Diary/Photo Journal

(Long ) Week of February 25, 2009

(Disclaimer:  As these pages are dedicated to our trip to the UK, I will be using some of the "English" spellings I used to use before I was brow-beaten to spell the words the "American" way.)

Our travel to the UK was prompted by a wedding of a good friend of ours, Robbie Allan, of Lanark, Scotland.  Winter is not usually the time you would think of visiting the UK, but with the wedding in April, we thought that there was no time like the present.

Robbie and I go back to 1997 when I met him and two of his friends (Rab and Ian) in a hostel in Adelaide, Australia.  We all immediately hit it off and Robbie and his fiancÚ, Denise, came to visit us a couple of years ago.  Wanting to see Gerson in a kilt, I would not pass up the opportunity to attend Robbie and Denise's wedding.  (side note:  for women, a handsome man in a kilt is like a woman in a cheerleading out fit for men!)

With some strategic planning, we were able to arrive in time for Gerson to be able to attend Robbie's stag (bachelor) party which was to be quite the day.  We got out of California on the 25th and thanks to the wonder of time difference, we arrived in Glasgow, Scotland on the 26th.  We had one day to recuperate and spend time with Robbie and his Denise before Gerson was whisked off with a busload of men to celebrate Robbie's last month of freedom.

It is a norm in the UK to have a rather large stag/hen (bachelor/bachelorette) parties and Robbie's was no exception.  The plan was to take a hired bus to the Kelso Race Course and have a day at the horse races and then to top off the day at a local pub (open only to the celebrants).  Many races were won and many hangovers were experienced.  As we women were not privy to specific goings on, we can only suspect what happened!

Gerson and Robbie on a typical
Lanark back street (more
pictures of Lanark at a later date)

Barney hoping his sad look will
release him from his car prison

The Stag party begins and that was
as far as any female got!

Gerson with a knowing grin

 

       

 

Denise and I enjoyed a quiet day without the boys and we had Barney, their 1 year-old spaniel, to keep us entertained.  As it turned out, Robbie was given 300 pounds to bet at the races and he did so well that he managed to leave with 1,000 pounds (about $1,500 U.S.).  Needless to say, Robbie was quite the happy gambler and it was not long after the races that his memory of the evening was rather sketchy.

As it is also sometimes the custom to strip down the groom-to-be and leave him somewhere around town, Robbie was protected by a few angels and we were saved from seeing Robbie wobbling into town like a naked apparition.

Dumbarton Castle and one
of its lookout towers

Hundreds of years of use noticeably
wears the steps down

Scottish meal - Haggis, neeps and tatties with their Irn Bru (quite good!)
 

After the boys had a day of recovery, Gerson, Robbie and I headed up north for several days of touring Isles and Highlands.  As we expected, the weather was somewhat fickle and we found ourselves happy if we only had rain without the wind.  We stopped by our first castle (be forewarned, there will be many castle pictures) at Dumbarton and as we found at many places at this time of year, it was closed to visitors. 

The Dumbarton Castle is situated at a point of land and is backed up into the hills and fronted by a beautiful sloping lawn to the ocean.  Just being able to climb the much-trodden steps and sliding my feet into the worn footsteps on the stone steps was a thrill. 

We then proceeded further north along the West coast and into a town called Inverary.  Yes, another castle, a quaint town, a peaceful loch and a plate of a favourite and famous Scottish dish:  Haggis, neeps and tatties.

Vocabulary alert Loch = Lake.  Neeps = Turnips.  Tatties = Potatoes   Chips = French fries    Crisps = Potato Chips
Haggis = Not for the weak of mind over stomach.  Haggis is a national dish that can include any number of the following ingredients from sheep:  chopped lungs, heart and liver mixed with oatmeal and boiled in a sheep's stomach.


Inverary Castle and Gerson enduring the rain

Statue for the fallen Scotsmen

Inverary waterfront - quite pretty

Inverary banks the Loch Fyne


Rainbow over our cabin near Oban

Gerson and Louise in front of
the ruined  Kilchurn Castle on
Loch Awe

After my filching some of Robbie's Haggis, neeps and tatties (it was that good), we made our way to our place of temporary residence for the next couple of days.  Friends of Robbie's offered their beautiful cabin on Loch Awe, nearby the town of Oban.  Oban is a good launching point to the Isle of Mull and the Isle of Skye so we were very appreciative of their generosity.

We knew we were in the right place when shortly after we arrived at the cabin, a significant rainbow arched from the lake, right over the cabin and into the hills nearby.  Talk about our pot-o-gold (ok, wrong country for that, but close enough!).

As I said, Oban was the perfect place to hop onto the ferry that took us to the Isle of Mull and we slid onto the boat just as the gates were closing.  Exploring an entire island during dousing rain is not the best of experiences; however, the rain seemed to add to the history and the mystery of the island.

On the way across, we passed by Lady's Rock at the southern tip of Lismore.  This rock became famous for an event that happened in 1523.  Apparently, Lachlan Maclean of the Duart Castle (which will come later), became disgruntled with his wife, Catherine, for not producing him a male heir.  He rowed her out to this rock, abandoning her to the high tide that would engulf this wee rock. 

Fortunately for Catherine, a boat passed and rescued Catherine, and seeing as she was the sister to the chief of the powerful Campbell clan, got her retribution several months later with the death of her husband at the hands of her clan.  So, the moral of the story is:  make sure you leave your spouse on the rock very close to the high tide time.

Of course we made our way to several castles and what is now left of those magnificent structures and we were especially impressed with the Torosay and Duart castles.  The Torosay Castle has been lovingly restored and keeps it feel.  Interestingly enough, the Duart Castle (built around 1360) is just across the small bay and is equally impressive with his cliff-top perch.  The one thing I found humorous, was the cannons at the Duart castle that were placed strategically to point directly at the Torosay castle.  I guess that was one way to keep your neighbors in line.


Lady's Rock

Torosay Castle and view to the
Duart Castle across the bay

Local inhabitants cause a
traffic ram jamb


Duart Castle views

and you definitely do not want to
anger the Duarts
(the Torosay Castle is in the upper
middle of the third picture, across
the bay, where the bare patch is -
sorry, rainy rainy rainy day)

After our walk around the Torosay and Duart castles, we were off to yet even more castles (I told you there would be a lot of them).  We trundled through some incredibly beautiful landscapes and passed by many of the local inhabitants. 

One thing I will definitively remember about Scotland are the "single-track" roads.  These are barely one lane roads that have little turnouts anywhere from every 500 feet to a few thousand feet.  The idea is that as soon as you see another car coming, one of you turn out to your nearest or most convenient "Passing Place" (on your side) and let the other car pass.

This is all well and good, however, you should see what happens when you encounter your oncoming car at a curve.  YIKES!  It comes down to who has the best brakes and the strongest nerves.  No wonder why they spend so much time in pubs drinking here.  They are celebrating that they lived through another day.


Isle of Mull landscape

Highland Cow (love the
hairstyle)

Waiting for high tide


Walk toward the Moy Castle
along a marshy coast

Renovation for the tower at Moy
Castle was under way

Another view of the Duart Castle

We made certain that we visited the Moy Castle, or the ruins thereof.  This particular "castle" (as only a tower under renovation seems to be relatively intact) is the clan castle for our neighbor back home and it was enjoyable to walk in the path of her ancestors. 

We made our way around the island and found a wonderful little pub to have lunch.  Indulging in the local drink, we tried a Tobermory Whiskey and I dined on my favourite British food, fish and chips.

Our cabin on Loch Awe
and winter's touch
Our drive from Isle of Mull to
Isle of Skye

Gorgeous Lochs and scenery

We left Loch Awe and headed up north toward the Isle of Skye and were gifted with a snow-covered paradise.  With the lack of trees on particular mountains, there were times we were dwarfed by ominous looking white monoliths with stark white as far as the eye could see.  We were pleasantly surprised by a small herd of deer that provided the only contrast to the bright white of the snow. 

No sooner than when we emerged out of the mountains, we swept down into beautiful valleys with sun-drenched fields and lochs.  We made our way over to Plockton for lunch and as we were told that it was a beautiful little town, we were not disappointed.  Nestled up against Loch Carron, Plockton is a picturesque village that sits across the body of water from the Isle of Skye.


Hi ho, hi ho, it's through the
mountains we go...

Deer providing some color
relief to the landscape

Landscape colors the sun
brings out


Gerson and Louise in Plockton
and views around the bay

Castle?  Or just an estate mansion

Crossing the bridge to the Isle of Skye, we were welcomed with sunshine and spectacular island geography.  From mountains to coastal cliffs, from rolling hills to patchworks of farms, it was all stunning.  Of course, I found many castles to take a peek at and along the way, we just took in the unending beauty of the surrounding landscape.


Isle of Skye

Kilt Rock and its dolerite
formation and nearby waterfall

What is left of the Duntulm Castle
(built in 1739)

 


 
Dunvegan Castle
(deliveries were not quite like
this in the 13th century when
this MacLeod stronghold
was built)

A somewhat concealed back
entrance and the worn steps

We were so fortunate to have clear weather for our trip around the Isle of Skye (about 50 miles from end-to-end) and we ended our day with our first sunset in the UK.  We found a terrific bed and breakfast on the southern end of the island and cozied up in a local tavern to watch football (soccer), enjoy my fish and chips and drink a few pints with the locals. 

Skye landscape

Sunset over Skye

Eilean Donan Castle
(first built in 1230)

The next morning we enjoyed a typical British breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage, blood/black sausage, toast, juice, coffee, tea...well, you get the picture, lots of food.  We were off and back to the mainland to continue our drive up north and then to turn right for the east coast.  The little hamlet of Gairloch provided us with a wonderful surprise as to its warmer temperature (2 degrees Celsius warmer then the nearby valley) and because of its wonderful beach and bay. 

From there, we started to turn inland and over the Highlands.  Again we encountered incredible scenery and snow covered mountains.  One thing to remember when looking at the pictures of the snow covered areas, imagine these areas in the summer covered in grasses and heather (a stalky purple flower) - quite a beautiful sight in any season.

We also were treated to a close-up view of several young bucks crossing our road and pausing long enough to pose for my camera. 

Vocabulary alert Highlands are pronounced "Hoy-lands"


Gairloch and its quiet beauty

If you look very closely at the
second picture, you will see a man
walking his two dogs


Farms, hamlets and valleys in the
highlands

The bucks strike a pose

We decided not to spend too much time in Inverness, the more sizeable town that anchored our Eastern end of our cross of the Highlands.  Gerson did, however, sneak in a place to visit nearby, Fort George.

Fort George was and is quite a remarkable compound and structure that has been lovingly maintained and occupied since 1769.  It took 21 years to build but unfortunately, we did not have that much time and we were only able to skirt around the exterior and walk the battlements. 

We quickly skedaddled out of Fort George due to an earlier than normal closing time and because I wanted to visit yet another castle.  However, this castle was special as it was the Urquhart Castle with which many of you will be quite familiar.  Why?  Because it is the castle that oversees a special Loch and keeps watch for that mythically elusive creature, Nessie.  Yessiree, I got to see the Loch Ness and scan the wind-rippled waters for her telltale hump.  Needless to say, we saw nothing out of the ordinary except Gerson's rolling eyes at my slipping through a locked gate to get a better picture of the castle.

The Loch Ness monster story started in the 6th Century when a rather crazed monk (St. Columba) cried out that he saw a heinous beast in the dark waters of Loch Ness.  Since that time, people have been faithfully watching the waters for any sign of the mystery creature.  It might be good to keep in mind that the Loch Ness holds more water than all the lakes in England and Wales combined, is 330 meters (about 1000 feet) deep and is Britain's largest body of fresh water.  And you wonder where Nessie has been hiding all these years!


View across the Moray Firth to
Fort George

Robbie and Gerson wandering
around Fort George

Exterior walls and beaches


The Chapel was nice but for the
modernized windows

Gerson dons the uniform hat

Urquhart Castle and the Loch Ness

Since we just caught the Loch Ness at sunset (yes, another day of sunshine in Scotland), we decided to drive back south to Lanark and regroup at Robbie's house.  This gave us a chance to prepare for our next day of touring and we jaunted up to the northeast and thereabouts for the day.

Our first stop was to take a peek at the Wallace Monument and the Stirling Castle, both situated a short distance from each other and located in Stirling, Scotland.  You are probably familiar with the name William Wallace or as played by Mel Gibson in the movie "Braveheart".  The man was real;, however, the movie fictionalized much of Wallace's life and death (as movies do). 

Sir William Wallace, a son of the laird of Elderslie in Ayrshire, was able to compile an army of highland and lowland Scots, which at the time, was a very difficult and unusual thing to do.  After Wallace killed Sheriif Hazelrigg of Lanark and routed the English at the Battle of Stirling Bridge (1297), he was eventually tried for treason, which he denied to the very end with the reason that he had never claimed allegiance to the English king, so therefore, he could not be treasonous.

In 1305, Sir William Wallace was captured and subjected to a slow trial, condemned to death and eventually hung, drawn and quartered as a traitor to the King of England.

Vocabulary alert Drawn and quartered:  hung until almost dead, disembowelled and emasculated with the entrails and genitalia burned before the victim's eyes, and then the body divided into four parts and beheaded, to top it all off.


Wallace Monument

Stirling Castle (built between
the 14th and 16th centuries)

Stirling Castle and where
the moat was at one time

Medieval statue

Just down the road from Stirling is another outstanding castle, the Doune Castle.  Again, as this was the winter season, we were unable to access the interior; however, the exterior was fascinating in and of itself.


Doune Castle

Original leaded glass windows
note the crooked lead bead

Gerson walking the grounds
of knights

"Historical Toilets" - the trees
or the building, hmmm

The walls of the
Doune Castle

The American
Castle hugger

Gerson was dwarfed
by the walls

Stirling and Doune were nice enough, but we were excited to venture onto our next stop for the day, the historic city of St. Andrews founded in the 4th Century.

Of these past few days, St. Andrews definitely makes the top of the list.  With the wonderful sunshine, sandy beaches, historical buildings, great pubs, fascinating Cathedral ruins and cemetery, and oh, of course, that little-known golf course that just happens to be the first golf course, we had a lot of ground to cover. 

The Old Course, created in the 16th Century, lies atop the bluffs overlooking the St. Andrews Bay and looked like green velvet was laid upon the sand.  There are other courses nearby, but none with the prestige nor the waiting list that the Old Course commands. 

We walked through the Old Course and into the city proper.  We found an excellent pub and lo and behold, it was owned by a Texan that married a Scottish lass.  I thought something was amiss when we walked by a window with a Texas Longhorn sticker and then I saw the Texas A&M logo on a window.  Apparently, the man loved golf so much, he bought the pub next to the world's most famous golf course.  Now, that is devotion! (or obession).

Making our way to the St. Andrews Cathedral, we wound our way along the streets, dodging the scurrying University students.  The St. Andrews University may ring a bell with you because Prince William attended the school and it has a very long and proud history (since 1410).  Its campus buildings are scattered throughout the city and just about every street has some course of study represented on a placard on the outside of an old building.


Robbie and Louise enjoying
St. Andrews' beautiful beach

Look closely at the last picture
and you will see a surfer,
(yes, a surfer!)


The green velvet at the Old Course
of St. Andrews

People were not that tall in the 1400's

University building from the 1500's

St. Andrews Castle

The Cathedral was a highlight of this fabulous city as the ruins almost seem frozen in time and the cemetery is meticulously maintained.  The St. Andrews Cathedral was built in the late 1100's and finally consecrated in 1318.  Just a few of its towers/archways remain and you can still see the exquisite detail of the craftsmanship in those structures. 


St. Andrews Cathedral

View across the Cathedral
ruins

Centuries of erosion in the
pillars

I do not want to know where
the occupants went

Remaining arches and
towers with their
magnificent detail of
medieval architecture

Whilst gliding among the tombstones, I found one that was very remarkable.  Seeing as our friend Robbie Allan is a very good and passionate golfer (he has a 3 handicap), I had him pose by a standing headstone that read:  Allan Robertson...was distinguished as the champion golfer of Scotland (died in 1550).  Chilling coincidence.

Robbie Allan standing by a fellow golf
enthusiast that died in 1550 (Allan Robertson)

Just an elaborate tomb

St. Andrews University obviously did not see
the humor in the name of this building
(remember, we Americans pronounce
"Wynd" as "wind")


Crail golf course - 11th
course in the world

After our fantastic day visiting St. Andrews, we joked with Robbie that we made him suffer touring many castles and he retaliated by making us suffer touring many golf courses.  I think we are even!

Fortunately, we got home in time for me to prepare for the last day in the journal page entry, the day of Denise's Hen (bachelorette) Party.  This party encompassed the entire Saturday and we started with imbibing at the local pub and then being whisked off to Edinburgh in our privately hired van and driver.  On the way, custom made T-shirts were exposed and they read: "This Bird's Got Bud Legs" and on the back it read: "Denise's Dames - Hen Night 2009", with a picture of a horribly funny bird on the front drinking Budweiser (Denise's beer of choice) and with a picture of Denise on the back. 

With our new shirts on, we were dropped off at a sports bar so Denise could enjoy a few pints while watching her favourite football team, Celtic.  Unfortunately, Celtic lost; however, the ten of us enjoyed the camaraderie, the food and the drink.


It's all about Denise!

Van driver and patient man, Bob
and his granddaughter, Kate

Denise watching her Celtic team and
of course, imbibing a variety of
liquids


Karen, Louise, Mhairi, Heather,
Sharon, Kirsty, Sarah-Jane, Denise,
Vicky and Victoria

Vicki, Louise, Denise and Victoria
enjoying the culinary delights

Karen, Mhairi, Sharon and Kirsty
(the pairs of sisters)

From there, we were off to a small cafe/bar for another drink before we ventured into Edinburgh's famous tunnels and dungeons (an entertaining tour into the underground of Edinburgh where actors play the parts of notorious city murderers from some time ago).  The "show" was quite funny and we had a few "jumpers" when bodies were flung out from the darkness and creepy things touched your face as you went past.


Victoria, Kirsty, Karen, Louise, Sharon
and Mhairi model their shirts

Sarah-Jane, Vicki, Denise and Heather
share a laugh for the photo

Victoria wanted to see what she
would look like with red hair -
so Louise obliged

A sweet, sweet drink of Black
Currant syrup in beer.(whoa)

After the dungeons tour, it was off to yet another bar, this one a very large sports bar that was packed with many other Stag and Hen Parties.  I was surprised at how many people invoke this ritual party and our wearing the T-shirts was the least of the costumes some of the party members were wearing.  It was hilarious to watch the parades of sequins, banners, hats, etc. worn by the other Hen Party participants.


The group picture

Denise with a groom-to-be and
his "party" having fun with Denise


Denise owns the dance floor

Denise and Sarah-Jane have a bonding
moment on the dance floor

From there, it was off by taxi to a dance club that played mostly 80's tunes.  No sooner than when we walked in, we heard "California Dreamin'" being played by the band.  Denise and I looked at each other and started to laugh.  I guess we found the right place.

We danced until the stroke of midnight as our coach was awaiting us outside and all in all, it was a terrific 13 hours of celebration for Denise. 

Getting our groove on Taking a breather to
pose for photos

Well, if our first 10 days in Scotland are any indication of how the next five weeks will go, we are in for a very good time (and exhausting!).  What a fantastic week and we cannot wait for Robbie and Denise's wedding on April 4th - so stay tuned!


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