28 Nov 2009

Sensual Scotland, in a box!

As we enter St. Andrew's Day weekend, Historic Scotland sites around the country are throwing open their doors and saying "come in!" For places like Edinburgh Castle where the entry fee is usually around £13, this is an opportunity for many people to visit these ancient places for the first time.

I however have not planned to visit any historic sites this weekend as I am heading through to the west for a little r&r with the Scotsman.

Before I go, I will tell you that beside me in the livingroom is a box. In the box is a collection of small but delightful treats from Scotland, purposefully chosen in order to delight each and every one of the senses. Now I can't tell you what is in the box as that would ruin the surprise for whoever is destined to open it. Needless to say I think the Scottish mystery parcel will make one lucky person very happy indeed.

This is my end-of-year giveaway, moved up because the final holiday posting dates are quite early this year. It is my little thank you for reading along and celebrating Scotland with me - an attempt to wrap up Scotland and send it through the post.

As this is the last giveaway of the year and in the spirit of Historic Scotland's doors open day, entries are open to anyone who wishes to take part.

To enter: Leave me a comment telling me about your favourite sensual thing about Scotland (omitting the intimate details of your amorous romp on Rannoch Moor). If you don't have a blog to link back to please email me at scotland4thesenses@googlemail.com and include "mystery box" in the subject line.

The only favour I ask is that the winner post or send me a photo of their spoils, so the mystery can be revealed!

Deadline will be 2nd December and the winner's name will drawn from the hat on the 3rd. This leaves me a bit of time to get to the post office.
So haul out your Saltires and sing Auld Lang Syne, because this is the time to be stand up and be proud of Scotland.

25 Nov 2009

Stretching time in Oban

I’m sorry that some guidebooks don’t praise Oban the way they should. A passing mention about McCaig’s Tower followed by a few seafood recommendations, then it’s all about catching the ferry to Mull or another island.

The first time I visited Oban it was a day trip by bus from Fort William. I stepped off the bus in the town centre and was immediately at home. Small but bustling, it is one of those towns where a tourist can become familiar with the main streets within a couple of hours, resulting in a feeling of settling in, a sense of comfort that usually develops only when one has stayed somewhere for at least a few days.

With the Island of Kerrera acting as a snug defender against the sea, Oban’s harbour curves long and languidly, with shops and cafes giving way to houses and bed and breakfasts. Bold and grey in the day, beautifully lit at night, McCaig’s Tower does indeed dominate from its hilltop perch. This Rome-inspired project was begun by a local businessman a century ago but was abandoned after he died. A steep trail leads to where the failed Colosseum hosts a simple garden and offers panoramic views.

Although it is the largest port in Northwest Scotland, even the street vendors seem to value the premise of slow food, with fresh, incredible seafood morsels readily available. The next time my Scotsman and I pass through town I want to have a proper sit-down meal at one of Oban’s popular seafood restaurants.

However I can say that if you love food and you are in Oban, you cannot miss the Kitchen Garden. Oh, the cheese, the biscuits, the vinegars and oils! And if you enjoy a wee dram, then oh the whisky! With its high, well-stocked shelves and complete dedication to all things luscious, The Kitchen Garden is one of my favourite delicatessens and cafes. The café is upstairs and with such a cheese selection available it is worth at least one person in the group ordering the Ploughman’s Lunch. At least you can all get a nibble. To get an idea of what I’m on about, visit their site and take the “virtual tour.” Look for the little lady in the doorway!

Rather that seeing Oban as a “jumping off” point to other destinations, I suggest Oban is the place where the mind transitions, gearing down as the senses reopen to the joys of simple pleasures. The scent of the sea, the swoop of the gulls, the gentle bobbing of the fishing boats in the harbour, or the slothful approach of a Calmac Ferry. Time just seems to stretch a little. As a tourist, Oban is a place where it is just so easy to feel good.

I don't know about you, but I feel good just thinking about it.

22 Nov 2009

Revisiting Linlithgow

When I first moved to Scotland I lived in the quaint royal burgh of Linlithgow, birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots and in 2222, Scotty from Star Trek. (Although if you watch the recent film, you will note that actor Simon Pegg reinvented the character as a Glaswegian).

Linlithgow has everything: a charming high street, an ancient stone palace, stunning nature walks, an excellent chocolate shop that sells the best strawberry cremes around, and an award-winning, gorgeous pub with low ceilings and arched fireplaces. Placed centrally between Edinburgh and Glasgow, it’s an easy destination to add to a tour calendar and yet it leaves you feeling like you have been somewhere “off the map.”

The palace is the main thing most people visit, along with St. Michael’s Church with its bizarre and strangely beautiful aluminium spire. The palace sits atop a sloping green hill above Linlithgow Loch, where swans and ducks float past old men in small fishing boats. On a sunny day, especially in the late spring, it is an achingly romantic sight.
Dating from the 15th century, much of the palace was destroyed by fire in 1746, but you can still wander through the roofless ruin and imagine the previous splendour that would have dominated rooms like the great hall and the royal suites.
I think it a shame when I see tourists stopping only to visit the palace without taking in a little of the landscape. Even taking the time to walk around the St. Michael’s graveyard or the quiet enclosed rose garden just off the palace entrance drive, adds something extra. The best way to enrich your senses is to walk the trail that goes around the loch, as it offers amazing views of the palace from a distance. Should you need sustenance for the two-mile trek, you could always stop at the Golden Chip on the high street before leaving (wink).
If you have all day, and I hope you do, you can visit the Union Canal and take a leisurely boat trip to the Falkirk Wheel. Or you can walk a short distance along the canal until you get to the road that leads uphill to the entrance to Beecraigs Country Park, one of my favourite places in West Lothian. Although many enjoy the hike up to Cockleroy Hill for the views, I always preferred to stay among the trees, ducking off the trail at one beloved spot to gaze down at the farms below.
Since we are nearing the holidays, it is worth noting that if you happen to be visiting Scotland over Christmas, a journey to St. Michael’s for their Carols by Candlelight service in late December is well worth the trip.

Can’t get enough of Linlithgow? One photographer recently completed a year-long series of photos of Linlithgow Loch. They put my little happy snaps to shame and will definitely make you want to visit.

19 Nov 2009

The enduring mystery of the Farr Stone

Scotland is one of those places where it is worth travelling a long distance for a piece of stone. The curving spine of an old wall, the crumbling nave of an ancient kirk, and the fading, interlocking knots chiselled by hand hundreds of years ago.

In the north of Scotland near the crofting village of Bettyhill, sits the old Farr Church, which now houses the Strathnaver Museum. The graveyard surrounding the church would not look to be anything special, except for one giant, weathered monument jutting from the ground.

Six feet high and thought to date from around the 10th century, The Farr Stone is one of the best early examples of Celtic art. So far I have found very little information about the stone, which is still remarkably detailed despite enduring centuries of a harsh northern climate. I regret not having gone into the museum to ask more, but at the time I just wanted to stand next to something so very old, and wonder.

I don’t know whose grave the stone would have marked or what that person did to deserve such an intricate work. You can still see at the bottom of the cross, two creatures that look like swans, their necks entwined.

It has been so long, this stone stands as a mark to a growing sense of secrecy. The surrounding countryside is rough and beautiful, with remains of early villages interspersed with sandy beaches and dramatic views towards the estuary of the River Naver. The museum is dedicated to keeping alive the stories of the early crofters and how they were affected by the clearances. All I can think of are the ghosts of a man's warm hands against this rock, his fingers moving through the grooves he had carved.

Despite its lonely stature and isolated placement, the stone is not without its very alert and suspicious guards, who wander the grounds pretending to examine the lawn. One thing is certain; if they have solved the mystery, they don't seem interested in sharing.

17 Nov 2009

Giving away some DVDs

On with the gift giving! Thanks for taking part in my first "pay it forward" giveaway. I appreciate everyone's enthusiasm.

Micki at Irish Muses volunteers at a nursing home and will be sharing the DVD with one of the residents there.

Danielle's husband loves the bagpipes and hopes that their four-month-old might grow up to play.

Carol at A Scot in Tennessee will be giving a DVD to her father for Christmas.

Over in Canada, Suzanne's daughter is a highland dancer and wasn't able to join her class on a trip to The Gathering earlier this year, but will now be able to watch 100 highland dancers on the Castle Esplanade.

Adam is the son of blogger ccqdesigns. He won't be able to join his family for a trip to the Isle of Skye next year, so the Tattoo DVD will be a little slice of Scotland for him to enjoy.

Cornelia in Germany will be giving a DVD to her husband, an ex-pat Scot who gets a little homesick from time to time.

Bella McBride wants the DVD for her mother, who has been working hard at researching her family's Scottish heritage.

I hope Linda's daughter will be surprised with her DVD for Christmas, as a reminder of their recent trip to Scotland.

Winners, please email me your address to scotland4thesenses@googlemail.com so I can get mailing:)

We will now return to our usual sensual programming.

14 Nov 2009

Two links and some sad news

What would you do if you had one hour in London? Smitten by Britain is asking the question over on her blog and is giving away a new book, 24 Hours London. It looks ever so swish.

I've had some lovely entries so far for the DVDs I've got to give away. But I am still looking for more so if there is someone in your life who loves Scotland, tell me about it with a comment.

It's a very grey, wet day here in Edinburgh so my only adventures today will be a massage and a trip to the bookstore. I learned yesterday that my favourite Scottish storyteller died back in August. I have thought of Mr. Robertson often since I saw him at a local storytelling event and have been planning a post about him. It has me a bit down today - so I guess my mood matches the skies.

11 Nov 2009

Wanted: Scotland-loving Elves

Welcome to my first "pay it forward" giveaway. Know any veteran organizations or someone who just loves Scotland? Give them something special.

I love Scotland. I love that I am able to live in this country. I love that this sense of gratitude has not once left me in the four and a half years I have been here.

Scotland for the Senses an extension of that appreciation, of the overall giddy enthusiasm I feel for this remarkable place. When I started this blog I decided I wanted to make what I have dubbed “the giving of treats” a regular feature.

Gift-giving is a special thing for me, which is why I don’t burden my giveaways with too many rules. No hoops to jump through, no special badges to post or links required (not that I don’t love links. I do, but it will never be a rule) Comment or email and you’re in the draw, unless (usually) you were last month’s winner. The only real rule is that the item about which I am rambling is something that genuinely gives your imagination a buzz or causes you to giggle uncontrollably.

Question: Have you ever given gifts that you just knew the receivers would love, and watched them open those gifts and seen their expressions change, as their hearts filled up with so much wordless joy?

WHAT I HAVE: Copies of the 2009 Edinburgh Military Tattoo on DVD (Not to be confused with a CD, which is just music, a DVD is both sound and picture). We’re talking ancient castle, massed pipes and drums, Robert Burns poetry and music, snare drum performances, Royal Air Force, Amazing Grace and the Lone Piper. AND the DVDs are region-free, which means they will play ANYWHERE.

WHAT I NEED: Delivery people.

The story behind this giveaway: Every year I send one of these DVDs back to Canada to the senior’s home in the town where I used to live. Following the Robert Burns supper they hold in January, they play the DVD on the big telly and they all sit around to enjoy it. It then gets added to the DVD library, available for people to borrow whenever they wish. In this way, one small thing = big impact.

This year I want to expand (as much as my wallet will allow), and while I have done some research I feel unsure about sending them out “blind.”

Which is where you, my lovely wee clutch of Scotland-loving readers, come into play. Please help me in my quest and put your hand up if you know a group or an individual who would truly benefit from this gift.

Perhaps you have an elderly neighbour who was born in Scotland and hasn’t been home for many years. What a nice surprise it would be. Maybe your mother’s grandfather was in the Black Watch, or perhaps the local legion could share it among its members. Or maybe someone you know simply loves the bagpipes, military music or Scottish history.

This month’s giveaway also differs in a couple of other ways. If there is a story or suggestion that really moves me, I give myself permission to pull rank and choose that person or group. That said, if there are too many good ones and I just can’t decide, I will draw names from the hat as usual. Finally for this month, last month’s winners are also welcome to include suggestions.

I can either ship the DVD to you to deliver or, if you are comfortable giving me an address, I can send it directly to the person or group you have chosen (I promise to include a wee card so they don‘t think some nutter is sending them post for no reason). The goal is to have all the DVDs at their destinations well in time for Christmas. Any more postal strikes in the UK have now been suspended until the New Year, so despite the reported backlog, I think I’m in with a chance.

The way to join in is to enter a comment (don’t forget to link back to your blog) or send me an email to scotland4thesenses@googlemail.com. Please include “Tattoo DVD” in the subject line. I’ll make the cut off Monday, 16 November and I’ll make announcements on Tuesday the 17th.

I realize that I may seem a bit silly or naïve, but I don’t mind. It is the feeling of gratitude I wrote about that makes me want to “pay it forward” as much as I can.

Ta very much.

8 Nov 2009

In Remembrance

It is Remembrance Day Sunday. For me the minute of silence that is held to mark the eleventh hour always seems to lap over the sides of the moment and blanket my entire day with a sense of quiet gratitude.

In Scotland there are many opportunities to visit monuments and sculptures dedicated to the men and women who sacrificed their lives in battle for their country. Even as I write “sacrificed their lives” I feel lazy, using a borrowed phrase because I cannot think of anything else to describe these people, many of whom are frozen forever in their youth.

The Scottish National War Memorial is located in Edinburgh Castle and while most people see it during their visit to the castle, the memorial itself is free. If all you want to do is to visit the memorial, simply ask at the ticket desk and you will be taken through to see it.

The following are a few of my favourite monuments from around Scotland, perfect for helping to still your mind and find a new sense of perspective.

The Royal Scots Grey Memorial, just off of Princes Street in Edinburgh:

In a remarkable spot overlooking rolling green hills near Stirling, the monument dedicated to Sir David Stirling, founder of the Special Air Service and, later in life, the Capricorn Africa Society:

The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) War Memorial in Kelvingrove Park in Glasgow:

And possibly the most dramatic, the Commando Monument near Spean Bridge in the highlands. The memorial sits high above the rugged landscape where members of this elite force trained during WWII.

For those with British ancestors, there was good news this past week as the WWI army service records of more than two million British soldiers have been made available online. You can find this and much more at the Military Records section of ancestry.co.uk

Many events will be taking place on 11 November itself, and no doubt the silence will once again pervade my day. I will take the opportunity on Wednesday to announce my giveaway for the month of November, although it will be more like 50 per cent gift giving, 50 per cent asking a favour. It will all make sense - I promise.

1 Nov 2009

Coming to terms with kale

It is dark and pouring with rain. Above the clouds the moon glows like a nuclear pearl.

Now that we have landed on 1 November, it is official. The long, dark days are no longer approaching; they are here. No more fresh strawberries or peas, no more bags of soft butter lettuce from the farmers’ market.

Sure, you can dodge around the inevitable by heading towards the glut of root vegetables now available. Parsnips, Potatoes, Carrots, Turnips - all that starchy goodness waiting to be roasted, mashed or stewed.

But there is no ignoring the green monster forever. The vegetable than can strike even greater fear into the hearts of children now that it has been dubbed a “superfood.”

That’s right - it’s KALE.

Its ancestry is a wild cabbage in Asia, and is thought to have been brought to Europe by the Celts. Before the potato arrived in Scotland in the 18th century, you can imagine just how important kale was. Even in the 1800s the word “kail” was a generic term for dinner in Scots dialect. People grew it, stored it through the winter, and even fed it to the livestock. If there was no kale to be had, there really was nothing left.

In Scotland, kale is abundant and cheap. It can stand up to rain, frost (it even gets sweeter after it has been through a frost - how thoughtful), and half-frozen earth. On top of this it contains beta-carotene, Vitamin A, C, and K as well as minerals like iron, potassium, phosphorous, manganese, magnesium, and calcium to name a few. It is even a good source of protein!

I admit I have had a hard time coming to love kale. I tried steaming it and stir-frying it, but I just couldn’t get past the tough texture and the lingering bitterness. Many people cook the hell out of it and eat it with lashings of butter and salt, but for me that defeats the purpose of something so highly beneficial.

However, I have found a way to way to cook kale that I absolutely love.

I bake it.

First you need some cut up curly kale. Get rid of those stems - juice them or feed them to someone’s pig because it’s like chewing on the encrusted underbelly of a combine harvester. Then you need a bit of olive oil and a pinch of sea salt. Careful not to over-salt!

Toss it all together in a bowl, then spread onto a baking sheet and bake in a 350 oven (gas mark 4) for about 20 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces. You’ll have to keep an eye on it and flip the pieces a few times.



I’m telling you, it’s tastier than popcorn and about a thousand times better for you. If you like the deep-fried crispy seaweed you can get in Chinese restaurants, this is a perfect substitute. Best eaten straight away to get the best crunch factor, but you can pack it up for a lunchtime snack as well.

Thanks for joining me on yet another Scottish culinary adventure. Carol has asked whether I will be making a Scottish trifle and the answer is yes, I do have a recipe for such a creation. Sometime this month hopefully but if not it will make the perfect Christmas treat for the manboy and I. In the New Year I also hope to make the infamous and staggeringly rich Orkney Fudge Cheesecake.

Finally, hello (*waves frantically*) to the new people in the wee followers box! I don’t know where you’ve come from but I think you’re just super.

Welcoming the dark season with you all,


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