Scotland 2009 Archives

June 22, 2009

We're In Scotland

I'm at the public library in Oban. They have free unlimited computer access. Like Portugal, they let you stay until someone new comes in and needs a computer. Then they take the person who has been on the longest off.

We have are mini laptop with us, but so far have not found any public wifi access. We're in a cottage in a little town south of Oban called Balvicar. It is on the Isle of Seil. The cottage is gloriously well equipped. Especially the kitchen. But there is no wifi, no broadband, no telephone.

Lots of daylight. Daylight until midnight. Daylight again at three am. Really cool.

Forgot my camera cable at the cottage. So I can't upload any pics at the moment. Just wanted to check in.

Off to have a seafood lunch. Yum.

June 26, 2009

A Toast To All Who Ask

Brad commented on my entry from the other day with this little toast.

I love it, and thought I share it with all of you....along with our solemn promise to drink a toast to everyone who reads this and asks to be included.

Brad and Palma are first! :grin:

I drink to the health of another,
And the other I drink to is (s)he -
In the hope that (s)he drinks to another,
And the other (s)he drinks to is me!

June 30, 2009

Now in Caringorms

I feel bad that these posts don't have any photos. But, the service in this part of Scotland is veerrryyy slow. Can't seem to handle much.

I'll just have to save the good stuff for when we get back, and I start re-living the trip.

Today we are hiking to the top of the top of Caringorm. Then we will take the ski lift down (our knees & ankles don't need the abuse.)

After that we are going to take a ride on the original Thomas Train. It seems the steam train based on Boat of Garten is the model for the children's books and tv series. Our grandsons will be so surprised when we bring back live video for them!

July 6, 2009

We're on Orkney Now

The week of the trip we most anticipated is proving to be worthy of our anticipation. We only got here Saturday, but are already worried about how soon we must leave.

This place is amazing. We pushed ourselves yesterday. Had a very long day visiting four of the monolithic sights. We just wanted to keep kids in a candy store.

I'll save my report on what amazes us for later, when I can include pictures. But, for now here are the things that we are not enjoying:

Our cottage has the most poorly equipped kitchen so far. The knives are dull as butter knives, and the only cutting board is one of those horrible glass things.

There are hordes of tourists getting in our way all the time. A 600 passenger cruise ship is in the harbor right now, and the tour buses from the mainland come in waves. Orkney, it appears, isn't suffering from the economy. Brits, are finding that the wonders of their own backyard are well worth the visit.

But, don't think I'm complaining. Orkney is still heaven.

July 21, 2009

Still Waters

I promised last night that I'd start my Scotland blogging tonight. But, I've spent the last 4 hours just organizing the pictures. So, I'm going to "kind of" start my blogging.

These pictures are of the subject of my first post. Which I'm really going to try to do tomorrow.

But, for now let me just say that these three photos are of the same pool of water. They were taken one right after the other in the same order you see them here. They haven't been cropped, photo-shopped or color corrected. All I've done is resize them to fit the blog format.

I hope you like them.




July 22, 2009

The Slate Islands

On the western coast of Scotland, situated south of the region's major city, Oban, and east of the large isle of Mull are the three small islands of Seil, Luing, & Easdale. Part of the Inner Hebrides, they're certainly far from Scotland's typical tourist routes. And are relatively unknown, even to the people of Great Britain.

But this wasn't always the case. Beginning with the 17th century and continuing into the 20th, they were the world's major source of slate. By the first decade of the 20th century the slate islands were producing eight million slates a year. Enough every day to send ten steamer ships away from the pier at the town of Ellenabeich out to "roof the world".

The three photos in yesterday's blog post were taken from the edge of one of the abandoned quarries on Easdale. These quarries are hundreds of feet deep and filled with mirror smooth water. Picture one is looking inland. Picture two is looking straight down into the seaweed just under the surface. Picture three is looking out, past the low wall of slate that divides the quarry pool from the sea with a view of another island beyond.

We wanted our first week in Scotland to be about relaxation and decompression. We wanted to avoid tourism. We didn't need to be entertained. We just wanted fresh sea air, misty mornings and unfamiliar places to explore. Here are a few more pictures.

The hillsides behind the quarries show the raw slate in its natural formations.


The "sand" on the beach is tide-smoothed slate rubble.


The slate islands no longer quarry. They've lost all but a few hardy souls in population. With no sandy beaches, holiday makers are few and far between. The most frequent visitors are the many, many species of birds that now call them home.


We rented a wonderful cottage in the town of Balvicar on Seil. A rehabbed quarryman's cottage from the heydays of slate. A fitting place to base ourselves while we learned about the slate tradition.


July 26, 2009

Staffa - The Home of Fingal's Cave

I'd read somewhere about the cave that is reported to have inspired Mendelssohn's "Hebridean Overture". Since I happen to be partial to Mendelssohn, the idea of visiting Fingal's Cave caught my fancy. So I began searching for information about Staffa.

It was on Joanne Mackenzie-Winters' website, The Internet Guide to Scotland, I found this evocative description of her 1993 visit - a description that vaulted Staffa to its "must visit" status on our to-do list.

To get to Staffa, you can hire a private guide, or you can book one of several excursions from either Mull or Oban. We weren't thrilled about joining a group. Since Staffa is a very small island and, once there, we wouldn't have been able to avoid these groups anyway, we decided to save the money and take one of the scheduled excursions.

Our approach circled the island and passed the large cave before we reached this view of the entrance to Fingal's cave. At first I didn't know which cave was our goal. Then I remembered Ms. Mackenzie-Winter's description that it was a mere 12 meters wide. So, I knew it had to be this one.


The side walls of the island displayed their unique formation as the boat reaches the ramp. I commented to Dan that Staffa was the watery cousin of Devil's Tower.


On land, we began picking our way to the cave entrance about a quarter of the way around the island. The natural formation of the hexigonal stone pillars makes flat topped stepping stones that are perfectly fitted. But, there are a few places where there isn't enough of a foothold so a few unobtrusive concrete steps have been installed. You can see an example just behind the head of the girl sitting in the foreground. As you get closer to the cave entrance, you have to hug the wall. Passing another person is difficult, so, cables were also installed. The people in the background of this photo are getting "up-close-and-personal" as they pass each other along the cable.


When we reached the entrance to the cave, we were rewarded for the effort.

All my life, I've described colors using the 64 count Crayola box. The original names from the late 50s, not the new politically correct names of today. So, even though my camera did a pretty good job of picking up the colors, indulge me.

The water is the classic blue green you get (not to be confused with green blue), when you bear down really hard and cover the paper with a thick waxy layer that allows no white to show through.

The long shafts of sidewalls toward the front of the cave are silver overlayed with spring green.

The tops of the shorter shafts closer to the front are spring green with just a hint of silver.

The lower rocks are a masterfully shaded range from orchid to carnation pink to violet red and leading to a deep magenta on the back wall.


The ceiling of Fingal's Cave is a marvel. A silvery cathedral of hexagonal stone dusted with the goldenrod. (Oops, there I go again with the crayons.)


Looking out from within the cave directly toward the island of Iona in the distance, we are struck by the lack of color in the rocks and water where the sun hits. As we faced into the cave, they were alive with color. As we face out they are back to being a mundane tan and grey, and the water is merely cobalt. Maybe a scientist can explain this to me.


July 27, 2009

Our Quarrier's Cottage at Balvicar

The rental for our first week in Scotland was a restored quarry worker's cottage in the village of Balvicar on Seil Island.

During the hey day of slate, these cottages were built in long rows. The cottages were two rooms wide and one room deep with a central loft stairs leading to two bedrooms in the eaves. They were built end to end, sharing walls for both stability and heat retention. Each group of cottages was anywhere from three to eight long. They were built almost entirely of slate. Slate stacked to make the walls that were then caulked and whitewashed. Slate roofing tiles that were held up by wooden beams.

After the end of the slate industry and the resulting abandonment of these cottages, they eventually fell into disrepair. Eventually the one weakness in their construction, the beams holding up the heavy slate, rotted and the roofs collapsed.

We drove all over the area and saw dozens and dozens of these kinds of ruins.


Some cottages have been preserved, restored, and modernized. Here is a picture of a row of these cottages that, except for the electrical wiring and satellite dish look very much like they would have 100 years ago.


Our cottage, named Balvicar, is one that was preserved and later restored with considerable amenities and creature comforts. It has a nice glassed in front porch; a cozy living room with a fire box; a modern bathroom and laundry closet; and most importantly of all... an absolutely fabulous, well equipped kitchen with SHARP knives!


August 5, 2009

Eddie Murphy is Alive and Well in Western Scotland

For those of us who have been wondering why we haven't heard much from Eddie Murphy lately, its because he's been busy with his new business venture. And from all indications it is a very successful one. His trucks are all over the place. If any construction is happening anywhere within 50 miles of Oban, you can bet, Eddie's crew is doing the work.


And although she isn't there in person, Dolly Parton has a fan base that seems to be willing to pay 17 Pounds (about $27) to see her tribute show. I wonder if "Dolly" will be singing "Islands in the Stream" with a Scottish lilt. That would be pretty cool, I think.


August 25, 2009

George COOney

There were a couple of iconic things about Scotland that we were looking forward to.

We wanted to do a whisky tasting. And we wanted to see the Highland Cows. Scotland's famous, shaggy, red cattle with the long horns.

We were at the end of our second week and despairing that we still hadn't seen our first Highland Cow - or as they are called locally "coos". We were beginning to question why a country would choose a mascot that appeared to be in such short supply.

One day, we decided to take a short drive from our rental cottage to Ruthven Barracks, a place built after the 1715 Jacobite Rising to police the Highlands. Ruthven housed a company of infantry along with stables for the horses of the dragoons. it sits on a low knoll surrounded by an empty field.

We had the barracks completely to ourselves.


We explored the main buildings and then wandered out the back gate to check out the stables. As we rounded the back corner of the stables, this is who we found relaxing in the shade.


Judging from the short horns, they were teenagers. The one in the front could have cared less, he was playing it very cool.

The one in the back was a show-off. He got up and wondered toward us before offering what seemed like a very deliberate profile pose.


Then he turned toward me and made a beeline straight to the camera for his close-up.


After the shutter clicked he cocked his head slightly to the left, as if to say, "Your, welcome." and casually walked away.

That's when I decided to name him -- George COOney.

In searching for a good link to give you additional information about Highland Cows, I came across this website from Washington State.

And another one from Arkansas.

It appears we wouldn't have had to go all the way to Scotland to see them.

September 14, 2009

Wester Balvattan Cottage - Boat of Garten

Our cottage rental for week two was near the Carin Gorm and the small picturesque town of Boat of Garten. As a complete package, this was without a doubt the best of our four rentals for the month. Balvattan Cottage is part of an old croft barn that has been restored and converted to a large U-shaped complex. It includes the owners home on two sides; a beautiful garden in the middle; and the rental cottage on the third side.

The front of the rental is a raised stone patio accessible only from the living room. The front door is actually to the right on the courtyard side. Dan was busy looking at Carin Gorm through the binoculars and didn't realize I was taking this picture.


One of the things that made Balvattan our favorite all-round week was this beautiful garden. The owner, Val, has an amazing green thumb and we thoroughly enjoyed the results of her tireless gardening.


And what wasn't in lush garden, was perfectly manicured lawn!


All that, and you haven't even seen the inside yet! Balvattan's owners, James & Val, are the kind of rental owners we dream of. They are attentive to every possible detail of comfort. The interior was more than complete.

When we book a rental, our two non-negotiables are sharp knives and a cloths washer. Beyond that, what we really want is a place that is equipped in a way that a person could comfortably "live" there. One of our little secret tests for "livability" is how many cloths hangers are in the closets and what condition they are in. Balvattan passed that test with flying colors.

Here are a few interior photos.




So, if you find yourself planning a trip to the Scottish Highlands and you want a comfortable base from which to explore, you would be very lucky indeed to have the opportunity to enjoy the haven that James & Val have created at Wester Balvattan.

September 15, 2009

...and Dinner Too!??!

You may remember that when we were planning our trip to Scotland, I excitedly posted this blog entry about the trip planning service we found. Secret Scotland.

As we planned our trip, we developed a lovely email relationship with Aurelia and Mike, the owners of the company.

Then it happened that they were be travelling through the area we would be spending our second week, and offered to stop by one night and prepare an authentic Scottish dinner for us at our rental.

Wow...a customized guide book; meeting our new friends in person; AND dinner too!

We had a wonderful dinner and a wonderful evening! Here are the pictures to prove it. I really don't think they need any comentary, do you?








Thanks, Aurelia & Mike. When you finally decide to visit St. Louis, we'll return the favor. But, of course, it will be in our own kitchen and you won't have to pitch a tent! :grin:

September 16, 2009

The Disappointing Churchyards of Scotland

Those who've read some of my previous travel posts already know that we consider cemeteries to be major tourist attractions. Ornate marble tombs and over the top life-sized weeping angels are what we crave when we visit. (See blog entry on Kerepesi in Budapest)

So you'll understand why we were disappointed with Scotland's churchyards. To tell you the truth, the're boring.

But I believe that the best way to learn about a culture is to see how they bury their dead. So, even though the graves and tombstones aren't particularily entertaining, they do seem to reinforce one of the sterotypes about the nature of the Scots.

Scots are thrifty.

Case in point - they don't waste stone on multiple family members. One stone will do just fine, thank you very much...for several generations.


September 18, 2009

Abernathy Church at Nethybridge

My last post was about the boring churchyards of Scotland. But, I really should clarify.

True, there isn't much of artistic interest in the design of the stones themselves. But every churchyard we visited seemed to be able to present us with at least one little surprise.


The Abernathy Church at Nethybridge offered this little gem tucked up against the hedge at the far back of the churchyard. It was in an area that still didn't have any graves, so there was an expanse of yard.


We weren't sure what it was. But we guessed that it was some sort of contemplation hut. It is obviously lovingly handcrafted.




October 5, 2009

The Italian Chapel

This was what first drew me to the possibility of Orkney as the third week of our stay in Scotland - and was the very first stop we made as we drove off the ferry from the mainland.

I was facinated by the story of how an Italian Catholic chapel came to be built, and then preserved in a country that is so overwhelmingly Protestant.


During World War II, 1,200 Italian prisoners were housed in POW camps on the Orkney Islands. Brought there to serve as a labor crew, they built the Churchill Barriers. The Churchill Barriers were a series of causeways that blocked off the eastern approaches to Scapa Flow where the British Fleet often lay at anchor.

Thousands of miles from their homes and from their faith. Their longing for a place to worship went unanswered until September of 1943. That is when the camp commandant arranged for padre Gioachino Giacobazzi of the Order of Little Brothers to come to the camp as the new spiritual leader for the prisoners.

The commandant provided two Nissen huts, placed end to end and Padre Giacobazzi discovered within the ranks of the POWs, a talented artist named Domenico Chiocchetti.

Drawing upon the civilian occupations and talents of his fellow prisoners, Mr. Chiocchetti designed and directed the transformation of those two Nissen huts into this little chapel.
The materials they used were whatever they could get their hands on - mostly concrete and paint.



And almost 70 years later, a devoted group of local volunteers maintain the chapel. Here's a picture I took of the plaque that tells the story.


October 7, 2009

The Broch of Gurness

What's a Broch?


It's an Iron Age, hollow-walled building constructed in the drystone manner. Which is to say they are walls constructed without mortar, relying on the skill of the stone mason to fit the stones. Drystone construction is thought to be the oldest form of stone use in building.


Orkney Islands has one of the largest concentrations of Iron Age drystone buildings in the world. Brochs are tall circular towers. Although a broch is a single building, the meaning has evolved to include all of the dwellings that surrounded the broch to create a small village. The two most significant examples of a well preserved broch village in Scotland are the Broch at Midhowe and the Broch of Gurness.


Here's a link to a great website on all things Orkney. I'm linking you directly to information about the Broch of Gurness, but this website is well worth taking some time to explore.

We spent the better part of one morning wondering around Gurness and trying to imagine what life may have been like in 200 BC. The signage at the Broch of Gurness showed an artist's rendering as it exists now.


And one of how it probably looked in 200 BC.


We visited many Iron Age, Pictish, & Neolithic sites while in Scotland, but the Broch of Gurness was one of our favorites.

October 8, 2009

The Loneliest Grave

This has been called the loneliest grave in Britain. We stopped here on our way to our hiking day to the Old Man of Hoy.


The Grave of Betty Corrigal lies on the boundary of Hoy and North Walls parishes on the island of Hoy, Orkney, Scotland.


Betty was a young woman in the late 18th century who fell in love with a young sailor and became pregnant. He returned to sea leaving Betty alone and shunned by her community. In despair, she hanged herself.

Because she committed suicide she was denied burial in the consecrated ground of any of the local churchyards and was instead buried in a bog on the border between the two parishes.

She lay in her unmarked grave from the 1770’s until 1933 when two men digging peat dug up her coffin. They opened the coffin and discovered that the acid from the peat had preserved her corpse. They reburied the coffin and forgot about her, but during World War II her coffin was again discovered. This time by soldiers - also digging peat. Again she was reburied, but this time with a concrete slab placed over the coffin. The grave remained unmarked until 1976 when a small fiberglass headstone was erected during a belated burial service. Fiberglass was used because the boggy ground would not support the weight of a traditional stone marker.

After visiting the grave, we retraced our steps to our car in a cold, constant wind. At the car, we turned to take a goodby photo. I think Betty Carrgill's grave is not the loneliest in Britain. I think it is the loneliest in the world.


October 12, 2009

The Old Man of Hoy

On Orkney's south island of Hoy (the word means 'high' in the old Norse language) stands "The Old Man of Hoy".

The Old Man is the Orkney Islands most famous seastack. It's really not so old in the grand scheme of things. They think that it was created in the 17th century by a series of fierce storms that hit the headland on the west side of the island. The storms separated the seastack from the rest of the headland. Erosion continues and it's thought that it is only a matter of decaded, not centuries, before it collapses.

The hiking path from the waterside town of Rackwick is good, though steep, taking about an hour each way. It isn't the difficulty of the path itself, but the heavy wind and likely rain that present the challenge.

Here is my photo document of our ascent.

The park service has kindly placed a nice marker at the beginning of the trail. It warns of the time commitment required to make the trip.


Ten minutes into the walk the next sign is a bit less encouraging. But, as it turns out the reference to climbing was really just a warning that if the wind blows you off the edge of the cliff, you shouldn't expect someone will come save you.


Another five minutes and the third sign appeared. Just a friendly little reminder of which way you should be hiking.


Half-way there and we begin to see what they were talking about in sign #2. Here the fourth and final sign restated the obvious. My hair standing straight up without the assistance of mousse or gel gives you an idea of the force of the wind.


Forty-five minutes in and we think we see a horizon. Does this mean we have arrived?


Well, not quite. But at least we can now SEE our destination for the first time. But, just because we can see the top of the Old Man, doesn't mean we don't have a lot of walking still to do. And from this prospective, we begin to wonder if it's going to be a dissappointment.


OK, YES. It's worth it. All 450 feet of it! The rain stopped and the sun broke through just as we arrived. The vivid red sandstone almost glowed. To give you perspective. That red speck you see in the upper left corner of the picture is a hiker's jacket.


Next post will be some video we took while at the top.

October 14, 2009

The Winds of Hoy

As I promised, here are a couple of videos we took while at the Old Man of Hoy. You will want to have your sound on to get the full effect.

This first video was taken with me standing at the edge of the bluff so that I could get both the head and the seastack. I had my elbows clinched against my sides to try to keep the camera still.

When I played it back on my camera, I noticed the birds for the first time and was intrigued. So I laid down on my stomach at the edge with my elbows on the ground to take this one. The birds were trying very hard to land on their nests on the sides of the bluff, but they had to float in, turn their backsides to the wall and hope the wind would push them at just the right speed to the rock. It was entertaining to see them try over and over again. And it was gratifying when one of them finally succeeded.

If you look at the rocks in the right, you will see the shadow of my hair blowing straight up.

November 2, 2009

So THIS Is Where It Comes From?

In advance of our trip to Scotland, I wanted to do some research on potential distillary, brewery, & winery tours we might be able to take. So, before we left home, I visited a few of our local liquor stores, both the fancy high end ones with gleaming brass and polished wood, and the ones that smell like stale cigarettes and spilled beer.

We quickly learned that they just don't MAKE wine in Scotland. So that idea went out the window pretty fast. The king of spirits is Whisky. We had dozens and dozens of distillaries we could fact be booked our second week's rental based on its proximity to the Whisky Trail.

In the beer catagory, I noticed that the high-end liquor stores carried a Scottish brand called Orkney Brewing Company. What luck, we were going to spend a week in the Orkney Islands, we could book a tour of this brewery while there.


I also found some interesting things on the internet. Here is a blog entry by a beer taster in the UK who seemed to be fond of Orkney Brewing.

GoodPeopleEats blog.

And here's a couple of guys in a bar in Pennsylvania who appear to be pursuing the Gary Vanerchuk model of tasting television. Two Guys On Beer.
They need to develop a little more confidence. And they REALLY need to do better research and fact checking with the historical background they throw in. The Vikings were neolithic? Really?!? But these guys do have promise. I might watch them. The episode is #069, posted on 05/06/09. It's the first one on page 9 of their menu.

We were really looking forward to touring the Orkney Brewery, but when we called to check on schedules we kept getting a recording. Since it wasn't very far from our rental cottaqe we just decide to take a chance and drive over one afternoon.

Here is what we found:


A very small building, locked up tight. Barrels outside in the open - stacked everywhere. Noone around. That car in the foreground is ours.

Too late for us, but good news for anyone planning to visit Orkney beginning NEXT summer, they are adding on to their operation and will be including a tour center and tasting room.

Here is their website: Orkney Brewery

December 1, 2009

Isle of Seil, Week One Reprised

Before I move on to our fourth and final week in Scotland -- Edinburgh, I thought I'd do a bit of a recap of each of the first three weeks with a photo essay of those things I didn't write full blog entries about.

We noticed right away that Scotland is a country of B&Bs. It seems that everywhere we went they were lined up and down the residential streets. It was as if every family with an extra bedroom hung a sign in their front lawn advertising their B&B. The bigger more elegant houses call themselves "Guest Houses", but they are still B&Bs. They just have more than one extra room. Here is a row of four guest houses in Oban.


We crossed the Clachan Bridge, known as the "Bridge Over the Atlantic" in order to get to Seil from the mainland. This one-lane, high-arched stone bridge crosses a creek sized bit of Atlantic Ocean backwater, which gives it the right to the name. You must look far ahead to the roadside inn on the other side to make sure no cars are coming. You will not be able to see them once you begin your ascent.

The inn has its own claim to fame. It's Gaelic name "Tigh an Truish Inn" means the House of Trousers. The inn earned this name after the British government, to punish the Jacobite Risings, outlawed the wearing of the tartan under the Dress Act of 1746. Islanders stopped at the inn to change from their traditional kilts to trousers before traveling to the mainland.


On the Isle of Iona is the Abbey. This is one of the Scotland's most historic and venerated sites because it has been the burial place for many early Scottish kings. It also houses the the largest collection of "Christion carved stones in Scotland, ranging in age from 600AD to the 1600s.

Here are two pictures. The first is the Abbey and it's bedraggled graveyard. The second is of some of the carved stone slabs, which after being removed from the graveyard, produced that bedraggled look.



Today, Dunadd looks like nothing more than a funny hill sticking up from the middle of Kilmartin Glen. But between AD500 and 900 it was one of the most important places in Scotland. it was where new kings were annointed and power was conferred.

It's a steep climb to the top, and there isn't much left of the old fortification except the bit of wall we are sitting on, and the carved footprint where it is said that the a new king placed his foot as he received his annointment. (By the way, we can guess at the size of these people by the fact that my women's size 7 shoe was a perfect fit.)



And finally, as we leave Seil Island and prepare for our second week in the Highlands, I'll leave you with the photo I took from our front door, at midnight on mid-summer's eve.


December 7, 2009


In 1852, Queen Victoria bought the Balmoral estate in what amounted to a distress sale after the owner choked to death on a fishbone. It was rebuilt as a Scottish Baronial style castle and has become the traditional Royal Family summer home.


When family members are not in residence, April through July, the grounds are open to the public. We freely roamed the gardens, greenhouse,& river paths.




We even made friends with the chickens. It was a weekday and there were few people around. A pleasant day out.


December 15, 2009

The Ferry from Kirkwall to Aberdeen

Our photohunt challenge for the UK board on SlowTalk is "lights". Since I was going to post this photo there, I decided to do a blog entry about the entire trip.

Our overnight ferry from Kirkwall, Orkney to Aberdeen left at midnight. We checked in at the gate and then joined the line of cars waiting to board.


Once it was our turn at the ramp, it felt very much like we were boarding a space ship. The theme song to ET started playing in my head.


For those who remember our horror story about our ferry from Montenegro to Italy, you will appreciate how relieved we were when we arrived at our cabin to see this...


And this...


We got a solid restful 6 hours of sleep, had a lovely continental breakfast, and drove off the ferry in Aberdeen to this view ...


January 5, 2010

The Real Live Thomas The Train

While in the highlands of Scotland during our second week, our rental cottage was about five miles from Boat of Garten, a town that is said to be the inspiration for the popular children's story, "Thomas the Tank Engine". For a time, my five year old twin grandsons were so obsessed with Thomas that that was the only thing they thought about.
The route for the Strathspey Steam Railway, the carefully restored steam engine railway that runs between the towns of Avimore & Broomhill, with Boat of Garten the mid-point.

The station itself has also been charmingly restored and has a beautiful ironwork foot bridge crossing the tracks.


They've gone out of their way to 'stage' the entire station to give you a feel of a bygone era. Notice the old wagon with the milk cans next to the door and the station master waiting for the next train to arrive.


Even the waiting rooms are authentic - starting with the gender-segegated waiting rooms. The Ladies Waiting room looks more like a turn of the century parlor than a train station, don't you think?


We wanted to take a picture of Thomas for our grandsons, but he didn't make an appearance. However, Percy came steaming into the station with a long line of dining cars in tow. I apologize for the shaky video, but I was on the foot bridge as the train arrived, and had to walk fast to the front to get the water being pumped into the tank. If you move the time up to the 30 second mark, that is when the train appears.

January 9, 2010

The Requisite Pilgrimage

Dan is an addicted golfer. The three times a week in the summer and not-inexpensive trips to warm climates in the winter kind of addict.

So, of course, on a trip to Scotland, it was unthinkable not to make a pilgrimage to the holy grail of golf. We chose to do this between the Orkney Islands week and our final week in Edinburgh. We took an overnight ferry from Kirkwall to Aberdeen, so a stop at St. Andrew's on our way to Edinburgh was logical.


Interestingly, St. Andrew's is a public course. Anyone who can get a reservation can play there. Reservations are handed out on a lottery basis. You call the course, tell them when you want to play, and they put your name in a hat. If you are very lucky, your name gets drawn. Saturdays are the easiest days to get on the course.

Another interesting thing, the caddies inherit their jobs. Some of them are 4th and 5th generation. It's a very, very big deal to be a caddy at St. Andrew's. Here's the caddy shack.


For some reason, which being a non-golfer, I don't understand and don't really care, the 18th hole is sacred at St. Andrew's. You'll have to ask a golfer about this.


I think it may have something to do with this dude. Old Tom Morris. He was some really important golf god, and his name is on the marker for the 18th hole. Again -- ask a golfer if you want to know who Old Tom was.


I found it very odd that non-golfers can walk around on the course while people are playing. Here's Dan standing in front of some little stone footbridge that he got very excited about being able to walk across. I think he had a bonified religious experience as he walked across this bridge.


One last surprise to me, for about $3.00 US per person, you can have this really cool retired caddy give you a private tour if you want. You won't understand half of what he says, but it will be fun.

January 12, 2010

Candlemaker Row Apartment

Three weeks flew by. We could have spent all three weeks in any one of the three locations we'd chosen and still it would not have been enough. But, we find ourselves turning our car in at the Edinburgh airport and taking a cab to our apartment at Candlemaker Row, 48.


We were fortunate to have chosen another comfortable apartment in a perfect location. This one had lots of quirky personality both inside and out!

Inside is an almost over-furnished but very homey three room plus bath apartment. The livingroom/dining room had plenty of light and soft overstuffed furniture. Cozy.


The bedroom was a bit fussy for my taste, but the bed was comfortable and the drapes blocked out the light. So, that's perfect where it counts.


The kitchen was fully equipped. It even had a countertop freezer in addition to the half-sized refrigerator. And it had deliciously sharp knives. Pay close attention to the geraniums in the kitchen window. You'll see them again in the last picture.


Now we turn our attention to our neighbors. Those in front of us were an ecclectic mix of small businesses in a funky neighborhood. They included a comic book store, a storefront legal aide lawyer, a tatoo parlor, and a trendy up-and-coming fashion designer. There was also an Italian restaurant that had its door standing open with people coming and going all the time, yet it never seemed to have any real dining patrons.



The neighbors behind us were another story entirely.


March 16, 2010

Is Exotic Meat the Most Expensive?

Our apartment in Edinburgh was just one street away from the Grassmarket.

One day we strolled over to check it out. It isn't very big. Just a couple of dozen booths. Very eclectic booths, however.

There was a booth with nothing but spices.


Another dedicated to olives.


There were German sausages.


And Dutch pancakes.


The French were represented by their cheeses.


Evidently, the US didn't have any food worthy of importing. So we were represented as I've seen in many countries' market places. By our cheap fake Native American paraphernalia.


But the booth that intrigued me the most was the one for exotic meats. I find it interesting the the most expensive is not Kangaroo or Ostrich, or even Springbok. No, they were only £3 for a burger. But, it costs £3.50 for a nice Angus beef burger. I like that! It reinforces the concept of buying fresh and local, don't you think?


March 23, 2010

Big Shots at U of E

One rainy Sunday, we wondered aimlessly around Edinburgh and found ourselves taking shelter from an exceptionally heavy downpour under an outdoor archway at the University of Edinburgh.


As our eyes adjusted to the gloom, we began to notice that the entire interior of this 15 by 20 foot archway was lined in commerative plaques. I began snapping pictures. This one is about the establishment of the Polish School of Medicine in Edinburgh to preserve the work of all the Polish Professors who died in concentrations camps.


A plaque to honor Dr. James Lind, the Edinburgh doctor who first made the connection between Vitamin C deficiency and scurvy. Interestingly, the plaque was donated by the Sunkist company. I guess they figured they owed their existance to him.


Women will especially appreciate this plaque. It honors Sir James Young Simpson, the doctor who pioneered the use of anaesthetics in childbirth.


And, of course, I don't need to explain this plaque. Except to say, I guess I never realized that he was affiliated with the University of Edinburgh.


This was one of my favorites. It details some names that are familiar to Americans. And I learned that the founders of the first medical school in North America were Scots.


This one wasn't a surprise. And needs no introduction, does it?


And finally, a plaque dedicated to a good brewery guy....who paid for the construction of one of the university's major buildings. I guess you could say he bought himself some immortality.


Thanks to the typical Edinburgh weather, we were treated to something we would have never known about, or considered seeking out.

March 25, 2010

Mussels on the Isle of Seil

That the end of the road, on the Isle of Seil is a town called Easdale. At least it's Easdale on the map. But, locally it just takes the name of the entire peninsula - Seil.

Easdale is a beautiful little seaside town that seems to be at its best when the shroud of Scottish mist rolls across the tops of the houses.


It was here we had our best dish of mussels while in Scotland. Those who know me know that I'm on a perpetual hunt for a better dish of mussels. Truly God's best work. The only restaurant on this tip of Seil is a great little place called the Oyster Brewery.


Here's my mussels and Dan's big chunk of red meat.



March 29, 2010

The Emperor's New Clothes?

Here in America we have bridges to nowhere; international airports with no airline tenants; & pork barrel boondoggles in every state.

But we are amateurs compared to the government of Scotland. The ugliest building in the world is owned by the good people of Scotland and serves as their Parliament.

What happened? Did the architect marry the Prime Minister's daughter? Did he pay a pot load of money under the table to get the contract? Did they all have one hell of an LSD party just before they started building?

It reminds me of the tale of the Emperor's New Clothes. Nobody wanted to admit that they didn't appreciate the amazingly beautiful and meaningful modern architecture. Nobody wanted to be called a tasteless cretin. Everybody pretended to think it was beautiful....and the builder actually got away with it.

Mind you, these pictures are ALL of one single building.







Evidently, so much money was spent on the building, there wasn't anything left for proper windows. It looks like simple single glazed glass without any privacy tinting was used. And, of course, the employees must assume that since the exterior is so ugly and chaotic, what difference could it make if their fans, ladders & boxes are also on display?




But the funniest thing about this entire building is the plaque embedded in one of the exterior walls. Do you think the architect did this on purpose? Was it a secret gloat? Do you think the good people of Scotland can see the irony?


June 17, 2010

The Isle of Iona

I've neglected my blog for two months. But something happened at the store today to remind me. I discovered a gentleman in a kilt browsing the history section.
I, of course, couldn't resist engaging him in conversation. I ask him what clan. He said MacDonald. I told him we had spent a wonderful month in Scotland. He knew all the names of the places we had been. One of our favorite stops is a place I've only posted a few pictures from but not a full report. And it happens to be the burial place of Mr. MacDonald's own ancestors.

I gave him my blog information, and now feel compelled to do this blog entry on his ancestral isle for him.

Iona was where Irish missionary St. Columba began his crusade in 563. In doing so, he made the island the first home of Christianity in northern Europe. Iona became an influential center for the spread of Christianity. It is where Scottish Kings were crowned. And it is said that this is where the famous Book of Kells was produced by monks in the late 700s. By extension, this cemetery is argued to be Christian Scotland's most hallow ground. In this very abbey graveyard, 48 Scottish kings are said to have been buried.


Don't let the photo fool you. Preservation concern is the reason why the cemetery looks so bedraggled. Most of the grave slabs were removed to an indoor museum to protect them from weathering.



The current abbey was built in the 1100s and expanded in the 1500s. It is beautiful in its simplicity. Walls made of rough hewn stone of uneven sizes, and an unplastered interior.



In the museum along with the grave slabs is the remains of St. John's Cross. It was carved between 750AD and 800AD and erected just west of the shrine of St. Columba. The carvers were too ambitious and made the arms of the cross too long, causing it to collapse soon after it was put up. They tried to strengthen it by adding a supporting stone circle around the head. This circular 'halo' design was widely copied afterwards throughout Scotland and Ireland. The cross later broke again, and lay for centuries before it was brought into the museum and reinforced with plexiglass to represent its original look.


This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Old Shoes - New Trip in the Scotland 2009 category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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