Friday, September 30, 2011

A New Friend

We have arrived in Edinburgh. After the solitude of the Perthshire countryside it is strange to once again be surrounded by crowds of people and busy traffic. The double decker busses leave no doubt as to which country you are in.

We are staying in a lovely guest house by the water.

This was an important day - the day that fellow knitter and blogger Jean Miles and I finally got to meet in person! I think Jean had one scary moment when she phoned our guest house the night of our arrival, as we had previously arranged, only to be told there was nobody named Hammond staying here. I had completely forgotten that Kath had made the reservations for this leg of our journey. However, we managed to connect and arrange a meeting time and place. Our meeting spot should come as no surprise to anyone who knows us!

That yarn I am holding is 100% Scottish Shetland Wool. It just might be the most beautiful shade of blue I have ever seen. Any guesses as to what souvenir I am taking home from Scotland?

I was a little bit nervous about meeting Jean in person. You never know how this kind of thing will go. Maybe we would look at each other and run out of things to say after just a few minutes. I needn't have worried. We talked, laughed and shared stories of our lives for well over two hours. It was a special time spent with a very special person. Thank you Jean for taking the time to meet with us. And thank you for introducing us to the wonders of a glass of cider!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Walker's Best Friend

Blogging with an iPad, Blogsy App, and sketchy Internet connections is not without its challenges. One frustration is I have not been able to add links to my posts. I have decided that when I get home a whole post will be about the great places we have stayed, some thoughts on running B&Bs, along with the appropriate links. I also want to apologize for not responding to individual comments left with my posts. I will try to address these in a future post as well. In the meantime keep the comments coming - we are reading and appreciating them at the end of each day.

Walking the Cateran Trail continues to be an amazing experience. I am writing this quick post on the morning of our last day. One thing you won't see in any of our pictures, but is an integral part of our journey, is our bottle of ibuprofen. Kath is still nursing a foot injury and I have managed to catch a cold. When I woke up with a fever at the beginning of day four I was not sure I could make it. However, a couple of ibuprofen later I thought it just might be possible. Plus it was a shorter section of the trail. We only had eleven miles to cover.

I am headed down for another hearty Perthshire breakfast, so will stop here. Hopefully everyone is still enjoying the pictures I am posting. The beauty of the Scottish countryside is hard to fully capture in photos. Tonight we arrive in Edinburgh. We are looking forward to seeing the city but will miss the heather and moors, cattle and sheep, bracken and gorse, gently rolling hills and kind people of this little corner of the Scottish Highlands.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Nothing But A Dare

We have decided to temporarily shift our focus from the Scottish countryside to the english & Scottish kitchen. Here is Kath, making a guest appearance at North of 49.

Kristie & I want to refute the out right lies spoken about English and Scottish food. Their whole cuisine is definitely not "nothing but a dare" as stated by Saturday Night Live.

ENGLAND...We heralded a taxi driver & Kristie right away began talking food to our cabbie. Jaimie Oliver was mentioned and their eyes lit up while mine went blank. Who was this English dude I thought. Little did I know he was a food hero to many including Kristie. That night my eyes began to glow while dining at Jaimie's latest London venture. Their wait staff brought us smoked boar sausages upon a bed of spiced lentils; chips in truffle oil; & crunchy & snappy cooked vegetables. We had no room for dessert. As Kristie & I left, we looked at each other & said "We will be back!"

SCOTLAND...Oh Scotland, what can Kristie & I say but the Scottish food has been a delectable delight. It all began with a Perthshire breakfast the first morning. At first glance at the menu, we were sure our B & B could not supply this amazing feat of food! The following is the list of breakfast items fit for Kings & Queens as well as 2 women from BC & Idaho.

A wide range of cereals including homemade granola
Fruit Juices
Yogurt (Scottish Rowan Glen Fruit and/or homemade natural)
Homemade fruit compotes, poached prunes/apricots and of course in season raspberries and strawberries. Blairgowrie is 'The Berry Capital of Scotland'
Scottish Cheeses
Homemade scones, muffins, cake etc.

Hot from the kitchen:

A bowl of oatmeal porridge (oats from Gloagburn Farm) with perhaps sugar and cream and a nip of Edradour whisky.

Choose your own combination of:

Grilled Bacon (Silver award winning low salt back bacon)
Pork Sausage
Tomato
Scottish mushrooms/hand-picked Chanterelles in season
Fried Bread
Pan fried Apple
Homemade Tattie Scone
Black Pudding
Haggis Pudding
Eggs: Fried, Scrambled, Poached or Boiled (from my own hens)

The Classic:
1 or 2 Scottish breakfast rolls filled with bacon and topped with a fried egg.

We have other breakfast choices depending what is available or in season.

All served with homemade toasted bread, Oatcakes and of course Coffee, Scottish Breakfast Tea, Fruit Infusions or Hot Chocolate.

Homemade Marmalade and Jam and local honey and other sauces all available.

We enjoyed our hosts larder & her bounty of local produce, meats & cheeses!

That is only a smidgin of the delectable foods we have tasted. We even became brave enough to try haggis! The review is mixed. Kristie was sure she could feel it move through her digestive system! I on the other hand thought it was bland & palatable.

Onto black pudding (blood pudding) next! Although I might have to tie Kristie down for that one!!!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Bogged Down

There are a few incidents from yesterday's walk that were difficult to capture in pictures. Due to a recent heavy rain, and probably also due to the fact that this is Scotland, the trail was quite wet and muddy in several spots. These spots were sometimes several miles long.

The worst of these places of interminable dampness was a bog several miles long at the very end of the trail just before we got to Kirkmichael. Walking on this stuff was like walking on a muddy, lumpy sponge. We had just been talking about how when we were kids we used to be scared by the thought of quick sand when Kath attempted to jump over an especially nasty bit of bog. Note the word "attempted."

I was standing a few meters away from her looking for a "safe" crossing point when I heard her start yelling, "Kristie, I lost my shoe in the mud and I can't get it out. Come quick!" I looked over to see her bent over, yanking on her shoe like a crazed person. Then suddenly she realized all she had to do was grab the loop at the back of the shoe and give a good yank. No lasting damage was done, but there were a few bad moments when we were wondering exactly what the procedure was for getting help out on the moor.

This is Kirkmichael, the village we stayed at Saturday night. And yes, it really is as picturesque as it looks in the pictures.

The beginning of our walk this morning took us through the Scottish countryside.

The walk soon changed to this hauntingly beautiful scenery. Miles and miles of barren hillsides covered with heather, as we worked our way up and over a pass.

Finally, after hours winding our way through the heathery hills, we wound our way down to a small place called the Spittal of Glenshee where we each had a whiskey. And no, I am not making that up.

Right now I am writing this blog in front of the fire at our B&B while Kath is reading me some Robbie Burns. And I'm not making that up either.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Knackered

One of the things I have really enjoyed on this trip is the language. I realize it is English that is being spoken, but there is still a language barrier of sorts. First of all there is the matter of the different accents. I would like to say I absolutely love listening to the Scottish brogue, even when I don't understand a word the person is saying. A friend who lived here for a couple of years told me if I didn't understand someone the first time to just smile and nod, then ask someone else. It wasn't going to be any better the second or third time if I asked the original person. It was great advice.

Then there are the words and phrases that we aren't familiar with. As a Canadian I definitely share more terms with the Brits than Kath does. But still there are a few that I have not understood, or worse, have misused.

Tonight's example proved to be particularly embarrassing. We are staying at a small hotel in a village called Kirkmichael. The nice lady who checked us in said if we had clothes that needed drying she could take them down to the boiler room. So when we were finishing our dinner and she came over to our table I asked her if I brought some pants down could she please put them in the boiler room. When I brought them down and handed them to her she seemed surprised. It turns out that in Scotland pants means underwear. What we call pants are referred to as trousers. Great. I had apparently informed everyone in the dining room I needed my underwear hung up to dry.

Which brings me to the title of today's post: Knackered. It is my current favourite British expression. It means tired. Not just tired actually. More like exhausted, spent, or totally done in. And it perfectly describes how we both are feeling after our 17 mile walk. Today's section was supposed to be just 15 miles, but those extra 2 were compliments of us missing a trail marker. This wouldn't have been so bad if the extra two miles hadn't been the steepest climb we had all day.

We might be tired, but it is a good kind of tired. The scenery was like one continuous photo opportunity. It was amazing how many different kinds of terrain we encountered - pastureland, wheat fields, forests, heather, and bogs. I will let the pictures tell the rest of the story. I'm too knackered to write any more.

Friday, September 23, 2011

All Aboard!

It turns out we weren't the only ones going to see the queen. If this is what watching the changing of the guard is like in the off season I would hate to be there when it was busy.

After Buckingham Palace we walked through St. James Park to the Churchill War Rooms. This ended up being my favourite tourist attraction in London! It was fascinating to snake our way through the underground space that comprised the Cabinet War Rooms during World War 2. History literally oozed out of the walls as different audio clips played, and the personal audio guides we were issued when we started the tour were excellent. To see where the decisions that eventually led to Hitler's defeat were actually made brought this period of history to life. If you visit London I highly recommend adding this to your list of things to see.

The British Museum was next on our list. Before I left Karsten's recommendation for The three days I was going to be in London was to spend 2 1/2 days at the British Museum and do everything else in the other half day. Now I see what he meant. There is so much to see at the British Museum I think you could spend a month there and not scratch the surface. The inset picture is the Rosetta Stone, perhaps the most famous item within the walls of the museum.

We then took a taxi to King's Cross Railway Station in search of Platform 9 3/4. When I told the taxi driver that was where we were headed he informed us that if we went Into the station we would find all the platforms there. Clearly he was a Muggle.

I am almost embarrassed to admit this next part, but we went back to Jamie Oliver's restaurant again. Oh my. Wild boar sausages might be my new favourite food!

We closed out the day with a concert. The London Bach Singers were performing at St. Martins in the Field Church, and tickets were very reasonably priced. We ended up sitting in a box next to a lady from Scotland who - get this - has never heard of the place where we are going walking. This makes me nervous. Plus, the minute you mention to anyone here you are going to Scotland to hike they get this particular look on their face, often followed with some comment about how they hope you have appropriate clothing. Again, it's rather unsettling. Oh well. There's no turning back now!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Heads Will Roll

Yesterday we spent the day with some really famous dead people. People like Sir Walter Raleigh, Charles Darwin, Rudyard Kipling and multiple kings and queens. In the morning we went to the Tower of London.

We grabbed a quick bite to eat then headed to Westminster Abbey. On our way we went by the Parliament buildings and the Clock Tower that houses Big Ben.

Westminster Abbey is huge. And old. And very, very impressive. It also made me realize as we sauntered by, or in some cases over, all these famous dead people that my grasp of British history is somewhat lacking. I need to do something about that when I get home.

Next up we took in an Evensong service at St. Martins-in-the-Fields, a beautiful Anglican Church near where we are staying. After dinner we were back to our theme of the day, which seemed to revolve around intrigue and death. We went to Phantom of the Opera. Strange story. Incredible music.

Yesterday's embarrassing moment happened at the Tube station. We have oyster cards - prepaid cards for the underground. You need to swipe them when you enter and exit the Tube. As we headed out I tried swiping mine but it wouldn't open the exit doors. I swiped and swiped and swiped. Then, in a moment of realization I looked down at the card and saw I was trying to exit the Tube with my room card.

Today for a change of pace we ate going to see a living queen. Well, maybe just her home. We are off to Buckingham Palace!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Right, Left, Right

Much to my surprise the long flight over the Atlantic turned out to be almost enjoyable. Who knew all it would take to turn me into a calm and contented flyer was a seat plug for my iPad? Plus I was sitting next to a lovely English couple returning from their Canadian holiday. There was one odd moment towards the end of the flight when we were served breakfast and the English couple ordered coffee while I ordered tea. If this continues the next thing I know they are going start playing ice hockey over here, while back home in Canada we will be setting up the wickets for a game of cricket.

The other surprise on the flight was the flight attendants. Dour is the word that comes to mind. Well, there might have been a few other words, but dour is the first printable word that pops into my head. I see from a glance at today's CBC news that they have come to a tentative settlement so probably won't be going out on strike this week after all. So hopefully they will be a cheerier lot on the way home.

On to London! Oh my gosh. The streets here make no sense. None whatsoever. Which resulted in us being lost the minute we left then Tube station and tried to find our accommodation. We were exhausted, so decided this was our opportunity to take one of the famed London taxis. I am so glad we did! Did you know taxi drivers train for years before they can get licensed? They go around on scooters holding maps and memorizing all the streets. It really is that complicated. And there are taxis everywhere.

Then we struck gold. We asked our taxi driver where a good place to eat would be. He asked us if we had ever heard of Jamie Oliver. Be still my beating heart! It turns out Jamie Oliver had recently opened up a new Italian restaurant within walking distance of where we are staying. Honestly, I was almost afraid to go. What if it didn't live up to my expectation? Would I go home to my collection of Jamie Oliver cookbooks to find they had lost their glow? I needn't have worried. What happened next was simply The Best Meal I have ever eaten in a restaurant. Kath and I have agreed we are going back again before we head north to Scotland.

Today we took the Hop On, Hop Off bus tour to get our bearings. We also decided to be brave and ride the London Eye. The view as we circled around was spectacular!

We walked and walked and walked today, taking in the sights and sounds of the city. Crossing the streets must be scary even for native Londoners, but for those of us from countries that drive on the other side of the road it is even more treacherous. We are constantly reminding each other to look right, left, right. It is good we were able to fortify ourselves this morning with a hearty breakfast!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Flying Start

I have just stepped off the flying petri dish, otherwise known as a Dash 8 aircraft, and am now waiting for my flight to London. I hate flying with a passion. Which might possibly be a contributing factor to the following rant.

To the anonymous lady sitting next to me, I totally understand that you can't help it if you have to sneeze. As an allergy sufferer I get it. I really do. But here's the thing. I have no idea if you are sneezing because you have allergies or because you are coming down with the plague. So could you please sneeze into your sleeve rather than into the wild?

And while I am on a rant I might as well get my money's worth. Again, this is directed at the anonymous woman, who when not sneezing was madly typing away on her iPhone. When the flight attendant said to turn off all electronics until the plane had reached cruising altitude why did you feel like you could continue texting away while we taxied down the runway? And, even more egregious, while we were taking off? People like you make people like me nervous. I noticed the pile of Christian pamphlets you were browsing through which struck me as rather odd. I think I can say with some degree of confidence that Jesus would not text during takeoff.

Now I feel better. Well, as good as I can feel when facing another 9 hours in the air. That short little hop from Kamloops down to Vancouver was just the beginning. By the way, have I mentioned I hate to fly? With a passion?

Okay, here is what my bed looked like yesterday when I had everything out that I wanted to take with me on the journey.

All of that had to fit in this.

There were tough decisions to be made. For instance, I ended up leaving behind my hot water bottle so I would have room for an emergency skein of yarn. This would be yarn I probably won't need because I already have two other projects packed, but you never know. Think of it as knitter's insurance.

Here I am boarding the flying petri dish. You can tell I haven't been sneezed on yet because I am still smiling.

One more thing. I just checked the weather forecast for the area of Scotland where we are going to be hiking. What, exactly, do they mean by "drizzle?"