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History, scenery, scones and sheep- our UK adventure!

History, scenery, scones and sheep- our UK adventure!

Jul 13th, 2013, 02:37 AM
Join Date: Oct 2012
Posts: 246
>>is everyone in Scotland nice?<<

No. My boss is Scottish. He is a git.
Havana128 is offline  
Jul 13th, 2013, 08:06 AM
Join Date: Nov 2006
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Enjoying this report (and taking notes). DS graduates from high school next year and is considering University of Glasgow, so there could be a UK trip in our future.
fourfortravel is offline  
Jul 13th, 2013, 10:20 AM
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Mrs Bilbo did a masters at Glasgow (well) organised, but my New Zealand Niece did some arts post graduate stuff there and the place was disorganised so she could not do the course elements she wanted to do. If your DS does decide to go then get the course elements tied down early.
bilboburgler is offline  
Jul 13th, 2013, 01:11 PM
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>>He is a regular feature - I think He's been there for at least 7 or 8 years. << with all that experience, you'd think he'd be better by now!

And, boy, could the Screw It guy talk your ears off. He covered an number of subjects and the more excited he got, the less of his brogue I understood. My dad would have loved talking to him- I just needed to GO

>>My boss is Scottish. He is a git.<< Being a git is not limited to people of scottish descent I'm afraid. We have a different (and unprintable) name for it here.

fourfortravel- glad you are enjoying my TR. I'm sorry it's coming bits at a time, but life gets in the way occasionally!
rmmom is offline  
Jul 13th, 2013, 01:30 PM
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<< Being a git is not limited to people of scottish descent I'm afraid. We have a different (and unprintable) name for it here. >>

Yes I know. I have met gits on four continents.
Havana128 is offline  
Jul 13th, 2013, 02:55 PM
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Day 12 Trotternish Peninsula

Our roomie, Matt, had apologized the night before that he would be setting his alarm for 7am so he and his climbing buddies could get an early start. No problem, I figured we would all rather he get up and out before we did so we didn't frighten him more than necessary (because we look so fabulous upon awakening). His phone alarm did wake me up, but it did NOT faze him. He hit snooze and did just that. I eventually had to get up and I guess the noise of my gathering my shower stuff got him moving because he was gone when I got back.

I made breakfast and packed us a lunch while the girls got ready. The kitchen was quiet since most of the hostel occupants were off early to go climbing.

We decided to do the northern part of the island today because we need to buy some local walking maps in Portree. It was cloudy/overcast, but no rain. The DDs found wifi in Portree, but I cracked my mom whip. I want to climb to the Old Man of Storr. The DDs, not so much. I didn't care. It's NOT all about them (they are teenagers and have to be reminded of that regularly).

I had read many descriptions of this walk/climb and they all mention a forest at the start (even the map we bought in Portree, but the walkhighlands website does mention that the "non-native trees will be replanted"). Sadly, it has been completely cut down. It was really disheartening to see the destruction. It's not the lack of trees per se, but the stumps and branches on the trail making it rather treacherous and heavy equipment and trash laying about that are so ugly. This lasts for about 1/2 mile or so until you get higher up into the rocks.

The trail is 5 miles to the summit of the Storr, less to the Old Man, a distinctive pinnacle rock formation you can see from miles away. There is a 1000ft elevation climb to the Old Man though, making it a steep, uphill climb. Good shoes are a must. One DD only made it half way and waited for her sister and I to finish. I am proud to say, I was the only one to get to the base of the Old Man! My 19yo had issues with vertigo (like I said, it's steep at one point and didn't want to scramble up the rocks with me. The views of the surrounding rock formations (very different and cool), mountains, islands and the mainland would have been better without the clouds. The cool temperature made the climb easier though and we were thankful it was not raining. Not sure I would tackle this trail when wet. I didn't want to take the time to climb to the summit of the Storr (and not sure my knees would like it either) so we headed back down to meet up with my other DD. The trail down is harder because it's riddled with pebbles and rocks and steep. Slow going.

We drove from there to Kilt Rock and had lunch there. Took pictures of the sheep just clinging to the edge of the cliffs by the waterfall. It's a long way down if they slip! The basalt columns that make up the cliffs are similar to those at Devil's Postpile here in the Sierra Nevada mountains. The geologic conditions that created them are much the same. The ocean is very clear here and the broken off columns in the sea make it look like Atlantis

Enjoyed the drive on up the coast ( 2 lanes- yay!) to ruins of Duntulm Castle. Can't get too close to it now because it has become unstable, but it's not hard to imagine why there's been a building there since the iron age. No one could approach by sea or land without being seen. Terrible place to be in a storm I would imagine. You walk through a sheep pasture to get to the ruins. There are sheep everywhere on Skye including IN the road. And they don't really care that you are in a car barrelling down that road. A tourist magazine in Portree warns that, although they look cute and cuddly, they are actually ASSASINS out to wreck your hire car. Wise words.

We're back to single track roads now. We pass through Uig, the ferry terminal for the ferries to Harris and Lewis. Someday I will return to see the Callanish stone circles on Lewis. Just no time this trip. The DDs aren't interested in the Museum of Island Life or seeing Flora McDonald's grave so we keep going to the road that leads to the Fairy Glen just outside of Uig. My 17yo had seen this place on Tumblr (social networking site) before we planned this trip. Honestly, it was the main reason we included Skye in our itinerary. So glad we did! It did not disappoint. What an otherwordly place! There are these weird conical hills, remnants of old crofts/ buildings, caves, gnarly trees and moss and a big rock formation (that looks like a tower) towering over it. Across the glen are 2 waterfalls best seen from the top of the big rock formation (which is actually not hard to climb). The cave is thought to be the fairies' home and a steep, slippery scramble up to it shows that people have been leaving things here for them. Toys, bits of fabric, shells, coins. I didn't come prepared with an "offering", but I had some almonds so I left those. Fairies get hungry right? It looked to have been possibly a fortress of some kind in the past. Part of the rock formation looked artificial with remnants of a wall stretching out from it. Parts of the walls of a rectangular building with a curved corner (perhaps a round tower?) can be found down in the trees. Very magical, evocative place. I found it interesting that these old places are sprinkled all over with open access. Maybe simply because they are all over the place, it's "no big deal" in Scotland, but here in the states, someone would have put a fence around it and been charging admission! Clearly the UK is not as litigious a society as here in the states as these ruins are everywhere, but there are just polite signs saying "watch your step" with the clear meaning that, if you want to risk yourself, go ahead, but they warned you. Just as it should be!

We drove back to Portree, hunting for a toilet along the way. I would wish that the UK would have more and better marked potties! It was about 4:30pm and we ended up having tea (do I even need to add scones at this point?) in the Macnab Inn in Portree, not because we felt a clan connection, but the presence of both a toilet AND the ever-elusive wifi. We did need to update family and friends back home that we were fine and upload some pictures to facebook.

The drive back to the hostel was eye opening! The skies had cleared and, oh my, the Cuillins were magnificent! Who knew what was hiding in those clouds? We got back around 6:30 and the girls cooked pasta (yay, break for mom) while I showered. We had spaghetti with meat sauce and garlic bread. After a day of hiking, can anything taste better? One of the hostel workers had made homemade carrot cake- so good! The hostel was quieter tonight (a large group of 17 had checked out) and the 19yo played guitar in the living room while we read and journalled. I had hung up some clothes we washed in the sinks on the line out back since the weather looks ok for now. Hope it stays that way until they dry. What a great day!
rmmom is offline  
Jul 13th, 2013, 10:18 PM
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Sounds like another great day.

I don't remember the Old Man walk being "5 miles to the summit". Wasn't it about 5 for the entire loop (or round trip)?

They had started the deforestation when we were there and it was starting to be a blight then. Sounds like they are continuing full force.

Looking forward to more.
indy_dad is offline  
Jul 15th, 2013, 01:19 AM
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Still loving the report... It reminds me of my honeymoon! Marriage might be over but the honeymoon was good!

It sounds like you are all getting along really well. Must be the scones binding you together...

schnauzer is online now  
Jul 15th, 2013, 09:22 PM
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I was trying to find the exact distance on the walkhighlands site and it says 5 miles to the summit of the Storr from the trailhead. I couldn't find how far it was just to the Old Man, but my daughter says it was 2.5 miles round trip. Sounds right? I didn't pay any attention to the where the summit was because #1-I couldn't see it in the clouds and #2- there was no way I was going farther! And, there's not a tree left. So sad. We noticed similar deforestation in the Trossachs. Not sure the reason or purpose, but it's certainly unattractive.

We got along great which I am so grateful for. There was so much to be happy about (scones!) how could we not?
rmmom is offline  
Jul 16th, 2013, 07:08 AM
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Scones - mmm
A friend and I once dedicated a trip to the UK to the quest for the best scone ever. We it in Dartmoor at Badger's Holt - you got a giant scone (more than enough for 2 greedy sconeholics) + delicious strawberry preserves and perfect clotted cream. Many years later I still remember it with a tear in my eye - scone nirvana.

2nd best - the vegetarian restaurant in Montgomery in Wales - veggie fare at its best!
semiramis is offline  
Jul 20th, 2013, 10:30 AM
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I could totally get behind a trip dedicated to the scone! Actually, next time I go, I would like to experience more local food. We were travelling on the cheap and food could not be a big expenditure, therefore it was pretty unremarkable. When we did splurge for good food, it was very tasty despite the general assumption in the US that food in the UK is "bland". There are some awfully nice restaurants in both London and Scotland that I would have loved to try!
rmmom is offline  
Jul 20th, 2013, 10:48 AM
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Ok, back to the TR. Sorry for the delay, life got in the way as it does. I finished it last night and will load the rest here today

Day 13- Minginish Peninsula
Yes, our prayers were answered! The day had dawned bright and warm and our clothes are dry and smell like Skye. There’s just enough breeze to keep the dratted midges away

The kitchen was more crowded today after the late arrival last night of a large Japanese family. At least 3 generations and they were using almost all the stovetops, but we made do. I tried to ask about what they were cooking because it was all in Japanese packaging and smelled fantastic, but they didn’t speak English. I cooked almost all the food we had left and we had a big, American breakfast of pancakes and bacon. We found these ready-made (not frozen like here in the states) American style pancakes at the store in Fort William along with maple syrup. They were really good and the bacon here still beats ours hands down!

Fortified, we set out to our first stop, Talisker Distillery. I’m not a whisky drinker, but it was just down the way in Carbost. My DDs stayed in the car and read in a perfect spot overlooking Loch Harport. It was interesting finding out how whisky is made. Amazing how just barley, water, peat, yeast and oak barrels can make such a powerful drink. Not all whiskies are made using peat to smoke the barley as it is here. My friend and I went to a whisky tasting last year and tasted one from Islay that was VERY peaty. We decided it tasted like a charcoal briquette. I'm just not a whisky drinker I guess, but I did taste the 10 yo Talisker (not nearly as peaty, but just not my thing). I bought a shirt in the gift shop because it has the latitude/longitude on it. It’s the highest latitude distillery in the world. We stopped at the very small store in Carbost to get stuff for lunch later. There was an equally small post office behind it. The town is not much more than that!

On to Talisker Bay. An Aussie couple we met at the Fairy Glen recommended we see it. We drove down a long single track and you just park wherever (common in Scotland it seems -people park on the sidewalks even) at the spot that says, "private road no cars". It is about a mile flat walk past the Talisker estate and through sheep and cow pastures. You literally walk right past them and they don’t care. The lambs are so cute and the cows just stand there and stare at you. At the end is the bay. The sheep graze right up to the sand. There is a big waterfall falling into the sand on one side and a cool rock formation in the water on the other. A small island is off the coast. Lots of rocks before you get to sand and the water is so clear. 17yo and I dipped our toes in the cold water while oldest DD read with this gorgeous backdrop. We watched a big bird dive over and over for fish. A gannet perhaps? There were only a few people there. It was 72 degrees and perfect!

We walked back past all the critters again and drove on to the fairy pools which are also nearby. Nearby as the crow flies, but takes awhile on these single tracks. I had to back up into a passing lane for the first time today as this road is fairly well travelled. The Cuillins are freaking spectacular today with no clouds. The fairy pools are just under them. We ate lunch at the first waterfall we came to just off the road. The pools are made by a stream that flows down from the Cuillins through rocks making multiple waterfalls and pools. The pools are green because of the serpentine rock underneath making them look, well, like fairies swim there! It was really warm and I just had on a tank top and unzipped the bottom of my pants. This was the only day we wished we had brought shorts or swimsuits. We got our feet in the water here too. Some brave people went swimming (COLD water) and a particularly crazy one jumped in a pool from a cliff. Nutter as they say here. It’s about a 2.5 mile walk out and back, a little hilly but not bad. It is seriously gorgeous as is everything here.

We drove further down the same road to Glenbrittle. There isn’t much here except the mountaineering center, a hostel and a campground. It is a big beach with more little islands off the coast and it has to be the best located campground ever. I researched camping instead of staying in hostels and BnBs because of this campground. It sits right on the water. We did see a campervan similar to the ones I had looked at renting except this one was painted plaid. Nothing like standing out on the road!

We wanted to see Dunvegan Castle today, but there wasn’t enough time. I decided to drive there so we could at least see it. Well, you can’t from the road! But the views getting there are worth the drive. We looked across Loch Harport to Carbost and the area where we are staying. We drove past the entrance to the castle trying to get to a coral beach we read about and saw a part of the castle from that angle. It is the longest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland (care of their website). We got to the car park for the coral beach, but there was another long walk to the beach and it was late so we turned around and took a LONG drive back to the Old Inn in Carbost for dinner. Fish and chips for the girls and scallops for me. Both very good. I had a pint of Carlsburg beer topped with a little lemonade for me (recommended by the very nice bartender). Ended with toffee pudding and a brownie for dessert. Yummy! The girls were pleased most by the free wifi. I admit to allowing them to use their devices at the table. You have to pick your battles and know when to let them have “their time” too. Keeping your travelling companions happy is important, especially when they are teenagers!

Tomorrow we leave for Inverness via the Kylerhea-Glenelg ferry. Finally get to do some family research hopefully.
rmmom is offline  
Jul 20th, 2013, 11:05 AM
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Day 14 Glenelg, Loch Ness and Inverness

We packed up and sadly said goodbye to Skye. It’s cloudy and drizzly today. The road to Kylerhea is single track and 7 miles of scary. No guardrails and straight down in some places. I wouldn’t want to forget the milk if I lived there!

The ferry dock consists of a rundown house, a telephone booth and a concrete ramp at the end of the road. You just park and wait. The mainland is only a mile away and you can see the ferry dock at Glenelg. Back in the days before bridges and ferries connected Skye to the mainland, they swam the cattle across here as it is the closest point. Wouldn't want to swim it myself! There is a strong current you can see running through the channel. There are signs posted against a "tidal turbine" being installed in the channel due to the area being home to otters and seals. We did see a few seals but no otters. The area south of Glenelg is where Ring of Bright Water (a movie from the 1960’s based on a true story) was set. This ferry is the last of its kind still in use and is an open air, flat top boat with a rotating deck that spins like a lazy susan. The 2 communities run it together in the summer months mostly. We watched the little ferry leave the other side and literally get pushed up the channel by the tide before landing on our side. We were waiting with 2 other cars and all of us were looking at each other like “we’re really getting on that thing?”. There is only room for 6 cars and we fit 5 on it (2 more cars arrived as the ferry was docking). They spin the top of the ferry around to the ramp and it’s a bit scary to drive onto it. It feels like you are driving right into the water! You have to be really close to the railing and the other cars are so close you can’t open a door. The 19yo unbuckled her seatbelt and opened her window in case we went down! She is not into boats. She says she is “H2O intolerant”.

It was a quick and, ultimately, uneventful trip over and we were in Glenelg. We stopped in a tiny cafe and asked the waitress where we might look for any history. She asked her mum who got us the phone number of a local minister who acts as the local historian. Such a small town thing to do. And, Glenelg is a SMALL town. My 4 or 5 times great grandfather was born here in 1815 before immigrating to Canada. The minister didn’t have anything for me and added that many of the town’s records were lost, but he was lovely to talk to. We did drive around and I looked at the old cemetery. It’s a pretty little place and there are ancient brochs there that would have been neat to see and further south is the memorial to the writer whose story was told in Ring of Bright Water, but we needed to move on. I would love to return here, it is very peaceful.

We drove over a pretty pass by Loch Sheil and the 5 Sisters which, if there hadn’t been so much cloud cover, we might have actually seen. We stopped at a roadside inn that a man in the hostel had recommended. Nothing special unfortunately and the server was unfriendly, our first encounter with an unfriendly Scot.

We drove on up the edge of Loch Ness to Urquart castle. It was on our explorer pass so we got past the line. It does have an interesting history and they show a quite well done movie. After the movie they open big curtains showing you the castle. Nicely done and the crowd oooohed and ahhhhed as expected. As we had been told, Loch Ness isn’t the prettiest loch, but it’s by no means ugly. It IS big. And the castle is definitely worth a visit.

We continued on to Inverness (there was no interest in seeing any of the Loch Ness monster exhibits in Drumnadrochit). We stopped for some groceries so we could make dinner. The young girl at the checkout told us she dreams of moving to Burbank and working for Ellen Degeneres. It’s funny. Wherever we meet young people, they all want badly to live in the US and my girls think it would be so cool to live in the UK. I guess it’s a case of "the grass is always greener". She also told us not to bother with Culloden. In her words "it’s just a field ya know".

It took us awhile to get to the hostel since I accidentally got in a turn lane during Inverness’ afternoon rush hour and was forced to go the long way around. The hostel was in a residential neighborhood away from downtown. It looked like a newly built house. A very nice lady checked us in and we had a huge room with three beds and an equally huge bathroom. I asked about laundry facilities and she said she would wash and dry our stuff for 4₤. Not a bad deal since I didn’t have to do it! My DDs retired to our room after dinner to make use of the, yes, you guessed it, free wifi. I stayed in the kitchen and chatted with a lovely couple from Australia and a sister duo from New Zealand. One of the sisters has spent the last 10 years “woofing” which is volunteer work on farms and such in exchange for room and board. She has been to some interesting places and done equally interesting work and she is over 60. Hmmm, might have to research that! I shared my last bottle of wine with them and they suggested we see the field at Culloden which can be done without paying and skip the museum since I’m fairly familiar with the history. We only had one night here, but what lovely company
rmmom is offline  
Jul 20th, 2013, 11:23 AM
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Day 15 Culloden, Clava Cairns, Dunnoter Castle

We have to get up early because we have a ways to go today. No problem getting up as a family with a small child came in late last night and the little boy is screaming and slamming doors. Not sure I’m a fan of family-friendly hostelling, but it is becoming more the norm it seems.

We are off to Culloden first. I wanted to see this since I am reading the Outlander series which starts right before Culloden and is set in the area. We just wandered the field and saw the headstones for the clans that died there. None of our clans represented there, but my brother in law was (Ferguson). There is a wall with stones sticking out that indicate those who died. There are many more stones for the Scots than the English. There is still a sense of desolation here. It is clear talking to them that many Scots still think of this battle and still want their independence back. As a matter of fact, they vote on it next year.

The Clava Cairns are close by. Supposedly one of the stones is the inspiration for the stone that the heroine in my book falls through and goes back in time to just before Culloden. It is a very old prehistoric site with burial cairns and standing stones. No one really knows the true meaning of the place, but it is clear that it was designed to follow the sun at certain times of the year. One cairn has quartz rocks that are positioned directly opposite of the entrance so that they shine and sparkle only when the sun is setting at winter solstice. And yes there is a split standing stone like in the book, but not big enough to walk through. It is a very cool place.

We needed gas and unlike the US there isn’t a station everywhere or even well marked. We finally found one in Elgin. Cost about $100 to fill up with diesel! We spent about $150 in gas for the trip, but we did drive a lot so we got good gas mileage in our Astra. From there, we had a long drive through rolling countryside to Dunnoter Castle. Finally, the road allows for some speed, but as soon as you get up to the speed limit, they throw in a roundabout to slow you back down!

This castle is a ruin right on the edge of the cliffs. A very dramatic location! Lots of it remains so you can get a good idea of what it looked like when it was lived in and they had a room decorated to show you. It has been there since the 1200s. William Wallace burned the chapel down with English soldiers in it in the 1300s. It was where they kept the Scottish crown jewels and where they were spirited away when the castle finally fell to the English. We have been blessed with another beautiful day on the coast. It is warm and sunny. There is gorgeous coastline here that looks very much like Northern California.

We drove to Forfar to get dinner. We are staying in this area (Angus) as we have family connections in this area too. When we pulled into town I realized I didn’t have the address for the BnB! We had communicated by email and the actual address was never mentioned. We found wifi at a Tesco and a very nice clerk got us logged in and we got the location. Turned out, we did have the address, but it wasn’t a “normal” address. Mains of Turin. That’s it. No number, no street. We had a terrible time finding someplace to eat and the town’s roads are really narrow and crowded. I got very frustrated, drove in and out of town more than once. We finally grabbed some Chinese to eat at the bnb. There's always a Chinese food place seemingly wherever you go.

The BnB (Turin Farmhouse) is out of town a bit and not well marked at all. We drove past it the first time. It’s a working cattle and sheep farm up a long driveway. It really felt like we were guests in their home, which we were. We were told not to mess with one of the many dogs as he “wasn’t right in the heid”. It felt a little weird, but the room was big and the lady of the house was nice. Her husband was watching TV, but nodded at us It had pretty views as it was on a hill overlooking a loch. Boy, the beds were hard, though! We had a tv in the room (glad we didn’t have to sit with hubby and watch whatever he had on!) and free wifi (that you could only access in the dining room so the girls watched TV instead). We had our own bathroom and never saw the other guests as they were men staying here while working on a local electric project and were up and out early. Family research tomorrow.
rmmom is offline  
Jul 20th, 2013, 11:34 AM
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Day 16

We used today to visit Brechin, Pictavia, Broughty Ferry and Glamis castle. Brechin is a lovely OLD town and the cathedral there is beautiful and historic with a tall round tower dating from 1100. My research had linked my granny Guthrie with Guthries from this area. We found mention of Guthries in the cathedral and we found their gravestones (More about this in tomorrow’s installment). They were an important family in the area involved in the church and politics.

Pictavia is a nearby museum of sorts that is oddly located in a garden center. It covers the Pictish history in the area. Angus is considered the birthplace of Scotland because the Pictish nation was centered here. We talked to a very educated guide who really loves what she does and she was very informative. I love the really old histories and relics. We had originally planned on going to Meigle to see the Pictish stones there, but chose not to go because we saw and learned enough here. At her suggestion we also drove a short way to Aberlemno to see the big stones there right on the road. There are standing stones sprinkled all over Scotland. No big deal it seems!

We then went to Glamis Castle(pronounced glamms). The queen mother was raised here and what a lovely place. It is still lived in today so it is well kept and furnished. Gorgeous interiors! Very disneyesque exterior. The tour was great and you really get to “know” the Queen Mum. We loved it. They have their own herd of highland cattle and we got up close to the moms and babies. There was a bull in with them who walked right up to the fence to scratch his bum. He was oh so hairy and HUGE! The fence didn't look nearly strong enough for his rubbing so we moved back just in case he fell through. We had a very nice afternoon tea in the cafe.

It is light late at this time of year so we drove to Broughty Ferry and Newport on Tay to see where my grandmother was from. I have conflicting info from my research. Some documents I found indicate they lived in Newport on Tay across the forth from Broughty Ferry on High Street and had a grocery business on Union St., however, both cities have streets by those names. I do know she was born in Broughty Ferry. We drove to Newport on Tay and took pictures at the High St address just in case. In both cases, there is no house anymore. There is a carpet shop in Newport and a Tesco in BF. Oh well.
rmmom is offline  
Jul 20th, 2013, 11:46 AM
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Day 17 more family research and on to Edinburgh

We saw a sign for the Angus Archives the day before near our BnB so we stopped in to see what they had. Great place to do local family research! We found multiple books that were about the Guthries we had seen at the cathedral. The woman there was so helpful and got me online with the Scotland’s People website. I was hoping to do some research at the Scotland’s People center in Edinburgh, but found out they are only open M-F! And we are going to be there on a weekend darn it. So this was very helpful. Unfortunately, my preliminary research on ancestry.com was wrong and we are not related to the Brechin Guthries. I did get a marriage certificate for my grandmother’s parents who were married in Arbroath, not in the area at all. Also not as famous either which is no surprise! Just regular folk like me With this info I can do further research from home because I now know my great grandmother’s parents names so it’s not a total loss.

There is a Guthrie Castle nearby which we already knew had been sold years ago and is now a wedding venue. The current owners don’t allow the public in even if they are Guthries. I decided we’d just tell them one of my DDs is getting married and can we check out the place as a possible venue? (I know, not nice to lie, but it's a castle with our family name on it!). Well, we waited too late and they no longer have a phone number listed on their website, you have to email them. She did reply and wanted all sorts of “proof” that we were indeed planning a wedding, but we ran out of time. Bummer. The BnB owner said the owners are strange. She has hosted wedding guests for them because it costs too much to stay at the castle, but the phone number she had was disconnected. Just as well, we got more out of the visit to the archives anyway.

It took longer to get to Edinburgh than I thought so we dropped off the car first instead of going to the apt. we had rented to drop off our stuff. Driving back into town was harder than leaving for some reason. My 17yo did a spectacular job getting me to the car rental place. That meant taking a taxi from the train station because no way were we getting all our crap on a bus or walking with it from there! We were supposed to call the woman meeting us 30 min before we arrived, but her phone wasn’t working. I was having trouble using my phone and the girls’ phones were dead so I used a payphone to call the company. They didn’t know what was going on and had us wait at Waverly. I didn’t hear anything for awhile so called back and told them we were just going over to the apt. We got there and low and behold the woman was waiting for us. She had lost her phone and had been waiting for us. She had emailed her company, but couldn't call them so they didn’t know where she was. A bit of a “glitch”, but it worked out.

The apt is at the top of a long 3 flights of steep spiral stairs (is there any other kind in the UK?) and has a dodgy-looking entrance but the apt is very nice and modernized. We had seen reviews detailing this so we weren’t surprised. It has 2 bedrooms and a big shower and the best beds of the trip so far. The kitchen is well-equipped (they even had some milk in the fridge and cookies for us) and has a washing machine, but no dryer so we hung the clothes on the towel warmer in the shower room. Had to finish off some pants in the oven!

We walked to the Royal Mile which is nearby. The weather is mostly sunny today in Edinburgh. Our apt is in Old Town right under the Castle. You can see it from the living room window! We wandered a bit and found a café in one of the Closes (sorry, don’t remember the name).I had my first haggis, neeps and tatties and it was excellent. One DD just had a cheese sandwich and the other had some weird looking nachos. Who orders nachos in Scotland? No one who expects them to taste like nachos in the US that’s for sure! We wandered a bit more and did some shopping for gifts to take home. The DDs were feeling the effects of not seeing a movie on this whole trip (gasp!) so we went to see World War Z at the movies. A just ok movie and way more expensive than at home! Tomorrow we plan to sleep in and enjoy those beds.
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Jul 20th, 2013, 11:53 AM
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Day 18 Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace and "underneath" Edinburgh

Today is the Edinburgh castle tour. Also on our Explorer Pass so we get to bypass the lines which are pretty long by the time we get there at 10:00. The Castle is very old and historic and sits on a volcanic outcropping/hill. It commands views all over the city and out onto the Forth of Firth. It is situated very well as a fortress and there are signs that the top of that hill has been occupied for over a thousand years. It houses the Scottish Crown Jewels (the Honours of Scotland) and the Stone of Scone (or the Stone of Destiny). The crown jewels may not be as spectacular and over-the-top as the English ones, but have a great back story and are the oldest “regalia” in the British Isles. And you can clearly tell the Scots are happy to have their Stone back. The Stone has been used for Scottish coronations since the beginning and there are some tales of it having biblical origins. It was taken to England in 1296 and used for the royal coronations (including the current Queen) and not returned to Scotland until 1996! There is an agreement that it be returned for the next coronation, but the Scots won’t let it out of their sight for long. I think the British get it for a couple of days and that’s all!

We had an entertaining guide who made all the history palatable even for my 19yo who gets easily bored by that sort of thing. We took in the rest of the castle sights (and there is a lot to see-plan on spending some time here) while we waited to see the 1 o’clock gun go off. The Scots used it as a way to tell time for the ships out in the foggy Firth and, rather than shoot it at noon using 12 shots, did it at 1 to save ammunition. So Scottish! And you WILL jump when it goes off no matter how prepared you think you are! We ate a really good lunch in the crowded cafe.

We then walked down the Royal Mile past soooo many tacky tourist shops (ok, we did pop in a few to pick up the requisite souvenirs) to Holyrood Palace. The queen still uses this as a palace when she is in Scotland so it is well maintained and you get to see actual state rooms. We enjoyed being immersed in more current “history” as opposed to all the more ancient histories we had learned about elsewhere. Boy, does she own a lot of china! It was raining most of the day and coming down too hard for me to go through the gardens although the DDs braved it. It was cold so we had tea in their cafe. I now see why tea is such a big deal over here. It’s the damp and cold weather!

We walked back up (and I mean UP- this place is hilly and everything seems to be uphill and the cobblestones get slippery) to the apt for a break, had bad Chinese food from a buffet nearby and went back to the Royal Mile for the Mary Kings Close walk at 8pm. More hill walking! It was an entertaining and educational walk in the part of Edinburgh that is now underground. Because there isn’t much room on this rock, back in the day, they just built UP, on top of whatever, including people’s homes and businesses. They try to make it somewhat “scary” (and the show Ghosthunters did an episode here), but it really isn’t. The 19yo didn’t want to do it because of the haunted aspect, but it was harmless and not scary and she ended up being glad I dragged her along.
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Jul 20th, 2013, 11:59 AM
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Day 19 more Edinburgh and a disappointing experience

Our last day! We slept in again. Maybe it was all the hill walking yesterday, or just the end of a long trip. We walked to the National Museum of Scotland through the Grassmarket neighborhood. It’s a huge place and free! I like that many of the museums in the UK are free. When you don’t have the luxury of a lot of time, knowing you don’t have to pay admission for something you may not have more than an hour to see is nice. You could spend days here, literally. Not the 19yo, she hates reading the stuff so just whizzes through and waits for her sister and me who like to read everything. She tolerated us pretty well, though. We went up on the roof to see the city from there and while there were breaks in the clouds and sun peaking out here and there, one of them decided to empty on top of us, chasing us back inside. Our umbrellas didn’t get much use this trip because, if it was raining, it was also almost always windy. We did better with just the hoods on our raincoats.

We had lunch at the museum and then walked over to Greyfriars Kirk and the statue of Bobby, the dog that stayed at his master’s grave for years after his death. Bobby is buried there too. It rained hard at the cemetery and the 19yo was dancing in it and getting soaked while we watched from the protection of a tree. There were some other visitors there who looked at her like she was nuts. We don’t see much rain here in California!

The 19yo split off on her own to buy more souvenirs for friends back home while her sister and I took the bus to Loopy Lorna’s tea room. I saw this place on the internet and we were really looking forward to it. My 17yo is a tea drinker here at home and she thought the place sounded charming. We did not know it had moved and the new location is not as cute or charming. The tea, food and service (I never did get a spoon, I had to stir my tea with my knife) was not very good either so overall we were very disappointed. Especially since the place is a long way from the city center. The 19yo had a much better dinner bought at a Waitrose and heated up in the micro at the apt.

The bus ride back took us close to the apt. which was good since I was getting tired of walking. The hills and cobblestones are hard at the end of the trip. We then spent the rest of the evening getting our packing organized trying to get all the purchases in the carryons. My friend loaned us a collapsible bag with wheels. She actually made us take it, I didn’t think we’d need it, but she was so right! We filled that sucker and still needed more room. Then we discovered it had another zipper and it expanded more! We called it Lynn’s magical bag. We’ll check 2 bags on the return trip. I made arrangements to have a car take us to the airport since we have so many bags now. No way was I even considering trying to get all this on a bus! I checked in for our flights a bit late and couldn’t get seats together for the London-SF leg. I’ll try at the airport tomorrow. We fly from EDI to LHR, have a 70 minute layover (which concerns me, but I have been told it’s enough time) and then LHR to SFO.
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Jul 20th, 2013, 12:10 PM
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Day 20 Home!

I scheduled our pick up for 6:30am. Our flight isn’t until 9:15, but I wasn’t sure how the traffic would be getting to the airport. Our driver was there right on time. It was work getting all our bags back down those steep spiral stairs! The driver was very nice and talkative and clearly a nationalist. The more excited he got, the less we understood him. The Scots accent gets really thick when they are excited about something If a football match was on in a pub, forget it- it’s a completely foreign language! He filled us in on the current politics and the upcoming vote in 2014 for Scottish independence. While we were in England there was some discussion on this and the impression we got was the English don’t want it to happen. Here in Scotland, the impression is the opposite. According to our driver, it has to do with the North Sea oil that Scotland controls. And, despite the hundreds of years that have passed, the Scots are still smarting over the loss at Culloden. It will be interesting to see what happens next year.

We were at the airport before 7 and had to wait to check our bags. We’ve never seen signs telling you which counter to go to and when like here. We are taking a smaller plane to LHR and they have much stricter weight conditions. They made us weigh all our carryons as well as make sure they fit the size limits. We had to check one of the carryons after we took stuff out of the other one so it would meet the weight. We managed to get the backpacks on without fuss and they were able to seat us together for the LHR-SFO flight. I was really worried we would have to pay for extra baggage, but we lucked out. It was an Irish airline that Virgin uses. We had an Irish pilot and couldn’t understand him at all. We could have been ditching in the ocean for all we knew. We had finally figured out the Scottish brogue for the most part, but this accent threw us!

We had a short layover at LHR, but they had a dedicated bus that took us right from the plane to the international terminal so we didn’t have to go through security again. That was a godsend. We even had time to get food before boarding (trying to use up our british money). Unfortunately, we got seats right behind a 2 yo boy who screamed most of the flight. Despite that, the flight was easier than going over. Customs and immigration didn’t take too long since we could go through the US side.

We made arrangements with a friend to pick us up at the BART station in Concord so she wouldn’t have to drive into and out of the city during rush hour (we landed at 3:30pm). We took the BART train to Concord right from SFO. It took a little over an hour. It’s 1.5 hrs home from there and as soon as we got close, we stopped for Mexican food. It was about 1 am London time but who cares? Cravings must be satisfied!

We got home and reunited with our dogs and cat at about 730pm local time. We missed them and our own beds. The 17yo went out with her friends right away. As soon as her phone worked again, the texts began rolling in. They didn’t care that it was not 7:30 pm for us! I thought she was nuts. Her sister and I went to bed at 8. We slept until 4am. The 17yo rolled in around midnight so she slept in later. Jet lag is awful and much worse coming home I discover. Glad to be in my own bed, though! The 19yo left to join her church group at camp until Thursday. Another nutbag. I have a few days off before I go back to work and boy do I need them!

All in all, a fantastic trip that went off mostly without a hitch thanks to the excellent advice I got from the Fodor’s forums
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Jul 20th, 2013, 12:12 PM
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I will post some pictures too as soon as I have them organized into albums! I promise!
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