Month: July 2010

Lessons from the unapologetic fringe

I have never had to make a decision about a job based on an ethical dilemma or consideration of “appearances”, though I know others that have.

Do I agree with that company’s line of business?

How much money would make it worth it?

How would it look to have that company’s name on my resume?

Yet over the last while I have been finding myself increasingly intrigued by the people who choose these paths, or blaze them. More accurately, I am intrigued by what they know — what they’ve learned to successfully build and run their companies and/or communities.

In a nutshell, there is an amazing amount to be learned about people and how and why they do things when you not only accept, but cater to, “impolite” society.

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Sunday afternoon

I know when the rain starts falling
Muddled light
On the breeze
minerals, asphalt, ozone
wafting the curtains
The patter on the leaves begins
But first
in the park
silence noticed
Shrieks and laughter
bundled into minivans
Home for dinner.

Mt. Hope Cemetery, Waterloo

I’ve lived within a short distance of Mt. Hope Cemetery for pretty much a decade, but had never actually been there, despite finding cemeteries really interesting. (None of my family are buried there, but rather at various Mennonite cemeteries around the area.)

Last Saturday I took myself for a bit of a walkabout and went exploring. It’s a nice size to wander semi-aimlessly. The sunshine, breeze, and shady trees were lovely, and the light was great for taking pictures.

As always with cemeteries, there was no end of history, stories, and curiosities. And plenty of German surnames, many immediately recognizable to anyone who lives around here. πŸ™‚ (Interesting grave finding function and some historical stuffs.)

Apparently it was set up between 1865-1867 on eight acres — seven main acres and one for a potter’s field (not sure which part that was).

Slideshow of Mt. Hope Cemetery Photos

Rich, delicious, chocolatey… avocados?

The other day I saw a tweet about this recipe. The person noted that he’d been skeptical, but that it turned out to be surprisingly delicious.

I’m no raw foodist or vegan, but I was intrigued. Mostly because I don’t tend to be a huge avocado fan — I have mouth feel issues because of the fat content. And hey, I’ve made some pretty delicious brownies with beans as their base ingredient, so why not? Serendipitously, avocados were on sale, too, when I dropped by the grocery store, and already perfectly ripe and ready to go.

I used light agave syrup, instead of dates, since I prefer that “style” of sweetness, though I would definitely say to err on the side of less sweet. It brings out the chocolate flavour better, and too much sweetness combined with the extreme richness would be painfully cloying.

Both Andrew and I quite liked the “pudding”, though agreed it’s way too rich to eat a lot. (And it is really high in fat, but it’s “good” fat, and plenty of fibre and Vitamin C, too.) I had some with raspberries from the Market today, which was pretty much dessert heaven. Might try it some time with Stevia or Splenda and see if a diabetic-friendly version for Dad is as good.

Burrito Boyz

I had heard about the fabtastic Burrito Boyz in Toronto for years (warning: website is a Flash horror). So when Sean, our co-op at work, mentioned one had opened in Waterloo, I was intrigued. (And we got burritos for team lunch last week.)

I’ve since been there twice, and may have a problem. Shrimp burrito: You Complete Me. (The chicken is good, too, and I’ve been told good things about the steak, haddock, and halibut as well.) Get the small unless you are eat-the-asshole-out-of-a-dead-bear hungry. You have been warned. πŸ™‚

It’s located on King St. N. in Waterloo, just north of the intersection with University Ave. E., in the plaza that also contains Bhima’s, King Tin, and the Fire It Up head shop. (In the street view picture below, Burrito Boyz is now located where the pharmacy used to be.)

They accept cash or credit cards only (don’t know if they plan to accept debit later on or not), though there is a cash machine on-site. For seating, there are a couple of bar style tables and a bar along the front wall, but mostly it’s takeout. Parking is a pain in the ass, but do-able.


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I have become a podcast devotee

I don’t even remember how this all got started, to be honest. For a long time I’ve thought I should try out listening to podcasts. However, I’ve always been reticent, since: a) I didn’t really know where to start, and b) I’ve never been great at absorbing info through my ears (audiobooks and the like).

Anyway, somewhere I saw/heard/read about How Stuff Works‘ group of podcasts. I’ve been aware of the site for ages, and had dropped in from time to time. You can see the full list of podcasts on their blogs page (cuz that makes sense) in the lower right sidebar.

Being a history buff, I started with Stuff You Missed in History Class, the archive of which I downloaded from iTunes. (They’re all free, just fyi.)

Since then I’ve also gone through the Stuff You Should Know (general interest), Stuff Mom Never Told You (women’s and gender-related topics), and Stuff They Don’t Want You To Know (conspiracy theories – on video) archives, and am nearly the end of the Brain Stuff (general interest – often scientific or technical and much shorter than the others) archive.

The podcasts range from a minute (the early Brain Stuff ones) to over half an hour. I probably started listening nearly six months ago, and have gone through a lot of podcasts. Hundreds. That said, I also haven’t listened to the radio or my iPod in that time period, either. They make for great accompaniment to getting ready for work, running training, doing dishes, etc. And hey, my storehouse of useless knowledge grows by the day. πŸ™‚

Not all topics are of equal interest, and while I haven’t skipped any, it’s certainly easy to do so if you’re not into the topic. One thing that’s a bit unusual and distracting at first is that these podcasters are not “vocal talent”. They’re actual How Stuff Works employees (and, in the case of Brain Stuff, the founder) and the same people you’ll interact on in the blog comments or on Twitter or Facebook.

On every podcast I’ve listened to so far, at least one of the presenters has a mild speech impediment. I didn’t really expect that. Slight lisp, “thick tongue”, or what sounds like just a permanent bad case of hayfever — you get used to it over time. The intermittent southern accents are fun, too. (How Stuff Works is based out of Atlanta.)

I’ve managed to get Andrew hooked, too, and have enjoyed being filled in on historical tidbits I’ve already learned on more than one occasion. πŸ™‚ In any case, should your music library or trivia knowledge be feeling a little stale, I highly recommend heading over to iTunes and loading up. Mmm… useless facts…

Scotland, Day 6 & 7 – Ayr and Culzean Castle

Day 6, and the final leg of our trip. We took the train from Edinburgh, switching in Glasgow to the west coast trunk line that brought us to Ayr. (Blessedly, I had wifi on the first leg.) That area of the country is popular with golfers, and, presumably, those interested in some seaside R&R… at least when the gale force winds aren’t blowing.

After getting turned around a bit, we trekked to the B&B, which was on a street with a number of other B&Bs, all of which looked busy, which was a good sign. Sherry got pooped on, too. We also had our first exposure to the fact that Ayr’s town planners were not the most creative namers ever. Carrick Road, Carrick Street, Carrick Crescent, Carrick Lane, Carrick Close… Repeat with several other, presumably locally relevant names, and you really had to read the map carefully.

Our room was high of ceiling and elaborate of molding and had an ensuite bathroom, which was nice. The beds were the most exemplary of the tradition we’d become accustomed to: rock hard and with extremely flat pillows. There was also an exceedingly cloying air freshener, which Sherry unplugged, prompting our hostess to bring us another one when we were out. Gag.

After getting situated, we made another trek through town to find the tourist info centre, as usual, though this time we were sans map, which was a bit discombobulating. Fortunately, the centre had plenty. We already knew where the seaside was, having walked parallel to it a block or so in for a portion of our trek. We then had lunch at a busy local spot called The Treehouse where, once again, I marvelled at how many Scots seemed to drink Irn Bru on purpose. (I’d had no inclinations to do so since the test one I’d bought in Glasgow to try it.) They also upped their multiculti game with Haggis Pakora on their appetizers list.

Ayr beach, duneWhile at lunch the skies opened up and it poured, which wasn’t a good sign. However, the rain slowed and stopped while we were eating… then started again when we were nearing the end of the meal. Oh well, what can you do? We’d had good weather luck for pretty much the whole trip. The rain had pretty much stopped again by the time we left the restaurant (interestingly, it had am industrial-looking curling iron in the ladies’ washroom…)

Unfortunately, the rain had stopped because the wind apparently blew it away, and it was a bit blustery when we walked back to the seaside. We enjoyed looking at all the former seasonal cottages along the side streets, and the huge, elaborate bath house, which dominated the area.

Our plan/hope for the day had mostly just been to spend an afternoon relaxing by the water, gazing out to sea, dipping our toes in, etc. Yeah. No. The wind was strongest at the water, and we received sand facials as we walked. I had my hood up and sunglasses on to protect me from the worst of it. Not cool. However, Sherry was bound and determined to walk the sea wall, so we did. Only other people as crazy as we were were a handful of local dog owners and their frolicking charges. Got to see some nice, older houses on the walk back to the B&B later, so Sherry got another taste of good architecture.

All in all, a bit of a bust as tourist afternoons go, but oh well, live and learn. When we headed out for dinner later, we considered the place where they were having a psychic evening, but the place appeared to be packed with groups of women of a certain age with strappy sandals and bad ankle tattoos, so we hightailed it.

We ended up at a local boutique hotel restaurant, the name of which escapes me, but which appeared to be popular with golfers, and which was featuring “Italian Night”. We didn’t know what to expect, but the menu was Italian and the food did it proud. Whomever was in the kitchen knew what they were doing. The balsamic vinegar that came with the appetizer bread and olive oil was thick as paste (you’d be selling organs to buy that here), and I had possibly the best minestrone soup I’ve ever had, and a fantastic tortellini.

After dinner we were in the mood for dessert and scotch, so we headed to the Beresford Wine Bar & Art Gallery, which we’d passed a couple times earlier in the day. It had a great interior, fabulous gay owners, and appeared to be the spot for local sophisticates (largely gay men and cougars, by the look of it). The desserts were tasty and the scotch selection was good. Sherry was pronounced a “gooood woooman” by our sprightly and very gay waiter because she takes her scotch neat.

On our quietest day of the trip, we managed to head back to the B&B the latest. It was dark! Fortunately for the next day’s adventures, we only had to walk a stone’s throw from the B&B to the bus stop to catch the local bus to Culzean Castle.

Culzean CastleDay 7, our final full day in Scotland. After breakfasting and chatting with Graham, our host, we headed to the bus stop and took the 20-ish minute ride out to Culzean Castle, which is actually the Castle and extensive grounds, walking trails, and a stretch of beach. Speaking of walking, after alighting from the bus out at the main road, we walked a spell to arrive at the ticket booth/gatehouse, then walked another good kilometre or two to actually get to the Ruined Arch and access to the Castle.

Culzean (Cull-AY-n) is still intact, restored to its 18th century appearance (much of it courtesy of Robert Adam, which, as castles go, is practically brand new. The Kennedys, who’d owned it, ended up in the pickle I suspect any number of prominent families did — after inheritance and estate taxes added up to a certain point, they would have owed more in taxes than the place was worth (or that they had), and so they bestowed the estate upon the national trust, which then took it over and managed its upkeep. One of the family’s descendants still lives and farms nearby, and occasionally stops in with friends, so we were told.

And these are not the same Kennedys as the American family. Our guide was quick to clear that up. (A very proper gent with traditionally awful teeth and walleyes.) Those are Irish Kennedys (like there was never any crossover…) :), and apparently the snarky saying goes that if you can’t make it in Scotland, you go to Ireland, and if you can’t make it in Ireland, you go to America.

Ruined Arch, Culzean CastleWe toured the house (no photos allowed), which is quite grand. Impressive the condition of some of the furnishings and rugs, given they’re original. One room chronicles the family’s adventures over the past 500 years or so. They seem to be fond of gambling away a lot of money and getting into various scrapes. One of the family assisted in the “dispatching” of Lord Darnley for Mary Queen of Scots, another managed to elevate herself to the rank of countess, and was apparently quite a dish well into her dotage, and a third got himself a speeding ticket in the 1920s for going over 20mph. Those wacky Kennedys.

After a quick lunch at the Old Stables Cafe, in our typical travel tradition we walked a lot, around the main grounds, the Walled Garden, and out to the far reaches of the property to the Swan Pond, which appeared to be a popular picnic spot (though which did, indeed, have a pair of swans and their 10 fuzzy cygnets). Unfortunately, by that point, I was nursing a rather ugly blister, so I begged off the beach exploration Sherry wanted to do (especially since we had a bugger of a time locating the trail).

She headed off and I limped back to the Home Farm, where we initially arrived, and had myself a cup of tea and did some people watching in the sunshine. (Fortunately, the previous day’s weather was nowhere to be found, and it was gorgeous out.)

We knew to give ourselves plenty of time to get back to the bus stop — no repeat of Stonehaven for us — especially given how foot sore we were by that point, and headed back to Ayr in good time to mosey a few houses down to the well recommended Carrick Lodge, where Sherry had made reservations for dinner. This turned out to be possibly my favourite meal of the whole trip. I finally got around to eating some Scottish beef, and it did not disappoint.

Swan familyI started with a lovely salad that included figs, olives, and Parma ham. Sherry had the ever so Scottish Cullen Skink (which is a soup — potato and smoked haddock). I had the beef casserole for my main course, which was to die for. The menu listed “Beef Casserole with Redcurrant, Root Vegetables and Herb Dumplings”. The beef in its sauce (which it had clearly simmered in for hours) was over top of the veggies and whatnot. I forget what Sherry had, but lamb is a good guess, or possibly pork. πŸ™‚ We washed it all down with a really nice bottle of South African Pinotage.

Dessert was both attractive and fantastic. I had sticky toffee pudding one more time. Sherry had a bit of a comedic problem trying to order scotch, as our waiter, who appeared to be about 14, had no idea what she was asking about. She asked if they had Caol Ila, and he said he’d check, and came back and asked if she meant Kahlua. Good Lord. And so she insisted on accompanying him to the bar to ensure procurement of something that was both actually whisky and worth drinking. Dinner ended up being entirely reasonably priced, and we moseyed back to the B&B for our final sleep in Scotland comfortably stuffed.

Before retiring, we enjoyed a bit of UK television (i.e. stuff you would NEVER see in North America), including a show called Embarrassing Bodies, which was about… exactly that. Roving doctors diagnosing, referring, and treating strange and revolting medical conditions, which people have been walking around with often for a decade. It was “can’t look away” tv to be sure. That said, it was admittedly a useful public service.

The morning of our departure dawned dreary and raining, and we congratulated ourselves for Sherry having booked a cab back to Glasgow airport (about an hour’s drive away, and a quite reasonable Β£50.) Glasgow airport is surprisingly small, really, though it did have two terminals. After a quick lunch and a successful browsing of the duty free (both of us picked up Glengoyne Whisky Fudge for the co-workers and Sherry got herself a bottle of Caol Ila), we boarded the plan to head back home. All in all, a fine week away, and some fine adventures in a new country (where people can easily pronounce and spell Sherry’s last name.)

Ayr and Culzean Castle Photos

Scotland, Day 5 – Rosslyn Chapel and the Scottish Borders

Day 5 — hotly anticipated for quite some time, for it was the day of our Nutters Tour! (Aka Rabbie’s 1-day tour of Rosslyn Chapel and the Scottish Borders, departing from Edinburgh, aka their “Da Vinci Code” tour.)

Thanks to our ever-conveniently located close, we only had to walk a couple blocks to the Rabbie’s office on High Street, and waited in somewhat overcast dampness with other loitering nationalities. To this day I’ve no idea what our driver’s name actually was. I thought the organizer lady said Mackenzie, and I think when he said his own name it started with a K, so ‘Kenzie, perhaps? All in all, he was a slight, sprightly, redheaded Scotsman with an eyebrow piercing, an uncanny resemblance to my brother, and a penchant for sharing TMI.

Scott's ViewWhile, sadly, our van was not packed with wild-eyed conspiracy theorists clutching tattered paperbacks of Dan Brown classics, we were accompanied by a lovely couple from Cornwall, and 10 women of varying ages (all blonde, oddly…) from Denver who were some sort of tour group. I think they may all have been teachers.

Which makes the Diana Gabaldon obsession one of them had even more terrifying. (She spent the better part of the day trying to convince our driver and anyone else who’d listen that Gabaldon is actually Scottish, her work is amazingly historically accurate, and she writes the best books that ever graced paper with ink. Yikes.) Right, onward, then.

We headed south into the Lowlands and towards the Borders, with our first stop at Scott’s View, said to be a favourite spot for the writer to rest his eyes upon. Yet another view that reminded us not a little of northern Ontario, and there were some excellently lazy coos in the next field watching us as well.

Oh, and at some point on the way we’d been treated to a meandering story by our driver that ended in the scandal of his family finding our, when his grandfather went into a nursing home, that his aunt and uncle had been pilfering gramps’ savings. Righty-o. Oh, but we did see a Pictish standing stone in a field (the news kiosks of their day) and apparently a possibly dead badger, but I was on the wrong side of the van.

The original Wallace MonumentNext stop was in the middle of nowhere, where we trekked back through some farmer’s bush, presumably, to see the original Wallace monument, about which our driver was thoroughly derisive, in a mostly funny way. I believe Homer Simpson and “abomination” were mentioned. Indeed, it bore no resemblance to the grand edifice erected near Stirling.

The red sandstone statue was rather Greek or Roman emperor in the face and head, complete with imposing beard. However, things go downhill quickly from there, fashion-wise. Wallace’s claymore is slightly taller than he is, which would make it impossible for him to have hefted it. Here we got another set of awesome Wallace stats, noting the sword was 5-foot something (a different number from the 5’6″ we’d been quoted, and which seems to be the usual stat. Of course, the real Wallace was a giant of a man (quoted at 6’7″ this time, I believe, so swinging such a sword wouldn’t have been a problem.)

The statue’s kilt is on backwards — the pleats are at the front — and it’s too short. A man’s kilt is at least knee-length, because it covers to the tops of the boots, which come to the knee, to protect the legs when striding purposefully through the brush. (Wallace is wearing Roman-esque sandals or something.) The kilt the statue is sporting is a backwards woman’s kilt. However, it’s all moot because Wallace was a Lowlander, and wouldn’t have worn a kilt, anyway. Kilts are for Highlanders. Lowlanders wore trews, or trousers. So there you go.

There were additional embarrassing details about the incorrectness of the shield, too, but I forget what they were. Of course, some well-meaning vandal had tried to paint the Scottish colours on the shield at some point, but couldn’t get up high enough to finish it. Awesome.

Our next stop was the village of Melrose, where we had lunch and explored the ruins of Melrose Abbey. Blessedly, we separated from the Denver Crew for a good hour. We enjoyed baguette sandwiches and squares (I haven’t had a good caramel square since I lived in Sydney — sweet, blessed blood sugar spike) from the local bakery while being watched by rooks. Then we trekked over to the Abbey.

Melrose AbbeyDespite the condition of the place, it remains exceedingly beautiful, and given the intricacy of the stonework, would have been a stunner prior to 1544 (when Henry VIII had it burned, bastard). The last monk there, James Stuart (a bastard son of James V, incidentally) died in 1559, and the place was pretty much done for after 1560.

Robert the Bruce’s heart is said to reside there, after its odd, truncated pilgrimage to the Holy Land that only got as far as Spain. There is apparently a wizard’s stone coffin there as well (a gent named Michael Scott), and plenty of knight’s tombs and those of the Prentice (?) family, who were presumably prominent locals.

And, of course, the famous gargoyle of a dancing pig playing the bagpipes, which you can see when you climb the tower. Of course, they make it sound like you climb up and it’s right there, so I felt like a bit of a moron when it took me forever to spot it. In my defence it was a ways away on an entirely different section of roof. Sherry got pretty excited over the remains of the original tile floor as well, though I thought the floor remains at Mellifont Abbey were better. (OH HAI, we’re nerds.)

After heading out of Melrose, it was time to up our Templar game, so we headed to a wee, sleepy village called Temple, which had quite an interesting graveyard and small, ruined church. Temple used to be called Balantradoch; they changed the name to reflect the place’s history as the former HQ of the Knights Templar, back in the day. Before they were wiped out on the orders of King Philip IV, anyway.

Temple Church and CemeteryThere was some really interesting detail and folk art on the gravestones, including one of a local merchant dressed in his finest and posing with his children. There’s also another chapel across the road, with its bell rather thoroughly stopped up. The legend is that it used to toll frequently, but was stopped after the Templar treasure was found there. One of the Denver blondes was asking all sorts of questions about who found the treasure, etc. on the way back to the van. Riiiiight…

And finally, we arrived at Rosslyn Chapel… more or less. Alas, the place has been under restoration since the late 90s, and we arrived at the tail end of things, when it was still mostly covered up. As you can see, the place is starting to become a lot more visible. Too bad we’ve been home for a month…

Most of the outside was covered up, though Sherry got better photos than I did, and the barrel vaulted ceiling was only visible in snippets. (No pictures allowed inside, anyway.)

Rosslyn Chapel from the backHowever, we got to see the Apprentice Pillar, the Green Men, the maize of mystery, and all the Chapel’s other intrigues. (There’s a good overview of the carvings here.) Including the white glue mark on the wall where the Hollywood folks apparently stuck some “important” icon. πŸ™‚ (Given that the Chapel was so much under restoration even when the movie was filmed, a lot of it was actually filmed on a replica set.)

And that was that for our Nutters Tour day. We got back to Edinburgh and decided to check out a place called The Grain Store, out across George IV Bridge (which, being covered with buildings, is not very bridge-like). They specialize in local foods, though unfortunately the menu was much better suited to Sherry than to me. My wild sea trout was done well, but just not really to my taste. Ahh well, live and learn.

After that we stopped by The Malt Shovel, a pub whose name we both enjoyed, for a drink. Sherry had a couple of whiskeys, and I had a cask ale. Pretty typical pub, though they did have lovely stained glass windows.

And that was about it for our last day in Edinburgh. Off to the west coast in the morning!

Melrose Abbey, Rosslyn Chapel, and the Borders Photos

Scotland, Day 4 – Stonehaven and Dunnottar Castle

Day 4 started early out of Waverly, as we headed off to the east coast, across the Firth of Forth, some other forths (but not Colin Firth, har har), and assorted fine views of hill and vale.

StonehavenThe train station at Stonehaven is on the outskirts of the village (this will be important later), so we wandered a gauntlet of homes, B&Bs, and a school or two before arriving on the main drag. There’s lots of signage to lead you out to the Castle, which is a couple miles out of the village, since, presumably, it’s a major reason people come there. (Though their other claim to fame is apparently being the home of the first deep-fried Mars bar.) I also just barely missed being obliterated by the most epic bird poop ever (it splattered THREE cars).

The path meanders along the beach (North Sea) a ways, and we passed a lot of dogs. There may be some kind of bylaw that you have to have a dog to live there. πŸ™‚ Pretty town, to be sure. Then the path takes a jog away from the harbour, though a back alley, and straight up a hill. Ahh, up, our old nemesis…

Apparently the spring melt/rain had done a number on the trail, so we had to be careful of washout areas, though it wasn’t too bad. Blessedly it was cool, since I would have melted if we’d been doing that hiking at near-30 degrees Celsius. The path connects briefly with the road, then swings out into a farmer’s field. The fields were awesome, since they go right out to the edge of the cliffs. One hopes their farm dog doesn’t chase birds…

War MemorialIt was this path that we followed all the way to the castle, but first we stopped at the rather striking War Memorial (WWI) on the promontory above town. It wouldn’t have been out of place in a Buffy episode, and was yet another reminder of how it seemed every little burg in Scotland lost a surprising number of men in the wars.

After the War Memorial, the path headed seaward, and became a bit tricky for Sherry. It was only wide enough for single file walking, there was no railing, it was about a foot from the cliff edge, and she has MΓ©niΓ¨re’s. That said, I stayed behind her and handled the photographing duties, she kept it slow and steady, and we managed alright. (But did not return via the same path.)

It’s pretty cool that you can see the Castle the whole way, and it really is an excellent strategic spot, and would have been a great area for feeding the inhabitants back in the day as well. Apparently Microsoft agrees about its picturesque value, as I’m told it’s now one of the Windows 7 screensavers.

Dunnottar has some exciting adventures in its past, having existed in some form since the Middle Ages, and having been the hiding place of the Scottish Honours to protect them from Cromwell.

Just a few more kilometres...The Castle was seized from the Earls Marischal in the early 1700s after the Jacobite Rebellion, and fell into ruin for 300 years. It was bought by the Cowdray family in 1925, and has been partially restored. Parts of Mel Gibson’s Hamlet were filmed there as well, and it was a Pit Stop on the Amazing Race.

Once you get to the Castle, you’re still not quite there; you have to head down a long set of stairs (don’t think about the fact that you’ll have to come back up them as well), then up a few more stairs to actually get into the Castle. Oh, and then there are more stairs as you wander around in there. You’d think I’d have had buns of steel after this day, but not so much.

Unfortunately, Sherry’s head had about as much as it wanted, so she remained on the grassy hilltop, people- and cow-watching until my return. Blessedly, I rambled about without impediment by tour or school groups. Plenty of local seabirds, though, both nesting within the ruins and in rookeries on the surrounding cliffs.

Dunnottar CastleWe headed out along the small road to the nearby farm, past the most disinterested Holsteins ever. (Canadian coos are far more inquisitive; granted, they probably see a few hundred thousand fewer people per year.) Again, it amused me that the livestock had access to grazing right out to the cliff edges.

The map wasn’t exactly to scale, so we followed the narrow trail beside the road all the way back to town. (There was supposed to be a “forested” part of the trek, but the only “forest” in sight was a tiny copse you could see through behind the neighbour’s farm. On a steep curve above the village we rejoined the road and the path heading back down the washed-out areas and to the village.

We checked the schedule, and realized we could get an earlier train if we hauled ass back to the train station, so we did. Of course, we were coming from about the farthest point away in the village. We had a map now, though, so took some side streets and whatnot, which helped. Back past the schools and B&Bs and whatnot, uphill the whole damned way, panting and sweating like mad… and we missed the train by about a minute. Its whistle blew literally as we stepped into the train station parking lot. Curses!

And so we got to sit for an hour, which wasn’t terribly comfortable, as it had gotten quite overcast and windy, and I was still sweaty. Fortunately there was a waiting room near the washrooms with a heater blasting, and I roasted my butt a couple times to thaw out.

We got back to Edinburgh before everything closed up (which is around 6pm), and so checked out the Knox House, which Sherry had expressed interest in. It’s one of few original houses left, and only its historical significance has kept it from being demolished to allow for road widening and whatnot. Even though Knox himself only lived there for a few months. The house had also belonged to James Mossman, prominent Edinburgh goldsmith whose father designed some of the Scottish Honours, and who was executed for being a supporter of Mary Queen of Scots.

Example panels of original Oak Room ceiling paintingThe house is very upwardly winding, and has some gorgeous period fixtures — fireplace tilework and wood carving and the like. The Oak Room is the big showpiece of the place, on the top floor, and is fully panelled and painted with all manner of scenery. There’s a panel along the side wall to show the colours when the place was originally paint, and boy, was it bright. Bore a lot of resemblance to Pennsylvania Deutsch folk art and colours, too. Kind of amused that there were depictions of bare-breasted native women (Tahitian?) painted on the ceiling in a preacher’s house, but there you go.

After that we’d had quite enough of up and stairs, so we headed back to the hotel to get cleaned up for dinner. (I may have bought fudge on the way back, or that could have been another day…) We ended up at a pub on Rose Street in New Town, which had excellent cask ale and, blessedly, free wifi, so I finally managed to get caught up on emails and the like. Sherry had Chicken Balmoral, which is a breast stuffed with haggis and wrapped in bacon, and I had Hunter’s Chicken, which is a breast stuffed with cheese and wrapped in bacon. So there you go.

Another early-ish night for us, since we were heading out of town again the next day, for our long anticipated Nutters Tour!

Stonehaven and Dunnottar Castle Photos