Kilts and Cock-a-leekie; A Yank Wanders through Scotland
background: 23 days, 2 years in the
planning. 6 people traveling: me, my husband (J), my mom (M), my dad
(D), my friend K, my friend C. Our
flights (which cost $800 including taxes) were JAX-PHL-MAN-GLA on the trip
out and GLA-LHR-PHL-JAX on the way home.
Me, J, M, and D were flying together on that trip, while K and C
were flying MIA-LHR-GLA and back, as they were spending the last week of
the trip in London.
was three days each in Edinburgh,
Grantown-on-Spey, Orkney, Stornoway (Lewis), Skye (4 nights here), Mull, and Killin. I arranged for B&Bs for all our
stops except Edinburgh. We were taking a taxi to Edinburgh and then
renting two cars when we left for Grantown.
I did a lot of research, and found decently priced places with some
charm and history, prepaid most of the ferries, and made a couple other
arrangements here and there. I
didn’t want to dictate where we would go each day, but a couple things did
need pre-planning, like the lunch at Three Chimneys or the private tour of
Lodging: All the places we
stayed at were great, and many were exceptional. I HIGHLY recommend Killin
Guest House (http://www.kinrosshouse.co.uk/)
in Grantown-on-Spey (Jane was a wonderful hostess, and it was walking
distance from a pub with delightful pies). Also The Lodge at Edinbane (http://www.the-lodge-at-edinbane.co.uk/)
on Skye was spectacular - 14th century haunted hunting lodge. Hazel and
Pete run a pub with food on the property as well, and all was fantastic.
in Fionnphort and Mill at Eryland (http://www.millofeyrland.co.uk/) in Orkney were also
wonderful, and the apartment we rented in Edinburgh (http://www.aboutscotland.com/edin/westbow.html)
was perfect. The other places we
stayed at, which were perfectly fine, were Hal O’ the Wynd (www.halothewynd.com) in Stornoway
and Craigbuie (www.craigbuie.com),
Food: The good, the bad, and the
ugly. Most of it was great. A few shining moments: Three Chimneys (www.threechimneys.co.uk/)
near Dunvegan, Skye; Oakwood Restaurant near Inverness (on the A82); The
Old Flax Mill (http://www.killin.info/eat/?ch=r)
near Killin; Pies at The Craig Bar (http://www.grantownonline.co.uk/accommodation/index.php?dir=29)
in Grantown-on-Spey (and the owners are real characters!). The Reef
in Bunessan we ate at - expensive but fantastic fresh seafood! Some forgettable food moments: Tomato and
lentil soup with pasta = Spaghetti-O's sauce with ketchup mixed in with
some spaghetti noodles. Most of the dishes served at the Keel Row were
disappointing to us.
Sights: OH MY GODS! Why did no
one tell me how breathtakingly stunning the north coast of Scotland
was? This wasn't in anything I researched. As we drove along the coast
road, we kept seeing sights, and saying "wow, that's the most
beautiful thing I've seen!" - until we went into the next cove, glen,
or cliff - and said it again. Wow! The Isle of Skye
is gorgeous, but most people know that. The Lewis landscape was surreal - a
moonscape of peat bogs under a grey sky reminded me of some old black-white
film. The mountains in Mull were just as
beautiful as the mountains in Glencoe, with or without the rain. And the
Grampians were so desolate and achingly beautiful they took your breath
Weather: Highest temp was probably
17C, lowest was 8C. It rained at least a little every day, and there were
about 10 days of all day rain and gloom. Evidently we got there just after
7 weeks of glorious sunshine and a heat wave. Orkney gifted us with 8C
temps, 40mph winds and rain - COLD! But we were prepared and wore lots of
after all. The travel days (from B&B to B&B) usually ended up sunny
and bright, though.
Full-sized trip report:
Friday, 6/13: Mad dashes through the airport (of
Oh, I was
so excited! I had to work a half day
on Friday, but jumped out of there as soon as my boss said I could, and
away we went! We started this trip
by getting to the Jacksonville Airport (JAX) 3 hours early, per
recommendation, and had a quick bite for lunch at Quiznos. We had very little trouble getting our
boarding passes and getting through security, everything went rather
quickly, especially for a Friday afternoon, and I was pleasantly surprised
to have a 1.5 hour wait at our gate.
The plane boarded a bit late and then sat for about 20 minutes on
the tarmac before we went, so we arrived 40 minutes late – not tragic, but
it did mean we had to make the mad dash through Philadelphia (PHL) to make
our second flight. Since M has
trouble walking fast, we got on a cart, but that only took us out of that
terminal, and dropped us off at the start of Terminal A – when of course
our flight was at the end of Terminal A.
However, we made it out of breath, 5 minutes before the doors
closed, whew! D and I made it first,
followed by J and finally M, close to passing out. It didn’t help us much that it then sat
on the tarmac and there was no air conditioning on.
the four middle seats, but there was an extra seat a couple rows back that
I moved to after we were under way.
I never did get the IFE
to work, though – but I had bought the $5 earphones already, so I figured
I’d use them on the way back. I got
a little sleep I suppose, and used one of those inflatable pillows you lean
forward on. I don’t think I’ll bring
it again, it just added weight to my luggage, and wasn’t very
comfortable. Breakfast was a
wanna-be Danish, not much for a transatlantic flight, but at least it was
fuel. For the flight from MAN, the
gate agent gave us the exit rows, but we are large folks and need
extenders, so couldn’t sit there – which is fine, we had no problem
moving. There were plenty of
seats. We got in at noon, about 5
minutes early (glory be!)
Saturday, 6/14: The Case of the Missing Luggage
to collect our bags – well, some of them.
My bag and D’s were missing, so we filed a claim and waited for K
and C. K’s bag was also missing, so
we had 3 of the 6 checked bags. What
a wonderful start! D’s medications
were in his bag, so this might turn out to be a very bad thing – he takes
stuff for his heart, his blood pressure, his diabetes, etc. We went to call the taxi I had
pre-arranged to get us to Edinburgh,
but the number wasn’t working. We
did, however, find a minivan taxi that would fit all 6 of us (if we had had
all of our luggage, it wouldn’t have fit, though!). Jim was quite nice and chatted to us all
the way over about politics, energy crisis, The Knowledge, etc. He took us straight to our apartment on
87a West Bow in Edinburgh
(http://www.aboutscotland.com/edin/westbow.html). The owner was there and showed us about
the place. This place was
fabulous! There are two apartments,
one on the third floor and one on the fourth. The third floor apartment (the larger of
the two) had 2 bedrooms, and a day bed in a room near one of the other
bedrooms. It had two bathrooms, a
dining room, a kitchen, and a large living room. The double room had a small sitting area
as well. The property is 15th
century, and the décor reflects this history – four-poster bed, tapestry
curtains, etc. There was a small
washer and dryer, the shower was the nautilus-shell type – you kind of had
to fit in around the curved door to get in, but it kept the water in. The couches in the living room were
comfy, and there was wifi available.
The location was fantastic – the front door opened out to West Bow,
a little side street that had pubs, restaurants, gift shops, and the liquid
deli (more on that later). The back
door (a half flight of stairs past the upstairs apartment) led out to a
terrace that looked over the street, and had several pubs and cafés along
it. One more flight of steps up and
you were on the Royal Mile, not far from the castle. I don’t think my parents ever went down
the front stairs after arriving, preferring the shorter walk up the back
Stained glass window in Roslyn
settled in to our respective places and decided we were STARVED! 24 hours of travel and we were more ready
for food than naps (well, the parents napped). The first place we went to was the Bow
Bar across the street, but that was drinks only, and we were ready to eat
the bartender – so we moved on to the Steak and Mussel restaurant at the
base of the street. That seemed a little
expensive for a late lunch, so we moved on – Maggie Dixson’s was a nearby
pub, and that fit the bill fine. We
enjoyed some very tasty steak & ale pies – though that may have been
exhaustion and hunger spicing it.
The ciders went down REALLY well at that point! It’s a touristy place, but comfy. While at the bar ordering our food, C
(who is Dominican) heard one of the other customers speaking Spanish, and
couldn’t believe that she found Spanish in Scotland. Even odder – these were Mexican students
studying in Sweden,
visiting in Scotland
on holiday. How multicultural can you get!
On a road just off the Royal Mile
stuffing ourselves on touristy cuisine, we went wandering around the castle
and down the Royal Mile a bit. We
marveled at the beautiful structure that is St. Giles Cathedral (not really
a cathedral, as we find out later), and the touristy tat that is available
on the Royal Mile – but what else did we expect? It was chilly, but very nice out –
certainly a welcome change from the 96 degree weather and 100% humidity we
left in Florida. As the evening went on, we decided to go
down and sample the crepes on sale near West Bow – boy, was THAT a
mistake! OK, J’s was tasty – roast
apples and cinnamon. But my toffee
crepe was just a bit of syrup on a broken crepe. It was a bit too floury and not what I
was hoping for. A well – again, you
pay for going to the touristy spots.
The two French girls were quite indignant that we should interrupt
their little chat to ask them to actually cook crepes for us.
One of the many churches off the
marveled at the odd crowd walking about that evening. Lots of women in pink bras and t-shirts –
evidently there was a charity walk for breast cancer starting the following
morning at dawn, and many were jumping the gun. There were some very creative outfits
walking around! Mix that with a good
dose of hen parties in devil’s outfits and cowboy hats, and you had lots of
great people watching. You could pay
good money to go to Vegas and get less entertainment and variety!
Sunday, 6/15: Mountain Climbing 101 – don’t wear
up refreshed (or mostly so) and decided to make some tea and go in a search
for breakfast. Ha! We forgot it was Sunday morning! So, while we saw hundreds of girls
walking around in pink bra tshirts, bras, and the odd corset, (some wrapped
in thermal blankets on top of that, for a truly surreal look) we wandered
around Victoria street
looking for something that would serve us food. Everything was, of course, closed –
foolish Americans! Looking for a
Denny’s in Scotland
– that’s not right!!! J We wandered
around street after street, and finally decided that perhaps the Royal
Mile, Tourist Tat haven that it is, might actually cater to foolish
tourists like us. So we climbed up
the road beside the mountain, and came to the Haggis café – not yet open,
damnit. BUT! There was a light at the end of the
tunnel – or the end of the Close, in this case. Along the Royal Mile was a man selling
papers (he looked a bit ratty and might have been homeless). He directed us to a small café that
served stuff in sandwich rolls – egg, bacon, etc. Just what the doctor ordered. I had a bacon and cheese bap with brown
sauce, K had a brie and cranberry sauce sandwich, and we all had hot chocolate
to warm our tummies. We chatted with
a family we had seen earlier, also looking for breakfast – they had two
toddlers in tow, and were from Newcastle.
sated, we went off in search of today’s goal – the Hop on/Hop off bus tour
of Edinburgh. We wandered down the Royal Mile, noticing
that the shops were all starting to be opened by gangs of teenagers, all
controlled by a couple of Arab men – looks like many of the shops are run
by one Arab family. Go figure.
We were a
bit early for the bus, so we continued to window shop along the Mile. We ended up in Canongate, and drooled a
bit on the glass of the closed fudge shop, saw John Knox’s house, and a
couple other places. I didn’t feel
like parting with money yet for souvenirs, so I just bought a couple
postcards here and there. I know,
I’m weird – I have to be in the mood to purchase anything, and the first
day I’m not yet in the mood. I KNOW
I can get anything in the Royal Mile elsewhere, and likely much less
expensively. Though I rather wish
that fudge shop was open, food is always good to buy.
St. Giles Cathedral
finally came around, and we took it around the city. We saw the controversial parliament
building, Arthur’s Seat, New Town, etc.
truly is a beautiful city, just the small areas we saw were full of
majestic architecture and delightful history. I would love to spend some more time
there. My mother lived there 40
years ago, and really enjoyed it then as well.
off the bus after a full round, and had soup and tea at the Holyrood
Café. We decided to climb Arthur’s
Seat, fools that we were. It’s all
C’s fault – she was the instigator this time. Our first day on vacation, and she wants
us to climb a bloody mountain! OK,
not quite a mountain – 823 feet.
Wikipedia claims it is easy to climb, I beg to differ! OK, I’m overweight and 40, and was
wearing Croc sandals. My walking
shoes were in my missing luggage, so I had to wear the Crocs – comfy but
not exactly hiking boots. We kept
encountering marathon runners that were evidently insane enough to be
running over all seven bloody hills in Edinburgh. We all agreed they were crazy, especially
the ones older than us J
Halfway up Arthur’s Seat
was fine until the last 100 feet or so up.
That’s when it got too steep for me, too much dirt and rocks for me
to be sanguine about not falling. K
and C continued up to the top, and I went down a bit and looked around from
the ¾ up point. It was a fantastic
view of the city, and I got lots of panoramic pictures of Leith. You could just hear the hum of traffic
and the occasional cry of a seagull or sing of a siren as you stood up
there and looked around. The
wildflowers were winking in the dappled sunlight, and a cute guy was
walking his dog down the path. I saw
him later, and the previously yellow lab was dark brown – he had found some
lovely mud to roll in! When the sun
came out, all was warm and sweet in the world. I looked up when I heard K’s giggle
tumble down from the top of Arthur’s Seat like a bubbling waterfall, and I
looked up and waved at my friends.
much less time to climb down, but that’s when I slipped. One foot went back and to the left, the
rest of me went down – scratched up my knee quite a bit, and left me a bit
shaky, but I was fine. When I got
back down, I headed back to the apartment, but got lazy and took a taxi
back (hehe). Of course, we only had
one key per couple, and I had given mine to J – and there was no answer
when I rang either the downstairs or upstairs apartments. So I wandered around to Maggie Dixson’s
again and had a pint and a snack (tomato, pesto and mozzarella Panini, not
Inside Edinburgh Castle
about an hour I went back, and J was just woken up, K having called just
called him looking for me. We
watched some TV and relaxed a bit, waiting for K and C to return after
touring Holyrood. I headed up to the
castle to meet them, and waited near the Camera Obscura (there was a
bench). I watched a French and
Australian family try to gain control of their rampant children amongst
screams and screeches. I then went
up to the castle itself, and the guard David told me the last admission was
20 minutes ago, so I went down to get K and C, got J from the apartment,
and tried to call about our luggage.
They said they found one of my bags, woohoo! We don’t know which one (mine or D’s) but
one is certainly better than none. I
hoped it was D’s, so he could get his medicine. He hadn’t done much sightseeing yet
because he was listless without his meds, and couldn’t sleep well.
youngsters went to Deacon Brodie’s Tavern for dinner up on the Royal
Mile. Yes, it was touristy, but the
food was relatively tasty and the atmosphere well-engineered. We had venison steak, smoked salmon and
prawns in rose marie, and some ciders.
C got a bit drunk, and we were all highly amused by this phenomena –
and told her so, which made her even MORE amusing!
made reservations for the Mary King’s Close tour, and we met the parents
there for that. Yes, it was cheesy,
and touristy, but it was kind of cool to go underground and see the
alleyways and holes people lived in.
The information given in the tour was great, lots of realism. C was horrified and traumatized by this
time regarding all the descriptions of what went into the North Loch (what
is now Prince’s Street
Gardens), and was
very glad it had been drained prior to her visit (by about 180 years). A warning to intrepid explorers – if you
are clumsy or have trouble walking, this might not be the tour for you. There are lots of dark spaces, uneven
floors and difficult stairs.
K and C
went to the City of the Dead tour, while the rest of us headed back to the
apartment. I really wanted to see
it, but was just about pooped at that point. I had to do some laundry (I had packed
one outfit in my carryon, and needed to wash that for tomorrow). Somehow I had acquired a bit of a sunburn
from my day up on Arthur’s Seat.
Monday, 6/16: Takeaway?
morning started later (around 10am) and I tried to call about the luggage,
both the one found and the one not yet found. The number I was given was always either
busy, or a recording answered. I
left a message, and called Flybe – they gave me the courier number that had
our found bag. They said it would be
delivered by 2pm today, excellent! I
to arrange for our car the next day.
I had reservations at the airport, but they said they couldn’t come
pick us up in the city – they would have to transfer my reservation to the
city office. So I called the city
office, and luckily they informed me that they couldn’t waive the CDW
insurance there, only the airport could – so back to the airport it was. I called for two cabs to come pick us up
in the early morning to make it to the airport. What a mess! (a needless mess, as we find out later).
castle was first on the list this morning, so off we went to explore. We sampled haggis (my second taste,
everyone else’s first taste) at the Haggis Café, and it was quite
good. Creamy and spicy, on a piece
of melba toast. Everyone rather
liked it, despite themselves. We
went into the castle (which was covered by our Great British Heritage
Cards), and chatted with Japanese tourists while in line. I showed off my 5 words of Japanese and
they all laughed, probably at my attempts.
We each bought the audio tour, and agreed to meet at a particular
time. We were loose!
the cannon that goes off every day at 1pm, was quite impressive, but my
favorite area was the little St. Mary’s Chapel, the oldest part of the
castle. It was very cozy, and
notwithstanding the people crowded in it, very quiet and peaceful. I’m a sucker for pretty stained glass
windows, and was not disappointed. I
wandered around the grounds, the halls, the war memorial, sucking in the
tidbits of history and trivia from my audio guide. It was great, because you can request
additional information on most of the subjects – I think I listened to
every scrap of information it was willing to give me. I had a scone and some water at the café,
and watched the birds try to convince me I should share.
meeting up with everyone, J and the parents went back home while K and C
and I went shopping in New Town. K
and I were still missing luggage (so was dad, but he was unconcerned) so we
had to go get some toiletries and essentials to make up for the lack in our
toilet. Princes Street, here we
St. Giles Cathedral
more than an hour at the drug store, we chatted with the shop clerk and the
security guard about the weather differences between Florida
and the different celebrities we had all met. Finally K finished her sacking of the
place, and we went in search of clothes, cash, and water. We finished up in another café, got some
sweet pastries and drinks, and unfortunately sat next to an older woman
that probably hadn’t had a bath in a long time.
way back home, we stopped in a local music store to get my first dose of
Scottish music CDs. I am so glad
that the innovation of letting you listen to the CDs before you buy them is
everywhere – I picked up a couple local bands and one I’d heard before
(Runrig), and something for my friend M, who loves ethereal Celtic music. I wandered back to the apartment, but got
waylaid at the Iain Mellis Cheesemongers.
I tried about a half dozen types of cheeses before I decided on one
I liked. The gorgonzola from
was too strong, the brie was too bland – the other was just right (I was
keeping an eye out for the three bears).
I got some oatcake crackers to spread it on and figured I’d have
some for breakfast in the morning.
K and C
had a more exciting detour at the previously mentioned liquid deli. That’s not what the name of the shop was,
but what we called it from then on out – the shop made their own liquors
and liqueurs, like raspberry gin and elderberry vodka and such. That took some time, as they were given
samples as well, and came back wreathed in giggles and bottles.
Inside St. Margaret’s Chapel, Edinburgh Castle
decided that tonight we would dine at the curry place on West Bow that had
been tantalizing us with delightful aromas for the last several days,
Kushi’s. The chandelier in the entry
way was very grand and impressive, and the food was wonderfully delicious. However, there was a miscommunication
between K and the waiters, and they kept trying to take her half-eaten
dishes away when she wanted a take-away box for them instead. He kept saying ‘take away?’ and grabbed
at them – she practically stabbed his hand with a fork to keep her food! J
We had lamb sag, garlic naan, (which doesn’t go well with Irn Bru!),
mango lassi, and it was all yummy.
we reorganized what luggage we had (D had his bag delivered that afternoon,
finally, mine was still no where to be seen). K called about hers, and they said they
would deliver it tomorrow. However,
we would be on our way to Grantown-on-Spey tomorrow, so that wouldn’t
do. She was told she needed to pick
it up after 9pm at the Edinburgh
Airport, so she took
a taxi out there after dinner, got there at 11pm – no bag. The guy at the counter called the
courier, and the courier wanted her to come get it there. She said ‘no way, you bring it here,
now!’ And they finally did. He kind of avoided looking at her as he
walked all the way around her to deliver the bag to the BA desk. I think they finally got home around
midnight. Two bags recovered, mine
is still missing in action. Glasgow Airport still refuses to answer
their phone or return my (by now) half dozen messages. The courier doesn’t have it, and Flybe
doesn’t have it. Sigh. I did hear from someone that it had been
found, but no one seemed to have it.
GLA said they sent it on, the courier said they never got it, and no
one was willing to actually take control of the situation and look for it.
Just off the Royal Mile, near the
back stairs to our apartment (that little sign on the right)
Tuesday, 6/17: Highlands, here we come!
We got up
early for our taxi ride through the city to Edinburgh Airport
to pick up our cars. The taxi drivers
had trouble finding the Enterprise
office, but eventually we found it.
We were upgraded from the reserved Standard sizes to a minivan and a
Standard (later known as the Car from Hell), which worked out fine. The last week of the trip, one of the cars
had to fit me, J, M and D and our luggage, while K and C dropped theirs off
and went to wander around London. There was a problem with my credit card
covering the CDW (even if we hadn’t been upgraded, it turns out). The coverage only goes up to $50,000
vehicles, and these were £26,000, so we had to pay an extra £14 a day in
insurance. Ouch! That came to an
extra $560 on a $600 rental. Double
ouch! Warning to intrepid explorers
I went to
the airport itself to find out if I could talk to someone in person
regarding my bag, even though it was at GLA (hopefully). I spoke to the Premier Luggage Courier
desk, who sent me to the Flybe ticketing desk, who sent me to the Servisair
ticketing desk, who sent me to the Servisair luggage service. She almost dismissed me instantly, but I
convinced her to have a look at the file.
She said the file was closed, as they had delivered the one bag they
had (D’s). She was able to look at
the record and left a message for the GLA office, as she got the same
maddening recording I did. She
mentioned that since the file was closed the office didn’t return my calls
– very annoying when the file shouldn’t have been closed yet!
way out of the short term parking lot, the gate stopped working. While we were waiting for an attendant,
there was a car behind us that just kept inching forward closer and closer,
while we waved him to go around to the other gate. He refused to budge, and was therefore
blocking anyone else from going around as well. When we mentioned this to the attendant,
he said ‘Well, that’s their problem now, isn’t it?’ – this kept us laughing
(rather hysterically at this point) for quite a bit.
searched for gas, as we got the cars with a ¼ tank – the first place we
went (Sainsburys) had no gas due to a 4 day Shell strike that just
ended. The second place (Shell)
wanted £1.66 per litre, and since we had seen it at £1.22 everywhere else,
we passed. We finally gave up for
the nonce and headed to Roslyn Chapel.
Everything you’ve heard about this place is true – the carvings are
amazing and incredible. It’s a small
place, and yes, the outside is covered in scaffolding. But the carvings are mostly on the inside
anyhow, and will take your breath away.
There were little angels cavorting on the columns, devils carved
upside down, seashells and sheaves of corn.
I could care little about the connection with The DaVinci Code, but
it was wonderful to be there and see all the artistic work. Outside there were some wonderful
memorials as well. However, it
started sprinkling, so we decided it was time for some lunch at the Roslin
Hotel. Fish and chips and steak
& ale pie were the favorites, and they were adequate – nothing special.
The batter was the thick breadcrumb style.
The dining room did rather remind of a great auntie’s parlor –
rather stuffy and formal, too quiet for comfort.
lunch we drove past Edinburgh and over the
Firth of Forth on the Forth bridge, towards Perth.
We stopped at the Hermitage to explore this primeval forest and
waterfall – if you are in the area, definitely stop by! There are really three waterfalls in one,
and the best spot to see it is a little terrace in Ossian’s Hall, a small
temple-like structure over the falls.
The bridge is a delight as well, though the muddy rocks kept me from
exploring too much with my Croc sandals.
I tried to fiddle with my camera to get a longer exposure time to
make the waterfalls into velvet streams, but I couldn’t figure out how to
do it. This whole area made me feel
as if I was on a journey to the Shire, and could see hobbits and elves
poking their heads out behind each moss-covered tree. The sounds of the forest were restful and
sweet, and the green-dappled light made everything sylvan and silvery.
Triple waterfall at The Hermitage
brief mishap with a falling laptop, we were on our way (officially) into
the highlands. I’d been through here
before, but it was just as stunning and beautiful the second time
around. The browns, golds, purples
and greys jumped out at every sunspot, and whispered back into the earth
when the clouds came. It was like
the subconscious mind of an oil painter covering the landscape. Half-shorn sheep were jumping over
streams, little crofter cottages were nestled in deep glens. Shaggy Hieland Coos looked at us as we
drove by, and we saw black sheep lambs cavorting around (yes, cavorting,
really!). We stopped a couple times
and just stood, stunned, looking at the alien landscape that surrounded
us. Of course, we didn’t stand long
– the wind threatened to blow us away, especially with our hastily-donned
shawls and sweaters. It was also
starting to rain, so we hastened back to our trusty carriages and hied on
to a place for dinner.
Path through The Hermitage
a supremely ugly square castle (Corgarff
Castle), which looked
like a white box on a smaller white box.
We opined that it was probably the home of some lawn-mover-driving
psycho killer that terrorized the countryside, so we watched out for such a
character, intending to run him over.
We found a pub serving dinner called Allargue Arms – a peaceful
place despite the name. The food was
decent, but I think the poor lad serving us was brand new at the job. K was brave and tried the sweet &
sour pork, while D tried the stir fry.
I had the soup and sandwich, it was filling and warm.
The Grampians (“The Highlands”,
it to Grantown-on-Spey with little trouble, and luckily our B&B was on
the first street we came to. Jane
was our host at the Kinross House B&B (http://www.kinrosshouse.co.uk/),
and she was delightfully warm and helpful.
The bedrooms were well-appointed, clean, and comfy. The beds had just the right pillow combo
for my comfort (one small firm pillow and a larger soft pillow) and it had
a sheet so I wouldn’t roast at night. I tried calling Servisair again once
we got there, and the girl on the phone insisted that she personally gave
the missing bag to the delivery service.
I tried to get her name or ask for a supervisor, but she just hung
up. So, rather than jumping through
the phone and strangling her on the spot, I decided it would be more
prudent to go wash out my outfits once again, and went to sleep.
Wednesday, 6/18: Clan Chiefs and Monsters
morning I made another effort to find someone who knew where my luggage
was. I called Premier Courier, and
got hold of an angel by name of Lorraine
(I think that was what she said).
She, finally, was willing to actually make an effort to find out
what happened to my luggage. She
called me back in about 10 minutes, and said she had found the bag! The problem was that Servisair had sent
the paperwork for my bag, but not the bag itself, so it thought it was
done, and closed the file. Premier
had the paperwork but no bag, so couldn’t deliver it. What a mess! Lorraine
was able to assure me that they would deliver my bag tomorrow. This is a good thing, as that means they
wouldn’t have to ship the bag up to Orkney, our destination the next
day. I thanked Lorraine profusely, and will be writing
some complaint and compliment letters.
The Hermitage Woods
joyful frame of mind, we enjoyed a delightfully tasty breakfast cooked by
Jane and served by Dolly. She made
this homemade concoction called muesli that had muesli cereal, yoghurt,
fruit and cream in it – very addicting!
We also had the normal full Scottish Breakfast choices, including
haggis (which was tasty).
We had a
10am appointment at Castle Leod to get a tour of the castle, led by the
Clan McKenzie chief, the Earl of Cromartie.
My great-grandmother was a McKenzie, so it was nice to meet the head
of our clan and see the ancestral seat, so to speak. The castle was from the 14th
or 15th century, was rather small and compact, but nicely
renovated. It was very interesting
to see the paintings of my forebears done by famous painters, to see the
first real ordnance map made of the area (by the English after Culloden in
1746, to keep the Scots in check).
There was an enormous billiard table in one room, and evidently the
room had been custom made to fit it.
The Victorian dining room still had panes of the original 17th
century glass in it. There was a lot
of Jacobite historical items on display and even a little dungeon. The Earl has a remarkable knowledge of
history and family details, and it felt different from other castles I had
been in. Perhaps it was the personal
connection – somewhere, somehow, all McKenzies are related, descended from
the same clan chief hundreds of years ago.
We were all distant relatives.
pleasant chat with the Earl and the other guests, we headed down to the Clava
Cairns to check out a site that one of my favorite books is set in
(Outlander by Diana Gabaldon). In
the book, the main character (Clair) walks around the circle looking for an
unusual flower, and then accidently falls through a crack in the main stone,
which propels her back 200 years to 1745.
We looked at the crack – it was perhaps two feet wide at the widest,
not exactly enough for a full grown woman to accidently fall through, but
that’s poetic license for you, I suppose. There were several cairns and stone
circles in Clava, and it was a neat place, even in the bright
sunlight. The stones themselves had
many interesting patterns on them – not necessarily carved patterns, but
the stones themselves and the lichen growing on them were lovely. It wasn’t the same feeling I had had at Stonehenge; less reverence and more of a homey feel
to them, I suppose. We chatted with
another tourist who was from Wick, and told him we would be passing through
there on the way up to Orkney in a couple days. He described his town as desolate and
quiet, but I found it rather pleasant the 2 minutes we passed through later
Cairns we headed towards the A82 south of Inverness as C had arranged for a Loch Ness boat
cruise at 3pm. We wanted something
to eat, so stopped at the only place that actually placed a sign BEFORE you
had to turn – the Oakwood Restaurant (no website, but their email is email@example.com). Surprise,
surprise, we found K and C there already sitting and waiting for their food
(only D, M, J and I went to the castle).
The food there was superb.
The owners are Gaby and Gus – Gaby is French, and cooks with French
style. J had a chicken breast
stuffed with haggis in a blackcurrant reduction. I had the smoked salmon fisherman’s
lunch, K had the deer meat goulash, and D had the venison burger.
such a wonderful meal, we went to the Jacobite Tour stop and took our 2
hour Freedom Tour, which was a half hour to Urquhart Castle, an hour at the
castle, and a half hour back. The
sun decided to join us for the trip, and it made the trip delightful. The castle was rambling stone walls
draping over gently rolling green hills on the edge of the Loch. Despite
the crowd of Japanese tourists, there were times I could be by myself on
top of a ruined rampart, looking across Loch Ness in search of the
monster. I don’t blame her for
hiding – can you imagine the paparazzi clamor if she were to show
herself? Yikes. When we headed back to base we had much
fewer tourists, we almost had the boat to ourselves. It was also a bit rainier, so we bundled
up. We decided to head to Oakwood
for dessert – whiskey and honey crème brulee, cranachan (a traditional
Scottish dessert with oatmeal, yogurt and raspberries, very yummy) and
chocolate cake. At first, they
didn’t want to serve us just sweets and coffee, she was afraid of not
having enough tables for the dinner crowd, but it turned out fine.
the B&B, Jane was very helpful in planning our next day out. She recommended Ballindaloch Castle,
Aberlour Distillery, Culloden, Clava Cairns, etc. I had a lunch date with a fodorite named
Sheila in Aberdeen,
so needed to be there around noon. J
was joining me, but the girls wanted to go on to Dunnotter Castle
(I wanted to as well, but had made my plans with Sheila). M and D decided to go around themselves
today. We started chatting with Jane
about the rest of our trip, and she told us she used to work up on Orkney,
and showed us some beautiful Sheila Fleet jewelry she had been gifted while
working there. It was blue and
silver with ogham writing on it - http://www.sheilafleet.co.uk/Skyran1.asp
- very elegant.
recommended a place for dinner – the Craig Bar,
which serves pints and pies. Sounded
good to us! There wasn’t anyplace
that night that had traditional music, so a couple of characters (which the
owners of Craig
Bar certainly are)
were good enough. The owners are
Beryl and her son Robbie, and boy, are they fun! We got pies – I got a Smokey Jo pie, with
potatoes, spinach, cream and mushrooms in it – K got a Minty Lamb pie, and
C had a Heidi pie (goats’ cheese, sweet potato, spinach, garlic and
onion). Alas, Robbie was not the
creator of these wonderful pockets of yum, but he gets them at www.pieminister.com, out of Bristol. Robbie regaled us with stories of
incredible feats and impossible deeds and his dear, dear wife. His mom told us of her upcoming trip to China for the
Olympics – at youth hostels, but flying over business class. We also met a delightful dog another
visitor brought in – a Lurcher, a breed I hadn’t heard of before. He was very sweet and mellow and happy to
be near the fire. We had a grand
time, they made us feel very at home and welcome.
Thursday, 6/19: Aberdeen
morning Scott was filling in for Dolly in breakfast duties, and our plan
was to Dunnotter, Aberdeen and Aberlour,
possibly followed by Cawdor
Castle, Culloden, and
Clava Cairns. I knew it was ambitious,
but not by how much.
We got on
the road, without GPS signal.
Evidently there is a local RAF base, and they block out signal in
town. It was fine once we were in
the mountains, but by then we had taken the south road, which would take us
much longer. The Car from Hell was
giving K trouble, and wouldn’t shift gears easily – completely refused to
shift often, and didn’t have enough oomph to get up hills, even in first
gear. It put us all on edge, as it
was also raining and the roads were tiny through the Cairngorms. We stopped and tried to find the Well of
Lecht, but all we found were sheep cavorting again. I did catch a nice photo of a lamb
leaping over a creek, but no Well.
We figured it was a bit down the path, but it was raining too hard
to be much interested in exploring.
We decided that we’d had about enough of the Cairngorms at this
point, between the rain and the Car from Hell, so we tried to find our
quickest route out of the mountains and into the relative civilization of Aberdeen.
Horse that could easily be a
Unicorn in hiding
thought of visiting Balmoral, but the road and car conditions convinced us
we were running out of time. We
finally got out of the frustrating mountain roads and on to main A roads
towards Aberdeen. We found Sheila’s office without too much
trouble, so J and I got out and went upstairs to meet her, while K and C
went to Dunnottar
Castle. Lunch was at a Scottish Fusion place not
far from Union Street – we had salmon, soup and burgers, with banoffee pie
for dessert (yes, I know that is Irish, not Scottish, but it was very tasty! Celtic, all right? It was Celtic… sort of). Sheila was great to chat with about the
environment, economics, politics, travel, etc.
Small churchyard outside Grantown-on-Spey
lunch we waited at The Filling Station for K and C to find us. I tried calling K’s cell phone to let her
know where we were, but it went straight to answer machine, and she didn’t
get the message until hours later, but C found us and we hopped in. We drove back to the B&B the north
road, through Keith – much less dangerous and frightening than the road
through the cairngorms, but then again, not nearly as many sheep butts
facing the road, either. You have to
take some bad with the good, I suppose.
find a nice little cemetery in Keith for some angel and Celtic cross
photograph opportunities – I have a morbid fascination with graves and
gravestones, especially beautifully carved Celtic crosses. We tried to stop at Ballindaloch Castle
on the way home, but they had evidently just closed a few minutes
before. Of course, their posted
hours said they opened at 10am, and K and C had tried to go by yesterday at
11am and they were closed, so who knows.
Small churchyard outside
home around 6, and decided that the Car from Hell shifting problem needed
changing – C called Enterprise and they told
her to come into Inverness the next
morning and they could switch it for them.
And glory be! My baggage had
arrived! Jane had brought it
upstairs for me, and had tried to call me to let me know, but that signal
didn’t get through either. Oh, I was
just so happy not to be wearing either of my two outfits for yet another
day, I was ecstatic.
the Craig Bar for pies for me and J – the rest
of the group headed into town for another place. J had a Chicken of Aragon pie, I had the
Mr. Porky. J decided it was time to
try different whiskeys in earnest, so sampled 5 of the local nectars
(interspersed with a half pint of Guinness each time to clear the palate,
of course). He tried the MacAllan
(which was his favorite, and he bought a bottle later to bring home), the
Glenfarclas 105 (which was VERY strong and he tried last on purpose), the Highland Park (which
he didn’t like, it was salty) and 2 others.
K and C wandered in for pints after dinner, and we chatted with
another guest who brought her Lurcher dog back in. Her name was Sabina, and she was a
veterinarian on holiday from Germany. We had fascinating discussions about
dogs, education, travel, etc. We
staggered home after several pints each in the warm pub (they have a
crackling fireplace, too!)
Friday, 6/20: Ferry Tales
back serving breakfast this morning, and we were sad to go. Jane had been so sweet and helpful, we
vowed we’d be back some day. The two
cars went their separate ways – K and C were intent on turning in the Car
from Hell in for a more angelic model, while the rest of us climbed in the
minivan and headed up towards Dunrobin
Castle. If we missed each other there, we would
meet in Wick around 4pm – we figured it probably wouldn’t take all day to
make the trip, but it would be nice to ramble along.
stop was Culloden (on GBHC), as we hadn’t had time to visit that the other
day. The visitor’s centre was
amazing, and had a lot of very interesting stories, artifacts, and
examples. It did a really good job
of explaining not only the battle itself, but the politics and background
that led to the battle. I’ve read a
lot of historical fiction around that era, and it all seemed to fit right
in to the historical accounts there.
I enjoyed the recreation film of the battle in 360 degrees, too –
the contrast between the Royal troops and the Scottish troops was
striking. The battlefield itself was
a field with some flags and paths through it – the true gem is that
on up through Inverness and to
Dunrobin. This was described to us
as a fairy tale castle, and I can see how it came by that name. It has turrets and towers, sweeping
staircases and manicured gardens. It
is definitely worth a tour (though it wasn’t on our GBHC), as the rooms
were all beautifully preserved. One
was full of period clothing, ball gowns, uniforms, etc. There is a rather scary stuffed deer at
the entrance – he is staring at you as if he will stamp you into little
puddles of pulp, should he ever break free of his taxidermic cage. We had lunch in the castle shop, which
was adequate, and met up with K and C while there. I had a salmon baguette, but the baguette
was too crisp to hold the slippery salmon when I bit into it. The strawberry tart did a lot to make up
for that shortcoming, though!
We told K
and C we would meet them in Thurso at 5pm (our ferry started boarding at
6:15), and then drove up the road. I
wanted to see the Hill o’ Many Stanes, but when we got up the little road,
I was rather disappointed. I was
expecting something dramatic, but this should have been renamed the Hill o’
Many Toe Stubs, as each stone was no higher than my calf. Yes, there were many of them, in a huge
fan pattern, and that was very interesting.
But I kept looking for munchkins to jump out from behind the stones
and start singing “we represent the Lollipop Guild, the Lollipop Guild, the
Lollipop Guild!” We couldn’t stop
giggling at them, so we then headed back to the car… as well as we
could. The wind attempted to stop us
from going in that direction, and was quite insistent, but we persisted.
up to Wick on the coast was very windy and had lots of steep grades up and
down the seaside cliffs. However,
that resulted in some spectacular scenery and beautiful coves. The cliffs would appear brown and grey
and green – until the sun came out.
Then there were golds and oranges and blues and purples to add to
the previous colors, making a riot of color everywhere you looked. Unfortunately, I couldn’t look much – I
was stuck behind two tankers who had to go very slowly up the steep
grades. First gear is such a safe
and happy place to be, don’t you think?
We got to
Wick, which was much larger than I thought it would be, and got some gas.
It seemed like a nice town, with lots of people walking about in the
afternoon sun. We headed across land
towards Thurso, as we had had enough of cliff roads for a little while, at
least. In Thurso (which was also
much bigger than I had expected on this far outflung corner of the country)
we drove through town and found a pub at the end of the main road, the
Weigh Inn. It was close to the ferry
entrance, so we decided to stop for a bit of dinner. I called K and C to let them know, but
had no idea if the call would go through or not. There was a wedding reception going on,
and many men in full kilt regalia.
We even saw the bride and groom arriving in a late model classic car
of some sort. I had the taglieterre
carbonara, but it was linguine instead, and very thick (sticky). It wasn’t great, but it was filling. I’d been on the lookout for the famed
cock-a-leekie soup everywhere I went, but hadn’t found any yet. K and C did end up joining us, but
weren’t interested in eating – they get seasick easily, and we were about
to embark upon a 2 hour ferry ride.
They did nibble on some quadruple chocolate shortbread cookies that
they bought at the Walker’s
Shortbread factory a couple days ago.
(Northlink) from Scrabster to Stromness was lovely. It had a full bar and lounge, so we took
advantage and had a couple pints on the way. The weather was bad, so we took the
inside passage rather than out around Hoy, and the wind and rain were a bit
much for good photographs… so I played it safe, and stayed inside for the
most part. We met Rube, who worked
on an oil rig as an engineer. He was
returning home, as he grew up on Orkney.
He even described the notorious blackening ceremony that brides and
grooms are subjected to on the island, as his sister went through it (even
though she had moved to Wick). We
talked about history and politics, and he said we were the most
well-informed Americans he had met.
We told him not to raise his hopes up, as we were atypical geeky
types who read a lot compared to most, but he wouldn’t be dissuaded from
his new opinion.
Orkney, we circled around Stenness several times before we found our
B&B. We had to call for directions,
and still almost passed it again.
The sign was well-camouflaged against the garden wall, and mostly
hidden by ivy, as well as it being dim and dark from lowering clouds and
rain. But find it we did – the Mill
of Eyrland (http://www.millofeyrland.co.uk/). Morag was our hostess, and she showed us
up to our rooms. The upstairs (second floor) consisted of two rooms
attached by one lounge and a bathroom for C, K, J and me. M and D had singles on the first floor,
near a larger general lounge, while the breakfast room was on the ground
floor. We asked about food options,
as K and C hadn’t eaten yet – Morag sent us to Kirkwall
for either Chinese or Indian, the only options that would be open at this
time of night (8:30pm). It was a
lovely little drive, and I went along to keep them company, and because I
hadn’t eaten much of my ‘taglieterre carbonara’. We asked directions once we got into
Kirkwall, and the lady we asked told us the Indian place was near the
library, the ‘second largest building in Kirkwall’. The largest building was definitely the
St. Magnus Cathedral in the center of town – a magnificent piece of
architecture made out of red standstone.
We found the Indian place, and we had Roshni lamb and chicken
biryani. It was close to 11pm as we
left, and the sun was still not near setting.
Saturday, 6/21: Tombs and chapels and wine shops, oh, my!
morning we had a great breakfast. Morag puts out a selection of interesting
jellies, such as lime and lemon, as well as black currant, marmalade and
apricot. There was a couple from Oxford also eating
breakfast with us, who specialized in prehistoric archeology. We figured they had been to Orkney many
times, but no, this was their first visit.
How could you not have visited earlier? The guy had just retired, and had lived
all his life just a short distance away in Oxford.
visited the Tomb of the Eagles and the Italian Chapel the first day. One of
the rare moments of sunshine came while at the tomb. You have to drive all
the way to the end of the islands for it, but it's worth the drive and the
mile hike. Not just for the tomb, but for the incredible angular cliffs and
seabirds around there. Everything was at an angle, which is actually how
the discoverer found the tomb - the tomb stones were straight, and seemed
out of place. You have to pull yourself into the tomb on a rope and a board
with wheels, but it's light inside due to skylights. The walk back along
the cliffs is highly recommended!
There were plenty of seabirds and wildflowers dotting the landscape,
like a painter just went crazy with the splatter brush. We saw yellow lichen, white flowers,
black birds, and the blue ocean. On
the way back, my Ecco walking shoes (which I finally got when my luggage
arrived!) decided to start chafing, as I hadn’t worn them since the last
vacation the previous year. I took
them off and walked along the cliff in my socks, not caring that they were
getting damp. Then I took the socks
off and put the shoes back on, and it was a little better, but it still
chaffed in different areas. Sigh –
you just can’t win, can you?
Tomb of the Eagles
I switched to K and C’s car, and let M and D drive free (J was
spending the day back at the B&B, immersed in his laptop
for the day). The Italian Chapel was delightful, and much
more moving than I thought it would be. The artistry and story
is incredible. It was
built by Italian POWs out of a Quonset hut and scrap parts.
They painted the inside as if it was lined in tiles,
created ironwork for the inside, and truly made a magical religious
wonderland inside. Sadly,
it was only used as a chapel for a couple years, but I am very
glad the folks of Orkney were smart and kind enough to have
preserved this little gem.
The Italian Chapel
On the way to Kirkwall, we saw signs for
the Orkney Wine Shop, so we had to go find out, especially after K and C
had so much fun at the liquid deli.
It was on a little farmhouse down a dirt road, but with a
magnificent view of the seaside and ocean.
You were never far from an ocean view on Orkney, wherever you went,
and that’s one of its enduring charms.
The wine shop was run by a Dutch man who had emigrated to Orkney
years before. He let us sample all
his wines, which certainly did a lot towards improving our attitude for the
day. However, I don’t care for dry
wines, and most of his were dry – elderberry wine, whiskey wine, even his
strawberry rhubarb wine. They tasted
rather harsh to me, but K bought a bottle of elderberry wine.
Lighthouse in Hoy
We got to
Kirkwall for lunch, and found the Arnold
Hotel for some steak and Orkney beef burgers – quite delicious. We asked the waitress about music venues,
as the St. Magnus music festival was going on, but she didn’t have much
idea about what was going on where.
She did tell us where we could find flyer information, though… and
we heard the ubiquitous bagpipers practicing in the pub next door. I love bagpipe music, but don’t think
that most players have the control necessary to play a set of full pipes
indoors. It’s like a tuba – a
powerful instrument, too powerful for close range unless you have a deft
wandered around Kirkwall a while in the
afternoon, and visited the Sheila Fleet and Ortak jewelry stores. Sheila
has some spectacular modern/traditional jewelry styles (though not cheap!).
My favorite designs were the Cascade (design inspired by a waterfall) and
the Breckon design, made for the spouses of the guys who prepared all year
for an Up Helly Aa celebration, in thanks for their patience, and inspired
by designs in St. Magnus Cathedral.
I saw these carvings in the church itself when I visited later, and
it made me feel as if I had been let in on a secret. We also saw a blackening truck go through
- sort of a pre-wedding tradition on Orkney, which involves throwing a
molasses/flour mixture on the bride and groom and parading them through the
streets before making them wash off in the freezing ocean. And these were
visited several other stores, such as Judith Glue – but we were warned that
while this used to be a great local shop, it had a great deal of crap in it
now. I bought some local music and
some fudge (tablet). The fudge in Scotland
had a much higher sugar content than I’m used to, rather than the creamy
texture of most American fudge. Our
search for music ventures was in vain – we didn’t see any we were
interested in at convenient times or prices.
way back to the B&B to pick J up for dinner, we stopped at Coween Hill
to climb up to one of the local burial sites/passage tombs. I stayed in the car, as my evil Ecco
shoes still wanted to chew my feet up, but K and C made the long, steep
climb up to this hilltop site. It
had a standing stone or two, and a passage tomb, but by this time C had
seen enough – it’s another rock, and another cairn… woohoo.
Near the Tomb of the Eagles
days were beginning to get to me, because except for a little sunshine
earlier near the Tomb of the Eagles, it had been grey and lifeless,
overcast and misty all day. The
dimness affected me more, I think, because my glasses have built in UV
filters. They will darken with UV
rays, even if the sunlight isn’t making the landscape any brighter. It was about 40 degrees F, and a good
strong wind and rain made it seem even colder. There were still amazing subtle blues and
greens, pale lavenders and pinks in the sky, the landscape, and the islands
in the distance of the sea.
Incongruent shades of aquamarine peeked out here and there, and tiny
yellow wildflowers peppered every hill.
There was an abundance of cows with impatient calves, ewes with
their lambs (cavorting, of course), some huddling together for warmth in
the biting wind that swept over the desolate isles. While lush green was everywhere, it
seemed oddly lonely and bereft, as you rarely saw another human being out
and about. I loved seeing the
distant and near islands disappearing in the mist and then reappearing in
the brief bouts of sunshine.
M, J and
I went out in search of dinner, as D was sleeping. We went into Kirkwall
and picked a place at random along the dockside street – the Kirkwall
Hotel. At first they were snippy
because we didn’t have a reservation, but we got a table. Service, on the other hand, was evidently
harder to get. The food was great,
but at first they completely forgot our soup (we ordered lentil soup), and
we had to flag down one of the servers to find out what happened to
it. Then they admitted they had
forgotten to put in our order at all, so gave us dessert on the house. It seems there was no one server assigned
to any table, so things fell through the cracks – and as big as we were, it
seems we were crack-fallen. The
seafood penne I got was very sweet and vinegary, like the red sauce was
made with brown sauce or something.
I didn’t really care for it, but M’s roast beef and J’s roast lamb
was very good. Desserts again made
the day – fudge and whiskey cheesecake was creamy and delightful. It’s amazing how many sins can be made
good with a good sweetie.
home via the Stones of Stenness, and walked around a bit, annoying the
sheep who seemed to be using the altar as a toilet. There are a few stones there, but they
are rather impressive. We went on to
the Ring of Brodgar, which was more than impressive. However, that’s when the weather decided
to come back with a vengeance, and we quickly took cover. But I did visit the stones on Midsummer’s
Eve, as I said I would. No way in
hell was I going to spend all night out there in that weather, though!
Stones of Stenness
Sunday, 6/22: Hip deep in ancient sites
The second day we visited the Ring of Brodgar first, hoping for some better
weather than the night before, but it was still threatening to take off
with us, especially when I spread my arms and fanned out my shawl. I looked like a really fat eagle, I
think. The stone circle itself is
huge and very impressive, but the icy wind and rain made us less than happy
to be there.
our appointment at Maes Howe, a Neolithic chambered cairn. The path up to it was surrounded by
fencing and barbed wire, so the aforementioned wind and shawl made the
trip… interesting. We walked up to
it, and then waited for the tour guide to show up. We didn’t see her and speculated that she
might pop up out of the ground at any moment, from some underground (and
out of the wind) passage, and we were envious. But eventually she walked up, and let us
in. She gave us a great deal of
history about the area, the tomb, its discovery, and the various folks that
had been in it, including the Viking writing on the walls that differed
little from modern day graffiti. One
said something like ‘Ivar has a huge axe’ J
Once we were in out of the wind, it was surprisingly warm, so I had
to start shedding layers like an old snake.
Of course, I had to put them all on again before stepping outside,
but it was worth it not to sweat to death.
St. Magnus Cathedral
on to Skara Brae next, and luckily we had our handy-dandy GPS to help find
it. K and C, without such
handy-dandy help, got lost for a while.
D and J decided to sit this one out, so M and I braved the wind and
the rain and walked through the gift shop, the visitor centre, and the
mock-up (with a tiny resident mouse) and on to the site itself. It really is fascinating to find this
very domestic layout, all curved and organically shaped, from 5000 years
ago. It looked like nothing more
than a Neolithic sand trap. The
beach next to it was very sandy, but with slate blue water reflecting the
the sites we see from that time are religious in nature, like Stonehenge or the Pyramids. But this is very homey – beds, dressers,
shelves, hearth. It made it seem
very much like I had a connection with these ancient peoples that I never
felt before. I caught a glimpse into
what their everyday life may have been like, and realized it wasn’t all
that different from mine. They
worked hard to make things and feed themselves, even if our society has a
lot more in terms of conveniences, it isn’t all that different. So, here’s to my ancestors! May we always survive.
Skara Brae, we wanted lunch, and tried the Standing Stones Hotel in
Stenness. Standard fare – fish and
chips, crab cakes, not bad. We
dropped M and D off, while J and I went for some further explorations of
the north part of the mainland. We
first tried to find one of the cairns (started with a W), but just ended up
on the top of a mountain near a weather station, on a very narrow, muddy,
unpaved single track road. I was not
confident of my ability to go further, so back we went. I’m rather unadventurous when K isn’t
around acting as instigator.
St. Magnus Cathedral
down into Kirkwall (this was J’s first
visit to the town) we looked around for later dinner options, and ran into
K and C by accident. I was just
parking the car so I could explore St. Magnus Cathedral in earnest, and was
undeterred by their appearance – on I went!
It was beautiful inside, just as it is outside. Red sandstone in the rain shows the black
mold and makes a dramatic contrast and design with architecture. The inside is also dramatic, and
beautifully configured for space and awe.
There were some classical musicians practicing while I walked
around, presumably for a performance that evening as part of the
festival. It was very powerful
music, like something from the score of an action movie or something –
strong and it seemed to tell a story.
It seemed incongruous to hear that sort of music along with the
medieval stained glass pictures.
searching for the Broch of Gurness, we instead found something called a
doocot, which is probably a simplification of the word dovecote – it looked
like a stepped pyramid made of stone.
We went on to the Broch, which J thought was the Broch of Guinness
(boy was he disappointed!) We did
find the Broch eventually. However,
I didn’t feel like exploring the Broch in the weather we were having, so I
stayed in the car and updated my journal while J went down to the beach and
explored the seashore. He found
seals, spectacular seacliffs, and spraying waves.
we were still feeling adventurous, so went in search of the Earl’s
Palace. Instead, we found this
lovely little fisherman’s hut at Skiba Geo.
This cove was absolutely breathtaking – high cliffs surrounding a
sandy little beach that you could barely see for the rocks. The waves were rolling in and the
seabirds darted in and out of them searching for dinner. There were so many shades of black and
blue, it looked like something out of a Maxfield Parrish painting, except
the wind was blowing MUCH faster.
were heading home from that spectacular sight, we came across what looked
like a military training area, with earthworks in a big square, barracks,
bunkers, etc. We also saw a HUGE
bull with a ring in his nose. J
absolutely had to stop to take a picture of his private parts. Don’t ask, really. No, seriously, don’t even.
Back in Kirkwall with everyone for dinner, we decided to try
the Chinese place as a break from the pub food and Indian food we had
hitherto been surviving on. Well, the Chinese certainly know how to use
pepper and garlic, let me tell you!
It was almost (not quite, but almost) too much pepper for me – black
with encrusted pepper yummy umm yumm!
That set us to practically comatose, so off to bed we went.
very tired of all the dim and dusky days, covered with clouds and
rain. While it was only mostly dark
for a couple hours each night, (and never got black, just a deep twilight),
it was still rather depressing to only glimpse the sun occasionally through
a brief break in the grey layers. We
were glad we were moving on the next day.
Orkney itself was beautiful – we just chose the wrong weather to
Monday, 6/23: Horton hears a Smoo?
hate getting up early, early for a long day of travel! But, the good news is it’s already light
out at the 4am wake up time. We
skipped breakfast, as our hostess was still sleeping and we could get food
on the ferry (well, except for K and C, who would wait until
afterwards). And guess what! The bloody sun was bloody shining. Sure, now that we are leaving, it decides
to come out and taunt us like a bratty kindergartener. So, nah!
seriously debated running over to the Ring of Brodgar for some brief sunny
shots of the stones – and K was thinking the same thing in her car. But we both did the mature thing and
drove towards Stromness and the morning ferry instead. Sigh.
I bet if we had been in the same car we would have gone!
get some shots of seals on the rocks as we left the harbor. While we did see and get photos of the
Old Man of Hoy, it wasn’t in the sun yet – the sun had yet to rise high
enough or strong enough so it was in the shadows of the cliff it was
near. It was still spectacular and
worthy of reverence, though. You
could see the layers of rock form colors and lines, and how it might look
with the sun shining on it, but it wasn’t something you could capture on
camera for remembering.
We had a
full breakfast on the ferry and started our drive along the north road to
our fist stop, Durness. Along the
way we saw deer, sheep butts (cavorting), shaggy coos, and some of the most
spectacular scenery I saw on my entire trip. There were sheer cliffs, sandy beaches,
blue and aquamarine bays, diving seabirds, and rolling green hills. Each time we turned another corner, came
around another bend, we would scream ‘Oh, this is the most beautiful thing
I’ve ever seen!’ And then we would
turn another corner, and scream it again, and again, and again. Why had no one mentioned this delightful
part of Scotland
to me in my research? I never came
across anything talking about the incredible beauty of this drive. I had imagined it would be a fairly
boring drive across barren cliffs and sere fields, but I was so very, very
Underground waterfall in Smoo Cave
near sensory overload along that fantastic drive, we came across Smoo Cave, near Durness. We had thought we would meet up with K
and C here, but after having lunch at the Smoo Cave Café, we didn’t see
them (it was around noon). Nobody
but me really wanted to go down to the cave itself, but I didn’t let that
stop me. Mom came as far as the top
of the cliff, and then hung out while I climbed down the steps to the
cave. It was definitely worth a
trip! It is not difficult to climb
down, though there are many, many steps.
Some are a bit tricky, but it’s in good repair. Once down at the mouth of the cave, you
can see that there is a cave stream coming out of the mouth of the cave,
walk over the bridge, and then into the cave. Normally there are tours, but there was a
sign saying the tours were cancelled due to threat of flooding – there was
lots of rain lately, after all.
Ignoring the danger, I walked into the underground waterfall cavern…
oh, so powerful, so incredible!
There was a whole in the cave itself that let in some sunlight, so
you could see this strong, massive waterfall pushing the water out. It wasn’t some mountain stream trickle,
this was a full blown, powerful cascade.
I got soaked from the spray just standing and gazing at it.
some heartbreaking moments, I tore myself away. I don’t know why I’m so fascinated by
powerful waterfalls. The wimpy ones don’t do it for me, it’s got to be
thousands of gallons of pumping water to get me going – and this one did.
North coast of Scotland
the trek back up the stairs, and met a German tour group coming down. We got back together with the boys and
went on to the second half of our tour of the north. It was as spectacular as the first half,
though more trees once we drove inland.
There were glens and valleys, mountain tarns with crystal clear
reflections of the puffy clouds above.
Tantalizing glimpses of the seaside peeked through mountains to the
right. By the time we arrived at
Ullapool, we were almost drained from the constant beauty and stunning
landscapes we had driven through (and stopped often for photos!)
North coast of Scotland
a pub for some refreshments before we were due to the ferry checkin; the
Argyll Hotel didn’t seem very interested in our custom, and so we just had
some sweets and drinks. The owners
looked to be a couple of retired hippies, complete with a flowing dress and
View from Smoo Cave
in line for the ferry, we saw K and C doing the same. They had had a similar reaction to the
landscapes on their trek of the day, and took some Dramamine for the ferry
trip. Unfortunately, the ferry
loading was delayed, so they were very loopy before they had to drive onto
the boat – they almost fell asleep.
ferry trip, we found another local to chat with. This one was Willie, who was coming back
from a motorcycle drive down to South Wales
for a wedding. Fortunately, though
his bike broke down on the way back, it was only a couple minutes out of
Ullapool. He should probably be
thanking his guardian angels or gods or whoever is looking out for him, I
would think. We talked a lot about
the education system on the islands; evidently a parent can choose for his
children to go to a Gaelic school, and they will be taught English as a
second language, or an English school with Gaelic as a second
language. We talked about the
economy, prices, weather, etc… it was a very pleasant chat, and he also
told us that the B&B was very easy to find, just outside of the ferry
Ferry ride to Stornoway
quite right, you couldn’t miss the place, there it was, the Hal O’ the Wynd
(http://www.halothewynd.com/)! Graham, our host, was quite nice, though
he giggled a bit at the end of everything he said. He showed J and I up to the family room,
which gave us two double beds to stretch out on (one had a bunk on top),
while the girls were settled in a twin downstairs, and M and D had two
singles upstairs. Everything was
clean and neat, not fancy. The area
was close to everything, right on the dockside street.
Ferry ride to Stornoway
K and C
and I went out in search of dinner, and found the Caledonian Hotel – where
we had a couple pints and watched a young girl with purple hair flirt with
her guys. However, they only had
pints, so K had to overcome her objections and go to the Indian place,
Balti House. The guy who prepped the
takeaway order was quite nice – raised in Aberdeen,
but born here in Scotland. It’s quite surreal to hear someone speak
English in a Scottish accent one moment, and then start speaking Hindi to
his brother the next. He said there
wasn’t much around for trad music, perhaps MacNeil’s might have some. K and C got their takeaway dinners, and
we headed back home for an early night after a very long day of travel.
Tuesday, 6/24: Tragedy strikes C
wife, Jean, served us a yummy breakfast and we headed out around the ‘loop’
that first day. We saw the Arnol
Blackhouse Museum, where they had both the blackhouse set up, but also a
later vintage house – which I could have easily pictured my
great-grandparents in (even though they were from Ohio). My great-grandmother was the McKenzie, so
I kept picturing her everywhere along this trip, even though to my knowledge
she never set foot in Scotland. After Arnol, we moved on to Dun Carloway,
which K, C, M and I climbed up and scrambled about. It was easily accessible, with a little
climb but nothing punishing, and incredible views of the area around
it. The land undulated like a
disturbed swimming pool, but there were no sharp corners anywhere, just
smoothness and the colors. The sun
deemed to come out here and there, and you saw yellows, golds, oranges,
purples, everything jumped out of the peat bogs and fields at you.
Inside the Arnol Blackhouse
this trip we saw all sorts of animal butts sticking out to greet us on the
way along the road – cow butts, sheep butts, pig butts (we found the only
pig in Scotland near Calanais), even hairy coo butts. They must think that’s their best side.
on to the piece de resistance, the Calanais Standing Stones. Again, fairly easy to climb to, though
the wind decided to pick up a bit on our way up. There was a crowd of people when we
arrived, but the wind drove everyone else away and we had it to ourselves
for quite a while. It was nice to
walk around first, and then explore the inside of this famous circle. Unlike other circles I’d been to, the
stones formed a cross in the center, as well as around the edge, like a
huge Celtic cross if you looked down on it from above. It was smaller than I thought – perhaps
the fence right around it and the farmhouses very close helped that
impression. I had always thought of
it in the middle of a windswept plane, like Stonehenge,
but that wasn’t the case. There was
a point on the outside edge that, if you walked down the path, the horizon
line obliterated the houses behind it, and you could imagine you were in
that lonely, windswept field, miles from anything and anyone. It was quite exhilarating, once you
fooled your own mind a bit.
on to visit Calanais II and Calanais III, smaller stone circles within
sight of the largest one. There was
a big triangle made by the three sites, and this lovely old dead tree near
one of the stone circles. It was
like something out of a horror movie, with the now darkening sky behind it,
the branches white as dried bones standing out in the dim light.
one more stone circle we found a sign for while driving around, and K was
the only one with enough stamina and gumption to go find this one, while C
and I awaited her return in the car.
This is when disaster struck – C accidently deleted all her photos
from her camera when looking to see how much memory she had left. I would have died, and she wanted to,
right then and there. I tried to
reassure her that data recovery could retrieve them, just don’t try to use
the card again until the computer folks could get hold of it. Eventually K returned, and we headed
right back to Stornoway in the off chance that someone there could retrieve
the data. There were 1200 photos she
lost on that card, I don’t blame her for being upset!
a wee computer store as soon as we got back into town, and let them try
their magic, while we went back to the B&B to collect J for lunch. K and C went to the tea rooms, while the
rest of us went in search of non-pub lunches (at 2pm). Well, predictably, there was nothing but
pubs serving food at that time; J was sick of pub food, but we ended up at
the tea rooms anyhow, for sandwiches and soups. We also dropped off M and D’s laundry at
the local launderette. The
coronation chicken sandwich and scone at the tea rooms hit the spot, and we
got J some more Migraleve (miracle migraine medicine!). We dropped M and D off and headed north
to Point Ness and the Butt of Lewis.
northern part of Lewis, the landscape became 100% peatbog, a moonscape of
undulating brown and gold turf, gently rolling along the top of the
land. There were occasional villages
along the one road up, with white and sandy-stucco houses dotted here and
there like lonely outposts to a forgotten civilization.
arrived at the harbor, which had an idiot windsurfing with a stunt kite in
the waves down near a tiny sliver of sandy beach, among sharp-looking rocks
jutting out of the surf. We watched
him for a while in morbid fascination, waiting for him to be dashed to
little bits in front of our eyes, but the idiot was pretty good!
Point Ness, Lewis
went on to the Lighthouse, which was colder, windier, and more
breathtaking. The cliff is about 170
feet high, and had some stunning views, despite the cold and the wind. There were perfectly calm little puddles
in the rocks reflecting the turbulent skies. On the way in we pulled over in a passing
place to let a group of motorcyclists go by, and they put their hands up in
thanks – each one had ‘Hi!’ written on the palm of their gloves J
Point Ness, Lewis
back to find someplace that might be open for dinner, and settled on the
Duone Braes Hotel, not far from Dun Carloway. We were salivating at the garlic mussels
on the menu, but they were out, so we settled for salmon and scallops with
roe. He really liked his scallops,
and we determined that it might be fun for him to start writing a food
critic blog about various places he ate.
We headed back to the B&B, and I spent a while with the girls
watching the Euro Cup Football semifinals.
(hey, the German guys were cute).
Wednesday, 6/25: The Golden Road
K and C
were going to get up early to go see the sandy beaches in the sunlight, but
alas, the weather refused to cooperate and was once again overcast and
windy, with frequent promises of rain.
We went into the breakfast room, surprised to see a group of young
men finishing up their meal – we didn’t think there were enough rooms in
this B&B to fit us and them!
However, Jean told us they were staying in one of their other
properties, a self-catering place, working on contract at the airport.
K and C
went off to Uig in search of beaches and longhouses. The rest of us went searching for beaches
as well, but headed south to Harris instead. It was rainy on the way down, and very
misty on the way into Harris itself.
As we went south, the terrain got rockier, higher, more mountainous,
less peaty. There were surely some
beautiful mountain vistas as we crossed the passes, but there was too much
mist to see the mountain we were on, much less anything farther away.
stop was Luskentyre beach, which is the most fabulous and beautiful. Even in the dark, overcast sky, the
waters were a bright aquamarine, and the sand was white and pristine. It looked like a postcard out of some
Caribbean vacation spot, so out of place on this northern, rainy, windswept
morning. The bay was like a shining
jewel set in pale, blond gold. I
went down to the inlet and stuck my toe in the water, just to say I had –
it was much less cold than I thought it would be. Perhaps some of this sand had traveled up
the Gulf Stream from the Caribbean itself.
around the other beaches on that one lonely road – Scarista, Leverburgh,
and onto Rodel. There was a marshy
area that looked like a puzzle maze near the shore, with dots of white
sheep jumping around the twisted water channels. I saw a little black lamb and had to stop
and take a photo of him, he looked so sweet just standing there, staring at
us daft tourists.
north of Rodel to Tarbert is evidently called the Golden Road, and it is not for the
faint of heart. There was only about
10 miles, but it took us about an hour to traverse the whole thing. By this time, we had gotten used to
single track roads for the most part.
However, usually one had some sort of shoulder on which to retreat
if there was an oncoming car. This
road was very narrow (though it looked like they had thoughtfully freshly
painted the white lines on each side!), and there were several parts where
there was NO edge on either side – just a white-edged black twisted ribbon
going from one cliff to the next, with very few passing places. When there was a side, it was fairly
sheer cliff on both sides, one going up and one going down (if we were
lucky). It also went up and down
steep grades at the same time.
Yikes! It certainly honed my
driving skills better than any other experience had yet done. I think I was in either 1st or
2nd gear the entire trip, especially when there was a small bus
coming my way… a bus! On this bloody
got through the third circle of hell that is the Golden Road, we rested in Tarbert for
lunch at the Harris
Inn. I treated myself to a steak and black
pudding sandwich (which was very tasty and savory) and a pint of cool,
clear cider. Ahhh, cider never
tasted so good and refreshing.
the remainder of the trip home, to my great relief. We got back with little ado, and picked
up laundry, and took a well deserved nap.
We went out to walk around about 5:30, and couldn’t find anything
open. Not that I expected it to be,
mind you, but I still can’t get used to how all shopping is closed around
5pm. Don’t most people work until
5pm here? Anyhow, J and I decided to
try the Indian place for dinner, Balti House, and it was fabulous. I had the chilli garlic lamb, and J had
the chicken tikka curry. It was spicy, but not hot, lots of flavor, very
tender. The couple next to us was
it took us a while to figure out what language they were speaking (we had
to ask, finally). The waiter, though
obviously of Indian descent, was born and raised here in Stornoway (his
brother had been from Aberdeen,
the one that helped K and C the other night). There was a guy that sat next to us on
the other side that looked a little strange, like he was homeless. He muttered a bit from time to time and
had trouble talking when he ordered, perhaps he was foreign or partially
deaf? Regardless, he ordered dinner
and white wine (which doesn’t really fit the theory of homelessness).
dinner, we staggered to our B&B and watched a show on a divorced woman
with two daughters go to live with a South American tribe. She ended up being married to one of the
locals while she was there, but still left to go home. There was also a Wallace and Grommit
style cartoon on called Shawn the Sheep – one episode where the farmer
wanted a brand new tractor, so Shawn had everyone build one (but it
exploded), and another episode where the farmer had a metal detector – less
said about that episode, the better; it was very strange, and involved a
metal cow and a bull.
Very windswept tree
Thursday, 6/26: Over the sea to Skye
we were tired of cold, windy, rainy mornings! We didn’t want to hear one more time how
we had JUST missed 7 weeks of glorious weather – we would be happy with
just one day of no rain. But alas,
we were in Scotland,
and I don’t think we got one all sunny day the entire trip. That’s luck!
Isle of Skye
off for Tarbert just after breakfast, as we had a ferry appointment at 11:50. Once again, the trip there was wet, misty
and rainy. K and C took a stab at
Beach before getting
to the ferry, while we just relaxed and hung out near the ferry terminal,
kind of pooped out about adventure at the moment.
Isle of Skye
ferry, C showed me a book she had gotten that looked really cool – Scotland
the Autobiography by Goring. It was
about Scottish history, but via written letters of people who lived it at
the time. Definitely something I’ll
be getting. OK, just ordered it on Amazon, done and done!
Isle of Skye near Old Man of Storr
had taken Dramamine again for the trip, but only took a half pill
each. It still zonked them out for
most of the trip. I went to the gift
shop and got some music and a book on traditional Scottish tales to read,
and while I was gone the area was invaded by a group of young
travelers. They had evidently been
to Turkey, Croatia, and a couple other countries
already, and the Oriental girl was from Australia, by her accent. Another surreal picture.
Isle of Skye
was constantly at an angle due to the high wind we were going through, so
it was strange to see the sea very close on one side of the boat, but only
sky on the other side. However, we
got into Portree on time at 1:30 and headed towards our B&B at
Thatched cottage on Skye – note
the satellite dish!
at Edinbane (http://www.the-lodge-at-edinbane.co.uk/)
has got to be my favorite B&B on the entire trip. It was wonderful! Large, rambling property, lots of rooms,
a pub and dining room on property, everything run by Hazel, Pete and
Cal. It even had resident ghosties
to keep you company at night. And
yes, even though all the rooms on the website were pink, she had some
purple and even some blue rooms available!
Church near Dunvegan
checked in, we went in to town for some laundry. The launderette is behind the youth
hostel – make sure to bring plenty of 20p pieces, though! That’s all the washers and dryers take,
though the washers require some pounds as well. We got some extra change from the bakery
across the street, and waited for our laundry to finish. One lady came in to transfer her horse
blanket from a washer to the dryer – boy those bits and buckles make a
racket in the dryer.
Dancing tree in Dunvegan Castle
laundry is done – where is the music and the food? How about internet access? Well, 5pm gives none of the above. Pubs don’t serve food till 6pm, music at
9pm, and internet access was the library, which is long closed. Ah well, we did hear that there would be
session music (just folks playing together for fun) at the Dunvegan Hotel
later tonight, so we went for a couple pints before heading back to the
Lodge for dinner.
were denied our mussels earlier in the week, we tried again, and scored.
Yum! I had a chicken leek and
mushroom pie, while K and C both had beef boulognese (sp?). Off to the Dunvegan Hotel for some music,
finally! Well, it was really at the
Cellar Pub next to the hotel. We
were too full for pints, so had some Bailey’s instead. I liked the session music, but then
again, I knew what to expect from session music… I think K and C were less
than thrilled with it, expecting polished professional performances. It’s really just a group of musicians
jamming together, and that means fairly well known and easy to follow
tunes. We did recognize Mairi’s
Wedding at one point, and I heard a familiar Strathspey, but that was about
it. In the pool room there was an
amusing drama going on involving a pool shark running the billiards
table. We left after a couple
drinks, and returned to the Lodge.
Friday, 6/27: Three Chimneys – Yum!
Sunshine? Yes, sunshine! Woohoo!
Alas, it was not to last, but it was nice to see the landscape of
Skye – as beautiful as it always is – in the dappled sunlight peeking
through the clouds now and then. We
had 1:00 lunch reservations at Three Chimneys near Dunvegan, so decided to
come at it from the south, and did a circle to Struan. There was a little B road that avoided
Portree, so we got adventurous and took that – and came across our first
true Scottish Traffic Jam (a herd of sheep in the road). We had previously seen several individual
sheep (cavorting, of course) in the road, but this was the first full herd
we had seen taking over the road.
They were quite reluctant to give up their prime spot, as well.
see glimpses of the Black Cuillin and the Red Cuillin
Mountains in the
distance, and rolling green hills in the near foreground, but the mists
kept threatening to snatch our view away again. I was rather cross with the mists, as
they had been keeping the view to themselves much to often on this trip,
and I figured it was my turn to have it for a while.
time I had visited Skye, 8 years ago, I almost got hit by an
ambulance. Never one to oust
tradition, we once again almost got hit by an ambulance. This was on a single track road to
Struan, and it came right around the corner – lights on but no sirens. You would think sirens would be de
rigueur on a single track windy road, so people knew you were coming, no?
hills, what we saw of them, were beautifully soft, gently rolling. The few mountains we saw had strange flat
tops on them, as if they were wearing pillbox hats of stone and rock. It was highly frustrating to KNOW in your
heart what a fantastic view you would have if only the mists would lift or
the rain would clear.
stopped to look at a little chapel signed St. John’s Chapel. It had a beautiful iron gate, rusted
almost away to nothing. The path
down was very muddy and slippery, and I decided it was the better part of
wisdom to forgo this part of the adventure – I probably would have fallen on
my butt several times on the way down, which would leave me somewhat too
muddy to have lunch at Three Chimneys.
Waterfall in Dunvegan Castle
up in Carbost and Three Chimneys too early for lunch, so we explored the Carbost Folk Museum
(a blackhouse set up for show) and gazed at seals on the shore. There wasn’t anyone at the ticket window,
but a sign asking for the admission price and a small box – we put in our
coins, signed our name on the guest list, and went up.
From Kilt Rock observation deck
seen a couple blackhouses already, there wasn’t anything profoundly new
about this one, so it only held our interest a short time. We decided to explore up the road a bit,
and found the Skye Silver shop. I
finally went ahead and made my big purchases of the trip, a pin/pendant set
and a pair of somewhat matching earrings (the set didn’t have earrings that
Three Chimneys, we met up with K and C and settled down to a lovely
lunch. Our table was near the front
window, so half of us could look out at the bay during the meal. The wait staff was very attentive and
helpful, and the food was simply superb.
For starters we had the seafood bisque, fennel soup (bright green!)
and roast pigeon. For lunch itself I
had the roast lamb, which was lightly drizzled with a wonderfully
savory/sweet sauce. Dessert was a
simply melt-in-your-mouth lemon sorbet parfait. I also had a glass of tawny port, while K
and C made the mistake of ordering the Gaelic coffee. I think they expected something sweet,
like a latte – but it was not! C
tried to sweeten it up by adding a piece of fudge (very sugary fudge)
served with the coffee, but it didn’t help.
Hey, it was worth a try!
Are you my mummy?
lunch, we decided it was time to tackle Dunvegan Castle
and gardens. It wasn’t on the GBHC,
but it was definitely worth a visit.
By this time we were getting castled out, but the fairy flag is
worth a visit, if only to say you had seen it. I was somewhat prepared for
disappointment, as I knew it was not much more than scraps of fabric
left. However, it was cool to see it
and imagine that it may have indeed been the shawl of a fairy girl.
shop had some neat things, and J decided to buy a nice pewter tankard and
flask there (that had been what he was looking for in this trip, as far as
souvenirs). However, the clerk took
so long to fill out the paperwork for the VAT refund, I almost gave up and
left. I did end up going out to the
gardens to go to the bathroom while she went through her line of people
before getting back to me. I am
reasonably certain she was waiting for me to give up, but I didn’t. One woman also waiting did give up, but I
stuck to my guns.
as the castle was, the gardens were fantastic. They were wild and wandering, filled with
flowers and foliage, bamboo and butterflies. We walked up to the waterfall, to the
walled garden, and all around the pathways.
The sheer variety and beauty of the flowers was almost
overwhelming. We even saw a bright
colony of mushrooms growing in the knot of a tree, protected by some mesh
screen from vandals (sad, isn’t it?).
I felt like Alice
in Wonderland, seeing plants I’d never seen before. I expected a caterpillar to be around
every bend, smoking his hookah.
long and tiring day, dinner was a no-brainer. Back to the Lodge for some dinner and
pints! Dad tried the cheese salad,
which does sound strange, but looked tasty – a nice salad of greens and veg
with several different cheeses on it, including brie, cranberry stilton,
feta, etc. K, C, J and I continued
to have drinks at the pub until almost midnight, out-waiting several locals
who were shepherds drinking in the bar.
One decided that he should start serenading us. It would have been lovely if we could
have figured out what he was saying or singing!
Saturday, 6/28: Misty Kilts, hidden men, and fairies
our day to explore the Trotternish
Peninsula, the fabled
Quiraing, Kilt Rock, and the Old Man of Storr. Of course, we hoped for lovely weather –
and of course we were disappointed.
There were moments of sun and moments of not-so-wet, but for the
most part it was rainy. However, we
weren’t waiting around for some mythical sun. Off we went, forging ahead into the dim,
Hazel’s (our B&B hostess) advice, we drove around the peninsula in a
counter-clockwise direction. We got
off at the Old Man of Storr, and walked up the muddy, slippery, but lovely
wooded trail to see the famous rock formation. We climbed and climbed, slipped and
slided, but when we made it to the clearing – the tops of the mountains
were still covered with a thick fog, and it started raining again in
earnest. We sighed, wrote it off as
bad luck, and made our way down again.
The woods itself were beautiful, memories of a children’s fairy
tale, with mossy rocks and green light filtering through the leaves.
We did go
along and took several stops to take pictures, but when we made it to Kilt
Rock, the rain stopped for us for a while.
We were very grateful! The
cloud cover even lightened a little so we could see for a bit of distance. We saw islands in the mists, and I could
readily see how myths of Tir Na Nog came to be in the minds of the
ancients. Kilt Rock was beautiful,
and would have been even more spectacular if the sun was hitting it. As it was, we saw the striations and
colors in a reasonable light. More
surprising was the music – yes music.
The wind was howling around, and the fencing that kept people from
falling off the observation deck evidently were hollow, and it sounded like
lost souls crying for their empty lives.
I don’t know if this was by design or accident, but it certainly put
a surreal touch to the sights. We
spent quite a while there, gazing out at the sea, and imagining how many
thousands of people had done the same over the centuries.
Irish Traffic Jam
stopped next to explore an old diamantine mine, and the climb to the cliff
was a bit chancy. Not because of the
path itself, but as soon as you reached the top of the cliff, and started
to climb down to the observation spot, the wind hit you so hard you had to
grab at the rail to keep standing.
One poor guy was trying to set up a tripod and keep his expensive
camera out of the damp, fighting the wind the entire time.
mine, we lost track of K and C in their car – M, D, J and I stopped at the
Columba 1400 café for a bite to eat and some warm drink (tea and
coffee). We then went down to
explore the Staffin Slipway, again on recommendation of our hostess. This was a black rock beach, and was
almost the death of us. We finally
came across the single track road where one of us had to back up – both of
us had windy roads with no shoulders.
The other guy did end up backing up, though I tried for a bit. But I was uphill, and someone came up
behind me. His passenger got out to
help him back up, and it took a good 5 minutes to get to the layby, but he
did. We offered him a tip for his
efforts, but he refused J
itself was very rocky, but had all sorts of fascinating bits, and the pier
was rather pretty. I watched birds
playing in the rocks, looking for lunch for a while, while J combed the
beach looking for interesting rocks.
We took a
small road into the Quiraing for a while, and saw some spectacular
scenery. This is the area that
always looks misty and otherworldly in the photos you see of Skye. It is like it’s out of another time,
another place, another reality. We
stopped after an overload of beauty, and went back. Not because we couldn’t
handle more, but because Hazel had warned us the road got worse farther on,
and that we shouldn’t go too far along it.
Besides, I wanted to check out Duntulm Castle,
which is on the coast road, so off we went.
was a bit of a climb, but perfectly doable.
I was the only one of the group brave enough to face the wind and
the bit of rain (about sideways, when it was there at all). There was, however, a tour bus each of
MacBackpackers and Haggis Tours there at the same time, so I certainly
wasn’t alone in scampering over the hills and bits of broken wall. It was a small coastal castle, in ruins,
but extremely ‘picturesque’ in its setting and configuration. I can just see Vikings coming here to try
to take the place over! (though I don’t think it was that old).
on around the coastal road, back towards what passed for civilization. We came into Uig and had lunch at the Uig
Café, directly across from the ferry entrance. The sandwiches filled us up,
and we laughed a bit at the touristy stuff on sale at the gift shop. Coronation Chicken always works J
J went to
the small food shop next door and got some roasted chicken rosemary and
thyme crisps (potato chips) and they were thick and tasty, but much too
strong for me.
stop was the Fairy Glen. Hazel gave
specific directions on how to find it – just behind the Uig Hotel there is
a small road going up, take that all the way in and you’ll find it. And yes, it was a very small road, and it
went up and down and around and boom!
You’re there. The Fairy Glen
is an area you really have to see to believe. It is strange and alien, with perfectly
conical hills, rambling trees with exposed roots, and green simply
everywhere. Again, we found the
MacBackpackers bus, who went in and turned around somewhere up the road
while we parked. I met the driver –
Ewan Kenneth McLeod or MacGregor, I forget which. However, he was definitely of the hippie
persuasion – long hair, Berkinstock-style sandals, etc. He was very helpful, though, and told us
the best place to turn around up the road.
I told him I had seen his bus at Duntulm, and that I was afraid I
was following him – he said no worries, I could follow him anytime J
a very slippery path up the hill, but I braved at least the lower part of
it. After all, these were the shoes
that conquered (almost) Arthur’s Seat!
However, it was still very rainy and muddy, so I didn’t go too far
up. Just enough to see more of the
surreal landscape from the clearing, little peaked mounds that could have
been housing a dozen gnomes, and whispy trees reaching along the ground to
grab at the ankles of unsuspecting children. One said tree was uprooted, and made a
great chair for photo opportunities.
The area underneath its exposed roots looked like it could easily
lead to an underground fairy realm.
bit of exploration and wandering, we headed back to the B&B. We had planned on dinner there, but K, C
and I had concert tickets to the Peatbog Fairies in Portree, so we went
into town for dinner there before the concert. We ate at a café on the main square, and
I had a very tasty wild boar burger.
They had Kopparberg Pear Cider, which made a nice variety from our
typical apple ciders.
wandered back towards the concert, and started to note the interesting
variety of attendees. There were
folks from all age groups – teenie boppers in their oh-so-fashionable
outfits (one such girl was wearing a sky blue dress with three huge rings
of ruffles… and brown mukluks. Great
combo, really.) and older folks, including a older guy with a vast amount
of bright white hair and a peg leg.
were a couple of German tourists next to us that gave us dirty looks for
who knows what reason. They didn’t
talk to each other the entire time they sat there, though the woman finally
got up and danced later. One girl,
blond and very pretty, wearing a great outfit and a cowboy hat, had a whole
flock of groupies around her. What
impressed me is that many of her friends weren’t ‘beautiful people’ – back
in my school, someone like that simply wouldn’t tolerate ugly friends. I’m glad that isn’t universal code. The couple next to me was a very young
guy and girl (perhaps 17?) that seemed surgically attached to each other
throughout the concert.
We sat in
some of the chairs around the edge of the dance floor, and waited for the
bands to start. There were several
bands playing, though it appears one of those billed didn’t show up or
play. The Hookares (pronounced Who
Cares) had a wide variety of sounds, from western to blues to rock. They had great vocals, good stage
presence, and a mad fiddler (looked a lot like my friend, Decado), but the
balance was off to anyone on the side.
Presumably it sounded better to the sound guy in the back of the
room, but while you could hear the music fine (very loud), the lyrics were
incomprehensible due to the acoustics.
The second band was DJ something-or-other – Celtic house music. They got the house dancing,
definitely! And then was the main
show, the Peatbog Fairies. This
could also be described as Celtic House Music, but they played their stuff
live and had bagpipes and fiddlers, all sorts of interesting additional
sound effects. It was mostly great,
though occasionally I could here where one of the performers was just a bit
out of step with the others, and it threw the whole mix off.
decided at midnight that it would be better to leave before most of the
drunks were on the road (we had seen many plastic cups simply tossed up in
the air when the beer was drained of them, and while the staff tried hard
to gather them up, there were always more added). So we navigated our way out the front
door through the crowds of teenie-boppers and old folks, and went home.
Sunday, 6/29: Shilasdair and cullen skink
J had a
migraine, so we left him at home to go chase the little sun we saw peeking
through the everpresent clouds.
Today we were heading south to explore that part of the island, but
first we went to see Trumpan
Church – this was a
nice seaside ruined church with some lovely graves on the edge of
nowhere. On the way back we visited
Shilasdair Dye and Yarn Shop (http://www.shilasdair-yarns.co.uk/),
where she hand dyes all her fibers, many from locally gathered plants. We got a fascinating tour of her
workshop, and purchased some items from her – I got some yarns for my
friend who knits. Oh, and K had to
go scramble among the rocks at the shore to gather some of the
abovementioned locally gathered lichens!
we went to Skyskyns (http://www.skyeskyns.co.uk/),
a leather tannery nearby. This, too,
had a great tour of the workshop and the process each of the skins go
through to become salable. Then we
went into the loft shop, and there were so many lovely skins! Lambs wool and sheep wool, beautiful
colors and shades of white, cream, grey and black. K and C bought some gloves and things,
though the register computer seemed to give the clerks some trouble, we
eventually made it out of the store in one piece (into the rain, of
lunch in the Sligachan Hotel, and I had some Cullen Skink soup – it’s like
a smoked fish chowder, and very tasty, full of lumps and chunks. I also had a roast veg, pesto and feta
grilled sandwich, and was quite full.
I had a cider that was something 70, and a bit sour – I didn’t care
for that one very much. We went into
Portree to see if we could find some packing materials for K and C’s liquor
store…uh, I mean the bottles from the liquid deli that they had to
carefully pack to get home properly.
Everything was closed, of course, because it was Sunday
afternoon. However, we did get some
boxes at the Co-op, and went on to the Fairy Glen.
K and C
hadn’t visited it yet, so I guided them there. The sun was really trying hard to shine
through at this point, so I wanted to see it in the sunlight. We ran into one of the women that had
been dancing way too early at the concert last night (think grunge-fairy),
but she was very nice and told us to make sure to go all the way to the top
of the hill. We did, and found an
area where people had been arranging stones in little shapes and piles for
years. There was also a little cave,
but we didn’t get up that far. I did
slip a bit on the way down, but no real damage.
down towards Broadford, and I pointed out the all-in-one gift shop,
launderette, dental surgery, real estate agency building that I remembered
from my other trip to Skye. About
halfway down the road to Armadale, we took stock, and realized that the
only thing we were really interested in was the gardens – and it was
pouring rain. Who wants to tour
gardens in the rain? So we
reluctantly headed back.
was once again at the lodge, where I had a very strongly flavored smoked
haddock – I don’t think I’ll chance that again. We watched the last game of the Euro Cup,
and when Spain beat Germany we thanked our lucky stars we
weren’t vacationing in Spain
at that moment – the party looked like a riot! (and not the good kind)
Monday, 6/30: Single track roads that go on forever
strange dream last night; I was hosting a party and it was pouring rain,
but I forgot to unlock the door. All
my guests were outside starting a riot and heading off to Spain. Hmmm.
once again wowed us with her breakfasts.
She made Scottish pancakes for all, which are sweeter than the
American version. She also served
this crystallized ginger preserve with them that was simply delectable, and
very addicting. K practically
growled when we tried to take some of hers.
We bid a
sad farewell to Hazel, and headed down through Portree, Sligachan and
Broadford. We stopped so I could get
some last photographs of a fabulous waterfall near Sligachan. I still hadn’t figured out how to slow
the shutter speed on my camera to get that velvet moving water feel – there
is such a thing as having too much automation.
up meeting K and C at Eilan Donan Castle,
but that was the last time we saw them (except seeing their car go by near Fort William). We took some pictures, but didn’t go into
the castle. It wasn’t on GBHC, and
we had been about castled out.
Besides, J and I had been there before, and it was fairly typical
inside, and crowded with tourists. We
contented ourselves to some good photographs outside, and of the low tide,
and of the piper entertaining the tourists.
I did some more shopping in the gift shop, and on we went.
particular drive down to Fort William is well on the tourist trail, and really
reminded me of our drive through New
Brunswick last year. Trees, especially pine trees, lined the
roads like soldiers standing at attention.
Thousands of them, more and more everywhere you looked. Occasionally there was a break and you
see a stunning mountain vista or a precious jewel of a lake nestled in a
valley. At one point there was a
fabulous view all around, and another piper waiting for tourist
photos. I have to admit, he chose a
fantastic spot – the mountains were indeed glorious, and the cloud cover
was light enough to let through variations in the sky, and occasional
sunspots on the mountain flanks.
lunch at a touristy spot near Fort
William, the Ben Nevis Visitor
Center. Nothing to write home about, just soup
and sandwiches. J bought some
whiskey in the gift shop (they had a great selection), and I bought more
gifts and postcards. We drove down
to Glenfinnan to see if we could get some shots of the famous viaduct, the
one the Harry Potter movies filmed for the Hogwarts Express train shots. We came to the spot, but couldn’t get a great
shot – there were lots of trees in the way.
However, we did what we could.
The GPS said there was another small road closer to it, but it was
signposted a private road, so we refrained from trespassing this time.
on random mountain top
along Loch Eil on a little one track shoreline road to Strontian, I had my
patience tested once again. It was
at least something with some shoulder, unlike the Golden Road from Hell on Harris. The area along the road did look like
something out of the Hobbit, with golden sun rays (yes, sun!) shining
through hayfields and green fields.
The road was covered by trees arching overhead, and the sun just
barely filtered through in greens and golds.
about 10 miles of this, we switched drivers so D could take over, as my
legs were beginning to cramp a bit.
That was just in time to take the road across Glen Dubh to
Lochaline, and the wider road, of course.
It narrowed again as we crossed the emptiness of that area, but we
made it to the ferry without any mishap.
only held 11 cars, and was the only one I hadn’t reserved ahead of time.
They didn’t take pre-registration, and goes over about a dozen times each
day. We got on board, and didn’t
even need to leave the car – the ferry ride was all of 20 minutes. We did see a castle off to the side as we
made the crossing, and of course it started to rain again. The town of Fishnish was basically just the ferry
port, unless we missed something – we must have blinked. We pressed on through Craignure (which
was a bit more substantial) to get to Fionnphort before dinner. Boy, what a mistake! The rain made it especially fun, as the
30 miles of single track road took on new dimensions when the visibility
was low and people were coming the other way. Luckily, only about 10 cars came at us,
but it was still a slow, frustrating and nervy drive. Glad D was driving and not me! It was an easy recipe for a heart attack.
trip, I took time to remember about how much sun we actually got on the
trip. Edinburgh was mostly sunny for all three
days, and it rained on and off the day we traveled to Grantown-on-Spey, so
that’s four. The first day in
Grantown was OK, and then the day we traveled to Orkney – 6 total. The day we traveled to Lewis was mostly
sunny, half of the second day we were on Skye, half of the third day on
Skye, and parts of the day traveling to Mull. So about 7-1/2 days all together out of
17 so far. Not great, but not as
terrible as we felt it was.
recounted all the wildlife and domestic animals we had seen so far – Hawks,
Red Kites, Eagles, Foxes, Otters, Puffins, Turkey, Partridges (including a
roadkill one), donkeys, llamas, seals, whales, rabbits, hedgehogs, mice,
deer, pheasants, red squirrels, swans, pigs and of course the ubiquitous
cows, sheep, and horses.
my attempts at taking my mind off the terrifying drive, I had a few moments
of nail-biting fear, but we made it safe and sound in Fionnphort. Finding Seaview B&B (http://www.iona-bed-breakfast-mull.com/)
was quite easy, as there is just one road through there. We were duly welcomed by John and shown
to our rooms, which were clean, beautifully decorated, and spacious. We headed down to the Keel Row for some
I had the
venison, which was ok, but tasted not much different than beef. The desserts were mostly ice cream, which
I don’t care for much, so I decided to pass on that. J had some, and loved it, though. We watched a little TV in our rooms, and
discovered to our delight that they had cable.
Tuesday, 7/1: Columba’s Island
a lot in the night as the bed was a little hard, and there was no
sheet. However, we discovered in the
morning that the duvet cover came off, so I had a sheet and we could spread
the duvet under both of us to add some to the comfort of the bed.
down for breakfast, and chatted with the other guests. One was an Italian cyclist who was
cycling to Iona today and off to Oban
later on (idiot). We had seen him
briefly the night before as we were checking in; he had just showed up and
was inquiring about vacancies. The
other visitor was Ian, the Mobile Librarian. He spent each month driving around the
Isle of Mull, stopping for a while in each area for people to check out or
return books from the van he drove.
A great idea for rural areas, really! He was staying in town for two days and
then heading back up the road to Craignure.
to stay in as he didn’t sleep well either, so M, D and I went off to the Iona ferry after breakfast. The rain and wind picked up considerably
on the trip over, and I was the only one willing to brave it to see the
Abbey, so off I went, leaving M and D at the café. I first visited the little ruined
nunnery, which was very peaceful despite being smack dab in the center of
the village. The rain probably
helped with that impression, and the stones were dark with rain. There was a very female feel to the whole
island, it’s hard to explain (especially considering St. Columba started
his monastery here!) The wind seemed
a bit warmer and more friendly somehow – not as biting or harsh as the more
northerly islands. Perhaps it was
just more summery; regardless, it was invigorating and empowering. I can see why the monks wanted to live
itself is being beautifully restored, and has an incredibly serene and
peaceful courtyard in the center.
There is a sculpture there, very liquid and organic in shape, but
the green of the wet grass contrasted beautifully with the color of the
stone palisade. There was singing
from somewhere, and that added to the experience as if I was in a movie,
and had started a soundtrack in the background. I was entering the main hall just as a
huge tour group was leaving, and had it pretty much to myself for quite
some time. The light was diffuse
through the windows, and it added an air of mystery and mysticism to the
Nunnery on Iona
way out, I visited the small graveyard and St. Oran’s Chapel. This is a little room in the graveyard
that has a very simple altar and bench, and it seemed a much more primitive
religious icon than the Abbey.
signs for some local artisan’s gallery, and went to look, but didn’t find
anything that was either in my price range or struck my fancy. I liked the Skye Silver and Sheila Fleet
stuff better, personally, but they did have a great location on the road to
way back, the rain started up again with a vengeance, so after the ferry
ride we hid out in the ferry lounge a bit, and then dashed home (well, as
much as we can dash). We rested a
bit and then all went to lunch at Keel Row.
They had delicious stacked burgers for lunch, and they weren’t
cooked to a hockey puck, yay! We
went into the gift shop for some browsing, and I picked up a magazine for
my friend Vicki – it has all sorts of Doctor Who stories in it, I know
she’ll appreciate that, being a huge fan.
We then napped and watched TV while it poured outside. I had asked our host, John, about boat
trips to Staffa, but they wouldn’t be
going out in windy/rainy weather, so I was out of luck for the day.
the Keel Row again for dinner, and regretted it. I think it suffers from being the only
dinner option in the area. Lunches
were great, but they offered a different menu at dinner, and it wasn’t
nearly as good. I had the steak
(which was an awful cut) and J had the ‘Italian Veg and Lentil Soup’ –
which turned out to be a sauce like in Spaghetti-Os, with some spaghetti
swimming inside it, and a few lentils.
The look on J’s face when he stirred it and saw the spaghetti was
priceless. Now, J is a bit of a food
snob, and especially with Italian food, as he can cook a mean marinara
sauce. This was just bleh. We passed on desserts. Disillusioned, we headed down to the
beach for a walk, and the sun actually came out for a bit! Long enough for a fabulous fiery sunset
over Iona, but it lasted longer than we
did – we went back into the B&B for some TV.
Wednesday, 7/2: Fingal’s Cave and the BBC
weather was drier, it was not much less windy, so the morning cruise to Staffa didn’t launch again. Hopefully it would work in the afternoon,
as this was our last day on the island and I really wanted to see Staffa
and Fingal’s Cave. I spent the morning walking around the
beach a bit, exploring a small graveyard up the road, and having lunch with
M at the Keel Row again. Like I said
before, the lunches were great – the honey chicken baguette was yummy.
2pm, J and I wandered down to the dock at John’s advice, and were able to
catch the cruise that was going to Staffa. The Calmac Ticket Office Clerk, (Janis?)
called the pilot to verify that yes, he was indeed launching, so we went to
the boat with a group of about 8 folks from a church group in Indiana and a small
BBC film crew. The BBC group were
doing a special on the Origins of British Music, and were visiting Fingal’s Cave because Mendelssohn wrote the Hebridean
Overture based on his visit to the islands – especially this particular
one. Amy was the assistant, and she
filled me in on the details, very nice girl. The presenter they were filming was
Charles Hazlewood (http://www.charleshazlewood.com/),
who was a conductor based in Somerset. He was very personable, and easy to chat
Isle of Staffa
Isle of Staffa
to the island was a bit choppy, but we saw some otters and seals on the
way. Once there, we saw this huge
school of puffins, gannets, and fulmars.
The wind was making the surf a bit choppy, but that pilot was able
to get the boat into the harbor nicely.
We only had about a half hour to explore the island (normally we
have an hour) before the tide would start coming in, so off we went, along
a tiny, slippery trail on hexagonal basalt volcanic rock formations. Luckily for us, some thoughtful soul had
installed a sturdy cable to hold onto as you climbed, otherwise I don’t
think I would have risked it. I
walked down around the front of the island and into the cave itself. The music of the surf and the echos of
the birds made a very surreal sound, like you were being caressed and
slapped by the music at the same time.
Certainly a very inspiring spot, with the light filtering through to
bring out yellows, greens, greys and browns in the rocks and moss.
Isle of Iona
way back, the church ladies told us of a film they saw at the Edinburgh
Film Festival called The Fall, about storytelling – I’ve already added it
to my Netflix list J The rain fell
harder, and though we tried to find a shark (another boat radioed that one
had been sighted), the slate grey water yielded nothing to our searching
watched some TV again (yes, we’ve been doing a lot of that on Mull. Cable
means more choices than Wimbledon and Big
Brother). Then we decided to head
off to Bunessan for more variety in dinner choices; and our gamble paid
off! We tried The Reef Restaurant,
and had a delicious meal. J tried the
butternut squash soup, which was very rich and frothy. M ad D had lamb rump, while I had the
salmon. J had the salmon/mussels
bouride – it was all great, with a very nice presentation, flavor, and
service. Dessert was great as well,
with cappuccino crème brulee, dark chocolate and drambuie cheesecake, and
sticky toffee pudding. I had the
cheesecake, and it was not too sweet, wonderfully good. It was definitely a meal worth a 6 mile
drive down the Evil Single
We had an
early morning to get up and make the 8:45 ferry, so off we went to bed.
Thursday, 7/3: Glen Coe is calling
thoughtfully left us some cereal for breakfast, and told me where to grab
the milk from in the fridge, so we looked hopefully at the sun peeking
through the clouds, and set off on the 30 mile Evil Single Track Road. I was in the driver’s seat this time, D
having done is time on the way in.
It wasn’t as bad when it wasn’t raining, though there were still
some nail-biting moments (though it’s harder to bite your nails when they
are embedded in the steering wheel, I must say). The scenery, now that we could actually
see it, was stunning. The mountains were green and gold, and simply took
your breath away. The bumply hills were dotted with sheep and, very
occasionally, a lonely croft or farm.
We saw a couple coos as well, and we figured they’d be the last ones
we saw this trip. While there were a
couple cars passing us, most were at places we could see them in advance,
with plenty of time to pick a layby and wait for them to pass. We stopped lots for photos and scenery
into Craignure in plenty of time for the ferry, and saw our friends from
the BBC in a car also waiting in line.
We saw a blue heron, and eagle, a kestrel, and an owl flying across
our path on the way, but no deer.
This was odd, as there are supposedly more deer on Mull
than people, but they were all hiding.
crossing was very pleasant, and I went out for photos of Duart Castle
as we passed by. The sun started
playing hide and seek in the clouds, and I got some great shots of a single
sailboat, white sail picked out by the sun, with darkened hills in the
shade behind it.
Sound of Mull on ferry trip to
Oban, we struck for the north road, wanting to drive through Glencoe on our
way to Killin. We stopped and
Castle and the little
ruined Chapel in the woods. Again,
the woods and the chapel were the more fascinating part, in my
opinion. The woods changed character
about three different times as we walked along the path, changing from
gloomy to sprightly to menacing. There
were some neat skull carvings and gravestones around the chapel. We decided to skip Barcaldine
Castle and press on towards the
fabled Glen Coe – site of the Glen Coe Massacre between the Campbells and the
MacGregors, and mountains majesty.
As we drove through the sun peeked more, offering us tantalizing
glimpses of what the glen would look like on a fully sunny day. There were greens and greys, snow on some
of the peaks, and trickling streams became strong streams as the rainwater
washed through them.
find it hard to decide which was more beautiful, the mountains in Glen Coe
or those on Mull. But I think Mull
wins me over, if only because they are less accessible and less
traveled. There were many buses and
construction stops through Glen Coe, and I found it rather distracting from
the surrounding beauty, breathtaking as it was. Perhaps I expected too much from Glen
Coe. Don’t get me wrong – it was
incredible. It just didn’t seem AS
incredible as some of the other sights I had already seen on this three
week trip around Scotland. Or maybe I was just getting jaded by
incredible mountains and lush glens.
Cannon at Dunstaffnage Castle
As we got
onto Rannoch Moor, the rain started falling again, and in earnest. It was pouring for most of the rest of
the trip to Killin, and for a good portion of that trip we were stuck
behind several tractor trailers going very slowly. I was fine with this, as anything coming
the other way would hit them first, I figured. Visibility was very poor, and we were
weary of driving in the rain.
we got into Killin. At first we
thought we had missed it – we saw a sign, and then there was nothing but
woods. But it turned out just to be
a sign TO Killin, and we finally found it.
A beautiful little town!
Right on the Falls
of Dochart, the
bridge over is right on the main road.
We had lunch at the Falls of Dochart Inn. It was a great lunch – brown trout, open
salmon sandwich on focaccia bread.
Then we went off across the bridge in search of Craigbuie House (http://www.craigbuie.com/),
our B&B for the night, the last stop before home. We were running out of street by the time
we found it, just at the end before it turned. It was an 1887 house, and our host Vic
welcomed us and showed us up to our rooms.
And up. And up. They were on the top floor, but these
rooms were all newly renovated, with nice big bathrooms (and showers!) The family room had two double beds (one
with a bunk) and a single bed in two separate areas, both of which had TVs. The other two rooms were doubles –
perfect for us. We napped a bit to
get the awful rain-driving out of us, and then I went exploring. I drove north for a bit, looking for a
castle ruin. I over shot quite a
bit, and almost ended up going over the next mountain, so I
backtracked. I took a detour to a
disappointing long house exhibition, and finally found the right track to
the castle. Again, I overshot, and
ended up at the end of a long, muddy dirt road, with very little room to
turn around, but I did. Coming back,
I found the place I should have stopped and walked to the castle, right
near the entrance. I stopped and
chatted with a gent walking his two spaniels – he was on vacation with his
family from near Edinburgh.
to Finlarig Castle have a big sign saying they
are unsafe, and to please be careful.
That would so not work in the US – you would need to have
shrink-wrapped the entire thing because people are too stupid to read or
obey signs. It was very spooky and
rainy in the ruins, and I carefully picked my way among them. The forest was taking them over, and I
imagine in 100 years, there will be nothing left but some oddly shaped
Hamish, the enormous Hieland Coo
As it was
raining again, I figured a crumbling castle would probably not be the best
place to hang out, so I hightailed it carefully back to my car and back to
the B&B. We went to the Killin
Hotel for dinner, but it wasn’t the best meal I have had. I tried the curry, and the chicken was
rather dry, the rice pasty. There
was a huge tour group in the next room, seated after us, so perhaps the
kitchen was just busy with them. J
had the chicken with haggis, but again, not as good as the one he had at
travel days (even the shorter ones) warrant an early night. Perhaps I was just getting tired of
vacationing? Nah. We watched some
Celebrity Master Chef and slept.
Friday, 7/4: Go away, or I will taunt you a second
bed was much softer and more comfortable than previous places, there was a
slight angle on my bed, which made me feel as if I was mountain climbing
all night. I fixed that for the next
night by stuffing one of the extra blankets under the edge of the mattress,
no worries. There was also lots of
light coming through which made it difficult for me, but it wasn’t too bad.
was pretty standard, though the mushrooms were canned and not fresh (I’m
spoiled) and the haggis a bit dry.
Not everyone can cook like Jane and Hazel, I suppose, we should be
happy it was yummy. Plenty of food,
mission was Doune Castle and Stirling,
with Inchmahome Priory if we had time left.
Doune (the castle in most of Monty Python and the Holy Grail) was
easy to find, and we explored up into the tower and all around. The ramparts itself were closed as
unsafe, so I couldn’t stand where the French man had said ‘go away or I
will taunt you a second time’! I did
get a picture of the field on that side of the castle, though, which wasn’t
the main entrance, but the back. The
restored halls were beautifully done, and I climbed up and up and up. And then down and down and down – typical
narrow castle stairways, with wedge-shaped steps that narrowed to nothing
near the center of the spiral.
Castle Doune (also of Monty Python
Callendar and saw Hamish, the biggest Hieland Coo I had ever seen. He was a blond, with huge horns, and
looked like he would damage a tank if said tank were foolish enough to try
to hit him. Callendar is a cute
little town as well, larger and busier than Killin was, but with a great
Stirling was far larger, and
bustling. We made our way up to the
castle, and parked where we thought the parking overflowed to, next to a
huge cemetery. M and D decided they
didn’t want to climb more, so waited in the car while J and I climbed up to
the castle. When we got up there, we
found more parking much closer (though it cost £2). We couldn’t see the car from the ramparts
there, so we went on into the castle, and was able to wave and get D’s
attention – and told them there was parking up here. We waited for them to make the trek, and
then toured the castle around. The
chapel was beautiful, and the great hall restored to a stunning cream
color. I got a picture of me on the
throne in the great hall, and then took a photo for a Japanese couple
together on the thrones, on their camera.
Cain, who was a re-enactor dressed in Black Watch garb from around 1814,
the Battle of Waterloo. He kept
saying his name, and it sounded like Kine, until he spelled it for me J
gent was dressed in 1315 garb, about the time of the Battle of
Bannockburn. We sat and talked to
both of them for quite a while, as I’ve made a shirt out of chain mail
before, and we’ve both worn our share of armor. I imagine it’s much less sweltering under
a gambeson and a shirt of mail in the Scotland
summer than in the Florida
exploring around the castle, we all met for lunch at the café. I had a chicken curry on a potato, and J
was going to have the same thing… until he saw a chunk of pineapple
sticking out of mine. Oops! He’s allergic to pineapple, so that would
be a no on the curry. He grabbed a
visited the gift shop, and had a sample of Columba Crème, a mix between an
Irish Crème (like Bailey’s but better), whiskey and honey. Oh, that was wonderfully smooth and
tasty. Strong, but great! We bought a bottle J
plenty of time to visit Inchmahome Priory, so off we went. Well, almost – we went the wrong
direction, and ended up going south when we should have been going
west. The GPS wouldn’t grab signal
so we were at the mercy of our maps – which weren’t big enough to see the
spaghetti of roads around Stirling. However, we got corrected on course and
ended up on the M9 going north, and then onto the right road west.
We got to
the little boat house and waited with about 15 other people for the boat
across. It only held about 14
people, so he signaled the other boat to come over the Lake of Mentieth
(the only Lake in Scotland),
and we went on – about a 10 minute trip.
The island itself was very beautiful, and full sun finally granted
us his presence. It actually got
rather warm, something we had all but forgotten except in front of
crackling fires in cozy B&B lounges.
There were lots of folks climbing the ruins, but it didn’t detract
much from the peace and serenity the place imposed on us all. There was a fantastic yew tree out near
the bathrooms, and we waited for the second boat back (we wanted longer
than just a half hour there). Again,
this was covered with our GBHC, and they are rather clever about it the
admission. They wait until you’ve
been taken to the island, and then get payment, so you can’t get back
without it. J
left there was a graceful swan just passing by. What a perfect symbol of the calm and
beauty that surrounded the area.
way back through Callendar, we waved to Hamish, the enormous Hieland Coo
once more – he was munching on his dinner as we passed. We stopped at the Falls of Dochart
to scramble across the rocks and take some photos. The falls are a really great place – very
spread out, easy to climb. There
were families and folk everywhere.
We saw one mom help her toddler from rock to rock, barefoot for
plans? Well, Vic had recommended the
Old Flax Mill, evidently they had some sort of Carvery dinner, so he called
and made some reservations for us.
We still had a couple hours till dinner, so we decided to drive off
along the A82 towards Oban and see some of the scenery we missed for the
downpour on the way in. We stopped
at Loch Dochart and took some photos along the way, and then explored into
the mountains. I think we were
halfway to Oban before we decided we should turn around and come back for
our dinner reservation. Certainly we
were beginning to see the landscape similar to Glen Coe forming around us.
Flax Mill is run by Adrian
and her husband (never caught his name – Alan?), and is a great place to
eat, we highly recommend it. There
is a choice of the number of courses, up to three. The first is cold, home made appetizers
such as shrimp in sweet chilli and cilantro, artichoke salad, salmon in
sour cream sauce and honey, mussels, smoked salmon, chick pea salad, etc. Everything we tried was delicious, and
you basically take a plate and take whatever you want to fill it up. There were probably at least 25 different
dishes to choose from, though labels would have been helpful on some of
them. (What I thought was a seafood
salad turned out to be potato salad, but it was great anyhow).
course is the main course – a choice of several different varieties of
roast. There was roast beef, Hieland
Coo in whiskey sauce, lamb in honey, mint and garlic, roast chicken, and a
local game dish with venison, rabbit and pheasant in a smoky bacon and red
wine sauce. The Hieland Coo was a
little stringier than normal beef, but that could have just been the
cut. The others were all savory and
spicy and delicious, truly filling.
completely filling – we had glimpsed the desserts when we were loading up
our appetizer plate. There was a
chocolate cake so rich it was like fudge, cranachan, tiramisu, pineapple in
honey whiskey (J passed on that one), stewed plums in drambuie. We got all we could fit in a bowl, and
my, it was simply heaven. We rolled
out of there like a couple of Hieland Coos named Hamish.
the B&B, and after another long climb up the stairs, we watched a Touch
of Frost and then zonked out.
Saturday, 7/5: Not-so-Stirling
day in Scotland,
sigh. In all honesty, I was tired of
living out of my suitcase. I was
tired of traveling with my family. However,
I could have easily set up house somewhere and settled right in. My first guess would have been either
Portree or Grantown – there seemed to be plenty going on in either place to
keep me happy, and plenty within easy visiting reach for many years to
come. I love them to death, but I
would have had to send my family back first! I could bring the friends back, but the
family had to go. OK, you get the
several options for our last day.
Should we go on a cruise on Loch Katrine or Loch
Lomond? Howe about Loch Etive?
Perhaps back to Stirling to do the
Hop-on/Hop-off tour? Well, we
figured it looked like rain again (surprise!) so we decided Stirling would offer drier options throughout the
day. On the way we took a detour to
find Balquhidder Chapel, where Rob Roy MacGregor was buried. I’m glad I did, though it was a very tiny,
windy road. Like I wasn’t used to
these already? Right. The Chapel itself was sweet, tucked away
in a tiny village on the edge of said tiny windy road. I’m glad we found it, and the road
continued on through a very dark and gloomy forest. I expected a Black Rider, a Nazgul, to
come down that path towards us any minute.
stop was the Wallace
Monument. Not too hard to find with the GPS on our
side, but it wasn’t on the GBHC. The
guy still gave us 10% off anyhow, but M and D decided to wait for us in the
car. J and I took the shuttle up the
hill, boy were we glad we did! Even
with our newly created stamina, this climb would have about killed us. The bus almost did kill several of the
pedestrians trying to make their way up this twisted road around the
hill. There isn’t much room for the
bus, much less the people walking next to it! However, we made it up, listened to a
fascinating re-enactor tell the story of the Battle of Stirling Bridge. He
was good enough to recount some of the real history behind the battle and
the politics, as opposed to that in the movie Braveheart.
decided against the heart-stopping climb up the 248 steps into the monument
itself, and satisfied ourselves with photographs of the building. I was in the gift shop and got stuck
behind a couple French school children buying gifts. That would have been fine, except their
friends kept coming up and giving them more things to buy, so that we
almost missed our bus.
in the car, we thought we could catch the hop-on/hop-off bus nearby – and
we could. However, waiting for the
bus the rain picked up and felt like we were back in the islands, so we
skittered off to the car for warmth and dry safety. We thought about lunching in Callander,
especially as we found the one Italian restaurant in the area (Ciro’s), but
we couldn’t find parking ANYWHERE.
We went in and out of streets, got lost in residential areas with
cul-de-sacs, and finally escaped back to the main road. Instead, we pushed on to the Falls of
Dochart Inn again.
this time wasn’t as good as before.
Part of it was that the dining room was full, so we had to eat at
the microscopic bar tables, and thus split up into two tables. Part was the smoky fire right next to
us. Part of it was that my venison
burger was overdone and resembled the feared hockey puck. The Cullen Skink I ordered, in contrast
to the last time, was thin and runny, and I couldn’t find any bits of fish
in it at all. Sigh.
rather low and depressed because here I was, my last afternoon in Scotland,
and I was sitting in the B&B, watching TV. It was raining again outside, we had
already explored north, south, east and west of the area, and tomorrow we would
be leaving at the break of dawn.
watched a Frank Sinatra movie (Joey?) with Kim Novak and Rita
Hayworth. Then Kindergarten Cop was
the only non-Wimbledon, non-Big Brother option. Wimbledon
was on two of the four stations, come on now, folks! Another program later was ‘How Television
Changed Britain’, on game shows, and their decline in intellectualism.
dinner at a small café down the road (Shutters?), while D watched the
season finale of Doctor Who (which won’t air in the US for
several months, I’m sure). I tried
the lasagna, fully expecting to be horrified. J had the chicken kiev. Mine was weird, but tasty… there was more
cheese than pasta in it, and very little red sauce, but it worked. J pierced the thick coating on his
and poured out the garlic butter over the veggies. It worked J
dessert was a last sticky toffee pudding and a last strawberries and cream,
and we went home. I repacked
everything, putting all my gifts in my carryon and all my clothing in the
checked baggage. We had to wake at
around 4am to make our 9:30am flight out of Glasgow, so I went to bed around 9pm,
despite the light streaming in the lightly shaded window.
Sunday, 7/6: A case of mistaken identity
it! We are leaving. Three glorious, wet weeks in Scotland
were coming to a close. I had to get
up the next morning and go to work (both jobs, even!). We got all packed up and left – and then
it hit us. Which airport did we fly
into? GPS said there were two
Glasgow Airports, one at Paisley and one at Prestwick. I had no idea! I knew it started with a P – big help
that was. Our tickets simply had the
airport code, GLA. No help there,
either, as the GPS didn’t know airport codes. Stupid me for not knowing this!
question racked my brain all the way down, though I did get distracted with
lovely views of Loch Lomond as we drove
around it. It is truly a beautiful
loch, and the tourists certainly knew it, from the number of boats and
B&Bs around the shoreline.
by Paisley airport, but it didn’t look like the one we flew into. So, instead of being smart and asking
someone, we decided to go on down to Prestwick, a good half hour south of Glasgow. We got stuck in Paisley itself for a
while, and finally made it to Prestwick, only to realize it was a MUCH
smaller airport… back to Paisley it
was. I felt like I was in a Three
Stooges movie somehow, but we were still making good time. We got into Paisley (again) around 7:30,
and dropped our car at Enterprise. The clerk had just arrived herself, but
couldn’t find the key to get into the shop.
She did take our paperwork, though, and we went on into the airport. As soon as we got inside, of course, we recognized
it from our arrival, but hey, it’s an adventure, right?
in line to check in, and a very helpful guy got us e-checked in, our
luggage tagged, and ready to go. We
were in the security line by 8:20, and it was absolutely empty – another
hurdle done! Mom was selected for
secondary screening, but that went quickly, too. We made it to our gate without any other
flight to London
(we were connecting in Heathrow) was without incident. However, when we got to Heathrow, we had
to wait in a very slow line to get our boarding passes. Evidently, someone had accidently put
half the flight on standby the night before, so it was a huge mess. We finally got our boarding passes for
this flight, but not the connecting flight from PHL to JAX. But, we got some (without seat numbers)
and headed off. I had to ask about 4
different people to find the customs office to get my VAT receipts stamped,
and found it tucked into a little corner on the opposite end of the
concourse from my gate.
and out of breath, I made it back to the gate with my carry-on in tow.
That’s when we realized that other people were missing their seat
assignments as well. We all waited
in line until they started boarding, and then they had all of us missing
seats wait while they assigned them and reprinted passes. This took a while as no one could seem to
get the system working properly, but we did get seats together.
the plane, we waited. And
waited. And waited. I think we were
there for about an hour and a half, waiting for more people to get their
seat assignments, and presumably to get the luggage all on board (it had
all been tagged Stand-by, I found out later, and therefore hadn’t been
loaded until someone realized that).
finally started, I moved to a different seat, as sitting next to my husband
on a transatlantic flight isn’t comfortable for either of us (both overweight). With the flight attendant’s help, I found
a seat next to a French woman and her 4-year-old. They were all traveling (mom, dad, three
kids) to San Francisco. About a half hour into the flight, the
4-year-old started to fuss about being in the seat belt, and then just
cried, howled, yelled, screamed, and threw temper tantrum after temper
tantrum – until about a half hour before we landed, when she fell into an
exhausted sleep. If there had been
another empty seat, I would have moved, but there was none. (There were
several single seats, but as an overweight person myself, I won’t crowd
into someone else unless I have to).
Mom did nothing to stop her but pet her like a puppy. She never said ‘stop crying’ or anything
like that. She didn’t pick her up
and walk around, or even in her lap.
the IFE was
working on this flight, so I watched three movies, with the volume up loud
enough to drown out the little Hellion’s cries. I watched National Treasure II, The
Golden Compass, and P.S., I Love You.
The meals served on the flight were ok, nothing special. The flight attendants were all very nice,
especially the young lady who helped me find another seat, and they all
laughed and joked good naturedly with everyone. (This was a US Airways flight)
got late into PHL, but only by about an hour.
Since we had had a three hour layover, it should have
been plenty of time. Should
being the operative word here!
The plane sat on the tarmac for quite a while (45 minutes?)
before we could deplane. We then had to wait for our luggage so we
could bring it through customs and recheck it. Of course, of our six checked bags, three
didn’t show up – so we were told to file a claim at JAX, and
go on to our flights. We
rechecked our remaining bags, and still needed boarding passes,
so had to go under the ropes, and back into a long line.
The line had people who already missed connections, people
checking new baggage, as well as those (like us!) about to miss
connections. They were just starting to reorganize, moving
people with connections coming up, when my parents (who were
ahead of us in line) got to the counter.
our boarding passes, and made our way to the gate. We would have been fine in that line for
longer, as the flight was an hour and a half late. The gate crew were great, though, giving
us a blow-by-blow description of where the plane was, how long it would
take to turn around the cleaning crew, etc.
We waited next to a young mother and her two kids, who were very well
behaved. The older girl, about 4, decided that D was her new best friend
and started showing him her coloring book.
finally, and off we go… to sit on the tarmac again. But we did get in the air eventually! Unfortunately, Hellion part II was on
this flight. This child was screaming at the top of her lungs that she
wanted to sit next to mommy, she wanted her mommy, she wanted her
mommy. I didn’t learn until we
disembarked that mommy was on the plane, just three rows up! Jeez, can’t you move, and spare the
entire plane 2-1/2 hours of screaming child? How selfish do you have to be to not at
least try to give the child what she is screaming for? I was at least imagining the child must
be traveling with her grandparents only, or maybe mommy had just died –
trying to be charitable. We later
saw this family while waiting for D to get the car – they were running all
over, no discipline whatsoever. One
even ran into the road until someone brought them back to a negligent
got off the plane, finally. The last
plane! It had landed at 11pm, though
it was scheduled at 9:30pm. We got
our remaining luggage, looking hopefully for the rest, but in vain. We went to file a claim, and I will have
to say, they’ve got that process down to a science. It was very quick to get a claim number
(much faster than it had been in Glasgow
on our arrival). D went to get the
van, and then we drove home, there by 2am.
get our luggage Wednesday after our return, nothing harmed but some papers
and bumper stickers J had put in his outer pocket (they had been
Scotland is the land of the brave, they
say. Yes, they would have to be to
drive those roads! The people were,
for the most part, incredibly nice, helpful, warm and welcoming. The food was mostly great, often
mediocre, but occasionally horrible.
The scenery was spectacular, breath-taking, and many more words
which I have over-used in this account.
My favorite day was the drive along the north coast of Scotland. Who knew such beauty existed there? I can’t wait to go through my pictures
and relive the vistas. My favorite
place to stay was the Lodge at Edinbane, followed closely by Kinross House
B&B in Grantown-on-Spey. My
favorite place was Skye, but that’s a fairly popular view. Second I think would be Orkney, but I
would love to see it in the sunlight.
My favorite place to eat must be the Three Chimneys, followed by the
Old Flax Mill and then the Oakwood Restaurant.
vowed that no more connecting flights are allowed! Direct or nothing. I live close enough to both Jacksonville and Orlando
to be able to do that, I think. Life
is to short to make the mad dash through airports anymore, and less
connections mean less chance of losing luggage. 50% is a terrible statistic for that.
definitely be returning, if only to stay at the Lodge at Edinbane and help my
husband find some ghosts. I had a