Lamb casserole

At a pub in Drumnadrochit in early October 2011 I sat with two wonderful ladies discussing a menu. We went back and forth trying to decide what to have. We decided to order three different dishes, place them in the centre of the table and rotate around them. That way we all had a bit of everything. (and we shared a plate of haggis as starter)

We had oven-baked salmon, chicken, and a lamb casserole. The starter was haggis in a creamy, whiskey sauce. It was all delicious! (menu can be found here). Having quite a bit of leftover lamb after making fårikål (I wrote about that here) I decided to have a go at making something similar to the lamb casserole from Scotland. And you know what? It was like I was back in Drumnadrochit! Son too ate a lot (Husband was at work, which is when I can serve lamb – he dinnae like the smell). This is how I did it:

I started of with a bit of lamb from yesterday’s dinner and the stock from the same meal. I made brown sauce (give me a shout if you do not know how) using the stock, added the mutton, a small handful of whole spelt (I didn’t have barley, so I went with what I had –  would recommend barley though) and a few diced carrots. Turn the heat down and put a lid on the pot. Leave until the carrots are almost perfect (poke them to check), then add a broccoli broken into small ‘bouquets’. A few more minutes with the lid on the broccoli will be done and the carrots will be perfect. I served with mashed root vegetables (potato, celery root, and parsnip) and a dash of lingonberry jam.

Details of Dunnottar

Let me take you back to Scotland for a minute. It’s been a while, but I still have a few details I would like to share from my favourite castle: Dunnottar.

 We’ll start by the entrance. Walk through the gates, follow the narrow lane up towards the main buildings. Just inside the gate there’s a door on the left. The door is locked. On the right there’s a hole in the wall which has for a long time been closed (it’s the first time I’ve seen it available to visitors). I’ve just found unexplored ground and feel the excitement rise. The ground is a little slippery, the doorways are low and we have to bend our heads to enter. The hole is a narrow tunnel that turns further to the right and leads to a small room of only a few square metres. There is no roof though so light streams down from holes in the wall further up that have functioned as window in the floors above us. On the wall opposite us is an old looking door with a padlock…

We cannot go any further. Only our imagination is left to explore the room behind the door, the scent of wet stone, the enclosed rooms, and the mystery of what might have been. We return to the entrance of the castle and continue up the cobbled road leading up to the main buildings. We turn left and pass a small room. The room is dark, but the air changes and, although invisible in the darkness, you can feel the walls surrounding you. We have no torch, but a few flashes from the camera reveals a room that looks like it was never finished. There’s stones and rubble in the corners, and one wall is sloped, as if though someone have started digging to increase the size of the room, but given up. We return to the fresh air outside. Continue further up the road, passing a small hut where the entrance tickets are sold. We turn right, see a small tunnel in front of us. A railing has been set up on the right side, as the cobbles are slippery. The cobblestones are small and round, similar to those found on the surrounding beaches. Images of people crouching over the steps in front of us appear in our minds. Crouching while roughly jamming the stones into the ground. We do not want to lose our footing on the slippery stones so our eyes fix on the step in front of us. The cobblestones form a pattern. The image of the centuries-old stone layers change, they place the cobblestones with greater precision, patterns are debated and decisions are made…

Union Jack?

At the far end of the castle we enter a rather large room, but the ceiling is low. A window at the far edge has increased in size over the years and is now simply a big hole in the wall. A placard on the wall near the entrance tells horrific storied of people who’ve been held captive in the room. More than a hundred souls have been trapped here at the same time. The room feels cold. It chills you to the bone. The hole in the wall opens for the rays of the sun to reach the dirt floor. We walk slowly over to the hole. The rays reach us and their warmth make us even more aware of the cold we feel inside. The outer wall runs straight down to the cliffs and ferocious sea. To our right there’s a small stretch of grass it’s far from the hole, impossible to reach, but by tilting the camera, finding the right angle, it looks like it could be reached with a careful, strong, and lucky leap. The view is beautiful. We shudder. Of those who escaped there were few survivors…

Dunnottar Castle, part two

I’ll continue bragging about this wonderful place. As with most castles, Dunnottar has seen many changes from then the first building was erected and until the last was built. The buildings are thus of different sizes, different styles, and they also seem to have deteriorated and fallen apart differently over the years. Every time I’m there I see something new, and every time I’m there I fall in love with the place all over again.

Some of the buildings have been rebuilt, but many are simply left as is. This gives the castle enough variation for me to be entertained for hours on end. I don’t care much for castles that are still in use, nor am I as interested in castles that have completely fallen apart. Or well, ruined castles are intriguing and most often what I would prefer, but Dunnottar gives me a perfect balance of new and old; restored, ruined and maintained.

It was a rather grey afternoon we spent at Dunnottar this time. We were there for a few hours, we stayed for as long as we could after driving up from Edinburgh. I know I suffered from a fever while I was there, and I remember the short walk from the car to the castle, as well as the short walk going back, as quite strenuous, but I can’t even remember having a soar throat during the hours we spent inside the castle walls. This magical place will take all your pains away!

I soon lost my lovely travel companions as different motives attracted us and pulled our cameras in various directions. After exploring the lot we suddenly found ourselves at the same spot at the same time and continued onwards together.

As we walked, stopped and photographed, I noticed that all three lenses were always pointing in different directions, despite us girls standing fairly close – an image of the diversity Dunnottar holds.

Dunnottar Castle

Dunnottar Castle is my all time favourite castle. It is the location of the castle and the surrounding nature that really attracts me to it, and that as well as the fact that I’m left to explore the grounds exactly as I please makes this my favourite.

I wanted to tell you about this some time ago, as the last few posts from my Scotland road trip, but as you know, suddenly came December, and suddenly came London, and Dunnottar had to wait.

The castle is just a short walk from Stonehaven, which again is a few miles south of Aberdeen on the North-East coast of Scotland. The location of the castle is to die for, and one can clearly see the advantages of having such a stronghold in times of trouble.

It costs about a fiver to get in (we’re talking local currency here) and then you’re left to roam the grounds. There are signs here and there telling you where it’s not safe to climb, and also a few plaques of information placed here and there.

From the northern walls you can see a war memorial which fits in beautifully with the atmosphere of the castle. It looks somewhat like a small watchtower or beacon of warning to warn the castle dwellers of the Vikings coming from the north (now, there is little evidence of Viking activity along exactly this stretch of coastline, but go with flow here)

Kilchurn Castle

Things didn’t go according to plans after we reached Oban. We didn’t really have any plans as such, at least none that were set in stone, and sometime the things you don’t plan, or the things you would never even imagine, result in memories you’d rather not be without.

We were fortunate enough to find someone with a bit of local knowledge and an opportunity to tail these locals on or way to Edinburgh. The new route would be about an hour longer, but it would include two castles we otherwise wouldn’t have seen, good company, and cheap petrol at a petrol station in Glasgow (which in theory makes up for taking a longer route?).

I do believe it was indeed the most sensibly alternative, as a severe lack of sleep due unforeseen events the day before, could affect my sense of direction, mood, and in general my ability to think. Driving behind a huge white van made life a little easier. Even if it did get quite close every now and again, when I forgot I was driving a Vauxhall with a set of breaks quite different to the set of breaks I operate on a regular basis.

It was, anyhow, the castle I wanted to mention here. I say mention as I have very little to say about it. It seemed to be somewhere in the area of Middle of Nowhere, which made it perfect. Due to a lack of wellies, a flooded river, and travelling companions who weren’t too eager to have shoes and trousers ruined by wading across said river, we only saw it from afar. But in return, nature put on a display of colours that made up for not getting to climb the walls and search every nook of a ruined castle. I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

A Scot I’ll Never Forget

This blog is called Anne blabbers. This is one of those post that will show you why. And since that is my name in front of the verb: allow me.

One of the wonderful things about travelling is meeting people. We had pictured late evenings in Scottish pubs, laughing and chatting with the locals while sipping on a pint. Listening to music and, listen to the varieties of Scottish accent as we travelled from one part of the country to the next. We met quite a few interesting people, most of them men, as a group of three ladies seem to attract them more easily than other women. And as you know, when meeting a lot of new people, someone might come around who’ll take up permanent residence in your head. This happened to me.

The depressing blue skies of Scotland

I was, as you know, travelling with the most wonderful travel companions I can imagine, two of the most wonderful ladies I’ll ever know. Now, I could go on and on about the amazing qualities they possess but I will focus on one thing that one of these ladies shows immense talent for and that is finding people to talk to. More specifically: in a pub she walks over to the bar to order a drink only to return to our table with the most interesting people in said pub.

After finding the perfect company for us in a pub in Oban, we hit the pubs in Edinburgh, looking for another night of perfection. We sent our lovely blonde off to the bar to get us drinks, as that would guarantee a man following in her path back to the table. She did not let us down. Introduced to us was a man who’ll we’ll never forget.

Let’s call him Scott, or, let’s not, that could be interpreted as us seeing him as the stereotypical Scotsman, which I don’t don’t think he is. In fact, this is the type of man you don’t come across every day, and thus also one who leaves one heck of an impression.

He didn’t really stand out in the crowd, but then he opened his mouth. And then, my friend, I realised a few life-altering truths. The first was that we had obviously lost our good luck somewhere around Glasgow. Second was that a nice Scottish accent is not synonymous with being sweet, kind, and polite. Can you imagine our disappointment?

The man seemed to be thrilled to be the only man at our table, and he was not going to waste his time. He blabbered even more than I tend to when I’m nervous. And to give you a brief summary of some of the topics we (or, rather he, as this was more of a monologue than a dialogue) touched upon:

  • “Everybody hates the Brits. Nobody likes them at all. They’re in the European Union, but really, they shouldn’t be because everyone hates them. They get along better with their closest neighbour(?), the US, but unfortunately they don’t really seem to notice them at all.” How we can be so sure everybody hates them? “Well, have you ever seen the results of Eurovision?” I now pointed a finger and tried to remind him of what the previous British entries have been in the song contest, with which he replied: “Well, everyone hates us anyway and nobody’s going to give us any point anyhow, so why bother sending anyone good?” There seems to be a bit of an evil circle going on there, but who am I to talk? Norway is attached to the continent and thus I am biased as I already loathe them. Fortunately there’s Australia. Australia rocks and is by far the best country in the world.
  • “The UK is the most corrupted nation in the world. Every politician is corrupt. They will do anything for their own personal wealth and can be turned in any direction with the right amount of cash. Of course may of them start out nice, but once they smell money their souls are sold to Satan and they cannot be saved.” The poor man did not get the expected responses from us on this subject which resulted in a silent moment, where his eyes flicked back and forth between us. He gave off a nervous laughter before he asked: “You’re not politicians, are you?” He was never really convinced we were, which in fact really made my day. I can now proudly say I have been accused of being an undercover politician set to infiltrate society in order to see what Average Joe thinks about how we run the country. Badass!
  • “Scotland sucks! The weather is horrible, it’s cold, it rains, and the sky is always grey. There is basically no reason to live and every Scotsman we’d ever meet would be depressed and grumpy.” ( I assume all other Scots I’ve ever met have just been extremely good at hiding this). “What makes them all so depressed is the weather and the cold. Nobody can live and function normally under such circumstances,” he said and looked at us who were both smiling. We had to remind of where we were from, the amounts of rain we get, the fact that our country is further north and thus is probably both colder, and definitely has fewer hours of sunlight during the winter. He could not explain this, but it could have something to do with our blond hair and blue eyes. Duh!
  • Oh, and being a Glaswegian in Edinburgh is worse than anything else in the entire world!

Castles and blue skies - to depressing for words

The guy left our table in a fury when we counter-argumented and happened to say something about Scotland that he misinterpreted as criticism. “Who were we to criticise his country!?”

We were glad to see him go. Before leaving the pub, we were asked by a few men(lads) at the table next to ours, where we were from. When Norway was our answer, they looked at us in bewilderment, shook their heads and said that we could not be. We looked as confused at that comment and wanted them to elaborate. With which we were met with “You can’t be! There was a terrorist attack in Norway. You were shot!”

We then left the pub, never to look back. But with memory of Scott, far from the average Scot, who we’ll never forget.

The traffic hazards of Scotland

In not many of the world’s countries can you find yourself on a coastal road boasting splendid views around every corner, only to find the cherry on top, a freakin’ castle stuck on a small islet a stone-toss from the shore. I did not see it coming and immediately became a significant hazard to others driving the same stretch of road at that time. I can’t remember the two lovelies in the car with me saying anything from me spotting the castle, to making an abrupt turn out onto a muddy side road which seemed to lead nowhere except closer to the sea.

We parked the car near a wee house (we were good at finding those that day). The house seemed almost deserted and I simply had to get closer the castle asap. I crossed my fingers and hoped nobody would mind our mischievous parking, but I wasn’t even out the door before the door of the house opened. A man appeared and I expected to be chased from the property with a stick. I was getting my my heavy Norwegian accent ready as well as the innocent and naive, hopeless-tourist look. But, apparently, a group of thee young women seems to have a good effect on polite Scots. He smiled at us, explained that he was expecting a lorry and gave us instructions for how to get closer to the castle as well as where to find a shortcut that would take us back on the main road afterwards. I love Scotland!

A bit of jumping over small brooks and joking in and around a kissing-gate took us down to the beach where the view silenced the three of us. Or silenced us the best you can silence a group of three, who, combined, have been through a few too many literature courses.

(and yes, the castle is the one from the Monty Python films)