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Trip Report 15 Wonderful Days in Scotland/Wales

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Summer of 2014, DD#1: “Dad, for our next trip I want to do Scotland, England, Ireland AND Wales!” #3: “I just want it to be more than a week and a half – let’s make sure it’s a full two weeks!” #2: “Whatever, You guys.” Me; “So What specifically do you want to see in the UK?” ALL: “CASTLES!”

June 2016: Thus was the planning rationale for our 15 day trip to the UK.
DAY 1: Chicago to Glasgow. fly from ORD to Dublin on AER Lingus Airbus wide body (who were giving very good fares this summer, if one leg of the journey included Dublin) then connected Dublin to Glasgow on a small commuter turboprop. I had pre-booked a ticket for a one day bus pass to all of Glasgow which included one transfer from the Airport to the Buchannan bus terminal downtown ( a good deal) The bus driver was quite helpful and looked like he enjoyed his job. Walked to our Hotel, the Piper’s Tryst Hotel on the north side of the downtown area. Dumped off bags. Walked to the bus stop I carefully researched – no bus, no traffic, not a good way to start the journey. Just then a bus company employee walked up and told us that due to some crazy race disrupting traffic, they had detoured the routes, and moved the bus stops 4 blocks north and gave us directions. WOW. We would have been lost. So we finally did get on the right bus and travelled to the Pollock Country Park and Burrell Collection Museum. Unless you despise art museums, this is now a must see. Free to the public. (a small donation is strongly encouraged). This guy, Sir William Burrell, a wealthy Glaswegian shipping magnate and art collector, amassed an enormous collection of impressionist paintings, sculptures, antiquities, and gothic arts. It also has possibly the largest collection of medieval stained glass in the world. The building itself is architecturally remarkable. We arrived 30 min early (it opens 1 hour late on Sundays) so we strolled the grounds and played with some local dogs, (the park is essentially an enormous bark park on Sundays) We then found the correct bus to return to city center, had a fine meal at Cote French Bistro (41-43 West Nile Street) famous for its Poulet Breton, chicken imported from Brittany, France. We made our way back to the Piper’s Tryst and had our first dram of Single Malt Scotch, then went straight to bed.
DAY 2: Glasgow has an amazing City Chambers (City hall) Building. I had a guide book state they had tours of this starting at 10. Again we showed up early as the correct time was 10:30. So we were 2 for 2 getting to places early. While waiting for the tour this distinguished looking business woman, in appropriate business attire, strolls past us, wearing what to our Yankee-eyes appeared to be an inappropriately garish gold monstrosity around her neck. Wait, this is a European Monarchy, could that be a Chain of Office? YES! It was none other than Lord Provost Sadie Docherty (Lord Provost is essentially sort of governor and mayor) Just then she was joined by a small cadre of British Military dignitaries in full regalia, and they marched smartly right past us. Turns out our Day 2 corresponded to their Armed Forces Day. We then joined the building tour. The interior of the City chambers is as majestic as anything in Europe, full of magnificent Tuscan marble and brilliant gold leaf arches. A very fine way to spend a Monday morning. We then strolled over to the Cathedral and the nearby Necropolis. Glasgow is not the most visually appealing of cities in Europe, but some the views form the Necropolis are fine. Strolled back to a subway stop, took the subway to the west part of the city, and found our way to what may be one of the finest Vegan lunch spots in Europe, the Saramago Café and Bar, Centre for Contemporary Arts, 350 Sauchiehall St. Please understand: I am a confirmed meat-eater, but this place is amazing. It is a vegan restaurant run by serious cooks who are obviously foodies first, and just happen to also be vegan. An excellent find..
The café is within walking distance of the remarkable Tenement House Museum. An incredible tenement house where an individual lived for 50 years, then was unoccupied for several decades, and then sold by the individual’s family to the National Trust of Scotland for a discount. The House is essentially maintained exactly as it would have appeared 70-80 years ago. For those of us baby boomers, it may bring back a few memories of going to grandma’s house when we were kids. This museum represent the fruit of an amazing act of forethought to preserve this wonderful insight into common lifestyle of the past century. Well done.

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    Just starting -- haven't read but the first paragraph (Really looking forward to this) . . . But a hint before you get too far into your TR:

    Use paragraph breaks -- will make it much easier to read on a screen. To get a break you need to do a double return.

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    Great start! Aren't the city chambers gorgeous.

    WAY off topic . . . Back in the 80's my Mom and I organized a trip to Scotland for 14 members of our extended family and we had a reception in the city chambers and were greeted by the Lord Provost of the time. We exchanged gifts - we presented him wine that had been served to the Queen and Prince Philip during a State visit to California and a proclamation from the legislature commemorating Scottish contributions to CA history, and he gave us a couple of single malts.

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    Thanks for the tip about he paragraph breaks. I am composing this in Word and, indeed , the paragraph breaks do not transpose.

    Day 3 Glasgow to Glen Coe: Woke up early with the intent of a combined subway ride/speed walk to an Arnold Clark (AC) office to rent a van. (AC being a large British automobile mega-biz who has a good rental operation) Got halfway there and realized I did not have my passport on my person. The correct answer at this point would have been to immediate return to “Go” and start over. That thought passed through my head, but with no coffee on-board my judgment was impaired. So I pressed on. The AC people would have none of it, they were very pleasant, but a physical inspection of the passport was an inviolate requirement. They arranged for a low-cost cab ride back to and from the hotel for me to retrieve the passport. The silver lining with this story is that the cab driver was able to brief me on things to watch for in driving Scottish roads, so I used this as an impromptu orientation.

    So, with the van procured, we set off to the highlands. Drove directly to Lake of Menteith and Inchmahome Priory, a 12th century Abbey ruin on a small lake about an hour’s drive north of Glasgow.Very, very pleasant idyllic setting. The only way to this site is to drive to a small dock and signal the staff on the island. This is done by rotating a small wooden board on the dock from black side to white side facing the island, a remarkably low-tech signaling system that works well. Sort of like actually talking to your friends vice texting. But I digress . .

    The staff then come to fetch you and yours in this microscopic water launch christened the “Mary, Queen of Scots.” The ride is potentially pleasant, but on this day the water on the lake seemed to have the mysterious ability to focus all the cold, damp air coming off the Trossach Mountains directly into our exposed flesh. Luckily, we had enough clothing on so that there was very little exposed flesh. Our pictures from that day, however, look like we are preparing to ski in Colorado, much less a day outing in summertime Scotland. The abbey is under repair and is under the control of Historic Scotland. The staff there were kind enough, in light of the repairs, to negotiate with me the purchase of their 3-day Explorer pass, but then did not annotate this day as day one. This allowed us the ability to start the pass on our Day 5 (later) which then made the whole thing cost effective.

    I should say at this point that if one is going to see Edinburgh and/or Stirling Castle AND OTHER SITES IN SCOTLAND, then this Historic Scotland Explorer pass is a good deal, monetarily, but also because it allows for fast track entry if there is a queue and there frequently are queues to enter at these sites. What is frustrating and confusing, however, is that about 40% of the sites worth seeing in Scotland are under the control of this Historic Scotland Society, and another 40% is under the control of the National Trust for Scotland(NTS). NTS heavily markets their expensive memberships, which, as far as I can tell, would only be a good deal if you planned on visiting about 4 of their more expensive sites. There is no crosswalk between Historic Scotland and NTS, which is strange, since they both appear to have similar missions.

    Back on track. The Abbey is recommended for anyone travelling north of Glasgow or Stirling or in the Trossachs area. Close to this abbey is the town of Aberfoyle. We stopped in for lunch at the Faerie Tree Restaurant and found, remarkably, two of the most unfriendly waitresses in all of Scotland. They must have been having a bad day. Not that it was that bad, but we found such amazingly pleasant wait staff everywhere else we went in the entirety of the country, that when one comes about a cross waitress, it is something to talk about. The road into Aberfoyle is A821, and the road out, going the same direction is A829. To continue going along A821, one must appreciate which one of the UNSIGNED narrow driveways in between the buildings of Aberfoyle is the real highway and which one is just a narrow driveway. My confusion did not help the growing alarm experienced by my passengers, while I tried to maneuver this 8 passenger VW van, with manual shift, on the left side of these remarkably narrow Scottish country roads. Aberfoyle is not going down as our most pleasant experience.

    We then left there and elected to try a “walk” up Ben A’An. (A small mountain) This is advertised as a “moderate walk” by several websites. _Right_. This is like saying King Kong is a large monkey. The “walk” is actually a 40 minute climb up a steep pathway. As a father of 3 twenty-something daughters who like to compete with each other on who is the toughest physically, this was right up their alley. They climbed and climbed and acted like they were enjoying it. Spouse, fifty something friend and I all made no such pretense. This was a physically exhausting experience for us, and we made no effort at disguising our pain. Our resolve was steeled by the passing of the occasional Scottish person who drifted blissfully past us as if they were just warming up for a more serious “walk” up a greater challenge later in the afternoon before tea.

    The aforementioned websites were accurate on one point. “The view will be worth the effort” and that is totally accurate. We were afforde the most amazing views of the lower Trossachs and several Lochs, most notably Loch Katrine, wher ethe Steamer Sir Walter Scott seemed like a small water bug, it's small wake the only ripple on the glassy water.

    This is a view like very few others we’ve ever enjoyed. For all the strain, this may have been our most memorable experience. The return trip down the mountain was pleasant, and then off we drove to the north for Glen Coe. We finally arrived with just a bit of light left. The scenery in Glen Coe is in part the reason people come to Scotland for the scenery. It is truly breathtaking. We checked into the Clachaig Inn. This place is wonderful. If you stuck this Inn in the middle of west Kansas, it would still be a destination worth visiting. The atmosphere is charming, the staff warm and friendly, and the food and bar service is prompt and well prepared. They even have their own whiskey label. Now THAT’s hospitality, baby!

    Day 4: Clencoe to the Jacobite train to Perth:
    Woke up and got in the already forming queue for breakfast. Lots of non-English speaking Europeans who are obviously onto what a nice place this is. Everyone is wearing outdoorsy stuff (hiking, climbing, cycling, etc) but trust me, you can come dressed in anything and plan on doing nothing and love this place. Staff whips out a very good full Scottish breakfast, everyone inquires as to our plans: “Jacobite train.” Responded to with: “oh, how lovely, you know, I need to DO THAT” Reminds me of my classmates in high school in easy commuting distance from DC who had never seen the Capitol. Anyway, Half hour drive to train along the lovely Highland coastline, which is lined with quaint B&Bs, as we enter the small city of Ft. William. Not sure what the procedure is for obtaining tickets and boarding the train. Everywhere else, one obtains a booking number and then goes to an office or a kiosk and exchanges the number for tickets, so, expecting a queue or possible glitch ( see the above passport/rental snafu) I pushed my crowd to stay on schedule and felt a rising sense of stress worrying some unforeseen problem would keep us from getting on-board. Well, for this train one simply jumps on board and then the staff sorts things out once the trip begins. (After all, it is a steam engine train and it ain’t going nowhere in a big hurry) We had to do a bit of musical chairs to get into the right seats, but within the 1st ten min of travel everything was fine. This is a rail journey through some delightful Scottish countryside, however, like any other travel in Britain, hedges grow up in immediate proximity to the road/tracks, so frequently we found ourselves seeing beautiful vistas through a foliage filter. But it was a relaxing journey. Lots of photo ops. The trip allows for a bit under 2 hours in the fishing village of Mallaig, which is charming. We had fish and chips at the small chippery (Jaffy’s) in the train station and it was just fine. Very fresh. Mallaig seems to have multiple seafood restaurant opportunity for travellers. We just strolled around the town and took gobs of selphies.

    Would I recommend this train to others? I’m a train nut and the daughters memorized every Harry Potter book within 48 hours of release, so we were not about to consider a trip to Scotland without going on this train. The scenery is very nice but so is ALL the scenery in this region, train or no train. Note is made that many travelers recommend a short hike to the Glenfinnan viaduct, where the scenery is most compelling, choosing a carefully selected vista, then photographing the train as it passes, as a more time- and cost-effective way to enjoy the train and scenery of this region, in lieu of actually coughing up the cash for a ticket. I am not going to engage in that debate. We did see lots of folks on the ground in the Glen photographing us on the viaduct as we on the train photographed them in return. It depends on what you want. If you are time constrained in your planning, note that this experience does completely absorb one full day. booking on this site was very user friendly. They send out an email with YOUR SEAT NUMBERS. Print that email off and bring with you. No tickets, ticket counters, kiosks, or TSA security lines. No need to be early – scheduled departure time was 1015, and people were still alighting right on the minute.

    Upon returning we then drove on the only east-west road , which then turned to the southeast towards Perth. This road is very narrow and frequented by large trucks going at full speed, so the relaxation achieved earlier in the day could not be continued, until we reached a stopping point. I chose to stop for dinner in Dunkeld, which is also a charming little town.

    We strolled to the Cathedral, but could only poke out head into the grounds as they had closed up a few minutes before we got there. However, we found a tiny walk way and strolled along the river bank, under an ancient bridge over the river Tay, and found our way into the old appropriately named Taybank Bar. This is nothing more than a small pub, and it appears the owners are attempting to upgrade the facility, which it needs. They had some reasonably good seafood on the menu that night and we enjoyed the meal. Again, a typically profoundly friendly staff completely patient with our attempts to navigate the non-American menu terms we had trouble understanding. Then off for Perth on the (finally) wider A9 road out of the highlands and we were able to find our lodging easily, The Townhouse on Marshall Place, run by David and

    Day 5 – Perth and Stirling

    Why Perth? Why not? It is a lovely city on the banks of the Tay, with lovely greenway walks on both sides, connecting the “South Inch” to the “North Inch,” both large, well maintained parks. It is a rail junction for trains going to/from the highlands from Glasgow and Edinburgh, and was, in its day, “THE” Scotland destination city when railroads were the country’s primary source of travel. It makes a great base of much of the band of countryside from above the forth river (Edinburgh to the base of the highlands. The Townhouse B&B was easily the nicest lodging facility we stayed at during this trip. The rooms were actually roomy and luxuriously appointed by David (originally from Troon) and Laurent (French) who bring a huge experience in the Carribbean hospitality industry. There wasn’t any problem we could throw at them that they hadn’t solved three times already with prior clients. This place is HIGHLY recommended.

    Me and D#2 woke up early, each picked up a large cup o’Joe (very non-British, mind you) and drove back to Glasgow airport to pick up her husband, whose outbound travel was delayed by work and academic commitments. Hit very solid bumber-to-bumber traffic in and around Glasgow, but the lanes were standard width, so as compared to the stress of driving at high speeds on the Highland’s ribbon width roads, this was blissful by comparison. Rendezvoused with the guy surprisingly easily, and returned to Perth, grabbed some leavings from the mornings breakfast.

    Today was laundry day and most of the party just wanted to lounge around or go on short strolls, not a bad idea in this city with abundant green spaces. We all split up for different lunch experiences, and then congregated for a trip to the Famous Grouse Experience, in Crieff. For Whiskey aficionados, this is the Glenturret distillery that makes that single malt scotch (SMS), plus is the main ingredient in Famous Grouse blended scotch, as well as other applications. A thoroughly enjoyable and recommended experience, and the distillery is in a lovely creek side location that, again, one gets to by going up what surely must be someone’s driveway, but is identified as a “B” highway, complete with large trucks and farm implements I had to maneuver our van around. This tour was led by a young man named Niall, who appreciated being aboe to talk to like aged young people in our group, rather than the usual batch of pensioners, and he made full use of the characteristic dry Scottish wit. Some serious SMS purists may claim this tour is a bit too ‘canned” or commercialized as compared to the deep Highland Speyside ones, but it was convenient for our itinerary and just about our speed.
    Unfortunately, this tour took longer than I had planned, then to add to my stress the drive to Stirling (where we had 8 pm concert tickets) took longer than expected, only to find that Stirling is not a place with abundant car park options. WE finally found a sopt in a building garage and set off on foot, finding a pleasant but otherwise unremarkable Italian place in the middle of town. Our tickets were for an 8 pm performance of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (SCO)in the Castle, and after paying our bill, we only had ½ hour to make the climb to the castle, find seats, pit stop in the respective loos, and catch our breath. This left us specious few seconds to actually enjoy the hike up Stirling castle hill, but that is indeed a potentially pleasant walk if one has planned one’s day better than I did.
    Well, seats finally found and settled in, the SCO is a magnificent orchestra. They had a program of Mozart and Mendelssohn and performed it brilliantly, and the setting in the great hall of the castle made it a memorable experience. We strolled back down to our car – ONLY TO FIND THE GARAGE COMPLETELY SHUT UP! No car, and we are 50 miles to our B&B. WE found a kindly employee of a local Indian place to ask his boss for advice, and they all agreed we were out of options. Even the usual bus and train transport were not options for us as the schedules were curtained as this was the infamous Thursday of the Brexit vote. After numerous phone calls which they did completely voluntarily, a reasonable cab which could fit 7 was procured, and we cabbed back to Perth. That was not the planned way to end the day.

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    (AC being a large British automobile mega-biz who has a good rental operation)>>

    possibly in Scotland, but certainly not round here; however that is a minor quibble. Loving the report and wondering what you're going to do to get your car back.

    we love a good cliff-hanger!

    <<There is no crosswalk between Historic Scotland and NTS, which is strange, since they both appear to have similar missions. >>

    the same frustrating situation pertains in England too; it's to do with the fact that Historic Scotland and English Heritage monuments are owned by the government, and NT/NTS properties are owned by he National trust which is a charity, completely separate from government. this explains in more detail why this is:

    There is or used to be a pass only available to foreigners I think which covered both but it was very expensive and was I believe discontinued. which is a shame.

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    >> think which covered both but it was very expensive and was I believe discontinued. which is a shame.<<

    That would be the Great British Heritage Pass which was an ENORMOUS bargain (wasn't at all expensive for what one got) -- covered all propertes of both National Trusts, Historic Scotland, English Heritage, the Welsh and Northern Ireland versions of same AND most of the big privately owned places like Blenheim, Chatsworth, Castle Howard, Floors, etc etc . . . Its loss is greatly lamented. The scheme had run under different names since at least the 70's - first It was called "Open to View" and the the GBHP. It was taken over about 8 or so years ago by the London Pass people and w/i 6 months was discontinued. :(

    docdan: Wonderful report -- I know that exact 'driveway' out of Aberfoyle and the walk up ben A'an.

    A cab to Perth wust have cost a fortune -- how did you get you car back?

    One thing though . . . you need to ditch the 'e'. You were in Scotland so it isn't whiskey (that would be Irish or American). . . Scotch is non-e whisky

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    yes, the "e" in whisky is correctly ditched.

    Oh, did I mention while in Perth the Brexit vote result came in? Turned the entire island into a coop of Chicken Littles. The sky is falling. The currency is worthless, bread lines are next, we will be invaded by Irish hordes who will rape us and eat all our mutton, etc.

    Truth be told, this did give us an immediate 5% or so "discount" on credit card purchases. many thanks. But seriously, we heard the occasional speculation as to whether or not the Brexit vote would be another step towards true Scottish separation from the UK. Usually followed by a sigh that "Westminster" will find a way to maintain rule in the long run.

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    >>would be another step towards true Scottish separation from the UK.<<

    Might be . . . but the EU wouldn't be likely to let Scotland in so then where would they be??

    Still wondering about how you got the van back >)

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    Day 6 Perth, Stirling, and Castle Campbell

    I had a fabulous itinerary planned out for this day, dependent upon a functioning van, which was locked inside a garage in Stirling! No problem, says David . . who maps out a strolling tour of Perth, ending at the rail station. Not bad. We strolled through the city and found the Blackwatch Castle. The Blackwatch Regiment is possibly the most storied military unit in the world, has history going back to even before the Scotland and England were united, and fought in just about every major campaign in UK military history, including our own War of Independence. (Which, from a European perspective, was a mere asterisk in the extended 18th century conflicts between England and France, ending at Waterloo) This was a delightful museum and the castle itself is a wonderful building. Tours given by Regiment veterans. We did not take advantage of this due to time constraints, but heard bits and pieces of the tour. Marvelous! Non-veteran docents all to eager to answer questions about the building, the regiment, and/or Perthshire. The staff there claim the café, which we did not try, is becoming so popular amongst locals they have started to take reservations. Recommended for anyone interested in military history.

    Off on the Perth to Stirling train. Then back to our new found travel assistants, friends, and Indian food experts at Nawab’s restaurant , 50 Upper Craigs, Stirling, FK8 2DS,
    Again, how does one find bad Indian food in the UK? But this place was outstanding. Some of the best Indian food we’ve ever had, ever! Highly recommended.

    After stuffing ourselves with more Indain food than we thought we ever could in one setting, we found the van and paid . . . ready? . . 2 pounds 20p for the 18 hours the van was in the garage. So the total cost of that slip was parking 2 pounds, cab ride, 70 pounds, rail back to Perth, 60 pounds. <sigh> Set off again on the ever narrowing Scottish back roads of Perth and Kinross, finding the tiny town of Dollar, to find the recommended Castle Campbell. Our Explorer pass came in handy here. Much of the drive up to the Castle is on a single lane (and barely that) streets through residential areas of this small town, to a small car park, then a lot more walking. This effort is rewarded by a remarkable castle overlooking the valley below. Unlike many other castles we visited, which were intended to be dwellings, as well as military forts, this castle was intended mostly to secure the Campbell’s domination this area, in other words, mostly a military mission, so it was stark, brooding, and foreboding in appearance, but now affords the visitor with spectacular views over the upper Forth Valley, made all the more spectacular by the changing patterns of clouds and sunshine we could see in the valley. We all were surprised how much we enjoyed this visit.

    Back in the van, back to narrow passageways, and back to Perth.

    Day 7 Kingdom of Fife to Edinburgh

    Enough of my driving a manual van. Happily, I returned the van to the local AC concession near the rail station, and we were then joined by Mr. Ricky Henderson, who runs “About Scotland” custom tours. - after suffering with my attempts at navigating Scotland roads, my party was most grateful to have someone else at the wheel. Ricky took us and our bags from The Townhouse, where we had checked out, on the tour described below, and deposited us in our next B&B at the end of the day.

    Mr H devised a complete itinerary of the lands to the east of Perth. We first visited Dundee, and saw the RRS Discovery tall ship and the unmasted HMS Unicorn, a 19th century vessel which was built to be a frigate, but instead never was fitted with masts, and used instead as a training barge, floating headquarters, and even occasionally a brig for POWs. It is now a naval museum, well worth a visit by anyone interested in matters nautical. (Fade in a patter song from Gilbert and Sullivan) We then drove from Dundee to St Andrews, passing the now closed RAF Leuchars, once the finest RAF fighter base, now according to Mr. H “home to a small Army unit and a runway used by Russian oligarchs who want to land their jets near St. Andrews.” My remark about the disbanding of the Blackwatch Regiment and the closing of this RAF base enabled our Scottish friend to recant the 250 year suppression of Scottish interests by “Westminster.”

    Luckily, that recanting was interrupted by The Old Course of St Andrews coming into view, so Mr H had to retire his role as political commentator and resume being our tour guide. And a wonderful guide he was. After a brief drive through and orientation of the sights, Mr. H led us first to the famous ancient stone bridge that golfers must cross as they make their way to the 18th green. We made full use of this photo op. Then to “the Himalayas” a large putting green adjacent to the Old Course’s first fairway, where for a modest small fee, one can play 18 holes of putt-putt, so that you can say you “did” the old course at St. Andrews (tongue-in-cheek) Actually, after so many days of driving around, a brief respite for some putt-putt was a welcome change of pace, and the undulating nature of the surface makes it a credible putting practice, even for serious golfers.

    We then went to the cathedral, where again, the Explorer pass was handy, as it was in the Castle, both worth visiting. We climbed the tower of the cathedral, which allows a commanding view of the Fife coastline and North Sea. There is an abundant selection of eateries along Market Street. We picked Gregg’s , home to an amazing selection of fresh breads and soups. We also strolled around the grounds of the University, to include a stop inside St Salvador’s chapel, which still holds services for students, and is a real gem of a building, with the pews facing each other, collegiate style.

    AT the appointed time, we met up with Mr H again who took us on a brief tour of four selected Fife Fishing villages, and then to Falkland Palace. The town and surrounding region of Falkland is quite worth exploring. The palace itself is mostly intact, with a few buildings not restored, but much of the interior very interesting with original artifacts from Elizabethan era times. Here, the docents have long canned speeches to describe each room, which is all well and good if one has an abundance of time, but got a bit old after a while. Indeed, one time I wanted to transition through one room to get to the exit to the garden, which I was very keen to explore, only to have one of the more <ahem> plump docents park herself astride the exit so that we all could hear the full extent of her description of a typical day in the life of the lady of the house. Man I was glad to finally achieve the exit to the garden! Which, by the way, are very lovely. Perhaps they should have the docents walk the garden a bit more frequently and talk to themselves? It also contains the world’s oldest tennis court, which is actually somewhat more like an elongated handball court, as the original form of tennis allowed the ball to carom off the walls. We all enjoyed this visit to Falkland, but do see the garden first, then, venture inside the palace, keeping a keen eye on escape routes, if and when the docent gets long winded.

    Mr H then scooped us all up and off we drove for Edinburgh. It started to rain, and in no time at all, the entire group was snoozing a late afternoon nap in Mr. H’s comfortable people mover. We arrived hungry to our next stop, Ramsay’s B&B , 25 E. London St. and were greeted by the effervescent Norry. We then set out of foot and came upon an absolute gem of a restaurant, the Cafe Nom de Plume . All food was well prepared and freshly made. As the kitchen is small this means the pace of service is relaxed, but the wait staff are very enthusiastic and attentive. Our party of eight had one vegan, several flexitarians, and several confirmed gluten, carbohydrate, and cholesterol enthusiasts. They were totally conversant on our various needs and were most accommodating. Again, this place is an absolute gem and is a must for anyone with special dietary needs.
    Sleep came fast this evening.

    Mr. Ricky Henderson’s service is highly to be praised. He has exhaustive command to Scottish geography and history. He himself is a golf enthusiast, and can organize special golfing outing to “hidden gem” golf course which are outstanding, very reasonably priced, and completely off the usual American’s list of name-brand Scottish courses to play. His services are highly recommended and can be contacted through the above website.

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    Days 8 and 9 Edinburgh

    Found on a random travel website somewhere that the Holyroodhouse palace would be one of three sites for the Queen’s wardrobe exhibit. So I checked out buying tickets for this, and noted, very understated, that the palace would be closed to visitors in light of the Queen’s annual visit to Edinburgh in July, with the last available date being day 8 of our trip! What a lucky find for DOCDAN!! I would have easily planned a visit to Holyroodhouse on day 9 and would have been shut out. So I bought tickets for this last day, and for this venue, they mailed me the physical tickets though the postal service from London to our home in the US! Since this palace is still an official residence of Her Majesty, one must assume the idea of emailing tickets has been difficult to convey to the Royal Mail service. Just a thought from a cynical American.

    So, knowing we were in for a long day of walking I explored the idea of Ubering the party to the palace. This was very easy and inexpensive and could be done with the Uber app. Delightful. So we got to the palace and took the garden tour. This was led by a young lady who was very witty and the tour was delightful. We then did the queen’s wardrobe exhibit, which was nice, but poorly lit, perhaps for preservation of the material? We all agreed for all the hype, the exhibit was also a bit short, and didn’t actually have as many dresses displayed as we would have liked. It did have good descriptions of some of the Queens more important accomplishments. But in all, glad we got to see this display. We then strolled up the Royal Mile and detoured for lunch to the Grassmarket area, and had an American Style Pizza. We then strolled back to Ramsay’s for a long nap. While in Grassmarket, we saw several pubs advertising live music later that night, so after our nap we returned around 8 pm to hear this.
    The Euro 2016 matches were on, so all music was on hold so the tellies could all be switched on for the games. Some of us appreciated this as appropriate adjustment of priorities, other found it to be essentially false advertising. We ate some pub-grub at the reasonable Black Bull Pub. And turned in early.

    The next day one of our party wanted to act on a tip that a particular Nike store in the somewhat out-of the way Craigleith retail park had a good deal for discounted English Football jerseys he wanted to check out. So we Uber’ed over to this retail park. Again, remarkably easy. Ironically, he could not find the shirt he wanted but the staff there had access to some data base and figured out a way to obtain the jersey and ship it to the B&B we were intending to say at in Wales later that week. Now THAT is customer service! Some of us found some other things at other stores in this retail park, plus a very well run Costa coffee shop, so the trip was worth the effort for all of us, fortified with plenty of caffeine, we were. To get back to City Center, we found a local bus stop which had easy to understand diagrams allowing us to figure out which bus to take along with an electronic screen telling us the next bus would be in four minutes. Nice! Mass transit in the US has some distance to catch up to this standard. So we had a nice bus ride downtown, where we then bought tickets for the Edinburgh Hop-on-Hop off bus tours, which we enjoyed.

    After this we then ascended the hill to the Iconic Edinburgh Castle. Well, with Holyroodhouse now closed, it seemed that this Castle was the destination for all holiday goers for all Europe on that one day. It was packed with fellow tourists. The valuable Explorer passes did allow us some benefit as there was a considerable queue for tickets, so again this did prove to be a good value. Again, this Castle is iconic, so one really must do it, I suppose, but our experience was tempered by the press of such crowds. Following that, a bit of adult beverages seemed to be in order, so we then found solace in the offerings at the hip and relaxing Grand Cru Restaurant and Bar on Hanover in New town. Some of our party split off and had a meal at the Conan Doyle, which is prominently situated at a busy intersection near the Edinburgh theater district at York Place and Broughton Road. I had reservations that the name might be a bit too much of a tourist gimmick, but the report from that part of the party was that they had a marvelous meal.

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    well, if anything were going to tempt me back to Scotland [which DH and I last visited about 30 years ago and have not returned thereto after a particularly wet and boring Sunday in Dundee] it's your TR. your enthusiasm despite the odd hitch is infectious. [only £2.20 for all that parking? - don't come to Cornwall!]

    It's also fun seeing the UK though your eyes - for example it is by no means unusual for a store to try to locate something you want and send it on - I've had that done for me several times. And even here at the opposite end of the country, we have bus stops that tell you when the next bus is due to arrive - and with luck it might even stop for you and let you on. [sorry, sore point].

    but sadly there is nothing we can do about the hordes of tourists - in fact without them we'd be bust.

    anyway, keep it coming - I'm looking forward to Wales now.

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    " took gobs of selphies"

    now I hit this phrase and tried, first I thought of mermaid types, selkies and then boggies so I was just about to give up and then realised you meant "selfies" and I was then wondering about "gobs" and I only finally got to the concept of "shut your gob" which of course is a request to be quiet

    rough translation then
    lots of silent, mouth closed self portraits?

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    Ha! Bilbo! Yes, "Gobs" is Yankee for " a large quantity of" and I misspelled "Selfie" which is a self portrait taken with a mobile phone, presumably usually immediately transmitted in a text message to one's close friends. The "closed mouth" nature of the selfie was, by the way, extremely well lampooned by the recent "Zoolander 2" movie, but technically, one is allowed to have an open mouthed smile in a selfie

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    Oh, I'm enjoying this! Particularly like the discourse on the translation of" gobs of selphies". :-)

    Seriously, I'm really enjoying reading about your time in Scotland as we were just there, although it seems ages ago already. Looking forward to the rest.

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    Day 10 Scotland to Wales

    8:12 Transpenine departure from Waverly Train Station. Here of course, is the procedure where one should book on-line several weeks in advance, obtain a booking number, then print off the tickets from a kiosk at any rail station. Very straightforward procedure. Woke up early and checked out of Ramsay’s, who were kind enough to prepare a bagged breakfast for us.

    Ramsay’s is a fine but straightforward B&B run by Norry and Sharon. Norry does all the talking and is very entertaining. I once caught Sharon’s eye and asked, “So Sharon, you’re the real labor supply for this operation, right?” She just lifted a single eyebrow and softly said, “Aye!” A line right out of the Original Star Trek with Scotty (James Doohan) But they made a good team and we have no complaints. The B&B lies at the north end of Broughton Street, north of Waverly train station, convenient to the Edinburgh Playhouse, many of the good shopping areas of New Town, and plenty of restaurant options. However, it is a full 20-25 min walk to the Royal Mile area, and some may find that other lodging options may be a bit closer to sights they want to get to more easily. Gain, the bus system in Edinburgh seems well thought out, and Uber is an option. The B&B is across the street from an intriguing looking 150 year old church taken over by a non-profit org, called The Mansfield Traquair Centre, whose signage stated that free tours could be arranged with prior notice on certain weekdays that didn’t work out for us.

    We had no plans originally to see anything in England, but previously met a couple from the small farming hamlet of Bretherton, near Preston, who invited us over for tea. Two of our party needed to travel straight to Wales without the stop, so six of us met our hosts at the Preston rail station, and visited their restored 200 year old farm house, very well restored. This is the first, and possibly only, true “High English Tea” our daughters had the pleasure of receiving, and our hosts reported considerable enthusiasm by their local bakery in preparing some of the items for these crazy Yanks who were visiting their hamlet. We then were kindly deposited at the Newton-le-Willows rail station were we could catch the Manchester-to-Wales Arriva train for the last leg of our journey. This little town’s rail station is on a viaduct three stories above ground level, but when one makes the climb up to the platform, the vegetation on the viaduct has grown up so much, it makes it look like the platform is ground level. Very disorienting. Typically English, no?

    The Arriva train was crammed with commuters who, fortunately, disembarked at stations along our route, so by the time we got to Wales, we had plenty of room in the railcar to stretch out. We passed by the large oft-maligned caravan parks by Rhyl, and indeed, I saw nothing in that region that I found inviting. We disembarked at the Llandudno Junction rail station and elected to walk with our bags to our next lodging, the Glan Heulog B&B on LLanrwst Rd in Conwy. (very well run by the <ahem> English Innkeepers Jenny and Richard Nash, along with uncommonly friendly Welsh staff members) Still full from all the food from the tea, we just bought some snacks at a local grocer and a few pints at the local pub “Albion” who prides themselves with a good selection of Welsh “real” ales.

    Day 11 Conwy

    Wales, of course, is full of delightful old towns, but Conwy is very delightful and is a fine choice for anyone travelling in this region. We bought the combined pass for the castle and “Plas Mawr” house. (Mawr correctly pronounced like “power”, being careful to fully roll the “R”) The castle is delightful as one can climb several of the towers, descent into the dungeon, and explore various nooks and crannies. The Plas Mawr house is a restored Elizabethan era home of an affluent gentleman of the era, and the free audio tour is a bit corny at times, but very informative. For lunch we receive a tip to try “Watson’s Bistro”, which is on a side street “Chapel Street”, so not easy to find, but once found, provided us with a very delicious lunch. Later, we enjoyed Tapas at the recently opened “Bank” restaurant and heard a local artist on the guitar. Very pleasant. A cab driver claimed he had heard feedback that you could spend a lot of money in the Bank and leave hungry . . well . . it is a Tapas Bar. If one is hungry one has to be careful with what you order at a Tapas bar, as “Tapas” means small plates. We left stuffed.
    Again, Conwy is a very fine destination as a day trip from Central England, but do plan on staying a few days, if possible. Several of the friendly Wels locals, who picked up on our way-too-obvious Yank accents asked us where we were staying, and upon telling them we had booked 4 nights at the Glan Heulog, responded with delight and astonishment, as so many visitors only come here as a ½ day stop to/from somewhere else.

    Day 12 Horses from Hell

    In previous travels we have had considerable fun going on trail rides, so on planning this trip, I stumbled upon several references of “Welsh Pony Pub rides” and that sounded like a good time, so I booked a ride with the Ty Mawr/Gwydyr Riding stables, located in the middle of a vast forest area between Betws-Y-Coed and Penmachno, which was found with considerable difficulty by our driver from Castle Cabs. In retrospect, this was a planning error on my part. Once you start the ride, you are committed to a FULL 4 to 5 hours of horse riding, which is fine if that is what you want, but for us, the enjoyment of ride was over half way into the ride. Also, the “Pub” wasn’t a pub at all. Also, we overestimate our ease at transitioning from western to English styles of riding and saddles/tack. This was not at all accounted for by us riders NOR by the staff at the stables, who mounted us on the steeds and sent us on our merry way. We had considerable difficulty handling the horses, and at one point a combination of reigning and commanding to “stop” was responded to by my horse with a full gallop. Quite unforgettable when one is one the side of a remote mountain. . My 60 year old hip joints were screaming with pain. To be fair, we asked for a pub ride and that is what we got, however, the funds spent on this experience were not inconsequential and we were not smiling at the end of the ride. I know this description will be responded to with howls of protests by serious equestrians, who will no doubt claim that we should not have endeavored this outing without better preparation, and this is totally unfair to the animals, etc., etc., well, yes, but again, who is paying for this?

    Still, several positive notes: The Snowdonia Forest is magnificent and should be high on the list of areas to visit by anyone going to the UK. During the ride I noticed numerous signposts for hiking and mountain bike trails, which only served to effect more assertive communication between my hip joints and my brain, reminding me that I am a more qualified hiker and cyclist than I am an equestrian. Perhaps a guided mountain bike ride would have been in order? I also noted the road to the stables passed through the very lovely mountain village of Penmachno, which had several charming looking B&Bs in it, and this would clearly make a lovely holiday, but the town is remote. Our “Pub” was actually a shut down hotel, previously called the PLAS Hall Hotel, which will be restored and re-named back to the original name of Plas Penaeldroch ( by new owners Mike and Carrie White. ( again, English couple embarking on a second career, is this a trend?) This facility is within walking distance of the Pont-Y-Pant railway station on the Conwy Valley/Blaenau Ffestinog rail line, so if the Whites can realize their restoration vision, this will make for a magnificent rail holiday destination without need of vehicle. Our crew was so worn out by our ride that we declined the kind offer of our Castle Cabs driver to take a scenic detour through Betws-Y-Coed, so strong was the call from the delightfully HOT showers of the Glan Heulog Hosue. Hungry aftey the relatively light sandwiches of our lunch, we tried out the cuisine at the Castle Hotelin the middle of town. WOW . This was possibly the best meal of our entire trip. Ironically, our waitress was Scottish! This hotel is definitely highly recommended for meals.

    Day 13 – Llandudno and the Welsh Football Miracle.

    We bought all day Arriva passes from a bus driver and made our way to LLandudno, a classic Victorian era seaside town with an oceanfront promenade (St George’s Crescent) and also, a very busy shopping street with both reasonable shops for locals as well as plenty of tacky touristy shops. We enjoyed the walk. A planned trip up the tram to the Great Orme, recommended by this forum, was curtailed as some of our party were unwell, and we elected to simply return to the B&B and enjoy the setting there. At this point we located and attempted to get on a number “19” bus, for which there is a bus stop right outside our B&B, however, number 19 is run by another company and the All-DAY Wales pass we had purchased was for Arriva busses. Grrrr. . . . another great opportunity for making a good idea unusable for travelers. Given that this all day pass is directed at non-UK residents, couldn’t there be a way for the bus companies to join together for a tourist pass? So, fine, dude, we parted company and got on the soon to follow Arriva bus and got back to Conwy. On our way, one of DD’s husbands, who is a golfer, could not plug his ears to the siren’s call of the North Wales Golf Club’s links, which have commanding views of the Irish Sea and the N. wales coastline. So he jumps off the bus and finds the clubhouse, and with a small amount of difficulty, arranged to play a few holes, and returned later that evening with a big smile on his face. Meanwhile, the rest of us settled in for a fine Italian meal at the Unimaginatively named, but well run, “Alfredo’s”, which is right across the square from The Bank and Albion’s, they were very busy, yet the staff there had the foresight to place menus in our hands as we arrived, so that after a brief wait for a table, we could order promptly. Nicely done. The food there is quite good.
    This was the Friday night of the epic Wales –Belgium (soccer) football match, and were tried to leave our Italian food hosts quickly as we knew the 2nd half was underway and wanted to witness at least a bit of the end. Upon leaving the restaurant, we heard squeals of happiness emanate from a nearby pub. Half of our party wanted nothing to do with this nonsense and departed smartly for the B&B. The other half ran down to the pub and found this a small pub Ye Olde Mail Coach, which appears to be popular with the locals, capacity, oh, maybe 80, filled with nearly 200 revelers, all filled with glee as Wales had just scored a second go-ahead goal. In spite of the fact that there did not seem to be a single square foot of available floor space, we dove into the morass without hesitation, and found a few spare spots for wood floorboard upon we to take up our place in this silliness. The clearly and thoroughly inebriated Welsh football fans greeted us with their most ridiculously worded fan songs. Now, one must understand, a 2-1 lead mid-way through the 2nd half would normally start the end of game celebration, but the Belgians have a highly touted offence, so even with goal lead, with the Belgians pressing the attack, the tension amongst our fellow fans was palpable. Suddenly, shortly after the 80th minute, a seemingly routine sideline Welsh pass was converted into a brilliant centering service and an equally brilliant head shot into the back of the Belgian’s goal and the insurance goal was secured, Wales 3 Belgium 1. At this point, every vocal cord of the fabled Welsh phonation apparatus was immediately engaged in screaming as loudly as possible. The integral intensity of sound produced, in my opinion, can be only compared to sticking one’s head into the nozzle of a Saturn V rocket motor at full throttle. It was an indescribably horrific noise.

    Moreover, this was accompanied by each hand immediately thrust skyward. Nevermind that half the hands were gipping half-full glasses of ale. So, in additional to this granite-shattering noise, the atmosphere was also filled with gallons of ale, flying in all directions, baptizing all in the room, Yankees included. I’m sure lots of Europeans will claim that their football fans behave similarly, but let me now describe a uniquely Welsh twist. With that much Ale flying in all directions, a small but finite amount of liquid invariably lands back into a few previously emptied glasses. So while still screaming madly, the proper Welsh fan checks to see if there is any ale re-appearing in his/her glass, and if there is more than a 1/2 cms worth, promptly pitches the remaining ale into his/her best friend’s face, happy to get that act in while the friend is checking the bottom of his/her respective empty glass.

    Well, I will not bore the reader with anymore football, we set off for the B&B after the victory was secured, happy to find it raining as the rain washed the ale off our outer garments.

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    still here docdan and still enjoying your trip [and your TR] very much.

    BTW if you think Welsh football fans are voluble, you should meet some of their rugby supporters.

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    Day 14/15 Conwy to Dubin - MV Ulysses

    Wales summary: Conwy is a delightful destination. The Glan Heulog guest house was a welcome home for us, with very enthusiastic service and fine full breakfasts served without hesitation to our many demands for more caffeine. We did not have a bad meal in Conwy, and honorable mention goes to the Castle Hotel, Watson’s Bistro, The Albion Pub, The Bank (named as it was a bank building) and Alfredo’s. I should mention the fine cab service provided by Castle Cabs ( who were prompt, courteous, and tried to fill us in on as much local color as possible. Indeed, I was planning the Arriva train to Holyhead for the ferry, then elected to have the cab company instead drive us there, stopping, of course, for the obligatory stop for pictures in the town with the world’s longest name: Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch

    Again, not originally planning to include Ireland, but eventually did as the fares with Aer Lingus were compelling so why not 36 hours in Dublin? Based upon strong recommendations in many rail fan blogs, we took the 1410 departure on the MV Ulysses ferry. This was quite nice. Most of us elected to take in the movie, others instead took advantage of the rolling motion to achieve a deep and satisfying nap. My only complaint about this part of the trip is that they had only a few coffee service lines at each of the few bar areas, with each coffee order custom prepared by the limited staff. This made for agonizing waits for those of us who were interested in non-coffee liquid also available on-tap at the bar. Separating the clientele into coffee only and non-coffee lines would be smart.

    We checked into Egan’s Guest House (7 Iona Park) which was a nice facility. I found it a bit too far away from the downtown area to be able to recommend it, however, one cab driver did point out the neighborhood was “quiet and safe”, which appears to be accurate, so if that is important to you and yours, then Egan’s is right up your alley. We ate at the vegetarian – only Cornucopia on Wicklow St, which was fine. We then met up with along lost friend from our kid’s childhood in the Temple Bar area.

    Temple Bar. One thing not always made clear in guidebooks is that there is a specific bar, named Temple Bar, which is pure tourist trap, then there is a _street_ named Temple Bar, but also “Temple Bar” refers to the _district_ in immediate proximity to the street. This distinction is not well clarified in poorly written accounts of Dublin. By all means do visit this Temple Bar district, but I fail to see any reason to go to the actual Bar by the same name.

    For our last day we enjoyed the hop-on/ho-off service in Dublin driven by thoroughly delightful tour guides, who injected plenty of humor into the narration. Mrs G and I strolled the neighborhoods around Egan’s and found John Kavanagh’s “Gravedigger’s” pub, in continuous operation since 1833. A true old time pub, as it is separated into a completely separate “bar” area (formerly for gentlemen only) and a “lounge” side, where a mixed crowd could congregate. As this pub is in immediate proximity to the Glasnevin cemetery, it is sometimes a stop for “after-dark” bus tours. One should consider having a pint there if one wants to see a classic Irish pub untouched by time.

    And that ended our trip. Significant winners worth repeating are the Clachaig Inn, the Townhouse in Perth, About Scotland tours run by Mr Henderson, the Saramago Café in Glasgow, and collectively, the group of restaurants in Conwy.

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    Thanks docdan. Scotland and Wales have both been on our trip radar in recent years. It sounds great for those with an adventurous spirit and a good sense of humor. We have the former occasionally and the latter in spades daily. What do you think about these places for teens and non left side drivers? I'll bookmark your report for future reference.

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    All very teen friendly. If your teens like mountain biking there is an abundance of businesses in Wales who do adventure tours for mountain biking, Canyoning, ropes courses, etc. If interested in the Jacobite . . there is a challenge getting to/from Ft. William without a major time sink if you are unwilling to drive. this was the primary reason I chose to obtain the rental van. WE elected not to do Inverness for various reasons not worth discussing here, but one idea for you would be to get to Inverness via rail or air, and then pre-plan a day trip down the Great Glen (Loch Ness) to Ft William and return. This can be done via bus, or hired transport service through your hotel. OR BY CAR. this is if your group is willing to wake up at a civil hour, which mine was unwilling to do. For us, any appearance out of the bathroom prior to 10 am, where hair and make-up were applied with great precision, was simply an unrealistic expectation. But I digress. Driving in the UK is quite doable. Do insist on automatic transmission, and budget plenty of time. It is actually not that terrifying.
    If this does not answer your question, please be more specific.
    If your budget allows, do consider the services of Mr Henderson.

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    "...going up what surely must be someone’s driveway, but is identified as a “B” highway..."

    Oh, that made me laugh!

    I really enjoyed your trip report - especially the Scotland portion as we were just there in May.

    Great observation about the Jacobite train as we were wondering (while watching the train go past from the viewpoint in Glenfinnan :) ) what that experience would be like.

    Also loved your account of the concert in Stirling Castle. Aside from the parking issue, it sounds wonderful.

    Thank so much for sharing.

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    Enjoyed reading your report. We are planning on touring western and northern Ireland in Sept. and then onto Glasgow and Edinburgh. After 8 days of driving in Ireland I was hoping to do without a car in Scotland.

    We initially thought of taking the train along the Jacobite route by Scotrail from Glasgow as it was half the price. But a 12 hour train trip doesn't really appeal (last month it took us 10 hours by train from Montreal to NYC although it was very scenic as the tracks hugged Lakes Champlain, George and the Hudson River).

    Instead we decided to take a train to Stirling and view the town and Castle on our own. We will look for Nawabs restaurant and say hello for you! Will also use Rabbies for a one way tour of the Highlands.

    Thanks for giving us some insights!

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    Welsh ponies have a warped sense of humour.
    I remember a friend of mine went pony trekking and when they came to a path by a precipice the pony insisted in walking as close to the edge as it could get, giving the rider the impression that he was dangling over the void

    The pony, of course was very sure footed and there was no actual danger.

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    " This little town’s rail station is on a viaduct three stories above ground level, but when one makes the climb up to the platform, the vegetation on the viaduct has grown up so much, it makes it look like the platform is ground level. Very disorienting. Typically English, no?"

    you should try Newcastle where the stations are all built on these elevated schemes. These tower above the docks.

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    All - thank you for your kind feedback

    Bilbo - Indeed! Good insight.

    Prism - Also correct - of course, my concerns were not with the horses/ponies themselves, only with the stables staff who could have demonstrated some of the traveler friendly attitude that we found to be common in Wales.

    Giro - most travelers would completely understand your sentiment. After one hour on a train in Scotland . . . a train becomes a train, whether pulled by steam, diesel, or electric locomotion (unless one is as incorrigible a rail geek as yours truly)
    Do note, there is a "916" bus from Glasgow to Glencoe and on to Ft. William in just 3 or so hours. I do not know anything about this particular line, only to say our experiences with city buses in Glasgow and Edinburgh were very favorable. Your alteration of plans to rail to Stirling, take your time in that city, then let Rabbies tour you around the Highlands would seem to be a good plan. You will be most grateful that a Yankee NASCAR reject is not doing the driving!

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