A Flower Farm Tour

It’s been a super busy couple of weeks with a full schedule of photography shoots for clients and projects, so I haven’t been doing much DIY.  But I did make time to enjoy a tour of a local flower farm this past weekend, since I skipped the Willow garden tours this year.  I’ve followed All Dahlia’d Up, which is run by Misty Vanderwheel, for a while now, so I was excited when I heard she was offering tours of her farm this summer.

I purchased my tour ticket as a birthday present to myself and I’m sure glad I did.  When we arrived at the farm we were greeted in the driveway so we could sign in and got our name tags.  Once the tour began we were escorted to the backyard where this pretty table set-up greeted us.

It was the perfect garden party spread!  The table was right in Misty’s backyard and was situated next to her original dahlia garden, which now also has a row of sweet pea.  I noticed she had a purple door on her house, just like mine – and I’m totally loving those purple chairs too!  Perhaps the ones I have by the greenhouse need a new coat of paint! 😉

The group was led to the back area of the yard, past another larger garden to where the property opens to her father-in-law’s crop fields and an amazing view of Pioneer Peak.  She uses this area to host small wedding ceremonies during the summer.

She gave us a bit of history about how she started the farm after her son’s passing due to MS and how he was the inspiration for the farm.  He had brought her home a feeble dahlia plant one year for Mother’s Day courtesy of a class project.  She wasn’t sure it would even survive, but it did and it produced lovely purple blooms, which is her favorite color.  The farm idea took off when she gave a local bride a bouquet of flowers one summer and soon had multiple requests for more.  She did a bit of research and realized that flower farming was indeed a ‘thing’ and decided to run with it.  six years later she has a well-known thriving Alaska Grown business that shares her joy with others near and far.

After the quick presentation we walked across the road to her newest flower patch, located in one of her father-in-law’s fields.  It was a little hike, but it was well worth it.  Here she explained the various types of flowers she grows for bouquets and arrangements.  She chooses flowers that bloom continuously all summer so she can cut from them multiple times.

She turned us loose in the flower patch for a few minutes to take in all the varieties she’s growing.  Some of the most recognizable were bachelor buttons, sweet pea, dianthus, poppies and snap dragons.

She also had a few veggies growing in the back corner of the garden including pumpkins and these pretty flowering kale.

These huge poppy pods were a big hit with several of us on the tour.  They looked like something right out of a Dr. Seuss story, but produced one of the prettiest poppies I’ve seen in a long time.

This pink sunflower was also a favorite of the tour guests.  I’d never seen one this color but really liked the variation.

My favorite area of the garden was the sweet pea row.  I’m considering doing something like this around our bee hive area next summer.  It would provide a nice screen to disguise the hive and provide a bit of wind block, plus I could cut flowers from it for arrangements.  And I’m pretty sure the bees would like it too.  I’m not sure I’d do this variety of colors but it was fun to see all the varieties together.

The view of Pioneer Peak was fantastic from this spot too.  It’d certainly give me an extra reason to be in the garden all day!

We trekked back across the road to the gardens in her yard where she clipped several blooming dahlias for us to use in arrangements.  There were all types of varieties and colors, including some unique spikey ones!

On the side of the larger garden she’s created a sweet pea tunnel, which we got to walk through and squeezed in to do a group picture.  She had a local photographer on the tour taking photos, so I’ll share a link to those when she posts them.

Next we went to the prep tent where we created individual arrangements using the dahlia’s she had cut as the centerpiece.  We had a variety of snap dragons, sweet peas, white dill and stock to add to our bouquets.

I decided to use a variety of purple and pink tones to create a monochromatic backdrop for my pink and white dahlia.  And I chose a seat that had more purple blooms to add to the arrangement.

Once everyone placed their arrangements on the table it really came to life.  Everyone had fun getting pictures of their arrangements and their neighbors!

We wrapped up the tour with a yummy dinner of Alaska grown produce, and local salmon.  I didn’t get any pictures of the food because I was quite hungry and too busy chatting with the ladies seated around me at the table – but I’ll tell you that it was all very delicious!

I’m so glad that I decided to take the tour.  I got to learn a bit more about this local business and the woman who leads it.  Plus I got to take home a beautiful arrangement of local blooms with a full belly, plus a yummy truffle that I saved to enjoy the next day.  If you get a chance to enjoy the tour I highly recommend it!

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Our Scotland Adventure – Day 7

Our last day in Scotland was spent back in Edinburgh.  We had run out of time to see Holyrood Palace on Day 2 so that was the goal for today – and to handle the parking ticket we got while at Edinburgh Castle.  This time though we opted to leave the car at the hotel and take the bus into town.  I was quite excited to ride the double decker buses since we don’t have those here, so of course we immediately went upstairs upon boarding.  We sat toward the back and enjoyed seeing the sights as we headed into town rather than navigating the streets and GPS.

There were grand old homes turned into B&Bs or businesses.

And important looking structures like this one.

When the seats up front became available we moved up and enjoyed views like this as we watched traffic go past.

There were also numerous shop windows to take in.

It was a relatively short ride to reach the area near the magistrate’s office where we had to go to contest the ticket.  Once off the bus we got our bearings and soon realized we had to climb these stairs to get to the right street.

We took a short breather at the mid-way point to peek in the windows of the shops along the way.  I had to wonder how they handled deliveries of goods, but I guess that’s just part of the usual routine in this area.

The stairs took us to the Royal Mile, just down from the castle.  We were still a few blocks from the parking office, so we headed that direction as we enjoyed the sights.

Including architecture like this!

And shop windows like this.  I seriously considered buying that dress for my company holiday party, but didn’t think the Hubs would be up for the matching kilt!

After a couple mis-turns we found the right office to contest our ticket, spoke to the officials and learned that we had parked in an area where you have to have a special resident permit, not just the kiosk permit.  They told us we could appeal the ticket with a written statement and explain that we were tourists and hadn’t understood the difference.  We wrote up our statement and submitted it along with our contact information back home in case they had any questions.  Then we headed back out to the Royal Mile to make our way to Holyrood.  Having handled the pressing item of the day we were both in lighter spirits and totally got a chuckle out of this display!

Several shops had unique and clever names like this one.

And there were several more picturesque spots like this little alleyway, where I could envision Belle walking along reading a book.

I spotted this sign and had to pause, since I grew up on a Manse Rd.  I’d always figured it was a family name but never thought about it being older than that.

Along the Royal Mile I spotted this guy in one of the shop windows and fell in love.  So we stepped inside to find out how much he was.  It turned out he was quite heavy as he was constructed to be a door stop, but they had other similar designs as pillows and ornaments.

They also had this amazing Highland Coo bag that I had to have.  I offered to get one for my sister, but she turned it down – much to her disappointment when she saw mine in person later!

I also eyed this pretty scarf, but it was a bit beyond my budget so I got a picture instead.

We were getting hungry after our trek down the Royal Mile so we decided to stop and eat before getting to the castle.  We ducked into a quaint little pub, which we soon learned was the Tolbooth Tavern – full of history and stories.  We ordered and were pleased to see the hearty meals that were presented.

I had a few giggles watching the Hubs try to eat this massive burger without getting it all over himself.  I’m pleased to say that he did a pretty good job!

We walked off our food comas with the remaining blocks to Holyrood, where we quickly toured the gift shop and purchased our entrance tickets.  The courtyard in front of the palace has a magnificent fountain with ornate carvings of several historical Scottish figures.

There were dragons and lovers, and of course unicorns – the official animal of Scotland.

The palace had several impressive details like the stone carvings and gilded lanterns on the front wall.

Across the courtyard I spotted these cross windows.  I’m not sure what room they were for inside the wall but it was quite an interesting design that took countless hours of crafstmanship.

Photography is not allowed inside the palace, but the exterior gave plenty to take in.

After touring the palace, including the apartments of Mary, Queen of Scots, where David Rizzio had been murdered we made our way over to the abby ruins.  They were absolutely stunning.

These stone caskets were likely pulled from the sealed tombs within the abby when it was raided.  We headed out into the Queen’s gardens and made our way around the outside of the abby.

It was a beautiful landscape, where a giant jubilee is held each year.  I was so enamored with the gardens that I didn’t notice the stone ruins on the hillside beyond until I was editing these images!  The large crag behind the palace is Arthur’s Seat.

We sat for a bit just taking in the grounds and the history in this place, then made our way along the path to the exit.

On our way back to the bus station we stopped to see the Scott Monument, a victorian monument to Scottish author, Sir Walter Scott.  Luckily, it was just a few blocks from our bus stop so it wasn’t far out of the way since we were quite tired from all the walking we’d done that day.

We took in the skylines of the city as we boarded the bus, knowing these would be our last glimpses of the city and it’s history.

The ride itself was very entertaining as the buses, kept stopping so close to each other that we made noises each time and then giggled.  Just to give you an idea of how close they get there was only inches between them at this stop.

Back at the hotel we asked our new friend Steven, who works as a concierge, where the best nearby spot to go for dinner was.  I was wanting fish and chips for my last night and he drove us to a spot just a few miles away that did to-go orders.  With fish and chips and a Greek gyro in hand we grabbed a cab back to the hotel to rest our feet and dig in.  It was the perfect ending to our trip.

The next morning was rainy and gloomy as we headed to the airport.  But the rain did have an upside – I finally got a full shot of the Edinburgh sign without gaggles of tourists on it.

We lugged our very stuffed suitcases into the terminal and checked in as we thought about the wonderful trip we’d had.  It’s been fun reliving it through these posts and I hope it inspires you to go see some of these amazing places.  We’ll definitely be back again at some point!

Check out our other Scotland adventures:

And our travels through Iceland on the same trip with Day 1, Day 2, Day 3 and Day 4.

Our Scotland Adventure – Day 6 continued

Our Day 6 adventures continued with a drive into Cumbria in northern England to see Hadrain’s Wall.  This area was once the edge of the Roman Empire and the wall was built by the Roman emperor Hadrian.  Theories vary as to why the wall was built – defense, immigration & customs or just a show of power, but the fact that portions of it remain today is a lasting testament to their strength.  The wall extended over 70 miles at it’s completion with garrison towers along it’s length.  The first area we stopped at still had the foundations of one of these towers.

The view from the location was stunning and strategic.  Today the wall is surrounded by fields of grazing livestock, which belie the tumultuous history of the region.

The thickness of the walls was impressive, especially when you consider that they were created by hand without modern machinery.  Many areas of the wall have been robbed of their stones over the centuries as new structures were built in the region.

Today’s roadway follows alongside the wall in many places.  Here the local vegetation has created an archway bridging today and the past in another way.

We continued up the road to a visitor center at a key point along the wall.  This spot was the location of the Birdoswald fort where regiments would have been stationed and trained.  Today it is the longest surviving stretch of the wall.

At the heart of the fort’s footprint is a house constructed centuries after the empire fell during the Victorian era.  The house and estate were purchased during the 1840’s by Henry Norman, who had a strong interest in the fort and it’s history.  He was the first person to employ archaeologist to conduct excavations on the site.  He added the tower and porch to the farmhouse to give it a medieval style as was fashionable at the time.

Beneath the lawn of the house were the foundations of several of the fort’s key buildings, including the granaries and garrison hall where the soldiers would train.  The excavated foundations of these structures are marked out with posts today.

From the house you can see where the fort gates had been in the distance.  Signage shows what they would have looked like when it was at it’s height of use during the Roman occupation.

Because we arrived late in the day the fort was closing shortly after we arrived, so we saw what we could and then headed back the way we had come to check out a cool looking spot I’d seen on the way in.  This stone archway marked the entrance to the area, which turned out to be Lanercoast Priory, an ancient monastery.

Due to the time of day, everything at the site was closed so we enjoyed touring the grounds instead.  The east end of the church is still functioning and was under restoration near the entrance.

I discovered these stone steps along the wall coming off the church and decided to explore.  Beyond the wall was an ancient cemetery with rows and rows of aged headstones.  Some were washed plain by the elements, while others retained their medieval style.

From the cemetery you can see the damaged section of the priory, which has been left open.  The structure is massive and absolutely stunning from every angle.

We walked around the building to the other side where we had a fuller view of the entire complex, including foundations of areas that no longer stand.

Beyond this fence was yet another field of grazing sheep, completely oblivious to the history and beauty that surrounded them.

We headed back toward our vehicle at the front of the church where there were a few smaller buildings that looked like row houses.  I felt like I’d stepped into the pages of a storybook and had been transported back in time.

The signage nearby gave an aerial view of the buildings and described how it had been converted to a grand residence after the Reformation.

On the other side of the estate was a shop and tea room, which were also closed.  I was pretty bummed and wished we’d stopped here first before going up to Birdoswald so I could have browsed their wares.  What I could see through the windows certainly looked like my style!  There was also an outdoor eating area that I’m sure is fantastic to enjoy during the warmer months.

Signs in front of the shop described local sights and history.  As I wandered past the outdoor eating area along the parking lot I spotted this pretty little alley way which continued the storybook look.

On the far side of the parking lot was a large stone home, which I discovered was a B&B.  It too was closed but it was still lovely to see from the outside.

With the light fading we made our way back toward Edinburgh for the night.  Along the way we enjoyed several European road signs we spotted, which created a few chuckles about how different they were from American road signs and yet so similar.

We also had fun noticing the different truck rigs, which included extra tall loads, rounded top trailers and a triple-decker car hauler!

Because the Hubs has an American CDL we had been noticing the differences in rigs here the entire trip, along with how they handle the narrow roads and tight quarters.  On several occasions we spotted trucks stopped on the wrong side of the road unloading, but this one we spotted on the way into Cumbria was actually disconnected and LEFT on the road.  The local drivers seemed used to this behavior and just made their way around the obstacle as they could but we certainly got a big chuckle out of it and had a lively conversation about how that would never happen in the US.

We also spotted several fun displays along the highways including this hay bale Bo Peep and her sheep!

It had been a long but wonderful day and we were ready to rest when we reached Edinburgh.  We had one day left and were going to make the most of it playing tourist with a trip into the heart of the city.

Check out our other Scotland adventures:

And our travels through Iceland on the same trip with Day 1, Day 2, Day 3 and Day 4.

Our Scotland Adventure – Day 6

Welcome to Day 6 of our Scotland adventures, which was set aside for the famous Rosslyn Chapel.  Owned by the St. Clair family, the chapel was built as a place of worship for the family.  It fell into disrepair after the Reformation and actually served as stables for Oliver Cromwell’s army when they attacked Rosslyn Castle.  Queen Victoria later visited the site and declared that it aught to be preserved for the country, so it was rededicated and repairs began.  The site became a tourist destination after The Da Vinci Code book and subsequent movie were released which feature the chapel as the ending point of the story’s elaborate scavenger hunt through history.

While we were able to tour the inside of the chapel and see the numerous intricate carvings they do not allow photography on the interior, so I can’t share any of those amazing sights.  But we did make a full lap of the exterior of the chapel so I have several of those to share.

This is the doorway that Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou enter in The Da Vinci Code.  They also filmed in the tombs below the chapel’s altar but did modify the space a bit to fit the story line.

This is the back side of the chapel which faces away from the recently constructed visitor center.

This side door was originally used as the ladies’ entrance when men and women were required to used separate entrances and worship in segregated sections of the building.

Signage outside the chapel showcased the history of the site and the architecture of the structure.  It is believed that the original plans were for the chapel to be larger with a cross shape, but when the founder of the chapel, William St. Clair died construction ceased.

Inside the visitor center the displays decode some of the numerous carvings inside the chapel.  When the chapel was built many people could not read, but the carvings told visual stories designed to provide moral instruction.  The story of the Apprentice Pillar told by one of the hosts while we were inside the chapel was one of the most interesting to me.

Although just a short walk from the chapel, the Rosslyn Castle ruins are not open to the public so having seen the chapel, we headed off to our next destination – the Secret Herb Garden.

The Hubs discovered this little gem online and knew I’d enjoy stopping here.  He was 100% right!  The rustic seating area in front of the building certainly spoke to me but the chilly fall temps led us inside to find lunch.

The simple herb displays as you approached the door were super adorable and may just need to be recreated for our deck this summer. 😉

Inside we were greeted with a quaint little shop and eatery which serves simple fares made with local produce and ingredients.

I was quite tempted by these lovely cakes at the register but opted to order the tomato soup instead, with a cupcake for desert.

While we waited for our food I browsed the displays, which featured gardening wares, pottery, artwork and even a few decor items.  This is where I found the plaid pillow that is now in our guest room.

This little stool really called my name and I seriously debated bringing it home, but ultimately decided to pass since our we had already added a suitcase to our luggage collection on the trip!

Our lunch was delicious – literally the best tomato soup I’ve ever had.  The Hubs tried a quiche with salad and said it was quite good as well.  The Summer House lemonade we discovered here was so good I had to get another before we left so I could enjoy it on the road.

Plus the lovely fresh blooms on the table made everything even better.

And that cupcake…. yeah it was fantastic as well.  I wish I’d asked for the recipe!

After eating we toured the grounds where I spotted numerous items I’d love to have carted home to my garden!

This metal fire stand was exactly like the ones I’d seen at several of the castles we’d toured and I literally drooled envisioning it filled with trailing flowers in my yard.  It honestly hurt to walk away from it knowing it was too big to take home.

Inside the green house I discovered another amazing seating area, perfect for groups and fun parties.  There were several table setups throughout the green house, each surrounded by the lush plants.

This bank of cosmos brought so much color and fragrance to this little area and I was thrilled to see several other varieties of flowers like this dahlia still blooming so late in the season.

I wandered the paths of the green house noting how they had the plants arranged in various ways throughout the space, including a growing wall which seemed to be doing quite well.

I also spotted several wicker forms around the green house that added a bit of whimsy and charm to the setting.  I may try to recreate the triangular design to act as supports for my taller flowers this summer.

Behind the green house was another courtyard space.  This one was bordered by raised beds and a lovely wicker style trellis.  I’d love to create something similar to this when I develop the lower area of our yard in the next year or two!

There was also this interesting little guest house, created from a large tank.  Dubbed “The Tub” it fit the setting perfectly and was a fun way to reuse material into something functional beyond it’s intended purpose.

The building behind The Tub is the herb drying room where they preserve herbs and flowers which are then used within the café and for sale in the shop in the form of herbal teas and other products. This space is also is used as an educational classroom with courses on various subjects including growing herbs, bee keeping, candle making, foraging as well as Festive and seasonal courses.  I was quite bummed that I wasn’t able to attend any of those activities while visiting.  Further out was another garden space with rows of a variety of flowers and herbs.  This space also featured some unique garden art!

These gigantic thistles were a bout the size of my fist.  I asked the guys in the shop about them but they didn’t know any of the specifics about them – so if anyone reading does, I’d love to learn more!

Heading back toward the shop I spotted these graduated retaining walls and thought it was a great simple design.  I may incorporate something like this when I develop that lower area of the yard as well.

The last sight at this location was the owner’s home, which was still being landscaped but was absolutely charming.  It looks like it could have been on Fixer Upper and was a perfect fit for this country setting.

Full from lunch we headed toward our next destination in Cumbria, northern England.  Check out our other Scotland adventures:

And our travels through Iceland on the same trip with Day 1, Day 2, Day 3 and Day 4.

Our Scotland Adventure – Day 4

I’ll be wrapping up recounting our Scotland adventures this week, starting with Day 4 which includes Inverness and Sterling.  Since we had arrived to our lodging after dark the day prior I made sure to get a shot of the building in the morning before we left.  I’m sure at some point it was a grand home, but it has been retrofitted to house guests and functions.  Before we left town I requested that we stop by the castle, which I had spotted on the way back from Loch Ness the evening prior.

Situated on the highest point it’s quite imposing.  Today it is used as the regional court house, so it’s not open to the public for tours but there are plans to convert it into a tourist destination when a new court is constructed. It’s been the scene of several dramas over the course of history including being seized by Bonny Prince Charlie’s forces before the battle of Culloden.  And when Mary, Queen of Scots visited in 1562 and the castle had been entrusted to the Governor’s Captain, who refused Mary entry.  This caused great offence, which led to his execution and head being displayed on the castle wall for all to see.

I circled the castle, enjoying the views of the quiet streets and quaint shops below which had yet to open for the day.

On the other side of the castle was the river Ness which flows to Loch Ness and more views of the city.  While on this side I found a tour group that we had spotted at Culloden the day prior.  I trailed behind them catching bits and pieces of the guide’s descriptions of the local history including stories of Nessie sightings.   He shared the history of St. Andrews Cathedral which is visible across the river.  It was the first new Protestant cathedral  completed in Great Britain after the Reformation. There were supposed to be spires on the two front towers but a lack of funds delayed that portion of construction and they were never completed.

Looking the other direction down River Ness was more shops and pubs, including the Highland House of Fraser, which made my little Outlander fan heart do a pitter patter. 🙂

We had other sights to see so we left Inverness behind and headed toward Sterling, further into the highlands.  Along the way we saw numerous fields of grazing sheep and several more castles poking above the treelines.  I would have loved to stop and investigate them all but we didn’t have time.

We quickly realized that this highway is a major agricultural transit route, as evidenced by the tractors and massive produce loads we spotted along the way.

A few hours later we arrived at Sterling and headed straight for the castle.  It took us a few tries to figure out the right road to be on as the GPS seemed a bit confused.

On our way up the hill toward the castle we spotted this young musician playing the bag pipes in traditional Scottish attire.  We also chuckled at the decal on the back of the tour bus who arrived at the gate just ahead of us.

As we headed inside the castle we had to pause as the guards let a car pass through the narrow tunnel in the fortress’ thick wall.

We purchased our tour tickets and headed inside through another fortified wall.

Inside the castle was a lovely courtyard where activities for children were being held as part of “living history month” including jousting and shinty.

We opted to leave the courtyard to the kids and check out the architecture instead, like this rounded turret lookout.

We headed inside the castle to the rooms inside the outer walls, which each had displays of court life.  Along the way we spotted these fire hooks which would be used to pull down burning beams to keep the fire from spreading.

Down the hall was a display of clothing worn by the King and Queen featuring exquisite fabrics and adornments – including a suggestive addition to the King’s lower half!

There were additional outfits on display further inside the castle.  These were likely worn by courtiers or nobility who were at court.

We headed over to the great hall which had a similar roof structure to the one we’d seen at Edinburgh Castle.  There were several people dressed in period attire as part of the living history activities so we watched them interacting with the other tourists and waited our turn for a photo op.  I got to meet Mary, Queen of Scots and sit at the table next to her for a brief moment.

Next we toured the rooms inside the main building of the castle.  One area held the  crown jewels and relics in a large display case inside of a vault, but no pictures were allowed in this area but you can see a glimpse of it in this clip done by the Scottish historical preservation society.  We also toured Queen Mary’s apartment including the small side room where her son was born.   Several of the other areas where photos were allowed boasted ornately decorated ceilings with carved busts and symbols.  These spaces were part of the procession of rooms that guests would travel through before seeing the King and were meant to impress and showcase his authority, wealth and right to rule.

The throne room was filled with elaborate replica tapestries depicting the hunt of the unicorn beneath the ceiling painted with busts of the King’s heritage.  The tapestry showing the unicorn in a small enclosure is one I remembered as the cover of a historical novel I read a few years ago.

The unicorn symbol continued in other designs around the castle including these paintings above the fire places.  It was often featured with the lion of England to symbolize the joining of the two countries.

Beyond the thrown room was the bedchambers of the King and Queen.  We learned that these spaces were also ceremonial and meant to showcase wealth rather than function. The royals usually did not sleep in these beds, and used smaller chambers attached to the space with less elaborate decor.  One of the side bedrooms had a bed that was not dressed and it was interesting to see it’s construction of rope supports.

We also toured the newer chapel – the last building constructed at the castle.  It was sparsely furnished so I didn’t take many photos here but I was intrigued by this display sign that described the chapel built just outside the castle for James VI’s baptism.  Displays in a museum section of the castle depicted other changes made to the castle over the centuries and changing monarchs.

The displays also included several replicas of the wooden busts seen on the ceiling in the King’s chambers and this interesting quote about nobility.

The tour continued with the kitchens, where sculptures showed the daily activities that took place here.

Signage in the space noted that kitchen work was performed by men rather than women and that there were two kitchens – one for the monarchs and principal courtiers and their servants and another for the rest of the castle’s population.  The signs also depicted the hierarchy of the castle ‘food chain’ and who got what portions.

Back outside we enjoyed a small garden at the back of the castle where Queen Mary likely wandered during her time at the castle.  The view from the walls of this garden were spectacular.

And off in the distance we could see the William Wallace monument, which was our next destination.

As we finished our lap of the castle I noticed these carvings on the newer section of the palace and thought it was interesting that sea creatures were depicted in such a permanent way so far from the coast.

Before we left we stopped into the little gift shop where I found this adorable Highland Coo.  He was quite pricey, but I couldn’t resist that face and so he came home with us, along with one of those gold bells you see in the background!

We headed over to the William Wallace monument but learned that it had closed about a half hour before we arrived. Luckily we soon realized that we could still access the uphill trail to the monument.  We decided to make the trek even though we wouldn’t be able to go inside the monument.

The hike to the monument was certainly UP HILL but there were these fun carvings at each of the switchbacks along the trail which gave us a good excuse to pause and catch our breath.  Each celebrated aspects of Scotland’s resources, history and culture.

I fell in love with the highland coo carving in this grouping.  If I could have fit it in my suitcase I would have brought it home and added it to my gardens!  Maybe I can find something similar online this season instead.

The view of the monument changed as we made our way up the hill, and seeing it through the trees just below the top of the trail was impressive.  We made the final portion of the climb huffing and puffing but satisfied.

Once at the top we took in the detail of the structure including the Victorian style statue on the side of the tower and the thistle design above the doors.

The view across the valley back toward Sterling Castle was breathtaking as the sun began to fade – and not because we were still winded from the trail!

After our bodies remembered how to breath normally, we headed back down the hill and decided to drive back toward the castle to get some photos of the cows we’d seen in the field below the stone walls.  The light was fading fast and the cows were completely uncooperative to my kissy noise calls and faux offers of treats.  Perhaps they knew I was a tourist since I didn’t have the accent in my voice.  Since I wasn’t willing to enter the field where they were at with out a property owner’s permission and there was no one around to ask, this was the best shot I could get.  It’s not horrible, but not exactly what I was wanting either.  It’s tough to work with uncooperative models! 😉

We headed to our hotel for the night to rest up for the next day – a trip to Doune Castle which is Castle Leoch in the Outlander series for a photo shoot with a local photographer.  I’ll be sharing that experience soon, but in the meantime stop by tomorrow for the following day’s visit to Roslyn Chapel!

Check out our other Scotland adventures:

And our travels through Iceland on the same trip with Day 1, Day 2, Day 3 and Day 4.

Iditarod 2018 Willow Restart

Despite living just a half hour away for the past several years, I had never been to the Willow restart of the Iditarod.  But after attending the ceremonial start the day before to work a tent for my full-time employer I was excited to see the action in a more natural setting.  The Hubs and I arrived super early to set up before the crowds arrived and were greeted with single digit temps and freezing fog.  Luckily, the fog burned off and the sun came out to create a wonderful Alaskan winter day!

The restart takes place on a frozen lake, so the area is wide open.  I took a break from working our tent – which you can see off to the right of the start line in the picture above to enjoy the festivities and get some photos.  As you can see it was there was a BIG crowd.  It’s basically an Alaskan tailgate party in the middle of winter.

The view from the hill where the lake’s shoreline is, allowed us to see the mushers as they headed down the beginning of the trail lined with supporters.  The crowds continued across the massive lake and into the trees beyond.  Many also have cabins on the surrounding lakes, which the trail crosses and would go out to cheer on the mushers as they go by in those areas too.  This vantage point also gave us a good look at the musher’s lot where the teams were preparing for their turn at the start line.

I headed down to the corner of the mushers’ lot to watch the behind the scenes action and had the perfect view to see the teams up close as they approached the staging lane for the start line.  One by one, the teams lined up as the event staff directed them through the process.

Then the next stop was the start line, where the teams would leave every two minutes.  This time they no longer had an Iditarider or drag sled like they did at the ceremonial start so the sleds are lighter  and it takes all of the handlers to keep the teams from heading straight out onto the trail as they approach the starting line.

I was able to get several great shots of the mushers too.  Their smiles show just how much they love this sport and their teams.  Some led their teams in and others managed the sled while their handlers directed the dogs, but they were all excited.

Once they were in the shoot it was time to focus on the final preparations, check their dogs and enjoy last moments with family before they begin the 1,049 mile trek to Nome over the next several days.

The dogs were just as excited to head out as they had been the day before.  We all swore they knew how to count as they bolted off the line each time the countdown ended for the next team heading out.

Although the crowd on the other side of the starting line was wall-to-wall I was able to squeeze in toward the end to get a few shots of the final mushers as they headed out.

Several stopped to give their dogs a final motivation for the race ahead and thank them for their part on the team.

Many had final hugs and handshakes from family and supporters, while others gave quick interviews or posed for a photo with fans before the final countdown began.

And of course there were several high fives with their handlers as they headed out on this epic journey.

Then it was down to the last musher, who wore a ‘cat in the hat’ hat in celebration of Dr. Seuss’ birthday.  He paused to honor his team getting down on their level and bowing to them.

Then he was off on the “Last Great Race” with a big thumbs up and snow already gathering around his feet.

It will take the teams approximately 8-9 days to complete the entire route.  You can check out each musher’s current standings and location on the Iditarod’s website.  I wish them all a safe and successful race!

Iditarod 2018 Ceremonial Start

The 2018 Iditarod began this past weekend and I got to be right in the midst of it!  Known as “The Last Great Race” it celebrates the teams who organized during the 1925 diphtheria epidemic to rush serum to Nome to save lives.

The company I work for is a sponsor and had a tent near the starting line where we were doing give aways.  The area we were in required an access badge and when I was able to take breaks from working at the tent I could go into the ‘chute’ where the teams were staged right behind the start line.   The teams would line up on the street to await their turn to begin the race.

Several of the mushers led their teams in from the front, rather than riding in on the sled.

Then they’d check over their team and equipment to ensure everything was as it should be.

And a few would stop to have conversations with their dogs, pose for photos for fans and enjoy the moment with their family members who were nearby to cheer them on.

Each team had a group of handlers to help guide the dogs into position.  Sled dogs are born and trained to run, so they are VERY high energy and once they are in the harness they have a single mind focus.  It takes several people to keep them in position as they move up through the staging lanes.  It’s also helpful to signal down the line in all the celebration so the mushers or helpers on the sled know when to set the brake and release it as the line moves.

Many of these handlers have worked with the mushers for months prior to the race and know the dogs personally.  That familiarity can be a calming aspect for the dogs as they anticipate the start of the race.

And of course a few rubs while they wait are always welcome too!

And some just want a hug before they hit the course. 🙂  One of the mushers is a correctional officer when not running the trail and several of his handlers had a fun message on the back of their gear that said “You think your job is tough?  Correctional officers run the Iditarod to relax.”

The anticipation gets heavy and the dogs get louder with excitement as the iconic start line comes into view.  At this point of the race every musher has an Iditarider on their sled.  Usually this person has won the opportunity to ride the ceremonial start in a contest or charity auction.  The money raised is used to offset expenses of the race and provides each musher who finishes the race after the top 20 – who receive cash prize winnings – with $1,049 to help get their teams home.

There is also a secondary sled, or “drag sled” behind each team’s main sled.  This extra sled is meant to slow down the dogs because they are so excited to run and the course is lined with spectators and this helps keep everyone safe.  Each sled is configured differently based on how that musher likes to carry on the trail.  The dogs are so ready to run that they literally jump up and down while waiting for their turn at the starting line.

And often look back at the sled as if to say “Why aren’t we going?!”

While the dogs may not enjoy the waiting it does provide a perfect opportunity to get some closeup shots of them and their expressions.  Each has their own unique coloring and personalities.  Some are young and just waiting on the signal to go, while others are veterans and have a calm but alert stance.

Some were so eager to get going that they were jumping over each other to trade sides because they couldn’t move forward!

And some were providing a touch of reassurance to their team mate.

And then the announcer would say it’s time and they would be off!  The musher waves to the fans, with their Iditarider aboard for a once in a lifetime experience and the dogs do what they love to do.

The teams run 11 miles through Anchorage for the ceremonial start with fans along many stretches of those trails to cheer them on.  The next day, they restart the race in Willow, about an hour and a half away.  This is when they begin the full trek to Nome and their race times officially start.  I got to go to that portion of the race as well and will share that tomorrow!  In the meantime, visit the Iditarod website to learn more about the race and the mushers competing this year.