Saturday, August 29, 2015

Day 11 - Forvie NNR, Pitmedden Garden, Cruden Bay and Fraserburgh Museums

Man we had a good day today! We tried to get away pretty early but by the time we’d got our gear in the car and cleaned up and dropped the keys around to the AirBnB host it’s about 9 o’clock. Well, we’ve passed our first danger. The vacuum cleaner at the flat. It’s so loud we wonder if it has something wrong. It’s louder than the mills working at full volume that we listened to at Stanley Mills yesterday. It's deafening. Literally.
First up we’re heading to Forvie National Nature Reserve. We stop at the local BP petrol station on our way past to pick up a map and I take the opportunity to sample some treats we don’t get at home. Notably this includes some Tyrell’s chips, Bassett’s Jelly Babies and Cadbury Daim chocolate. Well actually two blocks of the latter, I can take one home to show the kids. The plan is to just sus Forvie out a bit and maybe take a short work in doing so. Hubby insists he’ll come along. Despite the place not looking much from the carpark, we set out. Nothing ever runs smoothly! Before we’ve gone very far the camera battery dies and on this occasion I opted to leave my handbag in the car and just bring essentials. Apparently not all essentials. Try again.
Forvie NNR seems popular with people walking dogs and we smile when someone with two black Labradors meets someone else also with two black Labradors. The Labradors smile too, in their doggy way.  There’s a couple of loop paths that can be taken to different habitats around the reserve, but we’re just planning to do part of the heath walk have a look at the little loch and head back. We have a lot on today’s agenda. 
The first ooh ahh moment comes when I look at the grasses and the ground over which we are passing. Gee, there’s moss growing in between the tufts of grass out in full sunlight. You certainly don't see that at home. After a while when we get out of sight of the car park we come to areas where there is a lot of flowering heather. 
Despite the wind the honey scent rising off the heather is amazing and delicious.  As we walk along we come upon scene after beautiful scene as though nature has its easel out today and is painting new pictures for us to enjoy. There’s more than just the heather flowering there’s other heath plants also that are displaying their dainty little blossoms beside the path though many of them are just in single plants here and there. Harebells are among them but others are existing in the moment label free.
We crest a dune and finally the ocean comes into view. It’s wild with white horses and this has been consistently the case since we arrived in Scotland. I wonder is it always like this? Is it ever as calm as glass like the Pacific or the Tasman can be off Australia early in the morning? We come to the corner that the maps suggest is where we will need to finish and head back. It’s been a fabulous walk and we have both really enjoyed it. Hubby of course finds another little piece of technology to admire in the sweet little wind turbine near the Forvie Visitor's centre. He's pretty impressed by how much power it generates. 
Now we need to backtrack a little and head for Pitmedden Garden. This gives us another opportunity to admire the beds of rugosa roses and lobelia among other beautiful bedding plants at Newburgh and the groups of waders out on the flats of the estuary by the road. What could be more enjoyable than being out on the open road listening or singing along to your favourite tunes? In this case Rod Stewart fits the bill.  ..The first cut is the deepest, baby I know, the first cut is the deepest...
We’re finding that the TomTom maps really need to be updated. They really aren’t all that reliable in Scotland for finding our way to the various tourist attractions. Hubby’s google maps on his phone is proving more useful. However we’re still in the process of arriving at that conclusion as Billy directs us to the wrong place to enter the gardens.  Try again. 
We park and wander into the conservatory which is filled with the heady scent of some oriental lillies in full, perfect bloom. 
A turn left to the gift shop then flash our membership cards and get provided with an enthusiastic greeting and a map. This map also seems to be a little out of date and in the end, not having been able to find the start of the indicated walking path, we just ad lib starting with the museum of farming life, which is small but interesting and includes a farmhouse.  Then it’s a simple matter of wandering over to look at the formal garden and its 5 miles of hedging. I do indeed appreciate the work that keeping the hedges in such a neat state around the garden beds must involve. A sign says it takes 3 months out of the year just maintaining the hedges.  The formal style is a great one for people who can’t walk too far because they are designed to be viewed from above rather than walked among. We’re happy to take this approach! The breadth of the garden beds is impossible to capture in one photo and difficult to do justice too even if choosing one section. I think perhaps my favourite part of the garden is the herbaceous border and that I can get.
Decision time as lunch approaches, do we eat here or wait and eat in Cruden Bay? We have a dinner booked so an early lunch might be sensible. We’ll eat here at Pitmedden.  Good decision. Some people have just left which leaves us the nice window seat with pretty bright pink geraniums in the window box. One thing I’m noticing is that there are a number of plants, or styles of plant, that look lovely here in Scotland but not so nice in Australia. I’m puzzled as to why this is. Perhaps it’s the softer light here and the moister air. The pink geranium flowers have a vibrancy and sheen that they just don’t manage to sustain in Australia’s harsher climate. It’s similar with scents. I’ve noticed some flowering privet here and there in our travels and the fragrance of the blossoms in Scotland is quite pleasant. Different context different effect. Privet is a noxious weed in Australia and the smell of the flowers is cloying and, I find, not nice in the drier, hotter air.
The menu at Pitmedden is simple but sufficient. Hubby chooses the sandwiches and soup combo and I just go with the sandwiches.  Today’s soup is carrot and coriander and Hubby complements that with Scottish Honey Roast Ham and Lockerbie Cheddar on white bread, washed down by a fair trade hot chocolate with cream and marshmallows on the top.  I’m just sticking with the sandwiches and have selected Lockerbie Cheddar and Arran Chutney on brown. My drink is freshly pressed apple juice. Everything is satisfying. The cheddar is a dark orange and the chutney is sweet and mildly spiced. We’re tempted by the Caramel Apple crumble and homemade custard, but time is of the essence today and dessert is a luxury we can’t afford and don’t need. Hubby settles the bill and we make tracks.
We are back on the road and making for Cruden Bay for a quick squiz. We’ve had our fill of ruins with Dunnotar Castle yesterday, so Slains Castle has been scratched.  We meander through the village and find our way down to the ocean front where we park and hop out of the car wondering when the heavens are going to open up. The sea looks fairly wild and the waves are crashing to the shore. The wind is blowing strongly, but far from gale force.  
What’s happened? Suddenly the throng of gulls that were clustered down on the rocks take flight and head straight for us. I snap blindly hoping for the best. It must get wild here. The boats in the harbour are chained in a sequence to keep them apart, each end of the chain secured at either end of the stone enclosure.
We don’t linger, though we do pause on our way out, nearby washing flapping on the line of a pretty little stone cottage by the water, to try to photograph some of the birds on the dark, weed encrusted rocks.
It’s now just after 2pm and that doesn’t leave us much time to see the Lighthouse Museum or the Heritage Centre in Fraserburgh we may need to choose one and skip the other. Hubby chooses the lighthouse. We do enjoy a lighthouse tour.  The weather is closing in as we drive into the dark brooding clouds hanging sullenly over the east coast. The lighthouse museum hasn’t readily appeared in the TomTom so we’re feeling our way until we can pick up on local signage. We take the coastal route figuring that is sure to find the lighthouse and this is a lucky choice because we pass by the harbour and lots of impressive fishing vessels that are wonderful to have a look at. No problem with parking outside the museums and in a mind to hurry due to rain and time. We open the car doors and I’m pretty much stopped in my tracks. Mmm. Oooh smell that!  The air is full of the delicious smell of smoking fish. Come on! Says Hubby, and I snap myself out of it. When we were in England in 2012 I developed an apple obsession. I think the food obsession this time is smoked haddock and its close relative Cullen Skink.
There’s a clue to the weather in these parts in the wide overhang outside the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses. We wander in and the guys behind the desk point out that we don’t have much time to see both museums. Yeah, we figure we better just see one. They recommend however that we book in to the 4pm lighthouse tour and meanwhile head over to the heritage museum and get a discount on entry for doing both. Turns out our Historic Scotland gets us in to the Lighthouse so that saves time now and we can just pay for the heritage centre.
On entering the Heritage centre we need to walk down a long ramp where the walls have information posters. “WOW!! Look at that!!” I cry. “Check out the photo of the harbour jam packed with hundreds of herring drifters”. Hubby’s loitering looking at some signs behind me, but intent on hurrying past. He doesn’t seem anywhere near so excited. But then he’s not the one here who read Neil Gunn’s masterpiece The Silver Darlings when preparing for this trip. Maybe that’s another clue as to why I’m obsessed with the smoked fish. I really loved that book.
Despite only having about 45 minutes or so, I get the audio guide. I can dip into that. Hubby decides to just explore without one. We go our separate ways as we each find exhibits that fit our particular interests. There’s a wide range of subjects to choose from. Guess which one captures my attention?  Not really that challenging a quiz given my ravings above, that’s right, I’m focussing intently on listening post 1. It’s about the harbour and the herring fishery. I’m just working my way through sequentially for a while from there.  The statistics are amazing. Fraserburgh had 1000 coopers working to supply the 300,000 casks required for the herring each year! I get to the Marconi hut and listen with interest to the information about World Marconi day and the annual events that take place here in the government licensed radio station which has been built based on photographs of the hut where Marconi and his staff conducted experiments in Fraserburgh all those years ago.
I particularly enjoyed an exhibit about the historic village of Broadsea and the clay model that was made by local schoolchildren over several years as they studied the history and community of that village as part of an integrated curriculum unit involving pretty much all of the key learning areas. The model is brilliant and the history is quite sad, the community lost 2/3rds of its male population in a storm in 1740.
Hubby made his way further into the depths of the museum to a display where you could operate model trains. Then he checked out the Marconi hut and set off the air raid siren in the World War II section. His favourite exhibit was about fish exports to Australia and the innovations they came up with to preserve the fish over the long journey. They put the fish in glass jars with olive oil and sealed the jars with pitch.
We’re due for the lighthouse tour soon, so I just duck across to the WW1 and Bill Gibb exhibits and photograph some of the information panels to read later then we have to make our way out. The Heritage Centre is a brilliant museum. Really well done. It’s a shame we don’t have more time, but something is better than nothing.
We duck back across the car park to the Lighthouse Museum, get issued with tickets and then browse in the gift shop for the couple of minutes we have before the tour starts. Our guide is Callum and he’s very knowledgeable about the workings and history of the museum as well as being a very personable young man.
First stop is the fog horn which has been decommissioned. I’m surprised at the amount of infrastructure it required in support to keep it operating in poor weather. Then we pause to hear all about the current automated beacon before we start to talk directly about the lighthouse itself which is built within and from the 16th century Fraser castle when it was no longer in active use.
Once again Sir Walter Scott was instrumental in the preservation of the castle structure (was there anything going on in Scotland in his lifetime that he wasn't in the thick of? There’s lot more interesting bits of information that Callum has to tell us. 

I won’t tell all the content of the tour. Better that people discover the lighthouse for themselves nice and fresh without having the eyes picked out of it here beforehand. I will simply assure you that it’s a really interesting tour and quite a unique lighthouse with great views over the coast and Fraserburgh. Well worth visiting.
I’m the last out of the lighthouse as I want the chance to get a clear view of the lovely spiral of the staircase.
Now. Next item is another tick of our must see list. We are passing by a large Tesco’s! I want to have a look in Tesco and I doubt we’ll ever get a chance better than this. In we go. We stock up on souvenir things that we don't get at home. I also find some yoghurt to try, it’s YEO yoghurt, which tipped me off as to its origin, which is North Somerset, where some other of my dead rellies reside. Hubby found himself some pork pies, which should keep OK if kept cool. We line up at the checkout, no worries, and I am reassured as to the survival of the Scottish accent: I could barely understand a word the young woman on the checkout said to me! Two thumbs up
Heavily laden we make our way to the car. We’ve had a brilliant day but it is late and we need to check in at the Tufted Duck Hotel in St Combs. We need to drive there via Rathen for another family connection.

At the Tufted Duck our room is a suite. I don’t remember booking a suite. Perhaps they have upgraded us. The bed is comfy and the room has horizon views and big picture windows. Beautiful. Hubby especially really likes this accommodation and wishes we were staying in this area longer.  So do I. We both talk of coming back some time.
So just dinner, which is in the hotel restaurant and then we can relax. First of all we are given a couple of tiny pastry cases with Arran chutney in them.  Then for our starter course I’ve opted for the Sauteed Amity Langoustines: Locally landed langoustines, sautéed in fresh garlic and coriander on a bed of thai style noodles. Hubby the Mrs Rennie’s Poached Egg: Free range local hen’s egg, poached and wrapped in Black Haggis coated in a golden crumb. Served with whole grain mustard mayonnaise. Competition is suspended.  We each share the Taste of Cullen skink: a Demi-Tasse cup of Cullen skink with homemade bread. It’s good, almost as good as at Glamis Castle, which means it was very good indeed, but I think Glamis Castle still holds the crown by a narrow margin.
For mains: I win with the 8oz fillet steak which comes with long stem broccoli, grilled tomato, flat cap mushroom (which I quickly dispose of before its presence is adequately noted by my bodily systems and rejected. We skip dessert. Oh my! Can you believe it! Twice in one day!

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