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.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Martha, Love the kilts on (almost) everyone! The Highland Games look like just what we went to in CA, glad to know the log toss is called a "Caber toss." We saw tug of war, dancing, parades, etc. as well. Did the Scottish dancing interest any of the kids? I'd imagine Sarah might want to take up that, or Celtic dancing, upon your return. Fun to see the boys (& Sarah) enjoying golf & the teeter-totter! Some rides you never outgrow... Beautiful countryside & very glad the RV didn't blow away!