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.