Ecocamp Glenshee

Ecocamp Glenshee

We are back from our fabulous glamping weekend at Ecocamp Glenshee.

It’s about 2.5 hours by car south of Aberdeen through the Cairngorms. The drive was wonderful and part of it is along the highest road in the UK. Ecocamp Glenshee is wonderful for families as it’s safe and they have animals – llamas, chickens, donkeys, and a goat. We stayed in a wooden pod:


They are heated and have electric power sockets but some of the other accommodation is completely off-grid. It was so quiet and so dark at night that I slept really well. There’s something about being in a location like that – the quiet, the beautiful scenery, the fresh country air – I found it very relaxing and could have stayed another night.






Last night we went beaver spotting. Beavers are native to Britain but were completely wiped out by humans several hundred years ago. In the last decade they have been re-introduced and there are now 200 or so beavers in this region of Perthshire. We went on a private tour with Daniele from Perthshire Wildlife. We sat on the bank of the River Ericht and after about 5 or 10 minutes the first beaver appeared. I took some photos but they’re pathetic and I’m not sure what the beaver is in my pic but I’ll post it anyway. I’ve circled what I think is the beaver.




This particular beaver family have a lodge under the yellowing bush on the opposite bank of the river. Daniele showed us some of the food they eat and signs of their presence like gnawed branched and tree trunks. We sat in silence for quite a while and the kids were amazing. I thought they’d complain and make lots of noise but they were really great. I don’t think they’re as fascinated by beavers as I am.


The bungee run

We took the grandparents to Crathes Castle today and there was an event going on with lots of bouncy castles and children’s activities. The kids enjoyed this bungee run the most.

We have been to Crathes Castle so many times but we only just realised today that King Arthur is painted on the ceiling of one of the rooms.



There was more sack racing and Daniel won his race. He is a champion jumper. Elizabeth also did well and came in second.

Dunnottar Castle

Dunnottar Castle

Scotland has been voted the most beautiful country in the world by the Rough Guide. I agree with that sentiment. New Zealand has more striking landscapes but Scotland has history and culture and it’s also safe – no earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, cyclones, or dangerous animals.

My mother is visiting and yesterday we went to Dunnottar Castle which is 20 minutes down the road from here. I have been lots of times but I never tire of the place. It’s a medieval fortress perched on top of a sheer cliff. There’s some fascinating history in this castle. The Honours of Scotland, the oldest crown jewels in the British Isles, were hidden in the castle during an eight-month siege in 1652 when Oliver Cromwell’s army was battering the fortress with cannons. When the Scots eventually surrendered the jewels were no-where to be found, having been smuggled out of the castle. I believe they are now held at Edinburgh Castle.

There’s more fascinating history on the Dunnottar Castle site.



Sack racing in front of the Queen

Sack racing in front of the Queen

We were very pleased to return our campervan today and return home to hot water and flushing toilets. I’ve realised that those old VW campervans are just for young, cool people who can defy their natural biology by not producing any poo. Ben and I both have war wounds. Ben for hitting his head on the roof a few too many times:


My war wound is from hitting my shin on the tow bar. Why that thing even has a tow bar is beyond me. It can barely get itself up hills let alone something else towed behind.


Last night we slept in this field in Braemar.


We decided not to return to the carpark at Glenshee because it was so cold and it was definitely warmer in Braemar last night. Fortunately there were lots of portaloos left from The Gathering so we drove Fergus to the nearest one in the field and it wasn’t so far to go to the toilet in the night.

Our main purpose in going to Braemar was for the annual gathering which was fantastic. Once a year more than 15,000 people, including the Queen, descend on Braemar for their annual highland games This has been happening since 1832. The Queen attends every year just for one hour from 3pm-4pm and members of the Royal family have attended regularly since 1848. You have to book accommodation for this event a long way in advance because the village is normally home to just a thousand people and so there is a very limited number of beds. Everything was fully booked a long time ago, including tent pitches at the local campsite.

The games themselves are a mix of events including traditional things like caber tossing and hammer throwing. There were also running races, traditional highland dancing, tug of war, and sack races which both children got to compete in. There were more men in skirts than at a Mardis Gras and bagpipes playing in every corner.

I had never seen caber tossing before and it’s an amazing spectacle. I’m sure they are not really humans throwing them. The caber is basically a tree trunk which the contestant has to run with and then throw so that it flips over. The tall pole in this next photo is the caber.


I took a short video of someone tossing the caber. Do not try this at home.



For those less interested in the events there was a gin and whisky tent which was packed by the end of the day. I got this next photo early in the day:





The kids had their own tug of war:


We ate lunch under some trees.



The Queen, Prince Phillip, Prince Charles, and Princess Ann arrived at 3pm.





The highlight of the day was that the children got to compete in a sack race in front of the Queen! Ben and I also went onto the field to help them and cheer them on.



It was a handicap race which meant that as one of the oldest children Daniel had to start from way, way back. He bounced along so fast and overtook a heap of kids but didn’t place unfortunately. Elizabeth started near the front and went so fast that she fell over!

Just before the race I turned around and took this photo of the Queen from the field. I felt like the paparazzi. You can’t really see her in the photo. I should have zoomed in but she’s seated right in the centre in that little cottage in the middle of the photo.


Then at 4pm the Royal family departed.


Later that evening when everyone had left we went and walked around the park and I took a close-up photo of the little cottage the Royal family sits in. It’s a very cute and modest timber cottage. There’s nothing lavish about it but it was decorated superbly, with the loveliest heather around the doorway and the most spectacular living green roof I have ever seen.


If the Queen didn’t attend the Braemar games I think the turnout would be much smaller. I realise the Royal family is very costly to maintain and they arrived in a very expensive motorcade but the tourism dollars they bring to this region must be enormous. I wonder whether Queen Elizabeth’s successor will continue to support the event? I hope so.

Elizabeth has been learning highland dancing at school and put on a show for us in the evening.


There are a couple of notable things that stand out to me after this event. I heard there were around 21,000 people there and when we walked around the grounds later in the evening there wasn’t all that much litter. Often after events like these there’s litter scattered everywhere and while there was a bit, it wasn’t all that much.

Ben also noted that there was no security at all. At least, none that we could see or that affected our enjoyment of the event. Often big events like this have security patrolling around and x-ray machines and bag checking. There was nothing like that at all and indeed we went out onto the field right in front of the Queen’s cottage and Ben had his backpack on his back. He could have concealed a weapon easily inside. No-one checked our bags or anything. That makes me so happy. Our friends told us there would have likely been snipers stationed around the place ready to spring into action at the first sign of trouble but we never saw anyone like that and there was no trouble at all.

There was lots of merry singing into the night and bagpipes. I got a bit sick of the bagpipes by the end of the day.


Despite our troubles with the campervan we had an amazing weekend in Braemar. I love that little village. I eventually became a bit more confident driving Fergus and, although his top speed was 45 miles/hour, at least we had wonderful views out the window.


We weren’t sure what to put in the visitor book for Fergus because we really did not enjoy the VW campervan. However Ben, the genius, wrote something entirely truthful and not unkind.


On top of the world

On top of the world

We’re in Braemar for the weekend but were unable to get any accommodation because the Braemar Gathering is on and so we decided to book a 1974 VW campervan and take our own accommodation.




It has been a bit of a disaster so far. I had a lot of problems shifting gears. I learnt to drive a manual and my first car was a manual and some of the car club cars are manuals but nevertheless, I’m finding the 1974 VW very tricky. Several times I’ve been stopped in the middle of the road unable to get it into first to start again and then I start to panic. The car has a top speed of 45 miles/hour but I’ve barely gone above 35 miles/hour.

I slept poorly last night. We couldn’t get the heating to work and I spent most of the night worrying that the children would freeze to death. When I wasn’t worrying about that I was worried about how I would drive the thing home again. The walk to the toilet is about 200m which doesn’t seem like much but it is when you have two small children needing to go several times before bed and then again at 6am in the morning … and it’s freezing. Add to that we keep banging our heads on the roof. Obviously I’m a princess now and should stick to glamping going forward.

It hasn’t been all bad. We went up the chair lift at Glenshee yesterday and for a walk along the ridge. The views are magnificent. I told Elizabeth that we’re on top of the world and the little know-it-all said, “No, we’re not, Mount Everest is the top of the world”.








Kildrummy Castle

Kildrummy Castle

There are so many castles in Aberdeenshire and I’m still discovering ones we’ve never seen, like Kildrummy Castle, which is where we went today. It’s a ruin but in its hey-day it was known as the “noblest of northern castles”. I’m not exactly sure what is meant by that but one thing is certain, Kildrummy Castle was once a very impressive fortress, with impregnable stone towers, and a drawbridge. It was built in the 13th century and witnessed many battles until its demise during the Jacobite rising in the 1700s.


This is all that remains of one of the towers where the Lords lived. You can see how thick the walls are in the cross-section of the circular wall.




The kids like playing hide and seek at ruins like these.



The timber bridge in the next photo is where the drawbridge once stood.


I love the plants growing up this stone wall.




About 5 minutes up the road from Kildrummy Castle are the Kildrummy Castle Gardens. These look gorgeous but are not run by Historic Scotland so you have to pay to get into both places. We only saw the gardens from the bridge above as we were hungry and wanted lunch, but I got a couple of nice photos from the bridge. I’m sure we’ll go back for a proper look.



The drive to Kildrummy Castle is magnificent. All the heather is in flower right now and it gives the hills a purple hue which looks lovely from a distance.



Castles, seals, and Spiderman

Yesterday we checked out Knockhall Castle, the doer-upper which is currently for sale at £130,000.


I think it’s over-priced because there’s very little land with it. The surrounding fields are all owned by someone else and not for sale – although I have heard the owner is open to the possibility of selling them. However the castle is gorgeous and has magnificent views of the sea. I would buy it in a second if we had a spare £130,000 and it included some land for a garden. The only bit of land included is the small castle courtyard.



The holes near the bottom are apparently gun holes.


There’s an inscription over the door which reads 1565. The door itself is bricked up.


Here’s Lord Sinclair in front of his castle.


The main reason we went to visit Knockhall was to see the seal colony at Newburgh. The kids love this place as do I.

It was sunny when we arrived but there was a dramatic change in the weather which made for some nice photos.






I got myself some tartan tights in Edinburgh the other weekend but I fear they look more like Spiderman tights.


The ultimate doer-upper

I tried to convince Ben last week that we should buy this doer-upper:

It was built by Lord Sinclair in 1565 and Ben’s mother’s maiden name is Sinclair. Maybe it could be our bach (bach is the New Zealand word for a modest holiday home near the beach).

It’s true that we’re the most un-DIY family in existence and we need to hire tradespeople for even the simplest of things so I can see why it might not be a good idea. However we could just pitch a tent on the castle grounds and camp there. Elizabeth says she’d like it for her next birthday.


A £6,000 Highland Cow

A £6,000 Highland Cow

After a very soggy weekend Edinburgh put on a splendid day for us yesterday. I took lots of lovely photos from high places: first the ferris wheel and later the Scott Monument. Starting with the ferris wheel:





This is our view at breakfast. We stayed at Motel One on Princess St. There are two Motel Ones in Edinburgh and both are terrific. I highly recommend them.


The kids wanted to have their photos taken with the grim reaper. Is that bad? A passer-by shouted out to him, “You stay away from me for another 40 years!”.



Here’s the Scott Monument, to Sir Walter Scott, which is the largest monument to a writer in the world. There are lots of winding and very, very narrow stairs inside which make it, er, rather intimate when trying to pass people going in the opposite direction. I thought they would have different stairwells for people going up and down but there’s only the one. However if you don’t mind tiny spaces, lots of steps, and close encounters with other tourists, it’s well worth checking out.



We passed a shop with this life-sized highland cow in the window. I asked them whether it’s for sale and it is – with a price tag of £6,000.


Power dressing, old friends, Drum Castle, and new toilets

Power dressing, old friends, Drum Castle, and new toilets

I have a new look. Just call me Bond, James Bond. I even have my own trusty Aston Martin, a.k.a. Busby.


Daniel is very lucky to have a friend from New Zealand visiting him right now. They haven’t seen each other in almost three years and a lot changes in that time when you’re a kid. They spent the afternoon today rampaging around Drum Castle.


















Perhaps even more exciting than James Bond and long-lost friends are the new toilets at Drum Castle which are simply smashing!




Why does the Aberdeen city council think it’s acceptable for children to cycle in the bus lane?

This is the expectation on Union St because there is no cycle path. Children are wobbly on bicycles and do not always cycle in a straight line. Buses are huge compared to bicycles, especially children’s bicycles. Visibility is also poor for bus drivers. Children are slow cyclists and cannot keep up with traffic. Children on bicycles in the bus lane are a nuisance to bus drivers and are putting their own lives at risk.

We want to encourage children to ride their bicycles to address the obesity crisis, traffic congestion, pollution, and climate change, but the city council needs to give them road space away from cars, trucks, and buses.

Cycling infrastructure returns more to the community than it costs to build. A study commissioned by the City of Sydney found 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:

Compare this to building roads for cars and in all cases the costs outweigh the benefits.

For why building new roads is not cost effective see the theory of induced demand:

For something more academic try:

Sometimes adding additional roads to a network can impede the flow of traffic. See Braess’ paradox for more:

If you live in Aberdeen please write to the city council and ask them to provide space away from traffic for children to ride their bikes.

Glamping in a bus

Glamping in a bus

I’ve got lots of bus photos to share today. First, the chicken bus again because I think it’s ingenious. Just inside the front door is a gate to stop the chickens from escaping. Also up front and where the driver sat is a good storage area for food and straw which provides handy access and protection from the elements.


Inside the bus at the back is a little doorway for the chooks to get in and out. The seats have also been removed and the seat frames now provide a nice perch.


Here are some photos from inside our bus. The bedroom is at the very back and has a sky light for star gazing.


The kitchen/lounge area (the kids are cracking eggs for their breakfast):


The log burner:


The toilet is where the bus driver used to sit:


The shower:


There are two bunk beds for the kids. Here’s a pic inside Elizabeth’s:


Breakfast this morning:



There’s an honesty shop on the site where you can take what you want and pay at the end. This is particularly useful because there’s always something you forget to bring with you and it has essential items like tea, coffee, and chocolate.


In the bus is a book with photos of the transformation from public transport to accommodation. I took some photos of pages in the book of how the bus used to look:







This is our first time glamping and we’re having a terrific time. The bus has everything we need – kettle, microwave, toaster, stove, fridge/freezer, electric power points, wifi, bathroom, log burner, wood-fired hot tub, bbq, and fresh eggs from the nearby chicken bus. The beds are comfortable and warm and all the linen is provided. There are lovely views from all windows and it’s peaceful, quiet, and private. It’s about 30mins drive from Edinburgh in East Lothian. If you want to find out more they have a web site at

Today we walked to the village of Gifford which is 2.7 miles away and was a lovely ramble through wheat fields, forests, and burns (streams). In Scotland they have a freedom to roam rule where the general public has the right to access private property. This meant we were able to walk across private farmland rather than walking alongside a road. It was a beautiful walk. IMG_1780.JPG




We had lunch in Gifford at a pub called Goblin Ha where I had one of the most delicious vegetarian meals I’ve ever had. There was a lot of choice on the menu for me. It’s so easy to eat a plant-based diet in the UK.

Peeing in the driver’s seat

Peeing in the driver’s seat

We are glamping in a bus and it’s heaven. We have our own wood-fired hot tub in a peaceful rural setting of wheat fields and rolling hills. It doesn’t get much better than this. Teetotal me even enjoyed a South African organic red with no added sulphur. This is my kind of camping.




Here’s our bus:


There’s a toilet and shower in what was once the driver’s seat, hence my title, peeing in the driver’s seat. There are also chickens and we can help ourselves to eggs. The chickens have their own bus to sleep in.


Daniel driving the chicken’s bus:


Inside the chicken’s bus:


There are also alpacas but they don’t have a bus because they prefer to sleep outside:IMG_1648.JPG


It’s the time of year with fields of gold everywhere and they’re beautiful. It’s rapeseed and they match my coat … kind of.



The wifi is ace too.

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.