Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Bring on the Rain

Well, it was bound to happen eventually. After 3 months of managing to stay relatively dry in Aberdeen, our luck finally ran out. Up until this point, we had either always been prepared with proper rain gear or fortunately planned our hiking excursions on days where the rain held off.
On Sunday afternoon, we decided to take advantage of the temporary sunny skies and get Samson out for a forest walk. We had left him behind on Saturday’s hike, and were feeling just a smidge of parental guilt. As I packed a small bag with water and doggie treats, I asked Jonathan if I should grab our rain jackets, just in case. He looked up at the blue sky and said, “Nope, I think it’ll hold off for the next hour or so.” Flash forward 20 minutes and I am hovered under a tree, seeking shelter during a torrential downpour.
Scotland is known for rain, but sheets of precipitation are actually pretty rare. Normally we will get a persistent drizzle or maybe a soft pitter patter sort of rain, during which a forest is a substantially protective place to be. Countesswells Wood was no match for the rain storm that rolled through on Sunday afternoon, however, and so by the end of the 4 mile hike, we were all three drenched. Jon and I were mildly unhappy about it, but Sam was thrilled and made a point of running through every mud puddle he could find.

Since I knew I was going to have to bathe him either way, I just let him go with it. By the end of the walk, he (and our car) looked like this.
After Sunday’s experience, I feel like we have officially been initiated into Scottish life.

I returned to Countesswells Wood this morning with Bailey, fully equipped with my rain jacket in tow. Of course, because I was prepared, the sun continued to shine throughout our walk, which means I managed to get some really lovely pictures along the way.

And even though the sun was shining, there was still evidence on the trails of the recent downpour, and I managed to get quite muddy all the same.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Dog Training and the Rocks of Solitude

During our first month in Scotland, we had several terrifying ‘incidents' with our dog Bailey. For a while there, our seemingly well trained dog would suddenly bolt during an off leash forest walk, while we dashed through an unknown and endless forest calling her name at the top of our lungs. There were a few times when I devastatingly resigned myself to the fact that I would never see her freckled snout again.
Then came the straw that broke the camel’s back. I decided to let her off leash in a dog park where there were only a few openings in the gate. While I manned the escape routes, Bailey explored the other corner of the park. Suddenly a sea bird swooped in and Bailey was off on a chase. The park fence was no match for her, and from 200 yards away I watched her wiggle her way underneath, not responding to any of my commands for her to stop what she was doing immediately and come back to me this instant.

Once she was out of the park, it was just an easy hop over a stone wall before she was chasing birds all over the Hazlehead golf course. Since I couldn’t wiggle under the fence I had to run around the entire length of the park before scraping the majority of my leg skin off by hopping the same stone fence to the golf course. I then had to run onto the green where people were putting so that I could grab my apparently feral dog and re-leash her.

I was mortified. When I got home with her I cried from frustration. I just didn’t understand why my intelligent and well trained buddy refused to listen to me in off leash situations. Why she would always choose a bird chase over the call of her Mom. I prayed for God to show me a way to get through to her so that we could both enjoy what Scotland had to offer.
For the past few weeks I have worked diligently with her on our runs. I bribe her to stay close with tasty treats and praise her constantly. I feel like I know her now better than I ever have and I’ve made giant strides in my ability to communicate with her. So when our friends Ryan and Jill asked us to bring her along for a hike, I had confidence that she would be a perfect angel somewhat obedient. 
Saturday afternoon we headed down to the town of Edzell with Ryan, Jill and their puppy Angus, and our new friends Luke and Debbie to hike Rocks of Solitude River Circuit. At first Bailey did well, running wild through the woods with her buddy Angus, but always coming back when she was called. The hiking trail we were following was a riverside path following the North Esk. The path rose and fell, sometimes revealing a steep drop into the river.
Well, while dashing through the woods, Bailey couldn’t put her brakes on fast enough and plummeted several feet into the running water. For about 2 minutes, she was trapped in the river since where she fell was way too steep for her to climb back out. Eventually, Jonathan carefully cllimbed down the gorge to assist her back up. While she quickly ran off and began playing again, I continued to have heart palpitations for the next hour or so.
I’m almost glad that she fell off at that point rather than a half mile up the trail where her survival from such heights would have been unlikely. I initially thought she learned her lesson, but her fall didn’t stop her from trying to jump over a bridge while I was taking pictures of the river’s scenery. I didn’t realize she was possibly suicidal.
Needless to say, she was promptly put back on her leash, and I even pulled out her old enemy, the pinch collar, to make sure she behaved herself. Once I stopped stressing about Bailey’s suicide watch, I was able to relax (to an extent) and enjoy the scenery and the company.
Every time we go out walking, I fall more and more in love with this country. It’s a never-ending discovery of beautiful landscapes and rich history. In fact, while trudging through the forest, we stumbled upon some castle ruins.
Seriously, this place never ceases to amaze me.

After walking about 8 miles, we decided to stop for some dinner in Stonehaven. I was glad for Aberdeen newbies Debbie and Luke to get a chance to see this picturesque harbor, get to try some of the best fish and chips in Scotland, and of course, polish off dinner with some heavenly sticky toffee pudding.

So other than the two minutes when my dog was lost in a river gorge, I’d say the day was pretty successful. I was so worn out from the stress, excitement, and exercise that I went to bed at 8:30 PM. Okay, so maybe it was more like 8. And maybe I slept until 8 AM. Okay maybe it was more like 8:30. Sometimes a girl just needs 12 hours of sleep.

Unfortunately, my ‘sleeping in’ caused me to miss out on another hiking group this weekend, but fortunately it gave me the chance to polish up a bit of Bailey’s training during a mid-morning jog. I’m happy to announce that we had a major breakthrough.
Usually I just let her off leash in certain well contained areas where she is familiar with her boundaries, but on Sunday I decided to experiment and let her off leash while I jogged our normal route. I am so proud to brag that my buddy stayed right beside me the entire jog. I mean, right by my side. I mean, somebody even commented on what a good dog she was. I mean, when I told Jonathan about it, he called me a liar.

I’ve been working so hard on getting her to stay next to me during our forest runs and I just can’t wait to keep training her in this direction. The first step is training her on trails she is familiar with, but my ultimate goal is to be able to take her to new places and still keep her close by. It will take some work, but I am so grateful to be a ‘stay-at-home-mom’ so that I can work with her every day. Scotland is our oyster, and I sure would love to explore it with my buddy by my side, rather than 10 feet below in a river. Or lost in the woods. Or running wild on an upscale golf course. Is that too much to ask?

Friday, July 27, 2012

Phone Photo Friday: Lake District Edition

The Lake District is such a photogenic setting that even my i-phone camera snapped some first rate pictures of our weekend trip. Here are some pictures I took in the car of our road trip down.
Our hotel room had the lowest rates in the hotel because the views were supposedly diminished due to the monkey tree positioned in front of our window. When we were shown our room, I was expecting a completely obstructed view, but was surprised to see this scenery instead.
This is the ‘unobstructed view’ from the tea room.
I’d say the discount was worth it. Once we got settled, we followed the pedestrian signs leading us to “The Lake”, and this was the breathtaking view we were greeted with when we arrived.
Just spectacular.

On our first hike around the lake, we saw all sorts of wild life, farm animals, and plant life, but by far, the coolest thing we saw was this neon green caterpillar.
We were pleasantly surprised with the food quality in Keswick, especially the coffee shop/deli ‘Pumpkin’. It was a very hipster style sandwhich joint with free wi-fi and a library full of books to borrow while you lunched or sipped some hot cocoa. This was a particularly heavenly Panini made with Ham, Cranberry, and Brie (aka my 3 favorite things on earth).
Here is a sample of the typical slate architecture found throughout Cumbria.
And an especially picturesque view of the town of Keswick.
We were really missing our pups in the Lake District, especially since it is so dog friendly. Many of the hotels and restaurants have signs outside welcoming dogs. I snapped a picture of a Vizsla bumming a ride for our dear friends who own a dog of this stunning breed.
Here are a few snapshots of our summit hike.
I had a field day with the sweet mountain goats we saw along the way back down.
We were oh-so blessed with perfect weather conditions while visiting England, and I was a bit jealous of the people who were sailing while I was trudging up a mountain.
But the summit was well worth the effort.
After hiking 10 miles, I rewarded myself with sticky toffee pudding.
And Strawberry and Lime cider.
Seriously friends, if you ever get a chance to try Kopparberg Cider, it is the best summer drink on earth. Jonathan hates to admit that he likes it because it’s pink, but he risked losing his man card to steal a few sips of mine. It’s that good.

That’s about all, folks. 

Goodbye England. It was a pleasure meeting you and I hope to get to know you better in the years to come.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Cheating on Scotland

Do you believe in love at first sight? After visiting England’s Lake District in Cumbria, I surely do.
Starting with our scenic drive into the town of Keswick, I was smitten. What more could I ask for out of a vacation than an adorable English town with indescribable scenery, fantastic pizza, challenging hikes dotted with farm animals, picture perfect weather and great pubs serving Strawberry and Lime cider?
I was having the time of my life, but yet still had this nagging guilt in the back of my mind. Historically, my beloved Scotland and its southerly neighbor have been bitter rivals, so I couldn’t help but feel a bit unfaithful by enjoying the Lake District so much.
It didn’t take long after being saturated with Cumbria’s majestic mountains and picturesque villages for Jon and I to start discussing Lake District real estate. And Christmas vacations. And Anniversary trips. It was as if after 2 short days away, we completely forgot about the lovely scenery and culture in Aberdeen’s backyard.

Scotland has its own mountains and lakes. And farm animals. And cider. And perfect weather. So even though it’s tempting to start planning our next trip down ‘south’, I think for the next few months we’ll go back to exploring what our adopted borders have to offer us.
Scotland will always be my first love.
Speaking of which, I think that our last two trips have really solidified the fact that Aberdeen is our home now. We are some majorly weary travelers after our back-to-back trips to Warsaw and England. After exhausting days of travel, it’s still surreal to realize that we’re going ‘home’ to Scotland. Before 4 months ago, visiting Scotland would have been an epic trip of its own.

I will say that it is oh-so-nice to travel Europe without that pesky jet lag following us around. In the past, we’ve taken 7 day trips here and the first 2 days were always pretty miserable and the initial sightseeing was mostly a confused blur. It’s so nice to be able to shift right into gear without worrying about re-training our sleeping and eating schedule.

Either way, we’re done with traveling for the next few weeks which should give me enough time to research our next trip to….
Austria!!! And during my initial research today, I discovered that this Alpine country has its own little Lake District which I just can’t wait to have an affair with.
Austrian Lake District- Source