Tag - scotland

Huntly Castle Hotel

Huntly Castle hotel

Huntly Castle hotel

By Vivienne Mackie,

In Scotland….If you’re hot on the Castle Trail or the Whisky Way but don’t want to base yourself in Aberdeen, here’s a great alternative.  Drive about an hour and a half from Aberdeen on the way to Inverness and stop at Huntly, of castle and Nordic ski- ing fame, and birthplace of the famous Gordon Highlanders. It’s a charming town with a pretty square, cobblestoned and ringed with old buildings.  It also has a Shortbread Factory, a must-visit for anyone with a fondness for this buttery delight. A long driveway takes you through a tall gatehouse, with the ruined but impressive Huntly Castle beyond.

Behind the castle, over a narrow stone bridge across a bubbling stream, a sweeping drive across wide lawns is an imposing approach to a wonderful hotel. The Huntly Castle Hotel, rated 3-star by the AA, has 20 en-suite bedrooms and suites and conference facilities.  This eighteenth-century stone building was once the lodge for the Gordon family of Huntly Castle. The friendly Scots owner is married to a South African and, with some South African and Indonesian staff, there was an international “feel” to the hotel. We were delighted with our lunch of brie and bacon panini, with chips and salad, then a leisurely double espresso, enjoying the view through wide windows onto gorgeous gardens, full of flowers. The dinner menu is varied, with many lamb, fish and seafood offerings, all beautifully prepared, and if the evening is cool you’ll be welcomed with a cozy log fire.

If castles are not your thing, there are other activities: Huntly’s 18-hole golf course is at the end of the driveway, you can enjoy falconry on the front lawn, go trout fishing in the nearby Rivers Deveron and Bogie, or even go deer stalking. Huntly is just a few miles from Dufftown, the “Malt Capital of the World”, home of Glenfiddich Distillery, and also within easy reach of many other world-renowned distilleries.

Take a look at their personal web site, www.castlehotel.uk.com

Eating Around the World: Ice Cream in Every Country

Ice cream-Cr-theatlantic.com

Ice cream-Cr-theatlantic.com

I am one of those travelers who tends to eat my way through every country I visit.  And while I can admit to my over-indulgent love-affair with international foods, I can also say there is a purpose.  There is a reason.  Food is a fantastic window into other cultures.  When you sit down to a meal in another country you’re not just filling your belly, you are actually partaking in someone else’s way of life.

When I am planning for my next adventure, I spend a good bit of time reading about local foods and delicacies.  I want to know what the locals are eating, and I want to taste what they crave.  In all of my research, and all of my travels, one thing I have discovered worldwide, is that almost every one has a love for ice cream.  Some ice creams have been familiar to me in flavor and texture, but many countries have their own take on the frozen treat. I’ve rarely been disappointed.  All of my ice cream encounters come with great stories or great memories, and all of them have given me a greater understanding of my journey, as a traveler, as a wife, as a mom, and as a human being.  Who knew ice cream could do so much?

Nearly two years on the road with my husband and preschooler began in Scotland.  This is most likely also where my interest in international ice creams was sparked.  We were living in St. Andrews, just off the famed Lade Brae walk, so every morning while my husband was catching up on work for the day, my daughter and I would go into town to explore.  We had only been in St. Andrews for a few days when I began to notice that, while I was walking around with a coffee at 9am, other people were carrying cones of delicious looking ice cream.  Of course, I got the third degree from my little one, “Mommy, why can’t I have ice cream in the morning too?”  It’s a legitimate question, and I myself was curious.  As it turned out, there were several great ice cream shops in St. Andrews, and they opened earlier than most of the other shops in town.  So we had ice cream for breakfast!  My daughter’s favorite quickly became the Pooh Bear ice cream with honeycomb in it from Luvian’s.  I, myself, preferred a fantastically tart lemon sorbet at B. Jannetta’s.  And I’d be lying if I said we weren’t there almost every day.  Check this out for more details

My next run-in with frozen treats occurred in Australia.  Most of you will note that Far North Queensland is hot, hot, hot, so anything frozen is a welcome respite from the heat and humidity that occurs 24/7.  There were several delicious encounters with frozen goodies that need to be mentioned here.  After our arrival in Port Douglas we were promptly directed to the wonderful weekend farmer’s market where my daughter’s trusty internal treat barometer led her directly to a woman selling frozen mango from an ice cream cart.  To this day, my kids will eat frozen mango before they’ll touch regular ice cream from the grocery store…that’s how good it is.

A few weeks after our arrival in Queensland we decided to take a drive into the Daintree, one of the world’s oldest rainforests and a World Heritage Site, in search of the elusive and endangered cassowary bird.  Following the Cape Tribulation Rd toward Cape Tribulation on the north side of the Daintree River we encountered a sign that read, “Daintree Ice Cream Company.”  Stop the presses everyone!  Our mission now included a new plan.  We turned left and pulled into the drive passing rows and rows of unidentified fruit trees.  A small stand came into view, filled only with a freezer and a cash register, and a few picnic tables in front.  I paid $5 for a small cup of four mixed flavors, 75% of which I had never heard of, but was pleasantly surprised at the assortment and uniqueness.  Mango (we were familiar with and loved), Wattleseed (tasted like coffee), Black Sapote (tasted like chocolate pudding), and Soursop (which resembled lemon sorbet).

All the flavors were natural and they were all grown within a few yards of where I was sitting.Flavors change throughout the year depending upon which fruits are in season. And I made sure to keep a keen eye open for that cassowary as I was tasting the local flavor. Two months later we had flown back to the other side of the world, landing in Panama.  Another hot and steamy location.  A few days in Panama City convinced us that we really wanted to see the quieter parts of the country, but before we left the city, we decided to take a cab to Casco Viejo, the old city.  The driver pulled into the Plaza de Francia and dropped us off in front of the French Embassy, which, as it turns out, sits above the now defunct fort/prison, and houses a pretty darn good French restaurant.  We bought a raspado, the Panamanian form of a snow cone, from a very hairy old man pushing an ice cart in front of the embassy.  My sweet little girl chose grape syrup for her raspado, and then we watched in amazement as the hairy man poured sweetened condensed milk all over the top of the icy treat.  Her eyes quickly grew bigger than her head.  She took the overflowing cup and immediately sucked down 90% of the grape syrup before digging into the cream and ice.

It was quickly melting in the hot summer sun, and before I knew it I had a purple child from head to toe. We found a nice white park bench underneath a big beautiful fig tree looking out over the water.  My husband sat down and I slowly began to comprehend, all too late, the reason the park bench was white.  My daughter and I were walking toward him, prepared to share the yummy raspado, when the birds struck, and they had great aim.  Clearly they had done this before.  The first shot hit him in the head, bounced off and landed in a big splat on his right leg.  It seemed as if everything was happening in slow motion.  The spray from the leg hit went in all directions, catching Ashleigh in the hair, and me on the right rear buttock.  Ashleigh’s arms flew in the air in shock so that the remainder of the grape-flavored raspado soared up in an arcing motion and then back down on all three of us leaving drops of purple rain, topped with a tad of sweetened milk, and a whole lot of bird poop.  Have no fear, four years of disaster preparedness had taught me to always carry plenty of wet wipes, and I was prepared to use them. Despite our encounter with the birds, raspado is highly recommended.  But please be aware of your surroundings during consumption.
A few months later, during the hottest summer on record back at home, we were living in the Canadian Rockies, in the great little town of Canmore.  Good call, right?  We love everything about Canmore, except that it’s cold and snowy in the winter.  Canmore has unique shops, unique people, thousands of wild black roaming bunnies, and ice cream sold out of a school bus.

The feral black bunnies are the result of a pet-release gone bad.  Ecologically disturbing and fascinating at the same time.  But the Old School Bus Ice Cream Shop is a seasonal business located on Main Street in Canmore, owned by Blue and Deb Falconer.  In the evenings,  we loved to walk around town with views of snow-capped peaks in every direction, and then stop at the Old School Bus for dessert before going home.  It was even fun to watch families of bunnies, big and small, while we ate our ice cream.  The ice cream was good, but not really unusual. It was the setting and the memories for our family that make this ice cream place particularly special, and the reason it tends to stick in my mind. When winter rolled around once more, our family of three made our way back across the Atlantic Ocean for two months in the Middle East before having to retire home to the U.S. for the birth of our son.  Living in Giza, Egypt was an experience of another kind for many reasons.  We lived around the corner from the Great Pyramids and the Sphinx.  We had a spectacular view from our rooftop, and during the hot, sweaty days we would occasionally encounter a man pushing an ice cream cart in the dusty street, surrounded by mobs of children in search of a cool treat.  Our child was no different.  She joined right in with the yelling and screaming to express her desperate need for ice cream.  For one Egyptian Pound each we were given a small scoop of the creamiest, most delicious strawberry ice cream I had ever put in my mouth.  There was no choice of flavors, but who needed choices when the strawberries had clearly just been picked from the field, and the cream had obviously just been drawn from some poor bovine living on a nearby rooftop.  I honestly wasn’t expecting much when we bought it, but I was amazed at the burst of flavor provided by our newest frozen treat.  It was out of this world.  Unfortunately there is no way to predict when or where one would encounter this “ice cream man” in Giza, but if you’re around, keep your eyes peeled.

Recently, I had a conversation about ice cream with a photographer from Uruguay.  He claims his country makes the best ice cream on earth.  That remains to be seen, as now I obviously have to go to Uruguay and taste this most amazing ice cream.  Oh well, all in a good day’s work.  This is a tough job, but someone has to do it.

Stonehaven’s Dunnottar Castle Has Poignant History

Stonehaven’s Dunnottar-Cr-tripadvisor.com.sg

Stonehaven’s Dunnottar-Cr-tripadvisor.com.sg

The history of one of the most spectacular landmarks on Scotland’s east coast dates back to the 5th century and includes some of the most colorful characters.

When my husband Gary and I visit Scotland we split our time between two beautiful east coast cities; Dundee, where my parents grew up and Aberdeen, where we now have family.  The commute between these two great cities is one of the most scenic on a road that take you along the coast past several quaint fishing villages on the North Sea.

Our favourite of these seaside villages is Stonehaven, a  town of 11,000 people just 24 km south of Aberdeen that sits below the ruined medieval fortress, Dunnottar, that looms above the town on the rocky headland about three km south.

The surviving ruins of Dunnottar Castle are spread over three acres and sit above steep cliffs that drop more than 50 meters to the North Sea below.  While most of the remaining sections of the impenetrable castle date back to the 15th and 16th centuries, there are stories told of the strategic role the great fortress played as long ago as the 5th century and these tales host such characters as William Wallace, Mary Queen of Scots, the Marquis of Montrose and King Charles II.  Dunnottar Castle was also the stronghold for a small garrison that were able to protect the Scottish Crown Jewels by holding out there for eight months against the might of Oliver Cromwell’s army.My favorite of these great stories that include Dunnottar Castle is also one of the most important battles of the Dark Ages, and maybe the first ever battle between the two nations we now know as the Scots and the English.  Scotland, as we know it now was ruled by Constantine II who survived a month-long siege at Dunnottar to defy his capture by Aethelstan, Anglo Saxon King of Wessex.
The story of Constantine II begins two generations earlier with his grandfather Kenneth MacAlpin who was born around 800AD in the Gaelic Kingdom of Dál Riata (Gaels) which was dominated by its powerful Pictish neighbour (Picts) of Pictland.  In a time when the Pictish kingship was almost completely destroyed by the far too often and ferocious Viking raids, bloodlines showed that MacAlpin’s mother was a Pictish princess and this connection to the royal line saw MacAlpin become King of Picts. MacAlpin’s death lead to his son Áed becoming king but his short term also ended when he was slain by Giric of Scotland, also known as Gregory the Great, who conspired with Aed’s own nephew, Eochaid for the throne. Afraid for their safety and to protect the bloodline, Áed’s son, Constantine II and his cousin Donald spent the early years of their lives in exile in Ireland in the Gaelic culture of the monks.  Later, as young men, Constantine II and Donald returned to take revenge on Giric and depose Eochaid.  Donald became king but his reign was short and his death left his throne to Constantine II.  The 20-year-old’s coronation on the Stone of Destiny established a new practice that became a ritual for all future kings.

There was a continuing theme in those days of Kings fighting brutal battles to defend their kingdom against the brutality of the Vikings and Constantine II was no exception; however he was a very amiable character and had a way with people which allowed him, for the first time, to unit Picts of Pictland and the Gaels of Dál Riata to unite to defeated their land in a brutal turning point battle against the Viking army in 904AD.  With this victory Constantine II rebuilt the church along Gaelic lines with a system of earls and was able to defend his kingdom more efficiently. He also renamed the territory to Alba, meaning “Britain” in Gaelic and the Scottish nation was born.

The fading power of the Vikings in the early 10th century was providing Aethelstan, the Angle-Saxon King with more land and as he got stronger he planned to take the whole island, including Constantine II’s Alba, and in 934 AD he marched north.  Alba had never seen so vast an army and Constantine II was forced into retreat to Dunnottar Castle.  He made his month long stand at the rock fortress which proved to be too strong for Aethelstan’s army and they left Constantine II there to make one more attempt at a comeback.

Constantine II arranged the marriage of his daughter to Olaf Guthfrithsson, the pagan king of Viking Dublin and this strong union between the two kings created an army that invaded Aethelstan’s England in one of the largest and bloodiest battles of the Dark Ages, the Battle of Brunanburh in 937AD.  The war took a toll on Aethelstan and his grand schemes lay in ruins.

In 943 AD, after ruling for 43 years, Constantine II retired from the kingship and for the final nine years of his life became a monk at St Andrews.

The Dunnottar Castle site is currently owned by private interests and is open to the public and visited annually by hundreds of thousands of tourists who come to be awed by the cliff and headland formations, which extend to the north and south and is a sanctuary for a variety of ocean birds.