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.

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