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Trip Report Kilts and Cockaleekie - a Yank wanders through Scotland

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Here is my trip report for the trip we returned from on Sunday (well, Monday, really...)

I am still writing it, so it will come in sections, but all on this list.

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Quick information:

Preplanning:

Trip background: 23 days, 2 years in the planning. 6 people traveling: me, my husband (J), my mom (M), my dad (D), my friend K, my friend C. Our flights (which cost $800 including taxes) were JAX-PHL-MAN-GLA on the trip out and GLA-LHR-PHL-JAX on the way home. Me, J, M, and D were flying together on that trip, while K and C were flying MIA-LHR-GLA and back, as they were spending the last week of the trip in London.

The plan was three days each in Edinburgh, Grantown-on-Spey, Orkney, Stornoway (Lewis), Skye (4 nights here), Mull, and Killin. I arranged for B&Bs for all our stops except Edinburgh. We were taking a taxi to Edinburgh and then renting two cars when we left for Grantown. I did a lot of research, and found decently priced places with some charm and history, prepaid most of the ferries, and made a couple other arrangements here and there. I didn't want to dictate where we would go each day, but a couple things did need pre-planning, like the lunch at Three Chimneys or the private tour of Castle Leod.


Lodging: All the places we stayed at were great, and many were exceptional. I HIGHLY recommend Killin Guest House in Grantown-on-Spey (Jane was a wonderful hostess, and it was walking distance from a pub with delightful pies). Also The Lodge at Edinbane on Skye was spectacular - 14th century haunted hunting lodge. Hazel and Pete run a pub with food on the property as well, and all was fantastic. Seaview in Fionnphort and Mill at Eryland in Orkney were also wonderful, and the apartment we rented in Edinburgh was perfect.

Food: The good, the bad, and the ugly. Most of it was great. A few shining moments: Three Chimneys restaurant near Dunvegan, Skye; Oakwood Restaurant near Inverness (on the A82); The Old Flax Mill near Killin; Pies at The Craig Bar in Grantown-on-Spey (and the owners are real characters!). The Reef Restaurant in Bunessan we ate at - expensive but fantastic fresh seafood! Some forgettable food moments: Tomato and lentil soup with pasta = Spaghetti-O's sauce with ketchup mixed in with some spaghetti noodles. Most of the dishes served at the Keel Row were disappointing to us.

Sights: OMIGOD! Why did no one tell me how breathtakingly stunning the north coast of Scotland was? This wasn't in anything I researched. As we drove along the coast road, we kept seeing sights, and saying "wow, that's the most beautiful thing I've seen!" - until we went into the next cove, glen, or cliff - and said it again. Wow! The Isle of Skye is gorgeous, but most people know that. The Lewis landscape was surreal - a moonscape of peat bogs under a grey sky reminded me of some old black-white film. The mountains in Mull were just as beautiful as the mountains in Glencoe. And the Grampians were so desolate they took your breath away.

Weather: Highest temp was probably 17C, lowest was 8C. It rained at least a little every day, and there were about 10 days of all day rain and gloom. Evidently we got there just after 7 weeks of glorious sunshine and a heat wave. Orkney gifted us with 8C temps, 40mph winds and rain - COLD! But we were prepared and wore lots of layers It IS Scotland, after all. The travel days (from B&B to B&B) usually ended up sunny and bright, though.

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    Full-sized trip report:


    Friday, 6/13:

    Oh, I was so excited! I had to work a half day on Friday, but jumped out of there as soon as my boss said I could, and away we went! We started this trip by getting to the Jacksonville Airport (JAX) 3 hours early, per recommendation, and had a quick bite for lunch at Quiznos. We had very little trouble getting our boarding passes and getting through security, everything went rather quickly, especially for a Friday afternoon, and I was pleasantly surprised to have a 1.5 hour wait at our gate. The plane boarded a bit late and then sat for about 20 minutes on the tarmac before we went, so we arrived 40 minutes late – not tragic, but it did mean we had to make the mad dash through Philadelphia (PHL) to make our second flight. Since M has trouble walking fast, we got on a cart, but that only took us out of that terminal, and dropped us off at the start of Terminal A – when of course our flight was at the end of Terminal A. However, we made it out of breath, 5 minutes before the doors closed, whew! D and I made it first, followed by J and finally M, close to passing out. It didn’t help us much that it then sat on the tarmac and there was no air conditioning on.

    We had the four middle seats, but there was an extra seat a couple rows back that I moved to after we were under way. I never did get the IFE to work, though – but I had bought the $5 earphones already, so I figured I’d use them on the way back. I got a little sleep I suppose, and used one of those inflatable pillows you lean forward on. I don’t think I’ll bring it again, it just added weight to my luggage, and wasn’t very comfortable. Breakfast was a wanna-be Danish, not much for a transatlantic flight, but at least it was fuel. For the flight from MAN, the gate agent gave us the exit rows, but we are large folks and need extenders, so couldn’t sit there – which is fine, we had no problem moving. There were plenty of seats. We got in at noon, about 5 minutes early (glory be!)

    Saturday, 6/14:

    We went to collect our bags – well, some of them. My bag and D’s were missing, so we filed a claim and waited for K and C. K’s bag was also missing, so we had 3 of the 6 checked bags. What a wonderful start! D’s medications were in his bag, so this might turn out to be a very bad thing – he takes stuff for his heart, his blood pressure, his diabetes, etc. We went to call the taxi I had pre-arranged to get us to Edinburgh, but the number wasn’t working. We did, however, find a minivan taxi that would fit all 6 of us (if we had had all of our luggage, it wouldn’t have fit, though!). Jim was quite nice and chatted to us all the way over about politics, energy crisis, The Knowledge, etc. He took us straight to our apartment on 87a West Bow in Edinburgh. The owner (Bill?) was there and showed us about the place. This place was fabulous! There are two apartments, one on the third floor and one on the fourth. The third floor apartment (the larger of the two) had 2 bedrooms, and a day bed in a room near one of the other bedrooms. It had two bathrooms, a dining room, a kitchen, and a large living room. The double room had a small sitting area as well. The property is 15th century, and the décor reflects this history – four-poster bed, tapestry curtains, etc. There was a small washer and dryer, the shower was the nautilus-shell type – you kind of had to fit in around the curved door to get in, but it kept the water in. The couches in the living room were comfy, and there was wifi available. The location was fantastic – the front door opened out to West Bow, a little side street that had pubs, restaurants, gift shops, and the liquid deli (more on that later). The back door (a half flight of stairs past the upstairs apartment) led out to a terrace that looked over the street, and had several pubs and cafés along it. One more flight of steps up and you were on the Royal Mile, not far from the castle. I don’t think my parents ever went down the front stairs after arriving, preferring the shorter walk up the back door.

    We settled in to our respective places and decided we were STARVED! 24 hours of travel and we were more ready for food than naps (well, the parents napped). The first place we went to was the Bow Bar across the street, but that was drinks only, and we were ready to eat the bartender – so we moved on to the Steak and Mussel restaurant at the base of the street. That seemed a little expensive for a late lunch, so we moved on – Maggie Dixson’s was a nearby pub, and that fit the bill fine. We enjoyed some very tasty steak & ale pies – though that may have been exhaustion and hunger spicing it. The ciders went down REALLY well at that point! It’s a touristy place, but comfy. While at the bar ordering our food, C (who is Dominican) heard one of the other customers speaking Spanish, and couldn’t believe that she found Spanish in Scotland. Even odder – these were Mexican students studying in Sweden, visiting in Scotland on holiday. How multicultural can you get!

    After stuffing ourselves on touristy cuisine, we went wandering around the castle and down the Royal Mile a bit. We marveled at the beautiful structure that is St. Giles Cathedral (not really a cathedral, as we find out later), and the touristy tat that is available on the Royal Mile – but what else did we expect? It was chilly, but very nice out – certainly a welcome change from the 96 degree weather and 100% humidity we left in Florida. As the evening went on, we decided to go down and sample the crepes on sale near West Bow – boy, was THAT a mistake! OK, J’s was tasty – roast apples and cinnamon. But my toffee crepe was just a bit of syrup on a broken crepe. It was a bit too floury and not what I was hoping for. A well – again, you pay for going to the touristy spots. The two French girls were quite indignant that we should interrupt their little chat to ask them to actually cook crepes for us.

    We marveled at the odd crowd walking about that evening. Lots of women in pink bras and t-shirts – evidently there was a charity walk for breast cancer starting the following morning at dawn, and many were jumping the gun. There were some very creative outfits walking around! Mix that with a good dose of hen parties in devil’s outfits and cowboy hats, and you had lots of great people watching. You could pay good money to go to Vegas and get less entertainment and variety!



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    Sunday, 6/15:

    We woke up refreshed (or mostly so) and decided to make some tea and go in a search for breakfast. Ha! We forgot it was Sunday morning! So, while we saw hundreds of girls walking around in pink bra tshirts, bras, and the odd corset, (some wrapped in thermal blankets on top of that, for a truly surreal look) we wandered around Victoria street looking for something that would serve us food. Everything was, of course, closed – foolish Americans! Looking for a Denny’s in Scotland – that’s not right!!!  We wandered around street after street, and finally decided that perhaps the Royal Mile, Tourist Tat haven that it is, might actually cater to foolish tourists like us. So we climbed up the road beside the mountain, and came to the Haggis café – not yet open, damnit. BUT! There was a light at the end of the tunnel – or the end of the Close, in this case. Along the Royal Mile was a man selling papers (he looked a bit ratty and might have been homeless). He directed us to a small café that served stuff in sandwich rolls – egg, bacon, etc. Just what the doctor ordered. I had a bacon and cheese bap with brown sauce, K had a brie and cranberry sauce sandwich, and we all had hot chocolate to warm our tummies. We chatted with a family we had seen earlier, also looking for breakfast – they had two toddlers in tow, and were from Newcastle.

    Duly sated, we went off in search of today’s goal – the Hop on/Hop off bus tour of Edinburgh. We wandered down the Royal Mile, noticing that the shops were all starting to be opened by gangs of teenagers, all controlled by a couple Arab men – looks like many of the shops are run by one Arab family. Go figure.

    We were a bit early for the bus, so we continued to window shop along the Mile. We ended up in Canongate, and drooled a bit on the glass of the closed fudge shop, saw John Knox’s house, and a couple other places. I didn’t feel like parting with money yet for souvenirs, so I just bought a couple postcards here and there. I know, I’m weird – I have to be in the mood to purchase anything, and the first day I’m not yet in the mood. I KNOW I can get anything in the Royal Mile elsewhere, and likely much less expensively. Though I rather wish that fudge shop was open, food is always good to buy.

    The bus finally came around, and we took it around the city. We saw the controversial parliament building, Arthur’s Seat, New Town, etc. Edinburgh truly is a beautiful city, just the small areas we saw were full of majestic architecture and delightful history. I would love to spend some more time there. My mother lived there 40 years ago, and really enjoyed it then as well.

    We got off the bus after a full round, and had soup and tea at the Holyrood Café. We decided to climb Arthur’s Seat, fools that we were. It’s all C’s fault – she was the instigator this time. Our first day on vacation, and she wants us to climb a bloody mountain! OK, not quite a mountain – 823 feet. Wikipedia claims it is easy to climb, I beg to differ! OK, I’m overweight and 40, and was wearing Croc sandals. My walking shoes were in my missing luggage, so I had to wear the Crocs – comfy but not exactly hiking boots. We kept encountering marathon runners that were evidently insane enough to be running over all seven bloody hills in Edinburgh. We all agreed they were crazy, especially the ones older than us 

    The path was fine until the last 100 feet or so up. That’s when it got too steep for me, too much dirt and rocks for me to be sanguine about not falling. K and C continued up to the top, and I went down a bit and looked around from the ¾ up point. It was a fantastic view of the city, and I got lots of panoramic pictures of Leith. You could just hear the hum of traffic and the occasional cry of a seagull or sing of a siren as you stood up there and looked around. The wildflowers were winking in the dappled sunlight, and a cute guy was walking his dog down the path. I saw him later, and the previously yellow lab was dark brown – he had found some lovely mud to roll in! When the sun came out, all was warm and sweet in the world. I looked up when I heard K’s giggle tumble down from the top of Arthur’s Seat like a bubbling waterfall, and I looked up and waved at my friends.

    I took much less time to climb down, but that’s when I slipped. One foot went back and to the left, the rest of me went down – scratched up my knee quite a bit, and left me a bit shaky, but I was fine. When I got back down, I headed back to the apartment, but got lazy and took a taxi back (hehe). Of course, we only had one key per couple, and I had given mine to J – and there was no answer when I rang either the downstairs or upstairs apartments. So I wandered around to Maggie Dixson’s again and had a pint and a snack (tomato, pesto and mozzarella Panini, not too bad).

    After about an hour I went back, and J was just woken up, K having called just called him looking for me. We watched some TV and relaxed a bit, waiting for K and C to return after touring Holyrood. I headed up to the castle to meet them, and waited near the Camera Obscura (there was a bench). I watched a French and Australian family try to gain control of their rampant children amongst screams and screeches. I then went up to the castle itself, and the guard David told me the last admission was 20 minutes ago, so I went down to get K and C, got J from the apartment, and tried to call about our luggage. They said they found one of my bags, woohoo! We don’t know which one (mine or D’s) but one is certainly better than none. I hoped it was D’s, so he could get his medicine. He hadn’t done much sightseeing yet because he was listless without his meds, and couldn’t sleep well.

    The four youngsters went to Deacon Brodie’s Tavern for dinner up on the Royal Mile. Yes, it was touristy, but the food was relatively tasty and the atmosphere well-engineered. We had venison steak, smoked salmon and prawns in rose marie, and some ciders. C got a bit drunk, and we were all highly amused by this phenomena – and told her so, which made her even MORE amusing!

    K had made reservations for the Mary King’s Close tour, and we met the parents there for that. Yes, it was cheesy, and touristy, but it was kind of cool to go underground and see the alleyways and holes people lived in. The information given in the tour was great, lots of realism. C was horrified and traumatized by this time regarding all the descriptions of what went into the North Loch (what is now Prince’s Street Gardens), and was very glad it had been drained prior to her visit (by about 180 years). A warning to intrepid explorers – if you are clumsy or have trouble walking, this might not be the tour for you. There are lots of dark spaces, uneven floors and difficult stairs.

    K and C went to the City of the Dead tour, while the rest of us headed back to the apartment. I really wanted to see it, but was just about pooped at that point. I had to do some laundry (I had packed one outfit in my carryon, and needed to wash that for tomorrow). Somehow I had acquired a bit of a sunburn from my day up on Arthur’s Seat.

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    Monday, 6/16:

    This morning started later (around 10am) and I tried to call about the luggage, both the one found and the one not yet found. The number I was given was always either busy, or a recording answered. I left a message, and called Flybe – they gave me the courier number that had our found bag. They said it would be delivered by 2pm today, excellent! I called Enterprise to arrange for our car the next day. I had reservations at the airport, but they said they couldn’t come pick us up in the city – they would have to transfer my reservation to the city office. So I called the city office, and luckily they informed me that they couldn’t waive the CDW insurance there, only the airport could – so back to the airport it was. I called for two cabs to come pick us up in the early morning to make it to the airport. What a mess! (a needless mess, as we find out later).

    The castle was first on the list this morning, so off we went to explore. We sampled haggis (my second taste, everyone else’s first taste) at the Haggis Café, and it was quite good. Creamy and spicy, on a piece of melba toast. Everyone rather liked it, despite themselves. We went into the castle (which was covered by our Great British Heritage Cards), and chatted with Japanese tourists while in line. I showed off my 5 words of Japanese and they all laughed, probably at my attempts. We each bought the audio tour, and agreed to meet at a particular time. We were loose!

    Mons Meg, the cannon that goes off every day at 1pm, was quite impressive, but my favorite area was the little St. Mary’s Chapel, the oldest part of the castle. It was very cozy, and notwithstanding the people crowded in it, very quiet and peaceful. I’m a sucker for pretty stained glass windows, and was not disappointed. I wandered around the grounds, the halls, the war memorial, sucking in the tidbits of history and trivia from my audio guide. It was great, because you can request additional information on most of the subjects – I think I listened to every scrap of information it was willing to give me. I had a scone and some water at the café, and watched the birds try to convince me I should share.

    After meeting up with everyone, J and the parents went back home while K and C and I went shopping in New Town. K and I were still missing luggage (so was dad, but he was unconcerned) so we had to go get some toiletries and essentials to make up for the lack in our toilet. Princes Street, here we come!

    After more than an hour at the drug store, we chatted with the shop clerk and the security guard about the weather differences between Florida and Edinburgh, and the different celebrities we had all met. Finally K finished her sacking of the place, and we went in search of clothes, cash, and water. We finished up in another café, got some sweet pastries and drinks, and unfortunately sat next to an older woman that probably hadn’t had a bath in a long time.

    On the way back home, we stopped in a local music store to get my first dose of Scottish music CDs. I am so glad that the innovation of letting you listen to the CDs before you buy them is everywhere – I picked up a couple local bands and one I’d heard before (Runrig), and something for my friend M, who loves ethereal Celtic music. I wandered back to the apartment, but got waylaid at the Iain Mellis Cheesemongers. I tried about a half dozen types of cheeses before I decided on one I liked. The gorgonzola from northern Italy was too strong, the brie was too bland – the other was just right (I was keeping an eye out for the three bears). I got some oatcake crackers to spread it on and figured I’d have some for breakfast in the morning.

    K and C had a more exciting detour at the previously mentioned liquid deli. That’s not what the name of the shop was, but what we called it from then on out – the shop made their own liquors and liqueurs, like raspberry gin and elderberry vodka and such. That took some time, as they were given samples as well, and came back wreathed in giggles and bottles.

    We decided that tonight we would dine at the curry place on West Bow that had been tantalizing us with delightful aromas for the last several days, Kushi’s. The chandelier in the entry way was very grand and impressive, and the food was wonderfully delicious. However, there was a miscommunication between K and the waiters, and they kept trying to take her half-eaten dishes away when she wanted a take-away box for them instead. He kept saying ‘take away?’ and grabbed at them – she practically stabbed his hand with a fork to keep her food!  We had lamb sag, garlic naan, (which doesn’t go well with Irn Bru!), mango lassi, and it was all yummy.

    Back home we reorganized what luggage we had (D had his bag delivered that afternoon, finally, mine was still no where to be seen). K called about hers, and they said they would deliver it tomorrow. However, we would be on our way to Grantown-on-Spey tomorrow, so that wouldn’t do. She was told she needed to pick it up after 9pm at the Edinburgh Airport, so she took a taxi out there after dinner, got there at 11pm – no bag. The guy at the counter called the courier, and the courier wanted her to come get it there. She said ‘no way, you bring it here, now!’ And they finally did. He kind of avoided looking at her as he walked all the way around her to deliver the bag to the BA desk. I think they finally got home around midnight. Two bags recovered, mine is still missing in action. Glasgow Airport still refuses to answer their phone or return my (by now) half dozen messages. The courier doesn’t have it, and Flybe doesn’t have it. Sigh. I did hear from someone that it had been found, but no one seemed to have it. GLA said they sent it on, the courier said they never got it, and no one was willing to actually take control of the situation and look for it.

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    This is an awesome report - I feel as though I am in Scotland (it is even drizzling outside right now). Cannot wait to hear more. Thanks for providing details - you type as though you were speaking and I appreciate that.

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    Tuesday, 6/17:

    We got up early for our taxi ride through the city to Edinburgh Airport to pick up our cars. The taxi drivers had trouble finding the Enterprise office, but eventually we found it. We were upgraded from the reserved Standard sizes to a minivan and a Standard (later known as the Car from Hell), which worked out fine. The last week of the trip, one of the cars had to fit me, J, M and D and our luggage, while K and C dropped theirs off and went to wander around London. There was a problem with my credit card covering the CDW (even if we hadn’t been upgraded, it turns out). The coverage only goes up to $50,000 vehicles, and these were £26,000, so we had to pay an extra £14 a day in insurance. Ouch! That came to an extra $560 on a $600 rental. Double ouch! Warning to intrepid explorers about this!

    I went to the airport itself to find out if I could talk to someone in person regarding my bag, even though it was at GLA (hopefully). I spoke to the Premier Luggage Courier desk, who sent me to the Flybe ticketing desk, who sent me to the Servisair ticketing desk, who sent me to the Servisair luggage service. She almost dismissed me instantly, but I convinced her to have a look at the file. She said the file was closed, as they had delivered the one bag they had (D’s). She was able to look at the record and left a message for the GLA office, as she got the same maddening recording I did. She mentioned that since the file was closed the office didn’t return my calls – very annoying when the file shouldn’t have been closed yet!

    On the way out of the short term parking lot, the gate stopped working. While we were waiting for an attendant, there was a car behind us that just kept inching forward closer and closer, while we waved him to go around to the other gate. He refused to budge, and was therefore blocking anyone else from going around as well. When we mentioned this to the attendant, he said ‘Well, that’s their problem now, isn’t it?’ – this kept us laughing (rather hysterically at this point) for quite a bit.

    We searched for gas, as we got the cars with a ¼ tank – the first place we went (Sainsburys) had no gas due to a 4 day Shell strike that just ended. The second place (Shell) wanted £1.66 per litre, and since we had seen it at £1.22 everywhere else, we passed. We finally gave up for the nonce and headed to Roslyn Chapel. Everything you’ve heard about this place is true – the carvings are amazing and incredible. It’s a small place, and yes, the outside is covered in scaffolding. But the carvings are mostly on the inside anyhow, and will take your breath away. There were little angels cavorting on the columns, devils carved upside down, seashells and sheaves of corn. I could care little about the connection with The DaVinci Code, but it was wonderful to be there and see all the artistic work. Outside there were some wonderful memorials as well. However, it started sprinkling, so we decided it was time for some lunch at the Roslin Hotel. Fish and chips and steak & ale pie were the favorites, and they were adequate – nothing special. The batter was the thick breadcrumb style. The dining room did rather remind of a great auntie’s parlor – rather stuffy and formal, too quiet for comfort.

    After lunch we drove past Edinburgh and over the Firth of Forth on the Forth bridge, towards Perth. We stopped at the Hermitage to explore this primeval forest and waterfall – if you are in the area, definitely stop by! There are really three waterfalls in one, and the best spot to see it is a little terrace in Ossian’s Hall, a small temple-like structure over the falls. The bridge is a delight as well, though the muddy rocks kept me from exploring too much with my Croc sandals. I tried to fiddle with my camera to get a longer exposure time to make the waterfalls into velvet streams, but I couldn’t figure out how to do it. This whole area made me feel as if I was on a journey to the Shire, and could see hobbits and elves poking their heads out behind each moss-covered tree. The sounds of the forest were restful and sweet, and the green-dappled light made everything sylvan and silvery.

    After a brief mishap with a falling laptop, we were on our way (officially) into the highlands. I’d been through here before, but it was just as stunning and beautiful the second time around. The browns, golds, purples and greys jumped out at every sunspot, and whispered back into the earth when the clouds came. It was like the subconscious mind of an oil painter covering the landscape. Half-shorn sheep were jumping over streams, little crofter cottages were nestled in deep glens. Shaggy Hieland Coos looked at us as we drove by, and we saw black sheep lambs cavorting around (yes, cavorting, really!). We stopped a couple times and just stood, stunned, looking at the alien landscape that surrounded us. Of course, we didn’t stand long – the wind threatened to blow us away, especially with our hastily-donned shawls and sweaters. It was also starting to rain, so we hastened back to our trusty carriages and hied on to a place for dinner.

    We found a supremely ugly square castle (Corgarff Castle), which looked like a white box on a smaller white box. We opined that it was probably the home of some lawn-mover-driving psycho killer that terrorized the countryside, so we watched out for such a character, intending to run him over. We found a pub serving dinner called Allargue Arms – a peaceful place despite the name. The food was decent, but I think the poor lad serving us was brand new at the job. K was brave and tried the sweet & sour pork, while D tried the stir fry. I had the soup and sandwich, it was filling and warm.

    We made it to Grantown-on-Spey with little trouble, and luckily our B&B was on the first street we came to. Jane was our host at the Kinross House B&B, and she was delightfully warm and helpful. The bedrooms were well-appointed, clean, and comfy. The beds had just the right pillow combo for my comfort (one small firm pillow and a larger soft pillow) and it had a sheet so I wouldn’t roast at night. I tried calling Servisair again once we got there, and the girl on the phone insisted that she personally gave the missing bag to the delivery service. I tried to get her name or ask for a supervisor, but she just hung up. So, rather than jumping through the phone and strangling her on the spot, I decided it would be more prudent to go wash out my outfits once again, and went to sleep.

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    Yeah, I know that and you know that - evidently Dad has found out. Mom didn't learn from him though - her meds didn't fit in her carryon, so she checked them on the way home. We just got the bags yesterday.

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    I know! I can't believe he didn't have them in his carry on. How scary.

    I think I know that "liquid deli", was it on Victoria St? Also, was the cheesemongers there too? I loved having an apartment in Edinburgh. We got cheese from a cheesemonger on Victoria Street and some wine and bread from some where and then were able to invite my husband's friends up before we went out that night (they live just outside of Edinburgh).

    Can't wait to read the rest.

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    GreenDragon:

    We always pack our medications in our carry on, along with one change each of clothes.

    We have changed the way we pack - Half of my things go in DH case and half of his things go in my case. At least you have half your stuff if one case makes it.

    If you have the URL's to any of the B&B's you stayed at would you please share.

    Keep it coming. This is an excellent report and a great read. Looking forward to more.

    Sandy

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    Sandy good comment. My husband and I also pack our items half in each others cases. I'm dying to know if you ever got your case back GD. I don't know what I would have done in your situation!

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    Great report, GreenDragon! You seem to be carrying on with good humor despite the mishap with your bag. I'm excited that you're in the Highlands now, and will love your pictures WHEN you get to them (no rush, they will be worth the wait)

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    Wednesday, 6/18:


    This morning I made another effort to find someone who knew where my luggage was. I called Premier Courier, and got hold of an angel by name of Lorraine (I think that was what she said). She, finally, was willing to actually make an effort to find out what happened to my luggage. She called me back in about 10 minutes, and said she had found the bag! The problem was that Servisair had sent the paperwork for my bag, but not the bag itself, so it thought it was done, and closed the file. Premier had the paperwork but no bag, so couldn’t deliver it. What a mess! Lorraine was able to assure me that they would deliver my bag tomorrow. This is a good thing, as that means they wouldn’t have to ship the bag up to Orkney, our destination the next day. I thanked Lorraine profusely, and will be writing some complaint and compliment letters.

    In this joyful frame of mind, we enjoyed a delightfully tasty breakfast cooked by Jane and served by Dolly. She made this homemade concoction called muesli that had muesli cereal, yoghurt, fruit and cream in it – very addicting! We also had the normal full Scottish Breakfast choices, including haggis (which was tasty).

    We had a 10am appointment at Castle Leod to get a tour of the castle, led by the Clan McKenzie chief, the Earl of Cromartie. My great-grandmother was a McKenzie, so it was nice to meet the head of our clan and see the ancestral seat, so to speak. The castle was from the 14th or 15th century, was rather small and compact, but nicely renovated. It was very interesting to see the paintings of my forebears done by famous painters, to see the first real ordnance map made of the area (by the English after Culloden in 1746, to keep the Scots in check). There was an enormous billiard table in one room, and evidently the room had been custom made to fit it. The Victorian dining room still had panes of the original 17th century glass in it. There was a lot of Jacobite historical items on display and even a little dungeon. The Earl has a remarkable knowledge of history and family details, and it felt different from other castles I had been in. Perhaps it was the personal connection – somewhere, somehow, all McKenzies are related, descended from the same clan chief hundreds of years ago. We were all distant relatives.

    After a pleasant chat with the Earl and the other guests, we headed down to the Clava Cairns to check out a site that one of my favorite books is set in (Outlander by Diana Gabaldon). In the book, the main character (Clair) walks around the circle looking for an unusual flower, and then accidently falls through a crack in the main stone, which propels her back 200 years to 1745. We looked at the crack – it was perhaps two feet wide at the widest, not exactly enough for a full grown woman to accidently fall through, but that’s poetic license for you, I suppose. There were several cairns and stone circles in Clava, and it was a neat place, even in the bright sunlight. The stones themselves had many interesting patterns on them – not necessarily carved patterns, but the stones themselves and the lichen growing on them were lovely. It wasn’t the same feeling I had had at Stonehenge; less reverence and more of a homey feel to them, I suppose. We chatted with another tourist who was from Wick, and told him we would be passing through there on the way up to Orkney in a couple days. He described his town as desolate and quiet, but I found it rather pleasant the 2 minutes we passed through later on 

    After the Cairns we headed towards the A82 south of Inverness as C had arranged for a Loch Ness boat cruise at 3pm. We wanted something to eat, so stopped at the only place that actually placed a sign BEFORE you had to turn – the Oakwood Restaurant (no website, but their email is oakwoodinverness@aol.com). Surprise, surprise, we found K and C there already sitting and waiting for their food (only D, M, J and I went to the castle). The food there was superb. The owners are Gaby and Gus – Gaby is French, and cooks with French style. J had a chicken breast stuffed with haggis in a blackcurrant reduction. I had the smoked salmon fisherman’s lunch, K had the deer meat goulash, and D had the venison burger.

    After such a wonderful meal, we went to the Jacobite Tour stop and took our 2 hour Freedom Tour, which was a half hour to Urquhart Castle, an hour at the castle, and a half hour back. The sun decided to join us for the trip, and it made the trip delightful. The castle was rambling stone walls draping over gently rolling green hills on the edge of the Loch. Despite the crowd of Japanese tourists, there were times I could be by myself on top of a ruined rampart, looking across Loch Ness in search of the monster. I don’t blame her for hiding – can you imagine the paparazzi clamor if she were to show herself? Yikes. When we headed back to base we had much fewer tourists, we almost had the boat to ourselves. It was also a bit rainier, so we bundled up. We decided to head to Oakwood for dessert – whiskey and honey crème brulee, cranachan (a traditional Scottish dessert with oatmeal, yogurt and raspberries, very yummy) and chocolate cake. At first, they didn’t want to serve us just sweets and coffee, she was afraid of not having enough tables for the dinner crowd, but it turned out fine.

    Back at the B&B, Jane was very helpful in planning our next day out. She recommended Ballindaloch Castle, Aberlour Distillery, Culloden, Clava Cairns, etc. I had a lunch date with a fodorite named Sheila in Aberdeen, so needed to be there around noon. J was joining me, but the girls wanted to go on to Dunnotter Castle (I wanted to as well, but had made my plans with Sheila). M and D decided to go around themselves today. We started chatting with Jane about the rest of our trip, and she told us she used to work up on Orkney, and showed us some beautiful Sheila Fleet jewelry she had been gifted while working there. It was blue and silver with ogham writing on it - http://www.sheilafleet.co.uk/Skyran1.asp - very elegant.

    She also recommended a place for dinner – the Craig Bar, which serves pints and pies. Sounded good to us! There wasn’t anyplace that night that had traditional music, so a couple of characters (which the owners of Craig Bar certainly are) were good enough. The owners are Beryl and her son Robbie, and boy, are they fun! We got pies – I got a Smokey Jo pie, with potatoes, spinach, cream and mushrooms in it – K got a Minty Lamb pie, and C had a Heidi pie (goats’ cheese, sweet potato, spinach, garlic and onion). Alas, Robbie was not the creator of these wonderful pockets of yum, but he gets them at www.pieminister.com, out of Bristol. Robbie regaled us with stories of incredible feats and impossible deeds and his dear, dear wife. His mom told us of her upcoming trip to China for the Olympics – at youth hostels, but flying over business class. We also met a delightful dog another visitor brought in – a Lurcher, a breed I hadn’t heard of before. He was very sweet and mellow and happy to be near the fire. We had a grand time, they made us feel very at home and welcome.

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    My heart is aching for Scotland! :) You and I have very similar accommodation interests - small B&Bs. The one in Granton on Spey looks especially lovely. Oh, and so does the mill one.

    Cannot wait to hear more! :)

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    Thursday, 6/19:

    This morning Scott was filling in for Dolly in breakfast duties, and our plan was to Dunnotter, Aberdeen and Aberlour, possibly followed by Cawdor Castle, Culloden, and Clava Cairns. I knew it was ambitious, but not by how much.

    We got on the road, without GPS signal. Evidently there is a local RAF base, and they block out signal in town. It was fine once we were in the mountains, but by then we had taken the south road, which would take us much longer. The Car from Hell was giving K trouble, and wouldn’t shift gears easily – completely refused to shift often, and didn’t have enough oomph to get up hills, even in first gear. It put us all on edge, as it was also raining and the roads were tiny through the Cairngorms. We stopped and tried to find the Well of Lecht, but all we found were sheep cavorting again. I did catch a nice photo of a lamb leaping over a creek, but no Well. We figured it was a bit down the path, but it was raining too hard to be much interested in exploring. We decided that we’d had about enough of the Cairngorms at this point, between the rain and the Car from Hell, so we tried to find our quickest route out of the mountains and into the relative civilization of Aberdeen.

    We also thought of visiting Balmoral, but the road and car conditions convinced us we were running out of time. We finally got out of the frustrating mountain roads and on to main A roads towards Aberdeen. We found Sheila’s office without too much trouble, so J and I got out and went upstairs to meet her, while K and C went to Dunnottar Castle. Lunch was at a Scottish Fusion place not far from Union Street – we had salmon, soup and burgers, with banoffee pie for dessert (yes, I know that is Irish, not Scottish, but it was very tasty! Celtic, all right? It was Celtic… sort of). Sheila was great to chat with about the environment, economics, politics, travel, etc.

    After lunch we waited at The Filling Station for K and C to find us. I tried calling K’s cell phone to let her know where we were, but it went straight to answer machine, and she didn’t get the message until hours later, but C found us and we hopped in. We drove back to the B&B the north road, through Keith – much less dangerous and frightening than the road through the cairngorms, but then again, not nearly as many sheep butts facing the road, either. You have to take some bad with the good, I suppose.

    We did find a nice little cemetery in Keith for some angel and Celtic cross photograph opportunities – I have a morbid fascination with graves and gravestones, especially beautifully carved Celtic crosses. We tried to stop at Ballindaloch Castle on the way home, but they had evidently just closed a few minutes before. Of course, their posted hours said they opened at 10am, and K and C had tried to go by yesterday at 11am and they were closed, so who knows.

    We got home around 6, and decided that the Car from Hell shifting problem needed changing – C called Enterprise and they told her to come into Inverness the next morning and they could switch it for them. And glory be! My baggage had arrived! Jane had brought it upstairs for me, and had tried to call me to let me know, but that signal didn’t get through either. Oh, I was just so happy not to be wearing either of my two outfits for yet another day, I was ecstatic.

    Back to the Craig Bar for pies for me and J – the rest of the group headed into town for another place. J had a Chicken of Aragon pie, I had the Mr. Porky. J decided it was time to try different whiskeys in earnest, so sampled 5 of the local nectars (interspersed with a half pint of Guinness each time to clear the palate, of course). He tried the MacAllan (which was his favorite, and he bought a bottle later to bring home), the Glenfarclas 105 (which was VERY strong and he tried last on purpose), the Highland Park (which he didn’t like, it was salty) and 2 others. K and C wandered in for pints after dinner, and we chatted with another guest who brought her Lurcher dog back in. Her name was Sabina, and she was a veterinarian on holiday from Germany. We had fascinating discussions about dogs, education, travel, etc. We staggered home after several pints each in the warm pub (they have a crackling fireplace, too!)

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    Ok, the English have Celtic background, too :P I thought it was Irish as that is the first place I saw it.



    Friday, 6/20:

    Dolly was back serving breakfast this morning, and we were sad to go. Jane had been so sweet and helpful, we vowed we’d be back some day. The two cars went their separate ways – K and C were intent on turning in the Car from Hell in for a more angelic model, while the rest of us climbed in the minivan and headed up towards Dunrobin Castle. If we missed each other there, we would meet in Wick around 4pm – we figured it probably wouldn’t take all day to make the trip, but it would be nice to ramble along.

    Our first stop was Culloden (on GBHC), as we hadn’t had time to visit that the other day. The visitor’s centre was amazing, and had a lot of very interesting stories, artifacts, and examples. It did a really good job of explaining not only the battle itself, but the politics and background that led to the battle. I’ve read a lot of historical fiction around that era, and it all seemed to fit right in to the historical accounts there. I enjoyed the recreation film of the battle in 360 degrees, too – the contrast between the Royal troops and the Scottish troops was striking. The battlefield itself was a field with some flags and paths through it – the true gem is that visitor’s centre.

    We drove on up through Inverness and to Dunrobin. This was described to us as a fairy tale castle, and I can see how it came by that name. It has turrets and towers, sweeping staircases and manicured gardens. It is definitely worth a tour (though it wasn’t on our GBHC), as the rooms were all beautifully preserved. One was full of period clothing, ball gowns, uniforms, etc. There is a rather scary stuffed deer at the entrance – he is staring at you as if he will stamp you into little puddles of pulp, should he ever break free of his taxidermic cage. We had lunch in the castle shop, which was adequate, and met up with K and C while there. I had a salmon baguette, but the baguette was too crisp to hold the slippery salmon when I bit into it. The strawberry tart did a lot to make up for that shortcoming, though!

    We told K and C we would meet them in Thurso at 5pm (our ferry started boarding at 6:15), and then drove up the road. I wanted to see the Hill o’ Many Stanes, but when we got up the little road, I was rather disappointed. I was expecting something dramatic, but this should have been renamed the Hill o’ Many Toe Stubs, as each stone was no higher than my calf. Yes, there were many of them, in a huge fan pattern, and that was very interesting. But I kept looking for munchkins to jump out from behind the stones and start singing “we represent the Lollipop Guild, the Lollipop Guild, the Lollipop Guild!” We couldn’t stop giggling at them, so we then headed back to the car… as well as we could. The wind attempted to stop us from going in that direction, and was quite insistent, but we persisted.

    The road up to Wick on the coast was very windy and had lots of steep grades up and down the seaside cliffs. However, that resulted in some spectacular scenery and beautiful coves. The cliffs would appear brown and grey and green – until the sun came out. Then there were golds and oranges and blues and purples to add to the previous colors, making a riot of color everywhere you looked. Unfortunately, I couldn’t look much – I was stuck behind two tankers who had to go very slowly up the steep grades. First gear is such a safe and happy place to be, don’t you think?

    We got to Wick, which was much larger than I thought it would be, and got some gas. It seemed like a nice town, with lots of people walking about in the afternoon sun. We headed across land towards Thurso, as we had had enough of cliff roads for a little while, at least. In Thurso (which was also much bigger than I had expected on this far outflung corner of the country) we drove through town and found a pub at the end of the main road, the Weigh Inn. It was close to the ferry entrance, so we decided to stop for a bit of dinner. I called K and C to let them know, but had no idea if the call would go through or not. There was a wedding reception going on, and many men in full kilt regalia. We even saw the bride and groom arriving in a late model classic car of some sort. I had the taglieterre carbonara, but it was linguine instead, and very thick (sticky). It wasn’t great, but it was filling. I’d been on the lookout for the famed cock-a-leekie soup everywhere I went, but hadn’t found any yet. K and C did end up joining us, but weren’t interested in eating – they get seasick easily, and we were about to embark upon a 2 hour ferry ride. They did nibble on some quadruple chocolate shortbread cookies that they bought at the Walker’s Shortbread factory a couple days ago.

    The ferry (Northlink) from Scrabster to Stromness was lovely. It had a full bar and lounge, so we took advantage and had a couple pints on the way. The weather was bad, so we took the inside passage rather than out around Hoy, and the wind and rain were a bit much for good photographs… so I played it safe, and stayed inside for the most part. We met Rube, who worked on an oil rig as an engineer. He was returning home, as he grew up on Orkney. He even described the notorious blackening ceremony that brides and grooms are subjected to on the island, as his sister went through it (even though she had moved to Wick). We talked about history and politics, and he said we were the most well-informed Americans he had met. We told him not to raise his hopes up, as we were atypical geeky types who read a lot compared to most, but he wouldn’t be dissuaded from his new opinion.

    Once in Orkney, we circled around Stenness several times before we found our B&B. We had to call for directions, and still almost passed it again. The sign was well-camouflaged against the garden wall, and mostly hidden by ivy, as well as it being dim and dark from lowering clouds and rain. But find it we did – the Mill of Eyrland. Morag was our hostess, and she showed us up to our rooms. The upstairs (second floor) consisted of two rooms attached by one lounge and a bathroom for C, K, J and me. M and D had singles on the first floor, near a larger general lounge, while the breakfast room was on the ground floor. We asked about food options, as K and C hadn’t eaten yet – Morag sent us to Kirkwall for either Chinese or Indian, the only options that would be open at this time of night (8:30pm). It was a lovely little drive, and I went along to keep them company, and because I hadn’t eaten much of my ‘taglieterre carbonara’. We asked directions once we got into Kirkwall, and the lady we asked told us the Indian place was near the library, the ‘second largest building in Kirkwall’. The largest building was definitely the St. Magnus Cathedral in the center of town – a magnificent piece of architecture made out of red standstone. We found the Indian place, and we had Roshni lamb and chicken biryani. It was close to 11pm as we left, and the sun was still not near setting.

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    So many people, I am sure, are enjoying your report, GreenDragon. While you keep typing, we will keep it ttt!

    Okay, Kirkwall is now on my interest list. I want to see a town where the library is the second largest building :-) !

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    Well, GreenDragon, I have finally had the time to enjoy your trip report, and it is as wonderful as I expected it would be. Beautifully written.

    I'm also a big fan of Jamie and Claire.

    Looking forward to more . . .

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    Glad to hear from all the Jamie and Clair/Outlander fans :) I'm just now burning all my photos from the laptop to DVDs, so I can go through them and pick the best out.


    Saturday, 6/21:


    This morning we had a great breakfast. Morag puts out a selection of interesting jellies, such as lime and lemon, as well as black currant, marmalade and apricot. There was a couple from Oxford also eating breakfast with us, who specialized in prehistoric archeology. We figured they had been to Orkney many times, but no, this was their first visit. How could you not have visited earlier? The guy had just retired, and had lived all his life just a short distance away in Oxford.

    We visited the Tomb of the Eagles and the Italian Chapel the first day. One of the rare moments of sunshine came while at the tomb. You have to drive all the way to the end of the islands for it, but it's worth the drive and the mile hike. Not just for the tomb, but for the incredible angular cliffs and seabirds around there. Everything was at an angle, which is actually how the discoverer found the tomb - the tomb stones were straight, and seemed out of place. You have to pull yourself into the tomb on a rope and a board with wheels, but it's light inside due to skylights. The walk back along the cliffs is highly recommended! There were plenty of seabirds and wildflowers dotting the landscape, like a painter just went crazy with the splatter brush. We saw yellow lichen, white flowers, black birds, and the blue ocean. On the way back, my Ecco walking shoes (which I finally got when my luggage arrived!) decided to start chafing, as I hadn’t worn them since the last vacation the previous year. I took them off and walked along the cliff in my socks, not caring that they were getting damp. Then I took the socks off and put the shoes back on, and it was a little better, but it still chaffed in different areas. Sigh – you just can’t win, can you?

    I switched to K and C’s car, and let M and D drive free (J was spending the day back at the B&B, immersed in his laptop for the day). The Italian Chapel was delightful, and much more moving than I thought it would be. The artistry and story is incredible. It was built by Italian POWs out of a Quonset hut and scrap parts. They painted the inside as if it was lined in tiles, created ironwork for the inside, and truly made a magical religious wonderland inside. Sadly, it was only used as a chapel for a couple years, but I am very glad the folks of Orkney were smart and kind enough to have preserved this little gem.

    On the way to Kirkwall, we saw signs for the Orkney Wine Shop, so we had to go find out, especially after K and C had so much fun at the liquid deli. It was on a little farmhouse down a dirt road, but with a magnificent view of the seaside and ocean. You were never far from an ocean view on Orkney, wherever you went, and that’s one of its enduring charms. The wine shop was run by a Dutch man who had emigrated to Orkney years before. He let us sample all his wines, which certainly did a lot towards improving our attitude for the day. However, I don’t care for dry wines, and most of his were dry – elderberry wine, whiskey wine, even his strawberry rhubarb wine. They tasted rather harsh to me, but K bought a bottle of elderberry wine.

    We got to Kirkwall for lunch, and found the Arnold Hotel for some steak and Orkney beef burgers – quite delicious. We asked the waitress about music venues, as the St. Magnus music festival was going on, but she didn’t have much idea about what was going on where. She did tell us where we could find flyer information, though… and we heard the ubiquitous bagpipers practicing in the pub next door. I love bagpipe music, but don’t think that most players have the control necessary to play a set of full pipes indoors. It’s like a tuba – a powerful instrument, too powerful for close range unless you have a deft touch.

    We wandered around Kirkwall a while in the afternoon, and visited the Sheila Fleet and Ortak jewelry stores. Sheila Fleet (http://www.sheilafleet.co.uk/) has some spectacular modern/traditional jewelry styles (though not cheap!). My favorite designs were the Cascade (design inspired by a waterfall) and the Breckon design, made for the spouses of the guys who prepared all year for an Up Helly Aa celebration, in thanks for their patience, and inspired by designs in St. Magnus Cathedral. I saw these carvings in the church itself when I visited later, and it made me feel as if I had been let in on a secret. We also saw a blackening truck go through - sort of a pre-wedding tradition on Orkney, which involves throwing a molasses/flour mixture on the bride and groom and parading them through the streets before making them wash off in the freezing ocean. And these were their friends!

    We visited several other stores, such as Judith Glue – but we were warned that while this used to be a great local shop, it had a great deal of crap in it now. I bought some local music and some fudge (tablet). The fudge in Scotland had a much higher sugar content than I’m used to, rather than the creamy texture of most American fudge. Our search for music ventures was in vain – we didn’t see any we were interested in at convenient times or prices.

    On the way back to the B&B to pick J up for dinner, we stopped at Coween Hill to climb up to one of the local burial sites/passage tombs. I stayed in the car, as my evil Ecco shoes still wanted to chew my feet up, but K and C made the long, steep climb up to this hilltop site. It had a standing stone or two, and a passage tomb, but by this time C had seen enough – it’s another rock, and another cairn… woohoo.

    The dim days were beginning to get to me, because except for a little sunshine earlier near the Tomb of the Eagles, it had been grey and lifeless, overcast and misty all day. The dimness affected me more, I think, because my glasses have built in UV filters. They will darken with UV rays, even if the sunlight isn’t making the landscape any brighter. It was about 40 degrees F, and a good strong wind and rain made it seem even colder. There were still amazing subtle blues and greens, pale lavenders and pinks in the sky, the landscape, and the islands in the distance of the sea. Incongruent shades of aquamarine peeked out here and there, and tiny yellow wildflowers peppered every hill. There was an abundance of cows with impatient calves, ewes with their lambs (cavorting, of course), some huddling together for warmth in the biting wind that swept over the desolate isles. While lush green was everywhere, it seemed oddly lonely and bereft, as you rarely saw another human being out and about. I loved seeing the distant and near islands disappearing in the mist and then reappearing in the brief bouts of sunshine.

    M, J and I went out in search of dinner, as D was sleeping. We went into Kirkwall and picked a place at random along the dockside street – the Kirkwall Hotel. At first they were snippy because we didn’t have a reservation, but we got a table. Service, on the other hand, was evidently harder to get. The food was great, but at first they completely forgot our soup (we ordered lentil soup), and we had to flag down one of the servers to find out what happened to it. Then they admitted they had forgotten to put in our order at all, so gave us dessert on the house. It seems there was no one server assigned to any table, so things fell through the cracks – and as big as we were, it seems we were crack-fallen. The seafood penne I got was very sweet and vinegary, like the red sauce was made with brown sauce or something. I didn’t really care for it, but M’s roast beef and J’s roast lamb was very good. Desserts again made the day – fudge and whiskey cheesecake was creamy and delightful. It’s amazing how many sins can be made good with a good sweetie.

    We drove home via the Stones of Stenness, and walked around a bit, annoying the sheep who seemed to be using the altar as a toilet. There are a few stones there, but they are rather impressive. We went on to the Ring of Brodgar, which was more than impressive. However, that’s when the weather decided to come back with a vengeance, and we quickly took cover. But I did visit the stones on Midsummer’s Eve, as I said I would. No way in hell was I going to spend all night out there in that weather, though!

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    Orkney sounds beautiful. My husband has a cousin who lives there.

    Speaking of pre-wedding tortures. My husband's work in Aberdeen stripped him to his boxers, tied him to a fork lift truck, lifted him up, threw flour, honey, eggs, and fish guts all over him, and parked him in front of a busy road. And that was considered pretty tame. They are nuts!

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    Oh GreenDragon, I am so very excited about this report! Going to print it out and savor it on the couch a little later on (have to fit in some excercise to get in shape for our two-week trip in September).

    I reserve the right to ask questions and make comments!

    Anna Roz

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    Sunday, 6/22:

    The second day we visited the Ring of Brodgar first, hoping for some better weather than the night before, but it was still threatening to take off with us, especially when I spread my arms and fanned out my shawl. I looked like a really fat eagle, I think. The stone circle itself is huge and very impressive, but the icy wind and rain made us less than happy to be there.

    Next was our appointment at Maes Howe, a Neolithic chambered cairn. The path up to it was surrounded by fencing and barbed wire, so the aforementioned wind and shawl made the trip¡K interesting. We walked up to it, and then waited for the tour guide to show up. We didn¡¦t see her and speculated that she might pop up out of the ground at any moment, from some underground (and out of the wind) passage, and we were envious. But eventually she walked up, and let us in. She gave us a great deal of history about the area, the tomb, its discovery, and the various folks that had been in it, including the Viking writing on the walls that differed little from modern day graffiti. One said something like ¡¥Ivar has a huge axe¡¦ ƒº Once we were in out of the wind, it was surprisingly warm, so I had to start shedding layers like an old snake. Of course, I had to put them all on again before stepping outside, but it was worth it not to sweat to death.

    We went on to Skara Brae next, and luckily we had our handy-dandy GPS to help find it. K and C, without such handy-dandy help, got lost for a while. D and J decided to sit this one out, so M and I braved the wind and the rain and walked through the gift shop, the visitor centre, and the mock-up (with a tiny resident mouse) and on to the site itself. It really is fascinating to find this very domestic layout, all curved and organically shaped, from 5000 years ago. It looked like nothing more than a Neolithic sand trap. The beach next to it was very sandy, but with slate blue water reflecting the cloudy skies.

    Most of the sites we see from that time are religious in nature, like Stonehenge or the Pyramids. But this is very homey ¡V beds, dressers, shelves, hearth. It made it seem very much like I had a connection with these ancient peoples that I never felt before. I caught a glimpse into what their everyday life may have been like, and realized it wasn¡¦t all that different from mine. They worked hard to make things and feed themselves, even if our society has a lot more in terms of conveniences, it isn¡¦t all that different. So, here¡¦s to my ancestors! May we always survive.

    After Skara Brae, we wanted lunch, and tried the Standing Stones Hotel in Stenness. Standard fare ¡V fish and chips, crab cakes, not bad. We dropped M and D off, while J and I went for some further explorations of the north part of the mainland. We first tried to find one of the cairns (started with a W), but just ended up on the top of a mountain near a weather station, on a very narrow, muddy, unpaved single track road. I was not confident of my ability to go further, so back we went. I¡¦m rather unadventurous when K isn¡¦t around acting as instigator.

    Heading down into Kirkwall (this was J¡¦s first visit to the town) we looked around for later dinner options, and ran into K and C by accident. I was just parking the car so I could explore St. Magnus Cathedral in earnest, and was undeterred by their appearance ¡V on I went! It was beautiful inside, just as it is outside. Red sandstone in the rain shows the black mold and makes a dramatic contrast and design with architecture. The inside is also dramatic, and beautifully configured for space and awe. There were some classical musicians practicing while I walked around, presumably for a performance that evening as part of the festival. It was very powerful music, like something from the score of an action movie or something ¡V strong and it seemed to tell a story. It seemed incongruous to hear that sort of music along with the medieval stained glass pictures.

    While searching for the Broch of Gurness, we instead found something called a doocot, which is probably a simplification of the word dovecote ¡V it looked like a stepped pyramid made of stone. We went on to the Broch, which J thought was the Broch of Guinness (boy was he disappointed!) We did find the Broch eventually. However, I didn¡¦t feel like exploring the Broch in the weather we were having, so I stayed in the car and updated my journal while J went down to the beach and explored the seashore. He found seals, spectacular seacliffs, and spraying waves.

    Afterwards, we were still feeling adventurous, so went in search of the Earl¡¦s Palace. Instead, we found this lovely little fisherman¡¦s hut at Skiba Geo. This cove was absolutely breathtaking ¡V high cliffs surrounding a sandy little beach that you could barely see for the rocks. The waves were rolling in and the seabirds darted in and out of them searching for dinner. There were so many shades of black and blue, it looked like something out of a Maxfield Parrish painting, except the wind was blowing MUCH faster.

    As we were heading home from that spectacular sight, we came across what looked like a military training area, with earthworks in a big square, barracks, bunkers, etc. We also saw a HUGE bull with a ring in his nose. J absolutely had to stop to take a picture of his private parts. Don¡¦t ask, really. No, seriously, don¡¦t even.

    Back in Kirkwall with everyone for dinner, we decided to try the Chinese place as a break from the pub food and Indian food we had hitherto been surviving on. Well, the Chinese certainly know how to use pepper and garlic, let me tell you! It was almost (not quite, but almost) too much pepper for me ¡V black with encrusted pepper yummy umm yumm! That set us to practically comatose, so off to bed we went.

    We were very tired of all the dim and dusky days, covered with clouds and rain. While it was only mostly dark for a couple hours each night, (and never got black, just a deep twilight), it was still rather depressing to only glimpse the sun occasionally through a brief break in the grey layers. We were glad we were moving on the next day. Orkney itself was beautiful ¡V we just chose the wrong weather to visit with.

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    Enjoying your report, GD - thank you for taking so much trouble to share so much with everyone. Glad you had a good time and sorry to hear about your luggage and your fall on Arthur's Seat - it sounds like it didn't slow you down for long, though, fortunately.

    Not sure who told you that you "got there just after 7 weeks of glorious sunshine and a heat wave" - if it's any consolation, we certainly didn't have that in Edinburgh ! We had a handful of sunny days in May, two of which I'd call hottish. You could have had it worse, believe me !

    I always thought banoffee pie was Scottish since I first heard of it from a Scotswoman, in 1992 (in Italy !).

    Smiled at that "How could you not have visited earlier? The guy had just retired, and had lived all his life just a short distance away in Oxford." I don't think anyone outside of northern Scotland would regard Orkney as a short distance away ! I hardly know anyone in Edinburgh who's been there, never mind Oxford ! I've not yet been (although I did my degree in prehistory & archaeology) but I'd like to - but Italy is always more of a draw to me ! I think that living somewhere where it's not very warm, my main holiday wouldn't seem like a holiday if weren't hot - I just love sitting outside and basking in the sunshine. But I suppose it's not so important if you live somewhere that gets hot anyway - not sure where JAX is ?

    So sorry we couldn't meet up while you were here.

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    JAX is Jacksonville, in north eastern Florida, where it is definitely hot. It's also, I think, the mindset of what a long distance is. I've maintained for a long time that to an American, 100 years is a long time while for a European, 100 miles is a long way. We think little of a 200-300 mile road trip - for the weekend.

    The folks who told me of the fabulous weather were in Grantown, Orkney, Lewis and Skye - must have missed the lowlands :P


    The trip report continues:

    Monday, 6/23:

    Oh, I hate getting up early early for a long day of travel! But, the good news is it’s already light out at the 4am wake up time. We skipped breakfast, as our hostess was still sleeping and we could get food on the ferry (well, except for K and C, who would wait until afterwards). And guess what! The bloody sun was bloody shining. Sure, now that we are leaving, it decides to come out and taunt us like a bratty kindergartener. So, nah!

    I seriously debated running over to the Ring of Brodgar for some brief sunny shots of the stones – and K was thinking the same thing in her car. But we both did the mature thing and drove towards Stromness and the morning ferry instead. Sigh. I bet if we had been in the same car we would have gone!

    We did get some shots of seals on the rocks as we left the harbor. While we did see and get photos of the Old Man of Hoy, it wasn’t in the sun yet – the sun had yet to rise high enough or strong enough so it was in the shadows of the cliff it was near. It was still spectacular and worthy of reverence, though. You could see the layers of rock form colors and lines, and how it might look with the sun shining on it, but it wasn’t something you could capture on camera for remembering.

    We had a full breakfast on the ferry and started our drive along the north road to our fist stop, Durness. Along the way we saw deer, sheep butts (cavorting), shaggy coos, and some of the most spectacular scenery I saw on my entire trip. There were sheer cliffs, sandy beaches, blue and aquamarine bays, diving seabirds, and rolling green hills. Each time we turned another corner, came around another bend, we would scream ‘Oh, this is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen!’ And then we would turn another corner, and scream it again, and again, and again. Why had no one mentioned this delightful part of Scotland to me in my research? I never came across anything talking about the incredible beauty of this drive. I had imagined it would be a fairly boring drive across barren cliffs and sere fields, but I was so very, very wrong.

    After near sensory overload along that fantastic drive, we came across Smoo Cave, near Durness. We had thought we would meet up with K and C here, but after having lunch at the Smoo Cave Café, we didn’t see them (it was around noon). Nobody but me really wanted to go down to the cave itself, but I didn’t let that stop me. Mom came as far as the top of the cliff, and then hung out while I climbed down the steps to the cave. It was definitely worth a trip! It is not difficult to climb down, though there are many, many steps. Some are a bit tricky, but it’s in good repair. Once down at the mouth of the cave, you can see that there is a cave stream coming out of the mouth of the cave, walk over the bridge, and then into the cave. Normally there are tours, but there was a sign saying the tours were cancelled due to threat of flooding – there was lots of rain lately, after all. Ignoring the danger, I walked into the underground waterfall cavern… oh, so powerful, so incredible! There was a whole in the cave itself that let in some sunlight, so you could see this strong, massive waterfall pushing the water out. It wasn’t some mountain stream trickle, this was a full blown, powerful cascade. I got soaked from the spray just standing and gazing at it.

    After some heartbreaking moments, I tore myself away. I don’t know why I’m so fascinated by powerful waterfalls. The wimpy ones don’t do it for me, it’s got to be thousands of gallons of pumping water to get me going – and this one did.

    I started the trek back up the stairs, and met a German tour group coming down. We got back together with the boys and went on to the second half of our tour of the north. It was as spectacular as the first half, though more trees once we drove inland. There were glens and valleys, mountain tarns with crystal clear reflections of the puffy clouds above. Tantalizing glimpses of the seaside peeked through mountains to the right. By the time we arrived at Ullapool, we were almost drained from the constant beauty and stunning landscapes we had driven through (and stopped often for photos!)

    We found a pub for some refreshments before we were due to the ferry checkin; the Argyll Hotel didn’t seem very interested in our custom, and so we just had some sweets and drinks. The owners looked to be a couple of retired hippies, complete with a flowing dress and long hair.

    Waiting in line for the ferry, we saw K and C doing the same. They had had a similar reaction to the landscapes on their trek of the day, and took some Dramamine for the ferry trip. Unfortunately, the ferry loading was delayed, so they were very loopy before they had to drive onto the boat – they almost fell asleep.

    This ferry trip, we found another local to chat with. This one was Willie, who was coming back from a motorcycle drive down to South Wales for a wedding. Fortunately, though his bike broke down on the way back, it was only a couple minutes out of Ullapool. He should probably be thanking his guardian angels or gods or whoever is looking out for him, I would think. We talked a lot about the education system on the islands; evidently a parent can choose for his children to go to a Gaelic school, and they will be taught English as a second language, or an English school with Gaelic as a second language. We talked about the economy, prices, weather, etc… it was a very pleasant chat, and he also told us that the B&B was very easy to find, just outside of the ferry terminal.

    He was quite right, you couldn’t miss the place, there it was! Graham, our host, was quite nice, though he giggled a bit at the end of everything he said. He showed J and I up to the family room, which gave us two double beds to stretch out on (one had a bunk on top), while the girls were settled in a twin downstairs, and M and D had two singles upstairs. Everything was clean and neat, not fancy. The area was close to everything, right on the dockside street.

    K and C and I went out in search of dinner, and found the Caledonian Hotel – where we had a couple pints and watched a young girl with purple hair flirt with her guys. However, they only had pints, so K had to overcome her objections and go to the Indian place, Balti House. The guy who prepped the takeaway order was quite nice – raised in Aberdeen, but born here in Scotland. It’s quite surreal to hear someone speak English in a Scottish accent one moment, and then start speaking Hindi to his brother the next. He said there wasn’t much around for trad music, perhaps MacNeil’s might have some. K and C got their takeaway dinners, and we headed back home for an early night after a very long day of travel.

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    So, GreenDragon, you are on Lewis now? I'm glad that you got some good weather finally! Do you think the scenery on that drive would have been as spectacular in dim weather?

    And one little point:
    "raised in Aberdeen, but born here in Scotland" - did you mean something different? (Last I checked Aberdeen is in Scotland!

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    Raised in Aberdeen and born here on Lewis, I meant :)



    Yes, that drive still would have been spectacular. The colors shone out even when the clouds covered the sun (it was on and off all day)

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    Hi Green Dragon
    I am enjoying your report immensely. You have been to so many places I remember from my trip in 2005. North west Scotland is my favourite place in Britain I think. We had iffy weather in Orkney as well, but I had been waiting forever to get to Skara Brae and the Ring of Brodgar.
    I could not make it down to Smoo Cave (arthritic knees) but I did see the waterfall cascading into it from above.
    We stayed in Lochinver for three days and drove all over on the little back and coastal roads. Wonderful.
    Keep it coming!
    Rosemary

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    What a wonderful trip report, GD. I hope you will be able to scan a map in when you put this on your website. Either that or I'll print this out and read it along with my map.

    Love the details!

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    Hi GD. So glad you had some nice weather at last !

    That's a good summary, "to an American, 100 years is a long time while for a European, 100 miles is a long way.". As regards distance much of course depends on the roads, and as you know the roads on these small crowded islands are generally very slow. Unfortunately my PILs live 425 miles & 10-11 hours away so we don't get down there as frequently as we'd like. We do sometimes go south 250 miles for the weekend but I wouldn't go north that far for a weekend.

    However, hearing all your fantastic descriptions of places I haven't been, you are making me think !

    What are sheep butts ? Sheep - er - bottoms ? :-)

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    Yup, sheep bottoms. It seems they preferred to 'bare' that portion of their anatomy to us above all others, so we saw more of them than anything else :)

    Tuesday, 6/24:

    Graham¡¦s wife, Jean, served us a yummy breakfast and we headed out around the ¡¥loop¡¦ that first day. We saw the Arnol Blackhouse Museum, where they had both the blackhouse set up, but also a later vintage house ¡V which I could have easily pictured my great-grandparents in (even though they were from Ohio). My great-grandmother was the McKenzie, so I kept picturing her everywhere along this trip, even though to my knowledge she never set foot in Scotland. After Arnol, we moved on to Dun Carloway, which K, C, M and I climbed up and scrambled about. It was easily accessible, with a little climb but nothing punishing, and incredible views of the area around it. The land undulated like a disturbed swimming pool, but there were no sharp corners anywhere, just smoothness and the colors. The sun deemed to come out here and there, and you saw yellows, golds, oranges, purples, everything jumped out of the peat bogs and fields at you.

    Along this trip we saw all sorts of animal butts sticking out to greet us on the way along the road ¡V cow butts, sheep butts, pig butts (we found the only pig in Scotland near Calanais), even hairy coo butts. They must think that¡¦s their best side.

    We moved on to the piece de resistance, the Calanais Standing Stones. Again, fairly easy to climb to, though the wind decided to pick up a bit on our way up. There was a crowd of people when we arrived, but the wind drove everyone else away and we had it to ourselves for quite a while. It was nice to walk around first, and then explore the inside of this famous circle. Unlike other circles I¡¦d been to, the stones formed a cross in the center, as well as around the edge, like a huge Celtic cross if you looked down on it from above. It was smaller than I thought ¡V perhaps the fence right around it and the farmhouses very close helped that impression. I had always thought of it in the middle of a windswept plane, like Stonehenge, but that wasn¡¦t the case. There was a point on the outside edge that, if you walked down the path, the horizon line obliterated the houses behind it, and you could imagine you were in that lonely, windswept field, miles from anything and anyone. It was quite exhilarating, once you fooled your own mind a bit.

    We went on to visit Calanais II and Calanais III, smaller stone circles within sight of the largest one. There was a big triangle made by the three sites, and this lovely old dead tree near one of the stone circles. It was like something out of a horror movie, with the now darkening sky behind it, the branches white as dried bones standing out in the dim light.

    There was one more stone circle we found a sign for while driving around, and K was the only one with enough stamina and gumption to go find this one, while C and I awaited her return in the car. This is when disaster struck ¡V C accidently deleted all her photos from her camera when looking to see how much memory she had left. I would have died, and she wanted to, right then and there. I tried to reassure her that data recovery could retrieve them, just don¡¦t try to use the card again until the computer folks could get hold of it. Eventually K returned, and we headed right back to Stornoway in the off chance that someone there could retrieve the data. There were 1200 photos she lost on that card, I don¡¦t blame her for being upset!

    We found a wee computer store as soon as we got back into town, and let them try their magic, while we went back to the B&B to collect J for lunch. K and C went to the tea rooms, while the rest of us went in search of non-pub lunches (at 2pm). Well, predictably, there was nothing but pubs serving food at that time; J was sick of pub food, but we ended up at the tea rooms anyhow, for sandwiches and soups. We also dropped off M and D¡¦s laundry at the local launderette. The coronation chicken sandwich and scone at the tea rooms hit the spot, and we got J some more Migraleve (miracle migraine medicine!). We dropped M and D off and headed north to Point Ness and the Butt of Lewis.

    On the northern part of Lewis, the landscape became 100% peatbog, a moonscape of undulating brown and gold turf, gently rolling along the top of the land. There were occasional villages along the one road up, with white and sandy-stucco houses dotted here and there like lonely outposts to a forgotten civilization.

    First we arrived at the harbor, which had an idiot windsurfing with a stunt kite in the waves down near a tiny sliver of sandy beach, among sharp-looking rocks jutting out of the surf. We watched him for a while in morbid fascination, waiting for him to be dashed to little bits in front of our eyes, but the idiot was pretty good!

    Then we went on to the Lighthouse, which was colder, windier, and more breathtaking. The cliff is about 170 feet high, and had some stunning views, despite the cold and the wind. There were perfectly calm little puddles in the rocks reflecting the turbulent skies. On the way in we pulled over in a passing place to let a group of motorcyclists go by, and they put their hands up in thanks ¡V each one had ¡¥Hi!¡¦ written on the palm of their gloves ƒº

    We went back to find someplace that might be open for dinner, and settled on the Duone Braes Hotel, not far from Dun Carloway. We were salivating at the garlic mussels on the menu, but they were out, so we settled for salmon and scallops with roe. He really liked his scallops, and we determined that it might be fun for him to start writing a food critic blog about various places he ate. We headed back to the B&B, and I spent a while with the girls watching the Euro Cup Football semifinals. (hey, the German guys were cute).

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    Wednesday, 6/25:

    K and C were going to get up early to go see the sandy beaches in the sunlight, but alas, the weather refused to cooperate and was once again overcast and windy, with frequent promises of rain. We went into the breakfast room, surprised to see a group of young men finishing up their meal – we didn’t think there were enough rooms in this B&B to fit us and them! However, Jean told us they were staying in one of their other properties, a self-catering place, working on contract at the airport.

    K and C went off to Uig in search of beaches and longhouses. The rest of us went searching for beaches as well, but headed south to Harris instead. It was rainy on the way down, and very misty on the way into Harris itself. As we went south, the terrain got rockier, higher, more mountainous, less peaty. There were surely some beautiful mountain vistas as we crossed the passes, but there was too much mist to see the mountain we were on, much less anything farther away.

    First stop was Luskentyre beach, which is the most fabulous and beautiful. Even in the dark, overcast sky, the waters were a bright aquamarine, and the sand was white and pristine. It looked like a postcard out of some Caribbean vacation spot, so out of place on this northern, rainy, windswept morning. The bay was like a shining jewel set in pale, blond gold. I went down to the inlet and stuck my toe in the water, just to say I had – it was much less cold than I thought it would be. Perhaps some of this sand had traveled up the Gulf Stream from the Caribbean itself.

    We drove around the other beaches on that one lonely road – Scarista, Leverburgh, and onto Rodel. There was a marshy area that looked like a puzzle maze near the shore, with dots of white sheep jumping around the twisted water channels. I saw a little black lamb and had to stop and take a photo of him, he looked so sweet just standing there, staring at us daft tourists.

    The road north of Rodel to Tarbert is evidently called the Golden Road, and it is not for the faint of heart. There was only about 10 miles, but it took us about an hour to traverse the whole thing. By this time, we had gotten used to single track roads for the most part. However, usually one had some sort of shoulder on which to retreat if there was an oncoming car. This road was very narrow (though it looked like they had thoughtfully freshly painted the white lines on each side!), and there were several parts where there was NO edge on either side – just a white-edged black twisted ribbon going from one cliff to the next, with very few passing places. When there was a side, it was fairly sheer cliff on both sides, one going up and one going down (if we were lucky). It also went up and down steep grades at the same time. Yikes! It certainly honed my driving skills better than any other experience had yet done. I think I was in either 1st or 2nd gear the entire trip, especially when there was a small bus coming my way… a bus! On this bloody road! (whimper!)

    After we got through the third circle of hell that is the Golden Road, we rested in Tarbert for lunch at the Harris Inn. I treated myself to a steak and black pudding sandwich (which was very tasty and savory) and a pint of cool, clear cider. Ahhh, cider never tasted so good and refreshing.

    D drove the remainder of the trip home, to my great relief. We got back with little ado, and picked up laundry, and took a well deserved nap. We went out to walk around about 5:30, and couldn’t find anything open. Not that I expected it to be, mind you, but I still can’t get used to how all shopping is closed around 5pm. Don’t most people work until 5pm here? Anyhow, J and I decided to try the Indian place for dinner, Balti House, and it was fabulous. I had the chilli garlic lamb, and J had the chicken tikka curry. It was spicy, but not hot, lots of flavor, very tender. The couple next to us was from Sweden, it took us a while to figure out what language they were speaking (we had to ask, finally). The waiter, though obviously of Indian descent, was born and raised here in Stornoway (his brother had been from Aberdeen, the one that helped K and C the other night). There was a guy that sat next to us on the other side that looked a little strange, like he was homeless. He muttered a bit from time to time and had trouble talking when he ordered, perhaps he was foreign or partially deaf? Regardless, he ordered dinner and white wine (which doesn’t really fit the theory of homelessness).

    After dinner, we staggered to our B&B and watched a show on a divorced woman with two daughters go to live with a South American tribe. She ended up being married to one of the locals while she was there, but still left to go home. There was also a Wallace and Grommit style cartoon on called Shawn the Sheep – one episode where the farmer wanted a brand new tractor, so Shawn had everyone build one (but it exploded), and another episode where the farmer had a metal detector – less said about that episode, the better; it was very strange, and involved a metal cow and a bull.

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    <<< they put their hands up in thanks ¡V each one had ¡¥Hi!¡¦ written on the palm of their glove >>>

    Somehow the symbols did not translate - what was written on their gloves?

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    Thursday, 6/26:

    Oh, how we were tired of cold, windy, rainy mornings! We didn’t want to hear one more time how we had JUST missed 7 weeks of glorious weather – we would be happy with just one day of no rain. But alas, we were in Scotland, and I don’t think we got one all sunny day the entire trip. That’s luck!

    We set off for Tarbert just after breakfast, as we had a ferry appointment at 11:50. Once again, the trip there was wet, misty and rainy. K and C took a stab at finding Luskentyre Beach before getting to the ferry, while we just relaxed and hung out near the ferry terminal, kind of pooped out about adventure at the moment.

    On the ferry, C showed me a book she had gotten that looked really cool – Scotland the Autobiography by Goring. It was about Scottish history, but via written letters of people who lived it at the time. Definitely something I’ll be getting. OK, just ordered it on Amazon, done and done!

    The girls had taken Dramamine again for the trip, but only took a half pill each. It still zonked them out for most of the trip. I went to the gift shop and got some music and a book on traditional Scottish tales to read, and while I was gone the area was invaded by a group of young travelers. They had evidently been to Turkey, Croatia, and a couple other countries already, and the Oriental girl was from Australia, by her accent. Another surreal picture.

    The ferry was constantly at an angle due to the high wind we were going through, so it was strange to see the sea very close on one side of the boat, but only sky on the other side. However, we got into Portree on time at 1:30 and headed towards our B&B at Edinbane.

    The Lodge at Edinbane has got to be my favorite B&B on the entire trip. It was wonderful! Large, rambling property, lots of rooms, a pub and dining room on property, everything run by Hazel, Pete and Cal. It even had resident ghosties to keep you company at night. And yes, even though all the rooms on the website were pink, she had some purple and even some blue rooms available!

    After we checked in, we went in to town for some laundry. The launderette is behind the youth hostel – make sure to bring plenty of 20p pieces, though! That’s all the washers and dryers take, though the washers require some pounds as well. We got some extra change from the bakery across the street, and waited for our laundry to finish. One lady came in to transfer her horse blanket from a washer to the dryer – boy those bits and buckles make a racket in the dryer.

    OK, laundry is done – where is the music and the food? How about internet access? Well, 5pm gives none of the above. Pubs don’t serve food till 6pm, music at 9pm, and internet access was the library, which is long closed. Ah well, we did hear that there would be session music (just folks playing together for fun) at the Dunvegan Hotel later tonight, so we went for a couple pints before heading back to the Lodge for dinner.

    Since we were denied our mussels earlier in the week, we tried again, and scored. Yum! I had a chicken leek and mushroom pie, while K and C both had beef boulognese (sp?). Off to the Dunvegan Hotel for some music, finally! Well, it was really at the Cellar Pub next to the hotel. We were too full for pints, so had some Bailey’s instead. I liked the session music, but then again, I knew what to expect from session music… I think K and C were less than thrilled with it, expecting polished professional performances. It’s really just a group of musicians jamming together, and that means fairly well known and easy to follow tunes. We did recognize Mairi’s Wedding at one point, and I heard a familiar Strathspey, but that was about it. In the pool room there was an amusing drama going on involving a pool shark running the billiards table. We left after a couple drinks, and returned to the Lodge.

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    Friday, 6/27:

    Sunshine? Yes, sunshine! Woohoo! Alas, it was not to last, but it was nice to see the landscape of Skye – as beautiful as it always is – in the dappled sunlight peeking through the clouds now and then. We had 1:00 lunch reservations at Three Chimneys near Dunvegan, so decided to come at it from the south, and did a circle to Struan. There was a little B road that avoided Portree, so we got adventurous and took that – and came across our first true Scottish Traffic Jam (a herd of sheep in the road). We had previously seen several individual sheep (cavorting, of course) in the road, but this was the first full herd we had seen taking over the road. They were quite reluctant to give up their prime spot, as well.

    We could see glimpses of the Black Cuillin and the Red Cuillin Mountains in the distance, and rolling green hills in the near foreground, but the mists kept threatening to snatch our view away again. I was rather cross with the mists, as they had been keeping the view to themselves much to often on this trip, and I figured it was my turn to have it for a while.

    The first time I had visited Skye, 8 years ago, I almost got hit by an ambulance. Never one to oust tradition, we once again almost got hit by an ambulance. This was on a single track road to Struan, and it came right around the corner – lights on but no sirens. You would think sirens would be de rigueur on a single track windy road, so people knew you were coming, no?

    The hills, what we saw of them, were beautifully soft, gently rolling. The few mountains we saw had strange flat tops on them, as if they were wearing pillbox hats of stone and rock. It was highly frustrating to KNOW in your heart what a fantastic view you would have if only the mists would lift or the rain would clear.

    We stopped to look at a little chapel signed St. John’s Chapel. It had a beautiful iron gate, rusted almost away to nothing. The path down was very muddy and slippery, and I decided it was the better part of wisdom to forgo this part of the adventure – I probably would have fallen on my butt several times on the way down, which would leave me somewhat too muddy to have lunch at Three Chimneys.

    We ended up in Carbost and Three Chimneys too early for lunch, so we explored the Carbost Folk Museum (a blackhouse set up for show) and gazed at seals on the shore. There wasn’t anyone at the ticket window, but a sign asking for the admission price and a small box – we put in our coins, signed our name on the guest list, and went up.

    Having seen a couple blackhouses already, there wasn’t anything profoundly new about this one, so it only held our interest a short time. We decided to explore up the road a bit, and found the Skye Silver shop. I finally went ahead and made my big purchases of the trip, a pin/pendant set and a pair of somewhat matching earrings (the set didn’t have earrings that matched perfectly).

    Back to Three Chimneys, we met up with K and C and settled down to a lovely lunch. Our table was near the front window, so half of us could look out at the bay during the meal. The wait staff was very attentive and helpful, and the food was simply superb. For starters we had the seafood bisque, fennel soup (bright green!) and roast pigeon. For lunch itself I had the roast lamb, which was lightly drizzled with a wonderfully savory/sweet sauce. Dessert was a simply melt-in-your-mouth lemon sorbet parfait. I also had a glass of tawny port, while K and C made the mistake of ordering the Gaelic coffee. I think they expected something sweet, like a latte – but it was not! C tried to sweeten it up by adding a piece of fudge (very sugary fudge) served with the coffee, but it didn’t help. Hey, it was worth a try!

    After lunch, we decided it was time to tackle Dunvegan Castle and gardens. It wasn’t on the GBHC, but it was definitely worth a visit. By this time we were getting castled out, but the fairy flag is worth a visit, if only to say you had seen it. I was somewhat prepared for disappointment, as I knew it was not much more than scraps of fabric left. However, it was cool to see it and imagine that it may have indeed been the shawl of a fairy girl.

    The gift shop had some neat things, and J decided to buy a nice pewter tankard and flask there (that had been what he was looking for in this trip, as far as souvenirs). However, the clerk took so long to fill out the paperwork for the VAT refund, I almost gave up and left. I did end up going out to the gardens to go to the bathroom while she went through her line of people before getting back to me. I am reasonably certain she was waiting for me to give up, but I didn’t. One woman also waiting did give up, but I stuck to my guns.

    As lovely as the castle was, the gardens were fantastic. They were wild and wandering, filled with flowers and foliage, bamboo and butterflies. We walked up to the waterfall, to the walled garden, and all around the pathways. The sheer variety and beauty of the flowers was almost overwhelming. We even saw a bright colony of mushrooms growing in the knot of a tree, protected by some mesh screen from vandals (sad, isn’t it?). I felt like Alice in Wonderland, seeing plants I’d never seen before. I expected a caterpillar to be around every bend, smoking his hookah.

    After a long and tiring day, dinner was a no-brainer. Back to the Lodge for some dinner and pints! Dad tried the cheese salad, which does sound strange, but looked tasty – a nice salad of greens and veg with several different cheeses on it, including brie, cranberry stilton, feta, etc. K, C, J and I continued to have drinks at the pub until almost midnight, out-waiting several locals who were shepherds drinking in the bar. One decided that he should start serenading us. It would have been lovely if we could have figured out what he was saying or singing!

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    More great writing, JD - thank you for all this ! Are you doing it all from memory or did you write it as you went along ? Highly impressive, either way !

    Just confused by your friend adding fudge to the Gaelic coffee - didn't they serve sugar with it ? Or couldn't she has asked for sugar ? I always thought that it came with sugar already added anyway, whether you want it or not, as it helps the cream float.

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    I make notes in a small notebook every day or so as I go along, and then write this report from the notes.

    There may have been some sugar, but not enough for her. I am sure she could have asked for sugar, but sometimes C is a bit impulsive and silly. This is why we like taking her on vacation! :P

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    Still another week to go on the report, folks :)



    Saturday, 6/28:


    Today was our day to explore the Trotternish Peninsula, the fabled Quiraing, Kilt Rock, and the Old Man of Storr. Of course, we hoped for lovely weather – and of course we were disappointed. There were moments of sun and moments of not-so-wet, but for the most part it was rainy. However, we weren’t waiting around for some mythical sun. Off we went, forging ahead into the dim, grey beyond!

    As per Hazel’s (our B&B hostess) advice, we drove around the peninsula in a counter-clockwise direction. We got off at the Old Man of Storr, and walked up the muddy, slippery, but lovely wooded trail to see the famous rock formation. We climbed and climbed, slipped and slided, but when we made it to the clearing – the tops of the mountains were still covered with a thick fog, and it started raining again in earnest. We sighed, wrote it off as bad luck, and made our way down again. The woods itself were beautiful, memories of a children’s fairy tale, with mossy rocks and green light filtering through the leaves.

    We did go along and took several stops to take pictures, but when we made it to Kilt Rock, the rain stopped for us for a while. We were very grateful! The cloud cover even lightened a little so we could see for a bit of distance. We saw islands in the mists, and I could readily see how myths of Tir Na Nog came to be in the minds of the ancients. Kilt Rock was beautiful, and would have been even more spectacular if the sun was hitting it. As it was, we saw the striations and colors in a reasonable light. More surprising was the music – yes music. The wind was howling around, and the fencing that kept people from falling off the observation deck evidently were hollow, and it sounded like lost souls crying for their empty lives. I don’t know if this was by design or accident, but it certainly put a surreal touch to the sights. We spent quite a while there, gazing out at the sea, and imagining how many thousands of people had done the same over the centuries.

    We stopped next to explore an old diamantine mine, and the climb to the cliff was a bit chancy. Not because of the path itself, but as soon as you reached the top of the cliff, and started to climb down to the observation spot, the wind hit you so hard you had to grab at the rail to keep standing. One poor guy was trying to set up a tripod and keep his expensive camera out of the damp, fighting the wind the entire time.

    After the mine, we lost track of K and C in their car – M, D, J and I stopped at the Columba 1400 café for a bite to eat and some warm drink (tea and coffee). We then went down to explore the Staffin Slipway, again on recommendation of our hostess. This was a black rock beach, and was almost the death of us. We finally came across the single track road where one of us had to back up – both of us had windy roads with no shoulders. The other guy did end up backing up, though I tried for a bit. But I was uphill, and someone came up behind me. His passenger got out to help him back up, and it took a good 5 minutes to get to the layby, but he did. We offered him a tip for his efforts, but he refused 

    The beach itself was very rocky, but had all sorts of fascinating bits, and the pier was rather pretty. I watched birds playing in the rocks, looking for lunch for a while, while J combed the beach looking for interesting rocks.

    We took a small road into the Quiraing for a while, and saw some spectacular scenery. This is the area that always looks misty and otherworldly in the photos you see of Skye. It is like it’s out of another time, another place, another reality. We stopped after an overload of beauty, and went back. Not because we couldn’t handle more, but because Hazel had warned us the road got worse farther on, and that we shouldn’t go too far along it. Besides, I wanted to check out Duntulm Castle, which is on the coast road, so off we went.

    Duntulm was a bit of a climb, but perfectly doable. I was the only one of the group brave enough to face the wind and the bit of rain (about sideways, when it was there at all). There was, however, a tour bus each of MacBackpackers and Haggis Tours there at the same time, so I certainly wasn’t alone in scampering over the hills and bits of broken wall. It was a small coastal castle, in ruins, but extremely ‘picturesque’ in its setting and configuration. I can just see Vikings coming here to try to take the place over! (though I don’t think it was that old).

    We went on around the coastal road, back towards what passed for civilization. We came into Uig and had lunch at the Uig Café, directly across from the ferry entrance. The sandwiches filled us up, and we laughed a bit at the touristy stuff on sale at the gift shop. Coronation Chicken always works 

    J went to the small food shop next door and got some roasted chicken rosemary and thyme crisps (potato chips) and they were thick and tasty, but much too strong for me.

    Our next stop was the Fairy Glen. Hazel gave specific directions on how to find it – just behind the Uig Hotel there is a small road going up, take that all the way in and you’ll find it. And yes, it was a very small road, and it went up and down and around and boom! You’re there. The Fairy Glen is an area you really have to see to believe. It is strange and alien, with perfectly conical hills, rambling trees with exposed roots, and green simply everywhere. Again, we found the MacBackpackers bus, who went in and turned around somewhere up the road while we parked. I met the driver – Ewan Kenneth McLeod or MacGregor, I forget which. However, he was definitely of the hippie persuasion – long hair, Berkinstock-style sandals, etc. He was very helpful, though, and told us the best place to turn around up the road. I told him I had seen his bus at Duntulm, and that I was afraid I was following him – he said no worries, I could follow him anytime 

    There was a very slippery path up the hill, but I braved at least the lower part of it. After all, these were the shoes that conquered (almost) Arthur’s Seat! However, it was still very rainy and muddy, so I didn’t go too far up. Just enough to see more of the surreal landscape from the clearing, little peaked mounds that could have been housing a dozen gnomes, and whispy trees reaching along the ground to grab at the ankles of unsuspecting children. One said tree was uprooted, and made a great chair for photo opportunities. The area underneath its exposed roots looked like it could easily lead to an underground fairy realm.

    After a bit of exploration and wandering, we headed back to the B&B. We had planned on dinner there, but K, C and I had concert tickets to the Peatbog Fairies in Portree, so we went into town for dinner there before the concert. We ate at a café on the main square, and I had a very tasty wild boar burger. They had Kopparberg Pear Cider, which made a nice variety from our typical apple ciders.

    We wandered back towards the concert, and started to note the interesting variety of attendees. There were folks from all age groups – teenie boppers in their oh-so-fashionable outfits (one such girl was wearing a sky blue dress with three huge rings of ruffles… and brown mukluks. Great combo, really.) and older folks, including a older guy with a vast amount of bright white hair and a peg leg. Arrrr, pirates!

    There were a couple of German tourists next to us that gave us dirty looks for who knows what reason. They didn’t talk to each other the entire time they sat there, though the woman finally got up and danced later. One girl, blond and very pretty, wearing a great outfit and a cowboy hat, had a whole flock of groupies around her. What impressed me is that many of her friends weren’t ‘beautiful people’ – back in my school, someone like that simply wouldn’t tolerate ugly friends. I’m glad that isn’t universal code. The couple next to me was a very young guy and girl (perhaps 17?) that seemed surgically attached to each other throughout the concert.

    We sat in some of the chairs around the edge of the dance floor, and waited for the bands to start. There were several bands playing, though it appears one of those billed didn’t show up or play. The Hookares (pronounced Who Cares) had a wide variety of sounds, from western to blues to rock. They had great vocals, good stage presence, and a mad fiddler (looked a lot like my friend, Decado), but the balance was off to anyone on the side. Presumably it sounded better to the sound guy in the back of the room, but while you could hear the music fine (very loud), the lyrics were incomprehensible due to the acoustics. The second band was DJ something-or-other – Celtic house music. They got the house dancing, definitely! And then was the main show, the Peatbog Fairies. This could also be described as Celtic House Music, but they played their stuff live and had bagpipes and fiddlers, all sorts of interesting additional sound effects. It was mostly great, though occasionally I could here where one of the performers was just a bit out of step with the others, and it threw the whole mix off.

    We decided at midnight that it would be better to leave before most of the drunks were on the road (we had seen many plastic cups simply tossed up in the air when the beer was drained of them, and while the staff tried hard to gather them up, there were always more added). So we navigated our way out the front door through the crowds of teenie-boppers and old folks, and went home.

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    GD, I am enjoying your most recent installment at my daughter's home where we have welcomed my first grandchild, a beautiful boy. :D

    I continue to enjoy your descriptions and look forward to more.

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    GD: Do you have any fuel economy numbers that you can share with me? I am interested in what you paid for diesel in Scotland and how many miles you got to the litre. K and C's figures would be useful, as there were only 2 in the car. I previously budgetted on a fuel cost of GBP18 per 100 miles but that is probably out of date now, with the increase in oil prices.

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    LCB, congratulations!!! What fantastic news!!!:)

    Yelpir, I can only help in a general sense. Our car did tell us it was getting about 45mpg (Ford Galaxy, 3-4 large people plus luggage usually in it). And it was diesel, about £1.30 per litre the whole way, on average. I don't know about K and C's car, as they did their own gas. :(


    By the way, I've gone back and titled each of my days:

    Friday, 6/13: Mad dashes through the airport (of course!)
    Saturday, 6/14: The Case of the Missing Luggage
    Sunday, 6/15: Mountain Climbing 101 – don’t wear sandals!
    Monday, 6/16: Takeaway?
    Tuesday, 6/17: Highlands, here we come!
    Wednesday, 6/18: Clan Chiefs and Monsters
    Thursday, 6/19: Aberdeen Heck
    Friday, 6/20: Ferry Tales
    Saturday, 6/21: Tombs and chapels and wine shops, oh, my!
    Sunday, 6/22: Hip deep in ancient sites
    Monday, 6/23: Horton hears a Smoo?
    Tuesday, 6/24: Tragedy strikes C
    Wednesday, 6/25: The Golden Road
    Thursday, 6/26: Over the sea to Skye
    Friday, 6/27: Three Chimneys = three more pounds!
    Saturday, 6/28: Misty Kilts, hidden men, and fairies



    Next day:

    Sunday, 6/29: Shilasdair and cullen skink


    J had a migraine, so we left him at home to go chase the little sun we saw peeking through the everpresent clouds. Today we were heading south to explore that part of the island, but first we went to see Trumpan Church – this was a nice seaside ruined church with some lovely graves on the edge of nowhere. On the way back we visited Shilasdair Dye and Yarn Shop (http://www.shilasdair-yarns.co.uk/), where she hand dyes all her fibers, many from locally gathered plants. We got a fascinating tour of her workshop, and purchased some items from her – I got some yarns for my friend who knits. Oh, and K had to go scramble among the rocks at the shore to gather some of the abovementioned locally gathered lichens!

    Afterwards we went to Skyskyns (http://www.skyeskyns.co.uk/), a leather tannery nearby. This, too, had a great tour of the workshop and the process each of the skins go through to become salable. Then we went into the loft shop, and there were so many lovely skins! Lambs wool and sheep wool, beautiful colors and shades of white, cream, grey and black. K and C bought some gloves and things, though the register computer seemed to give the clerks some trouble, we eventually made it out of the store in one piece (into the rain, of course).

    We had lunch in the Sligachan Hotel, and I had some Cullen Skink soup – it’s like a smoked fish chowder, and very tasty, full of lumps and chunks. I also had a roast veg, pesto and feta grilled sandwich, and was quite full. I had a cider that was something 70, and a bit sour – I didn’t care for that one very much. We went into Portree to see if we could find some packing materials for K and C’s liquor store…uh, I mean the bottles from the liquid deli that they had to carefully pack to get home properly. Everything was closed, of course, because it was Sunday afternoon. However, we did get some boxes at the Co-op, and went on to the Fairy Glen.

    K and C hadn’t visited it yet, so I guided them there. The sun was really trying hard to shine through at this point, so I wanted to see it in the sunlight. We ran into one of the women that had been dancing way too early at the concert last night (think grunge-fairy), but she was very nice and told us to make sure to go all the way to the top of the hill. We did, and found an area where people had been arranging stones in little shapes and piles for years. There was also a little cave, but we didn’t get up that far. I did slip a bit on the way down, but no real damage.

    We headed down towards Broadford, and I pointed out the all-in-one gift shop, launderette, dental surgery, real estate agency building that I remembered from my other trip to Skye. About halfway down the road to Armadale, we took stock, and realized that the only thing we were really interested in was the gardens – and it was pouring rain. Who wants to tour gardens in the rain? So we reluctantly headed back.

    Dinner was once again at the lodge, where I had a very strongly flavored smoked haddock – I don’t think I’ll chance that again. We watched the last game of the Euro Cup, and when Spain beat Germany we thanked our lucky stars we weren’t vacationing in Spain at that moment – the party looked like a riot! (and not the good kind)






    Monday, 6/30: Single track roads that go on forever

    Had a strange dream last night; I was hosting a party and it was pouring rain, but I forgot to unlock the door. All my guests were outside starting a riot and heading off to Spain. Hmmm.

    Hazel once again wowed us with her breakfasts. She made Scottish pancakes for all, which are sweeter than the American version. She also served this crystallized ginger preserve with them that was simply delectable, and very addicting. K practically growled when we tried to take some of hers.

    We bid a sad farewell to Hazel, and headed down through Portree, Sligachan and Broadford. We stopped so I could get some last photographs of a fabulous waterfall near Sligachan. I still hadn’t figured out how to slow the shutter speed on my camera to get that velvet moving water feel – there is such a thing as having too much automation.

    We ended up meeting K and C at Eilan Donan Castle, but that was the last time we saw them (except seeing their car go by near Fort William). We took some pictures, but didn’t go into the castle. It wasn’t on GBHC, and we had been about castled out. Besides, J and I had been there before, and it was fairly typical inside, and crowded with tourists. We contented ourselves to some good photographs outside, and of the low tide, and of the piper entertaining the tourists. I did some more shopping in the gift shop, and on we went.

    This particular drive down to Fort William is well on the tourist trail, and really reminded me of our drive through New Brunswick last year. Trees, especially pine trees, lined the roads like soldiers standing at attention. Thousands of them, more and more everywhere you looked. Occasionally there was a break and you see a stunning mountain vista or a precious jewel of a lake nestled in a valley. At one point there was a fabulous view all around, and another piper waiting for tourist photos. I have to admit, he chose a fantastic spot – the mountains were indeed glorious, and the cloud cover was light enough to let through variations in the sky, and occasional sunspots on the mountain flanks.

    We had lunch at a touristy spot near Fort William, the Ben Nevis Visitor Center. Nothing to write home about, just soup and sandwiches. J bought some whiskey in the gift shop (they had a great selection), and I bought more gifts and postcards. We drove down to Glenfinnan to see if we could get some shots of the famous viaduct, the one the Harry Potter movies filmed for the Hogwarts Express train shots. We came to the spot, but couldn’t get a great shot – there were lots of trees in the way. However, we did what we could. The GPS said there was another small road closer to it, but it was signposted a private road, so we refrained from trespassing this time.

    Back along Loch Eil on a little one track shoreline road to Strontian, I had my patience tested once again. It was at least something with some shoulder, unlike the Golden Road from Hell on Harris. The area along the road did look like something out of the Hobbit, with golden sun rays (yes, sun!) shining through hayfields and green fields. The road was covered by trees arching overhead, and the sun just barely filtered through in greens and golds.

    After about 10 miles of this, we switched drivers so D could take over, as my legs were beginning to cramp a bit. That was just in time to take the road across Glen Dubh to Lochaline, and the wider road, of course. It narrowed again as we crossed the emptiness of that area, but we made it to the ferry without any mishap.

    The ferry only held 11 cars, and was the only one I hadn’t reserved ahead of time. They didn’t take pre-registration, and goes over about a dozen times each day. We got on board, and didn’t even need to leave the car – the ferry ride was all of 20 minutes. We did see a castle off to the side as we made the crossing, and of course it started to rain again. The town of Fishnish was basically just the ferry port, unless we missed something – we must have blinked. We pressed on through Craignure (which was a bit more substantial) to get to Fionnphort before dinner. Boy, what a mistake! The rain made it especially fun, as the 30 miles of single track road took on new dimensions when the visibility was low and people were coming the other way. Luckily, only about 10 cars came at us, but it was still a slow, frustrating and nervy drive. Glad D was driving and not me! It was an easy recipe for a heart attack.

    On that trip, I took time to remember about how much sun we actually got on the trip. Edinburgh was mostly sunny for all three days, and it rained on and off the day we traveled to Grantown-on-Spey, so that’s four. The first day in Grantown was OK, and then the day we traveled to Orkney – 6 total. The day we traveled to Lewis was mostly sunny, half of the second day we were on Skye, half of the third day on Skye, and parts of the day traveling to Mull. So about 7-1/2 days all together out of 17 so far. Not great, but not as terrible as we felt it was.

    I also recounted all the wildlife and domestic animals we had seen so far – Hawks, Red Kites, Eagles, Foxes, Otters, Puffins, Turkey, Partridges (including a roadkill one), donkeys, llamas, seals, whales, rabbits, hedgehogs, mice, deer, pheasants, red squirrels, swans, pigs and of course the ubiquitous cows, sheep, and horses.

    Despite my attempts at taking my mind off the terrifying drive, I had a few moments of nail-biting fear, but we made it safe and sound in Fionnphort. Finding Seaview B&B (http://www.iona-bed-breakfast-mull.com/) was quite easy, as there is just one road through there. We were duly welcomed by John and shown to our rooms, which were clean, beautifully decorated, and spacious. We headed down to the Keel Row for some well-deserved repast.

    I had the venison, which was ok, but tasted not much different than beef. The desserts were mostly ice cream, which I don’t care for much, so I decided to pass on that. J had some, and loved it, though. We watched a little TV in our rooms, and discovered to our delight that they had cable.

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    More great writing, GD - look forward to hearing your thoughts on Iona, which is one of my favourite places.

    Yelpir, DH (who is our driver) reckons that petrol for 100 miles costs us about £10 when driving on open roads and £15 when just driving eound town for a week. This is for 2 people in a small (old) car with a 2L engine but for petrol, not diesel. There's a website where you can compare fuel prices at nearby garages - www.petrolprices.com - and for our postcode it shows average prices of 117.5p for petrol and 131.1p for diesel, so c.12% more for diesel. I believe fuel costs more in very rural areas, though (and on motorways), but it looks as though your estimate should still suffice. You could try putting in the postcodes of the places you are staying to check what fuel costs round there.

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    Thanks to all that are reading this, your replies are encouraging :)

    Next:

    Tuesday, 7/1: Columba’s Island

    I tossed a lot in the night as the bed was a little hard, and there was no sheet. However, we discovered in the morning that the duvet cover came off, so I had a sheet and we could spread the duvet under both of us to add some to the comfort of the bed.

    We went down for breakfast, and chatted with the other guests. One was an Italian cyclist who was cycling to Iona today and off to Oban later on (idiot). We had seen him briefly the night before as we were checking in; he had just showed up and was inquiring about vacancies. The other visitor was Ian, the Mobile Librarian. He spent each month driving around the Isle of Mull, stopping for a while in each area for people to check out or return books from the van he drove. A great idea for rural areas, really! He was staying in town for two days and then heading back up the road to Craignure.

    J decided to stay in as he didn’t sleep well either, so M, D and I went off to the Iona ferry after breakfast. The rain and wind picked up considerably on the trip over, and I was the only one willing to brave it to see the Abbey, so off I went, leaving M and D at the café. I first visited the little ruined nunnery, which was very peaceful despite being smack dab in the center of the village. The rain probably helped with that impression, and the stones were dark with rain. There was a very female feel to the whole island, it’s hard to explain (especially considering St. Columba started his monastery here!) The wind seemed a bit warmer and more friendly somehow – not as biting or harsh as the more northerly islands. Perhaps it was just more summery; regardless, it was invigorating and empowering. I can see why the monks wanted to live here.

    The Abbey itself is being beautifully restored, and has an incredibly serene and peaceful courtyard in the center. There is a sculpture there, very liquid and organic in shape, but the green of the wet grass contrasted beautifully with the color of the stone palisade. There was singing from somewhere, and that added to the experience as if I was in a movie, and had started a soundtrack in the background. I was entering the main hall just as a huge tour group was leaving, and had it pretty much to myself for quite some time. The light was diffuse through the windows, and it added an air of mystery and mysticism to the room.

    On the way out, I visited the small graveyard and St. Oran’s Chapel. This is a little room in the graveyard that has a very simple altar and bench, and it seemed a much more primitive religious icon than the Abbey.

    I saw signs for some local artisan’s gallery, and went to look, but didn’t find anything that was either in my price range or struck my fancy. I liked the Skye Silver and Sheila Fleet stuff better, personally, but they did have a great location on the road to the Abbey.

    On the way back, the rain started up again with a vengeance, so after the ferry ride we hid out in the ferry lounge a bit, and then dashed home (well, as much as we can dash). We rested a bit and then all went to lunch at Keel Row. They had delicious stacked burgers for lunch, and they weren’t cooked to a hockey puck, yay! We went into the gift shop for some browsing, and I picked up a magazine for my friend Vicki – it has all sorts of Doctor Who stories in it, I know she’ll appreciate that, being a huge fan. We then napped and watched TV while it poured outside. I had asked our host, John, about boat trips to Staffa, but they wouldn’t be going out in windy/rainy weather, so I was out of luck for the day.

    We tried the Keel Row again for dinner, and regretted it. I think it suffers from being the only dinner option in the area. Lunches were great, but they offered a different menu at dinner, and it wasn’t nearly as good. I had the steak (which was an awful cut) and J had the ‘Italian Veg and Lentil Soup’ – which turned out to be a sauce like in Spaghetti-Os, with some spaghetti swimming inside it, and a few lentils. The look on J’s face when he stirred it and saw the spaghetti was priceless. Now, J is a bit of a food snob, and especially with Italian food, as he can cook a mean marinara sauce. This was just bleh. We passed on desserts. Disillusioned, we headed down to the beach for a walk, and the sun actually came out for a bit! Long enough for a fabulous fiery sunset over Iona, but it lasted longer than we did – we went back into the B&B for some TV.

    Wednesday, 7/2: Fingal’s Cave and the BBC


    While the weather was drier, it was not much less windy, so the morning cruise to Staffa didn’t launch again. Hopefully it would work in the afternoon, as this was our last day on the island and I really wanted to see Staffa and Fingal’s Cave. I spent the morning walking around the beach a bit, exploring a small graveyard up the road, and having lunch with M at the Keel Row again. Like I said before, the lunches were great – the honey chicken baguette was yummy.

    Around 2pm, J and I wandered down to the dock at John’s advice, and were able to catch the cruise that was going to Staffa. The Calmac Ticket Office Clerk, (Janis?) called the pilot to verify that yes, he was indeed launching, so we went to meet him.

    We shared the boat with a group of about 8 folks from a church group in Indiana and a small BBC film crew. The BBC group were doing a special on the Origins of British Music, and were visiting Fingal’s Cave because Mendelssohn wrote the Hebridean Overture based on his visit to the islands – especially this particular one. Amy was the assistant, and she filled me in on the details, very nice girl. The presenter they were filming was Charles Hazlewood (http://www.charleshazlewood.com/), who was a conductor based in Somerset. He was very personable, and easy to chat with.

    The trip to the island was a bit choppy, but we saw some otters and seals on the way. Once there, we saw this huge school of puffins, gannets, and fulmars. The wind was making the surf a bit choppy, but that pilot was able to get the boat into the harbor nicely. We only had about a half hour to explore the island (normally we have an hour) before the tide would start coming in, so off we went, along a tiny, slippery trail on hexagonal basalt volcanic rock formations. Luckily for us, some thoughtful soul had installed a sturdy cable to hold onto as you climbed, otherwise I don’t think I would have risked it. I walked down around the front of the island and into the cave itself. The music of the surf and the echos of the birds made a very surreal sound, like you were being caressed and slapped by the music at the same time. Certainly a very inspiring spot, with the light filtering through to bring out yellows, greens, greys and browns in the rocks and moss.

    On the way back, the church ladies told us of a film they saw at the Edinburgh Film Festival called The Fall, about storytelling – I’ve already added it to my Netflix list  The rain fell harder, and though we tried to find a shark (another boat radioed that one had been sighted), the slate grey water yielded nothing to our searching eyes.

    We watched some TV again (yes, we’ve been doing a lot of that on Mull. Cable means more choices than Wimbledon and Big Brother). Then we decided to head off to Bunessan for more variety in dinner choices; and our gamble paid off! We tried The Reef Restaurant, and had a delicious meal. J tried the butternut squash soup, which was very rich and frothy. M ad D had lamb rump, while I had the salmon. J had the salmon/mussels bouride – it was all great, with a very nice presentation, flavor, and service. Dessert was great as well, with cappuccino crème brulee, dark chocolate and drambuie cheesecake, and sticky toffee pudding. I had the cheesecake, and it was not too sweet, wonderfully good. It was definitely a meal worth a 6 mile drive down the Evil Single Track Road.

    We had an early morning to get up and make the 8:45 ferry, so off we went to bed.

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    Sorry about the bad weather you experienced but maybe it was for the best, since Iona was nice and quiet. In good weather at least, it's one of those places where it's worth staying overnight as it's better after the hordes of daytrippers have gone.

    I first went there myself as a teenager, two summers running with a church group, and stayed in the old 'youth camp' (now replaced by the much smarter George MacLeod Centre). It seemed an incredibly special place with different kinds of people from all over the world, all getting on together. Allen Ginsberg dropped in to the Abbey's weekly ceilidh one night and sang us a song ! I next visited it in 1997 and was pleased to find it still felt special.

    BTW the neaerest place you could get alcohol in those days was Bunessan :-)

    You had much better luck than me with Staffa ! I never bothered taking the trip there as a teenager but did it in 1997. I ended up spending the whole hour searching for puffins, without seeing a single one, and so missed Fingal's Cave too ! (This was late May and a friend had been at the same time the year before and practically been tripping over puffins !) I hope I will get another chance.

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    Iona was actually an interesting study in determination. The tour group that preceded us - mostly older couples - split up once on the island. The women went on through the rain to the abbey, while the men relaxed at the cafe with cups of coffee and hot chocolate. :)

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    Continuing to enjoy this, GD.

    Do you think it would be possible (or even practical) - weather permitting - to go to Iona and Staffa on the same day? I have a fascination with puffins and so would love to go to Staffa but Iona is a must as well.

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    Certainly, as long as the weather is fair. :) The trip to Staffa takes 2 hours - 1/2 hour there, an hour on the island, 1/2 hour back. They do two trips, one around 10am, another at 2pm.

    Iona ferry runs all day long, I think the last is around 6pm?





    Wednesday, 7/2: Fingal’s Cave and the BBC


    While the weather was drier, it was not much less windy, so the morning cruise to Staffa didn’t launch again. Hopefully it would work in the afternoon, as this was our last day on the island and I really wanted to see Staffa and Fingal’s Cave. I spent the morning walking around the beach a bit, exploring a small graveyard up the road, and having lunch with M at the Keel Row again. Like I said before, the lunches were great – the honey chicken baguette was yummy.

    Around 2pm, J and I wandered down to the dock at John’s advice, and were able to catch the cruise that was going to Staffa. The Calmac Ticket Office Clerk, (Janis?) called the pilot to verify that yes, he was indeed launching, so we went to meet him.

    We shared the boat with a group of about 8 folks from a church group in Indiana and a small BBC film crew. The BBC group were doing a special on the Origins of British Music, and were visiting Fingal’s Cave because Mendelssohn wrote the Hebridean Overture based on his visit to the islands – especially this particular one. Amy was the assistant, and she filled me in on the details, very nice girl. The presenter they were filming was Charles Hazlewood (http://www.charleshazlewood.com/), who was a conductor based in Somerset. He was very personable, and easy to chat with.

    The trip to the island was a bit choppy, but we saw some otters and seals on the way. Once there, we saw this huge school of puffins, gannets, and fulmars. The wind was making the surf a bit choppy, but that pilot was able to get the boat into the harbor nicely. We only had about a half hour to explore the island (normally we have an hour) before the tide would start coming in, so off we went, along a tiny, slippery trail on hexagonal basalt volcanic rock formations. Luckily for us, some thoughtful soul had installed a sturdy cable to hold onto as you climbed, otherwise I don’t think I would have risked it. I walked down around the front of the island and into the cave itself. The music of the surf and the echos of the birds made a very surreal sound, like you were being caressed and slapped by the music at the same time. Certainly a very inspiring spot, with the light filtering through to bring out yellows, greens, greys and browns in the rocks and moss.

    On the way back, the church ladies told us of a film they saw at the Edinburgh Film Festival called The Fall, about storytelling – I’ve already added it to my Netflix list  The rain fell harder, and though we tried to find a shark (another boat radioed that one had been sighted), the slate grey water yielded nothing to our searching eyes.

    We watched some TV again (yes, we’ve been doing a lot of that on Mull. Cable means more choices than Wimbledon and Big Brother). Then we decided to head off to Bunessan for more variety in dinner choices; and our gamble paid off! We tried The Reef Restaurant, and had a delicious meal. J tried the butternut squash soup, which was very rich and frothy. M ad D had lamb rump, while I had the salmon. J had the salmon/mussels bouride – it was all great, with a very nice presentation, flavor, and service. Dessert was great as well, with cappuccino crème brulee, dark chocolate and drambuie cheesecake, and sticky toffee pudding. I had the cheesecake, and it was not too sweet, wonderfully good. It was definitely a meal worth a 6 mile drive down the Evil Single Track Road.

    We had an early morning to get up and make the 8:45 ferry, so off we went to bed.

    Thursday, 7/3: Glen Coe is calling

    John had thoughtfully left us some cereal for breakfast, and told me where to grab the milk from in the fridge, so we looked hopefully at the sun peeking through the clouds, and set off on the 30 mile Evil Single Track Road. I was in the driver’s seat this time, D having done is time on the way in. It wasn’t as bad when it wasn’t raining, though there were still some nail-biting moments (though it’s harder to bite your nails when they are embedded in the steering wheel, I must say). The scenery, now that we could actually see it, was stunning. The mountains were green and gold, and simply took your breath away. The bumply hills were dotted with sheep and, very occasionally, a lonely croft or farm. We saw a couple coos as well, and we figured they’d be the last ones we saw this trip. While there were a couple cars passing us, most were at places we could see them in advance, with plenty of time to pick a layby and wait for them to pass. We stopped lots for photos and scenery and sunspots.

    We got into Craignure in plenty of time for the ferry, and saw our friends from the BBC in a car also waiting in line. We saw a blue heron, and eagle, a kestrel, and an owl flying across our path on the way, but no deer. This was odd, as there are supposedly more deer on Mull than people, but they were all hiding.

    The crossing was very pleasant, and I went out for photos of Duart Castle as we passed by. The sun started playing hide and seek in the clouds, and I got some great shots of a single sailboat, white sail picked out by the sun, with darkened hills in the shade behind it.

    Once in Oban, we struck for the north road, wanting to drive through Glencoe on our way to Killin. We stopped and explored Dunstaffnage Castle and the little ruined Chapel in the woods. Again, the woods and the chapel were the more fascinating part, in my opinion. The woods changed character about three different times as we walked along the path, changing from gloomy to sprightly to menacing. There were some neat skull carvings and gravestones around the chapel. We decided to skip Barcaldine Castle and press on towards the fabled Glen Coe – site of the Glen Coe Massacre between the Campbells and the MacGregors, and mountains majesty. As we drove through the sun peeked more, offering us tantalizing glimpses of what the glen would look like on a fully sunny day. There were greens and greys, snow on some of the peaks, and trickling streams became strong streams as the rainwater washed through them.

    I would find it hard to decide which was more beautiful, the mountains in Glen Coe or those on Mull. But I think Mull wins me over, if only because they are less accessible and less traveled. There were many buses and construction stops through Glen Coe, and I found it rather distracting from the surrounding beauty, breathtaking as it was. Perhaps I expected too much from Glen Coe. Don’t get me wrong – it was incredible. It just didn’t seem AS incredible as some of the other sights I had already seen on this three week trip around Scotland. Or maybe I was just getting jaded by incredible mountains and lush glens.

    As we got onto Rannoch Moor, the rain started falling again, and in earnest. It was pouring for most of the rest of the trip to Killin, and for a good portion of that trip we were stuck behind several tractor trailers going very slowly. I was fine with this, as anything coming the other way would hit them first, I figured. Visibility was very poor, and we were weary of driving in the rain.

    About 1pm we got into Killin. At first we thought we had missed it – we saw a sign, and then there was nothing but woods. But it turned out just to be a sign TO Killin, and we finally found it. A beautiful little town! Right on the Falls of Dochart, the bridge over is right on the main road. We had lunch at the Falls of Dochart Inn. It was a great lunch – brown trout, open salmon sandwich on focaccia bread. Then we went off across the bridge in search of Craigbuie House (http://www.craigbuie.com/), our B&B for the night, the last stop before home. We were running out of street by the time we found it, just at the end before it turned. It was an 1887 house, and our host Vic welcomed us and showed us up to our rooms. And up. And up. They were on the top floor, but these rooms were all newly renovated, with nice big bathrooms (and showers!) The family room had two double beds (one with a bunk) and a single bed in two separate areas, both of which had TVs. The other two rooms were doubles – perfect for us. We napped a bit to get the awful rain-driving out of us, and then I went exploring. I drove north for a bit, looking for a castle ruin. I over shot quite a bit, and almost ended up going over the next mountain, so I backtracked. I took a detour to a disappointing long house exhibition, and finally found the right track to the castle. Again, I overshot, and ended up at the end of a long, muddy dirt road, with very little room to turn around, but I did. Coming back, I found the place I should have stopped and walked to the castle, right near the entrance. I stopped and chatted with a gent walking his two spaniels – he was on vacation with his family from near Edinburgh.

    The ruins to Finlarig Castle have a big sign saying they are unsafe, and to please be careful. That would so not work in the US – you would need to have shrink-wrapped the entire thing because people are too stupid to read or obey signs. It was very spooky and rainy in the ruins, and I carefully picked my way among them. The forest was taking them over, and I imagine in 100 years, there will be nothing left but some oddly shaped hills.

    As it was raining again, I figured a crumbling castle would probably not be the best place to hang out, so I hightailed it carefully back to my car and back to the B&B. We went to the Killin Hotel for dinner, but it wasn’t the best meal I have had. I tried the curry, and the chicken was rather dry, the rice pasty. There was a huge tour group in the next room, seated after us, so perhaps the kitchen was just busy with them. J had the chicken with haggis, but again, not as good as the one he had at Oakwood.

    Long travel days (even the shorter ones) warrant an early night. Perhaps I was just getting tired of vacationing? Nah. We watched some Celebrity Master Chef and slept.


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    Green Dragon, wonderful report!

    Re the milky water picture you wanted to get: I don't know what kind of camera you have, but you need to have a very steady hand (or tripod)as it does take a long exposure. Also, IMHO, the silky water bit has been overdone and I would love to see some shots which capture the movement. That is just my opinion, and I am far from expert.

    Your description of seeing seals, etc. on the way to Staffa was great.

    My nephews and I remember that as one of the most magical days of our trip. It was one of those crystal clear days when the sky is blue with fluffy clouds, the water is dark blue and you can see forever. We took an independent operator (friend of ur B&B hostess) out. It was early July and we saw lots of puffins. Sat on the grass a few feet from some burrows and watched them come in with food for the young and then take off again. We just held our breaths. We had a couple of hours before the operator took us back.

    He stopped on Iona and let those who wanted a visit there off and then went back to harbor at Fionphort with the rest. We had lunch at the cafe and then went to explore the abbey, etc. We then caught the CalMac ferry for the 5 minute ride back to Fionphort.

    So, LCBoniti,it is possible to do Iona and Staffa in a day. (We stayed at a B&B in Salon on the other side of Mull, and even adding the hour and half drive each way, it was not a hard day.)

    We had some of the best weather of our trip on Mull, but we lucked out on the ferry over from Oban, I sat near a lady who was coming home for a visit from Australia. She said she was the luckiest homecomer there was. She only gets home every few years, but every time she comes, the weather is perfect no matter how awful it has been up to then or how awful it gets as she leaves. I guess she wasn't visiting home this year.

    Thanks for sharing your story.

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    Friday, 7/4: Go away, or I will taunt you a second time!


    While the bed was much softer and more comfortable than previous places, there was a slight angle on my bed, which made me feel as if I was mountain climbing all night. I fixed that for the next night by stuffing one of the extra blankets under the edge of the mattress, no worries. There was also lots of light coming through which made it difficult for me, but it wasn’t too bad.

    Breakfast was pretty standard, though the mushrooms were canned and not fresh (I’m spoiled) and the haggis a bit dry. Not everyone can cook like Jane and Hazel, I suppose, we should be happy it was yummy. Plenty of food, regardless!

    Today’s mission was Doune Castle and Stirling, with Inchmahome Priory if we had time left. Doune (the castle in most of Monty Python and the Holy Grail) was easy to find, and we explored up into the tower and all around. The ramparts itself were closed as unsafe, so I couldn’t stand where the French man had said ‘go away or I will taunt you a second time’! I did get a picture of the field on that side of the castle, though, which wasn’t the main entrance, but the back. The restored halls were beautifully done, and I climbed up and up and up. And then down and down and down – typical narrow castle stairways, with wedge-shaped steps that narrowed to nothing near the center of the spiral.

    We passed Callendar and saw Hamish, the biggest Hieland Coo I had ever seen. He was a blond, with huge horns, and looked like he would damage a tank if said tank were foolish enough to try to hit him. Callendar is a cute little town as well, larger and busier than Killin was, but with a great location.

    Stirling was far larger, and bustling. We made our way up to the castle, and parked where we thought the parking overflowed to, next to a huge cemetery. M and D decided they didn’t want to climb more, so waited in the car while J and I climbed up to the castle. When we got up there, we found more parking much closer (though it cost £2). We couldn’t see the car from the ramparts there, so we went on into the castle, and was able to wave and get D’s attention – and told them there was parking up here. We waited for them to make the trek, and then toured the castle around. The chapel was beautiful, and the great hall restored to a stunning cream color. I got a picture of me on the throne in the great hall, and then took a photo for a Japanese couple together on the thrones, on their camera.

    We met Cain, who was a re-enactor dressed in Black Watch garb from around 1814, the Battle of Waterloo. He kept saying his name, and it sounded like Kine, until he spelled it for me 

    Another gent was dressed in 1315 garb, about the time of the Battle of Bannockburn. We sat and talked to both of them for quite a while, as I’ve made a shirt out of chain mail before, and we’ve both worn our share of armor. I imagine it’s much less sweltering under a gambeson and a shirt of mail in the Scotland summer than in the Florida summer.

    After exploring around the castle, we all met for lunch at the café. I had a chicken curry on a potato, and J was going to have the same thing… until he saw a chunk of pineapple sticking out of mine. Oops! He’s allergic to pineapple, so that would be a no on the curry. He grabbed a sandwich instead.

    We also visited the gift shop, and had a sample of Columba Crème, a mix between an Irish Crème (like Bailey’s but better), whiskey and honey. Oh, that was wonderfully smooth and tasty. Strong, but great! We bought a bottle 

    We had plenty of time to visit Inchmahome Priory, so off we went. Well, almost – we went the wrong direction, and ended up going south when we should have been going west. The GPS wouldn’t grab signal so we were at the mercy of our maps – which weren’t big enough to see the spaghetti of roads around Stirling. However, we got corrected on course and ended up on the M9 going north, and then onto the right road west.

    We got to the little boat house and waited with about 15 other people for the boat across. It only held about 14 people, so he signaled the other boat to come over the Lake of Mentieth (the only Lake in Scotland), and we went on – about a 10 minute trip. The island itself was very beautiful, and full sun finally granted us his presence. It actually got rather warm, something we had all but forgotten except in front of crackling fires in cozy B&B lounges. There were lots of folks climbing the ruins, but it didn’t detract much from the peace and serenity the place imposed on us all. There was a fantastic yew tree out near the bathrooms, and we waited for the second boat back (we wanted longer than just a half hour there). Again, this was covered with our GBHC, and they are rather clever about it the admission. They wait until you’ve been taken to the island, and then get payment, so you can’t get back without it. 

    As we left there was a graceful swan just passing by. What a perfect symbol of the calm and beauty that surrounded the area.

    On the way back through Callendar, we waved to Hamish, the enormous Hieland Coo once more – he was munching on his dinner as we passed. We stopped at the Falls of Dochart to scramble across the rocks and take some photos. The falls are a really great place – very spread out, easy to climb. There were families and folk everywhere. We saw one mom help her toddler from rock to rock, barefoot for easier traction.

    Dinner plans? Well, Vic had recommended the Old Flax Mill, evidently they had some sort of Carvery dinner, so he called and made some reservations for us. We still had a couple hours till dinner, so we decided to drive off along the A82 towards Oban and see some of the scenery we missed for the downpour on the way in. We stopped at Loch Dochart and took some photos along the way, and then explored into the mountains. I think we were halfway to Oban before we decided we should turn around and come back for our dinner reservation. Certainly we were beginning to see the landscape similar to Glen Coe forming around us.

    The Old Flax Mill is run by Adrian and her husband (never caught his name – Alan?), and is a great place to eat, we highly recommend it. There is a choice of the number of courses, up to three. The first is cold, home made appetizers such as shrimp in sweet chilli and cilantro, artichoke salad, salmon in sour cream sauce and honey, mussels, smoked salmon, chick pea salad, etc. Everything we tried was delicious, and you basically take a plate and take whatever you want to fill it up. There were probably at least 25 different dishes to choose from, though labels would have been helpful on some of them. (What I thought was a seafood salad turned out to be potato salad, but it was great anyhow).

    The next course is the main course – a choice of several different varieties of roast. There was roast beef, Hieland Coo in whiskey sauce, lamb in honey, mint and garlic, roast chicken, and a local game dish with venison, rabbit and pheasant in a smoky bacon and red wine sauce. The Hieland Coo was a little stringier than normal beef, but that could have just been the cut. The others were all savory and spicy and delicious, truly filling.

    Well, not completely filling – we had glimpsed the desserts when we were loading up our appetizer plate. There was a chocolate cake so rich it was like fudge, cranachan, tiramisu, pineapple in honey whiskey (J passed on that one), stewed plums in drambuie. We got all we could fit in a bowl, and my, it was simply heaven. We rolled out of there like a couple of Hieland Coos named Hamish.

    Back at the B&B, and after another long climb up the stairs, we watched a Touch of Frost and then zonked out.

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    A correction - Glencoe was the scene of the massacre of the McDonalds by the Campbells. The feud still exists to this day. A friend of mine by the name of Campbell had rental car trouble in the highlands. He walked about a mile to a nearby croft, only to have the crofter say "I'll not be helping a Cambell." When I tread your report, I realise why I left Scotland many years ago. It was the bloody awful weather.

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    Saturday, 7/5: Not-so-Stirling

    My last day in Scotland, sigh. In all honesty, I was tired of living out of my suitcase. I was tired of traveling with my family. However, I could have easily set up house somewhere and settled right in. My first guess would have been either Portree or Grantown – there seemed to be plenty going on in either place to keep me happy, and plenty within easy visiting reach for many years to come. I love them to death, but I would have had to send my family back first! I could bring the friends back, but the family had to go. OK, you get the point 

    We had several options for our last day. Should we go on a cruise on Loch Katrine or Loch Lomond? Howe about Loch Etive? Perhaps back to Stirling to do the Hop-on/Hop-off tour? Well, we figured it looked like rain again (surprise!) so we decided Stirling would offer drier options throughout the day. On the way we took a detour to find Balquhidder Chapel, where Rob Roy MacGregor was buried. I’m glad I did, though it was a very tiny, windy road. Like I wasn’t used to these already? Right. The Chapel itself was sweet, tucked away in a tiny village on the edge of said tiny windy road. I’m glad we found it, and the road continued on through a very dark and gloomy forest. I expected a Black Rider, a Nazgul, to come down that path towards us any minute.

    The first stop was the Wallace Monument. Not too hard to find with the GPS on our side, but it wasn’t on the GBHC. The guy still gave us 10% off anyhow, but M and D decided to wait for us in the car. J and I took the shuttle up the hill, boy were we glad we did! Even with our newly created stamina, this climb would have about killed us. The bus almost did kill several of the pedestrians trying to make their way up this twisted road around the hill. There isn’t much room for the bus, much less the people walking next to it! However, we made it up, listened to a fascinating re-enactor tell the story of the Battle of Stirling Bridge. He was good enough to recount some of the real history behind the battle and the politics, as opposed to that in the movie Braveheart.

    We decided against the heart-stopping climb up the 248 steps into the monument itself, and satisfied ourselves with photographs of the building. I was in the gift shop and got stuck behind a couple French school children buying gifts. That would have been fine, except their friends kept coming up and giving them more things to buy, so that we almost missed our bus.

    Back down in the car, we thought we could catch the hop-on/hop-off bus nearby – and we could. However, waiting for the bus the rain picked up and felt like we were back in the islands, so we skittered off to the car for warmth and dry safety. We thought about lunching in Callander, especially as we found the one Italian restaurant in the area (Ciro’s), but we couldn’t find parking ANYWHERE. We went in and out of streets, got lost in residential areas with cul-de-sacs, and finally escaped back to the main road. Instead, we pushed on to the Falls of Dochart Inn again.

    Lunch this time wasn’t as good as before. Part of it was that the dining room was full, so we had to eat at the microscopic bar tables, and thus split up into two tables. Part was the smoky fire right next to us. Part of it was that my venison burger was overdone and resembled the feared hockey puck. The Cullen Skink I ordered, in contrast to the last time, was thin and runny, and I couldn’t find any bits of fish in it at all. Sigh.

    I was rather low and depressed because here I was, my last afternoon in Scotland, and I was sitting in the B&B, watching TV. It was raining again outside, we had already explored north, south, east and west of the area, and tomorrow we would be leaving at the break of dawn. Sigh, again.

    So, I watched a Frank Sinatra movie (Joey?) with Kim Novak and Rita Hayworth. Then Kindergarten Cop was the only non-Wimbledon, non-Big Brother option. Wimbledon was on two of the four stations, come on now, folks! Another program later was ‘How Television Changed Britain’, on game shows, and their decline in intellectualism.

    We had dinner at a small café down the road (Shutters?), while D watched the season finale of Doctor Who (which won’t air in the US for several months, I’m sure). I tried the lasagna, fully expecting to be horrified. J had the chicken kiev. Mine was weird, but tasty… there was more cheese than pasta in it, and very little red sauce, but it worked. J pierced the thick coating on his chicken kiev, and poured out the garlic butter over the veggies. It worked 

    The dessert was a last sticky toffee pudding and a last strawberries and cream, and we went home. I repacked everything, putting all my gifts in my carryon and all my clothing in the checked baggage. We had to wake at around 4am to make our 9:30am flight out of Glasgow, so I went to bed around 9pm, despite the light streaming in the lightly shaded window.

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    Sunday, 7/6: A case of mistaken identity

    This was it! We are leaving. Three glorious, wet weeks in Scotland were coming to a close. I had to get up the next morning and go to work (both jobs, even!). We got all packed up and left – and then it hit us. Which airport did we fly into? GPS said there were two Glasgow Airports, one at Paisley and one at Prestwick. I had no idea! I knew it started with a P – big help that was. Our tickets simply had the airport code, GLA. No help there, either, as the GPS didn’t know airport codes. Stupid me for not knowing this!

    The question racked my brain all the way down, though I did get distracted with lovely views of Loch Lomond as we drove around it. It is truly a beautiful loch, and the tourists certainly knew it, from the number of boats and B&Bs around the shoreline.

    We drove by Paisley airport, but it didn’t look like the one we flew into. So, instead of being smart and asking someone, we decided to go on down to Prestwick, a good half hour south of Glasgow. We got stuck in Paisley itself for a while, and finally made it to Prestwick, only to realize it was a MUCH smaller airport… back to Paisley it was. I felt like I was in a Three Stooges movie somehow, but we were still making good time. We got into Paisley (again) around 7:30, and dropped our car at Enterprise. The clerk had just arrived herself, but couldn’t find the key to get into the shop. She did take our paperwork, though, and we went on into the airport. As soon as we got inside, of course, we recognized it from our arrival, but hey, it’s an adventure, right?

    We waited in line to check in, and a very helpful guy got us e-checked in, our luggage tagged, and ready to go. We were in the security line by 8:20, and it was absolutely empty – another hurdle done! Mom was selected for secondary screening, but that went quickly, too. We made it to our gate without any other problems.

    Our flight to London (we were connecting in Heathrow) was without incident. However, when we got to Heathrow, we had to wait in a very slow line to get our boarding passes. Evidently, someone had accidently put half the flight on standby the night before, so it was a huge mess. We finally got our boarding passes for this flight, but not the connecting flight from PHL to JAX. But, we got some (without seat numbers) and headed off. I had to ask about 4 different people to find the customs office to get my VAT receipts stamped, and found it tucked into a little corner on the opposite end of the concourse from my gate.

    Panting and out of breath, I made it back to the gate with my carry-on in tow. That’s when we realized that other people were missing their seat assignments as well. We all waited in line until they started boarding, and then they had all of us missing seats wait while they assigned them and reprinted passes. This took a while as no one could seem to get the system working properly, but we did get seats together.

    Once on the plane, we waited. And waited. And waited. I think we were there for about an hour and a half, waiting for more people to get their seat assignments, and presumably to get the luggage all on board (it had all been tagged Stand-by, I found out later, and therefore hadn’t been loaded until someone realized that).

    When we finally started, I moved to a different seat, as sitting next to my husband on a transatlantic flight isn’t comfortable for either of us (both overweight). With the flight attendant’s help, I found a seat next to a French woman and her 4-year-old. They were all traveling (mom, dad, three kids) to San Francisco. About a half hour into the flight, the 4-year-old started to fuss about being in the seat belt, and then just cried, howled, yelled, screamed, and threw temper tantrum after temper tantrum – until about a half hour before we landed, when she fell into an exhausted sleep. If there had been another empty seat, I would have moved, but there was none. (There were several single seats, but as an overweight person myself, I won’t crowd into someone else unless I have to). Mom did nothing to stop her but pet her like a puppy. She never said ‘stop crying’ or anything like that. She didn’t pick her up and walk around, or even in her lap.

    Luckily, the IFE was working on this flight, so I watched three movies, with the volume up loud enough to drown out the little Hellion’s cries. I watched National Treasure II, The Golden Compass, and P.S., I Love You. The meals served on the flight were ok, nothing special. The flight attendants were all very nice, especially the young lady who helped me find another seat, and they all laughed and joked good naturedly with everyone. (This was a US Airways flight)

    We got late into PHL, but only by about an hour. Since we had had a three hour layover, it should have been plenty of time. Should being the operative word here! The plane sat on the tarmac for quite a while (45 minutes?) before we could deplane. We then had to wait for our luggage so we could bring it through customs and recheck it. Of course, of our six checked bags, three didn’t show up – so we were told to file a claim at JAX, and go on to our flights. We rechecked our remaining bags, and still needed boarding passes, so had to go under the ropes, and back into a long line. The line had people who already missed connections, people checking new baggage, as well as those (like us!) about to miss connections. They were just starting to reorganize, moving people with connections coming up, when my parents (who were ahead of us in line) got to the counter.

    We got our boarding passes, and made our way to the gate. We would have been fine in that line for longer, as the flight was an hour and a half late. The gate crew were great, though, giving us a blow-by-blow description of where the plane was, how long it would take to turn around the cleaning crew, etc. We waited next to a young mother and her two kids, who were very well behaved. The older girl, about 4, decided that D was her new best friend and started showing him her coloring book.

    Boarded finally, and off we go… to sit on the tarmac again. But we did get in the air eventually! Unfortunately, Hellion part II was on this flight. This child was screaming at the top of her lungs that she wanted to sit next to mommy, she wanted her mommy, she wanted her mommy. I didn’t learn until we disembarked that mommy was on the plane, just three rows up! Jeez, can’t you move, and spare the entire plane 2-1/2 hours of screaming child? How selfish do you have to be to not at least try to give the child what she is screaming for? I was at least imagining the child must be traveling with her grandparents only, or maybe mommy had just died – trying to be charitable. We later saw this family while waiting for D to get the car – they were running all over, no discipline whatsoever. One even ran into the road until someone brought them back to a negligent mother.

    Well, we got off the plane, finally. The last plane! It had landed at 11pm, though it was scheduled at 9:30pm. We got our remaining luggage, looking hopefully for the rest, but in vain. We went to file a claim, and I will have to say, they’ve got that process down to a science. It was very quick to get a claim number (much faster than it had been in Glasgow on our arrival). D went to get the van, and then we drove home, there by 2am. And collapsed!

    We did get our luggage Wednesday after our return, nothing harmed but some papers and bumper stickers J had put in his outer pocket (they had been soaked).

    Summary:

    Scotland is the land of the brave, they say. Yes, they would have to be to drive those roads! The people were, for the most part, incredibly nice, helpful, warm and welcoming. The food was mostly great, often mediocre, but occasionally horrible. The scenery was spectacular, breath-taking, and many more words which I have over-used in this account. My favorite day was the drive along the north coast of Scotland. Who knew such beauty existed there? I can’t wait to go through my pictures and relive the vistas. My favorite place to stay was the Lodge at Edinbane, followed closely by Kinross House B&B in Grantown-on-Spey. My favorite place was Skye, but that’s a fairly popular view. Second I think would be Orkney, but I would love to see it in the sunlight. My favorite place to eat must be the Three Chimneys, followed by the Old Flax Mill and then the Oakwood Restaurant.

    I have vowed that no more connecting flights are allowed! Direct or nothing. I live close enough to both Jacksonville and Orlando to be able to do that, I think. Life is to short to make the mad dash through airports anymore, and less connections mean less chance of losing luggage. 50% is a terrible statistic for that.

    I will definitely be returning, if only to stay at the Lodge at Edinbane and help my husband find some ghosts. I had a grand time! Scotland has a big chunk of my heart, as does Ireland and England. I have to go visit those pieces frequently...

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    GreenDragon, thank you so much for your wonderful trip report. I feel as though I was there with you every inch of the way. It has really wet my appetite for my upcoming trip :)

    I was interested to read how much you enjoyed the north coast of Scotland. I intend to drive from Durness to just before Bettyhill before turning south for Lairg. Am I missing much between Bettyhill and Thurso?

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    Thanks for a wonderful story, Green! Makes me want to go back! (Too bad about that new oil tank and rewiring job that must be done!) Now how long till we see the pictures? I went to your website last night as I hoped some might be up. I know that thing called Work gets in the way of "funner" stuff.


    But waiting eagerly,
    Irishface

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    I've gone through about 2/3 of my 6300 pictures, and chosen the ones I want to process. I've processed about half of those so far... timewise, about to the middle of 6/23. I was looking at Smoo Cave pics last night (something you don't want to miss, Yelpir!)

    I think that stretch is the most beautiful part, Yelpir - Durness to Bettyhill. You will see when I finally get pics up - perhaps this weekend?

    I will post on here when they are up, certainly!

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    Nice to read all of your detailed installments, GreenDragon. I especially appreciate the summary at the end, and the assessment of your favorite places. My early thoughts on the trip that I'm planning were to possibly skip Skye - really interested in the Northern isles and the Outer Hebrides. And, oh, Iona also. Yipes, this is going to be hard, because I will not have 3 weeks. But we won't be in the middle at all.

    The pictures will be interesting, no doubt!

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    I have enjoyed this trip report so much (except for the bad luggage and bad food parts). I had been travelling a similar trip with my parents for this year but my mother's health turned a little for the worse at the beginning of the year. I fear that the trip won't happen for them, but I do plan on getting back to Scotland sometime!

    Thanks so much for posting, and am eagerly awaiting the photos.

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    Thanks very much for a wonderful report, GD ! I will be using it for reference if I ever get to any of these places myself :-)

    Sorry you had such a nightmare journey home - and had to work the next day !! I always try to book connecting flights with the same airline or one in the same alliance so I can check my baggage right through and get all my boarding passes upfront. But that wouldn't have helped with the weird business of one of your flights being put entirely on standby. You sound surprisingly calm when describing it all now - I'd still be a wreck !

    All the best and thanks again for a very good read, Caroline.

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    Another one who has enjoyed every bit of your report and fully intend to make use of some of your experiences in the planning of my trip - hopefully May 2009.

    Of course, I was intending about three days for Scotland, but after reading your report I may have to make it three weeks! Have saved your report for future reference. 27 pages of Word documant. Must have been a labour of love for you. Great job.

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    GreenDragon -

    I enjoyed your trip report just as much as anticipated. Thanks for all the information, much of which will be very useful for our trip in May,2009.

    Were you happy that you chose to stay in Killin and what do you think of Calendar as a base for that area instead of Killin?

    (If I incorrectly spelled either of those place names, sorry. I am on my daughter's laptop and very clumsy with it :) )

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    Good job GreenDragon!
    Sorry to hear experiences on Mull were not so good with weather & cuisine.
    You have jarred me into action on getting my May trip report on Britain finalised and posted! Thanks!

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    I'm so glad you all enjoyed my report. Definitely a labor of love, but writing it quickly means I remember things better, it cements them in my mind. Going through the pics now (I've finally gotten through all the pics on the 23rd, along that north coast), and reliving it yet again.

    My next trip is a little closer to home - we are driving up the eastern seaboard of the US to Maine next summer.

    Don't skip Skye, noe, it's very worth it! Good luck picking and choosing, though...

    Patrick, he has not. At least, when I saw him on the boat to Staffa, when they were filming the intro to that part, he had not :P He was very friendly and chatty, though... even when I told him I knew next to nothing about classical music :P

    Killin was delightful, but we would have been happy in Calander as well (don't remember the spelling either, but I seem to remember it's not like the things you put dates on).

    I will probably be expanding this and putting photos into a book for private publication later on - I did something like that on a smaller scale (not as much trip report, more pictures) for my Ireland trip, and it has sold well at my art shows. I also make calendars of my photos each year :)

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    Have still been enjoying.
    Sorry about your rain. Tourists to our Alaska this summer have been plagued with it too, as well as unusually cool.
    Did the locals indicate what month is 'usually' the driest?
    When we went in September 1998, I also remember drip, drip though not downpours.

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    I don't think there's such a thing as 'usual' weather in Scotland :)

    By the way, I've started putting photos up on my Facebook page (Christy Nicholas) and I'm on the Fodor's group - so anyone a part of that can get a sneak preview. I am trying to get some at least on my own website by this weekend.

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    I know Caroline! :)

    I think I'm about to finally get a job within a school district (final step is on Tuesday), after a few years of grad school and subbing. So my schedule has changed! I'm definitely thinking Scotland next August. And saving Paris for April 2011 when Easter is very late.

    I know my husband will be getting that itch to see family and friends again too (since that would make it two years).

    GD - will you post more pictures than what you put on Facebook?

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    Yes, I am only about halfway through the trip photos on Facebook so far. I've posted about 230 photos so far there, and I've only started on Lewis photos. I still have Skye, Mull and Killin to go :)

    There are 60 just from our day across the north coast of Scotland.

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    I was wondering... you didn't put too many of Rosslyn Chapel on. I didn't know if you are posting them only on Facebook or if you use something else like Flickr or Kodak too.

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    Amelie - You were very fortunate indeed to have taken photographs inside Rosslyn Chapel!
    This past May we were thwarted at every angle - even almost outside in the doorway!
    They / or should I say SHE, was very vigilant and kept a beady eye on all cameras held aloft!
    I can only assume the flash has some bad effect on the interior??

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    I did manage to take a few shots, up vertically from my camera (I don't use a flash) to get some of the wonderful ceiling carvings. There was a large group inside as part of a led tour, so they ignored us a bit on the edges, and down in the crypt.

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    They used to allow photography in the Chapel. But that D**N Dan Brown has ruined everything. %^#@!*&

    At one time you would visit the chapel and sit in solitary quiet wondering about the beauty of the place and the 'prentice pillar. Now it is all tour buses and folks who have NO interest in the history of the place but just its role in the book/movie. Did I say %^#@!*& :)

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    Yes, janisj, you said (@*#&$(@ and I agree! I would have loved to have the place to myself. It is incredibly beautiful. Yes, I've read the book, but I've wanted to visit Roslyn long before it was in there. :P:P

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    Well, I've posted all my pics on my Facebook page (I'm a member of the Fodor's group there). I am working on getting the whole package - trip report and selected photos - on my website. Hoping to get it done tonight or tomorrow.

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    Grrr. Does anyone know much about Dreamweaver? I have my trip report, with pics, saved and ready to go, created with Dreamweaver like I've done with all my other trip reports. I upload it up - and only the first quarter of it comes up. It just cuts off. It is complete on my hard drive, but when I upload it, only a part of the file comes on - but it's a clean break. Any ideas or offers to help??? Frustrated!

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    Got it! OK, my trip report with lots of pics is up and running. It is on http://www.greendragonartist.com/BI/BItripreportScotland2008.htm

    There are more pics on the Facebook page, but I had to pick and choose for this. I processed almost 700 photos in all at Facebook. Only the best 200+ are on the trip report :) The Facebook page is http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=676417482

    Comments always appreciated!

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    Bumping as it got lost :)

    I've also made calendars on lulu.com if anyone wants any... I won't post the link here as it's for sale, but you can either search lulu for green dragon (mine are the first three items) or email me. I'll be putting them on my website as well.

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    Hi GreenDragon :)

    Loved the pictures on your website. Just goes to show what you can do even when the weather is not so great. In many cases you managed to capture dark, brooding scenes with ominous, threatening skies. Beautiful. You have really wetted my appetite for my upcoming trip. I now have a much better idea of the kind of scenery (and probably weather;))that I can expect to see. I just can't wait.
    Thank you for sharing both your experiences and your pictures with us :)

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    Yelpir:

    Yeah, I was glad that, while the sun wasn't out a lot, the clouds were doing fun things. The worst sky to photograph is a flat grey sky. It's great for the lighting of whatever you are photographing (no sharp shadows), but it sucks as a background.

    When we went to Staffa, especially, the dramatic sky made some great opportunities.

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    Wow! I just spent an hour trying to navigate through the Facebook maze to find your pictures. Maybe I'm just a moron, but I found Facebook the most difficult site EVER to navigate. While I would love to see the pictures you posted there, GD, I am no closer to finding them now than I was an hour ago. When I click on your link it tells me that I found 1 match but shows me nothing :(

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    thanks for all the information. Tampa now has direct to London and British Airways. Change planes and then to Edinburgh. We may just stop in London for a few days and drive to Edinburgh. So many options who knows what is going to happen. We go in September for two weeks I am so excited

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    Your photos are absolutely beautiful, GreenDragon. I can hardly wait to see these places in real life. Thanks for sharing.
    hapydazy, we are flying into London for three nights, then on to Edinburgh. Not going to drive, but have a car/driver for several days. I already have my suitcase on the bed int he guest room, and my trip isn't til May!

    So much to see, just wish I had a lot longer. We have 15 days total, including travel to and from the US, so trying to plan very carefully.

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