There is lots to do in the winter in Scotland, here are some things I have experienced.
by Denise Scotland on January 7, 2010
Dunfermline Heritage walk is a free event which takes place every January the 2nd at 1.30pm and attracts visitors from the local area as well as tourists who want to learn about Scotland’s alternative royal mile. Dunfermline is now a busy and modern town but within a square mile radius there are plenty of reminders of the towns royal connections.The meeting point for the walk is the Mercat cross on the pedestrianised High Street, walkers from all over the world are met by volunteer guides and the walk begins. The walk starts off by going down the High Street and Bridge Street past the City Chambers with its stunning architecture and elaborately carved stonework and into Pittencrieff Park through the elaborate Louise Carnegie gates.Pittencrieff park is a beautiful place to walk even in the winter, the park once the playground of kings and off limits the ordinary man on the street was gifted to the town by Andrew Carnegie. The walk through the park has fantastic views over to the Forth Bridges and is the home of the ruins of Malcolm Canmore’s tower and is also the location of the cave where Robert the Bruce was famously inspired by a spider to never give up.Once a circuit of the top part of the glen has been completed, walkers come out of the glen at the gates by Dunfermline Abbey. The Abbey was established in 1040, stone carvings pay tribute to Robert the Bruce and there is even a small spider in the stained glass windows. The Abbey is most closely associated with St Margaret who is just one of the many royals who rest beneath the Abbey and her shrine was believed to have healing properties attracting many pilgrims to visit. The graveyard is a peaceful place to walk around, the ancient tombs with their carvings still visible giving clues to the lives of the people who now rest in the kirkyard.The second last port of call is the ruins of the ancient palace which was once home to royalty and is still an impressive sight as it sits on the edge of a ravine. The western wall is still intact and you can gain an idea of the size of the palace which once housed Queen Anne.A walk through the remains of the monastery which once housed Benedictine Monks takes you down to Andrew Carnegie’s birthplace museum. Carnegie was born in a humble cottage with parents who had strong social values and a sense of social justice. Although he later emigrated to America to make his fortune he never forgot the town of his birth and left many gifts to the people of Dunfermline which are still enjoyed to this day. The small cottage has been extended to house exhibitions about Carnegies incredible tale of rags to riches but also retains many of its original charm and features including the bed where Carnegie was born. As well as having a chance to look around the house, visitors are given mulled wine and shortbread which is very welcome after their walk.Dunfermline’s heritage walk is a great way to start your new year, a leisurely stroll in the cold January air is a perfect way to cure your hangover or burn off some of the calories from overconsumption over the festive period. The tour guides are lively and know lots of interesting details and stories about Dunfermline’s history and are happy to answer questions. The heritage walk is an event which grows more popular every year, why don’t you join them next year?
by Denise Scotland on January 2, 2010
Every winter Princes Street Gardens in the centre of Edinburgh is transformed into a winter wonderland with an ice rink, fairground, visits from Santa and his reindeer and much more. A visit to the gardens during December is guaranteed to get all members of the family into the Christmas spirit.East Princes street Gardens is the venue for the ice rink. The ice rink is open from 10am to 10pm in December and skate hire is included in the ticket price. This is always a popular attraction and you can see people of all ages enjoying trying their hands at skating, some cautious people barely let go of the side while others whizz around confidently and they all have a smile on their face. The ice rink is kept in good condition with sweeping machines regularly sweeping the surface and stewards look after the skaters. There is also a separate rink for young children so they can skate on special double bladed skates without having to worry about older skaters bashing into them.There are wooden viewing platforms for those who just want to watch the skating for a while, stalls nearby sell a range of food and drink including amazing hot chocolate with whipped cream and extra chocolate sprinkled over the top with seating so you can sit and relax and enjoy the sights and sounds going on around you.West Princess Street Gardens is where the little ones will find real reindeer living in pens and be able to pet them. Their owner, a Mr Claus, pops in several times a day to check on his animals, talk to the kids and personally collect letters which have been left in his post-box and the smiles on the children’s faces is a delight to see. There are also free shows for kids every at 11 am with jugglers and clowns making an appearance.The funfair next to the Wallace Monument has old fashioned fairground rides, a helter skelter, carousel, flying chair-o-planes and gentler rides for the little ones. The highlight of the funfair has got to be the massive big wheel which is transported from M&D’s theme park for the winter and is 33 metres tall, each car on the big wheel comfortably holds 4 people and travels slowly round letting you watch all the fun from high in the air and also has views over to Edinburgh castle and the main shopping street.An event that is worth visiting is the Great Scottish Santa run which is held in mid December every year to raise money for children’s charities. The aim is to have the most Santas running for charity in one place, in 2009 over 1500 runners donned Santa suits to complete the 1.5 mile run around the gardens raising £32000 and providing a sight not to be missed.The atmosphere in the winter wonderland seems to change as night falls, it gets dark as early as 4pm and the whole area is transformed into a breathtakingly beautiful display of lights and sounds and although it is just as busy the noise seems muffled. The trees around the garden are lit up by simple strings of white coloured lights, the ice rink and other attractions are floodlit and the bright coloured lights from the funfair rides all combine to look like a scene from inside a snowdome.I visit Edinburgh’s winter wonderland every year, it has become a family tradition to go skating, visit the German market and warm up with a cup of hot chocolate before we visit the shops for some Christmas shopping. It’s a festival which will really get you in the festive mood and as it is just minutes from both the tourist attractions and shopping precincts in Edinburgh can be combined with other activities for a fabulous day out.
by Denise Scotland on December 22, 2009
New Year has always been a huge celebration in Scotland, in fact it has only been in the last 50 years or so that Scots took Christmas day off work as Hogmanay was always the main winter holiday in Scotland. Hogmanay is the traditional Scots name for December the 31st, Auld Years Night is another common phrase used for that day.First footing was alive and well when I was a child but seems to have died down a bit lately. First footers simply visited the houses of friends, family and neighbours to wish them a Happy New Year after midnight taking gifts of black bun, shortbread and the all important bottle of whisky! Superstition has it that it is good luck if the first person to cross the threshold of the house after the bells strike is tall, dark and handsome and brings a lump of coal for good luck. These New Years parties can go on for several hours and into the next day with revellers guaranteed hospitality and a warm welcome at every house they visit, no wonder the second of January is a bank holiday in Scotland as we need an extra day to recover! When I was a child it was unthinkable to go to bed before the bells but if you look down an average Scottish street these days it is not uncommon to see a smattering of houses in darkness with their occupiers retiring to bed early with a cup of cocoa.In modern times the street party has become a far more common way to celebrate Hogmanay with the street festival in Edinburgh being one of the largest parties in the world with huge bands playing at the castle and in Princes Street Gardens as well as a huge fireworks display at midnight and tickets needed to enter the city centre. I have visited Edinburgh on Hogmanay during the day and early evening and there is a carnival like atmosphere with funfairs, street entertainers and music but have never stayed till midnight. Tickets are already available in December 2009 for the 2110 street party so make sure you book early if you want to attend.Many smaller towns and villages have their own street parties leading up to the bells. One I have visited a few times in the small Perthshire town of Aberfeldy. Here live bands play in the town square and food is available, one year a whole deer was roasted on a spit! As the clock approaches midnight people spill from their homes and pubs onto the streets and when the bells strike then everyone sings Auld Lang Syne before kissing and shaking hands with strangers and wishing them the best for the year ahead.New years day itself is generally a fairly quiet day with many sleeping till late in the day and the rest of the day taken up by visiting friends and relatives. It is traditional to eat steak pie for dinner which most Scottish families still do. South Queensferry is a small village a few miles north of Edinburgh and it is here that an event called the "Loony Dook" takes place. If you know that the word loony means lunatic and dook means to go underwater then you will realise that some brave, or foolish, people celebrate the new year by going for a swim in the sub zero waters of the river Forth. There were over 600 participants in 2009 and the event grows bigger each year but I think I prefer to stay warm and dry.It has always been tradition to celebrate the end of the old year and the beginning of the new in Scotland and although the method of celebration has changed over the years then it is still a major festival enjoyed by all.
Scotland is well known as a winter sports destination but the Central Belt of Scotland receives hardly any of the white stuff. Spending days sledging was one of my favourite activities as a child but since my kids have only experienced one winter with a lot of snow they have not had that same experience so as a Christmas treat I decided to book a family sledging experience at the Sno!zone within Xscape in Glasgow. Of course I booked weeks in advance and we have had one of the coldest winters in decades so they have had lots of chance to play in the snow this year but they still enjoyed their day out.Sno!Zone is a fantastic indoor ski slope in the Xscape leisure complex near Braehead in Glasgow, the main slope is 200m long and has 17000 tonnes of real snow on the slopes. The Xscape complex is brilliant, it is a huge building with the snow slopes, cinema, bowling, crazy golf, amusement arcades, shops and dozens of places to eat and drink all under one roof. The building itself is beautiful with sparkly red floors and everything looks lovely and clean and new. We were told to arrive in plenty of time for our family sledging session which cost £55 for a family of four. When we arrived it was time to book ourselves in and make sure everyone was suitably dressed in sturdy shoes, warm clothes and gloves and a safety helmet. There is a changing village within Sno!zone and lockers to store your clothes and bags. We waited by the entrance to the snow slope until we were called in and then it was time to hit the slopes.The snow slopes are fantastic with lots of crisp white snow. The temperature is between -3 to -5 degrees centigrade but because there was no wind chill and the atmosphere was nice and dry it did not feel nearly as cold as this. The sledging slope faced the main ski slope with safety barriers separating the two and a small area of the ski slope was also cordoned off as an ice slide area. The sledging was a lot of fun, Santa and his elves joined the kids on the slope as they climbed up the snowy hill and then went flying down on a small sleigh racing against each other. The hill is extremely steep and trudging uphill through the snow is great exercise for your legs and mine felt very sore at the end of the 45 minute session.At the end of the sledging session we were presented with vouchers to take to the Sno! Bar to exchange for a platter of food and soft drinks which was part of the family fun experience. The Sno! Bar is lovely with lots of sofas to lounge on and enjoy your food and drink while you sit in the warmth and watch the skiers and snowboarders through huge glass windows. There is also a wooden balcony above the slopes which lets you get closer to the action and this is the same temperature of the slopes.Our food came on a huge silver platter and we had burgers, onion rings, pizzas, chips, garlic ciabatta and chicken gougons. It wasn’t fine dining but the kids loved it and the adults were happy enough with the food too. There are of course other options on the menu, the prices here are extremely reasonable with the most expensive main course being £5.95 for a chicken dish and they have different meals for any time of the day from breakfast to late night snacks. The bar also had an impressive range of wines, spirits and liqueurs and hot and cold soft drinks. Children are welcome in the bar during the day but in the evening it is adults only.We enjoyed out day out at Xscape and will certainly visit again. The family sledging and ice slide packages are suitable for kids of all ages as well as adults and it was lovely to see the kids with ruddy cheeks from the cold laughing and enjoying themselves. I really enjoyed watching the skiing and with lessons starting at a reasonable £20 an hour including ski hire it is something I may well treat myself to in the future. Xscape is a fantastic destination where you are guaranteed lovely crisp white snow no matter what the weather is like outside.
by Denise Scotland on December 14, 2009
Edinburgh, like many other cities up and down the UK hosts a continental market during the festive season, the city boasts two main markets with unique characters and they make an enjoyable trip for some unusual treats. The markets open in late November and are opened by the Lord Provost signaling a start to the festive period and they trade until Christmas Eve opening daily from 10am to 10pm. The German market comprises around 30 small wooden huts on The Mound Precinct next to the National Gallery of Scotland. It sells a mixture of German food and drinks, sweets, wooden toys, Christmas decorations and ornamental goods. The stalls are all manned by German men and women and I had always thought that the Germans were a rather humourless bunch but I'm delighted that this stereotype was shattered. The stallholders were all happy to chat with the customers and free samples were handed out in a very generous manner. There were two incidents which stood out in my mind; one vendor roared with laughter when my daughter tried to buy a pretzel by speaking in very clumsy German and spent ages talking to her and the vendor of a stall selling sweets and cakes gave the kids so many free bits of cake and chocolate that they could barely carry them all. My favourite stalls sold gorgeous stained glass candle holders in unusual patterns so I bought a couple as a gift to myself. There was a wide range of beeswax candles and soaps, hand carved crystal decorations, jewellery and metal work as well as the wooden toys. The prices seemed fair for what were quality items and you can pick up some unusual gifts here. There are several stalls selling food and drink here. I'm afraid I can't remember the German names for anything so I shall do my best to describe what I saw in English. There were numerous sausages for sale; unfortunately there were no English descriptions of what the sausage was like so I plumped for a pink one and the four year old for one like a hot dog. My pink sausage tasted remarkably like a Mattersons pork sausage so I was unimpressed by its ordinariness but the little one ate her hot dog happily. My daughter was very impressed by her huge baked pretzel and now wants to find a recipe to make them at home. Other food choices included a stall selling various hot chocolates, potato pancakes with apple sauce, various fried potato dishes, grilled meats and beers. Prices were very reasonable for the food and drink and many stalls also sold food to take away and cook at home and a range of beers. The Highland market is located next door to the German market in East Princes Street Gardens and I was not impressed by the offerings here at all, anyone who has been to a farmers market in a Scottish town or city will recognise the format of overpriced food and crafts. The stallholders are a reserved bunch and will bleat on about how their produce is organic and locally produced in a manner that makes you want to reach for the turkey twizlers. They had the usual range of jams, oatcakes, meats, honey and cheeses at a price which will make your eyes water. The craft stalls offer a range of Scottish made goods like jewellery or hand crafted wooden items or soaps. The biggest rip off has got to be the lavender bags, lavender grows like a weed and picking a few sprigs and sticking it in a fabric pocket and charging £3 for the resulting product is just ridiculous. The food and drink here was the usual £5 for an Aberdeen Angus burger, £3 for a coffee in a paper cup but they did have things like hot toddies for sale. There is also a small French market outside the St James centre. The huts just seem to take up space on a busy walkway with metal barriers providing a tiny walkway. There were only two stalls open when we visited one selling olives and another dried fruits. The markets are ideally situated in the city centre a stone throw away from Waverley station and within a few minutes walk from the bus station. The backdrop of the Winter Wonderland with its ice rink and Edinburgh Castle make it a stunning place to visit. It is even better after dark, the place seems to come alive then and the Christmas lights are beautiful making it a truly magical experience. Edinburgh is a brilliant city to visit during the festive period with a wide range of events in the festive calendar. The German market combines charm, fantastic goods for sale and a party like atmosphere so is a must see for any visitor to the city.
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