Highlights: Scotland

Monkey Shoulder: Vanna White, er Eli, exhibiting the favorite scotch of our host at the farm. It is a triple malt blend of two different vintages of Glen Grant and one of Glenfiddich. Also, it has the most badass name - monkey shoulder is the nickname of a condition that afflicts those who turn the mash during the distillation process. Like tennis elbow, except more hardcore and no skirts.

Glasgow Botanic Gardens: beautiful, endless, immaculate, free, and apparently not as awesome as Edinburgh's, but we still recommend it.

Demijohn: basically a pantry of alcohol and oil infusions - like honey vanilla bourbon, rhubarb vodka, exotic herb combination olive oils, and the like. All are held in huge glass jars that are tapped and ready for tasting. Grown-up candy store of deliciousness.

Glasgow CCA (center for contemporary arts): The ultimate arts combination package - without being too big, too expensive, too commercial or too pretentious. Arty films, gallery spaces, a relaxed bar and cafe, community rooms, and a small shop all filling a cool building right next to the Glasgow School of Art.

Pier Hotel (Skye): Accordion jam session, anyone? Only if you are a cool old Scottish man and know what you are doing, of course.

The Mustard Seed (Inverness): Date night after two weeks on the farm. Total yum and not too spendy!

Highland Print Studios (Inverness): Right around the corner from the Mustard Seed, on the river is this incredibly well organized, super crispy clean, multi-level print studio. All types of printing, all skill levels, all enticing.

Macleod Organics (Ardersier): We are, of course, a little biased to the fine folks at the farm who taught us and put us up and put up with us. A huge thanks to Donnie, Nathan, Jessie, Morven, Uwe, Tom, Sheena, and Robbie; our co-WWOOFERs, Mónika, Leslie and Sylvain; and certainly our younger pals, Katie and Billy.

Connage Highland Dairy (Ardersier): The local cheese and yogurt that we got to enjoy the entire time we were in Ardersier. Happy cows a mile down the road and a great little shop filled with local goodies.

Céilidh: A traditional Scottish barn dance. We were lucky enough to get the invite from Donnie and Sheena for the one up the road where we proceeded to learn the Canadian Barn Dance, the Pride of Erin Waltz, and, wait for it...the Boston Two Step. Do not ask us to demonstrate these. Do take the opportunity to go to a Ceilidh should it present itself.

The Nairn Leisure Park: see below ... need we say more?

Edinburgh Printmakers Workshop: Expansive collective print studio with a small shop and gallery all in one building. The upstairs window looks down onto the work area, allowing you to drool and artist watch for however long you please.

The Royal Oak: Without the music and the company we had, this would've been a ho-hum evening...catch it on the right night, be sure to feel social when you go and you'll be as excited about it as we are.

Dovecot Cafe by Stag Espresso: A new cafe in a weaving studio and gallery space. More importantly, run by a super nice guy who makes delicious food and hosts local treats. Try a Flat White featuring locally roasted beans from Edinburgh's Artisan Roast.

Holyrood Park: Hard to miss, considering it is home to one of Edinburgh's two main hills. Fair warning - the lack of maps at certain entrances, ahem, may lead you to hike the wrong trail and think you've made it to Arthur's Seat when you've really walked the Salisbury Crags route. However, it doesn't matter too much, since being able to hike around while also in a city is pretty satisfying on its own.


Fort of Odin

Edinburgh. Where to begin on this small but wonderful little city? The name. The original Gaelic name, we learned from our friend and host at the farm, Donnie, was Dunedin, meaning fort (dun) of Odin, the god of war. For whatever reason (I'll have to do a little more research here), New Zealand got this, and Scotland, where it came from, got the English version, translated slightly differently to burgh/town of Odin.

I ramble on about the above partly because I found it to be pretty fascinating and partly because Edinburgh just seemed special. The things we did there weren't necessarily out of the ordinary or even all the things we "should" have done, but we both left feeling/knowing that we will be back.

We didn't tour the castle, we didn't make it to the botanic gardens (supposedly far superior to Glasgow's), we didn't make it to the gallery of modern art (where there were two exhibits we were hoping to catch), and despite our best efforts, we didn't even make it to Arthur's Seat in Holyrood Park. What we did do was make a new friend in Morningside, hear some great music at the Royal Oak, get amazed and inspired at the Edinburgh Printmakers Workshop, and hike a trail that goes deceivingly close to, but not actually up to Arthur's Seat (oops).

We were also impressed again and again at the warmth and openness of the Scottish people. I grew up in the Midwest which I've always considered to be a good area for general human courtesy but Scotland raised the bar and set the new standard by which I will judge the friendliness of a place. We also have to thank our Couchsurfing host, Marc, not only for graciously giving us a place to stay, but also for pointing us in the direction of several great places, including Stag Espresso at Dovecot Cafe...part of an old building that was first the public bath in Edinburgh that is now home to a large weaving workshop/studio and gallery space. We managed to catch a pretty great graduate textile show AND some delicious eats before running off to catch our plane to Amsterdam.

Like I said, we will be back.

Location:Edinburgh, Scotland

Three Minutes In Nairn

We spent a few hours in this small town a few Saturdays back, just walking through the streets - absorbing the quiet early morning, exploring random shops, peering hopefully into the windows of a closed print studio, people watching and listening. A lot of listening. I've compiled a brief map of our walk aimed at your ears:

(beginning) Two seagulls were engaged in a serious conversation. We only captured the very end of it, but by that time I had started to appreciate the pharmacy door in the background more than the birds.

(middle) A fish and chips shop employee had the side door open while mopping inside. Something that looked like a bean bag made for a dog was next to the open door on the sidewalk. The radio kept this person company while going through the motions of opening for business.

(end) Sitting on the bench in the playground. It is right next to the sea and a steep slide is built into the hill that blocks the view of the water. Saturday morning brought some small ones and a big thundercloud in the distance.

Location:Nairn, Scotland


Routines. There have been a lot of them that we've been a part of ... fallen into, happily participated in and fulfilled out of pure necessity ... here at the farm. One of the most prominent - by way of learning new things, need-based, and pure entertainment - has been the chickens. There are about 400-500 organic egg laying hens here and each morning someone heads out to feed them and collect the eggs. Each afternoon is more collecting, after which there is egg counting, cleaning and packaging. All in all, we process about 500 eggs per day ... sometimes all four of us are on the task as the clock nears 5pm and we turn into a well-oiled egg moving machine. It really is amazing to be witness to and part of a small group of humans, who are so used to an act and one anothers' movements and roles, be able to churn through work - particularly with things that need such delicate handling.

Thus, the chicken process documentation!

It all starts here with the quad, trailer, egg trays and six bags of feed:

You can see Bess there, waiting patiently. She is about 12 years old and jumps up to join whoever is making the run as soon as the quad starts up. Down a dirt path and few a gate or two and you are riding alongside the chicken pasture. In the morning, they all crowd toward one end when you enter and run along side of the quad, excited for food - but also contributing an integral part of the morning ritual. They look positively comic when doing this:

The thing about chickens is that they are a peculiarly rude creature. All the pushy hustle and bustle and collective crow/groaning follows you and the feed right to the troughs. They are on the warpath for consumption:

While the crowd is busy with filling their little chicken bellies, you start collecting the eggs. There are usually a few hiding places in the hen houses, so you try to hit those first - this way you're not surrounded by mad hens in a somewhat warm hen house, clucking loudly about you stealing their babies. Since the eggs are unfertilized, I don't feel so bad:

Some make bold moves during the process:

There is always a lot of interest in what you're doing, though I'm not entirely certain it isn't purely self serving for them, since they downright riot if you happen to let an egg fall to the ground. They will eat all parts of it in seconds and start waiting around for another false move.

Of course, they aren't exactly piranhas. They are fairly docile and goofy - and the whole scene is quite bucolic, especially if the weather is as good as our day in the pictures. In between the collecting, you check that the watering system is running well, that the solar-powered hen house doors haven't trapped any inside by not working, and make sure the trays of oyster shells are full (for helping digestion and providing calcium for strong eggs!). After all of that, you head back to drop off your bounty and begin watering the polytunnels ... which is another routine unto itself.

Note to future hen having self ... the older they get, the less there will be fresh eggs for breakfast:

Location:Ardersier, Scotland, United Kingdom

British Condiments

Heinz apparently has the market cornered on condiments. In nearly every restaurant we've been in since arriving in Glasgow May 11, this is the collection we've found:

Left to right, that's ketchup, salad cream, tartare sauce, the ever descriptive HP sauce, and malt vinegar. Always in a small bowl of packets, not bottles. I'm not sure what I was expecting but I don't think it was this.

Also, did you know you can put a chicken to sleep by tucking its head under its wing and swinging it back and forth a few times? It's true. Our French co-WWOOFer proved it yesterday. More on the chickens soon.

Location:Academy St,Inverness,United Kingdom