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Entries about scotland

The Inn of Disappointment

BY MURIEL

sunny 15 °C
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Walking up to Arthur's Seat

Walking up to Arthur's Seat

We awoke to sunshine (finally!), and eager to get out in it, we packed up and were out of our place within an hour and a half, which is no mean feat when there are four adult-like people clamouring for one bathroom. We were rewarded with an uneventful navigation through the construction-riddled streets to our planned walk of the day: a trek up to what is known as Arthur’s Seat, after the famed round table king. This promontory lies right at the edge of Edinburgh and rises 250 m above the city. It is covered in lush, green foliage with patches of yellow Scottish broom augmenting the jade (with apologies to John Stadt, who feels Scottish broom is a blight upon the earth). The crowds of people at the top didn’t deter us from enjoying a stunning 360 degree view. This grand hill is a beautiful addition to the city, truly one of Edinburgh’s highlights.

Scottish Parliament Debate Chamber

Scottish Parliament Debate Chamber

Close to the base of the hill is the fairly newly built Scottish Parliament building. Scotland went without its own parliament for almost 300 years, until 1998, when it wanted more authority from the British Parliament. Now, the Scottish people answer to both houses (or is it the other way around?), and support both MPs in London and MSPs (Ministers of Scottish Parliament) in Edinburgh. It may seem like just another layer of bureaucracy to some; however, it does provide the Scottish regions their own jurisdiction over all matters except foreign policy, immigration, social security and defence. While an eyesore on the outside (in my opinion), the building is very appealing on the inside, with its many windows allowing streams of natural light to complement the oak wood angled every which way. The debating chambers are very modern, with the best in technology and design. Members do not have assigned seats but most will sit grouped along party lines. The translucent person-shaped figures etched into the walls signify transparency in government (although, interestingly, the shapes also resemble bottles of malt whiskey).

With our short self-guided tour complete, we returned to Winston (the car) and headed south, saying goodbye to Scotland and hello to England once more. The scenery got greener and the temperature higher the farther south we travelled, both good signs. When we arrived at the place we had booked, it was out in the country and neither of us could remember why we had chosen this particular location, seemingly an hour’s drive from our next day’s planned excursion. However, we trusted ourselves and our planning and knew an answer would present itself soon. When we were greeted by the grizzled innkeeper and escorted through the tired, smoky hallways to our room, the trust started to wane. We checked into the family room, which was essentially a double room into which they had put a set of bunk beds. Now we really doubted ourselves and got out the computer to determine if we could cancel the accommodation and try for somewhere else. However, we could not get WIFI in the room; the innkeeper informed us it was ‘iffy’ and that we should try his bar downstairs. When we confirmed that our room was not refundable, we tried to determine why we had booked this place. In looking back at the reviews, we saw nothing but high ratings and glowing reports from previous guests. Was this the same place? Ben stuck his head in another room and reported that it seemed nicer than and not as crowded as our special ‘family room.’ We also noted that several of the reviews mentioned the large, tasty full English breakfast that comes with each room. Maybe that was it – maybe I was starving when I booked this place and threw all judgement out the window, hoping the food would overcome all demerits.

Durham Cathedral Overlooking River Wear

Durham Cathedral Overlooking River Wear

Leaving the girls in our ritzy place, Ben and I went into nearby Durham to try to find some tourist information. We could only find a map but the trip was still well worth it. Durham presents itself as a cute, tidy town, complete with the UK requisites of cathedral, castle, bridge and slow, winding river through its centre. It is also home to several colleges and a university so, with the sun out, the town was chock full of students and tourists enjoying shopping, sightseeing and walking. We couldn’t say no to that so we navigated the riverside path, taking in the cathedral afterwards. Its particular claim to fame is that the Venerable Bede is buried here although his tomb was off limits. Noting that time was marching on, we reluctantly returned to our lodgings and our abandoned children.

Pub Fare: Twice Cooked Pork Belly

Pub Fare: Twice Cooked Pork Belly

Since our room didn’t come with a kitchenette (again, I ask, why did we book this?!), we would have to go out to a restaurant. The kids convinced us that since the food reviews were good, we should eat at the pub in our inn. Fortunately, the trip was not far. Downstairs, we ordered steak and ale pie, fish and chips and twice cooked pork belly with crackle (you would have liked it , Mom). The portions that came were enormous and very tasty. Yes! At least we could relish the food. The pub was well patronized and we were next to a family party celebrating someone’s eightieth birthday so the atmosphere was festive. Ben moved to allow someone to wheel the old celebrant out in her wheelchair; as the wheeler tipped the chair back doing a wheelie down the ramp, the woman gasped and onlookers smiled, with Hannah commenting that it was like something out of a sitcom.

And now to bed, as Hadrian’s wall beckons tomorrow.

Posted by KZFamily 11:02 Archived in England Tagged scotland edinburgh england durham tangier arthurs_seat Comments (1)

Edinburgh Wins by a Royal Mile

by Ben

overcast 10 °C
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Newborn Lambs

Newborn Lambs

We left the higher latitudes (around 58 degrees) to head to the cultural and political capital of Scotland, Edinburgh. As we headed south and traversed the Pass of Killicrankie the temperature dropped to a mere one degree and snow began to fall. It seems spring comes quite late to these parts.

By the time we got within 50 miles (yes we measuring our trip in imperial units during this part of our trip) of Edinburgh the temperature had risen to a more tolerable 10 degrees and the snow and rain had ceased. We took a little detour from the highway to find a nice place to picnic. We stopped amidst some pastureland that hosted a sizeable flock of sheep. The sound emanating from so many sheep was unfamiliar to our ears. The cacophony of deep and high bleats in various staccato rhythms sounded comical. The sight was that of innocent beauty since there were such an abundance of newborn lambs. We also saw quite a few ring-necked pheasants which I was unsuccessful in photographing but at least witnessed firsthand which I can't say for the red squirrels that the residents of the area are so protective of that they have produced signage for the squirrel's safety.

Scots Protecting their Squirrels

Scots Protecting their Squirrels

Our apartment, in the heart of Edinburgh, was easy to find but difficult to get to as many streets are being torn up to install new tramlines. A few passes through the neighbourhood finally revealed an unobstructed route and we were soon carrying our bags up six flights of stairs. Our location couldn't be much better. We are a few blocks from Edinburgh Castle and the beginning (or end) of the Royal Mile.

The kids chose to stay home while Muriel and I walked the Royal Mile from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace. It is a walk that takes you through some great architecture, notwithstanding the blackened stonework from centuries of coal burning. Edinburgh used to be called "auld Reekie" from all the chimneys in the city burning coal. At the end of the Royal Mile is the Queen's official residence in Scotland, Holyrood Palace. I would be curious to know what the Queen thinks about her new neighbours across the street; the Scottish Parliament. No greater juxtaposition of architectural styles could be imagined. The "modern" architecture of the Scottish Parliament leaves a bit to be desired. I think Elizabeth might be forgiven if she is spending a little less time at her Edinburgh residence these days.

Scot on the Royal Mile

Scot on the Royal Mile

By the time we got to the end of our walk I was thinking that I must be pretty tired from our car ride as the distance seemed much longer than two miles. I found out from Muriel that The Royal Mile is actually one Scot's mile long, which is 1.12 statute miles or 1.81 kilometers. The mile as a unit of measurement was not fully standardized until 1959. I guess you can't say Scots are cheap on distance.

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Just a reminder to all our readers, you can click on the photo gallery on the righthand side of the blog and see what we have been seeing in our travels. Please feel welcome and encouraged to leave comments. Your comments on our blog posts are great motivators to keep us writing and feel connected with home. Thanks for participating in our travels.

Posted by KZFamily 12:58 Archived in Scotland Tagged scotland edinburgh Comments (8)

Meall a' Bhuachaille Route: The All Weather Trail

BY ABBY

all seasons in one day 8 °C
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View on the Meall a' Bhuachaille Route

View on the Meall a' Bhuachaille Route

Today we went for yet another hike in Cairngorms National Park, this one was in Glenmore Forest Park. The walk itself was titled Meall a'Bhuachaille..you all can have a go at trying to pronounce that one (Bh is pronouced "V").

Today's hike turned out a little different. It was fine at first, the weather wasn't too bad and the sun even came out a few times, but as we neared the summit of our little hill we noticed that the wind was picking up, and some dark grey clouds were headed our way. A few minutes later some snow started to fall down on us, which wasn't bad at first, it just meant sticking another layer on to keep warm and we would be free to continue on. But it started to come down faster, and turned into hard little bits of ice which we were pelted with continuously. When we got to the top there was a small wall of rocks which we sat behind to try and stay out of the wind. But it looked to us as if there could be rain coming and so we decided that we might as well continue walking, as we'd be wet either way. The wind had picked up even more, but we pushed through, hoping we could find the shelter that the information centre had said was somewhere along the way. The rain never did come, but the hail stayed unfortunately. But as we got partway down the other side we were able to get out of most of it, which was quite a relief. The hillside was pretty steep, and a little slippery from the few days of weather, which isn't a great combination. But at least the other three were able to keep their footing. Closer to the base we found the shelter that we had heard about, and decided to stop in for a few minutes to have a little lunch. We were joined later by a few others, along with their 8 month year old dog. You all are probably thinking "Aww, how cute.. a puppy!", but it wasn't quite like that. It looked to us like a cross of a Doberman and a Rottweiler, and it was so huge that even the man holding his collar looked to be having trouble. Some of you may know that one of my biggest fears are dogs, especially large ones... who aren't on a leash... and are very energetic... and want your chocolate. But we were soon on our way again, eager to get on with our walk. The rest of the hike was very flat, as we just circled around the bottom of the hill around to our car. But before we were able to seek refuge in Winston, we got our last bit of weather, some nice rain to finish everything off nicely.

Meall a' Bhuachaille Route near Summit

Meall a' Bhuachaille Route near Summit

When we finished our route we decided that we were done for today, as the weather had been pretty nasty and we all just wanted to have a warm drink, or in my case, a shower.

I've also decided to include a short summary, if the details were just too much to handle and get your head around.

Wow, this is pretty. Yeah, quite nice. Now I'm tired... and hot. Oh, but not for long. Wow, that's a strong wind. Ooh, snow! Ow... ow that hurts... wow, that's a lot of hail. Yay, the top! WIND.. MORE WIND. Lots more hail. Finally, a break with food and shelter! OH MY GOODNESS.. IS THAT A BEAR? No? Just a dog?.. okay... Great, this is nice and flat. The car is so close!!... but... RAIN.

After we got home my parents took a nap (surprise surprise!!) and Hannah and I just relaxed and enjoyed ourselves. Later we got a knock on our door, and when we answered it turned out to be our friendly landlords offering us some freshly baked scones. They were warm and delicious and we all thoroughly enjoyed them. My mom was even able to wiggle her way into getting the extra one.

Posted by KZFamily 11:58 Archived in Scotland Tagged rain scotland mountain hill weather hike wind hail cairngorms_park scones Comments (3)

The Divine Bovine

BY MURIEL

sunny 5 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Cairngorms National Park

Cairngorms National Park

My main goal today was not to find the sustenance that would assuage my particular current food cravings, although that was accomplished. It was not to go on a beautiful hike up into the Scottish hillside to see a view that spread out for miles before us, although we did just that. It was not to buy another country pin for our mascot, Mo, although we did find a Scottish emblem and pin it to his jacket. No, my main goal today was to find at least one specimen of that beautiful bovine breed known as Highland cattle. I was actually more greedy than that – I wanted to see a whole fold (which is the collective noun for Highland cattle, unlike their more traditional cousins, who group together in herds.) My kids and husband know I have a thing for cows; they’ll find me happily employed watching the neighbour’s cows out of our front window, they bought me a stuffed cow for Christmas once, they know I have a soft spot for spotted black-and-white things, and they use my university nickname of ‘Mu’ more than others do.

But before my quest began, we would need to get that bothersome chore of shopping out of the way. That done, we proceeded to the tourist office. There, we found a very friendly Scot who suggested the perfect walking route for the day. When he found out we were Canadians, another guide mentioned that he had visited Cape Breton a few years ago; he reminded us that the Canadian island was closer to Scotland than it was to our home town of Victoria. Canada’s size (and the cold) is often what is mentioned when we identify ourselves as Canucks.

Highland Cattle

Highland Cattle

The motto for the national park we find ourselves in this week is “Welcome to the Cairngorms National Park - Make it Yours!” Well, we didn’t need to be told twice. Since the day promised to be sunny despite the cool five degree temperature, we layered up, stuffed our sacks with lunch, and began to trek. The route lead us past a small lake through stands of thin, bare trees, and then took us a few hundred meters up the scrubby hillside. The real treat was the view from the top of the rock ridge, which allowed us to gaze on many kilometers of pastoral lands, forest and a backdrop of low, snow-covered mountains. The wind up there was brisk but we lunched at the top and braved another kilometer or two of ridge walking before heading down. We saw a few other hardy walkers, each red-cheeked and windblown but content, like us. Heading down, I now started to anticipate my much-longed-for encounter with the hairy, long horned bovine.

Knowing I have a penchant for this breed of cattle, Ben had asked the tourist centre staff where we might catch a view, as they seem quite a bit less common than they once were. He directed us to a certain locale on the map: “through this town, continue a few miles, turn left at the bridge, look to the right field and there should be a couple of bulls there.” Off we were. We followed the directions only to be disappointed. I started to get pouty and nagging, telling Ben he will have failed me (yet again) if he didn’t locate some cows fast. Not to be outdone, and likely not wanting to share his room with a petulant wife, he put his all into it ... and came up with a single sample, without any long horns. But still, it was a bovine, it was hairy and ginger-coloured, and it was adorable. He dropped me and Hannah off at the fence line and went to find a pullout for the car. The two of us braved the large trucks whipping by on the narrow road to get our fill of the animal, who seemed curious about us and the attention we gave it but not so much that it deigned to walk over to us. However, it was enough for me that I saw one and was able to achieve my primary goal of the day. (Thanks, Ben) If you want to learn 25 more things about these animals click here.

Funnily enough, we're having burgers tonight.

Posted by KZFamily 12:53 Archived in Scotland Tagged scotland cows cairngorms Comments (3)

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