A Week in the Wild West (of Scotland)

 

distant-islands

June was a month of travelling for me. After a short break in Madrid, I spent a week in the wild west of Scotland. The Ardnamurchan peninsula is the most westerly point in the UK and it’s very remote. There are no towns, no shopping malls, and barely any cellphone reception. It’s a perfect place to relax and spend some time at a slower pace of life – reading, hiking, eating good food, and watching out for wildlife. Continue reading

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Travel Goals – five destinations on my list

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October is just around the corner and the days are drawing in. My summer vacations — spent in Spain and Scotland — are now just memories and photographs. I’m thinking ahead to places where I’d like to go next year: five very different destinations. Which places — cities, countries, regions — are on your must-visit travel list?

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Travels in Spain: Part 2 – Adventures in Toledo

If you read my previous post, you’ll know that at the beginning of June I flew to Madrid for a four-day mini vacation. Four days isn’t a long time, but it’s surprising just how much you can see, do and experience in that time. I spent three days in Madrid and one day in Toledo, a nearby city.

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A view of Toledo, looking back across El Puente de San Martin (Bridge of St. Martin)

 

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Travels in Madrid – Part 1

At the beginning of June, I spent four days in Madrid, visiting a Spanish friend who is living there and studying for her Master’s degree. I am already longing to go back. The city is beautiful, filled with gorgeous architecture, elegant parks and expansive boulevards.

On the first day of my visit, we went on a three-hour walking tour around the city. I chose to go on the Spanish-language tour, but it is available in English too. We began in Plaza Mayor. Like many Spanish cities, Madrid is a city filled with plazas (squares), but Plaza Mayor is the main square — popular with locals (madrileños) and tourists alike.

Plaza Mayor Madrid

The largest and most central square in Madrid, Plaza Mayor is lined with tapas bars and restaurants.

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Trespassing Across America

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Something that fascinates me about America is the fact that there is more land without people than there is with people. It’s easy to get bogged down in the mire of the ever-raging political battles and America’s position on the global stage, but the true spirit of the U.S. lies in its uninhabited wild spaces.

But despite being wild and open, much of the privately-owned land is not open to hikers. When Ken Ilgunas set out on a 1700-mile walk from Alberta to Texas in 2012, following the proposed route of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, most of his journey took him across “No Trespassing” land.

As Ilgunas explains, walking across wild America is difficult unless you’re either in a national park or on a trail approved by the government — “In America, the so-called freest country on earth, no one really has the right to roam” (Ilgunas, 2016).

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A visit to Scone Palace

Scone Palace

Scone Palace

Scone Palace, near the city of Perth in Scotland, has an important place in Scottish history. The kings of Scotland, including Robert the Bruce, were crowned at Scone from the thirteenth through seventeenth centuries.

So, thanks to all at once and to each one,
Whom we invite to see us crown’d at Scone.

Macbeth, Act 5, Scene VIII

The house as we see it today was rebuilt in the early nineteenth century when the Gothic style was extremely popular. We saw a model of the house as it stood in medieval times before it was rebuilt in the Georgian period. It was interesting to see the comparison between the simple medieval architecture and the lavish Gothic-style palace.

Inside the house there are many wonderful paintings and portraits, including works by Joshua Reynolds and Van Dyck. We also saw many examples of beautiful furniture. I was especially interested in a little delicate writing desk which was a gift to the 2nd Earl of Scone from Marie Antoinette. It was fascinating to walk through the rooms, furnished with antique pieces, and imagine what it was like throughout history.

I found it interesting to learn that when portraits of the ladies and gentlemen of the house were painted, they used to sit while the artist painted the face. Then someone else, perhaps a maidservant or a footman, would sit wearing the same outfit for the rest of the body to be painted. This was so that the person whose portrait was being painted didn’t have to experience the tedium of sitting still in one pose for hours!

Photography is not permitted inside the palace but you can view photos on the official Scone Palace website – click here for photos. However, I took plenty of photos in the wonderful grounds. I was surprised by the lack of formal gardens but the natural wildness of the grounds created a relaxing atmosphere for a stroll.

The Butterfly Garden is full of different plants which encourage wildlife to visit the garden.

Butterfly Garden

Flowers

Butterfly Garden

The grounds were bursting with color from the spectacular rhododendrons and azaleas and as we walked to the Pinetum, we admired the lovely shades of purple, pink and crimson.

photo collage

The Pinetum is a beautiful wooded area with many different types of pine trees, including enormous sequoias (redwoods) and Douglas firs, named after the botanist and explorer David Douglas. Douglas was born in the village of Scone and worked as a gardener at Scone Palace before traveling to the United States on an expedition to discover plants. In 1826 he sent a Douglas fir seed home to Scone from the U.S. (the first Douglas fir to be introduced to Britain) and the tree which grew from the seed still stands in the grounds of Scone Palace.

Various pine trees in the Pinetum:

We enjoyed the walkway of laburnum trees and we weren’t the only ones: the trees were full of the sound of bees harvesting nectar from the blossom.

Laburnum

The avenue of cherry blossom is also very pretty:

And there is a beech hedge maze in the shape of a five-pointed star which represents the Murray family crest. It was designed by Adrian Fisher who has created mazes in more than thirty countries. His mazes include the Skyline Caverns Mirror Maze in Atlanta, the Chateau de Thoiry Hedge Maze near Paris and the Blenheim Palace Hedge Maze in Oxfordshire. It would be fun to travel around the world completing each one of his mazes.

Scone Palace maze

It took quite a while to navigate to the center of the maze at Scone! I was reminded of the scene in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, during the Triwizard Tournament, when Harry and the other tournament competitors battle their way through a maze filled with dangerous creatures and hazardous spells. Fortunately, our journey through the Scone Palace maze was somewhat less eventful!

Maze at Scone

We finished our day at Scone by admiring the pretty Highland cows which were grazing contentedly in a field. This calf stood still and posed long enough for me to take a picture,

Highland calf

before ambling over to mama for an afternoon snack:

January, we had fun

January was a great month on the blog.

I made some delicious soup (Honey-roasted parsnip and carrot soup), took part in a photo challenge (highlights below) and published the post which was Freshly Pressed, to my delight, on February 1!

I kick-started January with the First Thirty-one Photo Challenge, welcoming in 2013 with a photo a day.

Browse highlights from my entries below:

Day 1: Resolution:

Resolution: to get outside and go places

Resolution: to get outside and go places

Day 10: Gorgeous hand-knitted socks, knitted by a friend

socks

A wintry photo entry for day 14’s “Frost” theme

snowy tree

Day 19: Fur

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Day 31: snowdrops signal the end of winter

snowdrops

I also enjoyed challenging my writing skills with challenges from The Daily Post

My dream trip: a writing challenge about traveling set my imagination on fire.

Another writing challenge: Starting Over, a short story set in Mexico.

Cultural Life celebrated the 200th anniversary of the publication of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice with this post:

January 28 1813.

And on January 31, I published this weekly writing challenge post, about saying an emotional goodbye to my mother at the doors of the operating suite. It was Freshly Pressed! I don’t often use the word “awesome” but being Freshly Pressed was the embodiment of that word. Thank you to everyone who commented, liked and shared my post. Welcome to my new followers and thank you for helping to create a great blogging month here at Cultural Life!