Friday, July 23, 2010

July 6: Dunnottar Day

It was like waking up in my own bedroom this morning, just the one in my seaside house in Stonehaven.  Waking up slowly in a comfy bed, listening to the gentle roar of the ocean outside, breathing the sea air... heavenly.  I never wanted to leave.  Like I said, this is what B&Bs should be, staying with a friend you've just met who likes to make you breakfast.  So this morning, I was sitting in the living room, watching the early moning waves lap at the shore and listening to a lovely soundtrack of these and muted kitchen noises, as the day began with Alan and Mum preparing our morning feast.  They not only give us a short menu of selections from which to choose, they also gave us a choice of a starter.  A starter for breakfast?  I don't question, I just obey :)

This was to be the day we would hike a couple miles south along the coast to Dunnottar Castle.  It was sunny and gorgeous out with the thinnest layer of gauze across pieces of the sky.

Alan's mum greeted me this morning; this was the first time I actually met her, and she was an absolutely lovely lady.  As we chatted about our plans for the day, Alan emerged and put on music in the open living/dining area, and a interesting choice, at that.  It sounded a bit like dance club music, and I knew I recognized Abba in there somewhere.  It certainly made for a light-hearted and fun breakfast when Chris joined me.

We both tried the Scotch Porridge to start, which was thick and creamy like oatmeal, and quite good, though insanely filling.  The toast quickly followed, accompanied by softened butter and preserves.  Chris went with the Traditional Scottish breakfast (fried egg, sausage, bacon, and a choice of mushrooms, baked beans or roasted tomatoes), and I went with scrambled eggs and bacon, simple enough.  The coffee was good, the orange juice nice and cold, and the company friendly, as we spoke briefly with the French tourists also staying there.  We politely finished off our fruit, which actually made me feel less full, before returning to the room to re-cooperate from breakfast before starting the hike to Dunnottar.  The lesson:  Eat less tomorrow.
The hiking trail bought us up above Stonehaven, giving way to beautiful views.  Along the way we came upon a memorial to the fallen during the World Wars, something we'd be seeing a lot of throughout the trip.  We'd seen it from the town below, standing alone atop a hill, and were curious about it.  Within the structure were words written in the stone, a kind of prayer for those who fought and died for their homeland.  May they never be forgotten.

Being that the memorial is perched on the top of a modest hill, we could see Dunnottar in the distance and carried on.  I must have stopped every five steps to snap another picture from another angle as we neared the castle, as the slightest change made for an even better shot.  The sky had grown grey as we hiked, and we were just hoping the rain would hold off until we reached the castle.  It did, so that was nice of it.

Dunnottar Castle stood before us like a ghost, perched on the edge of jagged cliffs against a darkening sky.

We walked through the various rooms, all still mostly in-tact aside from the roofing, of past inhabitants and tried to imagine actually living there.  The area closer to the water was like a small village, and I guess it was in its day.  We photographed everything from the old brewery room to the bread oven in the kitchen.  One room still had an ornate ceiling brilliant with color, and several of the fireplaces still showed original inscriptions dug into the stone.  My ancestors were made Hereditary Great Marischal back in the day, and built Dunnottar before moving on to Caithness, where a feud ensued with the Clan Gunn.  I walked through the chambers of the Marischal and wondered about the people who had slept in that room, taking a moment to allow myself to fantasize having lived here during that time in history.

With a soundtrack of waves and seagulls, it certainly sounded like home :)

After returning to Stonehaven, having taken a possibly unhealthy number of photos, we wandered around Stonehaven to see what there was to see not right along the water, then ended up walking all the way down the beach to a short boardwalk area, lined with cafes, just before the town border where Stonehaven ends and Cowie begins.  Meeting the end, we headed back to the Beachgate to drop off some things we bought along the way and take a rest.  Upon our return, we found a note attached to the lampshade from Alan.  He'd found a few ciders we'd bought the previous day when we was making up the room and put them in the fridge for us, and wanted to let us know.  I loved this guy.

After a short nap (I LOVE vacations!) we decided it was necessary to try one more local item before leaving the next morning.  We made our way back to the small fish and chips shop on a corner where we'd seen the banner advertising this locally-created treat, paid our money, and watched with interest as the fry guy dipped both of our Mars Bars into the batter and then dropped them into the lovely vat of oil.  If we were picky, we might have had a problem with the fact that as other people came in with their orders, he dropped fillets of fish into the same batter and the same vat to fry alongside our chocolate, but we're pretty easy-going.  It's all bad for you, and we figured the thick, fried outer shell would keep anything too fishy from attaching itself to our chocolate bars.  Yes, I'm seeing how disgusting it really was recounting it here, but whatever, we still ate them.  The first bite was hesitant and a little fearful.  Five minutes later, these suckers were gone and we were licking our fingers.  They were really good!

Dinner this night would be at the semi-famous Tolbooth down at the harbor.  And the food love continues...

Starter: We both had one of the evening's specials, a crayfish gratin, made with a tomato, spinach, and shellfish hollandaise.  I could have licked my plate, it was so delicious.

Main:  Chris tried the monkfish wrapped in Parma ham, and I opted to try to highly recommended Aberdeen steak, which came with broad beans and fondant potatoes over onion puree.  I see why the Scottish are so proud of their beef, and probably moaned a little while eating the potatoes.  Ridiculous.

Having had our dessert before dinner, we walked back to the B&B to hang out, unable to get a hold of Gary on the phone.  We decided it would be nice to hang out at the Beachgate and try some of the seasonal cider we'd bought, which Alan had chilled for us.  What began as a relaxing and quiet moment in the living area turned into a party for four, as Alan's mum found us there while she was in the kitchen watching a football game, and Alan arrived home shortly after.  Alan was so pleased that Chris and I felt comfortable enough to treat the place like our own home, hanging out in the living room and having a drink, he made a couple drinks for himself and Mum and joined us.  They sipped their gin with lime and we tipped our ciders, and talked and laughed until midnight.  We talked about where everyone had been in the world (Mum's quite the traveling lady), and I told them all about my family and how I hoped at least some of them would be able to make it over sometime.  Of course, I would send them to Alan because I knew (and still know) they'd love this place and its hosts.  Alan's mum talked about hr children and their children, where everyone was living and doing with their lives, all living fairly close by in Aberdeen.  We discussed accents, and Alan had us rolling when he did an impression of a nephew of his whom he can hardly understand anymore, for he's taken up talking like his co-workers, a more country group of guys.  We told them about the people we'd met the night before at the pub, Darren, Gary and the owner we couldn't understand.  Mum talked about the new, fancy golf course Donald Trump is building a mile from where he daughter lives near Aberdeen, the protests that have gone on and the damage done to the construction of the place because many people believe it will mess with the wildlife.  We talked about the great food and they asked us what we'd had there and how we liked it, complaining that the restaurants ripped everyone off for a meal Alan offered to make us if we stayed one more night.  I wished we could find a way to stay in Stonehaven one more night, of only for the company and promise of scallops, but it just wasn't possible.  We had such a fantastic night with Alan and Mum, and would love to find an excuse to revisit them in the future; they're wonderful people.  

PS - Alan had a pet tortoise whom we got to meet before departing in the morning.  Meet Speedbump.