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Tantallon Castle

Part 1 – Christmas and Hogmanay in Scotland
Part 2 – Foggy Boxing Day with Relatives
Part 3 – Visiting the Kelpies
Part 4 – Craigmiller Castle with Friends

First off everyone needs to get themselves or know someone who has an Irish terrier, then second fly over to Scotland and have them pose perfectly in front of gorgeous old ruins. Burberry should use rugged Scottish models posing with Irish terriers in their ads because you know they make everything gorgeous. The above photo is probably my most favourite out of the bunch. Well timed Dad and Dougal, bravo.

After this post goes live I’m pretty sure I’m going to get an email from the Dad’s saying, “told you so” and yes I know that jacket and red plaid scarf looks good on you.

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I’ve mentioned the fact that Scotland really only gets technically 7 hours of daylight during the winter, let’s say five functional photography hours. It can be hard to go visit things when the sun sets at 4:00 in the afternoon, but it makes the lighting dreamy. Everything has a nice glow because the sun isn’t casting harsh shadows and light everywhere. It’s like taking photos roughly at the golden hour for most of the day. Combine the fact that I actually had nice weather minus some wind chill at night made it a really good time to travel .. this time. Last time it was snowy and rainy, not so pleasant. I say this because the above two photos were taken between 9-10am, roughly versus the rest of the photos during mid day. They look like they were taken at dusk.

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What’s the first thing to come to your mind when I say castle? Probably something along the lines of a gothic style keeps with parapets and towers. Thanks to Disney and other fairy tell stories, we forget that castles came in different shapes and for a longest time they were built as fortifications not decoration. Craigmiller castle is a tower house keep, a square stone building with fortification walls surrounding it. Tantallon was the last curtain wall castle to be built in Scotland, essentially a U shape building at the edge of a cliff. The rooms were built into defensive wall protecting the kitchen, great hall, and most likely the stables.

It was absolutely stunning.

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Vibrant green fields, red sandstone, and grey-blue ocean against a backdrop of a gorgeous blue winter day; it can’t get much better than that. I think I was so caught up with the location and rugged beauty of the place that I didn’t take many photos of the castle itself. Problem is when you combine sandstone with ocean spray you get a ruined ruin (ha). You can bring your Irish terrier along and convince him to walk up and down narrow stairs that most people have to contemplate.

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Overall it was a fantastic trip – I relaxed with family, got addicted to rosemary salt crisps which I cannot find here (hint hint), visited a few castles and explored Scotland outside of Edinburgh city. I would do it again.

Thank you Dad, Bob and Dougal!

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Craigmiller Castle with Friends

Part 1 – Christmas and Hogmanay in Scotland
Part 2 – Foggy Boxing Day with Relatives
Part 3 – Visiting the Kelpies
Part 5 – Tantallon Castle

Traveling is an excellent way to go through your reading list. Purchase an e-reader, download some books, and voila instant travel companion. I read so many random, mostly non-fiction, books when I was in Europe for my seven week trip. It was great. When I was first in Dublin e-readers never existed and thus had to make the hard decision on what books to bring. No instant download. Whatever book I brought for that trip, it was boring, I don’t even remember what it was. To keep me entertained while they had a nap, Dad gave me his book telling me I would enjoy the historic Scottish fiction. Fast forward nearly ten years later and I’m still addicted to the series written by Diana Gabaldon.

That’s right – my Dad, not my Mum got me addicted to the slightly porn esque books that is Outlander.

Suffice to say I was one of those book worms; I liked the series before it ever saw the light of television.

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Maybe it’s because I have family in Scotland or that I enjoy my history, but I never got excited nor did the thought cross my mind that I would be going to the country where Outlander is filmed. To me Scotland is a place of history, where battles were fought, sacrifices made, and everyday life was held. It’s full of rugged beauty and misty weather. Yet the first thing my friend Sierra said was, “Omg you’re going where Outlander is filmed!!” or roughly of that sorts. When reading that Instagram comment, I rolled my eyes and moved along.

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I can’t say I’ve been to that many castles, yet personally I felt Craigmiller was one of the most well-kept ones I’ve been in. Most are just ruins; you see the outer wall and the keep which you walk in and try to imagine several wooden floors above you, long rotted. Maybe it’s a combination of reading history books and Outlander or the fact that masonry was a large industry thus actually having multiple stone floors, but Craigmiller felt like a preserved castle. One could walk through hallways, duck into fireplaces, and spend time in the great hall imagining people packed into such a tiny room. You could almost imagine the heat and the stench. You can walk up stairs and visit rooms knowing that the occupants slept, fought, and did other things.

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It was built in the late 14th century and was used as a noble seat. Sir Simon Preston, Provost of Edinburgh lived here and one can imagine this place being a place of country residence for the family when they weren’t in town, despite its close proximity to Edinburgh. Of course, like most castles in Scotland, Mary Queen of Scots did stay here.

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So Sierra, fan of Outlander who really should read the books, this castle is for you.

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Visiting the Kelpies

Part 1 – Christmas and Hogmanay in Scotland
Part 2 – Foggy Boxing Day with Relatives
Part 4 – Craigmiller Castle with Friends
Part 5 – Tantallon Castle

“Where did you go?”

“Well only a few places here and there, not much.”

Most people expected that I travelled throughout Scotland on my trip, coming home with a variety of tales. They seemed almost disappointed when I didn’t see everything. I had to remind them that –

a) I was going for the holidays, I wanted to see family first, attractions second.
b) Edinburgh’s longitude is roughly the same equivalent of Prince George, which means the days are incredibly short.
c) The roads in Europe aren’t built in a grid like system. Yes, Scotland is tiny compared to BC, but because of windy roads it takes longer to get places.

Combine that all together equals short day trips, so for the next few days we drove to three places only an hour away. Plus when you think about it, it’s nicer to drive the scenic route not the fast motorway.

Did I just call it a motorway properly without meaning to? Score!

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Exploring is about windy small roads that take you to places you didn’t know existed, saying, “Pullover!” to the driver and then jumping out to take photos of random churches in the morning light. If we went straight to our destination Bob and I would have missed this lovely gem of a church. We’re so young in North America especially on the west coast. We have nothing so old looking in the middle of towns; pubs built in the 1600’s, castles built in the 12th century, or even random rock towers in fields. The oldest thing we have is pioneer built cabins that have decomposed long ago. The small history buff in me gets a little giddy at the thought of walking on steps people years before me.

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Our main destination was the Kelpies at Falkirk; essentially big metal horse heads which oddly sounds like a rock band. As you can tell from any of my travel photos, I lean towards natural artistic endeavours or old historic architecture. Once you take a few photos of horse heads, you’ve seen them all, but despite that they are magnificence pieces of work.

Kelpies Fact – Each of The Kelpies stands up to 30 metres tall and each one weighs over 300 tonnes.

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Foggy Boxing Day with Relatives

Part 1 – Christmas and Hogmanay in Scotland
Part 3 – Visiting the Kelpies
Part 4 – Craigmiller Castle with Friends
Part 5 – Tantallon Castle

On Boxing Day we met up with cousins Alison and her children Alistair and Ashley for an early supper in St. Andrews, north of Edinburgh. We took the scenic route which turned out not so scenic; unless you find the game called, “guess what that shape is through the fog,” fun. Throughout my visit in Scotland when people found out I wasn’t from town (duh the accent!) they would apologize for the weather. Thus causing me to scoff and go, “Please, Vancouver probably gets more rain in the winter.” In all seriousness, Boxing Day was really the only bad weather we had and it lent the air a nice winter mood to the drive.

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We drove along the east coast hitting picturesque towns like Burntisland and Crail, hopping out of the car where Bob and I took photos. It’s a little odd not being the only one with the camera and watching another person take a shot. Sometimes you’re like, “damn, why didn’t I think of that?” or, “Really? What do you see in that shot.” Overall it’s nice, especially when that person enjoys taking photos of everyone.

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I’ve mentioned this before, but as much as I love photography I have a tendency not to take so many photos while away. No one needs to see that door taken from five different angles or that parrot from ten. It’s about capturing the moment for memories sake, but also living in that moment. Heading from Crail to St. Andrews I had a perfect example of this. We were cutting across fields on a small bumpy road when we had to come to a stop and it’s in that moment a traditional fox hunt crossed our path – horses, hounds, and all. I sat there in awe watching this congregation go by, it’s something I’ve only seen in cartoons like Fox and the Hound or Futurama. I’ve never actually seen it in person and it wasn’t until we drove on that I realized no photo was snapped. I have no photo of that moment, but it’s one most treasured.

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The last time I saw my cousins we were running around as kids in Fort Langley digging for gold or as I don’t recall and my Dad likes to point out, holding hands. Over the years as teens we kept in brief communication through MSN. (I feel old now.) Yet our last chat wasn’t the greatest. I tried to help in a situation where in my little teen head I felt like I was blatantly shunned and told to get my nose out of it from all parties. It left a sour taste in my mouth ever since. To say I was a little nervous on Boxing Day to see them again after 15-20 years was a little bit of an understatement.

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I worried for nothing, thankfully.

If I was told to meet Alistair in a pub, I would have no clue who to look for. The short lanky geeky boy I remember from my youth is now replaced by a young fit man that’s over 6’0”. Ashley who I tried to keep in communication with has also changed and I would not have recognized her as well. Yet I got hugs and jokes all around and I felt like family.

So thank you.

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Christmas and Hogmanay in Scotland

Part 2 – Foggy Boxing Day with Relatives
Part 3 – Visiting the Kelpies
Part 4 – Craigmiller Castle with Friends
Part 5 – Tantallon Castle

As a few of you know, my Dads flew off to Edinburgh last summer to do a one year teacher exchange. I don’t really remember who brought the idea up, it could very likely have been me, but the idea of me flying to Scotland for Christmas and Hogmanay was in the works. I wanted to be there to celebrate a holiday that, I feel isn’t as commercialized as North America, and be with family celebrating a huge party aka Hogmanay which is Scotland’s New Year.

Since apparently I don’t post enough photos of my travels (*cough* I’m looking at you Mum) and I hate scrolling through a post that could stretch around the world, I’ll be breaking my trip up into five posts this week.

And why am I writing this post while speaking in a Scottish accent in my head? No idea … so enjoy!

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In front of Edinburgh Castle – my Dad on the left, Bob on the right.

Edinburgh is a small city that after five plus days you’ve seen the good parts already, I didn’t really have anything planned. I mostly just wanted to see family, but one day in October I get a random email with one sentence, “Idea – Would you be interested in having Christmas Eve lunch in the Edinburgh Castle?” Who in the world is going to say no to that?? Edinburgh castle is my most favourite situated ruin I’ve seen in the UK. You can be walking along the main street (think Robson Street, Vancouverites) and you look up, bam, there’s a castle on a hill. So the idea of having dinner in one of the oldest historical sites in the country greatly pleased me. I was so excited I kept telling everyone I met where I was going to have dinner even the regulars at the Chocolate Shop. I had this grand idea, that we would be in the great hall with banquet tables and we were all served at once and it would be this merry feast with great food with snow on the cobblestones.

It wasn’t like that at all.

In reality it was in a room in the back of their small café, people came and went, and the food consisted of spiraled turkey and boiled carrots and Brussels sprouts. Plus it poured! BUT I now can say I’ve had Christmas Eve dinner at Edinburgh castle.

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Christmas Day was low key. One of the local grocery chains produces “pre-made” Christmas dinner selections. A few weeks before hand they launch a site where you can pick the protein, sides, dessert, etc and a few days before Christmas you go pick up your meal and cook it yourself, handy and quick for a country that really isn’t known for their cooking, not so great with all the plastic. We had venison with braised cabbage, potatoes, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and panna cotta for dessert. Which Dad purposely arranged artfully because, “these are the best looking chops, you know for that foodie over there that has to take a photo.” Thanks Dad.

It’s also tradition to wear a Christmas jumper over the holidays. From what I gather it’s taken seriously compared to North America’s silly Christmas sweater parties. I was surprised with the following sweater luckily they have good taste.

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I’m not one for New Years; I don’t understand the point of celebrating the change to a New Year. Maybe Dad’s customs are rubbing off, but to me the winter solstice seems more important, but I was super excited for Hogmanay which is roughly the Scottish equivalent of New Years. Edinburgh hosts probably the largest street party outside of New York, which we had tickets for.
I had mixed feelings .. I hate crowds – check. I’m not a fan of loud music – check. I don’t really stay up late – check. So why am I going to a street party?

Stages opened at 9 and I think we were there pretty decently which was a mistake. There’s really no point in arriving so early, we just walked around trying not to lose each other in the crowds, trying to find a decent vantage point for the fireworks. Finally though we found a stage playing traditional music and had a great vantage point for the fireworks. Everyone was dancing and singing, people were smiling and thoroughly enjoying themselves.

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There is something incredibly indescribable about being in a crowd and hearing everyone count down together in one unison roar, the blast of fireworks, and hearing everyone sing Auld Lang Syne. It’s a feeling that’s deep down in your chest. I know everyone in our group got emotional and I myself was holding back tears, even while I write this.

Would I do the street party again? Probably not, but as I stood beside my Dads watching the fireworks I was glad I went.

Thanks to Bob for taking most of the photos in this post. Also if you wish to see a video clip of the countdown and fireworks head on over to their site, warning don’t have it too loud it was taken with an old Samsung.

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