A taste of Orkney

I love food. I love trying new food. I love eating locally sourced food and if it’s homemade, well, that’s me sold! Our last trip gave us a taste of Orkney that has definitely left us wanting more.  In this post I am going to share with you some of the divine food and drink we came across.

Eating out

We caught the 08.45 ferry from Scrabster to Stromness and thankfully it was plain sailing. Ninety minutes later we arrived at the pretty ferry port and it was time for brunch. It seemed a little place called Julia’s would be perfect to watch the world go by and we were right. The obvious choice on this occasion was scrambled egg and salmon on toast. Lovely fresh yellow eggs, so light and fluffy, brown bread (from the bakery we were to visit later) and the tastiest salmon we have ever eaten.

We chose to take a tour of Orkney Brewery, (well it would be rude not to as it was a two minute walk away from our cottage) followed by a late lunch. The oldest part of the brewery’s building used to be a school and the Tasting Hall (bar and restaurant area) reflect this tastefully. All the tables are old school desks and there are photos on the walls too. Even the toilet doors have Prefect badges on.

The menu is brilliant and has choices of nachos, salmon salads and soups to start. Sandwiches and burgers – both with veggie options. Seafood, cheese, brewer’s and vegan platters too, offering local salmon, herring, mackerel, cheeses, chutney and beremeal bread. We opted to share a starter and chose hot smoked, smoked salmon with oatcakes and beremeal bread. The fish was super tasty. Having seen a couple of different burgers go out to neighbouring tables we decided that burgers were the way to go. And the photos below will prove why I shouldn’t be a food blogger!


I got three quarters of the way through and thought ” Ahhhhh, yeah, I might need a photo of this food for a blog!” So my apologies for my phone photos of half eaten food! My bad. I’m pleased to report that they were really tasty and were polished off.

There is a really nice atmosphere in the hall and it is used by locals and visitors to the area too. They do fresh cakes but there was no room for cake on this occasion (not often I say that!)

It’s not far from Skara Brae and the Ring of Brodgar so well worth a trip if you are out that way.

I’m not a huge fan of spending hours and hours trailing around huge department stores or chains of shops and so visiting Kirkwall was really refreshing. Some fabulous independent retailers with quirky or unique clothing and jewellery. Whilst wandering the narrow streets we saw several cafes, a chocolate shop, pubs and coffee shops – all very enticing. We popped in to Judith Glue’s shop and cafe, which is directly opposite St Magnus cathedral. The cafe is right at the back of the shop and gets really busy but we managed to get a table to have a hot drink. It’s a popular place with locals eating their too from what I could make out and in my book that is always a good sign. The menu was full with locally sourced produce and so has very few food miles (always a good thing). Last year when I visited for work, we ate in here and enjoyed soup and a sandwich. I remember the generous portions and how tasty it was too.

Take away

We enjoy being in self catering accommodation because it means we can please ourselves and use local shops for our shopping. We stayed in Quoyloo this time and used the shops in Dounby, just a few miles down the road. The butchers there was an absolute gem of a find. We chose rib eye steaks and the lady told us they were bred just down the road and we paid just £10 for the two. To me, that’s a bargain! Of course, as with everywhere else we have been we got chatting about where we are staying, what we had planned during our stay and got some local tips of other places to visit. You won’t get that in your chain of supermarkets!

In Stromness we also discovered a fruit and veg shop too, all the veggies outside and it was great to see that some were wonky and even had soil still on them – adding that little bit extra for supporting an independent business.

Also in Stromness  after walking out to Ness Battery we couldn’t resist and followed the smell of freshly baked bread into the bakery. A complete assault on your senses with the fresh bread mixed with the sweetness of the cakes and pastries. We came out with morning rolls and an iced yum yum (for later). Another brilliant find.

At our accommodation a welcome pack had been left for us. It included – fresh milk, marmalade, shortbread, two bottles of local beer, cheese, oatcakes and fudge. All of it from businesses in Orkney.  Some of which have come back to Perth for us to continue enjoying and a great holiday memento.

Drink

Earlier on I mentioned Orkney Brewery and the Dude has taken quite a shine to a couple of the ales made at the micro-brewery. They do lots of different pale ales, stout, bitter, blonde lager and even seasonal tipples.

Last year whilst visiting for work I discovered Orkney Gin Company and their Johnmas gin quickly became a firm favourite in our house. The bottles are pretty with the selkie-woman logo and with it’s fresh, light floral taste, perfect reflection of the Orcadian summer days. Mikklemas is a warming drink which is spicier but still smooth (so, I’m told – I’m not a fan of spicy drinks). For those of you that follow me on Facebook you may have seen earlier in the year that I had one bottle of Rhubarb Old Tom to give away. I managed to get my hands on a bottle at the Royal Highland Show and fell in love with it paired with ginger ale.  During our visit we popped out to the Orkney Gin Company HQ and were treated to a sneak peek of the new premises which will be ready very soon.

 

The newest of the gin distillers is based out at Deerness and whilst in Orkney we were lucky enough to go and visit them. With THE most stunning view Deerness Distillery maybe the new kids on the island but they have some big plans. They already stand out from the crowd because they also make vodka and a coffee liqueur is in the making (and it’s good!). We met Stuart, an Australian who has now made Orkney home with his family, he spoke to us about being able to grow the botanical components just outside the distillery. I really like this idea and it certainly cuts down on any food miles. Both bottles of Seaglass gin and the Into the Wild vodka bottles are really pretty and make a great addition to any gin collection.
Another thing I like about the Seaglass gin is that there are several pairing suggestions given: kiwi, coriander, lemon or blueberries. I have also put cucumber in mine and it’s REALLY good.

In Scotland you are never far from a whisky distillery and this rings true here too. Located just outside of Kirkwall is Highland Park and Scapa distilleries. It is always best to book in advance if you wish to have a tour, especially in the summer months but in late October we were joined on our tour of Scapa with just two other ladies. Tours will vary in length, depending on how many questions are asked etc and you would normally receive a wee dram to nose/taste at the end of your tour too. I don’t drink whisky but I always find the tours interesting and to learn some of the history too.

The Orkney Wine Company at Lamb Holm (near to the Italian Chapel) produce wine, port and recently released rum too. They pride themselves on 100% natural products, that are suitable for vegetarians and vegans. Sadly we didn’t get to visit these guys but I have spotted some great gifts on their website.

Of course, there are more food and drinks producers, growers, distillers in Orkney, these were just a few that we had come across during our stay. I just love that so much comes from these islands and that people share gems like these with visitors. I wanted to give you a taste of Orkney and hope you are not drooling too much. If you enjoy excellent food and drink then I suggest you get yourselves on the ferry and explore this foodie heaven. You’ll love it.

 

 

 

Unigar Cottages, Orkney

One of our favourite seasons to travel and explore Scotland is autumn, with the colour of the leaves on the trees changing, the misty mornings and some really beautiful light, whats not to love. So, when we got the opportunity to stay at Unigar Cottages, Orkney, we were excited to see what it would be like at this time of year.

Last year I visited for work and was treated to blue skies, rolling green landscape and calm sea. This trip was a bit different (read: completely different).

Arrival

Arriving in Stromness on Monday morning and after getting some breakfast we headed straight out to our self catering cottage near Quoyloo, just eight miles away from the ferry terminal. The directions I had been sent in my confirmation email were easy to follow and got us to the door first time (this doesn’t always happen, even in the city!).

First impressions from the outside were good and the view was even better.

Once inside the single storey building we immediately felt how warm and cosy it was but before we move in properly for the week I have to take photos! Standard practice of anywhere that we stay, camera comes out first and only then can everything else come out of the car!

I also discovered we had been left an Orkney food and drink welcome basket! How sweet is that?

Scarwell Cottage 

This cottage sleeps four – a double bedroom with en-suite, with a twin room and family bathroom just down the hallway. Both bedrooms are large, light spaces with built in wardrobes with plenty of coat hangers and shelf space to unpack for your stay.

  

The large family bathroom has a bath for those who prefer a soak in the tub after long days out doing coastal walks or, if, like me, you prefer a shower that’s possible too with the powerful shower head and plenty of room. I know that sounds a bit odd to say there is plenty of room in a shower but I have been to some places where you can’t even bend forward to pick up your shampoo. There is enough storage and surface area to put out the toothbrushes and other toiletries too.

The master bedroom has a similar layout to the twin room, with it’s built in wardrobes, a dressing table with mirrors and a stool. The en-suite is a small, galley style room with another large shower, a toilet and sink. 

The open kitchen/dining/living area in the cottage is a lovely space. The kitchen has everything you will need for your stay and eating in, there is even a bottle opener! We did have a bit of a battle with the oven and hob (even with the instructions) but I think that is because it is so different to ours. Once we had worked it out, we were sorted and wondered what all the fuss was about!

Just a few steps across from the kitchen and a lovely big wooden table and chairs, enough for four people to be comfortably seated for meals. I’m a big fan of sitting at the table to eat and so this was just like being at home.

We probably read more whilst we are away than at any other time and the comfy sofa and single chairs are a perfect spot for this. The only problem I had one this occasion was keeping my eyes off of the view. The rolling greenery of Orkney, with a splash of sheep and a hint of hunting hen harrier I didn’t get much reading done.

The whole property has underfloor heating and if, like us, your home is a drafty old gate house then this is just the job, especially after coastal walks in the damp air. Even getting out of the shower was okay as usually back home it is a rush to get dressed again. Brrrrrrrrrr. I digress!

The utility room is tucked away off of the main entrance hallway and is home to a vacuum, ironing board, washing machine etc.

The Wi-Fi signal and is good for an end of day social media posting catch up too.

Location 

Situated on the the north west side of mainland Orkney are the three cottages, just eight miles from Stromness and seventeen miles from Kirkwall.

The immediate neighbours are Orkney Brewery (literally a two minute walk), where you can buy locally made beer to enjoy at home, have a drink in the bar or enjoy lovely lunches, snacks and cake (blog to follow about local food and drink).

The village of Dounby has a butchers, petrol station, Co-Op, crafts store, hairdressers, caters for most things and is only five miles away. We used the butchers and were really well looked after.

There are several RSPB reserves on this side of the mainland too and easily accessible from the cottages, if you like a spot of bird watching.

There are more historical sites in Orkney than you can shake a stick at: Skara Brae is just two miles along the road and the Ring of Brodgar is only about seven miles.

The Craft Trail runs all over the mainland and some of the smaller islands, and you don’t have to travel far before coming across signs for wood turners, jewellers, potters, soap makers and knitwear. A brilliant way of taking home a small piece of Orkney. In fact, one needle felt artist is commissioning a special piece just for us and we cannot wait to receive it!

Conclusion

We loved our stay at Unigar Cottages, Orkney for so many reasons and although the weather was not particularly kind to us we feel like we made the most of our trip. For me, having somewhere that feels like home to come back to after a day out exploring in the wind and damp sea air is a must. One that has everything you need, and this certainly offered that. It has been nicely decorated and all the furniture, bed linen, towels etc are of good quality.

It’s the little things that made us feel really welcome, like having milk in the fridge when we arrived, the food hamper of treats in the basket, up to date information of things to see and do and using a local hand soap company. Even the photographs in all the rooms were of local views, very inspiring. We loved it here and will definitely be back.

This post is the first of three that I will be writing about and showcasing some of what Orkney has to offer & the things we got up to, so please do sign up to get all my posts straight into your mailbox.

We were invited to stay at Unigar Cottages on a complimentary basis in return for a blog review and my photos. All views on heated floors, good views and the photos in this post are my own.

 

When is the best time to visit Scotland?

What a question! Depending on who you ask, you will get many different answers and reasons of why Edinburgh in August is the best time. Or why Harris is stunning in spring and Skye should be skipped in July! Its all personal preference or being limited to school holidays maybe? In this blog I hope to answer the aged old question “when is the best time to visit Scotland?”

Before we moved to Perthshire, I had been up on holiday many times; once at the end of May to Fort William and all the other times were in March when we stayed on the Isle of Mull. To say we had been lucky with the weather, I think is an understatement. Our Fort William trip was my first ever time in Scotland and we managed to get a clear view from the top of Ben Nevis, which on average has a clear view from the summit, one out of ten days! We were super lucky as it had been torrential rain two days earlier when we arrived.

Our trips across to Mull and Iona in following years were a mixed bag of howling wind, torrential rain, blue skies and spectacular aurora borealis sightings. Non of the bad weather stopped us from getting out and about – the wildlife still have to hunt for food and the beaches are still beautiful. The photo below was taken on a beach in March during a visit to Iona where we were the only two people on it and ate our packed lunches sat on rocks. Perfect.

Weather

However, since moving to Scotland we have travelled to Shetland in January, played golf at the end of February, Aberdeenshire in August and just two days ago got back from a week in Orkney (in October). The truth is you cannot count on the weather being good, even in the summer.

There is nothing we can do about the weather, except be prepared for it with the right clothing and where necessary, sun cream! As the saying goes “there is no such thing as bad weather” and I totally agree with this. The rain and mist makes glens and lochs very atmospheric in the autumn and with changing colours of the trees it is rather special. It also fuels some of the most spectacular waterfalls. Of course, if you’re lucky you may even get a rainbow. That’s gotta be worth a smile?

Winter gives us a white wonderland of snow capped mountains that easily rival any landscapes across Scandinavia and if you manage to get a bit of blue sky with that too, you’re on to a winner!

Spring is full of hope, new life and the days start to draw out giving us more day light. I love the fresh feel of the spring months, the air is still crisp, snowdrops and daffodils appear along our driveways and public parks too. We still need to wrap up and look out for April showers but it is a lovely time of year.

As the summer arrives and we get used to the longer days, there are highland games, harbour and book festivals that fill the calender (it’s not all about the Fringe!). BUT, on the west coast (mainly) there are midges. Tiny, annoying little blighters that bite, they come en mass and there is no escaping them. This, for me, is enough to put me off going west or into the highlands at this time of year.

Open or Closed 

Many visitor attractions have a season – normally Easter to the end of October, that they are open for, so if you plan to come in January you might want to do your homework and make sure the places you wish to visit will be open. If you are looking at attractions in cities then you will find that they will probably still be open unlike some of the castles on the islands.

We have found that when visiting more remote places or some of the islands ‘out of season’ that even some of the coffee shops and cafes will be closed too. This doesn’t bother us too much and we take packed lunches and a flask when we go out for the day walking, to spot wildlife and do some photography. Something to bare in mind though.

Decisions, decisions

In short, there are pros and cons for each month and each season but all I ask is that you don’t write one off because it might be cold or it gets dark earlier, in favour for following the crowds in peak season for more daylight and cramming more in.

So, the answer to the question “when is the best time to visit Scotland” from me would be “whenever you like. It’s always pretty, breathtaking, atmospheric and welcoming. Here are some of my photos, through all seasons and weather to help you decide.

St Andrews in November
Queens View in October
Isle of Harris in March
Bridge of Earn in March
Dunrobin Castle in June
Applecross in October
A Perthshire Glen in March
Edinburgh in February
Kellie Castle Gardens in July
Cairngorm Mountain in April
Shetland in January
Glasgow in December
Perthshire in October
Perth in November
Stanley in May

 

North Coast 500 with Bunk Campers

Not a day goes by where you don’t hear about someone’s trip along the 516 mile route around the north of Scotland. The photos from various parking spots, an empty beach and doing it all in a weekend. The Dude and I have wanted to do this spectacular road trip as part of our Forty Things at 40 list but wanted to do it some justice, so we did the North Coast 500 with Bunk Campers in five days. Let me tell you now, that is nowhere near enough time for properly exploring!

Bunk Campers

Collecting a camper van from Bunk in Scotland is super easy. Located close to the airport in Edinburgh it is accessible as soon as you arrive. If, like us, you live here in Scotland and are hiring a camper then you can leave your own vehicle in the secure on site parking and it will await your return. Airport pick ups are also available (for an extra cost).

As you would expect, the campers are kitted out with a sink, a couple of gas cooking rings and fridge. There is plenty of storage space for kitchen utensils, fire extinguisher, dust pan and brush, first aid kit and some basic cleaning equipment (all provided) as well as whatever else you choose to bring. You can also hire bedding, sat nav, outdoor table and chairs, and a bike rack if you plan on taking your own bikes and doing a bit of cycling too.

Before handing over the keys to our van, the Bunk Camper team give a full handover and make sure you know how to work everything and can enjoy your trip.

We were given the Nomad – a VW with plenty of space for the two of us and a pop up roof which allows for extra headroom, storage and sleeping area when you park up for the night. Perfect size for the single track, windy roads we would be driving on.

North Coast 500 practicalities

We live in Perth and it takes about two hours for us to drive from here to Inverness (near to the official NC500 start) so we had decided to pack the van up and drive up on the same day, essentially giving ourselves a two hour head start the next day. Perth is about one hour from Edinburgh and obviously has to be taken into account for driving straight from the depot up to Inverness.

I have driven a similar size van for work this summer and I like the vantage point you get from being higher up than in a car. As passenger I enjoyed spotting plenty of heilan coos around the route. As the driver it is also a allows you to look further down the road to look for other vehicles/passing places.

We hadn’t planned our trip within an inch of it’s life but we did work out some of the distances between places we would prefer to stop.

For anyone planning a trip to Scotland for the first time, just something to remember; it might not look very far but the roads here may not allow you to travel at great speed. You may have to slow down for livestock on the roads or for other road users. A sizable portion of this route is single track or very narrow with soft verges and being confident with the size of your vehicle is a necessity really as you may be required to reverse to the nearest passing place.

Our plan was to do a mixture of “wild camping” and also use the camp sites dotted around the NC500 to make the most of the facilities. Going five days without a shower is a little bit extreme when living in such close quarters with someone! With plenty of choice for both we weren’t particularly bothered about which nights were on a site or not but at this time of year (October) and the light fading about 7pm our days of exploring were much shorter than anyone going in June/July. There are some public toilets on the route which are well looked after too.

What we also wanted to make sure was that we were spending money in the local area too – not just driving through and being completely self sufficient. It ended up being that we would stop somewhere for bigger lunch and having an anti-pasti style dinner in the camper later, once we were parked up. We found plenty of places that served meals and the shellfish, meat and veg, all locally sourced, so by eating out we actually contributing to the local economy. Speaking to people who live in the area is one of the best ways of finding out about places to eat too.

Traveling along the roads there are many parking spots and viewpoints marked and are much safer for stopping to take photos. Passing places are exactly that, places to pass. Either allowing traffic coming toward you to go around, OR vehicles from behind to pass. If, like us, you are in no rush, allow the locals to go about their business and pull in. This also affords you an extra minute to admire the view before moving off again.

The weather for our trip was very changeable and we had packed for every occasion (apart from a heatwave) and I would recommend doing this no-matter what time of year you travel to Scotland. Just ten minutes before the photo above was taken there was an absolute downpour of rain and the mist on the hills was really low. Thankfully, we had parked up for a coffee stop and it allowed us some great views down the glen afterwards.

I know for most people having rain whilst you are on holiday is not ideal but we shouldn’t be so down about the rain because it can produce one of natures most beautiful spectacles, a rainbow.

Time. Time is the one thing I wished for this trip there was more of. We thought five days would be an adequate amount of time to see things, get out and do some walks, get off the main route, but it wasn’t. Nowhere near enough time for properly exploring. For us, this trip was more of an introduction to Sutherland and Caithness, all of the picturesque villages and hamlets, the glens, the tall mountains, coastline and shimmering lochs.

I wouldn’t change our North Coast 500 with Bunk Campers experience. We had the freedom and comfort to enable us to work to a loose schedule, have a great time, meet new people, share some spectacular views and eat some amazing food. I will be following up this post with a “NC500 – what to see and where to eat” write up, sign up to my blog and make sure you don’t miss it. Over on the VisitScotland iKnow Community there are people who have also driven the route or live on it and can offer other suggestions and tips. Come and join the chat.

 

I would like to thank Bunk Campers for giving us this Nomad camper van for our road trip in return for blog and social media posts. All views about the weather, time restrictions and the images are my own.

 

 

 

 

 

Year two in Scotland

Two whole years have passed since we packed our car and a hired van with our whole world inside and landed in rural Perthshire. Year two in Scotland for us has been more adventures and to celebrate earlier this week we have been driving the North Coast 500 (more about that soon).

This is going to be a rather photo-heavy blog but it shows how much we are embracing our new chapter

October 2016

Following our first year anniversary we made plans to do lots more new things and top of the list was to go to the Enchanted Forest event up in Pitlochry. It was brilliant, we thoroughly enjoyed it and can see why tickets quickly sell out. We discovered that we could see the salmon leaping up Black Linn waterfalls at the The Hermitage. For me this was both mesmerising and heartbreaking, to know that these beautiful creatures go through so much to get to where they will spawn and then most, will die.
Toward the end of the month we set off to spend the week over in Machrihanish on the west coast at Seasgair. Walks on the beach, a couple of rounds of golf, eating cake, distillery tours and more walks on the beach.


     

November 2016

SNOW! Dragging the Dude on a photo roadtrip to Glen Coe when the first lot of big snow was a great idea. Of course, we weren’t the only ones out chasing the blue skies and snow capped mountains but we had an awesome day. Each and every time I drive through Glen Coe it gives me goosebumps and I remember the overwhelming feeling of awe the very first time I saw the Buachaille. We also had plenty of cold, crisp walks in various other places – St Andrews beach, Kinnoull Hill and Moncreiffe Hill too.

 

December 2016 

The run up to the festive season was busy with blog trips to both Edinburgh and Glasgow for Christmas markets, ice skating, gluhwein and catching up with friends. Christmas day and the Dude was working so I popped over to St Andrews for a rather wild and windy walk along the beach.

 

January 2017

The new year started with grand gestures of walking 2017 miles, climbing munros, blah blah blah. Non of that has actually happened! However, I did get up to Shetland for Up Helly Aa on a press trip and had THE best experience. The fire festival held on the last Tuesday of every January, in Lerwick is something I will never forget. Highly recommended. We also reviewed the New Lanark hotel and saw the Clyde Falls in all their snowy glory. Another first for us was also an evening at the Celtic Connections over in Glasgow – flippin’ brilliant!

  

February 2017

Birthday month and there were plenty of plans and quite a few involved cake. I spent one day walking around Edinburgh with one of my friends who live there, I had asked her to show me around and we were lucky that the sun shone for us. For my actual big birthday the dude had planned a secret destination trip. He whisked me away up to the mountains of Glen Coe. We managed plenty of walking in Glen Etive and Glen Nevis for lots of waterfalls, deer, and snow. The boy done good!
We also paid our visit to the new Pitlochry Dam Visitor Centre and learnt a lot about the local history and the making of the dam. It’s a free attraction and well worth a visit.

 
 

March 2017 

A nice relaxing start to the month with a few days reviewing Cameron Club Lodges – a short break with a spot of golf, spa treatments and lovely food. Then on to Killin for some time exploring Killin and surrounding area. It’s really pretty little place and well worth a visit.
Of course, with the Golf Show on in Glasgow we headed over to see what was on show. I don’t play golf but I was surprised to see very little on offer, in the way of clothing etc, for women who play. Hopefully this will change.

   

April 2017

I had big plans for April. It was the Dude’s big birthday and I was reciprocating the favour of the surprise destination trip. I had chosen Aviemore and an itinerary that also remained hush, hush. We went up Cairngorm Mountain on the Funicular Railway – it was brass monkeys but with a clear view we had a great time. Walks around loch Morlich and the woodlands were also blessed with good weather and a bonus for watching the ospreys too. The topping to the weekend was a trip out on the Strathspey railway, first class with a three course meal. I earned some brownie points with that one!
We were also lucky enough to be asked to take part in a stained glass window making weekend over at East Neuk Glass. Possibly one of the the best things we have done this year. Hands one and learning and how to make a (small) stained glass window, using tradition methods. If you like the idea of learning something new or being creative, then this course could be for you.
Another part of the Dude’s birthday present was a trip out on the canal for afternoon tea. Totally forgetting that we were in Edinburgh, we chugged along the canal, eating cake and drinking tea. Perfect.

  

May 2017

May saw the Dude abseiling down the Forth Bridge for charity, and a trip to Bass Rock to see the home of 150,000 gannets and other sea birds.

 

June 2017

Work trips to Caithness and visits to Castle of Mey and Dunrobin in some slightly soggy weather in June and sightings of puffins that would make everything better, no-matter the weather.

  

July 2017

We discovered Drummond Castle and Gardens in Perthshire in July too. Such a stunning place and we are hoping to visit soon to catch the autumnal colours. The Scottish Golf Open was a mixture of weather and brilliant to watch live. A great experience.

  

August 2017

This month was all kindsa cool. Edinburgh Tattoo, World Pipe Band Championships in Glasgow, a work trip to Peterhead Prison Museum, Dunnottar Castle, and a trip to the Great Scottish Swim at Loch Lomond. All this along with walks at the Hermitage and finding fungi.

     

September 2017

I wanted to visit the Queens Well in Glen Esk and so off we set one Monday morning whilst most people were off to work. We were lucky with the weather for the 15k walk that we did down the glen and around loch Lee.
Another place that has been on my list of places to visit is Balvaird Castle. It’s ten minutes away from home and we really should have done it sooner. It’s a bonny place and has some cracking Fife views too. Something else that is on our doorstep is the river Tay and we were lucky enough to have a trip on the river to write about it. It’s also that time of year again for the Enchanted Forest and we were looking forward to this years event but sadly (in my opinion) the main light show over the loch doesn’t quite live up to last years. That said, we still enjoyed it and will be looking to get tickets next year.

      

Our second year has been kinda cool. At the start of the year I was asked to be a VisitScotland Ambassador for their iKnow Community and this has spurred me on to explore more and learn more about my local area and across Scotland.

The many opportunities we have been afforded and have worked hard for and they have increased our wanderlust. Our list of things to do/places to visit etc, is still ever-growing and this only fuels our want to see more. We manage our time so well that the Dude frequently gets asked if he “ever actually does any work.”

My advise would be if you want to see more of Scotland, don’t make excuses. Find a way.

Here is to our third year and more road trips, walks on the beaches and gin. More gin!

Boat Trips on the Tay

Sometimes I think rivers are taken for granted. They are something that we cross over on bridges, or look at briefly as we walk along in a hurry to get elsewhere but rarely do we (most of us) appreciate their beauty. This summer in Perth there has been a new way of enjoying the water, boat trips on the Tay.

For our trip, we parked in the south inch car park, leaving us with a short walk across the road to Fergusson pontoon. Greeted by the skipper and his crew, we were welcomed aboard the boat (called Badger). In a previous life Badger had been a Customs and Excise patrol boat but is now licensed to carry eight passengers along with her two crew.

As we set off down the river in the autumnal sunshine it was a perfect day to be out on the boat. Throughout the journey the crew pointed out to us places that were hidden from the roadside and only from being on the river allowed you get a glimpse. This is kinda special.

Sailing alongside Moncrieffe island, which hosts the King James VI golf course, we had already spotted a couple of herons and a cormorant. The crew told us how, on previous trips, they have seen otters and evidence of beavers too. Sadly we didn’t see any of my favourite river dwelling occupants but I’m assured they are there! Rather stupidly we forgot to take a pair of binoculars too, something to remember next time.

We continued under the Friarton bridge and I was surprised how little you can hear the traffic and how high the bridge actually is. We also saw Willowgate Activity Centre and decided that we should go and see what they have to offer, now we have a taste for being on the water.

It is from here that we started to get a cracking view of Kinnoull hill and Moncrieffe hill – two of my favourite local walks. I really love the perspective you get from down on the river, I’ve looked down on it so many times from the top of Kinnoull hill but never from down here and it really is stunning. Showing the trees as they start to change colour for autumn and the dramatic cliff edge that you can’t appreciate from the top.

Shortly after this we turned around made our way back to Fergusson pontoon. Feeling very relaxed and at one with nature after being on the water and in the sunshine.

If this sounds a bit too like life in the slow lane for you and you fancy something a little more adrenaline inducing then the RIB trips would be perfect. Leaving from the same place as Badger, the RIB goes out to (but doesn’t stop at) Elcho Castle. The chances of you seeing wildlife whilst on this would be pretty slim but I guess the ride itself would be quite exhilarating. For those wishing to take photos, enjoy the views or (hopefully) have some encounters with wildlife the hour long ‘Back to Nature’ trips could offer some excellent opportunities too.

The prices are very reasonable and make the river accessible to everyone.

I think this is a fantastic use of the river and we should certainly embrace this opportunity. Maybe plan a trip out during the school half term, it’s for kids and big kids (age restriction for RIB trips apply). A boat trip on the Tay is a brilliant way to explore the local area and comes highly recommended from me.

I would like to thank the skipper of the Badger and her crew for their hospitality, local knowledge and arranging the sunshine.

*The Dude and I were given this opportunity to review the boat trips on the Tay in return for this blog post and my images. All views on favourite river dwelling creatures are my own*

 

Visiting Aberdeenshire

Home to Scotland’s castle trail, a dramatic coastline, industrial fishing harbours and a granite city, visiting Aberdeenshire is something we were looking forward to doing. We decided to make a weekend of it and tick a few more things off our Forty Things at 40 list.

There is SO much to see and do on the much neglected east coast of Scotland but here are a few of my suggestions:

Dunnottar Castle

When in castle country I think it only fair that you see at least one medieval fortress. Dunnottar castle has been on our list of places to visit ever since we moved to Scotland (nearly two years ago) and of course, I have seen possibly thousands of images of the castle on the hill but nothing prepares you for the real thing.

Once we caught our breath from going down and up the steps to the castle we spent about two hours wander around. It’s far larger than I was expecting and many of the buildings are still in really good condition.


As we made our own way around the castle grounds we had glimpses of the dramatic Aberdeenshire coatline, through windows and over walls. But most of the time we had forgotten we were perched on a rock that was forced the to earth’s surface around 440 million years ago! Mind blowing.

Mary Queens of Scots and William Wallace had both visited Dunnottar but the castle was also home to the Honours of Scotland (the Scottish Crown Jewels) in 1651-1652. With thanks to a small garrison of men who held Oliver Cromwell and his cronies (not a technical historical term) at bay for eight months and prevented the destruction of the Honours. They can now be seen at Edinburgh castle.

On the day of our visit the weather was kind to us; moody clouds and some sunshine. But I can imagine that in winter or a stormy day this can feel like the end of the world. On that note if you are planning a visit to Dunnottar the best thing to do is check on their website to see if they are open. Because of it’s location if the wind is high or there is mist then you won’t be able to get across. If you are able to get up and down the 266 steps (each way) I do recommend that you go over, it really is a special from the inside as it is from the outside.

There is a small car park to use but at weekends in peak season you may end up parking on the side of the road. Alternatively there is a coastal walk from Stonehaven to the castle and you could catch the land train back! No inside tea rooms but there is a catering van which provides hot and cold drinks, burgers and bacon butties.

  

Gordon Highlanders Museum

Okay, so with this one I’m not going to lie, I haven’t actually been into the museum properly to experience it. I was there with work for one day back in August and was made to feel really welcome and after speaking to some of the volunteers and members of staff I could feel their passion for the museum. With many different family orientated events planned throughout the year it is also a fabulous way of engaging with the local younger community and their families. Activities such as trench building (in a shoe box), fundraising quiz nights and ceilidhs too.

With one hundred and thirteen years of history packed into the former (and expanded) Scottish artist’s home of Sir George Reid, the museum has a wealth of knowledge and stories from volunteers who have some connection with the regiment.

Well worth a visit and they do a nice little coffee shop which serves lunch, drinks and some really lovely cake.

Aberdeen Maritime Museum

This is a cracking place to visit for adults and children alike. Very interactive and engaging for all ages.

The three levels within the museum tell the history and relationship between Aberdeen and the sea; fishing, oil and shipping. Warts an’ all.

We tried our hand at being an ROV (Remotely Operate Vehicle) pilots on the simulator – lets just say we won’t be giving up our day jobs any time soon! It’s WAY more difficult than it looks to guide them around, goodness only knows what it would be like with a tide and in the dark!

 

There is no denying the hard graft that went into (and still goes into) the fishing industry. Tales of how women followed the fleet of fishing boats and travelled to find work as skilled fish gutters, and how men lost their lives in rough seas, were all hard to read.

The star of the show was a scale model of an oil rig that towered up through a central atrium from the ground floor up to the third floor. Minute detail of machinery, equipment, helicopters and of course the men and women who work on board.

We really enjoyed our visit here, learning about the Granite City’s connection with the sea and it’s use of the habour. It is free to enter but donations can be made. Just a short walk from the city centre and Union Street it really is worth a visit.

Peterhead Prison Museum 

Some of you may already know that I used to work for the Police in a custody block and have many a tale to tell about dealing prisoners/detainees, but nothing on the scale of Peterhead Prison Museum.

This is definitely one of my most favourite visitor attractions, for several reasons. Firstly the tour is a self guided audio tour and for me I like this because I retain more of the information given. Much better than having to read lots of information boards especially if it is busy. Wandering around the actual cells that people lived in for many years after committing serious crimes made the hairs stand up on my arms a couple of times.

Secondly, it is very well restored and the added bonus of being able to speak to one of the old prison officers. Not just any prison officer though, Jackie Stuart. He was held hostage during the 1987 riots which resulted in him being taken up onto the roof of one of the prison blocks with a chain around his neck! Safely saved by the SAS and now lives to tell the tale. Jackie, now in his eighties, will happily tell stories of his life as a prison officer and it really is an honour to have spoken with him.

 

Thirdly, the fact that this was the ACTUAL prison, where ACTUAL men were kept under lock and key for some heinous crimes. You couldn’t replicate this by building it now, you wouldn’t get the atmosphere or have that feel of history.

One place that did totally give me the heeby-jeebies was the silent cell. Outwith of the main block there is a single cell and there is nothing in there. The door is so thick but just to make sure no sound from the outside world can be heard, there is a second door. This absolutely made my blood run cold and I couldn’t even step through the door.

On a lighter note, all of the staff and volunteers are amazing, Full of enthusiasm, knowledge and a passion of the new life that the old HMP has been given. There are still lots of plans to add to the museum and plenty of events. For those brave enough there is a Halloween event….. rather you than me!

   

There is a large car park and at the end of the tour you get to the tea rooms and they serve sandwiches and hot and cold drinks.

Refueling

With all our walking, exploring and photographing we stopped off for drinks and food in various places. Here are some of them:

Castleton Farm Shop – Just a few miles south of Stonehaven on the A90. I have stopped here on several occasions and they do fabulous food, hot and cold drinks and the cake. Well the cake is to die for. All homemade and the stuff Instagram profiles are made for. My favourite meal here has to have been the goats cheese salad.

Molly’s Cafe Bar  – On the sea front in Stonehaven and not far from the lido. An extensive menu but THE most incredible milkshakes!

Monsoona – Just off of Union Street in Aberdeen city centre we had a lovely curry, selection of side dishes and pickles. Really tasty and reasonably priced too. The Dude makes a cracking curry at home and so I am quite fussy about my favourite spiced food but this was super tasty.

All in all we thoroughly enjoyed our weekend visiting Aberdeenshire and we shall definitely be back as there are plenty of beaches, castles and coastal walks to be done. I would say that even if you think Scotland’s east coast isn’t for you, you should still give it a try. You might surprise yourself.

Share your photos with me over on Twitter.

 

 

Great Scottish Swim

As a blogger and a VisitScotland Ambassador I am very fortunate to be involved in some rather cool events and get to visit some really spectacular places but this event could have taken a rather different turn if I hadn’t noticed something strange. I won’t lie to you, I had a bit of a shock recently regarding blogging for the Great Scottish Swim event held at Loch Lomond last weekend. It seems I had inadvertently signed myself up for actually doing an open water swim!

The penny dropped when emails reading “just let us know which length you would like to swim,” came through. Of course I read it, and re-read it. Yup I had signed myself up to the event rather than photographing and blogging about it. *Insert swear words*

In short, I didn’t swim. There are no photos of me looking like a seal nor did I have to nearly drown all for the love of my blog. In all seriousness I have some health reasons for not being able to take part (and the fact that it slightly freaks me out). I did however, travel across to the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond last Saturday morning and here’s what went down:

The day was split up into different length of swims varying from half a mile to 10k and it all kicked of just after 8am when most folk were still in bed and the mist lay low on the loch.

Each “wave” of swimmers could take a few minutes to acclimatise in the shallow water by doing a few lengths of the start line and then returned to dry land to do a group warm up. The start of each distance category started with the same ritual, including some talk of having a wee in your wet suit! It had been mentioned that the loch water was a balmy 16° and someone had described it as a very “Scottish 16°“.

Sadly the view of the course is rather limited and it was fairly impossible to keep track on watching a loved one who was in the water anyway, what with everyone wearing the same coloured swim cap and a mostly black wet suit.

For those with a longer wait you could take advantage of the swim village and all its stalls or take the short walk over to Lomond Shores with all it’s shops and places to eat. Then back to the finish line to cheer everyone on.

What I love about sport is that people of all shapes, sizes and ages can get involved, and this was true for this event too. Of course there were the square shouldered, muscular swimmer types. There were teenagers, there were first timers in their 40’s and then there was Naomi, an 81 year old lady who completed her 2mile swim. What a legend!

There were people with heart warming stories of recovering from illnesses such as cancer or doing it to raise money in memory of a lost loved one. The motivation is incredible. Of course there are people who do it for fun and to keep fit but I did speak to one lady who did say swimming helped her lose three stone in weight and gave her the confidence to be out in public in a wet suit. And lets be honest that takes balls because there is absolutely nowhere to hide all your lumps and bumps in one of those things! I take my hat off to her.

A different lady that I got talking with has been enjoying Scotland’s open water opportunities for many years and loves the companionship she gets from being part of a club along with seeing the lochs from a special viewpoint.

The finish line was full of elation, relief, smiles and tears and it was lovely to witness some great support for the athletes and the event. There was also a rather cute and unofficial entry by a random dog who appeared from nowhere and joined swimmers coming down the finishing straight, taking some people by surprise!

 

In true Scottish weather style the day was a mixed bag – the dramatic mist I mentioned at the start of this post, the short but heavy rain shower and then glorious sunshine and blue sky. A standard day out in Scotland.

I am pleased I had the opportunity to attend this event and see it first hand but I don’t think I will be signing up to do it anytime soon. The Great Scottish Swim event was a top day out, heartwarming and inspiring.  If you would like to share your open water swimming experiences or tales from the event then please join me over on the VisitScotland iKnow Community.

 

    

**I must point out that ALL participants were wearing a wetsuit and were competent swimmers. There were safety marshals all around the course too. If open water swimming is something you think you would like to try please don’t try it alone the shock of the water temperature can cause cramps and can lead into difficulties. Get yourself to a local club or with someone who has experience. Lecture over**

Wanderlust and it’s impact on Scotland

When I started this blog back in 2015 the idea was for it to be a showcase or online diary of our new lives in Scotland. Finding new walks, places to eat, wildlife encounters, events and other excitement all documented and photographed. Since then this place I now call home means so much more to me and afterall one of the reasons we moved here was because of the natural beauty and what it has to offer. But more recently I have been struggling with the thought of how much damage is caused by our wanderlust and it’s impact on Scotland (and across the world).

You only have to look on Instagram to see beautiful images of turquoise clear water, empty white beaches and it’s all geo-tagged. So we all decide we are going to invade said empty white beaches, leave our left over sandwich wrappers and drop a plastic bottle and then it’s gone. Forever.

Another example that I can think of (and this rather makes my blood boil) are the deer at the Kings Hotel in Glen Coe. Wild animals that have come to learn that if they hang around for a few photos with tourists the chances of being fed are quite high. I have been one of said tourists who have stopped off here, although primarily for photos of  Buachaille etive mor, and witnessed people feeding these elegant beasts digestive biscuits! You know, the ones we dunk in our coffee and that are full of sugar. I’m not just talking about one or two that are left over but a whole packet that they had brought specifically for the deer. C’mon people!

It is amazing to have such an encounter with these deer but we really do need to think about the implications of our actions.

Of course there is a certain scene from the James Bond film, Skyfall that everyone wishes to replicate too. Except now it’s not quiet and somewhere you can be alone with your thoughts, it’s full of cars and people wanting to get “the” photo. Then what to do? It’s a single track road with passing places where people are parked so you can’t pull in or turn around. So you pull up onto the grass verge after it’s been raining for three days and don’t think anymore of it. When you pull away you have to give it a bit of welly because it’s greasy and you’ve no traction and this results in tearing up the grass and and moss etc.

I am not entirely clued up on the full impact of tourism and social media and its affects but it is certainly something I will be researching and taking more seriously. I do know that these are not isolated incidents or places where such things happen but are ones I have witnessed first hand (and no I didn’t go down to get the Skyfall photo). The affect from so many people driving and parking where they like or leaving litter, lighting fires etc does take its toll on the environment and wildlife.

I didn’t want to turn this post into a rant (although it sort of has), more an education, or an eye opener (to some, not everyone). Also taking the chance to say that from now on in if I write about a hidden gem I have stumbled across then I might not geo-tag it on Instagram or name drop in my blog. I will, however be more general with my location, otherwise I think I may struggle to call myself a travel blogger, and share it’s beauty through my photographs.

So, from here my plan is to continue inspiring, reviewing and promoting this stunning, friendly and vibrant country just with less social media geo-tags. I am also hoping to cover more local Perth based attractions and events, so do follow my tales.

Scotland is here to be enjoyed by locals and visitors alike, lets keep it a place that people want to keep coming back to explore but maybe let them stumble upon their own wee gem.  Lets not let our wanderlust ruin such beauty. Please do go and enjoy the great outdoors, views and make your own moments but be mindful of there reason you visited in the first place.

 

Scottish Game Fair

For the past twenty eight years the Scottish Game Fair has welcomed visitors from far and wide, and this, it’s twenty ninth year is really no different. If you are local or stayed locally yesterday, you will know all about the amount of rain we had but this didn’t seem to put anyone off. Today was a parade of wellies, boots and sturdy shoes for all ages but not an umbrella or poncho in sight.

I know some of you will be thinking you don’t see what all the fuss is about? Maybe not understand why folk may travel down from Orkney, or up from Northampton? You might not go shooting, or own a rescue mongrel, let alone a pedigree gun dog. You may however have an interest in nature, livestock, food, outdoor activities such as fishing or want to try something new, like archery or clay pigeon shooting. And all these things, plus a whole lot more are available to learn, try and sample over the three day event.

Today I have been down to the Game Fair to suss out what exactly is on offer for those looking for something different at this event:

Food Hall

I am starting with one of my priority stops, the food hall. Always popular because of the free samples and tempt us to get our purses and wallets out. I found some amazing Scottish products, including black pudding scotch eggs, garlic mayo, lobsters, fresh bread, gin and sausages in more varieties that I realised possible! So many of the food suppliers were within an hours drive of Perth too, that is something to be proud about.

If, like me, you struggle for new things to cook then the Cookery Theatre is the perfect place to pick up some tips and recipe inspiration. Demonstrations running all through the weekend, there is bound to be something that tickles your taste buds.



 

Have a Go

Since the London 2012 Olympic Games I have been banging on about having a go at archery. Five years later I manage to tick it off my to do list because I got the opportunity today at the Scottish Game Fair. For just a small fee I shot my first six arrows and on my last arrow…. Well lets just say, there’s room for improvement. But now I have the taste for it I will definitely have a proper lesson. There was also a climbing wall for children too.

If you have the reactions of a cat and good eyesight maybe clay pigeon shooting could be your thing. With expert supervision, guidance and some ear defenders you can have a go at this sport too. let me know how you get on!

 

 

Main Arena Demonstrations 

A full itinerary for each day in the main arena, with a great variety of displays: terrier racing, birds of prey display, gun dog demonstration and my favourite from today the Clywd Axemen. Showing amazing skill, strength and precision with axes and chainsaws.

The Fife Foxhounds came into the ring and totally owned it! Members of the audience/public were then given the chance to get up close and personal with these hounds. They proved very popular with the children. I can see why. I remember as a child having many similar encounters with hounds and it always stuck in my mind that they are rather cheeky but great fun. Just watch out for the wet kisses!

 



 



 

Get Involved

I also found in the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust marquee that children could do some clay modelling (and there were also workshops twice a day), make wee beasties from card and other craft materials too. What a brilliant way for children to learn, without realising it too. It is also here that they have a bee hive to see into and watch something that otherwise is normally hidden away. I learnt about the life cycle of a bee and how important bees are to us.

 


 

 

I also spotted some children having their faces painted too. Very cute.

There are big boys toys there too: machinery, fancy cars, 4×4’s and plenty of shopping opportunities if you need a new pair of wellies or a wax hat (ready for the next rain storm).

 


 

I really had a lot of fun today. I blethered to lots of people from all over and all with different reasons for visiting the Scottish Game Fair but all with one thing in common. They enjoy the variety of quality exhibitors, demonstrations, competitions and good atmosphere throughout the weekend event. Don’t be put off by the sea of tweed, expensive boots and 4×4’s, it really is a fabulous day out.

 

 

If you visit this weekend for the first time please do let me know what you think, either in the comments below or on Twitter.