Scotland

 

Edinburgh is a magical place and it is of no surprise that JK Rowling wrote her Harry Potter books there.  This was not our first visit to Edinburgh, so we challenged ourselves to find different things to explore.  We walked up Arthur Seat via the gentle route as carrying a camera bag and tripod up a hill is no joke.  I blessed my hiking poles at each stop along the way.  It was with great self pride that I got to the top looking out at the majestic Edinburgh Castle.  I couldn’t help but wonder if the Harry Potter Quidditch World Cup took place in the castle grounds. I was truly surprised to find the Firth of Forth within touching distance.  I had no idea that the coast was so close to Edinburgh.

Edinburgh Castle
Looking out on top of Arthur Seat

 

 

 

 

The next place we explored was the Jupiter Artland, in Wilkieston, 7km west of Edinburgh.  As we drove through the large gates, down a winding road of an obvious manor house, my excitement began to grow as the wooded lane cleared and we saw these extraordinary sculptured and rather alien looking mounds of very green grass.  We joined in the playful treasure hunt with other adults and children climbing on top of these grass sculptures, all of us determined to see the art piece on the apex of each mound.

We must have spent a good 5 hours walking around and we truly did not want to leave.  Highlights included the Amethyst Cave, a knitted spiders web, children playing hide and seek in the woods, a duck pond with thousands of wind chimes blowing their music across acres of open fields, the latest work of Antony Gormley and much more.  Have a look at the photos and links below.

Amethyst Cave

We had decided to include both of Antony Gormley’s sculptures into our visit.  I loved both pieces. His new piece in Jupiter Artland, although I was convinced I could see a human form in the sculpture, Gormley’s intention was to represent the way the stars and galaxy are mapped.  His other sculpture, the Angel of the North in Tyne and Wear, was equally as impressive and I was glad we made the effort to see it.   This enormous sculpture definitely has an angelic aura. I was so pleased to capture the people at the angel’s feet, giving some idea of the scale of this huge metal structure.

The Galaxy
The Galaxy
Angel of the North

 

 

 

 

 

North Berwick was not your typical seaside town. We stayed in the MacDonald Marine Hotel which sits adjacent to a golf course and the ocean.  Walking along the beach we watched a father and son on a rubber duck feeding fish to a seal.  I managed to capture the fish half way in the seals mouth.  We came across North Berwick Seabird Centre offering excursion to see Gannets and Puffins.  I could not contain my excitement. I spoke to the ships captain to ask him which side of the boat would be best for photographing and could I use a tripod.  He smiled at me so sweetly, I think mainly at my enthusiasm and in  his strong scottish accent he told me that I would be better off holding the camera as the boat had a strong vibration from the engine and that either side would be good for photos.  As we approached the white Bass rock, it was then obvious that the rock was not white at all, but was inhabited by thousands of birds. I tried to capture the visual explosion of gannets flying in every direction.  My excitement at seeing the fluffy chicks made it almost impossible to get a steady shot.  It was a perfect time to see the gannets but we had unfortunately missed the puffins with only a few out at sea. To be honest I saw little black birds in the water without even realising they were puffins and only after zooming in to the image could I make out their orange beaks.

White Gannets cover Bass Rock

We found the time to walk up the Laws but did not get to see the wild ponies which I believe is actually a legend.  Our final stop within the Scottish borders was a visit to the a 14th century fortress called Tantallon Castle on the edge of a cliff.  The castle was damaged by Oliver Cromwell’s invasion of Scotland in 1651. You can see in the picture the challenges they must have had in trying to protect themselves from both the invasions and the harsh natural elements.   I loved North Berwick and I plan to return.

Tantallon Castle, North Berwick

Back in the English borders, we ended the perfect holiday with an eight mile walk in the Yorkshire Dales, as the purple heather was starting to appear on the hillsides.  After our walk, we slumped down in a gluten free cake shop in the village sipping yorkshire tea and eating scones with jam and cream before heading on home to London.

Links:  Jupiter Artland, Macdonald Marine Hotel, North Berwick Seabird Centre, Tantallon Castle, gallery

  • Scotland 
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Holland

 

It was always a dream to see the Tulip fields in springtime. The colours dance their own tunes, something unique and exhilirating.

We headed straight to coast from the Schiphol airport.  The bus stop was easy to find and the Dutch are so super friendly and helpful that the 20 minute wait passed really quickly helped along by chatting to the locals.

It was actually a rather pleasant bus ride winding through town roads, making regular stops along the way dropping off and picking up passengers.  We got to see parts of Holland and the folks living in tiny villages along the way.  The closer we got to  Noordwijk aan Zee, so the rows of tulips became visible and our excitement grew.

We arrived at the Grand Hotel Huis ter Duin late afternoon. Wow, the hotel was impressive, grand and our room overlooked the sea.  We walked down to the restaurant on the beach and had a delicious meal and a dutch beer, as one does.  We kept the hot chips and mayonnaise for the street parade the following day.

The weather in April is little unpredictable so we took our ski jacket, gloves, hat and warm walking shoes. Our original intention was to hire a vespa but with my inexperience of driving motorcycles, topped with a partner to carry and camera with tripod and multiple lenses, I humbly declined the responsibility and we opted instead for our own battery operated bicycles.  The owner of the vespa shop was so understanding and even helped us to find the alternative without any penalty for prebooking  the bike.  We seriously owe him much gratitude in helping us make our holiday stress free and one of the best experiences.  Our choice of layered clothing was a great idea as the cycling did warm us up, only to cool rapidly at each stop along the way.

We timed our holiday around 3 decision points:

  1. When would the tulips be best to see?
  2. What were the dates and where could we see the annual flower parade?
  3. When was Koningsdag?

The tulips fields, like a good lens, has a sweet spot.  The window to see the tulips is quite wide but too early and all you see are buds and too late, you may see open tulips but will have missed the hyacinths.  We were rather blessed as we arrived in Holland on the 26th April 2015 and we ticked all 3 boxes.

The annual flower parade started in Noordwijk aan Zee, however, we got to see the night party the evening before in Noordwijkerhout.  By then we had our bicycles, cycled around for about 2 hours photographing tulip fields in the golden hour.  We decided to chain our bikes to a pole and go out celebrating for the night. We had a cycle map, but in the dark, I did not want to take on the challenge of following road signs intoxicated.  We went home by taxi and woke up to see the start of the flower parade right outside our hotel.  We also noticed these fabulous vintage cars driving past and were informed that there was a vintage car fair.  What luck.  We ate hot chips with mayonnaise watching the parade then caught a bus back to to find our bikes.  We attached our batteries and headed off for a full day of delight.

We checked out out of the hotel the following day and headed by bus to see the Keukenhof Gardens. Please note that these gardens are only open a few months of the year from 23 March to 21 May.  There was a baggage storage area for our cases for a small fee.  We off loaded all except for my camera equipment and entered into a magical wonderland.  This fantastic spring garden is planted every year with hundreds of thousands of bulbs with annual designs. – 2015 was themed Van Gogh.  I will let the pictures speak for themselves showing the rivers of tulips, hundreds of varieties of flowers and the sheer delight and joy of such beauty. (Have a look at the gallery below.)

We pulled ourselves away from the gardens and headed up to Haarlem which was buzzing with life.  This city, the capital of the province of the north, had a party vibe and everything was becoming more and more orange in preparation for Koningdag the following day.  The Koningday  public holiday celebrated on 27 April marks the birth of King Willem-Alexander.  The Grote Markt was the hub of the festivities with a fun fair, music, drinks and there was no shortage of restaurants in the surrounding area.  The dutch know how to party and the whole town became one huge “orange” street market with food, second hand goods, music and tons of laughter.

We caught the bus back to Schiphol airport, the following day, having bypassed Amsterdam. I am not sure why I found this amusing but this time round I fell in love with all of Holland and not only the fabulous city of Amsterdam.

Useful links: Cycling around NoordwijkDutch Bike Toursvespa hiring Noordwijk, Grand Hotel Huis ter DuinKeukenhof Gardens, Carlton Square Hotel Haarlem, Schiphol Information.

    • I would love it if you left messages, comments, questions and it would be great of you to share this message with your friends and family who love to have fun exploring. Follow me on instagram and look out for today's Tweetable.