Posts made in March, 2011

The Pheasant Incident, Alloway, Ruined Castles, and Falconry

The Pheasant Incident, Alloway, Ruined Castles, and Falconry

When we woke up this morning it was a little rainy, but not too bad. We took to the car and drove North to Alloway to visit the birthplace of Scottish poet Robert Burns. About a mile from town, we decided to hunt some Pheasant…with our car! (Accidental hunting Mom, don’t worry. We didn’t do it on purpose.) The poor guy ran across the road like a roadrunner, took flight way too late and ended up hitting our bumper on the driver’s (right) side of the car, flying up into the side-view mirror (thud!) and ending up somewhere in the bushes. These birds weigh about 3 pounds so it was quite the ordeal. We felt really bad, but there wasn’t really anything we could do about it. We were driving on a two-lane undivided highway with no shoulder and there was no place to go but straight into Mr. Pheasant. Apparently this is pretty common as we saw a few dead Pheasants on the road today and witnessed a truck get really close to hitting another one. When we finally got in town, we parked near the Burns Museum to check things out.

The whole town of Alloway is chock full of monuments dedicated to Robert Burns. All the sights were beautiful, but the Doon River was my favorite part. The stone bridges provide stark contrast to the lush green banks and gushing water. It was so incredibly peaceful. The museum and cottage Burns grew up in were nice as was the monument erected in his honor. By the time we finished wandering around it was about Noon. We headed back along the road and ate at a little inn we found off the road. It had pretty good food for being in a town with a population of about 25. And another great bonus…the inn was a quick walk from a ruined seaside castle. After taking some pictures at the castle we hurried back to our hotel so we could make it to falconry in time.

I’m not really sure how to set up the description of falconry for you to do it justice. All I can say us that is in the top 10 things I have ever experienced. The falconry expert Jamie was amazing. He explained to us what it takes to raise these birds and what motivates them to fly to your arm instead of just flying away. We practiced feeding them in the barn and then it was off to see the real stuff. We met falcons, owls big and small, 2 kinds of hawks, and a raven-type bird that I can’t remember the name of right now. Jamie let us handle almost all of them. They flew from the perch to our arms and back again. It was such a personal experience as we were the only ones there for the lesson. We even laid down so one of the owls could fly within inches of us. One of the most exciting parts was when Jamie let the Peregrin Falcon take flight. These birds are the fastest on earth, flying 200 mph plus all while darting through trees and trying to catch some chicken tied to a tether that Jamie was swinging. Even though it was cold, it was totally worth it. An amazing experience. I think the pictures help tell the story better than I can.

For dinner we had some great Scottish food at one of the hotel restaurants. We split small portions of lamb pot roast, beef carpaccio, chicken pie with bacon, and mushroom risotto. To close the night out we did some stargazing. The night sky here is really beautiful. Since we are kind of in the middle of nowhere, we can see tons of stars and many constellations. I even saw a shooting star, although Andrew missed it. Tomorrow we are heading back to London, but it’s a 5 hour train ride, not including the 2-1/2 hour drive to the train station so I may not do a posting unless something exciting happens. Cheers, Chelsie and Andrew

At the cottage where Robert Burns was born in, 1759.

Doon River

Daffodils are blooming everywhere here.

Castle ruins in Dunure, population 25. You can see Ailsa Craig in the background, the island where they dig up blue hone granate to make curling stones.

Our splendid hotel.

We promised to email Jamie some of these photos. I know he will enjoy them. I have such a talented husband!

Andrew feeding the raven-type bird. For those who are squeamish, don’t zoom into the picture as he is eating a baby chick. The bird, not Andrew.

Sky the Eagle Owl was stunning.

Sky and me hanging out.

Jamie said he doesn’t think of these birds as pets, but I can see a little twinkle in his eye when he looks at Sky. He is really passionate about birds of prey.

Tell me how you really feel.

Check out that wingspan!

Whisper shows off her beautiful eyes.

Silver the falcon zooming past Jamie.

The cutest bird of prey on the planet, Rhiannan is only about 8 inches tall.

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Good Coffee, Arthur’s Seat, The Scottish Countryside, and Turnberry

Good Coffee, Arthur’s Seat, The Scottish Countryside, and Turnberry

We woke up this morning ready to say goodbye to Edinburgh and move onto Turnberry. Andrew and Mickey started the day by visiting a highly-rated coffee shop called Artisan Roast. They brought me back some really good hot chocolate. We packed our things and walked to the train station to pick up our rental car. On a whim we decided to go check out Arthur’s Seat on the way out of own. Arthur’s seat is a dormant volcano and a wild piece of highland landscape in the center of Edinburgh. We decided to hike up it and we were really glad we did. The views were amazing. It really gave us a great perspective of the whole city from Edinburgh Castle and beyond to Holyrood House. I included a map below so you can kind of get an idea of the layout. Andrew took lots of pictures, but he needs to stitch them together into a panorama. Hopefully he can do that as soon as we get back so everyone can see.

After the hike we hit the road and took our time through the Scottish countryside. The scenery was diverse and breathtaking. Snowy hills, large sheep farms, groves of pine trees, and rivers dotted the landscape. We stopped for a quick lunch and took the longer, but scenic route down the coast to Turnberry. I can’t say enough about the views. They were stunning. Lighthouses, ruined castles on the beach, and sheep farms were prominent in the area. At one point we even stopped by the side of the road where a beautiful cemetery overlooked the ocean. If England is the country of comfortable high-end castles, Scotland is the country of desolate forgotten and ruined castles. It makes the feel of this place incredibly majestic. At one point along the road we even saw a pheasant. I was very excited.

Our hotel is perched atop a large hill overlooking the ocean. It is world-famous for its Alisa golf course although we won’t be doing any golfing while we are here. Just relaxing and enjoying the scenery. There are 800 acres of land to explore on the estate so we look forward to that tomorrow. For dinner we drove 30 minutes back to Ayr and ate at an Italian restaurant that was recommended to us by Yelp. The drive back to the hotel was a little hairy full of two-lane undivided highways, countless roundabouts, and the usual driving on the left. Am I forgetting something? Oh yeah…it was pitch dark too! Andrew did a great job negotiating the roads and our rental car continues to remain unscathed. We hope everyone is having a great week. Cheers, Chelsie and Andrew

UPDATE: Panorama added at bottom. (5 photo stitch)

Inside Artisan Coffee

A flat white from Artisan Coffee

A map of the layout of Edinburgh. Note Edinburgh Castle on the left and Arthur's Seat in the lower right-hand corner.

Arthur's Seat from below.

On the path to the top of Arthur's Seat

On the road overlooking the ocean near Ayr

The view from our hotel.

Check out that pheasant!

Panorama from Arthur's Seat

Full size available here

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Greyfriar’s Cemetary, The National Museum of Scotland, and Edinburgh Castle

Greyfriar’s Cemetary, The National Museum of Scotland, and Edinburgh Castle

This morning we woke up and had a solid breakfast on a recommendation from the bellman at the hotel. For the third day in a row Andrew had a full English breakfast. I had a smaller version with fresh squeezed orange juice. It was good, but I think Mickey’s smoked salmon was better. We then headed over to The National Museum of Scotland. It was closed until 10 so we took a minute to visit Greyfriars Cemetary in the center of town. What a beautiful place. Inside the cemetery walls it was so peaceful and quiet despite it being right next to a main road. The tombstones were amazing, some going back to 1500. This might be a good place to mention that it rained all day today. It really added to the ambiance here. The cemetery is also known for Greyfriar’s Bobby. In the late 1800s there was a policeman who owned a Skye Terrier named Bobby. The man died of tuberculosis and for the rest of Bobby’s life (14 years) he would sit all day on the man’s grave waiting for him to return only leaving to take meals and sleep. When the dog passed away, a statue was erected in his honor at the gate of the cemetery. It is an exceptionally sweet story and we were glad to be able to see his little statue.

By the time we were done with the cemetery, The National Museum of Scotland was open so we headed across the street to see what it had to offer. There were many interesting artifacts most having to do with current and past Scottish life. My favorite were the Lewis Chessmen which were carved from Walrus ivory in the 12th century and were found 700 years later on the Isle of Lewis. They have a lot of personality. Another interesting if not creepy artifact was a ram head on wheels that acted as a cigar dispenser. Just pop off the top of the head and get your cigar out. I was joking that it would be funny to put a remote control car under it and drive it around “biting” people’s ankles.

Next we moved on to Edinburgh Castle, the mighty fortress on a large rock formation towering over the city. It was much different than the other castles we have visited. It’s definitely not a comfortable castle where you would want to live. This one’s a fortress and is all about protection. Here we saw some pretty impressive cannons, the oldest structure still standing in Edinburgh, and the Scottish Crown Jewels. Since it sits so high over the city, the views were amazing. We finished the day off with Cashmere scarf shopping, a walk to Holyrood House-the Queens third residence (now we have seen them all), and a great dinner at a restaurant called The Outsider. The best dish was Andrew’s suckling pig. We were all pretty tired so no late-night whiskey drinking for us. Tomorrow we pick up a car and head to Turnberry in the West of Scotland. It’s supposed to stop raining so we are looking forward to that although I can’t complain too much. The rain really added to the ambiance of Edinburgh. Cheers, Chelsie and Andrew

Our breakfast place.

Greyfriar's Cemetery

Greyfriar's Cemetery

A monument in Greyfriar's Cemetery.

We loved the green moss that was covering everything.

Greyfriar's Bobby

One of the Lewis Chessmen

The original cloned Dolly the sheep. She is now stuffed and resides in the museum. She was the first mammal ever to be successfully cloned.

Creepy Ram head rolling cigar box. It actually has wheels on the bottom!

The pathway up to Edinburgh Castle

That's one big cannon. In it's prime it could shoot a cannon ball 2 miles!

Edinburgh Castle from the bottom of the hill.

Suckling pig. Yum!

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Newcastle Science Fest and Edinburgh

Newcastle Science Fest and Edinburgh

Andrew woke up bright and early this morning. About 3 a.m.! At around 6:30 he decided he would go on a nice morning walk to take some photos. I politely declined to go with him so I could sleep a little longer. When he came back he had some great photos of the bridges in Newcastle and the Tyne River. I posted some of those below.

After breakfast we walked North into the shopping district of town on our way to another Newcastle Science Fest Event called Body in Action. It was a fun science-based look at the body and how it performs during physical activity. There was lots of activities to try as well including a grip strength test, a sprinting test, and a lung capacity test. We were a little skeptical at first, but it turned out to be fun. They even had a state of the art system like the one used in Hollywood to map different joints and parts of the body to see how they move. Think Avatar. After that we popped into a quick cafe for lunch and moved on to a seminar on the science of sleep. It was quite informative and the speaker was great. Then we wandered over to a pub so we could get a Newcastle in Newcastle.

The final event of the day was The Alpha Project. I’m not quite sure where to start on this one, but I will say it was great fun in a strange scary kind of way. The Newcastle Science Fest Program describes it as “part theater, part psychological experiment, The Alpha Project is based on real events and explores psychic abilities, blurring the boundary between physical and extrasensory experience.” They tell you nothing else so we didn’t really know what to expect. You enter the first room which is really cold because it’s part of an old castle. You then fill out a brief survey and sign a scary waiver and are moved to another room where they make you change your shoes. We then split up, myself going up another flight of stairs and sitting at a table in a dark room with some white noise that progressively got louder. It was quite creepy because I had no idea what was going on or whether someone was going to jump out behind me (the table and chairs are in the middle of the room). After about 4 minutes Andrew joined me and proceeded to lead me in a bunch of “psychic” tests. There were cards, a crystal, and grainy black and white photographs that were likely of serial killers. I did okay in the psychic tests (guessing games) until it came to the hanging crystal which apparently I was supposed to make swing around with my mind. I was staring and staring and despite my best efforts absolutely nothing happened. I suppose I shouldn’t quit my day job eh? In between the tests there were lots of scary noises and loud talking. At times they shone a hot red light at me and other times it was a white one so bright that I could hardly see. At the end of it all they kind of just lead you out. No explanation or anything. Although this probably seems awful it was actually an interesting and worthwhile experiment. I enjoyed the fact that I was completely out of control and had no idea what was happening. Most of my life is spent in control of things (plans, work, etc.) and just experiencing something with no control was quite refreshing. It was definitely out of my comfort zone, but in a good way. Needless to say it provided lots of conversation on the train ride to Edinburgh.

Since we were already in Northern England, it was only an hour and a half train ride to Edinburgh, Scotland. The ride was lovely. We saw farms, lots of sheep (right up our alley!), some adorable small towns, and the tumultuous Northern Sea known for it’s past Viking escapades. When we arrived in town we could tell it was quite a bit colder than Newcastle or London. We walked to our hotel which was close to the train station and was an overall easy walk if you don’t count the 300+ stairs! Yikes! Drew insisted in carrying the backpack and the luggage so he climbed the stairs with about 60 lbs of extra weight on his back! After catching our breath and checking in we ventured out for dinner to a restaurant that was highly rated on Yelp called The Grain Store. It did not disappoint. We started with some ham hock and leek risotto which may have been the best risotto I have ever had. We then had a little whiskey (when in Rome right?) and moved onto our mains. Andrew had the Sea bass and I had a roasted pork loin with pork belly and vegetables. Both dishes were great. After that we walked back to the hotel and called it a night because we were all quite tired. Oh yea, did I mention it’s freezing here? Cheers, Chelsie and Andrew

The Sage Gateshead during Andrew's early morning walk.

Millenium and Newcastle Bridges

A grafitti robot who loves cheese. Me too!

More views of the Tyne River.

Having a Newcastle in Newcastle

Andrew with the Newcastle in Newcastle

Garth Castle where The Alpha Experiment took place.

Andrew's Sea Bass from The Grain Store.

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