Category: Family & Lifestyle

Lapland Adventures - Santa!

Lapland Adventures – Santa!

The part of the Finland that we visited was in Kaaresuvanto, which is in a narrow northern arm of the country that borders both Sweden and the coast of Norway. In fact the ‘town’ spans a river into Sweden where it name changes to Karesuando (famed for knives apparently). Any way you slice it, it’s up there as in 180 miles north of the Arctic circle up there!
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As previously mentioned in Snow & Huskies, there is only about three hours of ‘daylight’ at this time of year but that is a brief window of perpetual dawn/dusk. Whilst the landscape is stark the skies are magic.

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This region is also home to the Sami people also known as Lapps, a nomadic indigenous peoples whose territory spans Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia.  As fascinating as their culture is, we didn’t delve too much into that side of things on this visit. No, this was serious British Santa holiday geared for kids with a non-stop soundtrack to Love Actually. The upside is that now we have a reason to revisit, perhaps in a different season.

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What little light there was, painted some impressive views during the daytime and we even got to see the beginning of the Northern Lights one evening at the Lodge. This image is looking across the river from Finland to Sweden.

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This is the very photogenic (and oft photographed) northern most church in Sweden built in 1816. It is the defining building of the area for both the Swedish and Finnish areas.

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Other than our Lodge, on our side of the river there were three buildings that made up the town. One for locals,

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one for tourists,

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and a pub that we dare not enter.

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But again, we where here for the outdoors and to see Santa so we spent the entire next day doing just that. When you arrived at the day’s destination, you were greeted by a line of light torches that guided you through the woods.

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Until you arrived at the Northern Lights Lodge.  It was just a nice place to pop into warm up, get a drink or use the facilities but everything else here was outside.

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Of which we wasted no time in doing as we rode the mini snowmobiles,

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dare devil-style for my daughter,

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and savoured the setting.

There was tobogganing, ice hockey, snow mobiles for young and old and generally everything you would want for a cracking snow day.

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Finally, it was time to go find Santa. We were packed into a wooden sleigh lined with reindeer skins and were then covered in blankets.  We were pulled by a snow mobile for about 15 minutes through the woods as we all sang Sleigh Bells at the top of our lungs.

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But deep into the woods we came to a stop, and everything became very hushed.  Our driver went to warm himself,

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whilst we were introduced to our next mode of transportation.  Real, live, (very ornery) reindeer that were to take us even deeper into the woods to find Santa.

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There are few moments in life that actually take your breath away, but this was one of them for sure. We packed the kids into on of the sleighs (who looked very cute), and then ourselves into the other (definitely not so cute).

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About 10 minutes later we pulled up to a wooden house with an outdoor fire and tapers leading to the door.  The elves ran out and greeted the kids by name (who were completely gob-smacked) and knocked on the door.

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And inside next to a roaring fire was the man himself.  He knew all about Niamh’s broken wrist and foot and even knew that Ronan had just received his Bronze award for good behaviour.  The cameras were acting up due to the freezing temperatures but mama stifling tears behind the lens didn’t help either!

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It was everything we hoped for and more.  The setting, the activities, the adventures was all worth every bit.  After several hours of all this outdoor fun, we returned to a huge festive meal and a disco for the kids.

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We had a few hours to do some elective activities such as ice-fishing or reindeer herding the next day, but my group had reached its limit and just enjoyed the area around the Lodge.  Soon it was time to say goodbye to our snowy retreat and head back to the land of the driving rain.

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But the memories will last for a lot longer, and they are all very happy (and very appreciative) ones!

I can’t quite believe we still have actual Christmas to celebrate, but for my wee family this one is for the record books!

 

Merry Christmas!!!!!!!

 

Lapland Adventures - Snow & Huskies

Lapland Adventures – Snow & Huskies

Have you ever arrived at an airport at 7:30 am on a pitch black rainy December morning and all you see are smiles? Particularly odd when you consider the prospect of a sun holiday does not await. No, in this queue there was an abundance of garish Christmas sweaters and Santa hats, because we were off to the North Pole in Lapland to see the big man himself!

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Pure excitement does not describe and the adults were maybe more excited than the kids. There were babes in arms, under-ten’s galore and a few multi-generational families for lucky grandparents in the know.

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Upon entering the aircraft, you were greeted by a crew of gorgeous Finnish women each sporting the requisite Santa hat.

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Even the plane itself had been decorated with large holiday themed decals.

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I felt inclined by instinct to roll my eyes but I couldn’t, instead I fought back a few renegade tears that snuck out. It was all just too fabulous.

 

Even the most jaded Scrooge could not be moved to delight as the plane took off in a gusty rain storm to the ecstatic squeals of the nervous but excited passengers, 75% of which are between three and nine years old.  No doubt for many it is their first ever plane journey. There was even  Christmas music once we are at cruising altitude. After a few hours we began our decent through the clouds.  Another round of happy shouting ignited with my favourite declaration of, “Just look at all those Christmas Trees” when greeted with the Finnish landscape.

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When we arrived in Finland it was only 12.30 our time but 3.30 Finnish time which meant it was completely dark.  You only get about three hours of ‘daylight’ at this time of year but that only adds to the sense you are somewhere very remote, very cold and very snowy.

 

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A cosy coach ride takes you to your destination in just under 45 minutes.

 

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For me it was hard to tell if it was just super 70s-tastic or just very Finnish but it was clean and warm and fabulous.

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In the main lodge there are two huge common rooms, one being the dining room with a bar and lounge, and the other being the group events/ kids room with lots of couches and movies on hand all day.

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Once you are settled into your rooms and have gone through your welcome speech, you are sent through a lovely lit walk through the woods.

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To where you get suited and booted – quite literally.  The temperature was between -12 C and -30 C and most Brits just don’t have that kind of gear laying about.

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The meals were simple but hearty and the kids enjoyed their first visit from Santa’s elves after dinner for some songs and to distribute some reindeer dust.

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When morning light finally arrives about 10.30 am you are treated to a breathtaking landscape.

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It was much flatter than I expected but a beautiful winter wonderland nonetheless.  Ok, it kind felt like you had stepped into an Ikea catalogue.

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And speaking of which, have you ever wondered why Ikea lights were so flipping dim? Well, when seen in the context of proper Nordic blackness they actually shine like solar flares!

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Anyway, we were here to enjoy the outside and the first day was all about the huskies and sledding. Now this was one of my bucket list items so I was beside myself with excitement.

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Aside from the cold, your senses are then challenged by sound as the noise from the dog teams is just unbelievable!  Three sleds each with ten dogs all barking  insanely into what is otherwise a pristinely quiet landscape can knock your sock off!

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The dogs strained anxiously in anticipation of us slow moving humans to get our act in gear and hop aboard the sleds.

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Each family is taken in turn, but there is a traditional Sami tent with fire inside for a warm up while you wait.  They even serve you hot Glogge, the local spiced black current drink.

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These were cruising sleds versus racing ones, and could have easily fit about eight people on each.

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Someone in particular was in her element, a future Iditarod contender for sure!

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Amazingly, the second the dogs begin to run they go silent. In an instant you are racing away with only the rush of the runners in the snow beneath you.  I could easily see how this could become addictive.

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So, our Arctic adventure was properly under way and we were having a great time.  Little did we realise how much more spectacular the next day would be as we went in search for Santa himself!

Skye - See, Do, Love

Skye – See, Do, Love

The theme song from Outlander is known as the “Skye Boat Song” that recalls the escape of Bonnie Prince Charlie (dressed as a serving maid) with the aide of Flora McDonald. Interestingly, the words of the hit programme used are not the original ones, but rather a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson (of Treasure Island, Kidnapped & Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde fame), to fit the storyline better.

The result is a haunting success of two Scottish masterpieces.

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Facing the harbour in Portree is the Royal Inn, formerly known as McNab’s Inn and was the indeed last meeting place of Bonnie Prince Charlie (of song) and his rescuer in 1746.  This is but one wee example, that in addition to the landscape and wildlife, there is just so much history, culture and no small part of luxury that also define the beauty of Skye, I thought I would show you a handful of other sights.

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History abounds everywhere but no where more so than the spectacular Dunvegan, home of the Chief of Clan MacCloud for over 800 years.

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You can’t take picture inside, but I was only told that after I managed this snap of the family’s emblem of a bull and their motto “Hold Fast”.  Dunvegan is also home to the famed “Fairy Flag” that was to have been given to the MacClouds by Titania, wife of Oberon, King of the Fairies.

(Please just pause for a moment and enjoy that I live in a country whose national animal is the Unicorn and boasts a national treasure of Fairy Flag.  Beat. That!)

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Of course, you can’t go to Skye without a tour of the Talisker Distillery.  They don’t let you take pictures of the huge copper kettles and inner workings, but you do get a taster at the end so, hey ho!

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You also get to see single malt ageing away in their cosy casks.  These one have been here since 1979 so this is destined to be the very, very, very good stuff.

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So good, you can even buy a bottle of 35 year old Talisker for the bargain price of £525 (or just under $1,500) per bottle!

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In addition to world class whisky, Skye is also known for its food and luxury accommodations.  This is the Kinloch Lodge, run by Claire and Godfrey MacDonald which was recently names as one of the 25 best small hotels by Conde Nast Traveller Magazine.

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You have to just love the whole Highland Lodge thing where antlers adorn just about everything.  Fabulous as it was, we didn’t dine at the Kinloch,

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but we did at this next beauty of Flodigarry Hotel. Another fantastic spot that even comes with its own helicopter landing pad for the extra, extra posh!

 

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But these wee building is the gem in the culinary crown of Skye.

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This is this the Three Chimneys Restaurant a world renown Michelin starred restaurant with 5 Star Luxury Accommodations

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While the interiors where very simple the smell that were emanating from the kitchen as it prepared for service were just sublime.

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As my kids were with me I wasn’t able to dine here (yet).  But I think I keep it in mind for the next big birthday that ends in zero…..

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Skye also boasts its own brewery,

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and is a virtual hot bed of artists, artisans and crafts of all kinds.

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I couldn’t resist, sorry!

 An believe it or not folks, this just barely scratched the surface of all that Skye has to offer.

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So, I am left to console myself with my memories and trying to come up to speed on a few more local delicacies until we can return again next autumn.

What can I say, but Get Thee to Skye!

 

Skye - Our Haven

Skye – Our Haven

Partly due to the unique circumstances of the past few years and partly because I seem to live life as if my head was on fire, when I finally awake on Skye I tend to feel like I have crash landed rather than just ‘arrived’.

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But after a few cups of coffee and some deep breaths taking in the exquisite stillness that surrounds us, I am ready to head out.

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For the next few days this is my daily commute for a morning paper (there is blessedly no internet in the cottage) and take in the sights.

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Having lived most of my life either in or near large cities, I am always taken aback by how pristine everything seems out here.  This photograph is actually looking downhill to the water which is so still it perfectly mirrors the sky!

4 Portree Harbour

As we round the corner on the indelicately named “Lump” we descend into the port of the town.  According to Wikipedia, “The name for Portree in Gaelic is Port Rìgh translates as ‘king’s port’, possibly from a visit by King James V of Scotland in 1540. However this etymology has been contested, since James did not arrive in peaceful times. The older name appears to have been Port Ruighe(adh), meaning “slope harbour.”

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The images from these posts span a few years, but this year we welcomed a new addition to our family our lovely Luna the Utonagan.  She is beautiful, she is fabulous, and she is by far the biggest poser of our lot.

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After breakfast we are all itching to jump in the car and head out to our usual sights.  This is of course the majestic Old Man of Storr, a climber’s delight.

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And to the vertigo inducing Kilt Rock, so named for it’s resemblance to the folds of that iconic Scottish fashion statement.

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And then, of course straight up to the Quiraing, the northernmost summit on the Trotternish Pennisula.  (I fear that my children will remember their entire childhoods being dragged up and around to these externally breezy sites!)

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Now, since I know that few to no people outside of Scotland will have the foggiest idea how to pronounce this must see feature, on our return this year we saved the dessert from our cook out on the beach to aid our far flung cousins. So here we are with our delicious Meringues which is the closest thing to rhyme with Quiraing. (Luna is none to pleased to be denied this snack!)

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We always need to stop by our favourite fossil place,

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to reach back in time to see what used to walk around this same land and be inspired to find new examples.

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The highlight of this year’s trip was  a fantastic boat ride to see the local wild life.

(Please take a moment and look at how my 9 year old daughter is dressed, in October, on the open sea and compare that to how the other folks on our trip chose to clad themselves. She does not even have so much as a goose bump on her! I wonder if all those born North of the Wall have anti-freeze for blood?)

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At first, our Luna was not at all sure that the liked being on a boat,

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but she soon got over her nerves and joined in the excitement of the adventure.

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Particularly when she could hear the sonar of the porpoises,

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and began chatting with the seals,

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and marvelled at the sheer scale of the newly reintroduced sea eagles.

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We all had an absolute ball.

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Upon hearing my accent I am often asked why I live in Scotland instead of the States.  But when my kids get to roam so free,

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to be mermaids,

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to collect yummy things for dinner, and generally partake in such a magnificent landscape.

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The answer is just a quiet nod just to say, “we love it here, thanks”.

 

 

Over the Sea to Skye

Over the Sea to Skye

Like many folk out there I have been gorging on Outlander episodes (ooft!) and have found myself humming the theme tune, “Over the Sea to Skye…” throughout the day. It finally kick-started these next posts that have been marinating for two and a half years so I hope you enjoy.

Each autumn when leaves turn and the air get crisp my wee family packs up the car and head to the Isle of Skye for our October Holidays. It is a good six-hour drive from our house, but the journey is an adventure in itself with several beautiful and curious sites along the way.

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The first turn that takes us out of our usual zone of travel is when we get off the motorway and head left past the Dalwhinnie Whisky Distillery.  Most of the Scottish distilleries themselves are adorned with impressive architectural details.  I confess I haven’t actually been to the one, nor even tasted their whisky (yet) but it is a welcome sight regardless and a promise of good things to come.

(I am sure it has been done, before but I do feel an obligation to do some dedicated blogs on distilleries because they are just fabulous.  Hey, it’s a tough gig but someone has to do it!)

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Dalwhinnie is classed as one of the Speyside Single Malts and this distillery dates to the 1890s.  The sight of the structure cheers me immensely whenever I see it because it triggers the promise of adventure at the start of the journey and the last road mark to know I am in the home stretch on the return.

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Right after the distillery you know for sure your are in the High-lands Baby.  Huge mountains, forests, lochs, rivers and tons of moorland abound.  It is all about the wilderness here until you hit the beautiful town of Spean Bridge and it’s most atmospheric Commando Monument.

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This impressive statue was unveiled by the Queen Mother in 1952 to honour the original British Commandos of WWII whose training camp was founded at nearby Achnacarry Castle in 1942.  The rugged terrain and harsh climate proved a perfect sight to train this elite element of the army during such an intense period of war.  It has become one of Scotland’s best known statues as it serves both as a memorial and a tourist attraction.
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As you weave your way through the vast and seemingly empty landscape, you then come across this odd diddy.  In a layby on the A87 overlooking Loch Loyne there is a bizarre collection of small piles of rocks known as cairns.

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Traditionally cairns mark a location of a path or sometimes a burial site, but these have literally sprouted up over that last decade or so. After a fair bit of research, it appears that this is simply a modern craze, aided by tourists in an accessible location with yet another stunning view.

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So take a moment to savour the beauty of it all, and file this under “People are Weird but Wonderful” before continuing on your merry way.

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And you know that you are getting close to Skye when you see this emerging from the bend in the road.  This is Eilean Donan, one of the most photographed of all of Scotland’s castles.  For those of you who recognise it but can’t place where I will give you a hint, “There can be only one”!

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Right after Eilean Donan you come into the port town of Kyle of Lochalsh.  This used to be where you would get the ferry to Skye before they built the Skye Bridge in 1992.

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This was my first view of the Skye Bridge which I thought would be bigger to be honest.  I quickly realised I was only seeing half of the structure as it used this handy island as a midway support and continues on again after to Skye itself. (So clever these Scots.)

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So after five hours in the car we finally arrive on the island itself and everyone but me is thrilled by our first stop on our annual trip.  My husband and kids happily march in through the central door, but I refuse and will only go into the tea room on the far left and wait.

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Because it is only a flipping serpentarium for heaven’s sake! Initially opened in 1991 as a refuge for unwanted or exotic pets that had been illegally brought to the island it is now a booming exhibition centre.  My husband and kids absolutely love this place, but I am here to relax and don’t need to be reminded that I am on an island with tons of slithery friends.

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One more good jaunt up the road and we finally arrive in Portree.

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Our wee stone cottage is as welcoming as cosy as we remember from the year before, and

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the view from our front door helps to remind us that we made it once again.  We have reached our haven.

 

My Fish Van Man

My Fish Van Man

We are blessed with the most ridiculous variety of world-class foods right here in my nook of the woods.  In fact, in my county of Fife alone you can get not only local farm produce and grains, but also dairy products,wild game, beef, pork, chicken and of course spectacular fish & shellfish.  So in an effort to seek these goodies out (and make you all super envious in the process), I am going to task myself with tracking down and highlighting as many local farmers, producers & mongers as possible.

To that end, let me introduce you to my fish van man George Hay.

(OK I took these pictures a wee while ago, but he still works year round.)

Thursday are great days for me because that is when my mobile fish merchant comes to town.  He arrives at your door in his kitted out  van which is actually a super snazzy mobile shop that you can conveniently step into (and out of the weather) to peruse his lovely wares.

George’s day begins at about 4.30 am (eek) when he arrives at the St. Monan’s Fish Market which is where the local boats from the East Neuk of Fife unload their catches.  By about 7:00 am, after acquiring his ridiculous fresh fish he prepares it by filleting and possibly smoking.  Once the fish is all set he packs it all on ice and prepares the van for the day travel and ready to hit the road by about 8 – 8.30 am. He travels four days a week with one office day for paperwork and follows a set schedule all around Fife.

 His customers are the general public and well as several local restaurants and hotels.  He only sells the freshest fish and can guarantee that nothing is more than 24 hours off the boat. In fact his fish is so fresh he has a “sell or return” agreement with the purveyors at the fish market that he can bring back any unsold stock that can be resold by another fish monger.  Not only is all his stock local, it is also only available is season (i.e. never frozen).

For some extra convenience he stocks farm fresh produce, eggs and sometimes baked goods.  For those of you out there that still think that hours off the farm strawberries or eggs don’t taste different that what you get in the supermarket, well…your just going to have to try it for yourself and you’ll never go back.

 While it is not the easiest job in the world (the hours alone would kill me), George loves chatting to his customers all day long.  He is a one man shop on wheels and loves the freedom and flexibility that being a mobile fishmonger affords. Even in these tough economic times he is able to personally explain to his customers if there is a price increase and likewise can adjust for any bargains to be had.  He is so committed to his business that short of being drafted to play rugby (his other passion) in New Zealand, he will be bringing fresh fish to us lucky pups in Fife for years to come.

George’s schedule is : 

Tuesday: Kinghorn & Burntisland

Wednesday: St. Andrew’s

Thurday: Dunfermline, Rosyth, Kinghorn & Burntisland

Friday: St. Andrews

and he can be contacted on 01333 311 521.   Additionally, he is happy to provide any special orders that you might have.  I can highly recommend his products and his services, and maybe fish day will be your favourite day of the week soon.

Enjoy!

 

Farm Shop Survey - Hopetoun House

Farm Shop Survey – Hopetoun House

Prompted by the autumn newsletter from this next Farm Shop, I thought it was about time to introduce you to my secret mecca of Scottish gourmet treats.  And what, you may ask would that entail?  Well, come with me for a wee shopping trip to the newly opened Farm Shop of Hopetoun House.  Now, before we go any further, farm shops are by and large a venue for a single farm or a collective of farms to sell their goods directly to the customer.  The picture below is the modest and unassuming “shop” that is attached to the very rear end of the Hopetoun House lands which supply the vegetables, beef, lamb and game (grouse is in season – woo hoo) for said shop.

Hopetoun Farm Shop

 However, this is Hopetoun House, one of Scotland’s finest stately homes with over 6,500 acres at hand.  You can check it out a bit more at http://www.hopetoun.co.uk/ but it is really a post in and of itself (if not more than one), but for now let’s just say that it is massive and is quite a bit more than your average “farm”  supplying its own farm shop.

Hopetoun House in all its glory

The shop itself was not the easiest place to find and I was less than bowled over by the simple appearance.  My heart sank even lower upon entering the shop as I was hoping for a Balducci-type abundance but was greeted with a sparse “jam as art” decor.   However, the fates were shining on this venture as I happily sampled and bagged a serious haul of Scottish yumminess….check it out!

Hopetoun Farm Shop Interior 2011

There is a great comment in the oh, so Scottish crime drama “Taggart” (“There’s bin a muhr-duhrrrr…”), that decries someone being “as Scottish as salami”.  Well…..

How greedy am I? I couldn't even wait for the picture before sneaking a taste!

here you have it – venison salami!  Super yum but mild in taste, so don’t overdo it with a strongly flavoured accompaniment.  Best stick to a mild chutney or smoked cheese and oatcakes but ooooooooo it is good!

This was another treat that couldn’t help but illicit an involuntary moan of pleasure – a blue cheese and pear pate – phwarrrr!  Instead of serving a big ole cheese board at the end of your meal just bring out this baby, some biscuits/crackers and seal the deal with candied or spiced nuts and fresh fruit, mmmmmmmm.

Really, who doesn't need a reliable source of quail's eggs?!

If you are feeling terribly posh and simply must have a grilled asparagus starter with poached quails eggs topped with shavings of parmesan and cracked black pepper (which is quite yummy), look no further for a reliable source for your fouffy ingredients!

Said to have originated in Forfar in 1850, these are now a staple in every Scottish bakers.

And if it is something heartier that is calling to you, get your hands on one of these.  For the uninitiated, a Bridie is usually a parcel of sturdy but flaky pastry to be eaten with the hands,  filled with intensely flavoured beef stew at nuclear hot temperatures.  A slightly acquired taste for the average North American (well, for breakfast anyway) but an a cold rainy Sunday morning, a Steak Bridie with a strong cup of  sweet tea is nirvana.

And lest you think that Elderflower exists only in a Monty Python punchline, feast on this creamy if slightly bizarre concoction of local ice cream.

There is also a great selection of Scottish cookbooks with this one catching my eye…Christmas prezzie anyone?

This farm shop does not have a dining space as there is one next door in the Hopetoun Garden Centre.  This is a garden centre not for the faint of heart and should only be entered if one has been properly inoculated for floral cloth and Hunter wellies.   Below is a shot of the tea room there…

Tea room of the Hopetoun Garden Centre at closing time.

Tea room of the Hopetoun Garden Centre at closing time.

which I couldn’t appreciate in full as it was closing time and I had grumpy children with me but I simply had to include a bit about the Tea Room as,

in order to get there you have to wander around a quite lengthy, twisting trail to survey the various sculptures of nymphs and lion’s head that your estate may need.  I love the lion on the right as he looks like he is mid sneeze, surely not the most noble moment to be cast in stone!

View from South Queensferry back to Fife

Well, being very happy with our discoveries and with the Gooseberry ice cream in danger of melting, we hightailed it home back across the Firth of Forth to the safety of the Kingdom of Fife (say that ten times).  Another spot for local deliciousness on the map for future visits!

 

Happy Friday…

 

 

Farm Shop Survey - Muddy Boots

Farm Shop Survey – Muddy Boots

For anyone out there still clinging to the false notion that you need to be in an urban hub to enjoy great food, culture or year round activity, I am so pleased to introduce you to the ever-expanding Muddy Boots Farm Shop.

Sign that you will see from the road - turn right immediately!

Although the Samson family has been farming right here in the wee village of Balmalcolm outside Cupar for at least five generations (that they can remember), Muddy Boots is a very recent development.  It began in the summer of 2003 with a bumper crop of raspberries that unfortunately coincided with their long-standing order from a major British supermarket being slashed by more than half – eeks.  The family quickly rallied and sold the excess bounty from a road side tent.

Bright, Fresh, Well-stocked & Welcoming Farm Shop

 The next year the tent was replaced by a poly tunnel and the year after that a small structure.  Each year brought more success and a bigger audience until in 2007  when the first part of the current structure began, to take shape to accommodate the needs of a top end Farm Shop.  Selling their own produce, berries and eggs, they also stock other local artisan and farm shop products.  The term “Farm Shop” is in the works to receive its own legal and commercial definition but for now it had gone from only selling your own goods from your own farm to a larger “direct from farm” network.

Free Range chickens with practical guidance on viewing

Generally,  when you see the term “free range eggs” on a carton there is a little bit of an internal assumption of “well, I’ll take your word for it”, but at Muddy Boots you get to experience just how free that range can be (with fences being a bit hypothetical at times).  Not only can you come and visit the various hens as they hang out with each other, some ducks and a goat or two, but you can see their workout zone.

"Goat Mountain" Chicken Run for Maximum Poultry Pleasure

  Granted there was a whole lot more snoozing and taking of dirt baths when I visited but it is nice to know it is there if they want a climb.

Air Pillow Madness

But fresh produce and eggs aside – here is why you really come to Muddy Boots – for the fun!  Rarely do you come across any business where you get the feeling that the proprietors have walked around in their customer’s shoes and thought,”what could we provide that would offer the most variety and fun for any category of customer that we might serve?”.  At Muddy Boots there is a decidedly un-corporate or formulaic feel that literally offers something for everyone (and seems to be growing all the time).

Bargain Prices for A Great Adventure

 They offer a variety of very affordable activities from a little kids play area, to the larger big kid zone.
Big Kid Play Area
 To a converted barn with a soft play area.
Indoor(ish) Soft Play
To a very creative and hugely enjoyable for the kids Duck Race course.
The Duck Races
 And when your dear ones are properly worn out (mission accomplished) then it is time for lunch, if you can make it past the ice cream window selling Cream  O’ Galloway goodness.  As we had dairy-intolerant toddler with us we sadly had to pass on this but for anyone else be sure to hit it on your way out!

Ready for Lunch

 Now your only problem is trying to decide where you feel like dining.

Outdoor Seating at Muddy Boots

 Depending on how hearty you feel there is a beautiful outdoor patio, or maybe

"For Seasons" Cafe at Muddy Boots

 you would rather to take in the atmosphere and the view of the interior of the Seasons Cafe.

Open Wood-Burning Central Fireplace surrounded by leather sofas and newspapers - Divine

But this is what really rings my bell, the wood burning fireplace to enhance the already fantastic ambiance and take the chill of a summer storm or provide a cosy hang our for a winter’s day.  I have had the privilege of attending an evening meeting here and was able to see  – all in one night thanks to our mercurial weather – a glorious sunset over the hills, a thunderstorm, and a fresh sparkling summer’s eve all fresh from the storm.  I assure you the fireplace was a welcome addition to the whole event.

"Paint your Own Pottery" area

Now, if your head is not yet spinning from the produce, outdoor activities or dining, you could while away the rest of your visit painting your own pottery to be fired on site.  This is available on a drop in basis or you can schedule a party – kids, grownups or fund-raisers with a per head fee.

Free Range Community Hub

These are only the things that are here on any old day you happen to pay a visit.  Muddy Boots has a burgeoning schedule of plays, seasonal activities, parties, events and performances on a pre-booking basis.  As I left it occurred to me that Muddy Boots is a leading example of how these venues are  becoming the hubs and hearts of these rural communities.  Where once maybe gatherings would be held in a church or a school, these larger  “countryprenuer”  outlets can provide  jobs, entertainment and space to gather for locals and day visitors alike.
One last thing, it is located on the 914 en route to St. Andrews and only 3 miles from Falkirk Palace.  If you are travelling to or from these places this is a fab rest stop to stretch your legs and stock up for dinner!
PS Not an advert just a shout out from me-  thanks, J.
Farm Shop Survey - Pillars of Hercules

Farm Shop Survey – Pillars of Hercules

 Continuing my Farm Shop Survey I thought I would mosey along to the highly recommended Pillars of Hercules, set in Falkland, Cupar. 

Pillars of Hercules Cafe

 
The Pillars of Hercules started as an organic farm in 1983 by Bruce Bennett, and the site has grown to just over 6 hectares (about 12 football pitches/fields) to include a cafe, camping sites and of course lots of organic fruit, vegetables, free range chickens for eggs and turkeys for Christmas dinner. 
 

Farm Shop Sign for Pillars of Hercules

The cafe and farm shop very much embrace the whole organic “thang” and as someone who maybe spent a leetle too much time in knee-high moccasins and gauzy skirts in her youth, the distinct “hippies welcome here” smell of dried legumes and patchouli hit me rather hard.  That said, this was obviously a location much embraced and frequented by locals, equally represented by those who were rather fuzzy of face and those who arrived in jaguars and Barbour coats. 

The menu in the cafe boasts the bumper crops of the farm with lots of soups, bread and home baking.  According to their website there is also a periodic evening  “restaurant” event that includes  jazz music with a four course meal – yum.

Set amongst beautiful countryside with a selection of walks.
The farm has a strong community outreach program that welcomes visitors, organisations and schools to tour the farm and learn more about the mission and techniques employed in organic farming.  They also have a vegetable box delivery program if you wish to enjoy the produce on a weekly basis, and additionally supply to other area shops and restaurants.
 
Bothy for Hire
 
The area surrounding the farm is rich in historical and outdoor recreation sites.  You can even hire/rent this bothy (just a short jaunt from the cafe) for a week to sample some of the fantastic surrounding areas.    A nice day out and a just reward for climbing the Lomond Hills or touring Falkland Palace.  http://www.pillars.co.uk/index.htm.
Farm Shop Survey - Loch Leven Larder

Farm Shop Survey – Loch Leven Larder

Many of my friends live quite some distance due to the fact that we all met in Edinburgh and then dispersed to our husband’s various home turfs after the kids arrived.   This means that to see each other, we often split the travel (as gas is currently an eye-watering $10/gallon) and agree to meet somewhere central, which is usually a Farm Shop.  They can offer great locations, the kids get to play and we get a decent cappuccino and a bit of gourmet shopping to boot.   These are places that Mums love during the week and Dads get dragged to (somewhat begrudgingly) on the weekends.
 

Farm Shops are different from Farmers Markets (think chilly, drizzly car park/ parking lot on a Saturday morning), as they are usually stand alone shops attached to a single or group of farms selling meat, eggs, produce and some high-end bits and bobs.   As such,  I have decided to conduct a completely non-objective  survey of the farm shops in my area and any other ones I may come across in my travels. 

To begin, I start with the Grand Dame of them all…..LOCH LEVEN LARDER.
Travel a few miles from down this road

 First take the M90 Motorway to the Kinross exit, head to Milnathort and follow this wee country road out of town otherwise known as the A911. 

Continue past Burleigh Castle (pronounced “burly”) on left…
You will continue past this castle on your left,  (they literally have these things just laying about here) and in just a mile or so you should see this most welcome sign.  Look close it can be hard to see.
Hooray! You have arrived!

 

Congratulations – great pleasure awaits.
 

Greeter #1

 
You are initially greeted by the requisite Heilan’ Coo (Highland Cow) for proper rural flair.
 

Greeter #2 "Sky the Horse"

 
And as an added bonus you are also welcome to come and pet (but don’t sneak up on) a lovely one-eyed Welsh Pony named Sky.  She slipped on the ice.
 

Unassuming but tidy exterior

 

The exterior provides little clue as to what is come.  Unfortunately, I was unable to get any interior shots (cut me some slack I am new at this) but if anyone has seen Meryl Streep’s cafe in “It’s Complicated” that should give you some idea.   It wasn’t my intention but a menu just happened to come home with me (I blame the kids).  It may not be the done thing but I just had to include a copy to show how simple but freaking fabulous just about everything is on the menu.  Feast your eyes…. 
 
The Embodiment of Fresh, Seasonal & Local.

 

My friend’s little girl ordered and egg roll (US translation just the egg of a bacon, egg muffin) and as she bit into it the most ridiculously deep orange yolk slowing oozed out from the buttered roll – truly glorious.  I had the Puddledub Bacon Roll (US translation – just smoked back bacon on a buttered roll not dissimilar to a good quality hamburger bun, sounds unimpressive but I assure you it is not)  that I originally intended to split with my son, but it was so good I am afraid to admit he was mightily short-changed.
 

Brunch with Eggs Benedict AND High Tea - Nirvana.

 

As the menu boasts two of my very favourite concepts in eating, brunch AND high tea, I need to make a fair few more trips (a few without kids) until I can declare myself satiated.  Another big bonus of the interior is that the entire rear of the building is plate glass – wisely weather proofed to provide enjoyment of the view.  So if the weather is not so nice, kick back and relax.
Stunning View Looking East

However, if the weather is nice in the least, get yourself out back because the views are breathtaking.  There are about five different seating areas and a kids play area, each providing a different angle to the views.  This one is looking east from the back of the building with crystalline sunshine.

Stunning View to the South Overlooking Loch Leven

This is my favourite view looking due south at Loch Leven (it should look familiar).  There is an  island in the middle of the loch  in which Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned from 1567-1568 and from where she was forced to abdicate.  In the summer there is a boat tour out to the ruins of the castle, but while pondering this over your eggs benny, you could also opt for the amazing network of walks, bike paths or local nature reserves.  All in all,  a cracking day out.

The Weather

The Weather

OK, I realise that you can not have a blog in any way related to Scotland without addressing the weather. 
Scenes from My Daily Commute in Big Sky Country

Here is the deal, in truth – it is not that bad.   Scots seem to take their less than stellar weather very personally and I think that it is both unnecessary and  unjustified.  The problem is not really the cold winters, which except for this past year, are neither as freezing or long as say New York,  Boston or anywhere above.  Folks here don’t seem to be aware that much of the worlds exists with even colder, stormier and slushier weather than their own (and we are on the same latitude as Moscow for heaven’s sake).

Except for this past winter, the cars don't need much shovelling out in winter.

And on the eastern side of the country, it is not actually that wet or rainy either.  Unless it is actually raining on your head (which can on occasion reach car wash intensity) it is usually just very dry and windy.  The relative humidity of the Northeastern US is always brought  home when in high summer you can hang a damp beach towel on a line/ fence overnight, and there is a very good chance it will not be fully dry for your next day’s dip in the ocean. 

Some these bad boys (whirligigs) can hold upwards or 3-4 LOADS of wash at a time.

Here in the Kingdom of Fife people hang their washing out on the line ALL YEAR ROUND in an impressive display of determination.  If you are lucky, you can get 2-3 full loads up on the line and dry in about 2 hours.  If you are not, you and the majority of folks at the bus stop roll their eyes heavenward to bemoan the weather – not for the weather itself, but rather they had, “just put a wash out”.

Average walk to the shops in Fife

The problem is this –  the grey.  The fact that there is often not huge difference between October’s, March’s or July’s weather can wear on you after a while.  But here is the total upside of Scotland’s weather; it is very easy on your wardrobe budget (particularly for growing kids) and you can have your relatively monochrome world EXPLODE into the most brilliant sun shining day (or hour) which can make you feel like this on a regular basis:

Sunshine through the clouds

Every year people optimistically buy new garden furniture, open-toed sandals and sundresses.  Those same things may see little to no action in the months deemed to be” summer”.   As a new transplant I would often scoff (to myself mind you) at the  pre-marinated chicken on skewers all frozen and BBQ ready. (please read the “cook from frozen” stamp on the front packaging)

Pre-marinaded chicken skewers?

I thought , “really – is it so hard to invite some friends over, pop to the shops and grill up a bit of chicken?”.  Now I understand.  In the 45 minutes it would take to form the thought and complete the action you could totally miss the window and pass into a different season.  So when it is sunny, still and warm you better be prepared to jump!

Really, the weather is not so bad if you have the right clothes are willing to be prepared for any eventuality.  It is just when Scots (and everybody else) compares the indigenous summertime weather to that of Spain, Greece, South Africa or of course Disneyland Florida that it doesn’t seem so great.

My Blessings, My Wrinkles

My Blessings, My Wrinkles

A Brief Introduction to My Dreams Come True

Boudicca

 
My Ladybug is an amazing combination of Snow White looks and Wednesday Addams world perspective.  She chose to dress up as Boudicca http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boudica for World Book Day at school. She also runs a booming Rock Shop from our home most days after school – even in near hurricane conditions. That should provide a good clue as to her interests.
 

Rebel Without a Pause

 
 
Then there is my Rebel Without a Pause.  I am very tired at night – and come to think of it most of the day as well.  Still, I am very happy he is here and I have it on good family authority that he will settle down, eventually.
And here is the man who has made it all possible.  Thank you for making it soooo worth it to change my name and run off to a foreign country.

 

On Our Way to Elope

 I will do my best to keep you updated on all of our adventures!

 

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