Thursday, April 4, 2013

Out and about in Perthshire

As I mentioned in my previous post, I am not getting very much actual work done this week because it is the school hols, and in addition to my own two children I am entertaining a young visitor from our former home town of Bad M√ľnstereifel in Germany (where The Vanishing of Katharina Linden is set).   Naturally I don't want any of them to spend the week lying on the sofa (in spite of their best efforts, hem-hem), and I'd like to show our visitor some of the sights of Scotland. It is amazing, however, how quickly the costs of outings can skyrocket to an unmanageable extent, especially if there are four of you in the party. Edinburgh castle, for example, is completely out of the question because it would cost nearly 45 pounds for the four of us just to go in. So the reason for this blog post (which has very little to do with writing) is to say three cheers for those places that still offer a low cost day's entertainment for families.

On Tuesday we went to Huntingtower castle near Perth (pictured above left). This is the third time I have visited the castle and it never fails to entertain the kids. It is not a full-of-Louis-Quatorze-chairs type of castle; in fact there isn't a stick of furniture inside it. This makes it perhaps less interesting to adults but perfect for children because there is nothing to which they can apply their sticky fingers. Nor do they have to trail around listening to a tour guide; they can explore by themselves - though adult supervision is required on the roof because of the terrifying drop (not that I can quite manage "supervision" considering how terrified I am of heights; it tends to be more of a case of the children trying to coax me tremblingly along the battlements). Huntingtower castle has a super legend about a girl called Dorothea who made a death-defying ten foot leap from one tower to the other to avoid being caught in her boyfriend's bedroom. The children absolutely love this story and happily hang over the battlements measuring the gap with their eyes and wondering whether they could do it.

Speaking of legends, I must also say that an interest in local folklore and history really comes in handy when you are amusing a pack of children. A relatively ordinary walk can become far more exciting if you have some really nasty snippets of local legend to relate. Nearby Muthill had a horrible murder case back in the nineteenth century - you can read all about it here:’s-ma-haun…or-murder-most-foul
The murder came to light when a dog was seen trotting down the street with a human leg in its mouth, complete with stocking and shoe! That tale always goes down a storm with kids.

Leper squints are also popular with my kids (both Fowlis Wester church and Innerpeffray chapel have them); these are small windows that allowed lepers to watch the mass in a church without going inside and mingling with the other worshippers. We have peered through these on several occasions and felt a good deal of indignation imagining the poor lepers having to stand outside in all weathers, for the dubious benefit of seeing (but presumably not hearing) the service. I hope someone gave them a mug of hot soup afterwards but somehow I doubt it.

Finally, an extra special cheer for the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh, that still has free entrance (although you are encouraged to make a donation). We mainly went yesterday because we thought our German visitor would like it, and my daughter was inclined to say that she had been there loads of times already, but there is always something new to see, and yesterday was no exception. The Edinburgh Science Festival is on until 7th April so there were loads of interesting stands in the Grand Gallery. Last year the kids' favourite was a tank of freezing cold water into which you were invited to plunge your hand. I forget what it was that that experiment was meant to show, but they immensely enjoyed it anyway. This time the top attraction was the deep sea lander with camera for filming strange aquatic creatures at 6,000 metres (pictured below). Tom the friendly marine biologist infected us all with his boundless enthusiasm for bony deep sea fish - if I were not already a graveyard geek I could imagine becoming a fish nerd!

Possibly our very favourite things in the National Museum of Scotland are the displays of old technology. We never get tired of marvelling at the very first Apple home computer, which was basically a mother board for which you had to build your own casing and use a TV set for the screen! That was in 1976. My son whipped out his iPod and took a photograph of it, with 2013 Apple technology. I was about his age when the Apple One came out so I find it slightly mind-bending to see how far and how fast technology has come on.

We also love Communicate!, the exhibition about the development of communications. In fact, I would say that this is probably my favourite thing in the entire museum. It charts the history of communication technology over the last two hundred years, encompassing the telegraph, the telephone, the telex, mobile phones and the internet. The very first exhibit is this (below):

Back in 1820, this was the fastest method of communication, with a carrier pigeon able to get from Edinburgh to London in a matter of hours. "I think that's hilarious," said my son. I do too - I love the fact that there is a stuffed pigeon in the display case alongside the computers and phones! 

As I said at the beginning, all of this has very little to do with writing, but I wanted to tell you about it anyway. Thank you for listening!

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