Sunday, April 12, 2009

Things old and new

Happy Easter everyone. Although Easter is not celebrated in Scotland anywhere near like it is in Australia, nevertheless, Easter Sunday is a time for families. So pity the poor cook who was dragged from her family to cook breakfast for us, the only people booked in at the Breadalbane Hotel. To give you some idea of how unlike it is at home, as we were driving out of Wick this morning, the supermarkets are open!!

There are a few surprises in store today. First are the oil rigs and huge wind turbines that we can see in the sea to the east of the coast. Yep, you can see the rigs from the highway! And yes, the winds are certainly strong enough to justify the wind turbines way out there with the rigs.

Then there is the archaeological history. We do expect to see more of the standing stones and the cairns and the hut circles that we have been seeing in abundance for the last week. But here there are some distinct differences. The chambered cairn not far from Wick is surprisingly well preserved. Michael takes a 2 mile walk up through boggy marshes to take a look while I catch up on some zzzzzzzzz's. I'll kill him for taking a photo of me asleep in the car and all set to catch some flies - and no, I will NOT be uploading that very unflattering photo! So instead, here is a photo of the flock of sheep that pattered around behind Michael either waiting to be led, or be fed!

Some miles further off the main highway to the south we find a set of standing stones like we have not seen before. They are unique in this area and have the edges of the stones pointing to the centre instead of the faces of the rocks as at other circles. This set is also shaped like a horseshoe - very unique. It seems that this wider area was a space of significance in the burial of people. And this dates back 4000 years or so!

The day is getting away from us as we are getting swept away with our imaginations! There is still a 5 to 6 hour drive ahead of us so we decide to stop stopping at every cairn, standing stone, stone circle or hut circle that we see! We are now travelling down the A9 - one of the main highways through Scotland. The road is more suitable to be called a highway but it still hugs the coast so we do not lose sight of the beautiful coastal views on this, an absolutely beautiful sunny day.

So there we are driving along the highway. Doing all of about 40 miles per hour for much of it as we travel along behind the quintessential Sunday drivers! When all of a sudden, there in the distance is a castle that looks fairytale like. This is Dunrobin Castle and I cannot resist pulling in to have a closer look. Turns out the Castle is open today so into it we go.

It is the family seat of the Sutherland Clan - one of the most influential families in the UK. In the 1800s, according to one of the house guides, the family was the richest family not only in the UK but in the entire Commonwealth! The oldest part of the Castle (the Keep) dates back to 1275 and it has been added on to by almost every subsequent Earl or Duke. Though not occupied now, it is still owned by the same family and the castle manager and his family live in a small apartment within it now. It is like some of the other ancestral homes in the UK - all set out as it would have been lived in the late 1700s and 1800s. Unlike some of the others though, it does not have a pretentious air - which is surprising given their wealth and standing. Rather, it is more like a family home. Queen Victoria visited here and a set of rooms especially decorated for her - she was a short little woman and although the bed is very wide, it does not appear to be very long - although the room guide says that it measures 6'4" in width and length! We can't take photos inside the castle (to encourage you to buy the guide book no doubt), but one of the understanding guides lets us sneak a few pics of the outside from the first floor windows, including a couple of the most beautiful parterre gardens!

Following this visit we decide to just push on through to Perth. We continue to travel through picturesque Scotland - but more through mountain valleys now, surrounded by fir tree plantations and partly harvested timbers. Not as pretty as previous. Michael is sick of taking photos and so is not ready to get ones of another two stunning castles, nor an Abbey ruin as we pass - bugger. I have the pictures in my head, but there is no easy way I can share them with you!!

We are booked in to a B&B in Perth for the next couple of nights - the Pitcullen Guest House owned and operated by Peter McGinnis. Lovely guy - ex butler and world traveller - so we will have to pick his brains well and good. He suggests that we go into town to Paco's Restaurant for dinner, which we do. Great family restaurant with lots and lots of memorabilia on all the walls. The menu is vast - good wholesome food, not some namby pamby place at all. Menu choices tonight are:
Blackened Prawns (Four jumbo tail on prawns coated in cajun spices and blackened, served with Creole sauce) MIchael
Deep Fried Potato Wedges (served with Hickory BBQ Sauce) Maria
Spaghetti and Meatballs (freshly cooked spaghetti in a rich tomato and onion sauce served with homemade meatballs) Michael
Peppered Chicken (Fresh breast of chicken cooked in a black peppercorn, brandy and cream sauce served with spring onion mash and steamed veges) Maria
Banana Split (served with creamy vanilla, strawberry and chocolate ice cream, topped with whipped cream and drizzled with strawberry sauce and chopped nuts) Michael
Oreo Cookie Bash (A slice of Oreo Cookie Pie served with creamy vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce and crushed oreo cookies) Maria

We are so full now, we could burst! We are trying for a quiet day tomorrow to catch up on the blog etc!

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