London Calling part 2

Day 5 – New Years Eve!
We started out at the Tower of London. Cruised in just as a Yeoman’s tour was starting. The tour was brilliant. The line for the Crown Jewels was alas longer than my patience and curiosity so we went into the White Tower instead, loads of arms and armor … Those who know me know that is so totally more my speed anyway. Once we got done exploring the tower we walked across Tower bridge and along the Thames. We had lunch at Cafe Rouge. We started with fried Camembert medallions with rocket and raspberry sauce. Miklos had the Duck confit with a cherry sauce and I had a grilled chicken with a garlic herb sauce. It was excellent! Thank you Joel K. for the recommendation.
We then made our way to the Globe Theatre for a tour before heading out of the cordoned off area. To stay down on the waterfront required tickets this year but they were sold out by the time we found out about them. Not to worry we headed back to our hotel to drop off our stuff.
We went out again that evening for a late dinner at The Swann. Good fish and chips and a cider to celebrate New Years in London. We ended up sharing a table with Maria and her mother from Rome. They were terrific dinner companions and we had a lovely time.
We came back to the hotel just before midnight and tuned into the nye concert and got the cameras ready. We had a terrific view of the fireworks from our window and could even hear and see fireworks from all over the city. We celebrated New Years meeting new friends and toasting old friends in a beautiful place full of fun and adventure. We hope that you all have a brilliant year in 2015.

Day 6 – New Years Day
Started off the New Year with a lovely walk in Hyde Park. The weather was a bit dreich but we throughly enjoyed ourselves. We saw the Ring-necked parakeets, which are bright green and are very vocal. Several Ravens and ducks, Coots, and Cha finches.
Then we headed back to the V&A. Oh holy cow there was an entire building we’d missed. We had brunch in the museum, which was wonderful. I had a marvelous current scone ( it was massive). Served with clotted cream, strawberry jam, and hot tea. Miklos had duck confit with roasted plums and a side of lentils. Both were exactly what we wanted. It has now become the duck trip food wise. The museum is phenomenal. We went through the Chinese and other Asian exhibits taking loads of photos. We hunted the elusive Blackwork embroidery. We discovered that all of the V&A’s textiles have been collected in a new location on Blithe street. So I took loads of pictures of all the embroidery I could find. We slipped into the museum bookstore with ten minutes to spare. Wheeee!
We then took the tube to Piccadilly station and found the restaurant Maria recommend at NYE. Fratelli la Bufala was wonderful. We had some of the best pizza ever. Margarita pizza was just fabulous! Good moscato wine and a chocolate melt cake with hazelnut gelato. The desert was one of the best that I’ve ever had, ever, really ever!
We then set out to hunt the mighty Dr. Marten’s boots. We wandered the streets of London. Pretty sure that we should not have gone down some of the back alleys we went through, but we eventually found the store. Only to find it was closed… Sigh! But we did figure out a much, much safer way to get there tomorrow. ;).

Published in: on January 1, 2015 at 5:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

London Calling

Day 1 – landed in London at 9am got through customs after a couple of hours. Decided to just take a taxi to the hotel. Was the right choice, it was simple to pick up our bags and go right out the door to the line of taxis where a really nice guy from the airport asked us where we needed to go and got us settled with a taxi driver. The ride to the hotel was uneventful and the driver pointed out areas of interests. Got to the hotel and settled into our room. Yay we will be able to see the fireworks from here if we choose too. It was only noon so we walked over several streets to Bella Italia. It was nice, not quit was good as the one we love in Edinburgh but still a welcomed meal after a really long flight.
We walked through Hyde Park and over to the Victoria and Albert Museum. All the things. The Europe floor was closed, but there was plenty to see. We didn’t get through it all and plan to go back later this week. My favorite thing were the illuminated manuscripts. SQUEeeeeee! Went back to the hotel with the intent of a quick nap before dinner…yeah right so woke up the next morning.

Day 2 – woke up and found that the hotel has a lovely breakfast. Went to the Underground station and got a couple of Oyster cards and then dove into the maze that is the Underground. We’re delighted to find that navigating the stops is actually pretty easy once you go a couple of places. Our first trip we didn’t venture off the central line but had no trouble getting to the British Museum. OMG. One day wasn’t enough. Got there when it opened, took a short break with a decent lunch in the museum, stayed till it closed. Not enough time and I ran through two fully charged camera batteries. Headed back to the hotel and had dinner at The Swan, a pub just down from the hotel. Decent Chicken pot pie with a Magners cider to make the day complete.

Day 3 – decided to venture to Portsmith, which means Trains!!! Yay! I love riding on trains. Navigated the Underground to the Waterloo station. Got there just in time to get tickets to Portsmith. The journey was quite nice, comfortable, warm… Miklos was asleep before the train left the station. It had a trolley with snacks ( ok, y’all in the UK are rolling your eyes going Duh), but it was very Harry Potter for me. Also Boots is a great place to pick up a couple of diet cokes for staying awake.
We got to Potsmith, The HMS Warriors was the first to greet us. The HMS Warrior, The HMS Victory, The HMS Dauntless and The Mary Rose are all magnificent. We were mostly interested in the Mary Rose and it didn’t disappoint. The enormity of the effort to raise the Mary Rose is just a staggering undertaking. Saw longbows and arrows, a whole archer kit. Miklos Squeed repeatedly. Took lots of pictures, no idea if any came out due to lighting. But I gave it a good try. It was so cool we didn’t really stop for lunch but had a quick tea and mincemeat tart then onto the HMS Victory. The tour guide was great, but it was cold, cold, and freezing. I mean it was cold enough for me to put on a hat. Which means that ice was promptly forming on the decks. The train ride home was warm and again Miklos was asleep before the train pulled out of the station.
We got back in time to dash out of the station and beat feet over to the London Eye. There was very little in the way of a que, so we got a ticket and into a car without any issues. It was Awesome! The view was spectacular and it was so worth every penny. At night was the best way to see the city. It was just beautiful. It is now on my “you must do this” list.
The lack of food caught up with us very soon after getting fine at the Eye and just happened to see a restaurant called The Slug and Lettuce.
For those who don’t know Miklos has been dubbed with the nickname Slug Boy through many nefarious adventures so when we saw the name we had to go. It was fabulous. Butternut squash, spinach, and goat cheese lasagna, it was excellent. Miklos had the Harissa chicken and chips because well chips. Don’t miss their chocolate cake/pudding with chocolate sauce and warm custard. Staggered back to the hotel and slept like the dead.

Day 4 – Had an interesting day navigating the Underground with a couple of the lines down for maintenance so alternate exchanges were an adventure. Spent a beautiful morning in St. Paul’s Cathedral, went up to the whispering gallery. It was an amazing place with some of the most breathtaking mosaics, woodwork and painted ceilings. Particularly liked the honorary plaques of William Blake and Edward Bulwer-Lytton. I really wish that they would allow photography. The light was perfect. Once we finished there we had lunch at Le Pain Quotidien, which was awesome. I had tomato soup and the Wiltshire ham and aged gruyere tartine and Richard had the prosciutto and mozzarella di bufala tartine. Then we walked across the Millennium bridge got some terrific photos, were too late to get into the globe but got a free ride on the water taxi down to the tower. We were really too late to tour the tower so retreated to the hotel for a few min before heading to Harrods.
Once at Harrods We had dinner at The Mango Tree in Harrods. Richard had some of the best Tom Yum soup ever and chicken dumplings with Szechwan sauce. I had their Ped Makham aka duck with a sweet and sour tamarind sauce. It was crunchy on the outside and tender and moist on the inside and delicious. Jasmine bloom tea yummy and beautiful. Then shopping, wow Harrods is overwhelming in its enormity. However the chocolate and tea room was my favorite. Hey Mao, Becca and Gia there is a heaven, and it is in Harrods chocolate and tea room. Have now retired to the hotel for Steven Fry on the telly and dark chocolates filled with blackberry goodness.

Published in: on December 30, 2014 at 5:48 pm  Comments (1)  

Holly and Ivy 2013

I have had loads of requests for the recipes from Holly and Ivy this year.  It was a good feast and overall went really well.  Muirenn ingen Ui Dunchada did an absolutely outstanding job as Co-Kitchener.  Miklos baked and baked and baked some more so that we had two kinds of lovely bread for the feast.  We had loads of helpers in the Kitchen so BIG THANKS go to: Mao Roise Inghean Aibhne, who did an outstanding job especially when things got hot. She along with  Alex Joplin , and Kristina cut up figs, apples, and vegetables well into the night on Friday. Then they all came back on Saturday and helped though out the day.  To Becca Baker, Hank Chambers, Emilee Sawicki, Steve McManus, Elizabeth McKinnon, Megan Harrison, Astrid, Shamrock, new guy Jeff, Ginger Stevens, Lydia Weiso, Kenyon Patterson, Alexander Ravenscroft, and all the people who stopped in to check on us and offer help.  Zachary Carey for making trips to the trailer for us and facing the great table of foot felling and besting the furious foe. Fergus for hauling the trailer. Hruse, thank you for all of your great advice and for saving our bacon in the second remove, glad to have you as a brother. :)  Leon Jeronimo Suarez and Ellen Wolf for letting us test cook for you. If Leon will eat it then it must be good.  Mistress Eleanor Thank you for understanding when we had to miss rehearsal. Master William and THL Katherine for letting us use your cookbooks for reference and inspiration and for introducing us to the venerable Madge Lorwin, who is the bomb-diggity.  Really if you don’t have her cook book you should get it.  Right now. Here’s a link.  The rest of the blog will wait till you go order it.

First Course

Manchettes (a bread made of mixed flours from the recipe in “War Fare by Bonnie Fienberg and Marian Walke)
Sage Butter
Cabbage lightly sauteed in butter
Salad of mixed greens with a balsamic vinaigrette
Pork with an apricot, fig and walnut stuffing, covered in bacon, with an apricot glaze

Second Course

Medieval Chicken with Cinnamon and Ginger – From Forme of Curry  (  Clarissa Dickson Wright does a fantastic job of showing you how it’s done.  She’s making it with garlic blubs. We used chicken thighs, left out the garlic and used root vegetables instead.
Root Vegetables – Carrots, Turnips, Parsnips, and Onions.
Buttered Onions – from Dining with William Shakespeare by Madge Lorwin – did you go buy it yet.  At least go put it onto your wishlist.
Wheat Bread with Thyme based on this recipe from The Historical Cookery Page
Honey Butter

Third Remove

Sugar Plums
Orange Suckets  –
Figgy Pudding
Mincemeat Pie (We made over 100 individual “coffins”  (mini tarts with a top crust) and then one large coffin for high table)

Requested Recipes –

Apricot Loin of Pork

  • 1 – pork loin (not tenderloin)
  • 1 Cup of dried apricots chopped
  • 2/3 Cup of dried figs copped
  • 2/3 Cup of walnuts diced (I used a food processor to do a quick chop of the nuts)
  • 1/2 package of bacon
  • twine
  • 1 jar of apricot preserves

Rinse and dry the pork loin.  Put it fat side down and butterfly it open.  Put on a layer of the chopped fruits and nuts.  Roll up and tie with the twine.  Cover with the bacon.  Then put into a roasting pan.  I didn’t raise it off of the bottom because I was going to be re-heating it and I didn’t want it to lose any of its juices.  We cooked all of the pork the night before the event at a temp of 350, covered, until it reached 160 degrees internal temp. Your cooking time will vary depending on how many loins you have in a pan and how much each loin weighs.  We then cooled and refrigerated them. (We only drained off enough of the juices to make them safe to transport without sloshing all over us after they had been refrigerated.)  At 30 min before the feast started we put the pork in a preheated, 450-500 degree oven, uncovered (to crisp the bacon). I wanted the bacon to crisp and the pork to heat through but not keep cooking, so I went with a really hot oven.  Once the bacon was crisp and the pork was hot all the way through we pulled them out of the oven. Just before serving we sliced and plated it. (An electric knife was awesome at this point. You also want to be sure to flip the pork over snip the twin and remove it before slicing. It will slip right out from under the bacon.)  On the stove top heat up the apricot preserves.  You can take a little of the pan juices or water  to thin out the apricot preserves just a little.  Drizzle the hot preserves over the pork and serve it forth.

Figgy Pudding


  • 250g pack butter, softened, plus extra for the bowls and paper
  • 750g dried figs
  • 150ml brandy
  • 700g mixed sultanas and raisins (we added currents)
  • 3 eating apples, peeled, cored and grated
  • 175g light muscovado sugar (we used raw sugar)
  • 175g dark brown soft sugar (we used light brown sugar)
  • 200g breadcrumbs  (home made wheat bread toasted and then ground into crumbs)
  • 200g self-raising flour
  • 1 tbsp allspice (we used cinnamon and clove)


On the big day…

Steam the puds as above to reheat – they’ll take half the time they took to cook, to heat through.


  1. Butter a 500ml, a 1-litre and a 2-litre pudding bowl, then line the base of each with a circle of baking parchment. Butter 3 large sheets of greaseproof paper, lay each on a large sheet of foil butter side up, and fold a pleat in the middle of each.  (we didn’t do this, we buttered the bowls but served the puddings in the bowls instead of un-molding them onto plates.
  2. Roughly chop 250g of the figs and set aside. Put the remaining figs, butter and brandy into a food processor and whizz until smooth-ish, then scrape into your largest mixing bowl. Tip in the chopped figs, mixed vine fruits, grated apple, sugars, breadcrumbs, flour and allspice. Stir everything together, allowing as many helpers to give a stir and adding as many wishes as you like. Divide between the pudding bowls and smooth the surfaces.
  3. Cover the puds with the buttered paper-foil sheets, tie with string and trim. Lower the puds into separate saucepans with upturned saucers or scrunched up bits of foil in the bottom (so the puds don’t touch the bottom), then fill each pan with enough boiling water from the kettle to come halfway up the sides of the bowl. Cover with a lid and simmer the small pud for 1-1½ hrs, medium for 2-2½ hrs and large for 3 hrs, topping up the water as needed. Remove and leave to cool. If giving as a gift, put a new piece of parchment on top. Will keep in a cool, dry cupboard for up to a year. (we didn’t cover the puddings but put them into nescos with boiling water half way up the sides.  Turned them up to steam and let them steam for ~3 hours.  Then turned the nescos off and kept the puddings warm until serving.

Recipe from Good Food magazine, November 2010

Let me know if you want any of the others and I will post them up.

Happy Holidays!

Published in: on December 27, 2013 at 12:47 pm  Leave a Comment  


The first time I was in Scotland my ex-husband and I rented a car.  We had just gotten there and were terribly jet lagged.  We were driving on little, curvy, one lane roads across the highlands late at night.   It became apparent that the road was a magnet for sheep because it was warm.  Thus every time we went full speed around a curve and discovered sheep on the other side I would yell *SHEEP* at the top of my lungs.  My ex-hubby would hit the brakes and swerve , and we would miss the sheep. I’m pretty sure he could have done this without me yelling *SHEEP* but I was too tired and wired at the same time to stop. The calls of *SHEEP* continued throughout that drive and it became a running gag throughout our visit. Thus now I can’t actually pass sheep standing on a road without going *sheep* out loud, but at least now it’s under my breath for which everyone in the car with me is grateful.

Published in: on September 23, 2013 at 8:59 am  Leave a Comment  

Stairs in the Walls

Scotland day #10
Starting location: Ullapool
Ending location: Island of Lewis
Lunch: Toasties at the Library just on the Stornoway port.
Dinner: Hotel Doune Braes – Scampie and Beef Curry. Warm fudge cake and Cheesecake with berry sauce.
Spiffiest thing seen/done today: Dun Carloway Broch
General notes: The day started with us catching the ferry from Ullapool to the isle of Lewis. The ferry crossing was 2 hours and 45 min. I fell asleep… needless to say it was pretty quiet. Saw one diving of birds that might have also involved dolphins but I was just waking up and really have no idea other than “wow that’s a lot of birds.”
Lunch at the Library was good, not spectacular but good. Went into a bookstore which ended up being more of a touristy buy kitschy stuff than an actual bookstore. Then we began the drive to the Black Houses. This drive was on a road that crossed the moors. I kept expecting a sign that said Wuthering Heights next left. The moors are expanses of peat and heather on rolling hills as far as the eye can see with rivulets of water snaking through them.
The black houses were very interesting they have one that they have restored to what they think they were like. People actually lived in them as late as the 1960s. They had a peat fire going in the one that they have restored. There is nothing quite like walking into an enclosed space with a peat fire that has no outlet. It is overwhelming. Not even sure that the smell will ever come out of my hair. The house itself was very interesting. But man you would have to really like the folks you were living with plus all the animals. It would have been pretty dark and I would say smelly but your sense of smell would have left you, run down the street screaming and crying “why oh why” after living in the smoke for more than a day or two. Miklos said he rather liked the smell right before he got a nose bleed. (really, not joking, he walked around with a tissue crammed up his nose for a good twenty minutes.)
The next stop was the Dun Carloway Broch. This is a fortified house that would have looked rather like a gigantic stone thimble when it was completed. But it was soooo cool. Clearly this isn’t on the general tourist map of Lewis, because you can crawl all over this site. There is nothing stopping you from being stupid. It was great. We ducked inside the main door. Bent double to get into the walls and then climbed up staircases that were older than the USA and most of Europe. If you envision a large cup with a smaller cup inside it you get the general idea of the way that the structure is built. Now add spiral stair cases and hallways in the area between the two cups. The center of the inner cup is open with a fire pit in the middle. The hallways have openings so that you can see down into the central chamber. There were at least two if not three stories to this broch. Miklos and I went up the stairs until they ended. If you’ve ever ridden Space Mountain at Disney land and looked up while the rollercoaster is going and have seen how close you are to the tracks above your head you would get the idea of how tight these staircases are. You could look through the stairs and see the ones below and above you.
After Dun Carloway Broch we went to Callanish Standing Stones. They are older than Stone Henge but not quite as old as the Ring of Brodgar. They are beautiful. The energy there is very different from that at Brodgar. The stones are granite and swirled and warn in patterns. Part of the energy difference may be that it was built in stages. The first part of the circle was built in 2900 BC. Then it had a burial chamber added around 2600 BC. Around 2000 BC they put a chamber over the burial site. 1500 – 1000 BC farmers empty out the burial chamber and plough up the field. (leaving the stone circle but looting the burial chamber and plough it over.) At some point between 2900 and 2000 the off shooting stones were added, they weren’t sure when. It is clear that there is an entry way coming from the north and the offshoots go out to the east, west, and south. You can see two other stone circles from this one. They are Callanish II and III. They are out in cow and sheep pasture land. Wear shoes that you can get wet and be prepared to doge cow patties if you go to see those two circles.
After a fortifying scone with jam and a pot of tea we set out to see Callanish II and III standing stones. It was squishy going and laden with organic landmines. They were interesting but a little underwhelming after just having seen the Callanish stones.
The hotel had a good hot dinner and we are now reclining and pondering an early morning walk to maybe see the sun come up at the stones.

Published in: on September 19, 2012 at 4:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

Travel Day to Ullapool

Scotland day #9
Date: 9/18/2012
Starting location: Orkney
Ending location: Ullapool
Lunch: Bettyhill Hotel- Red Lentil soup and sticky toffee pudding and apple crumble
Dinner: Haddock chowder and Caramelized onion and goat cheese tart, Lamb and Ale casserole (stew really). Birthday cake for Betty which was a yellow cake with sweet cream and raspberry jam in the middle the top was dusted with powdered sugar.

Spiffiest thing seen/done today: HIking down to the Corrieshalloch gorge and walking across the suspension bridge to see a beautiful waterfall and look over a massive gorge to the river below. Then walking on to the overlook to see the falls with the bridge in the background. The big fall is the Falls of Measach and measures 45 meters. The top of the falls is well below the bridge we were on. It was a ridiculously tall gorge. They think the gorge was probably cut in the ice age by a strong river flowing underneath a glacier.
General notes:
The day started out with Betty getting a rock for her birthday. Then we left the beautiful town of Kirkwall Orkney and drove to Stromness to catch the ferry M V Hamnavoe back to the mainland of Scotland. We did manage to find Betty a bag of M&Ms for the ferry ride. We then made a mad dash across the Thurso (?!?) Taking a short stop at Bettyhill for lunch. The view from the hotel looks over the most beautiful stretch of beach. It was just spectacular. Where better to eat lunch on Betty’s birthday than Bettyhill? The excitement at lunch came when Miklos went to the restroom. (Yes I could just leave it at that but I won’t) So he get’s in and start to do his business when he notices that a cat has come up to the open window. The cat then proceeds to jump through the open window into the bathroom. It demands pettings. Then upon realizing that Miklos is not going to open the door and let him into the hotel promptly flicks it’s tail and jumps back out the window.
We crossed the country at breakneck speed driving in and out of rain storms to get to Ullapool in time to hike down to the falls and bridge and still get back to the hotel before they stopped serving dinner. Betty was surprised by a cake after dinner. It was very nummy.

Published in: on September 19, 2012 at 4:03 pm  Leave a Comment  

Tidbits of Orkney

Scotland day #8
Date: 9/16/2012
Starting location: Kirkwall, Orkney
Ending location: Kirkwall, Orkney

Lunch: Cafe Bar at Stromness – crab cakes with a hot chili sauce and chips.
Dinner: Ayre hotel: Lamb cutlets and roast lamb with whipped potatoes.
Spiffiest thing seen/done today: Climbing the Tower at the Bishop’s Palace & Walking along the beach at the Bu.
General Notes:
We started the day by going to a jeweler’s workshop. Shelia Fleet is a local artist who works with enamels on silver and gold. Her designs are greatly inspired by Orkney. We were able to take a tour of the whole place and see how the pieces are made from start to finish. They do a lost wax method of production where they make a master of the piece. Then they make a rubber mold of the piece with a spru cut in. They inject wax into the rubber mold and then take the wax piece and build a tree of wax pieces. They then put the tree into plaster of Paris, let it set. Then they can pour in the silver. Once it is cast the pieces are cut and cleaned. Once that is completed then each piece has the enamel added by hand using a sharpened quill. It was fantastic to watch. The process is very hands on throughout and while her pieces are somewhat expensive they are beautiful.
Brouch of Gurness – is a 2000 year old village. It is right on the water. What makes it interesting is that it has a large Brouch that is still very large. It has inner and outer walls that they could have walked around. It also looks like it had stairs that would have let up to another level. It is surrounded by smaller houses or rooms. You can stand there and imagine that as their village grew they would add on additional rooms.
Lunch was at the Cafe Bar. The crab cakes with a hot chili sauce was the special. It was very good. We also shared a piece of chocolate fudge cake with Mike and Betty. It was so dense that it had to be held in place by one person while others cut off bites. It was very good but somewhat dense.
Scapa flow – Is one of the greatest natural harbors in the world. It was used extensively during World War I and II by the UK Navy. It is also known for wreck diving.
Main article: Scuttling of the German fleet in Scapa Flow
Following the German defeat in the First World War, 74 ships of the Kaiserliche Marine’s High Seas Fleet were interned in Gutter Sound at Scapa Flow pending a decision on their future in the peace Treaty of Versailles. On 21 June 1919, after nine months of waiting, Rear Admiral Ludwig von Reuter, the German officer in command at Scapa Flow, made the decision to scuttle the fleet because the negotiation period for the treaty had lapsed with no word of a settlement (he was not kept informed that there had been a last-minute extension to finalize the details). After waiting for the bulk of the British fleet to leave on exercises, he gave the order to scuttle the ships to prevent their falling into British hands. The Royal Navy made desperate efforts to board the ships to prevent the sinkings, but the German crews had spent the idle months preparing for the order, welding bulkhead doors open, laying charges in vulnerable parts of the ships, and quietly dropping important keys and tools overboard so valves could not be shut.
The British did eventually manage to beach the battleship Baden, the light cruisers Nürnberg, Frankfurt and Emden, together with 18 destroyers, but the remaining fifty-two ships, the vast bulk of the High Seas Fleet, were sunk without loss of life. However, nine German sailors died when British forces opened fire as they attempted to scuttle their ship, reputedly the last casualties of the First World War.

Saga Center Saw the Earl’s Bu and the Round church of St. Nicholas with a walk next to the ocean. There’s not a lot left at the Bu and Round church. But we did take a few pictures and then went out a side gate and walked along the seaside looking out over Scapa Flow. The tide was out and the ocean was very calm. The walk was narrow but pretty easy. It was very picturesque. Which I imagine you will see when you look at our pictures. We didn’t go very far but we did manage to make it down to the point before turning back. The nearby Saga Center had a hysterical family tree of Vikings that were made up of famous actors in various states of “viking”.
Cathedral of St. Magnus – Is huge. The windows are beautiful. They started building it in 1137 they finally finished it in the 15th century. You can see the progression of building in the different colors of stone used throughout. It was founded in 1137 by Earl Rognvald-Kali, the nephew of the martyred Earl of Magnus. It is dedicated to Magnus, and contains his remains. It is on the scale of some of the ruins of Tinturn Abbey in Wales. The windows are beautiful. When we went there the afternoon sunlight was coming through the windows and the reflections were glowing on the stone windowsills. The tiles on the floor were beautiful. They have tours that go to the upper floors which would have been soooooo cool.
The Earl’s Palace has a massive kitchen fireplace. It has remaining two stories that you can go through. They are still restoring a good section of it. We went in the main door and explored the cellars and the kitchen. You and 50 of your closest friends could have fit into that fireplace. I can’t even imagine what kind of fire they had in that place. Given that they mostly use peat here for fuel I don’t even want to think of a peat fire that big. The upper floors are mostly under construction. We were able to go up and see one of the chambers before heading back down and across the street to the Bishop’s Palace. The tower in the Bishop’s palace was open so you could climb up 4 stories on a tiny spiral stone stair case. It has terrific views of the city.
We walked back to the hotel taking a wandering route through the city looking at the small shops and narrow alleys that criss cross the main street. We walked along the waterfront and around the Peedie Sea. (Small sea). The midges then found us and we retreated back to the hotel and had a fantastic dinner of roasted lamb with mint sauce. It’s now onto packing up tonight for tomorrow we go back onto the ferry back to the mainland. So far Orkney has been just fantastic. I would recommend it to anyone.

Published in: on September 17, 2012 at 3:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants.

Scotland day #7
Date: 9/16/2012
Starting location: Kirkwall, Orkney
Ending location: Kirkwall, Orkney

Lunch: Birsay Bay Tea Room – Tomato soup (made with tomatoes that they grow in their green house.) and cheddar scones. Ginger plum cake.
Dinner: Ayre hotel: Pan seared scallops with black pudding. Fish and chips. Toffee cheesecake.
Spiffiest thing seen/done today: Climbed to the top of Brough of Birsay to see the light house and cliffs.
General Notes: Today was our first full day on Orkney. It has been just remarkable. Those who are sensitive to energy will be glad to know that given all the stones/circles etc. that I’ve seen today I may just radiate for the rest of the trip. We started the day at the Standing stones of Stenness. There are four remaining stones and what looks like a large stone slab with two small stones at the ends. From there you can see a little Neolithic village. It had foundations for a barn and a couple of small houses. All were circular and looked to have had a fortifying wall around them at some point. Given the wind today I’d say it was to fortify against weather more than anything else.
The next stop was the Ring of Bodgar. It was beautiful. It is a Neolithic henge in a huge circle. You can see the Standing stones of Stenness from the ring. You can also see several mounds that appear to be manmade, probably burial mounds. You can still walk the circle and touch the stones. It gave me chills. You can see graffiti carved into the rock that dates to the 1800s. There is one stone that was struck by lighting and broke apart. There are 27 stones and is 380 meters in circumference (1250 ft.). They ask that you don’t walk to the center of the henge. It is overgrown with heather that was blooming dark purple. It was such an awesome place.
We then went out to Skara Brae. It is a 5000 year old settlement. They have reconstructed one of the best preserved of the houses in the village. When you go in they have a family of actors dressed in costume that are there to tell you about life in the settlement. (they got the smell that comes with unwashed wool right). But the structure itself was very interesting. It was warm and out of the wind and very comfortable. We then walked along the cliffside and saw the actual houses. It is a really interesting place. The beach that it is next to is just breath taking. It is no wonder why they were there. It would have been an easy place to get boats in and out of, not to mention the fields for animals and gardening. They had passageways that went between the houses that would have been out of the wind. Stone beds boxes were built in and then filled with straws and soft linings. They haven’t found textiles as such but they have found large bone needles and tools that indicate they were adept at tanning, fishing, and hunting. They had a workshop that was a building that didn’t have beds and was not a house. It appears to have been used for making stone and bone tools, wooden implements, and pottery.
From Skara Brae we went to the Palace in Birsay. This was the Earl’s Palace built by Lord Robert Stewart (1533 -93). He was an illegitimate son of James V. Robert was a tyrannical lord and made the Orcadian’s life a misery. His son Patrick was apparently even worse. The house is mostly ruins now but you can see that it would have been massive when was built. It open courtyard with common rooms below and galleries up top. The corner towers had three levels with bedrooms. It was interesting to see that they no longer built arrow slots but slots that were better used by gunners.
The Brough of Birsay Lighthouse is on an island that is only accessible at low tide. You first have to cross over to the island then climb up 52 meters to the light itself. It marks the North west tip of the Orkney mainland. From there you can see the curvature of the earth. There is literally no other land from that point until you reach Canada. The light itself is pretty, but the views from the island cliffs are spectacular. At the base of the hill there is a Viking village and church with a Pictish standing stone. We walked the narrow gap to the island. We climbed the steep embankment to the lighthouse. Then we saw the cliffs and the water that looked beautiful. The sun had come out and it was just amazing. We saw Cormorants nestled into the Cliffside. Steep drops onto ragged rocks below with the waves crashing into the cliffs that shot spray up into the air. The wind was terrific and the ocean was hurling massive waves at the shore. It was truly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. We made it down and back across the great divide before the tide came in.
We just had time to catch a quick lunch at the Birsay Bay Tea Room. The tomato soup was excellent especially with their homemade cheddar scones. Betty and Mike got a piece of ginger and plum cake that they shared with us. It was just what we needed after getting so windblown out on the cliffs.
We then made a mad dash for Maeshowe. The doorway is only a meter high and leads down an 8 meter pathway into the chamber. They can only take 30 people at a time and so you have to make a reservation to get in. We were lucky and made it just in time. It had started raining by this time and had gotten much colder. We bent over almost double and sort of shuffled down the hallway into the chamber with the other 29 folks. The Howe has a high ceiling that is actually a meter shorter than the original. There are three side tombs that are small and you can’t go into them. The first part of the “tour” talks about how the Howe was made and the Neolithic people who made it for a burial chamber. The second part of the “tour” tells how there were Vikings that broke into the Howe during a blizzard and while they were there they carved in graffiti all over the tomb. It is funny to see things like “I am Sven and I carved this with the Axe that used to belong to Halfdan.” They had also carved a very tiny lion and dragon on one of the stones. When we came out of the tomb it was really raining and we got pretty drenched getting back to the car. So we headed back to the hotel for hot showers and dinner. It’s been a truly outstanding day. Can’t wait to see what we discover tomorrow.

Published in: on September 16, 2012 at 2:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Great Crossing

Scotland day #6
Date: 9/15/2012
Starting location: Aviemore
Ending location: Kirkwall, Orkney

Lunch: cafe at John O’Groat . Leek and Chicken soup, a cheese scone and poppy seed roll.
Dinner: Ayre hotel: Highland Chicken stuffed with cranberries and cheese and lamb cutlets with haggis mashed potatoes.
Spiffiest thing seen/done today: The catamaran ferry ride across to Orkney
General notes:
Today was a driving day. We made the trek from Aviemore to Kirkwall in the Orkneys. It was a long day’s ride filled with many naps and few stops. The country side was beautiful though and we were driving along the coast for most of the day so there were sweeping ocean views added to the heather clad mountains we had been enjoying in the Cairngorms.
We did get to drive through a small town well known for its traffic accidents. The town lies at the bottom of a steep crevice-like valley. The main road that runs through town has 13% grade going both ways in and out of town. Every year they have several accidents due to burnt out brake and overheated engines. From there we proceeded to John O’Groat the northern-most point on mainland Scotland and had the most disappointing soup we’ve had so far this trip. I wish we had notices the fish and chip shack behind the cafe before we waded through the soup.
After killing a few minutes taking pictures and staring at the sea, we made our way over to the ferry landing. There we got to sea seals sunning themselves on the rocks and hunting in the surf while we waited for the ferry to arrive and unload. It is the first time we have ever seen seals in the wild so it was a pretty nifty experience. We also got to watch a surfer paddle out into the north sea, but he was still waiting for his wave when we rode out of site.
The ferry and ferry were awesome. The ferry is a two year old catamaran and held dozens of cars and made good speed through the islands. We were fortunate that the sun came out for the first time in days because the wilnd was cold and insistent. I supposed that we could have ridden in the lounge area instead of on deck, but that would just be crazy talk. Crazy talk I tell you. It was by far the best part of the day. We saw even more seals on the shores of the various island, birds by the dozen, several light houses, and old military lookout posts.
After making out landing, we drove across several sections of the Churchill Barriers. Look them up if you get the chance. The story of their construction by Italian prisoners of war in WWII was an interesting tale. We stopped along the way at the Italian Chapel. It is a tiny chapel that the prisoner built in their prisoner of war camp. Two of the prisoners were responsible for the decoration of the chapel. One was a stone carver and the other a painter. So they built a beautiful stone front to the chapel and painted the shabby huts they were given with floor to ceiling murals. It was truly amazing to the beauty they created under such unpleasant conditions.
From there the rest of the day was spent walking around downtown Kirkwall and then eating dinner. Not a lot of grand site, but we are all excited to start our adventures on Orkney. This is he first big section where we have never been before. It should be an adventure.

Published in: on September 16, 2012 at 1:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

Barrel makers and Forest Walkers

Scotland day #5
Date: 9/14/2012
Starting location: Aviemore
Ending location: Aviemore

Lunch: Cawdor Castle. Leek and Potato soup, a scone with currants and raisins.
Dinner: Cairngorm hotel: Fish and chips. Strawberry fantasy for desert.
Spiffiest thing seen/done today: Walking in the Wilderness park at Cawdor Castle and walking in Clava Cairn
General notes:
The day started out with us tired. We had things that go bump in the night (ok drunks knocking into our door.) Calls at 6 am, with no one on the line, and overall we just didn’t sleep well. So this morning saw us all fairly cranky and quiet. It was also very windy, so no kayaking again today. :( We set out for our adventure and headed towards the Cooperage to see where they make barrels. (We are deep in the heart of whiskey country.) I had an Earth Chi Splash moment when I saw a sign that indicated a Pictish standing stone was the next left. I pointed it out and left we turned. We went down a little lane that looked like it was going to dead end but it came around a bend and there was a tiny car park. There were loads of construction workers with equipment doing work on a small church. We all bundled out of the car and headed through the construction following the signs for the stone. (Yeah I’m a sucker for a standing stones what can I say.) They had 4 Pictish stones that were on display on the porch of the church. I took some photos and then stuck my head into the church yard and took a peak inside the church. We then trudged back to the car and were again underway to the Cooperage.
The Cooperage was a fascinating place. They have a short movie that explains the history and the process that it takes to make barrels, excuse me, casks (barrels are a size of cask.). They then have a viewing area where you can see the barrels, hogs heads, etc. being made. A person will apprentice for 4 years before they test to become a Cooper. Each Cooper then is responsible for each cask that make from start to finish or repair. Most of their work these days is repair work instead of making a cask start to finish. The majority of the casks that they get are from America. Mostly because in the US you can only use a cask once, so once they have been used to make Jack Daniels they can’t be used again in the US, so they get shipped over to Scotland. Took loads of pictures of casks being repaired and the workroom. Miklos and I then got to do a small version of putting all the slats together to make a cask of our own. It’s not as easy as you would think.
After the Cooperage we tried to go and see Brodie Castle. BUT we were thwarted by it being closed. :(
We then headed over to Cawdor Castle. The tour through the castle was interesting. Parts of it are from the 14th century. There were trap doors that led to secret prisons under the castle. It had displays of weaponry that dated well back into the 16th century. I did like the 1625 Katana and wakazashi. The formal gardens were impressive. There were sculptures throughout that were striking. One was a tree (full size) in the orchard that was done in dark bronze with a large disk of brass so that it looked like a sunrise through tree leaves. There was a maze that had graduating tears of hedgerows that got taller the closer you got to the center. Herb gardens and large boxwood boarders. One small herb garden had a large green cylinder in the middle that was a fountain made to look like bamboo. It had an eye, a bee, two hearts intertwined, and a tree around the base. We guess that it meant I’ll be loving you. The flower garden was large and had a stacked stone ball in the middle that was a water feature. It also had a crescent moon bench. Together they looked like a sun and moon.
We then spotted a door overgrown with plants all around it that lead through the wall. It lead into the Wilderness Walk. It was like walking into forest primeval. Trees that were muckin’ huge, a stream at the bottom of the ravine and a foot path that was no more than a foot wide. There were places where you were walking through tunnels of rhododendron. Other places where the path was almost lost among the ferns. I was definitely glad I’d worn walking/hiking shoes. We didn’t have a great deal of time so we were only able to do the 3/4 mile walk. I would have loved to have been able to do more.
We did notice a curious thing as we were at the Cawdor Castle there were hundreds of bicyclists. It made us think of Paul. They were having something called the Rat Race. It appears to be some sort of mountain bike race through the trails we were walking this afternoon.
Once we regrouped at the car we went down the road a bit to the Clava Cairns. These are three large rock mounds surrounded by standing stones. Two of which have doors that face spot on South East. They are thought to have been ancient burial mounds. It is such an amazing place. You can’t help but try to reason out what they were trying to do there. Victorians planted oak trees around the spot. It is just magical.
Back at the hotel this evening we tucked into a fantastic meal of fish and chips. The fish was cooked to perfection with a light crunchy crust. The chips were good and hot. The Magners cidar was cold and yummy. The desert of fresh strawberries, heavy cream, strawberry ice cream served on what I think of as puff pastry was just spot on.
Tomorrow we head out early for the Orkney Islands. The Cairngorms and Inverness has be fantastic, even if the weather hasn’t been cooperating.

Published in: on September 14, 2012 at 3:46 pm  Comments (1)  

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