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.

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Enchanted Entertaining at Pier One

Over the weekend I invited a couple of my gal pals to check out a fun event with me at Pier One called Easter Enchantment.  The event featured displays of Easter decor, entertaining tips, a scavenger hunt and gift card giveaways. We were long overdue for a girls day and I figured it would be fun to be on the other side of events for a change since I recently changed positions at work and no longer coordinate the company’s corporate functions.

After signing in, putting our names in for the door prize drawings and getting our scavenger hunt cards we headed over to the far side of the store to check out the mimosa bar display.

The hostess at the bar made us up some mock mimosas with orange juice and sparkling white grape juice, which were surprisingly yummy even without the real bubbly.  She detailed the various ways you could set up a similar bar for Easter brunch.

The little chalkboard sign gave simple directions for guests to create their own mimosas.  She suggested having a variety of juices and fruit toppings so guests could create their own signature drink.  While she didn’t have them out these reusable place card holders that could be used to label the various options available and fit a variety of decor styles and events.  I may just have to pick up a set for our summer gatherings!

The faux peonies they had on display were so pretty that I may go back to pick a few up as well so I can enjoy them all season long without the allergy side effects of having flowers in the house.  And the fact that I don’t have to water them at all is a big plus!

Next we checked out a table scape display, which I somehow forgot to get a shot of.  I blame the mimosa in my hand! 🙂  After that we learned three ways to create fun Easter napkin folds with instruction from one of the store employees.

The first design was this fun rosette which fits perfectly inside a cup.  They had some fancier versions as well with a secondary napkin serving as the green leaves of the rose.

Our first attempts were pretty good so I’d say this is definitely something an entertaining newbie could pull off!

The second design was this fun bunny shape, which required an egg to create.  It’s also a simple design – just fold, roll and wrap around the egg then tie just above it.  From there you can arrange the big ears to stand up or flop over based on your preference.  We used ribbon to tie the ears but I’d suggest trying twine or ribbon for something a bit fancier.

Here’s my bunny fold.  Not too shabby if I do say so myself!  And I love that he has one ear up and one down!

The last design was a little pocket basket.  This one was a bit more complex, but still only took a few steps.  And because it holds an egg you could create egg shaped place cards to use in the fold, which would also serve as a favor for guests.

The example display used one of their spring plush animals, but the gals and I experimented with the bunnies we’d created and thought that was a fun look as well.  They would be great around small potted plants as a favor that guests could take home with them.

After the demonstrations, we browsed the rest of the store displays chatting about one of the gal’s plans to decorate with favorite patterns when she finds a new place soon, sniffing the scented candles and checking out the rest of the Easter decor available.  There was also a fair amount of giggling at each other as we swapped stories about things going on in our lives.

It was time well spent because three of the four of us won gift cards in the drawings and scavenger hunt, and the forth received a discount percentage for a purchase.  I was able to combine my rewards discount with the gift cards I won to get two of these adorable little plush lambs named Juniper for the soon-to-be foster room and this handsome fellow who will be the perfect accent to the vintage cart on our porch this season.  I also eyed these acrylic tumblers for when we eat out on the deck this summer, but decided to hold off for now since there’s still over a foot of snow in our back yard.  Sigh.  It might be the first day of spring on the calendar but here in Alaska we know spring planting and outdoor living is still several weeks away.

If you’re hosting Easter dinner, get the instructions for the napkin folds above plus a few others and more entertaining ideas over at Pier 1’s website so you’re ready to impress your guests.  While you’re there sign up for a free account so you get invites to their next in-store event and can join in the fun!

Disclosure: Some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you, I may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

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.

Our Scotland Adventure – Day 3

Today we continue our Scotland adventures with Day 3’s activities.  That morning we left Edinburgh and drove toward the highlands because you can’t visit Scotland and not go to the infamous highlands – especially if you’re an Outlander or historical romance fan!  After a few hours on the highway we decided to try an exit to find some lunch.  We ended up driving a bit further from the highway than we’d anticipated and ended up in a lovely, tiny country town with lovely old homes.

We spotted this hotel which advertised food on the window so we stopped there.  While their dining room had the perfect highland hunting lodge look, it didn’t open for lunch so we moved on.

There was a small market near where we had parked and I noticed this dog patiently waiting for his owner who had gone inside.  A few school children passed by to pick up a snack and gave him a pat on the head.  Figuring there wasn’t much else around and not wanting to detour from the highway once we got back to it, we opted to find something simple here and take it with us.

The GPS indicated there was a historical park a few miles down the road and since it was such a lovely day I suggested we stop there to eat picnic style.  The park turned out to be quite large with numerous displays of historic buildings and machinery.  And when I heard that it had been an Outlander filming location we just had to explore a bit more.  There were stone and thatch structures from old farms and turn of the century shops which had been moved to this site for preservation.

There was also a woodworking shop bearing Jaime Fraser’s surname that I just had to investigate.  There was no sign of Red Jaime, but it was still interesting to see all the old tools.

The area where they had filmed the Outlander scenes was a small village toward the back of the property.  To get there we had a relaxing walk through the woods.

Along the way we spotted these various wildlife carvings.  I’m not sure who did them or why but I really enjoyed them.

The path led us to a small pond.  I could have relaxed here all day, but I had Outlander sights to see and that was more important.

Around another bend was a pen of these curly haired pigs.  I’d seen similar breeds before but the Hubs was quite intrigued by their coats.  They seemed less interested in us since we didn’t have any food for them.

Nearby there was an old saw mill, complete with a mannequin worker.

At last we arrived at the village site.  It was worth the walk and made you feel transported to another time.  I can see why they chose to use it in the “Collecting the rents” episode.

The village covered a fairly large area and there were only a few spots where the modern world had to be disguised, so the cameras could shoot in a variety of angles.

Inside the structures there were elements of what daily life would have been like here, including a basket of dung chips to keep the fire going.  Many of the buildings were quite dark inside due to the thatch roofs and limited windows, so I didn’t get many good pictures of those aspects.

We still had a few other sights still to see that day so we headed back toward the highway and further north to Culloden, the famous battlefield where the Jacobite Army suffered their massive defeat.  This battle is a central point in the Outlander story and is significant in Scotland history – much like America’s Gettysburg.

We paid our admission fee and toured the historical displays in the welcome center where no photography was allowed, then made our way out to the battle field.  The Leanach farmhouse stands at the corner of the battlefield, on the same location as a cottage that probably served as a field hospital for government troops following the battle.

At the time of the battle this was grazing land for the surrounding farms.  Today there are foot paths blazed through the history that now soaks this earth.

There are markers at various points to indicate where the opposing front lines were and turning points of the battle.

This line of flags indicate where the front lines of the government troops were located as the battle began.

As we wandered the paths, a storm started to roll in but it was preceded by a fantastic rainbow over the visitor’s center.  Perhaps both were symbols of the changes this land has seen.

In 1881 headstones were placed to mark the mass graves of fallen Jacobite soldiers by clan.  They sit along an early 19th-century road which runs through the battlefield.  There were several to see, but one in particular I was searching for.

And then I saw it.  The Fraser headstone.  It was obviously one of the most popular based on the flowers and coins left on the stone.  I wondered if that was because of Outlander’s popularity or if there were just more visitors of that heritage.

At the end of the row of headstones is this memorial cairn, erected in 1881 by Duncan Forbes, the owner of Culloden House and the descendant of a key figure on the government side in 1746.

I discovered this painted rock on the back of the memorial cairn.   It’s a reminder of the significance of this battle in Scottish history and the impact it still has today.

The storm was drawing closer, and we still wanted to make it Loch Ness before nightfall so we made our way back to the visitor center along the trails as the wind whispered through the brush.

Thanks to some speedy driving, we arrived at Loch Ness just before sunset.  Of course we had to had to have proof that this was the real Loch Ness and not just some random lake, so I had the Hubs pose with the sign and then enjoyed listening to the water lap at the shore as we watched for Nessie.

Nessie didn’t appear, perhaps because we were standing next to the Nessie Hunter station.  It was already closed up but I guess Nessie didn’t want to take any chances.

The remnants of an old dock and the shadows of the birds floating among them did make us look twice a few times as we walked the shoreline.

Sitting at the end of the lake, the Dores Inn was the first establishment we found along the road where we could park and access the lake.  They had a wonderful garden space in the back where guests can watch the lake as they eat during good weather.  The storm we had just missed at Culloden had apparently hit here first so everything was wet, but we didn’t mind since we had limited light to enjoy.

Next to the garden is this Nessie statue that points out toward the lake.  It’s quite a work of art, when you get up close to see all the individual pieces that make it up.

There was also a flower similar to fireweed blooming along the shoreline.  It made for a dreamy scene as the last rays of the sun faded.

I did a double take when I first spotted this piece of driftwood on the rocky beach of the house next to the Inn.  At first I thought it might have been Nessie’s tail slithering back into the bushes.

One of the Inn’s staffers was cleaning up in the outdoor area and noted that some of the best shots he’s seen of the sculpture were right up next to the head with the water in the back ground, so we gave it a try.  I’m not sure it’s quite life-like but it’s definitely a fun memento.

We watched the hills along the lake fade as the sun dipped below them, appreciating how lucky we were to be standing next to Loch Ness on a beautiful evening at sunset together.

With the last of the light gone, we headed around to the front entrance of the Inn to get dinner.  Apparently it’s a very popular spot with the locals and tourists and reservations are required for the dining room.  Our luck continued and we arrived just in time for a party leaving the bar where it was open seating.

There were so many options to choose from on the menu.  I giggled to see some had notations that they may contain shot!  I guess that means it’s fresh and local right?!

I couldn’t resist the opportunity and chose that for my entree.  The hubs chose a steak.  Both were delicious and we devoured them quickly.

Then came dessert.  I don’t remember what either of these were called but mine had a pear and ice cream with the creme filled cookie and I ate every last crumb in satisfaction.  The Hubs was a brownie with ice cream & sauce, which I sampled and approved of as well – although not as much as my selection.

As we had been eating I spotted several little Nessie figures available for sale on a shelf over the bar.  This one gave me the look so I introduced myself to find out how much he would be.  Because they are made by a local artist they require cash payment and we had just enough left, so he joined us at our table to await the hot chocolate I ordered because I just wasn’t ready to leave yet.

Little Ness sure thought my hot chocolate was impressive, and I confirmed that is was after the first sip.

We left the Inn and headed toward Inverness where we were staying for the night.  Our hotel was a renovated stone mansion with plaid carpet and a skeleton key for the front door!

We were quite tired from our day of sights and adventures and fell asleep quickly despite the rowdy celebration going on in the ballroom on the ground floor of the hotel.

I swear the whole night I dreamed about sitting next to Loch Ness listening to the waves and watching for Nessie.

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 2 Continued

The second half of Day 2 continued our tour of historic sites.  Our first stop after leaving Edinburgh was Preston Mill.  I’d stumbled upon information about the mill during my online searching for things to see in Scotland and immediately fell in love with it’s unique look.  When I showed it to the Hubs he was intrigued as well and agreed to add it to the list.  It was the end of the tourist season in Scotland and it was literally the last day before the mill closed for the winter, so we were very glad that we had decided to come when we did.

Luckily because it was the last day, the ice cream they sell in the small gift shop was on sale, so we got a couple to enjoy as we browsed the various displays about life at the mill and how grain was processed in the mill until 1959.  This sign gave an overview of the multiple steps the material went through in this particular setup.  Note the little mouse at the bottom of the sign, who told guests to be on the lookout for him around the mill.

There were also displays about how the mill had been transformed into the backdrop for several scenes of my favorite show, Outlander!  I hadn’t realized it when we added it to the list, but as we toured the property I could remember the scenes and recognize which areas they had used in the show.

There was maintenance being done on the grounds in preparation for the winter, and the heavy equipment in use to dredge the pond prevented us from touring the whole area, but this spot behind the mill was the first I recognized from the show.  In the scene Jamie hides in the water so the British dragoons won’t find him, while Claire and Jenny sit on the edge of the grass above the water, hiding his clothes with their skirts.  Obviously the area is a bit changed since filming, but it really felt like being IN the scene with the characters.  The gentleman giving us a tour of the mill had been present during the filming and noted that the creek had been dammed to create a large pool in this spot to fit the scene described in the book.

The guide also showed us how the wooden water gates were used used to power the water wheel, which turned the mechanics of the mill stones inside.  There was a wooden gate  just below the walkway which controlled the flow of water from the pond and the board you see at an angle would divert the water away from the wheel when it needed repairs.  If they wanted the wheel to go at full power they would open both gates and let the water flow toward the wheel.

The proximity to the river means the mill is always at risk of flooding, which has happened on a large scale many times in it’s history.  Our guide pointed out the high water marks that had been carved on the larger stones on the side of the mill.

Now it was time to head inside the mill and learn what the wheel powered.  The oddly shaped kiln section of the mill looked even more whimsical from this view point.  We asked the guide why it had been built with such an asymmetrical shape.  He explained that the Miller sent his son to the Netherlands to learn new methods to incorporate at the mill.

Apparently he came back from his journey with an idea to build this cylindrical style kiln and, much to his father’s surprise, a new Dutch wife!  The odd shape likely came to be because the kiln was built without a formal blueprint, based on the son’s memory of the Dutch kilns.  So in other words it was a DIY special which involved using locally available materials and tweaking the plan as it came together.  But it’s still standing today so that is a great testament to their ingenuity.

We started the interior tour upstairs where there were an assortment of tools and random parts typical for a working agricultural site – along with a few relatives of Mr. Mouse who we had seen on the sign in the other building.  The guide showed us the massive stones that would spin and grind the grain from the power of the water wheel outside. The large metal claws above them were used when they had to move or replace stones.

Then we got to go up the ramp to the kiln.  This ramp was likely added later when improvements were made to the mill.  Before then the Miller would have carried the bags of grain up the stone steps in the front.

There was an area to build a fire in the base of the kiln which would bake the grains that were spread across this metal floor so they were fully dry before being ground.  The Miller would have to come into the smoky kiln to turn the grain on a regular schedule several times a day.  The smoke would vent through the openings in the roof.  This was very hazardous work, as it was usually pitch black and filled with sooty smoke.  In fact it was common for Millers to develop lung problems due to this part of the process and it became known as “Millers’ Lung”.  Of course this meant that most Millers didn’t live long lives, but they and their families were indispensable to the region and therefore made a good living and always had a good variety in their diet.

The baked grain would be swept into a shaft that led back into the mill where it was bagged.  This was obviously a two person job and so often the Miller’s adult children would help manage the bag on this end.

It was interesting to learn that the farmers who brought in their grain would provide their own bags so that when the milled grain went to market customers could identify the various varieties from the different producers.  Early advertising and branding!

From there the grain was fed through a series of sifters and blowers to be ground finer and finer.  I won’t try to explain the whole process because I’m sure to get parts wrong, but it was labor intensive and yet quite efficient compared to how it would have been done by hand before the invention of a mill.  This video of a similar mill will give you an idea of the process.

We spotted a few more of Mr. Mouse’s relatives among the machinery, including this brave one who was riding the conveyor belt scoops!

Having seen all we could at the mill we thanked our guides and made note of their suggestions for nearby spots for dinner before heading to our next stop, the ruins of Tantallon Castle just a short drive away.

This great stone castle was the headquarters for the notorius ‘Red Douglas‘ family.  The castle itself covered a vast area at the top of the hill overlooking the water and the surrounding areas were arranged to provide and protect the stronghold.  Even in it’s current state of ruin it was impressive.

We walked the path up to the castle feeling dwarfed by it’s vast size and position.  There was a wooden bridge across a main ditch which served as a defense of the castle wall.

The small doorway was easy to protect and manage, but at one time had been quite ornate based on the carvings still visible.

We found stairs inside and made our way up to the top of the stone walls, which made the structure seem even more impressive.

The view from the ramparts was phenomenal.  You could see all the way across the water toward Edinburgh and all of the surrounding countryside.

The view toward the front of the castle showed the remains of an outer defensive wall that we had passed through to get to the castle.

The view toward the rear of the castle was of the main courtyard.  This would have been a busy area of the castle during it’s heyday, but today it’s a lush vantage point for the stunning scenery.

Across the water you could see Bass Rock which was formed by an extinct volcano.  This island has served many purposes including a lighthouse, religious retreat, and prison but today it is home to the largest northern gannet colony in the world.  We could see the masses of birds flapping their wings and could hear their vocals faintly.

Inside the various towers of the castle there were areas that had been walled off to better protect the castle from invaders, so some areas weren’t accessible.  One of the towers was where the soldiers would have kept watch.  This sign described their daily routines and showcased artifacts left behind from these residents.

There was also a servants area where a display detailed their typical routines and duties.  Pieces of pottery found on the site give clues of the tools the servants here used.

There were several stairways that connected the various sections of the castle.  Retrofitted with modern lighting and daylight from open sections of the castle walls, they appear much brighter than they would have back in their heyday.  This stairway led to the great hall where guests would have dined and been entertained.

Today the upper floor and back wall of this section of the castle are long gone, but you still get a sense of how grand the space would have been.  There was a massive fireplace to the left and a private stairway that led to the laird’s private chambers above.

The upper floors where the laird and his family would have had their apartments is gone, but this spiral section is where the stairs to their private areas were.

We wandered the back courtyard where the well was located, so they could draw water from under the clifs below.  This would have been a popular gathering place for many of the castle’s inhabitants.

Looking back at the castle from the corner of the courtyard certainly made you feel small and insignificant.  I can imagine those who were brought here through various circumstances envisioned it as very imposing.

Beyond the courtyard were cliffs that above a small rocky harbor.  This was a critical asset to the castle grounds because it allowed small boats to bring in visitors, traders and supplies, including food and weapons.  When the castle was under siege this area was heavily protected because it provided castle residents a means of escape or a method to bring in reinforcements even if the supply lines on land had been cut.

Lastly we investigated the doocot, where pigeons were kept to serve as messengers and a food source of both eggs and meat throughout the winter, especially at Christmas feasts.

The castle was closing for the day so we headed out along the coast line in search of the recommendations the guides at the mill had given us.  We ended up in North Berwick and stumbled upon the only eatery that was apparently still open this late in the season.

The Rocketeer is a small establishment on the spit along the coast with an open air dining space. It sits in front of the site of an old kirk where the Scottish Seabird Center now stands.

While we waited for our order to arrive I took in the nearby view.  Having grown up on the eastern seaboard of the US I’m used to coastal communities along beaches like this but seeing these historic stone structures right next to sand was quite different.  It was like an odd couple marriage of quaint seaside town and historic brownstone.

Soon my attention turned back to my belly, with the arrival of a simply presented but oh-so delicious clam chowder.  We were quite hungry after being active all day and only having small snacks along the journey so in addition to the chowder we both also ordered the fresh lobster and chips dinner.

It was also presented in a simple way, but it was even more tasty than the chowder!  The Hubs face says it all…

We savored our dinner and the view along with the nice weather as we shared our favorite parts of the sights we’d seen that day.  Dinner itself was a highlight for both of us because it’s hard to beat lobster at sunset along the Scottish countryside as you look out at the sea!  After dinner, the Hubs stayed at the restaurant to settle our bill and rest his knee after all the exploring we’d done throughout the day, while I wandered the spit behind the building.

It was a lovely spot to take in the sunset which is what several couples and families were doing as I made my way along the walkways.  I discovered there was also a lobster hatchery next to the seabird center.  I didn’t have the heart to tell the hatchery’s ambassador, Larry the lobster that his kin had made a tasty meal just moments before.

There was a small marina filled mainly with sailboats which I assumed belonged to the locals who would enjoy them in them on weekends and holidays.

I came back toward the road where we had parked to stroll along another large sandy beach with small pools created by an old foundation of some sort. The Hubs joined me there as he made his way to the car from the restaurant.

We headed back to the main highway as the last rays of light faded and made our way back to Edinburgh where we would spend the night before heading to the highlands the next day.  It had been a day of true holiday – leisurely enjoying a new environment and savoring a wonderful meal.  We knew the other adventures we had planned would also be pleasant, but the feeling from this day would be tough to beat.

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 2

Our second day in Scotland was one of my favorite days of the entire trip, but it was a long one so I’m going to divide it over two posts.  We started the day at Edinburgh castle.  Driving in downtown Edinburgh is crazy and parking is downright insane.  After several loops around the castle on congested one-way roads we found a spot below the castle.  We paid at the parking kiosk and made our way up a large staircase to the Royal Mile a few blocks in front of the castle.

We were surprised to spot these iconic phone booths along the walk to the castle.  I’m not sure if they keep them just for the tourist attraction or if the locals still use them but they made me smile either way.

The crowds grew as we approached the main entrance to the castle.  This wide area is called the esplanade and was often used for large public gatherings and displays.  We made our way past the tour groups and headed inside.  As we waited in line to pay for our entrance tickets I took in the various textures of the inner wall, which showed the craftsmanship of those who had created it and the changes in material available as it had been built.

Once inside we stepped up along the walls to take in the view of the royal gardens below and the Firth of Forth beyond.  It was certainly impressive and a great vantage point to see the entire area.

The view toward the inside of the wall was pretty amazing too.  Because the castle had been built, rebuilt and added to over the centuries it’s now a combination of structures, each with their own purpose and look.

I’m a sucker for old world architecture and there was no shortage of that here.  The stone turrets on the corners of the walls were lovely and I marveled at the design skill it took to create them without modern day tools.

There was a row of small buildings that had been houses at some point, which were now a small cafe and gift shop.  There was so much texture and character every way I looked, especially in the smaller areas where the crowds weren’t filling the scene.  I felt like I’d landed in the pages of a story book and imagined the various scenes that likely played out in these very places.

Several of the buildings are still in use for official purposes, including military head quarters and private residences for castle officials.

In one of the alleyways tucked behind these buildings I spotted this cool vintage work truck and wondered what they use it for now.

We toured the military displays which included medals from various campaigns, artifacts from the daily lives of the soldiers and their leaders in the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards regimental museum.  I also enjoyed the view of the historic homes below the castle from the windows in this area.

Next we toured the underground dungeon where prisoners were held during the various wars.  The extra lighting for tourists and my editing skills don’t paint the full picture of how depressing and dark this space must have been.  It certainly wasn’t the worst conditions but it wasn’t the most comfortable either.

Other areas of the prison had displays about how those held here would forge bank notes to pay off guards or for use if they escaped.   There were also several doors on display with carvings prisoners had created during their countless hours of time to kill to tell their stories.  It was the early version of graffiti.  Many prisoners also used their time creating hand-crafted artisan boxes and trinkets that they would sell to the guards and locals who came to the castle and when they were in the outdoor yards.

Back outside we wandered past several more buildings which included a war memorial and a small workshop that is now a retail space for the castle’s own brand of whiskey.

Then we headed into the main courtyard of the castle, which was flanked by the great hall, the Royal Palace which contains the royal apartments and the vault for the crown jewels and the stone of destiny which is used in coronation ceremonies for the monarchs of England.  The long line you see coming out of the tower with the clock was to see the jewels.  We did partake of that, but there are no photos allowed in that area for security reasons.

The arched doorway you see on the right of the clock tower led to Mary Queen of Scots royal apartments where her son, James VI was born. It was amazing to tour the spaces where so much history had occurred, especially a story line that has captivated generations and been retold in various ways.  Having watched several of the shows that depict Mary and her family’s role in Scottish history it was even more interesting to see where it had all really happened.  We saw the symbols of the lion and unicorn throughout the castle, which represent the United Kingdom.  The lion stands for England and the unicorn is for Scotland.

The great hall was an impressive structure indeed.  Built to showcase Scottish power and style it was used to impress visiting dignitaries and nobles.  The ceiling of the hall was built like the hull of a ship with massive beams that create an unique design.  The walls were decorated with various weaponry and armor and several of the windows had elaborate stained glass panels.  There was also a secret spy hole called the Laird’s lug where the King could see what was happening in the hall from above.  You can just make it out behind the light in the second picture.

Nearby is the very small St Margaret’s Chapel, the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh.  It would only hold about 29-30 people at a time, so visitors took turns viewing the interior of the chapel where there was a small alter at the front and a few benches to line either wall.  Stained glass windows were installed when the chapel was restored in the 1920’s and depict four saints including Margaret herself (the closeup below) and the national hero, William Wallace.

I was pleased to spot this dog cemetery along the edge of the castle wall.  The sign identifying it as such said that it had been in use since Queen Victoria’s reign as a burial place for regimental mascots and officer’s dogs.

We also got to watch the firing of the One O’Clock Gun. This is a long standing tradition which dates back to the days before accurate timepieces were available and the signal allowed sailing ships in the Firth of Forth to check and reset their chronometers.  I’ll try to share a video of the event on Facebook in the next few days.

Having seen all the major attractions at the castle we decided to head out to other sights we had on our list.  The view of the castle from where we parked was a great last look at the history this location has witnessed.

That excitement was tampered when we got back to the car and discovered that we had a parking ticket even though we had paid at the nearby kiosk.  We we decided to research our options and address the ticket another day once we were able to print out proof we had paid for a permit.  So we made our way out of the bustle of the city to see some more history in the nearby countryside.  I’ll share that next, so stop back by soon to continue the adventure. 🙂

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.