Sunday, July 24, 2016

My trip to Scotland (Part 4)

Saturday, July 9 - On the road from Fort William to Edinburgh

After breakfast we left Fort William, heading for Edinburgh, and driving on major highways for the first time all week. The scenery as we drove through the Highlands was spectacular.



I had really enjoyed my previous visit to Stirling Castle in 2012, so when we were planning our trip, I suggested that we stop there on the way to Edinburgh.  What I didn't realize until we were almost there was that Doune Castle (where they filmed the exterior shots of Castle Leoch for the OUTLANDER TV series) was only a few minutes away from Stirling.

So I persuaded my brother and sister-in-law to take a brief detour to Doune, just to get a good look at the castle from the outside.  We didn't try to go inside, because I had read online that accessibility would be a problem, but we did get some nice photos of the exterior!





Upon our arrival at Stirling Castle, we took some time to look around outside.  The castle is, of course, situated on the high ground, and the view of the countryside below is just stunning!



Of course, providing attractive views for the tourists was not the point. <g> The presence of these cannons serves as a reminder that Stirling was built for defense. (Some of you may remember references in DRAGONFLY IN AMBER to the siege of Stirling Castle in January 1746.)





My favorite part of Stirling Castle is the restored palace, with the rooms furnished as they would have appeared in 1546.



This photo was taken in the queen's bedchamber. There are re-enactors in every room, dressed in period costume, and I was amused by the way they stayed in character no matter what oddball questions people asked them.

I loved seeing the famous tapestries, though my photos really don't do them justice.









These are modern reproductions of the original 16th-century tapestries, painstakingly hand-crafted by a team of artisans who spent years recreating them.



Here is a video that describes the process of recreating the tapestries. The project was finally completed in 2014, and the results are magnificent! Look here for more information.

If you ever get a chance to visit Stirling Castle, the tapestries are definitely worth seeing in person!

On our way from Stirling to Edinburgh, suddenly my brother said, "What's that?" and pointed toward the side of the highway. That's when I realized, belatedly, that we were passing right by the site of The Kelpies.



I only got a quick glimpse of them from the road as we passed. We were so close to our destination at that point that we didn't bother to go back and see them up close. (The photo above comes from Wikipedia.)

We checked into the hotel, returned the car, and had a nice dinner at the hotel restaurant and a good night's sleep before getting up early the next morning to go to the airport.



The return trip was pretty uneventful, except that I did run into a little trouble going through airport security in Newark. I had bought a small bottle of whisky in the duty-free shop in the Edinburgh airport. The sales clerk wrapped it in plastic and sealed it, telling me, "Make sure you keep it in this sealed bag and you won't have any trouble going through security."

It wouldn't have been a problem, except that I had to change terminals in Newark for my return flight to Raleigh (that was an adventure in itself, but everything worked out in the end), and so I ended up having to go through security again.  The TSA agents in Newark appeared perplexed, as though they'd never seen anyone fly in from Scotland carrying whisky before. They stared first at me, then at my bag, and started arguing with each other.

"It's in a sealed bag from the duty-free. It's fine."
"But it's more than 3 1/2 ounces of liquid!"
"But it's already been through security on the incoming flight."
"It's liquid. We have to re-check it."

So they opened the sealed plastic bag, opened the container with the little bottle of Glenfiddich in it (I was really wondering if they would insist on opening that, too, to test it, but fortunately they didn't!), looked at it for a minute or two, then put it back in the container, re-packed it in a new plastic bag, re-sealed it, and said, "It's OK, you're fine," and waved me through.

Conclusion

We had a wonderful time in Scotland, and I think all three of us enjoyed getting to see a few areas that were a little less "touristy", and getting a feel for the natural beauty of many parts of the country. Considering that I arrived a full day later than originally planned, I think it's amazing that we were able to do almost everything we intended.

Many, many thanks to my brother and sister-in-law, who were great traveling companions as well as a tremendous help to me personally throughout this whole trip. I couldn't have done it without you!

I hope you've enjoyed this little travelogue, and I would really encourage all of you to visit Scotland at some point if you can.

Here are the previous posts in this series:

My trip to Scotland (Prologue)
My trip to Scotland (Part 1)
My trip to Scotland (Part 2)
My trip to Scotland (Part 3)

Saturday, July 23, 2016

My trip to Scotland (Part 3)

Thursday, July 7 - Isle of Skye

Another good breakfast in the hotel. My brother tried black pudding for the first time. I restrained myself from telling him about the detailed description of how it's made, in ABOSAA chapter 71. <g>

We decided to take a drive along the perimeter of the Trotternish Peninsula before leaving Skye. It turned out to be a difficult drive, lots of single-track roads (and sheep!) and raining most of the way, but the scenery was beautiful.





The photo below shows a hillside entirely covered in bracken. This is what gives the mountains their distinctive green color. I was fascinated to see such a lush, dense growth of bracken, because up to this point I'd only seen small clumps of the stuff.



My guidebook to Skye says all these cliffs and hills have names, but I'm not sure which one this is, in the photo below. I took this photo out the car window as we drove. All of the little white dots at the bottom are actually sheep! <g>



In addition to the beautiful scenery, we found the occasional surprise, like the ruins of an ancient stone building that my brother came across.



On the way out of Skye, we stopped for lunch at a little cafe in Kyle of Lochalsh. My brother and sister-in-law were celebrating their anniversary.



Misty mountains, as we approached Fort William. At one point on this drive, my brother saw a red stag, like the one shown here.



We had dinner at the Ben Nevis Inn and Bunkhouse, located right at the foot of Ben Nevis, Scotland's highest mountain. I had a thoroughly Scottish meal: cullen skink (a type of fish chowder), and vegetarian haggis, neeps, and tatties. <g> Delicious!

My brother Ron loved the location and the atmosphere in this place, full of hikers and serious mountain climbers. Ron had originally planned to climb Ben Nevis, but he decided not to because he was still recovering from a muscle strain that occurred prior to our trip. In the end I was glad he was able to spend the day with us instead.



Friday, July 8 - Fort William and Glencoe

My day started out badly. Trying to get into the bathtub in the hotel room, I banged my left shin hard on the metal handle on the front of the tub. As far as I'm concerned, those handles were more of a hazard than an aid to getting in and out of the bath, and not needed anyway, since there was a grab bar on the wall. But who ever heard of putting something with sharp metal edges on the front of the tub like that?

By the time I got dressed, there was a sizeable lump on my left leg just below the knee. We got some ice from the hotel staff, and I spent some time icing it with the leg propped up. It didn't hurt much, even when I put my full weight on the leg. Just a very bad bruise. So we went ahead with our plans for the day.



The weather was good, so we decided to take a gondola ride. The Nevis Range Gondola at Aonach Mor goes up 2150 feet, and offers a spectacular view of the valley below. I was delighted that the gondola turned out to be totally accessible. As soon as the operator saw me coming, he brought out a little wooden ramp, and I was able to fit my scooter in between the seats with about an inch to spare on either side.



It was quite chilly at the top of the mountain, and unfortunately too misty on the viewing platform to be able to see anything below. So we went inside and had cocoa and snacks, then visited the little gift shop, and rode the gondola back down. I don't often get a chance to do things like this, and I thoroughly enjoyed it!

After the gondola ride, we drove to Glencoe. This was one of my favorite places on my first trip to Scotland in 2012, and I was really glad to get a chance to go back there.







If you know anything about the history of the Glencoe Massacre of 1692, the sight of those high hills surrounding the valley on all sides is a little unnerving. It's all too easy to imagine the MacDonald survivors (including women and children) fleeing for their lives up into those hills, in the middle of a snowstorm.

The Glencoe Visitors Centre in Ballachulish is very well done and informative, with interesting exhibits about the history and geology of the area.



Our next stop was a place called Glencoe Lochan, a tiny loch not far from the Visitors Centre that has walking trails. I had found it online before our trip and I thought it looked like a beautiful place, and something that I could manage fairly easily with my scooter. It turned out to be one of my favorite places on the whole trip!





It's a beautiful natural setting (complete with ducks! <g>), and the spectacular view is balm to the soul. The longer I stayed there, looking out over the water, the more I could feel the stress and tension of the last few months draining away. I would definitely recommend it if you happen to be in the area.

We went back to the hotel to rest a bit before dinner. In the hotel pub that evening, we encountered a group of mountain climbers about to embark on the Three Peaks Challenge, where the goal is to climb three of the highest mountains in the UK (Ben Nevis in Scotland, Snowdon in Wales, and Scafell Pike in England) in 24 hours (!) I wonder if Sam Heughan knows about this?

Considering the way the day started, I was amazed that it turned out to be one of our best days on the whole trip! The bruise on my leg is slowly subsiding, and fortunately it didn't slow me down at all on our trip.

Look here for the other posts in this series about my trip to Scotland.

My trip to Scotland (Prologue)
My trip to Scotland (Part 1)
My trip to Scotland (Part 2)
My trip to Scotland (Part 4)

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

My trip to Scotland (Part 2)

Tuesday, July 5 - Inverness to the Isle of Skye

I woke up to Big News: Diana Gabaldon's announcement of the title of Book 9, GO TELL THE BEES THAT I AM GONE. (For more on this title and what it might mean, look here.)

We left Inverness in mid-morning, heading for the Isle of Skye. It was a pretty challenging drive, complicated by the fact that it was raining most of the way there, but the scenery was gorgeous! Here are a few photos we took on the road.







This is the area around Kyle of Lochalsh.  Some of you may recall that Kyle of Lochalsh is mentioned in THE FIERY CROSS as Roger's birthplace, so I was very eager to see it. We stopped for lunch at a little cafe in the town. I bought a guidebook to Skye at a gift shop nearby, which turned out to be pretty useful. Then we drove "over the sea to Skye" <g>, via the Skye Bridge.

We encountered a number of single-track roads for the first time on this drive. They were tricky at first, but before too long, my brother got the hang of driving on them. Even on narrow, winding mountain roads, they have "passing places" every few hundred yards so that you can pull over and let other cars go by.

The scenery in this area is spectacular: high hills, some with little waterfalls coming out of the rocks, and small bodies of water almost everywhere. It's very, very green, even on the mountains, but there are few trees.

Eventually we made our way to the hotel, located near Greshornish. The location is pretty remote, about two miles down a single-track road, and there were sheep grazing by the roadside. After driving much of the day in the rain, we were delighted when the sun came out just as we arrived!

We went out to dinner at a restaurant called the Stein Inn and had a good time. Here I am with my brother by a lovely little loch just across the road from the restaurant.





Wednesday, July 6

We had a good breakfast at the hotel, then drove to Dunvegan Castle, which my friend Judy Lowstuter had recommended as a must-see location on the Isle of Skye.



The castle itself is not very accessible, but I managed, with some help, to climb the staircase to the first floor. I was glad I made the effort to go upstairs! Here we were able to see all the public rooms and many paintings and artifacts belonging to the MacLeod clan.



The photo above, showing the dining room, comes from theskyeguide.com.



We saw the famous Fairy Flag, which dates from 400-700 AD. There are a number of stories and legends surrounding the Fairy Flag. Look here and here, for example.

After we finished touring the castle, we went outside to walk around the gardens, which are magnificent!





My favorite part was the Water Garden, with a stunning waterfall in the middle.



After lunch, we drove to Kilmuir, in the north of Skye, to visit the Skye Museum of Island Life. I thoroughly enjoyed our visit there, despite the fact that it was raining the whole time. What can you do but adopt a Scottish attitude toward the weather? "Oh, well, so it's raining. <shrug> Put the hood of your jacket up and grab an umbrella, and let's go see it anyway!" It certainly didn't slow us down at all.



The Skye Museum of Island Life is a small outdoor museum consisting of half a dozen little thatched-roofed stone cottages, containing exhibits and artifacts about all aspects of traditional life on Skye. It really gives you an appreciation of how difficult their lives were back then (not all that long ago, either; some of the exhibits date back only to the 1920's), and how much time and effort it took just to provide the basic necessities like food and clothing.

Here are a couple of photos of things I thought would be of interest to OUTLANDER fans. First, a display of plant-based dyes in various colors.  (Click on the photo for a bigger view.) I could definitely see the women of Lallybroch and Fraser's Ridge making use of many of these!



Here are some quern stones (the ones shown here are about a foot wide), used for grinding grain when no mill was available.



I would definitely recommend the Skye Museum of Island Life to any OUTLANDER fans who happen to be visiting the area. I thought it was very interesting.

By the time we were done exploring all of the buildings, I was soaked to the skin and freezing cold, but I didn't really mind. We went back to the hotel to change and rest a bit before dinner. All in all, a very successful day!

Look here for the other posts in this series about my trip to Scotland.

My trip to Scotland (Prologue)
My trip to Scotland (Part 1)
My trip to Scotland (Part 3)
My trip to Scotland (Part 4)

Saturday, July 16, 2016

My trip to Scotland (Part 1)

Sunday, July 3 - Edinburgh to Inverness

We left Edinburgh about noon, heading for Inverness in our rented Volvo.

I don't have photos for this first afternoon; I was too exhausted after the ordeal of getting to Scotland to think much about taking pictures, but I will try to supplement with some general impressions.

My brother did all the driving on this trip. It's not easy driving on the left side of the road! Roundabouts, especially, are very tricky, but he did a great job. We were very glad that our car had a good GPS. We depended on it throughout the whole trip!



The gorse was in bloom, and we saw a lot of it along the highways as we traveled around Scotland, but I didn't actually get a close-up look at it during this trip. (Photo credit: VFR_Rider on Flickr.)



We arrived in Inverness after a five-hour drive.  Our hotel turned out to be very close to a restaurant called the Snow Goose. (The photo above is from TripAdvisor.) I remembered the name from my previous trip to Scotland in 2012, because our tour group had eaten there. So we went there for dinner. Getting into the place turned out to be a little tricky, but we managed, and had a good time.

Monday, July 4 - Loch Ness and Culloden

This was one of our busiest days on the whole trip. Our plan was to take a boat ride on Loch Ness in the morning, then see Culloden in the afternoon. The morning started out with a bit of an adventure. We had a small problem with the rental car, so my brother Ron stayed behind to deal with it while my sister-in-law Kathy and I took a taxi to the boat dock.




Here's our boat, the Jacobite Queen.



Shortly after we boarded the boat, we got a call from Ron. The issue with the car turned out not to be a big deal, so he was going to try to meet us at the dock. He got a little lost trying to find it, but eventually, with the help of the Jacobite Cruises staff (who really went above and beyond for us!), he was able to rendezvous with us, and we had a very relaxing time on the cruise.



Here's Urquhart Castle. (Click on the photo for a bigger view.) We opted not to visit the castle, because it's not very accessible for someone like me who uses a scooter.



We didn't see Nessie, but we all had a good time on this cruise, and I would certainly recommend Jacobite Cruises to anyone planning to visit Loch Ness!



Driving through Inverness on our way back to the hotel, I glanced out the window and happened to catch a glimpse of this Farm & Household Stores building. I recognized the name instantly from the reference in ECHO:
"Christ, I’m late. I’ll stop at the bank whilst I’m in town--need anything from the Farm and Household?”

“Yes,” she said dryly, “a new pump for the milk separator.”

“Right,” he said, and kissing her hastily, went out, one arm already into his jacket.

She opened her mouth to call after him that she’d been joking, but on second thought closed it. The Farm and Household Stores just might have a pump for a milk separator. A large, bewilderingly crowded building on the edge of Inverness, the Farm and Household supplied just about anything a farm might need, including pitchforks, rubber fire buckets, baling wire, and washing machines, as well as crockery, jars for canning, and not a few mysterious implements whose use she could only guess at.

(From AN ECHO IN THE BONE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 7, "An Uncertain Future". Copyright© 2009 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Ron and Kathy both gave me weird looks. "Why on earth do you want a picture of that?" Neither of them has read Diana Gabaldon's books, but they certainly know about my addiction, and they mostly humored me when I spotted OUTLANDER-related things during our trip.

In the afternoon, we visited Culloden. It's a very sobering place, and the Visitors Centre is one of the best museums of its kind that I have ever seen. We were lucky that we had good weather. Here are a few photos I took inside the Visitors Centre:



This was prominently displayed at the front entrance, so you couldn't possibly miss it! Diana Gabaldon will be speaking at Culloden on July 22.



Look at the wickedly sharp blade on that bayonet, and think about how Jamie was wounded at Culloden.





This pair of quotes from DRAGONFLY IN AMBER are on the wall near the end of the exhibits, in a section devoted to references to Culloden in literature, etc.



Flora MacDonald, holding a white rose, symbol of the Jacobites.



The gift shop at Culloden had a whole floor-to-ceiling display of OUTLANDER-related merchandise, including all eight of the OUTLANDER books. (OUTLANDER and DRAGONFLY are not shown here, but they were on the top shelf of this display.)



Here I am at the Clan Fraser stone. Aren't the flowers lovely? They were left by previous visitors.



This is Leanach farmhouse, where Jamie escaped execution after the battle. I was very glad to be able to get a close look at it.



The memorial cairn.



Ron and Kathy at the memorial.



This stone in honor of Diana Gabaldon is on the walkway outside the Visitors Centre.

After dinner, we decided to take a walk along the River Ness. It was a beautiful evening, and very peaceful by the river. A lovely way to cap off a very enjoyable day!





Look here for the other posts in this series about my trip to Scotland.

My trip to Scotland (Prologue)
My trip to Scotland (Part 2)
My trip to Scotland (Part 3)
My trip to Scotland (Part 4)