This weekend I completed my first joint travel blogger collaboration with #Scotlanders. For our launch campaign we took to the streets of Dundee to discover what this often overlooked Scottish city has to offer. Our aim was to showcase the many interesting faces of the city with each of us focusing on a particular theme.
While my fellow #Scotlanders enjoyed a diverse range of activities from archery to visiting a cruise ship, I was tasked with uncovering Dundee's developing culinary layers, which is very topical as this is the Year of Food and Drink in Scotland.
Best known for it's foodie contributions of cake and cow pie, the city has an ever expanding range of restaurants and cuisine to match the expanding building plans and predicted tourism growth. The new kids on the block sit happily beside the traditional offerings and this sums up Dundee itself, a city with grand modern design plans that will complement the industrial history and heritage.
If it's food heritage you're looking for then Dundee Cake and Mackays Marmalade are thriving examples of traditional fare with provenance.
I don't know of any other city in Scotland that has a cake named after it so I was feeling quite smug when I found out that I would not only get to sample one of these famous plump, fruity creations but I would also be involved in the baking process. I was also delighted that my lesson would take place at Clark's 24 hour Bakery, a legendary food takeaway in Dundee which I missed on my last visit.
Clark's Bakery has it's own historical roots in the city and is currently being run by the third generation of the same family. My Dundee cake baking session was with Alan Clark, whose father established the bakery in 1950.
For those that haven't tried it, Dundee cake is a rich, fruity cake containing sultanas, candied peel and topped with almonds. It's origins in the city are said to date back hundreds of years to the kitchens of marmalade inventor Janet Keiller and although still a local specialty of Dundee bakers it is now mass produced and sold widely by supermarkets who don't necessarily follow the accepted recipe.
There is currently a bid to give this local creation Protected Geographical Indicator Status (PGI). This means that only Dundee Cakes made in Dundee and following a traditional recipe can legally be called Dundee Cake and ensures that you are buying and eating an authentic product and local producers are being supported.
MACKAYS DUNDEE MARMALADE
Mackays are the only remaining producers of Dundee Orange Marmalade in the Dundee area, which also happens to be referred to as the home of marmalade. Mackays are proud of the heritage of their product and continue to make the marmalade in the traditional way in copper pans and sourcing the world’s best bitter oranges from Seville in Spain. Sticking to historic production methods seems to have paid off as Mackays are the largest producer of traditionally manufactured marmalades and preserves in the world!
The branding of their product with the city name and the logo 'Made The Authentic Way' have ensured this classic orange preserve remains a favourite on breakfast tables across the country and helps to promote the city and it's heritage far and wide.
A more recent edition to the Dundee food and drink scene is MòR Brewery, established in 2012 and based in the village of Kellas on the outskirts of the city, this microbrewery has brought it's unique Scottish ale with humour to the ever growing market of craft beers.
MòR means 'big' or 'great' in Gaelic and the big plans for this small brewery were brought to life by former Broughty Ferry lifeboat coxswain Jim Hughan and business partner Ross Niven. The word MòR (pronounced more) has enabled then to come up with a witty range of names for their ales such as 'MòR-ish' and 'MòR Tea, Vicar?' which are not only sold in an increasing number of pubs but also sold by the bottle in stores such as Aldi and Spar. It's good to see that Dundee businesses are not only great at preserving heritage but also competing in emerging food and drink markets and from my own personal point of view I'm glad that I have a something local to wash down my cake with! I'm sure I'm not the first person to say "Can I have some MòR Please?"
This year was my first time visiting StAnza, Scotland's International Poetry Festival, in fact it was my first time visiting a poetry event of any type. I had a fantastic weekend and hopefully I can share some of the tips that I picked up so you can have a fantastic time too. So here is my First Timers Guide to Visiting StAnza...
Where does StAnza take place?
In the historic and picturesque town of St Andrews which is situated in the region of Fife on the east coast of Scotland. St Andrews is 'The Home of Golf' and the third-oldest English-speaking university in the world which was founded in 1413. it is also legend that the bones of St Andrew were brought here, hence the name.
When does it takes place?
The festival takes place in March and has just celebrated it's 18th year.
What does StAnza mean?
Stanza is a poetry term which in this case has been carefully branded with the St and A of St Andrews. If you look at the festival logo then you will see that the A has also been designed to look like the St Andrews Cross (the flag of Scotland).
As a poetry term www.shmoop.com describes a stanza as 'A division within a poem where a group of lines are formed into a unit. The word “stanza” comes from the Italian word for “room.” Just like a room, a poetic stanza is set apart on a page by four “walls” of blank, white space.'
Why should I visit?
This is the perfect chilled out festival and St Andrews is the perfect Scottish short break destination. Combine the two and you will have an amazingly relaxed and unique experience.
Who is this festival suitable for?
Families, couples, friends or solo travellers will feel equally at home and welcome with events for all tastes. Even if you don't have any poetry knowledge you may be surprised at how accessible many of the events are. If you enjoy live performances such as plays or storytelling then you will most likely enjoy live poetry too.
How do I get there?
Bus - There is a bus station in the town centre and you can catch a Stagecoach bus from Edinburgh or Glasgow, see their website for more details https://www.stagecoachbus.com/
Train - St Andrews doesn't have it's own train station, instead you will have to travel to Leuchars station (6 miles away) and complete your journey by bus or taxi. Train information can be found on the ScotRail website at http://www.scotrail.co.uk/
Car - St Andrews is easily accessible by car from all the main cities in Scotland. The St Andrews University website has some suggested driving routes, be warned though if you decide to drive then finding a parking place in the town centre at peak times is not easy (understatement!) and paid parking meters are in operation which have a maximum stay time of 2 hours. The Visit St Andrews website has information on the best places to park for free and current parking restrictions.
Where should I stay?
St Andrews has accommodation to suit all budgets and there are some fabulous high end hotels if you are looking for some luxury. I always use TripAdvisor as a great guide for honest hotel reviews and they have a handy list of the best St Andrews Hotels which is worth looking at before you book.
I spent the first weekend in March staying in the beautiful and characterful town of St Andrews on the east coast. I was there to blog about StAnza, Scotland's International Poetry Festival, which takes place each year in this historic Royal Burgh and makes an ideal relaxing weekend break with a difference.
St Andrews is 'The Home of Golf' and the third-oldest English-speaking university in the world which was founded in 1413. it is also legend that the bones of St Andrew were brought here, hence the name.
It is a small town and it is easy to visit all the main attractions including world class beaches, castle, cathedral, university, golf courses, boutique shops, historic streets and picturesque harbour over a couple of days.
In between poetry shows I still had plenty of time to explore the sites and take plenty of photographs and decided to share some of my favourites with you, enjoy!
StAnza must be a contender for Scotland's most chilled out festival. The main hub and gathering place is The Byre Theatre where performers, organisers and audience members can be found mingling casually over coffee or a glass of wine.
As someone attending the festival alone and for the first time I didn't feel in the least bit intimidated, in fact I immediately felt welcome and at home. Between performances and over dinner I got chatting to people from an interesting variety of backgrounds and they all somehow felt like long lost friends. Having returned from the festival a few days ago, the feeling of homeliness and friendliness is still my overriding impression of StAnza and my weekend in St Andrews.
It is easy to have pre-conceived ideas about what a poetry festival might consist of or dismiss it as too arty or boring, certainly when I told people what I was going to be doing over the weekend not one of them said 'Wow, that sounds awesome!' (maybe I need to get more cultured friends). As it turns out a poetry festival is a mixture of music, comedy and storytelling all rolled into one and much more accessible to the masses than you might first think.
My philosophy in life is to approach things with an open mind as the best experiences often come from the most unexpected places and it turns out StAnza is one of those places, as I loved the experience from start to finish and will certainly return for a future visit.
Aside from the genuine friendly, laid-back atmosphere, it was the poets and their performances that really made this event for me. I went to 5 very different shows and enjoyed every one of them for different reasons.
My introduction to the festival saw me casually chilling out with a pie and a pint at one of the excellent Poetry Cafe events, which are ideal for poetry festival newbies like me. Erin Fornoff, a spoken word poet, had me quickly captivated with her emotional performance and stories of her life growing up in the Appalachian Mountains before a transition across the Atlantic to Dublin and an unfortunate casting couch experience.
By coincidence I ended up sharing my dinner table and conversation with Erin later that evening and it was this kind of informal, accessible atmosphere where everyone ate, drank and chatted together that made StAnza so memorable and unique for me.
I'm a big fan of walking tours, there is nothing better than a local guide pointing out the hidden gems and nooks and crannies of a place that are all too easy to miss if you don't know where to look. Good walking tours bring local history to life and leave you with some great stories to take home and share.
Having never been to Linlithgow as a 'tourist', I jumped at the opportunity to join a guided historic walking tour of this royal burgh with Mary's Meanders, who not only specialise in telling intriguing local tales about Linlithgow itself but are also experts on Outlander filming locations in the area.
Emma, the owner of Mary's Meanders, had invited a group of tourism specialists and travel bloggers to sample her walking tour and to showcase some of the great things that Linlithgow has to offer. It was fantastic to spend a day out with so many people passionate about Scottish tourism and of course some fab fellow bloggers!
Our knowledgeable guide for the hour was Anne who has lived in the town for 20 years. Her passion and enthusiasm for Linlithgow were obvious and her warm, down to earth personality made her the perfect group host.
As we navigated our way past characterful buildings, weathered plaques and significant statues we learned the stories behind them and some well known facts about the town such as it being the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots, however I also learned plenty of new trivia, like why you are called a 'Black Bitch' if you are born in Linlithgow and which well known politician would be proud if you called them one!
Not surprisingly the tour ended up at Linlithgow Palace, which despite being a ruin, still commands impressively over the town. Anne provided an informative narrative history of this former royal retreat and as an Outlander fan I was delighted when she took us into the dark depths of the building to show us where scenes from the TV series were filmed when it was used as the interior of Wentworth Prison.
If you are an Outlander fan then you will be excited to know that Mary's Meanders will also be running Outlander tours and Taste of Outlander dinner shows this year.
This year I spent a rather romantic Valentine's night checking out Glasgow's latest winter festival, The Electric Gardens. From 23rd January to the 15th February the Botanic Gardens and the iconic Victorian Kibble Palace were transformed by a display of colourful lights and accompanying soundtrack.
It was a nice way to spend an alternative evening out in the trendy west-end of the city and I also think that the concept of the festival fits in perfectly with the gradual colourful night time transformation of Glasgow city centre over the past few years.
This was the first year of the event and I did think there was scope for improvement, however with the recent announcement that it will return next year I am already looking forward to bigger and better things.
One question I am asked over and over again is about the best way to see a lot of Scotland in a short space of time. I always recommend small group tours as they are economical, take you to the most popular tourist sites and the guides keep you informed and entertained as you sit back, relax and enjoy the scenery.
Most people coming to Scotland want to visit the Highlands, even if they are on a city break. If you only have a day to spare then you are pretty restricted in where you can visit as transport in the Highlands is limited and being such a vast area means that unless you have a car seeing much of it in a day is impossible. This is where group tours come into their own as you can explore large parts of the country in hours rather than days.
Rabbie's is one of the most popular small group tour operators in Scotland and I really enjoyed taking a day tour with them last year to visit Stirling, Loch Lomond and Glengoyne whisky distillery. Deciding it was time to check out a different route, I opted for their longest day tour which takes you all the way from Glasgow to Loch Ness and back in 12 hours. This is the ultimate day tour if you want to go Nessie hunting or admire many of the mountain peaks and lochs of Scotland.
An early start in Glasgow and I was joined by a full bus of fellow tourists from countries as diverse as Brazil, China, India and the Netherlands. There were also a few tourists from closer to home including a couple of fellow Glaswegians. As we left the city behind and headed along the open road past Loch Lomond, I enjoyed watching the faces of my fellow passengers light up as they got their first glimpse of the mountain and loch scenery that Scotland is famous for. With the fitting soundtrack of Runrig and Loch Lomond being played as we rolled along, our driver/guide Tony regaled us with tales of Jacobites, Sir Walter Scott and some trivia about the many islands that are dotted around the loch itself.
Several suitably picturesque photo stops later and we were entering into the impressive landscape of Glencoe. This is the reason many people choose to take this particular trip and phones, cameras and tablets were being well utilised to capture the famous panorama. There was also much excitement among the group when we were able to get out of the bus and up close to a herd of red deer thanks to our knowledgeable driver.
With the weather haunting and gloomy we learned the history behind the notorious Glencoe massacre which had taken place that very same day in 1692 making our visit there all the more poignant.
I am not a poet, I don't read huge amounts of poetry and I'm not up to date with the latest poets in vogue. Neither do I dislike poetry, there is plenty of poetry that I enjoy and I don't even mind admitting that I admire Eminem as a lyrical genius.
So what does a poetry festival have to offer the likes of me and the plenty of you out there that fall into my camp? Does a poetry festival have something to offer everyone? Well in a fortnight's time I will be finding out as I head to StAnza as their blogger in residence.
StAnza is Scotland's International Poetry Festival, which this year will be celebrating it's 18th anniversary in St Andrews. In my experience the great thing about any festival is there is always something for everyone and as their blogger in residence I will be attending a wide variety of events and reporting back with my
recommendations to help you plan your own visit depending on your interests.
I will be also be exploring other things to do in St Andrews for those wanting to combine a stay in the area with some festival shows.
StAnza runs from 4th to the 8th of March 2015 and you can find out about the many events and shows by looking up their online program. You can also follow social media updates (including my own) by searching on #StAnza15.
Have you been to StAnza or are you planning to go? As always I would love to hear your tips and advice and of course the best places to visit in St Andrews,
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