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I am 220 miles, and a little over 3 hours, passed the border of Scotland. I've been driving through the beautiful Highlands, steep roads, ancient culture and rain. I drive right through the town of Fort William (the "Capital" of the Highlands, and I'm heading towards Mallaig on the A830. I've been on the Road to the Isles (A830) for a little over 30 minutes and I know I'm just about to see the Lochailort Inn and the Polnish Chapel a little further ahead.
The trees sweep over the Bens' (mountains) to the side, and a drop down to a sea loch on the other side of the road. You can see why this area has been selected to feature in so many Hollywood films.
Lochailort is a small village that lies on the edge of the Loch "Ailort" (pronounced Aisle-ort), which leads out to the Atlantic Ocean. All that is here is an Inn, railway station, a small church and a 19th Century house. A ring road (A861) heads down towards Strontian on Ardnamurchan, and back round a little closer to Fort William.
Apart from the absolutely stunning scenery, Lochailort has one of the area's most notable landmarks. "Our Lady of the Braes" Roman Catholic Church, affectionately known as the Polnish Chapel. The chapel was finished in 1874, but has been abandoned since 1964 except for being used in film. The classic 1983 film Local Hero, where an American oil company sends a representative to purchase an entire village where they want to build a refinery. Things don't go as expected, and the American ends up staying and living on the beach in a little hut!
Now-a-days, you can still walk right up to the church via the cattle gate, but you cannot enter the chapel due to safety reasons. You will see that the slate from the roof has started falling to the ground. The windows are still in immaculate condition, and if you look closely, you can see the details in the writing on the glass.
If you do want to take a walk from the road and venture up to the church, I do recommend parking across the road in the pull-in view area. Please be careful when crossing the road, as this is an extremely fast and busy road. Luckily, you can hear traffic coming from a mile or two in distance!
The Lochailort Inn offers so much more than just a place for a break. The hotel is situated directly on the Road to the Isles, with great views, reasonable priced accommodation and great food. The inn was known to exist from the 1650's, although there is only recorded information from the 1870's, then rebuilt in the early 1990's in the same manner as the original.
In the 1890's, there were several bothies (small houses) built to house the 2000 navvies who were building the West Highland Railway Line (designed and built by Sir Robert McAlpine). In 1901, construction was complete and the West Highland Railway was opened to the public to ease the travel of the 43 miles from Fort William to Mallaig.
During the summer months (normally from April to September), there is a Steam Train which runs the 43 miles distance from Fort William to Mallaig. This is the famous Jacobite Steam Train. With pipers waiting at each station to "blow the tourists away" with their enchanting sounds.
On the other side of the loch is Inverailort House. This started out as a farmhouse in the 1700's, and in 1875 extended and refurbished to a shooting lodge. Further extensions took place in 1891 to bring the house to the beauty it is today.
In the late 19th Century, Lady Cameron was a keen photographer. She took many photographs of the house and local area. It was unfortunate that most of the glass plates were lost or destroyed when the house was taken over by the military.
During the second world war the military used the house as a base for training operations. With such a remote location, the military could move about the area freely and with little difficulty, using the surrounding mountains and waters as resistance training areas. The army moved out of the house on 20th August 1942 and it was then taken over by the Royal Navy when it became known as HMS Lochailort, and used for the training of naval cadets to be officers. The Royal Novay moved out in January 1945.
Thankfully, a lot of the photographs from the late 19th Century were saved and published during this time.
Today the area is as breath-taking as it has always been. Clear water, rustling trees, the inn, the chapel... I visit this area at least 3 times a year, whilst camping in a near-by village called Arisaig. Personally, if I had the money I would buy the old chapel and refurbish it into a holiday home. The views from the place are amazing, and I bet it would be so popular. The only problem is who to get in contact over it!
Definitely a place to visit. Take your time - Stop and stare. How often will you get such clear air?
Ever since I can remember, I've owned a Zebra Finch. When I was about 3 years old, my parents bought a pair of finches and I named them Hoppity-Hop and Jane. Jane died after 2 years, but Hoppy (named him that because of what he was doing in the box on the way home from the pet shop) lived until he was approximately 10 years old!
Zebra finches are an ideal choice for a first pet. My review will introduce you to the zebra finch, and will hopefully shed some light on some questions that a lot of people have asked me.
The Zebra Finch
Native to Central Australia, these birds are one of the most popular birds in the area. Some people call them "flying mice" because they breed so easily, and can have four or five broods per year.
The zebra finch is roughly 3 and a half inches in length, from the tip of the beak to the very tip of the tail. Both male and female are the same size.
Colours can vary tremendously through imbreeding, and mutations, although I'll stick with the most common variety.
Both male and female have a dark grey back, top of the head and wings. There is, however, quite a lot of difference between sexes, so it is very easily to tell them apart.
The male has a white under-carriage and lower chest, has white-speckled brown feathers to the sides and under his wings, has a black bar running straight across his chest, black and white striped feathers on his upper chest, a black "tear-drop", and burnt orange coloured cheeks. His beak and legs should be a bright orange colour.
The female is dark grey with a paler grey belly and chest, but still has the distinctive "tear-drop". You may also notice that her beak and legs are a much more subtle orange, and is a lot paler than the male.
Both birds have a tail which measures approximately 1 inch in length. This is where the finch gets it's name from. The tail is black with white stripes all the way across.
The zebra finch's song is made up of a variety of "eeps" and "beeps". Both sexes of the birds make these noises, but the female can make a "rasping" noise when in breeding season, and she is defending her territory and eggs. The male's song is quite distinctive, with a variety of high and low pitches and different lengths of "eeps" and "beeps" put together in order to attract a mate.
With every living creature, food is the most important thing. Finches live mostly of small seeds. This is made available in forms of millet sprays, and "free". The zebra finches which I own now are partial to fresh bread, sliced cucumber, crushed lettuce and a slice of apple.
It is also very important that you supply fresh water on a daily basis, and change it at least twice a day. Drinking water can be supplied in a sealed tube with a little "saucer" opening, or in a metal container.
This breed of finch is also a very clean bird. It is important that you can supply water in which the bird can bathe in. Another couple of options are available here... A cage bath can be bought from any pet shop OR you can place a small saucer filled with no deeper than an inch of fresh water for the bird to splash around in. Trust me, your finch will love you for it.
Now this is the part where everything gets a little tricky... I'm not going too deep into the breeding part of my review, as I believe that unless you know what you are doing, you shouldn't breed your birds. It's unfair (if you don't have a plan of what you're going to do with the babies once their ready), and a breeding female can die prematurely.
You can always tell when a pair of zebra finches are ready to breed. You will notice that the male will be carrying round random feathers, and anything suitable to build a nest with. He will try to build a nest anywhere suitable, on a stable surface (even in the corner of the bottom of the cage).
If you are going to breed your birds, this is the time to buy a finch breeding box. There are plenty of options available for you to buy from the pet shop, but there are two which are most suited, and both of these boxes have a "roof" and a small hole for the bird to get in and out of easily. The first is a basic straw nest, which costs roughly £1 - £1.99. The second option, which is by far the best, is the natural material nest. It looks like a type of scraggy material, and these can cost anywhere from £2.99 - £5.99.
Offer plenty of items and materials that your birds can use to stuff the nest. Offer cut up toilet tissue, cut up kitchen roll, leaves and even (ONLY IF IT'S CLEAN) a cut up head off a hand-held washing up mop. All nesting material must be dry and clean.
PLEASE NOTE: When I first bred zebra finches, I bought some natural nesting material from a pet shop. This was soft, but stringy. My finches laid 6 eggs, 4 of which hatched. One of the babies died when the nesting material wrapped around it's neck, another baby lost its' leg with the same situation, and a third baby AND the father (Hoppy, who I mentioned earlier) both lost a toe.
Usually after the nest is finished being built, the female will then make a slightly different song. It may sound as though she is "crying". Be assured, she is not crying because she now knows what is happening, she is squeaking with happiness because she now knows that she has somewhere safe to lay her eggs and raise her young.
The female will lay anywhere between 4 - 12 eggs. Usually when there are 3 or more eggs, the incubation period begins. Both male and female will take it in turns to sit on the eggs. Incubation can take anywhere from 18 to 25 days, usually hatching in order in which the eggs were layed.
Unless you are intrusive, you will not know when the eggs have hatched, because the babies do not gain their voices until they are roughly 1 week old. Even then you may have to listen very carefully, because they "eep" so quietly, and only when they need feeding.
It is at this time when you need to supply as much fresh bread and salads as possible. A nice little trick I've learned is if you hard boil an egg (not one of your finches ones, a chicken one!) and then crush it all down (INCLUDING THE SHELL) and then offer it on a small saucer in the bottom of the cage. It may sound cannabalistic, but the female zebra finch needs this to keep calcium in her body, and to keep her strength up.
Usually after about 3 weeks, you will start to notice that the babies are eager to venture out of their nest. Your babies are no longer babies, and are called fledglings. Do not remove the nest once your fledglings have ventured out. They will still return to the nest of a night time, and whenever they feel threatened or afraid.
You will usually be able to tell the sexes at approximately 2 months old. The fledglings are no longer babies, and are starting to mature. "Teenagers" if you like. You should now remove the nest.
When the babies are 2 and a half months old, this is the time when you need to know what you are doing with them. If you are taking them to a pet shop, take them now. If you are giving them to a family member or friend, buy a cage and do it now. If you are keeping the babies yourself, buy another cage (THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT) and transfer them now. You must separate the young from the parents as territorial fights now begin, and this can, and usually is, very brutal and can lead to death.
PLEASE NOTE: Please take the nest out now if you have not done it already... You must give your "parent" birds time to recover, or if they continue to breed now, the female will die prematurely of exhaustion.
Overall, Zebra Finches can be fantastic company. They are not, however, as sociable as a budgie, but they can look after themselves! Just make sure that you supply fresh food and water daily, and allow the birds to have plenty of light (not direct sunlight). They can be sociable, and love to chatter to you, so give them an hour to speak to you...
For the best interest of your birds, if the weather is calm, sunny and warm (NOT HOT), put the cage in the garden so the birds can get some fresh air. If the day is stuffy, but has a breeze, keep the birds indoors, but open the window SLIGHTLY. I don't need to explain to you that in extreme cases like thunder and lightening, the birds should be kept inside, and preferably, cover the cage up with a large towel so the birds cannot see the flashing.
Watching the behavioural habits of these birds is just amazing. You can get "friendly" birds who want you to hold them, and they want to "preen" your hair, and you can get the "grumpy" ones, who do want to talk to you, but they don't want your hands anywhere near them. Don't force the bird to do anything he / she doesn't want to. If he / she wants to come to you, he / she will in his / her own time.
I now have two zebra finches... Male called Cherry, and female called Pearl. They've just layed 4 eggs... Only another 10 days or so to go before the hatchings! Wish me luck!
I was sitting here, stuggling to think of what I can write my next review on, when it hit me. Why don't I share with you, my top ten favoured destinations?!
I am an extremely well travelled individual. My parents took my practically all over the world when I was too young to even remember, but some of the places have stuck with me, and I think they'll be with me in my heart for the rest of my life.
Allow me to introduce you to:
My Top Ten
Destinations for Holidaying
1. Lochaber, Scotland.
I can hear what you're saying; "Scotland? Is she serious?" Let me assure you, I am serious. Lochaber is an area in Northwest Scotland, situated through the rugged, rocky mountainous area right the way through to the crystal coloured waters of the Atlantic Ocean. There is lots to see and do in this area. For example: If you are a walker, you can battle with the highest mountain in Great Britain (Ben Nevis), situated just outside the town of Fort William. If you are a camper, you can pitch your tent almost anywhere in the area, and enjoy the beautiful and such peaceful scenery throughout Glencoe, Fort William, Glen Finnan, Morar or Arisaig. And for the shopper, there is Fort William! Lochaber has something for everyone. Sandy beaches, massive mountains, calm seas, ruggy roads (can be dangerous) and the friendly locals!
2. Prague, Czech Republic
So there's a big hop, skip and jump between Scotland and Prague, but allow me to introduce you to one of the most beautiful and Gothic city's throughout Europe. Prague is the capital city of the Czech Republic, and has some amazing sights to see. Pradsky Hrad (Prague Castle) is a fantastic visit, but I think to take in all of the beauty, you need a full day here. How about a morning stroll across Karluv Most (Charles Bridge)? The bridge has a tower either end (you can climb up the 300 or so steps to the top if you're daring enough), and little market stalls selling crafts, pictures and jewellery scattered along the length of the bridge. So into the Old Town, why not visit the Astronomical Clock? The clock (on the hour, every hour) has Jesus and his twelve disciples (spelling?) on view, and passing in a circular motion just above the clock. Other little details: The food is to die for, and the people are so hospitable!
3. Borrowdale, Lake District, Cumbria
"Back to Britain?! I thought she said she's been almost all over the world?" I can hear you again! Yes, back to Britain. Let me ask you something... Have you ever been to a place where you can lay on the grass, overlooking a lake, with perfect blue skies, little wisps of clouds smoothly floating by, the mountains giving you just enough shade so you don't burn... Then you have to run for dear life because the skies are now practically black, the rain is thrashing down, and you're suddenly alone outside? Yes? Welcome to the Lake District. The birthplace of William Wordsworth, and the home of Beatrix Potter. Many a times I've pitched my tent down Borrowdale Valley and walked through to Stonethwaite, been swimming in the freezing River Derwent, and been shopping in Keswick! You HAVE to visit this breath-taking place!
Let me tell you a not-so-secret secret. I am totally, and extremely OBSESSED with anything Egyptian. From the Great Pyramid and the Sphinx through to the River Nile, and the Death Mask of the young Pharoah Tutenkamon. I have visited Cairo as a young girl, and if I'm going to be perfectly honest with you, I can't remember the place. I'm going to holiday in Sharm-el-Sheik in January. Not much of a "culture" holiday, but it's Egypt never the less.
5. Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
I was 16 when I went to Peurto Vallarta with my parents. We were there for 1 week, staying in an All-inclusive hotel called Blue Bay Beach Club. Unfortunately, the hotel was completely destroyed in 2000 after a major hurricane. Anyway, back to the place... Real Mexico. It's currently becoming a tourist area, but it's much more real than Cancun. Scuba diving is amazing around the area, and watch out for the giant manta rays! There's also iguanas... Wildlife is beautiful. This is definitely a place for soaking up the sun too.
My next 5 top destinations are just listed as places (as I'm sure you're now fed up with reading!)
6. Athens, Greece
A cultural paradise!
7. Marrakech, Morocco
Flea market galore!
8. Pamukalee, Turkey
EXCELLENT place for the skin - white mud bath galore!
9. Dublin, Eire
Pint of Guinness anyone?
And last, but certainly not least:
10. Bali, Indonesia
One word to describe this place: PARADISE.
Once upon a time, about 4 years ago, I was "messing around" in the kitchen whilst my parents were away on holiday. I was hungry, and there was hardly anything in the house to eat. I decided to experiment, and my homemade lasagne is something I am now making on more than just a special occasion.
Let me share my secret of what you need to make "Barbara's Lasagne". I don't have the exact weights of ingredients, but you get the jist of it in the recipe:
For the sauce:
1 medium sized leek
2 large open cup mushrooms
Medium sized pot of Tesco's Natural Greek Yoghurt
Decent sized block of Red Leicester cheese
1 small broccoli
2 tablespoons of Cornflour
1/4 pint milk
Meat & other bits:
1 large pack of Tesco's Minced Beef
1 Large RED onion
2 large open cup mushrooms
1/2 Red Pepper
1 medium sized "Dolmio Extra Spicey" sauce
1 box Tesco's own Lasagne Pasta sheets
1 Beef OXO cube
1. Prepare all the ingredients first of all. Slice the mushrooms and leek, dice the onion and pepper, grate the cheese and break the broccoli into small heads. Keep the ingredients for the sauce and meat part in two seperate bowls so you know which is to be used.
2. Switch the oven to 180C and allow to heat while you prepare the dish.
NB// I have to work very quickly preparing everything next... unless, of course, you have someone to help you!
3. Place a large blob of butter in a large saucepan and allow to melt a little. Add the broccoli, mushrooms and leek to the melted butter, and stir for about 1 minute. Turn the heat to a minimum and allow the aforesaid to soften. Stir occasionnally.
4. In a wok, heat a little oil. Add the minced beef and keep mixing until "almost" cooked. Once you get to this stage, carefully drain off the excess oil (you don't need to keep that) and return to the heat, adding the onions, mushrooms and pepper. Add OXO cube (sprinkle over the top and stir in). Stir until meat is cooked.
5. Switch off heat for the "sauce pan".
6. Add Dolmio Extra Spicey sauce to the minced beef mixture, and stir occasionnally. Allow to simmer for 5 - 8 minutes on a low heat.
7. Back to the sauce mixture. Add the cornflour and mix until it looks a little like play-dough (ha ha). In a jug, mix the yoghurt, milk and egg all together, and slowly (whilst stirring constantly) pour into the "dough" mixture.
8. Return the sauce to the heat. (Make sure the meat is not burning - don't forget to continue to stir that... After the allocated time, switch off the heat of the meat mixture). Now this is the "messy" part. Gradually add the cheese to the yoghurty sauce. The sauce needs to thicken a little before you can pour over the meal. Save a handful of cheese to sprinkle on top of the "ready-to-bake" product.
9. Pour half of the meat mixture into a lasagne dish / baking tray, then add enough pasta sheets to give one full layer on top of the meat.
10. Add the other half of the meat on top of the 1st layer of pasta.
11. Add the final layer of the pasta.
12. Gently pour the now "setting" cheese sauce over the layer of pasta sheets. Spread evenly.
13. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top of the lasagne.
14. Place near the top of the oven (which now should be heated accordingly) and bake for 35 - 45 minutes (or until the cheese sauce is golden brown).
15. Serve with a side salad.
The best thing about my homemade lasagne is that when there is some left over, I allow it to cool. I then place it in a food bag, and put it in the freezer for when I next want it. I then simply:
1. Take it out the freezer
2. Take the lasagne out of the bag
3. Place on plate which is ok to go in the microwave
4. Heat on full power for approximately 5 minutes (based on a 850W microwave - adjust times according to your microwave). Make sure that the lasagne is PIPING HOT!
So now you all know my famous recipe... I have actually made a couple of these for a church fete, and every slice was sold out within 15 minutes!
Total cost should be roughly (if you buy from Tesco): £8.00
"Orchid kowtowed to the Grand Empress and the Emporer. She knew she was not allowed to make eye contact, but she couldn't help herself."
I like to read. Books fascinate me. I don't know whether it's because I have such a great imagination or whether I can relate to the descriptions of certain things throughout the novel.
Empress Orchid was a great read. Anchee Min described the undescribable.
Orchid is a 16 year old girl. Her father had just died, and she, her brother, sister and mother are on their way with the coffin to the grand city to give her father the burial he deserves. Something happens along the way which makes Orchid think that her life could be more than that of a "taipeng" (commoner).
Whilst staying with her uncle, she sees a poster announcing that the Emporer, Hsieng-feng, is now ready to select his wives and concubines. Orchid goes along to the selection.
Life is not good for Orchid when she enters the Forbidden City. She is not of royal blood, and the other women and girls know it.
Ok, so what would you expect to happen if there were over 5000 women fighting each other for the Emporers attention? Slanging matches? Fisty-cuffs? Yes, you would expect that, but that never happens. Orchid and the other Empresses try to ruin each others lives. Some are successful, with some girls being honoured with the "white sash". This means they have to hang themselves. Others, meanwhile, are planning and plotting to be in total control.
Things get even worse when the Emporer dies.
Orchid is a fighter, and she never gives up. She is walked all over, and disrespected, but she always holds her head up high... There's one that she holds it high for (I'll leave that for when you read the book).
An partially-erotic, bitchiness, political love story that will make you wanting more. The book is fiction, but many facts are included.
I'm currently reading the second book about Empress Orchid... "The last Empress" again by Anchee Min. She is definitely one of those authors who you are hooked to with reading the first chapter.