Picture the World – Scotland

When I went to Scotland, I took over a thousand pictures, and that wasn’t nearly enough to convey the beauty of this country.  There is something so pleasing and soothing to the eyes in the lush green of their countryside.  However, it isn’t only the visual interest of the Scottish Countryside that I found appealing.  Scottish history is intriguing, complex, often violent and tremendously fascinating.  So when I learned from Madhu over at The Urge to Wander about the Picture the World Project on The Departure Board website,  I thought I’d have a look.

Since Scotland still seemed to be open, decided to send a picture for entry.

There are many things that are visually strong representatives of Scotland.  But my favorite is the Leanach Cottage on Culloden Moor.  This farmhouse stands on the edge of the site of the last battle of Scotland’s bid for independence that occurred on April 16, 1745.  The roof is simple thatched heather, the walls are stone and the floor is dirt.  There is a glimpse of the battlefield behind it where Bonnie Prince Charlie’s troops made their stand on a bitterly cold day and a moor sodden with rain.  A sobering experience to stand on this field, and imagine that day.

I nominate Travel Photography by Dmetrii Lezine for his wonderful photos of just about anywhere, and The Ego Tripper for the same reason.  Both well traveled, and great photos.  If you are interested in filling in some of the world pictures, just go to the link on the Departure Board in the first paragraph of this blog.

Edradour and Stirling Castle

The Outlander tour from Inverness was the highlight of Inverness.  I truly wish there had been more time.  As much as I liked Edinburgh, I loved Inverness.  There was a quieter feel to it, a little slower and more relaxed.  I could have spent two weeks there, taking my time seeing the sights.  I was truly sorry to leave, but our time was up.  We said our goodbyes and began the long drive back to Edinburgh.

The drive was beautiful.

At the last minutes we decided to try to stop at a whiskey distillery, and we chose Edradour in the hills above Pitlochry.  It was great fun, and low-key.  Pitlochry is 75 minutes north of Edinburgh, and is a major stopping point off of the A9 for travelers.  This is a place I would like to see again.  Since we had to be back in Edinburgh by the end of the day, and we wanted to see Sterling Castle we did not walk the town but only visited the distillery.  This is a mistake.  Just driving through I could tell I would regret this, but choices have to be made and when extending your stay is not a choice among them you have to be content knowing you’ll just have to return.

We started with a wee dram, tasting it neat first, then with the addition of a bit of water to experience how it changed the whisky.  Not a huge whisky drinker myself, I was impressed with the way it tasted, and it felt like velvet in my mouth.  Then we took a tour of the process.  Edradour is the smallest distillery in Scotland, and is run by only three men.  They are not automated, and most of the equipment is as old as the distillery itself.  Here is a link where you can read about the distillery.

After we finished at the distillery we headed to Stirling castle after getting gas.  One of the things we found throughout the trip was how scarce petrol stations are, so when you find one, it’s best to fill.

Within an hour and a half, we were at Stirling Castle.  The road to the parking if very narrow and winding, up an incline.  I don’t know if I was just getting better at driving, or not, but it didn’t seem that bad.  There are a lot of buses, so you just have to keep an eye out for them.

This is known as the Bowling Green, and it is on the lower level of the castle.  The tour guide claimed it was used as a yard for children to play in, and the guardsmen would sometimes use it to bowl.

Inside, there is a model of the castle to give some perspective.

This is Wallace Monument which is visible across the way from one of the courtyards in Stirling Castle."Stirling Bridge"

Stirling Bridge, between Wallace Monument and Stirling Castle.  Below, interesting architecture within Stirling Castle.

The Castle Kitchens were quite big, as needed to accommodate the military troops.

I took this picture of the ceiling in the dining hall, when the tour guide said they somehow knew it took 800 trees to create.  The trees came from a forest miles away, and were carted to the castle.

This statue of Robert the Bruce Stands at the entrance to Stirling Castle.  Robert the Bruce led the Scots to Victory against the English’s Edward II in 1314.  It was quite and achievement given that they were so greatly outnumbered, reflecting Bruce’s skill at commanding an army.

This is the cemetery on the backside of Stirling Castle, in Stirling.  Our tour of Stirling Castle was at an end, and it was time to move on back into Edinburgh.  This time we stayed out closer to the airport at a B&B called Strawberry Bank House in Linlithgow.  The rooms are fairly spacious as are the bathrooms, the Breakfast was good, and it had its own parking.  It is 11 miles from the Edinburgh airport, so the location is perfect.  We checked in and took our last walk down Scottish Streets of Linlithgow to a pub for dinner.  Scotland is a wonderful place for vacation, and I look forward to returning.

Cromarty Firth, MacKenzie Stronghold, Lallybroch and Beauly

Earlier in the day we had visited Culloden, Clava Cairns and a Clootie well.  It was a lucky thing we wanted to stay three nights in Inverness, as there was so much to see.  I still would have liked to do a tour to the Isle of Skye, but we just didn’t have time.  The next time I am visiting, I plan on doing Hugh Allison’s tour of the Isle of Skye.  The most scenic routes, I was told over and over were the single track roads, and if I’m driving, I can’t take photographs.  And since I already know how absolutely fantastic Hugh is, this seems the obvious choice.

On the way to Cromarty Firth and the Foulis Ferry, we stopped at a place Hugh knew where the salmon were jumping and we took a stroll through a lovely area.  There was a bridge suspended over the river where we were able to perch our cameras so we could get photos when the salmon attempted to jump upstream.  

Store HouseThe next stop on our tour was The Storehouse at Foulis Ferry, on the shore of Cromarty Firth in Monro Country.  I loved this little place.  Long ago the Lairds would bring their tenant’s rent in the form of grain or livestock here to store until it could be put on a ferry or boat to be taken to a large city where the goods would be sold or traded for other things.  The 18th Century Storehouse here was set up as a self-touring adventure with a movie at the end.  Hugh added his own bits, and answered the many questions we had about how this arrangement worked.

There was a lovely restaurant with a view of the water where we ate lunch, which was very tasty. Baked potatoes with just about anything on them, sandwiches, soup, salads and a plethora of desserts.  After we ate, we walked through the gift shop and then The Storehouse which was filled with scenes of a typical day in the 18 century.

We then headed for the MacKenzie Castle, but had a seal photo op at Loch Garve on the way.  This is the reason a driver is a good thing to have.  He did several passes so everybody in the car could get a shot, as it was on a busy road with no place to stop!

Hugh Allison told us that this is an actual MacKenzie stronghold.  He also said that according to the author of Outlander, it fits her vision of the Castle Leoch of Outlander.  It is occupied by the Earl of Cromartie, chief of the clan MacKenzie, and if you come on a day he is available, he will allow a tour of the inside.  Unfortunately, he was out of town when we visited, so I’ll have to go with my imagination.  I would not want to maintain the driveway!

The next place was found after the book was written in an effort to “show” what Lallybroch might have looked like. It is indeed, an 18th century dwelling, and serves as a Bed and Breakfast. The owners kindly allowed us to have afternoon tea here in the sitting room while examining weapons.

After tea, we headed to Beauly Priory.  Although the Priory is amazing in its own right, I could not stop thinking about the 800-year-old Elm tree that marks the gated entrance. Being the skeptic that I am, I asked how they knew it was 800 years old, and he replied that they had maps dating back 800 years that showed the tree.  If trees could talk, what a tale it would have to tell…

After we toured Beauly Priory, we stopped in at a local shop that sold wools and sgian dubh’s.  The sweaters were beautiful knits of colorful wool, as well as ties and hats, and mens vests.  After making our purchases, it was time to head back to Ardconnel House.  But not before one last photo-op of Heather.

Culloden Battlefield, Clava Cairns and Clootie Wells

Formal tours are a great thing. First and foremost, someone else is driving. If they are good, they will not only drive, but back-up, turn around and generally maneuver in places that you were certain they could not all for the sake of the perfect photo. We had all of that and more in Hugh Allison.

Hugh was doing an Outlander tour. For those of you who have read The Outlander series, you will know what this means. For those of you who have not, it simply means that we were able to see places relevant to the book, some real, some that just fit the author’s fictitious places. Hugh was a wealth of information, and a published author. He had a wonderful sense of humor, and I would be amiss if I did not say that if you ever needed a tour in the Highlands of Scotland, Hugh Allison would be your man.

I also should mention the others who were on the tour, if only because we crashed at the last minute. Michelle was a huge fan of the Outlander books, her husband and son, not so much. Mark and Josh hung in there with admirable patience, considering the subject matter. Mark was quick-witted and generally happy, and Josh was a model of politeness, gallantly taking the back seat without complaint.

We started at Clava Cairns,  There are three separate cairns here, two for holding the souls of the dead until they continue on their way in the afterlife, and one for cremating the bodies. They also served as a giant sundial and calendar for the people who lived 3500 years ago. If you visit during the December Solstice, you can see the sun stream through the opening at sunset.

There are also various standing stones, one of which is split.   For those of you who have read Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, I did not hear the stones scream at me, which was something of a disappointment. Maybe I should come back on All Hallows Eve and try again.

There is a fourth rudimentary stone ring which gives the appearance of an attempt to create something like the other rings, though it doesn’t meet the mark. Scientists discovered  it was an attempt to create a ring like the others, 1000 years later by  studying peat samples below the surface of the earth. These peat samples indicate that there was a period of seven years where this part of the earth was covered in darkness, and nothing grew and many things died. The event that caused this was the eruption of a volcano that permanently cooled this region, as it had been a warm and temperate climate prior to the eruption. When the sun finally was able to show through the ash cloud, we had entered into the bronze age, where the inhabitants didn’t quite have the knack for creating the stone monoliths from a thousand years prior.  After tromping round Clava Cairns and discussing time travel theory, and then whether or not we could actually cope with being transported 200 years back (Hello!?, it’s fiction!) we headed to Culloden Moor.

Outside the visitors center, the wall has a brick that stands proud for each Highlander that fell.
Inside the visitors center, the visitor gets the perspective of the British on the left side of the exibit, and the Highlanders on the right, and follows the developments leading up to the fateful battle that occurred on April 16, 1746. At the end of the walk through there is a 360 degree theater where film plays with a reenactment of the battle with the Scottish Highlanders stretched out roughly halfway around and the British opposing, with the visitors standing in between to understand the perspective.  The battle itself lasted less than an hour, but within the first three minutes, 700 Highlanders lay dead on the cold, wet moore, while the English army lost only 50, with 250 wounded. The Duke of Cumberland, wanting to make sure such a rebellion never happened again, sent troops all through Scotland to burn the cottages and dwellings, frequently shooting Highlanders regardless of (and sometimes not even asking) their sympathies, and turning women and children out of their homes to starve. He was nicknamed The Butcher. All in all, a very sobering experience.  Once you exit the theater, there is an exhibit with weapons to handle that were commonly found during that historical time.
After we finished the exhibit, we headed outside to walk the battlefield.  The technical gadget used to walk to the battle field looked like a smart phone, but was a satellite receiver.  All over the field were places that triggered the device to play audio that explained the particular place you were standing in and what happened in the battle at that place.  Diagrams showed on the screen in explanation as well as picture of the key people in the battle and a brief description of their significance.
Hugh Allison knew quite a bit of the history and many stories from the tradition of Highland Storytelling through his work as a private tour guide and from his time working in the visitors center at Culloden.  One of these stories is about Leanach Cottage which was occupied by a family of five in 1841.  Through the years it was alternately abandoned and occupied until Bella MacDonald moved in and stayed until 1912  when she died at the age of 80.  The building is made of stone, but has dirt floors and a roof of heather.
The Well of the Dead is one of the most famous markers on the field among the clan grave stones.  It marks the place where Alexander MacGillivray fell in battle, and also one of the sites of heaviest casualties.
Here is where I also found good displays of the famous Scottish Heather, which had just started blooming in early August.

The Thistle has been the national emblem of Scotland since the reign of Alexander III in the 13th century, and it also grows wild on Culloden.
After the battlefield, we headed to Cromarty Firth but stopped at a Clootie well.  What is a Clootie well? A Clootie well is a place where ailing souls go to rid themselves of their infirmities.  Different theories abound. It must be done on the 1st of May; you must circle the well three times chanting a Celtic prayer, or possibly dip the article of clothing associated with the illness, ie; stocking from an ulcerative foot,  in the well before hanging it on the tree. No matter how many theories there are regarding the placement of the clothing, the one certain thing that everyone seems to agree on is one must never remove something that you didn’t hang, because if you do, you will take on the ailment of the individual who did put it up.
Tomorrow I will continue with Part II of the Outlander Tour, to include Cromarty and Beauly.

Spynie Palace and Elgin Cathedral

The morning after arriving in Inverness, John asked us what we planned on seeing.  He then asked if we were fans of the Outlander series books, to which I said yes, Robyn not so much a fan was more tentative.  He asked if the next day we might be interested in joining an organized “Outlander” tour with another family staying at Ardconnel House.  We told him with some trepidation that we might be interested, but we didn’t want to trespass on the other family’s outing.  He pointed out that the more people that go the cheaper it would be, and thought we’d be a good match.  We agreed to let him negotiate the deal, and he could let us know that evening.

We did a self guided tour of Culloden and Clava Cairns, but since we would end up going back the next day, I plan on covering those in the next post.  Spynie Palace was built in the 12th century on  Spynie Loch and is 36 miles East of Inverness. It served as the Bishops seat for the Bishops of Moray for 500 years.  It was a fortified dwelling, and was referred to as Spynie Castle.  There was unrest about it’s location, as it was far from market and difficult to defend, hence the added gun holes in 1500.  Eventually it was moved to Elgin Cathedral 2.5 miles west to the city of Elgin.  Here is a link to read more about Spynie Castle.

There were two things that amazed me about this place.  The first was that it had been on Spynie Loch–a lake–where now there is none.  Over time the silt and earth filled in the Loch naturally creating dry land.

The second was the kitchen space, which was amazingly large, and sufficiently impressive to allow them to entertain any number of important people over the years.  James I, James II, James the IV and Mary Queen of Scotts all have stayed at this place that must have been quite impressive at one time.

I found photography difficult here with the camera I had brought with me.  I used a Sony PAS, with a really good zoom and panoramic capability.  I had thought at the planning stages that it would be easier than my Cannon EOS 50, because it’s lighter and easier to travel with, and the panorama function is so easy.  While the photo’s are not bad, I didn’t have a lot of flexibility in my shots.  Wide angle was out of the question, and while panorama is a nice feature, wide angle for some of these might have been a better choice.  Just another reason to go back with the right camera.

I found the same pangs of regret at the next stop, which was Elgin Cathedral in Elgin.  A very wide, flat open space, it was difficult to photograph to my liking.

As I mentioned earlier, Elgin is 2.5 miles from Spynie, and we were pleased that when we arrived it was still open.  I had been continually surprised by the short summer hours of most things in the UK, closing promptly at 5:30 when there is still so much daylight left in the day.

Upon arrival and parking, which turned out to be really easy as we were able to park at the curb right across the street, we were amazed at the entrance.

The first church on this site was built in the 13th century, but burned with much of the town in 1390 on the orders of Alexander Stewart, Wolf of Badenoch.  For the next 200 years it was slowly repaired until it fell in 1560 during the reformation when the congregation moved to Saint Giles in Elgin and the lead roof was stripped and the bells were taken.  It is known even now as The Lantern of the North.  Without a roof, it’s degradation became more rapid, until 1807 when a cobbler took measures to halt further decay.

They have a wonderful gift shop on the premises where the employees were willing to help us with anything.  This included pulling out a map and showing us wonderful places to drive and see.

“If you take this road here, it is the most beautiful drive.  You won’t be disappointed,” the young girl behind the counter said.

Robyn and I squinted at the tiny road on the map that most certainly did not look like an A road or even a B road.

I cleared my throat.  “Um, those aren’t single track carraigeways, are they?”

The young girl looked up, nonplussed as if this shouldn’t matter.  “Well, yes they are.”

We smiled.  “I think we are done with anything that doesn’t have two lanes.  But thank you for the suggestion.”

She truly looked disappointed.  Maybe I’ll give a try the next time I’m there.

Craignure to Inverness via Inveraray

On a beautiful, rainy morning (is there any other kind in Scotland?) we left Craignure on the ferry to Oban, and continue on to Inverness by way of Inveraray.  The A85 which runs East and West from Oban took us to the B845 that runs south to Inveraray.  The A roads tend to be larger, major roads while the B roads tend to be smaller, rural roads but both have two lanes.  The drive was lovely, green, and fairly peaceful, lacking in the periodic moments of terror that punctuate driving on the narrow, single track carriageways.

As promised, Howard Spicer, proprietor of Rhua-na-Craige had our little wireless wifi hotspot for us.  I tucked it into my luggage, wondering why I had bothered, seeing that we were halfway through the trip already.  As we were leaving, Howard suggested we see Inveraray Castle, if we had not seen it already.  We hadn’t, so we did.

It did not disappoint.  It was amazing.  The first thing to lend beauty to it is it’s location.  There has been a castle on the shore of Loch Fyne since the 1400’s and I can see why.

The foundation for the current castle was begun in the mid 1700’s and took 43 years to build.  It has a long history succinctly told about here.  The current family is Duke Torquhil Ian and Duchess Eleanor Cadbury (of Cadbury Chocolates) of Argyll and their three children Archie, Rory and Charlotte, who still reside in the castle.

There are no photographs allowed in the castle, but there are pictures posted at the above website.  They have an amazing collection of period weapons, as well as royal clothing.  There is a tearoom in the basement along side the gift shop which is hard to get out of without buying something.  I’m still regretting not getting the dark brown leather gloves with sheepswool lining dyed emerald green.  Maybe next time…

The staff speak fondly and protectively of the Duke and Duchess and their children, and it seems a very happy place with a lot of love and respect for the inhabitants as well as the buildings themselves.

After our tour here, we headed Northeast on the A85 to the A82 North so we could travel through Glencoe Pass.

Remember the close call on the Isle of Mull?  Remember how I said for several days after, I imagined strange noises coming from the car?  Well, right about here we saw this sign, and I thought I should take a picture in case we needed it:

We eventually made it to civilization again, although I’d like to note that I was amazed to have cell service through miles and miles of what appeared to be pretty much nowhere, in huge contrast with being in an American city and not being able to get a service.  I think they have cell service in the UK mastered.  We drove into Fort Augustus, and stopped for lunch.  There is a lock system to raise boats that come through the town on the small river.  I found this interesting post in the middle of the river with  a cross on the end.

 After browsing in the shops and taking in the scenery, we continued on the last leg of our journey to Inverness, and the Ardconnel House where we were staying.  Since it was getting late we called to let John and Elizabeth know that we were running a little behind schedule.  They couldn’t have been more accommodating, telling us to take our time, and that whenever we got there was fine.  I’ve since seen that this little B&B is one of the top rated on Tripadvisor for Inverness, and rightfully so.  They made our stay wonderful–and won us over the first night when John parallel parked our car for us on the street (I’d never parallel parked from the wrong side of the car, on the left side of the street).

The next day would begin our foray into the highlands of Scotland, beginning with the city of Inverness.

Tobermory and Iona

Yesterday I talked a lot about driving on single track carriageways and not a lot about why we were so determined to do so.  The original reason was that we wanted to see Iona Abbey on The Isle of Iona.  But having mentioned this to my friend Frank who grew up just outside Glasgow, he suggested we stop in Tobermory.  This turned out to be an excellent suggestion, since we needed a stopping point to spend the night. Tobermory is a quaint fishing village on the northeast side of the Isle of Mull in the Scottish Inner Hebrides.  It is a visually stunning place with store fronts painted in bright colors, and boats dotting the harbor on a very blue ocean. There aren’t a lot of choices for accommodations in Tobermory and you need to book fairly far in advance for a summer stay.  Since I booked late (in April for a July visit) there weren’t a lot of choices.    We ended up at the Tobermory Hotel on Main Street. The room we had did not have a view of the harbor but it was clean as was the ensuite bath, albeit very tiny with a price of $98.00US/night for two twins.  But all we required was a place to sleep, so it was fine.  We walked through every shop, and climbed a quarter of a mile or so up a steep hill to the Western Isles Hotel where we had dinner in a dining room that looked out over the water. The next morning we got up and continued on our journey, this being the day we started with the near head on collision I mentioned in the last post.  After we extricated ourselves from the pasture, I was certain I heard strange noises and rattles coming from the car–convinced I had damaged it in some way–something my imagination persisted in hearing for the next three days.  Robyn assured me it was all in my head and that she didn’t hear anything unusual. We arrived in Fionphort in a steady rain, found a car park and walked to the ferry.  This was a rather uneventful ride, lacking the excitement of the previous ferry ride, my enthusiasm having been swallowed for the morning by thoughts of car crashes.  I must admit, I rather soured the mood, and Robyn tried valiantly to cheer me up.  Once on the Isle of Iona there was sufficient scenery to take my mind off of what was ailing me. Iona Abbey is said to be the seat of Christianity, and the place where Saint Columba came in 563 and founded the Abbey after being exiled from Ireland.  The Book of Kells, which contains the four Gospels of the New Testament was thought to have been either produced or begun on the Isle of Iona.  

You can also see the original remaining pieces of Saint Johns cross in the abbey museum (first and largest cross to be carved on the Island in the sixth century or so), and it’s replica outside the abbey entrance.

On our drive back to Craignure, we wanted to see Torosay Castle, so we stopped on the way to the Pennygate Lodge where we were staying.  Torosay Castle is young, built in 1865, but owned by the same family for five generations.  The property consisted of 10,000 acres.  Three days after touring it, we ran in to another tourist who said it had been closed due to theft of books from the library.  I don’t know if it ever reopened, but the castle and 900 acres are now on the market, the remaining acreage having been sold separately.

I find this a sad turn of events, but feel lucky to have been able to take a tour.  Thus ended our time on the Isle of Iona and the Isle of Mull.  The next day we would board the ferry again to go back to the mainland and head up to Inverness by way of Inveraray, which, if you are wondering is not a direct route.  But I had promised to return to Rudha-na-Craige in Inveraray to retrieve the portable wifi and I couldn’t just leave it there.  As it turned out, we ended up touring Inveraray Castle, which was well worth the miles out of the way.  But for now I’ll leave you with the last photo of Torosay Castle Gardens.