Sunday, 19 March 2017

Climbing Clachnaben!

We've decided to climb Ben Nevis! After bagging our first munro, we got the hillwalking bug and started planning our next one pretty much straight away. But we don't do things by halves around here. Oh no, we decided we'd head for the biggest mountain in the whole UK! Our B&B is booked - twin beds as we couldn't find a double anywhere nearby! June is clearly a popular month to head to Fort William and the Nevis range.

With only three months to go, we thought we'd better get some uphill training in. Bennachie is the most well known hill in the Aberdeenshire area, but having tackled it a few times now, we thought we'd find somewhere new to venture to. Clachnaben is a 1932ft hill near Glen Dye, just south of Banchory. We parked at the forest car park near the Bridge of Dye to begin our ascent.

Look out for Kirsty's Brae Dooks and Chooks honesty box on the way! We stopped at the roadside and got the last box of 6 huge freshly laid ducks eggs for £2. Breakfast was delicious the next day!

We decided to take Harley along for the hike too - he loved it! I'm very wary that our pup is starting to get older now (he'll be 8 next month) and we try not to take him anywhere too strenuous. He managed Clachnaben just fine though. His little grey beard might be getting greyer but his legs aren't slowing down yet!

We followed this route from Walk Highlands starting through the trees, down a short but steep hill and through the glen. For a while I thought we must have gone to the wrong place but eventually the granite tor atop the hill comes back into view. The route twists round towards the summit, and the climb gets steeper as you reach the stone steps.

The granite tor can be seen from miles away so you kind of expect that once you've reached that, you've reached the top! Don't make the same mistake we did and start scrambling the rocks straight away - follow the path a little longer to the trig point first!

We took shelter in a little nook in the tor and tucked into our picnic of green tea and Grenade bars before beginning our descent. The walk took us around three hours in total, the weather was unusually kind for Scotland in March and it was a relatively easy climb, ideal for beginners!

We plan to take on harder, longer walks in the months leading up to our Ben Nevis hike. Who knows, we might even bag a couple of munros as part of our training! Take a peek at my vlog for a better insight into climbing Clachnaben :)

I'm planning to upload to my YouTube channel more - what kind of videos would you like to see?!

Monday, 13 March 2017

A to Z Dating... at Drum Castle!

C is for Castle
Camping - Chocolate Making - Circus - Climbing - Coffee School - Comedy Club - Cooking Class

There's something about Scottish castles. They come in all sorts of shapes, styles and sizes but each one is uniquely beautiful and makes me feel all patriotic. We're very lucky in our neck of the woods, Aberdeenshire has more than it's fair share - some well maintained grand stately homes but many ruins in varying states of disrepair. I can find two within a half hour walk or so from my Mum and Dad's house!

I decided early on in our A-Z date planning that I wanted C to be for castle! We'd picked Dunnottar and planned a day out, walking from Stonehaven up the hill and along the cliffs, but the weather had other ideas. Due to its location, perched on a cliff, the torrential rain had forced them to close Dunnottar for the day. As I said, Aberdeenshire is fortunate in the castle department and we used this to our advantage. A quick change of direction inland and we found ourselves at Drum Castle, near Banchory.

Drum was passed to the National Trust for Scotland by the Irvine family not that long ago. It's an unusual looking castle that almost looks like 3 separate buildings stuck together - from the tower gifted by Robert the Bruce himself, to the Jacobean extension and the additional Victorian architecture.

We were greeted by cheery and enthusiastic NTS staff, and a few of the rooms had guides ready to answer any questions and point out all the interesting bits! You can wonder freely around the displays which feature some bedrooms, a dining room, drawing room and children's nursery. One guide took great delight in pointing out the Peterhead granite used on the grand fireplace, after we'd told her where we were from!

My favourite room by far was the library. I wish I'd taken better pictures, but over 3000 books dating from the 1500s live here on the floor to ceiling bookcase, around the entire room - full on beauty & the beast style! Speaking of the beast, check out that self portrait watching over the books from above the fireplace!

At the moment Drum Castle is home to a number of artworks from Aberdeen's art gallery while it goes through renovation works. I've never been to the gallery - it had been an idea for A but it was closed! - so I was happy to get a little taster. There's a fair mix of Scottish creations on display until the end of March. The most interesting being the 5 Set Conversation Pieces by Ayrshire born Christine Borland, which features five bone china skulls, each placed inside a blue and white patterned china pelvis. Kinda morbid yet intriguing!

An American family were the only other visitors while we were there, and it was interesting to hear things from their perspective around the castle. Simple things like the Irvine boys being known as the Deeside "loons" made them giggle, and then look at us as if we had three heads when we explained loon means boy, and quine is a girl!

I'd have loved to have been able to explore the gardens more but the rain just wouldn't let up. We did make a dash for the nearby chapel though, splashing up the stone steps and through the snowdrops. Ducking through the door, we enjoyed the shelter of the stone walls, light seeping in through the gorgeous, colourful stained glass windows.

The chapel is still in use and can be used for christenings and weddings - it's small and intimate, perfect for such a special occasion. Personally if you're thinking of Drum for your wedding ceremony, I'd recommend hiring the library!

An afternoon of exploring the castle had built up our appetite and we took the short drive into town for a bite to eat at Maggie's Grill! I'd recommend the entire menu here, but this time we enjoyed the popcorn chicken, calamari with delicious house tomato ketchup, a pulled pork bun and a mountain of brisket with fries. Don't forget the hush puppies!

We wrapped up the day with the most obvious C date - the cinema! We loved T2 for all its nostalgia and "been there" moments around our Scottish capital. Is Trainspotting as big in the rest of the UK as it is in Scotland?!

Choose castles. Choose Drum. Choose alphabet dating and changing plans so you don't have to walk in the rain. Choose eating local. Choose Aberdeen. Choose pulled pork. Choose hush puppies. Choose what we do for D on our next date! Choose LIFE! ;)

Friday, 10 March 2017

Glasgow Photo Diary

Our recent trip to Glasgow was a lot more relaxed than usual. Being the control freak that I am, I'm forever researching what's on, where to eat and what to see. Every weekend away has a meticulously planned itinerary, complete with restaurant bookings. Seeing as two friends were joining us on this occasion, I relaxed a little and went with the flow. To a degree anyway - I still made most of the decisions, got us lost in the East end and dragged the boys along to a fancy gin bar!

On the plus side, our little detour did take us past the Barrowlands, Drygate and the legendary Tennants brewery - where I snapped the above photos! The Barrowlands weekend market is a well known local haunt and the infamous ballroom attracts many a well known rockstar, even inspiring Scottish songstress Amy Macdonald to pen a song of the same name. I've seen quite a few music acts at the Barras over the years - MGMT, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Pete Doherty, to name a few!

Staying at a Premier Inn near Merchant City was a top choice when it came to finding places to eat or drink. A short stroll from our hotel we found Doghouse, where we tucked into burgers and plates full of juicy pulled pork and brisket alongside our beers. We finally got a chance to visit Café Gandolfi for breakfast, right around the corner. I'd been recommended this place so many times that my expectations were high, and although I enjoyed my Eggs Hebridean, it wasn't anything all that special.

The Winter Gardens at Glasgow Green - the destination of our detour through the east end streets! Also the place where a random young woman ran up behind me, grabbed my tea cup from the table and smashed it on the floor right in front of us.

(She was autistic and apparently just likes the sound. Even so, I was in shock and still slightly traumatised.)

When I suggested we head to Gin71 for pre-gig drinks, I didn't realise the bar was so fancy. It's like stepping into a 1920's art deco gin paradise, palm trees and all. Top tip - don't just ask for a G&T! They stock 71 different gins, from all over the country with all sorts of botanical flavourings. Pick your gin, mixer and garnish and your tipple of choice will swiftly appear at your table. Gordon and I went for cocktails, while the two Chris' opted for a Hendricks with Fevertree tonic and cucumber, and a Brockmans with light tonic and berries, respectively. The Bramble cocktail was the best of the bunch!

Speaking of cocktails... we managed to swig a few at All Bar One too! I always describe ABO as a posh Wetherspoons - fancy drinks without the fancy price tag. Pomegranate martinis, long island iced teas, white Russians, bellinis, mojitos... they have it all.
If you like pina coladas...!

Before the gig, I let the boys decide where to eat and of course all three of them devoured some serious steaks, while I chowed down on fish and chips, at the Grill on the Corner. We were late to the gig but enjoyed Kings of Leon playing a fair few of their old school tunes, in amongst their more recent hits at the Hydro. Well worth the trip to Glasgow!

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Ladies who Lunch, at Giraffe Union Sqaure

I should have named this ladies who lunch...and lunch, and lunch and lunch. It was probably one of the longest lasting lunches of my life! On a Friday afternoon I picked up my sister and we headed into town, window shopped around Union Square and then headed up to Giraffe for a bite to eat.

While I mostly try to spend my money in local spots around town, every now and then the convenience of Union Square wins. There's an eclectic mix of chain eateries on the first floor - FIVE Italians (seven if you count Pizza Hut & Express), some American chains, two burger joints, two Japanese (Yo! Sushi and my usual go to - Wagamama), one Thai and a couple of Mexican places. But what happens when you and your dining pal can't pick just one type of cuisine?

Head to Giraffe! Their "World Kitchen" takes the very best dishes and ingredients from around the globe and lovingly packs them into one tastebud teasing menu. If you're a traveller come home, missing the vibrant tastes of the far-flung countries you've flown from, this is the place to be. You'll find everything from Turkish mezze to Thai noodles and popular Asian curries - hello katsu chicken!

The cocktail list is bursting with exotic flavours, but it was mocktails all round on this occasion. A strawberry smash and elderflower Collins did the job, and at only £2.50 (£5 if you're feeling boozy!) all day Wednesday - Friday you can't complain!  

Our starters were a mix of Mexican and Japanese cuisines. Sweetcorn fritter tacos for Laura, and steamed duck gua bao buns, which could have done with a bit more flavour, for me. The portion sizes are huge at Giraffe - Laura's tacos would of made a decent main meal if you just added a side! We were pleasantly surprised by the vast choice for vegetarians. It's such a shame when restaurants only have one or two veggie options on their menu, usually lacking any thought or creativity. This is not the case at Giraffe!

After much deliberation I plumped for the colourful Moroccan powerhouse that is lamb tagine for my main course. It arrived in an authentic tagine dish, served on a bed of couscous, topped with crushed pistachios and a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds. The soft lamb meat just fell to pieces at the touch of a fork, and I soaked up the flavoursome sauce with the huge chunks of oil drizzled flatbread.

Laura had taken the advice of the staff and enjoyed a halloumi and falafel burger, with mixed leaves and veg, hummus and tzatziki jam packed into a delicious, toasted brioche bun. She'd switched the skin on fries for crispy sweet potato ones which finished the dish off perfectly. I may of helped myself to a few... even after deciding I was too full to finish my own meal!

Just the thought of dessert was a struggle. Until they placed the menu down in front of us anyway! Suddenly second stomachs sprung into action and we settled on two to share. The Whoopie Cookie (mainly because I like saying Whoopie Cookie out loud. Try it.) and the infamous Spanish churros - often ruined, but so good when done right! Luckily Giraffe fall into the latter category and we devoured the perfectly cooked cinnamon sugar coated doughtnuts, submerged in the rich chocolate sauce.

The whoopee cookie was a glorious mess of speculoos ice cream, pretzel pieces and caramel popcorn, all sandwiched between two soft chocolate cookies and drizzled with chocolate and toffee sauce. Don't ask me which part of the world this originates from, I have no idea but it could easy have been heaven!

All in all, we had a lovely long and lazy lunch at Giraffe. We ended up being there for two whole hours but the staff were lovely and helpful, and seemed happy for us to linger. It's not a place I've visited frequently but after this I'd be happy to return and most definitely drag the husband along with me. I reckon he'd enjoy the colourful collection of games and vinyl on display, oh and the beer - Hola Estrella!

 *I was invited to dine at Giraffe in exchange for an honest review. As always all opinions are genuine, and my own.

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