Sunday, 27 August 2017

Kildrummy, Glenbuchat and Corgarff Castles

We were visiting the out-laws this week as a continuation of the birthdays (the hubby and I have our birthdays 6 days apart). It was just a quick visit up and down again due to other commitments, but it's always nice to go away where you don't feel obliged to get on with jobs. With storms hitting Northern Ireland, we had a nice lazy day where it really just rained and rained. Poor Missy fell into a puddle up to her neck and, after that, she was rather indignant about the whole being-out-in-the-rain malarkey and was quite happy roasting herself by the wood burning stove.
A very old Flash
Missy and her Uncle Flash get along very well, although it was quite upsetting to realise that, now 12, Flash is really starting to get quite old and isn't able to keep up anymore with her. Whilst he's been slowing down for some time, this is the first visit we've had were he's decided that he won't even try to follow her through the woods.
We had already decided that we may as well take advantage of the more northerly location and get a few of the castles in the Aberdeen area ticked off the list. Bearing in mind that Flash was struggling a bit now, we decided to keep the day simple and avoid anything with too much in the way of spiral staircases.
The first castle we managed was Kildrummy. Despite the rain of the previous day, the weather was glorious, and I suspect one of the last true days of summer we'll have this year. The sun and the warm weather appealed to both dogs as they explored the ruins quite happily. Described as the 'noblest of northern castles', I must confess, I would have loved to have seen this castle standing. As it is, it's a complete ruin - parts of the towers remain, but there's no stairs remaining and it offers only hints of its once grand past. My favourite part of the castle was the tower remains, although watching both dogs peer down the towers latrine was a good comedy moment!
Next on the hit-list was Corgarff Castle which is a bit of a misnomer! This one was a pleasant surprise for us as it is a completely intact medieval tower house and was used by both Jacobites and redcoats. Most of the central belt revolves around Mary Queen of Scots, so it was really refreshing to see a different bit of Scottish history and warfare. We stopped for a terribly British picnic of tea and sandwiches before going inside to explore. Dogs weren't allowed inside this bizarre little building that stood bleakly on its own on the hillside, so we took turns walking them around the star shaped outer wall whilst the others went inside and explored the twisting allegiances this building held. One of the particuarly nice things about this building is that some of the rooms have been recreated, including the guards quarters and you can also choose your allegiance by means of dress up!

As a small hat trick, we managed to bag one last castle on the way back. Glenbuchat is currently closed because of renovation work, but we managed a small walk around the building. By this time both the dogs were tired and the weather had begun to turn, so we called it quits and went back for a well deserved cup of tea with both dogs snoring soundly away.

Just a short post today!

Friday, 25 August 2017

Caerlaverock Castle and Crawick Multiverse

Monday was my birthday and I decided that what I wanted to do was continue on our quest to get all the Historic Scotland castles ticked off our list and go for a nice day trip with Missy and just not make a bid deal of things.

I've really fancied Caerlaverock Castle since I'd first seen it in the guide book. A bizarre triangular shaped medieval castle that had undergone siege and battle, complete with towers and a real moat, it ticked all the boxes. We hadnt done this one before as, located in Dumfries with a drive time of two hours, it was definitely a day trip.

And it did not disappoint! The weather held fair and the black murky moat contrasted beautifully with the red sandstone, making this castle dominate the local scenery. I'd been told the castle fitted into the 'fairytale' description and, looking about the courtyard and the beautifully carved fireplaces, I was forced to agree.

We stopped for a homemade bento (the book and containers an early birthday gift) and looked out through the ruined curtain wall, over the boat and into the woodland beyond. The foundations of the original castle are still visible some 200m away and we enjoyed a nice stroll around there. The original castle was abandoned as it was too close to the sea and started to sink (the original owners apparently really wanted a moat!)

To justify the drive back, we visit a little gem called the Crawick Multiverse which is an outdoor art installation inspired by the galaxy and our connection to it. Whilst there, we walked past comet collisions, through the Milky-way and climbed up the Andromeda galaxy (where Missy decided to pee on it).

The area is huge and we could easily have spent far more than the two and half hours we were there. Its beautifully designed and, as it so quiet, we allowed Missy off the lead and she bumbled along beside us completely missing the point of her continued education! The weather had begun to turn though so we made our way back to the car and got in just as the heavens opened.

Missy standing atop the centre of the Earth
All in all, I couldn't have asked for a nicer day. 

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Bobbins and Steam trains

Well, I've been back at work for just over a week and my Lakes holiday already seems like a lifetime ago. You've all probably guessed bynow, but the Lakes are one of my favourite places in the UK - the scenery is stunning, there's so much to see and do, you can get chocolate dipped ice creams and, most importantly, its super dog friendly.
This was a double-date of a family holiday; myself, hubby and Missy with my sister, her hubby and the two sprogs: 3 year old Felix and Inkling who was 11 weeks at that point. It was a challenge to the world - can we make a successful holiday that catered for small children, a dog and four adult nerds? In short, yes, yes you can!


Kick off was in Keswick and we found a lovely little American-style diner for lunch. We got lucky as, being a big party, they sat us upstairs and we literally had it to ourselves, which is great with a hyper three year old trying to speak to everyone at once and a dog who really just wants to stretch out over half the floor. We didn't spend a lot of time there as it was very busy and we wanted to get checked in. We had decided to try an AirBnB as getting a caravan/lodge that would fit us all in the first week of the English holidays was impossible, and managed to find a beautiful cottage half an hour away by Cartmel (home of sticky toffee pudding). The cottage was everything we'd hoped - spacious enough for all of us, but still cosy.


Tuesday was Windermere, we had to start off with the real tourist day. This was probably the only day that wasn't really Missy-friendly, but we worked around it by having the boys look after her whilst we girls did the Beatrix Potter Attraction and then m brother in law bravely volunteered to sit with her in a nice pub whilst the rest of us went to watch the Where's Peter Rabbit? puppet show, with a break in the middle where we all had fish and chips and ice cream by the water's edge.
I had a brilliant time - around the exhibition I explained all the stories to my niece and tried to get my nephew to enjoy Peter Rabbit. He seemed taken with Jeremy Fisher, but at 11 weeks, it's hard to tell - still, plenty of time! My sister rekindled her love of Mr Tod who then became something of a mascot-come-devious trickster for the rest of the holiday.  

Missy striking a pose at Kendal Castle
 Wednesday was our 'quiet' day. The BIL desperately wanted to go fishing, so the hubby and I left them to it (having studied marine biology, I have served my time when it comes to fish farms!) and went to the StottBobbin Mill. An English Heritage site, we got in free without Historic Scotland passes and were pleasantly surprised by how fascinating the whole thing turned out to be. We joined in on the tour and Missy was very well behaved for the whole tour, not being fussed about the noise of the mill as we watched the demonstrations of how they made the bobbins and showing little interest in the other dogs on the tour. It's nice to see people making use of the dog friendly attractions, and there was plenty of other dogs for Missy to say hi to by the time the tour finished.
After the mill, we went for a walk around the reservoir there (well, tried to, but got lost and the access laws in England are very different from home, so we gave up after Missy had burned off some energy chasing bunnies). Then we popped over to Kendal and had a look at the castle there and had a late lunch whilst sheltering from the rain before exploring the town centre then heading back.


The last full day was taken up by the Lakeside Motor Museum and the Lakeside and Haverwaithe Railway. This was a suggestion of my brother in law and, as my sisters family are very into steam trains, we decided to get the combo ticket and do both. It was all dog friendly and we had a nice quiet morning looking around the museum which is full of an assortment of cars and motorbikes. Having only a casual interest in cars, I enjoyed myself, but there was plenty more to watch/read for more avid fans.
Now, the website says you can walk to the railway but, with a toddler and a baby in a buggy, I would not recommend the route as most of it is on the road with only a line of white paint to help protect you from the traffic!
However, the short walk was worth it and we got to the railway. It's not a long journey to Lakeside from Haverwaithe, but its long enough to feel like you've gotten your money's worth and to have an experience. We ate at Lakeside and ended up having to split up from each other as nowhere allowed Missy in and, after running about with two small kids, my sister really needed a sit down and relax (note, if anyone working at Lakeside ever reads this, you're missing a trick, make one of the cafes dog friendly and you'll make a fortune!). So the hubby and I had hotdogs whilst looking out over the very scenic views of the water and shared a little with Missy.
To finish the day, we went into Cartmel. The hubby and I had already explored it on a morning dog walk so we knew to park at the priory and we found the local play park for Felix. We'd hit that point of knowing that it was the last day and no one wanted it to finish, so we decided to eat out for dinner and try some of the sticky toffee pudding.
It was perhaps the best sticky toffee I've ever had!


Friday was going home day, so we decided to milk it for what it was worth and went to the Old Hall Farm - a little vintage ice cream farm. Farms are funny places for dog owners, some are really happy to let them in and make a huge fuss when they see them, and others are like 'no dog shall pass!' and view them as sheep murdering monstrosities.
Fortunately, this was the former. Whist the pamphlet from the information centre indicated it was dog friendly, I hadn't really been able to find out any more than that, so it was a relief to realise that she was welcome everywhere on site. It's a labour of love attraction, and we had a lovely time mooching about and catching bits of the activities and tours as and when they suited us. Missy was obsessed with the pigs. She's seen cows before, and chickens and ducks and sheep and even alpacas, but not pigs. Every time we passed them she would drag us over and stand up against the wall of the sty to gaze in at them and, silently, give them her hardest stare. Frankly, under that gaze, I'm shocked they didn't turn to bacon and start frying themselves!
Felix was very unsure of the shire horses - they were much too big for her and, when one cheekily threw water over an unsuspecting (and subsequently very startled) Missy, decided she much preferred the little horses. And the engine shed.
Well, it was her holiday too, and if she wanted to look at engines that suited me just fine. We all stopped for ice cream (well, it would have been rude not to) and then decided that it was time to head our respective ways home.

I'm not sure whats worse, my handwriting or the sketch!
 A wonderful time had by all - and seeing as my sister is already planning next year's repeat trip for us all, I'm not just saying it!

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Tantallon Castle and Dirleton Castle and Gardens

It's been a weekend for castles!

Missy loves looking out of windows
The hubby decided he wanted to see a real 'proper' castle and, thanks to our Historic Scotland passes, I found Tantallon. It had a (dry) moat, check, had seen actual battles, check, held a defensive position, check, and wasn't originally built as a palace, check. And as a bonus, there was another castle and gardens (Dirleton) just around the corner to justify the hour drive to get out to North Berwick.

Tantallon Castle
Tantallon is an imposing castle. It grips onto the edge of the cliff like a broken gargoyle, its ruined state mostly due to Cromwells efforts to invade Scotland and the fact that a Royalist band had set up in Tantallon and were disrupting his communication lines. It was mostly held by the notorious Douglas' and its ownership history makes interesting reading. It was refreshingly free of references to Mary Queen of Scots, which makes a nice change!

Bass Rock visible to the left
This was a great site for Missy. There was a quarter mile walk from the car park where we let her off the lead, and the grounds itself is obviously home to fleets of bunnies and voles - her nose didn't stop twitching for the whole visit. There was a multitude of narrow winging stairs, and the other dog owners complimented Missy's mastery of them - I was bemused to meet a German Shepherd that apparently couldn't manage them at all, I had always assumed the smaller breeds would have struggled more!

The winding stairs are worth it. The views from atop the castle are stunning. Bass Rock (home to millions of gannets) can be easily seen out at sea and Berwick Law dominates the inland landscape. I could have spent longer getting pictures, but after stopping for lunch, we decided to move onto Dirleton before the weather turned.

Direlton Castle and Grounds is exactly the kind of castle the hubby had been meaning when he said we hadn't done a proper castle. Built in peaceful times in the 1200s, it was to a show of wealth. Saying that, it has seen its fair share of battle, surviving two wars of independence before Cromwell came along and finished the job, leaving it a ruin. Like most castles, it has been added to over time and is a rabbit warren or old and new parts (or slightly less old, really).

The huge dovecot
 It does have a drawbridge though and perhaps one of the most beautiful dovecots I've ever seen that would have housed 2000 birds in its day. The grounds are beautifully kept as well and Missy was incredibly perplexed at the bowling match we saw taking place. I tried explaining to her that the balls were not bunnies, but I don't think she quite believed me and just stood completely on point and alert.


Whilst the stairs are not quite as tight or winding as Tantallon, they are quite uneven and had become rather slippery in the light drizzle. As a result, we decided to let Missy off the lead on the stairs, one of us going ahead to catch her at the other end and clip her back on. The steps leading to the pit (or dungeon) were particularly uneven and the only one she struggled on, but I suspect that was intended in the original design of them!


All in all a great day. We called it quits at just the right time as the drive home was in torrential rain and now we're all enjoying some nice hot tea whilst Missy is snoring away on the sofa beside me.

It has made me want to do some more of North Berwick, I did a boat ride out to Bass Rock when I was a kid and fancy doing it again, and Yellowcraigs, the local beach, is perhaps one of the nicest in Edinburgh. If the summer decides to get its act in gear and be nice for more than a morning, we might manage another day trip!

Until next time!