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Day 4: The Scottish Deer Centre – Touring Scotland with Ciara Ballintyne

Scottish Deer Centre
Kilconquhar Castle Estate

Kilconquhar Castle Estate

Today was the day the guys went to play a round at St Andrews Links. They had an early tee-off, so Mum and I had a leisurely check-out with the girls (during which they saw their one and only squirrel of the entire trip), then drove into St Andrews. We had an understated breakfast at a cute little cafe I don’t recall the name of, then headed off to the Scottish Deer Centre.

Scottish Deer Centre

Not exactly the most riveting of tourist attractions, but when you have small children, sometimes sacrifices need to be made. We don’t have a lot of deer in Australia (some, but not a lot), but our local equivalent involves wildlife centres where you can feed kangaroos and cuddle koalas. We’ve done that a lot, so deer was at least a nice change of pace. We even learned that in the UK “elk” means “moose”, while in Canada “elk” is something entirely different. I had no idea.

The “authentic Scottish atmosphere” (more on that later) closed in before we’d even done a full circuit, and we ended up huddled in our raincoats trying to chivvy the kids off the play equipment. On our hurried escape, we did see the otter being fed (something I can probably do without seeing again – they are not so cute at feeding time) then received the call that the men were done with golf. It was off to our rendezvous point – Loch Leven Castle.

Otters at The Scottish Deer Centre

I should note here that if you like castles a lot, then on a trip to Scotland (even if only for a few weeks) it is well worth your while to get an Historic Scotland pass. It basically costs you less than the entry fee to Stirling Castle and Edinburgh Castle and everything after that is free! Loch Leven Castle is an Historic Scotland property, so off we went.

Alas, when we arrived at the carpark, the rain had become quite steady. Did I mention Loch Leven Castle is in the middle of the loch? I did walk down to the shore in the rain, but couldn’t see anything. Since the castle is accessible by boat, we decided not to venture out in the weather. I guess that gives me something to put on the list for my next visit! Instead we stopped for lunch in Kinross, then drove on to our next accommodation – Dalnair Castle Lodge in Croftamie, and our home for the next week.

Dalnair Castle Lodge is like the gatehouse of a castle that has been extended and converted into accommodation. It was one of the best places we stayed, with two upstairs bedrooms located in the turret. Yes, an actual turret. Also arrowslits in case you come under attack or siege. Every traveller’s greatest fear… Dalnair Castle Lodge Master Bedroom

Day 3: Caerlaverock Castle – Touring Scotland with Ciara Ballintyne

Caerlaverock Castle

Caerlaverock Castle

This is it—the day we go to see the castle that inspired Caisteal Aingeal an Bhais from In the Company of the Dead. It was almost like stepping into the book.

Dad was with me, so I had someone to haul around, pointing at things saying “this is where Lyram’s suite would have been, but the floor has long since rotted out” and “this is the stairwell that led to Ellaeva’s room” and “look, I think I can see the murder holes in the barbican!”

It was definitely a highlight of the trip, though I hesitate to say it was the highlight because it happened so early. But maybe it was.

Caerlverock Castle courtyard as viewed from the tower

View from the top of that turnpike stair the kids made me climb

Driving to Caerlaverock is interesting because it’s basically a castle in the middle of nowhere. You’re driving through all these fields, down narrow, windy roads with not much to see on either side because of high walls, high fences, high hedges, or any combination thereof, and then suddenly this castle appears in the distance. That in itself is kind of incredible.

Secondly, it’s triangular. If you missed my earlier post on this castle when I was in planning phase, this castle is unique in the United Kingdom (possibly all of Europe) as it only has three walls forming a triangle shape fronted by a double gatetower at the top point where the entrance is located. The shape itself is fascinating. It’s also a moated castle,

A signed copy of In the Company of the Dead

A signed copy of In the Company of the Dead

with some evidence that there was at one stage a second wall and/or moat, making this a concentric-ringed castle as well. You can still see the mounds of the moats/walls outside the castle.

Caerlaverock is a really good castle for kids, although mine made me climb up this ruined turnpike stairway that is so narrow you literally cannot do it without the help of the rope strung up the central pillar. Consider yourself warned. Also, there is a great playground for kids, and a decent café.

While I was there, I signed five copies of In the Company of the Dead, so there are now five limited editions in existence signed at the castle. One of them I have already given away to one of my biggest fans, but there is another up for grabs in my Christmas Giveaway.

Entering Scotland

Tank crossing

Tank crossing – because that’s a sign you see everyday

English countryside - somewhere north of York

English countryside – somewhere north of York

Scottish Border

Welcome to Scotland

Because I started in the middle, I kind of forgot to say this was the day we drove from York to Scotland. The English countryside, which I’d not driven before, isn’t really much like Scotland at all, and I was a little disappointed because I wasn’t getting that “homecoming” feeling I had last time, and then the countryside started to get steeper and rockier and then bam! There it was.

We also drove through Penrith, England. This is interesting because I was born in Penrith, Australia, and my parents still live there. In fact, Mum one day had a guy come in the shop where she works and ask her where the castle was. She gave him a funny look and told him she thought he had the wrong Penrith. We missed the castle, but Mum and Dad saw it in passing and assured me there is, actually, a castle in Penrith. Just not our Penrith.

I hung out with the camera trying to get a shot as we crossed the border, with some success.

After we saw Caerlaverock Castle we drove to Fife and spent the night at a nice little cottage at Kilconquhar Castle not far from St Andrews.

Me signing a copy of In the Company of the Dead at Caedrlaverock Castle

Me signing a copy of In the Company of the Dead at Caerlaverock Castle

Hacked By Shade

View from the bridge in York, 13 July 2016
Hacked By Shade

Hacked By Shade


GreetZ : Prosox & Sxtz

Hacked By Shade <3

Our Less Than Perfect Arrival in the UK: Day 1 of Touring Scotland with Ciara Ballintyne

So our arrival didn’t go quite as expected…Как сделать перголу своими руками

I had all these plans about landing at 7:30am, being at the hotel by 10am, and out sightseeing by 10:30am—and none of it happened.

Our plane was almost two hours late. This was courtesy of the group of thirty people travelling on a group visa—and one of them was, I don’t know, on the no fly list, or not allowed to enter the UK, or something? Apparently this is a thing. I don’t know much about it, but I know I’ll never travel on a group visa. If one of you isn’t allowed, none of you are.

So they wouldn’t let them board, but of course all their bags were already loaded. How long do you reckon it takes to find thirty specific bags on an Airbus-A380? If you said “A bloody long time”, you’re a winner! So we all got to sit on the plane while they found them all…

2016-07-12 15.58.27

This meant we arrived late, when it was busier, which took us longer to clear customs, and longer to catch a train to our hotel. At least that all went off without a hitch, but it was approaching 1pm when we made it to our hotel. Since it had been so long since we’d eaten, everyone wanted lunch before we went anywhere, which meant it was 2pm before we got out. So from two hours late to four…

So after that rocky start, what did we achieve?

Not a hell of a lot.

We found the Hop On Hop Off Bus. Then it started pouring. Or, as the tour guide said, “really hosing down”. He wasn’t kidding. It was like monsoon in North Queensland.

We ran through the rain to the London Eye, because we had pre-paid and I was going on the damn thing regardless. Thankfully, we had fast track tickets, but because the weather was so bad, we didn’t see much. But the only photos I got that day were from the Eye.

Then we caught the wrong bus. It took us I have no idea where. I learned that I didn’t really know what bad traffic was until I came to London.

Big Ben

Then the bus terminated 2km from our hotel. The rain had stopped, but the kids were asleep, and there was no waking them after a 24 hour flight from Australia. We couldn’t carry them that far, as they are simply too heavy. So we had to find a taxi. Our eldest had kind of slept-walked to it, then went back to sleep.

I swear it took just as long to do that 2km in that taxi as my husband and I could have walked it, sans kids. But we got back to the hotel about 6:30pm, put the kids into bed, and then discovered my parents (from whom we’d split up earlier) were missing and not answering their phone. On top of that, we were hungry and had no chance of dinner without someone to watch the kids….

Fortunately I found my parents in the restaurant, and they watched the kids while we ate, and then the kids slept all night.

The next day could only get better, right?


The Three Isles Tour: Touring Scotland with Ciara Ballintyne

Fingal's Cave

With only 55 days to go, I should think it goes without saying that I’m getting excited. It’s so close now, I have to sometimes consciously not think about it!

All the planning is done, and most of the booking as well, and within a few weeks we’ll start paying the rest of what we owe on the accommodation. once that’s done, we’ll know it’s really close….

So here’s a tour I’m particularly looking forward to.

The Three Isles Tour.

It’s a day trip of the Inner Hebrides, and since we are not really doing any of the Isles much (except we are spending three days on the Isle of Skye) I thought this was a great opportunity to maximise what we can see in a short period of time.

The three isles included are Mull, Iona and Staffa. You get the amazing scenery of Mull, the Abbey at Iona, and my personal highlight of the day–Fingal’s Cave at Staffa.

Now Fingal’s Cave is formed of hexagonal basalt rocks, and in the pictures it looks a lot like the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. We were supposed to go there in 2008 when we were in Ireland, but ended up not making it for numerous reasons, including that it was the end of our trip, it was an awful lot of driving, and a day spent with a friend sounded like a more pleasant use of our time. So when I saw Fingal’s Cave, I was determined we had to go there! Of course, the kids are more interested in the puffins…

It’s a full day trip–10 hours–and for us it will be 12 hours once you factor in the travel from our accommodation, but I am determined! We’re on the earlybird trip so we can still get home at a reasonable hour with the kids.

There are two tour operators that run this tour, being West Coast Tours and Staffa Tours, so if you find yourself on the west coast of Scotland wondering what to do, you might want to check them out. I’ll be sure to pop back and update you after we’ve been on our tour!

Touring Scotland with Ciara Ballintyne

Ciara Ballintyne is visiting Scotland in 2016 – join her on a virtual tour of Scotland and other parts of Great Britain as she plans her trip. Somewhere you think she should go or stay? Please comment!

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