Since this is where I live and have grown up, I have a lot to say about it.

Welcome to Hoy

Every Friday I would run from school and straight onto the M.V. Graemsay that would take me to the island of Hoy: my muddy childhood paradise. My family had a cottage on the island that sat high up on a hill. It was heated by peat that my Dad had dug up and dried earlier in the year and water came from a homemade pump up the hill. The gas stove was just about functional enough to cook some tins of soup for dinner and the porch was cold enough to function as a fridge so I could have my bowl of coco-pops in the morning. The hill was home to miles of heather which gave my sister berries for jam and my grandad with the vital ingredient to his infamously intoxicating homebrew of heather ale. The cottage provided me with the best playground a child could ask for: there was a beach with a sea to swim in, sand to search for treasure, endless animals to draw (and keep as temporary pets), and endless places to explore and conquer.

The North of Hoy is home to beautiful and different scenery to anything on offer on the rest of Orkney. It was the landscape of fairytales for me as a child with glistening streams, giant dragonflies and toads the size of a dinner plate. There is no escaping the Hoy Hills as they dominate the skyline as the tallest point in both Orkney and Shetland – although the highest point (the Ward Hill) is only a mere 479 metres. The Hoy Hills were shaped by glaciers in the last ice age but depending on what source you prefer they may have been formed from the teeth of the Stoorworm. My first ascent of the Ward Hill was also my first – literal – hands-on experiences with nature. While the dog had already ran to the top we were fascinated at the heathery lower slopes which are home to Common Toads – which at the time easily filled my cupped hands. Golden Eagles became extinct in Orkney due to hunting but the majestic giants are slowly returning even if it is still a rare sighting.

The top of the hill is decorated in wind stripes and sandstone scars from thousands of years of lashing wind and frost action. When the clouds clear away you can see across Hoy Sound to Stromness and the flat, green meadows in the north. Where the hills flatten out into the sea at Moaness there are the sandy bays of Quoys and Creekland. Although these beaches often look like they are 50° further north than they ought to be with cream-coloured sands and turquoise waters they are simply over shadowed by Rackwick Bay. Locals often comment on Rackwick’s bizarre microclimate which is usually the complete opposite of the rest of the county. This means that for most of the time Rackwick has a Mediterranean climate. The reason for this has not been thoroughly investigated but Rackwick Bay is sheltered from incoming weather systems from the Atlantic by the highest vertical sea cliff in the UK – St John’s Head and any polar winds from the north are well sheltered by those Hoy Hills.

Rackwick Bay was once much longer than it is today due to longshore drift which is caused by the sea waves moving grains of sand along the beach at an angle. Rackwick Bay is sheltered by more sandstone sea cliffs which act to catch the sand moving in their direction. These sea cliffs are home to numerous birds: puffins, fulmars and black-backed gulls that sit and watch several herds of common and grey seals around the bay. Killer Whales are also spotted in the bay throughout the year having resident and transient pods causing fear to the seal population but fascination to other crowds.
Orkney is not famous for its woodlands but as with the rest of the Hoy landscape and elsewhere in Orkney – Hoy is different. For having barely any trees whatsoever – let alone native woodlands – Hoy is actually home to the most northerly ancient woodland – meaning it has existed continually since 1750. However studies suggest forests similar to this covered Orkney around 7000 years ago. Berriedale Wood is another example of Hoy’s varied assembly of pristine landscapes. It is the only place in the islands you will find a natural canopy of hazel, rowan, aspen and willow covers a bed of heather, ferns and even roses.

It would not surprise me is there were actually more species of bird on Hoy then there were permanent residents. Every year hundreds of ornithologists travel on a pilgrimage to Hoy to enjoy the wealth of winged residents. The official RSBP reserve is surrounding the Sandy Loch which is along the walking path to Rackwick Bay however the whole island is dominated by birds. Most of the bird species on the island are viewed for their grace and beauty such as the peregrine falcon, puffin and red-throated diver but there is one species that has both locals and visitors bemused. Locally known as Bonxies, the Great Skua is known to dive bomb anyone walking near the proximity of their nests – and Hoy alone has around 12% of the world’s population, so watch your head!

Over the years, our cottage in Hoy became a bit of a graveyard for cars as my parents’ inability to throw anything out progressed beyond the boundaries of the house walls. As a child my favourite car was our tough Soviet Lada Cossack 4×4 which was white with black zebra stripes. Every time I got in it I felt like we were about to embark on an epic adventure deep into the rainforest. The thing didn’t even have seats in the back but it was so full of things that it wasn’t much of a problem and we didn’t mind cuddling up to the dog. More so it reminds me of my real childhood, the one before computers appeared. The one that instantly makes you remember the smell of mud in your hair and when car journeys really did seem to take a lifetime.

The Lada Cossack, guard dog and childhood everest.

The Pop

I can't believe I forgot this Bizarre Orcadian tradition when I made my compilation last year, but this one is just as fitting. In recent years the tradition has died out as my local community bonfire has not been on after some firework scares but I see this year it is back and I expect plenty of Pop's in the street!
No idea who these children are but they are the only good Pop photo on the internet.
There is somewhat of a similarity between trick or treating and the Pop tradition of Stromness (my hometown) but the Pop allowed us Stromnessian kids to make a sweet few pounds rather than gaining them. The Pop is also similar to the burning of the Guy that traditionally occurred around Britain. However, instead of standing watching an effigy of a man burn it's the children throwing the burning heads in the fire. Now I know that makes us sound more savage and archaic than ever but what traditions don't stem from something gruesome?

November 5th was the one day of the year the local shops ran out of turnips and instead of making us eat the otherwise foul vegetable my parents would carve a face into it and turn it into a lantern. I would then paint it using my primitive painting skills and mount the head on a stick to make what is called a Pop. The Pop could resemble a local or a topical figure but most of the time they ended up becoming like an alien or a grotesque witch of some sort. My friends and I would assemble at a house and with our army of heads on sticks to go door to door asking " A penny for the pop!" All locals knew to then hand us some change and send us on our way. We'd head along the street with our pockets becoming heavier and heavier until we reached the community bonfire. Once we'd exploited all the adults there and compared Pops to each other we'd then throw our Pops into the fire.

The Pop tradition is thought to originate somewhere between the Halloween traditions of trick or treat and carving a lantern and the burning of the Guy on Bonfire night. However, why is it called a Pop? Well this is thought to actually stem from anti-Catholic sentiments just as the burning of the guy ( Guy Fawkes was Catholic and so burning of a guy is also originally a sign of Protestant triumph) and this is again seen in the pronunciation of Pop. In Orcadian the word 'Pop' is pronounced more like 'pope' and so when kids go round with their grotesque head on a stick called a Pope and asking for money with the intentions of burning that head you can see the gruesome back story unfolding. But as with the majority of British traditions the original reasoning is somewhat neglected and the perks of the tradition are kept to make it an enjoyable and unique celebration to keep the community together.


10 Things To Do During Your First Month in Dundee

1. Climb the law

I say climb, but realistically I mean walk. Although at times you'll be shocked that roads can be this vertical without the need for harnesses. At the top you will experience the best view in Dundee as well as realising the city is much bigger than you thought.

Dundee gets phenomenal sunsets, and that's coming from an Orcadian!

2.Visit Clarkies at an ungodly hour.

Clarks 24hour bakery is the compulsory stop on the way home after a night out and provides it's drunken clientèle with not only baked pastries but also chips with any topping you desire or if your arteries are feeling extra elastic then try their helicopter... Between 1am and 4am Clark's is also a great entertainment venue with music, comedy and the occasional fight.

Some of the Creatures in Clarks in the early hours...

3. Enjoy Sundee in Magdalen Green

Dundee doesn't often get a good reputation, people think its a pretty horrible city. However, like any city there are good parts and bad parts but Dundee is like two separate cities. The East end can be very rough, but the West end is gorgeous and Magdalen Green is the jewel in the crown. You will come home with more pictures of the Magdalen green bandstand than you will of anything else, including yourself, in Dundee. 
After the first glimpse of summer Magdalen Green becomes mobbed with pale bodies.

4. Board the Discovery

This is Dundee's main tourist attraction and is the abandoned ship from Captain Scott's expedition to the South Pole, we won't say what happened next as you can find that out for yourselves when you visit. Even if you don't learn anything it's great fun to just look around the boat, just try don't get scared of Ernest Shackleton's ghost who has never left...

5. Cross the Tay Bridge 

This can be the rail bridge by train or the road bridge by car or preferably bike or foot - but beware as it is much longer than you think. The town on the other side is called Newport-On-Tay and the locals get to enjoy a wonderful view of our fine city all year round. Another option is to walk along the waterfront in Dundee which is just as enjoyable.

6. Be a Skint Student

Skint is Dundee Union's ultimate student night where every Tuesday there is £1 entry, £1 drinks but that's not the cheapest thing in there - just check out Mono's dancefloor. Saying that Skint is one of the craziest nights in Dundee but it's not suitable for the sober. If you don't like going out you can still benefit from skint by watching the dishevelled students on Wednesday lectures.

7. Empty your Wallet at G Casino

I'm not 100% sure why, but for some reason poor Dundee Students think it's a great idea to go to a casino after a night at Fat Sams or Liquid and gamble away the rest of their overdraft. Alas everyone should go once even if you only last one round of blackjack. Grosvener Casino is open 24 hours-a-day and is right next to Dundee's biggest nightclubs and since it offers food students naturally head in that direction. Although they leave with a full stomach more often than not that comes with an empty wallet.

8. Look up at Mills Observatory

Other than the Law the other big hill in Dundee is Balgay Hill which is home to Mills Observatory which has regular star gazing sessions. You don't necessarily need the observatory to see the stars though as Dundee is one of the few cities with a fairly starry night. Balgay hill is also a fantastic place for a game of 1,2,3 or manhunt but not a night time walk by yourself as it looks like a classic horror-film setting.

9. Try Baba's sauce

Sunny is a local Dundonian with a tiny indian takeaway which is not nearly a representative of the business he gets. As well as producing amazing curries, pizzas and kebabs he has created his own sauce to accompany them which follows a secret recipe which is almost impossible to even guess. He is currently trying to follow in the footsteps of Levi Roots by getting his sauce into supermarkets which shouldn't be too difficult!
Apologies for the poor photo, it was the only one I had thanks to
my flatmate tormenting me all the way in Canada.

10. Recycling Centre

Tayside recycling is a treasure trove of old furniture, books, maps and anything else you could possibly not need. However if you do need to get something for the household, this is a great cheap place to start. However if you're someone, like me, who just likes to rummage then you will easily enjoy a whole day rummaging through the warehouse.

Things I didn't have room for: The botanics, Frasers Fruit and Veg, Grouchos and the DCA)


Bizarre Orcadian Traditions

Travel brochures and guide books cover most things to expect when visiting Orkney, but there are a lot of traditions that they miss out that leave many tourists simply bamboozled.


If you see a group of men or women covered in treacle banging drums on the back of a truck, it is most likely that you have just seen your first blackening. A blackening usually occurs at some point the week before a wedding and the bride and groom are taken on their seperate trucks and the aim is to get the couple as drunk, and as dirty as possible. All the while you are being driven around the town trying to make as much noise as possible. Local policemen describe blackenings as an "acceptable breach of the peace."  A blackening usually ends up with the bride or groom either in the sea or tied to a local landmark with clingfilm - which would you prefer? The origin of this tradition is fairly uncertain but has thought to have something to do with ensuring the bride/groom is dirty before the washing ceremony before a wedding.

The Orcadian Dialect

"Beuy, I'll tak a peedie swadge as me puggie is affie full o' wind."
This is roughly translated as "I need a rest after this meal because I have flatulance."

Although the Orcadian dialect is dying out there are still many phrases and words in circulation today and is a large part of the identity of the county. The strongest accents can be hard enough for me to understand let alone a poor Frenchman who has barely got the gist of English. Many words are nearer the Norwegian equivalent than the English. The Orcadian dialect comes from Norn, which was a mixture of Norse and Scots and provides Orcadians with a "sing-song" accent of the same tonality as Norwegian and an accent not a million miles from Welsh.
Some of my favourite Orcadian words:
Peedie - Small
Pugie - stomach
Swadge - A rest after a meal to let your food settle so you can continue eating.
Gansey - Jumper
Throughby - Next door

Shopping week

The Queen and her Attendants
In the middle of July every year my hometown of Stromness has it's main calender event which used to be the week of the year where traders were attracted to sell goods within the town and beyond. Nowadays it is more just an excuse for a bit of a party; for the whole week there is a programme of events to keep all ages happy. Most notable events are the Yard O' Ale, three legged beer race around the town and the parade followed by an open air dance on the Saturday. One of the strangest traditions as an outside must be the "Shopping Week Queen." On the opening Monday there is a ceremony in the morning, not unlike a wedding ceremony, where a girl in a long white dress accompanied by two "attendants" and led through the town in a horse and carriage. The "Shopping Week Queen" is elected by fellow pupils in the local secondary school and often has to spend their first Shopping week as an eighteen year old by being respectable and keeping up with their duties.

59° North

Other than the Shetland Isles, Orkney is as far north as you can get in the UK. Located on the same latitude as St Petersberg and Alaska we should experience temperatures similar to that of a freezer but thanks to the North Atlantic Drift we get a much milder, wetter experience. However we do get to take advantage of about 20 hour daylight during the summer solstice and the occasional glimpse of the Northern lights in the winter months. Unfortunately this comes with darkness from 1pm to 4pm in winter. 

Orcadian Strip the Willow

Throughout the year there are several "barn dances" that have grown from a get together in a barn to celebrate a good harvest but are now major gatherings for locals. It has also lead to the development of our own versions of Scottish dances. Our version of Strip the Willow has become popular on the Scottish mainland too as it is much more fun as it involves more people and much more spinning!

Ploughing Match and Festival of The Horses

The Horses
I don't know how many of you will be familiar with the concept of ploughing matches but they are normally done by horsepower or on tractors and are meant to demonstrate precision and skill in the art of ploughing. However in the town of St Margarets Hope the ploughing is all man-power, well boy-power. The horses are not forgotten though as other children dress up in elaborate costumes to represent horses with harnesses and straps. These costumes are often very beautiful and handed down generations with each generation adding something to the costume.

North Ronaldsay Sheep
Yup, we have sheep that eat seaweed because they somehow got stuck on a beach on the wrong side of a six-foot wall. Confined to Orkneys northernmost island of North Ronaldsay this exotic feral breed of sheep are bred for their wool. They have evolved a unique method of extracting sugar from seaweed and graze and ruminate in-sync with the tides.

The Ba
The Ba is notoriously hard to explain to people. It's is essentially a massive ball game with no rules where beefy men fight for a leather ball.  Oh yeah and it all happens in the middle of winter. There are two teams, the "uppies" and "doonies" and their allegiance is decided by where they lived but is now mainly through family loyalties. Orkney's biggest town, Kirkwall closes down on Boxing day and New Years Day and shops board up their windows as the streets fill with spectators. There is also a 'Boy's Ba' which takes place earlier in the day which is just as brutal. Each side has a goal; the uppies head inland whereas the doonies have to end up in the sea. If you are still confused this video might help give you more of an idea:

The Hoy Tape

Every Friday I would run from school and straight onto the ferry that would take me to the island of Hoy which was my muddy childhood paradise during the summer. My family had a cottage on the island that sat up on a hill and was heated by peat that my Dad had dug up and dried earlier that summer and water came from a homemade pump up the hill. The gas stove was just about functional to cook some tins of soup for dinner and the porch was cold enough to function as a fridge so I could have my bowl of coco-pops in the morning. The hill was home to miles of heather which provided my sister with berries for jam and my granddad used the pink flowers to make his infamously intoxicating homebrew of heather ale.  The cottage provided me with the best playground a child could ask for: there was a beach with a sea to swim in and sand to search for treasure, endless animals to draw and keep as temporary pets, and endless places to explore and conquer.

 Over the years, our cottage in Hoy became a bit of a graveyard for cars as my parents inability to throw anything out progressed beyond the boundaries of the house walls. Most of the cars still actually worked but although failing an MOT means something in most places, Hoy is not one of them and so one by one they ended up there. As a child my favourite car was our tough Soviet Lada Cossack 4x4 which was white with black zebra stripes and every time I got in it I felt like we were about to embark on an epic adventure deep into the rainforest. The thing didn’t even have seats in the back but was so full of things that it wasn’t much of a problem and we didn’t mind cuddling up to the dog. The car had a single green and white cassette tape that I would play whenever we went anywhere in that car and those songs will forever remind me of driving around Hoy with my family. More so it reminds me of my real childhood, the one before computers appeared. The one that instantly makes you remember the smell of mud in your hair and when car journeys really did seem to take a lifetime.

‘The Hoy Tape’ as it became to be known had songs that at the time I had no idea what they were but later in life I heard them and was instantly transported back. My mum recently found the Hoy Tape and wrote down the eclectic mixture including soul from The Drifters, country in the form of Neil Diamond and Glenn Campbell and even some 70s glam rock from Marc Bolan. However even with modern technology, they will never quite sound the same as they did on the crackling tape player while I wiped sand out from between my toes and seaweed from my hair. 

Tips for Young People Visiting Orkney

Are you planning to travel to Orkney? I grew up in Orkney and there are a few things locals know that would be valuable for tourists to know when visiting the islands.

As both a young person and a local, I can't help notice that most of the people visiting Orkney are of an older stature and it's always quite exciting if I meet a group of young tourists. It would be quite refreshing to get more young people visiting the islands as it might help develop more things for young residents to do on the islands as well as young people visiting the county.

 Most young Orcadians will agree that there isn't much to do on Orkney, but this is mainly in the winter time when the weather doesn't really let you leave the house. In the summer my local town, at least, is full of students home for the Summer from university and the pubs are full of young people. In the summer Orkney has a great pub scene, especially during the Folk Festival in late May every year. This is a weekend full of organised gigs as well as spontaneous pub gigs. There is also Stromness Shopping Week which is another time to catch some banter with groups of young Orcadians in the pubs as it is usually a "must" to be back home for. This is a week long gala-like celebration, think a mini-jubilee every year, which is quite bizarre for a tourist to see as the opening ceremony looks bizarrely like a wedding. There is a "Shopping Week Queen" elected from the local school by fellow pupils and they get to spend the whole week in a pretty (usually white) dress for the whole week with two attendants (bridesmaids essentially) also chosen from the local school. Along with bizarre old time traditions there are stalls and a variety of activities as well as, you guessed it, an active pub scene.

Another "must" for students to return home for is "the shows" which are agricultural shows which are good fun to visit during the day  but even more exciting is the night time celebrations which usually involve a band as well as a lot of drinking. The biggest of these shows in "The County Show" where this year's evening acts included Scotland's favourite twins the Proclaimers. The shows are usually held in the first week of August and usually coincides with Orkney's best weather.

Now, Orkney doesn't just have the pubs on offer, us young locals like to take advantage of the spectacular scenery we have here. If you are studying in Scotland you are most likely in one of the big cities, Orkney offers a very different landscape to the cities and is easily reached by ferry from Aberdeen (they also offer a student discount but only on telephone or in-person bookings). Although this ferry is 6 hours long as long as you take a good book or a laptop and some films you will be fine. There is wifi but it is very temperamental and I would buy some food before you board as it is notoriously expensive, then again the battered haddock at the restauerant is one of the best I have had... Flying is also an option but is often very, very expensive. It is cheaper to fly to Bergen from Kirkwall than to Edinburgh, Orkney logic.

Brochures will tell you numerous sights to see and some of the most scenic spots are best visited in the evenings when the majority of tourists have headed home and Orkney is renown for producing some spectacular sunsets that are worth staying up for. Some of my favourite beauty spots for sunset watching are Skaill, Rackwick Bay on Hoy, Waulkmill Bay in Orphir and Yesneby. Skara Brae is one of Orkney's most famous tourist attractions and is located next to Skaill Beach and at night anyone can get into the site for free via the beach if you walk along the edge of the coast from the beach car park. I am not 100% sure if this is actually okay to do but it's been accessible for many years with the gate unlocked so I don't see the issue as long as you take nothing but photographs and leave nothing but footprints!

The easiest way to get around Orkney is by car, but this can be expensive and you may notice that fuel in Orkney is surprisingly expensive considering we have one of the main oil terminals for the North Sea located on Flotta. Currently petrol is around £1.47 per litre and I won't dare tell you diesel prices. One little tip I can give you is that for some unknown reason the petrol in the village of Dounby is cheaper than elsewhere on the island so if you can find your way there then try and fill up when you can! The buses are relatively few and far between but do offer services to the main attractions but do not give you the freedom to go as you please.

Orkney looks best dressed between May-August as the weather is often at it's sunniest, not necessarily warmest though... May offers a great pub scene with the Folk Festival, in June there is the Summer solstice which lasts pretty much 24 hours on Orkney and July and August provide the busiest event calender for the county. Bear in mind though that later in the summer Orkney begins to get plagued by "midgies" which are smaller, and more irritating mosquitoes and stop you from being able to eat outdoors without ingesting some extra protein. It is also entirely possible to travel to Orkney in Winter but the weather is much riskier and the options for tourists will be a lot more limited. The "Merry Dancers" or Northern Lights have been spotted on the isles on numerous occasions and are one of the few places in the UK they are regularly spotted.

Spare a thought for those in Orkney while you whap on your suncream this morning...

15/5/12 - I went to Gleneagles, to play with some Eagles!

Gleneagles was not named after eagles but there are sure a high number of Eagles found in this particular glen. Gleneagles is most famous for it's grand hotel, golf and spa resort but being a skint student I wasn't there to lap up    the luxury but to get to know some feathered friends thanks to an offer from  Groupon at  Phoenix Falconry.

The train from Dundee to Gleneagles is only about 30 minutes long and takes you through some of Scotland's classic rolling mountains you see in all the brochures. You barely notice rolling up to Gleneagles station as it appears from behind some trees, and for the train gateway to Scotland's most premier hotel it is pretty run down. However it has a rundown old fashioned charm and it so secluded it could be your own private station which I appreciated.

 I arranged a taxi to pick me up and expected your standard taxi to roll up with "Taxi" plastered over a Skoda but I was mistaken. I am in Gleneagles, the "town" where taxis are Mercedes and there are "shooting schools" on every corner. My driver took me into the Gleneagles complex as I had never been before and the building is huge let alone the golf course. There were numerous octogenarians wandering about in-between a sea of Range Rovers and Mercedes. Spreading out from the hotel were private residences and my driver pointed out one that had a huge aquarium running from the ground floor to the third.

As we rolled up to Easterton Farm I felt pretty terrible as the Mercedes dodged some massive potholes and collected some dirt, understandably I met the driver just off the main road on the way back. The Phoenix Falconry building looked nothing more than a bit of barn from the outside but when you walked into the reception you can to a front room any house would be proud of. Well, except that this one had to baby Peregrine Falcons sitting on the table.

After signing a consent form and being handed a falconry glove I sat and waited for the group to assemble. We were greeted by Adrian who was the main Falconer here and he was dressed like your typical Gleneagles huntsman; shirt and tie covered with a khaki huntsman waistcoat. He was very charismatic and knew his stuff as he gave us a briefing on the history of falconry and as a biology student I found no faults in anything he said. After the briefing we headed out and saw some of the birds in there larger-than-normal bird houses. As he explained aspects of avian anatomy and aerodynamics I realised falconry is potentially a perfect hobby for me as it combines two of my favourite interests; biology and aviation.

(I wasn't allowed to take my big camera out as apparently they attack handbags as they think they are full of food so I had to resort to my phone camera for most of it, so apologies for the poor photos from now on)

Although we were walking past impressive predators such as the Bald Eagle we started with something a lot less deadly, a Harris Hawk. The Harris Hawk is slow in the way of Birds of Prey but is very, very good at manoeuvring thanks to it's wing shape which was demonstrated by some close encounters with our heads. We each had our first attempt with the Harris hawk and I was pretty proud of my attempts as I did everything I was supposed to, plus it was the first time I had a bird of prey perched on the side of my arm, which felt pretty awesome.
Baby Peregrine Falcon

Following from the Harris hawk we were shown an baby Peregrine Falcon only a few days old but only briefly as a group of foreign onlookers could be as lethal to them as Avian flu is to us. We were then followed out by an Indian Eagle Owl, which looked like angry Johnny-5 from Short Circuit in bird form. He had only been flying for a few days so he couldn't go really far and seemed to prefer walking along the ground. Owls are also not very good birds for use in falconry as they tend to hunt close to the ground.
Indian Eagle Owl

The next bird was the extremely rare Striated Kara-Kara which is endemic to the Falkland Islands and considered one of the most intelligent animals in the world. This was demonstrated by the bird completing a toy that takes dogs weeks to figure out only a couple of minutes, and Adrian and co. wrote to the company and they send more toys for the bird, with the same result each time. 

After the exotic Kara-Kara we were greeted by the more familiar, ant tiny in comparison to everything else, Kestrel. Here we observed two things, one at the hand of the falconer; which was the great art of luring which is used to exercise the birds by waving bait from the end of a long piece of string but without ever hitting them, and one at the hand (wing?) of the bird as it displayed it's impressive hovering capabilities.
The Kestrel 

The next bird was a hybrid of a Gyrfalcon and another bird, from hot climates, to produce a highly agile and fast bird.  The Gyrefalcon is popular in warmer climates such as the middle east and Africa but it cannot withstand these high temperatures as it is from Greenland so this hybrid has proved highly popular in these regions.

The Gyrfalcon Hybrid.
The birds were progressively getting bigger and this was evident when Adrian took out a Bateleur eagle who is a huge vulture-like creature with a Tina Turner haircut. It is called such as when it comes down to land it swings back and forth like an acrobat (bateleur is french for acrobat/tightrope or something similar). It has the ability to change the colour of it's beak and feet depending on the presence of food AND they have ceramic-like scaled on their feet to protect them from snake bites.

Bateleur Eagle

Just as the weather turned and an icy cold wind started to rage, we were given the option whether to go inside or to have a go with the pièce de résistance, the bald Eagle and we were given the option to go inside or stay out with the bird, only a fool would go inside. When Adrian came out empty handed he answered our vacant stares by pointing into the trees where we saw a huge bird shape soaring above the trees. We were given an extra falconer glove to protect us from the birds talons and then given a shot of calling him in. It's quite hard to describe how awesome you felt with one of the worlds top predators at the end of your arm.

Me and the Bald Eagle.

My day at Phoenix falconry was a great experience and I would highly recommend it to anyone! Although I got my experience through Groupon I was told that Groupon kind of rips them off and they barely get anything from the offer whereas they have to pay Groupon to set up such an offer. They can no longer afford to open to the public and they will officially close their doors to the public come September so I would highly recommend everybody to go have a shot at falconry, it's something that is very rare  and unique in this day and age but it is unfortuneatly dying out rapidly.

Rose's Day Out In Perth - 03/12

After waking up every hour from 6am until 11am my alarm finally went off and I allowed myself to get up, I didn't want to be tired today as I was going to be put behind the hands of one of man's most impressive feats of engineering.

I was finally getting to fly a plane, something I have wanted to do since I first looked up into the sky. I was getting a half-hour "lesson" with Leading Edge Aviation which have a base in Scone, just outside Perth. After realising both my pilot's jacket and pilot's hat was going to be a little bit over zealous , I buttoned up my jacket and headed to the station.

It was a perfect day for flying, there was barely a cloud in the sky and no noticeable wind. I was so eager that I arrived at the station a good half-an-hour early so to past the time I talked to the pigeons, they were extra photogenic today; posing with breadcrumbs the kids where throwing. After getting strange looks from mothers as they edged their children away from the crazy lady, I got onto the train.
The Poser Pigeon

The train from Perth to Dundee is a mere 20 minutes and the walk from the train station to South Street (where I was catching my bus) was expected to take the same amount of time, in retrospect I should really remember that GoogleEarth is probably overcompensating. With plenty of time to spare I waited for my bus to Scone and I realised I should probably google how to pronounce Scone, turns out it's Scoon. Saved myself from looking like an ignorant tourist there.

Perth takes you by surprise, it has a group of grand buildings making up it's centre that you would expect to find in Paris and Vienna, not central Scotland. The silvery Tay splits the city in two, mimicing the blue Danube in Prague and Vienna, with a procession of bridges linking them together. Perth, although being around since the first stone circles were set down in the area in 4000BC, has just regained it's title as a city to mark the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.

Perth's Grand Museum and Art Gallery

Examples of Perth's Waterfront

To go with the rest of the day and my keen spirit I arrived in Scone a whole hour early, mainly because the bus service was determined not to let me arrive at the airport for 3pm. I  decided to use this extra time to my advantage and go and explore Scone. Unfortunately you can easily walk the length of Scone and pick up a sandwich from Tesco in under half-an-hour. In the Taxi up to the airport I realised the airport was just around the corner from where the bus had left me off, and the driver made sure I did realise this. However the actual complex was a bit of a maze and I would have got lost in a field and before I knew it I would be on the runway, but unintentionally. However, even the taxi driver sent me to the wrong building.
Perth Airport

Just as I entered the building I was essentially just whisked off onto the runway. My instructor reminded me somewhat of the lead singer of Keane and some Cambridge rich kid, so essentially the same thing, however surprisingly lacking in arrogance. It felt like my first driving lesson all over again and I fumbled about with the seatbelt, shutting it in the door several times and was all scared not quite sure what to do. There were numerous pre-flight checks both inside and outside the plane and then there was the initial gibberish between the plane and the traffic control tower and then before I knew it we were off.

I know I was in a measly Cessna 152 but taking off was well, easy. Open the throttle full, get up to 60mph and then start to point the nose upward and you barely even feel it! I am sure I didn't notice something but it was amazing how simple and effortless it seemed. Even though I was only up for half-an-hour and there is not much you can do, I still got solo control of a plane which was a dream come true. I got to steer pretty much up until landing and my instructor said that if there wasn't such a strong tail wind he would be tempted to let me land! I wasn't nearly going to trust myself though... Flying a plane, superficially, was a lot easier than made out; it's just a series of small adjustments as if you were driving a car, except you are well off the ground! The half-hour went far too quickly but it gave me a taster of something I will be addicted to, as unhappy as my bank balance will be about it, well my parent's bank balance.

Some photos mid-spin to make my Mother's stomach turn.

After the lesson and thanking my instructor, especially as he said I seemed like a natural, I walked back to Scone with a huge smile on my face like a child who just found out they were going to Disneyland. The bus back to Perth was late but I didn't mind, it was sunny and I had a good book. The bus wound through Scone and I noticed there were some parks to explore, just off the main road. By the time I got back to Perth there was only 5 minutes until my train home and I don't think I could beat GoogleEarth, especially as the bus dropped me somewhere different... Everytime I go into Perth I miss someform of connecting transport and I began to wonder if this was some kind of ploy by the Perth and Kinross council to make you explore more of the city. There was a good hour and forty-five minutes before the next train north but the sun was still shining, my camera was fully charged and I hadn't finished my book. As I wandered along the waterfront I eyed up several nooks and crannies but I noticed a certain little garden on the other side of the river which I decided would be my base for the next hour at least. I perched on a staircase and sat and read in the sun as jet-ski's flew past on the river. It was the most relaxed I had felt in such a long time, sitting in the sun and making an everyday feel like a holiday.

My Spot

02/04/12Home Comforts

Heading North
My Local Chippy (& a Patty Supper)

The Dog

My Dear Cleo
Expriencing all the seasons

Central heating ;)

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