Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Do NOT drive whilst using this product! Also chickens.

Anyone want to guess where I've been for the last couple of weeks? Here's a clue:

This is my favourite bit:

Is that because they're alcoholic? Because I can see how that would be a problem.

Moving on.

Yes, I was in Scotland, home of whiskey and probably some other stuff. Here's what I got up to.

I am on top of Arthur's Seat, an extinct volcano that overlooks Edinburgh. When I told people I was going to Scotland, most of them said "yeah, enjoy the sunshine, ha ha". Well ha ha to them because I got sunburnt on the first day and then perpetually more so as the time went on until the last day. Who's laughing now? The answer is me. Or at least it will be me when I stop peeling.

That's Arthur's Seat from another angle. In front of it (behind my back in the other picture) are Salisbury Crags, which were once volcanic vents. Below you can see the Scottish Parliament Building. This looks a LOT like the big Holocaust museum in Berlin, which probably means nothing.

The next day was spent tramping the Royal Mile. I thought the whiskey condoms were pretty tasteless (though they might have been tastY, for all I know), but they weren't as good as the "PRINCESS DIANA MEMORIAL TARTAN" which every other shop on the mile was selling. I kept trying to photograph it, but every time I tried, my camera crashed and a fairy lost its wings.

To make up for the lack of memorial tartan on this page, here's a picture of the loo in Edinburgh's "Camera Obscura", an optical-illusion-centric tourist attraction that I probably should have been too old for but wasn't.

That night we had dinner outside. OUTSIDE. At 8:00pm. In Edinburgh! Following that we went around Mary King's Close, which is a fifteenth-century street preserved beneath Edinburgh's modern (by which I mean eighteenth-century) buildings. There aren't any pictures because it was really dark, and if you could take pictures they couldn't charge you £1 for postcards. You can look at the Wikipedia page though.

Castle next. Though incredible, the castle's been destroyed so many times, there isn't actually much left. The fact that it's still used as military barracks is pretty fascinating (though it means you're not allowed into lots of it), but it's almost more interesting from a geological perspective, as the (beautiful) war memorial has bits of extinct volcano poking out of the floor.

I'm still not bored with gloating about the awesome weather, so here's a picture of lunch, OUTSIDE.

For anyone who doesn't recognise the receptacle, those are escargots, or as the French would say, "snails". I want one of those dishes because I have a fetish for bits of kitchen equipment that only serve one purpose, like a pineapple screw.

This is the largest collection of Scotch whiskey in the world. As Cookie Monster would say, "OMNOMNOMNOM..."

No, that's a bit reductive actually, and rather misses the point of whiskey. I learnt an awful lot about it, tasted all kinds of wonderful malts, discovered the difference between the flavours of different regions, and tried many combinations of whiskey and food. Lovely.

The next day we went to the Royal Botanical Gardens, which were beautiful, but you know what a garden looks like, so no pictures. Also we got our laundry done on a street which had four branches of Greggs on it. For all you non-UK nationals, Greggs is a bakery chain whose share price recently got a boost when the government decided not to go ahead with its so-called "pasty tax". If you don't know what a pasty is, you're beyond help.

After that we were like "let's go somewhere where there aren't any branches of Greggs". Here's where we ended up...

This is the Isle of Arran, a bean-shaped island off the South West coast.


This is a view of Holy Isle, which is a Buddhist retreat. It's off the coast of Lamlash, a village (I think they call it a "town", but I find that an odd term for a place served by four buses a day on a Monday) on the South East of the island. The lunatic in the water is me. Growing up, I spent my summers in a disused Cornish watermill on The Lizard, so every day I went swimming at least twice, either in the sea or in the stream. I now feel a kind of morose panic if I don't go swimming outdoors in the summer. Even a regular sunny day isn't quite perfect for me unless I get to go swimming.

But enough about my neuroses! Here's a picture of someone who I'm pretty sure has no neuroses:

Oh man. I loved these little dudes so much. There were five of them.

I need to have chickens in my life. There was some other stuff that happened after I met them but I don't really remember.

Oh wait I do.

That's Englebert Humperdinck totally failing to make an impact on Eurovision. I came to Scotland to "get away from it all", but when I found out our cottage had a TV I was like OMG EUROVISION. It was fun, but not a vintage year. Highlights were Graham Norton's amusing digs at democracy in Azerbaijan, the best being what an amazing co-incidence it was that the lame interval act was married to the daughter of the president. What are the chances of that?

The next day was really hot so we went to the beach again.

Here's some nature.

Also this.

Yes, that is a red squirrel on the bird feeder outside our living room window. To British people, red squirrels are like Unicorns. They only exist on Arran because the grey ones that wiped them out on the mainland never made it there.

There were a load of birds on that feeder as well, but I didn't get pictures of them. I am not going to list the ones I did manage to identify because the list is quite short and my uncle reads this and he is totally keen on birds and would probably be disappointed in me for noting down so few. When I was seven he gave me an RSPB video of British birds for Christmas. I reminded him of this recently and he apologised for giving me such a transparently educational gift.

I don't mind. I watched it the whole way through and now I give my little sisters books for Christmas, so really they're the ones who ended up suffering in the long run.

That's how we had breakfast every day. I was reading Alastair Reynolds' Pushing Ice, which you can see unceremoniously shoved under the Lurpak. Is there anything so tasty that sounds so much like it should be a brand of haemorrhoid cream? If there is, please let me know.

I liked it, I thought the science part of the science fiction was brilliant (you'd hope it would be, Reynolds has a PhD and used to work for the European Space Research and Technology Centre), and more than enough to get me through the dodgy dialogue and the unconvincing "tensions" between the characters that were clearly only there as a plot device. I don't talk about books much on this blog, but if you have ever heard me rant about them you will know that I have pretty much zero tolerance for crappy characters, so saying that I finished Pushing Ice because the plot and the science were so cool is actually a massive (if back-handed) compliment.

I don't actually have many pictures of the cottage where we stayed, so here's the website. If you arrived here because you're looking for holiday cottages and you Googled "Tims Barn Arran review", I hope this has been instructive. Though if you go there and hurt the chickens, I will not be responsible for my actions forthwith.

It was about time we visited a distillery. Luckily Arran had one. The, erm, Arran Distillery which was established in 1995. Its logo is a picture of the two eagles that halted the building of the distillery for a couple of months while they laid eggs and raised their chicks. At first I thought it was amazing how they got all the bottles labelled up so quickly, but then I realised their youngest single malt is ten years old. We came back with a bottle of Arran 10 and Arran 12, which taste of the sea air and the pure mountain water that flows down to the distillery from the mountains above.

It's in Lochranza, at the northern tip of the island. Pretty spectacular. We returned to the north the next day. Here's a picture.

Oh wait, it seems a Skyrim screenshot got mixed up with my holiday photos. Well that sucks.

"One does not simply walk into Mordor!"

This is what we found waiting for us when we'd returned from pony trekking defeating Sauron. It's possible they were just hungry, but I like to think they had organised a welcoming committee.

We returned to Edinburgh the next day (do you have any idea how hard it is to pack a chicken?), and had some tasty food.

I have a guilty appreciation for this new vogue of scattering little bits of food around a slate as if it's been flung at the floor in slow motion. It makes eating it feel like an adventure.

Much like spending two unseasonably warm weeks in Scotland. That's all everyone!


  1. Wow, great photos! Glad the weather was good for you :)

  2. Wonderful! Thanks for sharing. Really makes me want to visit Scotland one of these days.

    I had no idea you were such a chicken fan (maybe you didn't either) or I would have shown you this sooner: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q-WnIwlDv1o It's me and my girls on YouTube. I made a separate channel for it, even though it's just one video, because I wasn't sure if the Tomb Raider fans would understand my second great love. ;)

  3. Thanks Henry! If you haven't been it is lovely, and very close. We waved as we went through Cambridge on the train.

    Stella... wow. It must have been a latent love because when I was looking for a place to stay the fact that staying at the barn required taking care of chickens completely sold it to me. I still didn't realise how much I would enjoy having them around until I got there, and now it is a life goal is to live somewhere I can have chickens running around.

    I didn't think to ask the breed actually, though they look similar to your lovely Comets, I wouldn't like to presume, or suggest that all chickens look the same. They do NOT.

    I googled "Tomb Raider chicken" and found this clip from Seth Green's stop-motion comedy show Robot Chicken, which is funny, but not actually related to chickens. That means either there's an unserved gap in the market, or there just aren't that many people into both Tomb Raider and chickens.

  4. Looks like an awesome trip! I've been to Troon a few times (my mother lived there for a while) but never made it over to Arran sadly.

  5. Thanks Sean. It would have been nice to see even more of the country, though I'm glad we did what we did in such detail.

    What's Troon like?

  6. "Is there anything so tasty that sounds so much like it should be a brand of haemorrhoid cream?"

    "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter!", although more verbose, also fits those criteria. "Prisoners ask for it by name!"

  7. I'm glad someone answered my question, I don't think anyone else took me seriously.

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