Friday, 31 March 2017

My 2017 Race Season So Far

These last few weeks have been spent making plans for the rest of the year. I'm determined to get my fitness back on track and what better way than to enter a race or two? I realise writing this that I really only have three events planned so far, but I'm hoping to fit more in.

As much as I love a good OCR, all the big ones seem to hold their Scottish races much further South than Aberdeen. So not only do I have the entry fee, I have to fork out for an overnight stay, meals out, and petrol for a 6+ hour round trip, and book time off work! I'm trying to find local races to fill my diary instead, but they all seem to fall on days I'm either working or already have plans. Next year I'm going to campaign for all races to be held on Sundays - looking at you, Beast Race and Glack Attack!

May - Mud Madness, Lochter

The first race of the season is a local 5k mud run at Lochter Activity Centre, near Inverurie. I'm thinking of this one as more of a training run. At only 5k the actual running part shouldn't be too difficult, I hope! A few of my Epic team mates are joining me and I'm expecting it to be fun but messy - the clue is in the name!

June - Ben Nevis & Tough Mudder Scotland

Eek! Climbing Ben Nevis isn't exactly a race but it's still a challenge! Gordon and I will be conquering Britian's highest mountain and exploring more of bonnie Scotland on the way. The plan is to climb as many hills as we can fit in between now and June, to get used to walking at an incline!

I loved Tough Mudder so much last year that I signed up again straight away. It's the longest and hardest obstacle race I've done yet, but it's a fun one, full of camaraderie and I'm looking forward to trying out some new obstacles.

Throwback to Cetco Ythan Challenge 2015

August - Simply Health Great Aberdeen Run, Half Marathon

My biggest challenge of the year! I am in no way a natural runner, and have never run solid for more than 10k but I wanted to prove to myself I can do this. All 21k. It'll be a struggle but my sister has signed up to keep me company and I'm feeling determined! So far I've been running a couple of times a week. I'm going to work on my 5k until it feels comfortable, run along the canal in Spain and slowly build up the distance. The weather affects my motivation a lot and I'm definitely a fair weather runner, so keep your fingers crossed for lots of sunny days over the next few months!

To make it all worth the pain, I've decided to raise money for the Brodie Ward at Aberdeen's Royal Cornhill Hospital. I hope it helps to support patients on the ward, improve facilities, provide activities and try to make a difference to local people struggling with their mental health.
If you can, please donate here on my Just Giving page - every little helps!

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

A to Z dating... Glen Garioch Distillery

D is for Distillery!
Dancing - Deep Sea World - Diving

One of the main things I've noticed with this alphabet dating, is that we've become tourists in our own home. It's given us the excuse to visit local attractions that we probably wouldn't have bothered with otherwise, and that would have been a real shame.  

For our "D" date we wittled it down to Deep Sea World or a distillery tour. Being down by Queensferry, Deep Sea World would have meant a 6 hour round trip and probably an overnight stay. To save some pennies we opted to search for our nearest distillery instead - turns out it was only 40 minutes away in Old Meldrum, Aberdeenshire!

Booking into the 3pm tour gave us the rest of the day to enjoy first. It turned out to be a beautiful day, with our car telling us it was 19 degrees Celsius at one point! After a 5k run by the beach in the morning we hopped in the car and headed inland to Formartines for lunch.

We got there just in time to miss the queues! The menu had changed since our last visit and I wanted to order just about everything. Gordon chose the venison burger with awesome homemade chips, and I opted for a delicious pulled pork and sweet potato hash, in a flavoursome BBQ style sauce, which I mopped up with a tasty flatbread that was almost like naan!

The forest walks at Formartines gave us the perfect opportunity to walk off our lunch in the sunshine. We played pooh sticks on the bridge and wandered around the lake, keeping an eye out for fairie houses hidden in the trees. Finally we spotted this little one complete with tartan bunting!

Making our way to Old Meldrum, we found ourselves with a little time left to kill. Just enough time to find the local Aladdin's cave of sweet treats and Portsoy ice cream! We hung out like teenagers on a random wall, chilling in the sunshine with a couple of scoops each - boring chocolate and mint choc chip for him, Scottish tablet and Snickers flavours for me. Highly recommend both!

Finally it was tour o'clock! Glen Garioch (say "Geery") is located on Distillery Road, funnily enough. Although I've drove right past it all these years without even knowing it existed. Our guide tells us even some Meldrum locals don't realise it's there so that makes me feel a little better!

We took the £7.50 Founders Tour, which included a guided tour of the distillery and warehouse, and a nip of Glen Garioch's award winning Founders Reserve whiskey to finish! Our guide was warm and welcoming, full of knowledge, good craic and a pleasure to speak to.

We learned about the entire process of making a Highland single malt. From the malting and mashing of the barley and the process of the copper stills, right through to the uncasking of the bourbon and sherry barrels it's aged in. It was interesting to hear about the history of the distillery, it's various stages and owners over the years, with a few fun facts thrown in. Did you know the man who discovered the link between malaria and mosquitos was from Old Meldrum, and related to the Manson's who originally owned Glen Garioch?!

Finally - the moment we'd all been waiting for! A tray of whiskey glasses welcomed us back to the visitor centre for the final stage of our distillery experience. Our guide talked us through the range of whiskies crafted at Glen Garioch, introducing us to the Founders Reserve we'd be sampling. As designated driver, my nip was bottled to enjoy later which I thought was a nice touch! I've been on a distillery tour before where it was basically tough luck if you brought the car.

Let's not pretend I know a thing about whiskey. I'd love to say I was impressed by my taster but it's just not for me! Despite their best efforts, the tasting notes and guidance were wasted on me. Gordon on the other hand fully enjoyed the experience, appreciating the peat free vanilla and citrus flavours. He scored the spare glass that had been accidently poured, and went on to buy a bottle of the 12 year old malt for later.

My lack of whiskey appreciation didn't spoil our visit at all. I'd still recommend a visit if you're ever in the area, but next time we're going to a gin distillery - and he's driving!


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!
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