Friday, July 31, 2009

Last Day!

Today was a beautiful, glorious day, sunny and warm. Unfortunately, because it was our last full day here, time had to be spent packing, cleaning and so on. So Geoff took Olivia and Alex out for a trip to the local castle (ruins) and then for a little walk, while Sarah, Grandma Kathy and I sorted things out back at the cottage. At lunchtime, we went out to Mossat, where there is a garden centre with a nice cafe and had a good lunch there. There is also an antique shop next door, so we poked around in there a little (well, Alex and Olivia played in the garden of the garden centre).

We then all drove along to Alford to the Grampian Transport Museum, which the kids really enjoyed. After a cup of tea and some ice cream, we came back to the cottage to hang out and roast a chicken for dinner. Tomorrow morning, it’s a fairly early start so we have time to wash the last of the sheets before we leave for the airport. It will be nice to get back home, though I imagine it will seem extremely crowded after a week up here!

Thursday, July 30, 2009


Off to Balmoral today, with a stop in Ballater on the way to pick up provisions for dinner – a selection of absolutely gorgeous sausages from the butcher in Ballater. They were all great, but our favourite was the one called Laird’s Choice, which was a mixed game sausage. But I digress. We drove over to visit Balmoral – just in time, before the Royal Family comes into residence in August. You can only see one room in the castle – the ballroom – but you can walk all over the gardens and up in the hills above the castle, so we did. It was another lovely day out – a few showers, but nothing too heavy, and the countryside is so gorgeous around here that it’s hard to go wrong. We were seriously considering selling our London house and buying a 7 bed 3 bath place in Ballater. We’d have change left from the profits – of course, it is somewhat the middle of nowhere out here. But that can have advantages, too! (As usual, more photos on flickr)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Seals but no dolphins

The forecast for today was very nice, so we thought we’d take the opportunity for the kids to go back up to the beach to mess around. We packed a picnic and headed back up to the coast and once at the beach, dropped Geoff and the kids at the beach with the playground. My mother and I were less keen to spend a few hours mucking around the beach, so we drove along to Banff and had a look around the town – a beautiful harbour and some interesting buildings, but not a lot to look at in the way of shops or attractions. We tried the next wee town as well – MacDuff – which had even less of interest. Then stopped into Duff House Gallery to have a cup of tea and realised that this is where we should have come to begin with – lots of paintings and furniture we could have looked at. Oh well, maybe another time.

After picnicking back at the beach, we decided to drive further along the coast, once again abandoning the possibility of visiting the aquarium in MacDuff as it was simply too nice a day to waste doing something indoors. So we headed along the coast to find the Spey Bay Wildlife Centre. On the way, we stopped to watch seals resting along the beach at Port Gordon, which was great – not sure any of us had seen seals in the wild before. Spey Bay is apparently a good place for whale and dolphin watching, as well as a good place to see osprey hunting. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any of these things, but it was still a lovely drive and a nice place to visit and walk along the shore. The kids practiced skimming stones, which they enjoyed. (some more photos here)

We returned home in time to rest a bit before heading out to an excellent local restaurant, the Glenkinnie Arms Hotel, where we had a large and fabulous meal. Another lovely day.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Swimming and Peregrines

Today we decided to have a day a little closer to home – for one thing, I was a bit tired of doing lots of driving, and for another the kids wanted to just laze around. What Olivia in particular wanted to do was to go swimming and we knew there was some sort of public pool in Huntly, so we checked that out and found that they did a “family fun” session in the morning, where they put floats and balls in the pool and then had a general swimming session from noon. We didn’t manage to get there until the family fun session was nearly over, but luckily, all the people in the pool were mums & kids, so they didn’t bother to take the floats and balls out at the official end of the session. During our swim, my mother just browsed around the town, then we all met up for lunch and decided to go over to the Peregrine WildWatch Centre, just outside Huntly, to see if we could see any Peregrine Falcons.

The centre is based around a quarry, and we did manage to see one juvenile Peregrine, who spent quite a long time simply perched on a ledge. Once Alex started getting restless, my mother and I took him off to run a few errands – grab some stuff for dinner – leaving the girls and Geoff to carry on watching the birds for a while – or rather, Geoff to watch the birds (there were feeders there, so tons of finches and a red squirrel to watch, in addition to the falcon in the quarry) and the girls to peruse a stash of Beano magazines they found in the hide.

Monday, July 27, 2009

A Day in the Cairngorms

Given that the weather forecast for today wasn’t too bad (the usual sunshine and showers, though the emphasis today seemed to be on the sunshine rather than the showers) we decided to drive down into the Cairngorms and check out a few sights. First, we stopped at the Osprey Centre at Loch Garten and spent a while watching the Ospreys – they weren’t up to much, but most of us did at least get to see one. We also saw lots of finches and had some good views of red squirrels on the feeders there.

We then carried on down to Aviemore to check out the steam railway, but in the end decided not to stay because it was over an hour until the train went and none of us really liked the look of Aviemore – way too touristy and after the levels of people we’ve been used to for the past few days (i.e. very few) too crowded. Instead, we carried on south down to Newtownmore, where there is a Highland Folk Museum, which is a mostly outdoor museum with historic replica buildings from various periods including an early highland township (c. 1700) – glad I didn’t live in the highlands then, I think - a bit primitive, dark, smoky and not much choice of what to eat as they seemed to subsist largely on oats and nettles.

At the museum, there was a resident sculptor (in wood) who was doing little workshops with kids – helping them make little critters using pieces of wood and a drill. The kids adored this, of course, and we now have a menagerie of critters – a mouse, a hedgehog and a rodent who I think might be a gerbil or might be a different kind of mouse.

The Highland museum also had some other attractions, including an old schoolhouse where they could write with old style pens and ink and a playground, which they enjoyed. And a tearoom, which I enjoyed! We actually skipped an entire section of the place – the bit set up like an old croft, with people in costume – as we were all tired and ready to head back. As the museum is free, we didn’t feel we weren’t getting value for money! Some more photos can be found over here on flickr...

The drive to and from the area was spectacular – amazing views through the mountains – and although the roads were small, there was little traffic, so it didn’t matter too much. Luckily, we didn’t have to do too much passing on very narrow places and the highest passes through the mountains were wide enough for two cars anyway – not like the Dingle Pass in Ireland, which scares the pants off you...

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Cullen (Skink - not Edward!)

Today, the forecast was rainy, so we decided to head up towards MacDuff, where there is an aquarium. First, we popped into a fishing village called Cullen, which is a bit west down the coast from MacDuff, where there is a quilt shop and cafe I wanted to check out. The village is lovely, with a great aqueduct and harbour – and funny thing, when we pulled into the car park and turned around towards the tourist info centre/town hall building I saw a sign “Quilt Show Today” – how lucky is that? We had a look around the show – a small show with mostly traditional stuff, though some arty things and a rather spectacular Cathedral Windows quilt. We then made our way down to the quilt shop, which was at the back of a bigger shop & cafe - and despite having taken some sandwiches with us, we decided to eat in the cafe – Geoff and I had Cullen Skink (how could one resist, being in Cullen itself!).

Then, we drove further east down the coast towards MacDuff, but on the way, came across a rather nice looking beach. By this time the rain had cleared and it looked nice out, so we decided to stop and let the kids (and the bigger, older, male kid) have a run on the beach and a play in a very nice playground which was also there. Of course, being kids, they got very wet, so we decided to skip the aquarium and simply head home, by way of Tesco to grab some pizzas. We built a roaring (sort of) fire in the fireplace, the kids had hot baths and we heated up the pizzas. Bliss!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Loch Muick

Today we went to Glen Muick to have a nice walk around Loch Muick. The scenery is absolutely stunning, and the walk around the loch is about 8 miles in total, so we felt the kids (and Grandma Kathy) could all manage that. Much of the path is a landrover track, and as such is nearly a proper road, but there is about a mile on the far side of the loch where the path becomes a narrow, rocky trail along the mountainside. It’s still quite a good path, and is relatively flat – only a few places where the climb is steep enough to notice – mostly it’s quite gradual - but it was single file and did require careful foot placement. Olivia took to it like a fish to water – she’s obviously part gazelle. I followed behind her and tried to keep up (though I forced her to slow a little from what would have been her natural pace – not worried so much about falling down the hillside as about twisting an ankle). We ended up about 10 minutes ahead of the others – of course, they were working at Alex’s pace, and as he has small legs, it was much tougher for him to avoid puddles and climb over rocks. He enjoyed it, though, which is good.

The kids were relatively whinge-free about the whole thing. Sarah, who is getting to be more like a teenager each day, did complain quite a few times at the start about walking being almost as boring as castles and so on, though once we got onto the narrow path, she was very happy. Olivia, bless her, didn’t complain at all and I think would quite happily have walked longer and more steeply uphill. Which is quite funny, as she is the one who, as a smaller child, never wanted to walk anywhere and would have stayed in the pushchair for at least a year beyond when I started making her walk. I can remember carrying her all the way up Juniper Top once, as she was such a reluctant walker. The usual scads of photos can be found over here...

After the walk, we stopped into Ballater, one of the larger towns in the area, which looks a lovely town with some nice shops – it’s quite close to Balmoral, and obviously benefits from the royal association. We are planning to visit Balmoral one of the days we are here – seems silly not to - so I’m sure we’ll be back in Ballater that day. Balmoral is open until the end of July, so presumably, the Queen comes up in August... Actually, Loch Muick is on the Balmoral Estate, which extends quite a ways beyond the immediate environs of Balmoral – not sure precisely how far beyond without a map.

Once back at the cottage, the kids proceeded to build a stylised model of the Loch and the walk we took, featuring actual sand, stones, heather, etc they gathered during their walk. There was even a working waterfall...

Friday, July 24, 2009

Scottish Holiday!

[I had expected to have some internet access while on holiday, so I hadn't said much here on the blog - as it happened, we didn't have internet, so I wrote a kind of bloggy journal, which I'm publishing after the fact - but to keep things simple, I'm dating it as if it was in real time - hope this doesn't confuse too much!]

Today we had a slow, lazy start, partly because we’d only got in the previous evening and were all a bit tired, but partly because there was no food in the house (due to the late arrival) and we had to wait to eat until the closest shop opened at 8.30 and we could get some breakfast food! (Technically, there were lots of bits of food in the house, but nothing practical to have for breakfast except porridge – no bread, no milk, and so on). By the time we’d finished eating, it was nearly 10am, so we decided to do something in the morning, then gather the rest of our provisions and spend the afternoon at home or walking around locally, depending on the weather.

So we drove to Huntly and went to Huntly castle. The castle was originally built in the late 12th century as a motte and bailey castle, but the motte is now completed bare and the later building were established on top of the bailey section. There remains quite a good ruin of a 15th/16th century palace and tower, as well as foundations of some outbuildings. The kids had a great time climbing all over the various bits of wall that remain, and there were some lovely views from the top of the palace tower. (Tons more photos from the castle over here on flickr.)

By the time we were finished at the castle, the weather was beginning to look a little doubtful, so we ran a few food-related errands in Huntly and then made a short visit to Dean’s Shortbread factory, where you can watch the shortbread being made – from taking off the cooling racks, to packaging. And of course we bought some – a bit for gifts for those folks who are pet sitting or plant watering at home and of course some to eat ourselves.

Unfortunately, the afternoon turned quite rainy, so we simply built a fire in our lovely fireplace back at the cottage (views from the cottage are here on flickr) and spent the afternoon reading, doing puzzles, and playing games in front of the fire before having a nice dinner at home and watching a film to end the evening. It’s very cosy and very isolated – a good place for a holiday – far away from the hustle and bustle that normally makes up our lives, even when we are “relaxing”. Geoff was slightly worried the kids would find it too isolated and have nothing to do, but I think we’ll be fine – they’ve really enjoyed exploring the small wood surrounding the house and there are bikes to ride in the garage (for the girls – nothing small enough for Alex). We have planned for the next fine day – hopefully Saturday – a nice walk around Loch Muick. Not a short walk, but apparently quite flat, with an excellent path. Sunday, the weather is predicted to be fairly awful, so we’ll probably take that day to do more indoorsy types of things – for instance, there is an aquarium to visit – and so on. There is even a quilt shop to visit – how fun is that!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

End of an era

Today is Sarah's last day at Primary School. Here she is in her first day at Green Lane - this is a Reception photo, not nursery, as she went to nursery at a different school - so she is aged 4 in the photo above.

And here she is below today, aged 11 - nearly 12 - ready to set off for her final day.... Where does the time go?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Sports Day

Well, no more "forts day" in our family - we can all pronounce it properly now... It was still fun, though. Different format this year, much more fun for the kids and less sitting around. Thanks to my mother for the photos - I didn't take any as I was too busy trying to sell uniform, watch the kids, put uniform away and lots of other things. There are loads more photos over here on Flickr - some really nice ones!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Cinderella Rockerfella

Sarah's Year 6 play - they are leaving the school - "graduating" from primary school - so the tradition is to do a play. It was really great - I saw it yesterday. Based on Cinderella, but a little younger and more trendy. Sarah didn't have a big part - one line and then she got to try on a shoe in this scene.

Geoff & my mum went to see her in it tonight, and apparently, she stood in for the part of the bad fairy's cat - again, not so much a speaking part (I think she got to say "meow"), but more time on stage.

They were all really really great, though. Obviously, they'd put in a huge amount of work and I was very impressed by all the kids who were willing to sing solos in front of an audience. In another year or two (they are mostly 11 now - a few are still 10) they will all be far too self-conscious for that - or at least, most of them will be...

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Greek goddess

Olivia's class has been studying Ancient Greece this term, so this Thursday they are going to have an Ancient Greek Day. Earlier today, this was a bedsheet. I reckon it's come out fairly well. The thing that took the longest, actually, was the belt, which I made from three long strips of sheet - I made rope from them and then plaited them, along with some gold cord. She likes it, which is the important part.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Newest Beaver in the Colony

Whether real beavers live in colonies or not, I couldn't say, but Beavers (pre-cubs) are apparently organised that way over here. Alex had his official enrollment tonight after several weeks' attendance. He had to say the Beaver Promise ("I promise to do my best to be kind and helpful and to love God" ) and the Beaver Motto ("Fun and Friends") and then he got his scarf and woggle (which word I promise I did not make up - it's the thingy which slides over the scarf to keep it joined up) and a certificate. And voila - Beaver. It was really sweet, actually...

Saturday, July 04, 2009