Visiting Pitlochry

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This past weekend, we took an overnight trip to Pitlochry in Perthshire for a little exploration and adventure.

I’d heard good things about it but was a little disappointed that there wasn’t more to do. The village is very tiny – you can walk from one end to the other in a matter of minutes. The buildings are beautiful and the whole place is filled with hotels and very picturesque. We even had dinner and drinks at the Old Mill Inn. We ended up going for a walk on Saturday and enjoying a little of the countryside. There are some pretty fantastic views within a short walk.

Getting up in the morning, we passed a group of two dozen cyclists – there was literature at the hostel highlighting some of the cycling trails nearby and bike shops in town. We hadn’t made plans to go cycling, so ended up catching a bus to the nearby Blair Castle and Gardens.

I think I’ll do a later post about the castle because it was pretty packed full of history.

After finishing there, we took a walk around the grounds. It was a little strange actually because a lot of North American trees were planted including some big Douglas Firs and California Redwoods. It almost felt like I was walking through a forest  back home.

On the edges of the grounds was the old kirk, resting place of Bonnie Dundee, the Jacobite general immortalized by Sir Walter Scott in the famous folk song.

Bonnie Dundee by the Corries

Bonnie Dundee, aka the Bluidy Clavers, actual name was John Graham 7th Laird of Claverhouse, was a professional soldier, close friend of Bonnie Prince Charlie, and military leader of the Jacobite army. He died at the Battle of Killecrankie which was fought nearby. It was an important victory for the Jacobites, but also a costly one.

Without their leader, Killecrankie was followed up by a major defeat nearby at Dunkeld.

From Blair Castle, we walked backed to Blair Atholl, and then went on to the Killecrankie visitor centre for lunch before starting a hike back to Pitlochry. There was lots of information about the battle including a few interesting sights along the way. Like the name suggests, Soldier’s Leap is the place from where a retreating government soldier leaped from the rocks into the river below to escape pursuing Jacobites.

The railway viaduct was really impressive, and we passed a high bridge with a bungee jumping platform. Its weird because its something I’ve wanted to do for a while but have really got around to.

Lots of people were taking advantage of the outdoors. People were fishing, biking, walking their dogs, and it was a good six mile walk from the visitor centre to Pitlochry. Luckily we had some decent weather to do it in.

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Adopting a kitten in Scotland was one of the best ideas ever.

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Its been almost 6 months that we’ve had her. We named her Eva (after the character in Wall-E). I’d just put some catnip on her scratching post and she went right after it. She’s looking at me as I writing this trying to telepathically convince me that she should get some more. She’s almost a year old now – we got her from the cat shelter in Leith at the end of october and love her to bits… even if she wakes us up way too early on weekends. Also, her whiskers are really long and floppy now – it makes her look like some kind of wizard.

Hilarious…public outcry overturns City of Vancouver Engineering Department’s Bagpipe Ban

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The ban was so quiet that even the Mayor didn’t know about it until he was questioned by reporters. An award winning piper was informed about it when he tried to apply for his busking license and was denied.

Apparently, the city engineering department had received noise complaints from some particularly non-musical residents and decided the only solution was an outright ban. I’m not saying that there are not two sides to every story, but there is a time when you have to ignore noisy residents and business owners and let common sense prevail. The story is more about bagpipes, however, all percussion instruments were included in the ban, so its hard to figure what kind of reaction city staff were expecting.

As a current Scottish resident and former Vancouver resident, I’ve become a fan of the bagpipes. Its not everyone’s taste, but Vancouver staff could have easily avoided the controversy all together by resolving those complaints with measures short of a ban or just telling those people making the complaints to go culture themselves a little bit. I tolerate all the awful top40 that some of these people like, so they can probably learn to tolerate a few drums and bagpipes for the sake of having a city that is culturally vibrant and musically diverse.

The most newsworthy thing about this incident is how long it took for staff to realize what anyone with common sense could have told them. From the very beginning of the ban, this was only going to go one way. Mayor Gregor Robertson asked staff to examine the ordinance after reporters asked him about it (he couldn’t outright contradict them in public), then it was overturned a few days later with vocal support from other Canadians of scottish descent.

Its good to know that there are still some people who are determined to make Vancouver look like a no fun city.

Blackness Castle

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Just made a day trip to Blackness Castle. The castle is on the shores of the Firth of Forth in West Lothian, about 2 miles from Bo’Ness and fairly  near Edinburgh.

The castle is unique in that it is remarkably complete. It was built in the 15th century and has been in almost continuous use for most of its life. It protects the Forth and the port of Linlithgow, and though it is smaller than the castles in Stirling or Edinburgh it has seen numerous sieges over its history.

The landscape offers excellent defense and the walls here are extremely thick. From the outside, the castle design greatly resembles that of a ship, which is new one for me.

The village of Blackness is very tiny – not so much as a shop, cafe, or pub (that was open) and just a few houses.

I’m guessing this relatively remote location made the castle a perfect place to store ammunition which was its primary function from 1870 up until WWI. It was also a minor military barracks, but its primary purpose (other than defense was as a prison. The castle itself has a very rugged and one could argue grim appearance (nothing like picturesque Urquhart or Castle Campbell), but you can see a natural beauty there as well in the way it rises out of landscape.

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At the time Blackness Castle was built Linlithgow was the primary royal residence and Blackness was the primary port – the castle was built by the Crichton’s but soon passed to James II. Fortifications were added in the mid 16th century making it one of the most advanced artillery forts in Scotland, but that didn’t prevent it from falling to Cromwell’s army a century later.

It was recently used during filming for the movie Doomsday.

Travelling around the countryside is not so easy when you don’t have a car, I managed to get the train to Linlithgow and a bus from there to Blackness. Unfortunately there are only four buses a day that go Blackness so rather than wait around for another 2.5 hours in a village with no pub or cafe I walked back to Bo’Ness  along the shore route to catch a bus from there – its nice to feel like you have the time to take an impromptu 90 minute hike, especially since it did get me home an hour sooner.