Thursday, 30 June 2011


This is the definition of a Highland Midge (known as midgies in Scotland) from wikipedia- a species of small flying insect, found in upland and lowland areas especially in the north west of Scotland from late spring to late summer. Female Highland midges are well known for gathering in clouds and biting humans, and are the smallest flies in Scotland to do soThey are generally regarded as pests.

In other words, take a mosquito, make it much smaller (so that it can get through mosquito netting) and impervious to insect repellent and you have a midgie. They can take an amazing weekend for camping and turn it in to a battle for blood, literally. 

We'd heard about these nasty bugs and knew to be on the lookout for them. Our first camping adventure (as you saw from our previous post) was a rousing success. Over the course of the two nights we saw a few midgies and had a couple of bites but were never really disturbed. 

It made for a miserable day
But then we decided to camp for a second time. As Erin's parents were in town we decided to visit the Isle of Mull. Erin's parents stayed in a bed and breakfast so we decided to rough it for one night, how hard could that be? Unfortunately we didn't know then what we know now, how to protect yourself from these cursed insects. Rule number one - midgies can't survive more than a 6 mph wind. Rule number two - avoid standing water. Rule number three - don't stay near trees which provide protection for them. So, where did we decide to pitch our tent? In a parking area surrounded by trees where no wind could reach us and there were puddles of standing water all around. As we were setting up the tent and getting ready for bed we noticed a few bugs but nothing overwhelming. However, by morning, all four corners of the tent had thousands of midgies collected inside and out. As we noticed all the bites we had received during the night we decided to hurry and break camp. Making things worse, as we started folding the tent all six million midgies in the area decided to attack in unison. We spent half an hour going back and forth between folding a few feet of the tent and running away from the black swarm. We were covered with midgie bites and by the time we had everything in the car, including ourselves, we found many had followed us in. We spent another 15 minutes driving as fast as we could with all the windows open trying to drive them out. 

I highly recommend Coleman tents.
Fortunately this experience taught us the three rules regarding midgies so this past weekend as we went camping again we were able to make sound decisions on where to set up camp. I found a lovely place on top of a mountain in the Cairngorm National Park that was perfect. Although, sometime around 3am it became a little too perfect. I'll let the picture speak for itself on what the wind was doing to our tent. Needless to say the winds were just a tad over 6 mph. My fear of midgies caused me to slightly overshoot the needed windspeed. 
The next night we were able to find a calmer area that had no standing water and wasn't too close to trees. The mix of rain and manure all around us did make for an interesting morning though. 

I guess having one bad night out of four is ok and all in all, we've had fantastic and very memorable camping experience in Scotland. It was a bit sad to pack the tent and sleeping bags up for the final time before they make their return to Texas in a couple weeks when my family takes them home for us. 

Monday, 6 June 2011

A Wonderful, Warm, Wild Camping Weekend

It looks peaceful, but in the morning
we were overrun with cattle.
Very rarely is sunshine in the forecast for a day here let alone an entire weekend. With the sun set to prevail for the full weekend, Erin and I embarked on an adventure planned since moving to Scotland, wild camping in the highlands. A little bit of background on wild camping: in Scotland you are allowed to camp any place where there's not a fence. This means you can pitch your tent anywhere you'd like. We just so happened to choose this spot for our first night.

 In preparation for this camping adventure, Erin and I had already brought over our tent and purchased the necessary sleeping bags and backpacks. (We're suckers for camping gear and great deals, there's a store here called Mountain Warehouse that's like a wholesale REI, we couldn't be happier).

We rented a car and headed north. Our first stop was to explore the central highlands, specifically the Glencoe region. We climbed the devil's staircase which wasn't so devilish, although my legs felt otherwise afterwards. The highlight of the day had to be, as we were climbing, four different Royal Air Force jets screamed past us through the valley. Quite the exciting moment for me.

Then we headed to the north to visit the Isle of Skye. We'll be heading back their later so we decided to just explore the southern area. Erin had found directions to a small cave on the southern shore so we attempted to locate it. We found the opening but discovered that either the cave was filled in or we were just in the wrong spot. Erin was not thrilled that I scaled the cliff wall to find the entrance, but I had a blast.

After Skye we continued north along the west coast exploring the mountains and small villages. They say that the northern highlands are some of the most beautiful bits of Scotland and we would have to agree. We then made our way east to the Black Isle, seeing some amazing scenery along the way including a breathtaking waterfall. Upon reaching the Black Isle, we headed out to a spot that is known for it's dolphin viewing where we were not disappointed. It was spectacular to watch dolphins about 50 feet away jumping through the water. After seeing the dolphins we headed to the Black Isle brewery to sample their completely organic ales. It has become one of our favorite breweries around. To end the trip Erin endured as I got to visit Fort George and the Culloden Battlefields. The Battle of Culloden was fought in 1746 between the British government and a faction known as the Jacobites. It was the last battle to take place on British soil. The battle lasted less than an hour and more than 1500 Jacobites lost their lives. In response to the uprising, the government built Fort George, a massive fort that is still used by the military today.

After a fantastic weekend, we headed home passing through the Cairngorms National Park to see more great scenery. As we neared Edinburgh the clouds began to appear and drops of rain started to fall. The timing could not have been more perfect. In Erin's words, "This was the best vaca ever!" While I could never label a trip best ever, it certainly was a great chance to get out and enjoy God's beautiful creation.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Highland Games

We got to experience our first Highlander Games this past Sunday. The games consisted of competitions in Scottish dance, pipes and drums, and the fan favorite heavy events including the stone put, the weight throw, and the caber toss. Where else can you see an extremely muscular 300 pound man wearing a kilt tossing a 56 pound weight over a 13 foot high bar using one hand? By the way, we witnessed one contestant break a Scottish record in this event (16'5").

One of the more interesting aspects of the games was the pipes and drums competition. I never knew there were so many organized pipe bands out there. Upon arriving to the park you couldn't help but notice the sound of hundreds of bagpipes filling the air. Now yes the bagpipe is the ugly step-child of musical instruments but it does have its place and at a highland game is certainly one of them. I can honestly say I was never annoyed even after hearing each band play the exact same tune for the judges.

Would you tell this man he
looks silly in a kilt? That
pole weighs 175 pounds.
The highlight of the day for Erin was seeing all the young girls compete in the Scottish dance competition. Mainly because all the girls have matching outfits. My favorite part was definitely the caber toss. It was extremely riveting. In case you're not familiar with the caber toss, here's a brief introduction. Each contestant has three chances to pick-up a large wooden pole (typically 20 feet tall and weighing 175 pounds) and using their forward momentum, toss the pole so that it flips one time. In this weekends caber toss, each contestant failed on their first and second attempts, but on the final try, the man that was victorious in every other event, succeeded in overturning his caber. It was an extremely impressive feat.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Easter, Bank holidays, and Birthdays

Although a couple weeks late in posting I did want to report that April ended quite well here. In the UK there are these wonderful things called Bank Holidays; quite a few of them are late April/May. Mix that with the royal wedding and it meant that we had two four day weekends in a row to end our month. Always fun!
One of those was my birthday/Easter weekend. At the start of the week we had grand plans of exploring the highlands.  We encountered a few problems. Within 5 min of us reserving a car we got a phone call apologizing; every car for hire in Edinburgh was taken. Well… that won’t slow us down, we will simply take a bus and go camping. Oh wait, despite us thinking to bring our tent and sleeping bags, we don’t actually have a camping back pack (or a backpack pack, as my friend Sarah would say). Although we did our best to attach our tents and sleeping bags to my computer back pack and day bag, we realized without a car to hold our supplies it was going to be… less than ideal. Next thought, we can take multiple day trips to places we have wanted to see. Friday was my bday so we decided to spend that here. Saturday, however, we planned to explore somewhere fun. And we could have… had Scottish weather not kept us in. Since we had been traveling a bit in April, we really wanted to make it to church on Easter Sunday. So we planned one last attempt on exploring the highlands for Monday (which they call Easter Monday here, also a holiday). Buses were booked, trains were booked… Andrew was shaking?!?!  Yes, that’s right… Andrew came down with a 103 degree fever the night before we left. Although we were able to avoid the emergency room, he wasn’t quite ready to go on holiday the next morning.
So perhaps we don’t really know how to make the most of a 4-day holiday. But the weekend had its moments, even though we stayed here. My mom mailed me a box mix for my favorite cupcakes (with icing that we haven’t been able to find for the last six year). Cory was kind enough to cook up an amazing Jaime Oliver Italian dinner… thank you Cory! And, keeping with our tradition, we had a birthday week where I got to open a different present every day. Some from family, some from friends (thank you bday twin and Sonnet), some that we had bought earlier in our stay and regifted (what can I say, the pound /dollar conversion meant we had to be creative with our bday week this year), and some Andrew picked out just for me (see pic). Above all, I received so many message and cards from friends. It made my first birthday an ocean away feel… closer to home than I was expecting. Thank you to everyone!

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Floweres for my birthday

I actually laid in the dirt to take this picture.

So, we apologize for being delinquent bloggers. I also apologize for cheating, because this post is not necessarily about Scotland at all, but rather a trip we took with Cory last weekend to Holland. Background story: for about 7 years now I have been fascinated with Holland’s tulips. I saw a photograph of the tulip fields taken from the air with rows of colors blazing brightly and I have wanted to go ever since. As an early bday present this year, Andrew and Cory humored me as I spent two full days in the flowers.

The gardens

Our first day we went to Keurkendof, the most amazing spring time garden I have ever seen. There were flowers EVERYWHERE! There were also people everywhere, all wanting the same pictures. There are some people who decided to just push there way in. The best example was the teenager, who in a very thick accent looked at us (who by the way was trying to get a photo at the time) and in a very aggitated tone explained "excuse me". Apparently we were the two (out of about 100 other tourists) he really didn't want in his picture.

New meaning to the phrase "flower power".

We were there for the flowers parade, which this year had a musical theme.  The parade actually started about 1.5 hours late. It turns out that a float had gotten a flat tire earlier in the parade route. Once they got it fixed, it was only a matter of minutes before there were more problems. At least this time the float broak down in the general area where we were, so we got to watch as they attempted to fix the float. Masssive amounts of people broke through the barriers to get a closer look (or to leave in frustration). In resulted in about the most chaotic parade I have ever been to.  But the floats were certainly worth the chaos.

This is my happy place!

Then I took a day to bike through the farmers’ fields of flowers. This was no doubt my favorite part of the trip. I road a bike for 15 miles and saw nothing but fields of color the entire way. Just amazing. There were flowers everywhere you turned. The best birthday present ever. Thank you boys for tolerating the tulips!

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

#1 Hospitality

We have always thought of Texas as a hospitable place, and it is. But time after time we have been blown away by how friendly and welcoming everyone has been to us. We cannot leave church without someone introducing themselves and asking where we are from and how we are settling in (even when we are trying to make a dash for the door to move on to lunch). In the first month that we were here, the pastor, counseling pastor, social events coordinator, missions director, and small group overseer had all introduced themselves to us. This is in addition to the dozens of members of the church who welcomed us and made sure we were getting along well. This is incredibly impressive to me considering the 1000 people they have coming through their church each day.
We have found this friendliness everywhere, even while riding the bus. It is an unwritten rule that every passenger tells the bus driver thank you or cheers before stepping off. 
The welcoming is even true with random people we have run into noticing we were “tourists”. The gentleman we talked to while walking through an old cemetery in St. Andrews and a gentleman as we were taking pictures of a beautiful bridge in inverness just to name a few. They each told us where to go and what to see along with sharing about their lives in Scotland. 
We chose this as our number one because it alone has made this adventure worth it. 

#2 There's no such thing as bad weather, just people who are poorly dressed

We were told, and now understand, that Scotland only has one weather forecast: Sunny spells with scattered showers. If it's sunny in the morning and you dress accordingly, you will be miserable later in the day soaking wet and freezing. The changes aren't even the worse part, but the speed at which it changes. Just walking to your bus stop or playing in the park can see a gorgeous day become cold and wet. We've since learned that before leaving the flat each morning one should always have the following three items: umbrella, jacket, and sunglasses. You will need all three everyday. We've also learned that you can't let rain get in the way of a good time. If your philosophy is to wait for it to stop raining before you go do something, you'll never go do it. You might as well go jogging in the rain or it will be 3 weeks before you can. The greatest line we've heard about Scottish weather is from a tour guide we were with the other day. He asked how long we planned to be in Scotland and told him till August. His response was. "you'll love the summer here, the rain is warmer then."