Thursday, July 22, 2010

July 5: Welcome to Scotland

Stonehaven, Scotland
Aberdeenshire in the Grampian region

Although England and Scotland are clearly smashed right up into each other, we knew when we'd left one and entered the other.  England is beautiful, but Scotland is breath-taking.  You see it in the hills.

Something about these hills, with stonewall barriers and grazing sheep, hilltop towers and low hanging clouds of varying depths of grey with peeks of blue sky poking through here and there, puts me at ease, comforted.  It's similar to how I felt in Ireland, especially the first time touching down, seeing the bright expanse of emerald green stretched out before me.  Something in this foreign place is deeply familiar.

Is it my heart recognizing something here?  Blood flowing more easily because part of it came from this place so many years ago?  If this is the case, why don't I feel this familiarity in England, having English blood, as well?  It's just something about these hills.

The music of the Highland bagpipes is the anthem of this place.  The hills rise and fall with rolling grace before plunging into the depths of the sea that embrace them.  The creeks and streams tumbling over the land carry the memory, the history of this place, the breaks in its crust scars of the past.  A heavy but balanced sky is always overhead, shading the dense forest a deeper black.  The clouds are dreams, sometimes heavy and dark, but sometimes bright and easy.  Dark, light, and glowing blue share the same sky, sunshine and rain equally important.  Without both in balance there would be no lush and healthy landscape, beautiful and majestic as it is.  Raging rains to cleanse the air, bringing relief, but then the sun shines so strongly, a sweet sunshine kiss to the land.  This place enchants you with ease.

When we arrived to Stonehaven, I was quite frankly giggling over the beauty of the place.  We were to stay here because of its proximity to Dunnottar Castle, the cliff side ruins of a place believed to have been put there by my ancestors so many years ago.  What a treat it was to find this place was worth visiting all on its own.  A small, harbor village on Scotland's east coast, it's a quaint and pretty little place full of friendly faces and gorgeous scenery.  We stayed at the Beachgate House Bed&Breakfast, located right on the beach, a charming and well-furnished home with fantastic hosts, Alan and his mum.

This is what a B&B should be; it really was like staying in someone's home.  The view from our upstairs room went straight out across the sand to the rolling ocean, the soft and constant roar of waves a wonderful lullaby to send you right off to sleep.  It was rather perfect.

At Alan's suggestion, we walked from the Beachgate along the boardwalk in front of the B&B along the beach to the harbor, and to the Ship Inn for dinner.  This is where my raving about Scottish food begins.

The UK has gotten a terrible reputation for the cuisine.  When you think of England, Scotland, and even Ireland, good food is generally not at the forefront, but why?  Yes, I've tried fish and chips and didn't care for it, but I'm not big on fish.  When my brother and his wife visited Ireland a few years back, they were quickly cured of their curiosity of Irish cuisine and often opted for fast food for the familiar and acceptable taste of it.  This was sad to me because I really do believe a place's food is an important part of its culture, but it's hard to keep trying when your taste buds get burned right off.

This was not the case as we traveled through Scotland, not at all.  Chris and I make a point of trying whatever's local, and the more local, the better, everywhere we travel, and Scotland would be no different.  Perhaps it was the very bad rap the food has that made for such a surprise, but we did not have a bad meal in the week and a half we spent here.  And it began in Stonehaven.

Starter: Cullen Skink - a very traditional soup, many call comfort food.  Now fish soup does not peek my interest (and the name doesn't help) as I'm not a big fan of most fish, but this delectable bowl contained smoked haddock, onion, and potato in a creamy base.  It was fantastic, seriously, I cleaned the cup with my bread.  Chris had the same and loved it, as well.  Moving on.

Main: For Chris, it was steak and Guinness pie, hearty chunks of roasted beef cooked in a thick Guinness gravy inside a crusty, pie shell.  Delicious.
For me, it was one of the specials, pan-seared scallops with sweet pea risotto - phenomenal!  It helps with the freshness when you can catch what's on the menu just outside.

Dessert: For Chris, Bailey's Cheesecake.  Do I need to explain?
For me, it had to be the ever-famous Sticky Toffee Pudding, a square of cake with dates cooked in surrounded by a shallow sea of thick, and yes, sticky toffee sauce.  Looks simple enough, but knocks you out when it enters your mouth.  Ridiculously delicious.

After dinner we waddled down to a pub, not ready yet to return to the B&B, where we met Darren, an English oil man. Apparently Darren has a place in Stonehaven because it's a nice in-between spot when he's in town for work, having to make trips to Aberdeen and Edinburgh, among other places in the UK.  He wasn't shy about offering suggestions on how to spend our time there, and turned out to be quite a lover of Scotch.  When he stepped out for a cigarette, and there was room for someone else to get in a word, the owner and a Scotsman named Gary down the bar were quick to amend Darren's list, wondering aloud who this guy thought he was not even being from Stonehaven and telling us what to do.  Although we couldn't understand most of what the owner said, we could tell he was being friendly and helpful and did our best to keep up.  In the end, he asked where we were headed after Stonehaven and wrote us a list of towns we should pass through, dictating a more scenic route between destinations.  Darren returned and conversation continued, him talking about waiting around for his American wife to get things in gear for him to get his Green Card to live in Austin, Texas full-time, and Gary trying to pipe up from the other side of Darren with  conversation we could more participate in.  After a round of Scotch (that I could not choke down) on Darren's tab, we headed back to the Beachgate for the night.  We couldn't get over how abundantly helpful people were, and how eager to engage the strangers from out of town.  Gary had actually asked what our plans were the next evening, asking if we wanted to meet up.  He said he could show us around a bit, or just grab a drink together.  So we swapped cell phone numbers with him and left it to be decided the next day.  How friendly are these people?

I am in love with Stonehaven.

1 comment:

  1. Now I am in love with Stonehaven, too! I love catching up on your blog. I can actually hear you in my head, your writing is as expressive as if you are talking to me personally. Makes me miss you a tiny bit less.