Monday, October 6, 2008

Deb and I went to Scotland for two weeks in September. It was the trip of a lifetime. You know how vacations don't always live up to the expectations and plans? Well this one did!
We started in Edinburgh
The castle is gorgeous bit "touristy". They seem to have cleaned everything up and it's not as "real" as it could be, if that makes sense. We also went to Holyrood Palace, which is the Queen's working palace when she's in Scotland. It was beautifully decorated and there were some very cool rooms. The portrait gallery had dozens of amazing portraits. That is the room they use to knight people. Behind the palace is the ruins of an Abbey, and some pristine gardens. The view is breathtaking with mountains on one side and the city on the other. We probably should have stayed another day in Edinburgh because our first day there we ended up sleeping and catching up on the time. We also had a nice lunch at the Hard Rock and I was able to get a few pins and a cool sweatshirt.
Our next stop was in Killin - we next stayed in a tiny village about 75 miles north of Edinburgh. It’s in "farm country" and there are sheep and cows everywhere. Driving was a bit of a challenge for Deb but she got used to it very quickly. We stopped on the way at a little family restaurant and found out we were only minutes away from where Ashley Judd's husband is from LOL. Our B&;B was really nice and the couple who run it were helpful and sweet. The weather had turned and we had a couple days with on and off rain, but nothing too bad. We used Killin as a base to see Stirling Castle and the William Wallace monument, even though Killin was farther away than we thought it was. There were little skits at both Stirling and Wallace Monument which really brought the places to life. I made it 1/2 way up the spiral staircase of the monument before I chickened out. William's sword is massive and they said he would have had to have been 6' 6" to use the thing. On our way home we stopped at Doune Castle which we found out was where they had filmed the Monty Python Holy Grail movie. It was much more of a ruin and seemed haunted, at least to me. We also braved our first "one-track- single lane" road to visit Rob Roy's grave. It is in a beautiful little cemetery by a church on a hill. Very pretty and serene.

Next we headed to Inverness. It’s a long winding drive from Killin to Inverness but by then Deb was really doing great at driving. The trip up is beautiful and took us by a lot of lakes (including Loch Ness). I believe this is when we stopped at Urquart Castle which is right beside Loch Ness. It’s mostly in ruins but it was very interesting. I also loved the lifesize trebuchet, which is basically the weapon they used to throw boulders at castles. It was really neat to see one up close, even if it was a reproduction. We also got our first real view of Loch Ness, which is totally gorgeous and huge. Its the largest body of fresh water in the UK.
Inverness is more of a working class city but it’s really nice. They seemed to have tried hard to develop their downtown area to be visitor friendly. Our bed and breakfast too was nice, although a little more stuffy than the first two.

The first day in Inverness we were going to go on a cruise to see dolphins but our timing was a bit off. We decided that for the money (about $50 each US) that it was a bit expensive to go out on a boat and “maybe” see some dolphins, so instead we went looking for some seals LOL. We ended up at a neat little restaurant right on the water and had a really good lunch. Afterwards I took a bunch of pictures and then we headed off to look for more places to see. We ended up back at the B&B and then had a nice Italian meal for dinner. (I think we were both getting a bit tired of tatties and sausage LOL).

Over the next few days we centered ourselves around Inverness. We went to Culloden. This is the battlefield where Bonnie Prince Charlie was finally defeated by England’s forces. It was a very spiritual place and I could really feel the ghosts there. A cool feature of the place was the stone markers many of the clans had placed around the battlefield including one from Clan Campbell. We also went to Brodie Castle, which was closed LOL and then to Cawdor Castle. Cawdor is a fully intact castle that people seem to really live in part of the year. There were family photos all over the place. They also had a gorgeous garden complete with a maze. We stopped at a shopping center for lunch one day and had some really good soup and bread and of course had a traditional McDonald’s meal in Inverness as well LOL.

On Sunday we tried to find the Mormon Church in Inverness but couldn’t so we headed off towards the Isle of Skye and our next stay. On the way we stopped at Loch Ness again to see the “Nessie” stuff. It’s a bit silly because they have this whole center about debunking the “myth” of Nessie. Honestly, I’d rather they hadn’t LOL. I would be more interested to hear the stories of the people who claim to have seen something rather than the science of why nothing that large could exist in Loch Ness. Never the less, we took a cruise on Loch Ness which was gorgeous. There was a mist hanging over the water down the loch and it was very mysterious. It was easy to see why people see a monster in the loch. We got a good view of the countryside around the loch and also of Urquart Castle from the water.

It took a while to get to Skye but it was worth the drive. The scenery there is starker and less lush than the middle of the country, but just as gorgeous. We stayed at a little inn called The Ferry Inn in the village of Uig. Like many villages in the rural parts of Scotland we saw Uig is very small but pretty. Many of the homes in Scotland are painted white. We asked someone about this and they said it was just a tradition. There are tons more sheep on Skye walking near or on the road. Add to that the fact that many of the roads on Skye are also “one track” or single lane roads and driving becomes a real adventure.

On Skye we visited Dunvegan Castle. This is the castle owned by the McLeod’s. It on a rock jutting out into … I don’t know if it’s technically the Atlantic Ocean, but it’s close. It was a beautiful castle and the gardens were gorgeous. Too bad it was raining because I would have liked to have walked through the gardens more. We did see what we think was a hedge hog running around and that was fun.

One of the features Dunvegan offers it boat trips to see the Atlantic seals which live on the small islands nearby. Even though it was raining they were still offering the trips, so we paid our 4 pounds and got on the little boat. It was an open boat which could seat maybe 10 people. There were four other adults, a small child, the pilot (named Colin) and us and it seemed pretty full. So off we went out to look at the seals. It was such fun! Colin got us really in close to the little islands the seals were on and I got some great pictures. Colin was quiet but knowledgeable and seemed to like all of the questions Deb and I were asking. We agreed afterwards it was one of the best parts of our trip.

On Skye we also visited the Skye Silver Shop. They had tons of hand-crafted silver and gold jewelry so I was very happy. My only problem was that I couldn’t afford everything I liked LOL.
We left Skye and headed to Fort William. On our way we stopped at Eilean Donan Castle. Reported to be the most photographed and beautiful castle in Scotland (don’t know who thought that up LOL) it has been used in several movies and TV series, including “Highlander”. The castle is pretty intact and has a cool bridge leading to it. Our favorite part was the cute guide who gave us lots of info in the great hall. He was charming and flirty and I could have stood there all day listening to that gorgeous voice. The castle was great and we learned a lot but the best part was it seemed very authentic and that was cool. You could truly imagine the lords and ladies and such living their lives in that beautiful place.

Our B&B in Fort William was called The Glentower Observatory. It is a pretty building original built as a true observatory, to look at the stars. It was comfortable and Kevin, the owner, was really nice. They had a cute little Scottie name Jacque. We would walk up and try to say hello to him and he would “woof” turn his back and put his tail up and walk away grumbling the whole time. It was hilarious. Our room was huge and comfortable and we had a great view of the Loch.

Our first day in Fort William was one I think we were both really looking forward to. That was the day we took our trip on the Jacobite Express steam train. This is the train they used in the Harry Potter movies and it travels over the Glenfinnan Viaduct, also used in the movies. While waiting to leave we had the pleasure of meeting three Welshmen who were visiting as well. They were very nice and took our picture in front of the train. The ride was a lot of fun. We had bought “first class” tickets. I was hoping we would sit in the same type of car as in the movies, but those were sold out, so our carriage was just as nice. We were even served tea and scones while on our way.

The train’s journey goes through some beautiful countryside and it was difficult not to take pictures out the steamy windows the whole day. After about 2 hours or so the train stops in Glenfinnan (more about this little village later) and then continues on to the seaside village of Mallaig. Mallaig is a pretty fishing village and was fun to see. I spent the time taking pictures on the dock and watching the fishermen and seagulls. Deb and I met up with the Welsh fellows again there and we had a nice time getting to know them a bit better. Then it was back onto the train for the return journey. This time the engine was on the other end of the train so our windows were less steamy and I got a cool video of us going over the viaduct.
Once back in Fort William we did some laundry and had dinner.

The next day we headed again to Glenfinnan. Glenfinnan is the site where Bonnie Prince Charlie met up with the Highlanders to make his march to Edinburgh. It is also the place of The Highlander memorial. In addition, this place has also been used quite a bit in movies and television. The Loch is the “Black Lake” in the Harry Potter movies and Glenfinnan is the place where the fictional Duncan McLeod from the Highlander TV series was born and raised. Sadly the visitor’s center was closed that day due to an electrical outage, so we decided to head back to Fort William. We stopped at a little roadside tourist trap called “Treasures of the Earth”. It was an exhibition of gemstones and minerals. They had jade and quartz and diamond etc. There were HUGE rocks full of topaz and jade and a ton of fossils as well. It was a fun little side trip. We also saw another castle ruin. We were going to head back down to the Eilean Donan area that evening but I wasn’t feeling well so we went back to the BB for an early evening.

The next day we started out at the Glenfinnan Visitor’s Center so we didn’t miss it and then headed down to Dalhousie Castle in Edinburgh for our last two nights in Scotland. By now I felt horrible. I had an ear infection (I think) which made me really dizzy and nauseous. I spent the trip to Dalhoausie under a sweatshirt lying down in the car. Poor Deb had to navigate on her own.
We did stop once to meet Hamish (a Highland bull) and then on to Dalhousie.

Dalhousie is a working, restored castle used as a hotel and spa. It is beautifully done, although we stayed in “The Lodge” because … well … we didn’t want to pay LOTS of money to stay in the castle. I felt better our first morning there and was able to take part in the Falconry lesson and demonstration we had planned. Even though the birds weren’t very cooperative that day we were able to fly two birds and hold a huge eagle. We also saw dozens of other birds up close including some gorgeous owls. That night (after a nap) we had a 5-star meal in The Dungeon Restaurant at the castle. It was such a good meal and even though I still felt bad, I was able to eat until I could barely walk.

The next day it was time to head home. We made it back to the airport in good time and even met some nice Mormon ladies on the bus LOL.

All-in-all the once-in-a-lifetime trip to Scotland was everything I wanted it to be. We saw some beautiful and gorgeous scenery, some fun animals and tons and tons of other things. We did miss a few things we had planned, but as one of our B&B hosts said, we aren’t regretting what we didn’t see, we’re reveling in what we did.