31 Mar 2011

Giveaway winners

Thank to everyone who has taken part in my latest giveaway! Going to a new home are three adorable wee pots with tartan flowers, made by the lovely and talented Tracey at Pebble Heart.

Emerging from the hat of treats, the winners are…

Kay, who would love to travel the north of Scotland with her sons.

Annie, who lists a visit to Edinburgh with her daughter as her first choice.

Finally, lover of all things Scottish Journeys to Scotland would take her mum to Perth.

Could all the winners email me their addresses and your wee flower pots will be landing in your mail boxes in no time.

Thank you to Tracey for sponsoring this giveaway. More of Tracey's work can be seen on her website.

Big squeeze from rainy Edinburgh.


28 Mar 2011

Scottish cheese: An introduction to Orkney Grimbister

Simple pleasure of the day: stopping by my favourite cheese shop on the way home and being the only customer. Normally there is a queue out the door and there is no chance to allow the cheese experts to guide you through the hills and valleys of delightful dairy morsels of make-me-swoon deliciousness.

But today, no queue. I walked right in and exclaimed to the man behind the counter, “I LOVE CHEESE!” To which he replied with equal verve, “NOT AS MUCH AS ME!” Immediately I knew he would not let me down.

I requested to try some Scottish Crowdie, because it has been on my list of cheeses to explore in more depth. Alas they didn’t have any, so instead he recommended the Orkney Grimbister, which he says is like taking crowdie and squishing it until it is hard and less crumbly.

Like crowdie it is mild and lovely with oatcakes. There is a whisper of nuttiness but the main impression is its freshness and cleanness, if that makes sense. Scottish cheese is known for the influence of the deep, rich grass that the cows eat. Orkney Grimbister certainly has that.

If you’re mostly fond of powerful cheeses, the Grimbister (like crowdie) may not be the one for you. My Scotsman wasn’t keen on it, saying it just didn’t have enough punch. But I like the lightness and subtle creaminess. It would be perfect to have along for a picnic.

When in Scotland, buy cheese. From a proper cheese shop. The cheese here is remarkable. It will make you groan while you are eating samples in the shop. Just roll with it. Everyone will be jealous.

Thanks for everyone who has entered my wee giveaway for the tartan flowers in the pots. There’s still time to pop over and leave a comment to enter.

Now…more cheese….

26 Mar 2011

A touch of tartan for Mother's Day (giveaway!)

It’s been a while since I’ve done a giveaway! With Mothering Sunday coming up, I was thrilled to hear from fellow blogger Tracey, a local Edinburgh crafty mum who wanted to give a little piece of Scotland to a few lucky moms out there.

One of Tracey’s most popular creations is a small flower pot containing a paper bouquet of kusudama flowers (kusudama is a form or origami).

Tracey has used three colours of tartan paper to add a Scottish twist (or in this case, fold) to these darling wee pots.

As usual this giveaway is airmail friendly. The flowers are slightly delicate but I promise to be very careful when sending them.
There are three pots to win! To enter simply comment below with your answer to one of the following questions:

1. Where in Scotland would you love to visit with your mom? (if you have a beautiful mother figure in your life, this counts too!)


2. If you’re a mom yourself (or if there are children you feel close to, who you love to nurture), where in Scotland would you most like to visit with them?

You can also enter by emailing your answer to scotland4thesenses@gmail.com and including “Tartan flowers” in the subject line.

The deadline for entries will be Wednesday, 30 March. I will draw the names and announce the winners on Thursday 31 March.

You can also show Tracey some love by paying her a visit on her blog: http://beadspaperglue.blogspot.com/
This giveaway has now finished. Congratulations to the winners!

24 Mar 2011

Not quite starstuck on Blackford Hill

Continuing on with our Pocket Mountain collection of Edinburgh walks, I can’t help thinking that the height of summer would have been a better time to make the walk to Blackford Hill.

At the moment the leaves at Cluny Gardens, which lie at the foot of the climb to The Royal Observatory, are just starting to squeeze out of the branches.

The world still looks dull and washed out, waiting for that strong push of life that comes when the earth begins to warm.

In 1928 Scotland’s largest telescope was lugged up Blackford Hill in pieces, which is how I felt once we reached the top. The wind took over and battered us with every step, although the higher we climbed the better the views over the city.
The blackened stones of The Royal Observatory make the building look like the perfect place for an isolated mad scientist to conduct his experiments, all alone atop a dark and windy hilltop. The observatory was built in 1892 when pollution was affecting the original site on Calton Hill.

Despite the views we didn’t linger long at the top, given that I had to hold my hood around my head so I looked a little like Kenny from South Park. But I imagine on a warm summer’s evening it would be just the right place to watch the sun go down.
Let’s pretend it is one of those warm lovely evenings and the dark has closed over us like a thin blanket, the lights of the city glowing like grounded stars.

We can lean our backs against a stone and stay as long as we like. Or at least until we get peckish and head down for a curry.

20 Mar 2011

On the road to Duddingston

Blogging can often surprise you, taking you on adventures you had never expected. It’s especially rewarding when you get the chance to meet and even work with folks you admire.

I’ve long been a fan of the Pocket Mountains books, a series of handy wee guides to Scotland comprised mostly of town and country walks in various areas of the country.

The publishers are aiming to refresh their Edinburgh edition next year, so I’m going to be doing the walks, making notes and just ensuring the routes are still open and clear. Of course, if I have to go on 40 town and country walks, you’re all coming with me.

Our first foray is walk #14, “Radical Road from Duddingston,” which starts at the foot of the hills in Holyrood Park.

Our route is a combination of trails through the park and pavement along Queen’s Drive, while taking in grand views of the sombre Arthur’s Seat and the platform-like Salisbury Crags.

Our half-way point and the highlight of the trip is the quaint village of Duddingston, home of Scotland’s oldest surviving public house.

The welcome glow of green is starting to show through on the hills, and on the trees the buds seem to be desperate to burst. All the same, the long descent into Duddingston brings a welcome break from the sometimes chilly wind that continues to whip over the open areas.

The first thing that is likely to draw a visitor upon entering Duddingston is the Kirk, which sits on a high slope overlooking Duddingston Loch. Founded in the 12th century by a Norman knight, it has undergone a number of changes over the centuries.

This included the addition of a separate gatehouse meant to keep out 19th century body snatchers, who were intent on selling fresh corpses for medical research.
Still attached to the stone wall outside the Kirk are “jougs” or stocks, where criminals suffered the punishment of being held by an iron collar, on display for all the faithful to see.

If you’re like me you’ll wander the yard at least once, looking for unique gravestones. Against one wall, a small Celtic cross bears a sad, simple proclamation in memory of “Wee Jim.”

Leave the Kirk to take a stroll down to Duddingston Loch and try to imagine the Reverend Walker, balanced and stoic on his skates in what has become one of Scotland’s most famous paintings.
Finally, I think we’ve earned the right to hoist a pint in the spot which has been home to a pub since 1360. We’re off to The Sheep Heid Inn. The story goes that King James IV of Scotland gave the innkeeper an ornate ram’s head snuff box in 1580, giving the inn its name.

The light was too dim for indoor photos, so you will just have to imagine the dark wood, the low, heavy-beamed ceiling and the walls cluttered with old clocks all stopped at different times, brass pots and pans, and of course, a collection of mounted sheep heads.
For those with a love of the macabre, take yourself back to 1724. You’re tucked in at a table at the busy inn, where a fire is roaring and a closed coffin is on display. This is the funeral of Maggie Dickson, who has just been hung for infanticide.

As you sit nursing your drink, the room goes silent as banging and scratching sounds start to come from inside the coffin. The lid is lifted and Maggie is found still alive. She goes on to make a complete recovery and becomes known as “Half-Hangit Maggie.”

The downside to surviving her hanging? Since she had been pronounced dead, she had to remarry her “widower” husband.

We both loved The Sheep Heid Inn. This is one of the best things about Scotland -these small local places which have been central to village life for centuries. This is the kind of place that can change a visit to Edinburgh from simply pleasant to truly memorable.
Now that you’re sloshing with food and drink, you’ll have to haul yourself uphill over The Radical Road, a stony path built by unemployed weavers in the 1820s. The project was made at the suggestion of none other than Sir Walter Scott, and the reward for putting one foot in front of the other are the magnificent views of Edinburgh Castle and an opportunity to get up-close to the unique geological features of Salisbury Crags.
Overall, I thought this walk was excellent. Keep in mind the trails can sometimes be muddy and I would caution those with bad knees that the final descent down Salisbury Crags can be a bit sore. However, for ease of access from the city centre to the variety of natural and historical features, I would give this an enthusiastic 9/10.

Only 39 walks to go!

Blog news: Some of you may have noticed the addition of a wee donate button in the sidebar of this blog. For the past two years I have kept this blog advert free, but this is something I am currently considering to help keep me going on these adventures that I love. “The bacon buttie fund,” as I have named it, is there to give people the opportunity to support me if they value the work I am doing.

Thanks again for reading. Squeeze.

18 Mar 2011

A first attempt at Scottish Sticky Gingerbread

When was the last time you popped the lid on a jar of black treacle and watched it ooze over a stack of butter? Welcome back to the world of Scottish baking.

The first time I visited Scotland I was in my 20s and travelling Europe using a hospitality exchange programme called Servas. It was a great way to meet people and learn about different cultures. When I was in Edinburgh I stayed with a lady who made me a full Scottish dinner of haggis, neeps and tatties. For dessert she made a glorious sticky ginger cake, which she served with vanilla ice cream. I had never had anything like it and loved it.

Yesterday I was flipping through my Scottish recipe books looking for something that would replicate the deep, dark gooey cake I had eaten so long ago.

I happened upon just such a recipe in Catherine Brown’s Classic Scots Cookery, a book which is quickly becoming my go-to reference when I’m feeling peckish for something that gives my arteries a trip to the Celtic carnival.

It’s the butter that does it, all 250 grams of it. You combine this with 275 grams dark brown sugar and a small, slow river of black treacle (to the tune of 175 grams), and warm it all up to a lava-like soup on the stove along with a wee spoon of ginger and cinnamon.

Take your lava off the stove and wait for it to cool a bit. Then mix in 4 eggs and a wee scoop of baking soda that has been sifted with 275 grams of plain flour. Finally you can add several tablespoons of finely chopped crystallised ginger and about 200 ml of natural yogurt or milk that has been soured with lemon juice.

Bake this runny mixture in an oven pre-heated to 350 F (Gas 4) for about an hour (less if it’s a fan oven).
The result is especially dreamy when served warm with vanilla ice cream. All the wee ginger pieces will have sunk to the bottom, which will be extra sticky.

There are several other recipes for sticky gingerbread around the web, so you’ll be sure to find one that entices you. Just get yourself some black treacle and start pouring.

13 Mar 2011

Steeples, stones and a bit of imagination

Back in my somewhat younger days, my experience of travelling began on a small scale. I fell in love with the idea of local exploration, of taking a limited area and highlighting the details until they glowed with their own magnificent mystery.

In my 20s I spent several months backpacking around Europe. I remember wandering through Bruges with my best friend, with our only aim to follow the sound of the various church bells. It was a brilliant way to get lost.

With the atrocious winter we just suffered, it has been awhile since I took one of my random walks. But today, with the skies only partially threatening to dampen my spirits, I headed out for a bit of an aimless adventure.

I set off from Gorgie and managed to take in Polwarth, Merchiston, Morningside, Bruntsfield and Fountainbridge. It proved to be just as uplifting and inspiring as it always does.

For example, I like to look for buildings that I can imagine being haunted. I have certain criteria that must be satisfied, including stones which are at least slightly blackened, and preferably as dark as a crow’s wings.

Church steeples with either very small or boarded up windows also causes a delightful shiver to slink down my spine. Or in the case of the church in Polwarth, some jaggy gothic spires and ghoulish gargoyles does the trick.
Being of German heritage, when it comes to potentially haunted houses I am admittedly drawn to a bit of symmetrical architecture.

Giant bay windows through which I can imagine some shadowy figure lurking behind heavy curtains is also a plus.
Of course I am not alone in my deep and complex love of a nice old fashioned turret.

Even better is a turret with either shuttered windows or dusty slats that you know would cast the most brilliant lines of light on the inside walls. Top the whole thing off with a creaking weather vane and I couldn’t be happier.

But the house-of-the-day was one I couldn’t even get to properly in order to photograph it.

All around it there were high stone walls and hedges, so I had to stand across the street just to get this photo.
Quirky window accents, vines climbing up the walls and gnarled mushroom-top chimneys made the building look like something from Grimms fairy tales. I bet the floorboards are wonderfully uneven and squeak in that slow-motion way like they do in horror films.

It was a good day. I’m looking forward to a lot more aimless wandering as the spring slowly (very slowly) begins to emerge.

11 Mar 2011

Salute to The Black Watch Museum

The kilt in the glass case looks heavy, a sleeping pleated quilt. The mud that is crusted in large smears and droplets has faded to the hue of desert sand.

A black and white photo of Captain WD MacLean hangs on the wall above the cabinet.

In the photo he is seen in the same kilt, which he was wearing when he fell in Flanders in WWI. High on another wall is a cross that bears his name.

Of the ten rooms which tell the chronological story of The Black Watch, Scotland’s oldest regiment, it is this room which holds my fascination the most. I think it is the multitude of personal touches which makes the difference.

While you look around at the artefacts, the voice of veteran Gilbert Crossland follows you, his stories of life in the trenches bringing to life the silent relics of his dead comrades.

Just outside the room a life-sized model of a WWI soldier stands in a sandbagged trench, his gun poised and ready to fire. The frozen look of worry on his face and the fine details of his hands around the rifle add a sense of distant sadness to the scene. It is like a postcard for so much human regret.

The Black Watch Museum is housed in Balhousie Castle, which itself has a long and varied history, from its start in the 15th century to its use as a convent in 1926 and later as the Auxiliary Training Service as officer’s quarters during WWII. Located just outside central Perth, the grounds of the castle roll close to the banks of the River Tay.
For those with a penchant for facts and a fascination with military history, The Black Watch Museum is a gold mine of information. Starting with the regiment’s formation in 1739 through to modern warfare in the Middle East, there are endless lists of battles and dates, rows of medals and military equipment on display.

But while it may be easy to appeal to those who could happily absorb every strategic battlefield manoeuvre, it can be difficult for historical attractions like this to attract those who find it harder to maintain attention through reams of dates and facts. Most teenagers for example. Or (and I have narrowed this down in order to avoid casting any vast generalisation on my gender)…me.

What is necessary in these situations is the inclusion of story fragments. Take one day, one hour, one person, and pluck them out of the quagmire of history. Hold the spotlight on just that one moment and you will find you deepen people’s understanding of the wider narrative.
So when you sit down to view the model street scene set on the Dutch-German border in February 1945, a recording will talk you through a one-day experience of the 5th Battalion Black Watch, the sound of gun fire and small glowing lights moving your mind through the action. Small details, like the tiny burned bike leaning abandoned against the charred building, will stay with you as if they were life-sized.
Sometimes a single item is the loose thread from which a timeline of history can unfurl. On one floor a model of a piper holds a set of bagpipes that were played by Piper Smith of the 42nd Battalion The Royal Highlanders of Canada during the Retreat to Mons and at Vimy Ridge during WWI.

Later in WWII it was Canadian officer Jack McBride who played these pipes when he served as a Canadian Loan Officer with the 7th Battalion The Black Watch in Northwest Europe.

In another room behind the glass of a simple frame is the cracked black and white photo of a smiling Private W Lambton, MM 1st Battalion The Tyneside Scottish. There is so much innocent pride in his expression, telling the story of so many young men with grand ideas of war and glory.
Perth is famous for its natural beauty and outdoor lifestyle, but this unique museum offers a new understanding of Scottish history.

For £4 you can wander the halls of a castle and either pour over dates and facts or lose yourself in the stories of the men and women whose own histories are forever entwined with this famous regiment.

For more information on The Black Watch, visit the official website. Undiscovered Scotland also features an excellent article about the museum.

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