Monday, October 31, 2011

Shetland Part 3: Muckle Roe

Muckle Roe

I've mentioned before that in only 2 days in Shetland, we did a lot of hiking.  Of all the hikes we undertook, though, 3 hours on Muckle Roe, a little Isle of Shetland's west coast, was most challenging, and most rewarding.

Our hike started on the wee beach of Muckle Ayre.  It was unimpressive in size and didn't contain much sand, but did have a sort of romantic charm- tucked behind rolling hills on one side, and red cliffs on another, the place felt so secluded. We didn't remain there long, though, instead charging right up a steep slope in search of Muckle Roe Lighthouse.

The hike wasn't easy- there wasn't much of a trail in some areas, and given the amount of rain in Shetland, it was quite muddy.  At one point I slipped and fell on my butt (more embarrassing than painful), and in the end, it took us well over an hour to find the lighthouse.

And when we found the lighthouse, it was so disappointing.

Next to the saddest lighthouse in Shetland, however, was a cliff overlooking a little pool.  And in that little pool bobbed little heads- seals!  We perched ourselves on rocks for a short rest, watching the seals play before heading back to our böd for a big dinner.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

A (not so) Wee Taste of Scottish Breakfast

Pubs differ from U.S. bars in many ways- the casual atmosphere, the specialty pints, the quiz nights, and the general acceptance of drinking at any time of day, any day of the week. Still, you can usually find a bar in the US that offers all these things.  But I challenge you to find a U.S. bar that serves breakfast.

In Edinburgh, pubs are plastered with advertisements for variations of "The Full Scottish Breakfast" of "The Traditional Fry-Up."  Weekend breakfasts are an important ritual in Scotland- a great chance to catch up with friends after a hard week of work- or a hard-core night of partying.

Like other countries' fry-ups, a full Scottish breakfast contains fried eggs, bacon, and sausage.  And while that alone would be enough to fill most people up, Scottish Breakfasts also feature local specialties- most often black pudding (blood sausage),  potato scones (similar to potato pancakes), and haggis.
The blood pudding is the dark stuff in the middle!
There are, of course vegetarian varieties on the full Scottish breakfast, and these often contain veggie substitutes for sausage and haggis whose health benefits are stripped away by a dip in the deep-fryer.

Full Scottish Breakfasts and Full Veggie Breakfasts can be as cheap as 3 pounds. And it's a cultural experience, so travellers can ignore any health-related reservations you have about eating it!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Shetland part 2: A Wee Capital and Stunning Views

Flipping through the photos from my trip to Shetland, it became clear I could never sum up the place in one measly blog post.   Condensing the place into one article simply wouldn't do it justice, and I really want the chance to share all these photos with you! So I've decided to give you the highlights of my trip- in no particular order- in several installments.  So for today I give you (drumroll please) Lerwick, Eshaness, and Saint Ninian's Isle.


Standing on the top deck of the ferry, the bitter wind biting the tip my nose, my fingers, and my ears, I caught my first glimpse of Shetland: Lerwick materializing through the morning mist.

It’s a small town with a mere 7,500 inhabitents, but what Lerwick lacks in size, it makes up for in character.  It’s 18th-century sandstone buildings are built on top of one another; its narrow, cobbled streets wind up and down hills in little mazes.  Like many Scottish towns, Lerwick wasn’t planned, it just grew.  And while it’s lack of city planning frustrated us in our early efforts to find a grocery store, I found it charming.

Lerwick might be quaint and historic, but it does offer tourists plenty to see, as well as many choices for accommodation and amenities.  As Shetland’s capital, it’s home to Shetland Museum and Archives.  It’s also the launch point for boat tours, and a lovely place to stock up on hand-made Shetland souvenirs like jewelry, knit-wear, and local music.

Eshaness Lighthouse

About an hour’s drive from Lerwick, Eshaness Lighthouse was our first stop in Shetland.  Built in 1929 to prevent ships from hitting a group of Island's surrounding the North-Western shore, it now serves as a guesthouse (and boy, do I wish I had the money to stay there).

More impressive than the lighthouse is it's dramatic location: imposing cliffs  completely untouched by humankind.  Nobody watching but a flock of sheep, we spent an hour walking along the coast, but it seems we could have gone on for eternity. It might have been an excellent place to bring a picnic lunch, but we were perfectly content to climb rocks, becoming increasingly daring in our attempt to get a perfect photograph.

Saint Ninian's Isle

The walk to Saint Ninian's Isle was like nothing I've ever experienced.  It's connected to the mainland by a thin strip of beach, called an "ayre," so while Saint Ninian's isn't accessible by car, it's easy enough to walk over- we even found a tour guide in a very friendly stray dog.

The Isle itself is inhabited, as is most of Shetland, by thousands of sheep.  In fact, in order to cross the Isle, we had to jump a fence, and walk across a field full sheep poo, the animals watching us like we were crazy.  Getting our boots dirty was worth it though, as the coastal view on the Isle's West side was even more fantastic than Eshaness (not to mention the hiking bragging rights we earned.)

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Weekend in Shetland

I’m a country girl.  There- I admitted it.   In a town of about 6,700, I grew up picking apples, riding bikes, and playing hide and seek in a huge back yard.

So to me, Edinburgh’s a big city.

I realize that at 470,000 people, Edinburgh’s a relatively small city.  But I have to think about things like bus schedules here.  At least once a week, I get lost trying to find a shop or restaurant.  I have to struggle through rush-hour crowds to make it to school events. And don’t get me started on choosing pubs for a night out- there’s so many options, it’s impossible to get a group of people to agree on where to go.

As interesting and engaging as Edinburgh is, city life can be stressful for a country girl like me. So a trip to Shetland last week was the perfect chance for me to give my brain a rest and unwind.

Shetland is a cluster of Islands in the far North of Scotland.   150 kilometer’s away from the mainland, it’s the perfect destination to escape city stresses.  In fact, even though Shetland is made up of over 100 isles, only 15 of these islands are populated by a mere 22,500.  And even though we didn’t leave Shetland’s “mainland,” my friends and I rarely saw another soul in our 2-day trip.

Shetland  may have been mentally relaxing, but don't think we lazed around there.  Shetland is an outdoorsman's paradise, perfect for a weekend adventure.  We spent all of our time exploring the mainland’s beautiful but perilous landscape: windswept beaches, steep cliffs, rolling hills, and endless green fields.  Driving through the countryside there were so many natural wonders to explore, and by the end of each of our nights, we were completely exhausted.

Our group was keen to break away from the hostel scene and try out a new kind of accommodation.  By renting a böd, or simple camping cabin, we experienced something unique to Shetland-- and proved how tough we were.  Originally built to house fisherman, these buildings truly provide the bare minimum for survival- bunk beds , a refrigerator and stove, a shower (with lukewarm water), and a fireplace.  There was no linen, no mattresses (ok there little plastic matts), and most importantly no heating.  We spent our one very cold and windy night in Shetland huddled as closely as possible around a peat fire, wrapped in blankets and sipping wine.  It was cold, but it was fun, and I think sharing this experience made us bond as a group.

Expect more specifics about travelling in Shetland soon!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

A Wee Taste of Haggis

Even though you don’t often hear about foodies travelling to Scotland to local cuisine, Scotland has some very delicious (albeit very heavy) food.   Indeed, I’ve had enough interesting meals here to fill an entire blog, so I’m thinking of starting semi-regular cuisine feature here at MarieontheMove.

And I can’t think of a better way to start a food feature than with Haggis.

Probably the most famous Scottish dish, Haggis is a bit mysterious; lots of locals don’t seem to exactly what’s in the stuff!  However, thanks to a very knowledgeabletour guide, I know haggis is made from sheep’s offal (or all the bits that you wouldn’t normally eat- eg. Lungs), mixed with oats and spices.  

The dish's cooking method is just as unusual as it's ingredients- haggis is boiled inside the sheep’s stomach for up to three hours. When finished, the meat is removed from the stomach and served over neeps (turnips) and tatties (mashed potatoes), with a hearty dollop of gravy on top.

I’ll admit that I’ve tried a wee bite of haggis (it’s the only time I’ve eaten meat since becoming a vegetarian in 2009), and quite enjoyed it.  It’s savory and a bit spicy- it reminded me pleasantly of my grandmother’s hamburger gravy, with a bit more pizzaz.

Since this experience, I’ve also sampled “vegetarian haggis,” served on panini bread in a charming little tea shop.  This vegetarian version of the traditional dish includes veggies, beans, and lentils, in place of the offal.   It's every bit as delicious as the real thing, and available at many pubs, café’s and restaurants throughout Edinburgh.  Henderson's,  the new town's popular vegetarian restaurant, even offers a recipe for veggie haggis on their website.