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Kilts and Cockaleekie - a Yank wanders through Scotland

Kilts and Cockaleekie - a Yank wanders through Scotland

Old Jul 21st, 2008, 04:30 AM
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Thanks to all that are reading this, your replies are encouraging

Next:

Tuesday, 7/1: Columba’s Island

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Old Jul 21st, 2008, 07:47 AM
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Sorry about the bad weather you experienced but maybe it was for the best, since Iona was nice and quiet. In good weather at least, it's one of those places where it's worth staying overnight as it's better after the hordes of daytrippers have gone.

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

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

You had much better luck than me with Staffa ! I never bothered taking the trip there as a teenager but did it in 1997. I ended up spending the whole hour searching for puffins, without seeing a single one, and so missed Fingal's Cave too ! (This was late May and a friend had been at the same time the year before and practically been tripping over puffins !) I hope I will get another chance.
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Old Jul 21st, 2008, 10:39 AM
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Iona was actually an interesting study in determination. The tour group that preceded us - mostly older couples - split up once on the island. The women went on through the rain to the abbey, while the men relaxed at the cafe with cups of coffee and hot chocolate.
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Old Jul 21st, 2008, 11:10 PM
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Continuing to enjoy this, GD.

Do you think it would be possible (or even practical) - weather permitting - to go to Iona and Staffa on the same day? I have a fascination with puffins and so would love to go to Staffa but Iona is a must as well.
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Old Jul 22nd, 2008, 04:05 AM
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Certainly, as long as the weather is fair. The trip to Staffa takes 2 hours - 1/2 hour there, an hour on the island, 1/2 hour back. They do two trips, one around 10am, another at 2pm.

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





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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 7/3: Glen Coe is calling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Old Jul 22nd, 2008, 03:39 PM
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Green Dragon, wonderful report!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for sharing your story.
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Old Jul 23rd, 2008, 04:17 AM
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Friday, 7/4: Go away, or I will taunt you a second time!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back at the B&B, and after another long climb up the stairs, we watched a Touch of Frost and then zonked out.
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Old Jul 23rd, 2008, 08:26 AM
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A correction - Glencoe was the scene of the massacre of the McDonalds by the Campbells. The feud still exists to this day. A friend of mine by the name of Campbell had rental car trouble in the highlands. He walked about a mile to a nearby croft, only to have the crofter say "I'll not be helping a Cambell." When I tread your report, I realise why I left Scotland many years ago. It was the bloody awful weather.
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Old Jul 23rd, 2008, 09:07 AM
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I stand corrected, McDonalds, not MacGregors! I was mixing up the massacre with Rob Roy...
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Old Jul 23rd, 2008, 09:08 AM
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Saturday, 7/5: Not-so-Stirling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The dessert was a last sticky toffee pudding and a last strawberries and cream, and we went home. I repacked everything, putting all my gifts in my carryon and all my clothing in the checked baggage. We had to wake at around 4am to make our 9:30am flight out of Glasgow, so I went to bed around 9pm, despite the light streaming in the lightly shaded window.
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Old Jul 23rd, 2008, 09:08 AM
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Sunday, 7/6: A case of mistaken identity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary:

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

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

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

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Old Jul 23rd, 2008, 09:53 AM
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GreenDragon, thank you so much for your wonderful trip report. I feel as though I was there with you every inch of the way. It has really wet my appetite for my upcoming trip

I was interested to read how much you enjoyed the north coast of Scotland. I intend to drive from Durness to just before Bettyhill before turning south for Lairg. Am I missing much between Bettyhill and Thurso?
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Old Jul 23rd, 2008, 10:41 AM
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Thanks for a wonderful story, Green! Makes me want to go back! (Too bad about that new oil tank and rewiring job that must be done!) Now how long till we see the pictures? I went to your website last night as I hoped some might be up. I know that thing called Work gets in the way of "funner" stuff.


But waiting eagerly,
Irishface
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Old Jul 23rd, 2008, 11:36 AM
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I've gone through about 2/3 of my 6300 pictures, and chosen the ones I want to process. I've processed about half of those so far... timewise, about to the middle of 6/23. I was looking at Smoo Cave pics last night (something you don't want to miss, Yelpir!)

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

I will post on here when they are up, certainly!
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Old Jul 23rd, 2008, 11:41 AM
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GreenDragon-Thanks for the great trip report.Looking forward to seeing your pictures.

Have you started planning your next trip?

Susan
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Old Jul 23rd, 2008, 01:41 PM
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Nice to read all of your detailed installments, GreenDragon. I especially appreciate the summary at the end, and the assessment of your favorite places. My early thoughts on the trip that I'm planning were to possibly skip Skye - really interested in the Northern isles and the Outer Hebrides. And, oh, Iona also. Yipes, this is going to be hard, because I will not have 3 weeks. But we won't be in the middle at all.

The pictures will be interesting, no doubt!
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Old Jul 23rd, 2008, 01:47 PM
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I have enjoyed this trip report so much (except for the bad luggage and bad food parts). I had been travelling a similar trip with my parents for this year but my mother's health turned a little for the worse at the beginning of the year. I fear that the trip won't happen for them, but I do plan on getting back to Scotland sometime!

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

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Old Jul 24th, 2008, 01:04 AM
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Thanks very much for a wonderful report, GD ! I will be using it for reference if I ever get to any of these places myself

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

All the best and thanks again for a very good read, Caroline.
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Old Jul 24th, 2008, 03:03 AM
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(Just reread my post)... I had been PLANNING a similar trip...
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Old Jul 24th, 2008, 04:07 AM
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Another one who has enjoyed every bit of your report and fully intend to make use of some of your experiences in the planning of my trip - hopefully May 2009.

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