Category Archives: Travel-Scotland

Scotland and Steak

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Orkney Scotland

“Scotland is a pretty country.  The roads are so winding that they seem designed to ensure a maximally scenic experience, and the fields are greener than in most other places by orders of magnitude.  They are also pleasantly irregular, having been parceled off in an age before right angles, and are separated by fences hewed out of rock or long and commendably trim hedges.  A knight in armor on horseback would look less out of place on a Scottish road than a car does.  But what would look most natural of all is a golf cart.  The entire country is a vision of the golfing afterlife, with epic stretches of fairway and rough, and the odd clump of forest for texture.  Fields stretch out to the horizon, covering the rises in the land the way a taut blanket covers an uprise of toes.  Looking skyward, you have the feeling that the hand of God might plunge through the cloud cover to stroke all that dewy pasture like an old woman patting a cat.”

an apt description by author Mark Schatzker in his book, STEAK.

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Orkney, Scotland
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Shetland Scotland
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Longoe Farm – part of the Castle of Mey estate, Thurso, Caithness, Scotland
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Kingston Farm – Dunlouise Angus – Forfar, Scotland

Heading Home!

Saturday morning (11 Oct 14) was the beginning of our trek back home.  Although our stay in Scotland has been wonderful, after a month, it’s time to go home – we are ready.  After cleaning and straightening our West Gallaton Farmhouse, (a tie for the best two places we stayed whilst in Scotland) we headed to Aberdeen.   We drove downtown Stonehaven to fuel up the car – it was a bit more expensive, but I knew where the station was and hoped that Saturday morning traffic wouldn’t be as bad as i assume it would be in Aberdeen.  I paid £2.29 per liter at this BP station  which translates to $13.85 per gallon.  Although that is really high, all their cars regularly rate at 50-60 mpg.  If we could buy these cars in the States, our gas (petrol) prices would go up I suspect.  Our last car, a Toyota Auris, was the nicest car we hired – didn’t hurt that is practically brand new with only 839 miles on it.  I managed to tack on over 300 miles during the 5 days we had it.   I didn’t check my mpg, but it is purported to have a combined 52 mpg (US).

Even though we chose a circuitous approach to the Arnold Clark car hire location, the traffic was still quite thick.  About a bazillion hectic roundabouts and a couple wrong turns that threw us into the thick downtown crush later, we arrived unscathed to the car hire car park.  Whew!

A young man from Hungary who is attending uni in Aberdeen and working at Arnold Clark, took us to the rail station.  Really friendly young man – he is enjoying school and work in this Scottish city.

We had time to waste before our train departure, so we ate at Pizza Hut at the Union Station mall.  Best Pizza Hut pizza and service we’ve ever experienced anywhere!  I’ve never entered a TripAdvisor review for a fast food restaurant before, but this deserved that effort.

Arrived in Edinburgh, grabbed a cab, then off to our final hotel – Budget Ibis.  Having never stayed at one of these before, i was taken aback by the small, stark, and sparse accommodations.  But it was new and clean and since it was only one night, we managed to stumble around each other for the short duration.  Did I mention it was tiny!?  Still had to take a cab to the airport although it was very nearby – it wouldn’t have been safe to walk since there really wasn’t a pedestrian pathway.  But, it was 2/3rds the cost of the Hilton and had free Wi-Fi.

Early Sunday morning, we were on our way to Edinburgh airport.  We had good flights – six hours to Newark, 2 1/2 hour layover, 3 hours to Kansas City.  Since so many people were sick on the flights home, I began a regiment of Sambucus Black Elder Berry extract.  Allen was there to whisk us away home.  It did feel odd riding on the right side of the car as a passenger instead of the driver.

Dunnottar Castle

The morning broke with a few overcast clouds, but we’ve learnt that in Scotland, the skies and weather change quickly.  Sure enough, by the time we got around (Dunnottar Castle didn’t open until 10am), the sky was clearing and by early afternoon, we could not have asked for more perfect weather.

Senior Pictures  - Nathan turned 18 today!  October 10, 2014
Senior Pictures – Nathan turned 18 today! October 10, 2014

Today is Nathan’s 18th birthday and here he is, exactly where he wanted to be on this day and great day for his senior photos.  We took a lot and a few turned out pretty good.  Some fell through the cracks due to operator error (that’d be me) and for some the lighting was just not right.  But we certainly could not have asked for a more unique and historical back drop.

So why Dunnottar Castle?  Dunnottar is best known for hiding the Honours of Scotland and fending off Oliver Cromwell and his army during the 17th century.  But, closer to home (which is really not very close at all), the castle was the seat of Earl Marischal up until the 18th century.   My 13th great grandfather was William Keith Third Earl of Marischal, born at Dunnottar 24 July 1506, Kincardineshire, Scotland.  His daughter was the grandmother to Alexander Falconer born in Halkertonne, Angus, Scotland about 1545.  Falconers are a sept of the clan Keith and, although they share the Keith tartan pattern, Falconers do have their own Coat of Arms or family crest.  The motto is:  Vive Ut Vivas (Live that you may have life).

Dallas and Nathan being goofy at Dunnottar Castle
Dallas and Nathan being goofy at Dunnottar Castle

After extensively touring the castle grounds, we hiked the path along the North Sea coast and up the hill to the Stonehaven War Memorial with its stunning views of the harbor town of Stonehaven.  By this time, we were maybe 25 minutes walk to to the harbor, so on we went.  With the warm weather, despite being the off season, the streets were buzzing with people eating and drinking outside the hotels and restaurants enjoying the sunshine.  We explored the area for a bit, bought some ice cream and headed back.  All in all, about six miles of walking – some of it pretty strenuous, but most was easy to moderate.  But there was no reason to hurry, so the pace was leisurely.

Stonehaven War Memorial dedicated on Sunday, 20th May 1923, at 3 o’clock
Stonehaven War Memorial dedicated on Sunday, 20th May 1923, at 3 o’clock
The beautiful harbour town of Stonehaven - voted best seaside town in Scotland in 2010.
The beautiful harbour town of Stonehaven – voted best seaside town in Scotland in 2010.

Aberdeen-Angus Cattle

We saw some good cattle across the country – mostly 7-9 frame Continental breeds in Shetland, Orkney, and the mainland.  .  Nearly all in excellent, fat condition – a nod to excellent grass and forage management and the occasional feed wagon.  All the cattle on the islands are stabled for the rainy winter season and, rightly so.  Cattle that large and heavy would not be able to walk in the paddocks if the ground became any soggier than what we saw – they’d sink into mud to their knees.  They are then fed hay and silage primarily with the subsequent manure being hauled out and the barn cleaned sometime the following year and spread back out on the grass paddocks.  We saw NO evidence of confined animals on feed (CAFO’s).  However, there may have been a few since we learnt later on the mainland, that grain finishing (barley and oats) would be done inside a barn.

Although there is a special breed that has been adapted for the conditions on the Shetland Islands.  The Shetland Cattle, like the Shetland sheep,  are considered primitive (unimproved) and smaller than more conventional animals.  We actually did see maybe a dozen head of these cattle all over the island – most of those at a farm whose specific purpose is to preserve native Scottish livestock.  The Shetland cattle are fine looking cattle, but smaller carcasses don’t fit the box.  The Shetland Sheep are increasing being crossed with Cheviots for a crossbred ewe, then covered with a Texel ram for fast growing, larger terminal lambs.

Wednesday the 8th, we spent the entire day on a farm walk and enjoying a lovely lunch with Geordie and Julia Soutar on a sunshiny warm day on their Aberdeen-Angus Farm, Kingston Farm,  just outside Forfar. Geordie and Julia have spent 20 years searching out the old genetics of Aberdeen Angus and producing them enough to help move them off the endanger of extinction list! These Angus cattle are like nothing i’ve ever seen in the US unless they are of these bloodlines. Yes, we were in the same pasture with the famed Jipsey Earl!

Most all the hay is finished being put up since we’ve been here.  Here’s an interesting note – although the round bales here are slightly smaller than ours, they are very compact – we guess them to weigh around 800-1000 lbs.  Anyway, Geordie Soutar put up 300 bales off 18 acres!  He also ended up with 95 bales of silage (individually wrapped). Although we saw a LOT of silage bales from Shetland to Orkney, and all around the mainland, Geordie doesn’t like them because of too much plastic packaging to deal with.  The reason he did was the late cutting of hay and it has just been raining too much of late and it simply wouldn’t dry.  Instead of having all his animals in one mob (he has about 50 cows), he has them in separated in paddocks for various breeding reasons  SO, he manages to not ever deworm because he changes the pastures every 4 years. Vining peas, potatoes, turnips, perennial rye.  He plants, then harvests the peas and potatoes, then ploughs down and seeds to clovers and ryegrass.

Wild cattle! Not!
Wild cattle! Not!

Geordie is planning his paddocks to be ready for a sale put on by the American Angus Association in 2017 – it’s the first time the American Angus Association has had a sale off the North American continent.  He will only have about 40 animals for sale – it will mostly be semen and embryos.  Plus, he can only sell live animals in the UK.  Kingston Farm cattle are 4-4,5 frame score and mature cows weighing 1500!  They are meat machines.  No grain is fed and the photos show them in working clothes with calves by their sides.  It is interesting to note that he does not expose heifers until 18-20 months as he believes that yearlings are too young to breed and he gets the return back on the other end.  His cows regularly produce every year until ages 15-16 and animals finished on grass alone have excellent marbling and cover in 18-20 months.  So, whether it’s genetics, good feed, or waiting ’til later to breed or a combination of all, he’s got a great programme going here.

No, she isn't in a feedlot - there has been torrential wind and rain the previous three days.
No, she isn’t in a feedlot – there has been torrential wind and rain the previous three days.

Culloden Moor & More!

Arriving by divine providence and safety from the train depot in Inverness to our Open Views guest house is definitely a miracle.  It all seems a blur to me now and I still have to get back to the depot somehow on the 5th!  Nevertheless, we were not meeting our host until 4:30, so we went back to the Culloden Moor Battlefield site.  We had visited this three years ago, but when we were on a tour bus and it arrived too late for us to enjoy the new visitor centre which gave a lot more information regarding the slaughter of so many Highlanders during this botched campaign.

We met our Open Views host and were settled in shortly, then drove her back to Tesco, where we did a bit of shopping and she caught the bus home.  Back to the house, fixed supper, and settled in for the evening.

Wednesday, we took a long drive about.  Visiting Forres, home of the Falconer Museum,  a tribute to Hugh Falconer.

Falconer Museum, Forres, Moray October 1, 2015
Falconer Museum, Forres, Moray
October 1, 2015

No relation to me, but I had to have a photo in front of museum carrying my maiden name!

Then around and through the country to drive through Dallas, Moray, Scotland.

Dallas in Dallas, Moray October 1, 2014
Dallas in Dallas, Moray October 1, 2014

Beautiful country of course, through and around back to Inverness and our home.

Thursday, we had a blast with tree hiking at the RothemurchusTreezone and quad bike trekking on Rothiemurchus Estates in Aviemore.  No photos of the tree hiking because the boys made me carry the camera and, of course, i was way behind, they left me in the dust!  Yes, they managed the entire course nicely, BUT, I, too  made it through both courses and never slipped off any obstacles.  Okay, now two days later, I’m still sore!  But, it was fun – I’d do that again.  The quad trekking was well done with an engaging and friendly guide, but it was not what I expected.  I had hoped for a tour of the farm, etc, but instead we just sped along the streams and track as one would do if they were just riding four-wheelers for fun.  We had beautiful weather for this outing.

Nathan on the Quad at Rothiemurchus
Nathan on the Quad at Rothiemurchus

Afterwards, we took the time to drive as far as we could to the top of the Cairngorm Mountain range.

Toyoto Argo at the top of the Cairngorm Mountains October 1, 2014
Toyoto Argo at the top of the Cairngorm Mountains October 1, 2014

We purchased enough food at the Rothiemurchus Farm Store to cover our meals for the remainder of our stay.  The beef was from grass-finished Scottish Highland cattle raised on the estates as well as the venison.  Other items were produced by local families.  All very good.  More expensive for sure than Tesco or the Co-op, but I like to support local community efforts when I can.  I’m going to admit it – I like haggis!

Friday and Saturday, we pretty much rested in our guest home.  I was pretty sore through my chest, arms, and shoulders even into Saturday!  We took a few short exploratory walks around the area, but pretty much lazed about.  We did go to the petrol station and fuel up so i wouldn’t have to worry with it on our departure Sunday morning.  Also,  tried with no success in finding accommodation for the remainder of our trip.   Even this time of year, some areas of Scotland are packed!

Clava Cairns, Culloden 2 Oct 14
Clava Cairns, Culloden 2 Oct 14

We set off early enough Sunday morning to catch our 9:59 am train to Aberdeen.  The boys are usually frustrated with me because I tend to arrive early and then we wait – in this case, nearly an hour, however,  stuff happens to cause delays, so I’d rather have a cushion of time before scheduled departures.  There was very little traffic this Sunday morning, so we drove straight on in with no mishap this time.  We took photos of the car, locked it, and threw the keys in the boot and off we went.  No problem collecting our rail boarding passes at the kiosk and the train was spot on time for Aberdeen.

Dreading this last week – at first

Well, to put it into perspective, there are people suffering far worse than me, but it was annoying to have a car reserved and paid for, but after being shuttled from the rail station to Arnold Clark car hire in Aberdeen, my cc won’t go through! What?! I couldn’t get on the internet anywhere except about a mile (2 miles on the sidewalk packing our luggage!) to a mall for free wi-fi. I contacted the lady at the Arnold Clark main headquarters and she got through to the branch and worked it out! So instead of driving away about 1pm – we left about 3:30p! With Nathan‘s navigating, we manoeuvered the multiple roundabouts and managed to stay on the A96 to Inverurie. Found a couple of sites (standing stones) there before needing to head to our hotel in Monymusk. Nine miles and 20 minutes later, we pulled up to a lovely place, Grant Arms Hotel – the receptionist didn’t have our reservation, (she found it later), but put us into a nice room and asked if we would like reservations for supper. Absolutely! and thank you! we hadn’t had anything to eat except for a shared small bag of chips since 5pm the night before. Not like we were going to starve of course, but some of us get grumpy with no food or water for 24 hours. Come to find out, we are the only guests at the hotel tonight! Supper and service were superb and dining room was packed! Little wonder!  Pretty much raining all day.  

Grand Arms Hotel in Monymusk
Grand Arms Hotel in Monymusk

Okay, we are in trouble – my Visa has suddenly stopped working all together – we will run out of cash. Now I understand why people carry more than one credit card!  Have never had this problem before.  After discovering that the post office in Monymusk couldn’t exchange my US dollars for Stirling, Nathan and I drove back to Kenmay and exchanged enough to pay for our meal and hotel charges at Grant Arms Hotel as well as for the next night if need be.  Then it was past time to leave.

Well, we are all good again by Monday afternoon, Jim McIntyre at the Bank of Brookfield-Purdin, transferred money out of our bank account to pay my VISA card so we don’t have to sleep in the car for the remainder of the trip!  My bad, for not increasing the limit for this trip – didn’t even think about it since usually I have most of it all paid before we leave home.  We are traveling more by the seat of our pants this time.  We feel much better now – stress was horrible for these past two days.  Thought we might have to start cleaning rooms and washing dishes!  This week is going much better now!  The people at Grant Arms were very understanding and supportive.

Battle of Harlaw war memorial built in 1911 - 500 years after the battle.
Battle of Harlaw war memorial built in 1911 – 500 years after the battle.

Even though it is pouring down rain this morning (6th) , but we were determined to find the monument and battlefield of the Battle of Harlaw.  The monument was built in 1911 – 500 years after the battle and is located north a bit of Inverurie, so we did some back tracking to get there.  The plan, of course, was to do this yesterday, but with all the delays, it just didn’t happen.

Rain was blowing sideways with gusts up to 60 mph – All these side roadways are very narrow and winding.  Plan on taking an hour to drive 30 miles.  Stunning drive from Inverurie to Braemar (again passing Monymusk)
So, on our stop at one of the parking places (i was just going to let cars behind me pass) it happened to be a VisitScotland info stop and we found out that the Queen is leaving her Scottish home at Balmoral tomorrow morning and that from 3p-7p, the road will be opened up to visit the grounds for that day only, then the bridge will be closed for repairs at until April.  We may go back up the road to do that tomorrow.

We are staying in a run-down hotel tonight, the Fife Arms Hotel in Braemar – one can easily see that it was quite grand in its day.  Rich woodwork, ornate pillars, roaring fire in the huge fireplace in the expansive, coffered ceiling lobby.  But the rich carpets are threadbare and paint is chipping in rooms and hallways.  The bedrooms’ floors tilt hideously and the room furnishings would make a good bonfire.  However, there is a tour group which just arrived – about 45 or 50  of them – they are all in the dining chatting and having a grand time.  We just grabbed some stuff from the Co-op right next door and ate in our room.  Tonight, there is supposed to be singing entertainment of Gaelic and Scottish songs in the lobby which we can attend.  Probably set up for the tour group, but guess it’s open to all.  Looking forward to that.

River Dee boiling after all the rain and flooding - near the Fife Arms Hotel in Braemar
River Dee boiling after all the rain and flooding – near the Fife Arms Hotel in Braemar
Well, i didn’t sleep much at all last night, so getting pretty tired.  and i need to go back upstairs to plug in the computer – Wi-Fi only in the lobby here.
It absolutely poured all day yesterday and last night and we woke to a steady downpour.  There is flooding across a good bit of the country – especially where we are.  So what did we do?  We went back to the turnoff for Balmoral Castle and crossed over the highway to tour the Crathie Kirk built in 1895, then we drove to the Royal Lochnagar Distillery for a tour.   At long last it was 3 pm and we were able to get onto the grounds of Balmoral.  Nathan purchased a Harris Tweed billfold.  The old leather one he was using was in danger of allowing money to escape by accident!  Everything in the gift shop was 25% off, that was the purpose of opening the grounds today – reduce inventory – because the Balmoral bridge to get to the castle will be closed from now until April sometime.

The Queen left in the morning and the gift shop was open with deep discounts – the attendant said that technically there was no one to stop us walking round the castle, so we did, as did a few other folks. Today, the bridge to the grounds and castle is closed for repairs until April. Just a fluke that we happened to be here at this time. We think we saw the Queen leave – very low key – but one group of school children waved flags as the vehicles drove by – we didn’t actually see her, however.

  We walked around the grounds and castle, then headed this way.  The rain had stopped even before we left the castle, so the only stress of driving was the amount of water standing on the road!  Not to mention, the narrow, winding, and in some cases wavy pavement.  I met two huge trucks (like semis) on these roads and, honestly, it’s just too narrow, but we made it by despite they being at least a foot into my lane.  They couldn’t be over their side anymore or they’d be in the ditch or scraping the rock walls.
Our accommodation tonite in Forfar – the Zoar Guest House leaves a lot to be desired, but it’s clean, so we are alright with it.  Tough to find two nights accommodation here at least on short notice- there really is not enough good accommodation.
Sun is supposed to shine tomorrow and the 10th.  Hope so!


We arrived just before dark into Scrabster.  It felt like we had dragged our luggage a half a mile from the ship to the terminal – it honestly would be pretty close to that!  We called a cab and he took us to the Station Hotel located quite near the train station in Thurso.  Our young driver was very anxious to get out of such a small town and off to uni at Inverness to study to become a minister.

Other than the Castle of Mey and Dunnet Head, we found little else to do in this area.  Since no cars were available to hire, we struck out for the info store and museum.  The girl there was very helpful and gave us a bus timetable and told us how to navigate our way to the above mentioned venues.  Since we had gotten up late and a slow start – time was precious.  But with taking the bus, this meant a LOT of walking and quickly, too.

Our first stop out of Thurso was the Castle of Mey – our driver drove right on past the drop off, but as soon as he did, i asked him if that was where we needed off.  He apologised profusely for forgetting – no worries, he let us off and we walked back only maybe 100 ft to the entrance to the castle.

Former home of the Queen Mother (the mother of the current queen).  Prince of Wales still comes to stay for a break end of August for a week or so.  This is a working farm with prize winning Aberdeen-Angus cattle raised.
Former home of the Queen Mother (the mother of the current queen). Prince of Wales still comes to stay for a break end of August for a week or so. This is a working farm with prize winning Aberdeen-Angus cattle raised.

However, we still had a half mile to go to the castle.  We only had time for the castle tour, then we had to jog back to the end of the driveway and hopefully flag down the bus.  Hooray, he stopped to pick us up, then another half hour to the Brough bus stop.  This was as close as the bus gets to Dunnet Head.  Just before arrival at Brough, we had to shut down the bus and wait for a herd of cows to move down and across the road.

Glad that I sat in the front seat of the bus to capture this shot.  There was only one other person on the bus, so we were up front chatting with the driver.
Glad that I sat in the front seat of the bus to capture this shot. There was only one other person on the bus, so we were up front chatting with the driver.

Now we hoof it uphill for the next three miles on asphalt road.  We only had two hours before the next bus back to town, so we did hurry; even took a ‘shortcut’ through the heather and grass.  Good experience in learning why that sort of land is unproductive – wow!  it is incredibly boggy with deep washouts under the native grasses.  At least where the heather is, it will support your weight.  Even a short distance (albeit a steep hill) through the bog and I was severely short of wind.

After that, we met a shepherd training both sheep and dog, moving them in a serpentine pattern down the hill. Finally, at the top, the views were fabulous.  Making the trek to Dunnet Head is well worth the effort, but i do not recommend walking unless you can do so at a more leisurely rate.  Better yet, get a car!

View from Dunnet Head - most northerly point of Great Britain (excepting islands).  Here looking at Orkney Island over the Pentland Firth.
View from Dunnet Head – most northerly point of Great Britain (excepting islands). Here looking at Orkney Island over the Pentland Firth.
View from Dunnet Head towards the southeast.
View from Dunnet Head towards the southeast.
Nathan Powell
Nathan Powell

The return was easier since we were going downhill but we were still glad to reach the bus stop to sit and rest.  After a bit, the bus went flying by!  Thankfully, my frantic waving and running after it, the driver finally stopped and we jogged a bit down the road to board.  Whew!  Another two hours before the next bus!  We chatted all the way back to Thurso with this driver.  He’d been driving this route for ten years and NEVER had anyone been waiting at that stop for pickup!  He thought, at first, that we were just being friendly with waving!  Our driver had moved to this area to drive a bus and build a farm ten years ago.  He was only going to drive for four months; he was a former lecturer of mechanical engineering at a University, then he tried teaching high school and it was too stressful.  Currently, he is planting 24,000 trees on his 100 acres and all the cattle and sheep are sold.  Once his trees are fenced, he plans to raise deer.

Being escorted by Cheviot and Cheviot cross ewes down the track from Dunnet Head.
Being escorted by Cheviot and Cheviot cross ewes down the track from Dunnet Head.
Resident shepherd, packing a ewe with a uterine prolapse.
Resident shepherd, packing a ewe with a uterine prolapse.

After drop off in Thurso, we stopped for local ice cream, then walked back to our hotel.  Dallas and I went to find the train station in preparation for tomorrow’s departure, then we walked to the Co-op and bought enough food for supper.

Next morning, we enjoy another lovely breakfast at the hotel – well Dallas didn’t, he had a headache and not feeling well.  He drank a lot of water, then went to rest a bit whilst Nathan and i finished brecky.  He was already feeling better when we returned – probably dehydrated.   Went to catch our train at the appointed time, albeit without boarding passes because the station doesn’t open for two hours after our departure and there are no self-ticketing kiosks.  About 20 of us waiting and the train never shows.  A girl called the Scotrail customer service and come to find out, the train driver just didn’t show up for work!  Scotrail sent a bus to pick us all up. RIding a bus on a train route is quite scenic and tests the skills of the driver to be sure.  We arrived about 30 minutes late to the train depot in Inverness.  Picked up our car, a Toyoto Aygo from Focus Rental and I promptly tried to kill ourselves by going up a highway exit ramp.  Okay, got out of that, move on, don’t screw up again!  Staying at Open Views guest house.