Ah Ha! I have a day to publish this "small" post of life's happenings before the end of August. It's much like the looming research paper... I have all the notes, but lacking proper motivation to compile a complete thought. So, not to grumble too much, here we go!
Olive graduated Nursery School and is off to Reception in a week. The last day at Acorns was spent down at the village recreation grounds for sports day; An English traditional end of year event. O was part of the White team who for the following races: egg on spoon, sack, bean bag on head, and sprint. Parents all raced too. I placed in the middle of the pack. Josh, however, in his work dress clothes, sprinted for gold. He is proud of it too!
If you didn't know, as of 19 July, Olive is 4. All of 4 plus a little of 13 added in for effect. Wasn't ready for my wee one to become a full fledged, independent thinking, "mom your WRONG" spouting kid. I still love her with all my heart. I just wonder how my patience will endure up and through those horrible hormonal changes a decade away.
We had a party here at the house. Being July and in England, Josh rented a tent from work since we were having Garden Party and it was pissing down rain all week. A bit of a kerfuffle later and help from our awesome landlord/neighbor the canopy was standing. (Josh still owes him a few pints and a game of Snookers for the aid)
Olive chose a Fairy theme for her day & I obliged with matching cake, food, and favors. Most everything was a hand-made treasure and I love that Olive still enjoys them. My heart will be crushed the day she will tell me she wants the store bought plastic junk, and neon refined sugar to give her friends instead, but then too, I will oblige. Each kid got a special wooden fairy or elf that matched them & a shooting star bean bag. It was mish mash of Olive's chosen friends- a few from school, swim lessons, neighbors, & Americans. I was a little worried how they would all blend, yet the kids surprised me by running about happily. It was a very nice chill 4 year old bash.
-Intermission- two weeks of faffing about, living life, blah, blah, blah....
Then off to Scotland for a two week Camping Holiday!
Before we left, I was in charge of research and planning. The deeper I got, the more I realized that Scotland, maybe, would take a little more preparation than originally thought. For example, reading websites I found quotes like "Scotland is a beautiful country with vast outdoor delights, which is a shame you can not see or enjoy due to the wet and the midges" Literally there is an Apple App. that updates you on the condition of these microscopic blood thirsty swarms in a ranking of 1, not so bad to 5, do NOT show flesh. I bought and wore the bug net hat, so did Josh and Olive on occasion for that matter. Olive also had a full body rain slicker suit, she wore that too. We were lucky enough to even got sun breaks. Now, enough of being "English" and talking about the weather, moving on. (if there is too much detail, well, I apologize. I take all these posts and stick them in my digitally compiled scrapbook... hate to do things twice :)
It takes around 11 hours to get from our house to the Marriott in Glasgow with a car fully loaded with gear, a four year old, a mother who needs & takes bathroom breaks, and general slowing down every time you come to a town with a few round-a-bouts in the middle of the two lane road. We did have an hour layover in the town of Lancaster where we visited the historic castle/working court/ recently closed prison. Nothing beats explaining witch trials, iron cuffs, branding, and hangings to your 4 year old. So, we took a walk around the grounds to lighten the mood before aiming, optimistically for the campground. But realistically we ended up in Glasgow. Olive did not mind a dinner of take-a-way fried rice while sitting on the floor of the hotel, or the after dinner swim that followed in the hotel pool.
In the morning, after breakfast and another swim (getting the money's worth) we explored Glasgow. It's a city. Not too much to say about it other than some neat architecture. If we were there a week later, we would have bumped into Brad Pitt filming a moving in George Square, woooo. Along the way we stopped for lunch at the Falls of Falloch for a viewing of the rushing water before more driving.
We finished the rest of the drive to the Camping and Caravan Park in Oban. Glad we did that one in daylight. Even gladder that Josh was driving. Narrow, narrow, narrow road with drop off to water, blind turns, and blind rises. Campground had beautiful views. Also our first introduction to putting up the tent in the rain followed by midges once it stopped. Olive and Josh had a lovely time rolling down hills under the glaring eyes of "Bert" our sentry sheep.
9 Aug Oban- Mull, Staffa & Iona
Woke up in the rain, but luckily it cleared for our day out on the boat. We hopped a ferry from Oban to Mull. Where in which we got in a van to take us across the island to the boat. Even worse roads than before. Josh turned a little green from riding in the back.
Our captain first sailed us to the Isle of Staffa. It is a big Igneous rock formation much like the Devil's Causeway in Ireland. All the basaltic columns are hexagonal and you can see the uplift and folding. Very cool if you are a rock nerd. Still impressive if you are not. The family had a lovely pick nick at the top of the island (42 feet climb) with some Nanaimo Bars before hiking down the steps to the cavern below.
Next was to Iona, location of early Christianity. Quaint little island tourist trap town (literally, you're there until your boat sails) much less impressed with it so we took a tea and hacked into some free wi-fi before setting back home to Oban.
10 Aug Oban to Fort William
Drove a few hours North further into the Highlands. Along the way we stopped at the Scottish Sea Life Sanctuary for a small break from the rain. Nothing like going to Scotland to see American River Otters & Snapping Turtles... We later arrived near the great mountain of Ben Nevis. Our campsite in Glen Nevis was in the valley adjacent to the largest mountain in the UK at 1,344m (4,409ft). Never saw the top due to the cloud cover. Oh, it did rain putting up the tent & the midges did come out after. Added bonus? Fully saturated grass lake under and around tent! But it came with a picnic table, score.
11 Aug Fort William
Morning and we drove a bit down the valley in Glen Nevis to hike the Lower Falls. Since it was wet, the falls were flowing. Nice time with just us on the trail. In the afternoon we took the Jacobite Steam Train. Aka the Harry Potter Train to Mallaig. It was First class passage in the Green Knight car with lovely views. We sipped tea, ate shortbread & tablets (a kind of crystallized fudge) and enjoyed the beautiful highlands. It further cemented Josh and my love of Washington and the homesickness of seeing mountains touch the sea.
12 Aug Fort William
From the campground and back, we managed about 5 miles round trip with 1800 ft elevation gain- or about 1/3 the way up Glen Nevis. Olive was a trooper with Josh and hiked the mountain up to our lunch stop along the Red Burn Gully. Morning was fair, but the wind started and the clouds were rolling by 1pm. We were proud Olive made it to where we were and Josh packed her down in the Ergo (still in use for tough hikes!) Summiting would have been nice, but realize this is later in Olive's future than 4.
13 Aug Fort William to Grantown-on-Spey
We said goodbye to Ben Nevis and headed East out of the highlands toward Cairn Gorm National Park. We drove into Nethy-Bridge for the Abernathy Highland Games. There were plenty of kilts, throwing of large heavy objects, and bagpipes. Olive even took part in the races. Got third in her heat for 5 and under, and then ran in the finals. Did a stellar job, even in wellies. Later during the opening ceremonies, we had near marched on seats for the bagpipe and drum procession. Olive wasn't keen on the noise, or the possible battering from the base drums. Later in the afternoon we found a few gems. There was a pottery shop cared for by an chatty older woman with a three legged dog where we bought a salt pig. A kilt shop where Josh sussed out the Paterson tartan and was measured for a kilt (still to be decided). And the Dunallan House B&B which was the best we've visited in the UK thus far.
A down day of setting up camp and driving up Cairngorm Mountain. We had a lovely lunch (huddled in the car avoiding the rain) looking over the valley where there was a rainbow over the Loch Morlich. On our walk to the Camera Obscura, Olive got to hold tadpoles, and that became a focus for any still body of water we passed for the remainder of the trip.
15 Aug Avemore/ Rothiemurchus Forest
In the morning, Olive and Josh took to the Novice's Loch and caught some corn fed rainbow trout. When it was time to do the BIG fish in (2 lbs, 22 inches), Olive was excited to whack it with the stick. "Love taps" as Josh so kindly called it later. Then Josh took the stick and cracked it's skull untill it's gills bled. Olive didn't think the stick job was as great anymore. She'd rather feed the fish and watch them swarm on the little pellets than sit still with the rod in hand.
After a fishy lunch, we hiked the three miles around Loch An Eilein. Rain and Midges, and some more midges. Bleh. Highlight was seeing a castle ruin in the middle of the loch.
16 Aug Avemore/ Rothiemurchus Forest
The day was set aside to hike Cairngorm Mountain. We summited the 6th largest Mt. in the UK at 1244m (4082ft). From the parking lot at the base station to the top, it was around 3 miles and 2,300+ ft elevation gain. Researching those exact facts now, it only recommends this hike for 8+ year. We may have bribed Olive with chocolate, used every diversionary tactic, and occasional drug her, BUT she used her own feet to make it to the top. There were peek-a-boo views of the surrounding peeks and loch filled valleys through the clouds. The rain set in on our decent & we rewarded ourselves with an abbreviated hike down with the Funicular Railway from the midway lodge. In the early evening, Josh picked up a few beers from the Cairngorm Brewery and we stopped at a pub that was reminiscent of the ones from our Port Jervis, NY / Dillon, CO days. Eewe.
17 Aug Avemore to Aberdeen
This was a travel day mainly. Josh got to take a tour of the Cragganmore Whiskey Distillery while Olive and I played with bubbles in the car park. The entire family drove past the Walker's Shortbread factories in disappointment when there was no obvious tour offered, but we were later rewarded with a stop into the Dean's Shortbread Factory. To say, we were please by this since Dean's is like a nice Merlot to Walker's Boone's Farm. This put us into Aberdeen, a thriving city, at 5pm. Knowing we could do Edinburgh, but I'd rather not since I get paranoid about finding open food and lodging past 7pm, we booked a B&B and went to eat. Best meal out the entire trip at Cafe 52 . Local food and very tasty. Parsnip chips with honey glaze- nom, NOM. I will have to figure that out. The Arkaig Guest house was the worst we've been in the UK. Three single beds with a foot in between and a flier for the "Lady Boys of Bangkok" flier in the alcove. Awesome. (Josh's note...check out their website!!! ) (Alicia's Note. Olive referred to the posters as "Papa's Ladies" the rest of the trip)
18 Aug Aberdeen to Edinburgh
So, if you are ever wondering, you can camp near Edinburgh. And, we did once again, set up the tent in the rain. (for those of you that have done this, you know the drudgery. if you haven't, well, just the thought of it keeps you from camping doesn't it?) That afternoon, after Olive's much needed nap, we headed into the city. We quickly took in the newly renovated Scottish Museum for a rock & taxidermist tour before fully taking in the Fringe Festival, the largest Art festival in the world! Compared to the last time we were there, the city was brim full of life. There were performers of acrobatic feats, music, magic, juggling, weird impressionistic living statues, crazy people in fancy dress, and scores of actors hawking their shows on the street.
We were treated to a woman who could hula hoop atop of 8 pt glasses on a 2 meter platform (most likely had been to a few Phish shows in her day) A Scottish beat boxer who was in all honesty, amazing. Olive even broke it down in dance. A crazy old punk with a pink mow hawk spinning wool. Pan with a set of bag-pipes. A very flamboyant and possibly inebriated harry male Wonder Woman. Headless Ghosts. Contortionists in underwear and high heals. African tumblers that could fold into a metal bowl and be carried around on his partner's head. Break dancers. "Dead" masses of people piled in the street. A gigantic sock eating puppet and his pillow head friend. A person performing with a cucumber in his pants and a knife ready to cut it off... to which Olive informed us "That's not appropriate for me to watch."
*Please go to fickr... to many to upload* :)
19 Aug Edinburgh
At 10:30 we sat in for Olive's first ticketed play "Bubble Wrap and Boxes." It was about a boy who only liked to organize his boxes, and an unexpectedly made a female friend who shows him, reluctantly, otherwise & they set out on imaginary adventures. It was an age appropriate show, but drama really hooks O in. Only after debriefing it and talking about it, she now believes she enjoyed every minute of it, well, except for the frightened screaming.
Josh was a bit disappointed that we did not make it to the Brew Dog Brewery up north, was delighted when he stumbled into someone wearing a t-shirt from there. Apparently there was a brew house in town &we had to stop for a pint. Olive and Josh worked on playing connect four while we sat around in the urban punk decor of the place. O even had a apple juice in a schooner to fit in. We continued on and enjoyed more street artists, stopped by the craft fair, and made our way to the international book festival. If we were on it, we could have caught a reading, but instead we sat and read books with Olive and just took some time off our feet. Josh had a go at being a street performer in the Hazel, the Lady of the Ladder's act. The poor woman didn't know she was going to get such a smart ass to assist her, but like she said "how can I be mad at you with a smile like that honey." Not only that, Josh took the time to teach a lonely squirrel the "Squirrelly" song on the street. He was such a smash, he was later recognized back at the camp ground due to his comedic efforts. Since he was a star, choice of dinner was Mexican. Disappointed. You take good Mexican for granted until you can not get any. See how long you can go and be happy about not having some.
20Aug Edinburgh to Crichton Castle to Home
Packed up in the morning after the rain and shooing away the overly friendly chicken who wanted in our tent. Hoped back into the car for our last predesignated stop, to Crichton Castle. Located in the village of Crichton sits the ruins of the castle. It is inhabited by a few dozen pigeons and a sole employee, whom you pay to walk inside the remains. Olive learned what a pit prison was, and enjoyed the echos off the walls. It was fun to think that back in the 1400s my family's ancestors lived there, but then bunged it all up and lost it. A proud and noble stock we once were...
The drive home was much like any slog of distance. We made it back to our place after 10hrs from Edinburgh (with the hour+ castle lay over and multiple stops) Sometimes after all that we've seen, it's easy to forget how small this country is at times. Happy to be home, glad to have gone, and now readying ourselves for the start of term.