Monthly Archives: June 2017

Scottish Countryside – Designed to Impress

From Inverness, skirting around the Cairngorms National Park to Pitlochry is a seriously lovely drive . It would also have been nice to travel down Spey Side passed the famous distillery region, but we had an appointment at the smallest Distillery in Scotland called Edradour, 5 minutes from the picturesque village of Pitlochry. Guided by Ian in his kilt (as all Scottish guides appropriately wear) he reinforced the process of Whisky making that we learnt in Dornoch and told us the story of Edradour with helpful tastings of course. Heading back to Pitlochry for lunch and a chance to wander through this busy village, I had my pie graving satisfied – Mutton pie and a Forfar Bridie (like a pastie) and Charles bought slices of a delicious meat slice called Haslet. We sat on a park bench in the sun and I now don’t need a pie for another year…

Before arriving in Edinburgh we detoured through very heavy traffic and at times   sitting in a traffic jam to visit the Falkirk wheel. I had heard a lot about this, but didn’t understand how it worked. Basically it is a rotating boat lift  that connects the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal. It can carry up to 8 boats at a time and I must admit its simplicity and design were very impressive. We watched as huge arms effortlessly swung down with a canal boat floating in it’s locked loch and released it at the bottom once it reached the water level again and obviously the whole process goes in reverse  to reach  top loch. It  was Friday rush hour traffic all the way into Edinburgh and our view of the huge Kelpies structure was out the bus window – people of Scotland have a love hate relationship with the installation and it certainly dominates the landscape, but all together it is rather spectacular.

4 nights in Edinburgh started with a casual dinner at Badger and Co – Crowded with Friday night revellers.  It was fun to be in a big city and a fitting end to our Scottish adventure . This is Charles’s  home town and we started our morning orientation walk at the excellent farmers market  – although small, the quality of food in the stalls was fabulous.With the Castle towering above the city, you see it where ever you go – our walk proceeded around the bottom of the castles mammoth walls through the grass market, where hanging’s used to take place, up to the famous Greyfriars Bobby Pub – Bobby the  Skye Terrier became known in 19th-century Edinburgh for supposedly spending 14 years guarding the grave of its owner until he died himself on 14 January 1872. Past the university where Charles showed us the plaque commemorating the Nobel Physics prize awarded to his grandfather 100 years ago this year. Holyrood Castle sits at the bottom of the Royal mile and of course we had to walk its length from one castle to the other. This is the hub for tourists, all enjoying the many bagpipes playing up the 1 mile length  along with buskers and street performers. There is nothing like insiders information and I  am fortunate and thrilled to have Charles show off his home town. Free time gave everyone a chance to visit Holyrood  and the complex Edinburgh Castle in their own time. But we had a surprise concert in the evening and there was a few open mouths when we told everyone we had an evening with the Scottish Fiddlers Orchestra concert in the grand Usher Hall. Surprise turned to enjoyment as our 2 1/2  hours flew by, being entertained by the exuberant conductor and his swinging kilt, a beautiful soprano and accomplished tenor, two very talented sisters who showed off their Highland dancing skills and a local school  pipe band. From bagpipes, drums and the many fiddlers it was a fun night listening to Scottish music and very appropriate to include on the tour.

A trip to St Andrews is our last bus excursion. Today we had a beautiful red headed scottish lass called Gillian as our driver and guide. Crossing the firth we have the original iconic rail bridge on our right and the new impressive road bridge on the left (still to be completed). Travelling along the coast past the famous fishing villages of Pittenweem, Anstruther and Crail, we stopped for a dressed crab for morning tea. It would  have been rude not to try something from the little fish shack  which does a roaring trade all day and people travel especially to picnic here and enjoy a seafood lunch. Gillian  lived on the coast in one of the small villages  for many years and she wove in and out of the tiny narrow streets showing off the beauty of the houses on this lovely sunny Sunday morning.

St Andrews is positively famous for it many golf courses.The old course is always open to the people of St Andrew’s to walk on a Sunday but, today there was a professional women golf tournament on . We walked from the top of the town starting at the ruins of the Cathedral past the University buildings which sit on the cliff above the sea where Wills and Kate met and gained degrees. I had lunch booked at the Jigger Inn. This tiny pub sits on the edge of St Andrews old course and after tasting the burgers last year, felt we all needed burger and beer lunch. To complete our day we had a hour at Falkland Castle.  Again, it is still lived in. The grounds and castle are beautifully maintained and show a past historical life style we can only imagine. The countryside was like an edible landscape – barley for whisky production, huge poly tunnels of strawberries and raspberries and fields of what looked like broad beans.Picturesque, quant villages sit surrounded by the lush spring trees and foliage. We had a very successful day out from Edinburgh and covered a lot in a short time.

With one day left everyone was ticking off all the visits  they wanted to include. A group of us spent the afternoon down at the dockside by Leith visiting the Britannia which was decommissioned 1997, it now plays host to functions and daily visitors.

Our 13 days in Scotland culminated in a fine dining experience at James Thompson’s Tower restaurant. At  the top of the Edinburgh National Museum it has a stunning view of the city. I chose a set menu with a choice of   Goats Cheese Pannacotta, Rabbit Ballotine and Pea and Mint Veloute for Sarters.Braised  Jacobs Ladder Beef, Pan Fried Sea Bass and Broccoli and Smoked Applewood Risotto for mains to Dark Belgian Chocolate Terrine, Isle of Mull Cheddar cheese and Stilton and Rhubarb crumble  for desert. It was a fitting end to the  remarkable inaugaral  tour of Normandy and Scotland that included staying in the odd stately home, many fabulous dining experiences, stunning garden visits and along with our informative bus drivers, guides and the intricate putting together of the itinerary we had a fabulous time with an equally fabulous bunch of New Zealanders and two Australians.

A tour that will definitely be repeated in 2018

From the Highlands to the Lowlands

Notorious highland battles dot the countryside of Scotland along with many castles, sitting perched in prominent sites so they could  be strategic, defensive and basically see what’s going on. Today we pass the battle of Glencoe, where in 1692 the Campbell’s lost face for life after befriending the  MacDonald’s then slaughtering them.

Canals criss-cross Scotland and the t] Caledonian a canal has an impressive line of loch after loch – today full of all sorts of boats slowly making their way to the canal much higher up.

Isle of Skye comes with a huge reputation and a favourite destination for tourists and the Scots alike. Whether it be whisky tasting at Talisker distillery or visiting  Dunvegan Castle and the seat of McLeod’s for over 800 years (of which most seemed to be called Norman) or visiting Portree the main town –  it can pretty much be covered in a day. For those people wanting to walk or hike the Ilse offers a vast choice along with water sports like kayaking and the harbours are filled with yachts . I can imagine sailing around the islands of the Hebrides would be very gorgeous and obviously popular.

We stayed two nights in the south of the island in Sleat which was 10 minutes from the first-rate Clan Donald museum visit, before crossing 20 minutes on the ferry from Armadale to Mallaig to then catch the Jacobite steam train to Fort William. The 2 hour trip passes the impressive beautiful coastline and countryside and was a thrill to be riding in the old carriages listening to the sounds of the steam engine.

Our bus driver was patiently waiting to then head 1 hour up the side of Lochness to Inverness and GlenMhor hotel overlooking the Ness river. The hotel is ingenious and made up of  several Victorian houses so we were spread in rooms along the Ness bank. Its daylight here from early in the morning  to late at night – the photo bottom right was taken at 4am !!

Two days based in Inverness (which I must say is not the prettiest of towns) gave me a chance to take everyone North to Dornoch, the sweetest picturesque village that I fell in love with on my research trips. Home to the famous Royal Dornoch Golf course, cathedral where Madonna got married and a superb Whisky and Gin shop. I had booked a regional whisky tasting here with the very talented Lorna for an hour and apart from JJ fainting and ending up under the table where we left her. The rest of us came away with a lot more knowledge and an understanding of the Scottish whisky regions and a bit warmer inside after our varied tastings.

The Royal Golf course hotel chef Sam put together the exact lunch I wanted – bowl of soup and platters with iconic Scottish smoked seafood and cheeses. The view out the huge windows of players teeing off – some in very colourful ‘plus fours ‘ on what was a beautiful sunny day and we could have sat in the big lounge chairs  with our coffee for the afternoon. If you wonder who I am pointing to : My maiden name is Cadzow and it seems we have a relative ‘Sir Norman Cadzow’ who was president and Club Captain of the Dornoch Gold Course. I asked about him but he is no longer a member!

20 minutes north, our last visit of the day was to Dunrobin Castle and Clan Sunderland  home – arriving late in the afternoon means the huge bus loads of tourists (that we don’t count ourselves part of) are leaving and our walk around the enormous castle towering above the formal gardens was really nice – apart from the Museum.  I didn’t like the many trophies including elephants, giraffes, and every animal you could imagine.

We followed the firths that head out to the north sea back to Inverness and the graveyard of many oil rigs waiting to be broken down for scrap metal, now all part of history.

Our second day in Inverness was spent visiting the eerie battlefield of Culloden and devoting time in the excellent interactive displays. The story of the Jacobites follows you around Scotland the it culminated in a battle less than an hour long here. Now with the road running along the edge and surrounded by farms. Following a rather somber visit we had a special time in my favourite garden at Cawdor Castle – the castle is still loved and lived in and the gardens are full of my favourite foliage plants and many colourful perennials  along with one of the best Laburnum walks I have seen.

The countryside has changed from the Highlands and fields of barley are everywhere – essential to keep the flourishing whisky business going. Distilleries are throughout Scotland from the Highlands to the Lowlands  – worth over a 4 billion pounds a year  and exported to more than 220 countries.

It is said to: ‘Keep out the fire but keep the warmth in’

Seafood Anyone?

Highland countryside is nothing more than spectacular and at times can be very confusing to know which loch you are traveling beside and which pass you are traveling over.  As we drove up Loch Lomond, past the top of Loch Long, over the famous pass ‘Rest and Be Thankful’ (stopping at the viewpoint where you can see the old valley road) to Loch Fyne – famous for oysters. Some managed to enjoy these beauties for lunch in Inveraray. Others used their time to visit the grounds of Inveraray Castle, which has been the seat of the Dukes of Argyll, chiefs of Clan Campbell, since the 18th century.

The coast here is all about fishing and seafood and harbour villages like Lochgilphead have stacks of fishing nets, cray pots and boats lining the wharfs. This is the Kintyre Peninsula and instead of traveling the long road around the Mull of Kintyre we headed across the peninsula following the 16km Crinan canal which basically is a shortcut for yachts and boats who also don’t want to make the long journey. It was a beautiful calm day and Crinan at the end of the loch was very pretty.

Before arriving in Oban which is our home for the next 3 nights, we had a brief stop in Kilmartin. Where 5000 year old archaeological remains of  standing stones, temples and burial cairns sit in the middle of  working farms. We walked through a sheep paddock careful not to touch the stones which is meant to be very bad luck.

Oban accommodation is at Graeme Strachan’s charming Glenburnie house where we have the large Victorian house  to ourselves. Decorated with great style great most had a view of the busy Oban bay and the many ferries coming and going from the Isle of Mull and the Western Isles. The following day we had a full day on Mull and after a rather slow ride on basically a one way road with lots of passing bays,we crossed another small ferry to the tiny island of Iona. It was here Christianity was founded in Scotland by the monk St Columba. Visiting the historic Abbey is imperative and we enjoyed a quiet long lunch in the sun soaking up the atmosphere.


To end all fun days you have to have a fun night. Oban is the home of the famous Green Fish Shack and they make up platters to take away. Early in the morning before departing for Mull I ordered 8 deluxe seafood platters. Graeme kindly picked them up and dinner in the dining room at Glenburnie house was finger licking delicious and certainly loads of fun.

Many people think my tours are all about Food and Cooking Classes. Well having my dear friend Charles with me as guide extraordinaire means history, stories and anecdotes and quirky facts are always included and my tour groups are so lucky to tap into Charles’s knowledge. Of course food in the form of fabulous meals is very important and visiting stunning gardens a must. Our last day based in Oban included another ferry crossing. This time to the cute island of Gigha, south down the Kintyre Peninsula to the famous  ‘The Boat House’ restaurant. The food was superb. From classics like Cullen Skink, Oysters, Scallops, piles of Langoustines to delicious a seafood Risotto and locally caught fish of the day.Once again we were wowed by the food and iconic surroundings.



An afternoon walk around Arduaine Gardens full of huge rhododendrons  provided some well needed exercise after our lunch.

Thanks to Graeme, daughter Holly, son Jack, wonderful staff and his terrific kind hospitality – he did everything from doing people’s washing and ironing their shirts to supplying cheeses for our pre-dinner drinks. We had a wonderful stay and will always remember his famous scrambled eggs and salmon breakfast.