Please Shut Gate

Photo taken in Milton Woods near Farr, Scotland.

One of the things I love about Scotland is their “freedom to roam” code, though I would be lying to you if I said that I am totally comfortable with it. The very idea that it is acceptable to trespass on someone’s private property uninvited is just so foreign and so contrary to our laws here in the United States. I can never quite get over the feeling that I may be an interloper, an unwanted guest who might get asked to leave whenever I wander off a public path. Of course, that’s simply not true!

In 2003, Scotland’s Land Reform Act was initiated, allowing everyone “rights of access over land and inland water throughout Scotland, subject to specific exclusions set out in the Act and as long as they behave responsibly” (http://scotways.com). Per Scotways, this basically boils down to three things: respecting the interests of other people, caring for the environment, and taking responsibility for one’s own actions. Of course, there are a some restrictions that hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts must abide by. For example, the land next to and used by a school, fields where crops are growing, or a person’s most immediate personal space (like their backyard or garden) are off limits. But restrictions aside, the beauty of this act is that is allows individuals the freedom to explore Scotland’s vast, wild, and remarkable landscape and unmaintained historical sites completely undeterred. And in a country with over 30,000 square miles of land and a population of only about 5.5 million (most living in the cities), that means you might never see another person while you roam!

A perfect example of a time when Mr. C and I benefited from this access right was when we visited Croft Moraig Stone Circle near Aberfeldy.  The prehistoric site happens to occupy a farmer’s field, but because of Scotland’s code, we were permitted to park our car in an unmarked area on the side of the road and walk onto the property without fear of reproach.  We were simply reminded by the farmer’s sign to shut the gate, which we were all too happy to do.

Scotland is not the only country with such a code.  In fact, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, and Austria are just a few examples of other nations that also allow for the freedom to roam.  Though I love and thoroughly appreciate having this unfettered access when I travel, I grapple with what my reaction would be if we enacted such a practice here in the U.S.  Let’s face it. We Americans are overall quite a kind and generous lot, but many of us also strongly believe in a person’s right to privacy and in the right of consent.  I know…it’s a conundrum – I want it both ways.

Regardless, as a visitor to Scotland, being granted permission to venture beyond roads and other public access points to off-the-beaten-path places and to be allowed to fully experience the wild, natural, and untamed beauty of the land is both a joy and an enormous privilege.  I hope one day you can experience this freedom too.

Just don’t forget to shut the gate.

An Unusual Surprise

The last thing one would expect to see in Scotland (outside of a zoo) are Mandarin ducks. But Mandarin ducks we did see!

A couple months ago, we were walking through Milton Woods (near Farr), along the grassy bank above the River Nairn, when Mr. C spotted some unusual water fowl swimming below. Not sure what type of birds they were, he attempted to snap some photos. Unfortunately, they caught sight of him and were frightened and flew away. This photo was the best one he got.

It wasn’t until a bit later when I was looking through our photos that I realized what we had seen. How fantastic! Mandarin ducks! In Scotland!

According to BBC Scotland, the birds were introduced to the UK from the Far East in the mid-eighteenth century. Over time, some have managed to escape captivity and have bred and established colonies. There are over 7,000 Mandarin ducks in Britain but apparently very few have made it all the way to Scotland. Which makes what we saw even more special.

Mandarin ducks. In Scotland. Who knew?

A Silent Eloquence

One of my heart’s desires on our recent trip to Scotland was to find a bluebell wood. I worried that we might have been too late, but was absolutely delighted to find them still in bloom. These photos were taken in a wood next to Boleskine Burial Ground on Loch Ness.

It’s the little things.

A fine and subtle spirit dwells
In every little flower,
Each one its own sweet feeling breathes
With more or less of power.
There is a silent eloquence
In every wild bluebell,
That fills my softened heart with bliss
That words could never tell.

∼from “The Bluebell” by Anne Bronte

Finlarig Castle

At the western end of Loch Tay, roughly a half mile northeast of the village of Killin, Scotland, lies the precarious, overgrown, atmospheric, and seriously cool ruins of Finlarig Castle.

It is unlikely that you will find this one in your guide books, as Finlarig sits on private property. However, it’s definitely worth a stop if you happen to be in that neck of the woods. If you are a serious castle seeker, then I think Finlarig is worth going out of your way for.

Parking is available across from the cemetery, about a minute’s walk to the castle. When Mr. C and I were there a few years ago, we were approached by a local who requested we move our car to the lot rather than park directly at the site. I don’t think we were hurting anything, but alas, it is private property so it’s best to do as you are told.

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Recipe: Honey and Whisky Cake

Hi Friends,

As I begin to write this post, I have Eileen Barton’s cute 1950 hit song stuck in my head – “If I Knew You Were Comin’ I’d’ve Baked a Cake”. Go ahead. YouTube it. I dare you. πŸ˜€

Today I want to share a recipe for Honey and Whisky Cake. I got the recipe from a little book I purchased a few weeks ago in Scotland. This cake is quick and easy to make and really delicious. It’s moist, not overly sweet, and the grated orange rind is a wonderful addition.

Enjoy!

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Happy Summer Solstice!

Bed In Summer

-Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)

In winter I get up at night 
And dress by yellow candle-light. 
In summer, quite the other way, 
I have to go to bed by day. 

I have to go to bed and see 
The birds still hopping on the tree, 
Or hear the grown-up people’s feet 
Still going past me in the street. 

And does it not seem hard to you, 
When all the sky is clear and blue, 
And I should like so much to play, 
To have to go to bed by day?

-from A Child’s Garden of Verses

Italy Will Have to Wait

A couple of my friends are ardent travelers and as such, are a bit perplexed as to why Mr. C and I choose to keep returning to Scotland. “Don’t you want to go somewhere else? See someplace new?” I do understand their question. It’s a very big world after all, full of amazing and wonderful things. But my answer is generally always the same.

No.

Well yes. But not if it means that it takes Scotland off the table.

I really do want to visit other countries. In fact, it’s a dream of mine to see the other four Celtic nations and also Italy. But the truth is, I’m simply not done with Scotland yet. As much as Mr. C and I have seen and experienced, I feel like it’s just a drop in the proverbial bucket of all that the country has left for us.

When I fell for Scotland, I fell hard. So my philosophy is that as long as there are discoveries to be made, as long as it continues to make my heart sing, then I’ll just stick with what I know and truly love, please and thank you. Italy will just have to wait.

Scottish Highlands

Laggan Free Church

Like The White Bridge that I wrote about last week, today’s post features another amazing, serendipitous find.  Scotland certainly does seem to be full of those.

One afternoon a few weeks ago, Mr. C and I were driving through the southwest portion of the Cairngorms National Park near the village of Laggan. 

Threat of a storm rolling in.

We had just turned onto General Wade’s Military Road from the A86 when we spotted the fantastic ruins of an old church to our left.  Naturally, we pulled over to check it out.

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It’s Gorse, of Course

Look, it’s a Scottish golf gorse! Ba-dum-ch.

That one comes at you straight from Mr. C. Thank you, Ladies and Gentlemen. He’ll be here all week. πŸ˜€

Also called ‘whin’, common flowering gorse is a large, spiny, evergreen shrub that bursts onto the scene in late winter/early spring. Though it is not uncommon to spot gorse blooms in Scotland year round, April and May is when this plant really explodes in bright yellow splendor.

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The White Bridge and General Wade’s Military Roads

I never thought I’d be the type to geek out over a bridge. Or old military transit roads. Good gracious. Who AM I?! Someone please send help.

While heading southwest one morning on the B862, Mr. C and I came upon this interesting bridge over the River Fechlin in the tiny community of Whitebridge, Scotland.

Intrigued, we parked our car and with cameras in hand, crossed the road to get a better look.

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A Surprise at Every Turn

Whether you’re traveling through Scotland on a dual carriageway (divided highway) or on a single track road (yes, they really are only wide enough for a single car), you will discover that there is no shortage of beautiful, interesting, and unique surprises at every turn.

I snapped this photo on the morning that Mr. C and I arrived in Scotland a few weeks ago. We were heading north on the A9 (on our way from Glasgow Airport to our rental near Inverness) when I suddenly spotted this beautiful castle looking structure on the right. Mr. C quickly rolled down his window and I somehow managed to capture the shot from my side of the car, at some 70 mph – a testament to the quality of my camera!

After doing some sleuthing, I think I finally figured out what this building is. I believe (someone please correct me if I am wrong) that this is Atholl Palace Hotel in Pitlochry, a 19th century hotel set against the gorgeous slopes of Ben Vrackie.

See? A surprise at every turn.

Auchindoun Castle

Hi friends,

What’s new in your corner of the world? It’s hard to believe that a week ago yesterday I was sitting on a crappy, cramped Boeing 757, heading home from two amazing weeks in Scotland. Why we humans consent to getting into a metal tube that shoots us through the air at 500 miles per hour and at some 34,000 feet above the ground is beyond me. Ohhhh, I know why. It’s because our love for the people and places that await us far outweigh any of the risks. And for Scotland (in the words of Adele), I’m willing to take the risk.

Today I would like to share with you one of my favorites castles on my ever expanding list. This is Auchindoun, a 15th century treasure that lies near Dufftown, in Moray.

I have told you before that I love all castles. Never let a castle go to waste, I say! But I have an extra special affinity for the lonely, romantic ruins that time has all but forgotten. Thankfully Auchindoun isn’t entirely forsaken, as it is looked after by Historic Environment Scotland. I’d wager, though, that only a tiny number of tourists ever find their way to this treasure and I have a hunch that many Scots aren’t familiar with it either. It feels like a secret that I was lucky enough to learn. And now you know it too.

Are you ready to explore? You’ll need a good pair of comfy, weather resistant walking shoes. It is quite a hike from where you park at the end of the road and you may have the feeling you are trespassing on a farmer’s land. It’s okay, you’re not. Trust, me, friend. The view from the hill that the castle sits upon is worth every single step you’ll take.

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Farr Farr Away

Well friends, another Scottish adventure has come to a close. I’m home.

It’s 4:45 in the morning as I begin to write this. My body, however, thinks it’s 9:45 and that Mr. C and I should be loading up the car for a day of exploration. With our tummy’s full of Scottish bacon, eggs, and coffee, we would have been all fueled up for a long day of hikes, history, and miles upon miles of some of the most breathtaking scenery on God’s earth.

Being home is bittersweet. I missed my dogs terribly and there is something to be said for getting back into the “regular” routine of things, I guess. But oh how my heart hurt when those airplane wheels began to roll.

That’s how it feels when you’re in love.

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