Our Fair Friends in England

“Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.”

― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables-unknown

Hiking along Baggy Point, Devon

Hiking along Baggy Point, Devon

After the glorious Scotland we headed into England to catch up with some much loved family and friends. First stop was London to stay in Greenwich with my darling sister-in-law Nina and her partner David. We arrived at the train station and Nina very kindly picked us up with all our bags and drove us to their lovely terrace-house.  That night after a delicious home cooked dinner Nina surprised me with a delightful red current and raspberry parfait birthday cake.

This was the start of a scrumptious few days of eating our way around around London!

Next stop was on my actual Birthday. Liam and I headed out to Portobella Road in search of the well known  Hummingbird Bakery. Portobella Road Market is a wonderful market in Notting Hill full of antique dealers, vintage fashion stalls and retro memorabilia so a perfect place to visit for a Birthday Cupcake. After searching through all the shops and vendors we made our way to the bakery and carefully selected our cupcake flavours, Red Velvet, Salted Caramel and Vanilla (Liam picked the last one of course).

AMAZING! They are the best cupcakes I have ever eaten; hands down.

To top off my culinary experiences in London, my dear friend Jen organised a birthday dinner at a french restaurant called L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon.  Jen has been in London for the past few years with her husband Andrew (who are totally foodies) so I knew she would know where to go for a fabulous night out. Chef Joël Robuchon has won 28 Michelin stars, nine of them in a single year, and has restaurants all over the world, so I was beyond excited. Nina and David also joined us and we had such a fun night. The food was amazing and so was the company! It truly was a very special birthday, that will go down as one of my favourites. I sadly forgot to take a picture of us all together as we were having such a good time, but managed to snap a few of the incredible desserts!

After London we jumped on a bus and headed down to Croyde Bay (Devon County) to visit our good friend Val and her daughter Fiona. Val has only recently moved over to the UK from Brisbane, so it lovely to catch up and check out the area where she would be living. Fiona, who is like a little sister, was over from the States where she has almost completed her PHD (so thats Doctor Fiona to you). The first day it was pouring rain so we used that time to cozy up on the couch with cups of sweet tea and catch up. Then it was off to Bishops Tawton to have lunch at what would be Val’s new local pub, the Chichester Arms. It was a delightful traditional country pub with low ceilings, dark corners and full of antique memorabilia from the local area.  The food was what you would expect from such a pub, delicious and hearty.

The next day the sun came out and it was a beautiful day! We put on our sneakers and headed out to Baggy Point to hike along the coast line. I had never seen this part of England before and the coast line on a clear day is glorious. We walked most of the day, only stopping to watch rock climbers and have a picnic lunch overlooking the Celtic Sea.

After Devon we jumped on another bus then a train and headed to a familiar place (for me at least) called Bracklesham. It is here that the beautiful Grabowski family welcomed us with open arms again (though two have had name changes since I was here last time!). Back in 2007 when I had my first European holiday I somehow managed to have my passport cut up by customs on my arrival into Heathrow (I know, only me right!).  I actually thought I would be stranded forever in the UK. It was my first time travelling solo and I was in quite a state of shock but this family, who barely knew me (but are old friends of Mum & Dad)  took me in, quite literally. Jo and Marek let me stay with them at their  lovely beach house and Jo made me a full english breakfast every morning. Their daughter Zoffie took me to London twice, to the Australian embassy, to organise a new passport. Their other daughter Marysia (who I am actually named after) let me stay with her in Chichester while her and Zoffie made sure that they entertained me my entire stay. Even their son Stanislaw let me stay in his flat in London while I explored the city for the first time. I loved my stay with them back in 2007 when they rescued me, so I was dying to see them again and introduce them to Liam. We had a lovely two days with them and even got to meet all the new additions to the family including the beautiful Sarah and her cutie-pie daughter Olivia, Zoffie’s lovely husband Daniel and Marysia’s newest addition Leah.

Now on to a big list of thank you’s!!! Firstly to Nina and David for letting us stay in their ‘Garden Room’. It was so nice to spend some quality time with you both. You made us feel so welcome and I am very thankful to have family like you.  The second thank you is to the beautiful Jen for organising such an amazing evening for my Birthday. It was incredibly thoughtful and we all had such a fun time. Also a special mention to Andrew who turned up on crutches! What a trooper for coming along to catch up, even though I’m sure you would have much preferred to have been resting in bed. Thirdly is to Val and Fiona who hosted us in Devon and let us intrude on their family time. We miss you both, so it was very special to be able to catch up. We feel pretty privileged to be the first of your Australian friends to check out your new digs Val! The last thank you is to the Grabowski/Bacon/Howe families for their gracious hospitality once again. We truly felt like family in your home. Thank you to Jo for all the lovely meals, to Marysia, Zoffie, Sarah, Katie, Olivia and Leah for making the time to hang out with me so I could have some much needed girl time, to Tom for letting me meet his tortoise, to Daniel for taking Liam to play Golf and to Marek for drinking Liam under the table.

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 Liam & Rishy

xoxo

Finding a Unicorn – Scotland

 “Save me from the lion’s mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns.” 

– Psalms 22:21

Seeking Unicorns

Seeking Unicorns in the Wild of Scotland

It seems I have found the home of one of my favourite mystical creatures, the unicorn. You can imagine my delight when everywhere i went in Scotland I came across them. The unicorn image is craved in stone, encrusted with gold in statues and embroidered into magnificent tapestries all over the country. Even though the appearance of unicorns is in the history and writings of so many countries, even the bible mentions them numerous times, it seems Scotland has claimed this creature as their own. Originally before England and Scotland came under joint rule, Scotland’s Coat of Arms featured two Unicorns supporting a shield. Now Great Britian’s Coat of Arms features the Unicorn of Scotland and the English Lion. I never knew this would be the country where I would find my unicorn.

Scotland's Unicorns

Scotland’s Unicorns

I can remember the first time I learnt about Scotland. As a child I would flick through my Mum’s leather bound photo albums from her traveling days when she was a young teacher in London. My favourite picture was a faded, square photo of a peculiar looking Scottish Highland Cow. I would drag the album out at bedtime and make her tell me about her travels across Europe when she was in her 20s.  So there where two things that I knew I wanted to do in Scotland from looking at that photo album – see Loch Ness and a Highland cow.  Apart from that it turned out that I didn’t really know much else about this beautiful country! Liam and I planned to have a few days in Edinburgh and then hire a car and drive north into the countryside to see what we could find.

Edinburgh is the beautiful Capital of Scotland and is one of those places that takes you on an unforgettable journey into the past. It has such an old world feel with the Edinburgh Castle perched on top Castle Hill watching over the whole city.

Edinburgh

Edinburgh

 the South Bridge Vaults

City of the Dead Tour – the South Bridge Vaults

 Greyfriars Graveyard searching for the Mackenzie Poltergeist

Greyfriars Graveyard searching for the Mackenzie Poltergeist

The best way to explore this place is on foot so we walked around Calton’s Hill and then wandered down the Royal Mile to visit the Castle. We took a City of the Dead  Ghost Tour to visit the South Bridge Vaults and the Covenanter’s Prison in Greyfriars Graveyard for a bit of a laugh but it turned out to be a intriging history lesson. If anyone visits Edinburgh please book one of these tours as it was so much fun and the tour guides are just fabulous.

Liam also wanted to visit The Royal Yacht Britannia which was the former royal yacht for Her Majesty of the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. Britannia was decommissioned on 11 December 1997 and is now permanently berthed at the Ocean Terminal in Leigh, Edinbugh. I wasn’t as keen as I thought it was something your parents would drag you too but I went along to score some brownie points with Liam.

On Board -The Royal Yacht Britannia

On Board -The Royal Yacht Britannia

In the end it turned out I really enjoyed it as  appealed to both the nerd and the snoop in me. With our audio guide we where able to move around the yacht at our own pace and learnt about the Royal families lives on board.

After our time in Edinburgh we jumped in our little rental car and headed to Stirling but first stopping at The Kelpies sculptures in the Helix Park, Falkirk. The Kelpies are built with structural steel with a stainless steel cladding, are 30 metre high and weigh 300 tonnes each. Designed by Andy Scott, the Kelpies are a monument to horse powered heritage across Scotland. My inner horse crazy child was in awe of these enormous sculptures that can be seen for miles away as you drive up to them. I even felt a little emotional as we walked around them and I guess that is what art is supposed to do, make you feel something.

"stretch up your long neck to face the sun'

“stretch up your long neck to face the sun”

That night we stayed in a darling little Hotel that was called the Golden Lion. The hotel was originally opened in 1786, two years before Australia was even colonised. The next day we headed up the hill in the rain to visit Stirling Castle. This beautiful old castle is a great example of Scotland’s fascinating history as Mary Queen of Scots was crowned in the chapel royal here on 9 September 1543 when she was just 6 days old. Wondering around the grounds of this impressive fortress you could imagine the past Kings and Queens of Scotland looking out over the battlements to the magnificent views of the southern Highlands and the Ochil Hills.

"Hold Stirling and you control Scotland"

“Hold Stirling and you control Scotland”

The next day we headed out to see Loch Ness. Before we reached it we stopped in to a little place called Dog Falls near Cannich to try and find a waterfall. Scotland is just such a beautiful place that we wanted to take advantage of the good weather and see some countryside. Though the waterfall we found wasn’t anything to rave about the scenery was.

Dog Falls - Scotland

Dog Falls – Scotland

Loch Ness - hunting for Nessie

Loch Ness – hunting for Nessie

After our little hike it was on to see the huge Loch Ness. This Scottish Icon has a  surface area at 56 km2  and its deepest point is 230 metres. Though we keep a close lookout for the mysterious Loch Ness Monster she never appeared for us.  Now that we had ticked off that experience off our wish list I was on the hunt for my Highland cow. We had driven miles and I was still yet to see one of these beauties. I was beginning to worry that we might not come across one. Then on our drive to Fort William to stay at the bottom of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the United Kingdom, we saw something in a field on the side of the road.

Highland Cows

Highland Cows

Ain’t they just the sweetest cow you have ever seen? I wanted to pack one up and put it in my suitcase to take home. I went to bed very happy that night.

The next day Liam and I woke up early and headed to the base of Ben Nevis as I wanted to see how far up we could climb up. I thought we could make it to the top but after doing some research I discovered that the summit has arguably the fiercest mountain weather conditions in Scotland, even in Summer.  The summit, which is a collapse dome of an ancient volcano, is 1,344 metres above sea level. Since we didn’t have the right equipment (maps, compasses or the right clothing!) we decided, much to Liam’s relief, that we would just do about a 3rd of the mountain walk. The view was well worth the climb even though I did have to lure Liam up the last few hundred metres with the promise of beer at the end!

Ben Nevis

Ben Nevis

Encouraging Liam to make it up the mountain

Encouraging Liam to make it up the mountain

Ben Nevis - the mountain track

Ben Nevis – the mountain track

Mountain Climbers

Mountain Climbers

Scotland is such a beautiful country. For anyone who wants to go there in the future make sure you leave the cities and head out into the wilderness. It truly is a wild and spectacular place that just wants to be explored.

Lots of love

Liam and Rishy

XOXO

see below for for more pictures of Scotland: