Into the North: A Trip to Stonehaven

"Friends Fare" train ticket to Stonehaven

“Friends Fare” train ticket to Stonehaven

Friends are wonderful things. Though I had my initial difficulties connecting with people in Edinburgh, I did make some beautiful, fun, and interesting friends who will stick with me for the rest of my life.

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One friend hails from Stonehaven – a wee place north of Edinburgh, close to Aberdeen.

Stonehaven harbour

Stonehaven harbour

Stonehaven - home of the deep fried Mars bar!

Stonehaven – home of the deep fried Mars bar!

For one glorious weekend, she invited three of us to her home. The best part (other than 24/7 girl time) was having access to a car.

To anyone who has experienced the feeling of freedom you have with a car – especially in the vast countryside – after the confinement of a city and the limitations of public transportation, is it not one of the best feelings in the world?

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We just drove.

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 Along the way, my Stonehaven friend made sure we saw the important local places, like Dundee and Aberdeen.

Dundee beach

Broughty Ferry, Dundee

Broughty Castle

Broughty Castle

Aberdeen

Aberdeen

Hobbiton in Aberdeen?!?

Hobbiton in Aberdeen?!?

Aberdeen University Campus, in the old part of town

Aberdeen University Campus, in the old part of town

A cool old building - part of which has been cleaned. I didn't know they did that!

A cool old building – part of which has been cleaned. I didn’t know they did that!

The absolute highlight, however, was Dunnottar Castle right near Stonehaven.

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 Dunnottar Castle’s dramatic clifftop location, sea views and extraordinary level of preservation are astounding. A seriously special spot!

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So well preserved! Especially since some of it dates back as early as the 1400’s

P1090679P1090687P1090673 This magnificent ruin is Scotland’s entry in the “8th Wonder of the World” competition! If you are impressed by these photos, vote for Dunnottar Castle here: http://www.virtualtourist.com/8thwonder “Jutting out into the North Sea, the former residence of the Earls Marischal is most famous for holding out against the might of Cromwell’s army for 8 months to save the Scottish Crown Jewels.”

I am so lucky that I was able to do this wee trip simply because of friends! I can, without a doubt, say that my favourite parts of Scotland are in the north. Summertime in northern Scotland has no parallel, and these photos are just a meagre testament to the breathtaking beauty of this part of the world.

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London Calling: The Beauty of British Stereotypes

Big Ben, The Royals and Harry Potter

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What do you think of when you think of England? If you’re not English that is…

Well, when people think of England, they inevitably think of London. Big Ben, the River Thames, the London Eye, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace. These sights are certainly popular for a good reason. They are iconic, beautiful and British! B LOVES London, so we train’d on down to London-town for a four-day visit.

Soooo excited to be in London!

Soooo excited to be in London!

We saw all the usual places, as listed above, with the addition of Whitehall (one of my favourite buildings, probably in the world!), Tower Bridge, the Tower of London, St Paul’s Cathedral, and many more!

Big Ben

Big Ben

Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey

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Buckingham Palace, obvs.

Whitehall as seen from St. James Park

Whitehall as seen from St. James Park

Tower of London

Tower of London… now this was the first time I’ve seen this, which is amazing considering how many times I’ve been to London. I had no idea that it’s actually the whole structure that boasts the name “Tower of London” – there is no single tower-structure!

This is TOWER Bridge. Often mistaken for London Bridge, which is just a boring, concrete thing. London Bridge was, hilariously, bought by an American rich dude who thought it would be sweet to own London Bridge, thinking it was THIS iconic British landmark. If this is true, I lol.

This is TOWER Bridge. Often mistaken for London Bridge, which is just a boring, concrete thing. London Bridge was, hilariously, bought by an American rich dude who thought it would be sweet to own London Bridge, thinking it was THIS iconic British landmark. If this is true, it’s the best thing ever.

St. Paul's Cathedral from the Millennium Bridge

St. Paul’s Cathedral from the Millennium Bridge

B, being a major fan of the Royal family, took me out to Kensington, an area of London I had never explored. It was gloriously posh and gorgeous! Kensington Palace is the home of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Will and Kate themselves. We circled Kensington Palace and walked for hours in Kensington Gardens.

Me at Kensington Palace!

Me at Kensington Palace!

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Kensington Gardens

I never knew a place like this existed. If there’s one thing I can really say about London, it’s THEY KNOW PARKS!

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We were there all day. When we finally began to think about heading back, B suggested walking up the driveway of the Palace one last time. She was determined to give Kate-spotting a good go. Walking back down the driveway, we heard an approaching vehicle. We turned, and B squealed with stifled excitement, “It’s a black Range Rover! That’s THEIR car!”

This is exactly where we saw her! Image via https://www.facebook.com/WhatKateWore

This is exactly where we saw her! Image via https://www.facebook.com/WhatKateWore

Lo and behold, I got my first glimpse of Royalty, and MAN, were they beautiful! B was in total denial… a dream of hers had just come true and was gone so quickly she could hardly believe it. It happened, B, it happened!! Let it in, live it, love it.

Of course, for two massive Harry Potter fans, no trip to London would be complete without a visit to the WB Harry Potter Studio Tour that opened last year. This trip MAY have been my second time at the Studio Tour… but we don’t have to talk about that. I love Harry Potter!

Enter the Great Hall!

Enter the Great Hall!

Imma be the BEST at potions with this copy of Advanced Potion Making!

Imma be the BEST at potions with this copy of Advanced Potion Making!

Sleeping portrait of Stephen Fry in Dumbledore's office! I adore Stephen Fry.

Sleeping portrait of Stephen Fry in Dumbledore’s office! I adore Stephen Fry.

Finally, I'm at Hogwarts!!! But I'm too big to fit inside. Oh, the tragedy!

Finally, I’m at Hogwarts!!! But I’m too big to fit inside. Oh, the tragedy!

Wonder Witch products from Weasley Wizard Wheezes. I need me some of those Flirting Fancies! Need evidence? See my conclusion in this post: https://amblingalana.wordpress.com/2013/05/17/five-places-not-to-meet-guys-in-edinburgh-place-5-and-a-conclusion-of-hope/

Wonder Witch products from Weasley Wizard Wheezes. I need some of those Flirting Fancies! Need evidence? See my conclusion in this post.

After a very full trip, I drove us home in my car. It’s a flying blue Ford Anglia.

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For me, a trip to London is a trip fraught with British stereotypes. But why have they become “stereotypes”? I would argue that the sights we visited are iconic rather than stereotypical, but tourists often limit their idea of English identity to include only what they see in London. Though I still love visiting London, England has a huge variety of beauty to offer.

Searching for Nessie: Northern Scotland with a Fellow Canadian

Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle

Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle

I was very lucky to have one of my best friends, B, come to visit me for three weeks. After months of planning and anticipation, we were finally together and able to begin our Northern exploration. Our itinerary was rushed – 3 days, 2 nights for a whirlwind tour of Inverness and St Andrews.

Inverness is about 4 hours north of Edinburgh by bus or train, and is most sought by tourists for its proximity to the infamous Loch Ness. Of course, B and I decided we would be the ones to FINALLY discover the truth behind the mystery of the Loch Ness monster. Previous explorers were clearly not up to our intellectual level, which lead to their inevitable failure. We, however, would be the ones to find Nessie.

Oh look! There she blows!

Oh look! There she blows!

When we arrived at Loch Ness, I was pleasantly surprised that (other than the castle) it looked very much like my home on Vancouver Island in Canada. Strange.

Scotland? Or Canada?

Scotland? Or Canada?

The main tourist attraction at the Loch, other than Nessie spotting, is Urquhart Castle.

Some

Some of these ruins date back to the 13th century!

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After spending a few hours at Urquhart, B and I sat down on the beach for a snack, and a dejected last effort to spot the monster of the Loch.

No, B, it's just a swan. Sorry.

No, B, it’s just a swan. Sorry.

Back in Inverness, I was determined to have a look around before the sun set and we were hostel-bound til morning and departure for St Andrews.

Inverness

Inverness

Inverness was surprisingly stunning. I had no idea what to expect of this city in the north, but I would love to go back there one day to see what else this wee beauty has to offer.

Inverness Castle, having been rebuilt several times.

Inverness Castle, having been rebuilt several times.

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River Ness

River Ness

After a suffocating sleep in a room shared with four men who had clearly won and decided to use a lifetime supply of axe (lynx) body spray, B and I woke to a beautiful day, and our impending train ride to St Andrews. I must say, this train journey held the most spectacular highland scenery. B concluded that Hogwarts could easily be hidden somewhere in these remote hills, and that we should probably go looking for it.

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I decided that this would probably not be a stellar idea since Hogwarts has muggle-repelling charms placed on it, our search would be for nought.

"Is that it? Is that it?" No, B, no."

“Is that it? Is that it?”
No, B, no.”

When we finally arrived in St Andrews, I was reminded of all the reasons I fell in love with Scotland in the first place.

Magnificent view of St Andrews Old Course

Magnificent view of St Andrews Old Course

Scottish people make fun of St Andrews for being too English, since the University draws a lot of posh students, and the reputation of the golf courses draw a lot of, well, those kind of people. Golfers. But these are not the things that make St Andrews special to me. It is seriously an amazing place. Between the sea, the cathedral and castle ruins, the long-running beach and the accessibility of the whole town by foot, it is the perfect specimen of British-seaside-village.

Puffin roosts!

Puffin roosts!

 

Cathedral ruins

Cathedral ruins

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Castle ruin!

Castle ruin!

I was delighted that I largely remembered how to get around, my last time there having been nine years ago, and I even recognized the building I had stayed in!

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B also loved St Andrews, being an avid fan of the Royals, especially Will and Kate.

Site of the Royal first date...?

Site of the Royal first date…?

We took a long walk down the beach, famously featured in Chariots of Fire. We did not run.

View from the far end of the beach.

View from the far end of the beach.

I was disappointed that we had to leave so quickly, but we’ve made each other a promise that, when we are rich of course, we will come back to Britain and rent a car so that we can create our own schedule.

A final LOL

A final LOL

A Cold Day in Cramond

Once Upon a Time, long ago, my Mother was a wee bairn growing up in Scotland. Her fond memory of a town called Cramond sent me (accompanied by Ky) exploring. This was back on February and it was COLD!!!!

Just for the record, those are snowflakes... not dandruff!

Just for the record, those are snowflakes… not dandruff!

Cramond is just a wee little town, about to be swallowed up by Edinburgh suburbia. It still retains that small-town feel for now!

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Cramond is also the site of an old Roman fort! I like old Roman things, even if it is just the foundations that are left.

I like old Roman things, even when they barely exist!

I like old Roman things, even when they barely exist!

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The Romans may also have used Cramond Island in some way… no one is really sure if/how/why. Of course.

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Cramond also boasts the beautiful River Almond. Judging by all the boats, it’s popular for sailors.

The mouth of the River Almond

The mouth of the River Almond

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More ruins!

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Other than a wee tea shop Ky and I had a snack in, Cramond doesn’t seem to have much else other than houses and the sea. Which is fine with me! Hopefully Cramond will escape Edinburgh’s clutches for a while longer.