the mountains of the South


‘Before them stood the mountains of the South: white-tipped and streaked with black. The grass-lands rolled against the hills that clustered at their feet, and flowed up into many valleys still dim and dark, untouched by the light of dawn, winding their way into the heart of the great mountains. Immediately before the travellers the widest of these glens opened like a long gulf among the hills. Far inward they glimpsed a tumbled mountain-mass with one tall peak, at the mouth of the vale there stood like a sentinel a lonely height. About its feet there flowed, as a thread of silver, the stream that issued from the dale’ upon its brow they caught, still far away, a glint in the rising sun, a glimmer of gold.’

(Chapter VI ‘The King of the Golden Hall’ from The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien.)

The description would fit even better if I had been standing across the valley and facing where I stood when I took this photo. This valley is where the kingdom of Rohan was filmed in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I climbed to the top of Mount Sunday, the peak where Edoras stood, but there was no trace of the Golden Hall: the New Zealand government allowed Peter Jackson, et. al., to film here (and other places) on the condition that they would leave the area as they found it. Here, it meant GPS tagging every single bush in the immediate area, removing them to a specially made nursery with gardeners to tend them, and returning those bushes to their original places. Their incredible attention to detail was not only spent on constructing sets and costumes!

Photo: Rangitata River Valley seen from Mount Sunday, in the Southern Alps, New Zealand.

Snowdrops at Cambo

IMG_8089For our Monday Adventure, F. and I again went hunting for snow — and found snowdrops. Every spring Cambo Estate has a Snowdrop Festival and every year we each have missed it, so we made a point in going this year on our day off. We had to go soon, I pointed out, because the crocuses were already starting to bloom.

Cambo Estate has lots of woodland paths, a walled garden, and goes right down to the sea. I’ve never been inside the house, but the mansion is used for receptions and a B&B. We spent a couple of hours just wandering around the woodland, following the burn, and even walked across a big sturdy log that bridged the burn. It was some two metres above the water. I felt very brave.  🙂

The snowdrops carpeted the ground like… well, like snow! It was beautiful. I’m so glad we went and that it happened to be a clear, gorgeous, bright and sunny day.

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Loch a’Choire

F. and I went hunting for snow again last Monday and we found it near Pitlochry. We didn’t see much of Pitlochry itself, heading straight to the path that would take us around the base of Ben Vrackie.

There was a lot of snow. It was beautiful, exhausting, and a lot of fun. I kept stopping to look at the snow, the ice, the rocks, the drifts. Such fascinating formations it creates! (Click on photos to enlarge.)


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This is Ben Vrackie with Loch a’Choire frozen at its base. We didn’t know how technical it would be in wintry conditions, so we just walked to the loch and then turned back the way we came. The snow was too icy to make snow angels and too soft to try sledding (at least, to try sledding using the plastic bags we brought along). But the drifts were big and deep and fun for jumping in.IMG_8036

On our way back we caught up with an older Scottish couple we had passed earlier in the day. We got to talking and went to Moulin Inn to have hot chocolate and tea by a warm, crackling fire. They asked where I was from, whether I was from Scotland or Holland — and were flabbergasted to hear that I was from Texas! And then, because they were driving to Perth and that’s where our train connection was going to be, they gave us a lift to Perth. Such serendipity!

R.R.S. Discovery

One of the benefits of working at a museum that is a member of the Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions is that it allows one to visit other member institutions for free. We took advantage of this on Monday, going to Dundee to see the R.R.S. (Royal Research Ship) Discovery — the same ship that carried Captain Scott and his team of intrepid explorers on their first journey to Antarctica in 1901.

Discovery Point has a museum packed with details of the ship’s construction and commission, including history about shipbuilding in Dundee — where the ship was built. We spent a couple of hours in just the museum, taking in all of what we could of the story. Then, upon exiting the museum, we came to the ship itself.

The R.R.S. Discovery is restored to how it was on its second Antarctic journey in the 1920s. Most of the decks are accessible to visitors; compared to the museum, the signage on the ship was not as informative, but it was still interesting and fun to walk around. It really helped me to re-visualise some of the scenes from Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian or any of the Temeraire novels by Naomi Novik, especially the officers’ quarters and dining room. I kept wondering where the dragon deck would be — the Discovery couldn’t hold a dragon such as Temeraire of course, but maybe a Winchester…

Visiting Discovery Point all in all took about four hours, and that’s with reading nearly everything in the museum and spending quite a lot of time on the ship itself. It definitely makes for a good afternoon adventure!


Lola and I had observed several Polish people in the parks in Warsaw gathering chestnuts. Curious, and feeling adventurous, we decided to experiment.

So I climbed a tree, shaking a couple of the branches to rain down chestnuts to the ground, where Lola gathered them up.


Later, we looked up how to roast them. When Lola pulled them out of the oven, I set to peeling them. Then popped one of them into my mouth… and spat it out again. They were incredibly bitter. We decided that maybe roasting chestnuts wasn’t for us after all…

(More about Poland when I’m back in Scotland and have uploaded my own photos, instead of cheekily using Lola’s!)

Dragons & hot air balloons

Last week I went to Poland.

To be honest, I don’t know very much about Poland as a country. I still don’t, though I do know a little bit more now having visited there. I went to Poland to visit one of my longest-ever-best friends, Lola, who is there on a Fulbright grant.


She met me in Krakow, where we spent the first couple of days. We walked around the Rynek, or big plaza, and the Cloth hall market. We visited the Wawel (pronounced Vavel) Cathedral in Wawel Castle, and I hugged the Wawel Dragon (he even breathes fire!). We ate lunch at the Restauracja Gessler, drank Israeli coffee at the Cheder café in the old Jewish quarter of Krakow, and ate dinner at a sushi restaurant in the same area of town. The Jewish quarter is now the trendy part of Krakow, and apparently sushi restaurants = Western/modern!

We even rode in a hot air balloon.

Yes, we did this all in one day. I realised shortly after I arrived in Poland that this was the first country in which the language was truly unintelligible to me. I have enough Spanish background, with a smidgen of Latin and French, to navigate around most Romance-speaking countries. Even Cyprus wasn’t entirely foreign: not only was English widely spoken, but I recognised enough Greek letters to read place names and identify cognates. Polish on the other hand… I have no clue. Different sounds are assigned to letters I thought I knew. I entered the country only knowing how to say ‘wróżka’, or ‘fairy’ in Polish. By the end of five days I could say ‘dziękuję’ (thank you) and ‘tak’ (yes). Fortunately I had Laura as my translator and guide!

The next morning we had a delicious breakfast at a charming café called Camelot.

After breakfast at Camelot, we went to the Wieliczka salt mines, but that is worth a post of its own. Krakow is a beautiful city to walk around, and a day and a bit isn’t really enough to give it justice.

Tune in tomorrow for the Wieliczka salt mines!