Category Archives: Scotland

Haggis Land with Judy & Doug: PART IV


Monday, August 31

After another large breakfast (haggis-free in spite of enjoying the sample the night before) we trundled off to our last destination, Dirleton Castle, Judy and Max’s ancestral home.

Another blue-sky-bright-sun morning greeted us, and we drove south, crossing over to Edinburgh, then east towards the headland. We arrived and found ourselves in the lovely medieval town of Dirleton and the grounds of the castle.


Judy and Max were related through their father’s side to the original builders, the de Vaux family, Anglo-Normans who arrived here in the 1100s, one of the many English families invited by David I, King of Scotland (1124-53), as support for his rule.IMG_3118.jpg

The de Vaux’s occupied their home for several centuries, passing it to the Haliburtons via marriage with a de Vaux heiress in the 1300s. Another marriage in the early 1500s brought the castle under the ownership of the Ruthvens. As one of the staff who greeted us mentioned, this castle was a favorite of a lot of women due to the females determining the lineage of ownership.

The woman who gave us our tickets and explained a bit about the property was pretty great. When it came up Judy and Max were related to the original owners, Max jokingly made a reference to the fact that, since this was their ancestors’ home, there probably would be some sort of benefit . The staffer smiled and asked which part of the castle he’d like to clean. Good comeback!

To reach the actual ruins we strolled through a beautiful garden.

Max later noticed this particular one had captured an award for having the longest herbaceous border. All you gardeners probably know what ‘herbaceous border’ means, but, Max thoughtfully asked and heard it’s defined as a collection of perennial plants arranged closely together in a riot of color and shape. It was stunning.



And, it was another opportunity to snap a family photo of brother and sister.


Wandering along a climbing path we made it to the actual remains of this 900-year-old structure.


Always up for some light-hearted moments, Max re-enacted what could have been a possible event while Judy wisely stayed out of the fray. Considering Doug’s grandmother was born not too far from here, who’s to say his relatives didn’t visit the castle. They probably would have received a warmer welcome.


The self-directed tour was easy and interesting because of the plaques alerting us in what room we actually were standing. More descriptive signs provided details about the specific room. Believe it or not, I find it extremely easy to get lost wandering around these tumbling buildings, so I’m always on the look-out for something to answer my silent question ‘so NOW where the heck am I?’.

One of the most imposing was the Great Hall, which was part of the original castle. Here, the de Vauxs would hold large banquets eating at one end on a raised platform overlooking their guests and staff. The display mentioned there was an emphasis on cleanliness and politeness, which they defined as not dipping your hands too deeply into the communal bowls and not slurping your drinks. Lovely.


Underneath and carved out of the foundation’s rocks were the vaults holding the household’s provisions. Each separate storage area was under lock and key indicating the value of sustenance.


Walking under the main gate to the ramp we saw the murder hole where defending troops would pour boiling water or oil onto the attackers. Not something I’d want to test by being first in line.


Once outside, looking back at the main entrance we got a better view of the fortifications–this was, after all, designed to withstand sieges and attacks, and saw its share.


After an hour we had completed our tour and headed for the formal garden next to the bowling lawn. Like many castles we’ve seen, Dirleton fell into disrepair through lack of use. In the mid 1600s the owner, Sir John Nisbet, moved to more comfortable housing in nearby Archerfield. However, the ruins became a folly, which is why gardens, such as the formal Victorian one below,


and the splendid herbaceous one featured earlier, thrive here today.

Exiting the castle grounds we wandered around the town and to the church putting off our good-bye to Judy and Doug. Fortunately, we have more family and friends visiting in the future, which helps soften the leave-taking, but, you know me, I hate the good-byes.

We returned to the little car park nestled under the castle’s grounds. Judy and Doug were heading west, back to Glasgow while we were driving south to JUANONA. Fierce, heartfelt hugs were shared around and then we hopped in our car.

Our Haggis Land tour had come to a close but the memories can last forever.


Happy anniversary (September 3rd!) and may you both have many, many more haggis explorations in the future :) xox L&M

Haggis Land with Judy & Doug: PART III


Sunday, August 30 (continued)

We left Dundee and polar explorations behind as we drove twenty minutes east to reach St. Andrews, the golfing mecca for those so inclined to chase a tiny pebbled ball around a holey lawn. I must admit, though, it was intriguing to be in such a fabled spot, and having someone with us (Doug) who understood the game made it even more so.

I had read Mary Queen of Scots played golf, probably dressed a wee bit differently than golfers today. Must have been a nice break from the politicking going on.

But, back to present day, which was gorgeous and warm, which only added to the beauty of this coastal town. With Rick Steves’ guidebook we began his self-guided tour by visiting the 18th green where we joined other tourists such as ourselves walking on this sacred land. Doug pointed out landmarks, such as the male-only Royal & Ancient Golf Club (women are allowed in on November 30th only when the Women’s British Open is played; thoughtful of them, isn’t it? At least, the non-profit club loses its tax-free status; yet, due to the wealth of the members that’s as significant as a gnat’s gnaw). FYI:  This club is not to be confused with the separate, but similarly named organization, the R&A, formed in 2004 to govern all but USA and Mexico’s rules of golf.

We strolled to a stone bridge over the Swilken Burn (the stream that meanders through and around the holes) where those who love the sport posed for portraits.

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Doug patiently stood while we snapped some photos

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while Max missed his opportunity to cross the creek, thus being stranded behind other photographers and their subjects.

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Once we were all together, we walked to the actual 18th hole

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where a small notice asked us to not walk there.

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Frankly, I was surprised they let us (and dogs) nonchalantly tramp all over this grass considering it’s used for one of the most prestigious tournaments ever created (as per golf afficionados). But, they did, and it made for easy trekking to our next destination, something my sister Betsy would identify as one of Max’s ‘Disaster Tours’.

Walking to the top of a hill to the Martyrs’ Monument, we passed by a bandstand with its Sunday entertainment

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and stopped to look back towards the golf course to the stretch of beach beyond used for the famous running scene in the movie CHARIOTS OF FIRE.

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Arriving at the monument shaped like an obelisk with a plaque designating it as the Martyrs’ Monument,

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we read how Scotland tossed quite a few people over the cliffs

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and burned at least four non-conformists all in the name of religion. I’d like to say thank god that’s not happening now, but, if I did, you’d probably wonder what rock I was living under.

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Getting our fill of the wonders of what humans can do to others, we strolled towards the main street through alleys.


Exiting onto the main street, we passed an interesting street name, one where the sign keeps disappearing. Thankfully, it’s also inscribed in a more permanent manner. I kept pronouncing it with a short ‘i’ while Judy gently corrected me saying it’s a long one.

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Outside Sally’s Quad, the heart of St. Andrew’s campus, we came to another historical plaque, which commemorated alum and professor Patrick Hamilton, the first martyr of the Scottish Reformation burned at the stake on February 29, 1528. The actual stake spot was marked by the initials PH. Supposedly, if you stood on them, you’d fail your exams. Being a disaster spot, it was natural Max wanted to stand on them. Luckily the only tests he faced that day were which types of ale to enjoy later.

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A wedding had just occurred in the quad so we just ducked into the chapel for a peek.


Back out and continuing our stroll we saw another of St. Andrew’s famous buildings, the place where Prince William (and, as Doug said, Kate) stayed while attending St. Andrews University.

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Just before reaching the end of the street, Max found another ‘x marks the spot’. This time the initials were GW for George Wishart, a Protestant preacher, who was tied to a stake and lit afire March 1, 1546.

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We reached the point of the harbor where the majestic remains of St. Andrews Cathedral anchored the end of town on a bluff. Between 14th and 16th centuries, St. Andrews was Scotland’s ecclesiastical capital. Which explains why all the roastings.

We also discovered that some of St. Andrews’ bones landed here (supposedly) in the 4th century when being transported from Constantinople. Due to this auspicious wash-up on the beach, the site was deemed sacred, and, voila, St. Andrews became the place to be and the guy, the country’s patron saint.

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After several hours of exploring by foot and enjoying the summery day and blooms,


we were ready for a libation followed by dinner and our hotel, which happened to be thirty minutes to the west. We quickly found a pub, then our cars and drove to Glenrothes where Max had located some rooms that morning.

A large home now set in the midst of a suburb, the hotel offered a lovely area for another drink and a perusal of their menu. This time the haggis came as a main course described as ‘Haggis Stuffed Beef Olives.’ Not quite understanding how they found olives large enough to stuff with haggis, this became quite a topic of speculation, of which I won’t describe. Suffice it to say, at dinner, we DID try some haggis (a gourmet version:  a crispy and, must admit, delicious looking disk with no resemblance to the bulging beigey balloons seen the day before)



and actually thought it was pretty good; but, once again, we all opted for more mundane fare for a main course.

With full bellies and dreams of haggis, we retired to our rooms ready for our next venture – a visit to a family castle.




Haggis Land with Judy & Doug: PART II


Saturday, August 29 (continued)

We arrived at our B&B just fifteen minutes down the road from the Highland Games. After checking in and finding our rooms we soon ended up at the inn’s bar, soon enjoying pints of ale and wine.

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Cocktail hours evolved into dinner where I spotted what has to be someone’s prized marketing accomplishment:

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Whoever thought of calling an appetizer ‘Haggis Bon-Bons’ must have won the award for best oxymoron printed on a menu. The four of us thought of trying them and then opted for more sedate fare.

Sunday, August 30

Up and at ‘em with a full English/Scottish breakfast (save for the Blood Pudding which we graciously declined) in our tummies we rode to Dundee where Max promised a fascinating view of the first ship specifically built for polar explorations. Nigel, whom we met in Peterhead and who lived in Dundee, had mentioned s/v DISCOVERY, Robert Scott’s first Antarctica’s ship, was on exhibit in this city. From that day onward, this ship became a magnet for my husband.

Driving separately, we followed behind Judy and Doug

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until we started meandering through Dundee’s streets. No signs appeared for the polar museum, and at one point we lost one another. We managed to make it to the museum but no J&D. Max stood close to a confusing intersection

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until we finally decided to call using our satellite phone. Good thing for they were waiting for us at another historic ship down the way.

Reunited we started our journey of RRS (Royal Research Ship) DISCOVERY beginning with its construction starting in 1900. DISCOVERY was the first ship in the world built specifically for polar and Antarctica research and the last example of one still around.

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Dundee’s shipyard was one of two vendors bidding on this ship, being one of the few still capable of crafting a three-masted wooden sailing ship in this age of iron and steam-powered vessels. With an original quote of over £50,000, the final price was eventually reduced to just over £33,000. Fortunately, the adjustments didn’t affect the ship’s strength or performance as DISCOVERY took part in three major explorations:  The British National Antarctic Expedition 1901-04; The DISCOVERY Oceanographic Expedition 1925-27; and, the British Australian New Zealand Research Expedition 1929-31.

What is more interesting (to me) are some of the crew this ship carried during its voyages:  Captain Robert Falcon Scott; Dr. Edward Wilson (fifth from left below at the launch); Sir Ernest Shackleton (seventh from left); Tom Crean; Sir Alister Hardy; and, Sir Douglas Mawson. I know the names but Max knows their bios, trust me.

Although this initial voyage was a joint endeavor for scientific exploration between the Royal Society (RS) and the Royal Geographic Society (RGS), a military officer (Scott) was selected as commander. The choice of a military leader over a scientist caused some sour grapes between the two societies; but, RGS under the leadership of a former naval officer won this battle placing Scott in command. Surprisingly, but maybe not considering the time period, only one out of the 45 crew had polar experience, and it wasn’t Scott (it was the French scientist Louis Bernacci).

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The exhibit was well-done with displays providing detailed descriptions of just how RRS DISCOVERY came to be…

from the type and massive breadth of wood used in construction in order to withstand the pressure of bring stuck in pack ice

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to unique features such as the ability to lift the rudder and propeller inside the hull to avoid damage from the ice (or repair damage caused by the ice).

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One of the interesting design components were the salt boxes where rock salt was poured between the inner and outer hulls.

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If water seeped in, the salt helped preserve the wood. Judy mentioned their great-grandfather’s 32 ft sloop,  Juanona, after which our boat is named, also had rock salt poured into the bilge during winter storage. Hmmm… I wonder if a salty Smithfield Ham could have been part of our Atlantic Ocean provisioning.

Many museums create opportunities to engage youngsters’ interests; and, this one definitely catered to kids as Doug quickly proved his mastery of lading and unlading a ship’s cargo and balancing the load in the ship. Must say, it did look like fun.

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After perusing the unique design, crew biographies and descriptions of the voyages, we headed outside to explore the actual ship. It was big and it was definitely not something you’d find me on. All I could think of was what one’s day (and night) would have been like living on this vessel still smelling of tar pitch. The odor alone would have me slapping seasick patches on and soaking rooms (and people) with lavender spray. What some find bracing, my husband included, I find a wee bit too sailor-ish.

Yet, it is fascinating to walk the decks and below and think where this ship had been. The size of the wheels, both fore and aft, were impressive and we all took turns posing as salt-bitten sailors.

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Below Max pointed out some dry rot

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as well as the salt box slits.

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I roamed the officers’ quarters where I snapped shots of Shackleton’s and Scott’s cabins.

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Max went back aboard and below to take a photo of where some cross beams had been mounted from port to starboard along the entire length of the ship. They kept the hull from being crushed by ice. The beams were cut out during a later renovation.

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After several hours we were all ready to leave the polar region and head towards a much more civilized endeavor:  golf.

Haggis Land with Judy & Doug: PART I


Saturday, August 29

Max’s sister Judy and husband Doug had flown over from the US the previous week and set off on a Scotland road trip beginning in Glasgow. Due to weather and winds cooperating, we managed to arrive in Amble in time to rent a car and meet them on their loop to the eastern side just above Edinburgh. They had scouted out some local highland games, and we arranged to meet in Birnam mid-morning.

Supposedly highland games originated in Ireland in 2000 B.C.E. and migrated to Argyll and beyond in the 4th and 5th centuries via the Scotts. These were war games, which identified the best warriors amidst the tribes or clans. The games evolved into public festivals and continue to this day with some brief interruptions thanks to battles (1746 Battle of Culloden) and wars (WWI and II). Whatever the reason, all I know is we would definitely go again, not the least being it’s always nice to see men walking around in kilts.

We arrived just as the field became ringed by spectators and contestants.

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An empty bench was found

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and we began people watching as Doug perused the program labeled 132nd year vs. the publicized announcement stating 2015 was the 150th year.

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No matter, because, whatever anniversary it was, these games easily became one of the highlights of all our Scottish visits.

Under the constant hum and drone of bagpipes

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we watched track races (numerous dashes and laps, and don’t ask if we even knew who won which heat or final race), cheered on the occasional cyclist on bikes featuring no brakes and no gears,

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glanced at the dancers from both across the field and then up close,

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all while eyes kept returning to the big guys doing the heavy lifting.

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And, those guys were BIG. But, then again, their events all involved some sort of pushing dead weight through the air. The competitors must be chiropracters’ worst nightmares or, more likely, convenient retirement plans.

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We ended up placing imaginary bets all on the guy in the fluorescent t’shirt. With the competition beginning around noon and running until after 4:00 p.m. these strong athletes, about six of them, swung shot puts (heavy balls up to 26 lbs.) and tossed the hammer (metal ball around 22 lbs. attached to a wooden handle)  while proving not all go bare under those woolen skirts.

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The most iconic event is the tossing of the caber, a full-length wooden log. The sport involves balancing the pole while lifting it, running forward to gain momentum, then tossing it end over end so it lands as close to 12 o’clock (based on the competitor’s orientation) straight ahead of the tosser. Note that it takes three men to return it to the next tosser.

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During the festivities Judy and I strolled around the field enjoying the sights.

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At one booth Judy found some homespun wool and the woman who makes it. The proprietor graciously posed for a photo after having loaded up Judy with beautiful yarn.

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While I was standing there I overhead a woman saying she was living in London now but originally hailed from Virginia. Of course, I couldn’t resist so I asked from where. Turned out she was from my mother’s hometown, Charlottesville, and knew my mother’s half-sister’s (Carol’s) second husband, Herbie. The conversation politely ended when she confusedly asked if I was Carol’s sister. Time to move on.

Judy and I spotted some handsome gentlemen resplendent in their festival garb sitting in a wooden box.

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In conversation they told us they were judging classical bagpiping with contestants presenting three pieces (some as long as 20 minutes, and their selecting one to play). Judy discovered she had seen photos of one (the Scott on the right above) when his piping band had toured the states awhile back. Photographs of their visit are hanging in Blair Castle, which Judy and Doug had visited earlier.

Although we enjoyed speaking with them as well as their friendly banter, when returning that way on our circle back to Max and Doug, we pretty much kept on walking. As I have mentioned earlier, the pipes were the constant backdrop to all activity; and, as much as my skin becomes rippled with thrilling goosebumps when I hear them, I discovered there comes such a time where the haunting tones become whines. The next piper competing began playing a tune that neither Judy nor I could discern much variation so we slowly inched away from the area.

The weather featured almost as much variety as the games’ components:  from warm sun to cloudy skies to spitting showers. At one time we got all three at once, but we were prepared especially Max with his Hurtigruten oily on.

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After four hours of festivities and bagpipes, the natives were getting restless; but, the organizers knew they had an ace to play yet for no one was leaving before the Haggis Eating Contest.

Yes, that delectable gourmet item that is made with those ingredients we all crave–sheep pluck (heart, liver and lungs)–was featured as one of the last events of the games.

A line of contestants gathered at a table decorated with hats, jugs of liquid from beer to orange juice to water, and plates of individual, bulging balloons of haggis.

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The bell was rung and they were off

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and, well, choking this beigey-gray, oozing stomach-casing food morsel down. Various techniques were in play, even one (who turned out to be the winner) dousing his with water to make it slide down his gullet faster.

Needless to say I couldn’t keep my eyes off of the contestants, sort of like how I’m both fascinated and repelled by watching slithering snakes. The event was a feast for one’s eyes…

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until one fortunate soul took his last gulp and raised his hand as the first one done.

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With that we left to head to our B&B all with a finer appreciation of what it takes to scarf down a ball of haggis.