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First Time Bed and Breakfast in Scotland


Well, because we’re not a hotel – and you’ve never B & B’d,

here’s some tips when you’re in Scotland that will help you to succeed.

And the first thing you must understand, no matter where you roam,

there’s a fundamental difference between a HOTEL AND A HOME.

As you’ll be dealing with the owners, not just someone on the staff,

you had best be kind and friendly or you’re OUT UPON YOUR ARSE.

And, because we’re not a hotelTAKE DEPOSITS? Answer, “yup.”

Brings us revenue in winter and ensures that you’ll turn up.

And you’re bound to know our climates wet, while yours is very warm,

so be sure to walk upon our paths and NEVER ON OUR LAWN.

And the reason you might wonder, why the Scottish really cares

It’s because our grass has sticky mud; you’ll TRAPSE ALL UP OUR STAIRS.

And, because we’re not a hotel – there’ll be shopping to be done,

so don’t turn up on our doorstep to come in at HALF PAST ONE.

As we have to change the beds and clean, to make it nice for you

And so we’re busy “making ready” and not done TILL AFTER TWO.

Instead please make the most of things and plan the day before

as we need some time to call our own – we’re yours JUST AFTER FOUR.

And, because we’re not a hotel – we might ASK THE NIGHT BEFORE

what you’d like cooked for your breakfast and the time you’d like it for.

It makes such sense and helps us, but we hate it when you sulk,

but it saves on waste, to cook it fresh – than store it hot in bulk.

And when you see our bowl of fruit, by all means have a munch,

but it’s there to be your BREAKFAST, not to SUBSIDISE YOUR LUNCH.


And, because we’re not a hotel – we will wave you off each day,

as we’re off to have OUR BREAKFAST, just as soon as you’re away.

That’s how we keep the prices down and pass it on to you,

by taking time to plan our day, to do what we must do.

We’ve such a lot of things to clean, once you are out the door,

so if you can, we’d like you GONE BY TEN or JUST BEFORE.

And, because we’re not a hotel – and we are somebody’s home

we would like for you to feel relaxed and treat things like your own.

So straighten up your messy clothes and put your toys away

and by all means pick your towels up and snacks from yesterday.

Remember that WE LIVE HERE TOO – it’s us that drives the brush

Don’t be acting as if rock stars; screwed up beds and THINGS TO FLUSH!

And, because we’re not a hotel –  it comes naturally to most

to meet and get to know you, more like friends and not a host.

Seems we get on well with everyone, that ventures to our house

and much prefer to laugh at life, than treat you like a mouse.

We only ask two little things – RESPECT and BE YOURSELF

then relax, enjoy and make the most – no sitting on the shelf.


And, because we’re not a hotel – here’s the last thing we shall say.

It’s not easy playing B&B – it’s a lot more work than play.

And we hope that you’ll enjoy your stay – and it feels like a reviver

As we need for you to SAY NICE THINGS, when next on trip advisor.

We really hope this little guide has helped you hear our voice,

And that you’ll be brave in Scotland and MAKE B&B FIRST CHOICE

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Inspiration Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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Legends root deep here. It’s why, while the wind keens her Gaelic lament outside, I find myself accepting tales I might otherwise not.

“And a splash of water from this ‘Well of Age”, or Tobar na  h’oige ,” Allison stumbles over the Scotch language, “will wash away the years on one’s face, healing ailments and returning the faithful to the blessings of youth.”

“Preposterous,” James dismisses the information she’s read aloud to us.

The Englishman has already scoffed at the prediction that Christ’s second coming will begin on the battered shores of this Scottish isle. After hearing that Mary and her son, probably, traveled here prior to His crucifixion, James gasped. The questionable location of Macbeth’s gravesite received a sarcastic chortle

But I can easily picture these mythical stories, because I am lonely and heartbroken, in need of a little magic. Like me, this place has been waiting patiently for relief from the enveloping greyness. It seems natural that local imaginations – trapped indoors by tempestuous weather – would draw extraordinary events closer into the ordinary environments of cozy hearths.

Iona’s isolation helps. An island off an island off an island, the journey here is completed in soggy segments. A ferry from the mainland, a wind-lashed drive across the Isle of Mull, and a second bumpy boat ride from a nameless port to the isle’s sole community.

When St. Columba brought Christianity onto here in 563, did the landscape look any more despairing to him than it did to us, as we finally flopped onto solid ground?

“Let’s find this fountain up Dun I,” Allison suggests, closing the book.

 “Naïve Americans.” James again, mumbling into his mug of tea.

I want to tell my boyfriend about the adventure we have planned, but the weather is wrecking the internet. And, I must remember, he is no longer my boyfriend. He’s just a person I once loved. Maybe our retreat here will help me move on; or, maybe, all these stories will prove to be as easily damaged as my last relationship.

                      *            *            *

Several yards up Dun I, the footpath disappears. It doesn’t end, so much as peter out into hoof-trodden grass – as if the powers that protect this spiritual fortress mean to distract casual climbers from the well above.

Allison picks a route that looks least muddy, pointing her worn gym shoes upwards.

But our ill-chosen footwear sinks into marshy soil, making each step part of a balancing dance. Droplets spit against our woolen jackets, as a moody wind joins in guerilla warfare.

“Crap crap crap!” Allison suddenly wails behind me.

“What is it?”

“Literally, crap crap crap!” Her pupils stare down at the landslide of sheep poop she has sunk into on hands and knees.

This, too, feels like the trickery of supernatural beings.

“Look, the top is right there.” I offer Allison a glove, noting the feces streaked across her forehead.

“This better be worth it.”

I now doubt that whatever we find will be worth the misery plastered on her face.

Still, we drag ourselves the last hundred yards. And there, in the center of Dun I, is emptiness. Rock slabs, more dung; a worn stone pillar sits off to the west. Water has pooled inside its shallow basin, but nowhere is there evidence of a Fountain of Youth.

We both sigh heavily.  “I need a shower,” Allison whispers.

I am glowering at my reflection in the disappointing puddle, Allison is dabbing at her stained jacket, when a shadow lifts behind me. The blue eyes in the pool are blinded by sunlight.

What would James say, if he could see the vision below us? Miles of green grass, where raindrops glisten like jadestones. A rainbow bridge, its colored footpath carrying all of Iona’s rumors and truths up to heaven. There is such optimism in this vein of clear sky that a chuckle catches in my throat; were we fools to believe in fairytales, or is this break in the clouds a different sort of reward for our faithfulness?

Allison is a sunflower, her face tilted toward the golden light. Opening my mouth, I let the laugh out.

Maybe I’m not ready for a full smile – after all, there is no real healing well – but I can try for a grin. The start of something better.

On a rare afternoon just like this, when the world was lit as if by spotlight, the newly-converted Picts showed their gratitude to St. Columba by sharing with him their island home. Or, so I hear, the legend goes.

 Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

zzz_IMG_3624As I look back at my life
To measure the losses and gains
Some moments were a boon,some a bane
But for the time that i spent in Edinburgh
I have just one thing to say…
That i’d give anything in this world
To stroll along those streets again..

If i were given the luxury to spend 24 hours of my life at a destination of my choice,it will have to be-Edinburgh,Scotland and here’s why:

Shrill notes of the Bagpiper cutting through the air interspersed occasionally with ringing of the bells from St. Giles cathedral,aroma of the Haggis wafting out of the pubs as you stroll by the Royal Mile,a predominance of that red and black Tartan pattern wherever you cast your eye and you know you are somewhere on the streets of Edinburgh-the national capital of Scotland.

My day begins with a steaming hot cuppa and a massive shortbread from the Elephant’s house,the same cafe where JK Rowling over numerous cups of coffee bore that legendary world of witchcraft.Breathtaking views of the Edinburgh castle from the cafe room with soft music playing in the backdrop,ideas are bound to spring one may think.They sure did for Ms. Rowling whose pictures and newspaper clippings now adorn the cafe walls.’Birth place of Harry Potter’ beams the cafe entrance and as i step inside,i notice a very visible presence of lifesize Elephant statues with their trunks raised as if in a customary welcome greeting to every visitor here.

After relishing my breakfast in the warm cafe surroundings,i head towards my next destination,the National Museum of Scotland. Soaking in the scottish sun,which i hear is a rare phenomenon here,given the incessant rain showers the country sees all year through,i walk the short distance from the cafe to the museum.The museum is home to various arts and artefacts from ancient civilizations and diverse cultures all over the world.With so much to look around,one can easily spend days here soaking in the plethora of information the museum houses.I particularly fancied the scottish section which at first drew me to it with the soulful Bagpiper notes playing in the background.Even though a glimpse around town may provide ample opportunities to bask in the scottish experience,but to be able to read and understand the rich history and culture behind it all,a visit to the museum is a must.After having amassed my fair share of knowledge,i decide to get some air.The Royal Mile is my next stop.The busiest street of the old town of Edinburgh,Royal Mile has very aptly earned the distinction of being the most popular and finest of walkways here.The mile long street is your one stop shop to take in the scottish experience in all its glory.The street is lined up with numerous cashmere and souvenir shops,eateries,pubs and cafe with a very visible presence of the famous scottish shortbread on every cafe’s rack.Scotland is very well known for its toffees and fudges and one is often allured into buying this stuff not only for their divine taste but also for the charming tinned boxes that contain them.Not the one to be left behind when it comes to shopping,i did my fair share of indulgence ,specially when it came to cashmere and shortbreads.Another feast for the eyes here is the sight of scottish men dressed in traditional kilts ,proudly portraying their story telling skills or serenading the tourists with awe inspiring bagpiper notes.As the music begins to echo in the air ,it renders a very upbeat mood to the whole atmosphere and all you want to do is just keep listening and strolling along here.Years after,when you run down the memory lane reminiscing your scottish experience,a walk down the Royal Mile will definitely be one of the high points of your memories.

After having thoroughly enjoyed myself in the warm locales of Edinburgh,the next day i take a bus tour to the Scottish Highlands.Famous the world over for their breathtaking beauty,intriguing history and the very fascinating glens and lochs,the highlands took me to a completely different world.As we drove past snow clad mountain ranges,fairy tale like scottish villages and the mystical countryside replete with medieval castles,i felt like being transported to some magical world of sorts.And to add to that magical touch was our Scottish bus driver who had an enchanting story to tell for every sight in view.From stories about scottish battles and battlefields,the famous massacres in history to the long held traditional scottish myths our bus driver had us all captivated with his story narration.But the bit that intrigued me the most was the Hogwarts express railway line that was accompanying us all along as we drove through.This is the same railway line that takes Harry Potter and his mates to Hogwarts school of witchcraft proclaimed our driver in a spooky tone.No wonder then i was feeling a bit like Hermione Granger myself!

The Highland beauty left me completely mesmerized.Be it the charming highland sheep ‘Hamish and Honey’ with whom i went berserk clicking pictures,the picturesque landscapes with gushing rivers and centuries old bridges or the gracious people with warm and genuine smiles on their faces,this was one trip that will remain etched in my memory forever.

After around 14 hours of a heavenly experience in the Highlands,we returned back to Edinburgh which bore as buoyant a look at night time.The bells from St. Giles cathedral were ringing and the city seemed to be bathed in a vibrant array of colors,breathing life from its every nook and corner.I looked outside the window of my inn and saw the diminishing Sun rays engulf the old town.The sky bore a deep blue aptly complemented by the dep blue waters of the sea just besides the town.It felt beautiful,it felt like a painter’s imagination that could only be pictured,it felt surreal.

About the Author:
Name: Neha Sharma
Occupation:IT Infrastructure Specialist

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter our next Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

391707678_d5aeb3b2e1_oIt was January and it had been raining for five days. As I walked down the street, shivering in my permanently damp coat, I considered my situation. I had moved from New York to Glasgow, Scotland without a job lined up or a place to live. My boyfriend and I were staying in a dirty hostel and had almost no money.

I feared that I had made a terrible mistake.

I had completed a postgraduate course in publishing at the University of Stirling that summer, and I enjoyed it so much that I decided I wanted to spend more time in Scotland. When I met with my supervisor before graduation, I told him that I was planning to come back to Scotland to pursue a publishing career after a brief visit home. He was silent for a moment.

“You’re going to leave New York, the home of English-language publishing, and try to find work in Scotland?” he asked.

I nodded.

“I would rethink that if I were you,” he said.

I didn’t. A few months after returning to New York, I packed up my suitcases again and moved to Glasgow.

My boyfriend and I chose Glasgow because it’s Scotland’s biggest city and the place we were most likely to find jobs, not because of any great desire to live there. I quickly realised that it’s the kind of place that takes some getting used to. Just when I would start to appreciate Glasgow’s Victorian architecture and free museums, I would encounter a group of drunken teenagers singing football songs and start to lose faith in the city again.

Glasgow is a city of contradictions – friendly yet frightening, cultured yet deprived, beautiful yet grimy. Glaswegians take it in stride, employing a great sense of humour and a slew of colourful slang words to make sense of their city’s incongruity. One of the first Glaswegian words that I learned is ‘geezeabrek’, which means ‘give me a break’. I decided that’s what I needed to do – give Glasgow a break. It was never going to be like New York or the peaceful village of Bridge of Allan where I’d lived as a postgraduate student. It could only be its wet, loud, graffiti-covered self, and I had to try to accept that.

While I struggled to get used to Glasgow, it did its best to turn me away. It gave me drug-addicted neighbours who stole my mail and regularly smashed the building’s windows. The only job opportunity it offered me was as a minimum wage temp in an area of the city called Maryhill, which is more commonly known as ‘Scaryhill’. It rained so I often that I forgot what the sun looked like. The dampness invaded my flat and mould bloomed on the bathroom ceiling and under my bed.

And yet I refused to give up.

I bought a waterproof jacket and sensible shoes and I walked all over the city, taking in Glasgow’s unique type of gritty charm. I grew to admire its soot-stained cathedral, red sandstone tenements and industrial bridges soaring over the River Clyde. Whenever the sun made a rare appearance, I rushed into the park with the rest of the Glaswegians, none of us wearing enough clothing or sunscreen. We drank beers all afternoon, leaving pink-skinned and tipsy.

I made friends with Glaswegians who swore creatively and often. I loved to listen to their banter, an easy back and forth of one-liners that rolled off their tongues in a series of long vowels and dropped consonants. Learning the dialect was like unlocking the heart of the city. I could speak Glasgow’s language, albeit with a New York accent. We could finally understand each other.

I knew my feelings about Glasgow had come full circle when a terrorist tried to drive a jeep full of explosives into Glasgow Airport in 2007. Baggage handler John Smeaton ran to the scene and kicked the driver, who was on fire, in the crotch. When asked about the incident, he said, “Glasgow doesn’t accept this. This is Glasgow; we’ll set aboot ye.” Smeaton became an instant folk hero, and fans set up a tribute site where people could donate money to buy him a pint.

To me, this was Glasgow in a nutshell – a fiery spirit, well-meaning toughness and the belief that a friendly pint can make everything better. Glasgow made international news and I swelled with pride in my adopted city. Aye, ye cannae mess wi’ Glesga, I thought.

I no longer live in Glasgow, but it remains the most important place I’ve ever been because it taught me that sometimes it pays to take a chance. When you have an open mind and a bit of patience, you can fall in love with the unlikeliest of places.

About the Author: Katie Lee is an American digital content developer based in England. She writes about Cheshire, Scotland and all the stuff in between at.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter our next Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

scotlandOff the mainland of Scotland is an island called Orkney, itself a mainland for the cluster of islands that migrate north into the Atlantic. A friend had told me about a solstice celebration taking place in Egilsay, one of these islands. Seven of us left the concrete mass of London and did our own migration north towards the sun. After a nine hour coach ride, two hour hitchhike, ferry and then fishing boat ride we made it to this island of 5 farms and a Viking church.

A local fisherman with steel blue eyes and leather skin ran the fishing boat across when the weather was too bad for the public ferry. We passed green slithers of land just visible between the sea and sky, the backdrop for Arctic terns as they sliced and swooped for fish. Our bags were mounded high in the middle of the small boat to keep them from the invading grasps of sea water. Wearing only sandals my feet lost all feeling. Thankfully someone handed round a flask of single malt and this warmed the core. It was late now yet the sun still sent its peach light over the horizon, glowing warm somewhere else.

We climbed out of the fishing boat and up a dirt track, our feet negotiating the stones and mud underfoot. Dark clouds pulled in over the island obscuring the lighter night sky beyond and rain began to horizontally peck at our cheeks and ears. We trudged head first into the blue cold night of a nowhere island. No lights and no sound- except the rain. It felt like we could walk to the North Pole.

A white strip hovered in front of us and as we drew nearer we could make out figures huddled around a bonfire. We had crossed the breadth of the island and reached the beach. Between the sloping banks of sand, the dune grass and the bone-like driftwood more and more figures emerged. The chatting groups of people transformed what had been a journey towards isolation into a pilgrimage of celebration.

We entered a small marquee and a young girl handed us a bowl of steaming soup. Behind her was a rota of shifts for helping out: cooking; washing; gardening.

“Does anyone live here all year round?” I asked the girl. “I stayed here by myself for most of the winter. People would come and go, it got quite hard, no heating, just fires you build yourself, as little as four hours of daylight and the wind, but now it’s worth it, everybody here and eating the veg from the garden…think hard before you commit to somewhere like this.” She replied through the whirls of steam.

It was past midnight and the last flickers of sun had extinguished. “Try and stay up and see the sunrise,” said the girl, “it will only be in a few hours.” We lay down in the sand forming perfect bum shaped seats and listened to the sigh of the sea up and down the bay. As the cold morning sun re-emerged so the ashen sea stained through into turquoise and the sky brought forth a crystalline blue. Hearing the chat and music from onshore, seals nudged their heads out of the water and watched, dipping back under momentarily. With the prickling icy breeze I took off my clothes and picked my way into the numbing sea. As I swam and looked across to the opposite island and back to Egilsay they became two dimensional slits of land dissipated by the air and sea light; hardly there in the vast northern blueness of it all.

Back on land groups of people hauled fagots across the beach towards the skeleton of a 60 foot wicker man. Unlike the swimming perspective, the island was oozing out of itself with laughter and singing as lines of people heaved and tugged at hunks of driftwood. That evening the music got louder and swirling confluences of people circled the wicker man. In a moment of silence the girl we had spoken to walked out of the darkness and set the wicker man ablaze with a torch of dancing flames. Fisherman saw the roaring beacon of light and rowed over with mounds of fresh scallops.

Out of this dark elemental island had grown a celebration of sun, sea, sky and community spirit. I can only take the little flames that kept it going through the desolate winter as reason to work and cultivate through the darkness in order to get to light.

About the Author: Samantha Weaver likes to explore paths, way-faring and pilgrimage, and their significance in what it is to be human. Coming from the Welsh-English borders she tends towards landscapes that are on the edge and in between.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter our next Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

In the distance the late morning mist embraced the tip of Ben Nevis like a lover. The sun tried feebly to break through the dark clouds and the rain came down in a lazy drizzle, oblivious to the fact that it was my birthday and the sun should have been given a chance. I refused to pull up the hood of my raincoat. If the weather could be obstinate, so could I! Fat, wet drops clung to my eyelashes and blurred my vision for a moment. I closed my eyes and breathed in the scent of the moist earth. When I opened them again I saw a stray ray of light seeping through and touching the side of the mountain. Then the mist lifted and the jagged tip of Ben Nevis presented itself in its quiet and unassuming beauty. Its stillness drew me in and once again I listened to the song of the wild that brought me back to the Highlands time and time again.

The mission for the day was simple: find Nessie, capture her on camera, sell the photos, make a fortune and retire to a life of luxury. I’d been living in Edinburgh for almost seven years and had never made it to the shores of Loch Ness, but today was my day. Then barrels of hay appeared right in the middle of the road. It wasn’t a good sign. A few yards further up was the culprit: an overturned lorry had spilled its load of hay and blocked the road to Loch Ness. The police arrived in bursts of blazing lights. My boyfriend and I got out of the car having convinced each other that it was our civic duty to make sure that no one was hurt. We tried to hide our disappointment at the lack of causalities and the obvious fact that our CPR skills would probably never come in handy unless we moved to a war zone. We decided to wait it out on the side of the Hay Highway and in the shadow of a mountain whose presence reminded me of how small and insignificant I was.

The sun was losing its battle against the thick clouds and the infamous Scottish wind had become strong enough to make the clusters of heather at my feet sway in a gentle, rhythmic dance. It was then that we decided that the Loch Ness Monster would have to wait. Back in the car, we took the road which led to Loch Lomond, that of the numerous songs and poems. The Highlands spread themselves before us like an elaborate banquet. The West Highland Way was a winding and weaving path in the distant hills and the backpackers strewn along its narrow trail were like ants laden with indeterminable bounty. The mountains were giants reaching up to the sky to defy the gods. Their tops were painted white with late autumn snows and the small streams which would be gushing in summer were frozen into a solid stillness on the side of gagged slopes. It was easy to see why the bards of old had been so enthralled with Scotland. There was a mystical quality about it, the juxtaposition of the Highlands and the Lowlands, of dark and light, of the fire in the hearts of the people and cold of the land. The silence was so sharp it cut into the inner noise that had became a part of me from years of living in the city.

The Trossachs National Park encompasses Loch Lomond and the trees, deep in autumnal bloom, were awash with the stunning oranges and reds that only nature can paint. The road was steep and at the top was a clearing with a bench. The grass in the valley below was a deep green and the hills were like guards standing watch over the perfect beauty and stillness. We walked to the stone which was on the side of the road and read the inscription: Rest and be Thankful. The Drovers’ Road had originally been constructed as a military route during the Jacobite uprisings in the Eighteenth Century. Tradition had it that travellers, having reached the top after trekking up the steep slope, were grateful for finally getting to rest. I sat down and closed my eyes. Up here, nothing mattered and nothing remained. It was just me, the man I loved, and the land which I had grown to love. The sweetness of the silence was like a drug and the peace I felt elicited in me a gratitude for life that I had never felt before. I was especially grateful for the stray barrels of hay which had led me there. Fate was truly a funny thing.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Colette Kemigisha: Writing has never been a choice for Colette, more like a calling. She studied Creative Writing at university and spends her time writing poetry, short stories and hopes to complete her novel in this century, as soon as they invent a medical cure for procrastination. Follow her on Twitter.

Mt KeenA pile of travel diaries sits on my desk. Most are mine, two are not. My grandfather’s 1937 and my mother’s 1951 diaries augment my stack. All New Zealanders of Scottish descent, it is 150 years since our ancestors emigrated but we have all felt the pull to Scotland. The cat jumps on my desk and knocks the pile. My diary from 2009 falls open …

The land rover bumps and lurches over the uneven ground as we grunt up the hill. Mike the ranger turns to make sure we’re not getting too battered and bruised and in his soft Scottish burr assures us that we’re almost there – he thinks – he hasn’t been to this area of the estate before. While he stops to consult his photocopy of a Victorian map we gaze around at the hills of Glen Tanar.

It’s spring in the heart of Deeside, Queen Victoria’s favourite holiday destination, not far from Balmoral. We’ve seen daffodils and crocuses on our trip up the valley from Banchory but there’s a nip in the air; it is the Highlands after all. ‘Over there’ my sister calls excitedly and we see above us on the hill the remains of a small hamlet. Pulling up we get out and wander around. The Highland air blows crisp and cool. The ruins feel abandoned and sad, but there is beauty in the lichened grey stone. The walls around the perimeter remind us of those in Central Otago.

These are the remains of Walternaldie the birthplace of our great great grandfather, his father and how many before him? Huddled in our thick coats we gaze over the fields, down the valley to the river Dee below. The wind gently whips and whistles as we feel the isolation of this place and meet the family ghosts. We imagine what life here was like and can almost smell the peat fires and oatcakes cooking. The black faced sheep which were the livelihood of so many highlanders after the Clearances are everywhere, hardy but scrawny. They watch us as we nibble the buttery homemade shortbread and drink the flask of coffee provided by the estate’s cook.

Back down the glen to Correyvrach which sits at the foot of Mt Keen on the old drovers’ route from Paisley to Aberdeen. Here our forebear moved not long before seeking his fortune in Aberdeen and then emigrating. Mt Keen is popular with today’s adventurers, the most easterly of the 282 Munros to be ascended and ticked off the list by the keenest climbers. There are still patches of snow on its lower slopes; it looks bleak and barren. The Scottish palette of colours – browned heather, yellow green tussock with the blue sky and grey stones gives the area a haunting beauty.

Further along the Dee River, clear and cold, flows merrily with a stone bridge leading to the last remaining portion of an ancient Caledonian pine forest. The sun is out and the water twinkles as Mike tells us of the efforts being made to preserve what is the only one of its kind in the UK.

He drives us back to the Glen Tanar homestead and modern day Scotland. We are entranced by the 19th century ball room, popular for weddings we are told. It has tartan curtains and a parquet floor as well as stags’ heads on the walls and over 600 antlers decorating the ceiling. There are masses of books, a grand piano and cosy armchairs. It exudes an air of comfortable, almost homely elegance. This is a far cry from the ruins we have just visited.

We climb into our car and head off back down the glen, feeling grateful to those ghosts. Grateful that they could leave this beautiful place, their home and their family. Grateful they did leave. Grateful we could return and experience it.

I push the cat down, close the diary and step out into the bright New Zealand sun.

About the Author: Clare Gleeson is a New Zealand historian, librarian and travel writer who enjoys exploring her own country as well as those further afield. She has a travel blog so you can read more.

conic hill 4New Year on Conic Hill

New Year’s Eve in a Scottish new town, and it was strangely subdued – the lull before the storm of celebrations. Then as midnight approached, tall, dark-stroke-red and (allegedly) handsome men (for these are the necessary credentials of the first-footer) crept out onto the streets armed with whiskey, a tumbler, shortbread, and a piece of coal. All along the street, the first-footers huddled up against doors like stray cats waiting to escape the cold.

As I stood in the hallway, I heard the muffled rumble of low voices outside, then laughter, the ‘glug, glug’ of whiskey being poured, and the clink of glasses. Neighbours caught up with a year of news, visiting family members sometimes decades. As the celebrations sprang into action, our household slipped off to bed; we had other plans.

Snatching a few hours of sleep, we were up again come six. While the town dropped off into an exhausted slumber, we stumbled bleary-eyed to our car and headed northwest. The streets were deserted except for a lone figure weaving a drunken path.

We curved round the shadowy base of the Campsies, black humpbacks in an inky sea of sky. Finally we arrived at the shores of Loch Lomond. It was almost seven, and Scotland still slept.

Silently, we ducked into dark woods. I breathed in the sweet smell of peat and pine. This is where I wanted to be. Ahead the ice-covered path rose up, a guiding strip of pale neon in the darkness.

“I’m glad we’re not in America,” my son whispered as we slid through the trees.
“Why America?” I whispered back.
“If there was a bear right in front of us, we wouldn’t see it!”

The sky changed from black to ink-blue to powder-grey. Dark silhouettes slowly took on texture and colour. We reached the gate that would take us up Conic Hill. Soon we were climbing steeply upwards. Down below us, orange lights scattered across the valley like marigolds on the Ganges.

Light was seeping through the sky now like a pale dye spreading through fabric. We were close to the summit. It was a hands and knees job as we scrambled ever upwards; nothing between our feet and Loch Lomond and the tens of islands strewn across it.

Then we were on top. Giddily, I texted: ‘Happy New Year from Conic Hill’. You would think I’d just conquered Everest – and so I had in my mind.

We followed a wide runway of green grass down off the hill. Ahead, the ridge and the Loch islands cut a straight line to the hill on the other side – the Highland boundary fault line. I felt I could take off with a hop and skip across the islands, over Greenock, the Isle of Bute and the world beyond. I felt anything was possible. The world was mine.

But instead we dropped down to the shore of Lomond. Father and son skimmed stones over the ice. The dull thud-thud-thud of the bouncing stones echoed around the loch and the snow-marbled mountains.

It was an hour, and a million light years, from the grey concrete town.

About the Author: Helen Moat spent her childhood squished between siblings in her Dad’s Morris Minor, travelling the length and breadth of Ireland. She’s still wandering. She blogs at:

TinkerbelleI was supposed to be in New York, but instead I found myself in northeast Scotland being chased by a goose through a forest – and it was all thanks to Tinkerbelle.

My husband and I had planned to be at his brother’s wedding in New York that week, but we were stuck in the UK thanks to delays with our visa applications. Since I’d already taken time off from work and we were both feeling a bit sorry for ourselves, we decided to book a last-minute trip to the countryside to get away from it all. And that’s when we found Tinkerbelle.

Tinkerbelle is a cottage on a Balnaboth estate in Glen Prosen. She is bright yellow and round with a pointed roof, and so tiny that the surrounding trees threaten to overwhelm her. Staying in Tinkerbelle is like being in a fairy tale, in the way that fairy tales are both magical and slightly dark.

Take the goose, for example. The fancy estate house next to Tinkerbelle is guarded by a goose who struts back and forth in front of it all day. A goose guard? Magical! But when that goose tries to chase you away from the holiday cottage that you’ve paid to rent like you’re a common criminal? Dark. Being surrounded by rugged, unspoiled wilderness? Magical! Discovering that said unspoiled wilderness includes abandoned farmhouses, rusted farm equipment and a ruined stone chapel that’s being slowly torn apart by trees, reminding you of the very transitory nature of human existence? Dark.

The creepy magic of Glen Prosen overwhelmed my sense of logic. On our last night there, I went outside the cottage and saw a large frog sitting a few feet away from me. My first thought was not, “This frog must have come from the river that runs just outside this cottage.” It was, “This frog might be a prince.” We stared at each other for long time, neither of us willing to make the first move, until my husband came outside and the frog hopped away into the darkness.

“There’s a big frog out here,” I said to my husband.

“Gross,” my husband said, and we left it at that.

The glen was so many kinds of green, the result of so much Scottish rain. It pulsed with movement from rabbits and rivers and our feet on its paths. We explored it while using long walking sticks and pretended that we were Gandalf from Lord of the Rings. At night we put on thick socks to protect our feet from Tinkerbelle’s cold stone floor and watched 90s movies on VHS in front of a wood-burning fire. I remembered how much I hate Adam Sandler. I forgot about New York. I relaxed for the first time in months.

On our last day we packed up the car and drove away from Tinkerbelle, honking at the goose as we passed the estate house. He honked back angrily and flapped his wings. I knew that some other couple would arrive at Tinkerbelle later that day and he would hate them just as much, and it made me a little bit sad. This was our fairy tale, our angry goose. As for the ending to our story, “and they lived happily ever after” seemed slightly optimistic at the time given the uncertainty of our visa status. “And they lived” was probably the best we could hope for. As we drove out of a canopy of overgrown trees into the early morning sunlight, I decided that was good enough for me.

About the Author: Katie Lee is an American web content developer based in England. She writes about Cheshire, Scotland and all the stuff in between at

Edinburgh castleEdinburgh Castle—Rock Solid Symbol of Gratitude

Gratitude looks to the Past and love to the Present; fear, avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead.”
― C.S. Lewis

While touring Great Britain, my group and I visited Edinburgh Castle, an iconic fortress that stood on top a giant rock dominating the Scottish skyline. I was part of a group with members from the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. While I was walking the streets and dining in Edinburgh, I couldn’t help but notice this symbol of gratitude; for whenever I looked up, the castle was there as it had been there for centuries protecting the Scottish people, including some of my Scottish ancestors.

The castle, built on a volcano left behind by the ice age, was erected and modified over many centuries and had been involved in many historical conflicts such the War of Scottish independence led by Robert the Bruce in the fourteenth century and the Jacobite rising of the mid-sixteenth century.

In order to reach the castle, visitors must walk up the cobblestone inclined walkways, much like the soldiers did in earlier times. Our kilted guide, a fountain of knowledge on Scottish history, pointed out the buildings along the way. Listening to his thick brogue transported me and my group back to earlier times and reminded us that we were in Scotland. Like the other members of my group, I was in awe listening to the guide pronounce “Bruce” with a long “u” or “oo” sound like the dialect of my ancestors.

The guide pointed out the prominent Half-Moon Battery built in the sixteenth century which guarded the fortress. He also mentioned that the military buildings on the site had revised their functions as weaponry changed throughout the years. The fortress housed prisoners during the Seven Years war, the American Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. The grounds also had living quarters to house the reigning Scottish king and a meeting place of the Scottish parliament.

The Scottish National War Museum commemorated the Scottish soldiers, and those serving with the regiments, who died in the twentieth and the twenty-first century wars. There were rolls of honor of the fallen from each war. I was fortunate enough to find some family names of ancestors (Dick and Greehan) while perusing the museum. There were fascinating exhibits of Scottish military history over the past four hundred years including a wide range of military artifacts, such as uniforms, medals and weapons. The exhibits also illustrated the history and causes behind the many wars.

In a small room, we saw the crown jewels which were comprised the crown, scepter and sword of Scotland. Because of conflicts between the English and the Scots, the crown jewels went into hiding in the days of Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England and were restored for King Charles II’s coronation. After the Parliament of Scotland was dissolved in 1707, the jewels were locked away and forgotten about in Edinburgh Castle until Scottish novelist Sir Walter Scott found them in the far reaches of the castle a century later.

After that, we admired another important Scottish artifact called the Stone of Destiny; also know as the Stone of Scone. The stone was used for coronations of Scottish kings until the 13th century when the English invaded, captured it and used it as their own coronation stone. In the 1990’s the British Government decided that the Stone should be returned to Scotland where it had been displayed in Edinburgh Castle ever since. This Scottish descendent is grateful to the British Government for their wise decision.

Presently, the castle is no longer actively used by the military. The military presence is ceremonial with performances by the Edinburgh Military Tattoo taking place every August. The spectacle consists of a parade and pipes and drums performed by Scottish regiments with military bands from all over the world participating in this event.

This landmark is a lasting symbol of gratitude. I hope to return someday when I can see a performance of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo and get another guided tour from a Scotsman with a thick brogue.

About the Author: Eileen Sateriale is a government administrator who writes in her spare time. She lives in Methuen, MA with her husband and has had the opportunity to travel after raising their two daughters. She can be found on Facebook.