29 July 2008

Scotland, the final days...

It’s all a little in the past now but here’s the final Scotland update.

Saturday was another “car free day” and we spent the whole day in Balloch - to be more precise, we spent the day following Clanadonia around Balloch! The band played three sets, at three different venues, and we were at each of them.

The day started at the Lomond Park Hotel and once again Clanadonia pulled in a great crowd. The front of the hotel was packed, the pavement blocked by people and, at times, even the road was blocked with people! Tu-Bardh was the true showman, as ever, and had the crowd screaming for more by the end of the set. This band may not be known by many south of the border but on their home turf they are true stars - just ask any member of the Tartan Army!

After the Lomond Park Lynda and I walked to the far end of the village and The Stables Restaurant for another outdoor performance. It was now getting on a little so food was high on the list of wants - two bacon rolls (very nice bacon rolls) killed off our hunger pangs for a while. The pint of lager was rather good too. When we arrived at The Stables there were only another three or four people sat around waiting for the band. Would this venue prove to be just a little off the beaten track for the tourist and folk festival visitors? Not a chance! By the time the band arrived the restaurant owners had had to fetch just about every chair in the place outside for the crowd. Many, many more people chose to stand, me included.

The show was another success with even more humour and interaction with the crowd than at the previous two sets at the Lomond Park. As the band had chosen to play right in the middle of the car park - plenty of space to move around - it meant that they were very close to the road, and a bus stop! As luck would have it a bus pulled up at the stop whilst the band were playing. Right on cue, all the band turned around, faced the bus as the doors opened and met the passengers that were getting off with a full blast of tribal drumming! The crowd outside the restaurant loved it; the people getting off the bus were left wondering just what had hit them! After The Stables, Clanadonia took a bit of a breather before playing the final set of the day outside the tourist information centre in the heart of the village. Lynda and I also took a bit of a break and returned to the holiday home for a while.

The crowd gather.

Tu-Bardh talks with the crowd.

At 6:00PM we met up with Tu-Bardh and crew again for the final “gig” of the day. Word was definitely out that the band were about to play; every available vantage point was taken up with people and that included the tops of walls, the wall outside the Tullie Inn opposite and, once again, the road at times. Heads were even appearing through the middle of trees and bushes that surrounded the information centre!


After watching this last, and most watched, set of the day Lynda and I retired to the peace and quite of our holiday park for the evening, complete with a Chinese take-away. The food was great, the weather just as good, and the whisky even better! A great end to a great day!

On Sunday, we drove up to Callander for the highland games and also to see Clann an Drumma play again. The day started off very dull and overcast with just the hint of rain in the air when we first arrived in Callander, but it soon turned into a scorcher of a day. When we returned to the car at around 5:00PM it was still 28°C! I hate to think just how hot it had been up on the games field in direct sun - luckily, Lynda had smothered me in sun tan cream! Well, I’m a fragile little thing ya know!

Scott Rider & Sebastian Wenta.

The highland games were very good again this year but were lacking a few of the “big names” that we have seen here in the past; no Wout Zylstra, no Larry Brock and no Mark Felix for example. Gregor Edmunds, Sebastian Wenta, Scott Rider and Stefan Solvi Peterson were there though so it was still a quality field. The final result went the way of Sebastian Wenta, with Gregor Edmunds second and Scott Rider third.

Scott Rider taking part in the 56lb For Height.

The highlight of the day was the setting of a new games record throw for the “56lb For Height” of 17’ 2”. Stefan Solvi Peterson beat the old record, of 17’ 1”, and then, with the very next throw, he was matched by Sebastian Wenta! Not to be out done, Gregor Edmunds put on a terrific show in the Caber and scored a perfect 12 o’clock toss, the only competitor to do that all weekend.

Between the events on the games field I took time out to watch Clann an Drumma play three different sets - one in the games arena, one in the beer tent and the final one on stage in front of a very enthusiastic crowd. I had been impressed by Clann an Drumma at Scone a week earlier but at Callander, without the restriction of having to work to the TV camera schedule, the band could really let their hair down and “go for it”! Despite the stifling heat the final set of the day was simply superb. The timing was as tight as one of their drum skins, the energy flowing from the stage more overpowering than the heat of the sun. I have to admit I was sweating like a pig just taking photos and watching them play. Quite how the band managed to bounce around like they did, I don’t know.

Clann an Drumma.

All too soon the games came to an end and it was time to say our goodbyes. Joe and Maggie were kind enough to gather the band together for a quick photo and I was presented with a CAD T-shirt by Joe, another very kind gesture. After handshakes and farewells all round we headed back to the car. I was sorry to have to leave the games but at the same time I was over the moon to have been able to see Clann an Drumma play two weekends on the trot.

Me, feeling a little over dressed, with Clann an Drumma.

As we arrived back in Balloch a quick check on the time revealed that, if we were very lucky, we may just catch up with Tu-Bardh and the rest of Clanadonia as they packed up after their final show of the weekend. Luck was more than with us... we managed to hear the final three tracks the band played. In an attempt to see, as well as hear, the band I finished up stood on top of a wall holding onto the Lomond Park Hotel’s sign! Hey, it was every man for himself and I wasn’t going to miss seeing the band’s final set of the weekend!

Once again, we had to go through the bitter sweet parting of the ways. Meeting up with Tu-Bardh again was a real pleasure, seeing the band play again one of the highlights of the holiday, saying goodbye is always a sad time. If all goes to plan, Clanadonia are heading off to a secret little hideaway later in the year and will return with a new album in the bag. I for one really can’t wait for that to be released.

Scotland - we will be back!

26 July 2008

My rest day...

Friday - my “rest day”. Well, I didn’t do all of the driving so to me that counts as a “rest day”!

Our first little adventure took us back to the Glengoyne whisky distillery and today it was open - hooray! The advertising leaflets for the distillery describe it as “a taste of the Highlands on Glasgow’s doorstep” and also as “Scotland’s most beautiful distillery”. It’s not quite on Glasgow’s doorstep, it’s around 14 miles north but it most certainly is in a very beautiful setting. It’s also a rather nice collection of buildings too.

Lynda and I joined a guided tour around the distillery, learning much about the history of the place and also whisky in general, in the process. Before the tour began we were each given a dram of Glengoyne 10-year-old malt, and very nice it was too! Lynda, not being a whisky drinker, had a small taste of hers and passed the rest to me. I wasn’t going to argue - 11:00AM and the first two whiskies of the day. At the end of the tour we were guided to the distillery shop (a good sales ploy on their part) where we were presented with a dram of their 17-year-old malt to try. I again had Lynda’s and mine. Hey, it was now just after mid-day so another couple of whiskies wouldn’t do any harm!

After the second whisky tasting we had another stroll around the buildings before returning to the shop for a quick bit of retail therapy. Personally, I found the 10-year-old malt more to more liking (though both were very good) and so Lynda dug deep in her pockets and treated me to a bottle as an early birthday present. It will be going home un-opened and kept away from me for another few weeks yet! I also purchased miniature bottles of the 17 and 21-year-old malts that Glengoyne produce. The miniatures, along with one of the freebie ones the distillery gave us on Tuesday, will be going home to be added to my small, but growing collection.

Glengoyne distillery.

From the distillery Lynda took control of the car and drove the short distance down the road to the Beech Tree Inn; time for a bit of food to soak up some of the alcohol. First thing I did was order a pint of beer! It was my rest day and I was going to enjoy it! We only chose the Beech Tree due to its location but boy, did we strike it lucky. The food was top class. Lynda chose the chicken & mushroom crêpe whilst I went for the chicken breast, stuffed with haggis, on a bed of clapshot. Not only was the food very tasty it was also rather well presented too - much better than your average pub lunch.

Chicken & mushroom crêpe and the Chicken breast, stuffed with haggis.

When the waiter asked if we would like to see the dessert menu we said yes, even though, having noticed the menu earlier, we both knew what we were going to try... battered Mars bar! For years we have heard of this strange Scottish “delicacy” but never actually seen it served anywhere. Today we finally got to eat a chocolate bar covered in batter and it wasn’t at all bad. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it was rather tasty when served with orange sorbet. The calorie count? I daren’t even start to think about that! The rest of the afternoon was spent back at the holiday home soaking up the sun, reading our books and generally relaxing.

A battered Mars bar!

At 6:00PM the 9th Lomond Folk Festival kicked off and it kicked off in style with Clanadonia, fronted by, the man himself, Tu-Bardh Wilson playing to a packed crowd outside the Lomond Park Hotel. It was seeing Clanadonia listed in the band line-up for this weekend that was behind my decision to make the long drive north again this year and I’m so pleased I did.


From the moment the band took up their positions they had the crowd on their side; the crowd spilled out onto the pavement, cars pulled up by the roadside to watch, everyone loved it. Tracks that stood out for me included “Hornpipe”, “Samba Ya Bassa”, the superb “Hamsterheid” and, from the film “Last of the Mohicans” came “The Gael”. Highlight of the week so far? It certainly comes very close, and there will be more of the same over the rest of the weekend.

Friday, a true taste of Scotland!

24 July 2008

A close call...

Ah, this is the life! Sat outside with a glass of cider, watching the sun go down.

It’s been a fun couple of days, one way or another - we could have been killed but I’ll come back to that one later!

On Tuesday, we set off mid-morning to visit the Glengoyne whisky distillery. Finding it was no problem, getting in was a little trickier... the place was closed for some sort of electrical work which meant that the whole area had no power! Not what we wanted to hear! Still, it all worked out okay, sort of, as a rather nice young lady, that worked at the distillery, gave us two free miniature bottles of Glengoyne malt whisky by way of an apology for our wasted journey. We plan on returning to the distillery in the next day or two.

Glengoyne distillery.

After leaving Glengoyne, with our freebie whisky safely stowed away, we headed off into the hills for a bit of a sightseeing drive. We drove east, crossed the Campsie Fells, and then headed back west towards Drymen and the east side of Loch Lomond. The drive was very scenic but involved some of the worst road surfaces we’ve found since we arrived up here. “Local council, buy yourselves some tarmac!” The drive over the Campsie Fells also allowed me to do my first bit of birding of the holiday; we saw Golden Eagle, Buzzard, Kestrel, Raven and also Stonechat on the journey over the high ground.

View from the Campsie Fells.

The second part of the day was spent walking along the eastern shore of Loch Lomond, from Balmaha towards Milarrochy and back. This walk provided us with our second little bit of birding of the day with Tawny Owl and Osprey being seen. The owl flew up from the forest floor and landed in a tree a little way from the path we were on whilst the Osprey spent a good while fishing, without success, in Loch Lomond. We also came across a small herd of young highland cattle in a field by the path. Like true tourists, we just had to take photos of the cows!

Highland cows!

All the fresh air had made us rather hungry but thankfully we had a table booked at the Kilted Skirlie in the evening. This restaurant, overlooking Loch Lomond, is one that I would most definitely recommend to anyone that is ever in the area - the food was superb! The Haggis neeps and tatties croquettes starter was not only VERY tasty it was VERY large! The sauce it was served with was delicious! The chicken main dish that both Lynda and I had was by far the best I’ve had in a long, long while. As for dessert... equally as good as the rest of the meal! The evening was capped off with a couple of glasses of whisky and dry ginger when we arrived back at the holiday home.

Wednesday, a near death experience! Lynda and I took the 10:23AM train into Glasgow, armed with only a photocopied map of the city and no knowledge of where anything was! The first place we found was George Square, a very nice area full of tourists. We must have been in the right part of the city!

George Square.

From George Square we walked aimlessly around finding Buchanan Street, Sauchiehall Street, Buchanan Galleries, St. Enoch Centre and then Miller Street. Somewhere in amongst that little lot we came across a small arcade area full of jewellers. What an eye opener that was! Watches costing anything up to £23,000, bracelets in excess £16,000 and diamonds everywhere you looked! There is some serious money floating around somewhere in Glasgow! Footballers’ wives we reckon!

This was a coffee shop!

It was whilst we were sat in George Square, passing a little time before we had to catch our return train, that we had a rather lucky escape. Lynda and I were sat in the square, looking across at the rather steep North Hanover Street, when apparently a taxi driver collapsed at the wheel of his cab. Before we had a chance to realise what was happening the taxi had crossed the road, bounced up the kerb, careered over the steps at the base of a statue, crashed through a litter bin and rammed into the seats right next to us!

Luckily, the people sat on the seat had seen what was happening before we did and had managed to jump out of the way before the taxi rammed the wooden bench out of the way before coming to rest on top of more steps and a flower bed! At first I thought that the taxi had just rolled away, without the driver in it, but as I leant in through the driver’s window to switch the engine off I became aware of the driver slumped across the front seats, obviously not well. By this time a police woman from a mobile police station parked in the square had arrived, along with people from all over the square, so I moved away from the taxi and left the professionals to it. As time was now getting on we had to leave for our train so I’m not sure just how the driver was but hopefully all was okay in the end.

After all the excitement of the day we needed a way to relax once we arrived back in Balloch and what better way is there to do that than to eat and drink? We booked a table at La Scarpetta restaurant and enjoyed another great meal. Lynda worked her way though a delicious Pizza Con Pollo (cheese, tomato & chicken, with extra pineapple) whilst I polished off a large bowl of Pasta Alla Scarpetta (penne pasta, ham, onion & mushroom in a creamy tomato sauce), all washed down with a more than acceptable bottle of red wine. Pudding was Turkish Delight ice cream for Lynda and a banana and toffee ice cream “bombe” for me. All good stuff!

Today, Thursday, was another “chill out” day. We had breakfast and then took a walk down to the Lomond Shores complex. The views up the loch were reasonably good but there was just a little patchy, low cloud over the very top of the highest mountains. In the end we spent around four hours strolling around the edge of the loch and also the village of Balloch. A quick stop off at the local tourist information office gave me the chance to pick up a programme for this weekend’s folk festival - there will be plenty of opportunities to see Clanadonia play!

The view from the Lomond Shores complex.

Confusingly, the programme of events also has Albannach listed as playing the Tullie Inn on Saturday evening. I say confusingly as there was no mention of this on the band’s web site before we set off on holiday and the band never mentioned it whilst we chatted with them last Saturday. Hopefully, all will become clear on Saturday and we’ll get another, unexpected, chance to see the band play.

23 July 2008

Scotland update...

The WiFi here is VERY hit and miss but here's another update - at last!

Sunday, day two of our Scotland trip, was spent in the picturesque parkland of Scone Palace, setting of the 2008 Highlander Challenge World Championship. The weather was fairly kind to us with only the odd light shower of rain to contend with and even then the rain came down in a way that is only found in Scotland, from a blue sky! Time after time when we come north of the border we experience this phenomenon... it starts to rain, you look up and directly above you the sky is blue!

Scone Palace and the games area.

The games themselves were very good with Sunday being the second, and final, day of the Championship. Competitors that made it through to the finals included Gregor Edmunds (Scotland), Scott Rider (England), Sean Betts (USA), Wout Zilystra (Holland) and Sebastian Wenta (Poland). I’ll not give away the results as the whole of the games are to be televised by Channel 4 in the next few weeks. There should be three one-hour programmes from what I hear so keep a look out if you’re in the UK - you may just catch a glimpse of Lynda and I!

Highlander Challenge.

Now onto the story of how we finished up being at the games... Some months ago I was checking the tour dates for Clann an Drumma, a tribal pipe and drum band, and saw the Highlander Challenge listed as an event they would playing at. It’s been four years, and numerous line-up changes, since I last saw Clann an Drumma play so I wasn’t going to pass-up this opportunity! The band were providing musical entertainment between the different events and also playing background music to some of the challenges - it should all help build the atmosphere for the TV show if they don’t over-dub it with some boring presenters voice.

Clann an Drumma.

During breaks in their TV filming I was able to get a chance to chat with Joe, Maggie and Stevie from the band for a while and catch up a little on what’s been going on over the last few years. I also picked up a copy of the latest CAD CD - Tribal Heart. I’ve already played it through a couple of times and it’s good, very good. Not that he’s all that likely to read it here but, I’d just like to say another BIG thank you to Joe for the Ardbeg whisky he gave to me at the games. It was a very kind gesture and I’ll be opening the bottle before the week is out!

All of Monday was spent “chilling”. We had a little longer in bed than the past couple of days, had breakfast outside in the sun and then spent the next five hours or so looking around Balloch. One of the good things about the location of the park we are staying at is that it is within easy walking distance of the village and also Loch Lomond; the car is not needed. We walked down to the Lomond Shores complex first, where we had superb views up Loch Lomond and also over to Ben Lomond and the surrounding mountains. After taking in the views for a while we continued around the waters edge and up into the village of Balloch and a bite of lunch. The battered haggis is just as good as it’s been in the past two years! I did have a bit of a communication problem with the poor Scottish girl behind the counter in the chip shop though - she didn’t quite understand me! As I said to her “same language, spoken two totally different ways!” We had a laugh though!

Loch Lomond.

After lunch we walked alongside the loch and then up to Balloch Castle, through the parkland and back into the village. We took a small refreshment break in the Tullie Inn. Well, you can’t keep walking past every pub you see, can you? From the Tullie we headed back to the caravan and an afternoon and evening doing nothing but read, relax, eat, and drink. Oh, and also watch the rabbits running around on the grass outside! We have at least four adult rabbits and five or six young ones that come out each evening to eat and play around the caravan.

Balloch Castle.

19 July 2008

320 miles north...

Greetings, from the bonny, bonny banks of Loch Lomond! Yep, we’re in Scotland - and it’s sunny up here, so far!

I’ll have to keep this short as I’m on a pay-as-you-go WiFi connection!

We set off at 7:00AM this morning and by 12:00PM we were in Glasgow and had managed to get one of the very last parking places by the river Clyde for the Glasgow River Festival. We had stopped off at the festival in the hope of getting to see Albannach play and we weren’t to be disappointed - the band were just setting up their drums as we arrived! I was very happy - Jamesie was very surprised! I knew the band were playing this weekend - they didn’t know we would be turning up!

Another little surprise was having a cute wee Scottish voice call my name just before the second Albannach set. It turned out to be Leona, one of the Albannach forum users, that I had never met before but who recognised me from photos on there.

After watching the band play two sets it was, unfortunately, time for Lynda and I to head off on the final part of our journey to Loch Lomond. A little over 30 minutes later we had escaped from Glasgow and had arrived in Balloch. First stop was at the local Co-Op for essential supplies... 4lts of cider, ginger ale to go with whisky for Lynda, cake and biscuits to go with tea and coffee and also a couple of tubes of Pringles! We also picked up a few other less important items such as milk and sugar.

This evening we have sampled the local Chinese take-away, which was rather good, had a glass or two of cider and watched the sun slowly start to set. Tomorrow we head over to Scone Palace for the Highlander World Championships. If all goes as planned we’ll also get to see Clann an Drumma play. Two days in Scotland and two different tribal bands - summer is looking up!

14 July 2008

Ooooh! A Gull!

A visit to Willington Gravel Pits yesterday morning rewarded me with yet another new bird for my “10-Mile List”, a Yellow-legged Gull. Now, gulls are not my favourite birds and I have to say that I was none too impressed with this bird. I gave it just enough attention to be certain of its I.D. and moved on to more exciting tasks - such as counting Cormorants, Tufted Ducks and Lapwing! Seeing as you asked... 37 Cormorant, 40 Tufted Duck and 35 Lapwing!

Four hours of birding gave me a total of 51 species with Buzzard, Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Dunlin and Kingfisher being the most noteworthy. A count of six Lesser Whitethroat was the highest I’ve ever recorded, so I guess that makes it noteworthy too. A single Grasshopper Warbler doesn’t deserve a mention due to the fact that it sang its head off all morning, but refused to show itself. Skulking little warbler!

The sun actually showed its face for a while yesterday and that brought out a few brave butterflies. Meadow Brown, Small Tortoiseshell and Large White were seen in the lane whilst a single, but gorgeous, Comma was feeding near the road when I returned to the car. Try as I might, I could not get any photos of the butterflies so I snapped away at a few easier targets instead.

My “10-Mile List” now stands at 131 species.