Part rugby scrum, part riot, occasionally a sprint, always social - the Kirkwall Ba' is a fixed part of Christmas in Orkney and has to be experienced to be understood. This is street football at its best. No rules, no limit on participants, games can last for hours. The Mens Ba' goes up at 1pm, after the Boys which takes place at 10am. The game will continue until one team manages to get the ball into their own goal (the harbour for the Doonies, a gable wall at the other end of town for the Uppies). This can take a while during which onlookers, shout and cheer, chat, shuffle and stamp to keep warm; ever mindful that if the ball heads their way it is vital to move quickly if you do not want to be caught up in the action. It is Christmas - but with a difference.
Kirkwall, Orkney. The Ba' is thrown from the Cathedral steps at the heart of the town on Christmas Eve.
Google map: bit.ly/gZl04s
The challenge is to come out without buying anything: it is a challenge I usually fail. Who would have thought that it would be possible to cram so much temptation into such as small space. Whatever you are looking for you will find something here: adult or child/fact or fiction. There is room to browse though close quarters means that conversations are usually shared - new friendships as well as new books are to be found. There are (by the way) no prints.
Our day out at Puzzlewood provided one of the most magical woodland walks I have ever come across. Skip the childrens’ farm at the entrance (unless you have toddlers who like that sort of thing), to enter the forest. Within minutes you are enveloped in a weird world of ancient trees, overhanging boulders, and lush vegetation. There are paths galore, with twists and forks to provide a deep sense of mystery. This is woodland in enhanced 3D – through the rock formations you glimpse other paths, rope bridges and wooden walkways, but the maze-like formation of the woodland absorbs people; it never feels crowded. The lack of views to the outside world adds to the feeling of spookyness and there are plenty of apparently bottomless pits among the rocks to add an exciting sense of danger. There are odd flights of steps but generally the paths are not difficult; it can be slippery and do not wear your Sunday best – it is often muddy. Autumn is good for woodland but Puzzlewood is good at any time of the year. Entertainment guaranteed for all ages, toilets and small cafe at the entrance.
Your own island to explore for the day! Speak to local boatmen about a trip to Calf of Eday and you will find Orkney in minature. You have wildlife to spot (very tame otters when we were there), great walking, archaeology, hill, and shore. Best of all is the knowledge that you are alone, there is a sense of exploring 'virgin' territory and instead of cut grass and interpretation boards the ancient monuments have moss, sheep skulls and proper fallen stones. It is a wonderful antidote to the twenty-first century with, of course, the reassuring thought that home-comforts are only a short boat ride away.
Nearest airport London (not that one), Eday, Orkney. Loganair flies in from Kirkwall (use Flybe to get to Kirkwall). Or regular ferries from Kirkwall on Orkney Ferries.
Informal curries cooked and served in the grounds of the Edinburgh Central Mosque. Tasty, portions big enough to satisfy my growing 14 year old, variety enough for a seven year old, and catering for both vegetarians and carnivores. Best of all perhaps: a fabulous variety of non-alcoholic drinks from cans of coconut milk to doubtful highly coloured fizzy concoctions. A treat for all the family without breaking the bank. Take a jumper as the eatery is open air (marquee style roof to keep off the rain).
Potterrow, behind the National Museum of Scotland, near to the University - the minaret is a clue.
Google map: bit.ly/b3P3jl
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