Pedal on Parliament 2017 Aberdeen

Pedal on Parliament 2017 Aberdeen

We gathered on the Beach Esplanade at 11am this morning for the Aberdeen Pedal on Parliament ride. This is the third year running for Aberdeen and the sixth year for Pedal on Parliament in Scotland. We were an energetic, cheerful, and brave crowd hoping to convince the Aberdeen City Council to give some road space to cyclists in Aberdeen. It was nice to meet some kindred spirits and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. I think there were around 80 of us which is a bit pathetic. Come on Aberdeen! You can do better than this! Judging by the Tweets I’ve seen the crowd in Edinburgh looked more impressive.

Before the ride:


We cycled along the beach to Castlegate in the city centre.


There were three cargo bikes. Those two fellows both have an Urban Arrow which is what I wished I’d bought instead of the Butchers and Bicycles. I’ve sold that bike now for a huge loss.


Here’s the Aberdeen group, a great bunch of people:

The leader of the Aberdeen City Council, Jenny Laing, was there at Castlegate to greet us at the end. I had a satisfying rant to her about the lack of cycling infrastructure in Aberdeen and what’s needed; she listened and seemed to agree with everything I said. But this is typical of the city council: they listen and agree then do nothing.

Pedal on Parliament this year coincided with the marches for science, a worldwide initiative to support science and evidence-based policy making, both of which I fully support. There wasn’t a march in Aberdeen but I believe the Edinburgh march did not clash with Pedal on Parliament as they are at different times and I’m sure there were people going to both events since they have some shared goals. If government policy was evidence-based we’d have cycling infrastructure in Aberdeen.

Pedal on Parliament 2017

On the 22nd April mums, dads, sons, daughters, grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers, and friends will be cycling in Edinburgh, Aberdeen, and Inverness (Glasgow on the 23rd April) to urge our politicians to improve cycling infrastructure all over Scotland. That’s this coming Saturday! Tomorrow! We need as many people as possible to have the greatest impact so please join us.

The benefits of ditching the car in favour of the bike are so far-reaching we cannot let our politicians ignore them. A study published in the British Medical Journal yesterday found,

Cycle commuters had a 52% lower risk of dying from heart disease and a 40% lower risk of dying from cancer. They also had 46% lower risk of developing heart disease and a 45% lower risk of developing cancer at all.


Cycling also makes you feel good, it reduces pollution and traffic congestion, it reduces our greenhouse gas emissions, it helps people to lose weight, and it’s fun. However very few people cycle to work, school, or the shops in Scotland because there’s nowhere to cycle unless they are prepared to brave the roads alongside cars, trucks and buses. We have to start allocating road space for cyclists and make our cities more pedestrian- and cycle-friendly. The only way this will happen is with pressure on politicians from us, the general public.

Spending money on cycling infrastructure returns more in benefits to the community than it costs to build. A study commissioned by the city of Sydney found that for each $1 that was spent on cycling infrastructure, $3.88 was returned to the community through improvements to health, pollution, and congestion.

A University of Auckland study found the benefits of spending on cycling infrastructure were 10-25 times greater than the costs.

A recent Finnish study also found benefits outweighed costs even in the worst case scenario.

If you want to participate you can find out when everyone is meeting and where at the following links:

Pedal on Parliament 
POP Edinburgh 
POP Glasgow 
POP Aberdeen
POP Inverness 

Haddo House and Country Park

Haddo House and Country Park

Things didn’t go quite according to plan today. We booked the nearest car-club car this morning but it had a flat battery. We’ve been members of the car club for two years now and this is only the second time this has happened. Fortunately there was another car-club car nearby and so they switched our booking for us and we took that one instead. This is one the best things about the car club – all the maintenance and the inevitable mechanical issues that crop up are not our problem to sort out. We book a car on average about twice per month and it has been terrific. Very rarely is the car I want not available and even then there’s usually another one I can book instead.

We planned to have a picnic lunch at Pitmeddon Gardens which is about 18 miles north-west of Aberdeen. However when we got there we discovered it too had a flat battery (= closed) but fortunately there was another castle/stately home/garden just down the road: Haddo House. So we went there instead. It’s handy living in the most densely castled corner of the UK. I’m not sure why this is. Perhaps the Scots used to fight a lot?

I am an active travel person. I walk and cycle pretty much everywhere I want to go in Aberdeen and I do it by choice. Giving up the car was very liberating and I never want to own another, not unless it has pedals. When I get in a car-club car now I find it a bit confining. How can people sit there and not move their bodies for such long periods of time? I want pedals or something to keep myself physically active. It’s just not right to sit on our bums doing nothing. You might wonder how I survive with an IT job but I have a standing desk and I am permanently standing at it. I never sit down, not even at 6:30 in the morning when I start work. It makes no sense to me why people want to sit in cars in traffic when they could walk or cycle instead. Cars needs pedals to allow the occupants to get some exercise while they’re inside them. Who’s with me on this? I Tweeted my request to Elon Musk.

Anyway, I digress. Three paragraphs and still no photos of Haddo House and park. Here they are.



Lots of daffodils.




There’s a squirrel hide but we’ve never seen any red squirrels there.


We did see a bear though.





Elizabeth is like me and doesn’t like the heat. It got up to 17C today and she complained endlessly about being hot.






Burn O’Vat

Burn O’Vat

Someone recommended Burn O’Vat on my Scolty Hill post from last week and so we decided to check it out today. It’s a WOW place. How have I never discovered it before? It’s at the Muir of Dinnet Nature Reserve which is about 34 miles west of Aberdeen. There’s a terrific visitor centre there.


The main attraction is the Burn O’Vat which is a relic from the end of the last Ice Age. Wikipedia has more info about how it was formed, if you’re interested. Here are the photos.


I am dwarfed by the rock-face behind.





Ben looks pretty miserable in this next photo. He says it’s his “resting bitch face”. I think he’s just jealous because he’s not wearing gumboots like the rest of us. This is definitely a gumboot place.



The kids loved this place so much. The waterfalls, the shallow pools, the giant walls of rock, and the cave-like feel to it made it all a bit out of this world and exciting for them. It’s a very short walk from the visitor centre – more of a wander than a walk – but the nature reserve also includes two big lochs with several walking tracks of varying distance.

I love this photo of the kids choosing to walk through the stream rather than over the bridge.


After the Burn O’Vat we did a 4km walk which took us past a Pictish stone cross which was carved in the 9th century.


The two lochs are Lochs Davan and Kinord. Both were giant ice-cubes that melted and formed lakes, or lochs as they are called here, at the end of the last Ice Age. The Muir of Dinnet is a great place and I highly recommend it. There are toilets and picnic tables at the visitor centre and we took a picnic lunch with us and ate there.

On our way home we stopped at a cool café in Aboyne called Spider on a Bicycle. I love this place. I guess it’s a given that I will love a place with a bicycle outside but the coffee was superb, they had non-dairy milk, and even a vegan dessert. That makes me happy.


Scolty Hill

Scolty Hill

Next to the village of Banchory, which is about 18 miles from Aberdeen, is Scolty Hill. Desperate to get out of the house and into the countryside I suggested we go there after lunch and walk to the summit. It was a superb outing. The walk is about 1.5 hours and not too strenuous. There is a steepish section but definitely doable, even for small children.


It was about 3C but you quickly get hot when you’re walking uphill. Elizabeth took her coat off not long after we started and I didn’t even bother putting mine on.


Daniel complained endlessly on the way up and this photo was taken in the midst of complaints, hence the miserable expression on his face. He would rather sit in a café and eat cake than walk up a hill to admire the views. His mood changed significantly on the way down because the steepish parts were covered in snow and made for good sliding. Perhaps he was also thinking about cake.






At the top is a large stone monument with a spiral staircase inside. You can walk right to the top to admire the views.


It was incredibly windy on the summit and in this next photo it looks like a storm is about to engulf us so we didn’t stay for long. There was also cake to be had so we took some photos and made a hasty retreat. It started to snow on the way down which was lovely.





Afterwards we went to Milton Brasserie and ate cake.


I always get a bit annoyed when cafés don’t have non-dairy milk so I’ve started taking my own with me. I bought a pack of mini cartons and if I think we’ll be going to a café which won’t have non-dairy milk I’ll take one with me which is exactly what I did today. It was perfect.


Milton Brasserie is surrounded by lots of lovely shops selling, art, crafts, and Scottish things. I bought myself a tweed hat because once you hit your 40s it’s time to start wearing tweed. There was a matching tweed jacket but it was £350!!! I didn’t buy it.



Robert Burns Night and Donald Trump

It’s Burns night in Scotland today. January 25th is an annual celebration of the Scottish poet, Robert Burns. In school the children tasted some Scottish foods and learnt one of his poems off by heart. Daniel has come such a long way since we first moved here. In our first year he protested vehemently about having to learn a poem. This year he memorised it with enthusiasm and his recitals are completely way over the top, but in a good way – full of actions and emotion. I think he’s what they’d call an “overactor”. He’s also apparently one of the first to volunteer to stand up in class and recite it.

I’m still in denial about Donald Trump. It’s unbelievable. I would not have believed this possible a year ago. He’s the most unlikely, unsuitable, and unlikable person imaginable for leader of the United States. He lies, he’s divisive, he’s more concerned with image than reality, and he’s intellectually challenged.

I was very disappointed to see Donald Trump and a room full of men preside over a decision which directly negatively affects women’s health and that is the decision to ban funding for international aid groups that provide safe pregnancy terminations for women. Poor women are harmed most by this because wealthy women can travel to a place where abortions are safe and available. The poorest women will be left to make do with dangerous, botched abortions.

I am not religious and do not believe in the sanctity of human life; instead I believe that pain and suffering is wrong and should be avoided as far as possible. A foetus in the early stages of pregnancy does not feel any pain and does not have a right to life. Species membership is a biological classification and is not a moral or ethical boundary. Membership of species homo sapiens does not give a being the right to life. What does matter is the capacity for pain and suffering, self-consciousness, and the ability to see oneself over time – mothers do feel pain and they do suffer and can see their lives over time.

The only good thing about Donald Trump is he’s a never-ending source of entertainment for the media like this funny YouTube video from the Netherlands about him.

A taste for whisky

A taste for whisky

I feel like I need to embrace my new home country a bit more and learn to enjoy pure malt whisky. Ben likes the peaty stuff and so that’s what we mostly have in the house. I decided to give some of this a try, watered down with soda water.


I’ve got my armchair, pajamas, and slippers. Everything is perfect.


But this stuff is really disgusting. It tastes like industrial cleaner.


I’ve heard people say it’s an acquired taste but then how did the very first person figure that out? Did they force themselves to drink it over and over again until it tasted good?


Newburgh seal colony, Scotland

Newburgh seal colony, Scotland

About 16 miles north of Aberdeen is a little village called Newburgh. We went there for lunch today, to the Newburgh Inn. The food was terrific. I highly recommend it. They put on a typical Sunday roast pub lunch but there were a couple of options for vegetarians. I had a chick pea and sweet potato curry and it was delicious.

After lunch we walked to the beach and this was the highlight of my day. There’s a seal colony and it is huge. I’ve never seen so many seals all one place before. It was like King’s Cross Station for seals.

See that thick black line on the sand across the estuary? Those are all seals. Hundreds of them.


Let me zoom in for you.



Many were swimming in the estuary and came quite close to the shore, like this one in the next photo.



There’s something a bit doggy about their faces. This next seal could almost be Freud swimming. He loved swimming.



The beach is very nice as the shore is lined with sand dunes, just like at Balmedie Beach, and these seem to go on for miles and miles. It’s also fairly quiet and undeveloped.







I took a short video.


Film review: Local Hero

We watched a 1983 movie called Local Hero this afternoon because we’re planning to go up to Pennan, where it was filmed, in a couple of weeks. I can’t wait.

I find myself longing for the natural world and for peace and tranquility and so we decided to plan a weekend away to a remote seaside village up north. I had never heard of Local Hero until I started planning our weekend away but I knew it would appeal to me – it’s set in Scotland, stars Peter Capaldi (Doctor Who) and features music from Mark Knopfler (lead singer and songwriter from Dire Straits).

It’s a funny drama about an American oil company that want to buy up a section of coast in Scotland to build an oil refinery – they just need to convince all the locals to sell up. All but one want the cash and it’s this one old eccentric fisherman who owns the beach and who stands in the way of millions. Eventually he gets his way and the plan is scrapped.

The movie reminds me a bit of the real-life drama at Balmedie Beach in Scotland where Donald Trump built his golf course. It also has a local hero, Michael Forbes. Sadly the real-life drama doesn’t have as good an ending as that in Local Hero. Trump got his golf course and Michael Forbes and his neighbours have had a pretty dreadful time since Trump moved in. Trump’s promise of jobs for the local community never materialised either. If Americans who voted for Donald Trump think he will deliver on his promises they should have a look at his track record and Balmedie is a great example of failed promises.

Aberdeen harbour was developed by oil companies decades ago.It’s a ghastly place now. They’ve butchered it.Was it worth it? I don’t think so but then I guess we all value different things. Some people value fast cars. I value the natural world.

Happy Hogmanay!

Hogmanay is the Scottish word for the last day of the year which is today and it also happens to be Elizabeth’s birthday. This year we went to the Pantomime. I’ve never been before but I’d heard good things about it.  It was superb and exceeded all my expectations.

We saw Dick McWhittington,  the Scottish version of Dick Whittington. There was singing and dancing, lots of slap-stick comedy, plenty of politically incorrect references, toilet humour and Benny Hill-type jokes. The kids loved it so much as did we. There was even a segment about Donald Trump which, I’m sure you can guess, was not complimentary. It’s a British tradition to go to the Pantomime with the family in December and I think we’ll make it our tradition too. I love living here so much and I especially love living in Scotland.

Here’s the theatre in Aberdeen. It’s lovely inside.



Elizabeth got a new bike for her birthday.


She also got a neat game you can hook up to an iPad where users control the character in the game with coding blocks. It’s an introduction to programming for kids which is a bit like Scratch except that the coding blocks are tangible things you can move around with your hands. It was a big hit and she played with it for almost an hour this morning.


She got several other cool things too and had a very enjoyable birthday, I think.

Did you know that Auld Lang Syne is a Scottish poem written by Robert Burns? Scotland has a lot of distinctly Scottish things – a distinct culture I guess you’d say – like tartan, whisky, kilts, golf (invented here), bagpipes, hogmanay, haggis, shortbread, Gaelic, and lots of other things I’ve likely forgotten.

Happy birthday Elizabeth and Happy Hogmanay everyone else. May 2017 bring peace, health, and happiness.

Highland Safaris, Aberfeldy

Highland Safaris, Aberfeldy

We went on a Highland Safari today and it was the highlight of my week. It was sensational. The sun came out, there was snow on the ground, the views were superb, and I felt like I was on top of the world. We went up into the hills on a guided tour in two four-wheel drives. We stopped a couple of times for some tobogganing, lunch, a walk, whisky, and lots of photos. I highly recommend this tour as they take you off the road into areas you wouldn’t otherwise see and the guides are very knowledgeable. We had a picnic lunch in the bothy at the top. A bothy is a Scottish word for an outback hut or cottage. There was a log burner inside and so it was a cozy and warm place to stop and rest – not that it was arduous in any way given we were driven up there!  We also spent some time playing in the snow. I’ll let the photos tell the rest of the story.













Queen’s View and Pitlochry Fish Ladder

Queen’s View and Pitlochry Fish Ladder

It snowed today!  We went to Queen’s View which is apparently one of the most photographed views in Scotland. It was beautiful in the snow.


Sister and family:



Me and family:


Sister and father:


Ben got his obligatory “bored in the snow” photo.


I got my usual “excited in the snow” photo.



Afterwards we went to see the fish ladder at Pitlochry. We’ve been there before but I still find the place fascinating. Pitlochry has a hydro-electric power station that was built in the 1950s. Due to an Act of Parliament in 1943, all hydro-electric power stations were required by law to preserve fish stocks and so a fish ladder was constructed alongside the power plant to allow salmon and other fish to swim past unharmed. There’s a counter at the power station which counts the number of fish; it’s currently at 6,449.


Here’s a close-up of the fish ladder.


The dam on the other side.


A selfie.


We saw some fish in the dam which seemed a bit strange. There were three about the same size as this one in the next photo. I think it’s a salmon. I don’t think this is typical as I’ve never seen a salmon hanging around the surface like this – maybe it was sick?


Here’s the power station from a distance.


Beatrix Potter Exhibition, Dunkeld

Beatrix Potter Exhibition, Dunkeld

There’s a Beatrix Potter exhibition in the village of Dunkeld in Perthshire. Dunkeld is one of the oldest towns in Scotland and apparently Beatrix Potter’s family rented a house nearby and spent many holidays there. The local wildlife likely inspired some of the characters in her stories.

Dunkeld is cute and the Beatrix Potter exhibition is a dream place for children. Everything there is very hands on. Elizabeth spent most of her time selling groceries.







The Birks of Aberfeldy

The Birks of Aberfeldy

The Scottish village of Aberfeldy is renowned for being the inspiration for Robert Burns’ poem, The Birks of Aberfeldy. A birk is the Scottish word for a beech tree and the Birks of Aberfeldy is a forested walk along Moness gorge. We did the walk this afternoon and met Robert Burns along the way. He’s the one on the right in this next one.


My sister (on the left):









The local wildlife:


Saw this in a shop window in the village:


Perthshire for Christmas

Perthshire for Christmas

We’ve taken off a bit early for the Christmas holidays; we’re spending it in the very lovely Perthshire. Here are a couple of pics from the drive today. We just managed to squish everything into the Co-Wheels car, including Creeper.


There was a dusting of snow today which made the landscape look beautiful. Perthshire is very beautiful anyway but gorgeous with snow.



You can just make out the wind farm on the hills in the distance. I think it looks beautiful. I don’t understand why people dislike them.


We’re staying at the best place. It’s a holiday house but from a different era. I feel like I’ve gone back in time and I’m loving it. There’s a 100 year old, fully functioning toilet here.


Isn’t it beautiful? It’s amazing to think that some humans on the planet today don’t have a toilet and yet here’s this beautiful one the Victorians had 100 years ago. It has a flush lever under the seat and automatically flushes when you stand up!


There’s also a record player and a fantastic record collection.


I don’t ever want to leave.

Theresa Mayhem

It may not be mayhem in the UK, not yet anyway, but I’m becoming increasingly alarmed by Theresa May. She started off with grand statements about equality and working for everyone but I’ve seen nothing encouraging since then and more cause for concern than anything else. One example was Amanda Rudd’s recent statement about having British firms declare the number of foreign workers they employ. I think they may have since back-tracked on this one but as a foreign worker living in Britain let it be known that if I’m kicked out my job goes with me. I will simply move and work elsewhere and my job and my taxes will disappear from Britain. They won’t go to a local person.

Another example was Theresa May’s recent criticisms of the Bank of England. It’s possible the media have exaggerated this but I don’t think so given Mark Carney’s (Bank of England Governor) response. He is quoted as saying,

“We are not going to take instruction on our policies from the political side.”

From what I’ve seen of Mark Carney – he’s brilliant. The UK is very lucky to have him. And no, politicians should not be dictating policy to the Bank of England. The Bank of England is and should be independent.

Since the referendum vote the pound has plunged and inflation is starting to rise. A low pound is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it’s very good for local producers and probably just what the UK needs. Higher prices, particularly for imported goods, might also encourage local manufacturing. Given the choice though, I’d still rather the UK remain a part of the EU.

I see Nicola Sturgeon is hoping for another independence vote for Scotland and I think I will probably vote to leave the UK if that happens, especially if it means Scotland can continue to trade freely with the EU and we won’t have to put up with Theresa May any longer. I also don’t think it’s a bad thing that we’re governed by environmental laws set in the EU especially when those laws have helped to clean up the air and sea.

Exclusively Highlands Craft Fair at Drum Castle

Exclusively Highlands Craft Fair at Drum Castle


We’ve been to Drum Castle more than any other castle now, mostly because it’s so close, but it’s terrific and one of the best in Aberdeenshire. It’s also open all year round although only on weekends over the winter. Most other castles close for the winter. Every weekend I check for events at Drum and other nearby castles to see whether there’s anything we want to go to. That’s how I found out about A Midsummer Night’s Dream which we saw in August.

Today was the Exclusively Highlands Craft Fair at Drum which was a market of locally made art, craft, and produce. It was wonderful with some really lovely stuff. I met the fellow in the next photo at one of the stalls. He’s from Flavour Magic which makes delicious rock salts combined with herbs and spices. The funny thing is he’s a New Zealander from Christchurch and he fled – like us and thousands of others – after the Christchurch earthquakes. He’s been in Scotland ever since and seems to be doing well. I can highly recommend the rosemary rocksalt as well as the truffle and porcini.


The tower at Drum Castle is one of the oldest in all of Scotland. It was built in the 13th century and is a proper fortress – not just for show like some others are. This tower is extremely solid with walls that are 12ft thick at ground level. Here’s an inside view from inside the top of the tower.


I tried to get a photograph which shows how thick the walls are but it’s hard to see. Imagine me lying down in this next one and my feet would not hang over the edge. I’m 175cm. I’m not sure how thick the walls are up in this part but at a rough guess they looked about 2-3m.


You can walk up onto the roof of the tower and the views are lovely. The landscape is starting to change colour and a gorgeous show of yellow, orange, red, and brown has begun. I like this time of year.





Elizabeth’s dress is getting a bit short. She’s growing too fast. And look at that filthy bum! Will she get upset that I posted this photo to my blog when she’s 18?




These steps are over 700 years old. Notice how thick they are and the huge pegs used to keep them in place.


Mrs Garden and her son 🙂


In the playground which is just for 4 – 14 year olds. Whoops!



The scenic drive back.