Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Home Sweet Home

Sushi in the Annex. Pints of Keiths. Insomnia. Green Room. Stars at Lee's. Sleeping on couches. Mel's. So good to be back!

The combination of a scanner and a wave of nostalgia got me inspired. Mike got the ball rolling nearly a year ago, so here is my contribution of some old high school pics. Pardon the dodgy quality on some - should have taken better care of these!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Going Coastal

The middle part of the Italian trip took place in the Amalfi Coast, a gorgeous stretch of coastline on the Mediterranean. Steve and Rachel took us in their rented convertible which Steve bravely drove along some of the narrowest and windiest roads I've ever seen in my life. But the views were absolutely stunning.

We found a good deal on a hotel in the town of Amalfi, but we weren't expecting much. But turns out we got a balcony, with the following view:

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It has to be said that this is not normally my thing. I'll never be a beach holiday guy. I just don't understand the appeal. Roasting myself in the sun and swimming in the sea and drinking, then repeat, for days on end sounds dreadfully boring.

However, I've discovered that to do this for a day is pretty sweet.

The town of Amalfi, while small, was very picturesque:
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We also took a few mini-trips, including a drive up a mountain road to the town of Ravello (fantastic meal!) and a daytrip to Positano (best swim of the trip).

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Saturday, November 19, 2005

All Roads Lead To Rome

Since the weather has all of a sudden become rather cold in these parts, my thoughts have strayed back to my last holiday where the temperature was distinctly warmer.

Yes, after spending a surprisingly small amount of time off this island that is Great Britian, I finally got over to mainland Europe again for my first visit to Italy. Fi and I met up with Steve and Rachel in Rome where we spent four days in total.

I've always loved classical history ("I Claudius" marathons in high school anybody?), so seeing many of the sites that I've studied was a genuine thrill. We did our best to cover as much as possible, but honestly there is just so much to see you cannot do it full justice. We also had some fantastic evenings, eating wonderful food and knocking back the red wine while catching up with old friends.

Rome is a wonderful city to wander about in. I loved how the classical architecture blends seemlessly with the modern, how Romans madly drive around in their scooters, how the coffee lived up to its reputation. But visit outside of August if you can - it's bloody hot.

The Roman Forum
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Trevi Fountain
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Monday, November 07, 2005

Good Weekend

A brilliant last few days. A great mix of friends and music, the latter consisting of some old-school ska in the form of The Skatalites on Friday and the always amazing Buck 65 in Edinburgh on Saturday. And on Sunday I was introduced to the world of water canyoning, which consists of abseiling into water and floating down mountain rivers and over waterfalls. Seriously. Check it out:

My first ever abseil
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Jumping into a freezing mountain river - why not?
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I don't know if I could have done this if I knew how high it was...
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Still in one piece!
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Abseil down a waterfall
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Saturday, October 22, 2005


I guess blogging is like any other activity - sometimes you love it and sometimes you need a break from it. Lately I've found it to be a bit of a chore, not to mention that it is turning into a bit of Matt's "what concert have I been to lately" blog. And I think I was supposed to talk about Italy somewhere?

I've felt a bit lethargic lately. Maybe it's the weather? It took me unawares this year - blink and summer is gone and next thing you know it's dark all the time. And at the risk of sounding like every other Scot...but the bloody rain has been incessant. Maybe it's the early morning rise, it's a bit of a bummer. But I'm determined to give myself a good kick in the arse (or ass, depending on your preferred spelling and/or pronounciation). It is autumn after all. Rain or no, the leaves are colourful, it's a lovely crisp cool, and it smells wonderful. A few hours outside and you've earned your coffee and paper.

So what's new? I'm actually just killing time before I head off to the airport to pick up my cousin Bryan. His first time to the UK so he's in for a treat (I hope!). Wishing I had some holiday time left as I only have tomorrow and after-work time to see him. Weather is forecast to be extra rubbish, but last time I checked it doesn't rain in the pubs.

A few good gigs (yeah, I know) . The Magic Numbers in front of a white-hot Barrowlands audience. Their album is a bit twee, but they were great live. Sunny vibes. Also Tom Vek, a dude very hard to describe. Perhaps the best description I've heard is "dirty" which doesn't sound flattering but it really is. Try and track his stuff down, though the live experience was better than the recorded.

Really impressed by Arctic Monkeys, Maximo Park and Hard-Fi lately. Also digging the pop vibes of Tahiti 80 and Phoenix.

I've booked my flights back to Canada for another holiday visit. Really looking forward to catching up with everybody.

I'm now hearing better news about an old friend from Ottawa which is fantastic.

And see - I really did go! Me in St. Peter's Square:

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Monday, September 12, 2005

Darts of Pleasure

Some shows I've seen over the last few weeks:

Malcolm Middleton - the guitarist from Arab Strap now doing his solo thing which is in much the same vein (self-loathing galore!) but with a bit more kick which makes it infinitely more enjoyable. Recommended sample: the excellent "Loneliness Shines".

The Pixies - no introduction really needed I suspect. Held in an outdoor track and field stadium in Edinburgh on a day featuring gale force winds and rain. What was lacking in atmosphere was more than made up for by the sheer awesomeness that is this band. For those interested, the setlist can be found here. Yes, they played "Stormy Weather"! Good support from My Latest Novel (minimalist but nice, probably would sound better in a pub), Idlewild (much better live than their albums would suggest) and Teenage Fanclub (always a crowd-pleaser).

Arcade Fire and Franz Ferdinand - held in the Princes Street Gardens, underneath the always impressive Edinburgh Castle. OK, I'll confess. With the ridiculous amount of hype and an album that wasn't totally doing it for me,
I hadn't totally "got" the Arcade Fire. But now I've seen them live, and like a missing piece of the puzzle it all came together. Now I get it. Totally. I hate to say it, but Franz was upstaged on this night. But this is no dig against them - they're a hell of a live act themselves, and with a Scottish crowd you can't go wrong. Can't wait to pick up the new album.

Stars - some lovely Canadiana in dear ol' Glasgow town. I managed to rustle up ten people to come with me to see them, and I think we made converts of them all. The soft revolution continues! Had a chat with Torquil after the show, and turns out they'll be doing several nights in Toronto shortly after I get back to Canada for the holidays. Another one of their European shows was taped and posted online here if interested.

Monday, September 05, 2005

The Great Scottish Run 2005

My third annual! Same route as last year, and again I decided to run the 10K. It was an absolutely gorgeous day to be outdoors, but it was a bit tough for running. It was already 25 degrees by 9am, so it was pretty hot by the time I hit 5km. This is the excuse I'll use for running a longer time than last year. But still, 49:30 - still under the 50 minute mark. Fi did a great job again, coming in at just a bit over her time from last year.

As usual, a great atmosphere. And unlike last year, I'm not taking an unofficial hibernation period. Shall be back on the trails tomorrow!

Tuesday, August 30, 2005


Yes, in theory, but you’d be forgiven for thinking it was late October rather than August based on the recent weather. Mind you, I’m not complaining. I’ve always been more of the jacket and jeans sort anyway!

It always surprises me when I think about it, but sure enough I’ve been living in the UK for well over two years now. So where have you travelled being that you can get to mainland Europe so easily and cheaply, I’m asked. Um...

While I’ve managed to cover a lot of terrain within the UK itself (to the point where I’ve seen a lot more than many of my friends here), I’ve been embarrassingly short of mainland European travel adventures. Partially in response to that, and partially to placate Fiona who really did deserve a holiday in the sun, we recently spent a week over in Italy. Shall get the story and pics up soonish.

While on the topic of travel within the UK, last weekend a bunch of us headed up to Glencoe to get a few Munros under our collective belts. An always brilliant night at the Clachaig Inn on Friday, and with glorious sunshine greeting us on the Saturday morning we managed to bag two Munro tops (subsidiary summit to a Munro) and two Munros proper, including Bidean nam Bian. I didn’t bring my camera, so you’ll have to take my word for it.

We attempted Ben Nevis on Sunday, but after 5 hours climbing the alternate (and trickier) back route, the weather turned in a most nasty way. A strong and consistent rain, followed by fog and then a cold wind ensured we were soaked and freezing and couldn’t see the way forward. As frustrating as it was, the safe decision was made to turn back the way we had come. Always respect the mountain! Nevis will be conquered another day...

And a big congratulations to my cousin Jason who got married this past weekend.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

T in the Park 2005

We were a bit delicate after the wedding the night previous, so perhaps enthusiasm wasn’t as high as it should have been. But hey - it’s T!

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Leaves - Melodic Icelandic epic rock. Or something. I managed to find a spot on the grass to catch this set. Good stuff.

- British radio-friendly, inoffensive rock. Apparently they’ve been around since the Britpop days, but I’d never heard of them until recently. I won’t be rushing out to buy their albums, but the singalong choruses and enthusiastic crowd made this an enjoyable set.

The Killers - The band is certainly a polished live act. Great songs. But against my better judgement I was coerced to make my way right up close to the stage. And as much as I tried to enjoy myself, I found I was more concerned with trying to stay vertical and avoid the combination of flying half-full beer cups and the limbs of overly enthusiastic drunken people.

Doves - Just the remedy I needed. A crowd that was more enthusiastic about the music rather than the need to get pissed and mug for the BBC cameras. I think Doves are one of those bands you need to see live to fully appreciate their music. Brilliant sound, and the band seemed legitimately pleased with the rapturous crowd reaction. I got the shivers when they played the superb “Black and White Town”. Easily the highlight of the day, and among the best of the festival.

James Brown - A half-hour delay in a far too overstuffed King Tuts tent at the end of the night when the punters are drunk and/or tired is not a way to start your set. People were booing loudly before the MC finally came out - who proceeds to introduce the guitarist, then the brass section, then the background singers. People were getting angry now. Our man James finally comes out, sings a few lines, then starts dancing and playing the keyboard while the background singers take lead. I was far too tired to bother. I'll be honest - I only wanted to hear “Sex Machine“, and it didn‘t appear to be forthcoming. Save the energy for tomorrow!


Athlete - After a proper sleep, I was feeling so much better and well up for the day. And what a better way to kick it off? Hot sun, the first cold pint in hand, an appreciative crowd, and a brilliant band with their killer tunes. Lovely.

Sons & Daughters - Fun homegrown country-flavoured indie rock. And who knew the singer was so hot? Bonus.

Snoop Dogg - Thoroughly enjoyable, but couldn’t possibly be taken too seriously. We got all the requisite hip-hop stage banter (“Everybody say hooo - say ho-ho - now scream!”). My personal favourite - “Let’s hear some noise Edinburgh!” - which was funny considering we weren’t anywhere near Edinburgh. The image of thousands of pink sunburned Scottish arms waving their arms to Gin and Juice was the keeper though. My ass did shake, and I couldn’t help but do the ascending “Snoooooo-oop!” bit from “Drop It Like It’s Hot”. Fo’ shizzle.

The Dears - Made me proud to be Canadian. They sounded fantastic, and the live version of “22: The Death of All the Romance” had me buzzing for the rest of the day. The tent was criminally under populated though - for shame Scotland!

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Bloc Party - One of this year’s buzz bands to be sure, but rightfully so. Their debut album “Silent Alarm” has been one of those albums that sounds better with every listen. Their live act was good and will only get better in time. One of the best rhythm sections of any band I’ve ever heard.

Travis - What can I say? Classic festival stuff. They've got the tunes and the stage presence. Fran was as entertaining as ever, and all their stuff went down a treat. Nothing beats hearing "Why Does It Always Rain On Me" live with a Scottish crowd singing along.

The Go! Team - Unadulterated glee! Never has a band more justified having an exclamation mark in their name. Have loved their sound ever since Mike included some of their stuff on a mix CD he sent. Who’d of thought it would translate so well live? Pure fun, and the energy from vocalist Ninja was infectious. The whole tent was dancing enough to do any nightclub proud.

Green Day - We caught part of their set while wolfing down some dodgy food. OK I suppose.

Art Brut - Have been hooked ever since I heard “Formed A Band” (Mike - thanks again!). Some of the best lyrics this side of Morrissey. Sound mix was terrible though. Would love to see them in a club gig.

And so ends another year of T. Glastonbury is taking a hiatus next year so T will be the festival of choice for a lot more people. Should be interesting to see how they handle it.

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Monday, July 11, 2005

Piper Down

Pretty crazy weekend starting with two nights up in Aberdeen for the wedding of Alison (whom some of you may know as one of the Scottish Girls from Rouen) and Campbell. The brilliant weather continues, so we were sipping champagne outside before the reception (as one does). The evening was a Ceilidh, and I was up Highland dancing with the best of them despite not having a clue what I was doing. Kind of like square dancing with more jumping and yelling. And how better to show of the kilt? I went with the Modern Douglas tartan this time.

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After such a brilliant (late) night, it was tough to get up and head directly down to Kinross for this year's T in the Park. Saturday was a bit of write-off, but Sunday was absolutely fantastic. Full review to follow!

Monday, June 27, 2005

GGW Day 5

Drumnadrochit - Inverness (18 miles)

The final stretch! It was to be a tiring 18 miles through some pretty barren terrain, but knowing that this was our final day was more than enough incentive.

Once again, the day would begin with a big climb, and as always with a great payoff. This time it was a view of the castle across Urquhart Bay.

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We walked through plantations and farms before joining a road which we followed for many miles through especially barren but scenic terrain.

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The path then took a turn through a lovely stretch of forest which allowed us to escape the wind for a spell.

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Once emerging from the forest, we were able to see Inverness (our final destination!) in the valley below. As is always the way, it didn't look far but it would be hours before we actually got there. At first we thought that whomever designed the route must have been having a bit of a laugh at the end since we were sent walking through car parks and the suburbs for no apparent reason. But it all became clear with the final mile, a beautiful stretch through the wooded Ness Islands and then along the banks of the River Ness before climbing to our final destination at the foot of Inverness Castle. 74 miles and 5 days later, we had done it!

We had faced danger...
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...and had experienced pain...
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...but it was all worth it when we saw this...
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...but especially this!
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GGW Day 4

Invermoriston - Drumnadrochit (14 miles)

No easing into this day. A very steep climb up and up first thing to get the juices flowing. A great payoff as always though with a panorama of Loch Ness and the surrounding hills, complete with a natural stone seat to rest on.

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After a quick decent, we joined a forest road for more climbing. Zigzagging to and fro up the hills proved to be a hell of a workout.

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But at various points we treated ourselves to a wee rest and admired the view. Or posed for pictures.

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After a stroll through woodland, we then hit mercifully flatter terrain through a series of old farmhouses then ruggedly beautiful moorland awash with heather.

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A few miles on, we began the decent to the town of Drumnadrochit (on my Top Most Scottish-Sounding Places list, beaten only by Auchenshuggle). Had a great post-walk day here. Great dinner at Fiddlers (which was also our B&B, run by a bloke who knew his whisky), and pints at this pub off the beaten track with the locals. We were convinced to stay for the pub quiz, and were convincingly beaten by every other team. The quizmaster even gave us prizes for being so bad. All this, plus a pre-dinner visit to Castle Urquhart which was just down the road. Good times all around!

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Monday, June 20, 2005

GGW Day 3

Fort Augustus - Invermoriston (8 miles)

Something a bit more leisurely on this day, walking along a forest road with some killer views of Loch Ness.

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It took just over 4 hours to get to our destination of Invermoriston, so we had some time to explore the village that afternoon. An old bridge built by Thomas Telford in the early 1800's (he built over 120 in the Highlands alone) was especially picturesque.

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Our accommodation was fabulous - Lann Dearg Studios - which provided studio apartments with great views (the photo below taken from our window). After three solid days of walking and eating from pubs, it was nice to have a simple meal of pasta and a couple of beers (I much enjoyed my Aviemore Sheepshaggers Gold).

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On an unrelated note...
The Weezer show was great. A total love-in from a great crowd. The band might never produce another Blue Album, but the live experience shows they are still one of the best. They seemingly enjoyed it as well!

Monday, June 13, 2005

'Tis The Season

The concert season is finally heating up after a bit of a slow few months (with the notable exception of the Teenage Fanclub gig a few months ago - great tunes, love the harmonies, and great new album).

The line up for T in the Park is now complete. Can't say I was as excited about it as previous years at first, but looking at the line-up in its entirity I'm certainly excited now. Keane, The Killers, The Coral, Doves, James Brown (good gawd!), Super Furries, Travis, Athlete, Bloc Party, The Dears and Art Brut are my initial picks - but lots of potential wildcards.

Have also booked two shows for T on the Fringe, The Pixes with Teenage Fanclub and Idlewild as well as a great double-bill featuring Franz Ferdinand and Arcade Fire.

And this Friday marks my first time seeing the mighty Weezer in concert. But at what a cost! I had to give up seeing Buck 65 at King Tut's the same night....

GGW Day 2

Gairlochy - Fort Augustus (23 miles)

We started the day off with a walk along the banks of Loch Lochy. It was one of those Scottish mornings where the mist and fog hangs over the hills to create that quintessential celtic atmosphere. The vividness of colour in the forests, especially along the Kilfinnan Wood section, was something straight out of Tolkien.

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Near the north end of the loch lies Kilfinnan Farm. Perched right on the loch-shore, under the towering hills, and surrounded by lush farmland, it was a pure delight to behold.

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After crossing the Laggan Locks, we followed the stretch of canal which connects Loch Lochy to Oich. From here the path follows a dismantled railway line right along the banks of the loch. The weather earlier this year had been quite volatile, and could be witnessed along this stretch as many sections of the track had been covered by landslides. It was melancholic following the old railway line as we could see the bridges, tunnels and old houses train staff would have used now all abandoned and never to be used again. We never met a single person on this stretch.

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We rejoined the canal at the north bank of Loch Oich, and finished the day at Fort Augustus located on the southern bank of Loch Ness.

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A long day and very tiring, but entirely rewarding. Every imaginable bit of terrain over 9-10 hours. The pub that night, coal fire and home brew, was most enjoyable.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

GGW Day 1

Fort William - Gairlochy (11 Miles)

The day began with a trip from Glasgow to Fort William on the always spectacular West Highland rail line. From the starting obelisk at Fort William, we quickly came to the 13th-century built Inverlochy Castle.

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The first few miles weren't of much note, but did provide great views of Ben Nevis.

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The majority of our first day followed the Caledonia Canal. The canal, completed in 1822, connects Loch Ness, Loch Oich and Loch Lochy thus permitting water travel from Fort William to Inverness. There are a total of 29 locks in all, and the first we came across was one of the more impressive. Neptune's Staircase - a series of eight locks in total, large enough to accommodate sea vessels.

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We spent our first night in the town of Gairlochy, located right on the south bank of the magnificent Loch Lochy. We took it easy that night as our biggest day was to be the next!

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Canadian Invasion

Amazing how fast 12 days flies by! Had a great visit with my Dad, brothers Ian and Cam and their girlfriends Amy and Britney. Everybody managed to cover an awful lot in a short space of time on their respective adventures. I personally managed a trip up to Loch Lomond, a few days on Mull and Iona with Dad, a day in the pubs of Glasgow and a brilliant wee BBQ chez the Scottish Wilson's. These were all great book-ends to the main event:

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The Great Glen Way! Dad, Cam, Fiona and I covered the 74-mile journey over a five day period. Every type of conceivable weather was thrown at us, and the terrain was quite tough at times. But at all times the view was spectacular as were the pints at the end of the day. Shall post some pics from each of the days over the next little while.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Joining the Ranks Of Their Databanks

My last few days of work before my two-week holiday brought me an unexpected surprise. I was presented with my passport and at long last a full set of documentation allowing me to officially live and work in the UK.

I have to say that the whole experience was much more involved and time-consuming than I ever would have expected. Given the Commonwealth relationship between Canada and the UK, as well as the fact that the Scottish Parliament has repeatedly stated they are very keen to have people base themselves in Scotland (due to a diminishing population and skilled labour shortage), I would have thought getting the paperwork would be somewhat of a formality.

But there have been many tense moments where I thought it wasn't going to work out. There was some concern over whether or not I would qualify for a work visa. Legally, my employer had to repost my job to ensure there was nobody local that was qualified. After qualifying for a work visa, the system was changed so that a working visa no longer automatically meant you had the right to stay or even enter the country (leave to remain) thus requiring another application. I had to really make my case to get back into the country after my Christmas return to Canada. There was a good month where both myself and my employer determined that it would be necessary for me to sit at home, not legally allowed to work despite a work visa, pending my leave to remain application (luckily we found an exception for my particular visa). At all times, the spectre of being rejected by the Home Office lurked. I had heard many stories where an applicant would be rejected and forced to leave, regardless of how settled they were. And of course, I've been without a passport for months now, already having to pass on two trips outwith the UK.

But it worked out, and I'm incredibly grateful for it. While I still don't have all the same rights as a full British citizen, I can now live my life without a latent fear that it will all suddenly disappear before my very eyes.

I've also put things in perspective. One of my friends is trying to arrange for his Filipino girlfriend to come to the UK, but it has so far proven absolutely impossible. He laments that if it took this much carry-on for a Canadian to work in the UK, what chance do people from Third World nations have? Is it any wonder that people try to buck the system completely and work illegally? When I think about it in these terms, my personal situation really doesn't seem like a bother at all.

Though I can't help but think what comes next? My paperwork is only good for 18 months. If I choose to stay, I'll have to start the process again this time next year...

Anyway, I better get on with things! I have a mini-Canadian invasion coming my way as my Dad, brothers Cam and Ian, and Ian's girlfriend arrive tomorrow morning. A wee tour of Glasgow and Edinburgh, and then the Great Glen Way for five days, then a road trip. Shall be busy but will absolutely brilliant. Many stories and pics to come no doubt.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Hello Sunshine

This past week at work was pretty tough, so this particular weekend was one I was especially looking forward to. Caught a brilliant movie on Friday (The Station Agent), and attended a wedding reception for Alison's sister in a hotel on the banks of Loch Lomond (we took both the High Road and the Low Road in order to get there). Today was a great opportunity to just chill out and enjoy the weather. We've had some gorgeous sunshine the last few days, and you really get the sense that Glaswegians come to life when the weather is good. After all, we don't get the good stuff all the time! The streets and pubs were absolutely heaving full, and everybody seemed to be in an especially good mood.

While the beer gardens were a tempation, I thought the best decision would be to go for a nice long walk through my all-time favourite park: Pollok Park. Home of Pollok House, the Burrell Collection, and a wonderful mix of landscape. And of course, an award winning herd of Heilan Coos!

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Through the forests of Pollok

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The old mill by the Whitecart

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A coo taking it easy

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Hadrian's Wall

The 73-mile long Wall was built by the Roman Army back in 122 A.D., nearly 2000 years ago. It was commissioned by Emperor Hadrian to help control movement of people in the British frontier, as well as prevent raids by those ever pesky Scots.

First stop for us was Vindolanda, a Roman fort that has been excavated over the last few decades. You are able to walk amongst the foundations of the buildings and alongside the fort wall. The museum houses many of the fascinating relics found here, including leather shoes, armour and swords, as well as writing tablets containing letters written by soldiers and their families which really brings to life what it was like living in Roman controlled Britian.
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Next was a walk alongside the Wall itself. Many stretches of the Wall have disappeared or are seriously damaged after years of erosion and from people who in centuries past would take the stone for their farmhouses and castles (such as Thirlwall). However, in this particular strech, the wall was fully intact and in all its glory. Honestly, it was incredibly thrilling to be able to touch something that was built by the Romans so many years ago. To think how they were able to quarry this much stone, transport it to such a remote place, and still build a wall with such craftsmanship that has been able to stand the test of time. Powerful stuff, and highly recommended.

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Sunday, April 03, 2005

Thirlwall Castle

I've always been fascinated by medieval history, and one of the joys of living in the UK is that remnants of this era are everywhere. We drove down to Northumberland in Northern England last weekend primarily to see Hadrian's Wall and the Roman settlements. However, during our explorations we saw a sign that directed us towards the town of Greenhead where nearby was to be found a castle built in 1330. Though now a ruin, Thirlwall Castle is a reminder of the unstable period in British history between 1300-1600 (before the Union of the Scottish and English Crowns). The Thirlwall family built their home (from stone found in Hadrian's Wall no less!) to ensure they could fortify themselves against Scottish attacks and to safeguard their possessions against thieves.

This particular day was quite gloomy and sombre, and if nothing else added to the atmosphere of the place. As we approached, a flock of crows burst from the trees and flew directly over the ruin. So very Castlevania!

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Approaching Thirlwall Castle

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Outside the walls

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