Huntly, Abelour and the frustration of mobile phones.
Woke to a glorious morning with sun streaming through the skylight at 7am and had a proper look at the steading in daylight. The steading dates from around 1869, although its exact construction date is unknown, and was restored in 2011 as a holiday rental.
It sits in isolation from the village but abuts a neighbouring farm and is surrounded by rolling hills and expansive meadows full of sheep and cattle. (I keep telling them to run away and escape now because they're going to be someone's steak sandwich or lamb roast but they just look at me and keep chewing, blissfully oblivious to their ultimate fate).
The house is enormous with two double bedrooms and a twin bedroom, three bathrooms, a massive Ikea kitchen, conservatory, recreation/lounge room, utility room and an enclosed outdoor area. It's very quiet and relaxing, far removed from suburbia. I could get used to this kind of life. Except for the midges which get inside and hover over (or dive into) any available food or drink.
On our first full day in Scotland we were intent on getting some grocery shopping done and activating our pay-as-you-go mobile phone plans (easier said than done as it turns out but more on that later), with plans to start exploring in the afternoon. We decided to try Huntly as we knew there was an ASDA there, although we discovered later that Keith has a perfectly adequate Tesco, and headed off to do our food shopping.
Once we had procured some supplies and a bit of booze to kick us off we drove back to Lower Towie to put the groceries away and have a quick bite to eat before heading out once again, this time to Aberlour - famous for its whisky.
Alex had found a short walk for us to tackle to the Linn of Ruthrie, just behind the town, which has an excellent waterfall. At just under 2 and a half kilometres it was a nice little trek to ease us back into hiking in the highlands. The initial steepness was a bit of a shock to the system but it turned out to be a lovely walk on a perfect day.
On the way to Aberlour we had a close encounter with a raptor as it swooped right in front of the car with its kill - something with a tail that may have been a big mouse or a vole. Luckily it avoided being hit and it flew safely across the road behind the car, off to enjoy a hearty meal. I think it might have been a kestrel.
On the way back to the steading we popped into Tesco (yes, I know we seem to spend a lot of time in and out of supermarkets but I just love the different stuff available in Scotland compared to Western Australia so it's an adventure in itself ) and grabbed a few more things we had forgotten to buy earlier, including some cider and some Pimms pre-mixes, finally making it home at dusk.
Chilling out with red wine and lemonade for me and Pimms for Alex I discovered that Romanian Red has about as much kick as lolly water and I might as well have been drinking straight lemonade! The midges seemed to enjoy it though as I found several floating in my glass when I left it untended for a few minutes. We have to cover all our drinks with something otherwise the midges are soon swimming drunkenly to their deaths and I don't think insect corpses improve the flavour - even of Romanian Red; coffee doesn't seem to have the same attraction for them.
We also have resident bats. As soon as darkness fell we saw them swooping under the eaves and when I went to bed one settled itself on the skylight attracted by the light. Fortunately they remained on the outside but I was glad that I'd closed the bathroom skylight. I'm not sure I could deal with a bat flying round the place!
After dinner and a spot of boring television I found a book to read - Philip Pullman's "Northern Lights" on which the movie The Golden Compass was based. I should manage to get through it by the end of our stay. Then it was off to bed for a reasonably early night.
A final note on mobile service: At the moment our mobiles are pretty much useless outside of the wi-fi range of the house because we have been unable to connect to a PAYG network due to the ridiculous regulations governing these things.
Alex already had a Three SIM from our previous visit to Scotland and just needs to top up the credit but (and this is a HUGE "but") to activate online you must have a UK address. To activate via ATM you must have a UK bank account. Which leaves overseas visitors high and dry. The only real option is to buy a voucher from an authorised store or, if you have one, use a "top-up" card to which you can add credit at supermarket checkouts.
I bought a Virgin SIM so it came with a top up card but Alex doesn't have one. So after frustrated attempts to use the ATM top up (not realising at that point that we had to have a UK bank account to use it) we will now have to go to a Three retail outlet and add credit that way via a voucher. I will have to try and load credit onto the top-up card at the next supermarket visit.
So much for convenience! No wonder I usually give up and just use global roaming in spite of the cost.