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Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Craigdarroch Castle

Friday 25 September 2009, my first day in Canada.

The sun was shining.  It was warm outside.  In fact it was positively warm – very pleasant indeed!  Nancy had the grandchildren for the day to let number two son and his wife to go to Vancouver for a concert and a stay-over, so Don took me to see canada 002Glendarroch Castle, built  in the later 1880s by wealthy businessman, Robert Dunsmuir, born in Ayrshire, Scotland, of very humble beginnings.  He came to Canada to mine coal, but managed to improve his situation, finally becoming a great coal baron.  Money was obviously no object, and the house was designed in Romanesque style, covering various eras.  Building materials were brought from  California, Vermont and Chicago, and in its elevated location it really showed off his great wealth and standing. 

craigdarroch lobbyWhat an amazing place!    The hall and landings were panelled in golden oak, matching the several flights of stairs with beautiful mezzanine landings,




sitting room glen d 

and rooms ornamented with beautiful fireplaces




craigdch dining roomand  some astounding built-in furniture.



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Windows were decorated with some of the most stunning stain glass designs, and the drawing room ceilings artistically painted 

Dunsmuir himself died before completion of the house but his widow Joan and some of their family moved into the “castle” in 1890, where they were able to entertain the higher echelons of society.

In its time, since Joan died it has been used as a military hospital and a college, before being left empty for some time.  A group of enthusiasts then got together to raise funds to restore the building to its original glory and that work is on-going even yet.

The blethering place, oak bay After the visit we went for lunch to The Blethering Place – a British tearoom/restaurant!  The decor was very English, despite blethering being a Scottish word rather than English, but the food was nice.  Eunice and Maureen, you will be interested to see the diners at  a nearby table…..blethering place red hatters


the local Red Hat Society were out for afternoon tea!



storytime with nannaSoon it was time to get home for tea, with Don’s and Nancy’s grandies.  What fun! 

Then there was story time with Nanna….


poppa and charlie and playtime with Poppa, before they all went to bed.

I had kind of got over the jet lag but still went to bed early-ish!  Not like me at all, but never mind! I was still tired!

So, still a few days to catch up on, but more maybe tomorrow!

Talk again soon.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Canada, here I come!

Well, my days have been packed so I haven’t had the chance to catch up with the blog, but let me take you back to last week now.

So, having spent Wednesday catching up and packing my case, on Wednesday evening I locked the front door behind me and set off for the Edinburgh bus once more.  This bus pass is a great thing. Linda had volunteered to take me to the airport in the early hours of Thursday morning, but I couldn’t leave my car at her place due to parking restrictions there, so the bus was the ideal form of transport instead. It took about 45 minutes to where Linda picked me up, and before going back to hers we ate Chinese at a small restaurant that in my youth had been the local cafe, a hang out for the youngsters of our area,  I actually worked there for a while too as a teenager looking for pocket money!

Back home we grabbed a few hours sleep before we had to set off for the airport. It was 4.00am before I knew it, and as soon as I had thrown my clothes on we were off!  There must be a few early morning flights as the airport was busy. I checked my case through to Vancouver, though got my boarding passes for all my flights to Victoria, Vancouver Island.  I was to retrieve my luggage at Vancouver and go through customs, this being my first point of entry into Canada - despite the fact I was only changing planes and not even airline or leaving the airport terminal – and recheck it in for the Victoria flight.

Everything went smoothly, though the security bleeper went off every time I walked through that archway!  It seems to be my hair clip, so I guess I should have just taken it out and put it in the tray of things from  pockets and hand luggage!

The first leg of the journey was to London Heathrow where I knoydart 013 changed terminal buildings by bus, and walked and walked to reach the gate for departure to Vancouver.  Someone actually took pity on me at some point because by now my arthriticky hips were slowing me down and I was indeed struggling, so I took advantage of the offered wheelchair to complete the transfer to departure lounge.  Then, along with another couple of passengers , I was taken by an electric golf buggy thing to the actual departure gate.  Luckily I was at a window seat with no-one in the seat beside me so it felt much roomier in the 777.  knoydart 044 It wasn’t an outstanding airline, but we got an OK meal and later a snack on the nine and a half hour journey, which took us north over Scotland, then over Greenland to the Hudson Bay area…..


knoydart 048 ….and down over the Rocky Mountains.  I dosed for a couple of hours, read my book, watched out of the window, listened to some music, dosed again, read my book…….  knoydart 057 and arrived in

Vancouver where again a wheel chair was a godsend.  I was taken in the chair to collect my case and take it through customs – quite a severe young man “interviewed” me, “What brings you to Vancouver today?””Have you a return ticket?” etc. etc.  then I was quickly rushed off in the buggy to catch the 2.00 pm flight over the water to Vancouver Island.

Don and Nancy were waiting for me, somewhat surprised to see me being wheeled out of the arrivals area in a chair. " Don’t panic!  I’m ok!”. Luggage collected and stowed in the car, we drove back to Saanichton to chill out for a while and have supper.  It was 2.30 in the afternoon here, and  10.30pm in my head, but I was determined to keep going through the day to get over the jetlag as soon as possible.  I lasted till about 9.30pm/5.00am UK, before giving in and going to bed to sleep for a good 8 hours!  From then on I didn’t convert back to UK time!!

I love the house here in Saanichton.  canada 077 Most of the living area is upstairs with a lovely open plan sitting/dining area with balcony to the front, kitchen with decking to the back, bedrooms, bathroom and TV room, and downstairs, another lounge room, bedroom – mine, shower room, utility area and computer room.

d&n home 

So, here I will leave you for now, and I’ll continue the explorations next time!

Talk again soon.d&n home3

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Down the Lace Mine!

Monday 21 Sept.09

knoydart 015 Down the lace mine! That’s Margaret’s term for a  lacemaking session!  The weather really isn’t very great so we are all concentrating on our lace. Yesterday I went round everyone taking photos of their work and the complicated diagrams Joan, Sheila and Janet follow to make the beautiful patterns they are making.

knoydart 017

This is Joan’s pattern





knoydart 012    Sheila and Janet are working on this pattern.  It’s so beautiful, intricate and impressive!  I’d love the challenge of doing Binche lace, but I couldn’t cope with the amount of bobbins you need!  I know you don’t work with all of them at one time but fastening  and unfastening them in groups on the bobbin holders is a bit of a pain in the neck!!! 

knoydart 024 Here’s Janet, with Joan and Sheila over by the window. 




knoydart 026

This is Norma







me – taken by Margaret.

knoydart 003 

and Margaret.

It wasn’t a bad day yesterday, weatherwise, but today has been awful – wind and horizontal rain!  At least Doune is the kind of place you don’t need to go far from if you don’t want to and today who’d want to?!  We all stayed in the dining room with our lace pillows and chucked our bobbins around, being fed every so often…..

Breakfast is a cooked one for those who want it – bacon, sausage, fantastically fresh free range eggs from the Doune chickens (who graze on the seaweed as well as grass), fried mushrooms and home=grown tomatoes, sometimes fried bread, pancakes or fried potato slices. followed by toast, and a selection of jams,  homemade of course., with maybe oatcakes, fruit bread or saffron buns as well. We are spoilt rotten!  At 11.00 there is morning tea and cake or biscuits, then lunch lunch follows at 1.00, halved homemade rolls with varying toppings, cake, fruit, tea…..

Afternoon tea follows at 3.00 p.m. – more cake and tea.

Then dinner at 7.30, such as I mentioned yesterday.  knoydart 041 Usually we pack up and leave the lace mine – see photo!) around 5.00p.m. and either go back to the lodge for a snooze or depending on the weather, to go for a bit of a walk!  Doune was a large settlement scattered around the bay until the Clearances in the mid 1840s, so there are plenty of remains of cottages and evidence of enclosed fields, an old sheep fank and a corn mill, so there is plenty to explore.  kn 052There is also a prehistoric fort, or Dun in Gaelic - that gives Doune its name – up on the headland beyond Doune Bay Lodge. 



This year the tides have been very high – spring tides (I always thought spring tides were in spring and neep tides were in autumn,  but other gnot quite high tideuests here explained them, so I know now that this is a spring tide).





keith and odetteKeith and Odette are taking refuge here from the storms, having left their own boat in the bay at Inverie.


knoydart 060 

The other guests we have shared our visit with this time are all in their 80s, and as fit a bunch you never saw!  They hill walk, ski, sail….. all the things you need extra insurance for when booking holidays!!!

knoydart 059

Above are Barbara and Bill, to the right are John and Rita.

Tuesday 22 September

Well, today is the day I leave everyone behind and head for home!  The plan was that I would be leaving Doune at 9.00a.m. with Barbara, Bill, John and Rita, aboard Gripper II, but the stormy weather has put paid to that idea!  It’s so stormy that to leave the pier now would be dangerous.  I was supposed to be getting a train to Fort William at 10.10, connecting with a bus to Glasgow at 1.00.  However, now we are onto plan B, aiming to leave at 10.30, we’ll have a choppy trip to Mallaig, getting there in time for me to catch a bus to Fort William, and another bus from there to Glasgow…… Actually the others have decided to walk up the hill, and go along in the Doune “bus” to Inverie where they will go in the ferry, saving themselves much of the rough ride!  I can’t walk up the hill any more so I will brave the seas!  So now everyone is sitting making lace and I am playing with my blog and the photos.  Actually the sun is getting out again and we can see Skye across the water, though only the south end of the island as the Cuillin mountains we periodically see behind, are still mist-bound!

I have no internet access in the dining room here, so will wait till I get home – sometime tonight, to post this!

Friday 25 September 09

Well, I never did get this posted when I got home, so now I am writing from Victoria, Vancouver Island, Canada, where I arrived yesterday.  By British time it is now 3.00pm, but here we still have the day to come.  It’s 7.20am!  I’ll tell you about my journey in a bit but let me finish the Doune story first…..

As I finished writing from Doune Dining room aka the lace mine the other day Stephen the boatman came along to say we could get going.  He was just about to go out in the RIB to bring Gripper into the pier and I was to meet him down there so we could just get away as soon as things were loaded – all the others’ luggage as well as  my own bag.  I said my goodbyes to the miners, and accompanied by Norma and Margaret as well as Jane and Liz, the Dounies, set off for the pier.  knoydart 017 The water was rough.  It would be a bumpy ride.  No matter!   I don’t think I ever remember the tide so high at the pier, but this time it was just an easy step aboard Gripper, and we were off.  





knoydart 020 Bye bye Doune,  bye bye, Dounies, bye bye, miners!

Well, not too bad here, but when we got right out into the Sound and unsheltered waters -  Woah!  It was the real thing out there!  Rolling up and down and sideways, the waves came over the top of the boat from all sides, and we were fairly thrown about.  Stephen was brilliant, obviously enjoying every moment!   I have to say I really enjoyed it too but thought my shoulder would come out of its socket from hanging on to the rail.  knoydart 028We finally made it to the safety of Mallaig Harbour – Well done Stephen! –and here’s Gripper tied up  by the pier.



knoydart 030 The rest of the journey home slotted in extremely well.  The bus from Mallaig went round all the little coastal villages – this is  the beach at Morar.  It was beautiful all the way to Fort William, where I met my former landlady from 40 years ago when I was a student working in the Fort, who was going on the same bus as me to Glasgow.  Haven’t seen Ishbel for years.  It was amazing!   knoydart 032 The journey to Glasgow took us through Glencoe and past the historic Kingshouse Inn at the top end, on to Crianlarich where we turned off to Glasgow, and once there it was only a few minutes before the Edinburgh bus connection.  The Edinburgh bus station has all changed in the last few years , and now the Peebles bus has a different departure point – a bit of a walk away - so I treated myself to a taxi journey to Waterloo Place, and picked up the bus for home – well, I got off at Norma’s place to pick up my car, after a welcome cup of tea with Malcolm her husband.

So there we are!  I arrived home around 9.00 pm!  A day to catch up on a few bits and pieces, last minute shopping, catching up with friends Morag and David, packing my case and on Wednesday night I was back on the bus for Edinburgh to spend the night – or part of it - at Linda’s before having to be at the airport at 4.30am for the next long journey to get here, in Canda!  More of that in the next episode!  Time for breakfast now, at teatime in the UK!

Talk again soon!

Sunday, 20 September 2009

On our way

Friday, 18 September 09:   At last we are off to Doune in Knoydart!  It has been about 15 months since we were there last – such a long time!  We’ll have been getting withdrawal symptoms if we’d had to wait much longer for the lace-making week to come around  As far as I know, there will be the usual group, Joan from Cawdor, Sheila from Inverness, Margaret and Marge from Winchester, Janet from Skye, Norma from Roslin, and me!  Looking forward to seeing everyone again, and the Dounies too.  They are the three families who live at Doune and run the Guest lodges and dining room plus boats .  We’ve all had so many visits over the years that we feel part of the set up now!!   It all started because Liz, one of the Dounies, is herself a lacemaker, and it seemed like a nice idea to add to the special interest weeks they ran, and have a lacemaking week.  I think I have been going the longest, with Joan next, and Norma third perhaps.  There have been other folk who came and went, some returning for a few visits, but we are the stalwarts now!

Anyway, Norma and I set off from Roslin this afternoon to drive to Ballachulish, for an overnight stop.  It’s not that we couldn’t get to Knoydart in one day.  It’s perfectly possible to do so, but we like to take an extra day and do a bit of meandering, staying overnight somewhere we can have a bit of an explore, and then head for Mallaig leisurely, to arrive in plenty of time around 3.00p.m. to meet the Doune boat, Gripper II, and be ferried across Loch Nevis to the Last Wilderness – Knoydart – where there is only one road , seven miles long from Inverie  to Airor.  You can’t get there by road though.  The only  options are by boat or on foot.  On foot is a two day walk from the nearest road (without having to catch a boat).  We have walked a part of the route from Inverie, but it was only an expedition on a beautiful day, and we were returning to Inverie, pronounced Inver-eeee, (inver is from the Gaelic meaning a mouth of a river.  Usually the river name follows, as in Inverness, or Inverclyde, but not in this case!!!!)

However, back to our journey.  We drove by Stirling (bypassing the city) to Callander, and Kilmahog where we stopped  for some lunch and some shopping at the woollen mill shop!  hamish2 Hamish, the large Highland cattle beast (a Highland bull) is the big tourist attraction with his enormously long horns like motor bike handlebars and long ginger hair.  He lives in a field next door to the woollen mill shop and is the most photographed animal in the country I think!   Well, you have to take his picture, don’t you?

On again through Crianlarich, past the green welly shop at Tyndrum, by the end of Glen Etive, onto Rannoch moor, and down into Glencoe.  glencoe It was quite misty and grey as we came through the Glen, but very atmospheric, and then we reached Ballachulish.  Isn’t that a great name?  It’s the Gaelic again! Baile, or in English,  Balla, is a town.


 kn 047 We found our Bed&Breakfast house for the night and after settling in went exploring before supper at the bar across the road. 

Loch Leven and Glencoe village with the Pap of Glencoe towering above.


ball quarry Ballachulish grew up round the slate quarry that has been in existence since the end of the 17th century.  It closed in 1955 -  probably because it is now cheaper to import foreign slate than to quarry our own – but the huge part of the hillside it covered has been turned into  an interesting nature reserve with paths here and there with explanation boards dotted around that explain the quarrying and what the quarry would have been like in its heyday – sights, sounds, etc.  kn 023 Now trees, bushes, grass, wild flowers and brambles have taken over and the deepest part of the quarry has become a small loch/lake filled with water whether naturally or by intention, I don’t know.  Anyway it was something to visit this morning, as we  left it a bit late for photos last night.kn 005   Of course it rained this morning, but nevertheless we had an interesting time poking about the paths, and watching a group of young kids being taught to rock climb.

Saturday, 19 September 09:    The B&B was great, run by a couple from the northeast of England, and we had a very comfortable stay with a beautiful breakfast this morning in the company of a young French couple at the end of their first visit to Scotland who were heading for Stirling and Glasgow  today then home to Poitiers.  We of course were heading in the opposite direction and were on our way north after our Quarry Experience.  We drove over the Ballachulish Bridge, with no views today because of the mist and rain, through Onich, and on to Fort William, the Garrison, as its Gaelic name is.   signpostsThese are the signboards at Ballachulish, giving directions in English and Gaelic. An Gearasdan is The Garrison.

Still raining, the views we had last year of Ben Nevis, Scotland’s highest mountain, were obscured, so we decided just to keep going to reach Mallaig in plenty of time.  However a few miles further on, the sky cleared and we had some lovely sunshine, enough to make us want to stop at Arisaig for a cup of tea and a scone.kn 029  The tide was way out, leaving a stony beach covered with seaweed – and in the distance we got our first view of the Isle of Eigg – seen between the two trees in the photo.

Finally we reached Mallaig, still a busy little town at the end of the road and the railway where fishing boats still come into port and the ferry to Skye has its own roll on - roll off dock. Picture 005 We had a wander round the town, before meeting up with the rest of the lacemakers at the steps where the boat from Doune usually ties up, (Gripper II is the boat you can see beneath the big white container) and Stephen the boatman was there to meet us.  All our bags were loaded aboard, and soon we were off through squally showers and rough sea to Doune.  Only Marge was missing, having been taken into hospital yesterday with an eye problem we hope is not serious.  Otherwise there were Picture 021

Joan, Janet and Margaret,




Picture 047 Sheila, and Janet again,





kn 034


Norma ………………..


and me.

A trifle wet after staying on deck, we arrived at Doune pier to be met by Liz and Andy, our hosts (Liz is the lacemaker).  It felt good to be back.  We have a short walk to the lodge where we stay, so here are some photos on route. 

kn 039First, the White House, Martin and Jane’s house, built after the Clearances of the mid 1800s, for the factor – or manager – who looked after the sheep brought onto the land after the people were evicted.

kn 042Looking back from round that green mound,  this is Gripper II at the pier




Picture 067

…and now the path to the Stone Lodges and further on, Doune Bay Lodge where we stay.  The house on the left  of the picture is the newest house, built only a couple of years ago by Alan and Mary who started the Doune project and renovated the White house.  The nearer stone lodge is the dining room and kitchen, while  the second one has three beautiful en suite bedrooms for guests.

kn 013The weather has improved a lot!  Here’s Kermit bringing our luggage ashore, pulled up by a winch. Kermit is the “utilitarian tub” says Margaret. 

We got sorted out as to who was having which wee room in the lodge, had a cup of tea with some shortbread biscuits, and chilled out until dinner time.  kn 004 That involved the walk around the headland to the Stone Lodge dining room, just before sunset, where as usual we had the most fabulous meal: celery and artichoke soup: salmon and apple in filo parcels with a big selection of vegetables, and to finish, gooseberry sponge pudding with meringue topping.   It was pitch black as we came back to our wooden lodge with our torches, thankfully along the new concreted path that covered all the difficult rocky bits we have coped with for years. It’s much easier but we are a bit sad that the character of the path has gone!  However, it shouldn’t get washed away in high tides over the winter as has sometimes happened in really stormy conditions.  The stars were incredible tonight too.  Here you realise just how much streetlights block out the starlight.

And so to bed! 

Talk again soon.