Thursday, February 01, 2018

Feel like dancing in the rain - can I have a volunteer

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I didn't know much about Aberdeen before we arrived. I knew it was the birthplace of Annie Lennox. That was about it.

Our visit had a mixed start. K had come down with a cold during that day. And we had reached dirty clothes desperation point and needed a laudromat urgently. Luckily there was one pretty close to the hotel. We were thrilled with our huge and incredibly reasonably priced hotel room. It was pretty great after the awful guest house in Inverness.

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Beach Ballroom

In the morning K found us a nice place for breakfast at the beachfront. It was a reasonable walking distance away ...but worth it. I was pretty hungry/desperate for coffee by the time we got there and ordered. Breakfast was good, and it was nice to sit in the sun for a while.

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While we sat at the cafe, we watched as a half marathon ran right past us. We had learned before we left the hotel that morning that the inaugural Great Aberdeen Run was being held that day. I just had to check the website to see if entries on the day were possible (no) (probably for the best! But I might have given it a go! I think my sneakers had just finished drying out after a muddy walk/run on Skye). So I resigned myself to a tiny bit of run envy, and also a very enjoyable day exploring the city on foot while lots of roads were closed to traffic.

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After we were done with breakfast and also finished drying out all the contents of my bag (yep, lid improperly closed on water bottle during that walk), we wandered along the beachfront for a while.

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Seeing a line of ships waiting out on the horizon always reminds me of visiting Newcastle (NSW) back when my parents were living there.

It wasn't hot but it was a nice summer weekend day and I was surprised to see so few people at the beach. We couldn't work out if the traffic closures kept people away or if the beach just really isn't that popular. Probably there are nicer beaches not far away. But I have a soft spot for a semi-industrial city beach!

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We enjoyed a bit of dog-spotting and also made sure to get our shoes off and stick our feet in the North Sea. On the way back along the promenade we came across this work of sand art, already being gradually eaten by the sea, and the artist himself sitting on a bench overlooking the beach and watching the waves come in. He said he does this often.

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The Gordon Highlander

We walked back into town through Castlegate.
seagull collage
I got laughed at by a couple for taking photos of this seagull. Or maybe just for taking so many photos and looking like a clueless tourist? I forget each time until I go back, the gulls in the UK are much bigger than ours in Australia. Sneering people are much the same anywhere though.

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The statue of Ceres on top of an old bank building (now a pub) seemed to have some extra decoration.

Ceres statue

We spent a while sampling the options at the Brewdog pub. They have many delicious beers which I have been buying back home whenever I find them. Apparently they are coming to Australia and I'm really looking forward to it.

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It's easy to see why Aberdeen is called the Granite City or the Silver City.

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And we were fascinated by the Triplekirks site with its sole surviving spire. We wondered if it was going to be enveloped by a shopping mall like the Shot Tower at Melbourne Central.

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Turns out there have been various development plans for the site and church remains since at least the mid-90's, ranging from offices to an art centre, to flats (including demolition of the spire!). The latest, pictured below, seems to be fancy student/academic accomodation. Pics I've seen on instagram suggest construction might have actually started since we were there.

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Monday, January 08, 2018

We learned fast to travel light

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On the day we left Inverness we had planned to stop, maybe for a short time, at Culloden. Visiting the battlefield, the site of the last battle fought on British soil, was a much bigger experience than I expected. I shared some thoughts about this on Instagram.

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The battle at Culloden in April 1746 was the end of the Jabobite Rising of 1745, and the last battle fought on British soil.

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The visitor centre/museum was really well set up and told the story with a good deal of complexity and a lot of information from different perspectives.

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We also took a group tour of the battlefield. I'd never visited a battlefield before, and it was so strange to walk each front line (conveniently marked with footpaths and red and blue flags) and picture the two armies lining up to face each other across a field.

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And although that idea is completely foreign to me, once you delve into the historical context and relate to some of the people involved, it's very easy to see that the more things change, the more they stay the same. War might look different but we humans are still tend to be territorial, angry, and scared, desperately defining our in-groups and out-groups to make sense of things and try to make ourselves feel safe. 

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I am so glad we took the time to visit the Culloden site. It was strange to learn even though the battle is relatively recent in historical terms, that the locations of many graves and other details about the site are unknown and can't be surveyed because of the use of the site for commercial forestry for a long time.

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Below you can see the visitors centre. I like the way it fits modestly into the landscape.

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After some lunch, we got on the road for Aberdeen. We stopped briefly in Nairn for a look at the beach. I wish I had known to visit the Nairn Fishwife. This is one of the disadvantages of doing your research post-trip!


We also stopped in Elgin. Here we were more focused on finding a pharmacy open on Saturday afternoon to buy some cold medicine, than sight-seeing. I did take some inadequate photos of this statue, which turns out to be the infamous Wolf of Badenoch. He seems to have been a very angry man with too much power. The statue is in a weird spot, not really in a pedestrian thoroughfare - and we just happened to pass it because of where we parked.

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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Climb way over that old mountain

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Having stretched out the journey to Inverness the previous day, we got into town quite late at night. We checked into our underwhelming accomodation - I think we truly got the worst-shaped room in the guesthouse, maybe in all of Inverness - and then went out looking for a very late dinner. We had very nearly given in and turned back to MacDonalds, but turned a corner and found the street with some life in it yet and a decent Italian chain restaurant still packed with tourists. Just quietly, I think there might be a rule that there has to be one of these on every second corner in every UK city.

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The next morning we got to see a bit of Inverness. Looking across the River Ness, on the left is the cathedral and on the right, Strathness House. Below, it's the view a little to the right of that with the Hotel Columba.

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One of our goals for the day was to go back to Loch Ness, which we had drive past on the way into town. But we decided to make a couple of other stops first. I picked the nearby town of Beauly because it sounded interesting.


We spent a lot of time exploring the ruins of Beauly Priory. Super cool.

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In the centuries after it was abandoned from its original purpose, it came to be used as part of a cemetery. It seemed like it was special to have a plot inside the bounds of the old building, even though it was partially ruined and open to the air. I found it fascinating that these very old church sites, long after they had fallen out of use and favour with the change to Protestantism, remained a desirable (holy?) place to be buried.

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We also had a look around in the nearby old schoolhouse which housed a group of shops including a very nice bookshop at the back and a big range of Scottish music CDs.

Before this day I had thought that we might manage to explore further north-west from Inverness but it just didn't end up being feasible. (Next time) Actually, as soon as we arrived in Inverness we had considered blowing off the second night in the guesthouse and making a rushed trip up to the Orkneys. We quickly realised this was going to be just a bit too crazy for just one night, a decent drive and a couple of hrs on the ferry each way. Just before we left a friend had provided lots of ideas and tips and had really pushed for visiting Orkney - but this was after we had everything pretty much locked in.

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Another day, another distillery! After Beauly we made a quick stop at Glen Ord. It had been raining lightly while we were in Beauly, but now it was a beautiful day.


Then it was back to Loch Ness. We stopped in Drumnadrochit, gave 'Nessieland' a miss, and had a cheap late lunch at the fish and and chips place there among the souvenir shops (also a tasty beer for the non-driver).

So this, though one of the weirder ones, is an example of the efforts to cater to vegetarians at every level. I just wouldn't expect a stall selling fish and chips to have a proper vegetarian option. But here the fish shop had this battered, deep fried felafel with chips. Tasty. Weird. Very very dense. I don't think I ate dinner that night at all.


After lunch, the search was on for somewhere to get closer to Loch Ness. We drove south, stopping briefly at Urquhart Castle. We decided we didn't want to take the time to pay to go in and soon left when we realised there was no easy access to the loch here.

We made a loose plan to maybe drive right around the the other side of the loch and go back to Inverness that way. But on the way we stopped in Invermoriston, had a look at River Moriston Falls, and then walked quite a way along the side of the main road to finally find a spot where we could climb down and put our feet in the actual loch! Which was lovely. I considered a quick dip (yes, seriously) but I couldn't face it, not only because of the cold water but because my feet hurt standing on the stones for even a few seconds. It was really nice and peaceful sitting on the bank though.

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Later we had a great night out at the Hootananny in Inverness, where North Sea Gas delighted a large, ever changing crowd of all ages, for several hours. It was brilliant.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Why don't you keep a few more cards in your hand?


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We wanted to make the most of this day on Skye, so we had a quick breakfast and started out early from Broadford, and made such good time we found ourselves in the carpark of Dunvegan Castle a bit before the 10am opening time. The people in the campervan parked next to us were cooking their breakfast on a little camp stove, right there in the carpark.

Although the gardens are a major tourist attraction we decided just to spend our time in the castle itself, seat of the chief of Clan MacLeod.

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Unfortunately we couldn't take photos inside. It was pretty cool, with public areas set up as a museum of MacLeod family history. There were lots of portraits of the various chiefs and their spouses - mostly wives but the clan was lead for 40 plus years last century by the formidable Flora MacLeod. Later I heard a few tales about her from my newly-met relatives - that she was born at 10 Downing Street, and apparently as clan chief she used to sit on a stone in front of the fire, instead of any kind of chair, to write letters.

There were also some mementos relating to Flora MacDonald and her passage to Skye with Bonnie Prince Charlie (theme of the Skye Boat Song).

And the Fairy Flag! A fascinating and ancient textile, whether or not of actual fairy origins.


There was an area downstairs with some history and artefacts from St Kilda, the now uninhabited archipelago waaaay out in the North Atlantic Ocean, formally evacuated in 1930. There were some fascinating photos of groups of islanders in the late 1800's, like this famous one of the St Kilda Parliament - note the bare feet, and groups of children with their very proper Victorian school teacher.


The MacDonald and MacLeod clans seem to have done a lot of fighting over St Kilda. What I've since learnt is a well-worn Gaelic myth (see Red Hand of Ulster) was lovingly retold here: a boat race between two clans, first to touch the land - in this case St Kilda - claims ownership. One boat is ahead, so a brave/foolish/berserk soul in the other boat cuts off his hand and throws it ahead, thus being the first to touch land. I can see why this is a popular story. Probably no way of knowing if it ever happened - anywhere!

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After Dunvegan we moved on to Carbost, home of Talisker Distillery, on Loch Harport. Most of the distilleries had their own distinct malty smells, some stronger than others. This was a strong one! Such a strange smell. Very drinkable whiskey though! We just had a brief look in the visitor centre, bought some small bottles for the road, then moved on to the pub for what turned out to be the most amazing chick pea curry. I really had some very good quality vegetarian meals in Scottish pubs. At this one we sat out the back in the beer garden with lots of people and a few lovely big dogs, including one hanging out with his master who was putting in a new deck. I always think it's lovely when a dog can go to work with its person. 

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More driving and admiring the bare hills. I loved them so much.

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Then a brief stop back in Broadford just before we took the bridge to the mainland, for me to spend a while in a lovely shop, The Handspinner Having Fun. Along with commercial yarns they stock a lot of independent and local handspun and millspun Skye wool. When I asked if there was anything from Raasay, the lady I spoke to said they would love to stock some but had not found any supplier. I did buy some Skye wool (and wished I had tried harder to source something from Islay).

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Once we reached the mainland, it was getting late in the afternoon but we were determined to squeeze in another castle before heading to Inverness for the night.

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This is Eilean Donan. Also known as the one from the Highlander film. It is in an incredible location, the meeting point of three sea lochs.

Interestingly, it's actually a 20th century rebuild. The castle was destroyed by the English Government during the Jacobite risings, in 1719. It lay in ruins until 1911 when Lt Colonel John MacRae-Gilstrap bought the island and spent 20 years rebuilding it. Now it's a major tourist attraction

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We arrived in just in time to pay our entry fee and have a look inside. The public areas had a mixture of historical artefacts and MacRae family history. I did wonder how some of the family members feel about so many of their family snapshots from weddings and other events being displayed for random tourists.

As we drove off towards Inverness, I was still desperately trying to capture my Highlands feelings in photos. Desperate enough to take pictures like this. "Four white vehicles parked in front of a hill; owners in pub across the road". We got coffees for the road at that pub and they were kind enough to run my KeepCup through the dishwasher first. The server at the bar was from New Zealand.

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