A Travellerspoint blog


6 °C
View Year of the Nink on Buccas's travel map.

We departed Kirrie on Monday morning, and Jude even had the decency to look somewhat disappointed that we were leaving. And so began an absolutely breathtakingly beautiful roadtrip - which started with Popmaster, as all good roadtrips should. We passed hairy coos (even a couple of black hairy coos) and admired the autumn colours, the snow-capped mountains and the rolling green fields. We stopped for lunch at a place with a foosball table, which could have been fun except that we spent all our time trying to work out which way we were supposed to be going because the goalies were facing the wrong way... Oh and the heating was broken, but the views were lovely and the venison burger and Scottish vego breakfast were delicious.
On we went, travelling ever so slowly on account of a tendency to have to stop to photo faff at every opportunity, and also because we got stuck behind a petrol tanker.
Eventually we came to the Skye Bridge, which we had been warned could be closed if the winds were too strong. But the limp wind sock made an absolute mockery of the "warning: strong winds" signs and we crossed with no issues. We stopped at The Co-op for petrol and groceries and more views, and then dragged ourselves away and got ourselves to Ullinish, our base for the next four nights. Views + Pointless + chicken wraps - Skye was off to a good start!
The next day, the weather lived up to the forecast - six degrees, wind and a sprinkling of rain. Perfect distillery weather, right? So we headed to Talisker and participated in one of the more serious distillery tours of our lives. I had half expected it to be more informal (like the ones on Islay) but it was all carefully controlled and locked away. Delicious whisky though - and followed up with a visit to the Oyster Shed for scallops. The people of Skye certainly are resilient and probably waterproof - outdoor picnic tables seemed a little optimistic to us.
We spent the afternoon bettering ourselves - learning how to play backgammon, because it just seemed the sort of game that would complement our bottle of Talisker rather nicely. And after dinner, we continued our Scottish education by watching Highlander and playing spot-the-Scottish-landmark and pick-the-genuine-Scottish-accent.
Things took a turn for the worse on Wednesday morning when we woke to the news of President Trump, but we decided to venture out and make sure that the world hadn't actually ended. Skye did its best to remind us that things were still going to be okay - we headed north to Quiraing, collecting hitchhikers John (from New Zulland) and Marina (from Germany, studying in Glasgow) along the way. We walked the strange, volcanic and vaguely Icelandic landscape with our new friends and had the place basically to ourselves. Most of the serious photographers (the ones without cracked screens) had been out there early to catch the sunrise and left as we arrived, while the rest of the tourists were staying in Portree and were still making their way up the coast. You know the deal by now - photos don't do it justice, words cannot fully describe the beauty of the landscape, you just had to be there... Let's just say the views made me forget the outcome of the American presidential election. High praise indeed.
From Quiraing, we took John and Marina back to Uig and we grabbed some Skye ales before heading to Kilt Rock and then Lealt Falls, where the water was black and the falls looked as if it was stout gushing over the rocks. Next in the agenda was the Old Man of Storr - we made it halfway up before the mist obscured our view and the rain obscured our happiness in such a way that we felt that going back down hill was the best option. We moved on to Portree for a coffee and cake, feeling like we had made the most of the sunshine and outdoorsy weather. We spent the evening in denial about world affairs, drinking Skye beers and playing backgammon until we found the Highlander television series (which had even worse accents than the film, as well as terrible terrible haircuts).
Thursday started with sunshine again, and we soon found ourselves traipsing across fields out towards a tidal island accurately (if unimaginatively) named 'Oronsay', which just so happens to be the Norse word for 'tidal island'. Nicely done. The path to the island was boggy, to say the least. Foot-sinking, squelching, boot-soakingly soggy. Thank goodness the sun was out. We tried various techniques to keep our feet dry - seeking high ground, treading on the heather, taking running leaps over particularly water-logged patches, and above all, laughing hysterically. We met a local resident (originally from England, of course) and he gave us the tip for the place with the best effort:view ratio. We continued onto Oronsay itself and it was definitely worth getting our feet wet. Behold - the rainbow circle! Somehow I don't think the sheep were as impressed as we were.
We walked home to dry our feet and have lunch, then went on another quest for views at Neist Point before we went on a quest for coffee. We got lucky and found a second hand bookshop cafe textile shop thing, where we had cheesy cheesy scones, a hot drink and a rather interesting conversation with the owner (English - because there are no Scots in Scotland apparently). Could only have been better if there were milkshakes on offer, and if my book-purchasing didn't have to meet the constraints of my suitcase dimensions.
Our final night on Skye was yet another rager - beer, backgammon and a big moon reflected in the water. Winning. At. Life.

Posted by Buccas 12:22 Archived in Scotland Comments (0)

In Angus with Angus

all seasons in one day
View Year of the Nink on Buccas's travel map.

Monday started with a morning walk with Jude, and almost as soon as we had stepped out of the house we spotted a skeleton walking along, checking her phone. Ah yes, Halloween. I'd almost forgotten.
We trundled off St Andrews for the morning, but only after we had taken a few 'alternative routes' through Dundee - doesn't seem to matter how many times we go there, we ALWAYS end up going the wrong way.
We went to the cathedral first and climbed St Rule's tower, which offered great views over St Andrews. From our lofty vantage point, we also spotted a large pumpkin headed straight for the cathedral grounds. There truly is nothing more Halloween than a giant jack-o-lantern strolling about a cemetery - just a shame it was midday and not midnight, for greater effect.
From there, we took the coastal path to the castle and wandered around what was left of it. Naturally, I was finished my castle tour about an hour before Simon so I was allocated Pay For More Parking and People Watch duties. It struck me again just how many Americans are in St Andrews - as tourists and as students. It took a long time before I heard a Scottish accent go past.
We headed into Dundee for the rest of the afternoon for a spot of shoe shopping. Because apparently if you wear the same shoes nearly every day for eight months while traversing mountains, fjords, markets, munros, abbeys, castles and cobblestones, they WILL get worn out. Unfortunately it was an unsuccessful shoe shopping mission, but I did find a jacket to add to my layers, so hopefully that will mean I make it through the European winter alive.
We arrived home to Kirriemuir in time for a skeleton and two little scary creatures to come trick-or-treating - lucky we had planned ahead and had provisions!
Tuesday was a cracking day - lovely lovely sunshine, even went for a walk in a t-shirt, no jackets required! We took Jude to the forest area that is known for the presence of red squirrels, but she didn't seem to appreciate or even acknowledge their existence. So we spotted the squirrels, and Jude spotted the sticks. Everyone was happy.
Gus and Vikki came up from Dundee in the afternoon (by which time the sun had disappeared, unfortunately) and we took them on a cultural tour of Kirriemuir - from the Bon Scott statue to J.M. Barrie's grave, with a coffee shop in the middle. We had dinner at the Airlie Arms - Simon opted for double haggis to make up for the fact that we had been in Scotland for nearly two weeks without any haggis at all. We came up with alternative names for Tickety Boo's and tried to convince Gus and Vikki to buy the Leura (again) but that was about as successful as my shoe shopping expedition.
Wednesday was a day for planning and scheming - because ninking doesn't just happen of its own accord. And really we were just killing time until the curling started. After dinner we made our way to the Forfar Indoor Sports centre to watch our ceilidh-friend Shona win a match of curling 9-3. Quite the decisive victory. By the end of the game, we reckon we just about had the rules sorted out - it is essentially lawn bowls on ice, and instead of just waving your hands and encouraging the bowl to go the way you want it, you frantically scrub the ice to make that happen. My favourite part was the footwear - one slippy shoe, one grippy shoe!
On Thursday we revisited Dundee and did some seriously efficient shopping (with Gus' help). I found boots within about ten minutes, we collected advance purchase train tickets (soooooo much cheaper) and Gus took us to Vikki's favourite Turkish restaurant for a scrummy lunch. And then we even managed to find Christmas jumpers - total forward planning. After all that success, it was home for two of my favourite things - sweet potato and red lentil soup, and Taskmaster. Winner winner, soup for dinner.
We had a quiet day on Friday, saving all our energy to walk to dinner at Cafe Eck's, a community run bar that puts all profits back into making Kirrie a better place. The meals were big, cheap and delicious - and the chocolate cake was as light and fluffy as Chuck before he's had a haircut.
On Saturday, we experienced the fickle Scottish weather. We woke up to sunshine, and decided to go for a run - but ended up being hailed and/or snowed on (which incidentally was great motivation to run faster). Simon then went to his first cattle sale in Forfar with Graeme, the Malcolm-Turnbull doppelganger from the ceilidh. Luckily for them, it was entirely undercover. Meanwhile, I walked down to the shops while the sun was out - but walked home in the rain. And later that afternoon we took Jude for a walk in the sun - yep, you guessed it, we got rained on. Lovely day. As long as we stayed indoors. Once day turned to night, we braved the elements once more for the Kirriemuir Guy Fawkes bonfire. My goodness it was cold! Simon lost all feeling in his face while waiting for the fire to be lit, and goodness only knows how the youth of Kirriemuir managed to play their guitars on the back-of-the-truck stage. Once the fire started, there was at least some warmth to be had - but we all had to stand a safe distance away behind the ropes, while two lucky firemen got to play Manage The Fire. We left before the serious fireworks started in order to prevent hypothermia, but enjoyed the sporadic show of crackers that continued on into the night from the comfort of the lounge room. We even fell asleep to the soothing sounds of fireworks...
Sunday was our last official day of housesitting, and Simon enjoyed beating me at chess not once but TWICE. I wish I could say I was letting him win to maintain matrimonial happiness but alas, I have to acknowledge his superior chessing skills.
We took Jude out to see the waterfall at Reekie Linn, and she Appreciated the Beauty and Excellence of all the sticks that could be found there. Simon and I enjoyed the gushing water and the abundance of autumn leaves though.
Claire and Jack returned home late arvo, and we fed them and sent them off to bed nice and early to sleep off the jetlag, while we had literary adventures on the couch. Housesitting is tough.

Posted by Buccas 13:31 Archived in Scotland Comments (0)

The Kirriemuir Keilidh

semi-overcast 11 °C
View Year of the Nink on Buccas's travel map.

Our adventures in Scotland continued on Thursday with a wee trip down to Dunfermline. After enjoying the Popmaster quiz on BBC2 and escaping the clutches of a particularly vicious Tesco carpark, we made it to Jim and Hazel's pace. They took us out for a lovely lunch at the Red Lion, where the food was great and the bar was warm and cosy. But it was when I decided to use the facilities I heard a phrase I had never heard before - "whatever you do, don't lift the kilt!" Feeling confused, I headed to the door marked 'Ladies', and once inside I was confronted by a painting of a young man drinking what I could only assume was Irn-Bru, and wearing a kilt. Because Scotland.
We went for a stroll around Culross and up to the abbey, which allowed us to walk off lunch and allowed Jim to practise his tour guide skills. Everyone was a winner. We headed for home, loaded up with some home brew to sample. Jude was happy to see us return, and greeted us with her slightly sinister smile before indulging us in a game of 'keepings off' in the front yard.
We had a quiet Friday, and a spooky Saturday, with all the shopkeepers of Kirriemuir dressed in their Halloween best. There was green fairy floss on offer in the town centre but we opted to buy less Halloween-y but probably more delicious chocolate truffles instead. We also saw posters advertising a ceilidh, and managed to get tickets set aside by asking the lady who ran the card shop who called her daughter who got her sister to reserve the tickets for us. We walked in the door and Simon did his usual greeting of "G'day", and that was it - "you must be Simon and Alison." I guess in a town the size of Kirriemuir, everyone knows everyone else and an Australian accent stands out like the proverbial.
So in we went, and found a table with two spare seats, and then Simon turned on his Aussie charm and next minute we were being offered a tour of our new best friends' farm and free accommodation for a week if we wanted it. The whole experience was augmented by the fact that Graeme bore a rather striking resemblance to Malcolm Turnbull - but with a Scottish accent, of course. Our new besties made sure we knew how to join in all the ceilidh dances - but with our years of experience back in Oz, I like to think that our dancing skills didn't stick out anywhere near as much as our accents. The band ('Reel of Fortune' - nicely punned, boys) were amazing, and made it seem just as natural to be dancing to Born to be Wild and Take on Me as Rakes of Mallow or Soldier's Joy. And playing the Countdown music while waiting for enough couples to take the floor was brilliant!
At intermission, we were served stovies with oatcakes and clootie dumplings. Kind of like smushed up potato bake with mince, and a less fruity Christmas pudding. I was a big fan of stovies - not such a fan of the clootie, but I know that I have to try something ten times before I can decide I don't like it. With any luck, I won't have nine more clootie opportunities to worry about. Anyway, the supper restored all our energy levels and then the band returned to the stage to start the second half of the evening's shenanigans - but not before they felt the need to publicly announce the Presence of Australians in the building. So that's what it's like to be famous, eh?
Another set of dances followed, and the night finished with a fairly wild Orcadian Strip the Willow - who knew there were different types?? We were home in time to see the clock tick over to midnight, which meant it became the 30th October and therefore our sixth wedding anniversary. It seemed only fitting to start our anniversary with sore feet and big smiles - pretty much how things had finished up at the Theatre Royal back in 2010. Naw.
Once we'd had some sleep, we were ready to face the Sunday properly. We discovered that the traditional gifts for six years of marriage were iron and sugar - suddenly the can of Irn-Bru on the table between us looked a whole lot more romantic. Present in a can. Well done Scotland. Ninking gifts can actually be quite the challenge - Simon opted for a charity shop DVD wrapped in receipts (!), while the best I could do was a handy reference sheet of Italian grammar rules in preparation for our trip to Sicily next month. Nothing says 'I love you' like a list of pronouns...

Posted by Buccas 15:44 Archived in Scotland Comments (0)

Hey Jude

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From Bamburgh, we headed north once more and got properly Scottish this time, driving through the beautiful border towns and arriving at Kirriemuir, our home for the next fortnight. Scotland scored five stars for its autumnal colours and bonnie sunset. Claire, Scott and Jack made us welcome in their home – and Jude the border collie scored five stars for being the smartest dog we had ever had the privilege of housesitting.
Kirriemuir is the birthplace of J.M. Barrie (author of ‘Peter Pan’), AND the birthplace of Bon Scott (of ACDC fame) – so quite the cultural hub. It was also the place where Sir Hugh Munro spent a lot of his time, so it was incredibly fitting that we should spend our Sunday climbing CairnGorm Mountain and bagging our third munro with Hannah, Elise and Pete. The weather seemed more wintry than autumnal up in the hills, with a light dusting of snow falling as we made our way up the goat track towards the summit. The temperature was about three degrees in the sun at the carpark before we started the climb – so I’ll let you guess what the temperature must have been by the time we reached the peak! We cheated a little by catching the funicular down the mountain, and then headed into town to queue for a table at the Mountain Café, along with everybody else who believed the rumours about it being the best café in Aviemore. I had my doubts – especially when Pete’s mulled wine was chilled – but when I bit into the sweet potato and caramelised onion tart, all the time spent waiting on the stairs was suddenly worth it. Delish.
Unfortunately, upon our return home to Kirriemuir we came across people who appeared to be trying to break into the house next door to ours. The other neighbours came out to see us and we learned that the resident of the house in question had not been seen for at least a week and the dog was still indoors. The police arrived, and the ambulance arrived… but the situation was such that they could not be of any assistance.
The next couple of days were thankfully uneventful, and we enjoyed some semblance of a boring, normal routine. We took Jude for walks up on the hill, where we could survey the whole of Kirriemuir and appreciate the autumn colours while she appreciated any stick or ball that we threw for her. We walked around the cemetery (one of the most beautifully located cemeteries that I have visited) and found J.M. Barrie’s grave, which Jude was nonplussed about. Simon did some work, and I didn’t. We even had the pleasure of speaking to Scotland Police as they came around trying to put together a timeline of events, but of course we couldn’t be much help.
On Wednesday, we decided it was time to go adventuring again, and after the morning walk, we set off for Stirling to visit the Battle of Bannockburn monument and visitor centre. The 3D films managed to find a balance between entertainment and education, and then, after a fairly cursory introduction to the art of war, we were sent into battle. Simon and I were both allocated to King Edward II’s English army, and while we certainly contributed to altering the course of history slightly, the overall outcome was still the same as it had been in 1314 – victory to the Scots. Apparently my kamikaze approach to managing the cavalry wasn’t enough to put down Robert the Bruce’s attack.
We spent the rest of the afternoon at nearby Doune Castle, whose place in history was rather overshadowed (in my mind, at least) by its use as a filming location for Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It seemed only fitting, then, that the traditional audioguide available at such locations was narrated by Terry Jones. It was amazing how easily the information about a 1975 comedy film fitted in with the information about a medieval castle and its former inhabitants. Definitely the most entertaining audioguide we’ve had yet. Almost enough to make us want to eat spam for dinner…

Posted by Buccas 11:42 Archived in Scotland Comments (0)

Are you going to Scarborough Fair?

/kæsƏl/ vs /kasƏl/

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On Monday, we resigned from our jobs as renovators and Simon de-bearded himself before we set off to explore more of Yorkshire. We found our way to Scarborough and got down to the serious business of enjoying being back beside the seaside. Scarborough turned out to be a fabulous example of how the Brits do beaching. The ferris wheel and the rides were all shut for the winter, but the bright lights and music of the 2p slot machines (essentially casinos for children – and big children too) were lining the harbour, interspersed with fish and chipperies and milk bars. Some crazy people were actually bathing in the sea – but surely they didn’t still believe that it was a cure for epilepsy, apoplexy, hypochondriac melancholy or windiness? And in the British tradition, there was a cliff lift, because heaven forbid you should have to walk uphill or walk upstairs to leave the beach. If you are coming for the health benefits of the spa or the healing sea waters, surely you don’t want to be greedy and demand the health benefits of exercise as well!
The next day, Simon wore shorts. He is known for his positivity and optimism, but even he admitted that it was probably not the best decision he’d ever made. But the sun was out, and as long as you found a spot that wasn’t being buffeted by the ‘sea breeze’ (i.e. galeforce winds), it wasn’t too bad. Well it wasn’t too bad for me, anyway.
We made our way via Anne Bronte’s grave up to Scarborough Castle, where our Historic Scotland membership came in handy again after a long hiatus – hooray for half price entry to English Heritage sites! The views were grand, the history was interesting, and the audio guide was free. Excellent.
Back down at the harbour, we went to Alonzi’s Harbour Bar, a milkbar stuck in the 1950s and purveyors of excellent knickerbocker glory sundaes. They contained fruit, and were therefore a totally legitimate option for lunch, right? We strolled the streets of Scarborough and considered ourselves to be experts of the 2p slot machines, allowing ourselves to gamble away the princely sum of two pounds. Fairly sure we haven’t got a gambling problem. Yet.
We got into the seaside spirit of things and had fish and chips and mushy peas for dinner. Because Britain. Probably not our best day from a dietary point of view, but very relaxing and enjoyable nonetheless.
At breakfast the next morning, we were bailed up by an elderly gentleman who insisted on conversing with us by giving us random snippets of conversation. He had apparently been staying at the hotel for three weeks (goodness knows why!), lived in a suburb near Armley where some sort of activity he didn’t approve of was occurring at the old church across the road, and had a cousin living in Australia – but he couldn’t be any more specific than that. He was mildly amused by one of the housekeepers’ habits of putting a ‘no smoking’ sign on his pillow each morning – “I ain’t never smoked in that room once, I have smoked in other rooms but they had better windows.” Once he told us of his plan to go to Whitby, we quickly abandoned our tentative plan to go to Whitby and focused on getting to Alnwick Castle instead. Alnwick – pronounced /ænƏk/ for all you speechies playing at home – was the home of the Percy family, and currently owned by the 12th Duke and Duchess of Northumberland. The gardens had been landscaped by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown and even in the misty rain it was a beautiful setting for a castle. The state rooms didn’t win me over, I’m afraid. The constant message was supposed to be “welcome to our lovely family home”, but all I heard was “look at all the expensive things we have and don’t touch any of our precious paintings”. It seemed to miss the warmth of a real home, but didn’t have the mystery of a historical building or the ridiculous opulence of a palace. Outside, though – that was where the charm was. The views across the Aln River – supposedly moved at the request of the first Duchess of Northumberland – were bucolic and peaceful (except when someone started doing target practise with the local birdlife). I enjoyed a lovely stroll along the small section of the ramparts that was open to the public, and then found a hilarious puppet show version of the story of ‘Harry Hotspur’, a rendition that was complete with brilliantly stereotypical English and Welsh accents and modern slang. Gotta love when a medieval knight writes a letter to his cousin (who happens to be the king) and says “I’m going to kick your butt if you don’t pay me”. At last – a good story about the characters of the past, instead of just showing off their wealth.
We finished our visit of the castle with a tour that focused on the films and television shows that had been filmed at Alnwick Castle. Despite the cold, this was excellent. The guide was hilarious, and sounded just like Ross Noble (who is from Northumberland – so kudos to us for picking the accent correctly). We learned about the filming tricks from Harry Potter (I & II), Blackadder (I), Star Trek and Downton Abbey. We also watched some lucky punters having their very own broomstick flying lesson in the same place as Hazza P learned to fly his broomstick. How very authentic.
By the time that was all over, we were cold and the clouds were threatening to make us very wet as well, so we farewelled Alnwick and tootled on to Coldstream, a teeny-tiny way over the border into Scotland. We stayed with Sylvia and her Swedish husband, and the next morning Simon was in his happy breakfast place thanks to Sylvia’s serving of cheese and tomato and homemade bread. I was in my happy breakfast place too – gotta love that yoghurt and muesli combination.
We snuck back into England (sh, don’t tell anyone) and visited Bamburgh Castle – because you can never have enough castles. Bamburgh won me over by being strategically located right by the beach (well done, Northumberland coastline) and by having a free carpark strategically located at the bottom of the hill. Sure, the paid carpark halfway up the hill was only two quid for the day… but the two quid we saved on parking could be much better spent on peanut butter.
The castle itself had impressive state rooms, and a quaint little military museum, but the main attraction was the view from the castle walls out over the beach, towards Lindisfarne. The rain obligingly stayed away during our visit, and the sun engaged in a constant battle with the clouds which made for a dramatic skyline and stunning backdrop to the castle. Unfortunately, as we walked back to the car I managed to drop my camera, breaking the screen. Damburgh Bamburgh. The camera remained functional – but now an element of guesswork would have to be added to my photography. Stay tuned for unintentionally arty, off-centre photographs. Selfies should remain unaffected though, which I’m sure will be a relief to you all.

Posted by Buccas 08:19 Archived in England Comments (0)

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