Tag Archives: Scotland

The leaning tower of … where??

We have all heard of the Leaning Tower of Pisa – and no doubt have seen many of those so-called clever selfies positioned in such a way as it looks as if the subject is propping up the tower. OK, the first couple of hundred were funny but enough already!

But what about the Leaning Tower of Glenfinnan. Well the name is a bit of a give-away so you would be right if you said it was in Scotland. It is located in the mystical West country of Scotland nestled in amongst lochs and mountains.

Glenfinnan – red marks the spot

First of all before you even start looking for the leaning tower – just look at this countryside. It is magnificent. A close up of the map shows that Glenfinnan is located alongside a network of lochs – but look at the names.

Gualachulain … Altnafeadh ….. Giarlochy ….. my goodness me. Those are some mouthfulls to get out. Better be prepared with your own GDS system if you are driving because hell knows how you would be able to ask directions. Especially if you happened upon a small village or farm. It sometimes surprises people how strong the Scottish accent can be as visitors often expect the accent to have softened a bit taking into account the Scottish people have been exposed to those villainous England across the border. You will still hear the old phrases if you venture into the smaller places – a few delightful examples –

I’ll gie ye a skelpit lug! – I’ll give you a slap on the ear.

Mony a mickle maks a muckle! – Saving a small amount soon builds up to a large amount.

Yer bum’s oot the windae – You’re talking rubbish.

It’s a dreich day! – Said in reference to the weather, when it’s cold, damp and miserable.

But back to the tower – why is it leaning and what is it’s history? THE GLENFINNAN MONUMENT, NOW OVER 200 years old, honors the Scottish soldiers who fought and died in the Jacobite Rebellion of the 18th century. It represents the Raising of the Standard (flag) on August 19, 1745, when Bonnie Prince Charlie brought the clans together at Glenfinnan to fight the English for his right to the crown.

The tower was built in 1815 but due to a structural movement it has a little bit of a lean – about one foot from it’s original verticle position.

OK it’s not as dramatic as the tower in Pisa but the countryside more than makes up for that. And if you do make it to Glenfinnan village you can take in the leaning tower and do a lovely 15 minute walk out to the Viaduct – the tower’s most famous cousin –

which featured in the Harry Potter movies. Of course you knew that didn’t you – as soon as you saw the photo. No wonder it was chosen for this. You can still ride on what is popularly known as the Harry Potter train or the Hogwarts Express Line. Take some time in this area to explore as it is rich in history.

This was the area that Bonnie Prince Charlie hid away from the Duke of Cumberland’s men as detailed in this extract from historyextra.com –

Charles spent five months as a fugitive in the western Highlands and islands with Cumberland’s men in relentless pursuit. He eventually escaped to France, with the selfless assistance of the heroic Flora MacDonald, and died in Rome in 1788 by all accounts a drink-befuddled and bitter man. But his legendary alter ego, the ‘Highland laddie’, lived on. The whole story is brilliantly written and includes many facts you might not know about https://www.historyextra.com/period/georgian/10-things-you-probably-didnt-know-about-bonnie-prince-charlie-and-the-jacobites/

If history is your thing and you also enjoy a drop of Scotland’s finest (a wee dram) make sure you add Scotland to your list of places to see. Having lived there in a couple of different places, Arbroath and Elgin (right up on the north coast) I remember thinking how funny the kids spoke when they were there. But I am told that we quickly picked up the Scottish accent as it is quite pervasive! So you might want to study up on a few modern Scottish phrases to tide you over while you are there –

  • Gonnae no’ dae that! – Going to not do that.
  • At dis ma nut in – That does my head in.
  • Pure dead brilliant – Exceptionally good.
  • Yer bum’s oot the windae – You’re talking rubbish.
  • Awa’ an bile yer heid – Away and boil your head.
  • Am pure done in – I’m feeling very tired.
  • Am a pure nick – I don’t look very presentable.
  • Ah umnae – I am not.
  • Ah let wan go – I broke wind.
  • Int it – Isn’t it.
  • Ma heid’s mince – My head’s a bit mixed up.
  • Ma heid’s loupin’ – My head is sore.
  • Yer oot yer face! – You’re very drunk.
  • Yer aff yer heid – You’re off your head – a little bit daft.

It’s what you eat

Are you an adventurous eater?  Do you try new foods all the time?  When I watch intrepid travellers like the amazing Anthony Bourdain tucking into strange foods I am constantly amazed by their bravery.  I have to admit I am a wuss when it comes to strange food.  I could never really get through that regular episode on the Amazing Race when they would have to eat weird stuff.

I am told that I am missing out and that I should be more adventurous.  What about you?  Here are some strange foods that you may come across on your travels – how do they rate?

PERU – could you eat a guinea pig?  Yes – those sweet little creatures that your kids keep in a little cage in their bedrooms.  In Peru they are a delicacy and you can even get them on a pizza.  Not sure what the Italians would think of that!

guinea pig

BRITAIN – could you eat a sausage made of blood?  Well hang on a minute now – this is one weird delicacy that I absolutely love – Black Pudding.  Maybe it is because I grew up in England and having no preconceived ideas about Black Pudding I ate it with relish.  I probably didn’t realise what it was at the time.  I was only little at the time.

CAMBODIA – scared of spiders?  How about a bowl of crispy tarantulas.  Gobble those down and it should put paid to your fears forever (or kill you!).  I have been to Cambodia – I have NOT tried this dish which apparently tastes like crab.  It came into use during the Khmer Rouge regime and you know, I get it. If I was starving I wouldn’t be too fussy.  Today it is a popular snack.

UKRAINE – just a piece of fat – that’s Salo.  Slabs of fat, smoked and stored for a year in the cool before being sliced off and eaten on rye bread.  Now before you turn your nose up – I can relate.  In England having lard from the roasting pan smeared onto a piece of bread was a treat second to none.

SCOTLAND – yes the noble haggis.  The ingredients are enough to turn your stomach (liver heart and lungs with oatmeal all trussed up in a sheep’s stomach)  but oh my goodness – the taste is to die for!  Yum.

haggisaddresstoned

FRANCE – yes snails.  I know, I know.  I don’t get it but many do.  In fact funny story.  Growing up in Cornwall England we noticed people combing the old stone walls of the fields for snails.  Our English snails were so plump and well nourished that they fetched a pretty penny in the fancy restaurants in France.

SOUTH AFRICA – crocodile pies.  Fresh from a bakery in Hout Bay, Cape Town.  Crispy pastry on the outside – a sinister greenish look on the inside – but very tasty nevertheless.  Rather like a fishy kind of chicken if that makes sense.

TAIWAN – grilled chicken buttholes.  Yes you read that correctly.  During my research I came across this entry ….

“I’ve eaten quite a few strange foods on my travels- all manner of bugs in SE Asia, a horse burger in Slovenia. In Iceland, I tried whale, puffin and reindeer in the same meal. On a walking food tour in Morocco I peeled back the face of a sheep to get to roasted meat underneath. But nothing to me was stranger than the time I ate grilled chicken buttholes on a stick in Taipei, Taiwan.”  Nathan from Foodie Flashpacker

CHINA – insect food and more things just defying description

insect-food-2-960x720

What has been your bravest culinary moment?  Do tell….

 

Follow your family line

With the advent of services like Ancestry DNA people are discovering who they really are and where they really come from.  For those who study genealogy this is a huge boost to filling in the gaps of the family tree.  Travel plays a big part in this story and I have lost count of the people we have helped in their journeys overseas to check in on ancestral homes, villages and towns.

It is always interesting because usually the places people want to go to are generally off the tourist radar.  Small villages in Scotland, Ireland, Poland, Ukraine, Germany and the Czech republic are just a few of the places where people go to visit church yards, scan birth, marriage and death records and see if anyone in the village still carries the family name.

St Columbus Church Outer Hebrides (2)

Now this can be tricky.  This is why some people don’t like the idea of DNA at all.  Imagine getting a knock on the front door and a complete stranger is standing there telling you that he or she is your fourth cousin twice removed and they have travelled across the world just to come and visit you.  Mmm.  Might make you think twice?

stranger at the door

The other downside of a genealogy search overseas is that because you are probably wanting to get to very small villages or out of the way places you are probably going to be travelling independently – driving a rental car – staying in very small towns that have never heard of Sheraton Hotels.  The best accommodation might be just the small village inn.   This can sometimes be a challenge for us spoilt North Americans.  Bedrooms in European hotels are smaller and in some of the smaller villages you might even find yourself sharing a bathroom (horror of horrors).

Remember there is a reason for this.  You are not a tourist – you are a sleuth on the trail of your great great great grandfather – who was maybe a shoemaker in the Swiss Alps, or the harbour security man on a small island in the Outer Hebrides.  Enjoy the challenges and enjoy the discoveries along the way.  You might be obliged to eat Haggis in Scotland, Black Pudding in England or Grilled Pig’s ear in Spain.  If that happens follow Anthony Bourdain’s advice – never refuse a dish prepared for you by a local.  And when you are struggling to get that food down – remember – this is your ancestry – so enjoy it!

 

All aboard the Choo Choo train

Train travel is so special – sometimes.  I can hear people groaning – the ones who travel the C Train every day downtown.  Well I am not really talking about that kind of train travel. I am talking about this kind of train travel.

The Jacobite  rail-rovos_1384939i

Now that’s what you call a train.

There is something very romantic about the clackety clack of the wheels and the sway of the train while the countryside goes rushing past.  It’s civilised.  Not like flying.  Hurtling through the air in a pressured metal tube squashed up against complete strangers who hog the armrest.  We all know that is not fun – it is a means to an end.

Train travel however is different.  It is mostly about enjoying the journey and seeing the scenery – except if you are on one of those super high speed trains.  I must confess it makes me rather nervous to think about it.  I have done the Eurostar under the English Channel – 300 km per hour!  A lot of this is under the sea of course going through a tunnel.  The countryside does flash by rather quickly but it is still an elegant way to travel.  Takes you from the heart of London to the heart of Paris in 2 hours and 15 minutes.  Plus you get a proper seat and if you upgrade – enjoy a lovely lunch with wine.  Yes – that is the way to travel.

You might think that is fast – but it is not the fastest in the world.  Far from it!  The fastest train in the world is the Shanghai Maglev Train from Shanghai airport to a metro station on the outskirts of the city.  It takes just 7 minutes to do 30 kms and travels at a scary speed of 431 km per hour.

Now most of the train trips I have done in Europe have been fairly short – maybe a couple of hours.  Just enough time to enjoy a glass of wine and a snack.  However I do remember very long train journeys when I was a child in England.  My father was in the Royal Navy and so we had to travel around a lot – often from one end of England to the top of Scotland.  Those were long long journeys and when our train tickets arrived at the house in the envelope marked OHMS (On Her Majesty’s Service) they were not first class.  😦  And so we learned how to take our own lunch on the trains and how to sleep on uncomfortable seats.

However if you do decide to sleep on a train you can do it without breaking the bank.  It’s like being a kid again – you get a bunk bed!

sleeper

Now – imagine – you can have that age old fight.  Which is better – top or bottom?  And why?

But if you are a serious train buff then there are some incredible journeys you can do by train.

Loch Fyne

Beautiful Scotland with some fabulous stops to Oban and Bute … castles and mountains.  This is definitely on my bucket list – beautiful countryside – a mix of ship and coach and then this incredible train

scotrail-west-highland-line-loch-awe-c-mcnab

Or what about this – Switzerland – where the trains always run on time.

jungfrau express

I am not kidding.  I was in Switzerland and had a rather tight connection between two trains – about 7 minutes.  I found the Station Master and asked him what would happen if my train was late.  He looked at me as if I was a blithering idiot.  “Trains are not late in Switzerland” he said sternly.

sorry

And if you want something really different – how about a train journey in India – this is definitely my most favourite and having visited India once by coach tour it is top of my list.

India Palace on Wheels

And no – you won’t have to sit on the roof or hang off the side of the train (although I guess you could if you wanted to). Instead you will ride the rails in the lap of luxury on this beautiful heritage train.

palace on wheels bedroom

Palace on wheels lounge

Wow … I could totally do that.