Scotland 2021 – In Flora’s Footsteps

Day 1

An early start to catch the 7.30 ferry to Cairn Ryan.  This becomes somewhat of a theme.  We had booked seats in the Hygge lounge, highly recommended for some peace and quiet in comfy seats.  Covid restrictions on-board included mask wearing while moving about the ship, social distancing in queues, and a limit on the number of people allowed in the shop.

As we headed north, I felt echoes of Scottish dances as we passed signs for Ardrossan, Dumbarton, Breadalbane.

We crossed the lofty Erskine Bridge and stopped at Starbucks for a quick lunch.  Limited seating indoors, and a one-way system.

The road up the side of Loch Lomond is quite narrow, very busy, and there are a number of roadworks.  This was our longest driving day, and our next stop was at the famous Green Welly, where travellers can take a comfort break, get a coffee, something to eat, and browse the extensive range of gifts and outdoor gear.  I got a jigsaw, a tartan notebook (in which to record these thoughts and observations), and a Green Welly bauble for the Christmas tree!  I buy a new decoration each year, usually on vacation, as it’s lovely to have these reminiscences when decorating the tree in the first weekend of December. It’s tradition, dontchayno.

From here, the scenery really becomes glorious, especially the stunning steep sided Glen Coe.  Though I’m never quite sure whether as a Campbell I’m strictly allowed here….

We were staying in the Ben Nevis Hotel in Fort William.  It’s a bit outside the town centre, but has plenty of parking.  It’s showing its age and is a bit rough round the edges.  There is a swimming pool, but you need to book a time, so I wasn’t that organised.  We also had to book a time for dinner, so at 6 pm we settled at our table in the bar.  It is table service only, and they are quite strict about this.  The staff appeared to be struggling, and weren’t really watching the room.  I know the hospitality industry has suffered greatly during the pandemic, and post-brexit it is difficult to recruit new employees for this type of work. 

The food arrived – but no cutlery.  Even though the knives and forks are in a basket on the bar top, you are not allowed to go and just lift some.  My salmon and prawn starter was tasty, but the spinach tortellini got a bit cold during the wait for cutlery.  The waitress didn’t know what wine they had, or what the soup of the day was.

The England football match was on.  It was being shown on a big screen in a large room next to the bar – you were supposed to book a seat, but that did not deter some determined fans who snuck in anyway.

We spotted the “Harry Potter” steam train shunting into a nearby siding, and that gave us an idea for the next day’s adventure…..

I fell asleep during the football and only discovered the next day that Italy had won!  I knew I had a bet on them so I waited for the betting site to let me know what my winnings were.

Day 2

Having seen the Hogwarts Express we decided to see if we could get tickets on The Jacobite, a famous steam train that goes twice a day between Fort William and Mallaig.  Seats, especially first class, are booked out months in advance, but a helpful sales assistant on the phone revealed that there are a few seats available on the day from the train itself.  Cash only (£49 each), queue up where indicated and then head for coach D.  Be careful where you leave your car – don’t park in Morrisons car park, use the Long Stay one instead (£4 for 10 hours).

The train itself has a teensy Harry Potter shop where you can purchase chocolate frogs, every flavour jelly beans, magic wands etc, as well as jigsaw puzzles featuring the famous viaduct.  (It even appears on the back of a Scottish tenner!) There’s a small buffet car too, but you can bring your own food on board, so I bought a packet of haggis crisps in the shop in the station.

The passengers are a mix of Potter fans and steam train nerds.  The view from the left hand side approaching the viaduct is the better one, and there is a short stop in Glenfinnan where we admired the old carriages and even a snow plough.  A kilted piper stuck up a few tunes – I was tempted to ask if he knew Flora McDonald and offer to dance…..

The train has a distinctive noise and feel – the chuff-de-chuff and “I think I can, I think I can” chant as we rattle along, the smoke obscuring the view from the windows coming out of tunnels, and the little black “smutties” that come through the open windows.

We stopped for precisely one minute at Ardrisaig.  This is so that the train spotters can say that they have been to the most westerly mainland railway station.

Past the Sands of Morar (another dance) and we are soon pulling into Mallaig station, where lots of seagulls are nesting.  The nearest loos are just past the police station, and cost 30p, though you can pay contactless.  Mallaig is a busy port, with fishing vessels and Cal-Mac ferries, as well as plenty of cafes and restaurants.  We found the cute little Harry Potter shop in Haggard Alley, where I was tempted by the Cloak of Invisibility. 

Lunch was in The Cabin, a delicious meal accompanied by a salad mercifully free of red onion, and some friendly service.

We left Mallaig at 2.10, I haven’t quite worked out how the engine got to the other side of the train, for there is no turntable.

One coach was now empty, as the passengers had only journeyed one way, so we were able to find seats on the side with the better view.  There are loads of bystanders and onlookers waving in the vicinity of the viaduct itself, and people also  wave and video and photograph from the road which runs parallel to the track for most of the journey.  On a sadder note, the only white wine on board was sauvignon blanc.

Back just after 4, the weather was a wee bit dreich, as they say in these parts, so we didn’t attempt any more sight-not-seeing.

I don’t think my emails are updating properly – still haven’t heard from the betting site.

Day 3

Early start, and after breakfast we set off around 8 am.  We stopped at the Glenfinnan Monument, where Bonnie Prince Charlie  ( to give him his full name Charles Edward Louis John Casimir Sylvester Severino Maria Stuart)  raised his standard to commence the Jacobite Rebellion.  The view from the little mound behind the visitor centre is amazing.  It’s a short uphill walk, but definitely worth it.

We reached Mallaig at 10, where we were catching the ferry over to Armadale on Skye.  It was a bit misty and murky, but at £16 for the crossing, this is easily the best way to get to Skye.  Had a cup of tea, saw no dolphins.

We stopped for lunch in the Broadford Hotel, rather fine bowls of Cullen skink with warm crusty rolls. 

I’d read of the legend of Sligachan Bridge, (built by Thomas Telford), where a local female warrior Scathach did battle with our own Cú Chulainn, but when they resolved their differences without causing mass world destruction the fairies granted the gift of eternal beauty to anyone who immersed their face in the river for 7 seconds.  Made perfect sense to me, and of course I had a go!  So if you don’t recognise me next time we meet this’ll be why. There is also a statue of a pair of mountaineers who mapped out routes in the mighty Cuillin Mountains.

The next stop was colourful Portree, where we had an ice cream and a wee dander.  As we had plenty of time, we decided to try going to Flora McDonald’s grave and memorial, but it was a narrow and twisty single track road so we gave up.

We stayed at the Skeabost View B and B, it’s a little bit remote but has lovely views, and a friendly and welcoming host.  After a bit of chillaxing time, we drove back into Portree for fish and chips by the pier.  There’s a bit of a wait for these, as it’s a really popular spot.

Back at the B and B we enjoyed watching the sun set and the tide come in, while spotting rabbits in the fields and a sea eagle soaring overhead.

Day 4

We had ordered breakfast the day before.  Very fine black pudding indeed comes from Charles Macleod.  I had veggie sosig and scrambled legs.  We had another early start to catch the ferry at Uig, and were there just before 8.30. There’s not much in Uig, but a rather nice little pottery shop does have some tempting wares.  This ferry (to Lough Maddy on North Uist) goes at some peculiar times, and not the same time every day, so double check if you are planning on using this route.   The views departing Skye are just gorgeous, and there’s plenty of spaces in the lounges, but it’s breezy on deck!  Cal-Mac are quite good at keeping social distancing, especially at avoiding congregating on stairs when returning to vehicles.  Saw no dolphins.

We arrived in the Outer Hebrides to rather grey and overcast weather, but made our way down some narrow lanes to Baleshare Beach.  Windswept and deserted, large pebbles, turquoise surf rolling in, and a very strong breeze!

The guidebook that I’d bought at the Green Welly didn’t show many roads on the map, but it did have an attraction in “Flora McDonald’s House”.  It took a bit of hunting down, and was reached down a farmer’s lane, where at the foot of the mound on which it stood were a group of cows and what appeared to be a bull.  I made my way to the monument with some trepidation, trying to exude lots of “I come in peace!” vibes to the cattle, but it was unnerving.

The memorial could really do with some (OK, a lot) of TLC.  There is an inscription, but it was so old I couldn’t make it out.  I had planned to video myself doing the highland dance “Flora McDonald’s Fancy” on this spot.  I started, but went wrong in the second step as I was a wee bitty nervous about antagonising the coos!  So I abandoned that and tiptoed my way back to the car saying “there there, nice cattle” in what I hoped was a soothing voice.

Having left from Skye and already been on North Uist, Benbecula and South Uist, we thought we might as well add another island to our itinerary, and crossed the causeway to Eriskay, bemused by the “Otters crossing” sign as we did.  The causeway only opened 20 years ago and was a much welcomed transport link.  We visited the well-stocked Eriskay shop, where I bought a colourful wall calendar for next year.  And had a drink in Am Politician, the pub named after the vessel which ran aground near here carrying a valuable cargo of whisky, inspiring the book and film “Whisky Galore”.

Our stopover this evening was the Borrodale Hotel, in a lovely room that had recently been refurbished and has a bath with Jacuzzi jets!  Their anti-Covid measures were being very well observed, with one way systems and social distancing.

Dinner was langoustines and seafood linguine, though I was disappointed to find crab sticks as part of the seafood.  Early to bed as we had a very early start next day to catch yet another ferry.

Day 5

The hotel had provided a takeaway breakfast for us as we were leaving so early – fruit juice, sandwiches, crisps, piece of fruit, yoghurt and a chocolate biscuit.  We arrived just before 6 am at Lough Boisdale terminal, which is small but efficient. This was a long ferry crossing, and I found a good spot on the top deck to take in the stunning views as we left Uist, and sailed between Skye and the “cocktail islands” of Eigg, Muck and Rum.  And Canna.

Saw dolphins!  Several pods of orca, with their black fins repeatedly breaking the surface.  A keen passenger with binoculars did exclaim “whale!” at one point, but I didn’t see it.

Disembarking was well organised, with staff ensuring that there was no congregating on the stairs.  We were quickly off into Mallaig (again) and back down the Road to the Isles.  We had hoped that our timings might allow us to photograph the Jacobite as our paths crossed, but it was stopped at Glenfinnan station as we passed.

The sun was shining on Ben Nevis and the surrounding scenery as we made our way to Oban and the Great Western Hotel.  There is some parking to the front, which is £6 per night and protected by lockable bollards.

We took an “aimless wander” along the seafront, and had a drink at the Oban Inn, watching the constant stream of maritime traffic across the bay.  Continuing on to South Pier I had scampi and chips while he had battered black pudding!

Back to the hotel we checked in and unpacked.  I walked up the steep hill to McCaig’s folly, where I posted a “where’s Linda” Facebook picture.  And lo, one of my old pals from Luxembourg said that she lives in Oban and we arranged to meet for coffee the next day.

We had dinner at Coast – I had veggie curry which was rather nice.

Day 6

I found a chatbox on my betting site to see why my winnings hadn’t been paid out…..only to discover I’d bet on the wrong flippin’ competition!  I headed out early for a run, and my headphones were not working, so I was full of self-recrimination and negative thoughts as I ran to Ganavan Sands, where the parkrun would be, if it were on.

Breakfast was a bit slow, having to wait to be served, and for tea/ coffee top ups. 

We had hoped to visit the “hollow mountain” dam at Cruachan, but their phone line said that they would remain closed throughout 2020 (sic).  (Rumour has it a major blockbuster movie is currently being filmed there).  Instead, we visited the rugged stronghold at Dunstaffnage Castle, home to my Campbell ancestors, and where Flora McDonald was held after BPC’s escape.  The castle is currently closed to visitors, but there’s a lovely old chapel in the grounds, and the information board mentioned other old stones at Ardchattan Priory, so we went there next.  But while the Priory is open to walk around its extensive gardens (£5), the stones are a good 1800m walk away.  Across a field.  Uphill.  With livestock.  So we didn’t.

In Connel we attempted finding the Falls of Lora but without success.  For future reference they are a weir under the bridge, so check the tide times for the best views of kayakers attempting it.

Back in Oban, we tried to book a table in famous fish restaurant Ee Usk, but nothing was available, so instead we booked at the Piazza next door, given that it had lovely views over the bay. We had a light lunch of mackerel pate and Haggis pot at the Oban Inn, though we had to wait for cutlery to be brought out.  After an ice cream we had a quick potter round the charity shops, where I found an aboyne blouse for my highland dancing.  Then I went to Roxy’s bakery on Argyll Square where I met up with Clare, and we chatted about old times over a tasty lemon and blueberry slice.  She’s a bit of a whisky expert so we took a quick look into the shop at the distillery in the centre of town, and she gave me some tips and suggestions for what I might like.

I changed into a holiday maxi dress for dinner, and we headed to la Piazza.  We shared a garlic flatbread to start, and then I had very tasty seabass on leeks and linguine.  But the noise levels inside this glass box were rising alarmingly, and I slipped out as soon as I had eaten.

Wandering back to the hotel, a piper on one of the boats docked at North Pier struck up a few tunes.  I should’ve called over and asked if he could play Flora McDonald, but it was probably a bit too slippy to dance on the slipway.

Day 7

For breakfast I had fruit salad and a croissant.  The weather was a bit misty, but we braved the tight and twisty road up to Pulpit Hill, where we enjoyed great views of the bay, even though we couldn’t see too much of the islands beyond.

We took the long way round the Argyll coast to our next destination, and even managed a detour to the Clachan Bridge onto Sheil Island, the “Bridge over the Atlantic”.  This is a scarily steep bridge, we were astonished that lorries and coaches made their way over it.  It is the only way onto and off the island – so don’t listen to the satnav telling you to carry on down the road to Easdale, you’ll just have to come back on yourself.

A brief stop off at Loch Melfort Hotel to enjoy the view, and then a stop at Lochgilphead for lunch.  There is an extensive programme of work upgrading the seafront, I look forward to returning when it is complete.  We dined in a little Italian chipper, where I had a mozzarella and mushroom toastie, before getting an ice cream while we wandered to the teeny stone bridge at the edge of town and carefully crossed the road to see the Crinan Canal.  Sadly no boats were passing needing to use the swing bridge.

Our journey continued along the sumptuous shores of Loch Fyne and through Inverary.  We had a break in the Loch Fyne Oyster complex, where I stocked up on a few essentials (Oban chocolates, haggis crisps, seaweed lip balm) in the little deli, before reaching the Tarbet Hotel.

This is a very old brownstone building which stands right on a major junction in north Loch Lomond.  Traffic heading further north to Oban and Fort William makes a right hand turn here, and it is amusing (and a little scary) to watch some vehicles miss the main turn off and then try to cut down the lane meant for traffic approaching from the other direction.  I’m amazed there aren’t more accidents here! The sun was shining, we had a table outside, and the views across to Ben Lomond over the sparkling water were beautiful.

I was a little concerned at their Covid practices.  Everywhere else we had been was strict table service:  here, you just grab a table that’s free, even if there are empty glasses and crockery on it (ie it has not been sanitised between uses), and then queue at the bar for your drink.  The staff try to remind people to socially distance and wear masks, but it’s not well observed.  The revolving door was in use (at the last hotel their revolving door was NOT to be used). 

The hotel is showing its age, the floors are a bit uneven and creaky, and whilst there is a lift, you still have to negotiate stairs to get to your room.  The bedroom itself was bright and airy, though with the road nearby it’s noisy.

We’d ordered a set dinner.  I had mushroom arancini, which were not bad, and he had filo wrapped prawns.  For mains, I had the only veggie option which was a curry.  It was OK, could’ve been spicier and a few more chickpeas wouldn’t go amiss.  R ordered lamb but without the mint gravy.  Of course, it came swimming in gravy. For dessert I had churros with a very nice chocolate sauce.

After dinner we walked to the loch shore.  It’s a very busy spot, full of motorhomes and picnickers.

Day 8

Worst. Breakfast. Ever

I’d gone for an early morning run, which instead turned into a hike through the Tarbet Isle woods, with some lovely views over the loch. Came back, showered, and we went down for our allotted time of 9 am, since we were not in a huge rush.  We had booked this location as it’s only about a 3 hour drive from here to the ferry home.

Tea and coffee came OK, as well as some rather nice toast.  I ordered porridge, R the cooked breakfast with no bacon, beans or tomato, but extra haggis and 2 poached eggs.  We waited.  And waited.  After 25 mins R went to chase up the missing food.  A large bowl of grey goo with an unwiped splodge on the edge of the plate was given to me.  R got a plate containing…..2 poached eggs and some haggis.  We complained again, and asked for extra toast.  I pushed around my rather unappetising porridge, which had neither honey nor compote that the menu had promised. R’s plate arrived back.  The eggs were hard, as was the tattie scone and lorne sausage.  We asked to speak to the manager, or the most senior person in charge.  He agreed it was unacceptable, and deducted the cost of breakfast from our bill.

I do get it, staff are hard to come by and need time to be trained.  But this was clearly not just an issue for ourselves, given some of the recent reviews on Trip Advisor.  I had a bet on the extra toast arriving, but no surprises given my gambling prowess that it did not.

Packing and checkout done, we took a route via Garelochhead which avoided the heavy traffic down Lomond’s side.  This is still the nuclear naval base, which provided for a different sort of view.  We stopped in Helensburgh for an ice cream at Dino’s, admiring the black sails of the boats racing on the water.

Back across the Erskine Bridge and the scenery is a lot more mundane.  Slow moving traffic and roadworks held us up a bit, and I didn’t get to do a five minute stop for shortbread-and-tablet-for-the-office.  Ach well, it’s for their own good!

Final ferry home was grand, I do love watching the H&W cranes loom large as we approach.  No dolphins though.

Haste Ye Back, say all the signs as you leave a wee village or toon.  Don’t worry, we will.

parkrun tourism: University of Stirling

parkrun #268 event #68 and final letter in UK alphabet!

Reason for visit: attending the annual autumn gathering of Scottish Country dance in Perth.

I’ve been to this annual dance get together for 7 years in a row.  Perth, while having a lovely parkrun of its own, right beside where the dancing happens, is also a handy base to explore further afield.  I’ve used it to reach Camperdown and Kirkcaldy, and this year I was delighted to discover that a new parkrun had started at the University of Stirling, and did indeed begin with that elusive letter U!

Access:

From Perth, I caught the 7.15 train to Bridge of Allan.

I followed the very helpful directions given on the parkrun page, inclduing crossing the road at the appropriate point.

Trains are not that frequent so make sure you check a timetable for times.

Facilities:

There seemed to be plenty of parking, and clean loos were located in the swimming centre, a reminder of Scotland’s prowess in this acivity (swimming, not going to the loo…..)

Crowd:

Plenty of students, of course, and being an elusive letter I saw several other cow cowls, and gave a “Dolly or Bev” shoutout to a With Me Now T shirt.  It’s dog friendly, and there were even a couple of prams. There were around 200 when I visited.

As I was doing my final km I found a barcode lying on the ground, and spent the rest of the run waving it at people and going Amanda? Amanda?  Until I did indeed find the right Amanda who was over the moon to be reunited with her special scrap of paper. Remember, no barcode, no time!

 

Course:

It’s absolutely stunning! In November, when I was there, the leaves were all red and gold, there was a morning mist on the lake, and the swans and ducks were enjoying the calm day.  2 and a bit laps of the lake, which is hillier than you think, and prone to flooding and puddles.

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Gear:

As it’s overlooked by the mighty Wallace Monument, I should really have worn my home Wallace apricot, but I was giving my 50 events T shirt an airing.

Gloves and cow bobble were important to keep the extremeties warm, and I left my bits and bobs at a tree by the finish funnel.

Time:

I’m still in recovery mode, so was jog walking to a 40 something time.

Afterwards:

I couldn’t find the cafe where they meet, but I called in instead to the lovely Meadow Park, where I treated myself to a veggie haggis bap and a celebratory glass of prosecco, complete with Scottish raspberry. 

All for a very reasonable £6.55, served by the friendliest of bar staff.

All My parkruns:

NI (and other) parkruns: summary list

 

 

parkrun tourism: Kirkcaldy

parkrun #226 event #56 Letter K

I go to Perth every year for the Scottish dancing society AGM. The Perth parkrun is lovely, by the banks of the Tay, and I’ve done it a couple of times now. It very handily takes place right beside the Bells Sports Arena, where the dancing happens. But I like to take the opportunity to visit other parkruns when I’m away for the weekend, and I’d managed to do Camperdown in Dundee 2 years ago. When looking at the possibilities this year I whooped with delight when I found that Kirkcaldy was in reaching distance, and would give me a letter K missing from my alphabeteer collection.

Access:
I was staying in close proximity to Perth train station, and bought a return ticket for £19. The journey took around 40 minutes. The walk to Beveridge Park was about 10 – 15 minutes. If I had run at super duper speed I might have made the 10.15 train back, but I didn’t, and had to wait for the 11ish one.  At which point I couldn’t find the return portion of my ticket, and had to buy another single at £14!

Crowd:
There were almost 250 runners when I was there, including a couch-to-5k graduation group. I was amused by some of the names of local running clubs such as Scrambled Legs, and the Kirkcaldy Wizards. There’s a Wizard’s Walk in the park which prompted that one.

The volunteers were very friendly and encouraging, and I particularly liked the Tail Wagger.

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Facilities:
I passed loos on the way to the start – there was a notice on the door saying a charge of 30p, but I was able to open the door without having to part with any cash.

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Not sure about car parking, and coffee afterwards is in the Morrisons. I wandered through the rather empty Postings shopping centre, and found a cafe for a bacon butty and cuppa. There’s a nice museum beside the station should you find yourself with some time to kill.

Gear:
For the first time in my life I ALMOST forgot my barcode! I was halfway from the hotel to the station when I remembered, and had to weigh up whether to sprint back and get it, appeal to the mercy of the RD, or find an internet cafe and print off a paper copy. Sprint it was, I wasn’t taking any chances on missing a K!

My Garmin watch gave up at 30 minutes, I was using plug-in headphones rather than bone-conducting ones, and I wore my increasingly out of date 50 shirt. It was a chilly morning so I also had a long sleeved base layer, gloves, and my cow beanie.

Course:

The course is 2 laps, all on tarmac.  There’s an added loop around the duckpond on the second lap, and a rather testing hill.

Start and finish are not in the same place, so there’s a bag system for leaving tops/ keys/ cow beanies which is transported to the finish line.  I was there just after Hallowe’en, and the colours of the trees were magnificent.

Strangely Appropriate Song on Shuffle:

I was taking a different approach this time, and listening to the marathon 2 hour long episode of With Me Now.  I’ve always found this annoying as a listen when I’m JUST sitting and listening, but I’ve now discovered that it makes the perfect soundtrack to a train ride, stroll, and parkrun.  And I did shed a wee tear at the end when PSH was chatting to Danny.

Time:

A ridiculously slow 37 minutes, due to stopping and photographing.  But who cares – letter K!

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All My parkruns:

NI (and other) parkruns: summary list

parkrun tourism: Victoria, Glasgow

parkrun # 204 event # 47

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Victoria, eh?  Well, having done Belfast Victoria (which is a B for all you alphabteers), and noting that the latest London event is Victoria Dock, and hoping to see my son working on the cruise ship Queen Victoria, I have devised a little Victoria Lap of my own.

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Talking of alphabeteering, I still need a G, and was hoping that a trip to Glasgow would net me one.  But No!  Sort it out, Glaswegians.

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Access:

I was staying at the Argyll Hotel on Sauciehall Street, in leafy and beautiful Kelvingrove.  There for a dance weekend, Victoria was the nearest parkrun, just under 3 miles away.  I’d got to the city using the Hannon Coach service.  £29 each way, very relaxed and friendly service, you can take as big a suitcase as you like, no worries about potions and lotions or security queues.  I blagged a free upgrade to the Stena Plus lounge, and so my outward leg was very pleasant and well fuelled.  There’s wifi on board, and to be honest, the opportunity to just sit in one place and do very little for a few hours was divine. 6 hours, city centre to city centre, which is I reckon about 2 hours more than flying, but waaaay less stressful.

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Anyhoo.  To the parkrun!  The Argyll has a nifty taxi-call button in their reception, and I was kept informed of all the details about my taxi, which took about 15-20 mins to get to the famous Golden Jubilee gates. Many people seemed to arrive on foot or by bike.  Car parking is just on the local streets.

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Crowd:

On the day I visited, they were having a memorial run for Brian, on what would have been his 42nd birthday.  There were quite a few youngsters taking part, but I’m not sure how frequent that is.  Average attendance is 250ish, there were 350 this time.  The marshalls were really friendly and encouraging.

Course:

It’s a 3 lapper on what at first sight seems a flat tarmac route round the obligatory duck pond.

IMG_2995This of course means that’s there is a sneaky hill hidden behind that clump of trees over there. And you have to do it 3 times.  But it’s a wide flat path, and speedy runners will find they can get a good time here. Start and finish are in the same general area.  I adored the swans, the daffodils, and the lovely trees.  A really pretty park, no wonder it’s a popular spot for locals.

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Facilities:

I had trouble finding any loos, and those that should have been open at 9 weren’t.   The bag drop is at the tennis court fence.

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Gear:

I always travel in my second best trainers, and they were suitable footwear for this course. My Garmin performed as expected, and I wore my tartan leggings, as I was in Bonnie Scotland.  No other cow cowls spotted.

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Strangely Appropriate Song on Shuffle:

No headphones in, but my internal juke box was playing through the Scottish dances that I have to call at ball in a few weeks time.

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Time:

It was a glorious warm morning with blue skies and welcome sunshine, but I found I was having difficulty finding a good rhythym for my breathing.  Plus I was in town for a dance thing and didn’t want to risk any injury or aching calves.  So it was a slow but safe 34 minutes (that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it…)

And the rest:

The dancing part of the weekend was an absolute joy.  It was my first time attending a Spring Fling/ Fringe event,

and having so many young people around made for a lively and exuberant atmosphere.

IMG_3008 (1)  I bumped into old friends from past Summer and Winter Schools, including one who’d stooged for me in my Unit 3 exam! And I even had a  spare hour or so to mooch around the delightful Kelvingrove Museum, and enjoy the organ recital.

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All My parkruns:

Summary list of all events run

 

parkrun tourism: Edinburgh

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I’d harboured a bit of a question mark over whether I’d be able to make this one.  All my nearby easily accesible events have now been done, so any additional ones require a bit of effort and sacrifice.  I knew I could squeeze Edinburgh into my week at  St Andrews summer school, but it would mean missing one class. I’d applied for some financial assistance to attend the course, and would have felt morally wrong in doing this  had that been forthcoming.  As it was, it was with a clear consience that I boarded the X60 bus which took a lovely leisurely journey along the Fife coastal route to the capital.

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Access:

Aside from the scenic bus route, the Edinburgh course is sited at Cramond promenade.  Car park spaces are few, thought there is plenty of additional space at the Silverknowes approach.  Many people chose to arrive by bike, and it’s also a short stroll from the no.41 bus route.

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Judging from the lowness of the planes passing overhead, it would be a short taxi ride from the airport, should you find a suitably early flight. Don’t forget, it’s a 9.30 start in Scotland!

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I was staying in a lovely Air BnB a short distance away, and my 10 minute stroll to the start line went along the Almond river, where I heard a woodpecker, and saw this little chap chewing some nuts and spitting the shells into the water below.

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Bobbing among the boats was a craft called “Sea Dancer”, and as this run was putting the E into my spelling out DANCER in parkruns, I smiled at the congruence.

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Course:

This is a dead flat route, out and back with a loop at one end, named in honour of a departed and much missed local runner.

IMG_1991 The views are just magnificent, and I was stopping to take photos as I went.   As a bridge afficianado, it was inspiring to see the tips of the now 3 Forth bridges to Fife, the latest Queesnferry crossing being a stunning creation.

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The course is fast, and as I hit the 2km marker, the top runners were passing me on their return leg. The male course record is 14.31, the female 16.35.

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Facilities:

There are some clean toilets near the start line, and a choice of nearby cafes for coffee afterwards.

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Gear:

I was wearing my cow cowl, and met up with some fellow tourists, celebrating birthdays and anniversaries.  IMG_1972

My earphones died just at the start, so I ran with my phone in my hand, ready to take pictures along the way.

This allowed me to hear all the great support from marshalls and others.

People:

It’s not Scotland’s oldest parkrun,  but it is by far its biggest attended.  There were nearly 600 running the day I was there, but their record is 731.  The numbers increase during Edinburgh Festival season…

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The first timers brief was one of the most energetic I’ve ever experienced – the guy delivering it and I worked out we’d met before when he’d been in a group of Scottish runners doing all the Norn Irn parkruns in a weekend, and I’d been at Wallace dishing out haribos.

He threw away anyone’s water bottles, named and shamed those with no barcode, and asked questions at the end of the brief!

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I was most impressed by the support outside the cafe, calling out cheery encouragement to many runners by name, and reminding us that we were “living the dream! Scotland’s Bondi beach!”

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There were a couple of 250 shirt wearers.

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And as I’m spelling my way through the word DANCER, I’m trying to get someone with the correct inital to affix the letter to my tracker.  I asked around at the first timers brief, and found a willing Emily (who only went on to be 2nd lady!)

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Strangely Approrpirate Song On Shuffle:

Music I had none, so I just had to listen to my breathing.  Which I reckoned was in jig time, (as opposed to jog time) and the tune going through my head was Brian the Laundry Boy, by Maureen Rutherford, which Adam Brady had played most beautifully during the demonstration team performance earlier in the week.  The tune starts at 2:57.

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Time:

33.31

Well, I had no Minnie, no music, kept stopping to take photos, and hadn’t run all week.  Yes, I’d been dancing morning, noon, nad night, but that’s different muscles and different breathing. And anyway, as I’m fond of saying, don’t knock yourself out on a first visit – leave yourself room to grab a PB on a return visit.  Of which I truly hope there will be, some day.

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All my parkruns

 

 

parkrun tourism: Elusive Letter I at Inverness

Not that I take this parkrun tourism malarkay seriously or anything, you understand, but there’s an alphabet to be completed and I’m on a mission to conquer it!

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There’s no X at time of writing, and the nearest Z is in Poland.  Someone on the UK parkrun tourists Facebook page shared a link to a tracker, monitoring progress towards various targets, which includes an alphabet table, minus the X and Z.  I modified the tracker slightly by adding an admittedly amateurish outline of Ireland, and a COWELL countdown which will take me to 50 different events.  Oh and I colour coded it (well of course I did….)

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So.  Inverness.  I managed to be doing this one by dint of having a meeting in Edinburgh on the Monday, and travelling to Bonnie Scotland a few days early.  I’d never been in Inverness before, and I like nothing more than a new city to explore at my own pace.  I found Inverness to be utterly charming – the River Ness is big and fast flowing, and the various bridges crossing it each have their own, often wobbly, personalities.

IMG_1714It’s a small enough town to get your bearings quite quickly, and is heaving with kilt, shortbread and whisky purveyors. I was staying in an Air BnB close to the parkrun site, but even that was only a 20 minute walk from the city centre, along a glorious riverside and island hopping path.

Access:

I flew into Inverness airport, and a fairly regular bus service takes you to the city entre for £4.20 in 20 minutes.  The parkrun used to be in Bught Park, but its alternative (and probably permanent new) home is a few minutes away in Whin Park.  Easily reachable by car, and the number 2 bus passes close by as well. If you’re a tourist, the Hop On Hop Off Bus stops nearby too!

Facilities:

There’s a reasonably sized car park, and some decent loos, intriguingly financed by the delightful sounding Common Good Fund.

IMG_1712Coffee and post-run analysis talkes place in Cobbs cafe in the botanical park a few minutes away.

IMG_1739This is a really sweet cafe, but they do ask that runners remove their muddy shoes before entering.

IMG_1734  They do bacon and egg rolls, scones and snandwiches, but I was overawed by the selection of traybakes, opting eventually for a pistachio and cranberry slice.

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Course:

The Whin Park course starts at the playpark, and uses the duck pond as a gravitational focal point.

One lap of it, and then onto 3 larger laps, passing the plastic hippos 3 times.

IMG_1726It’s by the river, so it’s a fairly flat course, but can get a bit mucky.

Most of the pathway is gravel or trail or grass (or puddle) , so trail shoes are a good idea. Start and finish are in the same area, so you can find a tree or picnic table or bit of helter-skelter to leave your coat and keys at.

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Crowd:

Average attendance is a nice manageable 150 – there can be a bit of overtaking round the duckpond, but there’s no big bottleneck problems. I found the regulars really welcoming and chatty, and was quickly laughing and comparing stories with a few of them.  Billy was lovely – a pretty speedy guy, he shared the profound thought that some runners find it hard to just run, and not compete.

IMG_1732 I’ve never had this problem, I must admit, but we both agreed that the success of parkrun was dependent on it being a run, not a race.

Strangely Appropriate Song On Shuffle:

The parkrun weather fairy was having a bit of a lie-in, I think, and it was decidedly dreich as we set off, although the rain did stop after a while.  But yeah, the Dave Mathews band intoning

“These fickle fuddled words confuse me
Like will it rain today”

brought a wry smile to my face.  And then a softer heart-tugging moment when “Calum’s Road” came on, geographically apt, and I’d also been dancing to it the night before thanks to Nicol McLaren’s Band at the Dingwall Rally in Culbokie.

Gear:

Oh, my Garmin really is starting to worry me! You think you’ve located satellites, and then when lined up at the start it loses contact! My 150 shirt and tartan leggings were commented on,and I was using my arm pouch instead of my waist belt for my phone.

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Time:

Nope, my times are not getting any better at all, and I sauntered in around 34 minutes.  This is close to my first ever parkrun time, which makes me wonder if I’m getting any better at running at all.  But I try not to focus on those negative views.  I’m running every week.  And meeting new people.

 

IMG_1730And setting myself targets that I can acheive, and get excited about.

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And The Rest:

I adored Inverness, and I hope to revisit again soon.  There were lots of lovely eating places to chose from, many with menus offering 2 courses for £9.95, or even 3 courses for a tenner!

The scenery was stunning, and I took a trip on LochNess and to Urquart Castle.  And I even managed an evening’s Scottish Country Dancing with some more hospitable and charming locals. We danced till midnight, and when we left the hall it was still light outside…

All My parkruns

 

 

 

 

Winter School 2017

I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to go to summer school this year, and so instead I booked myself for the first time into Winter School.

One of the downsides of summer school for me is the rather spartan conditions in University Hall, so would a fabulous hotel, promising a wee dram by an open fire, in a spectaular setting and with a ball in a real castle, live up to expectations?

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This event has been going for 17 years, mostly in Pitlochry, a very picturesque spot in the Highlands.  When people asked me where I was going, I said “stick a pin in the middle of Scotland, you’ll be close”.

Thursday dawned, heralded by chaos in the form of Storm Doris.  There were widespread reports of heavy snowfalls, trees down and power outages.  Oh well, I reasoned, I had all day to get to Pitlochry.  Anticipating some delays along the way, I set off for Lisburn train station (Lift from husband – cost, one kiss).  I bought my single to Sydenham, (cost £4.70) the stop for the airport, and a cup of tea from the stand (it’s gone up to £1.50 since my last time here, I notice).  I spotted my friend Deborah in the waiting room, and she raised one eye at my laden suitcase, and said “I hope you’re not flying anywhere today!”

The train reached Central Station and stopped, rather than continuing on the Bangor line.  Alighting and enquiring, I was told that a tree had fallen on the line, and the next service was probably in an hour.  I decided to cut my losses and get a taxi (cost £8).  But as we pulled onto the Sydenham bypass, traffic was really slow, and a quick consult on Twitter informed me that there was a tree down here as well!  It was just at the footbridge at the top end of Victoria Park, and to give credit, it was removed swiftly and we made the airport in good time.  My luggage weighed 17 kg, and there were no queues at security, though my dodgy trainers did have to go through the scanner twice.

Once airside, I studied the departures board.  Many flights were delayed, diverted or cancelled, but mine remained steadfastly and optimistically “scheduled”.  I decided to settle down with a Bloody Mary, only the bar had no tomato juice!  The horror!

Incredibly, our flight was called for boarding on time, and we pushed back right on schedule.  The flight is very short, and with a following wind took 20 minutes.  The woman beside me in a lovely leopard print coat was interested in my tales of Scottish dancing, and I gave her a leaflet.

After a safe landing, my bag appeared on the carousel very quickly, and as I left the terminal building there was a shuttle bus ready for boarding, including a helpful member of staff who put my case in the rack for me.  A return is £10.

At Glasgow Queen St, I found that the direct train service to Pitlochry wasn’t for another couple of hours.  So I had just about decided to try to find somewhere nearby for a relaxed lunch, but went to double-check the timetables in the travel centre.  The staff assured me there were no storm related delays, and I found that there was indeed a service I could take which only involved a short changeover at Perth.  Return ticket, £30.

The journey to Perth was very comfortable, and there were seats aplenty.  The transfer to another platform was a bit tricky, involving quite a lot of changing levels, and then standing on a rather windswept platform for 20 minutes.  I was glad I had my furry earmuffs and a pair of gloves.  This train was much busier, but I managed to find a little single seat in a corner.  I recognised a few familiar faces among the passengers, and quite a posse of us alighted in the charming little station at Pitlochry.

It was a bit of a struggle manhandling our suitcases over the footbridge – I’m not sure how passengers with mobility problems would cope.  But someone kindly offered me a ride in their taxi, and before long we were sweeping up the imposing drive and checking in at the Atholl Palace Hotel.

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The hotel began life offering hydrotherapy treatments, and has gone through several owners and refurbishments since then.  It still retains a spa, inspired by the lavender beds in the gardens.   My room took a while to locate, and was up a hidden staircase, again with no lift.  The room itself was large and bright, although cold, and with a rather worrying large step into the bathroom.  I unpacked, and hung my clothes in the wardrobe, which was well stocked with hangers, before making my way into town briefly to find a cash machine, admiring the Japanese garden en route.

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I’d originally signed up to go on the theatre tour, and needed cash to pay for that, but as I was looking round all the lovely things to do and see in town, I was happy to allocate my place to someone else when I got back to the registration desk.

A drinks reception took place in the Bow Lounge, which was another chance to get caught up with old friends.  We were assigned tables for dinner that night, and though I didn’t know anyone at my table, we were soon chatting away.  I discovered that one lady was even more of an eclipse chaser than I am, and had visited far flung regions of the world to see the phenomenon. There was dancing down in the Atholl Suite, which is a large circular room, but it’s mostly carpeted with a small wooden floor in the middle.

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This makes dancing on it rather difficult.  A soirée was held in the lounge with some singing and dancing.

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My Friday morning class was back in the same room, with Mary Marshall teaching, and Adam Brady on piano.  Mary reminded me of the character Gretchen Betjamin in The High Life, and she put us through our paces for The Cocked Hat, and finished with a big circle dance, the Dunedin Quadrille (cross right foot over left, and limp to the left for 8 steps….).  There was a TV crew present for some of the morning, so we made sure our steps were neat and our smiles bright.

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I wanted to see a bit of the town, so I headed in for a bit of retail therapy.  The weather was cold, verging on icy, with bitter winds and rain.  So I felt I should have more sturdy footwear, and hunted the charity shops until I found a pair of grey brogues from Hotter.  I tried on a few items of clothing, and was sorely tempted by a lavender tweed jacket reduced from £250 to £99.  I had lunch at Cafe Scozia, where I was the only customer.  I ordered fish and chips, and was served a huge portion, complete with a red onion laden side salad (bleurgh), and garnished with curly parsley, which made me smile.  I felt I maybe should have ordered something more Italian, and saved my fish supper treat for a proper chippie.

Anyway, the waiter was very friendly and chatty, and he recommended that I go and see the new     Pitlochry Dam   Visitors centre, which was a short walk around the corner.

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I loved learning about the construction of the dam, and the explanation of hydro-electric power generation.  And why fish need a ladder.  The views across the water were just beautiful, and I continued my stroll down to the Festival Theatre.  I called in to look around, and found a cream scarf and a turquoise ring in the half price basket.

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Back at the hotel, I was just in time to catch Janet Washington with her beautiful collection of clothing, and I found a blue peachskin skirt with tartan hem down to £40.  For dinner I had a haggis starter, followed by sea bass and a frangipane tart.  Dancing was again in the Atholl Suite, with music provided by Angela Young and Peter Shand on two pianos. The dances were mostly easy enough, but I was struggling to find a willing partner at times, and sat out the Jubilee Jig.  I nipped back to my bedroom to put my feet up and watch The Last Leg, before heading down to the soiree, where I enjoyed a local Eradour whiskey and listened to Angela and Peter who were taking requests and playing songs from the shows.

Saturday morning means parkrun! Sadly there was no such thing nearby, but I decided I would go out running anyway, and see the local Black Spout waterfall.  I met a fellow runner on my way, who turned out to be Alastair Smyth, whose wife had been one of my examiners last year.  He showed me the best way to the waterfall, and revealed that he runs every single day.

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The scenery was breathtakingly beautiful and the waterfall itself absolutely magnificent.  I was really struck by the amount of birdsong I could hear, and the carpets of snowdrops under the trees.

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I had definitely earned my breakfast, and tucked into a bowl of porridge supplied by the school’s sponsors, Hamlyns.  Glad of my Hotter shoes, I hot-footed it (geddit?) to this morning’s class, accompanied en route by the couple from Guernsey (hey, isn’t there a parkrun there? I spy a trip coming on).  There was much surface water on the roads, and I ended up being splashed head to toe, sitcom style, by a passing van.  Class was in the leisure Centre with Mervyn, accompanied by Angela.  This was a nice big space, but the floor was rock hard, there was no drinking water, and the toilet was smallest one I have ever been in.  I went back down to the main street for tea and carrot cake, only later discovering that there was tea and biscuits provided up in the Town Hall.  You’d think someone might have mentioned this!

Mervyn was featuring older dances, and I found the Long Chase particularly challenging – it was certainly long.  We also did the Chapman, and the Bramble Bush, and revised polite turns, and changing feet between pas de basque and slip step, which required great concentration.  Angela’s accompanying tunes were from the same era, and I loved the Pachabel’s Canon used for the cool down.

Ooooh, that   Janet Washington!  She entices you in to her shop like a gingerbread house, then plies you with wine, crisps, chocolates and cheesey oatcakes!  I managed to escape having purchased a black T shirt with tartan trim, a blue tartan flower, and magenta silk top to go with the skirt I bought from her   a few years ago.  Oh and a sash in County Fermanagh tartan, having taught her the correct pronunciation.

Staying in town for lunch, I went to the Cafe Biba, a charming little stone single storey building, which to my delight had a selection of mini dishes available for lunch.  I had the Spaghetti Bolognese, which came with a slice of garlic bread and generous helping of cheese.  And a garnish of curly parsley.

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I managed to scrape into the RSCDS shop before they closed, and found a CD with Blue Bonnets on, which I’m planning to teach soon.  And also made it to the final tour of the day of the   Blair Athol distillery, which is right on the doorstep of the hotel.  The name means “Burn of the otter”, but I have yet to discover why there’s only one L when all the other Atholls have two.  The distillery is owned by Bells, and most of the whiskey produced goes to be blended, so I took the opportunity to buy a bottle.

And to join a Friends of the Classic Malts group, where you get a special stamp on a passport at each distillery you visit, earning a special quaich at the end.

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Over dinner of garlic mushrooms, vegetable curry, and cheeseboard, I got chatting to someone who said that what they were looking for from Scottish Dancing was perfection.  I almost did a double take and asked, are you sure you’re in the right place?  I’ve greatly enjoyed watching extracts on You Tube from the display teams at the recent Newcastle festival, and that’s probably as close to perfection as one can get in dance – if one ever reaches it. (What does perfection look like?)  It’s certainly not top of my list of what I want to achieve either teaching or dancing in a class.  I like to get it right, certainly, but the joy of dance goes much further than that, and isn’t dependent on it.   Fun fitness and friendship sums it up better.

By this stage we’d already agreed to dance a strathspey together that evening, and I’m pretty sure my tournee fell short of perfection. Sorry!

During the soiree I felt rather left out.  Winter School has a reputation for being cliquey, and I could see why it had such a name.  I did manage a dance, though my feet were aching and in my Sketchers my footwork wasn’t great.

After breakfast on Sunday, I walked to the town hall, which is quite a trek.  Someone later mentioned a short cut, but in my experience a short cut is “the muddiest distance between two points”.  This at least had a decent wooden floor for dancing, though the pillars in the hall formed local hazards.  Raphaelle was teaching, with Peter on piano, who told us that Scott Skinner (the Strathspey King!) used to see different keys in different colours.  We were put through our paces, and challenged with a dance in 3 bar phrases, which had everyone counting furiously under their breath.  I wasn’t always totally clear about what we were doing.  This is an advanced class, which is a joy to be in, but I could have done with a bit more instruction on eg change of feet.

I had lunch in the  Fern Cottage, and again I was the only customer.  I had the soup and toastie option, which came with the obligatory curly parsley garnish. The leek and potato soup was really good, but note to self – don’t have tomato in a toasty. It makes the bread soggy, gets far too hot, and I hate the feel of cooked tomato skin in my teeth.

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The afternoon began with an entertaining session led by Angela on identifying different music and musicians and the era they came from.  We started by getting into groups and having to identify a selection of tunes, what book they came from, and who was playing.  Again, I was feeling sidelined, as the others in my group didn’t seem to be listening to what I said, and certainly weren’t writing it down. I was however totally entranced by the music of Tom Orr ,  and will definitely be looking out some of his CDs for my collection.

After that we had a gin tasting session led by Eden Mill gin distillers of St Andrews.  I’d bought their “12 gins of Christmas” for my parents, and so I was looking forward to the tasting. The fondness of gin among Scottish dancers is evidenced by the fact that the Co-op, the only supermarket in town, had sold out of tonic.  We tried 5 different gins in total, each with its own garnish and mixer.  I most enjoyed the Oak gin, which was almost on its way to becoming a whiskey, and which I could drink over ice, neat.

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So taken was I with the gin that I completely forgot I’d booked a spa session!  But I managed to re-schedule it for the next day.

Sunday evening was the celilidh.  I was planning to read a poem that my best friend had sent me for my birthday last year.  I’d attempted to find where it came from, and had asked several people who might have recognised it for a summer school in the past. It was well received, and Maureen Haynes was able to tell us who had written it.  Though she confided in me later that she was a bit puzzled as to how I’d got it, as she thought she had the only copy in existence.

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After a bit of a Google, I was able to find it in an archive of poems by Pat Batt which had been published in the London RSCDS branch newsletter, the Reel.  And what a useful archive that will be, I’ll never be short of a poem to recite at a ceilidh ever again!  My party skirt was admired – I always say it’s got a bit of everything in it, from tartan, to Celtic swirls, to little Dutch girl hearts.  And glitter.

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On Monday we were back on the carpet of the Atholl Suite, with Johann teaching us, and Luke accompanying.  I liked some of the work we did on posture and balance, but I felt there could have been more rotation of couples.  In a particular 3 couple formation we spent quite a bit of time on, there was a set of four, so two poor sods had spent quite some time standing doing nothing.  For Unit 4 I’ve been working on my observation skills, and seeing if there are things I could learn and copy, or avoid.

I knew we were having an early dinner, so I didn’t bother with lunch.  I had my spa treatment, and went to the   Thistle Shoesshop, where I treated myself to a gorgeous pair of bronze shoes, with insoles.

I tried them out during the walkthrough of the ball dances in the afternoon, which was a useful reminder of Alltshellach and its scary tournee.

I did some first stage packing, and changed into my grey ball gown ready for dinner at 5.  We piled into 3 busloads ready for the journey to     Blair Castle.  I was intrigued to learn that previous owners had included the designers of the Forth Rail Bridge, and the Jubilee tube line.

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The hall was very imposing, and everyone was busy taking photographs of themselves next to the portraits or the fireplaces.  People had warned me that space on the floor might be at a premium, especially with 160 people on the course, so I was prepared for tightly spaced sets. The “big bad tournee”, as Raphaelle described it,  was hard to do with enough swish and swoop, likewise the diamond poussette when everyone is dancing.  I again struggled to find a partner for some dances: I’m not sure if I’m doing something wrong, standing in the wrong place, or people just don’t want to dance with me!  However, I only sat out one dance, the Eightsome Reel, which is a bit boisterous for a ball, but everyone seemed to be enjoying it.

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No tea or coffee, just water and juice available, which I think speeded proceedings up.   The band were terrific, and really gave the evening an extra-special zing.  At the final dance, the Reel of the 51st, my feet were complaining, and I was tempted to sit it out.  But Adam Brady asked me to dance, and as the devisor of tonight’s programme, and someone whose neat footwork I have often admired, I couldn’t refuse. The 160 hands round and back at the end were a rather special sight.

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On the bus back I was starting to nod off, and when I went to my room to take off my ball gown and rub down my feet, I decided that I had had quite enough for one day, and went straight to bed.

Tuesday was threatened by Storm Ewan, but I managed a final run up to the waterfall, which included hearing a woodpecker for the first time.  After breakfast, I completed my final packing and began much goodbying.  The train to Glasgow was on time –  I noticed that although there were lots of empty seats, passengers needed a bit of prompting to move their bags or scoot over. Smooth transit to the airport, and I was relieved that my case, with its extra bottles of whiskey and gin, weighed in at 19.5kg.  I had packed the grey Hotters near the top,  ready to ditch them if required.

No security issues, and I opted for lunch at the Caledonia, with its lovely views over the runway to the snow-topped mountains beyond.  I saw a few V-shaped skeins of geese (I presume?), wasn’t sure if they would be migrating at this time of year, or if they were just on their regular commute.  I only later discovered that there’s an airport lounge;  I like to try these out, so I don’t know what its price was or what facilities or views they had.  Maybe it needs more advertising earlier in the passenger’s footway.

The plane was on time –  I was sitting in the wrong seat, but the gentleman whose seat I took didn’t mind, and my baggage made it successfully with only minor losses ( my yellow beads had come unstrung and my silver scarf ring was a little bent out of shape.  But the booze survived!)

A helpful gent carried my case over the footbridge at Sydenham, where I had a bit of a wait in the wind and cold for the rain, and was met at the station by my husband.

Would I go again?  I’m not sure. Here’s why:

  • It’s very expensive – in previous years the 120 places have sold out straight away, so this year they upped that to 160, which also sold out in 24 hours.  So next year the price will rise.  I feel this can only deter more young people from attending.
  • The floors are not great for dancing on, and even me, with my sturdy runner’s calves, was finding it tough going.
  • The ball in the castle is lovely, but crowded.
  • Its reputation as cliquey and elitist is probably not undeserved.  I could have done with a “first timers” briefing, and maybe  each class could have had an appointed “care bear” to make sure newbies knew how to get to their class, where coffee was, to make sure they had a partner during the dances, and to perhaps even invite them to a party.  I was aware that there were parties happening, but I received no invites.
  • It attracts those who have grown frustrated with Summer School, especially the lack of proper differentiation between the classes.  To be fair, I’ve only ever heard this from people in the Very Advanced class (or technically advanced high impact or whatever it calls itself).  The names of the classes are confusing to beginners, and when people are making their self-assessment of abilities, I find that they fall into two camps.  There are those who think “Oh I hope my standard is high enough for this class”, and those who think “Oh I hope everyone else in the class is up to my standard”.  Realistically, every class is going to be a mixed ability class to some degree, taking age and injury into account, and there’s always something new to learn.
  •  Besides, there’s any amount of dance weekends in all sorts of places from Skye to Cyprus, from Budapest to Lyon, and I think I would like to try to visit some of those.

parkrun tourism: Camperdown, Dundee

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I’ve attended the RSCDS AGM for a few years now:  the first year I was there, I was missing Perth’s inaugural parkrun by one week.  I found time to run it on my second visit (despite threatening floods from the River Tay), and managed a PB the following year, with the help of a pacer.

But since acquiring my “cow cowl” (an unofficial emblem of those serial tourists who’ve done at least 20 different events) I’ve been aware of the need to take any opportunity to run at new locations.  Yes, yes I was the first female to run all of Norn Irn’s parkruns, but that’s a fairly limited field. Even by adding in the odd parkrun south of the border, I was going to have to make more of an effort if I want to attain my “half cowell” (50 different parkruns.   The Cowell Club is an unofficial parkrun club for tourists who have run at 100 or more different events. Named after Chris and Linda Cowell, the first male and female parkrunners to do it.)  This would be my 33rd, worldwide.

Handily enough, I was staying at the Station Hotel, so popping on a train to the next nearest event was made simple.  And the nearest one was Camperdown, in Dundee.  So that’s where I planned to go.

Did I say simple?  Having checked the train times and arrived in good time for my 8.15 journey, I was a little concerned to find a bus parked outside the station, which did indeed turn out to be the substitute method of travel that morning.  Nervously, I asked the ticket clerk what time it arrived in Dundee – he didn’t know, but reckoned he could drive it in 20 minutes.  So I was reasonably confident of making it in time, as we set off on a crisp clear blue-sky day, passing trees resplendent in their autumn colours, and with splendid views of the famous Tay bridges as we approached Dundee.

Access:

There were taxis waiting at the station, and I chatted to the driver about the purpose of my visit on the journey to Camperdown Country Park, which is a few miles out of the city centre. He opined that collecting new parkruns was a bit like bagging Munros, the mountains over a certain height in Scotland, an interesting comparison! The taxi was £8. I caught a bus back to the centre afterwards – there is a bus stop near the entrance to the park, and a single costs £2, which includes a scenic tour of the local housing estates and Asda.

We had a bit of a guess as to where to drop me off, and I began the anxious scout for high viz vests, milestone T-shirts and “caution runners” signs, and it wan’t too long before the familiar type crowd made their appearance. There’s plenty of parking, and it’s free.

Course:

At the pre-run brief the RD described the course as “undulating”, explaining that this means there are two ruddy great hills.

The course is one lap, skirting the edges of the park, in a sort of bow-tie shape.  It takes in many of the parkun bingo features, including a stately pile, duckpond, and rickety bridge.

Gear:

The weather was what is described in these parts as “braw”.  I was glad of my new leggings – cow print to match the cowl.  But I only had my 100 shirt, short sleeved, and therefore arm-freezy.

Thankfully the start and finish are at the same points, so I was able to keep my windproof Craghoppers jacket on as long as possible, before stashing it under a picnic table.

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Crowd:

There were 152 runners the morning I was there.  They had some pacers, including a few at more than 30 minutes, and they had “expected time” plates at the start line.  The Run Director gave a cheery brief to the first timers.  There didn’t seem to be much hanging around afterwards, though I did find a few friendly souls in the cafe after I had done my photograph-grabbing lap,  which was also where the results were being processed, most efficiently.

Facilities:

Not too much near the start, but there are toilets beside Camperdown House, and also at the cafe. Which does a great bacon buttie!

Strangely Appropriate Song On Shuffle:

Beyonce crooning “Who runs the world – girls”

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Time:

I found the course extremely tough, plus I hadn’t been sleeping well the previous few nights, so a slow 34 minutes it was. The parkrun UK Facebook page had the theme of “entrance boards” for their photo montage this week, so I found a few signs to selfie in front of.

All my parkruns