Monday, 20 February 2017

A to Z Dating... Baxters of Fochabers

B is for Baxters
Baking - Ballet - Bennachie - Bowling - Boxing - Bread Making - Brewery

I feel like this year is flying by already. With aims to have at least one alphabet date a month, we're on to our second letter sooner than I thought. February has been a busy month - between birthdays, leaving parties and trips to Glasgow, we really only had one weekend free to squeeze in B. Originally we had planned to do the brewery tour at our local Brewdog - Dogtap in Ellon. However I wasn't organised enough, and left booking too late. We were offered the option of turning up in the hope of a no show but that seemed a waste if it didn't happen.

In the end, we narrowly avoided a major tantrum and settled for a slight sulk with a pouty lip and a trip to Baxters!

I really wanted to share date suggestions that weren't location specific. As well as sharing what Aberdeen and shire has to offer, I want people who aren't local to be able to take away ideas and inspiration for A-Z dates too! I'm not sure what the national equivalent of Baxters would be but for a last minute plan on a Sunday it really didn't matter! At the end of the day it's about the two of us spending time together and making memories. The drive up to Fochabers was probably the longest part of the date - made even longer by a lack of radio signal and a husband who forgot to grab the CD's. He had one job!

Baxters of Fochabers is home to the original grocery shop, dating back to 1868. Along with this, the Highland Village is made up of a large restaurant and specialised stores selling their finest Baxters and Audrey Baxter goods, a myriad of gin and whiskey, cookware and Scottish souvenirs.

The old store is probably the most interesting part, decked out like we're still in WWII. Here you'll find ration books and gas masks featured among the many vintage Baxters tins and the story of how the company became what it is today. Wow, I've just realised this is probably the world's lamest date...

Onto the good stuff - gin, glorious gin! You'll find a huge array of Scotland's finest for sale. Everything from plum and vanilla Edinburgh Gin to Golf by Eden Mill, and Aberdeen's very own Porter's. I could have easily spent a fortune - Rock Rose for me, a 17 year old Balvenie Doublewood for him. In the end all we bought was some chilli chutneys and a hell of a lot of jam.

I like shopping as much as any girl, but that's really all there is to do at Baxters. Maybe they could introduce some sort of activity - a jam making lesson or something along those lines? I whiled away the time browsing books on munros and Aberdeenshire walks but Gordon tried his best to steer me past the cook shop and straight to the restaurant!

Baxters are infamous for their freshly made pancakes. A ladleful of batter is slapped onto the hot plate where you can watch them bubble away before they're flipped and become these giant, fluffy beauties. We smothered them in strawberry jam and daintily cut them into bitesize pieces. Pancakes are surprisingly filling! Good job we didn't go with plan A and order actual lunch food first. Yep, as predicted, all our alphabet dates are starting to revolve around food.

We had a wonder round the nearby garden centre and that was it for our granny date! Any rock'n'roll suggestions for C?

Read what we got up to for "A" here - Afternoon tea at Almondine!

Monday, 13 February 2017

Spectra 2017

Spectra was the first of Aberdeen's festivals to really grab my attention this time last year. I wasn't lucky enough to go - by the time I'd cottoned on, it was over! It's a visual festival of light, illuminating the granite city for one weekend each winter with its collection of art installations.  In this age of Instagram culture it certainly catches the eye and draws in the crowds. Even if just for that cloud selfie...

When this year's festival of light was announced I made a promise to myself that I'd schedule in a visit. It just so happened that my brother and his family were keen, and it soon turned into a family affair with Laura joining us too!

Union Terrace Gardens was one of the best spots to catch the event - with everything from The Cloud by Caitlind r.c. Brown & Wayne Garrett to the Wave Garden by Paul Friedlander. Other highlights included the fiery Hot Heads by pa-Boom - pretty sure we all came for the art, and stayed for the heat!

The various exhibits dotted about the city were all fairly close to each other really. We made our way from the gardens to St Nicholas Kirkyard and found ourselves surrounded by gravestones and giant spiders! I'm not a fan of anything with eight legs but the light hearted spooky music reminded me of the Addams Family and I can't get it out my head!

We walked down the church aisle with glowing pendulums swinging above our heads, watched Flex's Machines play a few tunes and then made our way out the other side. Live music and random videos of people exercising/dancing/doing something in the olden days played at the roof top garden and people seemed to enjoy copying the moves!

Outside Marischal College you had the chance to light up the granite walls, playing the keyboards at Laser Light Synths. Inside we were met with strings of lights known as 9 Month Rebirth, and Obar Dheathain (Gaelic for Aberdeen!) - an audio visual spectacle telling tales of Aberdeen's history by projecting them perfectly onto Marischal College Quad.

I had really hoped to type up this post before the festival was over but it's been a busy weekend! Unfortunately Spectra 2017 has finished but it's absolutely one to watch. I'd like to see it stick around for a little longer than a weekend next year! In the mean time, I'm keeping my eyes peeled for Aberdeen's Look Again Festival in Spring!

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Dog Days - Loch Muick, Ballater

I'm really struggling with my fitness right now. After the wedding I relaxed my regime and allowed myself some time away from the gym. The problem is, now I want to get back... and I can't seem to get myself there. It's one thing putting on a little bit of weight (I know I'm not fat, but I am a whole dress size bigger and everything is uncomfortable) but it's losing my fitness levels that gets me down the most.

Every morning I'm full of motivation and promises, vowing to hit the gym/metafit/kettlercise after work, but by 5pm the only thing on my mind is dinner and Netflix. Why is it such a struggle to do something I enjoy, that makes me feel good? How is that so hard?

Hopefully I'll find my gym mojo somewhere soon, but in the meantime there's one exercise I'm not struggling with - walking! After bagging our first munro towards the end of 2016, I'm dying to get out and add some more to our list - Lochnagar, Ben Lomond, Ben Lawers & Bheinn Ghlas... As beginners we're not confident or experienced enough to tackle them at this time of year though. Especially when the weather hasn't exactly been on our side!

In the meantime, we're finding easier paths and exploring some of Scotland's beautiful trails. You might call it walking - I call it training! How can we climb mountains if we don't even walk for more than thirty minutes, never mind scrambling over rough terrains? Plus, it's a good excuse to take the dog out to new and exciting places - Harley loves an adventure!

With this in mind, we found ourselves at Loch Muick near Ballater one Saturday morning in January. The drive up was beautifully scenic, with frosty branches glistening white along the roadside in the winter sun. The loch itself was sans snow but chilly all the same. We crossed the little wooden bridge, ducking into an empty boathouse before following the path above the waters edge. Eventually we came across the widow's house. 

Glas-allt Shiel was built way back in 1868 by Queen Victoria (well, presumably she had people build it for her!) after her husband had passed away, and she couldn't bare to spend time in the nearby home they'd once shared. Queen Vic must of spent a lot of time up these parts - this is the second time we've came across a landmark associated with her! Loch Muick is actually part of the royal Balmoral Estate, so I guess it all makes sense.

Past the house and through the pines, the path opens out to the hills and our trainers soon crunched across the pebbled sand to reach the far side of the loch. The track starts to narrow with a slight climb, which we hadn't been expecting, and the ground is much rockier and uneven underfoot. In the summer it's probably not so bad but at -2 degrees we were wary. Even Harley's big paws had a few slips!

It's definitely the more interesting part of the walk - with the rushing sound of waterfalls and views of the snow topped hills. From here you can look back across to Glass-allt Shiel and seeing it there, sheltered by the arc of pine trees, looking out across the water, it's easy to see why Queen Vic favoured the location.

The highlight of the loop however, came towards the end. Back on more stable ground, we found ourselves looking down towards the boathouse on the shore as we strolled along. It was Gordon who saw them first. His eye caught by a group of children playing in the hills above us, he grabbed my arm, stopping me in my tracks and forcing me to look up.

I'm so glad he did! Five stags stood majestically on the moorland, some grazing nonchalantly while the others stared straight back down at us. I grabbed my camera and snapped away - these guys seemed happy to pose! I will never tire of spotting these iconic creatures in the Scottish countryside.

Two and a half hours later we made it back to the car park, cold and hungry, but feeling rather pleased with ourselves. The circuit at Loch Muick is an easy one, ideal to tackle at any time of year - just remember to keep looking upwards for deer and squirrels! Spittal of Glenmuick is a starting point for a couple of munros and I hope to tackle Lochnagar from here in the summer.

Our hungry bellies led us home via The Long Dog CafĂ© - the best spot for our four legged friends in Aberdeen! A delicious bowl of lentil soup warmed me up, while Gordon refuelled with a tasty pulled pork ciabatta and a ginormous chocolate brownie freakshake! It was Harley's first visit and he happily lapped up a tub of Billy + Margot's doggy ice cream. It's safe to say Harley is looking forward to more days like this one in 2017 - bring on the mountain climbing!

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