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.

Driving on the Left, Part II

More Driving Lessons

Last we left off, we had reached Inveraray, having driven through Edinburgh, not without incident. I believe we encountered a flat tire, having rudely been accosted by a curb while I was minding my own business, and narrowly saved by the rescue men who regularly change tires for the Americans and Canadians who seemed to have a love of contact with the curbs. A quick stop at the Kwik-Fit tire place, and all was well.
We were told to avoid Glasgow, but again the best laid plans…well, you know the saying. We rolled into Inveraray late and exhausted . I didn’t want to drive again, and neither did Robyn.

We had a good nights sleep, and our host gave us some fatherly advice about roundabouts, including a story about telling his daughter to avoid the one outside London that consisted of the main roundabout with eight satellite roundabouts around the perimeter.  Robyn and I both must have looked horrified, because he hastily assured us that we would encounter no such monster in Scotland.  Thank God for small favors!

It was also here that I thought my portable wifi would catch up with me.  When I called the company to tell them I had left it at home, they told me they could send another to the place I was staying.  Since we were on our way to the Isle of Mull, our host agreed to take the delivery for us, and when we came back from the Isle of Mull, we could pick it up.

We took off with me driving this time, Robyn having had her fill the day before in Glasgow’s rush hour.  It was a beautiful drive from Inveraray to Oban which is on the Firth of Lorne on the West Coast of Scotland.

We passed the most amazing church that I stopped  to take pictures of, but sadly cannot remember the name of.

Once in Oban we drove our car onto the ferry that would take us to Craignure on the Isle of Mull.  Foot traffic can purchase tickets the day of, but if you want to take your car you must make a reservation for day and time rather far in advance.

I discovered this by accident when trying to figure out the cost of the ferry on the internet back in February.  The cost was reasonable–right around 75GBP for two adults and car roundtrip.  You can find the schedule and prices here.  The Caledonian MacBrayne was amazing, with a cafeteria that had food ranging from snacks to meals for even the most picky person or child.  Check in was a breeze, and driving onto the ferry was easy as pie.  The ferry ride was smooth, passing Duart Castle on the sound that was a great photo backdrop.

We drove off the ferry into Craignure, and couldn’t have been happier.  We didn’t know the hard part was ten minutes down the road.

The Isle of Mull has what are called one track carriageways.

This means that cars going in either direction share one lane. How does that work, you ask? Well, I drove on it for two days, and I still couldn’t tell you. What I can tell you is, I’m sure I now have a bleeding ulcer. My knuckles will be white for the rest of my life, and the moment of true understanding came when we rounded a curve that on the left side had a sign pointing in the direction that we were going that said, CEMETARY. I know now that they chose to put a cemetery seemingly in the middle of nowhere for the head-on collisions that happen at that point. Saves time, you see. They can just drag the bodies out of the car and up the hill and bury them. No muss, no fuss. In a country that has seen so many civil wars, what’s a few more drops of blood on the soil?

I was surprised at the speed by which cars traveled. Where I was going 30, they would easily be going 50. I decided that the trick to surviving on these single track roads was to follow someone who knew what they were doing. That way if a collision happened, I could watch from behind, thus allowing me time to escape. Unfortunately, this didn’t work very well because every time I found someone to follow, they would pull over and let me pass, quite unlike Americans who would do anything to prevent you from passing them. At one point I frantically waved the person to go on ahead. He did, but eventually pulled over again to let me pass.  I just don’t think I looked that confident.

We managed to make it to Tobermory with nary an incident. We made it to Iona the following morning with only one incident.  Americans always pull to the right to let someone pass.  On a single track carriageway in a country where you drive on the left, you should pull to the left to let oncoming traffic pass you.  All I can say is, old habits die hard.  And if I pull to the right, and someone coming at me pulls to the left, well, we are eventually going to occupy the same space at the same time.  Suffice it to say, Robyn and I went flying into the pasture, which was the result of me realizing I’d better go WAY FAR right to avoid a head-on collision.  When we finally came to a bouncing stop, she got out to talk to the people in the other car while I tried unsuccessfully to erase the image of the passenger in the other car looking like she was certain death was imminent.  By the time I exited my vehicle to go throw up in the nearby bushes, I heard the other driver saying quite cheerfully,  “Great Driving! You avoided an accident! Well done!”  Apparently they didn’t hold a grudge.

I became grateful to see cows, sheep and goats meandering on the side of the road. That meant I had to slow down, so that when they leapt unexpectedly into the road I didn’t slam into them, throwing their furry bodies into the ditch.

It took two hours to make it to Fionnphort (pronounced, I am told, Fen-a-fert), or, for perspective, a distance of 48.6 miles. But we were alive, and as Robin pointed out, undamaged in any way, shape or form.

In Fionnphort we caught another ferry–this one only for foot traffic–to get to the Isle of Iona, home of Iona Abby.  We toured Iona Abby in the misty, driving rain after which we took the ferry back to the Isle of Mull, got back into the car, and proceeded to drive back to Craignure on the other side of the island, or 34.8 miles. We must have done better (we did have more people to follow) because we managed that in one hour and 15 minutes. I refused to drive to the gas station after we parked at the Pennygate Lodge, and told Robyn if she wanted to fill up that bad, she could drive. On the way out, the proprietor of the Pennygate Lodge where we were staying informed us that if we needed diesel fuel, we wouldn’t get any because somebody had run over the only diesel pump in town. We stared at her.

“Are you kidding us?” we asked.
“No, I’m not.” She said grinning.
“What happened?”  We asked.
“Ooch, twas an American, backing up and not looking where he was going!”
At least I left the curb in working order.

Driving on the Left

28 July 2010

Driving in Edinburgh

I’m the adventurous type. So I was undaunted by the prospect of driving in Edinburgh. My friends from the UK assured me it was easier than driving in the U.S.  Now having had my first lesson driving on the wrong side of the road and the wrong side of the car,  I beg to differ on this point.

Finding the Rental place in Waverly station wasn’t a problem—the cab driver knew just where to go. Checking out, was fairly smooth. The attendant wanted to know if I wanted insurance. I said I already purchased insurance. She agreed, but said I had a 600.00GBP deductible. Hmm…I did some quick calculations, and realized that was almost 1000.00 US dollars. She smiled charmingly at me.

“Would you like to purchase additional insurance for 6 GBP/day? It would relieve you of any responsibility should anything at all happen to the car.”

More calculations. 42.00 GBP, roughly 70 US dollars for no liability. “O.K.” I say.

She adds it on in the computer, prints the paperwork, and has both myself and my friend sign. She then hands me keys and tells me, “You have a blue Mercedes.”

I blink, sure she couldn’t be talking to me. Taking the key fob she is handing me, I see that it is indeed a Mercedes. You have to understand. I’ve rented many cars. Never have I gotten one that was, well, beyond the mere necessity of having four wheels and a minimum of two doors without asking. My smile broadens. She gives me directions for finding my rental, and away we go. The car, was a tiny four door model I’ve never seen before, but nevertheless was very cute. We loaded the luggage and proceeded to drive out of the train station with a heading of Rosslyn Chapel in Midlothian.

It was the second round-about.  On the backside of Holyrood Palace, the curb jumped out in front of me. I know that is what happened, because I was certain I was hugging the inside curb and going so slowly that people were honking at me. I knew immediately that the passenger’s side tire was flat.  I ignored my exit out of the roundabout and continued to the nearest building with a driveway.

“What are you doing?”  Robyn yelled.  “That was our turn!”  She didn’t seem to notice the weird thumping noise coming from her side.

“I’m pretty sure we have a flat,” I say in a flustered voice.

The driveway I navigated to turned out to be the Scotland Standard Newspaper building.

After coming to a rather bumpy stop we got out,  in the rain, of course, to inspect the damage. Left passenger side tire flat as a pancake.

Thank god for insurance. I look on the insurance paperwork and find a number devoted to flat tire problems alone.  This should have been an omen.  I called the number, cursing the minutes I was using, and wondering what the phone bill was going to look like.

Within 45 a gentleman showed up in a bright orange van with RAC Rescue written on the hood.

I had vowed I would not say I hit the curb, that I would play the innocent, “I have no idea what happened!” card.  To my dismay there was no need to. He took one look, and said, “Hit the curb, did you?”

I smiled dolefully, holding my hand above my forehead with my thumb and forefinger in the shape of an L.

“Do you know what this means in America?” I asked him.

“No.” He replies starting to grin. I suspect he has an idea.

“It means I’m a big loser,” I say jokingly.

He laughs at this, while my friend asks him if this happens a lot.

He gives us a Cheshire cat grin. “Every day or two there is at least one American or Canadian who hits the curb and gets a flat.”

I breathed a sigh of relief, feeling very much less a loser while he changes the tire with the admonition that we must visit the Kwik Fit, or some such place, as the spare is only the temporary type.

As we drive into Kwik Fit, we share an ominous feeling that we might be there all day.  I check in at the counter, and explain the situation.  The guy takes my paperwork, and in less than 45 minutes they have us on our way again.  I must say, it was amazing service.

We continued our drive to Rosslyn Chapel, with me insisting that Robyn drive.  I don’t think she was very happy about this, but my confidence was shaken to the core.  We encountered a few roundabouts on the way, but navigated them well. We toured Rosslyn Chapel about which I can only say, it is truly amazing. You can get information on it here.  No photography is allowed inside, and the outside was being restored, so the only photo I have is the following of the front door.

Afterward we walked to a local pub and ate, then headed toward our new destination, Inveraray. Now, we have a GPS, but the owner of the next B&B told us to stay East of Glasgow.  But how exactly, do you tell the GPS that?  I had no idea, so we just did what it told us to–or tried to anyway.  We were about to embark on lesson number 2 regarding roundabouts.  Ever see the movie, European Vacation with Chevy Chase?  Remember the scene with the roundabouts and getting stuck going round and round?  We spent roughly 20 minutes or so going between two roundabouts that were about a half a mile apart, trying to take the right road, but always ending up on the wrong road. There is only a finite number of times one can take hearing that annoying voice say, “recalculating”. I think it must have been the fifth try (that would be 10 times through each one) we got it right, and were going the right direction, which sadly was towards Glasgow. You might be thinking to yourself, how can anyone get lost using a GPS? I’m not sure, but we managed to. I do now know however, that after at least 15 roundabouts, we learned that when the GPS says take the second exit, it really means stay on the same road you’ve been on, essentially going straight through the circle. Better the lesson learned late than not at all.

When we hit Glasgow, it was like D.C. rush  hour.  I called the proprietor of the B&B to tell him we’d be much later than we expected because we were stuck in traffic.

“I thought I told you to go East of Glasgow!” a fatherly tone came over the line.

“We tried,” I stammer.  “I’m really sorry.  We didn’t know how to tell the GPS to take us East.”  There’s some grumbling on the other end where he finishes by telling us exactly how late we’ll be.  I smile, because I can hear underneath the grumbling, concern about the fact that we don’t seem to know what we are doing.  I apologize again, and hang up.

We eventually made it to Inveraray, where there was a wonderful room with a wonderful view waiting for us.

By the time we got settled and in bed it was 11:00 PM and finally dark.  Even with the adventures of the day, I was having a wonderful time and couldn’t wait for more.

The Romance of Edinburgh, Scotland

I’ve wanted to travel to Scotland for a long time.  I have Diana Gabaldon to thank for that. Her historical novel, Outlander was my first foray into Scottish History, and ignited a fascination that has yet to waiver since I first read it 17 years ago.  What an amazing country, with a complex and often violent and intriguing political history.  Also a photographer’s dream, the landscape is lush and green, offering many opportunities for some brilliant photos.  I planned, dreamed and schemed for over a year.  So when the date finally came, I was very prepared.  I had thought of everything–what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go, what I wanted to see.  I had lists, organizers, phone numbers, maps, a Garmin for the car, and a portable wifi with pre-paid data which I unfortunately forgot to pack.  Well, it’s not an adventure if you haven’t forgotten something, right?  As it turns out, that small forgotten item brought us much entertainment in the end.  So, I shrugged my shoulders, kissed the boys goodbye and boarded the plane at 3PM.

I landed in Edinburgh at 8AM the following day in a chilly, 54 degree steady rain, something I fully expected.  But when you leave 100+ degree temperatures even the expectation doesn’t live up to the experience. But I didn’t go for the weather, and many back home in the sweltering heat would tell me to shut up and enjoy it.  My cab took me to The Blue Yonder, a small bed and breakfast that was a haven of warmth and hot, comforting food.  Sue Kinross, the proprietor, was a lovely lady who immediately showed me to the dining room where the other guests had already begun to eat the morning meal.  Given that the way they pass time on airplanes is to feed you every couple of hours, I passed on the breakfast and just sipped coffee, striking up interesting coversation with them–or as interesting as can be had on a couple of hours of sleep and a glazed look in my eyes that did not go unnoticed.

I have to admit feeling somewhat in awe, as a group of them had been on a biking holiday, by which I mean the type of bike that lacks a motor and relies solely on muscle power. One gentlemen had biked the Swiss Alps for two weeks before coming here, planning to make his way to London (398 miles), while two of the women had biked from Inverness to Edinburgh, or a distance of about 158 miles. I suddenly felt lazy coming from the airport in a cab. Does walking all over the city count for anything?

After being fortified with hot coffee, I set off for Edinburgh Castle,  assured it was about a 10 minute walk from The Blue Yonder.  Turns out, 10 minutes was a SLIGHT underestimation.  After 15 minutes I stopped and ask someone if I was going the right direction.   A lettered smile and a wave, “Just keep going, way down…”  was the response.  Truth be told, it was more like 30 minutes before I finally see Edinburgh Castle, but it seems no closer to me then the moon, perched high on a hill with a park separating me from it.

The castle stands on volcanic rock which has evidence of human settlements that date back to 900BC.  It has been used to house prisoners of war over the years, as well as housing royal families.

In spite of the chilly temps, I was sweating by the time I reached the Royal Mile, which as the name implies, is the mile leading up to the castle.

Once up to the castle, I began to get a feel for what it would have felt like to live there hundreds of years ago, amongst a strong military community.  One of the first things you see are all the cannons on the battlements, and it is here you will find Mons Meg, the worlds oldest gun (canon), weighing in a 13,200 pounds (roughly 6 metric tons) and capable of shooting 330 lb. stone cannon balls.  This is impressive when you considered that over the last 500 years the Mons Meg has been moved several times over the Scottish terrain at a rate of 3 miles per day.

The Stone of Destiny is also housed at the Castle after having been returned from England in November of 1996.  The Stone of Destiny is interesting in that it has much controversy surrounding it’s history.  Some believe it is a section of the stone that Jacob used as a pillow when he had his dream that is chronicled in Genesis 28:10-22.  It was supposedly used in the coronation of the very first Kings of Ireland (before that coming from Spain, before that Egypt, before that the Holy Land), until it was taken away to Scotland following a war victory, then again to England where it resided under the coronation chair for 700 years before it was returned to Scotland.  The room it is in is kept in low light, and photographs are not allowed.

My favorite exhibit though has to be of Bob.  Bob of the Scots Fusilier Guards, was a small dog adopted by the battalion there.  He was a war hero in Crimea, and his tale of valor is very moving.  I guess that is why they chose to stuff him instead of burying him with the other regiment mascots.  He was something special.

Bob marked the end of my tour of the Edinburgh Castle.  I sat to watch a movie on it, but when I looked to the side and saw two tourists sound asleep on the benches in the back with everyone pointing at them, I decided I should keep moving, lest that be my fate.  And so I walked slowly down The Royal Mile, entertained by the window dressings (there really is a man in there).

At the end of the Royal Mile, I found a cab and went back to the airport to meet my friend Robin after which we found a pub for dinner, and consolidated our plans for the rest of our trip.  I, couldn’t wait to see as much as I could of the beautiful country of Scotland.