Friday, November 11, 2011


Today's soundtrack:
"Fantasia on Christmas Carols" by Vaughan Williams

Finally, after years of living in basement apartments and dorms, Miguel and I had a proper Hallowe'en.  Miguel bought candy, which I thoroughly tested for quality control.  I bought pumpkins, which gave Miguel the chance to carve his first jack-o-lantern.

Miguel's Jack-o-lantern 

Being more than a novice at the pumpkin carving, I opted for a more difficult pattern.

My Jack-o-lantern

Sure, we may have only had 4 kids come to the door, but those kids left pretty damned pleased with the buckets of candy we poured into their bags.  And they promised to be back next year, so we'll have to buy about double the candy.  For quality control and all.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

acclimatization: food and drink edition

Today's soundtrack:
"All You Good Good People" by Embrace
"Road Rage" by Catatonia

Nothing for a month, and then two posts in a row.  You lucky people.

Over the past few months, I've tried a new recipe each week in an attempt to get a sense of British cuisine.  During the summer, I learned how to make a number of different curries and dahls.  This autumn, I've tried a couple new soup recipes.  The other week, I made my first Shepherd's Pie, but I was rather underwhelmed with the results.  I was working off of a basic recipe of meat, carrots, and potatoes.  Not a lot of flavour there.  Having never had Shepherd's Pie before, I assumed that this famous British dish is supposed to be bland, but not this bland.

Tonight's Shepherd's Pie, however, is a complete success.  I used a recipe off of the BBC's Good Food database, although I did tweak it a bit.  Not having thyme sprigs on hand, I used 1 tsp of thyme instead, and put it in alongside the tomatoes rather than with the onions.  I also used roughly 450g of ground beef, 500 mL of beef stock, and 250g dry green lentils.

The result is fantastic.  Unlike last week's inappropriate potato to meat ration, I think this version has the perfect balance.  I topped off my own portion with a bit of HP sauce.

You're drooling now, aren't you.  But wait, there's more!  Alongside these new British dishes, Miguel and I have been sampling different beers from the smaller breweries.

Broughton's "Black Douglas", "Greenmantle Ale", Wychwood's "Hobgoblin", "Wychcraft", Fyne Ales's "Highlander", and Shepherd Naeme's "Spooks"

Thus far, we've sampled the three beers on the right.  "Wychcraft" is a blonde beer and I didn't find it particularly interesting.  More interesting than a regular lager, but not exceptional.  Essentially, I'm over lagers.  Too boring.  Now, "Highlander" and "Spooks" are stronger ales, but my favourite out of the three is "Spooks".  Fantastically hoppy, "Spooks" is a more autumnal version of Inveralmond's "Ossian".

So there you have it - the perfect Shepherd's Pie and the perfect pint.  This acclimatization thing is a lot more fun than I thought it'd be.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

whistling a happy tune

Today's soundtrack:
Jarvis Cocker's Sunday Service

The last week I joined the local choir.

This does not explain my month-long silence on the blog, which is due to a dissertation, a conference, an impromptu trip, another conference, more dissertationing (it's a verb now), and various houseguests.

But as I was saying, last week I joined the Anstruther Philharmonic Society.  Miguel is quite happy about this, as it gets me out of the house and socializing a bit.  Getting to know people is easy when you have a workplace or get to go out on a regular basis.  When you're at home writing a dissertation, excursions are limited to weekly shops up at the Co-op, during which time you natter the ear off of the poor cashier and the whole store is glad to see the back of you, so it's a little bit more difficult to get to know people.

So, I joined a choir.

I didn't really know what to expect.  Philharmonic Society sounds quite impressive, but the East Neuk isn't exactly a booming metropolis.  Well, cast all assumptions aside.  We have quite the choir.

When I arrived at the hall, Jane MacDonald welcomed me (with this accent, I do stand out a bit), organized with the librarian for my books, introduced me to a few sopranos (of the non-New Jersey variety).  "Why don't you try soprano this week, and you can always change next week," Jane suggested. Sure.  After all, I sang soprano back in Children's Choir.  Of course, that was before I hit puberty.  Still, what could possibly go wrong?

The poor ladies I was standing beside had to suffer through my screeching in vain search of a note.  I didn't remember notes being that high.  By the end of practice I sounded like I had laryngitis.  I was pretty singing didn't used to hurt this much.

Okay then, plan b.  This week, I sat in with altos.  I hid in the back, hoping that I could pick up the tune without being too noticeably off-key.

I was not the only alto with this plan.

As we reached a part of Hummel's Mass in Eb we hadn't rehearsed before, I began to cheat off of my neighbours, pitching up and down to find whatever note we were on now.  I soon noticed, however, that my neighbours in the back row had the same plan.

There we were, pitching up and down, giving our best impression of a cat in heat as we strove bravely on through a sea of syncopated rhythms, randoms naturals, and endless runs.  Needless to say, I dug my flute out today and began practicing in earnest.

But on the meeting people end, choir is a success.  I met a woman who had not only visited my hometown, but her husband's family had spent time there in the 1880s.  I met another two women who live close by and kindly shared their reasons as to why double glazing is a terrible idea.  As I left the rehearsal last night, a kind gentleman held the door open and said "after you, Lady Mary" (re: Downton Abbey).

Honestly, there's no better way to spend a Tuesday night in the East Neuk.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

possibly ahead of schedule

Today's soundtrack:
"Homeboy" by King Creosote
"Mis-Shapes" by Pulp
"Ugly" by Age of Electric
"Thug" by The Tragically Hip

Yes, I've been rather negligent in the blogging lately.  I've had a busy few weeks of conferences and traveling.  Visited Chawton and, in typical brilliant fashion, forgot to take my camera out of my backpack.  I also didn't get any time to see London, save for the Underground between Euston and Waterloo.  It's an excuse to take the sleeper train again, although it means that I have no new UK photos for you.

I do, however, have knitting.  Go on, try to act surprised.  At the moment, I've nearly finished my Christmas knitting for the nephews, as well as knitting for Carmen and Galian's wee one, but in order to keep the surprise from all the various parents, no photos here.  Instead, here's the latest sock project.  Technically, these socks are part of Miguel's Christmas present, but it's a little impossible to hide the project when I knit while we watch TV at night.

Striped Socks from The Lux Knitting Book (1942) using Cascade Heritage Sock in 5626 (Turquoise) and 5609 (Bark). 2.25mm needles.  Ravelled here.

I found this pattern the other year in Nana's stash of knitting books and pamphlets.  The book, which has seen better days but clearly has been well-used, belonged to my great-grandmother, who used the baby clothes patterns when she knitted for overseas children during WWII.  I don't think she ever made these socks, however, because there are no notes on the pattern.

Anyway, when I saw the fantastic slipped-stitch striped pattern, I knew these socks must be in the same colours as the Tenth Doctor's suit.  The overall effect is pretty subtle, much like Miguel's Tardis socks, rather than a ridiculously over-the-top homage to Doctor Who like, say, my Fourth Doctor Scarf.

Yeah.  I might need to get out more.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

scottish signage

Today's soundtrack:
"BCC" by Buck 65 feat. John Southworth 
"The Score" by Samantha Savage Smith
"Yer Spring" by Hey Rosetta
"Niagara" by Ohbijou

It's a blustery day here in Cellardyke. The wind has been averaging around 45 km/ph for over 12 hours now. Deck chairs are rearranging themselves. I know I haven't blogged in a bit, but since I have a paper to finish for this weekend's conference, the best I can do is a short guide to Scottish signage.

Lesson 1: How to tell a good hairdresser from a bad one

I really don't know which side this place in St. Andrews falls on, but even if it's the latter, at least you get a free shot of whisky out of the deal.  I feel obliged to point out that with the slight space between hair and cut, it's possible that you get a shot for every single hair cut.

Lesson 2: Scottish priorities are starch-based

Giggling about McNulty's aside (which I assume only serves bottles of Jameson's and lake trout), the top-billing of the almighty potato shouldn't really come as a surprise to me.  But top-billing above coffee?  Coffee?!  That sweet, sweet nectar of the gods?!  The only thing that can change grumpy grunty morning Kate into slightly less grumpy and grunty morning Kate?!  I suspect that if the supermarket sold more whole beans and less instant coffee, this country would come around to the Pacific Northwest attitude towards coffee.  Ritual sacrifice to Starbucks remaining optional, obviously.

Lesson 3: Unapologetically hilarious street signs

Pointing and giggling will mark you as a North American, just as taking a picture of the "Cosy Neuk" down the way is how we tell who's a Dutch tourist (hey, if you're looking for high-brow humour here, you may have made a larger mistake).  I should point out, for extra credit in today's lessons, that "wynd" is Scots for a narrow lane or alley.  The more you know.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

giants, zombie vampires, and st. monans

Today's soundtrack:
"If It Feels Good Do It" by Sloan
"Ants" by Egger
"Suburban War" by Arcade Fire

Last Saturday, Miguel and I took advantage of the sunny weather and decided to walk a bit more of the Fife Coastal Path. We headed west, out past Pittenweem and onto St. Monans, which neither of us had visited. I'd spotted the windmill from the Pittenweem pier when Yvon and André were visiting and was itching to see it closer.

The walk out was lovely, although it's more manicured and busy than the Cellardyke-Crail path. Also, no goats. Just before we reached St. Monans, we came upon the windmill..

St. Monans Windmill

.. and these odd sort of mounds which I initially mistook for a deranged putt-and-bounce course.

Salt Pans

These are the foundations of the salt panning buildings. Salt water would be pumped up by the windmill, and then the salt would be processed out in these little factories. These salt pans date to the 1770s and were finally abandoned in the mid-19th century.

Reconstructed salt pan foundation

Abandoned or not, Miguel was still a little concerned that the windmill might a giant, and so did his best Don Quixote in order to keep the windmill in line. He also insisted on calling me Sancho.

Don Quijote y el gigante

Aside from the windmill, I really didn't know anything else about the town. I had a vague idea that the Lady Tower was somewhere nearby (it wasn't), so we decided to walk through the town and have a look about.

St. Monans

The town was empty. It was freaky. You could hear a pin drop. Miguel and I wandered down to the harbour, not daring to speak in more than a whisper. It felt like the village of the damned. Where was everyone? It is tourist season and all. Was everyone in hiding? Had the Zombie Apocalypse already come and gone here? Or were they all vampires? Zombie vampires, perhaps? Clearly that was the only logical explanation.

Soon enough, we reached the edge of town and came across the Auld Kirk, a church which dates back to the 14th century and has the honour of being the Scottish church closest to the sea. It's an oddly-shaped church, as it's missing a nave, but stunning nonetheless. The stone steeple is particularly striking.

Auld Kirk

After a wander around the graveyard, we took the low-tide path out towards Elie, having seen some ruins in the distance that I thought was the Lady Tower (it wasn't).

Auld Kirk from the low-tide path

Auld Kirk and St. Monans

The ruins were not of the Lady Tower (more on that whenever we get around to actually visiting it), but of Newark Castle, which dates from the 16th century and has a rather fascinating history.

Newark Castle

Currently, the castle is in a fairly ruined state, but there are rumours that some sort of restoration-as-stopgap (as in, to stop it from falling into the sea) could be in the works. At the moment, getting too close to the castle is dangerous (although we did it anyway), especially during a gale, as the masonry is crumbling.

Newark Castle

Nearby, as we headed back to St. Monans, we passed a doocot. Doocot is Scots for dovecote, and is a large aviary of sorts that traditionally housed pigeons and doves. This doocot currently houses rubbish.


I'm not sure when it was built, but doocots of all sorts were built up until the 18th century, although the plainness of this particular one probably means it was built much earlier, possibly not long after the castle itself. There's a more ornate doocot on the St. Andrews Road, just outside of Anstruther, complete with stone finials.

As we wandered back into the empty village, we realized where everyone was. There was a wedding at the Auld Kirk! Guests were starting to spill out from the church, complete with old men in kilts. I'm sure this will stop being a novelty at some point. Relieved that the townsfolk were a) zombies, b) vampires, or c) zombie vampires, we continued on and came across the Harbour Howff Cafe, a community-run restaurant where we popped in for a quick lunch.

Refreshed, we decided to head back home. As we passed by the windmill again, I snapped off my favourite photo of the day.

St. Monans Windmill

This was soon followed by my second favourite photo of the day, as this field between Pittenweem and Anstruther Easter reminds me of Saskatoon.

After 6 miles of walking, we sat down on our deck to nurse our sunburns and some beer.


Friday, August 19, 2011


Today's soundtrack:
"DaDaDa" by J.J. Ipsen
"Fragile Bird" by City and Colour
"Happy New Year" by We Are The City

In the midst of packing and preparing to move to Scotland, I started knitting Herbivore. I figured it would be a quick, mindless knit. The twisted stitch patterns should have been a clue. A few days before our flight, with emotions very high, I was 1/3 into the pattern and realized I'd missed twisting a stitch. Tinking wasn't an option (beer may have been a factor) so I frogged it and put the whole project in an extended time-out.

And that's how I flew across the Atlantic with nothing on my needles. Longest flight ever.

After arriving and settling in Cellardyke, I went through the few skeins I'd brought in my luggage (the rest of my stash didn't arrive for another 2 months) and decided that perhaps Herbivore had learned its lesson.

Incredibly, when the stress of moving, packing, and traveling to a new country is removed, the pattern was surprisingly simple and a relatively mindless knit. But even after I'd cast off, I didn't run downstairs to block it out. It wasn't because it didn't turn out lovely, because the colour was the perfect choice for the pattern and the stitch definition is gorgeous; I was hesitant because I now associated this shawl with my last days in Canada. It became something of a link to our Calgarian friends, Tim Hortons, and silverfish the size of a small country. So the shawl stayed in the "to be blocked" pile for nearly 2 months until it was impossible to ignore.

After a few days on the blocking mats (with the humidity, everything takes longer to block here than in Calgary), my Herbivore was finished. And it's beautiful.

Stephen West's "Herbivore". Used Wollmeise 100% Merino Superwash in "Fliederbusch" on US 6/4mm needles. Details on Ravelry.

Still, when I slipped the last of the lace blocking wires out, I was sad. It's a beautiful piece with a lovely drape, and I can't wait to take it out for a bike ride this afternoon, but just for those few moments after the wires came out, I was sad. Not upset or homesick. Just a little sad. All the events surrounding this shawl had been emotionally heightened (to an almost ridiculous degree) that finally finishing it presents me with a mild catharsis and a new sort of lightness*.

Yeah, I live in Scotland now.

*could be the morning's coffee.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Today's soundtrack:
"Fragile Bird" by City and Colour
"Barnes' Yard" by The Rural Alberta Advantage

So the other night, Miguel comes bounding in, tossed me a sweater and insisted we go up to the garden. I can't say I blamed him.

Lovely sunsets weren't something I used to associate with Scotland. Rain, thistles, Nessy, but a summer sunset? Miguel is convinced that the Isle of May (the island in the distance) moves on a semi-regular basis. It doesn't help that, from a certain angle, the Isle of May resembles a giant whale.

On the way back down to the house, we came across a new neighbour.

I'm not sure if it was a common frog or toad, but it was big. Well, bigger than the cute little frogs we used to come across as kids. Either way, I think we should give him a name. And that dove that's cooing atop the chimney right now. At least the frog/toad is quieter.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


Today's soundtrack:
Doctor Who Season 3

The other year, the fine folks at Fence Records organized Haarfest (in addition to Homegame and Away Game). This year, it's a four-day extravaganza. Each day begins with coffee at the Hew Scott Hall, followed by (uncooperative weather depending) touring around the East Neuk, and culminating in a 3-4 hour long concert at the Cellardyke Town Hall. We decided to hit the first night, which featured Jonnie Common, Geese, Dan Lyth, and King Creosote, so after a quick dinner and pint over at the Bank we walked over to the Cellardyke Town Hall.

The original hall was built in the 17th century, but this building only dates back to 1881 or so. Inside, there are old elementary school class photos, ship blueprints, and a replica of the German bomb that fell on Rodger Street during the war. This was a community fiercely proud of its heritage.

First up was Jonnie Common, who performed his show solo. His usual partner-in-crime was poorly in Glasgow.

Next was Geese. When they first walked up, I turned to Miguel and said "oh good! Fiddles!" and expected, well, fiddling.

This was not the case. Instead, they played and looped their runs, over and over, with the drummer going absolutely nuts at the same time. It was Alfred Hitchcock's violins meet a drumbeat.

Then, Dan Lyth and his harem of beautiful women were up. After the avant-garde Geese, this was decidedly more mellow indie-pop. Their set was fantastic, even if they are from West Fife, and I scored their new single afterwards.

Miguel was exhausted by this point and decided to head home, which is really a shame because the last act was King Creosote. African Andy (who, when he's not wailing away on the bongos, works IT up at the university) and Gummi Bako (who could not be persuaded to take off his shirt, no matter how much that one guy in the audience yelled) were playing in the band. They had the best energy of the night. No one - not even the impromptu moshers - had more fun than those guys on stage.

Now, I'm not conversant in King Creosote songs yet, but I recognized a few from the album I do have, as well as that song about clocks in 1984 that he played at the Raise the Roof benefit the other month. The highlight for me was their closing song "Little Man", a song that should only ever be heard in a small hall and with a beer in hand.

There's no way I'm missing Homegame 2012.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Today's soundtrack:
"Supervillan Music" by Chilly Gonzales

The other Saturday, Miguel and I woke up at 6am to catch the early bus down to Edinburgh. The weather was lovely, the city was stunning, and I was sick. Ridiculously sick. I'll spare you the details, but suffice it to say that early mornings + windy bus trips + porridge = roughly a litre and a half. Once we arrived in Edinburgh and I found a toothbrush, things started to look up. Also, I was now looking up rather than the ground between my knees as I sat curled over in embarrassment.

First stop was Princes Street and the Sir Walter Scott Monument. Started in 1832, immediately after his death, and finished in 1840, the monument is impressively Neo-Gothic. It revels in all 61 meters of it's Neo-Gothic design.

We then wandered over to the National Gallery where I spotted some sphinxes. Why travel all the way to sunny Egypt when you can get all the ambiance in Edinburgh?

There's also no need to visit Madrid as every Spaniard is currently walking the Royal Mile.

Miguel, having been to Edinburgh before, planned our route. I asked him why Edinburgh is one of his favourite cities. Apparently, it all comes down to a good park in the middle of the city and a castle on a hill. I suspect Lord of the Rings plays a role as well, as it's all rather epic.

From Princes Street, there's a fantastic view of the Castle.

After Princes Street we walked through the Princes Street Garden, past St. Cuthbert's and it's fantastic graveyard...

... and then onto the incredible cast-iron Ross Fountain.

Crossing over the North Bridge, after a quick visit to David Hume's understated grave, we walked up and down the Royal Mile, dodging tourists and Fringe performers. We spotted John Knox's house (Miguel is rightly concerned)

as well as Moubray House (on the right) where the Act of Union was signed in 1707..

.. and the Mercat Cross where Bonnie Prince Charlie was proclaimed King in 1745..

.. which is right beside the impressive St. Giles Cathedral. The tower is from the 15th century.

In the afternoon, the rain started (predictably) and I was still recovering from the morning's bus ride, so we slowly made our way back to the bus station, stopping to watch the Fringe Festival street performers. On our way, we passed by a bagpiper we'd seen walking up the Royal Mile early that day.

Downtown Edinburgh is filthy with bagpipers this time of year, performing various medleys of Scottish and American folk songs. This fellow, however, was incredible. There was no pandering to tourists and he was clearly one the better pipers I've ever heard. If you're heading to Edinburgh, look for the goat-footed piper of the Royal Mile.

Thursday, August 04, 2011


Today's soundtrack:
"La fille dans la vitrine" by Les Brestfeeders

As part of my ongoing Scottish immersion program, I've been trying to learn a bit of Scots. In a larger centre, I doubt I'd bother; however, as we live in a wee town, knowing a little of the local vernacular is important. At the very least, I'll be able to understand our friendly postman.

Today's word is droukit, which means "wet-through, soaked, drenched" (BBC). For example, after cycling to the Co-op and back this afternoon, Kate was drookit.

Class dismissed.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

louis the lobster

Today's soundtrack:
"Forest, oh Forest, Protect Me" by Banded Stilts
"Supervillian Music" by Chilly Gonzales
"Barnes' Yard" by The Rural Alberta Advantage
"Pale Horse" by The Warped 45s

Once our stuff arrived from Canada, we knew a trip to Ikea wouldn't be far off. 40 bankers' boxes of books and no where to put them. Luckily, our knitterly friends Kristin and Peter needed bookcases as well, so the other week Peter and I rented a van and drove down to Edinburgh. What followed can only be described as the Great Ikea Disaster of 2011. Nothing we needed was in stock. White Billy bookcases? Nada. Bread bin? Zilch. Basic mirror? Not in the colour or size you need. Our great Ikea adventure, which was only supposed to take an hour or so, quickly rounded the corner on four. I could almost hear the evil cackle of some demented warehouse worker who has been secreting everything we'd need away for months, just like those postal workers who, after they die, are discovered to have hidden decades worth of mail in their basements.

After we got home and delivered a bookcase to our neighbours/landlords, I was about ready to collapse on the sofa for the night. Predictably, there was a knock at the door. Norman, our neighbour/landlord, holding a plastic grocery bag. He passes it to me, I look in, and there's a lobster. Moving. Fresh out of his lobster trap.

I guess the look on my face was one of shock and horror because Norman said, reassuringly, "Miguel's Spanish. He'll know what to do with it."

He didn't. Miguel took one look at the lobster and announced that he didn't want to kill it. Eat it, sure. No problem. But under no circumstances was he going to cook it. I threatened to inform the Spanish embassy of his lack of Spanishness regarding seafood, but to no avail. The only way the lobster was going to be dinner was if I cooked it.

Oh, fantastic.

So the lobster spent the night in our fridge and I spent the next afternoon figuring out how to cook this beastie. Norman claimed that if I held the lobster, who I'd named Louis at this point (probably where things began to go wrong), upside down, he'd go to sleep and he'd be easy to pop into the pot.

Alright. Loins girded, I put a pot of salted water to boil; however, after a look at Louis and the size of our Dutch oven, I began to seriously doubt that Louis was going to fit. I'd have to wait for the water to be a full boil, put Louis to sleep, and get him in to the smallish pot as quick as possible.

There was a resounding chorus of "oh God, oh God, this is so gross!" as I reached into the bag and carefully brought Louis out. No binding on Louis' pincers, so I very carefully held him upside down and counted to ten, which was how long Norman said it would take for Louis to conk out. Ten seconds later, he's still squirming about. Maybe he could see the pot of boiling water? The poor thing was moving more now than he did in the fridge, twisting about. Twenty seconds and Louis is not falling asleep. Not even drowsy.

Adrenaline going and my stomach in knots, all I want is for Louis to go to sleep so I can dump him in the pot, but he just won't stop moving. He's got to get into the pot. At a good boil, death would be pretty instant, I think. So I grabbed a wooden spoon (I wasn't sure he'd fit in the pot without encouragement) and moved Louis over the pot.

Not being the least bit sleepy, Louis had stretched himself to his full length, his pincers moving wildly. Oh my giddy aunt, there is just no way I was going to get this thing into the pot without a fight. At this point, I just want the whole thing over. I attempted to put him in headfirst (as per the instructions), but with pincers and tail thrashing about, this is not easy. I wrestle him into the pot, slam on the lid, and breathe.

Silence but for the boiling water, and then..

scratch, scratch, scratch as Louis' pincers and wee legs tap and scrape the inside of the pot.

This goes on for a minute. I'm ready to go headfirst into the toilet. Am now convinced Louis is never going to die but will instead return to the sea and recruit fellow lobster to come and attack the house. I have visions of being slowly boiled to death in a giant caldron.

And then it all stops. Miguel lifts the lid and notes with surprise that Louis' black shell has turned red (what kind of Spaniard is he, I ask you). Ten minutes later, we lift Louis out of the pot and Miguel begins tearing him apart. Claws first, then tail.

I tried a bit, but as I've never really been a big fan of seafood (aside from fish. It's a texture thing) I left the majority of Louis for Miguel, who'd gleefully announced that he'd never eaten anything so fresh. "Thirty minutes ago," he said, "and he was moving around our fridge."

And that's when I lost my appetite completely.

Conclusion: I apparently make a fantastic lobster. You'll never be able to try my lobster yourself, however, because there's no chance I'm ever doing that again.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

chirp chirp

Today's soundtrack:
"Static Electricity" by The Bon
"Bedhead" by Shotgun Jimmie

Compared to the excitement of the past few weeks, this week has been rather quiet. I say rather instead of completely because there's a rather noisy addition to our little household.

(not pictured: the epic pile of poop on the ground)

There's a swallow's nest underneath our deck and the fledglings are become more vocal. Their parents are fierce defenders of the nest. I could only snap off one photo before they came in, whizzing about. I don't want to anger them, as I have washing drying up on the deck.

At least this explains why I've been seeing the young girls from next door creeping about the carport.

Monday, July 11, 2011

more rambling about crail

Today's soundtrack:
"Oh My Heart" by Jenn Grant

Yesterday Miguel and I walked the six miles back and forth to Crail. I've walked into Crail a few times now, but I've always managed to forget to tour around the town beyond the harbour. Of particular interest to me was Crail's mercat cross, which is a uniquely Scottish marker which denoted where trade, proclamations, and executions traditionally occurred... although ideally not at the same time.

Crail's market square was once the largest in Europe, according to Undiscovered Scotland. The main road now runs through the main square and a boulevard of trees, so it takes a bit of imagination to see the square now. And you'll need even more imagination, as I forgot to take a photo.

On the west end of the square is the Crail Tollbooth, the belfry of which was apparently brought over from the Netherlands. The Dutch influence on the East Neuk is perhaps most visible in Crail (the windmill in St. Monan's aside).

On the east end of the square is the Crail Parish Church, parts of which date back to 1160. All that would make this church more charming would be folks wandering about in Regency dress, just like in Sense and Sensibility.

I was hoping to get into the church to see the stone slab from the 900s, but it was all locked up for the day. Instead, Miguel and I walked back to The Honeypot for lunch, before heading back through the harbour and on home to Cellardyke. All in all, a lovely sunny Sunday afternoon.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

road tripping

Today's soundtrack:
"Happy New Year" by We Are The City
"Oh My Heart" by Jenn Grant

Taking advantage of Miguel's three-day weekend, we and the Dutch headed off to the Highlands for a few days. The boys were eager to climb Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in the UK. I was eager to see more of Scotland and Yvon had a list from her sister, who'd spent time up in Scotland, of what we should see. So we piled into André's two-door Ibiza and set off for Corpach, near Fort William. Although, not directly..

Day One: Anstruther to Corpach (near Fort William), via Glen Lyon.

Rather than taking a main road out of Fife, which would be boring, we opted for the secondary roads. The upside is that they are much more scenic than the main roads. The downside is that you've never driven through so many ups, downs, and random curves in your life. By the time we stopped in Aberfeldy in Perth and Kinross for lunch, I was a little green. We stopped at the Black Watch for lunch, and watched a local fellow who apparently knew everyone in town. Any car that stopped by the roundabout near the restaurant's back garden, this fellow chatted to for a few minutes. He was also careful to grill us on where we were from. Being Canadian brought no problems, although the fact that we live in Fife was hilarious, apparently.

After lunch we piled back into the car, heading for Glen Lyon, home of the Campbells (more on them later) and Pontius Pilate, among others. But it's a bit of a drive to get there, which gave Miguel enough time to develop a new car game called "Little Known Facts". The goal of this game is to elaborately construct humorous (hopefully) and completely ridiculous stories. For example, did you know that Beatrix Potter is actually Moroccan? Yup. It's a little known fact. Also, there are rare, carnivorous, tunnelling sheep in Glen Lyon. Terrifying creatures. It's a little known fact.

Eventually, however we arrived in Glen Lyon, which we then proceeded to drive through. We stopped once we reached Loch Lyon.

But taking the same road back to the beginning of the glen was deemed too boring by some, so we took what can only be described as 3/4 of a road over the hills to Kenknock, before heading into Killin. I was less than impressed, although the scenery was fantastic, as the Seat Ibiza was not really designed for 3/4 roading (or off-roading, for that matter).

Back on a real road, we headed into the Highlands. The slow climb up the mountains, which wasn't really helped by dawdling tourists, meant that we weren't keen to stop and take pictures. I can only describe the highlands around Glen Coe as something I'd never seen before. In Canada, we get a little jaded about mountains. I mean, after you've seen the Rockies, mountains are just mountains. But these highland hills and mountains, near barren of trees, were like nothing I'd ever seen.

This part of Scotland feels completely different to Fife. To begin with, nearly all the signage is in English and Scottish Gaelic. Secondly, history resonates very deeply here. Glen Coe was the site of in the infamous 1692 massacre in which some Campbells slaughtered MacDonalds that had taken them in as guests. This event, and indeed all the events surrounding the Jacobite Rebellion, still dominate in this area. Around Loch Ness, you can go on both Monster Tours and Jacobite Tours.

After a day of driving, we arrived in Corpach, which is just outside of Fort William, at the mouth of the Caledonian Canal. We stayed in the Smiddy Bunkhouse, a local hostel that we shared with two shirt-challenged 20-somethings who were in town for the mountain bike race.

Corpach itself is a wee town on the side of Loch Linnhe with perhaps the best view of Ben Nevis (the tall mountain in the foreground).

Day Two: Glen Nevis and Fort William.

We were up early, partially due to rather uncomfortable beds, but mostly due to the fact that the boys were planning to hike up Ben Nevis. With two litres of water each, a packed lunch, and their hiking shoes, they set off around 11am to climb a mountain without a stick of shade, in a rare day of a full, blazing sun.

Rather than climb a mountain, Yvon and I opted to walk out to Glen Nevis. On the short drive out to the trailhead, we passed by where they filmed parts of Braveheart and Harry Potter. The walk is significantly shorter than hiking up Ben Nevis, taking about 3 hours for our nice and leisurely scramble over rocks and the path to Steall Falls. The walk, however, has some amazingly beautiful views along the way.

This area is all owned by the John Muir Trust, which means that this is an area protected from encroaching civilization.

In fact, wandering around this meadow, I felt as though the rest of the world had disappeared.

There is a way to get closer to the Steall Falls, and that's a wire bridge. I made it out halfway before the wind caused so much sway that I doubted my ability to hold on if my feet slipped out from underneath me. The river is particularly shallow at this point, which meant that any fall would cause some serious harm and make the scramble over the rocks to get back to the car park near impossible.

After our Glen Nevis adventure, we popped into Fort William for lunch, before Yvon crashed out back at our hostel. I decided to go for a walk up the Caledonian Canal to Banavie.

At the beginning of the Canal in Corpach, there's an information post which explains that this canal and the Rideau in Ottawa are paired due to their dates of completion and similar styles (although, I think the real story is that a PMO staffer wanted a real whisky and his Scottish counterpart wanted to know what a beavertail was. It's a little known fact). But while a trip through the Caledonian Canal takes around 14 hours, a complete trip on the Rideau from Kingston to Ottawa takes 3 days. I also don't think there's ice-skating on it in the winter.

In Banavie, the canal has a steep incline known as Neptune's Staircase, which raises the boats 64 feet through a series of 9 locks.

After my walk to Banavie, the boys phoned to let us know they were 1) still alive, and 2) about 45 minutes from the end. Yvon and I grabbed the crisps and the special Ben Nevis beer we'd bought earlier, and set out to surprise them.

Sure, they look happy here, but you wouldn't've believed the stench.

Day Three: Corpach to Inverness, via Loch Ness, and home to Cellardyke.

On our last day, we were a little more rushed as Miguel and I had to make it to Inverness in time for our train back to Fife. Also, after a day of too much sun, the poor Dutch were feeling very ill. This meant that we didn't do more than stop quickly at Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness, but this gives Miguel and I an excellent reason to go back.

We also didn't manage to spot Nessy, although Miguel informed us that this could have been due to a late conference in the Northwest Passage with the Ogopogo. Apparently both the UK and US governments are lobbying these lake monsters heavily, as they'd be a great asset to the military-industrial complex. It's all part of a top-secret burgeoning monster-race that's been developing ever since Spain's monster programme was revealed by WikiLeaks last year. It's a little known fact.

Lunch in Inverness was a baked potato at the Red Pepper. No, really. A baked potato is a main course here. It's not a side dish. I offer photographic evidence.

This isn't just a cuisine local to Inverness, either. Baked potatoes as main dishes can be found all over Scotland. It's reason #58 that I love living here.

Of particular interest to members of my family, a Hootananny is not an outfit made by Nana. It is, in fact, the Best Scottish Music Venue of 2005. Little known fact.

But before we could do any real sight-seeing in Inverness, it was time to catch our train. A scant 4 hours later.