Friday, September 27, 2013

The Oven Door Fell Off...

On September 18th, we decided to spend one more night at the Woodend Caravan and Camping Park, given the outstanding £10 price point. So Vince asked me to come up with something to do during the day. I provided two options. One, to drive to the west coast and try our luck at seeing some wild life such as whales, sharks, sea otters, seals, porpoises and various sea birds. Or two, to follow part of the Highland Pictish trail and try to locate some of the carved stones made by the Pictish people who lived in the area from 200 to 800 AD. Vince opted for the second itinerary and so we set off. En route to the Pictish trail, we stopped at the Falls of Shin just a few miles south of Lairg. I had read that this is a good place to see salmon leaping up the waterfall in their effort to migrate up the Shin River. With some patience, we were rewarded. It's amazing that salmon can battle the current and make it up a waterfall. Unfortunately, I didn't have the photographic timing nor ability to capture this phenomenon; you'll just have to take my word for it.
The waterfall is steeper than the angle of this photo indicates.
We moved to a second observation platform, closer to the falls, for a better vantage point to look for salmon leaping up the falls. Molly, with that worried look, was not happy about being so close to the water.
After, enjoying yet another playground (the kids never tire of playgrounds) at the Falls of Shin, we drove to Ardgay, then along the A836 eastward on the southern bank of the Dornoch Firth towards the Tarbat Discovery Centre. Looking for ancient carved stones was generally a bust. The first stone we came to was locked in the Kincardine Old Church. The second, third and fourth ones at Clach Biorach, Edderton Church Yard and the Tain Museum, we somehow missed and drove by. The reality was however that I don't think the kids cared at all; it was just Vince and myself looking for these relics.

In order to spark some interest, we stopped at the Tarbat Discovery Centre in Portmahomack. It's a small museum in the refurbished interior of the Tarbat Old Parish Church and displays bits of Pictish sculpture revealed by ongoing excavations at the site. The excavations, by the University of York, have revealed an 8th century Pictish monastery, its stone buildings, farm and metalworking shop. The Centre has interactive touchscreens with information on the Picts and shows a video on the Picts of Easter Ross. Paul chose not to go in, but the rest of us did and I, for one, learned a little about something I previously knew absolutely nothing about.
The Tarbat Discovery Centre has a lot more to offer than the exterior suggests.
On September 19th, we headed towards Loch Ness. Our destination was the Loch Ness Holiday Park (£40/nt but only £25 with our new Camping and Caravanning Club membership) which was located near Lower Foyer on the southern bank of the lake.

Due to a variety of projects such a folks taking showers (10 pence for 6 minutes) at our bargain Woodend Caravan Park, folding laundry, finishing the prior week's blog, the kids finishing their allotted computer time and lunch (might as well have lunch before we start out), we did not get moving until 13:00. We left in our usual formation, Vince driving LandShark and me following in the Prius. Paul was my copilot. We drove for about 6 miles and when we came to a turn that my GPS instructed me to turn, Vince kept going straight. That added another 15 minutes to our trip. Then we came to a second road where my GPS instructed me to turn but Vincent continued straight for about 100 yards. I asked Paul to call Vince (on my new phone) and, as it was ringing, Vince pulled into a parking lot. Paul asked, "What the heck is going on?" There was a moment of silence and then Paul turned to me and said, "The oven door fell off". Maybe there just isn't enough humor in my life, because I just broke into hysterics. I've tended to gloss over the day to day RV issue trouble-shooting efforts that have engaged Vince. (On a related side note, we did receive the solenoids that Vince had shipped to John O'Groats Caravan and Camping Site but it has not been dry enough for him to replace that part. In the meantime, he has been opening 3 of the 4 slides using jumper cables. Unconventional but effective.)

So I parked the Prius and went inside the RV to see what had happened. Turned out the oven door didn't fall off. It was the large front-facing door to the drawer under our stove top that holds all the pots and pans that popped off. Well, that was still good enough to fuel my fits of laughter. Having just visited the Falls of Shin the day before, I had visions of a waterfall of pots, baking pans, frying pans, lids, bowls, tupperware and strainers pouring out. Molly leaping for cover. James scrambling to catch things as they hit the floor and commenced their scattered, rolling journey throughout the RV. The images in my head kept me laughing for the next 15 miles.

About the time, I had pulled myself together, I arrived at another roundabout and the GPS sent me on a different route than the one Vincent took. Mine took me into south Inverness to an old town district and sent me in loops. It was very frustrating, but I think Paul was enjoying "getting lost with Mom". With the help of my good ol' fashioned road atlas, we eventually figured out to ignore the GPS and follow the direction to Dores. We drove about 12 miles on a one lane road to our final destination at Lower Foyer. I kept thinking Vince must be on a different road but when we met at the end of the day, he too had to drive down that single lane road and negotiate trucks, buses and other oncoming vehicles. Pretty stressful.
The view of Loch Ness from our camping site.
Once we got settled, Paul and I walked down to the lake. Paul had a go at skipping stones.
On September 20th, we headed for the Culloden Battlefield and Visitor Centre and Exhibition. 
If you ever find yourself in the Inverness area, the Culloden Battlefield, a National Trust for Scotland site, is well worth a visit.
The Centre tells the story of events leading up to and of the battle at Culloden on April 16, 1746, where the Jacobite army, led by Bonnie Prince Charlie (Charles Edward Stuart), fought to reclaim the throne of Britain from the Hanoverians. The Jacobites lost and it was the last serious attempt by the Jacobites (mostly Highlanders with some Lowland Scots and Englishmen from the Manchester regiment) to get a Stuart (Charles) back on the throne. The outcome changed the course of British, European and world history. One walks away wondering what if the Jacobites had won? Britain would have had a line of different kings with perhaps a different way of dealing with the North American colonies. Maybe the American revolution wouldn't have taken place or would have occurred later in time. There wouldn't have been so many Scots emigrating (or deported) to British Colonies or France. The Exhibition tells the story both from the Jacobite and the Hanoverian perspectives. There's a film re-enacting the battle shown on 4 walls, surrounding you the witness, which gives an intense understanding of how outnumbered and underequipped the Jacobites were. Near the end of the exhibition, you are given a GPS-activated audio device that you take out onto the actual battlefield. As you walk around the various paths, the device automatically tells you what happened at your spot on the field. It was really well done.
It's difficult to capture good photos of a battle field. The red and blue flags throughout the moor denoted the Hanoverian and Jacobite troop lines. Parts of the moor were boggy which added to the difficulty of the terrain for the Jacobites who attempted to charge the government troops.
Another photo of the battle field. The building to the left is the old Leanach Cottage and is believed to have served as a field hospital for government troops following the battle.
That evening we had dinner at the Craigdarroch House Hotel Restaurant on the hill above our campground. It provided a stunning view of Loch Ness.
A zoomed-in photo of the Craigdannoch Hotel from the Loch Ness Holiday Park.
On September 21st, we woke to a sunny and warmish morning (about 17 degrees Celcius) so Vincent thought it a good time to replace the solenoid, repair the pots and pans drawer and repair a few other things on LandShark. It was requested that the kids and I leave for a while and give Vince some peace to work; the kids and I decided to walk up the hill to the Craigdannoch House Hotel to take in the view again.
Vince had just worked through two blades with his jigsaw to cut this hole. He planned to add a vent to help keep the inverter cool.
Molly and the kids overlooking the Loch Ness Holiday Park and Loch Ness from the Craigdannoch House Hotel.
When we returned back to LandShark, Vincent was finished or, more accurately, was caught up with repairs for the given time. I wanted to check out the James Pringle Factory near Dores and Vince, James and Sarah wanted to come along. Paul stayed behind to work on homework. (So far the kids had been taking their weekly homework assignments seriously. To sweeten the motivation, we offered an additional 30 minutes of computer time, per day, when they completed all assignments for a given week.)

The James Pringle/Holm Mill was pretty disappointing but I did manage to find a cashmere v-neck sweater for £49 which was a pretty good price, even by US cheap import standards. Sarah got a navy cardigan for £8 and James got a watch for £12.
James Pringle Weavers: Not worth a stop unless you are a looking for a simple cashmere jumper or enjoy sifting through kitschy stuff for a find on a rainy day.
After leaving the Pringle/Holm Mill, we decided to go a little further to Cawdor Castle which we mistakenly thought was included in our National Trust for Scotland membership. We arrived around 16:00 and were disappointed to find that it was not. With only about 1 hour and 20 minutes to see the castle and grounds we didn't think it worth the £28 for a family pass and decided against going in. There was another event taking place on the grounds, a Living Food event, which was only £9 for family entrance and so we opted to do that. It turned out it was more or less a farmers' market with a 2-person live band and a balloon clown. The fact that people started closing things down 15 minutes after we entered added to the let down.
I figure that balloon dog that Sarah received was valued at about £9.
On the drive back to the Loch Ness Holiday Park, I took a few photos of Loch Ness.
There were quite thick clouds much of the afternoon but here the sun was trying to shine through.
This photo looks like it was taken as a black and white but it is in color. The dark clouds cast a greyish tone to most everything. The exception is where the sun is shining through; the hills below are green.
On September 22nd, we left the Loch Ness Holiday Park and headed towards the Banff Links Caravan Park in Aberdeenshire.
A last shot of Loch Ness, trying to capture it during a rare sunny patch (not an easy task). It looked very different with more sunshine than clouds.
I wanted to visit Cullen which is a village near Banff, Aberdeenshire on the coast and was recommended by an MPS friend. (My Porter's friends had been providing great recommendations.) En route, we stopped off at Brodie Castle, which was a National Trust for Scotland site (got to use that membership). The Brodie Castle is a 16th century fortified mansion owned for generations by, who other than, the Brodie clan. Most Brodie generations weren't very good with money and so eventually one of the Brodies, burdened with debt and high maintenance costs, gave the estate to the National Trust for Scotland to get it off their hands. The grounds include a Children's Adventure Playground, with zip line, which had Sarah hooked. She and the boys opted to stay outside while Vincent and I had a tour of the castle.
If you visit Brodie Castle, you receive a tour with the cost of entrance. The tea room is cozy and inviting and offers table service.
The UK playgrounds offer equipment that you just don't see in the US. Zip lines are often included (no helmets required here). In this photo, Sarah is trying out a skate board on a metal rim at the Brodie Castle playground. Someone, who knows what they're doing, can ride the skateboard about 2/3rds along the circumference of the rim.
Sarah has a gift for quickly making friends. Give her 5 minutes and she's gotten two other girls to push her in the swing saucer.
The Banff Links Caravan Park (£17.50/nt) is right next to a beautiful, fine, sandy beach. The first thing the kids noticed was the playground which was very well equipped.
The Banff Links Caravan Park has a super playground. The zip line was the first piece of equipment to try. Paul's giving James a push. An oil tanker can be seen on the horizon.
While the kids and I were checking out the playground, Vincent opened up the RV slides. Apparently Paul had placed a second pcv pipe support in the port slide by the tv and Vincent didn't notice. Slide came out. Cccrrack! And voila, a baseball-sized dent in the screen, which no longer functions. 
Nice going. Another item broken. Last night's movie night would literally be a thing of the past. At the time of writing this, it's not clear whether we can easily find a replacement in the UK, that would work with our US/NTSC dvd player. I would think a screen is just a screen and manufacturers would enable technology that would work with PAL, NTSC or SECAM devices. Just another opportunity to do more research.
Okay, another thing broken, so Vince joined us at the beach.
Post broken screen, Vince was trying to put recent events behind him throwing the ball for Molly. Beautiful evening. No need for tv.

"Hey, I can see my reflection."
On the beach looking towards Banff. The light-colored waves in the bottom half of the photo was sand blowing across the wet beach. It was fantastic to see.
Paul constructing some sort of reservoir that of course would be futile against the North Sea when the tide rolled in.
On September 23rd, we woke up to a perfect sunny day. The view from LandShark's front window was gorgeous. I decided I never wanted to leave. After the last couple of weeks with temperatures in the mid-50s Fahrenheit (the highs), with clouds and intermittent rain much of the days, this was heaven.
This was the view of the beach from LandShark's front window at about 9:30am. Just lovely.
Sarah carving a road in the sand toward the sea.
I loved the colours and textures of the water and sand. Tried to capture it, but was difficult with my pocket camera.
Another seascape.
After doing three loads of laundry with our Haier machine, and a couple walks on the beach I decided it was time to venture further afield. Vince and I decided to walk to the Banff village, about a mile away, while the kids all opted to stay behind on the playground.

We walked through the center of the village, checked out a couple second hand shops and a "bargain" store and then went to the tourist office. Upon leaving the tourist office, Vince said he needed to use the WC. He pointed out that the toilets won "Loo of the Year Awards", so I had to take a photo of the certificates in the window. Upon taking a couple photos, a lady emerged from the building and said, "You missed an award around the corner." At first I thought she was being sarcastic; I was a little embarrassed getting caught taking these loo award pictures for the blog. But then I realized she was serious; I should make sure I go around the corner and not miss capturing the other 2013 Loo Award. Keeping the loos clean was this woman's job and she was proud of it. That was great. We talked for a bit about other foreigners coming by her loos. Not too many Americans this year, but some Canadians and New Zealanders; people who were researching their family ties.
Need a clean WC? Check out the Banff Tourist Office Toilets!
We arrived back to the Banff Links Campground after our 2+ hour walk to find the kids all accounted for and still having a great time.
I went out to take some photos of the beach and sea at sunset but arrived a bit too late to catch the best light. I love the muted colours at dusk.
We awoke on September 24th to the realization that our sunny weather was a mere enigma. We were back to overcast skies with threats of rain and that familiar 12-13 degrees Celcius. Vince and I decided we'd go ahead and try a round of golf at the Cullen Golf Course which lays claim to "the most remarkable site for a golf course in Europe." It's also been described as "quirky". There isn't much room for 18 holes, but with the course hugging the coast and many holes crossing one another, it does provide a full round. Many holes have blind spots, about a third. It is extremely challenging and only those golfers who are precise in their shots would do well here. I can say neither Vince nor I fit in that category. Playing this course was another recommendation given to us and I'm glad we followed up.
This is the view from the 2nd hole green. The tee is not visible, but one has to hit upward onto a plateau to a tight green, which is hidden from view. This was the first indication that the course would be a challenge.
Sarah proved to be a great caddy. Good at locating lost balls, retrieving left clubs, finding lost head covers and fishing out balls from water hazards.
Sarah discovered that the creek through the course went out to the sea.
Unusual in a golf course, trees aren't really a problem here, but rocks are.
This photo was taken on top of the rock on the 13th hole. The 12th hole green is to the left and the 14th hole green is further in the distance to the right.
This photo shows the 13th green to the left and the crazy rock over which one has to hit.
On September 25th, we woke to more gray overcast skies and lots of wind. We decided to continue on to a new destination once Paul washed dishes, refilled the fresh water tank and dumped the black and gray tanks. 

Here I want to comment on a few things that have really helped make life easier on the road (for the parents). Paul expressed a keen interest in making extra money so he struck a contract with Vince that he would wash all the dishes and put them away (with one day off every fortnight), refill the fresh water tank and dump the gray and black water tanks, for a certain weekly allowance. In the meantime, the other two also wanted to institute a weekly allowance for themselves, so Vince created a detailed weekly chart of chores that needed to be completed to keep LandShark clean and tidy and to maintain individual hygiene (ie points for teeth brushing, showers, brushing hair etc....These are kids, afterall.) Every task has one or more points attached to it. Paul needs to achieve 115 points a week and James and Sarah 80 points a week in order to earn their respective weekly allowance. So far this has worked out brilliantly with Vince and I having to do very little with respect to the daily upkeep of the RV. We now have more time to research destinations, prepare or review school work, write blogs and, particularly in Vincent's case, research why something isn't working and prepare for upcoming repairs. 

We decided to head towards Aberdeen and Vince booked us in at the GreenPark Certificated Location (£10/nt) near Banchory, Aberdeenshire. This is a small park that only takes 5 vehicles and is for Caravan Club Members only. Vince thought we were members but later discovered we were members of another club, the UK Camping and Caravanning Club; they're all very similar in name. Oh well. Most importantly, we got in.

En route to our camping site, we drove along the coast to the Kinnaird Head Castle Lighthouse and Museum. The Frasers built the castle in the 16th century near, what is now called, Fraserburgh. Then in 1787, the castle, having been abandoned for about 30 years at that point, was turned into the first operational lighthouse built in Scotland by the Commissioners of Northern Lights. While the first light was designed by the Edinburgh engineer, Thomas Smith, most of the following lighthouses and lighthouse mechanisms were developed by several generations of the Stevenson family. One of the Stevensons, who did not become an engineer and pursue a career concerning lighthouses, was Robert Louis Stevenson who wrote, among many works, Treasure Island; it's clear his acquired family knowledge of the sea and shipwrecks helped in the writing of this novel.
The Kinnaird Lighthouse Castle and Museum provides a good history about the implementation of lighthouses in Scotland and details on the inner workings of the early lighthouses.
The tour guide and Vince walking towards the original castle lighthouse. A newer, automatic lighthouse, to the left, was installed in 1991.
A view from the castle lighthouse: The stone building at the bottom of the picture is thought to have once been a secret chapel for members of the Fraser family in the 1500s; they could worship as Roman Catholics at a time when Catholics were persecuted.
A second view from the castle lighthouse overlooks the new, automated lighthouse as well as the red fog horn that used to blast every 90 seconds during periods of fog and/or snow. (My guess is that this would have been a frequent occurrence.) I expect real estate in the neighboring village was a bargain.
A third view from the castle lighthouse overlooking posts where fishing nets were laid out to dry.
Taking in the view from the top of the light house.
What's more important? That the light in a lighthouse is working or that the reflectors are operating correctly? The answer: That the reflectors are operating correctly. Each lighthouse sends out a signal with a specific time frame between flashes. If the timing is off, captains may interpret that they are in a different location than where they actually are and this could have dire consequences. If a light is out, at least captains will proceed with caution, not knowing where they might be situated.
By the time, we arrived at the Greenpark Certificated Location for the night, Vince had came up with another solution for preventing the pots and pan drawer from ever popping out again while underway: The bungee cord.
Bungee cord: Truly a versatile gadget with no limit to its uses.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Assimilating into Scotland

On September 11th, we woke up to partially cloudy skies and decided to stay another day at the Blair Castle Caravan Park to see a bit more of the area. After all, we were in Scotland and should start slowing down and begin doing some serious sightseeing. Not all of us were of the same thinking however; Paul, getting behind in school work, decided to take a break and stay in the RV for the day to relax and catch up a bit.

The rest of us headed for Pitlochry. A town whose name which we had a lot of fun trying to pronounce. It was a good destination to hunt for woolen goods. And some of us got hooked. We wandered in and out of a number of shops. Vincent found a classic Royal Stewart tartan kilt for Sarah, with blouse and tam. Then we stumbled upon a second-hand clothing shop that had several kilts for gents in the window. I thought of Paul and said, "If Paul were to get a kilt, this is the type of shop at which we should be shopping." The next moment, I noticed Vincent asking the shopkeeper for waist sizes that would fit him, not Paul. Oh oh. Before I knew it, Vincent was trying on a kilt and asking me if he should buy it. I responded that I thought he should "sleep on it"; maybe good sense would prevail. I added that we should mention this kilt opportunity to Paul; if Paul and Vincent decided they just had to have a kilt, they could return the next day together.
To my knowledge, Vincent doesn't have a drop of Scottish blood. He's part Irish though so I wonder if there's another kilt in his future if we get to Ireland?
Meanwhile the shopkeeper asked if we were planning on attending the Highland Games in Pitlochry on Saturday? Well "no", we had intended to be at John O'Groats by then. I realized that we would be crazy to miss these Highland Games, the last of the season; we were in Scotland and what a great opportunity to experience these games live. This would be the real deal, not some watered down copy we'd see in Canada or the US. Upon leaving Pitlochry, we pretty much made up our minds to stay through Saturday assuming we could stay on at the Blair Castle Caravan Park a few more days.
Sarah in her new tartan outfit. Too cute.
Entrance to Blair Castle Caravan Park: The sun broke through the clouds at the end of the day, casting a lovely glowing light through the mist.
On September 12th, the interest in kilts had not faded so Vincent and Paul headed back to Pitlochry to see if the kilts were still there. As luck would have it (depending on your point of view) they were, so father and son returned back to the RV with near matching tartans. Vince's is a Clan Morrison Society tartan. Paul's is a Stewart of Appin Ancient Hunting tartan. They planned to wear them on Saturday at the Highland Games so stay tuned for hopefully a couple of good photos.

After Vincent and Paul returned, we decided to try a round of golf at the 9-hole Blair Atholl Golf Club. We of course had to play golf in Scotland. It was tough convincing Sarah and Paul that they shouldn't wear their kilts playing golf, but we succeeded. The Blair Atholl Golf Course is a good course, challenging and long (for a 9-hole course) but with very few water hazards. It was apparently designed by James Braid who is viewed as one of one of golf's greatest course designers, having designed the Gleneagles and Angus Courses, to name but a few.

Our kids, who have not yet had any proper instruction on the technique or rules of golf, made it pretty distracting (good practice however for honing in on "focus" skills). I did manage to par one hole (a par 3) but by the 7th hole my ability to block out external chaos was dwindling. That, together with the rain (probably just defined as a "mist" by the locals), made my shaky game go south. Nevertheless, it was a treat to (a) be out on the golf course again in (b) Scotland, of all places.
Sarah giving golf a go. She didn't hit very far but her form looks good; so does the tam.
Paul and James both enjoyed playing golf. Note to self: I need to register them for lessons when we return home.
Paul and Sarah fishing out Mom's golf ball on the 8th hole.
9th hole: Vince, now wearing Sarah's tam, catching rain drops. Paul's off on the first hole looking for balls.
On September 13th, we concluded that this year's summer weather was truly a thing of the past; we needed more warm clothes so that day we headed to Perth for more outerwear. Vince decided he needed a better jacket that would fend off mother nature; his water repellent jacket wasn't up to the task. We came across a number of second hand shops, most of which supported a charity. These "used goods" shops are super for people (us) looking for a bargain. I replaced my stolen jeans with a new pair for only £4.55 and found a CD of Tina Turner hits for £2.99, much to my family's dismay. We found a number of paper backs that the boys and Vince will enjoy. I regret now not purchasing Jane Austen's last novel, Sandition. Oh well.

After lunch at a very good French restaurant (Restaurant Breizh, Bretagne cuisine) and some tasty galettes, we headed for Scone Palace (pronounced more like "Skuwwnne"). Scone Palace was once the crowning place of the Kings of Scots, including Macbeth and Robert The Bruce. Situated above the River Tay, Scone Palace had a very strategic location overlooking the routes north to the Highlands and east through Strathmore to the coast. It was also the original home of the celebrated Stone of Scone - also known as the Stone of Destiny or the Coronation Stone (in England) - until it was taken by Edward I of England to Westminster in 1296.
The family walking towards Scone Palace.
There were a number of peacocks milling about.
On the Palace property is Scone Abbey. In the bottom right-hand corner of the photo is a replica of the Stone of Scone.
After visiting the palace, we found the children's adventure playground; it was excellent with a variety of equipment, including foot-peddle tractors and a zip line. Even I couldn't pass up the zip line. With time running out, we made a quick jaunt to the Murray Star Maze. Designed in the shape of a five pointed star, it was tricky trying to reach the fountain in the center.
Vincent overlooking the Murray Star Maze. The kids were all lost somewhere down there.
September 14th was THE Highland Games! Well, it was the last Highland Games of the season for the locals but it was the only Highland Games we'd see. It was the 161st Games in Pitlochry. We got up early with the aim to be on our way by 8:30am in order to find free parking at the tourist information lot. And we did. It was a rare beautiful, sunny day. Perfect for this all day, outside eclectic series of events.
This photo was taken having just arrived in Pitlochry. Sarah, Vince and Paul all look great in their kilts.
Walking towards the games. Apparently someone from Kansas approached Paul and Vincent and asked them how they keep their kilts so nice. (Well, it helps when you've only owned them for 48 hours!)
We took Molly along with us and she was in good company with so many other dogs at the games. By asking other dog owners about their dogs, and through further internet research later in the day, we even managed to figure out what type of dog Molly is: A broken coat Patterdale Terrier. They are described as being "bold and confident beyond their capabilities"; yes, that is Molly. Patterdale Terriers were bred for hunting the red fox in northern England, around the Lake District. Today, they often compete in dog sports such as flyball. Flyball is where teams of dogs race against each other from a start/finish line, over a line of hurdles, to a box that releases a tennis ball to be caught when the dog presses the spring-loaded pad, then back to their handlers while carrying the ball. This totally explains Molly's obsession (and I use that term accurately) with tennis balls. Molly would chase a tennis ball from dawn to dusk, if we cooperated, without a break. She has no internal warning that tells her she's had enough.

The Highland Games started about 10:30 with the shot put, hammer throwing, caber tossing and dancing competitions, as well as some relay races.
The caber toss was apparently developed from the need to toss logs across narrow chasms (in order to cross them). The objective is to have the caber flip over and fall directly away from the thrower after landing. A perfect throw ends with the "top" end nearest to the thrower and the "bottom'"end pointing exactly away. If the throw is not perfect, it is scored by viewing the caber as though it were the hour hand on a clock. A perfect toss is where the "bottom" is pointing at 12:00. A caber pointing to 11:00 yields a better score than one pointing to 10:30 but is the equivalent of one pointing to 1:00. The thrower has to balance the caber just right, running forward, using the momentum of the caber falling forward to get it to flip over.
Highland dancing competitions, for various age groups, went on throughout the day. Each girl was lovely with hair arranged in a perfect bun on the back of her head.
 At 12:00 noon a procession of 23 bands entered the arena.
These bands were all fabulous.
I wish I could have included a picture of each band.
Vince surmised that the kilts one finds in second hand shops are from people who were once in a pipe band.
The Black Watch, 3rd Battalion, Pipe Band.
During the afternoon, four to six sporting competitions would take place simultaneously so there was always much to watch. More hammer throwing (various weights), caber tossing, weight tossing and shot putting, running events, long jump, high jump, cycling around the grass track, tug of war, solo piping, highland dancing and individual band evaluations.
This man had just thrown the shot (red sphere in flight). The event was sponsored by the local whiskey distillery, Edradour.
Individual pipers were assessed during the day.
This dancer won award at the end of the day. Here you can see preparation for a caber toss in the background.
Here, cyclists are racing around the outer track while high jumping, some sort of throwing competition and individual band evaluations are taking place. Knowing that a caber or hammer could hit another competitor or that a marching band could interfere with a relay race (which did happen) added to the thrill of watching.
Tug of war: Both sides could be in the above static position, without either side moving, for 10 minutes or longer. The announcer would often report on other events and then check back in on the tug of war to update if there had been any progress.
The weight toss was my favorite event. It was literally described as "throwing an 8-year old child over a double decker bus." These men toss the weight over their heads and hopefully over the pole above them. Lots of potential for accidents. Absolutely frightening to watch.
In addition to the sporting events, there were many other entertaining things to observe.
Fun to see so many men in full Scottish dress. Beautiful tartans. A men's kilt will either have 5 or 8 yards of fabric. Kilts with 5 yards are obviously lighter so I expect those competing in their kilts were wearing the lighter version.
The Scottish know how to raise money for their high school and other local causes; buy 5 raffle tickets for £1 and you could win a bottle of whiskey, wine or vodka. If you're not so lucky, you may go home with a bottle of mustard or HP Sauce.
There were kids games, like the bean bag toss, with Scottish themes and promises of "free Haggis if you lose".
Twice during the day, they held races in which kids in the audience could participate. I talked Paul into joining the 100 yard dash for boys aged 10 through 14.
Paul, lining up with the other 10 to 14 year old boys. What a cool kid to run, in a kilt no less. A few other lads (not pictured) also ran in kilts.
And they're off! Paul didn't win but he got full credit from me for participating.
Paul, Vince and Molly in the stands enjoying the games.
At the close of the games, all 23 pipe bands joined together for a finale. This snap shows about a third of them. It was really something to see and hear.
By the end of the day, Paul's interest in kilts had tripled and he had developed a keen interest in learning how to play the bag pipes. The only complaint about the kilt was that the wool could get scratchy. When he got home, he solved the problem.
Wear the kilt over the soft bathrobe and the problem of itchy wool is solved! (By the way, that gas heater at Paul's feet was our most appreciated piece of equipment.)
On September 15th, we decided it was time to continue north to John O'Groats (pretty much the most north eastern tip of the Scottish mainland) and hopefully then further on to the Orkney Islands. The weather however wasn't in our favour. It was already raining and reports were promising gale storms in the north. We decided to go ahead and get as far as John O'Groats and see how the weather developed. By about 11:15am, we finally packed up everything, dumped tanks and were ready to go. Vince started the RV, switched on the wipers and....nothing. The wipers weren't working again. Ugh.

Vince fired up his laptop for some ideas on how to troubleshoot the latest problem. He also started calling around to find someone that would sell RainX (window treatment that makes water slide off windows) which hopefully would help visibility if the wipers stopped when driving (assuming he actually got them started). While searching the internet he found some wiper advice which made no sense but since we had nothing to lose, Vince tried it: Turn the steering wheel hard left, then hard right and then back to a neutral position and the wipers should/could work. He tried it and it did. Go figure. So we were off.

We had two stops along the way. The first to get the RainX and the second to fill up our propane gas tank at the only propane dealer north of Inverness. (We needed to keep our gas heater fed.) The propane refill turned out to be more problematic than expected. The fitting didn't connect well with our tank and, if it hadn't been for another customer coming along who also needed propane, we might not have been successful.
Here's one of the less appealing aspects of motorhoming around for a year: Trying to fill up the propane tank in 5 degrees Celcius weather in pouring rain. Vince is trying to get the nozzle to connect to our tank while Paul is at the pump ready to push the start button.
We finally arrived at John O'Groats Caravan and Camping Site (£31/nt) about 19:00. There isn't much there; just a ferry terminal and a couple tourist shops. Outstanding views though from the campground.
Arriving at John O'Groats Caravan and Camping Site. A rainbow had just formed below the rain cloud.
Finally parked at John O'Groats Caravan and Camping Site, overlooking the North Sea.
On September 16th,  we were essentially holed up at John O'Groats anticipating the gales storms. I knew I'd go stir crazy staying in the RV all day so decided to go on an outing in the afternoon. I asked if anyone wanted to join me and James was keen to go. I had found on the map that we were close to the Castle of Mey which was the only home that Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, owned. She bought it in 1952, renovated it and usually spent August and October of most years there until she died. It was small and modest, as castles go. As there are so many castles to visit in the UK, I would recommend passing on this one, because there isn't a lot to see compared to other historic sites, unless you are an avid royal family fan; if so, you'll enjoy the intimate experience. James and I were essentially alone in the castle and so an attendant in each room spoke to us about the various personal effects. The Queen Mum's favorite drink was a gin and dubonet; wow, never would have thought to mix those two together.
During gale-like gusts of wind, a kind passerby offered to take a photo of James and me. The Castle of Mey is in the background.
A view of the shore from the Castle of Mey. The sky was filled with dark rain clouds but there was a small break with sun shining through lighting the surf.
Another photo of the shoreline from the Castle of Mey grounds.

In one of the Castle of Mey barns, they held a farm animal exhibit. They had live birds, rabbits and various chickens, and lots of information about the British woolen industry. Here, James is figuring out how to milk a cow.
That evening the winds and rain really picked up. We were expecting 45 mph winds with gusts of up to 60 mph. We decided to keep the slides in and closed all windows tight to prevent water from coming in. The rig rocked much of the night. It was hard sleeping both due to the noise and the worry. Vince had visions of the roof getting torn off and I had visions of the rig rolling.

On September 17th, we woke up to an inside temperature of 55 degrees Fahrenheit with the day's weather predicted to be much like yesterday. Cold, rain and high winds. We decided to pass on the Orkney Islands and head south. We aimed to go as far as Lairg and stop along the way at the Dunrobin Castle near Golspie, recommended by a friend with the surname Sutherland.

We arrived at Dunrobin Castle just in time to catch most of the falconry demonstration. It was certainly worth stopping for this, particularly with the kids along.
The Peregrine Falcon was fast and fun to watch. It had a bell so one could follow where it was flying. It responded to the handler's calls and apparently wouldn't fly away because it knew it was better off with the handler than without him.
The owl (can't remember what type) weighed about 2 lbs and was about twice the size as the Peregrine Falcon, which weighed about 1.5 lbs. (The owl has very light feathers.) Trivia: This species of owl has very sensitive hearing where the ears are located asymmetrically on either side of the facial disc which enhances its ability to pinpoint the origin of the sounds it hears; it can hear worms coming to the surface of the lawn (which was why the owl was on the ground in this picture) and can hear a mouse's heart beat from 25 ft away. A mouse doesn't have a chance once an owl has located it.
At the end of the demonstration, each of the kids got their picture taken with the owl.
The Dunrobin Castle itself has many richly decorated rooms and beautiful grounds. Sarah is dwarfed by the majestic view behind her.
A view of the gardens, and sea beyond, from Dunrobin Castle. I'm reminded of what inspired my boxwood-edged gardens at home. Maybe a few more of these estates will motivate me to complete the vision (on a much smaller scale) when I return.
After Dunrobin Castle, we drove the last 25 miles (taking about an hour) to our evening destination, the Woodend Caravan and Camping Site (£10/nt) just outside of Lairg. This place was a bargain and we were the only people there. The sun came out briefly and it was a lovely, remote spot.
It didn't take long for the boys to find the minimalist playground.
No one was happier than Molly with this spot, allowed to run free. This dog was at home in Scotland and loved pursuing her favorite pastime, chasing a tennis ball.