glorious! Well, rainy a bit, and the wind was ferocious, but the islands are gorgeous and well worth the ferry ride out. We visited Skara Brae, Maes Howe, Mine Howe, a couple of stone circles, and the viking-built St Magnus Chapel (among other things). Gorgeous!

We took the car over on the ferry. A lot of the guidebooks recommend renting a car on the main island to save the cost, but since we're living out of the car, really, we didn't want to schlep our stuff that much.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

WIND and more WIND

We have only sporadic internet connectivity (if the hotel/B&B has wireless, we can connect), otherwise, we're only using Mark's iPhone to check things, and trying to be very careful of the amount of data (we have an international plan for data in Scotland for only 100 m of data, which is not much, when you consider how big most websites are).

Anyway, we're at the Craigellachie Hotel, which is famous for its Quaitch bar with 700+ whiskys. (not with an E, that's not Scotch!) While we can't get cellphone reception in the room (stone walls, you know), the public rooms have wifi. Tada! Lovely old hotel - our room is tiny, but the food here is fantastic, and they are in the middle of teh Speyside area for distilleries. We sat in the bar last night with a lovely couple from Germany and two women from South Africa and had a "regional scotch tasting" that the barman put on for us - a whisky from each region of Scotland. It was great!

We ended up spending two days in Northumberland - the time got away from us and we took a whole extra day to see Hadrian's wall and the roman forts along the frontier. The first day, we tried to get to Lindesfarne (and missed the tide - you can only get to the island when the tide is very low) and then visited the major castles that we were given as "must sees" - Bamburgh and Alnwick (pronounced ann-ick, figure that one out). We were too late to Alnwick, so instead saw Dunsanburgh, a huge ruin waaaaay out on the coast - requiring a several-mile hike in blustery winds to even get to the site. Gorgeous, but woah, the wind.

Our evening (including home-cooked meal) was at Rye Hill Farm in Hexham. Piglets were born overnight, and all I could think of was that I love he bacon here and shouldn't think too much about it. Oy! We were up bright and early to head out to The Wall . The morning started out quite nice; blue sky, a little wind, but lovely.

It was not to last. We were the only people at Corbridge Roman settlement, and got to walk the ruins by ourselves for an hour or so, poking among the granaries and temples and houses. It started to drizzle a little by the time we got to Chesters fort, and our last stop (Housesteads) was pouring rain and windy. Ugh. We had hoped to walk along the wall for a short segment from Homesteads to Bodisfort, but we realized that it was too olate and we had to head north or miss our reservation for the Whisky Festival in Speyside. So -- up up up to th e northen part of Scotland (a five hour drive) to arrive her ein time for dinner (which was great) and whisky tasting with our new friends until 1am.

Today, Thursday, we went to two distillery tours (Glen Moray and the Macallan) and visited the ruined cathedral in Elgin and a number of otther ruined castles, including Auchindoun, which is a mile + hike through sheep fields to even SEE the castle, and another trek up hill to get to the ruins. It was so unbelievably windy that i t was hard to stay upright sometimes, and we were awfully glad to get back to the relative quiet of the car.

Tomorrow, a few more distilleries, the cooperage, and then off to Culloden and the forts along the coast. Hopefully the sunny weather holds and the wind dies down enough to have a conversation outside of the car!

Beautiful, beautiful - having a great time!

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Scotland is NOT closed

Having a FABULOUS time in SUNNY Scotland -- I'm already sunburned, go figure. We're down in the borders and plan on heading into Northumberland a bit today to see Hadrian's Wall and drive along the coast (based on the extremely earnest suggestions of a lovely English couple we met yesterday while climing the ruined tower at Greenowe. We have to be back up in Speyside by Wednesday night, so we're taking a day or so to go south first.

Our flight was uneventful (oh, yeah, for business class seats -- slept most of the way over, after a lovely meal and champagne) and while we were delayed quite a bit in London on our way over to Edinburgh, we still got to Traquair House by seven, and had plenty of time to go in for dinner before crashingl ike big crashy things.

Traquair House is wonderful -- they're not really a hotel, it's just three rooms they let out and the housekeeper, Helen, handles all the details. Great room in the newer part of the house -- which still dates from 1745 or so -- and we had a fabulous breakfast (including haggis, which is surprisingly good, if you don't think about it too much) and "clootie dumpling" - a sort of fried fruitcake.

Yesterday we drove around the border abbeys -- Melrose, Dryburgh, Jedburgh, and Kelso, and stopped off to see Abbotsford (Sir Walter Scott's home) in time to see them clearing out the fake snow from a movie shoot! It was kind of weird -- they were vacucuming up the fake snow and moving the modern furniture out of the rooms.

It's unbelievably green here, and the sun has been out for two days. Lovely!

Today (Sunday) we went to Smailholm Tower, wandered through Floors Castle (wow!), tried to see Mellerstain House (we were about ten minutes too late) and then wandered around looking for "dots on the map" with various levels of success. We drove into a couple of farmyards, ended up on gravel and dirt paths, and made some harrowing u-turns, but we had a great time. We did bash the car a bit - scraped the pain on the wheel-wheel when a truck slid into our lane by a foot or so and Mark tried to avoid hitting it. The shrubbery and hedgerows along the side of the road have an annoying tendency to suddenly turn to a STONE WALL with only a few inches clearance! EEK!

All in all, driving on the left has been uneventful and we're zipping along like everyoe else. And the GPS with Scotland maps? Worth EVERY PENNY. Cheap at twice the price!

Off to our B&B for the night - The Lodge at Carfraemills, for dinner and, I'm sure, sleeping like rocks.