Tartan Reading Glasses With Style

Oct 25, 2014 by

Tartan reading glasses are FINALLY back in stock!

My favorite red tartan reading glasses have garnered many oohs and ahhs since I bought them a couple of years ago.  Unfortunately, they’ve been sold out for months. Now, Amazon has them back– the gorgeous, original red Royal Stewart/Stuart tartan readers and new dark blue and green tartan reading glasses in several strengths.

 

I am of an age where I need to use reading glasses, and enjoy picking out stylish and colorful ones to wear. Having Scottish heritage, I thought I’d buy a pair of tartan reading glasses to sport at the holidays and Scottish festivals I attend each year. Finding good quality, visually attractive tartan reading glasses turned out to be more difficult than I anticipated, even when I broadened my search to include online sources. Just as I was about to give up, I searched Amazon and there they were–festive red tartan reading glasses with a matching case!

You can find reading glasses for as little as a dollar at some stores ( I have a few cheapo pairs), but the hinges usually don’t last long and the optics are often distorted. I took a chance, paid $25 for the red tartan readers and have been well pleased with them ever since they arrived, courtesy of Amazon’s free shipping. I’ve used them hundreds of times over the past two years, wearing them to parties, Scottish Highland games, antique shopping, etc.
They’ve been to Ireland with me twice, surviving my crazy packing, Irish wind and rain, and numerous horse races, festivals and hikes through the rough terrain of western Ireland. When you stumble across a rare standing stone or the ruins of an old castle, you need good readers to reveal the tiny details–like 13th century graffiti on an old castle wall or Celtic circular carvings on an ancient megalith–you might otherwise miss entirely. These tartan reading glasses helped me do all that and more, and still got rave reviews from ladies at the local pubs.

Happily, the manufacturer is now making the tartan reading glasses in a lovely blue and green pattern that is similar to the Black Watch tartan and the Ancient Campbell and Campbell of Loudoun patterns.  Not as festive as the red tartan readers, the new blue and green plaid readers are nonetheless distinctive and elegant.

To purchase either color of tartan reading glasses, click HERE.

They are shipped by Amazon, so you can get free shipping with a qualifying purchase of $35.   These tartan reading glasses SELL OUT QUICKLY, based on my experience, so if you want a pair for Christmas or as a gift for someone, you should order now, before the color and/or strength options become unavailable.

Once your glasses arrive, wear them with Scottish pride–and don’t be surprised by all the people, Scottish or not, who’ll want to know where you got those stunning tartan reading glasses!

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Nathan Cirillo, Canada’s National Hero

Oct 23, 2014 by

Yesterday in Ottawa, Canadian soldier Nathan Cirillo of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada was killed while standing watch at the National War Memorial.

Cpl Nathan Cirillo (left side of photo) age 24, was armed with a ceremonial rifle that had no bullets. He was shot at point blank range by a Muslim convert, who was later killed at the Canadian Parliament building in a gun battle with police. This chilling attack follows on the heels of another attack just a few day earlier, when a soldier was run over and killed by a Muslim extremist from Quebec, Canada.

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Corporal Nathan Cirillo (on LEFT) was killed today at Canada’s National War Memorial

Cpl Cirillo was a member of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada, a reserve unit of the Canadian army. Created in 1903 by Canadians of Scottish descent, particularly the Sons of Scotland and the Hamilton St. Andrews Society, the regiment took part in both WWI and WWII. Part of the unit’s dress attire has always included kilt and bonnet similar to that worn by the the original A and S Highlanders of the British Military.

nathan-cirillo=with btourisy a few days before /cirillo was killed, Image by Meganen

Nathan Cirillo poses with tourist in front of Canada’s National War Museum, just a few days before being fatally shot by a Muslim convert. Photo by Megan Underwood.

Many people have posted social media pictures of Cpl Cirillo dressed in his full kilt regalia. He was a handsome young man who readily posed with tourists to the War Memorial. A Facebook paged has been created in his honor–click HERE to visit the page.

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Nathan Cirillo and friend in full dress kilt uniform

My heart goes out to his family and friends, and to our Canadian neighbors. When one member of the clan falls, we all grieve, though we may be miles and countries away. I am so sorry this brave man’s life ended so young and in such a senseless way.

As the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders of Canada motto says “Albainn gu brath–Scotland Forever”!

This Scottish American is proud to stand with you.

 

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The Glenfinnan Monument And The Unknown Highlander

Oct 20, 2014 by

The Glenfinnan Monument stands on the shore of Loch Shiel in the Scottish Highlands, near the town of Lochaber.

This 60 foot tall stone tower was erected in 1815 to honor Prince Charles Edward Stuart and his arrival at Glenfinnan (Gleann Fhionghain) in 1745.  It was in this remote Highland spot that Bonnie Prince Charlie raised his royal standard and began a war that would ultimately destroy a way of life for the Highland clans.

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The Glenfinnan Monument on the shore of Loch Shiel. Image by Bernard Blanc

 

On August 19, 1745, Charles Edward Stuart, grandson of exiled Stuart King,  James II of England, journeyed from France to Eriskay in the Western Isles of Scotland. His intent was to lead an army of French, Irish and Scottish soldiers into battle against the English, and place himself on the throne of Scotland and England.   Bonnie Prince Charlie, or The Young Pretender, as he is often called, traveled to the Scottish mainland in a small rowing boat, coming ashore at Loch nan Uamh, just west of Glenfinnan.   On arrival, he was met by a small number of MacDonald clansmen, but within several days more MacDonalds, Camerons, Macfies and MacDonnells arrived to join Charlie’s cause.
Once enough clan support arrived, Prince Charlie climbed the hill near Glenfinnan and raised his royal standard, announcing his claim to the Scottish and the English thrones in the name of his father James Stuart, known as the Old Pretender.

 

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Charles Edward Stuart, by Allan Ramsay, painted in Edinburgh in 1745


The Jacobite cause–and the way of life of the Highland clans– would end in defeat and tragedy just eight months later, at Culloden. The Prince fled after the defeat at Culloden, and was vigorously pursued by the Duke of Cumberland.   After being hidden by loyal supporters, Charles boarded a French frigate on the shores of Loch nan Uamh, close to where he had landed and raised his standard the previous year. He would never set foot on Scottish soil again.  The Prince’s Cairn (Càrn Prionnsa) now marks the spot  where Charles left Scotland, never to return.

 

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The Prince’s Cairn marks the spot where Bonnie Prince Charlie left Scotland, never to return. Image by Colin Smith

 

  The Glenfinnan Monument was erected in 1815 as a tribute to the Jacobite clansmen who fought and died in the cause of Prince Charles Edward Stuart.   A wealthy descendant of a Jacobite paid for the monument and it was designed by famed Scottish architect James Gillespie Graham. The Glenfinnan Monument now is in the care of the National Trust for Scotland.

 

You might think the figure atop the monument is Prince Charles Edward Stuart, but you’d be wrong.

 The statue is that of an unknown Scottish Highlander in full kilt, an enduring memorial to the tragic results of the Rising of 1745.

This clever video gives you a bird’s eye view of beautiful Loch Shiel and the Glenfinnan Monument:

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Surviving the Outlander Drought

Oct 14, 2014 by

 The season of the Outlander drought is now upon us. 

The first 8 episodes of Starz’ Outlander have come and gone and Outlander’s second half is a tantalizing goody bag we can’t open until April 15, 2015.  What’s an Outlander fan to do? 

 

If you are a fan of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander books, you already know –generally–what will happen in Episodes 9-16.  Executive producer Ron Moore has shown he’s not afraid to stray from the sacred text of Diana’s book.  Can we all say “wedding ring debacle“?

If you haven’t read the books yet, however, waiting for the second half of Outlander may be even more frustrating for you.  Your cinematic Outlander world is still nascent, showing thrilling promise, but, suddenly you’re cut off from all contact with the mother world.

 

outlander-drought-jamie-claire

The Outlander drought: what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. As Claire well knows.

 

 Wandering in the desert may be good for the soul; it’s hell on an Outlander fan, though. 

If you’ve got Jones on the jukebox and Jamie on your mind, here’s a few suggestions to whet your appetite during the Outlander drought.

 

Outlander-drought-jamie

The Outlander drought: desperate measures for desperate times.

 

Admittedly, for many fans, the worst part of the Outlander drought is the lack of Jamie Fraser, played so well by hunky Scotsman, Sam Heughan.   In fact, Sam’s medieval muscle was just featured in the October 2014 issue of Muscle & Fitness magazine.   So, I say use the Outlander drought downtime to enjoy the myriad of Jamie Fraser/ Sam Heughan pictures on the net.

Try to avoid licking the screen, though.

Why not watch some of the many fan-created videos on YouTube while you wait for the Outlander drought to end?

The Outlander fandom is creative, devoted and TALENTED!

 

 

Tashopolis’ above video is the segue to my next suggestion for surviving the Outlander drought:

  READ. THE. BOOKS.

Diana Gabaldon’s bestselling books are what gave birth to the world of Scottish history, brave Highlanders and romantic, time traveling adventure we know as Outlander.   As I’ve said many times before, Outlander is NOT just a romance novel for women–not that’s there anything wrong with that.  Romance is by far the bestselling genre in fiction, and has been wrongly tagged by some in the so called media elite as lonely-women-with-cats/middle-aged-moms-with-issues pulp unworthy of the “modern”, intelligent female.

Uhm, yeah—NO.

These eight (with a ninth on track) hefty tomes, most over 500 pages, have serious historical cred for men AND women intrigued by Scottish history and-SPOILER ALERT-18th century American history.   Bloody battles like Culloden, as well as 18th century weaponry, culture and daily life (not romantic topics) are all carefully detailed within the Outlander book series.

Keeping in mind that the novels are historical fiction, I think they do a damn fine job on the history side, too.  Gabaldon accurately and movingly (hence the millions of fans) tells the story of the 1745 Jacobite uprising and its devastating aftermath in the Scottish Highlands, a tragedy that echoes down the generations to many Americans whose ancestors fled their native land to escape the brutal reprisals imposed by the British.

My last, but by no means least, recommendation for surviving the Outlander drought is to go to Scotland.

  You may not have time or the means to get to Scotland before Outlander returns in April 2015, but you can start planning your trip.

Notice that I’m not saying you should consider going to Scotland or that you should think about taking a trip to Scotland.   I’m saying you MUST go to Scotland.  Make it happen– start saving your pennies,  win the lottery, find your own circle of standing stones–do whatever it takes to get yourself on a plane to one of the most beautiful countries in the world.

 

 

Nothing short of seeing Scotland with your own eyes, your own heart, can truly convey the story of Outlander.

Scotland is the main character of both the books AND the television series, and unlike Jamie Fraser, it’s a character you can actually touch, explore, feel under your hands.   I can promise you this–once you go to Scotland,  you’ll find yourself caught up in a new,  yet ancient love story even more stirring than Outlander.

A bold statement maybe, but then again, I’ve been to Scotland.  I became part of the love story that is Scotland long before Jamie Fraser was even a twinkle in Diana’s eye.

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The Amazing Race Scotland

Oct 13, 2014 by

Did you watch Episode 3 of this season’s The Amazing Race  Scotland on CBS last Friday night, October 10th?  The competing teams wound up on the Shetland Islands for the first time in the show’s 25 seasons.

Even if you dislike reality shows, you may enjoy this episode of The Amazing Race Scotland, entitled Get Your Sheep Together

I found it amazingly funny (pun intended).

FYI:There are NO SPOILERS in this post–just a few observations, so you can enjoy the show at your leisure. You can see the entire episode online HERE.

 

Upon arrival in Shetland,  the teams’ first challenge was a detour, requiring them to choose to “pony up” or “light my fire.”  Teams who elected to pony up had to cut peat and transport it to the top of a hill via awww, so adorable Shetland ponies.  The ‘light my fire” task required teams to successfully make a Viking torch like the ones used in Shetland’s famous fire festival, Up Helly Aa, a celebration of the island’s Viking history.

 

 

I would have chosen to make the Viking torch–Up Helly Aa, Y’All!!–but quite a few teams choose to cut and haul the peat.

Why?   Because those teams incorrectly thought a) the small Shetland ponies are cute (yes) and b) they must be easy to handle (not just NO, but HELL, NO!).

 

Ask any horse person and they’ll tell you: never underestimate the stubbornness and quick temper of a pony. Shetland Pony-tude is not just a local legend.

The Viking task turned out to be no easy feat, either.  The Guizer Jarl oversaw the creation of a Viking torch, used to set ablaze a Viking longship, in miniature, down at the local harbor. The jarl, wearing a magnificent spotted cow hide coat (want, want, want) was very picky about the wrapping of the burlap layers, causing some teams to rethink their idea of going a-Viking.

Up Helly Aa has always been on my bucket list, but after seeing all the Nordic camaraderie in Episode 3,  I want to be a Viking guizer, not just a spectator!  Not gonna happen because I’m female, but it’s certainly worth a try.

 

The funniest challenge for The Amazing Race Scotland required all teams to herd a group of sheep down a hill and into a pen.

If that sounds easy, you are either a border collie or have never come face to face with a herd of sheep.

Sheep bounce, you know—like wooly balls of fluff on speed–and adhere to a mob mentality of “Panic! Panic! Everybody PANIC!” when faced with loud humans running around the field.  A few teams worked out Babe’s “Baa Ram Ewe” method of herding the sheep with gentle persuasion; other teams tried creative, but ridiculous methods to pen the sheep, who were unfazed by the visitors’ silly efforts.  I was embarrassed on behalf of humans every where after one team erected a wall of clothing to guide the sheep.  You’ll have to see it for yourself to truly understand the complete lack of common sense and engineering skills that were on display to the world.

On the other hand, I was snorting and laughing so hard at one point, my dog got worried and came over to give me comfort!

 

 After penning the sheep, the competitors for The Amazing Race Scotland were given a penannular brooch replica and told to go to the place were the brooch was “found.”  Most teams puzzled out this clue fairly quickly and raced off to be first at the Pit Stop, the final destination for this leg of the race.  As for the teams who had trouble with directions <cough, cough…men…cough>, well, let’s just say it pays to ask the RIGHT people for the RIGHT directions. Or maybe, don’t over-think the clue.  Or how about, go to the nearby museum or local history center and ask them for help because it’s their job to know a lot about the island.

As Episode 3 shows, sometimes staying in the game comes down to survival of the mentally, not physically, fittest.

The Celtic penannular brooch was based on an early Medieval one found in 1958 on St Ninian’s Isle, a small island linked to mainland Shetland by a sandy causeway.  Teams arriving at the Pit Stop on St Ninian’s were greeted by host Phil Keoghan and a dancing Puffin Man. Do you know the Puffin Man? He’s obviously not related to the Muffin Man, but seems to be a mascot for Shetland.

Strange, because puffins do live in the Shetland Islands, but they don’t dance.  At least, I think they don’t.

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Boss Gerard Butler Takes Control

Oct 2, 2014 by

The new Scottish Boss, Gerard Butler, takes control of the Boss Bottled ad campaign this month, in elegant Celtic fashion.

 

 

German luxury brand Hugo Boss AG launched Boss Bottled,  their signature fragrance line for men, in 1998.   Previous spokesmen for Boss  fragrances include Oscar winner Jared Leto of the dreamy eyes and Orlando Bloom, our favorite Tolkien elf.  Definitely not chopped liver, those two.  If you really want to make a fashion statement with cologne, though, ye need to bring in a handsome Scotsman–and that’s just what the company did in choosing Gerard Butler as their Man of Today.

 

 

Boss Gerard Butler Takes Over

Boss Gerard Butler Takes Over

 

 

 I don’t believe in less.   I go all the way…  

Gerard Butler

Click HERE to see a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the Boss Gerard Butler commercial.  I know many women who would’ve given a few eye teeth–and more–to be on the set with Ger that particular day.

 

 

Slàinte, Hugo Boss, for choosing a charming man with cerulean blue eyes and a seductive Scottish accent.  And honestly, we like our men to smell nice and all, but no one would turn down Scottish Boss Gerard Butler because of a wee bit of eau de manliness.

Ye’d have to be daft.

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I Need A Whisky Hug!

Oct 2, 2014 by

The Celtic whisky hug–because some days, you need more than a pumpkin spice latte or a Zen moment .

 

whisky-hug

I need a whisky hug!

 

In fact, I’d say selecting the single malt for a whisky hug is a Celtic Zen moment in and of itself.  

Laphroaig or Lagavulin?

Ahhhh…I’m feeling better already.

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Pumpkin Scones for Autumn

Sep 25, 2014 by

Scones, pronounced skon in most Celtic countries, are a popular pastry and pumpkin scones are my favorite type. They are the perfect pastry for a cool fall morning with a hot cup of coffee. Even better, try a pumpkin scone with a cup of tea in the afternoon.

Click HERE for a short history of the scone, a mainstay of Scottish and Irish kitchens.

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Pumpkin scones from Starbucks–try making your own instead. Image-dasjabbadas

You can buy pumpkin scones at Starbucks and Whole Foods, but why not make your own? My recipe is an adaptation of this recipe, and it’s fairly simple to follow or customize.  Make a second batch of dough to freeze and you’ll have a quick delight to serve unexpected visitors.

Pumpkin Scones

1¼ cups all-purpose, unbleached flour
¾ cup spelt flour (may use all-purpose)
½ cup brown sugar
1 Tbs baking powder
½ tsp salt
½ tsp ground cinnamon*
½ tsp ground nutmeg (better if freshly grated)*
pinch ground cloves*
¼ tsp ground ginger*
6 Tbs cold butter, cut into chunks
1/2 cup canned pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie filling )
3 Tablespoons half-and-half
1 large egg

Egg Wash
1 large egg
1 Tbs milk
Turbinado sugar, about 1/2 cup

Sugar Glaze Ingredients
½ cup powdered sugar, sifted
¾ to 1 Tbs whole milk ( or you can use soy, almond or coconut milk)

Spice Glaze Ingredients
½ cup powdered sugar, sifted
¾ to 1 Tbs milk
½ tsp ground cinnamon*
¼ tsp ground nutmeg*
1/8 teaspoon ginger*
pinch of ground cloves*

* Spices can be adjusted to taste–I prefer more cinnamon and usually double the amount.

Preheat oven to 425˚F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine the dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment, mix in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs. Alternately, use a pastry blender or your hands to cut in the butter until the mixture is crumbly in texture and resembles coarse bread crumbs.

In a small bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, half and half, and egg. Fold into the dry ingredients until just combined, being very careful not to over mix the dough.

Scoop dough out onto a lightly floured surface and loosely form the dough into a ball. Pat it into a 1-inch thick round.

Use a pizza cutter or sharp knife to slice the dough into desired triangular shapes. If you prefer, you could cut the dough into “fingers”–think of toast fingers–or even rounds, using a biscuit cutter.

Place each slice on prepared baking sheet and top with the egg wash and a generous sprinkle of turbinado sugar. Bake for 13 – 16 minutes or until the pumpkin scones are golden brown.

Let pumpkin scones cool completely on wire rack.

In a small bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar and milk until smooth. If it’s too runny, add more sugar. If too thick, add a little more milk until it reaches your desired consistency. I like the glaze to be a bit thick, so I always add the milk a few drops at a time.

Brush glaze over the top of each cooled pumpkin scone. Let harden at room temperature before proceeding to the spiced glaze.

After the sugar glaze hardens (15-30 minutes), combine the spice glaze ingredients. Use a small cup with a pouring spout to drizzle over each pumpkin scone. You can pour the spice glaze into a plastic bottle with a tip, kind of like a BBQ sauce or ketchup bottle, to get more control over decorating the scones. I found my plastic icing bottle at the dollar store and I’ve  alsoseen them at Target and Wal-Mart.

Allow pumpkin scones to fully set before serving.

My tips:

~Try to use fresh pumpkin when possible. Grab one of the pie pumpkins at your local grocery and bake just as you would a squash. Scoop out the cooked pumpkin, let cool, then use it in the recipe. Freeze leftovers for another time or recipe.

~add chocolate chips to the pumpkin scone recipe.  Chocolate and pumpkin is a match made in heaven!

~ add raisins or dried cranberries to the recipe.

~add chopped pecans, the official nut of the South. They give add a nice crunch to the scones.

~substitute a dash of cardamom for the cloves. It’s a pricey spice, but adds a unique flavor.

 

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Pumpkin scones can be addictive. Image by Mel Jones

Warning: Pumpkin scones can be addictive. Click HERE to read Mel Jones’ funny blog post about dealing with the temptations of pumpkin scones.

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A Breath-taking Scottish Highlander

Sep 24, 2014 by

The Scottish Highlander has at last married his Sassenach lass in Starz’ cable series Outlander.

Episode 7 of the first season, aptly entitled “The Wedding” has come and gone, leaving Outlander fans eager for the mid-season finale.  While I do look forward to the action of the upcoming episodes, I increasingly find myself almost more eager to see the costumes.  The wedding dress designed by Terry Dresbach for Claire was truly exquisite, but the groom, James Fraser, was–as Diana Gabaldon describes in her novel– positively “breath-taking.”

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James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser–THE Scottish Highlander. Original image here.

Fair is fair–Claire was also stunningly attired in her intricate, beautiful wedding dress (not the same as the book wedding dress, though):

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Dressed to thrill a Scottish Highlander. Original image here.

Behind the scenes of the Outlander wedding episode:

 

There are many talented costume designers for big shows such as Game of Thrones, Once Upon A Time and Downton Abbey, but I hope wise Emmy voters will give a nod next year to Outlander’s costume designer, Terry Dresbach (producer Ron Moore’s wife). Click HERE to read her blog about designing Scottish Highlander costumes for the characters of Outlander.  

Terry Dresbach’s authentic and skilled costume designs do honor not only to Outlander, the book and cable series, but more importantly,

they honor the history and breath-taking beauty of the Scottish Highlands.

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The Kilt Rock Of Skye

Sep 23, 2014 by


Located on the Trotternish Peninsula of the Isle of Skye, Kilt Rock is an impressive 200 foot high sea cliff in the Scottish Highlands.

The cliff gets its name from the vertical basalt columns (the pleats) and horizontal dolorite rock strata (the pattern) which combine to give the appearance of a traditional Scottish tartan kilt.

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Kilt Rock, on the Isle of Skye, Scotland    Image:Nicolas Valentin

 

Fed by the waters of Loch Mealt, the Mealt Waterfall freefalls over Kilt Rock into the Sound of Raasay below.   The winds around the cliff are often incredibly strong, sometimes turning the waterfall to mist before it can even reach the sea below.

 

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Mealt waterfall over Kilt Rock in Scotland. Image: TuVeuxMaPhoto

 

Kilt Rock’s location on the beautiful Isle of Skye in Scotland makes it a popular tourist destination. There is ample parking nearby, as well as an observation platform that allows good views of Kilt Rock and the waterfall.  Rock climbers challenge Kilt Rock on a regular basis, so don’t be surprised to see people moving up and down the rock face.

 

 

As is true with real kilts, spectators should approach Kilt Rock with extreme caution, as trying to get too close of a view can prove hazardous to your health.

 

 

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Inishdooey Island An Irish Bargain

Sep 21, 2014 by

Inishdooey Island, three miles off the northern coast of Donegal, shows that you don’t need to be a celebrity to own a private island.

The original asking price for Inishdooey Island (Inis Dhubhnach) was around a million dollars, a bit steep for a location that can only be reached by boat or helicopter, and even then only in good weather.  The owner has now reduced the price to £140, ooo, or about $230,000, depending on exchange rates.  That price is practically a steal in today’s economy, especially when you consider that the island offers 94 acres of beautiful, unspoiled Irish land, the ruins of an ancient monastery and numerous caves to explore.

 

 

Inishdooey Islanddonegal

Inishdooey Island, which lies of the coast of Donegal in Ireland. Image: Vladi Private Islands

The island’s name comes from Saint Dubhthach, a 6th century saint who was the ninth Bishop of Armagh and allegedly the driving force behind the monastic settlement built on the island.  Although Dubthach is referred to as saint in the Annals of the Four Masters, a medieval text of Irish history, his feast or veneration day is not noted and there is little information about his life.  All that remains of the monks’ settlement on Inishdooey Island are the ruins of stone walls , a few small huts and a small stone church.

 

 

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The remains of a monastic settlement on Inishdooey Island. Image: PBBase, Roger Curry

 

 

Inishdooey Island is part of a string of four islands called the Donegal Archipelago, which includes Tory Island, Inishboffin and Inishbeg.   Here’s a video tour of Inishdooey Island via kayak–note how clear and blue the water is in some of the caves, almost like a Caribbean or Mediterranean island:

 

 

According to the island’s owner, Mark McClafferty, it will probably cost around $300,000 to build a home on Inishdooey, mostly because all the materials will have to be flown or ferried in to the island. National Parks and Wildlife Service Regional Manager, Dave Duggan, however, told the Donegal News that Inishdooey Island is best suited as a haven for nature conservation:

“From a nature conservation point of view it is a fine island.
“It is designated under a number of habitat directives – SAC, SPA – which would make the chance of getting planning permission to build on the island practically zero.”

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Wildflowers and blue waters on Inishdooey Island  Image: Vladi Private Islands

Well, even if you can’t build on Inishdooey Island, you would have the satisfaction of knowing that your purchase was a positive step in preserving wild Ireland.

Plus, you could always lead nature tours of your very own Irish island!

 

 

 

For more photos of Inishdooey Island, see Roger Curry’s gallery of the island HERE.

More videos of the island are available HERE and HERE.

 

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Gwrych Castle

Sep 16, 2014 by

Gwrych Castle is a 19th century Welsh folly near the small village of Abergele, overlooking the Irish Sea.

This fairytale castle was last open to the public in 1985 and has been a derelict property since that time.  Gwrych Castle is now being renovated as a luxury hotel and will be opened to the public for one day, September 21, 2014, for the first time in thirty years.

According to local history, the first castle built at Gwrych was erected by the Normans in the 12th century.  After seizing the timber castle in 1170, Welsh prince Rhys ap Gruffyudd rebuilt the fortress in stone.  Cromwell’s army destroyed the stone castle during the English Civil War in the 17th century.

The current castle was built as a Gothic folly between 1812 and 1825 by industrialist Lloyd Hesketh Bamford-Hesketh. In 1878, Hesketh’s granddaughter Winifred (sole heir to the estate) married the 12th Earl of Dundonald, a Scottish nobleman, and Gwrych Castle became home to the Dundonalds until 1924.  It was an arranged marriage and the couple spent most of their time apart-he in scotland, she at her family home in Wales. When Winifred died in 1924, her will stipulated that Gwrych should pass to King George V and the Prince of Wales; the gift was refused and the castle was then given to the Venerable Order of Saint John, a royal order of chivalry.

In 1925, Winifred’s husband, the Earl of Dundonald, bought the castle back. Unfortunately, he had to sell all of the contents of Gwrych Castle to cover the cost of the purchase. The Earl sold the castle in 1946 and it was opened to the public for the next 20 years. Gwrych changed hands several more times, and was once used for medieval festivals that included jousting:

The castle was closed to the public in 1985 and was purchased by an American businessman in 1989, who planned to turn it into a hotel. His plans failed and the property was vandalized and looted until the Gwrych Castle Trust facilitated the sale of the castle to Clayton Hotels in 2006. In 2009, the developers went bankrupt and the castle was sold to yet another hotel developer, which is now working with the Trust to restore Gwrych and open it as a five star hotel.

On September 21st, the Gwrych Castle Preservation Trust will hold public tours to show recent renovations to the castle, as well the future plans for the site. This historic event will give visitors a chance to see the inside of this once proud manor home for the first time in 30 years.

If you cannot attend the public festivities, you can still help save this unique Welsh landmark by joining or donating to the Gwrych Castle Trust — click HERE.

 

Gwrych Castle, which once had 128 rooms, beautiful stained glass windows and a magnificent 52 step marble staircase, deserves another chance at glory.   It truly is one of the most splendid castles in Wales– hopefully, it will soon return to the ranks of outstanding Welsh places to visit.

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Lough Na Fooey, Galway’s Glacial Gem

Sep 14, 2014 by

Lough Na Fooey is a beautiful glacial lake that lies along the border between Galway and Mayo in Ireland.

Known as Loch na Fuaiche in Irish Gaelic, this small lough is set between the rugged Galway Mountains to the south and Mayo’s Partry Mountains ( Sliabh Phartraí ) to the north.

 

lough-na-fooey-county-county-galway

Western end of Lough Na Fooey, with the Partry Mountains on the right and the Galway Mountains on the left.

The lough is in the heart of Joyce Country (Dúiche Sheoighe), a region of Galway and Mayo that takes its name from a Welsh family who settled in the region during the 13th century. We discovered this pristine lough when we drove to Finny from Westport in Mayo to see a sheep herding demonstration at Joyce Country Sheepdogs, which lies right beside Lough Na Fooey.

 

Lough Na Fooey donkeys

The donkeys of Joyce Country Sheepdogs graze on hillside overlooking Lough Na Fooey

Lough Na Fooey is fed by numerous mountain streams, as well as the River Fooey, Abhainn na Fuaiche.  Not nearly as large as nearby Lough Mask, Lough Na Fooey is just half a mile wide and about 2.5 miles long. It has a soft, sandy beach on the western end which is ideal for a family picnic, boating or fishing for trout and pike in the cold waters.

 

loughnafooeybeach

Sunlight falls through the clouds near the sandy beach of Lough NaFooey.

The Joyce Country area was hit hard by the Great Famine (an Gorta Mór), and you’ll see several abandoned stone cottages near Lough Na Fooey. The harsh terrain of the mountains made travel difficult in the mid 1800s, but those who could leave probably tried to do so, to save themselves and their families. I can only hope that some lived and simply decided to make do in another part of Ireland rather than return to their farms at Lough Na Fooey.

lough-na-fooey-stone-hut

Abandoned farmstead on the banks of Lough Na Fooey, County Galway, Ireland.

If you plan to travel through Mayo and Galway, making a stop along Lough Na Fooey is well worth the slight detour off the main road. Have a picnic on the beach or hike up one of the surrounding mountains for a better view of this remote, beautiful area of Ireland.

 

lough-na-fooey-ireland

The blue waters of Lough Na Fooey, a glacial gem in the Joyce Country of Ireland.

 

Just remember to slow down and watch for the many Scottish Blackface sheep (a tough breed ideal for hilly areas) inhabiting the nearby farms–they tend to pop up quite unexpectedly!

lough-na-fooey-scottish-sheep

Scottish Blackface sheep guarding the mountains around Lough Na Fooey.

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Funny Scottish Independence Videos

Sep 13, 2014 by

The campaign for Scottish freedom has been super heated in the countdown to the September 18th referendum, so I thought I’d lighten the mood with a few funny Scottish independence videos I’ve come across.

Freedom for Scotland is serious business and I’m seriously in favor of a YES vote, but it never hurts to take a wee break and view the independence issue through the prism of comedy.

 

 

funny scottish indpendence cows

Every Scot needs to be herd…er, heard.

 

First of the funny Scottish independence videos is from The Simpson’s resident Scotsman, Groundskeeper Willie. Our Willie is verra much in favor of Scottish independence, and not only because “we make a fine damn whisky and we spell WHISKY right, too!!”:

 

Funny Scottish independence videos sometimes offer unique ways to ensure the split from Britain, like rebuilding Hadrian’s Wall:

 

Some funny Scottish independence videos turn on the cuteness to win you over to their side. Don’t want to give too much away, but watch for the Scottish sword carried à la Mel Gibson in Braveheart:

 

Everybody wants to get on the Scottish independence bandwagon these days, so much so that even non-Scots will pretend to be Scottish:

 

One of the best of the funny Scottish independence videos is this mash-up created by Sky News.  Several important political figures are featured, but my favorite is David Cameron singing We Are Never, Ever , Ever Getting Back Together:

 I’m predicting Scotland will tell Britain, David Cameron and the Bitter  Better Together campaign “no thanks, we want to rule ourselvesand we won’t be getting back together.”

  Like, ever.

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The Peel Car Turns 50

Sep 11, 2014 by


Long before the Prius or the Smart Car, a small company on the Isle of Man was producing the Peel car, a three-wheeled, energy efficient microcar. 

In the early 1960’s, the Peel Engineering company began making the Peel car, with fiberglass construction—a pioneering use of that material— at a facility near Peel Harbor on the Isle of Man (IOM).  The P50, the first model of the Peel car, rolled out in 1964 , was produced for just a few years, but it is still highly popular with collectors and car fans around the world.

 


Designed as a city car, the Peel car P50 was advertised as capable of seating “one adult and a shopping bag”.  The vehicle’s only door was on its left side, and equipment included a single windscreen wiper and one headlight. The available colors were Daytona White, Dragon Red, Capri Blue and Sunshine Yellow.  The 1963 model retailed for £199 when new (about £1,400 in 2010, or $2,200 USD).

50 of them were produced, and only 27 of them are known to be still in existence.

 

 

The Peel Trident featured a clear bubble top, red or pale blue paint and either two seats or one seat with a detachable shopping basket.   This Peel car was marketed as a “shopping car” and said to get 83 MPG.  Approximately 82 Tridents were produced between 1964 and 1966.  TIME magazine has the Peel Trident on its list of the 50 Worst Cars of All Time, noting

“The Trident is a good example of why all those futuristic bubbletop cars of GM’s Motorama period would never work: The sun would cook you alive under the Plexiglas. We in the car business call the phenomenon “solar gain.” You have to love the heroic name: Trident! More like Doofus on the half-shell.”

 

Peel car peel trident

1965 Peel Trident, the two seater Peel Car

 

IOM was once ruled by Vikings and has a unique blend of Celtic and Viking culture, place names and government structure.  Thus, it should come as no surprise that the next Peel car to be made had a Viking name.

The Peel Viking Sport, which was soon renamed the Peel Viking Minisport, debuted in 1966.   About 22 examples are thought to have been built before production ended in 1970, and only seven are believed to still exist.

 

1964 Peel Car Peel Viking

1964 Peel Viking, a Peel car worthy of Emma Peel

 

2014 is the 50th anniversary of the intro of the Peel cars and IOM held a big celebration last month.

The Peels to Peel Festival was organized by Peel car owners and enthusiasts in partnership with The Manx Transport Museum:

 

The IOM post office joined in by issuing a special limited edition stamp depicting the micromini cars.

 

peel car anniversary stamp

Commemorative stamp set issued in honor of the Peel car’s 50th anniversary

 

The Peel P50 was and still is street-legal in the UK, as well as the US, surprisingly.  The Manx Peel car still holds the record for world’s smallest production car.

The original company has been out of business for years, but an English company (also called Peel Engineering) began producing replicas in 2011.  That’s right, you can now CUSTOM order your own Peel car–with prices starting at $21,530. Take a look at this little purple number designed for Cadbury’s Joyville campaign:

 

FYI: the ORIGINAL Peel cars, depending on condition, can command prices of $100,000 and more at auctions.

Too hefty a sum for such a tiny car? Maybe, or perhaps paying that much for a Peel car is just a worthy amount for a rare piece of Manx heritage.

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