Scotland Trip Report-Part 1

Old Sep 13th, 2012, 10:38 AM
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Scotland Trip Report-Part 1

My husband and I are just back from our 9 day trip to Scotland. This may well have been our best vacation ever, and huge thanks are due to forum participants for the great advice. The report will be coming in installments.

Day 1-St Andrews

We fetch our rental car at Edinburgh airport and head to St Andrews. The Forth Road Bridge, which we drive on, and the Firth of Forth (rail) Bridge, are impressive. After we cross the bridge, the scenery becomes pastoral and serene. As soon as we arrive in St A, cat about town Hamish McHamish shows up immediately to welcome our son back to school. Most of the students are still gone for the summer and the town is quiet.While our son locates his flat keys, we wait at Aikman's bar and play scrabble while we enjoy a bowl of Cullen Skink and an ale. The knowledgeable and friendly barkeep gives us a tutorial on how to tap an ale keg. We enjoy dinner at Bakala, which is advertised as Indian and Bangladeshi. The menu is more Indian than Bangladeshi, but a Scottish/Indian/Bangladeshi fusion dish of salmon with eggplant is nice.

Day 2-St Andrews

Most of the day is occupied with domestic chores and shopping for our son's flat. As a result, we don't have time to visit the castle and cathedral this trip, but do recommend them. We take breaks to have a very good lunch at Mitchell cafe and deli where we meet our son's girlfriend. We find her delightful and hope we passed our audition. We shop for golfer friends, watch some golfers on the Old Course, and walk most of the really lovely Lade Braes Walk, described here: http://www.thesinner.net/guide/Lade_Braes_Walk. For dinner we drive along the coast to Anstruther a couple of towns away. The Anstruther Fish Bar has been voted the best UK chippy a few times and our son wants to be sure we try it. I have no basis for comparison, but the chips were good and the haddock was out of this world. After dinner we return to St Andrews and hit Whey Pat Tavern for a couple of ales and the regular Tuesday night folk session. The music is good and it is heaps of fun to sit right by the players and watch them interact. Tomorrow we'll leave the kiddo behind and head for the Highlands.

More to come.
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Old Sep 13th, 2012, 11:51 AM
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Old Sep 13th, 2012, 01:50 PM
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Looking forward to the rest of your report. Great start!
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Old Sep 13th, 2012, 05:18 PM
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Can't wait--the kids are ok!
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Old Sep 13th, 2012, 05:27 PM
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Good start! I'll be checking back for the rest -

>>Scotland Trip Report-Part 1
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Old Sep 13th, 2012, 05:38 PM
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Keep going! Interesting beginning.
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Old Sep 13th, 2012, 06:39 PM
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Hamish McHamish...love it. Can you get anymore Scottish than that? I've only been to St. Andrews once but found it a very pleasant spot. It seems you have too. Great start, looking forward to more.
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Old Sep 13th, 2012, 09:58 PM
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following along, thanks
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Old Sep 14th, 2012, 04:52 AM
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Day 3-to the Highlands

We eat breakfast, have a nice chat with the kids, get a hug big enough to last 3 1/2 months, and head west through Dundee and Perth to Spean Bridge. The countryside becomes hilly, and hillier, and then mountainous. We are thankful for frequent spots to pull over so we can enjoy the scenery and let faster cars pass. After checking in to Old Pines Restaurant with Rooms we have tea with a snack of smoked meats and cheeses and head off for a walk. We cross a stile directly across the street from the hotel and take the lovely, circular High Bridge path. The walk is easy, maybe three miles, through woods and fields along the river. The weather is perfect-sunshine and a light breeze. We are charmed by the sheep, flowers, sparkly water, and some enormous old oaks, but the highlight is a bridge constructed by General Wade as part of his military road. At the bridge in 1745 a handful of Highland fighters and pipers fooled the government troops into thinking their numbers were greater and routed them, inflicting a few casualties and taking none. The victory at the Highbridge skirmish inspired Bonnie Prince Charlie to raise his standard a few days later. Things did not turn out well for the Young Pretender, but here it is easy to forget that and enjoy a mental picture of the skirmish.

A sign along the path reminds us that these mountains were created in the same geological event that created the Appalachian range back home. We are reminded of North Carolina and the many Scots who settled there.

Back at the hotel, we enjoy a drink in the lounge and then dinner. There is nothing wrong with the room, which has a comfy bed and very nice bathroom, but we now know why the place calls itself a Restaurant with Rooms. The food is wonderful. The wine list is small but thoughtfully chosen to complement the food, and it has some real gems.

Off to bed, dreaming of tomorrow's hike in Glen Coe.
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Old Sep 14th, 2012, 04:56 AM
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Oops. I omitted the stop at Dalwhinnie distillery. We did not take the time for a tour, but did enjoy a tasting of three whiskys and a very good exhibit in the visitors' center.
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Old Sep 14th, 2012, 05:40 AM
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@historytraveler, Hamish is a ginger tom who looks to have some years on him. He is a great favorite of the students and has his own facebook page.
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Old Sep 14th, 2012, 08:22 AM
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Day 4-Glen Coe

What happened to our perfect weather? Conditions are grim. Our son has recommended that we walk between ##'s 1 and 2 of the Three Sisters to the Lost Valley, where the MacDonald clan hid their rustled cattle. He says it is one of the two most beautiful places he has been on earth. The drive to the trail head is absolutely stunning. The mountains are magnificent, no longer subtle and serene as in Spean Bridge, but rugged and dramatic. The massacre is very much on our minds. As we arrive at the trail head, it is raining steadily and so windy that the rain is blowing sideways. A few people creep out of their cars to take photos, but nobody else takes the trail. We make it more than halfway to the valley before reluctantly throwing in the towel. Driving rain, wind, and slippery rocks do not stop us, but once ridges with drop-offs are added to an unfamiliar trail, it does not seem wise to continue. We are very disappointed and look forward to trying again. Back in the car, we change into dry clothes. This is not easy in a mid-size car and requires some contortions. Midway through changing, we notice that a tour bus has arrived and people are taking pictures-no! not of us! of the scenery. We hope that the windows were sufficiently fogged over that we didn't give them a scare.

Off to the Glen Coe Visitors Centre, which has interactive exhibits and much information on mountaineering, history, the massacre, geology, wildlife, etc. After the Visitors Centre, we attempt to eat at the Loch Leven Seafood Cafe, but it is after lunch hour and before dinner. This is disappointing, as the restaurant smells fabulous. We will have to try this again, too. We are beginning to learn that hours of operation posted in guidebooks are unreliable, and may only be describing the stretch of time between opening and closing. To eat at odd times, we need to look for pubs or restaurants that advertise food all day. At Ft William we have a nice pub snack and a good chat with a loquacious gent from Brighton. He scares us with tales of midges on Skye, which is our next destination.

Back at Old Pines, we have another good dinner, this time with a couple from England. We are having so much fun talking with Nick and Lesley that we don't realize how much time has passed and keep the staff at the restaurant way too late. Sorry folks!
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Old Sep 15th, 2012, 09:04 AM
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Day 5-Isle of Skye

Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing...over the bridge to Skye.

We do not speed. We drive slowly so we can take in the spectacular scenery and stop often to gawk and take photos. BBC Gael is on the radio and wish we understood the names of the artists so we could buy their CD's. After a couple of pretty lochs, we reach Glen Garry. We stop at several pulloff spots to get views from several angles. It is gorgeous. At one spot are several tiny cairns, evidently built by other travelers. Some have signs honoring friends/family/lovers. A couple of little kids are enthusiastically building a new one, with much energy and laughter.

Almost to the bridge, we make the obligatory stop at Eilean Donan Castle. The tour is not bad, but I would have been happier to have admired it from a distance and moved on. As we cross the bridge to Skye, the sun is shining. We hear this is a good omen. On Skye, the heather is more abundant and more purple and the grass is greener. The Cuillins are amazing. The water is full of sailboats. The roads are good (so far). An hour before check-in, we arrive at our hotel, Eilean Iarmain. This gives us time to shop for clothing and textiles in the shop associated with the hotel and to visit the exhibition of local artist Duncan Corrie, which is just opening in the gallery. His work is good and we now wish we had bought one particular paiting. We love the hotel. It has been designated the most romantic hotel in Great Britain and Ireland, and it is easy to see why. The setting on the sound is enchanting. Our room has a view to a lighthouse out one window and a garden with an apple tree out the other. The staff is friendly. We have a pint in the hotel's pub, which offers a fire, a sweet dog, and nice folks. The patrons are not just hotel guests, but locals-a big plus. After a drink in the lounge and a decent hotel dinner, we sleep hard.
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Old Sep 15th, 2012, 02:08 PM
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Day 6-Skye

Breakfast at Eilean Iarmain includes what my husband pronounces the most perfectly poached eggs ever. In Scotland I have fish for breakfast almost every day-salmon and scramble, kippers, smoked haddock-all delicious. I could get used to this!

Our destination for the day is the other end of the island. As we drive north to Dunvegan Castle, we are accompanied a good part of the way by a rainbow-an auspicious beginning to a wonderful day. The drive is long, but so scenic that we don't mind. The castle and gardens are well worth the drive. Highlights include the Fairy Flag, Bonnie Prince Charlie's waistcoat, and a very, very cool gaming table which the docent kindly demonstrates for us. We also like the mock prisoner in the dungeon. The location is lovely and gardens are good for a stroll. All over Scotland we see plants with tiny orange flowers and strap-like leaves. If anyone knows what these are, please tell me. I'd love to plant some in my garden.

On the way to Three Chimneys for lunch, we give a lift to an adorable young couple from the Czech Republic who are headed to the Neist Point lighthouse. Good for them, backpacking through a country where they barely speak the language! Three Chimneys is way out in the country down single-track roads. We would have loved to have had dinner, but couldn't imagine driving back to Sleat afterwards. Lunch is fabulous. I especially like my seafood platter. The waiter and sommelier are both excellent. The sommelier doesn't look old enough to drink, but he knows his stuff. We trust him to make wine pairings, and they are perfect. The suitable-for-framing printout of our eats and drinks is a nice touch. Next time we will plan further ahead and stay in Three Chimneys so we can have dinner. We enjoy a chat with a couple from Inverness. They recommend the Kishorn Seafood Bar, which we put on out to-do list for the next trip. I am eager to try squat lobsters. My ear worm is now singing the famous B-52's song, "Squat Lobster."

Our waiter Richard advises driving on to the Neist Point lighthouse. On the way, we stop in Glendale at the village shop and post office, the world's most charming country store and also our waiter's recommendation. We buy Hebridean sea salt and post cards and mail back to St Andrews what I think are our son's jeans that got left in my suitcase. Thank you to Richard, for sending us to Neist Point. We drive through many sheep and cows, including my new favorite Highland Cattle (I am enthralled by these shaggy beasts! How would they like Georgia, I wonder?). The Neist Point lighthouse is dramatically situated on the edge of a cliff, surrounded by yet more cliffs. The walk is fairly short, but steep in places. This northwest corner of the island is reputed to be the best place on Skye to see whales and seals. We don't see any marine mammals, but the birdwatching looks great. I can't believe I left my binoculars behind. The sea cliffs are not to be missed.

Back to the hotel for clean clothes and a short drive to Toravaig House for dinner. Another forum poster thought it rivalled Three Chimneys. My husband agrees. I do not, but it was very good. Our favorite dish was Scottish cheeses and Talisker.

More to come....
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Old Sep 15th, 2012, 03:24 PM
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Day 7-Skye

Soon shall I see thy bright shores in the sunlight
The heather of hills and the rising of morn
The rolling grey sea mist blows east in the morning
To run the wild hills of the Cuillins of home.

My ear worm now sounds like Archie Fisher, which is OK with me.

Today we are especially glad we rented a car. We are hiking, and our trail to Coire Lagan is at what my husband calls the ass end of nowhere. To get to the trail we drive several miles past Carbost on a single track road. The single track roads are great! Passing places are frequent and everyone knows the road has one lane. (Some of the so-called dual track roads have a quarter inch to spare on either side of the car. Some have enough room for 1 1/2 lanes. Yikes!) We drive down Glenbrittle Road a long way with much winding and nonchalant sheep. I had always thought they were stupid, but they know when to get out of the road, albeit at their own speed. We park by the campsite at the end of the road. Before the trail begins, a signpost warn us of dangers. The trail begins with a big clump of my new favorite orange flowers and then climbs beside a burbling brook through fields of heather and boulders. We see three red deer grazing beside a rock outcropping. The view behind us to the Isles of Rhum and Eigg is spectacular. Just when I am wondering why there is a danger sign, and why the trail is designated as "difficult," I see why. The trail turns into a boulder scramble. Looking from below, I want my blankie and my mommy. Once we begin the scramble, it is not so bad. Hand and footholds are frequent. The grey clouds add to the atmosphere. The howling wind is a downside. The wind at Glen Coe had nothing on this. I don't have adjectives sufficient to describe the view at the top. A small pool is surrounded by wicked-looking peaks, including the Inaccessible Pinnacle. It looks like it deserves its name. I had underestimated the Cuillins because of their low altitude, but they are as awe-inspiring as the much higher Rockies. I am happy to be "in" them and not "on" them. The walk down passes a beautiful waterfall and lots more sheep. We make it to within a few hundred yards of the car before it rains, and into the car before it rains hard.

We think we deserve a drink, and drive to the nearby Talisker distillery. As happens on vacation, we have lost track of days and it is Sunday. The distillery is closed. Rats! Fortunately, we have a bottle in the room. That and a hot bath are just what the legs need.

Dinner is at Eilean Iarmain's pub. It is excellent and we are pleased to find that there are as many locals as tourists. Good food, good ale, good visit with the couple at the next table. Back at the room, we lay out clothes for tomorrow and discover that I have mailed my husband's jeans to our son in St Andrews. &@#$!
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Old Sep 16th, 2012, 03:40 AM
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Those flowers were probably Crocosmia often called Montbretia
http://tinyurl.com/9vzqzhe
They grow wild all over the place, but I think that they originated as garden escapes.
A short walk from the Three Chimneys is the Skye Silver Shop
We find it a good source of birthday and Christmas presents
http://www.skyesilver.com/
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Old Sep 16th, 2012, 05:32 AM
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Thank you, MissPrism! Crocosmia is correct and the Skye Silver Shop looks good. We'll add it to the list for next time.
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Old Sep 16th, 2012, 05:45 AM
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Portia, you are indeed adventuresome! I love the poetry at the beginning of your posts. So beautiful. More, please.
--Annie
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Old Sep 16th, 2012, 06:33 AM
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Day 8-Stirling

We are not ready to leave Skye. It is a magical island, and three days was not enough time to spend there. However, we are looking forward to Stirling. After riding the ferry to Mallaig we have a long and and mostly uneventful drive. It is great to see Glen Coe in better weather.

In Stirling we stay in the Linden Guest House B&B. Fay the innkeeper is very pleasant, the room is fine, and the continental breakfast is the best we've had the entire trip. My husband takes a picture of the spread. I am afraid he wants me to recreate it.

We walk the Back Walk along the old city wall to the castle, 20 minutes away. The castle is marvelous! The restoration of the James V palace is impressive, especially the reproductions of the tapestries. It is fun to see characters in period dress talking to kids, who are invariably engaged. The sense of history gives me goosebumps. So much happened in this castle or nearby-Stirling Bridge, Bannockburn, killing of William Douglas by James II, Mary Queen of Scots crowned and raised, and much, much more. I could spend days here, but we get shooed out at closing time.

Next stop is Stirling Bagpipes. My 80-year-old father in law began learning to play in January and has recently had his first lesson on full-size pipes. We buy him some sheet music and CD's and identify a beautiful antique set of 3/4 pipes that we hope he will buy. The proprietor, who builds new pipes and refurbishes old ones, is clearly passionate about his craft. He is very kind to spend so much time with people who know nothing whatsoever about bagpipes.

Dinner is at the Portcullis pub beside the castle. My chicken stuffed with haggis is ample enough to feed two people and is very tasty. My husband loves his pasta with salmon, scampi, and some other sort of seafood in cream sauce. Ales are from Orkney Brewery, a favorite of ours.

Back at the B&B, we pack our bags with mixed feelings. Tomorrow we fly home. We are sad to be leaving Scotland, but happy to be going home. That is a sure sign of a good vacation.
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Old Sep 18th, 2012, 07:40 AM
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portia, I've been busy and just now getting back to your wonderful trip report.

Glad you were hearty enough to try the walk at Glen Coe. You were wise to turn around when you met with such treacherous condiditions.

Eilean Iarmain is one of my favorite places to stay,and as you said the setting is wonderful. I've purchased two prints from artists that have had exhibitions there. It's like bringing a little bit of Skye home with me.

You obviously took the time and effort to create a wonderful itinerary. St. Andrews, Spean Bridge area, Glen Coe and some of the best spots on Skye along with Stirling. A great taste of Scotland!

Thanks for bringing back favorite memories of some my favorite places.
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