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Scotland Trip Report: 200 miles of single track roads, 5,000 stairs, and 50,000 sheep – give or take a little

Scotland Trip Report: 200 miles of single track roads, 5,000 stairs, and 50,000 sheep – give or take a little

Old Aug 22nd, 2006, 07:09 PM
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Scotland Trip Report: 200 miles of single track roads, 5,000 stairs, and 50,000 sheep – give or take a little

Summary: To get a good taste of Scotland’s rich history and spectacular wild scenery in a very short time

High Priorities: Scottish History; Castles, particularly those which are more obscure and in various states of ruins; Nature and Scenery; Very small villages; Avoiding crowds and saving money when possible

Low Priorities: Visiting “touristy” attractions; fine dining and pubs; posh/furnished/restored castles; shopping

Cast of Characters:

Bruce – 43 aka: Supply Sargent and Cook (making sandwiches and handing out snacks in the car), Model (to pose in front of castles, hills, etc), Official Ice Cream and Cookie Sampler, Tourist, Re-fueling Engineer, and Dad

Debbie – 43 aka: Travel Agent (with 2 notebooks full of directions and notes compiled before the trip), Tour Bus Driver, Photographer, and Mom

Scott – 18 aka: Tour Guide and Aspiring Expert on Scottish history, castles, and weapons; Map-reader, Music Director (fed the Scottish CDs into the player while we drove), and Son

Prelude – “Preparation”

We used the following resources to plan this trip and found them all very useful:

Travel books – Fodors, Frommers, and Scotland the Best
AARoadwatch.ie – For step-by-step driving directions between sites
Amazon.com – To purchase atlas in advance so I could be as familiar with our route as possible prior to leaving home
UndiscoveredScotland.com – Used extensively to determine what we wanted to see & do and to get names and email addresses of B & Bs
Historic-Scotland.gov.uk – For specific information about each castle and to purchase our passes in advance
Aboutscotland.com – To find B & B s and things to do
Edfringe.com – To purchase fringe event tickets
Edinburgh-tatoo.co.uk – To purchase our Tattoo tickets
Web-based travel boards – To get very valuable advise and answers to the majority of our questions, some good questions (where to find hand-made crafts, where to get info about roundabouts, opinions about our itinerary, etc) and some rather silly questions (like are there poisonous snakes or Iced Tea in Scotland?). Many thanks to all who were patient and tolerant with me – I could not have planned such a great trip without you!

Note about packing/unpacking at each location: It was pointed out to me that unpacking our suitcases would be a pain in the neck each time we moved from place to place (we stayed at 6 different B & Bs/hotels in Edinburgh, Perth, Stonehaven, Inchnadamph, Foyers, and Glasgow). We also knew that many rooms would be on upper floors and we didn’t want to haul huge suitcases upstairs. So, I came up with a packing system that worked BEAUTIFULLY for us. I laid out all our clothes for the week in daily piles, including all items we would need for the day (undergarments, socks, slacks/jeans, shirt, etc.) Each daily outfit was then placed in a very large ziplock bag. Then, instead of packing a suitcase for each person, I packed suitcases by date. I had one suitcase for Sat-Mon, one for Tues-Thurs, etc. In each suitcase were the zip lock bags. We had one small duffle bag that contained sleeping garments to be used again and again, but it was mostly empty. Each night upon arriving at our B & B, I would grab 3 outfits for us for the next day, put them in the duffle bag and carry them in. So all we carried in with us each day was the duffle bag and our toiletries bag. Dirty clothes were put back in the ziplock bags and stowed in a different duffle bag and/or suitcase in the trunk. This system worked marvelously!
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Old Aug 22nd, 2006, 07:09 PM
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Act One - “A Long Day Waiting” (Friday, August 11)

Left home at 4:00 am to get to LA International Airport for an 11:00 am flight. The 5 hour time allotted (yes, it is right – 5 hours!) was almost not enough. We made the flight with only about 45 minutes of waiting at the gate, so any further delay may have made us miss the flight to Chicago. We flew American Airlines and they seemed remarkably organized at LAX considering what was going on.

Because of the terror threat and carry-on restrictions, I had already packed our “carry-on” baggage (passport, tickets, and not much else) in plastic ziplock bags. I had spent the prior evening repacking everything so that we could check everything. All of our “small” bags (briefcase size, toiletries case, etc) were packed as is into larger rolling duffle-style bags. This was a big advantage because we found out at the airport that we would actually be allowed to bring a small travel bag each. So all we had to do was pull out those cases (loaded with cameras, DVD players, earplugs, eyeshades, and snacks) before checking the rest. This worked really well since we didn’t know what to expect as the carry-on restrictions seemed to be in a constant state of flux at that uncertain time. Others were stuck with only their plastic bags.

The flight to Chicago was uneventful. Upon arrival, we hunkered down for the 3+ hour layover as our flight to Glasgow was scheduled to take off at 7:00 pm. By 9:00 pm, with the plane still being checked over by the mechanics, American decided that the plane could not be fixed and cancelled our flight. There were hundreds of us stuck. As we got in line to talk to the desk agents about what could be done, we were told that they could only fly 20 people to Heathrow but then had no flights from there to Glasgow available – and you could only go if you had no checked luggage. The collective sighs and groans were something to hear. We were dead last in line behind hundreds of people and expected to fly home and cancel the trip when they informed us that ALL American flights from Chicago to Glasgow for the next 3 days were overbooked. Suddenly, the lady mentioned that, rather than waiting in line, we could go to desk 7 further down the terminal and speak on the phone to a booking agent who might be able to re-route us. Before I could turn around, my 18 year old son, Scott, was running at full force through the terminal to get to a phone. We were the 2nd people to arrive at the phone and were able to get booking to Newark for the next day and then booked on a United flight leaving Newark at 7 pm Saturday night. So we were going to lose a day, but it could have been a lot worse. I don’t think that most of the people were as lucky as we were. American paid for our room at the Sheraton and gave us $120 in meal vouchers for breakfast, lunch & dinner for the 3 of us. For the most part we were able to keep our sense of humor. We joked about how our vacation would be spent traveling from one US city to another in a vain attempt to get to Scotland. We pictured being re-routed through Newark, then maybe Orlando, then maybe back to Chicago – you get the picture. We imagined telling relatives and coworkers that we spent a week in 7 different airports and got a good laugh out of it. We also laughed at the $5.00 can of Sprite that we ordered from room service at the Sheraton. It was half the size of a regular can of soda and 12 times the price. But that is what meal vouchers are for and it is easy to laugh when it isn’t your money.

We looked at our itenerary that night before bed and decided to drop Linlithgow and Hollyrood Palace and Roslyn Chapel from our plans since we would have one day less in Scotland. Called Hertz and our B & B to let them know that we would be coming in a day late so they wouldn’t give our car/room away.

Act Two - “Re-routed” (Saturday, August 12)

Flew Chicago to Newark in the morning and then to Glasgow that evening. Wish I could say the trip was uneventful but we had some real characters sitting near us on the overnight flight that were pretty disruptive. It didn’t bother me as I had taken a hefty sleeping pill, put my comfy socks on, earplugs in, and eyeshades on. I was out for about 5 hours and awoke well-rested and ready to drive the roads of Scotland.

Scott and my husband, Bruce, didn’t fare as well. They didn’t want to take a sleeping pill and thus got virtually no sleep at all. There were apparently 5 “high maintenance” elderly women sitting around us who had to get up and down every 10-20 minutes to either go to the bathroom or get things out of the overhead compartments, slamming the case each time. And talking very loudly too. Not to mention the absolutely smashed Scottish gentleman who boarded the plane late and proceeded to drink 5 or 6 of those little bottles of whisky. He was actually passed out at one point, drueling and lying across one of the elderly woman, who finally ended up moving to another seat. When I awoke, he had somehow managed to curl up on the floor with his head on the seat and was sleeping. Upon arrival at Glasgow, he got up and joked with my son and asked our tour plans (he was very friendly) as if nothing had happened and all was normal.
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Old Aug 22nd, 2006, 07:10 PM
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Act Three - “We’re here! Driving in Scotland, Wondering around Dirleton, Tantallon, and Craigmiller Castles, Archery Demonstration, and a long walk to Edinburgh Castle” (Sunday, August 13)

Arrived Glasgow at 8:00 am. The weather was overcast but not rainy and seemed neither cold nor warm. We picked up the rental car, a Ford Mondero from Hertz (I think that is the name) and it fit the 3 of us with 6 VERY large suitcases, but we had to keep 3 of them in the back set with one passenger.

This was my FIRST attempt at driving on the left so I was anxious and nervous, but not really scared. Here are my observations of driving in Scotland. In general, the lanes are much more narrow than here in California, even on the divided highways, so more precise driving is required to avoid hitting anything or side-swiping other cars (I’ll go into the single-track roads later on). The advice I’d give to anyone who wants to drive in Scotland would be that you better have nerves of steel, especially if you intend to drive the roads that I did. The main highways (like Glasgow to Edinburgh, Edinburgh to Stirling, Stirling to Stonehaven, and Fort William to Glasgow) are easy if you are used to driving on a highway. The roundabouts are well-signed and easily navigated, especially if you are able to look at some video on the internet of how they work in advance. But driving the streets in Inverness, Glasgow, and Edinburgh and some of the more narrow 2 lane highways (and single track roads) are more of a challenge. My opinion is that if you are a soccer mom or road warrior (like me) that can navigate LA freeways with 8 rowdy, very loud boys yelling and carrying on in the back of the van, getting cut off by speeding trucks, driving to places on freeways and roads that you have never been on, with imprecise directions and soccer balls being batted around the vehicle, then you won’t have any problems. If the prospect of oncoming traffic and sheep in the road or drop-offs or blind corners worry you, stay off the single track roads all together. So, in general, if you get stressed out AT ALL driving, then I’d say don’t attempt it in Scotland unless you stay to the main highways and don’t drive in the cities. Again, just my opinion. I had no problem at all and thoroughly enjoyed my trip, driving and all. But had Bruce been the driver, he would have been miserable and nervous the whole time.

Bruce had decided in June that he would not be driving at all. He had long-ago delegated me as the driver when we had the rowdy kids, so it was only natural that I would be the one to drive in Scotland. His nerves wouldn’t take it and it was a good decision, especially since he got no sleep on the plane. He was a basket case just trying to read the map with me driving, so after day one, he chose to switch seats with Scott and take the back seat. Scott took over the map reading and we had virtually no problems missing turns or getting lost. In the next 7 days of driving, we only took wrong turns 3 or 4 times and were able to quickly make corrections, except for the time we drove 10 miles out of the way looking for Elcho Castle, but the scenery was nice, so who cares? We used a combination of AARoadwatch.ie online route-planning directions and an Atlas. I could see that one would get lost quite easily without the step-by-step printouts from each location to the next, so the time I spent in advance printing them out was well worth it.

So, arriving at Glasgow at 8 am, we drove from Glasgow to North Berwick and arrived there around noon. The scenery outside Edinburgh and towards North Berwick reminded me of areas in rural Ohio with trees and fields and lots of green. Anxious to try out our Historic Scotland passes, which by the way saved us a lot of money, we stopped at the first castle - Dirleton Castle and gardens. Set in a small village about an hour or so from Edinburgh, this was our first castle and turned out to be one of our very favorite ones – at least in the top 3, that’s for sure. The garden is lovely and we were the ONLY people at the castle except the two ladies working there. The castle itself was small as castles go, but had a huge drawbridge-type entry and many small rooms to explore. There were 2 roosters in front of the castle and a small farmhouse with horse grazing next door. The passageways were not laid out in any particular order. Everything was so old and enchanting and in fairly good shape.

After Dirleton, we drove a few minutes up the road to Tantallon Castle. This castle was much larger than Dirleton, but was undergoing renovation and the scaffolding did not make for good photos. The setting on the coast was inspiring but a cold wind had picked up and our legs were already getting tired on the many stairways, so we stayed less than an hour. There were only about 20 people that we could count at Dirleton.

Next, on to Craigmiller Castle – again one of our favorites. Loved the trees in the inner courtyard by the entryway. There were more people at this castle (maybe 75) because they were having an archery and weapons demonstration. We specifically chose to be at this castle at this time because we saw that the demo was scheduled for then by checking the historic-scotland website in advance for activities. The host was funny and informative.

Driving back to Edinburgh, we found our B & B in the Morningside area. The house is owned by Jill and Bob Knox and we found it listed on the aboutscotland website. It is listed as “4 Morningside Place”. We had originally booked nearer to Princes Street, but changed our plans due to parking restrictions. We wanted a safe, unrestricted place to park the rental car right outside our B & B and this was just perfect. If you want a posh, fancy place to stay, then do not stay here. But if you want very kind hosts, a comfy bed, a wonderful breakfast, a convienent location right on the 23 bus line to Edinburgh castle, then this is the place. Our room had extras like an unopened toothbrush (in case we forgot one), a large selection of shampoos/soaps in the wash room for guests’ use, a blow dryer, fresh fruit, cookies, and tea daily, and was quiet. Our hosts were very friendly and helpful without hovering. We especially loved their elderly black lab, “Ben Loyal” who had a knack for knowing who liked dogs and who didn’t. He would unobtrusively sleep under a table and never came over to be petted unless invited. Jill’s breakfasts are wonderful and consisted of FRESH mixed berries, home-made jam, hot croissants, cooked to order eggs, bacon, sausage, etc. – by far the best breakfasts we had on our trip. I would highly recommend staying with them.

One thing we did learn, though, is that it seems like the people in Scotland do much more walking than we do here in So. California. Everyone would tell us “it is just a short walk” but their idea of a short walk was sometimes a very long walk for us. Another revelation came when I tasted my first Walkers shortbread cookie. One taste and I literally ate my way through Scotland, purchasing and eating those cookies every chance I got.

After we checked in at the B & B, we decided to take a bus or walk to the Castle for our Fringe Sunday event starting at 7:30 pm. Well, we were anxious to get there and hadn’t eaten dinner, so we didn’t want to wait for the bus and started walking. I didn’t realize that it is 2.2 miles from our B & B to the castle – whoops! So we walked and walked and came across a Subway, which fit the bill just perfectly. We had our sandwiches and then walked some more. Many may not agree with me, but my impression of Edinburgh is that it is very similar to San Francisco and New York. It is a large city sprinkled with historic landmarks, with all the good things (and bad) that come with large-city living. At least that is the “flavor” I got in the short time I was there.

I knew that Edinburgh castle is on a hill, but didn’t realize how high the hill was until we got close. So we had to walk out of our way to find a place to get up the hill (I forgot to bring the Edinburgh city map – another whoops!). We made it to the castle finally right before opening at 7:30. Now I know that Edinburgh Castle is one of the highlights of many people’s trips to Scotland, but it wasn’t our “cup of tea” you could say. We did like seeing the Scottish Crown jewels and looking around, viewing the city below, etc, but after only an hour my son remarked that it reminded him on the Sleeping Beauty castle at Disney World, so we left. Possibly going to the castle some other time than at the height of the fringe, when there were less people, would have helped. But we just didn’t feel the “magic, mystery, and history” here like we did at some of the more obscure castles.

We walked back to the B & B, getting quite lost along the way. I checked aaroadwatch when I got home to see just how far we hiked that evening and it was over 6 miles! Not bad, considering we had been on an all-night flight the night before. I wonder if all the exercise we did the first day (castle stairs and the 6+ mile walk around Edinburgh) helps jet lag since we didn’t seem to have any at all. Granted, my husband and son were sleepy, but that is to be expected. But no other symptoms of the horrible jet-lag that we had been warned about. Finally settled into bed around 11:30 or so and slept like a baby.
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Old Aug 22nd, 2006, 07:10 PM
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Act Four - “Contemplation at Rosslyn Chapel, Wondering at the Museum of Scottish History, and Awestruck at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo” (Monday August 14)

The weather this morning was sunnier but not hot nor cold and no rain. We decided to skip most of the things we had intended to see in the Royal Mile. We had already done some shopping on our “hike” through town the night before and weren’t interested in the ghost tours or seeing the Palace or fighting the crowds. So we decided to head for Rosslyn Chapel after our wonderful breakfast. The drive was easy as our B & B was right on the road leading to it so we didn’t get lost. The chapel is set in the country with fields and livestock nearby. While the chapel had been one of the last things on our original “wish list” of things to see, we are glad we did not miss it. We are uninterested in the recent DiVinci code nonsense and hype that surrounds the chapel and enjoyed it for the history and beauty alone. The carvings were exquisite. Again, arriving early was great as there were few people there when we arrived, but many when we left.

Scott made an acquaintance of the most interesting elderly Scottish man who was there. He had pictures of him in the 40’s with other military men and showed them to Scott. He told him about the war, his friends who had passed on now, and that he had been personal friends with the minister who oversaw the chapel for many years. He showed the gravesite to Scott. What a wonderful man to share his memories with my son! It meant a lot to Scott and he will not forget that gentleman.

After that, we headed for Edinburgh and I decided that driving on the left was a piece of cake so we were going to chance the drive into town and forgo the bus (or long walk) in favor of parking at a public parking structure near to the National Museum of Scotland/Museum of Scottish history. No problem finding it or parking and we saw another Subway on the walk to the museum, so we got another sandwich for lunch and then spent a few hours at the museum. The most interesting parts of the museum to us were in the right side of the building, the Scottish history side. We only glanced at the other exhibits on the left which is the National Museum of Scotland I believe.

Then we caught a bus leading to Princes Street. There were pipers outside the art museum and we watched them for a while. I needed to go pick up our tickets to the Tatoo so I left Bruce & Scott at the art museum while I walked to find the ticket office. I found the right street, but went the wrong way. I ended up hiking to the castle, down the Royal Mile trying to find a sign that said “Tattoo Office” that I had remembered from the night before. Getting lost did allow me to peek inside St. Giles Cathedral to enjoy the stained glass windows. Finally finding the steps leading downhill, I arrived back again to almost where I started before and thankfully found the office. I got the tickets and picked up a CD at the souvenier shop before walking back to the art museum. Bruce & Scott were getting sleepy so we decided to go to the Princes Street garden to rest (like many others were doing). I left them there, lying on the grass in the sunshine, and eating ice cream called “99” or something which they purchased from a vendor at the garden. They each ate 2 of them and rested for 2 hours while I shopped along Princes Street. Mostly I did window shopping but found some small items I couldn’t live without before meeting up with them back at the garden.

It was dinner time so we walked over to an Italian place I saw off Princes Street (the street of buses as we will always call it since there were endless buses as far as the eye could see in both directions). The place was called Bella Italia and I would not recommend it. The service was very slow. The waiter came to inform us that it was taking so long because they ran out of fish. Funny, we hadn’t ordered fish and told him so. He got flustered and ½ hour later our order came out. I think he got confused or something. I got a pizza which was tasteless and Bruce’s steak was like a tough piece of leather. Scott liked his rib/wing combo, and was introduced to something called “Appletiser”, carbonated apple juice, which was a big hit. He continued to order them all over Scotland after that. This dinner was a $100 mistake and we would have been better off to have another Subway sandwich in hindsight.

After dinner, we caught the bus back to the Royal Mile and walked up to the Tatoo just in time. All I can say about the Tatoo is “WOW!” It almost can’t be described. We all got shivers down our spines when all the pipes and drums played together in the opening pieces. The stands actually shook when all the pipers played together. There was an African children’s choir singing Christian songs which was great and several regiments from around the world. Two of our favorites were (1) the New Zealand band that played songs like the James Bond 007 theme while their coronet players ran around pretending that their instruments were guns and (2) the ALL drum corp that was able to toss their drumsticks back & forth to each other while continuing to play. Every single minute of this show was a delight and the highlight of our visit to Edinburgh.

We did succumb to some toursity souvenier shopping after the Tattoo. Besides small items, Scott decided to buy a kilt, shirt, belt, and bag since he has always wanted one. He also wanted to buy a Claymore, but we weren’t sure how to bring it home. Can you see the airline security passing a 5 foot sword through carry-on luggage? And we already had our limit of checked luggage. Shipping would have been $80, so he opted out.

Act Five - “Stately Stirling Castle, Climbing the Wallace Monument, Imposing Doune Castle, Inspiring Dunblane Cathedral, and Magical Castle Campbell” (Tuesday August 15)

After bidding our hosts goodbye, we set off for Stirling. The weather was unchanged with no rain. First on the agenda was Stirling Castle. We arrived right at opening and there were very few people there. We loved Stirling Castle which seemed like a smaller version of Edinburgh Castle without the crowds. But when we were leaving, the parking lot was totally full of cars and tour buses, so the lesson is to arrive early to avoid the crowds and parking headaches.

Next we visited the Wallace Monument and climbed those hundreds of stairs to the top. I do not like heights and was unsettled half way up to realize that you could see out the little cutouts in the walls while climbing the stairs. But Scott walked in front of me up the spriral stairs, floor after floor, with me looking only at his feet and not at the dropoff outside. To be fair, it wasn’t that bad, as I noticed on the way down. But I was scared on the way up anyway. The view from the top is worth the climb. Lots of people at this stop.

We next visited Doune Castle, which is large and imposing and set in a woodland area. It reminded us of Dirleton in a way. Off to the right, across the road, is a little trail leading to a stream which was nice. It was obvious from the ground that either sheep or deer frequent the area. There were only 6 or 7 other people enjoying the castle with us.

Next on our list was Dunblane Cathedral. A very imposing graveyard surrounds the church and there were lovely windows and a nice gentleman who told us about the place.

Then we went off to find Castle Campbell, a little mentioned castle near Dollar and set in an area known as Dollar Glen. We wanted to see this castle because part of our Scottish roots are Campbell and part are Scott (my grandma’s maiden name was Burns, which is associated with the Campbell clan and my husband’s grandfather’s last name was Scott). So off we went. We loved the little town of Dollar, quite charming and uncrowded. The drive up the mountain to the parking lot of the castle was windy. We parked and walked quite a ways downhill through a forested area to Castle Campbell. This was by far our favorite Castle of all. There are no signs of industry or settlement anywhere near the castle except for the town of Dollar quite far down the hill. From the moment we entered the area we felt as if we had gone back in time. Some of the castle is in ruins, some not. The ruined walls are covered with ferns and flowers growing between the stones and there is a lovely little garden beside the castle. Below, there are 2 terraces with flowers and lawn where you can sit and look down the valley towards Dollar. The entire area is heavily wooded with fern and flowers growing underneath. And it was so very quiet there. We realized that we had skipped lunch and were delighted to learn that the tiny café in the castle offered “toasties”, which are like our grilled cheese sandwiches. So we had some toasties, and ice cream, and did some more exploring. Besides the 2 people working there, we saw only 3 other people the entire time.

It was time to drive to our next B & B in Perth, but rather than hurrying off, we took a hike down a side trail down from the left of the castle entrance and found ourselves heading downhill towards a lovely stream. The trail was well maintained and we were wishing that it was earlier in the day so that the sunlight would be dappling through the trees. But it was getting cool and late so we headed back. We could have easily spent an entire day, if not more, at Castle Campbell and Dollar Glen. It is a good place to relax and get away from the crowds. It was the best of both for us, the lovely castle and garden – plus forest. Just wonderful!

Dinner was nothing special, but after spending so much on the leather steak and the tasteless pizza in Edinburgh, we chose to go with something we knew would be inexpensive and edible – Burger King. I know, sounds gross, but no worse than we had at the restaurant and at a fraction of the cost. And it was pretty tasty. We met a nice girl working there who came to our table to ask us about California. She was either interested in California or Scott, I’m not sure which one! I guess the Burger King in Perth doesn’t get many tourists.

We stayed at Almond Villa B & B in Perth, and while this is rated 4 stars by the Scottish B & B society, we would not have rated it as highly. It was nice and clean, and the beds were comfy, but breakfast was nothing special with packaged jams and no croissants and a melon that didn’t look ripe (guess we got spoiled by Jill). The biggest problem is that we were in what we referred to as the “California Room”. We called it that because every time a truck or large car drove by, it felt like an earthquake. The B & B is right on the main road through town, which we called B & B row because there were so many lined up, each almost the same. It was an older home – which was charming, but obviously built before cars and trucks were barreling down the street. It wasn’t too much of an issue as we didn’t go to sleep until 11 or so, long after the traffic died down – and we were up by 6:30 am to get ready for the day – just about as the rattling started, so the rattling didn’t keep us up or interrupt our sleep.
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Old Aug 22nd, 2006, 07:11 PM
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Act Six - “Dressing up at Huntingtower Castle, Finding the not-so-easy-to-find Elcho Castle, Silence at Arbroath Abbey, Windy Donnotar Castle, and Slimy fish at Stonehaven” (Wednesday August 16)

We awoke to another beautiful rainless day. After breakfast, we headed out to the grocery store and filled our collapsible cooler (we brought it with us from California in our luggage) with ice, drinks, cheese, turkey and roast beef. We purchased really nice raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, and apples, along with bread for sandwiches, bottled water and snacks – enough for the next 3 days as we were heading to the highlands and weren’t sure what to expect in way of grocery stores.

On a side note, we filled up the gas tank every time we saw a station when the tank was less than ½ full so as to not run out. As we headed further north, we weren’t sure what the gas availability would be so better safe than sorry. The gas was about $8.00 per gallon and we got about 30 mpg on the trip.

First on the list was Huntingtower Castle, which we loved. The woman at the desk gave us costumes so we could dress up. I chose a green cape and Bruce chose a blue cape and hat. Scott chose to laugh at us and not dress up. The castle is interesting in that it is actually 2 houses joined together. It was interesting but the funnest part was the dress-up time. Again, we were the ONLY visitors at the castle. The attendant was able to spend time telling us the tale of the young lady who leapt from tower to tower in an attempt to hide the fact that she was in her lover’s room.

Next we headed out to find Elcho Castle, by far the hardest castle to find of all on our trip. We took a wrong turn and had to drive about 10 miles out of the way, but that was okay because the drive was beautiful. Elcho is set in farmland and has a large grove of what I think were apple trees nearby. It was an interesting castle having a large, oversized spiral staircase in the entry. They offered us more dress-up clothes, but we decided that having Scott point and laugh at us once per day was enough and opted out. There were only 5 or 6 others at this castle with us.

We stopped at Arbroath Abbey on the way up to Donnotar Castle and Bruce and Scott decided to spend an hour playing chess in the viewing room upstairs. I checked out the gift shop and read through the displays before we all visited the ruins of the Abbey. This was an interesting stop.

On to Donnotar, which we thought would be the best castle on the trip. It ranked right up there and we loved it, but all the castles were so different it is hard to make comparisons. How can you compare Castle Campbell, set in a forest, with Dunnotar, set on a rock at the sea shore? Anyway, Dunnotar lived up to the hype in all ways. There were a few bus loads of tourists there which made things more crowded than we would have liked. We enjoyed the history of the place as much as the setting. The fact that the Scottish Crown Jewels, which we had seen in Edinburgh, had been hidden here for 8 months before being smuggled out was compelling. And the story of the Christians being held and tortured there was moving.

We decided to try dinner at a Pub/Restaurant recommended by our hostess, the Ship Inn. The Restaurant was full but the same menu was served in the pub. Bruce and Scott ordered Salmon, which was slimy and fishy tasting. My beef stroganoff was alright but nothing out of the ordinary. It is a toss-up as to whether or not I’d recommend this place.

We stayed the night at Arduthie Guest House in Stonehaven. Our room was very nice, a 4-poster bed (with a not-so-great view of the neighbor’s laundry hanging in the yard, but then again, they didn’t make any claims as to it having a nice view, so that was okay). Scott had a single room with a view of the sea over the roofs of the houses. The front yard is lovely with blossoming flowers everywhere, and we were treated to scores of tiny birds eating the seeds off plants behind the windows and just a few feet from where we sat to eat breakfast. Breakfast was, again, not as good as Jill’s (no fresh fruit offered at all), but I would recommend this to anyone staying in Stonehaven as it seems upon reflection that Jill’s breakfasts may have been exceptional and not the rule.

Act Seven – “Huntly Castle, Elgin Cathedral, Spooky Clava Cairns, Getting Serious at Culloden, Loads and Loads of Highland Heather, and the beautiful, flower-filled drive to Inchnadamph” (Thursday August 17)

Awoke to an overcast day, but it was again neither cold nor hot. Our first stop was Huntly Castle, which was to be our last Scottish castle before heading up to the northwest coastal area. There are two things that stand out to me when I remember the castle, which is set in a woodland area. The first are the extraordinary carvings on the fireplaces and the exterior of the castle. The guidebook said that there is truly nothing like it in all of Scotland. The castle was large and was being renovated. There was a small section of a midevil road to view as well.

The second thing that stands out in memory about Huntly Castle is the little bulldog who guards the visitor center/gift shop. I think he belonged to one of the workers. He was so cute and we took his picture.

That brings me to another observation about Scotland. It seems that dogs are much loved there as we saw so many people out walking there dogs in every town and city we visited. We saw probably 100 different breeds. At Huntly, two people with very large great danes were approaching the castle just as we drove up. The tiny little bulldog ran up to greet them even though he could have been an appetizer if they had been vicious. They all got along fine and another woman walking her dog came up as well. All four dogs were having a great time. It was cute and one of those little things we remember from the trip.

On another note, I wanted to mention at all the facilities (toilets) available at each historic-scotland property were very clean and well-maintained.

We drove from Huntly to Elgin Cathedral. This was a quick stop but we enjoyed the intact buildings and historical notes, especially the inscriptions on the wall describing a lady who died in the 1600s who was “virtuous and pure” in youth and then had two husbands later in life. Each inscription was meaningful and I wish we had more time to read them all.

Clava Cairns next. It is an ancient burial ground and worship area and was interesting. It was a little unnerving when we suddenly started getting lightening and thunder – kind of spooky. We noticed a man in a kilt who had just deposited 4 tourists to see the site but wasn’t looking around himself, and speculated that maybe he was one of those tourguides you can hire to show you around. Clava Cairns is only 5 minutes from Culloden and worth a short stop.

Our next stop was Culloden and we spent a few hours there. This was a very informative, yet somber place. We listened to a gentleman who wore the costume of a typical highland warrior who fought at Culloden. He explained the various weapons used on both sides of the battle, as well as why the battle was fought and factors the influenced the outcome. Most interesting is that the man in charge of supplies on the Jacobite side brought 4” cannon balls for 3” cannons. That costly error could have been the deciding factor in the conflict according to the guide. It was very interesting and I would recommend attending one of these talks to anyone going to Culloden. We also noticed that there were Campbells on both sides of the battle, which makes sense to us later on after we heard a talk at Glen Coe about the Campbells. We walked around the battlefield, which was completely covered in purple blooming heather. We found the markers showing where the fallen from each clan were buried. As we were leaving, the thunder began rolling and rain started to fall. It was a moving experience.

We left in a light rain and headed around Inverness to our lodge in Inchnadamph. We took the A837 and that drive was one of the most lovely of the entire trip. I remember seeing a sign posted somewhere along the route stating that the road had won some kind of award for flowers and scenery and I believe it. It was spectacular. I don’t remember now whether it was all or only part single track, but the flowers and trees were spectacular. We stopped at an old stone bridge where water was rushing by. This area reminded me of parts of Yosemite (the high country) and Oregon. We got our first introduction to midges here as we quickly got back in the car after they discovered us and wanted to greet us (or most likely eat us). They are like a cross between a gnat and a moisquito. We also saw our one and only highland cow in this area, a large animal with shaggy hair hanging over his face, just like our old springer spaniel dog Andrew used to have.

A major discovery for me was that large areas of northern Scotland is covered in ferns! Little ferns and huge ferns, with flowers and heather and thistles between. It never occurred to me that there were ferns.

We arrived at Inchnadamph Lodge (in Inchnadamph) earlier than expected and really liked it. It is actually a hostel but they do also rent rooms to families or people traveling together. We got a no-nonsense room with 3 beds on the top floor, with a cold breakfast of cereal, fruit, and toast, for around $35 per person per night – the least expensive place we stayed. We liked the fact that we could use the kitchen to prepare sandwiches for dinner and we played a game of RISK in the large dining hall before Bruce and Scott grabbed a flashlight to take a short hike down to the lake (or probably loch, but I don’t know what it was called.) Then we headed off to bed. I would love to stay here for a week the next time we go to Scotland.
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Old Aug 22nd, 2006, 07:11 PM
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Act Eight - “Single-track roads here we come, including Northwest coastal beaches, tiny villages, loads of sheep, Highland Stoneware stops in Lochinver and Ullapool, some much-needed cheeseburgers at Whitebridge and a lovely setting but BAD mattress in Foyers” (Friday August 18)

Our original plan was to hike to the Bone Caves or the Old Man of Stoer this morning, but the 4+ mile hike sounded too hard and we were feeling lazy, so we skipped it. Instead, we headed out early to take on the single-track road (B869) through Drumbeg, Clashnessie Bay, Achmelvich Bay, and on to Lochinver. We knew we would need extra time as all the info I had on this road said it was “challenging” or “only for the adventurous”. It lived up to the billing and I would not recommend the road for most people, but we LOVED it and had no trouble driving it. Granted, I never went over 30 mph, but who would want to anyway with the glorious scenery all around! There were sheep everywhere – all over the place, in fields, standing in the roads of the little towns, lying next to the road, crossing the roads – you get the picture. We had much more chance of hitting a sheep than a car as we only came across about 20 cars going the opposite direction the entire time. There are little pullouts every few hundred yards called passing places. We only had to back up once to let a car go by. Scott got such a kick out of waving to the people (and having them waive back) as we passed each other on the single-track roads. We also got a kick out of the “give way” signs (meaning yield). This is something I would not want to have missed and the best day of our trip.

We made stops at several small shops which I think were in Drumbeg and Lochinver. I purchased a picture frame at one and some famous Highland Stoneware at the other. We also walked along the beach at Achmelvich and stopped at a rocky bay, although I don’t know the name. It was a glorious day with spectacular weather and scenery.

We also stopped in Ullapool and I would have loved to spend more time there. The next time we come to Scotland we will fly into Inverness and spend time in Ullapool, see the extreme north coast, and see the many islands. I am saving my pennies already!

We absolutely wanted to avoid the Loch Nessie hype area so we took the road less traveled and spent the night in Foyers. The road from Inverness to Foyers was single-track in some parts but empty. There was heavy forest on both sides of the road but we could see Loch Ness peeking out between the trees here & there. It was getting very foggy and started to rain once we arrived at the trail for the Foyers waterfall, so we skipped it as the visibility was poor and we wouldn’t have been able to see the waterfall anyway from the trail.

We arrived at our B & B in Foyers, Foyer’s House, to find that the restaurant hyped on their website was closed (rats-we wanted to eat dinner there!) We checked in and then drove about 20 minutes down the single-track road at dusk to the Whitebridge hotel. We had a wonderful pub meal of pizza, cheeseburgers, baked potatoes, and garlic bread. And we saw 4 deer in the forest on the way there and a few red squirrels on the way back, so it all worked out for the best.

Wish I could say that about the Foyer’s House B & B. By far the worst place we stayed on this trip, and for sure the worst bed we have ever had to sleep on. We had two rooms, rooms 5 and 6. Scott was in room 5 and the bed was alright although the springs did dig into your back when you laid down. Our bed in room 6 was so bad that you could feel every single spring the moment you laid down. It felt like a boxed spring rather than a mattress. Bruce went to ask the host what could be done and he was very, very rude stating that “this room has been being used for 200 days and not one person has ever complained”. We are very, very easy going and don’t expect much and I cannot believe that we were the only ones to comment that the bed was so bad. Anyway, he told us we could leave but he would charge our credit card anyway since he claimed there was nothing wrong with the room (about $140 per room per night = $280). So we decided to live with it and went off to the public room to watch a movie. Then we hauled Scott’s comforter off his bed and piled it onto our bed and we slept on top of the 2 comforters, making it tolerable. Since we had no comforter, we tried to turn the steam heater on and found that the hosts had turned the compresser off late at night, so we also froze.

Breakfast was a disaster. We ordered omelets “well cooked and not runny” and got omelets that were a very dark shade of brown – so burned we couldn’t eat them – and they were runny inside. The toast was cold and the jam in little packets like you can get in any restaurant. No fruit.

It is a real shame. The place was lovely with nice views of Loch Ness (although the fog kept us from seeing anything but fog). The public room had a wonderful fireplace and leather couches. It has the makings of being a first-rate B & B but it seems that the “I don’t care” attitude of the hosts will probably put them out of business. Probably why the restaurant was closed. Don’t stay here unless you want to be overcharged and disappointed.

Act Nine – “Mom’s Souvenier Shopping Day, the Wonders of Glencoe (ie: images in every color green imaginable), a Lesson on Kilt Wearing, and the Journey Back to Glasgow” (Saturday August 19)

The next morning (foggy and sprinkling), we headed back towards Whitebrige but stopped at a small gallery we saw the night before where there were the most wonderful watercolor paintings and photographs. We purchased a picture and headed towards our next stop at Glen Coe.

On the way, we stopped at various shops so that I could do some shopping. Around Fort William, we got our first taste of traffic as the tourbuses were out in full force. And we had rain on and off today, but mostly sunny again.

Glencoe was awesome – hills in every shade of green imaginable. It was surreal. At the visitor center, we ran across a family who brought 3 little matching white “Scottie” dogs, each with a different colored tartan leash. They were so cute we took their photo.

There was a man who comes each week from Inverness to speak on all things Scottish and we attended his lecture. He covered the differences in the kilts of today vs. the traditional “great” kilts, like the one he was wearing. He showed us replicas of weapons of the day and explained many things about the highlands. For example, how the entire “Braveheart” movie by Mel Gibson is fantasy and that the only historically correct part was the end where Wallace died. He gave us the “real” scoop on Wallace and his life. Additionally, he wanted to get rid of people’s “romantic notions” of the highlands as he said it. He said the highlands were a very hard place to live, with poverty and suffering and struggle. He also pointed out that the code of conduct (safe harbor to enemies) was one of the most notable qualities of the Scottish people, and that is what made the confrontation at Glencoe so notable. It was very, very interesting as he explained that the many Campbells went against their leaders and actually warned of the upcoming slaughter, allowing many to escape in advance. He is the one who told us that the Campbells, like other clans, would decide who to fight with depending on who they thought would win (thus having Campbells on both sides at Culloden). Very glad we stopped here.

It rained on and off on the uneventful trip back to Glasgow. We were very thankful to be hand-searched getting onto the plane. It made us feel more We stopped at Dumbarton Castle and enjoyed the view from the top, but the stairs scared me. We stayed overnight at the Holiday Inn Express right next to the airport and loved it, having dinner in the dining room and able to turn in the rental car early as were able to easily walk over to the airport the next day.

Curtain – “Back to California” (Sunday August 20)

Then back to California via Chicago again with no problems. We even made our connection there (shockingly) as we only had 1 hour 40 minutes to clear immigration and customs, recheck our baggage, travel to another terminal, clear security, and then run (without our shoes on) to our gate, which was boarding when we got there.

Summary

Miles driven - 867
Castles visited - Dirleton, Tantallon, Craigmiller, Edinburgh, Stirling, Doune, Campbell, Huntingtower, Elcho, Dunnotar, Huntly, and Dumbarton
Abbeys/Cathedrals/Chapels: Dunblane Cathedral, Arbroath Abbey, Rosslyn Chapel, St. Giles Cathedral, and Elgin Cathedral
Other sites - Culloden, Glencoe, Clava Cairns. Museum of Scottish History, Edinburgh Military Tatoo, Wallace Monument, and loop around northwestern beaches including Ullapool and Lochinver
Pictures taken – 350, give or take.
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Old Aug 22nd, 2006, 07:14 PM
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Value of our wonderful trip to Scotland – PRICELESS
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Old Aug 22nd, 2006, 07:53 PM
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I made a mistake and the last paragraph should have read: It rained on and off on the uneventful trip back to Glasgow. We stopped at Dumbarton Castle and enjoyed the view from the top, but the stairs scared me. We stayed overnight at the Holiday Inn Express right next to the airport and loved it, having dinner in the dining room and able to turn in the rental car early as were able to easily walk over to the airport the next day. We were very thankful to be hand-searched getting onto the plane. It made us feel more secure with everything going on.

Anyway, thanks to all who helped me make this the trip of a lifetime!
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Old Aug 22nd, 2006, 08:05 PM
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Very interesting. Thanks for all the details. We are hoping to go there soon.
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Old Aug 22nd, 2006, 08:09 PM
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What an amazing report! I love the detail.

We're leaving for Scotland in about 10 days and I still have to map out our route from Edinburgh to Skye and back. I can't imagine being as prepared and organized as you are.

By the way, do you remember what day of the week the man from Inverness talks about all things Scottish at Glencoe?
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Old Aug 22nd, 2006, 08:13 PM
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Great report! Thank you! You sucked me in at the very beginning with the great title, then the great descriptions!
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Old Aug 22nd, 2006, 08:19 PM
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I enjoyed your report very much, and I loved reading about your packing system! : ) We have mastered the "one night bag" for road trips (one outfit for everyone in a backpack, plus as many extra shirts for a messy 2-year-old as we can stuff in, so that we don't have to lug in three suitcases when we stop for the night) but you have taken the concept to a whole new level. Will you be posting any pictures?
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Old Aug 22nd, 2006, 08:22 PM
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misha2 - The man at Glencoe is only there on the weekends.

Barbara_in_FL - Would love to share some photos once I've gone through them (not all 350+ of course) but I'm not sure how to do that. I have them on my computer at home and burn them to a CD, take them to Costco, and print them out. I don't know how to store them on any online sites nor what the fees are. Maybe I should post a topic to find out how to do it?
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Old Aug 22nd, 2006, 09:42 PM
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Great trip report, Dbaker!

www.photobucket.com is an easy-to-use, free photo hosting site. www.worldisround.com is another.

Lee Ann
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Old Aug 22nd, 2006, 10:56 PM
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Loved your report its great to hear something so positive from a visitor to Scotland. Our service in terms of restaurants and hotel standards are not anywhere near as good as you are used to in America so avoid places like Bella Italia like the plague and that horrible B and B like the plague.
It really was a great read and I learnt a lot about my own country.
Haste Ye Back
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Old Aug 23rd, 2006, 05:07 AM
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Great report, Debbie ! Glad you had a good time.

I'm very impressed by your ingenious packing-by-day system; but I just wonder how it could work somewhere like here, when you don't know what the weather is going to be like each day ? (In the last month I've worn everything from vest top, linen skirt & sandals to full winter gear including woolly tights !!) I may borrow your idea for future summer holidays in Italy, though !

I'm very curious to know where you managed to park near the Museum of Scotland that you could leave your car for many hours ?
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Old Aug 23rd, 2006, 05:44 AM
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Fantastic report! Thanks very much. I love your qualifications for driving in Scotland. So true.
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Old Aug 23rd, 2006, 05:48 AM
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Thanks for a great report!!
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Old Aug 23rd, 2006, 05:56 AM
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Hi Caroline. Well, as far as the clothing goes, we dress simply. In each bag I put jeans or slacks, one short-sleeved shirt and one long-sleeved shirt, etc. Then we were able to wear whichever shirt depending on the temperature. Plus I brought one heavy sweater per person that would go with everything (grey) and we each had our light poly zipper jackets that came in handy when a large coat would have been too much.

For the parking, here is the link we used to print the parking map before we left. I believe (if memory serves me correctly) that we parked in #11, the "Niddry Street" parking structure. The car was there from about 1 pm until after we got back from the Tattoo at around midnight or so. It was a convient walk to the museum and from the castle. The Subway we found is near South Bridge on the walk from the garage to the museum. http://www.edinburgh.gov.uk/CEC/City...ngMap/Map.html
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Old Aug 23rd, 2006, 06:01 AM
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Correction - It must have been either #15 because I know there were more than 135 parking spaces. It was down a hill from the main road and in that general area, so I'm almost positive it was #15. We wanted #11 since it seemed closer, but didn't even look there since it was already after noon and I figured the 135 spaces would be gone.
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