Camp sites in the UK are prohibitively expensive during summer. I’m writing this from one right now. Two metres to my right is a caravan – over the hedge are screaming kids, and the other sides – much the same. We’re not on the shores of a world wonder or anything – this is just for a random spot in the middle of nowhere. Our view is of campervans and hedges. For the joy of this, we’re paying £52 for two nights. At time of writing, that’s NZ$122 for two nights at a camp site for two adults. Because of this, we only visit camp sites to use the power and internet and get our blogs up to date. Here, it’s £8 a day for internet. So add £32 for both of our two days of internet and you’re looking at a grand total of NZ$197 for two adults for two nights on a camp site. Absolutely batshit. So when the rules say “you must leave at 12pm” – we leave on the dot of 12pm. Though it is generally worse than being parked on the side of the road, we’re getting our money’s worth dammit! This is my long way of saying, we left the Forfar campsite at 12pm.
We drove a minute or so in to Forfar proper. We headed over to the Meffan Institute and Art Gallery, just off Forfar centre (though we checked every other corner of the town first, accidentally). We’d read it had some great stuff on the Picts, the first settlers of Scotland. It did. It also had some great kitsch shop fronts in the style of early Forfar merchants. Around a corner we walked, and there on real paving stones we were on this re-created street – the shoemaker was whistling, the chap on the loom was sighing – it was all go. Even the witch was pleading for her life – unexpected, well done and pretty cute too. They also had a huge gallery of local sports team photos from the ’70s. So ’70s! Loved it – and so local; loved it more.
The gallery had an exhibit by Robert Mach, a Scottish chap who’d found a use for all those foil chocolate wrappers – covering stuff with them. I have no doubt you’ve enjoyed smoothing foil chocolate wrappers out at some point in your life – this guy just took it to the logical next step. Interesting and fun, I won’t slap one in here because COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT but here’s a thing.
We had heard a bit about this Forfar Bridie. It’s a savoury pastry invention, much like a pie. We saw in the museum that the authentic ones are shaped like horseshoes; we picked one up at a butcher with the dimensions of a brick. Inside the envelope of thick puff pastry sits a bit of mince and fried onion. World famous? Well, with a pastry to filling ratio of at best 50/50, it depends how you like your pies. I thought it was mindblowingly awesome while I ate it, but I felt like crap for the afternoon – so maybe we should be careful what we wish for.
We ate the Bridie outside the ruins of Restenneth Priory, just outside Forfar – unfortunately close to the county tip. It was free to visit – which was nice, because it was a classic Historic Scotland spot – a pile’o’bricks. A tower and some walls, honestly I forget the significance unfortunately.
We headed down the road to the House of Dun – an old estate owned by the National Trust of Scotland.
We have a Heritage New Zealand membership. Though both Kate and I have been paying for a National Trust of England membership as well because we are idiots, we are using the Heritage New Zealand membership card to visit properties on this trip. Unfortunately the card is of the low budget variety, and one visit to the wallet saw all pertinent details on the card embedding themselves into the wallet instead. Consequently we have this moment with every National Trust employee – an inspection of our card with no identifying information on it, and they have to decide whether we really are legitimate Heritage New Zealand members. I can’t think of too many penny-pinching thieves who’d bother to fake entry to a National Trust property, but some people take their door-guarding job seriously. We came upon one at the House of Dun. Honestly I thought she’d make us pay £20! But in the end she hadn’t the gumption to call us out, and in we went.
Access to the house was by guided tour only, so a small group of us were led around by a nice Scottish girl. Unfortunately they don’t allow photos inside the houses in Scotland, but the place was pretty tidy. Everything was symmetrical when it was built, and it was full of fake doors to ‘balance rooms’. Being on the tour is a nice way to go around, you get more context on the place, and it forces you to appreciate things for longer. But at the cost of freedom! From the 1940s to the ’80s the place was converted in to a hotel for hunting parties.
In the stairwell of the castle the walls were adorned with terrible family portraits. Inhuman, terrible portraits. Our tour guide explained these were produced by travelling artists. The artists would have pre-painted bodies, and would take a quick sketch of the person then paint them in to the pre-done body – so often the combination was really quite bizarre! They’re quite fun to try and spot, now we’re in the know. In one of the other castles we’ve been to, they had a picture of the Laird and his wife – but they never met the guys wife. The solution? Just do a feminine version of the Laird! Some rudimentary knowledge of genetics there, the poor woman.
After our visit we went on a small loop walk, over a stream and to the family/estate cemetery. It’s next to a big wall and an arch – all that was left of the original tower house. On all the old gravestones we noticed that instead of opening with ‘PERSON’S NAME’ they open with ‘Erected by:’. The first focus is on the person doing the honouring, not the deceased. The only logic I can see in that is personal vanity, maybe showing off how good a headstone you can afford for your loved ones? Weird anyway, glad that practice stopped!
For the evening we headed out to St Cyrus along the coast. Unfortunately we came across a height barrier on the car park, and ended up heading further inland to a picnic spot outside Edzell.
At both ends of the parking area, council signs said ‘NO CAMPING’ – we figured we were just parking overnight, not camping – so we’re cool.
Later in the evening a chap parked up with two young boys. Out came the huge family tent, right beneath the NO CAMPING signs. Firewood was collected and a smoky fire lit for cooking dinner. We quite loved the finger to the man. An old couple pulled up later, walking their dog. Being disapproving old people, they did that old person disapproval thing where they just stand there staring, staring at the dude with his fire.