Dufftown, Tartan, Whisky and Puppies… OH MY!

Meant to post this a few days ago now. Sorry! Also, no pictures for now since I’m lazy and about half of them are on another wwoofer’s camera.  ~Jane.

So we’ve been in Dufftown for about a week now. We probably should have posted a blog update before now seeing as we have internet access at the house, but oh well! We’ve been spending most of our time at the Walled Garden feeding rabbits, geese, ducks, chickens, pigs, quails, peacocks, turkeys, puppies and rheas. So, lots of animals. Also, quite a bit of weeding, painting and building of rabbit hutches. It’s been fun, most of the animals are kind of crazy, especially the rheas which are kind of like smaller ostriches that are entirely white and from Latin America. They also have very human-like blue-grey eyes and these weird ears that take up most of the sides of their heads. They are potentially the strangest and cutest creatures which I have seen, they also remind me of velociraptors a great deal and it is very concerning when they’re behind you. I’ve already been pecked by the male (they’re a pair, Tom and Barbara).

There’s also a totally adorable litter of puppies at the garden which will be slowly going to their homes over the course of the next week or so. Out of the five, Meadow Root hasn’t been sold. She’s also the best one of the litter. If there weren’t a months-long confinement/quarantine period for her to enter the States, I would probably be going broke to take her home (these are purebred working Spaniels, so pricey). Still, I get to play with her every day until I leave!

We’ve also been working on building rabbit hutches for the three rabbits at the garden and the two guinea pigs and a quail that keep them company. These aren’t just hutches, they’re like little rabbit bunkers. I can easily stand on one without any give from the wood. I also painted one of the doors in the bothy kitchen at the garden so that we have a blackboard to write down things that need doing and keep track of anything that is needed at the garden.

This coming week, we’ll be doing a great deal of upkeep in the garden since there is going to be an open house day this coming weekend at the Drummuir Castle (the garden is land leased from the estate) and also Biodiversity Day. No idea what that means in terms of work though. We’ll also have to do the clean-up from the Biodiversity Day and a week later, we’ll be setting up for a wedding that will be happening at the garden. Actually, we’ll be missing the wedding by a day or two since we’ll be heading for London.

We’ll also be missing the Dufftown Highland Games, although we did manage to make it to the one in Tomintoul. I don’t think that I have ever seen so much tartan clothing in my life. We watched the hammer throw competition which was pretty crazy. The light hammers are about 16 lbs. and there are heavier ones, but I didn’t catch the weight on them. There was also a Highland dancing competition and a youth bagpipes competition going on at the same time. It was a pretty crazy concentration of Scottish Highland pride and culture. We also got to see one of the big professional pipe bands which was really fun.  After a few hours we ended up leaving and going to tour The Glenlivet Distillery down the road from Tomintoul. It was a pretty great tour that went through the whole process and some of the history of the distillery and the region. Also, of course, the tasting at the end was great though we were only allowed to try one of three whiskies. Since we went with another couple from the garden, we ended up getting some different ones and exchanging the tasting glasses. I’ve hated whisky up until this point (I blame James and his peaty Laphroaig) but I’ve since come around to it after trying the 18 year Glenlivet.

We also went to the Glenfiddich Distillery the next day for their tour and tasting where we got to taste the 12, 15 and 18 year whiskies. So I definitely don’t hate whisky anymore. Though, I suppose it isn’t the greatest to decide that I like something after trying two of the more expensive whiskies out there. The 12 year Glenfiddich is about £20 (~$32) per bottle. As a student, that’s a bit pricey. Still, James has accomplished his goal of finding me some whisky which I actually like. I still hate rye across the board though. That I’m pretty sure of. We’re likely to still see one more distillery, Strathisla which is in Keith where we will be leaving from to go to London. So three distilleries in as many weeks. We are truly in the scotch whisky capital.

Later on I walked from the house to Giant’s Seat and the trail loop from it back to Dufftown. It’s mainly pictures, so that will go up later. For the record the “Giant’s Chair” looks more like a bunch of rock and probably requires far more whisky to be in your system to see it than I had in mine.

Actually, I might make the next post all pictures.


Achmelvich, I Miss You Already

So we’ve been two weeks at a croft in Achmelvich, helping out Ingrid, a crofter who moved there from Germany around 30 years ago and has been working the land ever since. There’s a lot to tell, but since I have limited time (currently sitting in a restaurant in Inverness waiting for a train), it looks like the best way to get things across is with a picture post.

Caveat: We’ve been too busy or just too absentminded to take pictures to do the place justice. Ah well. We hope to be back in the Highlands one day…

Two weeks ago, we were stuck in Ullapool for a few hours, but then we took a bus North.

We went to Achmelvich (seen here in the distance over the hills), a collection of a few houses and caravans and lots of seasonal tents.

We lived in this Caravan, about a ten minute walk outside of the campsite, on Ingrid's croft.

Ingrid lived in this house. There are beautiful gardens that we have no pictures of. Ingrid didn't want us taking a picture either.

Actually, I’m not going to have time to do this. Whoops. I’ll try to update it later. Take  care, all, and remember:




There was a stream that ran past Ingrid's house, through the hen field, through the pasture, and then past our house and down an incline...

To a white sand beach. Broken up shells and rocks and seaweed and jellyfish.

Slightly away from that gentle incline, there's a cliff to the beach. It's pretty sweet for climbing upwards and not falling and dying.

Beaches aside, we did a lot of weeding. Things like thistles. This is a thistle. There is no way to touch it without pain.

This is ragwort. Ragwort can cause liver damage in horses, sheep, etc. when eaten. Much ragwort was dug. Much ragwort was trashed.

When we weren't cleaning or weeding or caring for the animals that we don't have pictures of, we were walking. At this different beach, Jane found violent rocks. Jane loves violent rocks.

There was some cool non-standard scenery. Such at the "Hermit's Castle", just randomly out on a rocky beachtype area. Built in the 1950s, abandoned for no known reason.

This is about standard scenery, though. Ya know.

Dufftown, however, is completely different. As evinced by the chat I just had with Derrick (sp?) as he disembweled some chickens on the kitchen table while we talked about weeds and measurements of firewood and land tax. Oh, and this place holds the title of the Whisky Capital of the World, though we haven’t explored that yet. More in the future!

Inverness, Rain, Nothing Interesting to report


So we arrived in Inverness yesterday as you know and James posted a very pretty picture of sunshine and clouds and the River Ness. Unfortunately, that was not the weather which we had today. The weather today was not nearly as nice… but I get ahead of myself.

Yesterday we got to not only walk along the River Ness via the bridges connecting the Ness Islands, but we also got to go to the Inverness Museum (modern art and a history of the region dating back to the formation of the British Isles) and wander around the Inverness Castle (now the city courthouse). The walk was beautiful and the museum was really interesting. Seeing the inside of the castle might have been nice, but since it’s been converted into a center for judicial power in the city, it probably wouldn’t have been that interesting.

For dinner we went to this little Italian restaurant called… wait for it… Little Italy. I was craving pasta and James was kind enough to go along with it. I wasn’t really expecting much, but wow was it delicious! I was expecting that cruddy antipasto that you get from pizza places in the states that’s such a mediocre let down, but instead we got a wooden board with a dish of pickled vegetables and slices of different types of cured pork and a bunch of homemade crostini. The pasta was pretty phenomenal too. Overall, definitely a good place to eat, though I will say that eating out in Inverness is not as cheap as eating out in Edinburgh.

Unfortunately, another thing which was not nearly as good was the hostel. Yes, it’s bigger and run on a scale that isn’t just a husband and wife making enough money to spend a quarter of the year traveling on a budget just like their lodgers, but I wasn’t expecting the amount of noise. We went to sleep on the earlier side as did our fellow roommate who was leaving in the wee hours of the morning. I woke up around midnight-ish because… well, I’m not entirely sure… and went back to sleep after that. I also woke up around 1.30 and 2.00 and finally at a bit before 3.00 when apparently people went insane and decided to stand around outside the hostel yelling and talking loudly until around 5.00 at which point they moved along and someone in the hostel decided to take a shower and blast MGMT on a stereo while other people walked around inside, occasionally yelled and also slammed doors. Needless to say, I was way too exhausted to do our planned walk to the Loch Ness this morning since I had only fallen asleep around 6.00 and woke up at 8.00.

Instead of doing our Loch Ness walk, we decided to walk up to this old Pictish fort on a hill overlooking the town. It looked pretty nice out, so we set off. It started to spit a little and within about 10 minutes it was a full-blown rain. The signage for what is known as the Craig Phadrig is unfortunately very poorly marked. We ended up in a marina and then in the middle of suburbia when we retraced our steps to where we believed that we had taken the wrong fork.

We never did find the Pictish fort. Eventually we turned back since it was raining harder, we were soaked and there were no signs in sight prompting us one way or the other.

So here we are, sitting in our room, the weather having cleared up a bit. Maybe we will attempt the Pictish fort again, maybe not. The sun here does not go down until after 22.00 and even then, not really.

One more aside: when we went out walking yesterday we came back and someone else’s stuff (besides the guy who left this morning) was in the room. THEY HAVE NEVER RETURNED.

We will not have internet access on the farm for the next two weeks, we might possibly have access if we walk to Achmelvich-proper. As such, posts will be intermittent at best.

You’ll just have to survive without us.

Final Hours in Auld Reekie

And now we are moving into the END OF EDINBURGH. Are you worried? You shouldn’t be, that’s foolish. I don’t know why you would be.

Two days to cover. Unfortunately, neither of them involved a daybreak hike of Arthur’s Seat, though we did hike it in some fantastic weather. It was great. Today we climbed it with some people we met at the hostel (three Canadians and a Californian) and it was pretty fantastic. We ended up going along an extremely indirect route, bypassing the standard easy path up. It ended being pretty awesome; we walked up mountain stairs and Jane and I took a sidepath to scramble up some sort of cool igneous flow, and then we got to the top and saw… things in the distance! I know, crazy, right? See previous posts for analogous pics; we didn’t take any. It was warm, ya know?

TopicPhase shift. Edinburgh has some awesome food. We ate baked potatoes for lunch-under 5 quid apiece for drinks and giant tatties covered in—what’s tatties, you ask? Well, they’re a root that you boil, mash, and stick in a stew. Or cover in cheddar cheese or haggis and devour because they’re delicious.

Haggis. Delicious. Tastes a bit different depending on where you get it, but it generally is a caseless pork sausage. Like the inside of an andouille sausage, or like scrapple. Or sometimes, like today, it tastes a bit like Uncle Alan’s chopped liver. Delicious regardless. Jane and I also went to a couple classy restaurants, including a delectable seafood place that muscled in on our stomachs. Because it was called the Mussel Inn. Like, a pun. Ya know. Anyway, a pot of  ½ a kilo of delicious mussels was 5 quid. SO GOOD. I am really hoping that there is some shellfish scavenging when we get to Achmelvich. We’ll find out!

So I went into the dorm room of the hostel to get some quiet while I wrote this, and immediately after I started to people who moved in today came in and started talking to each other very loudly in Spanish. They are not leaving. This makes me unhappy. Anyway.

Modern Art Museum: Pretty cool! Interesting photo exhibits, some cool pieces, but generally not as cool as I had hoped. They had one or two contemporary installations, one of which looked like a shower curtain with some acrylic splashed on, that really didn’t do it for me. But they did have some very evocative surrealist stuff and those cool pieces that Josh and Lexy noticed (that may have inspired me to look into visiting Scotland).

Sink the Bismarck! is a delicious beer. I mean, not super delicious, but not half bad. I got a shot of it for 5 quid (I keep saying quid because I don’t have a pound symbol on my keyboard) and it tastes almost like… hoppy cognac. It has a really strong citrus and hops nose, and its extremely smooth and has a mouthfeel closer to vermouth than brandy. It has a smooth onset and then a sudden rush of hops in the flavor, followed by a bit of an alcohol burn. I liked it. It is the best 82 proof beer I have ever tasted.

Doesn't seem like a fiver's worth of beer, does it?

Jane and I went to a Cabaret—it was pretty sucky and we left early. I really don’t need to say much more than that.

Tomorrow: Four hour bus ride! New hostel! Excitement! I am stoked. Have a good evening, all.


Addendum: Last night was just really… unpleasant, in small and grating ways. There was almost a complete turnover in our little family of a hostel, and the new people were loud and nowhere near as inviting and friendly as those who were previously sharing the space with us. Neither Jane nor I got a ton of sleep, but now we’re happily in Inverness. It’s a cool little city. We got in around 2pm, then started walking around the River Ness. The weather was horrible, but we managed.

They say that Scotland has horrible weather and, boy, are they right! Just look at this! Gross.


Tomorrow we’re going to get to Loch Ness…somehow. The tip of the loch is about six miles south of us. We might walk down there and back, or we might take a bus/boat tour of the loch. We found a company that does a 2.5 hour bus/boat/castle tour for 20 quid, which is a steal considering that taking the bus down to the castle on the loch would cost almost 20 round-trip, plus the time at the castle… But on the other hand, we don’t  like spending money, and we’ve been doing too much of it in the past few days.

Anyway, the main point here is we are in Inverness and it is neat. I believe that we are actually farther north than Moscow, now. And on the bus ride here I saw more sheep than I have seen in the last 23 years of my life.

James out!

Of Castles and Crags


So we didn’t get to hike Arthur’s seat as a daybreak hike today, it was a pretty steady downpour and drizzle all day yesterday into this morning. When we woke up it was still a pretty steady drizzle, but we decided to go to see Edinburgh Castle a little while after they opened. We got there pretty shortly after they opened, so it wasn’t totally mobbed though there was a tour group or two starting through when we got there. Actually, it was a really good thing that we got there when we did since by the time we left it was starting to become really packed. One thing that is sort of odd about Edinburgh Castle is that the whole thing is pretty much just one giant war museum, war memorial and repository for the crown jewels. I dunno, the views and the architecture were amazing, but the actual interior exhibits and such were… well, not my cup of tea. Still, cool building.

The view from Edinburgh Castle.

After we left we headed to this oddball little shop/museum just before the castle that was a tartan cloth and traditional Scottish clothing weaving factory that also sold and exhibited their wares. It was a weird mixture of kitsch and history and the upstairs with all of the metal stuff (i.e. reproductions of medieval weapons) and carved stone chess sets was playing Scottish heavy metal. Very odd, very interesting place. I’ve been meaning to get a hat since the first day we got here and had been hoping to get one there, but they didn’t have anything that qualified as a warm hat that didn’t look like an old lady hat. We then wandered down past The Elephant House which has a big sign out front declaring itself as the “birthplace of Harry Potter.” According to our guide for the walking tour yesterday, J.K. Rowling sat there to write all day because a cup of tea or two was cheaper than heating her flat and now she’s the richest woman in the U.K. Crazy, yeah? Wandering around Victoria St. we came across this sandwich shop called Oink. They do these massive, pretty decently priced pulled pork sandwiches. I’d talk more about them, but eight hours later and it still feels like it’s stuck in my gut. Liz, if you’re reading this, I think you’d love this place and we’ll try to get a photo for you.

Wandering away from the castle, we got pretty close to Arthur’s Seat. On a bit of a whim and a quarter of a liter of water, we decided to hike it. It isn’t a difficult climb at all, but the sun had come out and it was starting to get pretty hot out. We hiked it and it was pretty gorgeous. On the side facing the city, it’s pretty much a sheer cliff down for about fifty or so feet before it becomes hills again; you get gorgeous views. I also get panic attacks when James walks near the edge, so there’s also that. Anyway: stunning panoramic views of Edinburgh, but it turns out that we didn’t actually hike the seat, we hiked the crags to the southwest of it.

James and Edinburgh Castle!

Jane and the city behind.

Tomorrow we will be doing a daybreak hike of Arthur’s Seat proper. It looks like the weather will be mostly decent and we have rain gear as well as some warmer layers, so it shouldn’t be a huge issue to hike. Also, having done the one craggy arm without much difficulty, we aren’t too concerned!

This is what we'll be climbing. It's actually quite large.

Upon returning, I took a nap, then James took a nap while I caught up a bit with the world reading the NYTimes and also with Gabe’s blog which has become my daily online fix that I need to fulfill. We were going to go out for a fairly nice dinner (i.e. ~£20/person), but my stomach decided to go haywire from the aforementioned lunch at Oink. We ended up going to the local Tesco to grab some dinner, the results of which I think say a bit about where our stomachs were tonight. I got a container of greek yogurt, a bag of whole carrots, a bag of apples and some shortbread cookies for desert. James got Scottish eggs, a cheese and pickle sandwich and… crisps I think? The thing I’ve found really interesting in Edinburgh is that food here is pretty wicked cheap; for a 3-4 serving tub of yogurt it was only £1. After food, we ended up going out again for a walk and wandered towards the West End which was a pretty cool area we hadn’t ended up in before.

Anywhosits. We need to get packing for the hike now so we can just grab our pack and go at 2.40am and not really wake anyone up. We’ll let you know how it goes.

Me and Mr. Slug. He was found on the way down from our hike. James wanted a photo.

The Rain in Scotland Falls Mainly on Everything

Day 2 in Edinburgh: it’s raining! A lot, as opposed to yesterday when it only rained a little bit. I guess this counts as getting the full Scottish experience. We woke up early this morning for a tasty breakfast of cereal and toast and tea, then we went on one of the free walking tours of Edinburgh. It was a pretty fun three hours! We walked around the Old City, hearing stories of the bloody and sometimes-less-bloody history of Scotland, with the first hour or so being in light mist and the next two in steadily increasing rain.

We saw a lot of cool sights and learned a lot about the various stories around the city. It was pretty cool. And then we spent some time wandering around, including stopping in a restaurant (not a pub proper) known as “The Conan Doyle.” We had haggis, neeps, and tatties for lunch. And  some sausage and stuff, I guess, but the haggis was the important part. It was delicious. We are talking about potentially doing a canned haggis taste-test, but I don’t know if that will really happen. I’ll certainly have it at future pubs, though.

Alright. There might have been more things in there as well, but a lot of the rainy afternoon was spent in the hostel, reading or watching some of the West Wing or watching Superbad or something something. The hostel is full of great people—it feels more like staying over at someone’s house than staying in a hostel. There are travelers of all stripes here, and the more experienced ones tell me that this place really sets the bar. Other places will probably not live up to it.

Three of the many cool people at the hostel; Alex, Brandon, and Allie.

Anyway, at the moment, we’re drinking and watching Fifth Element. Jane and I were planning on the daybreak hike of Arthur’s Seat tomorrow, but it’s supposed to keep raining through the night and into tomorrow, so we’ve changed our plans. We’ll do the early hike either on Thursday or Friday.

Um. What else. Future plans for Edinburgh: more beer, 4 or more museums, the Castle, more Haggis, Arthur’s Seat, and probably some more stuff. That’s the post for tonight, a few tasty beers in. Hope you can deal.

Airport Nights, Edinburgh Days

After some minor fretting over where to sleep in the airport, we settled down near the baggage claim area where it looked like one other man had already hunkered down on the benches there. He was either homeless or waiting out the night for either a place to go or for a flight to leave. Anyway, unlike the international arrivals side of the airport, the domestic arrivals/departures area had benches with arms dividing each seat about halfway. We might have considered going back over there, but one of the guards gave us a nasty look.

Sleeping in the airport was, all things considered, not horrible. Uncomfortable, yes. Impossible to sleep, not quite. Actually, somehow I lucked out and instead of being my usual self and being unable to sleep like a normal human being I ended up passing out quickly and then waking up only every hour to an hour and a half since some limb would fall asleep and I’d have to move. One thing for which I am incredibly grateful is my sleeping bag, its mummy hood shielding me from the unforgiving glare of the fluorescent lights and keeping the general chill of abandoned airport out. We slept from about 23.30 until 5.30 which isn’t half bad. at 5.30 a guard came by and woke us up and asked if we had a departing flight to which we were obligated to answer sheepishly that we didn’t and had gotten in too late to get proper accommodations. He was actually pretty nice about it and just told us to move along and went to wake up our other airport-sleeping brethren; didn’t even make sure we left, just sort of let us know we shouldn’t be there for much longer. Fun thing about the Edinburgh airport: there is a 24-hour bus transfer from the airport to Waverly Station along with a few stops in between. So we caught one of the early buses (5.45) and got into the city around 6.15 upon which we realized that there was absolutely nothing open. Thankfully, we had taken some Musli Fit bars from breakfast way back in Prague and so we had a little bit to munch on as we walked along the abandoned Edinburgh streets in the wee hours of the morning. We walked the West Princes Street Gardens along the bottom of Edinburgh Castle which was completely amazing so early in the morning. We did a full circuit of the castle and then wandered a bit around the Royal Mile area and towards the general area of the hostel. We found it, but it was still only 7.30 (it opens up at 8.00) and so we walked on in search of breakfast.

We ended up finding a café across the street from a Starbucks (why the hell would we go there?) and got tea/cappuccino, croissants and jam for £7.25. So, not awful, but pretty good compared to what (I assume) we would have paid at Starbucks. Finally, it was after 8.00 and we could at least drop our stuff at the hostel. The Bus Station Backpackers Hostel is a really cozy little place down in the basement of a building (it has windows… so not really a basement). The people here are really nice and it’s a small hostel, so it’s a nice start to our trip. There wasn’t a place to really stow our stuff for a bit so we just hung around and Kylie (the woman who runs it) told us about local places to check out. Once we were able to, we dropped our stuff and headed out in to the wilds of the city of Edinburgh. We went to the mall to get a phone, I called my family (James called his later) and we wandered off in search of adventure! First, we wandered through a cemetery (lots of people died in the later 1700s!).

We were looking out from the metal grating of a crypt.

We then headed over to Calton Hill, home of the unfinished National Monument (I kid you not).

It was supposed to look like the Parthenon... they swear!

The view from the top of Calton Hill is incredible; you can see the Old Town and the New Town and everything in between (and beyond!). There are also a bunch of different monuments up on the hill in addition to the unfinished National Monument; it was supposed to look like the Parthenon, but they ran out of funds. One of the most striking things which you can see from the hill is Arthur’s Seat (a giant hill) which WE WILL BE DOING A DAYBREAK HIKE OF ON WEDNESDAY MORNING. So excited.

Maybe you can see it in the background? It's pretty spectacular in person.

Other adventures over the course of the day: wandering around the neighborhood, stumbling on a sandwich shop where you can get soup, salad, chips and a Panini for £5.10, trying to find a local farmer’s market, getting lost and finding the larger Tesco instead (which was fine).