Brechin ~ Castle, Gardens & Cathedral

map_LIBrechin, even though it’s a small little obscure town off the beaten track, it holds a number of little treasures which I think are worth checking out if you are in the area – and at the right time.

Brechin used to be a Royal Burgh and one of its treasures is a castle that is believed to have been home to the Kings of Scots in the 13th century.

Another treasure is the 40-acre castle gardens which date back to 1701. They are quite extensive and very pretty.

There is also an ancient Cathedral built upon the foundations of an earlier Celtic monastery and is conveniently located just across Skinner’s Burn from the castle. The Cathedral also has an unusual Irish-style round tower.

Finally, if you visit on a Sunday, you can take a ride on the Caledonia Steam Railway which embarks from the Brechin Rail Station and travels out to the Bridge of Dun and back. Steam train rides are always fun! Unfortunately, Lindsay and I did not visit on a Sunday so we didn’t get to ride the train but we did visit the castle, its gardens, and the cathedral and that’s what I’m going to share with you.

IMG_5417We started with the castle.  Luck would have it that they were giving tours when we arrived at the gatehouse.  Evidently, there aren’t very many tours offered each year. This year they only conducted tours sporadically during the month of June and only offered a couple of tours on each day.  The tour was quite extensive however and the guide was very informative and didn’t rush us at all. In fact, the tour group only consisted of about 4-5 people so it was quite enjoyable and we didn’t feel cramped or crowded.IMG_5869 Brechin Castle stands proudly upon a massive bluff of rocks above the River Southesk.

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It was built on the site of a much older fortress belonging to Scottish Kings. The existing mansion was built in 1711 and incorporates the original Castle dating back to the 13th century.

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Below is the view that is seen from the castle looking back up the entry drive. The grounds are massive and very well groomed.IMG_5872

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IMG_5881Brechin Castle is steeped in history:

  • In 1296 Edward I received the submission of King of Scots, John Baliol, at Brechin Castle.
  • In 1303, Sir Thomas Maule defended the Castle against the English for three weeks until his own death brought about its surrender.
  • In 1643, Patrick Maule, 1st Earl of Panmure, bought the Brechin Estate from the Earl of Mar. The Castle was at that time a simple L-shaped house with three stories.
  • The 4th Earl of Panmure eventually rebuilt the Castle as it is today. A crisis in the history of the Maule family, as in many noble Scottish families, occurred after the 1715 Jacobite rebellion. James, the 4th and last Earl of Panmure, took part in the rebellion and died afterward while in exile in France. His estates were forfeited to the Crown. Eventually, his brother’s son, William, bought back the estate. Through marriages, it has been passed down over the centuries to the Dalhousie family who still lives there.

It’s a beautiful house to tour. It’s filled with many treasures, beautiful paintings by famous artists, furniture and curiosities and a pleasure to explore.

Unfortunately, since the family still lives there, we couldn’t take pictures indoors to share with you. There were a lot of things to see and enjoy but the main thing that really stood out to me about this tour was that I could tell the family actually lived there. Unlike a lot of privately-owned castles I have toured, where I usually only to get to see certain parts – rooms set aside just for tours – this one I got to see most everything.

Although the majority of the contents of a room might be roped off so I couldn’t wander about their belongings I could tell they use these rooms regularly.  As I was guided from room to room by the tour guide, I noticed, sitting amongst the 17th-century furniture and exquisite paintings and chinaware, that there were big screen TVs, accompanying remotes, and various other gadgets as evidence of modern day living.

It was rather refreshing to look over and see what books they were currently reading, puzzles they were working on, the mornings’ newspaper folded up on the table, etc. It had a real homey and down-to-earth feeling about it rather than being “perfect and pretentious.” I rather enjoyed that and felt honored to be welcomed into their beautiful home to see how they still live amongst (and honor) the ancient treasures they have inherited and how they incorporate them into modern family life.

After the tour, we made our way to the gardens.  As you can see from the aerial view below, the grounds are quite extensive and the gardens are a fair walk from the castle. The walled garden is in the lower right of the picture in a kind of a circular area.

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Soon, Lindsay and I were entering the main gate…

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The first formal design and creation of Brechin Castle Gardens was accomplished by Alexander Edward for James, the 4th Earl of Panmure between 1701 – 1708. Since that time there have been many improvements, including the addition of shrub and woodland gardens in the early 20th century.

It is touted that Brechin Castle Gardens is one of the finest private gardens in Scotland. It covers over 40 acres of planted parkland and includes the famous walled garden. The gardens link to Brechin Castle by woodland paths with banks of vibrant colors of azaleas and rhododendrons in Spring and we were in luck. They were in full bloom!

The 13-acre walled garden has an exceptional plant collection around a structure of mature trees and in particular a magnificent cedar of Lebanon and sculptured yew hedge along the main pathway.

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The walls near the entrance gate are adorned with such beautiful roses such as Rosa Foetida ‘Bicolour’, also known as Austrian Copper, for its yellow-centered coppery-red blossoms.

Nearby peonies and Clematis provide spectacular spring and summer color.

An ornamental gate beside a drinking fountain in the wall and inscribed with “Drink and Be Thankful,” is the kitchen garden area containing most of the greenhouses including a unique curved Victorian peach house. Also, potting sheds, vegetable areas, and cold frames are also located there but the public were not allowed to walk amongst them.

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The upper garden is open to the sun and contains areas of lawn, mature ornamental tree plantings, beds and borders with Rhododendron and vine houses and a garden room.

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The Rhododendrons and Azaleas were ablaze with color as we worked our way down toward the second level!

We came upon a circular group of tall evergreen trees with a 17th-century sundial perched in the middle of them.

Beyond that, we walked through the yew shrub to see a vista of a vast grassy area leading down toward the river.

Lindsay stayed up in the upper garden while I explored the lower levels where a vast variety of trees were growing. I followed the grassy areas between them toward the center of the garden where I found a circular lily pond at the base of a cherub-flanked flight of steps.

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Then I finished walking the rest of the way across the gardens back toward the entrance and saw all sorts of beautiful blooming delights…

French Lilacs! Oh, they smelled good!

More and more Rhodies and Azaleas…

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I worked my way back to the entrance gate where I met up again with Lindsay. It was such a wonderful garden to explore. Next, we went over to see the cathedral and what it had to share.

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According to the information interpretive boards:

“Brechin has its roots in the Medieval Cathedral and Celtic monastery which preceded it. It enters written history in the late 10th century during the reign of Kenneth II (or MacMalcom), King of Scots, who further endowed the mastic community, by then perhaps 300 years old.  In the mid 12th century, King David I made the church one of Scotland’s Cathedrals and Norman style alterations were made to reflect its new status. Rebuilt and altered at various times, it achieved its present form in 1900-1901.

The Transepts – The existing South Transept is on the same scale as its 14th-century predecessor. The North transept (or “aisle” in Scots) was enlarged partly to provide more accommodation, but also to give the building a more cathedral-like appearance. As it was being built, the Queen died and so it was treated as Brechin’s Victoria memorial being called “The Queen’s Aisle.”

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We headed inside…

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There were a lot of colorful windows as you might imagine there would be…

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We headed back outside and started working our way around the west end of the church and the square tower.

IMG_5934Again, according to the interpretative boards:

“The Square Tower was built in the 14th century. The clock in the Steeple face is actually the town clock. The first clock was gifted by Bishop David Strachan in 1665, the “great IMG_5923orlodg” it was called. The current clock mechanism dates from 1974.

The curfew bell (from the French “couvre feu”) still rings each weekday at 8 pm, a reminder of bygone days when the bell summoned monks to Compline, the final prayers of the day.

Fragments of Norman work dated 1140 AD have been found in the foundations of the west gable. The West Door is from the early 13th century. The great west window is in the beautiful “Scots flamboyant” style of the 15th century.”

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“The Round Tower – One of only two round towers of the Irish type in mainland Scotland, it was built as a free-standing tower in the 10th century.

Over 106 feet tall, it is as refined as any example in Ireland where they are called “bell towers.” The elaborate doorway is well above ground level because the tower was also a place of safekeeping of the precious manuscripts or relics belonging to the monastery.”

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IMG_5941This is an amazing tower! I first saw this type of tower in Ireland at Glendalough and they just absolutely astound me because those skinny and tall towers are still standing after all this time.  They were built to last!

According to the intrepretative boards:

“The finest feature of the tower is the doorway. It is of upward-tapering form and is framed by a broad band, edged with pellet mouldings. The arch is cut from a single block of stone. At its apex is the figure of the crucified Christ, and there is a saint on each side of the opening. Flanking the threshold are crouching beasts.”

“The Irish examples of these towers are now thought to date mainly from the period between 950 and 1180, and a date around 1100 seems likely for Brechin. There was probably a religious community at Brechin during the reign of King Kenneth II (971-975), but the church had become the cathedral of a bishop before 1160.”

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I continued walking around the perimeter enjoying various features until I reached the Queen’s Aisle back near the front entrance where we started.

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It was a beautiful cathedral, small in stature compared to many I’ve visited, yet packed with its own unusual elements.

That was the end of our explorations for the 5th of June. We headed back up the A90 highway toward Aberdeen, stopping off at Stonehaven for some fish & chips from the Bay Chipper, and we enjoyed watching the gulls flying along the seashore at days’ end while we reflected back on all the interesting things we’d seen that day.

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Attitude of Gratitude ~ I am grateful for another 10 days left to explore Scotland on this trip. 10 more opportunities to share its many treasures – more stories and beautiful places to see yet to come!

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Cruickshank Botanic Garden and Walled Garden at Seaton Park, Aberdeen

Near Old Aberdeen and Aberdeen University, there are some interesting gardens to visit for free and they are in very close proximity of one another. They are definitely worth taking the time to visit and explore.

On the map below you can see that they are actually connected to one another by a very extensive pathway system within Seaton Park and the University. While you’re enjoying the beautiful floral and botanical specimens you can also get your exercise! In addition, the River Don meanders along its border making it even more picturesque and enjoyable. map

We will begin our explorations at Cruickshank Botanic Garden near the bottom of the map and work our way up to The Walled Garden on the other side of Seaton Park.botanic garden abdn

 

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cruickshank mapAs you can see on the sitemap, this garden offers a nice variety of little mini-gardens all woven into one. There’s the Old pond, a Labyrinth, the Birch Lawn, the Sunken garden, Rose Garden, Herbaceous bed, and the Rock and Water Garden to name a few. We started out at the Main Entrance working our way around in a clockwise fashion starting with the Old Pond.

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Although the crocus wasn’t in bloom when we visited in early June, I found this photo online to show you how pretty it looks when they are blooming during early spring.

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Nearby we came upon this old gnarly tree whose branches dust the ground around it. Underneath its canopy next to the trunk was a handy bench we could sit on and gaze upwards at its twisting and turning branches above us.

There were all kinds of intriguing pathways to follow in, around and under the giant Rhododendron bushes.

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Next, we arrived at the Rose Garden. It was still a bit early for most of the roses to be blooming except for the very earliest varieties but they should all be ablaze with color soon later in the month.

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We continued strolling along the pathways admiring the blossoms of many varieties of flowers as well as the bees that keep themselves very busy pollinating them all!

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The Sunken Gardens were particularly peaceful and very pretty!

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We walked along the herbaceous beds and although the bulk of the plants were not quite blooming yet there were enough that were in bloom to keep my attention like the national flower, the Thistle.IMG_5252

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I noticed in numerous places in each garden that there were ample benches set in some very prime locations for visitors to enjoy.  That’s a nice touch! I also noticed that a lot of people take advantage of them to enjoy these serene surroundings while reading a favorite book.

As we worked our way back to the main entrance to leave we passed another area rich with some very colorful (and pungent!) Azaleas.

(At this point I have to admit something to you. You see, we didn’t have a copy of the sitemap as we toured the garden.  I found the sitemap online while I edited this post and decided to include it for your benefit.  As I was looking at the map to list the various sections the garden contains, I noticed the ‘Rock and Water Garden’ on the map.

“What?!?” I exclaimed, “I didn’t see a whole other section of the garden to explore beyond the wall when we were there!”

It appears that we totally missed about 1/3 of the garden during our visit! Guess I’ll just have to return next year to visit Lindsay again so we can go back to the Botanic Garden again and check out the Rock & Water Garden! Oh doo!)

Next, we worked our way over to the Walled Garden near the River Don at the north end of Seaton park, stopping off at the center to look at the “Avenue walk” or main promenade where there is usually quite pretty displays of Dahlias, Begonias and the like.

However, when we got there all the flower beds had just been dug up and stripped of their early spring bulbs. Huge piles of compost and manure were being tilled in. Nothing had been planted yet for the summer blooming varieties, so we continued on to the Walled Garden at the top of the hill on the north side of the park.

It’s not really a very big garden but it was massive with Rhododendron & Azalea blooms of every color!

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There were also a lot of pretty flowering vines on the walls as well such as these Honeysuckle blossoms that smelled so sweet and the graceful Clematis below.

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There were a couple of plants I don’t know the name of but have seen in various gardens on our travels which I would love to incorporate into my own yard at home like this vine that has leaves that turn a splotchy white and pink here and there on the tips. So pretty!

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IMG_5288Like I said, it’s a small garden but it offers a lot for its size and it also serves as a nice quiet getaway place in the bustle of the city.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this stroll through a couple more of Aberdeen’s city parks.  Next time we’ll be visiting one of my absolute favorite gardens in Scotland, Kildrummy! Stay tuned for that!

Attitude of Gratitude ~ I really appreciate (and am thankful for) the never-ending hard work of Gardeners everywhere. They are a quiet sort; working their magic amongst the colorful and abundant beds creating such beautiful havens for retreat, self-reflection, and contemplation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Journey Back ~ Gairloch To Aberdeen With a Visit to Speyside Cooperage

mapIt’s about a 160-mile trek across northern Scotland from one coast to the other, so it’s easily driveable in one day. We had all day long to get home so we leisurely took our time starting out on the morning of May 24th. We stopped soon after leaving Gairloch because there is a very pretty small loch right next to the road called ‘Loch Bad an Sgalaig’ with what looks like to me like an old stone abandoned croft house on the opposite bank. Very picturesque!IMG_4577

IMG_4578About a mile or two further we came to the best part of the early morning drive – Loch Maree. Sitting on its banks in the crisp May morning air is delightful and magical.IMG_4588

 

 

IMG_4594Once you leave the shores of Loch Maree heading east, the road meanders through the Docherty Glen and gradually rises to the pass in the mountains above it. Near the top,  a viewpoint with a parking lot is conveniently placed which serves up some fantastic views and where you can look back the way you came. It’s a beautiful view and definitely worth the stop. (see below)IMG_4597

IMG_4602I zoomed in a bit so you can see Loch Maree down at the end of Docherty Glen (below).IMG_4598After enjoying that view for a spell we got back in the car and continued driving non-stop for about 40 miles or so until we reached Tomnahurich Cemetery in Inverness.  The cemetery encompasses the whole hill and has graves all over it, right up to the very top. It’s easy to find, just start following the road from Inverness to Loch Ness and you’ll pass it on the right just as you’re leaving town. Tomnahurich Cemetery2This was yet another place in Scotland Lindsay had never been to that I had the pleasure of personally sharing with him. I visited this cemetery on my first trip to Scotland years ago and recalled seeing one of our family names, Naughten, engraved on a gravestone on the top of the hill somewhere.Tomnahurich CemeteryWe were both curious about the headstone and wondered if we could find it again, so we drove up to the top of the hill to see if we could find it and determine if it actually belongs to anyone in our own family tree.

After searching around for a little bit, I found it! It was a small headstone kind of tucked in the back.

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After searching our family tree for the name, we discovered this little 1-month-old infant was indeed a relative of ours!

Our 3rd great grandmother, May Naughten, had an older brother named Robert and who was a well-known Silversmith jeweler in Inverness. He had a son (also named Robert and also a jeweler). The little month-old infant buried here was Robert II’s youngest son. That makes him our 2nd cousin 3x removed.

The spot where he’s buried appears to be the only upright headstone in what looks like possibly a family plot. Grass has overgrown them but we could detect kerbstones around the perimeter of an area about 8 foot wide and 10 foot long.

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Using the metal tip on Lindsay’s old umbrella, I probed into the ground in front of the stone and around what looked like the plot area. Sure enough, there were the tell-tale sounds of solid stone clinking under the grass about 3 inches or so in a rectangular shape. There are probably more relatives of ours buried here too. Wish we had permission to remove the grass and uncover the buried stones to discover whose graves are there. But, we don’t have permission like we do when we’re working with the Moray Burial Group recording a cemetery in Morayshire, so we just let it be.

There were great views from the top of Tomnahurich. We could see the Caledonia Canal to the south and Kessock Narrows bridge to the north and of course 360-degree views of  Inverness all around the base of the hill.

 

We drove back down the hill and into the center of the city a short distance away, to visit another gravesite in a different cemetery – our 3rd great grandmother, May Naughten, in Chapel Yard.

 

We also scouted around for more family graves nearby. Near the back wall of the cemetery, there was a fallen stone lying on its back in the grass. We noticed the name, Naughten, hiding under the moss. So we employed plastic cards from our wallets to scrap back the lichen and moss enough to read it.

Turns out, that guy, Robert Naughten II, the jeweler, whose kids’ gravestone we found on Tomnahurich, also had a sister named Mary. He erected this stone in memory of her. That would make her my 1st cousin 4x removed.  (She, and her brother Robert, are basically the niece and nephew of our 3rd great grandmother, May; that’s easier for me to relate to than “4x removed.”)

 

Well, that was fun discovering some new headstones belonging to people we share DNA with!

Soon we were back in the car and heading further east toward Granton-on-Spey and following the “Malt Whisky Trail” toward Dufftown. We stopped in Granton-on-Spey and enjoyed some fish & chips in the park until we realized how late in the afternoon it was getting. We still wanted to visit one more place that day and take a tour so we drove the back roads on the north side of the River Spey to Craigellachie and the home of the Speyside Cooperage.

 

It took us longer to get there than we had anticipated. Luckily, we got there just in the nick of time. The last tour of the day had 2 slots left and was just about to commence!  Phew!

This is the only remaining working Cooperage in the UK. They offer a really good tour for a very reasonable price.  The tour begins with a really nice cinematic presentation that takes you through a brief history of the ancient art of Coopering, followed by a visit to the viewing gallery situated on an elevated platform above the action where you watch first-hand the Coopers below at work building, shaping, shaving, and charring casks. The quality and flavor of good whisky totally depends upon a few key items: water, barley, distillation, and of course – the cask in which it matures for a minimum of 3 years.

It is quite noisy standing on the overhead platform and it was kind of hard to hear what the tour guide was saying but oh-so-fascinating to watch!

 

The origins of the Cooper’s craft go back to prehistoric times over 5000 years ago. These highly-skilled Coopers still use many of the traditional age-old skills to restore and repair tired and damaged casks. They are simply amazing to watch. They move so quickly and maneuver the barrels easily!

To explain the history of,  and the process and various steps the men below are doing they also had very good interpretive panels with pictures and explanations.

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Like most visitor centers, at the end of the tour, there was a nice gift shop to also tour and a chance to sample a product of some sort made out of malt whisky.  That’s always nice.

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They also had some adorable stoneware sculptures on display of local animal favorites. They remind me of two similar sculptures I made in high school ceramics class of my sister’s shaggy dogs.  (hmm, that would be fun to do again!)

 

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On the way back to the car park, we admired all sorts of imaginative uses of casks.

 

We climbed back into the car to drive the rest of the way home to Aberdeen, catching a few final glimpses of interesting sights as we left the village of Craigellachie.

 

That concludes the 4-day adventure to the west coast and back. Hope you’ve enjoyed reading about it as much as I’ve enjoyed re-living the memories while sharing them with you!

Stay tuned for more adventures in the near future.  I still had three more weeks of my trip left and there’s still a lot more to share!

Attitude of Gratitude ~ I am grateful for platforms such as WordPress where stories can be shared and spread worldwide. In the not-so-distant past, I only had the opportunity to share my adventures with a small group of people that I know. Now I can share with a much broader audience worldwide and can find like-minded folks without even leaving home! I am grateful to the people who follow my blog and seem to enjoy it. Thank you!

 

 

 

 

Wandering on the West Coast ~ Applecross to Dundonnell

I know I sound like a broken record, but…

It was another beautiful sunny day on the west coast of Scotland and absolutely perfect for a bit of exploring. We were quite blessed with wonderful weather on this trip so far, because it can be a bit sketchy at times in the land of the mist!  We had plans to drive along the periphery of the peninsulas, hugging the coastline as much as possible, from Applecross to Dundonnell further north near Loch Broom.

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We left Hartfield House hostel and I had a surprise for Lindsay first thing in the morning. We only had to drive about a mile to eat breakfast at a simply wonderful restaurant; Applecross Walled Garden Potting Shed Cafe! How often does one have that opportunity?

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There were so many choices of seating opportunities, and although sitting outside was tempting, we opted for an indoor table. They had plenty of freshly cut flowers from the garden on the table and window sills, however, so we were still close to the flowers while we enjoyed our scrumptious meal.

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IMG_4162They have a very good menu with lots of options to choose from and I finally decided upon Smoked Salmon Eggs Benedict.

We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and then went outside to walk around the garden.

They grow most of the food they serve here and it’s nice to know it’s so fresh!

The vegetables are grown in raised beds and the gardener appears to be using the “French Intensive” method of gardening that I prefer to use myself.

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IMG_4153One of the things I particularly like about the French Intensive method is that you can use a newly constructed raised bed as a compost pit. All the great stuff that goes on in the compost pile stays right there in the raised bed; the nutrients from the pile leach directly to the soil in the bed.

At right, the picture shows how they have gathered seaweed from the shoreline and layered it directly onto the bed. The bed will get turned with a pitchfork and the layers get mixed together to create a soil that is super-enriched with nutrients creating a wonderful compost suitable for planting. Once the compost pile has done its job of breaking down the roughage and turning it into super-soil, you can just plant directly into the bed! It’s fantastic!

But I digress…we were talking about traveling weren’t we, and I got side-tracked about gardening techniques!

Let’s walk around the garden and see what other treasures it holds…

IMG_4139Isn’t it a delightful garden?  I was here last year and it’s looking a lot better this year. The gardener has done a lot of work to bring it back to a nicely kept garden. Nice to see it looking so good, increased productivity and it’s obvious it’s being well-cared for!

Lots of nice places to sit to enjoy the views from. I am partial to the boat serving as the backboard for the bench. Good idea! That bench under the rose arch is inviting as well.

A perfect way to start a day – eat breakfast in the garden! Time to start heading up the road, however, to see what surprises the rest of the day has in store for us! We drove down to the edge of the water in the bay at low tide and enjoyed the views before leaving town…IMG_4120

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…and also got one more look at the Hairy Coos grazing in their pasture nearby. We also had a nice opportunity to watch a herd of local deer up close and personal. Such graceful creatures.

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IMG_2347We started driving north from Applecross to Shieldaig going around the peninsula instead of driving back over the Bealach na Ba.

It offered up some scenic sights too…

IMG_4184IMG_4187When we reached the tip at Fearnmore; the views were fantastic in all directions including looking back the way we had come…IMG_4193Next, the road turned to the east and hugged the northern coastal boundary of the peninsula along the edge of Loch Torridon and Loch Shieldaig, as it wound its way to the lovely little village of Shieldaig. The views across the Lochs of the majestic mountains (or Beinns – as the Scottish call them) opened across the water. Stunning!IMG_4207

IMG_4209Little creeks and rivers flowed down the rock waterfalls at the roads’ edge at various places. We took some videos of the route and the waterfalls just for you!

 

Then we reached Shieldag… another example of an outstandingly picturesque waterside village!  I could spend some time here!IMG_4221

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We didn’t stay long this time, however, just enough to stretch our legs and then we were back on the road again drinking in the beauty as it flowed magically past the windows of the car… what an absolutely delightful drive!

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We continued driving a total of about 8 miles from Sheildaig until we reached the town Torridon where the two peninsulas meet. I can’t believe how many beautiful sights are crammed into that 8-mile stretch of road!  Amazing!

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IMG_4253Torridon is a nice little village situated at the edge of Upper Loch Torridon with everything you could need (i.e.; a general store and cafe, post office and there’s even a great looking YHA hostel!) Perhaps I’ll need to book a stay here during my next trip!

Below is the view from the general store/cafe looking back at the shoreline we had just followed!

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IMG_4252After Torridon, our route took us cross-country to the next loch, Loch Maree, instead of driving around the peninsula. (We would have gone that way but there weren’t any roads that go completely around it.) It took us through a valley flanked by these wonderful Beinns (mountains) to the north…IMG_4254

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IMG_4261…and these to the south.IMG_4260

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IMG_4264We happened upon a side road that took us to a bridge not far from the main road (A896) with a great view of the river A’Ghairbhe as we worked our way around Beinn Eighe toward Loch Maree.

 

 

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IMG_4270We turned left onto the A832 heading west and north toward Gairloch. About 7 miles later we happened upon a nice rest area where we drank in stunning views of Slioch mountain from the south shore of Loch Maree.IMG_4269

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IMG_4275About 11 miles further and we were enjoying the views from “The ‘Sitooterie’ wildlife observation garden” in front of the Post Office at the Gairloch harbor (below). The water is so smooth at this time of day before the winds kick up and its surface reflects so beautifully. You just can’t take a bad picture!IMG_4276By this time we were getting a bit hungry so we stopped just up the road a bit further at the Shieling Restaurant for a bite to eat. I enjoyed a nice BLT while Lindsay indulged in a yummy looking shrimp cocktail! (Hmmm, maybe I should have ordered that!)

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The A832 cuts right at the top end of Gairloch and heads across the peninsula toward Poolewe on Loch Ewe. There’s not much to see on that 5-mile stretch of road but once you reach Poolewe there are quite a few options of things to see and do.  For instance, the National Trust manages a very beautiful garden there called Inverewe Garden.

IMG_4299We drove into the parking lot but it was super crowded so we decided not to go in. (I visited it last year with my friend Pat MacLeod from Dingwall and wrote a blog post about it already so I’m not going to tell any information about it in this post, however,  if you would like to see that post you can click here: Inverewe-gardens)

It is an absolutely beautiful garden. It is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful gardens in Scotland, in fact. Inverewe is a must for anyone who loves nature. The most we will see it today is this view of it from across the bay.IMG_4297Inverewe Gardens sits on a small peninsula that juts out into Loch Ewe. On the northern side of the hill behind the garden, you can see more of the massive loch. The view looking back toward Poolewe with the mountains beyond is also quite striking.

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“During World War II, Loch Ewe was a safe haven for naval vessels and merchant ships. Its attractiveness lay in its depth, size, and seclusion with convenient access to the Atlantic Ocean it made journey times shorter.

Merchant ships laden with supplies sailed from Loch Ewe under naval protection on the renowned Arctic Convoys – sadly it was the last voyage for many seamen. While coping with freezing cold water and the menace caused by German U-boats and bombers, the convoys carried their vital supplies to war-torn Russia. Loch Ewe was a naval base from 1939 to 1945. It was protected by light and heavy anti-aircraft guns. A boom net and mine defense system helped protect the vessels in the loch from submarines and air attacks.

Altogether 481 merchant ships and over 100 naval escort vessels left Loch Ewe for Russia in a total of 19 Arctic Convoys. In a nutshell, this place existed because supplies needed to get to the Russians by their allies in order to defeat Nazi Germany.

Imagine standing here in the 1940s looking down on a sea black with ships – so many in fact that it is said, “You could walk from one side of Loch Ewe to the other without getting your feet wet!”IMG_4313In this village of Aultbea, military personnel outnumbered local residents 3-1.IMG_4320Aultbea has an exhibition center which houses all kinds of memorabilia, photographs, recorded accounts and stories from people who were there during the operations. It’s really interesting and definitely worth a stop. It’s not a very big building at all, but it’s organized quite well and they’ve managed to fit quite a bit of stuff in there; they haveutilized every square inch quite efficiently.IMG_2012Here is just a small sampling of what they have on display in the way of paintings, posters, models of ships, some tools of the trade and some very interesting stories told by the locals.

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After we had a nice visit at the exhibition center we drove a bit further up the road as far as Dundonnell at the end of Little Loch Broom.

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IMG_4362This view looking from Second Coast down at Little Gruinard Beach below in the distance was spectacular!IMG_4364

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IMG_4371We drove the last 10 miles of our route hugging the coastline of Little Loch Broom enjoying the views until we reached Dundonnell. At this point we turned around and headed back the way we came, making our way back to Gairloch where we had secured a room for the night. Oh darn! We have to look at this beautiful scenery again?!?! What torture!

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We stopped for a break when we passed back through Aultbea and got a latte at Aultbea Hotel.

I’ve seen these “bathroom” signs before that they had for the toilets; I think they are really cute.

After our break, we continued on down the road a little further. When we arrived at Poolewe we turned right off of the main road (A832) and headed out on a single-track road hugging the western edge of Loch Ewe.

We were headed to the War Memorial which honors the men who lost their lives on the Arctic Convoy missions. It stands proudly out at the tip of the peninsula. There are also a lot of decrepit and deserted remains of military batteries scattered about the rocks at the Cove Light Anti Aircraft Battery installation from World War 2 I wanted Lindsay to see.

The drive back to Poolewe held our attention with its superb scenery…

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Another 5 miles and we arrived at the Gairloch Hotel on the shores of the bay. It’s a lovely accommodation with great views and a nice restaurant where we enjoyed a pleasant meal and a simply wonderful piece of cheesecake!  The perfect topping for a perfect day of gloriously stunning landscapes.

Attitude of Gratitude ~ I am ever so grateful for having good eyesight. Sometimes it’s the little things that we take for granted, like being able to see, for instance, that we tend to overlook. This day was filled with so many wonderful sights; it reminds me to feel grateful that I can see.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gordon Highland Games

It was yet another sunny and beautiful Sunday in Scotland when Lindsay and I set out for a 4-day adventure across the Scottish Highlands to the west coast from Aberdeen. The general route we followed (as shown below) included some interesting and extremely scenic sights along the way including the Bealach na Ba (Pass of the Cows), our ancestral town of Dingwall, the lovely little seaside village of Applecross, to and through Poolewe, Inverness to visit the gravesite of our 4th great grandma and a very interesting tour of a “Cooperage” in Aberlour where “Coopers” make whisky barrels for local distilleries.

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I will be sharing these adventures with you over the next 3-4 blog posts and I’m hoping you’ll enjoy reading about them. Our first stop on May 20th was in a village called Fochabers (Point B on the map above), where we attended one of my favorite Scottish Events – Highland Games, this time hosted by Clan Gordon at Gordon Castle!

Through the gates with a throng of other attendees, we approached the imposing tower of Gordon Castle sitting center stage. I didn’t have to wait long before I was seeing one of my favorite sights – men in kilts!

Just to the left of the main entrance was a fantastic display of various birds of prey. Over the course of the day, the Falconer put on exhibitions of these marvelous and well-trained specimens of nature.  Aren’t they exquisite examples?

Highland Games always have a wide selection of traditional Scottish culinary specialties to tease your taste buds with. I noticed this vendor with his unique offering of smoked fish all stacked and cooking over the smoking barrel! Yum!

IMG_3507This fella looked mighty pleased with his purchase and delighted to be diving in for his first bite!

I’ve been to several Highland Games at various locations. They have all been similar in regards to their set up and content but Clan Gordon seemed to take a little bit different approach.

Usually, there is just one event field or arena, and all the various kinds of competitions take place in that field in sectioned off areas. The crowds watch from the perimeter of the field and roam around its periphery to watch certain events which interest them.

Gordon Castle was the centerpiece in this case and various areas around the castle were set up for particular events. For example, in the gardens in front of the castle, the Highland Dancing Competitions were held by themselves; separate from the main field events such as the heavyweight competitions.  At other games I’ve attended, the young lassies competed in a portion of the same field that the heavyweight events (such as Shot Put or Heavy Hammer Toss) were also taking place.

In addition, they actually had two main fields; one in front of the castle with various activities and demonstrations being conducted and the other, behind the castle in its backyard, if you will, where all of the heavyweight competitions took place.

Since we were still in the front area of the castle, we enjoyed watching the young girls all dressed up in their Highland Dance garb competing up on stage dancing their little hearts out to the sounds of the Piper. Aren’t they just adorable?

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Across the way from the dances,  in the front main field, there were other various demonstrations going on like this one that really appealed to the young teens in the crowd – the Savage Skills of mountain bike mastery!

IMG_3482We noticed a lot of people heading down a pathway toward the back of the castle.

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We joined up with them to discover that the heavyweight competitions were being staged back there in another large arena and we arrived just in time to watch the Caber Toss.

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Up close, one can see how muscular and strong the heavyweight competitors are! A lot of these guys travel all over the countryside competing against one another as they make their way around the circuit of highland games throughout the summer, vying for overall championship awards.  Other competitors might just be some local lads competing alongside them.

I could hear a pipe band playing in the background as I shot the video above so we decided we would go find where the music was coming from and also find some lunch while we were at it.

Along the way, we passed booth after booth of fine handcrafted items for sale and we also enjoyed the people watching.

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The couple below enjoys dressing up in period costumes from days past and it was fun to talk to them. I had seen them before at Lonach Highland Games in Strathdon a couple of years ago and it was good to see them again.

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Eventually, we found the fish & chips vendor near this humungous Rhododendron bush! It must be hundreds of years old!

IMG_3569We sat in its shade enjoying our fish supper.

Afterward, another pipe band had started to play so we continued our search, following the sounds of pipes and drums until we found them playing near the back door of the castle.

I love listening to a pipe band and hearing the traditional tunes they play! It stirs my Scottish blood.

After that treat, we heard the announcement that the Heavy Hammer Toss competition was beginning in the main arena nearby.  Let’s head over there and check it out!

Oh, look! We are also just in time for the Tug-of-War too!

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Now the lads are warming up for the Shot Put…

 

 

One aspect of Highland Games that I particularly enjoy is the inclusion of dogs – all kinds of dogs! Some are ‘working’ dogs and go everywhere they’re Masters venture, but others are just adorable pets.  They are all welcome at the games, and there is always a nice variety of breeds to enjoy.  And of course, some of them are just so darned cute!

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I really enjoyed the Gordon Highland games, but I have to admit that one aspect I didn’t like was that they had two large event fields with a lot of various activities happening in each.

It’s important to get a copy of the Schedule of Events when you first arrive at a game so you don’t miss your particular favorites and also position yourself around the field to get a good view of the event you want to watch, but at least it is all happening in just one field. At the Gordon Games, Lindsay and I found we had to go back and forth between each field as events we wanted to watch unfolded. That involved a lot of walking in the crowded pathways back and forth between them and that was tiring and taxing.

After watching the heavyweight competitions in the backfield, we had to walk back to the front field to watch the parade of the Pipe Bands.  This is the absolute best part of any highland game as far as I’m concerned! Lots of lads and lassies in kilts and they are playing drums and playing pipes!

Near the end of the afternoon, we spent our time walking around just enjoying the sights. This little darling had a perfect seat high above us on her “da’s” shoulders and other children of all ages were enjoying the ice cream in the warm afternoon sunshine.

We ventured into the big pavilion tent which had kinds of wonderful goodies you could taste test and yummy things for sale!

I bought a jar of Fresh Raspberry Jam from this sweet young lady but I really wanted a jar of each flavor! It was soooo good!

I definitely needed to sample this new variety of Scottish Whisky the Glenfiddich Distillery was offering up! IMG_3600

There were also a lot more handcrafted items for sale as well which featured some quite imaginative items amongst them.

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Just before we decided to call it a day, we noticed a “mum ‘n dad” race just about to begin in the nearby field where the kids’ races had been taking place earlier. That was fun to watch…IMG_3625

On the way out we finally found where they were holding the individual Piper’s Competitions – on the tennis courts back in a grove of trees – of course! It’s no wonder I kept hearing ‘distant’ pipes playing all day long and couldn’t ascertain where the sounds were coming from.  They were hiding!

Lindsay and I were having such a super day at the Gordon Highland Games, but we were getting a bit tuckered out from all the fun. Our lodging for the night was just a little further up the road on the coast at Lossiemouth. We were returning to Skerry Brae because we had enjoyed it so much a few weeks earlier and luckily they still had a room left just for us!IMG_1792

We got checked in and were promptly greeted by their friendly Bartender and “hostess with the mostess” in their bar and restaurant. She got us set up with fresh beverages to sip while they prepared our “dinner” (or as the Scottish would say – “tea”).

We enjoyed a really nice meal of surf & turf while we sat and watched a beautiful cloud formation drift by over the lighthouse in the distance and we reflected upon all that we had seen and done that first day of our adventure.

We soon thereafter settled off into a wonderful sound sleep for the rest of the night. What a perfect day it was!  In the morning we would be heading further west to the seaside village of Applecross! But that, my dear readers, is another story for yet another day…

Attitude of Gratitude ~ I am so glad the tradition of Highland Games has been upheld and kept active over the centuries! What a fun event to attend.  The Scottish are very proud of their heritage and culture and I am grateful and honored by being counted among them.

House of Dun – 2nd Time Round

IMG_3214 (2)Normally I write blog posts about my travels in chronological order. However, best-laid plans go awry at times, don’t they?  I try to keep them in order to make it easy on myself and so you can follow along as if you were there with me.  I can’t possibly write blog posts as fast as I visit places though, so most of the time I’m writing about something that happened in the recent past.  At this time, however, I have already returned home from my trip and am now trying to catch up where I was after a month’s time has passed since my departure!

I’m writing this posting “out of order” because I feel it belongs with the blog post I wrote just recently and it seems logical to add it now. In that other post, I had been telling you about our first visit to see the formal gardens at the House of Dun on May 14th. During the process of writing that post, I discovered AFTER visiting it that I had ancestral ties to this place like so many others! You’d think I’d learn!  Also, I discovered that we didn’t explore a couple of other features on the property as well;  ones we wouldn’t want to miss: the Lady Augusta’s Walk, the old graveyard nor the old castle site, so Lindsay and I returned a second time to check them out on June 5th.

Upon arrival the second time around, we parked the car and headed straight for the gate that took us on a very interesting walk down through the woodlands along a creek in a ravine.

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The path meandered along and was flanked with pretty woodland type flowers.

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Then we took a few steps down as we entered into a bit of a tree tunnel with the pathway hugging the old castle defensive walls on one side and trees and tall bushes on the other until it opened up and a bridge appeared spanning the ravine offering access to the other side.

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We could also see the creek below and a lovely secluded picnic area upstream in the distance.

We crossed the bridge and soon discovered an old ice house built into the side of the bank from long, long ago where the Lords and Ladies stored their blocks of ice.

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After exploring the ice house, we came upon a gate nearby which led us into the old walled castle area. We walked through it toward the left until we reached the Erskine family burial grounds on the far left side of the massive enclosure.

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Once inside the graveyard, we checked out all of the graves within from the Erskine family.

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We could also see another graveyard beyond the family plot railings and what looked like an old church so we went back out of the family plot, to the big gate in the castle walls, which, in turn, led us to yet another gate to the other churchyard.

In 1375, my 19th great-grandfather, Robert Erskine (1310-1385) and his wife Beatrix Lindsay, purchased the Dun Estate. He, or one of his early descendants, built a tower house on a spot about a quarter of a mile west of the current House of Dun. This is the area we are currently exploring.

The building inside the graveyard evidently was the original parish church according to archeological findings and was later turned into the family mausoleum. Perhaps some of my distant relatives are buried within its walls and in its chambers. The Erskine family graves in the other enclosure appear to be for later generations of the Lairds of Dun.

The old building is quite interesting architecturally and so are the various headstones in the churchyard. I couldn’t get access inside the mausoleum, so I can’t determine who is buried inside nor if any of my relatives are in there but it was still really cool to see and the possibility of them being in there is rather high.

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After exploring the churchyard, we walked back inside the castle walls and walked around its perimeter some more. There is still an existing archway on the site which leads into what was the inner courtyard of the original castle. The archway is the only remaining remnants of the castle (besides the castle walls).

The castle continued to be the Erskine family home until the early years of the 1700s when David Erskine, the 13th Laird of Dun, and a wealthy lawyer, decided he needed something more comfortable and prestigious.  So he built the current House of Dun across the creek and up the hill from the castle where the views were better suited to his liking.

According to Undiscovered Scotland:

“By the 1600s it was increasingly common for Scotland’s many noble or landed families to begin to feel that their ancestral castles no longer met their needs or aspirations. They responded in many different ways. In some cases, castles evolved outwards into something larger and more comfortable. In other cases the family simply built a grand house and abandoned the old castle, leaving it to become a picturesque garden ornament.

David Erskine took a bolder approach. He pulled down Dun Castle sometime before 1723, then turned his attention to the house he wanted to replace it with.”  (Clarification here –  I am not related to any of the Erskines who built the current House of Dun except perhaps by very distant cousins.)

Inside the castle walls, we found some informal gardens cared for by local residents. Wish I could tend to those gardens!  What a perfect spot and talk about an effective deer fence those castle walls make! The vegetable and flower gardens were quite extensive but barely put a dent in the massive space within the castle walls.  If I were there I’m afraid I would try to fill every inch within the walls with gardens!

We then left the castle walls and worked our way along more of the woodland pathways as we made our way back to the car park. We barely scratched the surface of the pathways. They extend all the way around to the other side of the House of Dun along the outside perimeter of the estate. It will be fun sometime to return and follow more of them discovering their hidden treasures!

It was so pretty in that wild woodland garden with lots of unusual plants and specimens. It was also fun to explore up and down, over and under – where the paths led us.

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Next, we decided to tour the new grand house that was built in the 1700’s by David Erskine. Before we did, however, we decided to get a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich and a couple of lattes at the Erskine’s Tea Room and relax before touring the “new” house.

After our satisfying lunch, we began the tour of the inside of House of Dun.

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If you were standing on the front steps looking out, this is the view you would see. (below) Everything is about symmetry in this design.

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Let’s head inside and see what they have to offer, shall we?!

There was only one other couple, besides Lindsay and I, so the tour guide only had the four of us to take around.  That made it really nice and very personalized.

According to the guidebook, “The House of Dun is the finest surviving modest-sized house designed by William Adam, the pre-eminent Scottish architect of the early 18th century. It has undergone remarkably little change to its original form through the years.  Fashions in interior decoration have come and gone and furnishings have changed according to individuals’ tastes but the essence of a family home remains, with its unique combination of genteel grandeur and welcoming atmosphere.”

Inside, the house was quite impressive!  We stood in the foyer for a short while as the tour guide gave us a brief history of the house and its inhabitants before we ventured into the main saloon beyond.

What a magnificent room!  “The superb plasterwork by Joseph Enzer was one of the final touches to the house and the wonderful array of his allegorical emblems in the saloon still leap from the walls with remarkable freshness. The dominant Roman God of War, Mars, representing the family history and noble pedigree, is balanced against Minerva, Goddess of Wisdom and Peach, a suitable emblem for the house of Lord Dun, a high court judge.

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The pastoral emblems above the windows are typical of the 18th-century romanticized view of nature and provide a direct link with the view outside.”

He even used a real basket to plaster, and the plastered seashells are also real. Makes me wonder if the violin is also real and was given a coat of plaster as well!  Remarkable plaster work!

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The next room we entered was the dining room and its walls were adorned with all kinds of paintings of various family members throughout the ages.

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The child on the right in this painting is Millicent Lovett, the 21st and last Laird of Dun, with her mother and sister.  We also saw her headstone in the family graveyard earlier.

The woman below with her children is Lady Augusta.  She was reportedly very beautiful, with a charming manner and an irresistible speaking voice inherited from her actress mother, Dora Jordan.

She was one of 10 illegitimate children of King William IV and Ms. Jordan.  According to the guidebook, “She married the Honourable John Kennedy Erskine, heir to the House of Dun through his mother. Following their wedding, they came north to Dun and embarked on a series of changes to the house.

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There are many reminders of Augusta’s royal lineage in the house. She was also a prolific and accomplished needlewoman, creating the woolwork bed hangings bearing the family crest for the red bedroom, decorative silk fire screens and the remarkable embroidered curtains and pelmets depicting floral wreaths and exotic birds that once adorned the saloon but are now in the boudoir.  For the wedding of her son, William Henry, she embroidered a silk bedcover with delicate flowers & initials, and the words “From Mother.” The plan for the flower garden is also attributed to her, with ribbon borders and a rose bower in the center.”

Since I also have done a bit of needlework myself, I was particularly impressed with her work.  She created so many pieces and of such large proportions!  It must have taken her so long to create all of these beautiful and intricate needlework specimens!

We will see many more examples of her work as we visit the various other rooms in the house. For now, we are still in the dining room.

After the dining room, we visited another room which had quite a fine collection of Chinese porcelain and other interesting pieces.

We passed through the Stone Hall, pausing to admire the collection of walking sticks & horse whips displayed on the walls above our heads.  This family was quite into horses!

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Then we headed upstairs to tour the bedrooms.

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This bedroom had a very unusual bathtub called a boot bath adjoining it.  Never have seen one quite like it before!

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Near the top of the house was this lovely little sitting area with a game table, a piano and a beautiful mother of pearl clock!

At the very top of the house was a large room which the Trust had used as an exhibition area to tell the stories of the House of Dun’s famous inhabitants.

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The next room we visited was the red bedroom with the beautiful and ornately embroidered wool bed coverings, family crest and a handmade embroidered quilt by Lady Augusta for her son William for his wedding.

After touring the main part of the house where all the family members hung out, we went back downstairs and to the lower levels of the house where the servants lived and worked. I always enjoy this part of the tour! I can just see them scurrying about and making everything happen.

This was followed by a visit to the nearby wine cellars and the game keeper’s office.

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Next came the kitchen!

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And for the finale, we toured the Governess’s quarters.  Quite charming and cozy!

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We really enjoyed the tour and walking some of the woodland pathways.  The House of Dun is definitely a place to visit, but be sure to allow a full day for exploring all of its many treasures.  As we left the Estate and started up the road for other destinations that day, we noticed a sign pointing the way for the “Bridge of Dun.”  We turned down the narrow road and came upon this beautiful bridge as a final surprise! What a delightful find!

Now that I am home once again in Oregon, it’s really fun to review the photos and information I have gathered up to write about the rest of the trip.  I still have about 40 folders full of wonderful photos and stories to share with you so this definitely is not the last entry about my 2018 travels! I also have other adventures in California and Washington to embark upon later this summer and fall.  I’ll probably be writing about them all right up to the end of the year!

In the meantime, as if I didn’t have anything to do, I decided to move!  I have relocated with my daughter and granddaughter to the northern part of Oregon, near Portland, to a lovely little rural town called St. Helens on the banks of the Columbia River. My oldest granddaughter, Nichole, and my great-granddaughter, Alaska, also live nearby so therein lies my biggest motivation to relocate!

There are all kinds of new roads to follow and paths to discover, wrought with fresh material for future blog posts to share with you!  The possibilities are endless!

Attitude of Gratitude ~ I am so grateful for the ability to travel and write about the wonderful places I visit.  I am grateful for the opportunities that arise and the delightful places I get to share with my readers; all the while hoping to inspire them to seek adventure and surprises themselves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Budgeting for Travel

In just a little over two weeks from now, I will be leaving for yet another wonderful trip. I will be “Biking & Barging” in The Netherlands, transfixed by the fields of tulips and daffodils near Amsterdam.

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After a fun-filled week in Holland, I will head back to Scotland once again for a couple of months to pick up where I left off last year romping around in the Highlands with my dear cousin, Lindsay.

 

Last year when I was staying with him about midway during my four-month trip, I was sitting there enjoying myself when suddenly I realized, ‘Oh no! My vacation is already half over!’ Then I remembered and reassured my optimistic self,  ‘However, looking on the bright side; I still have half of it to enjoy!’ I felt better, yet, having spent half of the vacation already I also wanted to make sure my actual expenditures were still in line with my travel budget plans so I could make sure I was on track. Since I was on such a long trip, it could be disastrous if I didn’t keep an eye on it. Luckily, I was right on track and had actually been spending a little less than expected.

When people hear how long my vacations tend to be (anywhere from 1 – 4 months) they often ask, “Isn’t that awfully expensive? Wish I could afford a four-month vacation touring around and visiting castles in Ireland, Scotland, England & Wales all summer long! How can you possibly afford that?”

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Years ago I would have had similar thoughts, and never imagined I would actually be able to do as much travelling as I do, nor that it doesn’t require I have access to a small fortune either!

“How do you manage then, Claudia?”  you might be asking…
Well, in a number of ways, actually, which I plan to share with you in this post.

The starting point is proper “Budgeting.” One needs to allow, or provide for, a particular amount of money in a budget that serves as a plan of action for achieving one’s desired objectives.

What are my desired objectives?

To travel as much as possible on a limited amount of money I have set aside over the years just for that purpose.

You might be thinking that I’m made of money or have a huge amount of it set aside for travelling, but I’m here to tell you that isn’t true.

I don’t tend to spend a lot of money while I travel. I am not extravagant and I certainly don’t stay at extravagant places nor spend money while I’m travelling “living it up.” If  “living it up” was my desired objective, I would have taken just one single trip, spent the whole wad of money I had saved for years and then be resigned to stay at home the rest of my life. That’s not what I desire.  My desired objective is to travel as much as possible for as long as I am physically able to so.

Many people I have talked to about this subject, and who know from personal experience, have advised me to travel often while I still can before I get too old to do so. They have also expressed regret that they didn’t do more while they could. I am 65 and quite fortunate to have good health but I don’t kid myself either. I am getting older daily. I have noticed I am beginning to slow down a bit, in incremental and almost indiscernible ways so I don’t want to take that for granted.

I realize there are already a number of things that I no longer can do that I did in the past. Swimming in the ocean is one example. I used to spend a lot of time in the waves, body surfing, etc.

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Just a few years ago I went to Hawaii with my granddaughters. We were frolicking in the waves along the shore break, which previously wouldn’t have been any big deal for me, but this time, I realized I didn’t have the muscular strength I once possessed to swim safely and made a note to self not to swim beyond where I could stand because I knew I no longer had the stamina for that and it could prove dangerous for me. Therefore I don’t spend a lot of time in the ocean anymore; I have found other ways to amuse myself.

My interests have also changed from my youth. I am much more interested in history for example. Before I found meandering around a museum all day long extremely boring and an extremely tedious way to spend my time. At that time I much preferred to be outside engaged in more active endeavours. Now I really like museums, castles and cathedrals and can’t seem to get enough of that sort of thing. The lesson being, life is a smorgasbord and each stage of life offers up new, diverse, differing and tantalizing entrees when you are ready for them.

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I usually forego extravagant and expensive activities generally speaking, although I do like to pick one special thing to splurge on during each trip, but once it is satisfied I revert right back to my frugal ways. I don’t buy souvenirs or trinkets nor eat out in restaurants on a regular basis. I spend my hard-earned travel stash more modestly.

Museums, for example, are almost always free, or at the very least, offer wonderful discounts to senior citizens off their already relatively low-cost entry fees. Engaging in free and low-cost activities allows me to economize and therefore allows me to travel more frequently.  Just what I want! There are a plethora of free sights or very inexpensive activities to enjoy and usually, they are not crowded at all.

By doing so, I still have a great time and never do I feel cheated or like I am going without in the least. As an added bonus, I have realized I tend to get to know the place, and the people in it, much more intimately than I did in my youth; and it is not from the vantage of most “typical tourists.” Instead, I end up having a much more down-to-earth and uniquely personal experience.

So let’s get back to the budgeting tactics I practice. When planning a vacation and preparing a budget for it,  I want to know how much I should expect to fork out (on average) every day. I look at the total costs, not just what I actually spend day-to-day while travelling. The following average daily costs are based on my individual spending habits. On my list are 8 categories I spend money on to take a trip:

1. Transportation (i.e.; Airfare, Trains, Buses, Tolls & Ferries)

2. Food (eating out at restaurants & groceries)

3. Lodging

4. Car rental and Gasoline

5. Gifts (one each for loved one back home and one special memento for me!)

7. Entrance fees to sights & attractions (also includes any annual membership fees to associations, such as The National Trust of Scotland, for example, which gains me free entry into all of their properties. After visiting 3-4 locations the membership has paid for itself and I get to see so many more!)

8. Miscellaneous (including personal toiletries)

It differs for every person and lifestyle, naturally. I don’t know what your lifestyle is, but I do know what mine is after studying it and keeping track of it for years. I’ve been keeping track of my spending habits and using a budget most of my entire adult life. Therefore, I know what my personal daily lifestyle is.

I’m not a big spender, (in fact,  I tend to be rather ‘frewgal’) and also live well within my means. Old-fashioned a lot might say, but I’ve learned I sleep a lot better and stress a whole lot less about finances by doing so. I don’t carry credit card debt. I do use my United Miles VISA religiously to pay my monthly bills and buy things I need (groceries, gas, etc.) so I can get airplane award miles to cash in later. I pay my monthly credit card bill in full each and every month, thereby, avoiding interest and additional finance related fees. Using award miles for plane tickets offsets the huge cost of airfare in the transportation category above. It takes very little effort to earn the award miles, but is definitely worth it for the free round-trip airplane ticket to Europe! That’s a huge saving alone in itself!

I only buy things using my credit card if I already have the money in the bank to pay for them. If I don’t, I don’t buy it. Period. Instead, I save my money the old-fashioned way and wait until I do have enough to buy whatever it is I want (delayed gratification at its best!). The only exception to carrying any debt, however, is that I do carry a mortgage on my house and have a monthly car payment, but even with those monthly bills, I am still living well-within my means and managing to set aside a few more saved dollars each month into my travel fund!

I’ve been a judicious ‘saver’ most of my adult life. Having done so, I have a nice nest egg for retirement and also some funds allocated for travelling and exploring our beautiful planet. Just because I have funds to travel with, however, doesn’t mean I go hog wild. Not in the least; I can’t afford to do that, nor do I really care to. I simply maintain my regular day-to-day lifestyle, and my daily budget, while travelling.

For instance, I figure, I have to eat every day, no matter where I am; at home or somewhere else in another country. Although I like trying a lot of different kinds of foods that I am not accustomed to while I’m travelling, I still eat basically the same amount of food each day. I seldom go out to restaurants when I am at home; it’s a ‘treat’ I afford once in a while with a friend or family member. Usually, I prepare my own food at home, from scratch. I love to cook and I like variety. I find cooking is a pleasurable event and try new recipes along with the tried and true “reliable favorites.”

My daily lifestyle from home fits very nicely with travelling IF I have a grocery store nearby and a place to stay where I can cook most of my own meals in a self-catering kitchen. I also intermix that with eating out in a wide variety of reasonable and affordable restaurants, cafes and enjoy delicious and affordable pub-grub. I also like to pack lunches to enjoy a picnic during the day while I am exploring and that alone saves me a lot of money.

 

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Food and lodging can easily be two of the largest expense categories while travelling, so finding ways to trim that part of the budget is desirable. I certainly don’t go without, but trying my best to economize where I can.

Which brings me to Lodging…

Growing up it was customary in my immediate family to spend our vacation time or spending holidays visiting our many family members in various locations on the west coast of America. I have continued that tradition in my adult life. I simply love to visit family when I am traveling and make a point to include them in my plans. From what I gather, not many do this, nor do they want to, but I treasure it. I can’t imagine not visiting them if I am in close proximity. It wouldn’t feel right (almost rude) if I didn’t and I would miss out on a wonderful opportunity to see them.  Who knows if I will ever have the chance again? It allows me to stay connected in this fast-paced world, and often I get to know their town and area through their eyes, as a “local,” which offers up unique ways to experience their neck of the woods as it really is.

Many times, they also extend an invitation to spend the night in their spare bedroom or on the couch, which is very generous to be sure. It also gives us more time to hang out together, share more than one meal and enjoy quality time together getting to know each other better; definitely sharing a few extra laughs as well. Their kind gesture of offering a place to sleep really helps in the lodging costs category and I am not one to turn down these generous offers whenever possible. I try to not wear out my welcome though by staying too long, (ya know, they say that fish and company go bad after 3 days) and I really try to “leave no trace,” (no signs that I’ve been there nor messes made by me for them to clean up). So far, they all keep inviting me back for yet another visit so my efforts seem to be working.

 

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While touring around Europe, I also really enjoy staying in hostels, particularly ones which are associated with the Youth Hostel Association (YHA). It is a very inexpensive way to spend on lodging, with an average cost of about $12.00 per night’s stay. They are clean, safe, friendly places usually located in the heart of what I want to see and experience and more often than not, housed in a very interesting and unique repurposed building that was, once upon a time, an estate house, an old hunting lodge of a king, or some other interesting specimen of historical value.

Almost all of them have self-catering kitchen facilities and extremely helpful and friendly staff. If you don’t want to cook, they usually have a kitchen that offers inexpensive prepared meal options one can purchase and many also offer a limited bar for refreshments and snacks as well. Often times they also sponsor tourist activities such as local walking guided tours, and at the very least offer discounts at local sights to their guests through their local  affiliations. Many also include self-service laundry facilities too which comes in extremely handy when travelling a long time or with limited clothing options. No matter where you are, there always seems to be clothes that need laundering!

Hostels are also full of interesting like-minded travellers from places across the globe. I have made friends with a lot of people because of the hostels’ open and friendly environment which encourages a community feeling and opportunities to mingle and get to know one another.

Some offer private rooms, but generally speaking you share a room with bunk beds with 4-8 others of the same sex, and also share bathroom facilities. There is plenty of opportunity for privacy, while showering, etc. If you can get along with others, play nice and keep your “belongings” confined to your bunk and your designated little storage closet, hostels are great. I really enjoy the hostels. I don’t need a room to myself, I am just sleeping when I am in the bedroom. When I wake up I don’t hang out in my room; too many things to see or do! I didn’t come all this way to hang out in some room by myself. I am travelling and therefore out and about as much as I can. As long as I have a clean, comfortable and safe place to sleep, I am one happy camper.

Another way I save money on lodging is that I bought into a timeshare unit on the island of Hawaii many years ago. I never stay at the resort I bought into, but instead always “bank” my week. Hawaii properties offer “high trading power” because they are much more desirable than other locations. I save my weeks and find resorts in other countries I plan to visit instead. The timeshare is part of RCI, which has thousands of properties worldwide to choose from so my options are quite vast.

The resorts are usually at least 4-star and come with all the usual amenities one would expect. The rooms are like little apartments, or suites, with 2-3 bedrooms, full kitchens, etc. This is one example of a way I afford to splurge on something upscale without high costs attached!

If I am by myself it ends up costing me about $40-50 each night for a whole 7-day week because of the yearly maintenance fees I pay at my resort. Not bad.  If I include others then, of course, the per night/per person rate also dramatically lowers with each additional person. When I take my granddaughter, Grace, to Germany next year we will be staying in one of those resorts in Bavaria.

 

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I also have another week available in my resort bank and am currently searching for yet another weeks’ stay elsewhere in Germany or even Austria & Switzerland since we will be in such close proximity anyway.  Why not?

With all of the above tactics employed to keep costs down while I am travelling, I have been enjoying 3 consecutive years of very enjoyable long trips. Because I keep track of all my expenditures and make an effort to stick to my budget, I have found that I am able to maintain an average cost per person/per day of $100!  If I want to travel somewhere for a month, I know I will need about $3,000 for 30 days. I can rest assured that ALL of my travel needs and expenses are covered and it’s affordable for me.

This all takes an effort of course; time spent tracking expenditures and “budgeting,” which a lot of people don’t like to bother with. It is not one of my favorite past-times either, BUT, it’s something I do regardless of whether it’s pleasurable or not. It’s kind of like doing the dishes; I don’t particularly “enjoy” that task either but it still needs to be done if I want to have clean dishes and utensils to eat with. The rewards reaped far outweigh the effort spent.

Budgeting for travel is time well spent for me and it can be for you as well. Discovering ways to minimize the costs is fun, and is a creative process in itself. I really enjoy first dreaming about a future trip somewhere, then creating that trip by budgeting for it, and finally, making it a reality by actually going on the trip I planned and budgeted for. As an additional bonus, to top it all off with a cherry, getting the opportunity to share those travels with you on this blog!

In closing, I hope you have learned something new, or perhaps that I have inspired you to dream about a trip somewhere for yourself although you never imagined it possible because of high costs. Maybe by sharing how I manage it, you can apply similar tactics to make it affordable for you to also enjoy. If there’s a will; there’s a way!

I am grateful for life’s lessons which have taught me the value of budgeting & saving; making it possible for me to reach out for dreams I once thought impossible.