Just as the title says, yes, we are going to Scotland! Just Dan and I, with a castles and battlefields theme for touring. Sorry for the lame title…
Toronto-Glasgow via Halifax
Posted a couple pictures of the Robertson Headframe. I anticipate this will be the last time I’ll see the iconic landmark I grew up with in my neighbourhood. It was supposed to have been demolished in April sometime; since it wasn’t and I wanted to watch it come down then of course that means it will happen while we’re away.
Aside from Westjet switching from using the Jet to a Dash-8 out of Yellowknife (so much for roomy PLUS seating on a Dash-8…grrrrrr), the flights today were uneventful. Honestly, I do love flying with Westjet. They are fantastic.
Dan slept most of the way. I read about half of my book by Neil Oliver on the history of Scotland. And I managed to get the census done during our layovers while still in Canada. Extremely little turbulence, a breeze getting through Scotland customs, and our luggage even made it without incident! Completely exhausted, though.
Had a little hiccup with the car rental: I thought I had booked an automatic, they thought I booked a manual. They ended up getting us an automatic Jaguar with all the fancy bells and whistles, including a GPS. Guess the GPS we brought is redundant now…
Figured out how to drive on the “wrong” side of the road. My constant mantra is “stay on the left, stay on the left, stay on the left”. I’m finding the in-car GPS really doesn’t give much of a heads up for upcoming turns. I’m curious if we can program that. Might try using our own GPS simultaneously to see if there really is a difference or if it’s just me being REALLY cautious over here.
Parking so far can be difficult to find, at least in the university area. We did a self-guided tour of the campus, which was actually quite lovely, especially considering how tired we were. The park areas around the university are nice, too.
Made it to our B&B: Manor Park Guest House. Lovely so far. Did not anticipate our room would be on the third floor. Not a problem were we not so tired. Actually, not a problem anyway. It was nice to have a shower.
Supper at St. Louis Cafe was fantastic. Fish cakes, gumbo, and nachos…
And to top off the day, yes, we managed to get a geocache! Woohoo!
Started the day waking up late for breakfast. Yup. I guess we were tired.
First stop was to see the Antonine Wall near Croy. Walked up the big hill, met a dog whose bark was worse than his bite, saw some cattle, marvelled over the earthworks required to build this ultimately ineffective Roman Wall, and took in the beautiful scenery.
Next stop was the Battle of Bannockburn Heritage Centre. Visualizing 8,000 Scots fighting against 20,000 English on this huge piece of land is really something. Especially when you consider the Scots won. Took some time to find a geocache while we were here.
Next stop, Stirling Castle. In a word, fantastic. What a great site to see. It’s at the highest point of what was the major crossroads of Scotland. The views are incredible. There are three architectural styles to the castle: medieval, Renaissance, and Victorian. The exterior walls of the Great Hall were recently repainted with the same material that would have been used when it was new, a colour I believe is called Stewart Yellow but looks more like a slightly pink-ish yellow, very bright. At one time the whole castle would have been this colour and it would have shone brightly from its perch. The tour guide was awesomely Scottish, a well rehearsed performer and well informed. The Queen and her handmaiden gave us golfing tips, and the handmaiden invited introductions to our son for her younger sisters; her own dowry was up to eight pounds now, if anybody’s interested.
We finally made our way to our B&B in Doune, Creity Hall Guest House. Wonderful place, I highly recommend it. Karen was our Irish host and was very accommodating. We started walking into town for supper, but after 15 minutes we realized I must have made a directional blooper because we were nowhere near a village, let alone could we see Doune Castle. We turned around, picked up the car, and drove two minutes in the opposite direction to sheepishly find our destination. We had supper at L’Angelino’s Pasta and Pizzeria. Another fine dining experience, albeit not local fare.
Karen at Creity Hall served us up a wonderful breakfast that included smoked salmon and eggs for me and an Ulster breakfast for Dan. Dan’s included fried haggis, which we found actually tasted very much like tortiere meat. Clearly many of the same spices are used.
We started the day visiting Doune Castle. Another great experience. The organizers have done a fabulous job with the audio guide. It provided valuable historical context and significance while also making references to both Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Outlander. The castle was also used as Winterfell for Game of Thrones. A lovely walk around the grounds included finding one of two geocaches.
From there we drove to Glencoe, stopping at the visitors centre. The drive took approximately two hours on narrow roads with a ridiculously high speed limit of 60 miles per hour. For the most part, there was no way in hell I was going to navigate those roads at that speed. Don’t get me wrong, the roads were beautifully paved, well-marked, and well-maintained, but they were rather narrow and twisty. There were some areas that were really not wide enough for two lanes of traffic. There were some areas that were posted with signs warning of oncoming traffic being in the middle of the road. Why? Don’t know! Maybe if the speed limit was slower traffic wouldn’t have to cross the centre line when going around a corner. Just saying…
Anyway, the scenery was lovely. There were several areas that reminded us of driving through the Rockies, in particular going towards Fernie and Kelowna.
We arrived at Treetops B&B in Fort William around 5:00 pm. Met our hosts, who are lovely people. Got the tour of the house, which is gorgeous. Then went for supper at the Ben Nevis Inn, which sits at the foot of Ben Nevis. Spectacular view of the highest peak in Great Britain. Actually, it’s a very vertical view. Supper was really good. Tried haggis again; it was a different recipe. Still similar to tourtière meat, but with more peppercorns. The texture of this one was more like a loose, meaty stuffing, not fried. I really liked it, honestly, but I preferred the spices in this morning’s haggis. A short walk around the foothills prefaced our return to Treetops, where I finally felt awake enough to complete these last two days’ blogs!
Well, after a brief side trip to the hospital (don’t worry – it turned out to be nothing serious), we were on our way to Edinburgh. It took us nearly five hours, but that includes a stop for lunch at the Loch Lommond Lodge and navigating the first two hours through ridiculously narrow roads. I keep telling Dan I don’t want to know how few inches there were between the car and the stone guard rails or bridges on his side. Getting on the M8 was like a breath of fresh air, even with the construction delays, and made for a very relaxing final hour and a half of driving.
We unloaded our stuff at our room at 4KT Guest House, then walked down Coates, Haymarket, Clifton, Atholl, and Shandwick before stopping at The Cellar Restaurant for supper. It literally was in the cellar of a bar, and the booths along the outer perimeter were sunken rooms. Service was great, food was great, it was all great.
We talked about our activities over the next few days here, then walked back to our room. I thought to do laundry, but apparently the laundrette (laundromat) closes early compared to at home. We found an alternative that we can use on Monday. Don’t worry, we won’t be walking around in stinky, dirty clothes for half of our stay.
Our host, Davey, served us up a fine breakfast of omelette for Dan and savoury continental for me before we ventured out on our first full day in Edinburgh. Our goal: read the title.
We made our way by foot up to Edinburgh Castle. Not only is the rock it sits on huge, but so is the castle! What a sight to walk up to. And when I say walk, I do mean walk UP and UP and UP. There was a set of stairs to get us from the side street we approached from the back on to the main parade ground in front of the castle gate. I was thoroughly impressed with this young couple who carried their child in the stroller all the way up.
The climb is worth it. The castle is magnificent, and so is the view. No wonder the castle has never been taken by force…its been surrendered a few times, but never taken by force. It changed at one point in history from the royal residence to a strictly military castle, and remains so today. One of the largest on site buildings is a military barracks. There’s so much there and we did not get to see it all. The Scottish Crown Jewels are kept there, along with the Stone of Scone (pronounced scoon).
The Stone is also known as the Stone of Destiny, and it is a piece of stone about 3’x1.5’x1.5′ from the Scone area of Scotland. If I understand correctly, starting about 906 AD, the kings of Scotland were required to sit on the Stone when they took their oaths to be king, the Stone being a symbol of the ties between the people and the land. A ‘king’ was not a king until he sat on the Stone. And it has been this way right up to this day. Now, the Stone stayed in Scone for hundreds of years, but the last King of Scotland to be inaugurated on it was Balliol in November 1292. In 1296, after conquering Scotland, King Edward of England moved the Stone to Westminster Abbey and had it ensconced beneath the seat of St. Edward the Confessor. That seat was and is used to inaugurate England’s kings and queens; with the Stone there they basically were being inaugurated as Scotland’s kings and queens as well. The Stone remained there until 1996, when it was returned to Scotland and is now housed in the vault at Edinburgh Castle. It still must return to Westminster Abbey whenever a new King or Queen is inaugurated, but between times it is back in Scotland’s hands.
Anyhoo, we could have stayed at the castle far longer than we did. Unfortunately we had to leave sooner than we really wanted to because we had booked a tour with The Real Mary King’s Close. Fortunately, the tour was really good and informative. It took us to a part of old Edinburgh that used to be where the common people lived that had been built over by the powers that be so they could put another building overtop it. This of course meant all those people were kicked out of their homes. The close refers to a street, and Mary’s street was one of the wider ones at roughly four or five feet.
After that we had lunch at an Indian restaurant, and then made our way to the other end of The Royal Mile to visit the Palace of Holyrood House. This is where the kings and queens of Scotland eventually lived when they realized how cold and uncomfortable the castle was. Holyrood remains the current Royal family’s summer residence. It is definitely more comfortable than the castle, more opulent, and very fine. Apparently the Royal Company of Archers have unrestricted access to the palace grounds to practice on. Appropriate, considering they also act as the Royal bodyguards when the family is in residence. What I found odd, though, is that their ground target on the lawn is at the end nearest the palace. That seems dangerous to me. Why wouldn’t they have it farthest away from the palace? I would have asked, but they weren’t there at the time.
We ended the day with another fantastic Italian meal and then a movie: Captain America: Civil War.
We planned to do more, we really did. But it wasn’t that bad a day anyway. The weather was beautiful. The first part of the drive was nearly perfect.
We went to Rosslyn Chapel this morning. The stonemason work on that building is truly extraordinary. It’s a shame it went unused for so long (150 years), but the restoration efforts are coming along beautifully.
The scenery overlooking the Glen’s are breathtaking. In fact, we found the whole area very pleasant. And we should know by now. We spent unplanned hours trying to complete a multi-cache that was not very clear in its instructions with a GPS it turns out I wasn’t using to its full effectiveness. We walked literally all over the village and down walking paths. As I said, it was absolutely beautiful, just incredibly long.
We didn’t do much after that, just went back to our room, put our feet up, and chilled.
Awesome travel blog guys! Great photos and interesting narrative. Makes me feel like I’m there. Happy 48th Danny!!! Hope you guys did something particularly fun to celebrate your birthday.
John From, on May 10, 2016 at 10:37PM
Private guided tour with Iain Stewart of Serenity Tours – in short, a fantastic day.
What a great birthday for Dan today turned out to be! I had hoped my plan would work out this way, but I couldn’t have asked for better. Iain was exactly what we were looking for in a guide: personable, knowledgable, informative, and very pleasant. And he’s a musician, but we didn’t actually get to hear him play. Turns out he grew up with The Proclaimers…how cool is that?
Iain took us out for a drive to see the battlefields of Pinkie Cleugh and Prestonpans, and to the castle ruins of Dirleton, Tantallon, and Fast, and with time for lunch at the Buttercup Cafe in North Berwick. He helped us visualize how the battles would have played out on the fields, how things have changed over time, how people would have lived at and around the castles, and helped get the familial, religious, and political characters and motivations straightened out.
All the sights were along the coast east of Edinburgh, making for a very lovely drive, notwithstanding my motion sickness — I wasn’t driving, and accidentally took a decongestant instead of gravol before leaving in the morning. Watching the horizon only works when you can see it; fast moving hedges suddenly blocking your view do not help at all. But we had enough stops with good walks between drives that it didn’t get too bad.
We went looking for The battle of Dunbar memorial and ended up finding the Doonhill Homestead where the site of a wooden hall of a 6th century British chief, and of an Anglican chief’s hall which superseded it in the 7th century, were revealed by aerial photography followed by excavation in the 1960s. The hall was larger than you would expect for its age, at 23 metres long. It was remarkably sobering to stand on the site and realize just how ancient the remains were, and how far back the history of Scotland actually goes.
The castle ruins in particular were also breathtaking, as were the views from them. The walk down to Fast Castle was juuussst a bit steep, but not so much as to deter Dan from continuing on. I knew my limits and only went down about half way, recognizing the climb back up might be a bit much for me. Dan really enjoyed it, but nearly pushed too hard himself. He was a smart boy, though, and recognized he needed to slow down, so he did.
Apparently the bridge connecting the “eponymous” promontory used to be a draw bridge but now is just a narrow, elevated bridge with near-vertical cliffs on three sides. The castle itself is almost non-existent. It’s placement on the promontory makes you wonder at the purpose of such a dismal setting, especially with it having been a place someone like Mary Queen of Scots stayed at (in 1566). Dan also noted that Fast Castle was like your typical Game of Thrones Iron Isles castle. He can’t figure how they even got the materials there to build it.
It’s worth noting that “fast” has its toots in the word “false”, and the holders of the castle used it to create a false light house which would divert passing ships into the rocks causing them to wreck, and from which the holders would salvage the cargo for profit. They paid the iron price, haha.
Not many stops on this drive to Pitlochry, but the two we did make turned out to be very interesting. First was Culross, which is a village that has maintained its 16th and 17th century architecture to a remarkable degree, so much so that shows like Outlander have been able to use the site with very little dressing to represent historical periods. In Outlander, Culross is used in place of a fictional village called Cranesmuir in 1742.
We also visited the Abbey, which really turned out to have its own character and interesting features, and the Kirk contains very old and prominent “residents”. Apparently the Culross Palace is supposed to be worth the visit, but we had to be on our way.
Next stop was Aberdour Castle, which was also a surprisingly interesting visit. The castle was built over five periods between the 12th and 17th centuries. Now, part of it is still standing and can be used for meetings or gatherings, part of it is in ruins, and part of it is almost completely fallen. The gardens have been well kept, and they’ve replanted the small orchard. It’s really a very interesting visit (I know, I’m repeating myself), and Historic Scotland really must be given it’s due for the excellent work they’re doing to preserve and promote historical sights.
Alas, we had to get on the road to Pitlochry, which turned out to be a very pleasant drive on decent highways, and Pitlochry itself is really quite beautiful. It very much reminds us of Banff, Jasper, or even Canmore. It’s a shame we can’t stay, but tomorrow is the Hogwart’s Express!