Scotland Day Eight: The Kingdom of Fife and Dunnottar Castle

Birds sighted: Barn owl, jackdaw, kittiwake, herring gull, fulmar, house martin, pheasant, magpie, European kestrel, Eagle owl, Harris Hawk, wood pigeon, Great tit, White Throat.
Mammals: Red deer, roe deer, axis deer, hog deer, wolf

The Great and Mysterious Wizard the Eagle Owl giving me his best profile shot.

Today we left Edinburgh and headed northeast. Traveler Two had to drive seeing as I, Traveler One, have never driven on the left side of the road. Our rental car was a Ford Focus. This Traveler recommends that, if traveling in Scotland, you DO NOT under any circumstances whatsoever, agree to rent a Ford Focus. They are not up to the task of handling Scottish roads. We would learn this later in the trip though, when we were given a nice Peugeot to drive. What a difference that made! But I digress...

We made it over the Forth Bridge into the Kingdom of Fife. How beautiful Fife is! All rolling hills with rape seed flowering electric yellow under moody clouds and huge blue sky. The fields are intense green broken up by a patchwork of evergreen and deciduous trees.

We made our way east to Cupar, a town not far from St. Andrews. Cupar is the home of the Scottish Deer Centre. I was hoping for a deer experience like you can have at Southwick's Zoo and Deer Park (for those of you from the Boston area familiar with the zoo), where you can walk freely with the deer, but what I got was something totally different but just as profound.

We arrived at the Scottish Deer Centre in time for a falconry display. The falconer was showing off a female European Kestrel when we got there. Then he brought out a huge Eagle Owl named Wizard. Wizard is a truly magnificent soul. He was fond of alighting on the picnic tables occupied by the audience. He was kind enough to land between Traveler Two and I twice, bonking both of us in the head with his wings on both occasions. I'm not sure if he was trying to knight us and let us know we had been accepted into the Order of the Owls or, instead, he was trying to tell us we had big fat heads and he needed a little bit more room please.

Wizard's other good side. Although, honestly, a guy with this much charisma doesn't have a bad side nor does he take a bad photo.

Wizard showing us his wing span (about 6 or 7 feet...).

Then the little kestrel was back. She very nicely demonstrated her ability to catch things in the air, and her prey protection stance on the ground, all the while scarfing down lots of chicken bits. The third bird was a Harris Hawk, native of the American southwest and Mexico. These birds are the only bird of prey to hunt in packs. They also make great first hawks if you are interested in taking up falconry. They are allegedly easy to train. This particular Harris Hawk was a whopping seventeen years old! At the end, Traveler Two and I had the opportunity to pet the Harris Hawk's chest.

European Kestrel (female) inspecting my camera lense

Kestrel protecting her "kill"

Harris Hawk showing focus

Harris Hawk

We then wandered out into the park. Fed some miniature donkeys and watched roe deer flicking their ears and tails in unison, trying to get rid of flies. We ended up in the "Witch's Wood", of course. There a walkway had been constructed that took you through the tree tops giving you a "squirrel's eye" view of the world. (As of yet we haven't actually seen any squirrels, red or gray, in Scotland, although both do live here.) As we went up into the tree canopy and looked down we saw a red deer doe who had just given birth. The fawn was just about dry, although mom was still licking her baby clean. The fawn could just barely stand. We stood and watched for quite some time and our patience was rewarded by getting to see the fawn nurse for the first time!

A new model, born that day or late the night before

We also saw Highland cattle, some Axis deer, a very strange creature called a Hog deer, and one wolf off in the distance, deep in some grass, under a tree. Don't worry the wolves and deer are not kept in the same enclosures.

The Hog deer, sitting among the thistles. All of them were sitting among the thistles....

We then managed to make our way north and east to Aberdeenshire, but first had to make our way through Dundee. Dundee is the capitol of traffic circles and construction sclafluffles. They even have consecutive traffic circles that link together in strange and arcane ways. Honestly, they were the sorts of patterns only a Grand Prix dressage rider would understand. Once past Dundee, driving up the A90 to Stonehave was beautiful. Huge sky, rolling hills. It looks like every story you've ever read about Scotland.

Dunnottar Castle

After a short eternity we arrived at Dunnottar Castle. Dunnottar is a impressive sight, a massive escarpement crowned by sandstone towers. Birds nest all over the cliffs the castle sits upon. The sea is beautiful framed by crags and headlands pointing east to Norway.

North toward Aberdeen

The walk to the castle is as impressive as the sights around. You have to drop all the way to sea level and then make your way back up and climb through the cliffs and then into the castle. In former days this was done by garrons (ponies). We wandered the many buildings. The Countess's Chamber, the Marischal's Chamber, the Stables, and the Smithy. For me the best part was climbing the stairs in The Keep. This was another set of winding spiral stone steps. Near the top a barn owl and I got the shock of our lives. We both startled each other half to death.

Near the lion pit and the Keep the pigeons and jackdaws hold court. You can hear the metallic sharp calls of jackdaws nesting in the old building, and the pigeons too. They were like gargoyles hanging from the walls watching all the humans wander through their territory.

Then it was off south along the coast to St. Cyrus to our bed and breakfast.