December 31, 2015

Happy Hogmanay from Scotland

New Years Eve is celebrated around the world but here in Scotland we call it Hogmanay!


Edinburgh Castle Fireworks at Hogmanay (

There are many theories about the meaning of the word Hogmanay, and many believe we inherited the celebration from the Vikings.


Led by Shetland’s Up Helly Aa Vikings a torchlight procession through the centre of Edinburgh kicks of this year’s Hogmanay Celebrations (Image:BBC News)

Christmas was not celebrated in Scotland until fairly recently, after the Church Reformation in the 16th Century, the celebration of Christmas was frowned on by the Church of Scotland. Christmas Day was a normal working day for most people in Scotland and it was not a public holiday until 1958. As many Scots had to work over Christmas they came together as a family at New Year instead to celebrate the winter solstice holiday. The 1st and 2nd of January are public holidays in Scotland and Hogmanay remains an important celebration.

There are many customs both national and local associated with Hogmanay

Traditional customs before midnight are making sure the house is clean and families traditionally did a big clean to ready the house for the New Year. Sweeping out the fireplace to clear the ashes before midnight was very important as was making sure any debts where settled, it was considered back luck to have debts at New Year.

As the bells begin to strike twelve, somebody should let the old year out – open the back door and sweep it out. Then go to the front door and open it to welcome the New Year in.

A traditional greeting is:-

“Welcome in New Year!

When you come, bring good cheer!”

Immediately after midnight or the bells as we call it in Scotland it is traditional to sing Robert Burns “Auld Lang Syne” everyone stands in a circle and joins hands.

I think this rendition is beautiful

First footing- starts after midnight, this involves being the first person to cross the threshold of a friend or neighbour and often involves the giving of symbolic gifts such as salt, coal, shortbread, whisky and black bun (a rich fruit cake) intended to bring different kinds of luck to the householder. Traditionally a tall, dark handsome stranger had to be the first at the door to bring good luck for the year ahead.

Saining of the House – This is a very old rural tradition that involved blessing the house and livestock with water from a local stream, the inside of the house was also blessed room to room with a smouldering juniper branch and then the windows are opened.

Bonfires and Fire Festivals- Fireworks, torchlight processions and bonfires are common in Scotland at Hogmanay and in January and may come from ancient Pagan and Viking customs.

One of the most spectacular of these is here in the North East of Scotland -The Stonehaven Fireball Festival.

At the stroke of midnight local people swinging flaming wire cages, around their heads walk down Stonehaven High Street. The fireballs are then thrown in the harbour. The idea behind the ceremony is to burn off the bad spirits left from the old year so that the spirits of the New Year can come in clean and fresh.

All of the Celtic countries have a similar custom of lighting a candle to light the way of a stranger. In Scotland was the Oidche Choinnle, or Night of Candles. Candles were placed in every window to light the way for the Holy Family on Christmas Eve and First Footers on New Years Eve. Shopkeepers gave their customers Yule Candles as a symbol of goodwill wishing them a ‘Fire to warm you by, and a light to guide you’

It would not be Hogmanay for me without a good ceilidh dance so here is wee tune to see the year out, enjoy!

Bliadhna Mhath Ùr to you all, wishing you a very Happy New Year!



The Imperial War Museum, London

July 26, 2015

I love London, it is one of my favourite cities and with so much to see and do I always try to visit somewhere different each time be it an attraction or a museum. On my last visit to London, The Imperial War Museum was closed and undergoing a major refurbishment. It reopened in 2014 to coincide with the centenary of the start of the First World War. I made sure this time it was top of my list of must see places.

The Imperial War Museum was created in 1917 to collect and display material relating to World War I. In 1939 the Museum started adding artefacts from the Second World War and eventually it began its current policy of including memorabilia from all modern British conflict.


The museum has occupied the former Bethlem Royal Hospital also known as Bedlam on Lambeth Road since 1936. The 15-inch guns you see outside the museum; one had been mounted on the Royal Navy’s HMS Ramillies and the other on both HMS Resolution and HMS Roberts. Both have been fired in action during the Second World War.

Admission to the Imperial War Museum is free although to visit some exhibitions you will have to pay. Entering the museum, you see ‘Witnesses to War’, nine iconic objects including a Harrier, Spitfire and V-2 rocket suspended from the ceiling.

The wreckage of a car destroyed by a bomb during the Iraq War.


Also on the ground floor is the new permanent First World War Galleries, a highlight of which is a trench complete with periscopes, sounds and projections recreating what life was like behind the front line on the Western Front.



The White Feather Movement was a propaganda campaign in England during WWI to encourage men to enlist in the army. White feathers (a symbol of cowardice and failure to fulfill their male duties) were given out by the women of the Order of the White Feather to any man they saw who seemed capable of joining the army that was out of uniform. The idea was that men would be shamed by realising women viewed them in this way, and other men would be so afraid of receiving a feather that there would be a great movement of men all over the country being persuaded and intimidated into joining the army.

IMG_5677I had no idea about this until I saw it included in the display but have since noticed it happen in scenes of the period drama’s Downton Abbey and Home Fires.

Onto the first floor we find Turning Points: 1934-1945 with key stories from the Second World War.

The iconic R75 Motorcycle


BMW designed it’s R75 motorcycle and sidecar with the German Army in mind. The 750cc engine powered both the rear wheel of the motorcycle and sidecar. This enabled the bike to work well off-road as on regular surfaces. Armed with a machine gun it could quickly move ahead to scout in front of advancing troops. The one shown was made in the middle of the war, production of the R75 ended in 1944 when Allied bombing destroyed the BMW factory.

Also on the first floor you find ‘A family in Wartime’ a permanent exhibition. It tells the story of the Allpress family, ordinary Londoners and how they faced the challenges of life at home during the Second World War.The exhibition has reconstructions of rooms as they would have been in the 1940s and shows how the war affected life at home. Its shows how they coped with rationing, evacuation, war work and events on the home front from the London Blitz to VE Day. It really was fascinating and I enjoyed how they used members of the family to narrate parts of the exhibition it made it feel very real.

The family had an Anderson shelter in their garden to protect them during air raids. Designed to fit six people, Anderson shelters were named after Sir John Anderson, the cabinet minister responsible for Air Raid Precautions. They were made from corrugated steel sheets sunk into a pit then covered with a thick layer of earth. By September 1940 more than 2.300,000 had been distributed. Many people grew vegetables on the roof of their shelter, the Allpress family grew flowers.

Continuing on to the 2nd floor you find two permanent exhibition’s ‘Secret War’ which explores the undercover world of espionage, covert operations and the work of Britain’s Special Forces. Here you can see many previously classified objects, on public display for the first time. ‘Peace and Security 1945-2014’ reveals how conflicts have been fought and communities divided in places such as Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan from 1945 to the present day.

On the 3rd and 4th floor you find the Art & Photography galleries and the museum’s outstanding Holocaust exhibition.This award-winning exhibition traces the Nazi persecution and murder of Europe’s Jews from 1933 to 1945. No photography is allowed. I challenge anyone visiting here not to be affected by this poignant and extremely moving exhibition. Over two floors this in itself would take a good two hours to go through properly and I was kicking myself I had not allowed myself more time here, a return visit is definitely a must to appreciate fully this fantastic museum.

Last but not least on the 5th floor a bright, enclosed roof space leads to the Lord Ashcroft Gallery. This space tells the story of those who’ve won the Victoria and George Crosses. A quick look around here I’m afraid but it would definitely be something to have a closer look at when visiting again as it seems a very impressive collection with many interesting stories.

One the most impressive museums I’ve ever experienced, it is a definite must for anyone who is interested in history.

Has anyone ever visited here? What is your favourite museum?

As always I would love to hear your comments.


Visiting The Glenfiddich Distillery

July 12, 2015

Just over an hour’s drive from Aberdeen in the heart of Speyside you find Dufftown, the Malt Whisky Capital of Scotland, here in Dufftown you find the world’s best-selling single-malt Glenfiddich. Glenfiddich is a Speyside single malt Scotch whisky owned and produced by William Grant & Sons. Glenfiddich means ‘Valley of the Deer’ in Scottish Gaelic, which explains the stag symbol on Glenfiddich bottles.IMG_5528

The Glenfiddich Distillery was founded in 1886 by William Grant, William set out to fulfil a lifelong ambition of having the ‘best dram in the valley’ and started building his own distillery with the help of his nine children and a single stone mason. He named it Glenfiddich, and after a year of hard labour the first drop of spirit fell from the copper stills on Christmas Day 1887.

In the 1950s, the Grant family built up a onsite infrastructure that included coppersmiths to keep up the copper stills, and a dedicated cooperage that is now one of the very few remaining in distilleries. In the 1960s and ’70s, the whisky business faced challenging times and many small, independent distillers were bought up or went out of business. In order to survive, W. Grant & Sons expanded their production and introduced advertising campaigns and a visitors’ centre. Whisky’s tourism industry started right here at Glenfiddich with the distillery opening its doors and its first visitor centre in 1969. Glenfiddich is one of the few single malt distilleries to stay entirely family owned and is now managed by the fifth generation of William Grant’s descendants.

The Glenfiddich Visitor Centre is a five-star Visit Scotland Visitor Attraction and it is certainly worthy of its five-star status. With a shop, restaurant and bar you could spend many hours here and miss everything else that is worth seeing in this beautiful part of the world.


 New for 2015, Glenfiddich has developed a new tour programme and visitors are able to choose from a tailored range of three paid-for tours. The over-18s-only tours cater for all interests and budgets, from those looking for a unique behind the scenes distillery visit through to whisky enthusiasts seeking a fully immersive experience, and vary in duration from one and a half hours up to three and a half hours. We chose the Explorer Tour (£10): a fully guided tour of the distillery and warehouse including a tutored tasting of four award-winning drams.


Our visit began with a short film explaining the five generations of family ownership, we then toured the distillery itself where our guide explained all about the mashing and fermentation process.



Barley is ground into rough flour and mixed with heated spring water from the Robbie Dhu springs. The thick porridge like mixture known as ‘mash’ is then emptied into the mash tuns. Rotating knives lift the mash encouraging the fermentation.


After six hours a dark syrupy liquid called ‘wort’ is obtained. The wort is drained and cooled, the cooled wort is pumped into giant wooden fermentation vats called washbacks made from hand-built Douglas Fir.


On to distillation, following fermentation the rich brown wash runs into the wash stills where it is slowly heated almost to boiling point causing the alcohol to vaporise into the narrowing still neck.The distillery uses 28 distinctively shaped swan necked copper pot stills that are smaller than those now in use at most other distilleries. All are handmade and Glenfiddich employs a team of permanent craftsmen to maintain them.


After touring the distillery we then visited two of the warehouses where we had a look at the maturing casks. Glenfiddich is matured in oak casks such as rum casks from the Caribbean (in the case of 21 year old Gran Reserva), Bourbon whiskey barrels from America (Ancient Reserve), or sherry butts from Jerez in Spain. IMG_5522

Our last part of the tour and the fun part when you actually get to try the whisky is back in the tasting room for a tutored nosing and tasting of four world-renowned single malts.


A fabulous day out, I can highly recommend visiting this part of Scotland and with Glenfiddich being just one of the attractions on offer in whisky country, I will definitely be back soon to explore further.

Have any of you visited any distilleries? What is your favourite whisky?

As always I would love to hear your comments.




Potatoes Dauphinoise

April 28, 2015

The name Dauphinoise comes from the Dauphiné region in south-east France, where the Potatoes Dauphinoise recipe is said to originate. The dish is distinguished from gratin savoyard by the use of cream, and from ordinary gratin potatoes by the use of raw and not boiled potatoes.

The traditional recipe is only with cream, not cheese but I like to sprinkle a bit of Gruyère cheese on top in the last stages of cooking. There are many variations and recipes for Potatoes Dauphinoise, I find this method the most simple and it always turns out well.

Potatoes Dauphinoise

4-5 large potatoes

(Use good quality potatoes such as Desiree, Maris Piper, King Edward)

250ml of Whole Milk

300ml  of Double Cream

3 cloves of garlic minced

Salt & Pepper


A good grating of fresh Nutmeg or half a teaspoon if using dried (optional)

A good handful of grated Gruyère cheese (optional)


Pre heat the oven to 190 degrees

Wash and peel the potatoes. Slice them into rounds about 3-4 mm thick.

Try to slice the potatoes as thinly as possible for the best results.

Mix the cream, milk and garlic together in a jug, season well with salt, add the pepper and nutmeg

Grease a baking dish with a bit of butter

Layer the potatoes in the dish, over each layer pour a little of the mixture, and pour the rest over when you reach the top (try to keep whole slices for the top layer)

Dot with butter and cover the dish with foil. Bake for an hour in the middle of the oven.

After an hour, remove the foil this is when I add a good sprinkling of Gruyère cheese and bake uncovered for a further 30 minutes after which the top should be golden and bubbling, and the potatoes soft when poked with a knife.


Serve bubbling hot as a main meal or as an accompaniment.


An Afternoon in Chablis

April 22, 2015

An Afternoon in Chablis

A last-minute decision to visit Chablis while we were in the Burgundy area turned out to be a very enjoyable and memorable afternoon, following a quick search of tour guides in the Chablis area and we found that Franck the owner of Chablis Vititours was available to take us on a private afternoon tour. Off we set from Dijon train station and an hour and a half later we arrived in Tonnerre to begin our tour around the wonderful countryside of Chablis.

Located in northeast France, Chablis is considered the northernmost extension of the Burgundy wine region. It is separated from the Côte d’Or by the Morvan hills making Chablis quite isolated from other winemaking regions. Before becoming part of Burgundy, Chablis was once considered part of Champagne, and the two regions share many climatic similarities. 


River Serein, which flows through Chablis

Monks from the Abbey of Pontigny were the first to plant Chardonnay grapes here on the slopes surrounding the River Serein realising that the microclimate in this area with its cold spring was essential for the dry, honey-scented flavour of the wine. The wines fall into four appellations: Petit Chablis, Chablis, Premier Cru and Grand Cru. The monks at Pontigny introduced new farming methods and most importantly wine production to the area. It is thought that the famous Chablis vineyards were first planted with Chardonnay vines by the monks and with the success of the wine, in the 12th century, the Abbey was able to expand.

Our first stop of the afternoon was high above the town of Chablis, Franck drove us through vineyards and led us through the forest to a hillside panoramic viewpoint and explained in-depth the different vineyards.


Many of the Premier Crus, and all the Grand Crus vineyards, are planted along the valley of the Serein river as it flows into the Yonne with the best sites on a southwest facing slope that receives the greatest amount of sunlight. There are seven officially delineated Grand Cru vineyards, covering an area of 247 acres (100 hectares), all on one southwest facing hill overlooking the town of Chablis.

The cool climate of this region produces wines with more acidity and flavors less fruity than Chardonnay wines grown in warmer climates. All of Chablis’ Grand Cru vineyards and Premier Cru vineyards are planted on primarily Kimmeridgean soil which is composed of limestone, clay and fossilized oyster shells. Other areas, particularly the majority of Petit Chablis vineyards, are planted on slightly younger Portlandian soil-a limestone based soil of similar structure.

The main viticultural concern for Chablis vineyard owners is frost protection. The main threat is spring frost which can do a lot of damage to the vineyard. Owners used to spend a lot of time getting the little heaters and candles ready but now these have largely given way to sprinklers that surround the vines with a protective coating of ice. Water is sprayed on the vine and a cocoon of ice form around young leaves and buds, protecting them from the cold.

Petrol burners which are pumped along the vineyards and then ignited at intervals in small burners are also used. We saw some petrol burners and tanks at the side of the vineyards. Pre burners and sprinklers the church bells used to ring out in the town to warn the vineyard owners and workers of the impending frost.

In the Chablis region, harvesting generally begins at the end of September. The traditional style of vine training in Chablis is to have the vine trained low to the ground for warmth with four cordons stretching out sideways from the trunk.


Enjoying the grapes straight from the vine and a cool glass of Chablis in the vineyard was a fun and unique experience.

A short stroll around the town of Chablis was interesting taking in the history and quaint buildings.

Our next stop was Maison Albert Bichot, an independent family house, founded in Burgundy in 1831. Albert Bichot owns four estates set at the heart of four great viticultural regions that make up Burgundy: Chablis, Côte de Nuits, Côte de Beaune, and Côte Chalonnaise.

Château Long-Depaquit  


 Situated at the heart of the village of Chablis, Long-Depaquit was founded in 1791 and has built a reputation as one of the top estates in Chablis.

The outhouses of the Chateau are home to the fermentation tanks and underground cellars


The Chateau Orangery is used as a reception area, here we enjoyed learning more about the terroir and got to taste a selection of wines.


The jewel among the vines of the Cistercian Abbey of Pontigny for a several centuries, La Moutonne is a small vineyard of just six acres on the Grand Cru hillside of Chablis. As the vineyard is essentially a monopole, only Domaine Long-Depaquit makes a La Moutonne wine. This puts La Moutonne in good company, the Romanee-Conti Grand Cru vineyard – responsible for one of the most famous wines in the world – is also a monopole.

Our last stop of the afternoon was to Domaine Gouailhardou winegrower and merchant found in the centre of Chablis


The tasting was hosted by the winegrowers daughter and with her retiring shortly after we visited it is uncertain if the shop will still be operating under this Domaine. The opportunity to taste the 1991 Chablis was a real privilege and was a lovely end to the afternoon and our introduction to the Chablis region.

We learnt such a lot from Franck in only an afternoon, it would have been great to have had the full day as I did not want it to end. An excellent host it was a real pleasure to spend time with him. Knowledgeable and passionate about his work I have no hesitation in recommending him if you are ever looking for a wine tour in the Chablis area.


Visiting the Gaugry Fromagerie

April 19, 2015

Visiting the Gaugry Formagerie

The Burgundian cheese platter features the famous names of Epoisses, Cîteaux, Abbaye de la Pierre qui Vire, and Bouton de Culotte. With plentiful rich cow and goat’s milk available, the creamy cheeses are an essential feature in the cuisine of the region. The cheeses of the region date back to medieval times, having been made by the monks. Chaource, Epoisses and the Abbaye de la Pierre-qui-Vire are the most famous.


 In the village of Brochon we find the Gaugry Fromagerie. The Gaugry family have been in the cheese business since the 1920’s when Raymond Gaugry began working in a number of dairies, this enabled him to acquire a broad and diverse knowledge of the craft. In 1946 Raymond and his wife Odette moved to Brochon, where they took over the “Laiterie de la Côte”.

In 1950, Raymond created a washed rind soft cheese based on know-how inspired by the farmers who produced the famous Epoisses and Langres cheeses. The Chambertin wine makers were so impressed with this cheese, which were the perfect partner to their wines, that it became known as “Ami du Chambertin” (Chambertin’s friend).

In 1970, the Fromagerie Gaugry began producing Epoisses cheese. This cheese, which originated in the Auxois region in the heart of Burgundy, was created in the 16th century by a religious community based in the village of Epoisses (Cistercian monks). The Epoisses cheese making know-how was passed on by the monks to the women of the Auxois region and handed down orally generation after generation from mother to daughter and now forms part of the French Burgundian heritage.

Today the Fromagerie still specialises in the production of washed rind soft cheeses, run by the third generation of the family, Gaugry Fromagerie is the last dairy still producing authentic Epoisses with raw milk. Forward thinking they opened the modern production site to visitors, both for educational purposes and transparency allowing them to present the entire production process without compromising hygiene by viewing the process through a glass gallery.

An important stage of production is the “washing” of the cheeses, the hand washing of the cheeses is their speciality and it was fascinating to watch the workers handling the cheeses. The cheeses are all washed by hand in brine (a mixture of salt and water). Depending on the type of cheese, the brine is enriched, with Marc de Bourgogne for Epoisses, or with Chablis wine for Plaisir au Chablis. This operation is repeated between five and ten times. As the cheese goes through its washes, its natural colour is gradually revealed. This colour, which can vary from ivory with orange hints to brick-red, develops due to the action of the starter culture. The use of colourants is forbidden, so the appearance of the colouration is entirely natural.


 When this process is completed, the “maturing” of the cheese begins. It takes between 3 and 6 weeks, with a legal minimum of 29 days for the Epoisses cheese. This maturing takes place in special rooms where the temperature and humidity are strictly controlled (recreating the natural atmosphere of the original cellars: cool, damp and airy).

Gaugry produce eight soft, washed-rind cheeses: Epoisses AOC, Ami du Chambertin, Soumaintrain, Palet de Bourgogne, Le Petit Gourmand, Plaisir au Chablis, Le Petit Creux and Cendré de Vergy.

The cheese has held the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) designation since 1991, which means it is protected by a series of regulations to control its production process. This means the cows which produce the milk for the cheese must be specific breeds Simmental, Brune des Alpes and Montbéliarde and must graze in certain areas of Côte d’Or to give the cheese qualities of the terroir.

Outside of the main production rooms, there is a mock-up with mannequins to show how cheese was traditionally made on the farm.


You can visit Gaugry daily except on Sundays. They offer unguided visits free of charge to anyone wishing to discover the Fromagerie Gaugry and its production site. These visits are available during the normal opening hours of the shop. If you wish, you can enjoy a tasting of a range of cheeses after your visit. All you need to do is book a tasting at the shop on arrival.

Guided tours and larger groups need to pre-book and guided tours are followed by a tasting of five Gaugry cheese varieties, from the mildest to the strongest in flavour. This tasting is accompanied by a glass of Burgundy wine and bread.

We had a guided tour so got to experience the fantastic cheese and wine in the lovely tasting room just next to the shop.


A list and description of the cheese and the wine we tasted post tour.


They suggest that you come in the morning, while production is underway so you can get the full experience. I can highly recommend cheese and wine at 11am as it was a great start to the day!

You can also buy cheeses in the on site shop, you will find the complete range of Gaugry brand cheeses as well as a selection of top quality regional products.


Our guide for all the places we visited and experienced in the Burgundy region was Fabien Chenu at Wine Me Up, Fabien is a specialist in wine tourism in the Burgundy area. They offer a variety of tours and experiences in the Burgundy region and I can highly recommend them as it was one of the most memorable experiences I have enjoyed in all my adventures throughout France.

Wine Me Up also offer various wine tours throughout France