First big vacation: Grantown-on-Spey

Time really gets away from me. We went on our first big Scottish vacation over a month ago, but it’s taken me forever to get around to writing about it here on the blog. One reason is that it feels odd to talk about your vacations online. One of the dangerous things about social media is that you only talk about the good things, which feels like bragging or showing off and gives the illusion that your life is all happiness. Of course, no one’s life is all happiness, and perhaps one day I’ll do a post about the struggles of ordinary life. Except that would be boring. Anyway, suffice it to say that even though our life is not all happiness, we did have a nice vacation to the Cairngorms (a national park). And it’s time to talk about it.

The house

We rented a renovated farmhouse in Grantown-on-Spey (pronounced GRAN-tun on SPAY) in the Scottish highlands and that house was possibly the best part of the whole trip. We tormented everyone on the car ride there by having rented a small, inexpensive car and cramming everyone inside, in part so that we could allocate more of the vacation budget to a cool house. (Actually, there’s an example of life unhappiness–children fighting in the back seat of a small car. The fingernails on the chalkboard of a parent’s life.) Anyway, the cool house looks like so:

Ballinluig, Scottish Gaelic for “Farm in the Hollow”
Open floor plan inside the cool house
It had an outdoor hot tub. The children used it multiple times a day. (Their faces here suggest that the hot tub, too, was all happiness. No, they sometimes fought in the hot tub as well.)
Sunset view from the front lawn

A lot of what we did in that house was just stay in that house. We listened to music and audio books, we read actual books and ebooks, we drew and colored, we watched a movie, we played a board game, and we used the hot tub. We had “happy hour,” which means crackers, cheese, and cured meat, with special beverages. And at night, since the house was large and there were no streetlights nearby to spoil it, we turned off all the lights and played hide-and-sneak. (That’s hide and seek but you can’t see anything, so you have to actually touch people to find them. It takes forever.) We did some of these things in chairs by the wood stove, which leant a smoky wood smell and plenty of warmth to the situation.

The wind outside was sometimes very high. It is the highlands, after all. One night I needed Lydia’s help getting the cover back on the hot tub. The thing weighed probably fifty pounds, but I was usually able to get it back on and strap it down myself, but the winds were so high that night that they literally whipped the cover off the hot tub before I could strap it down. I know, first world problems.

Happy hour. Ignore handprint smudge on window.
Nobody rests like a dog rests.

Outside the house

But we did some outings as well. Some of them have already been reported here: tea on the steamer train (so much more than tea, actually), demonstration of working sheep dogs, and some shopping. The rest of this post mentions a few other things we did, in quick summary, rather than getting their own individual, detailed posts.

We hiked up a small mountain and looked back down on Grantown.
We visited the Highland Wildlife Park. Clearly, they had polar bears.
In some places, you could drive right among the animals. Musk ox, in this case. (No, she’s not driving. It’s Britain!)

In Scotland, there’s a law called, informally, the “right to roam,” or more formally, Statutory Access Rights in the Land Reform Act. It means basically that as long as you’re not messing anything up, you can go on other people’s land. You can’t bother livestock or take crops of course, but you can hike, camp, wander, take pictures, basically treat people’s fields and forests as if they were part of a national park. So we did that, too. The view you can see out the farmhouse window in one of the pictures above is of a farm across the way in which sheep sometimes grazed. So Jesse and I went over there sometimes in our wellies and hiked among the marshy grasses on the hills.

A bridge on the farmland in question
The view back to Ballinluig (rightmost building)
The view back the other way. With reading boy.
Often, we drove past sheep, like these.


One of the things I hoped to do this year in Scotland was acquire a tweed jacket. I don’t teach English or Classics, but let’s not fuss over details. Turns out the main Harris Tweed store is in Aviemore, near Grantown, and we stopped by. Harris Tweed prides itself on selling the only cloth in the world governed by (get this) its own Act of Parliament. As their website states, “a 1993 Act of Parliament underpins the unique status of HARRIS TWEED and decrees that genuine HARRIS TWEED must be made from pure virgin wool which has been dyed and spun on the islands and handwoven at the home of the weaver in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland.”

I’m sold.

My family waited patiently for me in the store and let me buy one.

Nothing says professorial like tweed and a huge bald spot.

The way home

On the way home, we stopped in Fortingall, home of perhaps the oldest living thing in Britain, the Fortingall Yew. It was rainy, so our photo of the yew isn’t that spectacular.

Foreground, left to right: Mary Ella, Jesse. Background, large: The Yew.

Just after that, also on the way, home, we stopped at The Highland Chocolatier, but I’m not going to post about that here because it deserves its own post entirely. We have a friend back home who’s related to the master chocolatier himself, so we were very interested in stopping by. I’ll save the details for another post.

That was our first big Scottish vacation. We hope to see London and perhaps one or two other major European cities, maybe the Lake District of England, we’re not sure yet how much we have the time and budget for. But this first vacation was great. Maybe after the next one we’ll post about it in a more timely fashion.

The ride home was the least interesting part. You might even say…Dull.
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  1. Julianne | | Reply

    The tweed jacket is handsome, a very flattering color for you. Looks great with the jeans, like a New Yorker magazine ad.
    Who was Harris? Did the weaver stitch their name in the lining?
    Keep the tweed in the cedar chest when you get back to Arlington and it will last till you retire.

    • Peter Mehegan | | Reply

      Struggling to send this. Here goes again. Blog is wonderful! Green with envy. What an adventure! Re Harris: all kids and Lydia have Scottish blood through David via our maternal Steele ancestors. They came from South Uist ( near Harris) in the Outer Hebrides ( island chain off the west coast of Scotland). Steele’s are of Clan Ranald ( correct spelling). Your tartan should be in any good tartan shop. You are entitled to wear it!
      Uncle Peter
      ( if I messed up again, Julianne/David, please forward)

      • Nathan | | Reply

        Hi, Peter.
        We have the blog set to require Lydia or I to approve each comments, to keep random spam off. So comments don’t show up the instant you post them. Sorry for the confusion! Thanks for following along!

  2. Peter Mehegan | | Reply

    Hi Carters:
    Uncle Peter here. Just back from a fishing trip with David who rudely outfished me with the biggest fish taken and released in Plymouth from my boat.
    Really enjoying your blog! The kids clearly have a writing flair and the photographer ain’t bad either.
    Scotland is one of my favorite places on the planet. Lydia and kids have a bit of Scottish blood in them courtesy of Granny’s Steele ancestors who came from South Uist in the Outer Hebrides, near Harris, the island where your dad’s neat jacket originated.
    If curious, the Steeles are of Clan Ranald. Look for it in a tartan shop. You can legitimately wear it. It’s your clan.
    Affectionately ( and Happy Thanksgiving),
    Uncle Peter

    • Adeline | | Reply

      That photographer is actually all of us at random! We have a digital photo album where we each sometimes update with all of our pictures related to the trip. So, for example, I took the picture of Meg sleeping and the one of Dad in his tweed jacket while it was he who took the prettier photos of the outdoors. 🙂

  3. Penny Lou Frabotta | | Reply

    Happy Thanksgiving to all the Carters (sent a Jacqui Lawson card via Addy). Love the blog. Just caught up – behind a bit. I am also of Scottish descent and have two tartans (Thomson on my Granny’s side: Donald on my Grandpa’s side – both emigrated to the USA from Kilbirnie, Scotland, a very small village near Glasgow). My Grandparents were married in Bobby Burns Cottage. John and I toured Scotland for two weeks several years ago. St. Andrews was my favorite town; driving there was John’s least favorite part of the two weeks! What a very special experience for all of you. Now Nana and Granddaddy are beginning to pack for their Scottish holiday!


    • Nathan | | Reply

      Thanks so much for the note, Penny! We completely understand that driving near St Andrews is all narrow roads that make it hard to stay out of the ditch and out of the way of oncoming traffic at the same time. Thanks for reading along with us.

  4. Mary Pat Dixon | | Reply

    What a marvelous vacation you had!!

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