Thursday, September 29, 2005

Glenduckie to Perth

On our second trip to Perth we tried the less than obvious route via Cupar and Newburgh – well its never more than six miles from Cupar as you know! Tucked away in this less populous region is some of Fife's prettiest countryside. In the bottom of otherwise quiet valleys there are lovely villages that the main road avoids by half a mile or so. My favourite is Glenduckie – perhaps because of Chris' lifelong attachment to Daffy Duck whose stuffed effigy hangs in the hall at home like some Shinto household god. Hanging out of the window with just a tiny digital camera, Chris tried to capture an image for you.

Glen Duckie

This time we went into the city centre of Perth and stopped for an hour for a late lunch. Most of the main street are pedestrianised but we found plenty of disabled parking – something the planners often forget. Perth must have ambitions to win the best kept city award, for the flowers, window boxes and hanging baskets were truly spectacular. Considering its late September they were full of brighly coloured blooms in tip top condition, and they billowed down the walls and supports everywhere. I don't think I've ever seen such a well kept display at this late time of year. Just a few yards away the River Tay scrambles over a field of rocks, producing a display of white water as it flows under one of the city's bridges.

Chris has photgraphed an unusual piece of street sculpture. I wasn't sure at first – why would city dwellers want to lean against a suspended metal ring? But then a South American trio started to play the music of Los Paraguyos and leaning on the steel ring to listen seemed to be the most natural thing in the world. Perth I will visit again – it was a most welcoming place.

Perth Street Sculpture.

What next? Its time to put some serious effort into finding a building plot. I have booked a B and B for Sunday and Monday night in Aberdeenshire. It was recommended by friends. But it seems the owner is in France and only a caretaker will be there. He “thinks” he can cook a basic breakfast as long as I don't want Waldorf Salad ? It was apparently an allusion to Fawlty Towers – a T.V. program I have never watched. Alas the joke fell on the wrong ears. Perhaps I should take my own ingredients just to be sure?

By this time next week I should at least know if its the area want to settle in at the prices I can afford.

Six Miles From Anywhere You Like

Travelling around in the magical Kingdom, we soon became aware that all signposts tell the same story. It might be only a mile and half to a small village, or two miles to the coast, but in general all the major towns are advertised as being only another six miles further on. Now this is patently not true as six miles stretches beyond credibility to eight and sometimes ten. We gave it some thought and decided that the council lost all the other stencils for road signs and so has to make do with no number bigger than six until it gets into the teens. So coming back to Cupar from Newburgh the other day I was wondering how long the journey would be on our unexpected detour. “That's easy,” said Chris, “its just six miles!” And so it was.

The weather here is exceptionally mild and kind. It may howl with wind and rain all day elsewhere but in the Kingdom it rarely lasts more than two hours, then shortly afterwards the sun breaks though. I have been told that if there is snow or severe frost in Leven then all of the east of Scotland is pretty well locked up. Its one of the the mildest places in Scotland – apart from the West. Now I know where exotic place names like Largo Bay come from, with their intimations of Bermudan climate.

Alas we cannot stay here – thousands of others have discovered what a beautiful place this is to live. Next week I set off north and begin the search for land. Chris stays put to look after the felines. I have already heard of a huge plot as a very reasonable price, but it may be too much for us to manage. Life gets exciting again from here on in!

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Life's a Beach

Leven Beach & Power Station
(click for larger image)

The tide may look fairly well out, but in reality I was just 20ft from the surf. The tripod legs were constantly sinking into the wet sand. The Power Station dominates the landscape locally, but is thankfully redundant and rumour has it shortly to be demolished.

Three Steps Forward

What an amazing week – full of ups and downs and twists and turns.

By Monday late afternoon I was reading the riot act to my old firm of solicitors who had hung on to the proceeds of our house sale all over the weekend because they had “lost” a form I signed back in August. The money turned up at the last possible moment when I asked for the interest it was accruing.

Tuesday I went in search of a mortgage for the build, only to be turned down by all 20 companies working through a large independent mortgage broker. But all was far from lost and I approached the Ecology Building Society by e mail. It seems they had already done stress tests on Fin Lammelli building logs and given them their seal of approval. Following a direct phone call we got the verbal agreement for the funding we need. Hooray!

Not wanting to let the grass grow under our feet I began to research the building regulations in Scotland. Before building can commence and alongside Planning Permission, every new build must have a BuildingWarrant which will add another thousand to the bill! But even that pales into insigificance beside the technical tests involved.But I'm learning not to panic and e-mailed the house suppliers UK Agent. Its all been done before for someone else and passed with flying colours. Another problem solved. Next step is to talk to planners in likely areas.

Meanwhile we went to St Andrews, a world religious shrine for all golfers. I found a branch of Ottakars (the booksellers) and a Costa Coffee shop and so was in my own private Heaven. Crossing the street was less fun. The High Street in St Andrews must be one of the oldest and uneven cobbled streets left in the world, and definitely not made for arthritics.

Chris passed a real cheese and home cured hams shop, so smelly he thought the sewers had backed up. But as he made his way back to the pavement his eye was caught by a display of unusual yarns on a pole. Down a narrow ginnel (passageway) was the shop of a designer of high quality fashion knitwear made from unique yarns a prices you can only imagine. Looking at the yarns Chris wasn't impressed - and neither was I when he took me there. Space dyed pencil roving at £30 for a hundred grams – phew. Plucking up my courage I sent the designer twelve samples of my own hand spun and designed yarns, (some wool, some pure silk, others blends of merino and acrylic or cashmere and alpaca). Two days later came an excited phone call from her assistant asking if I could meet her and bring some larger batches of yarn. When I mentioned the spun silk and the knitted hats she grew even more enthusiastic.So now I think I know what I shall be doing through these long Winter evenings.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Elie Landing

Elie Landing, Fife.
(click for Larger version)

Sunday morning before the tourists came out to play. The tide was out, and the waves deceptively small. Beth tried to get to the waters edge, but was caught by a bigger wave. Two hours later she was still trying to dry her socks and shoes out.


A Night At The Rurals

Long ago I promised myself that I would sample life in the “Rurals” as they are known in Scotland. Their longer name is the Scottish Women's Rural Institute but they are better known by their English counterpart's name – The Womens Institute. Typically the Scots have their own independent take on what this means. There is no “Jerusalem” here, although I did spot a lonely jar of plum jam in the raffle. Instead there was a Scots hymn sung in the strong local accent I am still trying to master.

The entertainment for the night was a real joy – a group of amateur female bell ringers complete with a penguin mascot. Although probably not the most accomplished campanologists, they made up for the occasional error with wit and charm that was quite captivating. Their special hand bells came funded by the Co-op but their music was from the heart. Some of us in the audience tried the Westminster chimes with a set of learners bells and it was addictive. Invited to hum along to the music in accompaniment, the ladies of Largo Rurals spent a most gentle hour of pure delight.

Next month we have to entertain ourselves and I have asked to take my spinning wheel. The chairs are diabolical, bent plywood circa 1960 on a curved metal frame, each with an optimistic pad of carpet to ease the pain. At least with my wheel in tow a more comfortable chair comes as standard.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

In Search of Smokey and the Kipper

Early this morning as I drove along to St. Monans for fresh fish, the shadows were still long in the brightest dazzling sunlight. The waters of the Forth sparkled like the cliched diamonds and the light was crystal clear. I could see the south bank in more detail than at any time so far. Only Largo Law, the tallest hill hereabouts still had a petticoat of grey clouds around its 290 metre summit.

All around the World was alive with golfers towing those incredibly heavy bags around the courses like leaf eating ants. I say courses deliberately for they breed them around here. There are ordinary courses, back to back courses and even ladies golf courses - none of them ever empty. It is truly the only local passion.

Further along the coast the road divides and I took the coastal route to St Monans. In the industrial unit at the edge of the little town there are several wet fish merchants supplying both the wholesale and retail trade. I went to “Wilson's” and bought the fresh crab I had been seeking. Alas, no one wants to dress it themselves these days and so it came neatly decorating its tidy shell.

I had hoped for the breakfast of my youth – fresh caught crab, green grapes and a chilled fruit drink. All that picnic requires is a hammer, a teaspoon and a knife, plus the newspaper the crab is wrapped in.

At Wilson's they have modern smokehouse on the premises and sell a range of oak smoked haddock, mackeral, kippers, as well as fresh white fish caught locally. It was all so discreet I might never had spotted it. Is it foolish to hanker after the traditional brick chimney smoker with its cowled hood and fish on metal rods hung in the atmosphere of the outer hells?

By the time I came back the light had flattened and the shadows shortened. The best photography at this time of year is to be had early in the morning and late at night. Perhaps we could go this evening and try and locate some of the many standing stones hereabouts?

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Go North, and see Peter Pan

Today we went too far...and did miles more than we intended. In a great loop we went over the Tay to Dundee which was a HUGE city! The Tay bridge is a real treat and free if you're heading North. The toll is only payable if you want to leave Scotland and head South. Along the coast there is a dual carriage way right upto Aberdeen but we peeled off and looped back, realising that the full drive was just beyond us both.

We stopped for lunch at Kirrimuir (birthplace of J.M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan) in an art gallery (teacher's verdict....”can do better”) and then came back via Perth and Scone. On the way home we got lost and seemed to do a complete circumnavigation of Loch Leven. But Chris was ecstatic to go right past the Scottish Gliding Club as they were towing up planes to float in the thermals that come of the mountainous cliffs nearby . By then I was so tired I was practically ready to throw him off the cliff. The cats are flat out in the conservatory and no matter how hot it gets wont come into the cool of the house. Cat heaven is a warm soft fleece on a deeply padded chair in the sunshine.

Elie, East Fife Gem

Just along the coast is Elie, a real hidden gem. The best photos are to be had from the bay looking across to the lighthouse at the end of the promontory. There's a council car park that costs a whole pound for a days parking... and an Honesty Box to drop your pound in! The snack bar serves real food at reasonable prices and the air is like wine to our asthma. The biggest shop in town is called the “Elie Deli”.

On the way home we passed lots of signs to “The Secret Bunker” - there is something rather Irish and contradictory about that.

Fish and Chip Heaven found in Anstruther

Forget Grimsby Fish and Chips... try Anstruther. The award winning fish and chip shop is right on the quay behind the biggest yachts in the panoramic photo.

(click image for larger version)

The fish is landed daily and the haddock is as sweet and fresh as you could wish. A single portion contains two butterfly fillets in mouthwatering batter and the chips are equal to those my late Mother made. Its the first time I've tasted chips like that in twenty years since she died. It was fantastic and thats from a fish and chip afficionado. Alas they go straight on the hips.

When I'm rich I'll go back for the half lobster and chips with salad – about £9.

The quay side seemed at first to be chock a bloc with expensive yachts but if you looked more closely on the far harbour wall you could see the last of the shallow water snibbies that catch the fish. There's an RNLI lifeboat station and a fisheries museum too. It was a gloriously sunny late afternoon when we arrived and like so much of this coast it bore a strong resemblance to pictures of Cornwall.The sand is clean and golden and the beaches form long gently sloping sands with names like Largo Bay. The tidal reach is only a few hundred feet and so its never far to go for a paddle.

Introduction to A Scottish Adventure

This is the Blog of the biggest adventure we have ever undertaken. Its not that others haven't done it many times before, but for the two of us, both chronically ill and disabled it was a huge gamble.So here is the story of our journey to our new home as it unfolds a step at a time. For now we have moved from England and rented a place in the Magical Kingdom of Fife – which lives upto its name. Its only a temporary resting place and we have already begun the search for a building plot on which we can build the home of our dreams. Fife is a little too densely populated and we may literally end up anywhere in Scotland where the land is cheap enough and the location is serenely quiet. My son will take the photos as we travel and I am best left to scribble the acompanying notes. The Blog will end when we have a log home of our own and the front door is finally declared open.