Category: History & Travel

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!

Up Helly Aa - Additional Gems of Shetland

Up Helly Aa – Additional Gems of Shetland

Apologies to all for the lateness of this post, but there have been big doings here in Jeantopia of which explanations will follow soon.  Additionally, a very important bit of information in viewing these images is that I have very wonky ankles.  May seem random information I know, but it does have relevance I promise.  If you are in a rush, let me summarise the whole post by saying SHETLAND IS FABULOUS!  Put it on your bucket list and get yourself up there sharpish.  It rocks!

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Ok, let’s starts with how to get to Shetland.  There are only two ways to get to Shetland, 1) take a very expensive hour long flight from a major airport such as Edinburgh or London, or 2) brave the 12 hour journey on the ferry.  As I was travelling under my own steam and needed to take my car for on-island mobility, I chose option 2.  Being an ex-Yankee, I was only familiar with the general stink-pot class of maritime transport that dominates the New England ferry fleet.  The very thought of a 12 hour journey in the open ocean ( let alone the North Sea in January) had me very nervous indeed.

So image my surprise as I left my car (as per usual on ferries) and got into an elevator (not at all per usual) and sauntered into a beautiful marbled lobby!  Things were looking up for sure as what now appeared to be a floating hotel complete with movie theatre, restaurants and lounges completely upended the leaky, rusty visions that I had in my head.

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Not only was it a higher spec that the Love Boat, but carved Viking heraldry was everywhere.  Super cool.

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As the engines revved and our departure time arrived, we all went up to the top deck in the brisk gloaming to watch as we slipped out of Aberdeen Harbour.   Smiling groups huddled and camera phones flashed until the announcement came over the loudspeaker that we were heading into Gale Force 8 winds and should probably find some place to hunker down as soon as possible.  Oh Nelly.


As this was the last boat going up to Shetland before Up Helly Aa, the very kind woman from the booking office strongly suggested that due to “crowding” ( I think she actually said “the mayhem of bodies lying all aboot”), I should spring the extra £22 to have a single bed in a shared female bunk of four.  That woman deserves a medal.

The good news is that my bunk mates turned out to be a fabulous mother and daughter team of Americans, who were not only fun, not only helpful with photography tips, but like me – could talk paint off a wall!  So for several rocky hours I chatted with my new friends about life, the universe and everything.  A little after midnight we congratulated  ourselves on being seasoned old salts for not getting sick and thought we really should get some rest and hit the lights.  The bad news was that we  didn’t realise was that we had just docked in Orkney and were now heading out to sea for real until our arrival in Lerwick in several hours time.  I now know what it feels like to be put in a cocktail shaker for 8 hours.

Bruised and battered but alive, we finally landed in Shetland (OK I may have kissed the ground) and after dropping my new friends at their B&B I headed out of town to find mine.

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Never has a more welcome sight emerged from the morning mist than the Omaruru B&B. The name was rather curious and whenever I typed it into the search engine it kept coming up with a Game Lodge in Africa but I needed to be horizontal immediately so questions could wait.

There are times in life when everything just works out better than you could have hoped, and that is exactly what happened with I met the Erica & Bryan Pearson, the fabulous owners of the Omaruru B&B.

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A few years earlier, these two native Shetlanders took up  the suggestion of a friend to visit his home country of Namibia ( like you do).  They decided if they were going to have such a special trip, they may as well take the opportunity to get married while they were there, which is exactly what they did.  They did so at a Lodge called Omaruru and in return named their new venture back home after that special place.


Anyway, back on Shetland my exhaustion was getting the better of me.  Whilst Bryan showed me to my room and I dropped off my bags, Erica was busy preparing this most welcome sight of a hot cooked breakfast replete with fabulous views.  Ten weary steps later and I was asleep for the rest of the day.

Now let me just tell you how above and beyond these guys went in hospitality.  Upon hearing about my project to document the Up Helly Aa celebrations and Shetland foods, they:

  1.   called their friend and stayed up late in the evening to let me ask a ton of ridiculous questions all about the festival,
  2. gave me a heads up of all the places to be before the crowds gathered so I could get  good pictures, and
  3. went to the Hospital the next morning to get me supplies to make a temporary cast so I could drive back home.

Let me explain.  As previously stated, I have very wonky ankles, and after a full day running around hillsides of cobblestone following the morning processions, standing in the lashing rain literally soaking up the experience of the galley burnings, and enjoying serving soup and watching the madness of the Halls until 3 am I went to my car to get more batteries for my camera.  En route, I stepped into a very deep water-filled pothole thus dousing myself in freezing water and twisting my already strained ankle.

That was my signal to head back to the Omaruru for a hot shower and cosy sleep.  (Well that was the plan.) Being newly renovated, the en suites were fitted with snazzy wet rooms.  After being soaked and frozen in at least 3 different cycles throughout the day, it was all I could do to stand shivering in the warm shower to try to shake the chill. Shower done, dressing gown on, I had just gone back in for a fresh glass of water, when the tiny incline of the wet room proved too much for distressed ankle and I went down in a heap.

Do you know when you can just feel every tendon in a section of your body rip all at once?  Yep, it was a doozy. So there I was, four paws down in a world of hurt, in the middle of the night on a remote island having the biggest party of the year amidst a hurricane.  I gritted my teeth, gathered my strength and hopped across the room to fling myself onto the bed.  A single fleeting moment of relief was dashed as the angle I had hit the bed had popped the slats out of their sockets.  Yes indeedy, I had broken the bed and found myself packed in a pile of blankets and mattress slung hammock-style wedged within the bed frame. A quick scan revealed I was warm and my leg was elevated, and I decided anything else could be sorted in the morning.

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So, stone-cold sober and all alone I had managed to recreate a scene reminiscent of my younger wilder youth.  But morning dawned brightly and another wonderful breakfast and medical supplies provided by the Hostess with the Mostest Erica, and I set out for some sight seeing around the mainland before heading off to the ferry.  Unfortunately whilst I could drive, I couldn’t actually walk, so all the following photos had to be shot from my car.  There was so much more I wanted to see, and I was only able to swing by a few so I guess I will just have to go back!

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There was the Iron Age settlement of Clickimin Broch,

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the atmospheric Scalloway Castle,

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and of course, loads of Shetland Ponies.

It really was such an adventure full of wonderful sites and people that you really should put Sheltand on your places to  visit.  And if you do, be sure to call try out the Omaruru B&B and heavens above, get yourself  to Up Helly Aa at least once in your life!

The Red Pantiles of Fife

The Red Pantiles of Fife

The region or county that I live in is called Fife, more commonly know as The Kingdom of Fife.  Long before there was a notion of a land called “Scotland”, this peninsula of land was said to be the lower Kingdom of the Picts (or Painted Peoples) known as  Fib.  These ancient boundaries and names persist very much into the present day with even our local radio station having the moniker of The Kingdom FM.

Anyway, this is us in red, an apt colour for the map as one of the main signifier that you are indeed in the Kingdom is our red tiled roof known as pantiles.

In the many picturesque fishing villages that dot our coastline you can see this regional architectural detail of cheery red-tiled roofs, as in this image of the harbour at Anstruther (home of the award-winning Best Fish & Chip Shop 2008/9).  There is as much leisure craft as there are fishing vessels in these small towns as their close proximity to both St. Andrew’s and Edinburgh make them very popular tourist destinations.

So how did these tiles become so popular in a country so dominated by slate (historically thatch) roofs?  As you can see from this map Fife is much more conveniently situated for trade with the northern European countries such as the Netherlands that it would be to say, the Mediterranean or the new world.

And for several centuries before the joining of the crowns of Scotland and England (see Guy Fawkes Night), Scotland, and the area of Fife in particular, had its own rich trading links with the Low Countries.  Out would go our coal, wool, linen and salt, and on the return journey the ships hulls would be filled with the red pantiles as ballast.  These intrepid traders were clearly influenced by their Flemish neighbours and as their ships were full of the stuff anyway, they decided to incorporate some of the nifty roof work back home (maybe traditional thatched roof were becoming passée).

This is a an amazingly preserved village close to me called Culross (pronounced coo-ros), founded by Saint Serf in the 6th century. (Saint Serf was to have given shelter to the unmarried but pregnant princess who later became Saint Enoch, and together they then married and raised her son who was to become Saint Kentigern or Saint Mungo. He, in turn went on to found Glasgow – beat that in your xmas card babe!)  It is here that you can still see some of  the original examples of this Flemish influence in the red pantiles and crow stepped gable ends on the buildings.

During the 16th and 17th centuries Culross was in its heyday boasting wealth from international trade in its coal (from the world first under-sea coal mine built in 1575) salt from panning and a monopoly in small iron girdles used for baking over an open fire. Its fortunes fell fast during the 18th century as the harbour was filled in, and by Victorian times it was totally cut off from access to the open sea by the construction of the coastal railway.  By the late 19th century it was a ghost town and was only “rescued” from obliteration by the National Trust for Scotland who have been working on its preservation from the 1930s.

While not every building is roofed with pantiles, as in the town hall – which has also served as a courthouse and prison (the window beneath the clock face is rumoured to be where they kept the witches before trials – happy days),

many buildings, both municipal and residential do still sport their snazzy red roofs.

This regional feature is so associated with the area that even new buildings often incorporate it into modern construction.  The drawing on the left is a sample from a Barrett home built down south in Manchester (with its presumably regional mock Tudor details) and the same home by the same builder as it exists in Fife.

Whilst these tiles are designed to live their lives on the rooftops, many have taken flight over the last few weeks in our extraordinarily intense storms.  While many were weakened from our major snowstorms last year, it was the double whammy of our naughtily named Hurricane Bawbag of the 5th of December and our way more scary unnamed storm of the 3rd of January this year that have delivered us a serious hammering.  With gusts of wind at 165 mph and 102 mph respectively, we sat huddled in our homes while the winds battered us and sent our beloved regional roof bits flying.  (She’s breaking up Cap’t and she cannae take any more!)

So we have taken to gathering the bits of our rooftops from our neighbours yards and surveying the damage just about everywhere in sight.  Additionally, we can while away the last of our winter holidays sifting through the dozens of  form letters pushed through our mail slot from concerned roofing companies (who must surely be licking their chops about now) about how sorry they are to see the damage we have sustained and to please call them if they can be of any help.

But me?  I am going old skool and resorting to my handy copy of Historic Scotland’s primer on maintaining a pantiled roof.  If there is one thing about living in such an old country with so much history, you do learn to just deal with what comes and count the blessings of what you still have, or as they say here, “Och, wheest an get oan wae it”.  Cause winds or no, the red roofs will remain one of Fife’s most distinctive features.

Stay warm & dry!

St. Kilda

St. Kilda

Many thanks to our new contributor Colin Muir for this first hand account of his visit to St. Kilda.  Colin works as a Stone Conservator at Historic Scotland and also specialises in close range 3D scanning of many of Scotland’s treasures. Smarty-pants extraordinaire, smok’n babe and my hubby, and you can read more about some of his “official” works here at the Historic Scotland’s “Scottish Ten” Link

As the winter storms start to batter Scotland (a near record gust of 165mph was recorded in the Grampian Mountains last week) it serves as a reminder of just how cosseted we are from the realities of the natural world by central heating, running water and electric lighting.  Not so our hardy forbears, and least of all those almost mythic inhabitants of St. Kilda, Britain’s most remote corner. I was fortunate enough to visit this memorable place in September of this year, just before the end of ‘the season’. (By October the visitors are too scarce, and the seas too dangerous to justify a seven-hour long, round-trip by boat that still may not manage to achieve a landing.)

The St. Kilda Island Location

Little known outside of Scotland, the St Kilda archipelago holds a special place in the Scottish psyche, in part due to it’s remoteness and also the incredibly hardy and self-sufficient nature of its inhabitants.  For over 3,000 years this harsh and isolated location had supported human habitation, and is today one of only 28 locations in the world to hold world heritage status for it built heritage as well as its terrestrial and marine environments.

Stac Lee and Stac an Armin, with the Island of Boreray to the right

This summer I found myself working on the island of Harris in the Outer Hebrides, tantalisingly close to fulfilling one of my life’s quests – to land on Hirta, the once inhabited island within the St Kilda group. This is a goal that has become something of a secular pilgrimage for Scots of a wistful and hardy nature, as the islanders had been regarded as an extraordinary, and even “heroic” community.

From alpine peaks and pinnacles to 1600ft seacliffs

 There is no easy way to the island – it’s either by small boat, cruise ship or if in the military – helicopter. All of which are subject to be turned back at the very last moment by the extremes of weather that scour the ragged peaks and cliffs of these islands. Apparently the islands’ jagged demeanour is the result of having avoided the grinding glaciation that shaped the distinctive features of the rest of Scotland.

St Kildans on the Street, 1886

Human existence on these isolated, tree-less fists of land was entirely dependent on the abundance of seabirds, and it has been accurately termed a  “bird-culture”. The islands are a summer home to in excess of a million birds, with as many as 210 species having been recorded. Indeed a quarter of the GLOBAL gannet population nest in the area. It was said that in 1876 around 89,600 puffins alone were harvested for food and feathers; that does not take into account the fulmars and gannets that were also principle elements of the St Kildan daily diet.

The Puffin, the Fulmar, and the Gannet; staples of the St Kildan diet

These seabirds were snared and captured from the cliffs by barefoot islanders, and their eggs harvested for additional nutrition. They were the source of oil, as well as down and feathers. These by-products provided for a meagre subsistence economy and a modicum of trade.

An attacking ‘Bonxie’, or Arctic Skua; an aggressive ‘kleptoparasite’

The St Kildans rarely ate fish; as the fishing in the surrounding seas was considered poor, and extremely hazardous – they also preferred the taste of birds. Since the majority of birds migrated over the winter, those caught had to be carefully stored and dried to last through to the spring. To facilitate this, the islanders built in excess of 1300 ‘cleits’ of varying forms and functions; to shelter in, store provisions and dry birds. These unique dry-stone built structures pepper the island from Village Bay to near the summits of the highest peaks.

‘Cleits’ and dry-stone work as far as the eye can see.

The history of human habitation on the islands is complex and too rich to abridge here. However Martin Martin, who visited the islands in 1697 and wrote the first detailed description of the people and their customs adjudged them “.. much happier than the generality of mankind, as being almost the only people in the world who feel the sweetness of true liberty”. Ironically however, recent research has found evidence that this isolated community, long held to be the epitome of a natural, sustainable and holistic lifestyle, at one with its surroundings, may eventually have succumbed from their peculiarly waste-free lifestyle. The population dwindled as greater contact with the outside world led some to leave and the traditional skills that supported the islanders survival diminished. The community was susceptible to high infant-mortality, outbreaks of disease and became increasingly less self sufficient, to the point that it was finally unsustainable. In 1930 the remaining 36 islanders were, at their own request, evacuated.

The Remains of Village Bay

It is now believed that a contributing factor may have been that the islanders’ suffered from the gradual contamination of their homes and fields with heavy metals, from their continuous use of burnt bird remains. This was used as fertiliser in the narrow fields, and the ash as a flooring material in their homes. The fish on which the birds gorged had themselves ingested naturally occurring heavy metals from the surrounding sea. With each step in the food chain these concentrations were magnified, further compounded by generations of agricultural use on the same small areas of tillable land.

The Village and ‘Fields’

One tale in particular highlights the rigours and tragedy of the St Kildan’s way of life, and their almost superhuman hardiness, and is one of remarkable human survival. In 1727 three men and eight boys were dropped off on the near vertical  ‘Stac an Armin’ (at over 600ft high, the highest sea stack in Britain) on a bird-hunting expedition that was intended to last a couple of days before the boat came to retrieve them from the pinnacle.

Stac an Armin

However, the boat did not return. In the interim the islanders on Hirta had been afflicted by a smallpox epidemic that was to leave only one adult and eighteen children alive. None of those that survived were able to handle a boat on such a perilous voyage, and most tantalising of all – the Stac was in clear view from the top of the main Island of Hirta. The men and boys were only finally rescued when the Factor (the landlord’s agent and rent collector) had come for his annual payment, found the island all but empty, and heard of their plight. They had all survived through pounding Atlantic storms, and the cold of a Scottish winter, on nothing but rainwater and dried seabirds for an astonishing nine months! After such an ordeal it must have been a tragically bitter sweet rescue for them to then hear that almost all their loved ones and neighbours had perished in their absence.

Stac an Armin and Boreray, seen from Hirta

Whilst a journey to St Kilda today is still an uncertain one, liable to be cancelled at the last moment, or turned back within sight of the island by treacherous conditions, it is one very much recommended. I travelled with these good folk and would recommend them highly

(check out their gallery in particular).  It’s a journey that certainly fills you with admiration for the early peoples that not only braved this crossing in much more rudimentary craft, but also managed to thrive in an environment both harsh and beautiful. It is a vigourous, fresh world of wind-scoured moors and salt-sprayed cliffs that, that when blessed with a shard of sunshine, feels like an Eden on the edge of the world. Most importantly it’s a place that lingers in the memory and the soul of all that experience it.




Carnegie - Dunfermline's Homeboy

Carnegie – Dunfermline’s Homeboy

Whether you pronounce it Carr-niggy (like the Yanks) or Carn-egg-ghee (with equal accent on all three syllables as it is locally)  most people know at least a little bit about Andrew Carnegie, Dunfermline’s “Most Famous Son”.   What may not be as well-known is how connected he stayed to his local roots and how his generosity still contributes to the daily lives of all those who live in Dunfermline.

Andrew Carnegie – Dunfermline’s “Most Famous Son”

Andrew Carnegie was born here in Dunfermline in a typical weavers cottage to William Carnegie and Margaret Morrison (mother’s maiden name is important so please take note).

Carnegie’s Cottage – The Door & Windows on the Left – Not the Whole Building

Below is the actual room in which he was born.  His brother and parents would live, cook, play and sleep in this space, and his mother would wind bobbins to drop through the floor to where her husband worked in the main room below.  To the right of the open door is a double bed that fills the remainder of the room.

Room Where Carnegie was born 25 November 1835

Room Where Carnegie was born 25 November 1835

Snug ‘eh?  And I think my kids are always underfoot in the winter!

“Main” Room of Carnegie Cottage Where His Father Worked on a Hand Loom Weaving Damask Linen

His father worked in this room on a hand-loom, weaving Damask Linen for which Dunfermline was famed in the early 19th century.  In addition to weaving, both his father’s and mother’s families were very involved in radical political views including; campaigning for a parliamentary electoral system, Catholic emancipation and even had family that had participation in the “Meal Riots” of the 1770s that swept Europe.

Looking from "Main Room" into the Neighbours "Main Room" who was also a Weaver

Looking from “Main Room” into the Neighbours “Main Room” who was also a Weaver

The life of a weaver and his family would not have been and easy one, and would have been a noisy, cramped and exhausting existence.  Now for all my affection for the place, when you say to someone that you live in Dunfermline –  even today – you  are not automatically met with the sharp intake of breath and the narrowing of the eyes that would signal the thought, “oh, you lucky devil”  in the mind of your conversant.   Back in young Carnegie’s day I could only imagine how challenging (and cold) it would have been.

Misty view from inside Pittencrieff Park looking toward the Abbey

To add insult to injury, right next door to the cottage sits 76 acres of the most glorious cultivated landscape known as Pittencreiff Park and The Glen.  In Carnegie’s’ youth the grounds of the property included the Palace at Dunfermline (another story for another day) and Dunfermline Abbey, as well as the land known as Pittencrieff Estate and Glen.

Like most private estates the land was not open to the public, but the fact that it also had encroached onto land that had been monastic and now excluded people from the additional sites that were considered national treasures was too much for some.  Carnegie’s uncle Tom “Bailie”  Morrison eventually applied  for a court order to grant access to the public – for one day a year – and was successful.  However in doing so, he so enraged the Laird of Pittencrieff, Colonel James  Hunt, that he too secured a court order that no Morrison was EVER to be allowed onto his estate.  Thus, Carnegie as the nephew of a Morrison was legally and permanently banned from the grounds.

View from Carnegie's Front Door to the Abbey, Palace & Glen from Which He was Banned

View from Carnegie’s Front Door to the Abbey, Palace & Glen from Which He was Banned

By 1848, the rise of industrial looms and worsening economic times in Scotland saw the Carnegie family heading off for better fortune in America, specifically Allegheny City, Pennsylvania.  From this point Carnegie’s story is more well-known.  The “rags to riches” story of a young immigrant who worked his way up from bobbin boy to telegraph operator, and eventually becoming synonymous with steel, railroads and a “Captain of Industry” of the newly industrial America.  Even though his wealth was garnered not without some grave controversy, such as the Homestead strikes of 1892,  his philanthropic works were becoming legendary.

Not too Shabby, Skibo Castle stayed in the Carnegie Family until 1982.  Now a Super Posh Private Golf Club and Can be Hired for Weddings like Madonna & Guy Rithche

Not too Shabby, Skibo Castle stayed in the Carnegie Family until 1982. Now a Super Posh Private Golf Club and Can be Hired for Weddings like Madonna & Guy Rithche

In 1895, as a surprise 60th birthday present, Carnegie’s wife purchased the original Carnegie cottage in Dunfermline. (What to get for the man with everything ?)  Perhaps it was being able to revisit his physical origins,  or maybe it was something that burned in him deeper and longer, that even though he could afford (amongst his many other residences) his Scottish summer retreat of Skibo Castle,

the thing he craved to own above all else was this – the key to Pittencreiff Estate – from which he was STILL banned.

Key to Pittencrieff Park

Key to Pittencrieff Park

FINALLY, in 1902 Carnegie purchased Pittencreiff Estate and Glen, with the express intent of turning it over to the people of Dunfermline, so “that the toiling mases may know sweetness and light”.  He did retain actual ownership of the Tower House as with it came the inherited title of  “Laird of Pittencreiff”, and so at 67 years of age he took his first stroll amongst the grounds he had been denied entrance in his youth.

Pittencrieff Tower House, Ownership of which made Carnegie "Laird of Pittencrieff" in 1902

Pittencrieff Tower House, Ownership of which made Carnegie “Laird of Pittencrieff” in 1902


True to his word, in 1903 a caretaker was installed and the Carnegie Dunfermline Trust was created to manage and maintain the cottage, and the former estate for the public. In Carnegie’s own words, “No gift I have made or ever can make can possibly approach that of Pittencrieff Glen”, also adding it as “the most soul-satisfying public gift I ever made or ever can make – to the people of Dunfermline”.   Now, I read this on plaque  in the park on one my first visits and recall thinking – oh isn’t that nice.  Now that I understand a bit more about his back story I realise that this gift must have meant so very much more to him.  Pittencreiff Park is deserving of its own entry so I will wrap it up by pointing out that in addition to giving Dunfermline one of its greatest resources of  “The Glen” as it is now know locally, Carnegie also provided for a free public library, public swimming baths and a wide variety of other great additions to his hometown


A few additions to the Glen came after his death in 1919, all at the instruction of his wife Louise.  She commissioned the impressive iron gates that mark the entrance to Pittencreiff Park at the bottom of Dunfermline’s High Street,  and also the Birthplace Museum now connected to the original weavers cottage.


Admission is free and there is still loads to see (I didn’t give it all away), so it is well  worth a trip.

PS This is not an advertisement, just me having a blether.

The Bruce

The Bruce

When we left Edinburgh city centre for our current location, I was veeeeerrrryyy pregnant with my second child and we were simply looking for more space at a reasonable price.  What we have found since our move is that Dunfermline ROCKS!!!  For instance, look who is buried practically in my backyard – Robert the Bruce, King of the Scots from 1306-1329.
Burial Site of Robert the Bruce

For anyone who has seen the movie Braveheart ( and you all should even though Mel Gibson is yuck), Robert the Bruce was this guy, played by Angus MacFayden.

Actor Angus MacFadyen - Braveheart

 Anyway, he is buried here at Dunfermline Abbey right up the toon from where I stay.  This Abbey was founded in 1128 and but was built upon on earlier monastic establishment dating back to 1053-93 during the reign of Malcolm Canmore (which literally means Big Head). It was one of the wealthiest Benedictine monasteries, but alas was sacked in 1560 – hey ho.

Dunfermline Abbey

During the 19th century the abbey was renovated and the zippy stonework added to herald the great King’s location.

Victorian Addition to Abbey "Bruce" "King"

 Although his body is local to me, his heart is not.  Upon his death he requested that his heart be removed and taken into battle on a crusade.  This was partly to make up for not going on a crusade himself (rather like being a draft dodger in his day, but he was very busy to be fair) and also to atone for that wee murder of his rival for the throne of John Comyn – oops.

Burial Site of The Bruce's Heart

Quick confession – without knowing what this was at the time, my then 15 month old daughter thought this was a fab resting place for her tired sight-seeing bum.  There are no markings to identify its importance so I plead ignorance to such a faux pas!

His heart did make it into battle at the Moorish Kingdom of Granada, where both its guardian James Douglas and the heart casket were found on the battlefield. 

Melrose Abbey
The heart is now buried at the beautiful Melrose Abbey in the Borders, confirmed by Archaeologists that inspected the small lead casket to find it did indeed contain a human heart and reburied it in 1998.
Statue of Robert the Bruce with the Wallace Monument in the Distance – Stirling

In a nutshell, there is an incredible amount of super cool  history and artifacts that are everywhere in Scotland.  This is just one of the many bits that are a stones throw from where I reside.

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