Findhorn, Scotland

Findhorn, Scotland

We spent the weekend in Findhorn which is a small, coastal village about a couple of hours north-west of Aberdeen.

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Findhorn is an interesting place because since 1957 it has been home to the Findhorn Foundation which is a spiritual, eco-community of several hundred people. Visitors from all over the world come to Findhorn to take workshops run by the Foundation. Whether or not you believe in the “inner voice of spirit”, which sounds a bit nonsensical to me, one thing is certain: the food at Findhorn is wonderful and this is thanks to the Findhorn Foundation. Findhorn has several fantastic cafés serving wonderful coffee, cakes, and meals including many vegan options. The beach and bay are also very pretty; there’s a seal colony, and it’s slightly warmer and sunnier there than places further south in Scotland thanks to a special microclimate.

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Elizabeth took this next photo.

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Property is fairly expensive in Findhorn. You can purchase a beach hut smaller than a prison cell for £25,000.

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The following photos were all taken around the Findhorn Foundation village:

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Glasgow SFN Expo

Glasgow SFN Expo

I was in Glasgow last weekend for the SFN Expo, an exhibition for anyone interested in health and fitness. WordPress.com had a stand at the exhibition and I worked there on both days. It was unlike anything I’ve attended for work before as I usually go to WordCamps or mathematics conferences which are technology-focused/academic events full of geeks. The SFN Expo was full of attractive, trendy people with big muscles.

The strongest man in the world was there. An Englishman, Eddie Hall, holds the title for the world’s strongest man. He can lift 500kg and eats 12,000 calories per day; that’s enough food for 6 people.

Health and fitness fanatics are a bit obsessed with protein. You just don’t see protein deficiencies in our society. Fibre and folate deficiencies, yes, but not protein. I grew two human beings and gave birth to them on a vegan diet. I was pleased to see vegan protein at the event. There was a stand selling vegan pea protein and offering recipes for it. As a vegan I’m a bit sick of people asking me where I get my protein but I feel a glimmer of hope that finally this myth is in decline and will eventually be stabbed to death and buried for good.

There was also a lot of peanut butter and people giving cooking classes with protein powders and peanut butter.

Someone was selling this delicious vegan avocado chocolate mouse which I ate two of. It was delicious.

Don’t ask me what the yellow suit is about because I have no idea.

Each morning I had about a 20-minute walk along the Clyde River to the venue. There’s a nice bike/walking path beside the river which is completely separate from the road. Some of the architecture along the riverbank is pretty ugly. They have a lot of this type of building which is shaped like a right-angle triangle and looks like the developer ran out of money before completing it.

I think it’s partly the lack of trees that makes the landscape in this next photo particularly ugly. They have planted a row of trees along the waterfront but it’s not enough to counter the effect of all that concrete and brick. A single row of trees, evenly spaced, and pruned into an unnatural topiary doesn’t work here. It needs a mix of species, big and small, with lots of foliage and significantly more in number.

The venue was the SEC – the Scottish Event Campus – which is right next to the SSE Hydro. The latter building is more interesting to look at and I particularly like the living roof.

However yet again there was a disappointing lack of trees. I’m not an architect or designer and I don’t pretend to be able to create good public spaces but I can recognise bad ones when I see them. There simply wasn’t enough soft landscaping; it was all concrete and steel. If it hadn’t been for the living roof there’d be no soft landscaping at all.

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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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!”.

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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.

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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.

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A new Doctor Who and speed tourism

The 13th Doctor Who was announced today and sadly, it’s not me. I suppose this shouldn’t come as a surprise since I didn’t audition for the part but just in case Jodie Whittaker changes her mind, I’m available. If there are any BBC casting people reading this then this is a FYI.

Today was so busy. It was my last day on holiday and we have visitors so we did speed tourism which is kind of like speed dating but where you see as many sights as possible. First we went to Burn O’Vat which is basically what it sounds like: a giant stone vat.

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Next stop was the gardens of Crathes Castle.

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Then we made a quick stop at Milton of Crathes which has lots of lovely craft shops, a playground, a brasserie, and a train station for steam trains.

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The last stop was Drum Castle because I needed to get a photograph of the toilets.

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Diversity at Heathrow airport and living in the UK

Diversity at Heathrow airport and living in the UK

I’m back in the UK and waiting at Heathrow airport where I’ve just stuffed myself full of food and am thinking of going back for more. I threw myself at Pret a Manger like a ravenous lion who hasn’t eaten properly for months. I love Pret. It’s one of my favourite eateries. Here’s what I got for £7.95 just now:

An entree of chia seeds in coconut yoghurt with mango and pomegranate seeds.

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A main with rice, beetroot, falafel, beans, broccoli, basil, lemon, and mint, and pomegranate seeds.

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I even got dessert: a delicious coconut chocolate thing.

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Spending a week in Spain made me realise how much I take the wonderful food choices here for granted. I’m only at the airport and there’s so much choice. I always make my flight connections in Heathrow for this reason.

I love living in the UK. There’s so much diversity here and so many options and people are mostly very respectful of differences. The passport control officers themselves were all very diverse. One woman officer was wearing a hijab, there was a man with a sikh turban, and when it was my turn I got a young man with a distinctly Australian accent.

A plate of artichokes

A plate of artichokes

The food situation over the past few days has been diabolical. On Sunday the choice was omelette or meat balls, on Monday night it was steak or fish, and lunch today was steak or pork loin. They look at me with horror when I say I would like something without meat. It seems to take a while to process and they don’t really understand veganism. It’s quite simple really. I eat plants. All plants.

There are 20,000 species of edible plants in the world and when I told the restaurant today that I can eat any plants they brought me this:

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It’s a plate of artichokes. Nothing else; just artichokes. Don’t get me wrong, I like artichokes but a whole plate of them is not particularly appealing.

At the restaurant last night they brought out several plates for everyone to share and every single one had meat on it. First there was ham, followed by prosciutto, then balls with some kind of meat in them, and then octopus. Why is it so hard to produce a plate without animals on it?

There are vegetarian restaurants here and we’ve been to two of them and they were great. But it would be nice if there was something I could eat at regular restaurants also.

Today we went on a winery tour which was lovely. We visited three wineries. Here are some photos.

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This is the royal family summer house.

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This next winery was quite interesting. They ferment white wine in huge century-old clay pots. I’ve never seen that before and apparently this is one of only a few wineries to do this.

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Dublin meetup

I’m in Dublin on a work trip and having a really great time. I’ve never been to Dublin before so it’s nice to have a look around. My coworkers are a fantastic bunch of people and incredibly hard workers so it’s looking like this will be a very productive trip.

However it’s not all work. We had lunch at Rustic Stone today and I ate possibly the most delicious salad I have ever eaten in my entire life.

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This morning I spotted this cargo bike waiting at the traffic lights. It’s a Gazelle and there were two little critters inside.

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Dublin doesn’t have particularly good bicycle infrastructure. Indeed I haven’t see any other than some painted lines here and there. However there are still lots of cyclists and they have what seems to be a fairly popular bicycle rental scheme. Imagine how great cycling could be if they did have the proper infrastructure? And then imagine how much less traffic and pollution there’d be?

We also visited the amazing Queen of Tarts; a great place for coffee and cake:

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Cycling in the rain: BRING IT ON!

I got completely drenched cycling the kids to school this morning. But as I was peddling along and struggling to see through the curtain of rain battering my face the glass half full part of me was happy about one thing: the fresh, clean air. I, and all the other people in the city, have to inhale the toxic fumes from the exhausts of motor vehicles which is definitely less noticeable when it rains. I don’t like the smell of car exhausts very much and I’m certain inhaling the fumes is not good for me, or for anyone else living in a city.

The WHO recently announced that air pollution is a “public health emergency” killing more than 3.3 million people around the world each year. London exceeded its annual air pollution limit in just seven days earlier this month. And Rome and Milan had to temporarily ban cars from their roads recently in an effort to curtail air pollution.

Next time you want to take the car out for a trip that could be made using a more active mode of travel, think again. Think about the pollution your car emits that everyone, even those of us without a car, are forced to inhale. Think about our changing climate and how burning fossil fuels is adding more carbon dioxide to our atmosphere. Think about how good for you it could be to adopt more active modes of transport on a regular basis.

The sun has come out now. I hope the air still smells fresh 🙂

 

Igloos and ice-skating

It’s another beautiful day here today with sun and blue sky. The only thing missing is the snow but it’s so warm there’s no chance of that happening. One day I’d love to visit Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort in Lapland where there is guaranteed snow and where kids can also visit Santa Claus.

Kakslauttanen have these fantastic-looking glass igloos:

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I spent a very entertaining 30 minutes or so reading the reviews of Kakslauttanen on TripAdvisor. The reviews were either really, really excellent or absolutely terrible. The terrible reviews were so funny I thought I’d share some of them.

One person says of the glass igloos:

.. it was fully transparent meaning people can see through our igloo.

What were they expecting? Glass is transparent and you can clearly see into the igloos in the photos on their website.

The next one is from someone on their honeymoon:

No tv’s in your room which is annoying as the reception closes at 10pm so there is absolutely nothing to do in the evenings.

What about, er, sex?? If they’re resorting to TV for entertainment in the evenings this early in the relationship then there’s not much hope for the marriage.

Lots of people complained about having to carry their luggage from the reception to the igloos. I have no sympathy for them. We’re a lazy, fat, car-dependent, and spoilt species. A 5-10 minute walk with luggage will do most of us more good than harm. We have two legs. Use them!

Had to haul our own luggage from main reception to Igloo 10 minutes away in a freaking blizzard.

No assistance with our suitcases, told to drag our gear 5 to 10 mins walk from reception in the snow along and ice covered gravel road.

There were a few complaints that sounded reasonable like how it expensive it is and also a couple of people complained about Santa appearing drunk 🙂

We went ice-skating again this morning in Aberdeen and it was so nice. Elizabeth even ditched the penguin for the first time. She’s getting more confident which is so good to see. A photo and a video this time:

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Inverness

We’re in Inverness. My Mum and Doug are still here and we thought it would be nice to go away for the weekend. I have been wanting to explore the countryside in this part of Scotland as it’s particularly beautiful but a bit too far for a day trip. We decided to spend two nights in Inverness so that we can explore the area without having to drive here and back in one day.

I booked a car-club car because although we can catch the train to Inverness, and I have to say it is far nicer to take the train than to drive, we really need the car to explore the surrounding countryside. Inverness is about 3 hours from Aberdeen but it took us slightly longer because I’m a Grandma driver, there was traffic, and we made one stop. But the drive was still far quicker than a trip we made with Mum and Doug to the Coromandel a few years ago. What should have only been 2.5 hours ended up taking almost 7 hours because I’m a Grandma driver, the traffic in Auckland is worse than Bangkok in peak hour (ok, a bit of an exaggeration here but it’s pretty bad) and we got very lost. Fortunately the only things that got lost this time were my mother’s iPhone – which turned up again after a frantic 10 minutes of searching the car – a pair of trousers (my mother somehow managed to discard them in a carpark but fortunately she spotted them just as we were driving away), and the car-club swipe card. The car is totally useless without the swipe card but fortunately I found it sitting on the floor of the hotel corridor where I had dropped it.

This is the first time I’ve driven this particular car. It’s not one of the electric ones because Inverness is too far for the battery and we also needed a 7-seater. It’s a manual but has a foot parking break. Maybe someone can help me out here? How do you do a hill start with a foot parking break in a manual car? My left foot is on the clutch and I can’t have it simultaneously on the clutch and the parking break. When I used to own a manual, many years ago now, I had a hand break that I used when starting on steep hills. Fortunately I haven’t had to stop on any steep hills yet but I can’t avoid stopping on hills altogether so if anyone knows then please let me know. It’s a Kia Sedona. Maybe modern manuals don’t roll backwards?

 

Park City

I am in Utah for work and have been so busy I haven’t had the chance to write any posts or read any blogs. It’s a good busy though as I’m getting to meet so many of the talented people I work with. Even going to the toilet can be a challenge because I see people I know en-route but have never met and end up stopping to chat. It’s lucky I haven’t wet my pants yet. Although I did lock my room key in my room on the first day and spilt tea on my breakfast yesterday. I’m also giving two talks today and am a bit terrified about that. I also seem to be suffering from jet lag, insomnia, and have a headache.

It’s a beautiful spot. We’re in Park City which is about a 50-minute drive from Salt Lake City and at an elevation of 2000m. Here are some pics of the local area.

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Stromness to Aberdeen by ferry + train

My post yesterday about Skara Brae and the Ring of Brodgar was rather rushed because we had to dash for a long day of traveling. But both places were absolutely fascinating. Skara Brae was particularly good. How often do you get to see the house, including furniture, of a Neolithic human? All the walls were still intact. You could see their beds and their version of a pantry and fridge.

The Ring of Brodgar was also an amazing place. As I was walking around it and imagining what ceremonial or religious purpose it might have held for early humans, I couldn’t help thinking what a crock of shit all religions are. In 5000 years from now humans will look back on the religions we have today and wonder what we were thinking just as we do with Neolithic humans and their stone rings.

At breakfast yesterday I found myself feeling nauseated just thinking about the boat trip back to the mainland. This time we caught the ferry from Stromness – a very cute coastal port – to Scrabster on the mainland. It was only 1.5 hours on the ferry and the sea was calm. It was actually a very pleasant trip and as soon as we were out to sea my nausea completely vanished. Oh, the power of the mind. I spent most of the trip crocheting:

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There was a play area on the ferry with dress-ups:

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It was raining for most of the crossing but we could just make out the cliffs on the island of Hoy in Orkney:

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Here’s Scrabster from the sea:

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From Scrabster we went to Thurso which is where the train leaves from, had lunch and a walk around before catching the train all the way back to Aberdeen, a trip of about 7 hours.

The landscapes at the start of the journey were quite flat but still pretty. There were lots of green fields with sheeps, cows, and plantation pine. Then it got hillier and we passed beach, loch, and firth. Here are some pics from the train:

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On the front page of the local paper for Inverness was this:

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Ring of Brodgar and Skara Brae

We visited some more neolithic sites yesterday. First stop was The Standing Stones o’ Stenness and the nearby and well-known Ring of Brodgar. Both are stone circles about 5000 years old. The stones are huge and heavy and would have been quite difficult to move and stand upright in their positions. Why did humans build these stone circles? They must performed some kind of ceremonial purpose but what exactly no-one knows.

The next two pics are of the Stones o’ Stenness.

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The Ring of Brodgar.

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Next stop was Skara Brae, a neolithic village built out of stone and in remarkably good condition. It was built about 4,500 years ago and much of their furniture was also built out of stone and is still there to see. I was impressed by the quality of the construction – I’ve seen shoddier homes built by humans today.

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Our last stop was the Broch of Gurness, an iron-age village with a central stone tower.

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Orkney and the Tomb of the Eagles with puking and ticks

We’re in Orkney. We caught the ferry from Aberdeen yesterday afternoon and arrived here just before midnight last night. The ferry stops in Kirkwall, Orkney a few times each week on its way to Shetland. Here’s a map showing the route we took on the ferry and also the route we plan to take back. We’ll be catching a much shorter ferry back to the mainland and then catching the train from Thurso all the way back to Aberdeen.
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When we went to Shetland by ferry a couple of months ago it was relatively calm. Last night was not so. I needn’t have bothered buying dinner because I puked it all up, traumatising Daniel in the process. I didn’t make it to the toilet and had to use one of those paper bags, similar to the ones they provide on aeroplanes. I can remember hearing Daniel say, “I’m not going to look,” and then he shuffled as far away from me as he possibly could. I couldn’t wait to get off that boat and am quite pleased we’ll be catching the train home. We all felt queasy but I’m the only one who puked. Here I am prior to getting sick.

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Today we went exploring and saw a fascinating archaeological site: The Tomb of the Eagles. Some pics of the scenery on the way there:

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The next photo is a Bronze Age burnt mound. It was a building which was using to heat water. There’s a large pool in the centre which holds about 1000 litres of water and a nearby fire was used to heat stones, which they put in the pool to warm the water. They don’t know what the heated water was used for but two possible theories are either for boiling an entire animal like a lamb as a way to cook it or for bathing.

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Nearby is a neolithic tomb where human skeletons, pottery, and various other artefacts were placed some 5000 years ago. This is the Tomb of the Eagles. Entry is via a small tunnel which you either need to crawl through or pull yourself through on a trolley.

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Ben is crouched on the floor in this next photo peering into one of the caverns off to the side in the tomb where a number of skulls were found. They also found eagle skeletons here, hence the name. Ben’s mum and her partner are here on holiday with us.IMG_2096_2

After the tomb we went for lunch where I noticed what looked like a scab on the back of Elizabeth’s neck. On closer inspection it turned out to be a tick so we promptly left and made a dash for Kirkwall hospital to have it removed. Elizabeth had a good look at the tick after they plucked it from her neck. It was wriggling about with legs flailing on the end of some tweezers. I think she would have taken it home to be her pet if she’d been allowed. Here’s a pic I took of it just before it was removed. It was still quite small so I think we got it almost right away.

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To Aberdeen by bicycle via Drum Castle

We cycled back from Banchory to Aberdeen yesterday and it was rather hellish. I thought I was going to die. We arrived home and I collapsed in a heap with a very sore butt and feeling sorry for myself. I’ve decided to give up cycling for good. Just kidding 🙂

We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at Banchory Lodge and none of us wanted to leave on Sunday morning. I love these British hotels that are each unique, without the soulless furnishings of a large hotel chain, and also a little rough around the edges. We stuffed our faces at breakfast and enjoyed lovely views of the River Dee.IMG_1891

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Here’s the view from my chair:

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I like this photo of the kids and the painting above them:

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The day started rainy and overcast so I was thinking we’d have a nice cool cycle back to Aberdeen and dressed accordingly but the sun came out and it got hot again.

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A close-up of the flowers behind me in that previous pic:

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Someone yesterday asked to see a photo of my hairy legs. Here you go:

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Ok, so that’s not really a photo of my hairy legs 🙂

A couple of pics outside the lodge before we left:

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The part of the Deeside cycleway between Banchory and Crathes is just lovely; my favourite part of the whole trip. It’s very leafy, quiet, flat, and right beside the River Dee. This particular section is not tarmac but it was still easy enough to cycle along. It was not like the gravelly bits in some of the other places which I found quite arduous. Busby is not a mountain bike and cycling on gravel is hard. The section between Drumoak and Peterculter is the worst part with lots of gravel and hills. In fact, it’s so awful that we went back an alternative route which was better.

We wanted to visit Drum Castle on the way home which is slightly off the track so we ventured away from the cycleway and along the main road to the castle. We were so exhausted by the time we got there that I think we spent more time resting in the castle café than walking around the castle itself. We’re going to have to go back for another visit to see it properly. There was quite a long hill up to the castle and I ended up making the kids get out of the bike and walk the last stretch. Cycling uphill without kids was easy peasy. I’m seriously considering getting an electric motor for my bike.

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Drum Castle is gorgeous even though we didn’t even get to see it all. The grounds are huge and there are lots of walks you can do as well as a children’s playground. The café is right at the bottom of the castle in what looks like the old kitchen. Since we spent so much time in there here are a couple of pics of it:

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Aberdeen Art Gallery is currently undergoing some renovations and the collections have been moved to various other locations in the area including to Drum Castle. This means that not only is there all the usual stuff to see at a castle – gardens, woods, architecture, furniture, history, sculptures etc – there’s also an art gallery. It was just lovely.

Eventually we hopped back on our bikes for the final stretch home. Unfortunately I drank too many cups of tea in the café and ended up desperate for the dunny the whole way back. I couldn’t very well crouch behind a bush after all my rants about men pissing in the city centre so I had to put up with the discomfort. I’ve probably given myself permanent kidney damage now. This along with a headache, sore throat, sore arse, and a general feeling of un-wellness made what was really only a 1-2 hour trip feel more like 4 hours. But I made it home without wetting my pants and that’s the main thing 🙂

To Banchory on the Deeside cycleway

We stayed in Banchory last night and I’m typing this from a very comfortable hotel bedroom. For a little while now we’ve been wanting to extend our cycle ride on the Deeside cycleway but felt that Aberdeen to Crathes and back was about our limit given we’ve got small kids and the Bakfiets. If wanted to go further we’d need to stay overnight. So about a month ago we booked a hotel in Banchory and made plans to cycle to Banchory on the Saturday, spend the night here, then cycle back to Aberdeen on the Sunday.

When you book in advance though you can’t predict the weather or other unknown factors and we all woke up yesterday morning feeling sick. Elizabeth has had a cold all week and vomited on the Friday night. I woke up with a headache, burning throat, and generally feeling under the weather. Ben also felt unwell. Only Daniel felt fine. But we couldn’t cancel our trip and we were all looking forward to it so off we went anyway.

I didn’t feel as energetic as the last time so we took it slowly and enjoyed the surroundings. It was also really hot and muggy. One of the things I love about a cool climate is that I get to wear tights everyday and because of this I haven’t shaved my legs for months. My husband loves me hairy legs and all and so I don’t really see the need to do it and I just can’t be bothered. It was so hot yesterday though that I had to take my tights off and bare my hairy legs – shock, horror!

Here’s a pic of the kids in the bike – one on the iPad, the other having a nap, and both picking their noses by the looks of it.

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Ben also had some cargo as you can see in this next photo and we spent much of the ride in the vein of the Four Yorkshire Men discussing who had it the hardest.

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This dress of mine is more than 20 years old. I don’t remember it being quite as tight as this so it must have shrunk while hanging in my wardrobe 🙂

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Some of the sights:

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Rachel declaiming:

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We cycled past lots of productive agricultural land including this field of wheat or oats or barley. I can’t tell the difference. Does anyone know? There were lots of fields like this and they never seem to have any sort of irrigation there. They must get enough water from the sky.
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I love getting somewhere under my own steam. There’s something satisfying about that and also about enjoying the sounds and smells of the countryside which is something you don’t get sitting inside a car. However while I’m happy to struggle during the travel part, I like my creature comforts at the other end. So we booked a room at the fabulous Banchory Lodge. It’s right on the river and I can look outside our bedroom right now and see the River Dee. The Deeside cycleway pretty much cycles right to the lodge. Here’s a view of the Lodge from the outside:

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Some pics of the River Dee outside the hotel:

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The nearby Falls of Feugh:
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Craigievar Castle

We booked another Co-Wheels car today. I think I’ve got the system all figured out and have tried a few different cars now including electric, petrol, and hybrid. Most of the problems I had in the beginning were down to user error, I’m embarrassed to say.

We drove out to Craigievar Castle, about 30 miles west of Aberdeen. The drive was just lovely. We drove to Banchory first and followed the same route we took before Christmas when we went to Ballater but how different it was this time! The countryside is in full bloom now and all the trees covered in leaves so it looked very lush and leafy. It was lovely in winter too but I have to say it was quite spectacular today.

We stopped at Morrisons supermarket in Banchory where I made a fool of myself not once but twice. I bought some small punnets of vegetables to plant in my garden and clumsily knocked one over on the conveyor belt at the checkout and sent dirt flying everywhere. Then when we went to leave, I pushed open an emergency door, not realising it was an emergency exit, and set the alarms off. So we high-tailed it out of there for Craigievar Castle.

Craigievar Castle is the stuff of fairy tales. It’s the sort of thing you might expect to see in a children’s picture book:

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I half expected to see Rapunzel lowering her long hair down from one of the upper windows.

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We went on a guided tour which is the only way to see the inside and I can understand why. All the original furniture and art is still in place, as it has been for hundreds of years. The castle was built in the 1600s by William Forbes. I wasn’t allowed to take photos of the inside unfortunately so I don’t have any to share but it was marvellous. The ceilings were plastered by an Italian artist when the castle was first built and they are impressive. The spiral staircase is a masterpiece, and the rooms were more cozy and inviting than I had imagined castle rooms to be. We went all the way up to the roof where we got to enjoy the splendid views.

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The castle motto is Doe not vaken sleiping dogs which means do not awaken sleeping dogs.

This part of Scotland has so many castles that I think it will be some time before we’ve visited all of them. It’s a lovely place to live, not just because of the interesting history, but also because it’s less populous than other parts of the UK, and there’s some lovely scenery with rolling hills, forests, rivers, and beaches.

Glen Garioch and Tolquhon Castle

We have had another terrific day today. I almost feel a bit bad that I have so many terrific days and I hope that I’m not rubbing it in too much by writing about them on my blog all the time. There’s something so fun about writing about my experiences. It’s kind of a way of re-living the adventure.

I have Thursdays off and Daniel has been home all week with chicken pox (he’s not at all ill though) and Elizabeth woke up in the night with a sore ear so we decided to keep her home as well. We booked another car-club car – a hybrid this time – and took off for Glen Garioch distillery and Tolquhon Castle.

We’ve been to a couple of whiskey distilleries now but this is the first time we’ve been able to go on a tour and it was wonderful. Whiskey production is far more complicated than I thought. How did they ever figure it all out? Following the process from milling of grain all the way through to storage in barrels was fascinating and the smells along the way, splendid.

Glen Garioch is not pronounced as you would expect. They pronounce it Glen Gerry. It’s one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland and the most eastern distillery. It’s also only 30 minutes from Aberdeen by car.

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I took this next photo because of the dog in it. Apparently dogs were very important for distilleries in those days. The grain they kept here (grain is stored elsewhere now so I think it’s less of a problem) attracted rats and they kept cats to deal with the rats but the cats left headless corpses lying around. The dogs finished off the task. I love the Doric on the photo too.

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These next photos are of the distillation process iself:

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Lots of barrels of whiskey:

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I got to have a go at popping the bung in the whiskey barrel by pounding either side of it with this hammer. Only I accidentally hit the cork at one point and wedged it in further – yes, very clumsy of me I know – so it never actually popped out. Ben had a go after me and managed to do it. You have to slam down quite firmly.

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I didn’t taste any this time as I was driving but Dad and Ben did and both enjoyed it very much. You can bottle your own while you’re there too. The staff were so friendly and knowledgable and I thought it was a bonus to be able to take the kids. Most distilleries don’t allow children.

Then we went to Tolquhon Castle which is not very far from Glen Garioch. This whole area of Aberdeenshire looks to be an incredibly productive farming region with field upon field of barley, rapeseed, and maybe oats and wheat too as well as the usual sheep and cows.

Tolquhon Castle is one of the lesser-known castles and not so popular with tourists but we all absolutely loved it. Perhaps we loved it because there was hardly anyone there? But it’s also a very beautiful castle, apparently built for aesthetics (in the 16th century) rather than as a fortress. It was also run-down enough not to have to worry about the kids trashing it – they ran freely from room to room playing hide and seek – but not so much a ruin that you couldn’t imagine how all the rooms looked once before and how the inhabitants might have lived.

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They must have been really short in the 16th century:

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