Sunday, 15 September 2013

Leaving Scotland

As we boarded the ferry for Ireland I asked Mark and the girls what the highlights of Scotland were. 
The coastline as we left Scotland on the ferry, headed for Ireland.
Mark was quite melancholy to be leaving Scotland, the land of whiskey and bagpipes.  His highlights by far were piping, mountains and scotch.  He would have liked to have hiked Ben Nevis, but the weather just did not co-operate with us.  When we started planning this trip, the Scotland leg of our stay was centered on the World Bagpipe Competitions and the World Highland Dance Competitions. Luckily, they happened to be within two weeks of one another.   Mark camped out in the front row of the Grade 1 piping circle for well over 5 hours with his sidekick Ally.  He left only once to use the washroom, as Meg and I delivered drinks, snacks and lunch to the diehard piping fans throughout the day on Glasgow Green.  Sitting in one spot for 5 hours is challenging, but when the rain started pouring down and the wind started lifting up tents - things got really exciting.  On top of that, behind Mark and Ally was a ring of people well over 50 people deep that Meg and I had to worm our way through to reach the coveted inner ring. It was like trying to make your way through the mosh pit at a Rolling Stones concert!  Cairngorm Mountain was another highlight for Mark – Ally and Meg were not too fussy on this late afternoon hike, but once they got started they enjoyed the challenge of making it to the cairn at the top.  To our surprise we also saw a reindeer up there – no wonder it was pretty chilly. I’m sure Santa’s house was just over the peak!  He could go on and on about the whiskey distilleries as well in Scotland, but that is a whole other blog post in and of itself and...there is Jameson waiting for him in Ireland. 
Front row centre at the piping championships - notice the rain gear
and people behind!

Mark and Ally's view of the piping circle, look there is sun!

The top of Cairngorm mountain, what a hike!

Mark was in his glory, he found the oldest weather station at the top of the mountain,
Geography lesson plan number 135 for when he returns!

Meggie came across these reindeer on the way back down, so neat!

One of the many distilleries in Scotland!
Ally’s highlight of her stay in Scotland was highland dancing at Cowal, the World Highland Dance Competition.  She set her sights on competing here about a year and a half ago and started preparing with her dance teacher, Dana.  She worked her way up through the levels and competed in many competitions to prepare for the big event.  Although she did not qualify to dance for the title, she performed exceptionally well and made us all very proud.  It was quite a unique opportunity to dance alongside the world champions, one that may not come again too soon.  The following day, those dancers that qualified, danced for the world title in three different age categories.  This was the day that Ally and I camped out front row centre for 5 hours, and unfortunately for this event…we didn't have chairs!  Ally was amazing; she stood in that one spot the entire time, watching intently as the dancers "Sworded, Flung and Reeled".  She thought about her future and decided that this would not be the last time she would attend the Cowal Highland Gathering;  in other words, Mom and Dad had better start saving! Since then, she has continued to work on her dancing without the luxury of her coach, and has started running with Mark and I in the mornings to work on her endurance.  The thought of returning to Scotland made Mark happy and he quickly offered to accompany her again in the future. I’m not quite sure if he was motivated by her plans to dance again or the thought of hiking Ben Nevis and visiting some more distilleries in his whiskey passport.
Look at that leap, beautiful!

Our beautiful dancer on her big day.

Ally and Socks front row and centre at the World Dancing Championships.

To my surprise the highlight of our Scotland stay for Meg was camping in the Highlands and the polar bear dip.  Now…let me just say that only the Mitchells would decide to camp in the Highlands of Scotland for four days, after almost a straight week of rain.  Not only was it wet; it was cold and windy too! The rain would come and go quickly but when there was wind the rain would whip across the land sideways, turning umbrellas inside out and knocking over anything in it’s path…including me! No picture to accompany this event, sorry to disappoint.  We invested in some umbrellas after about the second week of rain and although we had fancy schmancy raincoats, the umbrellas were a welcome addition.  They are nothing like our umbrellas at home and are outfitted with mechanisms that let the umbrella flip inside out and backwards without any damage – brilliant!  I digress….back to the camping. We didn’t actually camp the first night.  It was raining way too hard and we stayed in a hotel in Fort William.  Maybe that is why Meg liked it so much!  The next night, we were able to set up camp and just as Mark’s luck would have it, the weather turned.  The sun shone and it warmed up.  I swear that man has a horseshoe somewhere, where the sun doesn’t shine!  With the break in the rain, we only had the midges to contend with. No problem! Well...for those of you that have not had the luxury of a midge encounter – they are little mosquito like creatures similar to no-see-ums but as it turns out, thirstier than vampires.  Mark had done his homework and prepped us on the rules for living with midges.  
Here we are setting up camp and having a bite to eat.
Rule #1 Don't even bother trying to camp in an area rated more than a 2 on the 5 point midge scale.  You know things are serious when there is a website dedicated to midge tracking.  Our area happened to be a level two when we visited. What the heck did 5 look like?  

Rule #2  When in midge country, stay covered from head to toe and use Smidge (known as Deep Woods Off in Canada).  Spraying it directly into your ears, eyes and mouth might be helpful, although the can clearly recommends against such actions.  

Rule #3  Never EVER, leave the zipper of the tent unzipped, actually don't ever open it! No further explanation is required.  (Although we even managed to break this rule a few times!)

Rule #4 and the most important rule of all.  Never stop moving in midge country. A midge's only vulnerability is it's speed. It can't fly faster than 6km/hour.  We really didn't enjoy the itty bitty creatures crawling into every orifice of our body, so the 'Midge Night Walk' was established.  We must have been quite a sight from the campground lodge...eating our meals while marching around in circles, or madly running around swatting.  Believe it or not, it worked, which brings us to...  

Rule #5 Don't breathe.  Mark's further research showed that the midges were attracted to carbon dioxide.  This was further proven the next morning when he found 1 million five hundred and six midges swarming the vent holes of the tent.  We tried to master rule #5 but after passing out several times, the rule was abandoned for safety reasons.

It seemed however, that despite our inability to follow the rules, we had dodged a bullet. The midges were there and they were biting, but we were not scratching…all was good...UNTIL day number four.  Well, it takes a bit of time for all of that nasty little venom to start reacting with the human body and boy did those bites itch, and itch, and itch.  All of us except Mark that is - damn horseshoe!  It is now close to two weeks later and we are still itching! 

So… I’m not quite sure why camping was the highlight for Meg.  Perhaps it was the fact that she won 5 pounds worth of candy for collecting the most points in her nature book science project, or the fact that she didn’t have to do any 'real homework', as there was no Internet connection. 
Trying to get a photo and deal with the midges - nasty little guys!

The 'midge night walk' or midge morning walk or midge afternoon walk- you choose!

The polar bear dip in Scotland - brrrrr chilly, but they did it!

They had some spectators who were not going to let two girls show them up.
They made miserable attempts to keep up with the Canadian girls, who do you think won the challenge?

The highlights of my Scotland stay were seeing the famous Loch Ness and hiking up Puck’s Glen, which happened to be on my birthday.  I can remember hearing about the Loch Ness monster as a child and loved seeing the tiny replica in a lake on the way to Port Dover from the cottage.  I suppose it was the myth and magic that drew me in as a child and it did again as an adult.  We spent a couple of hours going through the Loch Ness experience, one of the top visitor attractions in Scotland, which really was loads of fun.  The centre continued to allow the visitor to grapple between scientific evidence and eye witness claims and accounts.  We all left with our own unique thoughts about what really lives in Loch Ness. I think all of us were focused a little bit more on the loch as we drove along, hoping to catch a glimpse of something out of the ordinary.  Puck’s Glen was by far one of the prettiest walks we have experienced so far on our trip.  It was a beautiful sunny day, and after Mark and I went for a run straight up a mountain to start my birthday, I decided that we needed to head out for a hike.  It had rained earlier that morning and the glen was still moist.  The raindrops clung to the moss and glistened like diamonds along the steep walls of rock.  The sun poked through the trees and the vegetation was spectacular.  We walked along the stream and delighted in the waterfalls and fairy pools.  The girls continued to work on spotting items in their nature books and I was just happy to be out in the sun, finally... and enjoying the time with my family.
Enjoying breakfast after our run - straight up the mountain!

One of the beautiful sights on our hike in Puck's Glen.

Look at those surroundings!

My favourite people in the world! I couldn't think of a better way to spend my birthday.

Mark piping on Loch Ness.

The girls outside the Loch Ness Experience, look carefully!
Scotland holds many memories for each of us and although we are leaving, we are comforted to know that we will be returning again at Christmas.  Thankfully for Mark, Ireland has more distilleries, and for the rest of us, NO midges! 

"Birch Earn" for all of our HSC friends! We haven't forgotten our school spirit!!!

The Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, another city to add to my list of
favourites, what a beautiful city and loads of fun!

The Edinburgh Tattoo, another 'must do' experience in Scotland and one we all enjoyed.

The lone piper at the tattoo.

Stay tuned for what Ireland has in store for us!


  1. Mitchell Clan, I am SO enjoying reading about your adventures. You seem to be making the most of every day and every opportunity. Keep on keeping on. Mark, I wish I could be there with you to enjoy a Scotch or two ... maybe one day. Travel safe.

    1. Hi Booker, thanks for leaving the comment, but we are unsure who you are??? Give us a hint.

  2. We are having a great time with fruit flies but we found a bit of wine in a glass covered with plastic with a few holes are eliminating them from the Lakehouse. When you get home you may have no wine left but there will not be any sober fruit flies left either.XOXOXOXO Papa and Grandma

  3. Dear Ali and Meg thank you for sending us the postcards from your trip. We liked seeing your picture on the computer. Please send us more postcards when you go somewhere new. Have a good trip around the world.
    Love JK

    1. Dear JK, Glad you are receiving the postcards. We will continue to mail them, it is fun! We are in Ireland right now and then headed to France. Talk to you soon.

  4. What a fantastic adventure! So wonderful to read all about it. Summer loves to see all of the great pictures and follow where you're off to next! These fond memories will last you and your family a lifetime! Did you get a chance to wear your custom made flip-flop socks yet? Thought you'd get a laugh out of those!!! :)
    We miss you! Keep on having fun!! Summer and Tara xo

  5. Hi Summer and Tara, it made my day to see your comment this morning! Glad you are following the adventure. As for those socks, 'we' have worn them many times - they are in the laundry now as we speak - Meg has been enjoying them too and for some reason they sneak back into her backpack more often than in mine. :) I miss you guys too, tell Summer I hope she is doing well in Grade 3 and to keep her eye on the mailbox, she just might find a surprise there. Take care, xo


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