Missing Scotland a lot these days

Its been a few months since I’ve written on here, and truthfully I didn’t know if I’d even try to keep this blog going after returning to Canada. I haven’t been writing much recently, and I really am missing it. I’m also missing all the great people I met in Edinburgh and some of the amazing places I got to see. Unfortunately, I’m still waiting for things to come together on the job front, but I know it will eventually if I am patient. The farm life is peaceful, but moves a bit slowly. I’m working on a website for the farm, and I thought I might post a couple things here to get me writing again.

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Walking Edinburgh’s Union Canal Tow Path

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On Saturday, I crossed part of an interesting walk off my Scotland Bucket List. Leaving from Fountainbridge, I walked 14 miles of the Union Canal getting as far as Broxburn.

Looking at the map, I thought I would have gotten a lot further – at the start of the day, I thought I would make it to Linlithgow without any trouble. The distance was a little deceiving. Things always seem a lot closer on the map.

Unusually for Scotland, the weather stayed fairly dry for the whole day. Most of Edinburgh was inside watching the Scottish Cup Final so I definitely felt like i was doing something different.

Near the start of the walk, around Harrison Park, there were loads of people playing with their kids, running, and walking dogs. Once I got past Hermiston Gait though and crossed over the motorway I would see other walkers very rarely.

There were more cyclists than walkers as I got further out, which is probably what I would do if I wanted to go all the way to the Falkirk wheel along the canal.

The whole thing is a pretty impressive piece of engineering. Its very narrow and shallow in places, but you have loads of bridges and these massive viaducts including a very high one at Slateford that passes over the Water of Leith.

When it was first built in the 1820’s, it was mainly used to haul coal and other freight. The narrow canal boats were pulled along by the current and horse power.

Nowadays, the remaining boats are more recreational. A few people even live on them.

I don’t know if I would be able to do but it seems like a pretty idyllic life – you can choose to berth wherever and if you don’t get on with your neighbours or just want a change of scenery you travel a few miles upstream. People in the UK have some really romantic ideas about their canals, but in reality I don’t think many really take full advantage of them.

Around the 1930’s, the canals fell out of use as freight moved to railways. Cities like Amsterdam have tens of thousands of people living on canal boats, but in the UK its definitely a smaller scale, more rural thing. I saw a fair number of these boats berthed in Ratho but its not on the same scale that you’d see in Europe.

Initially I was hoping to stop their for a bite to eat, but I discover that the Bridge Inn was fully booked up for a wedding.

Before tiring myself out, I managed to cross over a couple more impressive aqueducts, and was able to do some plane and train spotting from the same part of the canal. About a mile and a half outside of Broxburn, the canal goes right underneath the Edinburgh Airport Landing Path, which coincidentally is very near one of the two Edinburgh-Glasgow rail lines.

You can see the Ratho viaduct in the distance, which is also a not too shabby bit of engineering.

By the time I got to Broxburn I was thoroughly wiped so decided to forego the last 10 miles to Linlithgow and catch a bus back to Edinburgh.

Blair Castle

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Blair Castle is the seat of the Murrays of Atholl. More than any castle or country home I’ve been to so far, the decor is all about hunting which is understandable when you consider the beautiful grounds it sits on.

Its hard to paint a full picture, but visiting the castle was a highlight of our visit to Pitlochry. One of the first things you notice is the wild man of Atholl. He is absolutely everywhere.

He is part of the Murray family crest, and is usually holding a key and an axe with both his arms raised. According to the legend, the wild man of Atholl was supposed to be a great hunter from the area who was sent after a marauding MacDonald who was stealing cattle and terrorizing the countryside. He brought his quarry back in chains.

The groundfloor hallway is lined from end to end with stag antlers and the grand ballroom is filled with taxidermy. The Murray family have also collected paintings, furniture, and tapestries with a definite hunting theme. The drawing room was filled with stuffed birds and small animals wearing hats.

One of my favourite paintings from the trip – John Murray, 4th Duke of Atholl

I couldn’t place where I’d seen it before, but it probably would have been at the National Gallery of Scotland by Princes Street Gardens. Apparently, this was a controversial portrait at the time because the Duke was wearing a kilt at a time when wearing tartan was banned (because of its association with the Jacobite uprising).

You can see the castle in the background, but I like the sleeping dog in the foreground – he looks like he has had a full day helping the master with the hunt.

Blair castle has gone through several transformations over the years, and is still a residence even today. The earliest part of the castle dates back to the 13th century, but it went substantial renovations during the Georgian and Victorian periods.

We walked through each of the rooms, and saw some interesting artifacts including the armor worn by Bonnie Dundee when he died at Killecrankie and a chair made almost entirely from deer antlers on the central staircase. The house and furniture is all very luxurious, and you can imagine that each item has a lot of history.

Outside we explored the woods and made our way over to the old Kirk and Hercules Garden where we could look back for some impressive views of Blair Castle. The surrounding trails on the estate provide some more idyllic views, but since this was a short visit we made our way back to Blair Athol and then Pitlochry.

Rec Hockey in Dumfries – Scottish Plate Weekend

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Unfortunately, we didn’t win it like we’d hoped, but it was a fun weekend all the same.

The structure is a little bizarre. Instead of playing three 20 minute periods, each game was two 15 minute periods so even though we played three games on Saturday that was only 90 minutes of running time hockey.

I play goalie for a team called the Edinburgh Stingers

We won our first game against the Dundee Devils by a score of 3 – 2. This game could have very easily been a tie, but we got lucky because of a slightly odd rule that meant one of the Devils goals was called back. All penalties in the tournament were supposed to be called right away (no delayed penalties). So when one of our players hooked a guy coming in on a breakaway they had to call it back when the guy scored.

The second game was against the Highland Capitals. We played with them but they got 2 goals in the first few minutes of the first period and we couldn’t come back. We played them to a scoreless draw in the second period but couldn’t get the offense we needed. The teams were closely matched so if we’d gotten more shots on goal, this game could have gone in our favour.

The third game was against the Dumfries Demons. We’d watched them play the Capitals to a draw earlier in the day so we felt like we had a good chance. They even beat the Glasgow Chiefs, which was a surprise. However, this game did not go well for us from start to finish. We did a lot of puck chasing and didn’t find ourselves in their zone for very much of the game.  The worst bit was I took a hard slap shot through traffic off the inside of the leg that has now swollen up to a nice bruise.

Unfortunately, by the start of our fourth game, we’d been eliminated from medal contention so our game against Glasgow was going to be our last. I started, and George the other goalie went in for the second period. We lost the game making our record 1-3, which was a little disappointing (its always more fun to win) but it was a whole weekend playing and watching hockey which is a pretty fine way to spend a weekend.

The Dumfries rink is a little smaller than the ones at Murrayfield or Dundee, and I feel like I spent most of this trip either at the rink or the hotel. I didn’t feel like I had the energy or inclination to do a proper tour around Dumfries and Galloway, but may do that over the next couple of months. I’ve yet to make a visit to the Globe Tavern or the Robbie Burns House plus there is some good cycling in that area that may warrant further investigation.

The Wickerman Festival is also nearby, so will have to see about that.