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Trip Report Scotland Trip Report

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I’ve finally gotten around to writing this trip report about our journey through Scotland. I apologize for not remembering some details, as I always appreciate reading detailed trip reports myself. The group on this trip consisted of myself, Dear Brother (DB) both 50-ish and Dear Dad (DD) 80.

Some of you may remember that last year I asked this board for recommendations for a car service in Edinburgh. I was advised to use City Cabs and that was very sound advice. I entered their number into my phone before we left Dallas and we ended up using City Cabs in Edinburgh much more than originally planned, but more about that later.

Planning and Departure

About a year ago I was looking at the Duart Castle website. My maiden name is McClain and I had been talking with one of my cousins about our Scottish heritage. My Dad (DD) walked by, saw what I was looking at and asked me if I thought we could go see Duart and Moy Castles one day. I offhandedly replied, “Sure we can go one day.” I thought about it for a few days and realized that DD was 80 years old, in relatively good health, but “one days” might be finite. I asked DD if he really truly wanted to make a trip like that and he instantly replied that he did, so I began to plan.

My DH was unable to go, so we asked DB if he would like to make the trip. Within a few weeks we had a firm commitment from DB and had decided on September, being after summer and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and before cold weather.

For air travel, we decided on American Airlines from DFW to Glasgow via LHR at 10:30pm on Friday, Sept. 16, 2016. We returned from Edinburgh thru LHR on British Airways Sunday, Sept. 25. Our itinerary was Glasgow for one night, drive to Oban, ferry to Isle of Mull, drive to Inverness, then train to Edinburgh.

Crazily, I know, I worked an almost full day on the 16th, drove 40 minutes home, grabbed my bag and DD and I made the 2-hour drive to Dallas to pick up DB. Luckily I had practice packed my back two weeks prior to departure and had actually almost fully prepacked the bag two days prior to departure. That morning, I had only to throw my makeup and hairbrushes into the suitcase. My daybag and carry on were fully packed and ready to go. We made the drive to the big D in relatively good time considering the rush hour traffic, and picked up DB. His DW drove us to DFW where we checked our bags in at the curb (boarding passes had been preprinted). We cleared security quickly and without mishap. DD and I had not eaten yet, so the two of us had dinner at a Mexican restaurant in the terminal and then it was only about a 30 minute wait before our flight began boarding.

We had coughed up a few extra pennies for exit row seating so we had plenty of leg room to stretch out for the long haul to LHR. Our flight boarded on time, but takeoff was delayed for undisclosed reasons for about an hour. I was surprised that an evening meal was served after takeoff as our departure time was scheduled for 10:30pm. DB had not eaten in the terminal and said the meal was OK for plane food. Eventually the lights went out and we were all able to get some sleep. However, the flight was full and the cabin just never seemed to quiet down. I was awakened several times by the gentleman behind us who was snoring quite loudly.

After a few hours, some kind of forgettable cold breakfast was served and finally we landed. We had an almost 6 hour layover in LHR. About 4 years ago, Dear Daughter and I visited London and it took us only about 30 minutes to clear customs and immigration. Based on that, I was hoping that we would do the same this trip and have enough time to run over to Windsor Castle for a few hours. It was not to be. Customs and immigration took almost 2 and a half hours. Once through we found a Starbucks for caffeine and a sandwich then finally found a charging station. DB and I recharged cellphones and tablets, walked up and down the terminal and otherwise tried to keep boredom at bay while waiting for our gate to be announced. Just when we thought it was time to find the gate, our departure to Glasgow was delayed by two hours. Finally our gate was announced and we had to hurry up and take an elevator down to the gate then a bus to the aircraft. The flight was without incident and we finally landed in Glasgow about 9:00pm.

I had reserved two rooms for us at the Holiday Inn Express Glasgow Airport, a five minute walk from the terminal. After a false start, we headed in the right direction and found the hotel. The sidewalk was relatively well lit and I never felt unsafe walking to the hotel at night. Luckily for us, the hotel had a restaurant that served food until 10:00pm. We checked in, dropped bags in our rooms and met downstairs for dinner. Service was order at the desk and have seat. DD and I both had fettucine with alfredo sauce with chicken and chorizo, DB had pizza. The pasta dish was acceptable and DB said the pizza was good. Then it was finally time to turn in.

I thought I’d go right to sleep, but I tossed and turned for about an hour. The hotel was clean, comfortable, modern and as expected of a Holiday Inn. Overall, the hotel was quiet, but I think my neighbor had some commercial female companionship for the evening so there seemed to be some coming and going from his room for a time. Eventually I drifted off and slept like the dead until the alarm woke me at 6:00am.

Day One

DD and DB were in the room on the other side of mine and we went down to breakfast about 7:00am. It was the usual, scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, toast, cold cuts, fruit and cold cereals. Nothing great, but acceptable for what it was. Check out was easy and we walked back to the terminal to pick up our rental car.

I had arranged the rental car through Auto Europe. The vendor was Hertz, they were the only company that allowed travel on the ferry system. The car was a manual transmission estate car, so we had plenty of room for 3 suitcases and assorted day bags. DB did an outstanding job driving on the “wrong” side of the road. The last time he did that was in Australia about 20 years ago. I think he began to feel comfortable about the time we returned the car in Inverness. The entire process of reserving and paying for the car through Auto Europe could not have been smoother or easier. Additionally, I had shopped the Hertz website for a rental car prior to using Auto Europe and was quoted a much higher rate than I received from Auto Europe. I did purchase full CDW coverage and had an extra driver. I would definitely use Auto Europe again. The few times I called customer support, once even from the Inverness Airport, their staff was friendly, helpful and made sure my issue was resolved.

I had preprinted driving directions to all our stops for our four driving days and had a very good paper road map. DB and I also both had international data plans on our cell phones, so we were able to use those as well. I used the Apple Maps app quite a bit and did not go over my data plan. Our destination today was Oban. We drove north out of Glasgow along Loch Lomond, where we stopped for photos. It was an overcast, moody looking day so all the photos were rather dark, but it was a beautiful area. We headed back on the road north to the A83, across the Rest and Be Thankful Pass, across the top of Loch Fyne and in to Inveraray Castle Car Park. I had planned to stop at the Pass for photos, but I think we had passed the Pass before we realized where we were. Since all three of us have crossed the Rockies multiple times, we were all kind of less than impressed with the Pass so didn’t feel any great loss as far as photo opportunities. We did stop at some random point before Loch Fyne that we thought was scenic and had a wide enough shoulder to park and get out of the vehicle. We spent about 30 minutes taking photos then hopped back in the car and resumed our drive. We stopped again on the other side of Loch Fyne before Inveraray and took more photos of the Loch.

We pulled into the Inveraray Castle parking lot about 10:30am. I had purchased advance tickets online from home and we presented the voucher to the ticket agent in the booth at the entrance to the car park. We also purchased a souvenir guide book here. We parked and walked through the gap in the hedgerow to the entrance to the castle. We took a few minutes to photograph the front of the castle and the view of the Loch and the road we had just traveled. The clouds had cleared away and it was a beautiful sunny day.

An Inveraray Castle has been near this location since the 1400s however the bulk of this castle was built in the 1700s. This fairy tale like castle is the home of the Duke of Argyll who is the Clan Chieftain of the Campbell Clan. We spent about an hour and a half viewing the fine furnishings, works of art, tapestries and other displays in the castle before having lunch in the castle’s tea room. The portrait of a previous duke in the state drawing room is a Gainsborough and the walls of the dining room are ornately decorated and painted. The state drawing room is hung with beautiful tapestries from the 1780s. The armory hall contains a large number of muskets, pikes and other weapons. There is a display of artifacts related to the castle and of Rob Roy items. Apparently Rob Roy was related to the Argylls.

After picking up a few trinkets in the gift shop and a lunch of a ham and cheddar panini in the tea room we headed south to Kilmartin Glen. Kilmartin Glen is an area of dense historic archeological sites including hill forts, burial cairns, and standing stones. We were only planning to visit two of the sites and the museum in Kilmartin Village. After about an hour we reached the Nether Largie Standing Stones with only one wrong turn. These Neolithic stones are standing in a field in a beautiful bucolic rural area. There is a small gravel parking area across the road from the field. The clouds from this morning had returned and it began to rain just as we parked. The rain wasn’t coming down hard enough to keep us in the car, and we were all prepared with rain coats. We spent about 30 minutes walking among the stones and taking photos. Five minutes away we found the Stone Rings. The stone ring is walking distance of the Nether Largie Standing Stones but the rain had begun to come down a little harder. After a quick look at the stone circle we headed north to Kilmartin Village.

It took only a short time to reach Kilmartin Village. At first we drove past the museum and had to turn around. We parked and found the entrance to the museum, which didn’t seem to be well signed. The museum was full of informative displays regarding the geography and archeology of Kilmartin Glen, but was I thought somewhat short of any artifacts from the area. After a short visit we hit the road again and headed towards Oban.

I had printed Google Maps driving instructions to the Aldi Discount Grocery store to pick up bottled water and snacks before going to our bed and breakfast. Unfortunately we missed the turn and had to drive all the way to the roundabout at Argyll Square near the harbor before turning around. We eventually found Aldi. Inside we found water, cookies and a few other snacks. DD had purchased a new memory card for his camera which was not working so we asked the clerk if there was a store nearby that sold memory cards. She recommended Tesco nearby which we eventually found. Tesco had a variety of memory cards and DD picked one up.

We were catching an extremely early ferry tomorrow morning to Isle of Mull so we set out to find the ferry terminal before heading to our guest house. After a few wrong turns we located the ferry terminal then headed towards our lodging for the next two nights. Despite having google maps directions printed, I opened Apple maps on my iphone to find the Glen Roy Guest House. I don’t think there was anything wrong with the information I had printed, but it was very difficult to spot street signs.

Hugh greeted us when we arrived and showed us to our rooms. DD and DB had a twin room on the ground floor, and I had a very small single room on the first floor up. Both rooms had adequate if small ensuite bathrooms. Hugh gave us a map of Oban and information about the guest house including breakfast. We let Hugh know that we were leaving very early the next morning for Isle of Mull before he began breakfast service. Hugh offered to pack a cold breakfast for us and leave it downstairs for us to pick up on our way out in the morning. I had researched restaurants in Oban and wanted to eat at the Waterfront Fish House or the Olive Garden (not part of the chain) both located near the harbor. We asked Hugh for directions to the harbor and nearby parking. Hugh suggested we walk down and take a taxi back as parking could be hard to find in that area. Since the Glen Roy was situated up quite a steep hill, a taxi back was a good idea.

It was by now after 6:00pm so we headed downhill to the harbor. We stopped to take a few photos but quickly found the Waterfront Fish House. We did not have a reservation, but the hostess said she could seat us if we could finish up in about an hour. We indicated that was indeed possible and we were seated. We all shared a starter of steamed mussels. DB had jumbo fried prawns, I had scallops, and DD had some type of grilled fish. I don’t think any of the dishes were outstanding, but I think every dish was rated as very good. In typical European fashion we had to flag down the server to get the bill, but we paid up and headed out to find a taxi. By now it was nearly dark, but the train station and a taxi stand were nearby and we were soon back at the Glen Roy. We all decided to call it an early night since we were planning to leave before 6:00am the next day.

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    Hi irishface. I hope you enjoy reading about our adventures! Writing this trip report is bringing it all back. It was a great experience to travel with DD and DB. More to come!

    Day Two

    The alarm went off very early this morning, 5:00am and downstairs by 5:45. DD and DB were ready to go and a small soft-sided cooler was waiting for us, just as Hugh promised. We loaded up and headed to the ferry terminal. There were a couple of cars already waiting at the closed gate when we arrived just before 6:00am. Check in had to be completed by 6:15 and the ferry was leaving at 6:45. The guard soon opened the gate and directed vehicles to the appropriate lane and advised us all to pull to the very front. We then walked into the terminal offices. I had pre-booked and paid for the ferry passage. I presented the voucher and we picked up tickets for the vehicle and three passengers. Back to the car to wait a few minutes. The lanes behind us began to fill up and soon we were moving forward. We presented our tickets and pulled forward onto the ferry. All passengers were directed to park and leave the vehicles to go up to the lounge. Once upstairs, we could tell the regular passengers, they all made a beeline for the café. Hot breakfast as well as cold cereals, coffee, tea and juice were available for purchase. We claimed a table next to a window and purchased our hot beverages of choice. We opened up our cooler and I was pleasantly surprised by how much food Hugh had packed for us. There were cold ham sandwiches on fluffy rolls, bananas, yogurt, a dried fruit and nut mix, and bottles of orange juice.

    We ate breakfast and watched the sky lighten as we approached Mull. Duart Castle was just barely visible in the dusky sky as we approached Craignure. Soon the call came to return to our vehicles and we trooped downstairs to the rental car. It didn’t take long for the ferry to dock and the door to open and we were soon pulling forward across the gangway into Craignure. At the road we turned left and headed south to the village of Lochbuie. Our first stop of the day was Moy Castle on the banks of Loch Buie. The predawn light illuminated an incredibly green landscape. I don’t know why, but I did not expect these islands to be so green and verdant. Leaving Craignure, the road quickly became one lane with pullouts every few miles or so. There really seemed to be more frequent pullouts than I expected. I think DB who was driving was somewhat nervous, but there was little traffic and the other drivers we did encounter were courteous and usually quickly blinked their headlights at us, indicating they would pull over and allow us to proceed. I guess they recognized rental cars from a distance. 

    We followed the map and directions I had printed, passing the turn off to Duart Castle and easily finding the turn to the left off the main road that would take us to Lochbuie. We came over the crest of a little hill and were greeted with an incredible view of the sunrise breaking the cloud cover at the horizon over Loch Spelve. We pulled over into a pullout and spent several minutes taking photos. It began to rain, so we hopped back into the vehicle and continued on to the village of Lochuie. I had printed a map I found online from the village detailing the location of Moy Castle and directions on how to find it. Sure enough we came to the T intersection. The old post office was on the right. We tuned left and found a broad stony beach to park on. There was a lone camper trailer parked close to the water. It was still sprinkling, but the view over Loch Buie was just incredible. We spent over 30 minutes photographing the view out towards the ocean and along the coast. As we were snapping away a rainbow appeared, then a second! No one had stirred from the trailer and the three of us had the beach to ourselves. An absolutely magical experience.

    Across the road there was a house and a church. Further along the road was Lochbuie House, the home of the current chieftain of the Clan MacLaine. When we had overdosed on rainbow photographs, we found the footpath leading to Moy Castle. Moy Castle was the fortified home of the MacLaine clan. It has been abandoned for a long time and the interior was closed, but visitors could walk up to it. As we walked along the path, over the bridge and through the woods, the sun began to come out. We crested a small hill and had incredible views of the fortified tower against the steadily lightening sky. The walk took about 15 minutes and we were at the base of the ancient castle. It’s really just a fortified tower, but I could tell DD was moved to be at the ancient home of his ancestors. There was a small informational sign about the history of the castle. The three of us spent about 45 minutes to an hour wandering around the castle and taking photos.

    According to the map, there was an ancient mausoleum around the head of Loch Buie. We decided to walk along the road and see if we could find it. We headed out down a dirt road with pastures and local sheep on each side. After a half mile or so we came to another road up a small hill and dropped down to the head of the Loch. The clouds were gone, the sky was blue, a beautiful morning with beautiful views out over Loch Buie. We walked along about another mile but still didn’t find the mausoleum. By this time DD was tiring. We backtracked to some rocky outcroppings and sat on the rocks for a few minutes rest. We then headed back up to Moy Castle and back to the beach. Even though we ultimately didn’t find the mausoleum, that walk, that morning with our father is the most priceless memory of that trip.

    We piled back into the car and headed back towards the main road. DD was kind of pooped so we decided to forego the Lochbuie stone circle as it would have included another half mile walk through a pasture. Instead we drove back towards Craignure to visit Duart Castle. The plan was to tour Duart Castle then drive to Fionnphort and take the ferry to Iona for a few hours. Sadly when you travel, not all your plans work out.

    We easily found Duart Castle. It was now about 10:30am. There were plenty of vehicles and a few tour buses in the car park. The views out over the Sound of Mull were gorgeous and we took plenty of photos outside the castle. The exterior of the castle was covered in scaffolding, I think the castle was being reroofed while we were there. Duart Castle is the home of the Chieftain of the Clan MacLean. Clan MacLaine was founded by the brother of Chieftain Clan MacLean in the 1400s. These two castles were the must-sees on DDs list. At one time, Duart Castle came into the hands of the Duke of Argyll to settle debts of the MacLean chieftain. It was bought back by Sir Fitzroy MacLean in 1910 and he “renovated” the castle, adding electricity and running water, modernizing it to turn of the 20th century standards.

    Tickets for entrance were not available online so we all paid for admission and made our way inside. The tour started I think in the old kitchens, included the dungeons, the Great Hall, bedrooms, and a roomful of clan and Boy Scout memorabilia on the 3rd floor. There was a magnificent silver service displayed in the great hall and there were additional displays of the chieftain’s ceremonial robes and several gowns worn by Sir Fitzroy’s wife. The scouting association comes from Charles Maclean,the 27th Chief of Clan Maclean of Duart. He was the Chief Scout of The Scout Association in the UK between 1959 and 1971, and continued as Chief Scout of the Commonwealth until August 1975. In 1967, he was awarded the Bronze Wolf, the only distinction of the World Organization of the Scout Movement, awarded by the World Scout Committee for exceptional services to world Scouting.

    It was while I was viewing the clan and scouting exhibits that our plan began to go awry. I began to feel very nauseous and lightheaded. Now I am NOT prone to sudden, unexpected fits of not feeling unwell, but still, I was not really alarmed. I walked out of the exhibition hall to the stairs leading to the rooftop and sat on the bottom stair. I put my head between my knees and sat there for several minutes until the feeling passed. Feeling better I stood up. Not good. Sat down again. Felt better, stood up and walked up the short set of stairs to the roof, thinking fresh air would help. Even though there were very high parapets around the space, decided this was not the space for me. Strangely, as long as I was moving the lightheadedness was kept at bay. I went back in and found DD who was still inspecting the clan exhibits with DB. I told them I was going downstairs to sit outside. I walked steadily down the stairs, with a deathgrip on whatever hand rail was available. Out the door, across the green and sat down at a picnic table in front of the gift shop/tea room.

    I sat at the picnic table for a few minutes then made an urgent run to the ladies room. Then I went into the gift shop and bought a bottle of water and took an Imodium tablet that I had in my daybag. Sat down again at the picnic table. Back to the ladies room. Another Imodium tablet. How many should you take in a day? About 30 minutes after I initially left the castle, DD and DB appeared. I was starting to feel better and it was about noon so we went into the café for lunch. We all ordered and sat down to wait for our food. Back to the ladies room. Another Imodium tablet. Back inside the café, our lunch had been delivered. I swallowed one bite of my sandwich and felt it start to come back up. I RAN to the ladies room. Back to the café. I didn’t eat my sandwich, but drank about 5 cups of tea with a lot of sugar. Eventually my stomach settled down, the Imodium took effect after about 4 tables, and the lightheadedness disappeared.

    Sitting in the café, I had no appetite but the sick feeling had passed. DB was visibly nodding off where he sat and I could tell DD was pretty tired too. I suggested that we go sit in the car and take a 30 minute nap, then see what our prospects looked like for the rest of the day. This plan was agreed to and I think everyone of us was asleep as soon as we got the car locked up. We all woke up about an hour later. It was now after 2:00pm. We had a prepaid ferry reservation at 7:00pm. I don’t know if we could have made the trip to Iona and back in that time, but we decided instead to drive to Tobermory, then back to Craignure to the ferry.

    Everyone feeling refreshed after our nap, the drive to Tobermory was lovely and without incident. There was more traffic on the road than in the early morning, but not too much. Just outside Tobermory we stopped at Mull Pottery. The pottery gift shop had moved into town, but there was another small shop there where I bought a calendar with pictures of highland cows for my son’s girlfriend. We easily found the parking lot on the Tobermory harbor and spent about 45 minutes to an hour walking around this colorful little village. We found the Mull Pottery shop and I purchased a beautiful square plate painted with a scene of the Isle of Mull. We popped into MacGochan’s Pub on the harbor for a drink and a snack.

    About 4:30 we decided to drive back to Craignure and see if we could get on the 6:00pm ferry back to Oban. Along the way we pulled over and took some photos of some derelict fishing boats pulled up on the beach and some scenic views. When we arrived in Craignure, there was a long line of vehicles waiting to board the ferry. We parked at the little shop and I went across the street to ask the attendant if it would be possible to take the 6:00 ferry instead of 7:00. The response was if there is space available and directed us to a lane behind a large motorcoach. We were the very last vehicle to board the ferry.

    After disembarking the ferry in Oban, we found a pay parking lot near the harbor esplanade and walked over to the restaurant Cuan Mor for dinner. We did not have a reservation, but the hostess said she could seat us in about 45 minutes. After less than 15 minutes, she called our name and we were seated near the door. This restaurant would turn out to be the one foul note in our dining experiences in Scotland.

    The restaurant was packed and they seemed understaffed. We waited quite a bit before a server took our order and waited even longer for beverages to arrive. Finally food arrived. It was obvious they were busy and the staff were darting about like mad to take care of all the diners, so we were not distressed by the looong wait. DB and I ordered dessert and DD coffee. Another long, long wait. Our desserts came, but no coffee. We flagged down our server and asked about the coffee. Still no coffee. Desserts were finished and still no coffee. We again flagged down the server, told her we were ready to go and asked for the check. She left and came back with the check. Literally as she was handing me the bill, another server came flying over and deposited coffee on the table. I told our server that we had ordered the coffee 45 minutes ago, all other diners in our party were finished, DD no longer wanted the coffee and would she please remove it from the bill. She said she had to ask the manager. I observed her walk away and talk quickly with a manager and then return. The server explained that her manager felt it was fair to charge us for the coffee because we had ordered it and the restaurant was understaffed through no fault of their own leading to long waits for service. DD was ready to argue, but it was only a coffee so I told him to consider it the tip. The server said she hoped I understood. I replied that I understood all right that there was nothing I could do about it. We paid exact amount of our bill in cash and left.

    While the food was good, I would not eat at Cuan Mor again due to the haughty attitude towards tourists. This is a tourist town, there were obvious tourists everywhere we looked. And before I get the usual Fodors regulars telling me that this is the typical European attitude towards restaurant service, I’d like to say that I lived in East Anglia for three years and had not encountered such an egregiously haughty attitude towards service before. We literally waited 45 minutes for the coffee. How long did they think we should wait before we decided they were not going to serve it?

    As I said, that was the one foul note, so I won’t dwell on it. DD’s new memory card purchased from Tesco was not working, so we walked down the High Street looking for a camera shop. We found one and decided to stop there tomorrow morning on our way out of town. Back at the Glen Roy we left the slip with our breakfast selections on the hall table and turned in for the night.

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    Very readable report, thanks! We live in England but have travelled extensively around the western isles on previous trips. Like you we fly up to GLA and stay at the Holiday Inn Express before collecting our hire car the next day from the car park across the road - very convenient. Just one comment though: you mentioned that only Hertz will allow travel on the ferries. I'm not sure where you got this info from, but it's not correct IME. Many visitors take hire cars from all the different companies on the CalMac ferries and the companies would lose substantial trade if they imposed such a restriction.

    Sorry you didn't get to Iona. Mull is a large island and it takes time to get around by car (as you've discovered). I always recommend slowing down and spending a minimum 1 night stay on the island, but longer is better of course! The flashing headlights when meeting another car on a single lane road is just part of the everyday driving etiquette in that part of the world (a small wave to the other driver is normal also as you pass). Unlikely that locals can tell from a distance that you're in a hire car at a passing place - only a close look at the hire car company sticker in the back window would confirm it. The passing places by the way are only for passing, not for photo stops, and it does wind up the locals if these are misused. I will confess to being unable to resist the temptation on a deserted road near Glenelg once to stop for a minute to take a photo, only for a very cross local woman to appear out of nowhere, then wind down her window and tell me off!

    I've also encountered sporadic issues with bad service in Highland restaurants. It is annoying, but I try to cut them some slack if possible - they often operate with a short but busy opening season and are forced to recruit low paid seasonal workers who may lack sufficient training to handle things well when it gets crazy busy.

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    Lochbuie is indeed a very special place.

    Last year, we campervanned on Mull for week in 25oC just incredible weather.

    We spent two night at Lochbuie and it was really hard to drag ourselves away, just so remote, so beautiful and seems to attract like minded people.

    Much of the shoreline is an accepted wild camping area. During our visit we had a camp fire shared with a Chinese partner at an equity firm in Beijing, her 2 year old daughter, a 17 year old girl from Jerusalem and a couple from Bridlington. Just a priceless dinner party.

    Driving in Mull : no they didn't spot your hire car, everyone is usually very well mannered, even the builders.

    Driving in Scotland : please, please don't anyone park in passing places. It's extremely frustrating as many of we locals know the roads very, very well and find it fairly easy to do 60mph. It's dangerous and annoying to find a passing place blocked by a parked car.

    If you are Lochbuie again, find the honesty shop. Yes a whole shop left open with bottles of single malt and £20 joints of beef in the fridge, with no staff just an honesty box full of cash. Priceless!

    If you're on Mull again, visit Iona. Magical place.

    If you're in Oban again, go for an Olympic torch ice cream at the shop just above the Harbour. Biggest ice cream you've ever seen!

    Looking read to the rest of the report.

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    Hi all, thanks so much for your comments. I must confess I am quite a lurker on this board, traveling vicariously through other's trip reports, as I don't get to travel as much as I would like. It's gratifying to see anyone respond to my posts! I hope you all enjoy reading my trip report as much as I'm enjoying writing and reliving our trip.

    Day Three

    Today we started the day at a saner hour. I went downstairs to breakfast about 8:30am. DD and DB were already in the breakfast room. This morning we finally met Wendy who operates the Glen Roy with Hugh. Breakfast was cooked to order by Hugh. It was all the traditional breakfast items with the addition of potato scones which resembled potato pancakes. It was all delicious and piping hot straight from the kitchen. We had a leisurely breakfast then prepared to depart. Downstairs again we settled up with Hugh and Wendy. I really can’t say enough good things about Wendy, Hugh and their little guest house. The Glen Roy may not have been the most up to date guest house, but it was clean, charming, and operated by truly gracious and welcoming hosts. I can’t recommend the Glen Roy enough and would definitely return if ever I find myself in Oban again.

    We packed up our car and headed down the steep hill to the pay parking lot on the harbor and walked over to the camera shop. The shop did not have a memory card that would work in DD’s camera, so he bought a new camera. The shop owner made sure the camera was fully charged and off we went. We hit the road for our next day of adventure! Our stops today were Dunstaffnage Castle, Glencoe Valley, Urquhart Castle and Inverness where we would stop for two nights.

    During the planning stages of the trip, I purchased the Scottish Heritage Explorer Pass for all three of us. In looking at all the sites covered by the pass, I found Dunstaffnage Castle. The ruins of this castle are less than 10 miles north of Oban, right on the coast with spectacular views. We followed the Google Map directions I had printed and found the castle quite easily. We spent 15 minutes reviewing the exhibits in the visitor centre then of course snapped lots of photos of the grounds and the approach to the castle. For being a ruin, we really enjoyed our time here. It was another beautiful day, with temps in the 60s F. We saw some beautiful views of the coast from the castle ramparts. After about 45 minutes roaming around the castle, we descended and followed the path to the castle’s chapel ruins, situated about 500 feet or so down an incredibly gorgeous woodland path. We could not see the castle from the chapel ruins and no other tourists followed us to the chapel. Another magical moment. It felt like we were alone in a fairy woodland. If you visit Dunstaffnage, take a few minutes to find the chapel. The setting is absolutely gorgeous.

    Back on the road again, we turned towards Glencoe Valley. We easily followed my printed directions and found the visitor center. There were magnificent views from the observation deck. We didn’t feel the need to pay to view any of the exhibits in the center and drove up the valley about 30 miles, stopping at several places for photos. We did take a lot of photos, but overall I felt this was a meh site.

    We turned around after making a last stop at a large parking/viewing area and found a café in Glencoe Village for lunch. I think we all three had the fish and chips which were pretty good. Then on the road again. We drove through Fort William without incident, up along the loch and found Urquhart Castle. This is another castle ruin, but it is a much larger complex than Dunstaffnage.

    This site was also covered by the Explorer Pass. We arrived just about an hour prior to closing, but were admitted easily. We were admonished to make the most of our visit. There were a lot of people there, but it was not overly crowded. If you are traveling in the area, I would rate this a must-see site, if for no other reason, the location of the castle complex right on Loch Ness. The weather was holding, there were beautiful sunny skies and we took photos like mad of the castle against the backdrop of the Loch. Absolutely stunning. We roamed all over the complex and were among the last folks to leave. They were even closing up the gift shop as we made our way out. Don’t miss Urquhart Castle if you are near Loch Ness or Inverness.

    It was a relatively short trip from Urquhart to our home for the next two nights, the Tanera Guest House in Inverness. I think it was only about 30 minutes. We found the guest house, missing only one turn as we drove through Inverness, but were able to turn around and find Fairfield Road and the Tanera. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the name of our hosts. They were not the same person I corresponded with by email to make the reservation (Katie). This guest house was a bit more up to date than the Glen Roy, and while the hosts were charming, I didn’t feel the genuine welcome that I got from Hugh and Wendy. However, I have no complaints and could recommend this guest house. DD and DB had a twin room on the first floor up, and I had a double room at a single rate on the ground floor. DD and DB’s room had a fully ensuite bath, my room had an in-room shower and sink. My private toilet was just outside the bedroom door under the stairs. The price was right, it was clean, had wifi, and everything we needed.

    After maneuvering into the slightly cramped parking space, we unloaded, registered and then set out again for dinner. We were headed to McGonagall’s Steakhouse. We found the restaurant and a coveted parking spot in the downtown area and walked back to the restaurant. However it was not to be. McGonagall’s was closed, for the night or forever, I don’t know. Luckily on the same block there was an Italian restaurant called Bella Italia. We later realized this was a chain, but the food was good. DD and DB both had steak, I had the spaghetti bolognase which to my uneducated palate was among the best I’ve had of this dish. I think we all had dessert, but I can’t remember what it was. After dinner, we headed for “home” and turned in. More adventures tomorrow and another day that didn’t go quite as planned.

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    So funny: To me, Glencoe was amazing and definitely not to be missed while Urquhart Castle was, (to use your expression), "meh". However we did stay two nights in the Glencoe area and had a day to hike up the glen. I'm sure that made a difference.

    But it goes to show the difficulty of telling someone else what is a "must see" - we all see things differently. One view is not better than the other, just different. :)

    I also am one who avidly reads trip reports on this forum so thank you so much for sharing the details of yours.

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    The sickness, diarrhoea and light-headedness you suffered? I get that whenever I eat mussels. Which isn't often... Do you often eat mussels? Because they can do that to a person.

    Anyway, great trip report - thanks.

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    And you are all a out to find out what incredible value the dollar is at the moment.

    The pound's so weak we could only afford to stay about 8 hours in South Carolina this year, so we are staying at home in Scotland.

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    For everyone following along, I apologize for keeping you waiting. I hope this report provides useful information for anyone planning a trip to Scotland.

    LCBoniti, definitely true, one person's must-see is another's meh. That's the wonderful thing about travel, it broadens horizons so we realize there's more than one way to look at something.

    Gyhtson, I HAD mussels as an appetizer the night before I was so ill on Mull. Neither DD, nor DB were ill, but I probably ate more of the mussels. That was not the first time I've eaten mussels, but definitely the first time I'd ever felt that way. It was the first time I'd had Scottish mussels.

    maitaitom, I am a big fan! I follow all your trip reports. I hope my meager offering provides some small bit of useful information for you.

    Barbara, I did a lot of planning, but since then I've learned about the Historic Houses Association of the UK. It has a lot of stately homes and castles listed and whether or not they are open to the public. It has places listed that I've never seen on other sites like the National Trust or Historic Scotland. I probably would have had a slightly different itinerary if I'd known about that site last year.

    And now, Day Four.

    It was Wednesday and it was a beautiful sunny day. We met for breakfast about 8:00am. The Tanera served only a continental breakfast of sliced meats and cheeses, croissants, toast, fruit, yogurt and cold cereals. It was plentiful and the coffee and tea were served to order. I don’t usually drink hot tea in the US, but I always think the tea served in the UK had a deeper, richer and less bitter flavor than US tea.

    DD was in need of laundry, and Google maps indicated a launderette on the main road a few blocks away. We set out and found a parking spot along the river. We strolled along a block or so, snapping photos of the Inverness Castle and the River Ness. We found the launderette and dropped off DD’s bag of laundry. I noted the Tesco Metro across the street as a location to pick up a picnic lunch for the train tomorrow. We piled back into the car and headed out, using Apple maps. Our itinerary today started with Culloden Battlefield, Cawdor Castle, Fort George, the village of Lossiemouth, and then returning the vehicle at the Inverness Airport.

    We found the historic Culloden Battlefield easily enough. This battlefield is the Scottish Gettysburg. The large visitor center has a series of exhibits describing events leading up to the disastrous battle and the brutal aftermath from both the Jacobite and the English viewpoints. We were about halfway through the exhibits when DD began looking for a place to sit down. He was looking a little pale and said he was just feeling tired and a little light headed but he felt fine sitting down. DB and I continued through the exhibits, keeping an eye on DD. Towards the end of the exhibits there were costumed docents in authentic 1700s kilts and regalia giving some kind of talk or demonstration. At the end of the exhibits we walked outside to view the wide moor where hundreds of Jacobite soldiers were slaughtered. It was a sobering and moving experience.

    Back inside DD was still feeling extremely fatigued. DD tends to become dehydrated resulting in low blood pressure if he doesn’t pay attention to his diet. We didn’t think he was up to Cawdor Castle or Fort George. In the planning stages of our trip, DD had looked at a map of Scotland for a location to view the North Sea. Lossiemouth was about the farthest east village in that part of Scotland on the coast. We knew there were lots of places to view the ocean, but he really wanted an uninterrupted view out over the North Sea. We thought that DD would be OK sitting down for a bit and he could nap during the drive to Lossiemouth. We had water in the car, so we made sure he drank some and we headed off.

    We drove up the A96 to Elgin then turned off to Lossiemouth. I gave a nod and a wave as we drove past RAF Lossiemouth. DH spent some time there during the early part of his service. We reached Lossiemouth and found our way to a parking lot near the harbor. It was a sunny, but windy day. We took a few photos, then looked around for somewhere to eat lunch. I think DB checked Yelp or some other app and then we walked along the marina to the Harbor Lights Restaurant. It was a busy place, but we were seated quickly. I don’t remember what we had, but my memory is that it was ok to good.

    DD wanted to buy some golf balls from a genuine Scottish golf club for friends at home. Moray Golf Club popped up on Google Maps and we quickly set out to find it. As we drove back through Lossiemouth, we all remarked about what a dismal looking village Lossiemouth is. The outskirts of the village may have been pleasant, but the village center was very depressing. All the houses had a gray, empty, dismal appearance, appeared deserted, and gave off a very depressing vibe. We were happy to leave the village and find the golf club on the outskirts of the village on the coast. We found the pro shop and both DD and DB purchased club golf balls. Mission accomplished we drove along the coast a short way and saw a lighthouse. We drove towards the lighthouse and eventually found it. The gate was closed, but we walked up to it and took photos.

    Back in the car, DD was feeling refreshed after a lot of liquid, a nap, and lunch. We decided to drive towards Cawdor Castle and see how he felt when we got there. As we drove through Elgin and along the A96, DB worried about speeding tickets as several speed limit signs flashed at us along the way. At the time of this writing I have not received a speeding ticket. We stopped at a grocery store gas station in Nairn to fill up, then drove to Cawdor Castle. DD was still feeling good, so we decided to go in.

    Cawdor Castle is still owned and occupied by the Cawdor family. From the Cawdor Castle web site:

    “The legendary tale says that the Thane of Cawdor, who had a small castle about a mile away, decided to build a new, stronger tower. Following instructions he received in a dream, the Thane loaded a coffer of gold onto the back of a donkey and let it roam the district for a day – wherever the donkey lay to rest for the evening would be where the new castle would be sited. The donkey chose a tree and it’s around this holly tree that Cawdor Castle was built.” You can still see the dried husk of this holly tree in the castle.

    The Castle has lovely and informative interiors, the grounds and gardens are beautiful, I was especially taken by the very large oak trees on the grounds. The house is full of art and beautiful furnishings. Photography was allowed inside the castle. For some reason there is a red wagon resembling a gypsy wagon on the grounds, for which we never ascertained the purpose or the history. The castle has a café and three shops, but we resisted the urge to purchase anything. As we were driving out, we finally saw a creature that had so far eluded us! Red, hairy, highland cows. We quickly pulled over and snapped several photos of the hairy, horned animals.

    Now it was time to turn in the car. The plan was to drop off the vehicle and take a taxi back to the Tanera. We easily found the small Inverness Airport terminal and looked for the Hertz rental car office. We drove all around the parking area but could not find a Hertz office. Finally we stopped and I went into a Europe Car office to ask if they knew where the Hertz office was. The person in the Europe Car thought most Hertz cars were returned just by dropping the keys into a drop box inside the terminal. OK, this wasn’t what I wanted to do.

    Back in the car I attempted to call the local Hertz office, the number was on the confirmation I had received from Auto Europe. There was no answer. I called the Auto Europe number and explained that I was attempting to return the vehicle but could not find the Hertz office. While I held on the line, the Auto Europe attempted to call the Hertz office. When the Auto Europe staffer came back on the line, he let us know that he had received no answer either. He went on that the documentation he had there called for Hertz vehicles returned to the Inverness office to be parked anywhere in the parking lot and the keys deposited in the Hertz drop box in the terminal. The Hertz office at the Inverness Airport is in a location unavailable from the parking lot and arriving passengers were picked up by a shuttle and taken to the office.

    So, we parked, took a photo of the gas gauge, unloaded our stuff (water, snacks, daybags), took photos all around the exterior of the vehicle and trekked into the terminal. We walked up and down the terminal but couldn’t find the drop box. After one perambulation of the terminal, I found the information desk and asked the location of the Hertz drop box. I was quickly pointed in the right direction and we deposited the keys. There was an ATM nearby, so we all took advantage of it to withdraw cash for our continuing adventures. Then we walked out to the taxi stand across the front of the terminal and hopped into the first one. I think the driver was a little surprised to have passengers with so little luggage but we explained that we had just returned a rental car. He deposited us quickly back at the Tanera Guest House. I don’t remember how much the far was, but I think it was reasonable.

    Back at the Tanera, we were greeted by the host. We asked if he had any suggestions for dinner and he suggested The Kitchen Restaurant, which was not too far away and on the river. He even gave us some coupons for free drinks and offered to call for reservations for us, which we accepted. We then asked if he would mind calling a taxi for us. Even though the restaurant was not far, we thought better to save DD the walk there. We ended up waiting quite a bit for the taxi, I don’t think he could find the Tanera, but he eventually showed up and deposited us outside The Kitchen.

    The Kitchen Restaurant is a three-story restaurant on the River Ness. We were seated on the 3rd floor with fabulous views of the river and the castle. DD had the chicken and mashed potatoes from the early evening menu, I had steak, and I don’t remember what DB had. My steak was very good, and DD ate all his chicken, so I think it was good too. After settling the bill, we headed downstairs and decided to walk back to the Tanera since DD was still feeling good. It was a lovely evening, not too chilly and we enjoyed great views of the city lit up across the river, including a couple of churches and a pedestrian bridge. We safely made it back to the Tanera and turned in for the night. Tomorrow we were taking the 10:00am train to Edinburgh.

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    I'm really enjoying your report. I agree that Urquhart Castle has a spectacular setting and was one of our favorite stops. But we also found Glen Coe beautiful and had a long and informative talk with a helpful ranger at the visitor center.

    If our rental car company didn't allow cars on the ferry, we never were told.

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    janisj - meant to reply to you previously, meant 30 minutes up Glencoe not 30 miles.

    Thank you everyone who is reading along. It's so encouraging to know I can contribute to this site that has nurtured my love of travel.

    Day Five

    This morning DB and I were up bright and early. We had dropped DD’s laundry off yesterday, so before breakfast DB and I walked up down Kenneth Street to Tomnahurich Street where we turned left then crossed the street to the launderette. After picking up the laundry, we went into the Tesco Metro and bought sandwiches, water and chips for a picnic lunch on the train. It was another beautiful morning with clear blue sky. Back at Tanera we had breakfast then asked our host to call a taxi for us. We settled the bill and went outside to await the taxi. I think this taxi got lost as well as we ended up waiting quite a bit, but we eventually made it to the Inverness train station.

    I had purchased tickets online in advance for this trip. After entering the train station, I looked around for the machine to dispense our pre-purchased tickets. The only ticket machine I could find was out of order so we went to passenger services to retrieve our tickets. As we were standing in line, I looked around, and there was another ticket machine in this office. I hurried over and was able to retrieve our tickets. We went out to the waiting area and everyone visited the facilities. Note, toilets in the Inverness Train station cost 30p to enter.

    Our train’s platform was not displayed on any of the boards and it was approaching 10:00am. There seemed to be many more people in the train station than I had anticipated and with no platform being announced, I decided it was time to play dumb tourist. I noticed a smartly dressed woman standing near us and approached her. I excused myself, then asked if she was there for the 10 o’clock train to Edinburgh. I didn’t get her name, but this woman was very kind and helpful. She replied that the only train leaving soon was the Edinburgh train and she pointed it out to me at the far end of the platforms. She said that she was a frequent traveler on this train and the station was so crowded because there was a large group of girl scouts taking the train today. She said the train would be boarding soon and recommended we move over as soon as we saw people being admitted through the turnstiles. Sure enough, passengers were soon being admitted through the turnstiles with no announcement or platform ever listed on the boards. I shepherded my little flock through the turnstiles and we headed for our train.

    My goal was to find seats on a car without Girl Scouts. We stepped aboard the next to the last car and before we had stored our luggage we were swarmed with Girl Scouts. The last few seats in the car were quickly taken by the GS. Keeping firm hold of my bag, I quickly swiveled around, said “Out!” and pushed my two charges out the car. I hurried down to the last car, which was thankfully devoid of Girl Scouts and had an open four-seat table. We stowed our bags and plopped down into our seats. The kind lady from the station was seated in this car. She looked up and said “Oh yes, I should have told you to head directly to the last car.” I replied that I thought we had outrun the
    Girl Scouts in the previous car, but they had caught up to us and driven us onward.

    Eventually our car filled up and I heard a conductress asking loudly who was the owner of this red suitcase? I have a red suitcase. I got up and started back toward the luggage rack, but she was berating some other poor passenger about properly and safely storing his bag. I settled back into my seat and soon we were off.

    My one miscalculation is that my sense of direction easily gets turned around and we were seated on the sunward side of the train so we were rather warm in the sunlight streaming in the large windows, but it wasn’t unbearably uncomfortable. There was a group of about eight businessmen in the car near us traveling as a group and I think they were pretty toasted before the train ever left the station. They were quite loud and passing around several large bottles of liquor. I was happy to see them go when they disembarked in Perth.

    As we rattled down the tracks, it didn’t take long for the hypnotic motion and the warm environment to lull all of us into a nap, the drunken businessmen notwithstanding. Our daybags were in the inside seat next to me and our suitcases were buried beneath quite a pile of larger bags, so I wasn’t too worried about them finding new owners. Looking back on it, I guess that falling asleep on the train was not the safest thing we could have done, but I don’t think Scotland has much of a reputation for theft as say Rome, New York, or Paris. Not to say it doesn’t happen, can happen anywhere. Thankfully we did not learn an expensive lesson. After about an hour we all roused, confirmed our bags were indeed still traveling with us and enjoyed the view of the Scottish landscape.

    I don’t know why, but I was actually surprised by how green Scotland is. I think my mental image was more like Glen Coe than the low, rolling, green hills we saw throughout most of our trip. Near noon, we pulled out our lunch and soon we could tell we were approaching Edinburgh. We crossed the Firth of Forth and soon we were pulling into Waverly station.

    At last the train came to a stop, we gathered up our belongings, hopped off the train and waded through Waverly Station. Exiting the station, we found the taxi stand and asked the first one in line to take us to our new home for the next three nights, Highfield Guest House on Mayfield Road. The Highfield Guest House is the “fanciest” of the B&Bs we stayed in on this trip. It is a very charming old Victorian with high ceilings, lots of crown moulding and well appointed rooms. DD and DB shared a twin room on the ground floor and I again had a single on the first floor up.

    At check-in our hostess inquired as to our plans offering suggestions for buses, etc. She suggested that if we were planning to visit Edinburgh Castle that we do so today for photos from the esplanade out over the city as it was a lovely day, but tomorrow was supposed to be very overcast with possible rain. DD was feeling the need for a nap so DB and I decided to take the bus as close to the castle as possible, take some photos and scope out the lay of the land. From research, I knew that the castle was on a hill, and with DD needing a nap again this afternoon I was beginning to get concerned about his ability to visit the castle safely.

    Leaving DD resting, DB and I crossed and walked up the street a short distance to a bus stop. In my planning I had scoped out the two bus stops near the Highfield and which bus routes to take to and from the Royal Mile. On Mayfield Road, bus 42 would carry us towards the historic center. About two short blocks east on Newington Road, bus 37 would carry us to and from the city center. There is also a handy app you can download on your phone to track the bus you need and to plan trips and let you know which stop to take.

    After a wait of about 15 minutes our bus pulled into view. Luckily we had enough change and boarding the bus, I deposited all our coins, told the driver we wanted 2 singles and asked him to let us know when we neared the stop for the castle (I wasn’t quite as handy with the app at this point). The driver gave me a surly look and didn’t reply, so we meekly found a seat; and I tried to remember from the online maps I had spent hours studying where we would need to jump off. I definitely felt that I had the word “TOURIST” emblazoned in neon yellow on my forehead. However after about a 20 minute ride a kindly lady told us that the next stop would be the one we wanted for the castle as she made her way past us to the door. The bus lurched into motion again, and a few other passengers chimed in and said that yes indeed, the stop for the Castle would be next. The driver did actually call out “Edinburgh Castle” as we pulled up to the stop and DB and I thanked our fellow passengers and hopped out.

    Standing on the sidewalk DB says “Which way?” and luckily all the time poring over Google maps on my laptop paid off. Also, I knew we needed to go uphill, so I pointed “that way” and off we went. We were at the Victoria Street bus stop and had only about a block (I thought it was a long block) to the Royal Mile. We reached the Mile and turned left. We could not see the castle yet, but I figured we were headed in the right direction because we were still going uphill. We crossed the roundabout at Johnston Terrace where we saw a piper in full regalia playing on the sidewalk. We kept trudging uphill and finally the esplanade spread out around us. It was full of cranes! Big mechanical cranes! And giant metal bleachers! The seating for the Tattoo still covered both sides of the esplanade. There would be no photographs from the esplanade for a few more weeks from what I could see!

    We wandered around the esplanade and confirmed that no, there was no place along the esplanade for photos out over the city or down the hill that was not blocked by ugly metal bleachers or machinery to take them down (I presume). As we stood looking around the esplanade and down the Royal Mile, we were both dismayed by the uphill hike needed to reach the castle. Very concerned I said to DB, “I don’t think DD can do this tomorrow.” DB didn’t think he could do it either, considering that to see the castle there was even more (and steeper!) uphill walking once through the gate. I was becoming more and more dismayed. This was DD’s one trip to Scotland. I couldn’t bring DD all this way only to tell him I didn’t think he could physically manage to see THE number one site in Edinburgh. I said “I’ve been places where there was another entrance that wasn’t readily apparent so let’s go through the gate and see if we can ask someone about another entrance or way up the hill.” DB and I went through the gate and into the ticket courtyard. I was specifically looking for something that might say “Visitor Services” or such but was really beginning to panic. I was just about to give up when I saw a man walk out a door into the courtyard pushing a wheelchair and wearing an Edinburgh vest. I practically tackled him.

    DB and I pounced on this poor man. “Excuse me, do you work here?” Stupid question. “Yes I do can I help you?” I quickly explained our dilemma that we were bringing our DD to the castle tomorrow and was there another, easier entrance for elderly or disabled individuals? “Why yes there is. There is an accessibility car that will take elderly or disabled visitors to the top of the Castle. Just outside the gate to the left is a sign and you can wait there for the accessibility car." We went out the gate and milled around for a few minutes, unable to see any signage about a car and then our friend came out the gate and said it’s just over here. There was a very small sign that was turned away from us but all we needed to do tomorrow morning was get DD to this spot and then he could take the car up to the top of the Castle. He could then tour the buildings at the top of the hill and walk down at his leisure or contact a docent and the car would bring him back down if needed. Hallelujuh! Our trip was saved!

    Giddy now that we weren’t faced with the unpleasant task of telling our DD we couldn’t tour the Castle tomorrow, we walked back out the esplanade. To get home we needed to walk down the Royal Mile to Newington Street and then look for a bus stop for route 37. However, we decided to indulge in our first serious shopping since the start of this trip and we made it about 100 feet from the Castle Esplanade before we were lured into a very large 3-story souvenir shop. They had everything from the usual T-shirts, coffee mugs and thimbles to very expensive jewelry and custom kilts. We did find some things with the crest of Clan MacLaine along with some T-shirts and other items. I found a woolen scarf woven in the (supposedly) Clan MacLaine tartan. I even found a whiskey glass with my married name for my husband.

    As we walked down the Mile, I think we made it into almost every shop between the Castle and Newington Street, if only for a quick look around. There were a large number of shops selling expensive woolens. Since we live in a pretty temperate environment, wool was not on my must-have list. Eventually we found Newington Street, and reading the signs at the bus stops finally found one for route 37. We lined or queued up to wait for our bus. By this time I had opened the Lothian Bus app on my phone. I knew from notes I had brought that we needed the stop at Crawfurd/Savile Road. Bus 37 never came, so DD pulled out his phone and using a mapping app said he thought we could walk it in 30 minutes. I was kind of dubious, but agreed to give a try. After about 20 minutes I don’t think we were very close to home so we found another bus stop for bus 37 and lined up. I reopened the app and found a bus was enroute. We did wait a bit, but the bus finally approached our stop (this was now rush hour when people everywhere were trying to get home). We hopped on and of course the charge on my phone was getting low. I actually thought we had gone past our stop and told DB we needed to get off at the next stop. We looked around and found the button to signal the next stop. Standing on the sidewalk trying to figure out where we were, I realized we were at the Crawfurd Road stop! Our day just keeps getting better.

    It was about a 15 minute walk along Savile Road which had a little dogleg, a right turn up Mayfield Road and we were home. We went into DD and DB’s room to find DD awake and in good spirits. We had a desultory conversation about where to go to dinner. We couldn’t seem to come to an agreement. DB and I had passed another branch of Bella Italia on the Royal Mile and I think DB was hungry for Italian food, so that is what we finally agreed upon.

    I was able to look up the restaurant’s phone number (what did we do without smart phones?) and make a reservation. I then tried out the number for City Cabs I had stored in my phone before leaving home. DB and I had talked it over and decided that we would conserve DD’s strength for walking around actual sites and use City Cabs to get back and forth from the guest house. During the next two days the fare was generally in the £9-11 range per trip. This was three times what we had planned (£3.30 for all three of us on a bus) but I think it was the difference in enabling DD to get around.

    The taxi deposited us in front of Bella Italia and we were actually a bit early for our reservation, but were seated relatively quickly. Unfortunately we were in a table near the door, the restaurant was packed and there was a screaming baby. However, the service here was still better than that experienced at Cuan Mor (no, I'm not bitter). The food was good, not in the range of great, but good and filling. As we were finishing dessert, I again called City Cabs. Their automated system tracks the calls from your number and asks if you would like to be picked up at the same location as last time. I had to reply no each time and wait for a live person to come on and give them our current location and destination. We stood outside and people watched while we waited for the taxi, but we were soon back at the Highfield and tucked in after a long day.

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    Day 6 Edinburgh Castle

    After a restful night we woke up and met for breakfast about 8:00am. While we ate I called a taxi from City Cabs and it soon picked us up. It was a slightly overcast and windy day. This was our one experience with City Cabs where we were less than excited with their service. We explained to the driver that DD had trouble walking uphill and asked him to drop us off at the gate to the esplanade. The driver took us about halfway between Johnson Terrace and the entrance to the esplanade saying he couldn’t get any closer due to delivery trucks approaching the castle. There were trucks approaching, but there was plenty of traffic approaching closer to the castle. He refused to go any further so we got out and continued up the Mile to the Castle. When we finally reached the pick up point for the accessibility car there were a few chairs set out and I asked DD to have a seat. We were the first people at the pick up point, but an elderly couple soon joined us. An attendant soon appeared and looked at our tickets. The Castle was covered by the Scottish Explorer Pass. I think we just broke even on the cost of the explorer pass using it at Dunstaffnage, Urquhart, and Edinburgh Castle.

    More people began to wander up the pickup point and we even saw a few vehicles drive up the esplanade and drop off passengers. The attendant came back around and asked us if one of our party would mind walking up the castle so the elderly couple could ride up in the first trip with DD. DB said he would walk up and meet us at the top. Soon, the accessibility car pulled up and the four of us piled in. The car took us up to the top of the hill through a back access road and dropped us at the top of the hill. He reminded us that the car was available if we needed a ride down and directed us to the entrance to The Honours (the Scottish Crown Jewels). DB was waiting for DD and me when we climbed out. There were very few people around and we hotfooted it to The Honours first.

    There is quite an exhibit prior to the actual Crown Jewels with a statue of the crowning of a Scottish king as well as murals on the walls depicting Scottish kings. There was also an exhibit portraying a coronation with mannequins which I thought was slightly cheesy. By this time a few other people who had made up the hill, but we mostly had the Crown Jewels to ourselves. They were impressive and it was nice to see them without having to jostle 100 of our (not) closest friends for a view. Coming back out of the exhibit, we next toured the Royal Palace and the Grand Hall. I was particularly impressed by the ceiling of the Palace as well as the relief of the Scottish Coat of Arms above the fire place. By now it was becoming noticeably more crowded as we made our way into the Great Hall. This is a large and impressive room that was used by royalty as a state receiving room. The walls are covered in finely carved wood paneling about 12-15 feet up topped by dark red paint the rest of the way to the ceiling. There are several sets of armor and lots of weaponry around the walls.

    After the Great Hall, we walked across the square to the Scottish National War Memorial. This was a very moving exhibit. Seeing the memorials with the names of those lost in WWI makes it easy to understand why WWI was called the Great War. There are memorials for each branch of the service and then some. DD wanted to make sure he saw the memorial for the air corps. Leaving the War Memorial we walked out across the Half Moon Battery. The canons of the Half Moon Battery face out over the city of Edinburgh, bringing the history lessons from the Culloden Battlefield into focus. We wandered around the battery for a while admiring the views out over the city then walked down along the Forewall Battery to Mons Meg. We admired the giant canon and continued to ooh and ah over the views of the city and out to the Firth of Forth. Looking down I noticed the dog cemetery. This is a little plot of land dedicated to the burial of pets belonging to the soldiers stationed at the castle. Leaving Meg, we entered St. Margaret’s Chapel. This is a very small, simple chapel.

    Leaving the Chapel, we toured the Royal Scots Regimental Museum. This museum has exhibits about the history of Scots in the British armed forces from the times of Culloden through the present. There were exhibits about everything from a historic soldier’s gear to actions in the Gulf. I thought it was very interesting to see the different crafts completed by the soldiers, including some very intricate beadwork. After the regimental museum he walked through the Prisons of War exhibit, which is a recreation of prisons of war from the time of the American Revolution. It was sobering to see the conditions endured by American POWs.

    After the POW exhibit, we were museumed out so started walking downhill. We continued to admire the views of the city but eventually wound our way down and out across the (still!) crane filled esplanade. By this time, the castle was very crowded. I was somewhat surprised at the number of tourists we saw here and at Urquhart. I would have thought that late September would have seen the crowds lessen much more than this. I can’t imagine how crowded Edinburgh must be in August during the fringe arts festival.

    We continued on down the Royal Mile, by now looking for somewhere for lunch. We stumbled upon Brodie’s Café and we all settled down for a panini and chips. DD needed some time to sit, so after we finished lunch I ordered a cup of tea and succumbed to the temptation presented by the many desserts on display at the counter. DB followed suit and soon we all had tea or coffee and a dessert. Our next appointment of the day was at the Real Mary King’s Close tour at 3:00pm. After about an hour, I suggested we walk down to St Giles Cathedral which was nearly across the street from the Real Mary Kings Close. We were not very far away and I thought DD could sit in a pew while DB and I took in the Cathedral.

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    Thanks, I'm glad you're all still following along! Below is the 2nd half of day six and I'll finish up day seven soon.

    Day Six Part Two

    After finishing off our desserts, we walked down the Royal Mile to the Cathedral of St. Giles. Entry was free, but there was a £2 or £3 photography permit, which DB and I both paid. DD found a pew with a padded seat in the back and settled down to rest while DB and I circled the church photographing the carvings, stained glass windows, the ceiling, the ornately carved pulpit and the memorials. This church has a beautiful blue vaulted ceiling and many beautiful stained glass windows. One of the side chapels has a beautiful wood carving of the Madonna and child with angels. I was amused at the carving of a unicorn seahorse on the back of one of the pews. This church is not as grand as St. Paul’s, but is full of history.

    About 2:45, DB and I woke up DD who appeared to be having a comfortable nap in his cushioned pew and crossed the Mile to the Real Mary King’s Close. I had prebooked this tour through The Real Mary King’s Close website. I presented our voucher and we were waved through the entrance to the waiting area in the back of the building. There are lockers where we left our daybags as they are not permitted on the tour and then we stood for a few minutes waiting for our tour to begin. Our tour guide was a young woman in I think 14th century dress, who adopted the persona of a young woman from that era. The tour was very interesting and informative about life for the average person in Edinburgh from the middle ages through about 1800s. Our tour guide had an (I thought) annoying giggle but was very knowledgeable.

    The tour itself was through several homes and buildings that are now below street level. Edinburgh is built on the back of a ridge or spine of rock that descends from the Castle down to the Palace at the end of the Royal Mile. The Royal Mile itself is a street built along the top of this spine or ridge and lanes and alleyways (closes) descending down the sides of the spine grew up along the side of this street. In the 1700s the city of Edinburg decided to engage in some redevelopment and condemned a series closes on one side of the street. The buildings in this area became the foundations for a new shopping complex. If I remember correctly, that shopping center is now the Edinburgh City Hall complex. I believe some of these closes were used as air raid shelters during WWII. The Real Mary King’s Close has access to this area and conducts “social awareness” tours through the tiny homes and buildings of what once was medieval Edinburgh. Some of these homes continued to be occupied until early 1900s despite being condemned. It was a very enlightening tour to learn about the living conditions of the average Edinburgh resident in the middle ages through the 1700s.

    At the end of the tour, we bought some water from the café and DB purchased a few items in the bookshop then we called trusty City Cabs and returned “home” for a nap. However once at the Highfield we began to think about dinner. We decided on seeing how the Scots treat Mexican food and settled on Pancho Villa’s on the Royal Mile. I called for a reservation at 7:00, arranged the taxi to pick us up at 6:45 and then we took a much-needed rest.

    Our taxi arrived promptly and soon delivered us to Pancho Villa’s. I think we all had enchiladas which did not live up to our local Tex-Mex, but which were still pretty good. And as I expected, no free chips and salsa as soon as we sat down. The restaurant was not crowded and was closer to the Palace and the Scottish Parliament building than the Castle.

    Google maps showed a Starbucks nearby and since I needed to pick up two Edinburgh mugs for my DS and his GF, after dinner we walked about two blocks further down the mile. However, we got to Starbucks just after 8:00pm and they had closed for the night. DB wanted ice cream and he looked up a nearby place to find it on his smart phone. It wasn’t far, but we didn't want to overtire DD, so we again called City Cabs. Standing on the sidewalk on the Royal Mile at 8:00pm we were nearly the only people on the street. This part of the Mile seemed much less touristy than the upper half near the castle. The cab came and we were delivered to Snoopz. The ice cream was good, and we soon called another taxi to take us home for the night.

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    Day Seven Palace of Holyrood House and Rosslyn Chapel

    Today was Saturday, our last day in Edinburgh. We met in the breakfast room about 8:00 am and once again had a very filling breakfast. I was going to miss the tea when we returned home. Hot tea in the US is just not the same as the flavorful, robust tea served in the UK. We again called City Cabs and were dropped off outside the Palace at the foot of the Mile. It was about 9:10am and the Palace did not open until 9:30. We walked along the front of the Palace gates and the Queen’s Gallery and took pictures from every conceivable angle; then we turned around and took photos of the very modern Scottish Parliament building and Arthur’s Seat. With my telephoto lens I could discern a few hearty souls trekking up the trail along this iconic bluff overlooking the Palace. It was an overcast and windy day, but not too chilly. We wandered back over to the entrance and waited for the Palace to open. As opening time approached, more visitors arrived and milled around the entrance, but there were nowhere near the crowds as at the Edinburgh Castle.

    At last the gate opened, and while everyone else made their way to the ticket window, we approached the last gate and the courtyard before the Palace. I had pre-purchased our tickets before leaving home. We presented our tickets and picked up an audio guide. Try as I might, even with my wide angle lens, I could not get a clean photo of the entire length of the Palace façade. We crossed the courtyard and entered the Palace, stopping in front of the inner courtyard or quadrangle. Turning to our right, we began the tour of the state apartments and the Mary Queen of Scots chambers. The state apartments were suitably grand and awe inspiring.

    Following the state apartments, Mary’s chambers were reached by a steep spiral staircase. We saw Mary’s privy rooms and inner and outer chambers. The audio guide stated that David Rizzio her secretary was murdered as they dined in the northern turret room, although other publications place the scene of his death in the outer chamber. As we toured the turret room which Mary used as a private dining room, eating with her innermost circle, I remember thinking it was a small and intimate room. David Rizzio was stabbed over 50 times by 15-20 men with Darnley. This room must have been very crowded with Mary, Rizzio, a few other of her inner most circle, Darnley and the swarm of men he brought with him. Rizzio must have been killed practically at Mary’s feet. I was struck by how up close and personal this murder must have been to Mary. This shocking act of violence, so immediate, so intimate, must have had a lasting effect on the young queen.

    Completing the tour of Mary’s chambers, we descended to the ground floor and viewed the exhibition of the queen’s fashions that were on display. All the items presented were related to Holyrood Palace or worn by the queen at an event at the Palace. I think it’s safe to say I enjoyed this exhibit more than either DD or DB. I caught up to them in the ruins of the abbey outside. We walked back in and out the front and across the courtyard to the café and gift shop. We bought some bottled water and I purchased a miniature porcelain pitcher for my collection. We finished our visit to Holyrood in the Queen’s Gallery (tickets also pre-purchased). On display was a smallish exhibit of garden related art from paintings to ceramics. Again, I enjoyed this a bit more than either DD or DB. Exiting the Gallery we set off to find an ATM.

    Google maps said there was an ATM in the Scottish Parliament building, but we were unable to enter. An attendant suggested we walk around the end of the building and up Holyrood Road to a Tesco where we would find a bank machine. We did so and found the ATM at Tesco. Completing our business at the ATM, we cut through Gentle’s Entry and up the steps of Crichton’s Close which deposited us back on the Royal Mile, right next to Starbuck’s. How convenient. Two Starbuck’s coffee mugs acquired, we began to look for lunch. Clarinda’s tea room was nearby, but there were no empty tables. We looked around and saw an establishment named Oink across the street. They roast a whole pig, then shred it for sandwiches with different toppings. This lunch rated as edible. Be aware, there are not many restaurants or cafes on this end of the Royal Mile. There was a Pizza Express on Holyrood Road and a couple of cafes that did not look promising. If you’re planning to see the Palace in the morning and then have lunch, seriously consider lunch in the Palace Café before leaving Holyrood grounds.

    As we were finishing up our roast pork sandwiches, I again called trusty City Cabs. We cleared off our table and stepped outside to wait. In only a few minutes, a black city cab pulled up to the curb. DD was heading back to Highfield Guest House for nap. I offloaded the mugs to him, we gave the driver the name and address, made sure DD had enough cash for the fare, and sent him off. DB and I were headed to Rosslyn Chapel.

    We felt the need for a little more retail therapy though and decided to visit a few shops we had spotted last night as walked up the Royal Mile to South Bridge where we would catch a bus to Rosslyn. There were a couple of Christmas shops along this stretch of the Royal Mile, but they did not have anything in them I had not seen in other Christmas themed stores anywhere else. I did find a non-plaid blue ruana to take home. I had been looking for a ruana, but I’m not crazy about plaid.

    It didn’t take too long to walk up to South Bridge. We knew from prior research that the number 37 bus would take us to Rosslyn. We found an appropriate stop, made sure we had £1.30 each and waited for a bus to arrive. I think there may have been slightly fewer buses running on Saturday, but we didn’t have to wait long. Once again as we boarded, we asked the driver to let us know when we reached the stop for Rosslyn Chapel. We received a neutral reply to that request, and climbed the stairs to take seats in the front of the upper deck. It took about 45 minutes to reach the village of Rosslyn. When we arrived, the driver did announce Rosslyn Chapel. However, if you are planning to make this journey, the bus stops right in front of the Rosslyn Hotel. There is a sign pointing towards the Chapel and it is just a short walk from the street. We stood in line to pay for our tickets and took a look at the offerings in the book store. I think the only thing we purchased was the souvenir guide book.

    The Chapel was packed. Photography is not allowed inside, which is a real shame because there are not nearly enough photos in the guide book to do this little chapel justice. This site was suggested by DB very late in the planning process (the day before we left!), and I am glad he did. Nearly every conceivable surface inside this chapel is carved. This chapel was a display of enormous wealth by standards of 1450. The funds that the Earl of St Clair poured into this chapel in hiring the many, many stone masons to complete all of the carvings must have been huge. Almost every inch of the barrel vaulted ceiling is carved. Every window frame, lintel, pillar and arch in this little chapel is ornately carved. The master’s and apprentice’s columns are magnificent. This is truly a breathtaking site. Do not pass up the opportunity to see Rosslyn if you visit Edinburgh.

    I think DB was ready to go before I was but he was patient to wait for me as I scrutinized every nook and cranny of this amazing little church. We were able to see some parts of the crypt where filming of the Da Vinci Code took place. After ensuring I had carefully examined every window, lintel, arch, and column, we walked outside and looked around the grounds of the Chapel. All the exterior window frames are ornately carved and there are a few gargoyles as well. The chapel has a very gothic exterior. There are a few memorials on the grounds and we made sure to view them all. Finally, I think we had seen all there was to see of this wonderful chapel and we walked back up to the road to catch our bus home. We made sure we both had correct change and waited for our bus to arrive.

    We had been waiting a few minutes when a small group of American tourists approached and asked if we knew the bus routes very well. I replied that we did not, and asked where they needed to go. It seems they were with a tour group and their hotel was way out on the west side of Edinburgh and they didn’t know how to get back to it. I asked them how they got to Rosslyn. “Our bus let us off in the city center, and we took the #37 bus here.” We looked up their hotel on Google maps and there were bus and tram stops nearby. I suggested taking the #37 to the train station and from there a tram to a stop near their hotel. I also used the Lothian bus app on my phone and gave her the number of a couple of bus routes that would take her back to her hotel.

    Once again, we climbed up to the upper deck and sat near the front for the ride home. I kept a close eye out for out stop, and we were successfully able to push the button in time for our stop. We walked the few blocks back to the guest house and checked in on DD. He had had a good nap and was feeling good. DB suggested Chinese for dinner. Using my smart phone I found a place called Xanadu that had some decent reviews in Google and more importantly had a table available when I called for a reservation. We called City Cabs again and headed out to dinner.

    Xanadu had very good Chinese food. The service was good. Most of the other diners also appeared to be Asian, which I generally take as a good sign when looking for an Asian restaurant. I don’t remember everything we ordered, but it was served family style on little gas warmers. Once again we cabbed back to the guest house and settled our bill because we would be leaving very early in the morning. I called City Cabs and arranged for a pickup at 5:45 the next morning. It was time to home. I wish that we had had a few more days in Edinburgh, because I don’t think we even scratched the surface.

    Day Eight Home

    Our cab arrived right on time, and the ride to the airport took only about 30 minutes. After checking our bags and collecting boarding passes we walked around the corner towards security. And came to a complete stop. It was about 6:30am and there must have been 500-700 people waiting to clear security. I was dismayed. We were going to be there for a whiiiiiiile. I hoped we could get through in time to make our flight. We started forward again and found the end of the looooong line.

    Twenty minutes later, we were somewhat bewildered, but on the other side of security. The folks in Edinburgh Airport security know how to do their job and move people through quickly and efficiently with minimal fuss. DFW could learn something from them. We had plenty of time before our flight left and there were actually a few shops open along the concourse at this ungodly hour. Since I still had not picked up a gift for my daughter, I popped into a shop. I actually found a very nice necklace and a pair of earrings for her at a reasonable price.

    Our flight boarded on time, there were no delays taking off, and a hot breakfast as served on board, which was actually edible. We did not have such a long layover in LHR as we did inbound, however our gate was in a “Quiet” terminal, meaning there were no announcements. I found the whole experience of waiting at the gate for our transatlantic flight with no announcements whatsoever unnerving. We were unable to score exit row seating for the trip home, but we all had plenty of books and movies on our tablets. DD slept some more. We finally landed at DFW and fought the masses through immigration.

    It took us longer to clear immigration at DFW than it did security in Edinburgh. Easily twice as long. And that was using ICE’s fancy new automated kiosks. I thought the whole process was confusing but we were eventually through to the other side and DSIL and DN were waiting to pick us up. DD and I dropped off DB, DSIL, and DN then gassed up and made the two-hour drive home. It almost felt odd to be driving on the right side of the road.

    I was happy to see DH again and our dear little schnauzer was happy to see me and DD as well. I may visit Scotland again, but I don’t think I’ll ever have another morning as magical as that walk along Loch Buie.

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    Regarding the murder of Rizzio, John Guy in his recent biography of Mary Stuart ( which may well be the most current and definitive biography of Mary Stuart ) quotes Mary as later saying the blows [ to Rizzio] had been so close that" she felt the coldness of the iron".

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    It almost felt odd to be driving on the right side of the road.

    LOL, taking the bus home after landing at BOS on one trip to Scotland, I picked a seat on the bus's right. I looked up one time on the trip and had a heart-stopping-though-just-a-second of "Where's the driver?!"

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