Friday, March 31, 2017

March 31, 2017. Quiet day in the Kingdom of Fife

LOCATION:  Housesitting outside of Cupar, Fife, Scotland

WEATHER:  Strange.  Periods of sun, then terrific wind, then rain, repeat.  Highs in 40s


At this housesit, we are taking care of two sociable cats.  We learned that all cats in Scotland have a microchip embedded in them.  Here, the homeowners have a cat door so the cats can come and go.  The cat door is coded so that only they, with their microchips, can enter. This keeps out stray cats, etc.  Brilliant!

As with every housesitting assignment, we split up our duties.  I'm always in charge of the cats.  I feed them, give them fresh water, clean their litter boxes, etc.  But, just like in every assignment, they seem to gravitate toward George.  Here is one of them cuddling with him as he reads.
Here is the cat again perched on the refrigerator, claiming her role as "queen of the house".

We are also taking care of 3 chickens.  The homeowners bought the chicks and pen just a few months ago.  The pen is on wheels.  We move it every 3-4 days as the chickens peck and scratch up the grass a lot.  It is a very good system.  Every morning, they faithfully each lay an egg.

They climb up into their pen to lay the eggs.  

In the afternoon, we went into the town of Cupar, two miles away.  We went to the local butcher shop to buy some chops to cook on the grill.  I just love butcher shops in other countries.

In addition to all sorts of meats (some of them unidentifiable), they have beautiful pies.  This butcher shop won the Scotch Pie award in 2017.
After our purchase, we stopped at the local pub for a pint.  We sat next to a guy at the bar  that wanted to talk a lot.  Almost everyone we talk with immediately recognizes our USA accent and then talk about what states they have visited.  Or, they want to talk about Trump.  We try to steer clear of that.    

Cupar, like other villages, has won awards for its flowers.  Here the local Rotary Club sponsors an arrangement.

Back home, we took our neighbor John a few extra eggs.  We can't keep up with 3 new ones a day. He then came over for a wee dram and brought us a rainbow trout he had caught earlier in the day.  Wow!    

DINNER:  We will save the chops for another night, and instead grilled the trout.  It was wonderful.  I baked it in aluminum foil with a slice of smoky bacon in it.  Yum!

March 30, 2017. A day at whisky distilleries!

LOCATION:  House-sitting outside of Cupar, Kingdom of Fife, Scotland

WEATHER:  Cloudy.  Occasional rain.  Highs in 50s


As with yesterday, today's weather forecast was not too pleasant, so we planned a day at a distillery.  We decided to go to the one that our homeowner likes, with the plan to buy him a bottle.   The distillery is in a really pretty town about 40 minutes away.  It is beyond Fife.  It was interesting how the scenery changed.   Farmland turned into mountains and forests.  There were lots of beautiful rivers with fishermen in waders trying to snag a trout.  
The distillery was established in 1798.  About 5% of its production becomes single malt.  The rest goes into different blends, mostly Bell's.  
The air reeked of whisky.  (Yes - whisky, not whiskey, as it is spelled here).  Our tour guide had us turn off all our phones, iPads etc due to a risk of fire in such an alchohol-fume area.  

Our tour guide was excellent.  We were with a bunch of Chinese.  One could speak English so translated everything the tour guide said.  The best part of the tour, of course, was the wee dram tasting afterwards.  

The town is full of huge mansions, many of which are now hotels or B&Bs.  

We had taken the express route to get to this area, but the tour information office gave us an alternate route to return home that is the more scenic route.


It was indeed more scenic, but took us more than 2 hours!  As we were driving along in the middle of nowhere, out of the blue appears Dewars Distillery!

We were too late for a tour but tasted both their blend and a single malt.....just a wee wee bit as we didn't pay for a tour.  Enough to get an idea of their tastes.  Mr. Dewar must have been quite the quipper.  The sign on the door above says..."The only thing you get in a hurry is trouble".  Good one.  And the one below is so true....

The scenery around the distillery is very pretty, including a river that runs through it, providing the water source for the whisky.

We must have spotted 25 male pheasants as we drove along. They are so beautiful.


DINNER:  Tortellini in pasta sauce.     After dinner, we watched a very old BBC show on the ipad called "To the Manor Born" in honor of all the beautiful old mansions we saw today.    

Thursday, March 30, 2017

March 29, 2017. An afternoon at the brewery

LOCATION:  Housesitting outside of Cupar, Fife, Scotland

WEATHER:  Grey and foggy in the AM; Rain in the PM.  Highs about 40


The weather forecast proved true.  Since we knew it was not going to be a good day for outdoor activities, we had booked a tour of the brewery outside of St. Andrews for the afternoon.    

In the morning, we played with our two cats that we are caring for...

After lunch, we drove to the brewery.  We have rented this little Vauxhall.  It gets about 55 mph.  It has 6 gears, manual transmission, and of course right-hand drive.  I admire George for being able to shift gears with his left hand.  The only problem is that for some reason, the car stalls out, usually right at the worst time, such as in the middle of a round-about!  

The brewery tour was one of the best we have been on.  It was just another couple, Scottish, and us.  The guide was very down-to-earth.  It is a tiny microbrewery, although their business is expanding. Their beer is quite popular.  They still hand-bottle the beer, two bottles at a time.

They also make gin here. It, too, is bottled two bottles at a time....

The brewery owns a farm and the happy pigs and cows get to eat the spent grains.

After a stop at the supermarket, and a feeding for the chickens, we tucked in for the day.  We made a fire in the fireplace....very cozy.    

DINNER:  Cumberland sausages with potatoes and stir-fry veg.  I don't know what Cumberland sausages are, but they are the most popular ones around here.  I've seen them a lot on menus.


After dinner, we played a round of pool in front of another fireplace.  I lost, of course, to this pool shark.....

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

March 28, 2017. Checking out villages on Fife's North Sea Coast

LOCATION:  Housesitting outside of Cupar, Fife, Scotland

WEATHER:  We lost our sunshine.  Cloudy.  Much cooler.  Highs in 40s

We drove back to the North Sea coast, about 5 miles, to explore some more fishing villages.  The first village we went to has a fish & chips shop that has won "best in the UK" for several years.  We split a haddock basket.  We are trying to figure out the difference between breaded, crumbed and battered.  Anyone know?  George got some "mushy peas" on the side.  They tasted like baby food to me.    

We walked along the waterfront, and stopped at a pub to warm up (and of course to have a pint)

It was very quaint, with just a few retired fishermen having a pint.
The harbour is very picturesque.  Just a little fishing these days.
From Anstruther, we drove about 3 miles to the next fishing village called Crail.  It is one of the oldest along the coast.  It, too, is very quaint.  We stopped at this tea shop for a coffee.  It used to be a fisherman's cottage.

On our way home, we stopped at "Scotland's Best Kept Secret" --- a huge bunker built in the 1950s to house people in the event of a nuclear war.  It was really eery.  Defense personnel lived and worked there for about 5 years, tracking Soviet missiles.  



I picked up some tourist brochures and was reading through them when I spotted some amazingly terrible spelling/punctuation.  I've noticed that writers tend to leave off apostrophes quite a bit here.  This brochure (about the Queen's holiday castle no less) reads....."This is one of the countries most important habitats......".  AARGH!    Should be "the country's most important habitats! Don't these publishers have proofreaders? ! ?!

Then, in the evening, Bill Bryson, one of my favorite authors, wrote about the same thing... the appalling grammar and punctuation of these pamphlets. Quite a coincidence.  I'm reading his book "Notes from a Small Island", a book about his travels around Great Britain about 40 years ago.


DINNER:  Leftover mushroom sauce served over sautéed polenta slices.  

March 27, 2017. A day of history

LOCATION:  Housesitting on a farm outside of Cupar, Fife, Scotland

WEATHER:  Another beautiful sunny day. High around 60


The morning flew by working on hotel plans for Italy and France.   We had a hard time finding a place to stay in Milan.  We think our dates coincide, unluckily, with the Gran Prix. We finally found an "albergo" in a suburb.


Then, we were off again.  We are taking advantage of these sunny days while they last.  Today, our destination was Falklands, an official "royal burgh" about 20 miles from here.  It was built in the 1500s and was the holiday house for the Stuart royalty, and especially for Mary Queen of Scots.  They liked this house/castle because of the hunting in the nearby forest.

We learned that the king and queen always traveled with all their furniture.  When they were not here in this palace, the place was empty.  They brought this kind of furniture, that would dissemble, every time they visited.

We had an amazing lunch in an obscure pub.....crab and prawns wrapped up in a filet of smoked salmon. 

Then, we returned to the palace to stroll around the gardens.  Volunteers were busily preparing for summer.

Next to the gardens is the world's oldest tennis court.  The king had it built there for his pleaseure about 500 years ago.
We strolled around the village.  Many of the houses have these marriage lintels above the doors of their houses.  These were placed there when a couple got married and moved into their first house together.  This one has a date of 1771...

And this one has a plaque wishing contentment and great riches. 

The town has escaped modernization and has won awards for its flowers in the spring.

Back home, we sat outside in the sunshine, watching the chickens snack on some vegetable scraps.    

DINNER:  I made a cheesy cream of cauliflower soup. I kind of made it up, and it turned out beautifully.  

Then, we enjoyed another beautiful sunset.  This area is away from city lights, so the night sky is always beautiful.



Monday, March 27, 2017

March 26, 2017. Hiking the Fife Coast Trail

LOCATION:  Housesitting in Cupar, Fife, Scotland.

WEATHER:  Another beautiful day.  Sunny. Highs about 60

A bit about this housesit....   We are about 30 miles north of Edinburgh.  The closest town is Cupar, with a population of about 9000.  Our housesit is about 3 miles outside of Cupar, in the middle of farmland.  
  There is a big house, that used to be the owner of all the property, then 4 small stone cottages where the farm workers used to live  The cottages were built in the early 1800s.  The previous owner of ours combined two of the cottages into one home.  So, there are several small rooms, including a pool room, an office, lounge, and bedrooms.  

On the backside there is a lovely conservatory.  On sunny days, it gets really toasty inside.  

For Mothers' Day today, George picked some daffodils for me.  He knows I would have been angry if he had actually paid cash for flowers!  This is the view inside the conservatory out to the backyard.  
This is the entrance on the backside.  
Our cottage is surrounded on three sides by a farm with cows, baby calves and one sheep. There are baby lambs in many of the nearby fields.  So cute!  

After doing some morning chores and eating a steak and kidney pie for lunch, we set off for the Fife coast.  The little fishing towns on the coast are very picturesque.  They are only about 15 miles away, but it takes awhile to get there, due to the tiny, windy roads.  

We parked in one town and then hiked along the coast trail to another fishing village, about 1.5 miles away.

Between the two towns is a swimming area, a small area walled off the North Sea.  A few people were actually swimming!  I'm sure the water never gets very warm there.  

We ended up in this village, then turned around.  There were a lot of people out, taking advantage of the sunny Mothers' Day.

Back home, we did some computer work, and looked at the weather forecast.  This nice weather is supposed to last another 2-3 days, then the rain will return.  We are going to try to do several hikes while the weather is nice, then will plan to visit a brewery and distillery on the rainy days.  Why not?


DINNER: Smoked Scottish salmon in a creamy papperdelle pasta sauce.  Spot on!    

Sunday, March 26, 2017

March 25, 2017. Day trip to St. Andrews

LOCATION:  Housesitting in rural Fife, Scotland.  Outside of Cupar.  About 1 hour north of Edinburgh.

WEATHER:  Glorious!  Sunny and highs in 60s


After morning chores, caring for the kittens and doing some laundry, we headed to St. Andrews, about 10 miles away.  We took the back roads getting lost only one time.  We foolishing ignored a "road closed" sign and had to do a u-turn on a narrow country lane.  

St. Andrews is a historic town.  It has beautiful old architecture.  One of its most famous buildings is the remnants of the cathedral, built in the 1300s.

We followed the harbour (North Sea) wall, and approached remains of a 1300ish castle.

The daffodils and cherry blossoms are in full bloom.

The prestigious University of St. Andrews, built around the same time as Oxford and Cambridge in the 1400s, dominates the city.  Our homeowners both work here.  These are some of the buildings...

St. Andrews is probably most famous for its golf courses.  The "old course" is where the British Open is often played.  

This is the clubhouse, where only members can enter.  

I was surprised that the links are right in the city.  The course is right on the water.  A row of elegant hotels and restaurants face the links.


After a day there, we returned home.  The weather was so beautiful that we sat outside.  We invited our neighbor John over for a drink.  There are 3 adjoined stone cottages here, that were once the living quarters of the farmers working on this land, owned by the manor house. 

We said "hello" to other neighbors....

The calves are only a few days old.  

DINNER:  A chunky sauce made of sautéed mixed mushrooms, onions, carrot, celery and herbs, reduced in a white wine sauce.  Served over a few cheese tortellini.