Travel Eats: Smoked Fish and Bagpipes

In the summer of 2019 we spent two weeks in Scotland.

My wife and daughter are competitive Highland Dancers with a dance school here in Canada, and every four years or so the school makes the trip overseas with a busload of dancers, parents, and teachers to participate in an authentic Scottish Highland Games.

They all get to stress about dance. I get to wander around, take photos, and eat interesting foods.

for whatever one photo is worth:

In early August 2019 I found myself on a rain-soaked morning meandering around the muddy grass of Strathallan Games Park in Bridge of Allan, UK, where the annual Bridge of Allan Highland Games are held in the shadow of the Wallace Monument towering in the misty, rolling hills a few kilometers away.

The games themselves are wrapped around a race track. Running and cycling field events that happen on the track itself are more modern additions to the more familiar caber tossing and hammer throws that take place midfield. The dancers huddle around a stage at one end of the inside field, the bagpipe bands set up at the far opposite end (though their warmup hum can be heard forever away.) Scattered in the empty spaces between food and craft vendors find customers like me wandering through the games action.

The column of smoke can be seen from nearly everywhere, and I found myself organically attracted to the action to see what was cooking at its base.

From an article on the website itself this is what I found:

Arbroath Smokies are famed throughout Britain and beyond for their wonderful flavour and smooth, flaky texture. For those new to this particular delicacy, smokies are smoked haddock, prepared according to highly traditional methods by a number of producers in and around the wee North East fishing community of Arbroath.

I stood at the back of a very long line and when I reached the front I ordered two.

Delicious. Amazing. Perfect food for a perfect morning.

If (or when) we return for another Highland Games in a couple years, I’ll be saving some room for a second round.

I’m a huge fan of smoked fish… which is a difficult kind of fan to be when you live in a city on the land-locked Canadian prairies. I’ve been thinking a lot about cooking (and maybe even smoking) fish over an open fire. In an upcoming sequel and follow-up post to my Suburban Fire Craft (Part One), I recently purchased a new movable fire pit for my backyard. I’ll be doing some cooking on it (so long as the weather cooperates) this coming weekend and writing about it here. It probably will not be fish. I’ll save that for when I’ve practiced a bit more. It will be backyard cooking over an open fire, though, and that’s almost as exciting as a day of Highland Games.

Almost.

Now, obviously, my new fire bowl isn’t an old whiskey barrel, nor is it the foundation for a multi-generational history of smoking famous fish. But my neighbours might soon be wondering what cooking at the base of a column of smoke from my backyard. I’ll save the bagpipes for another year.

Camping: Of Annual Adventures Gone Awry

It’s Travel Tuesday and once again I’m reminded of the challenge of living through a global pandemic and a life dismantled by a thousand small cuts. You see, each year with — the exception of last year — we usually go camping with a small group of families.

Eight adults. The same number of too-rapidly-growing-up kids. Pets. Tents. Campfires. Walks in the woods. Weather. Lakes. Crafts. Bike rides. Outhouses. And whatever new adventure strikes.

I’m wondering today if this bit of local travel is one more of those cuts.

for whatever one photo is worth:

This past weekend as the rolling summer booking window started to traverse those optimal summer camping months, The Email made its rounds to the families:

What’s the plan for 2021? Y’know… with COVID and all that?

It was a long weekend in late-June and despite the pouring rain upon our arrival, we set up the tents and tried our best to keep our gear dry. We have a lightweight backpacking tent that sleeps three, but a huge truck-camping tent that would make up a hundred and fifty percent of my backpacking carry weight, but lugs out of the truck box easy enough and is rainproof enough to tolerate most of the seasonal weather.

I had pulled up my photo software and was poking nostalgically through some of my old photos of the last time we went out with that group. Kid cooking marshmallows. A day at the lake-side beach.

We’re being cautiously optimistic, the first reply came through, but we might cancel at the last minute if things don’t get better.

Cut?

We cooked that first night over a hot-spitting fire, fending off the dwindling rain with some steaming cast iron pans. This may have been the exact weekend when some beer-fueled conversations about my collection of pans inspired the registration of a domain name and would a year and a half later kick off a daily blog you may have heard about somewhere.

I just don’t think that I could keep my distance for an entire weekend while out there with everybody, came a second reply a half hour later. It would be really tough. Thanks for understanding.

Cut.

I have any number of summer plans, but one weekend with friends in a remote campsite still seemed like a safe bet.

Or maybe not.

Cut.

Perhaps there will be just the four of us, a fire, a tent, and some lonely cast iron over a gently smouldering fire.

The Other End of the Rainbow

Today is St. Patrick’s day here and I’m reminded that in 2019 I spent a weekend and a week in Dublin, Ireland.

I break it up that way on purpose. A weekend and a week. The family and I were on a group trip with my daughter’s dance school through Scotland and Ireland. I went ahead of the group to Ireland a full weekend ahead of the rest of the group so that I could run a half marathon through Dublin. They showed up on Sunday evening and we spent another week touristing.

I got out of the cab from my airport to the hotel and took this single photo.

for whatever one photo is worth:

It was raining when I left Scotland and raining still when we landed at the Dublin airport.

First impressions are often lasting.

I’d been crammed into a RyanAir flight from Glasgow to Dublin, snagged the window so I could breath, and also breathe in the view of the lush green of the Irish countryside on our approach.

I was travelling light. A change of clothes. Some personal kit. My running gear. A GoPro. My one small suitcase came off the luggage carousel (almost) first, and I quickstepped out into the taxi queue to find a ride to Chapelizod, a village suburb of Dublin where I’d booked my country-style hotel fit for my budget-conscious side-trip.

My first time in Dublin. My first hour in Ireland.

I paid the cabbie, stepped out into the small parking lot outside the hotel, and looked at the rain clouds drifting and clearing behind me to the east.

A rainbow.

I doubt I could have felt more of a stereotyped welcome to Ireland than a rainbow …unless perhaps a leprechaun had dashed across the street behind me.

I snapped this selfie and sent it back to my family to let them know I’d arrived safely, checked in, and then likely went to find a pint of something.

One Last Trek

During the summer of 2017 we travelled with friends just across the Alberta-British Columbia border to one of the highest peaks in Canada, Mount Robson and to climb the Berg Lake trail.

Lucky those friends came along, because they remembered to bring something we forgot: strong tape.

for whatever one photo is worth:

Good boots are one of the most important pieces of hiking equipment you can own if you are a serious backpacker.

Pictured are not my boots.

They were the boots that belonged to my wife.

And up until they crumbled on the trail they were good boots. They were, in fact, fantastic boots… when she bought them as a teenager nearly twenty years before that hike.

They were even reasonably solid pieces of equipment for the first three days of our adventure, hiking all twenty-some kilometers up the mountain, and then accumulating another twenty or so klicks on the day-hiking trails near the campsite.

The problem with old equipment though is that every day that you use it, more wear and tear accumulates, more seams are exposed to the elements, more aging glues and stitches weaken, and more chances loom for failure.

Her boots failed just as we started our downward hike back towards home.

At the top of the mountain, these boots looked like the good boots they had been for two decades. At the bottom of the mountain I took this photo and then we dropped them in a nearby trash bin.

Every couple of kilometers we would stop and I would sit at my wife’s feet wrapping them as tightly and securely as I could with a borrowed roll of tape. The glue under between the tread and toe had failed and like an ill-timed puppet show, began flapping open like a mouth at with each and every step.

The takeaway lesson of these fall-apart boots was not that equipment fails, but rather that you never know when equipment might fail, and being properly prepared means expecting failure and setting yourself up to avoid or mitigate the negative results of that failure…

…like carrying tape, or not hiking in twenty-year old boots that might fall apart.