Category Archives: Scotland 2014

Our 17 day trip to Scotland’s highlands in Sept/Oct of 2014.

Getting There is Half the Fun

We are writing this blog entry while sitting in our cozy room at the Callart View B & B in Glencoe.  The view from the window beside our bed is amazing!  This view does not look like Henniker!

A view of Loch Leven from the window in our room of our B&B in Glencoe

A view of Loch Leven from the window in our room of our B&B in Glencoe

Leaving our delightful B &B in Portree on the Isle of Skye, our friendly innkeeper recommended taking the scenic drive to Ord where we were taking the ferry to Mallaig.  Yes, the route was definitely scenic, and we did see the Ciullians from the backside  ….. all while braving 13 miles of the narrow, one lane road!  Dave’s description of this wonderful diversion was “The Single-Track From Hell”.  The road was very narrow with no shoulder, severe drop-offs and no guard rails, and to make things just a little more thrilling, it was dotted with blind hills, which often bent left or right just past the crest. Cresting a blind hill on Scottish Single-Track

View from the beach near Ord Scotland

A view from the beach near Ord, Scotland

The backside of the Ciullians, Isle of Skye, Scotland

The backside of the Ciullians, reachable only by death defying single-track

The views were wonderful but it was impossible to pull off the narrow lane, and the passing “pull-offs” were never at a scenic spot in the road. Driving up the back of Mt Saint Helens with no guard rails a couple years ago was easier.  However, our Inn Keeper was correct. The 15 miles were memorable.  We will remember to never drive that route again… But we are glad we did it once.  Many adventures in life are like that.

A quick ferry ride and we were back on the Scottish mainland, in the town of Mallaig, the start of a drive through some amazing scenery toward our destination of Glencoe. On the ferry from Skye to Mallaig, Scotland If you saw the Harry Potter movie than you recall the old steam train crossing over the huge viaduct that the train passed over. This track is just outside of Glennfinnan.  Knowing the train would pass mid afternoon, we stopped and walked out to the old viaduct and waited, along with a number of other photographers who had their cameras aimed up at the top of the viaduct.  Sure enough, we could hear the train approach and it passed right over us.  Fun to see.

Glenfinnan Viaduct with steam train

The steam train on the Glenfinnan Viaduct

What a view!

What the train’s passengers see from the Glenfinnan Viaduct

That night was spent in Fort Williams. The room was lovely but lacked the charm of the small B & B’s where we have been staying.  However, the town had a wonderful store and I can now come home with a heavier suitcase! More amazing scenery brought us to historic Glencoe, and an accidental and lovely B & B.


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Another Castle and an Island

Leaving Invergary we drove along Loch Gary, and noticed large swaths of clear cutting of the forests on the far side of the loch.  They dragged the logs to the loch where they were floated to large frames to be towed to the ends of the loch for processing.  This clear cutting, we found, was to remove tracts of non-native species planted after WW I, so that native species could be planted.  It seems that during WW I, a large amount of timber was harvested and sent to France to be used as reinforcement for the trenches.  Later the cleared land was planted with pine.  This restores Scotland’s forests to their natural habitat.

Eilean Donan is the site of an early Christian settlement, created by “St. Donan”, an Irish monk who created many early Christian settlements.  It was also where Msr. Donan met a grisly end, and an impenetrable fortress was established, which is now Scotland’s most photographed castle. Scotland-PostFive-2 It’s very spectacular perched on an island in a salt water loch.  We toured the castle, and nearby Plockton, Scotland’s “cutest” town, and we certainly can’t disagree with that.  The Town of PloctonTo get to the town you drive 5 miles down a windy steep “single track” (one lane) road, with occasional pull-offs to allow oncoming traffic to pass.  This experience no doubt led to the Scottish custom of the “wee dram” … a shot of whisky, necessary to calm one’s nerves after driving on a single track.  They wouldn’t be that bad if they weren’t so narrow, or if they had any shoulder at all, which, alas, they lack.

In the town we talked to one long-time resident who bemoaned the loss of the young people, who are moving away because of a lack of affordable housing; it seems that retirees from “other incomes” are buying up all the available houses escalating prices.

After Dornie and the magnificent castle we drove on to the Isle of Skye.  “Skye” is an  old Norse word meaning “misty”, so this is really the “Misty Isle”.  Isle of SkyeOn the day we arrived, though, we were greeted with partial sunshine.  We hiked the Storr trail, one of the most popular trails in Scotland, and met two veteran hikers who recommended a part of the trail that was officially closed.  We hiked that part and were glad we did as we were greeted with some spectacular scenery. Old Man of the Storr

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Monster Ness

It’s fortunate that we’re flexible as our original plans got altered a bit….. but all for the best.  Our day began with a lovely English breakfast in our cozy B & B. They do know how to make good, strong coffee over here in Scotland.

First destination was the village of Carrbridge,  just 7 miles north of Aviemore,  site of a famous stone bridge.  Back in 1717, the strong Scottish rains and resultant spate (flood) prevented anyone from crossing the river in town.  This made it impossible for burials to be conducted with the church on one side of the river and the burial site on the other side.  Within a period of only six months, a graceful, curved stone bridge was built over the rapids. [insert picture] The construction of this bridge appears far more amazing than the stone bridge along Route 9 beyond Hillsboro in NH.

Scotland-DayFive-1          Though the little town of Carrbridge  gets many tourists coming to see the bridge, the town retains a very small town feel to it.  A sign on the local general store / Post Office noted that only two school children were allowed in the store at the same time!

Loch Ness

Loch Ness

We’d planned to spend the night in Inverness, a large bustling city.  When we got there, we found it was, well, just a large modern bustling city.  Busy, noisy, and with none of the charm of other towns we’d been through, including Edinburgh.  We were happy to continue on, even though it meant missing some traditional music (supposedly).  So after a walk along the river Ness, we drove along the western shore of Loch Ness.  The Urquhart castle ruins, on the shores of Loch Ness, were too intriguing to pass up so we stopped and explored (along with lots of Japanese tourists).  Scotland-DayFive-3       This formidable castle was eventually laid to waste by technology…in the form of a catapult that hurled 300 pound balls which broke down its walls.  Scotland-DayFive-2         No sightings of the Loch Ness Monster, which, coincidentally, were first reported in 1937 when the road along the shore was first built.  Looks as if Nessie was just looking for some publicity with the throngs of people that used the new thoroughfare.  At the same time marine biologists are puzzled as to how such a large creature can survive on the meager nutrients provided by the loch.

Moving along we found rest in Invergary.  No music but a quiet town nestled in a wooded glen between two lochs (lakes).

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Edinburgh Walkabout

The Eskimos have thirty-some words for snow because snow is omnipresent.  The Scots have lots of words for rain, maybe not thirty, but a lot!  The day we arrived we had a “Blaw Bye” (showers), and on Saturday we had “Dreep” (drizzle) in the morning.  Eventually it cleared up and the weather was nothing but bright clear blue sunshine.

There was “dreep” in the morning when we headed off to tour the Castle on the high hill. This was a day when we ended up walking over 9 miles (when one is walking to fun places or into great stores like Jenner’s,Scotland-DayFour-2 the distances do not seem so long).  Luckily we were early and had bought our tickets on line. Scotland-DayFour-3    When we left the Castle a few hours later, the lines were extended almost to the gate of this huge castle. Once inside, it was easy to see why this structure had never been challenged in an invasion. What a dreadful place to have been prisoner. Scotland-DayFour-1   We left there with the realization that Britain has been in wars for hundreds of years all over the world… from China to India and now the Middle East.

A tour of Mary King’s Close was well worth it.  These “Closes” were flimsy structures that were built under the ground as Edinburgh was running out of space. The term Close comes from the word enclosure and the people who lived there were certainly enclosed. The tenements were dark, dirty and terribly unhealthy.  These dwellings, which were only partially above ground, were dug into the sandstone which was adjacent to the basalt structure on which the Edinburgh castle is built (the Edinburgh area is very volcanic).  Amazing how for 200 years 30,000 people lived primarily in these “houses”.

We found that when seeking out fiddle music you have to specify “traditional” and then it’s hit-and-miss as to whether you get fiddles or guitar and traditional ballads.  We saw one group with a guy singing ballads backed up by one of two fiddlers, though one fiddler did a trad. jig melody, and a young guy with a guitar doing 70’s – 80’s covers.

One oddity we noticed.  Edinburgh has lots of tourists, young and old.  One gadget popular with the younger crowd is the “selfie-pole”, a 2-meter pole attached to a smart phone used to take selfies further away than an arm-length.  Not sure if it’s cool or just another useless gadget.  Makes us wonder such a pole might help us as we have not mastered taking selfies!

Though the time went quickly in Edinburgh, the city seems very familiar to us, and we leave with still lots to see and do.  We’ll be back at the end of our trip for two more days, to stay in our little garret room on the fourth floor of the Royal British Hotel. We loved the staff there and the hotel in convenient to everything.

The sun was out today for our drive up to Aviemore, in the Cairgorm mountains of the highlands.  As humid and hazy as it was we still got great pictures of these wonderful mountains.                       Scotland-DayFour-4

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The Election

The flight to Scotland, on Aer Lingus, was as quick as possible. We passed through Dublin, a drab airport with friendly people. In Edinburgh the easiest way to get into the city was the bus…quick, convenient, cheap (Dave: I must be a Scotsman at heart).


On the day we arrived , Scotland was having their big election and there was evidence of that everywhere. Lots of “Yes” buttons on folks, and a few “No” signs. We were told that the Yes side is passionate about their feelings while the No side is more private, thus the lopsided presentation of preference. Scotland-DayOne-2
Later in the evening we passed no less than four TV crews shooting “live coverage” on the streets in downtown Edinburgh. From our little garret bedroom of our hotel, we woke about 1:00AM to the sounds of cheering, horns and singing. Results were coming in from the election. Voting never ends in Scotland until 10:00 at night. When we asked about this late hour for polls to be open, the response was that they had to be open that late as how else would working people vote? This is common throughout Europe. The US should learn that lesson.

The day was a bit misty and cool. Edinburgh castle was a surprise as it’s preeminence on top of a cliff was more imposing than any picture we’d seen. At the end of the day, we felt like we had already seen and done a lot….. and that was with very little sleep!Scotland-DayOne-1-2

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The wait is over!

Dave and I are like the story of “The Little Engine that Could”. The small engine tries and tries to get up the big, big hill with cars of animals. The engine keeps saying, “I think I can, I think I can”

When Dave couldn’t walk back in April of 2013. After much PT, OT and time pushing a walker, Dave began to walk… and the little engine got to the top of the hill. Needless to say, our trip to Scotland planned for May 2013 wasn’t going to happen.

That was a year ago and after much planning, we’re ready for Scottish music, walking the highlands and moors, and take in a castle or two. Maybe no haggis though.

We leave today for Edinburgh via Dublin. As an added bonus, we arrive on the very day the Scots vote whether they should become an independent nation. The trip should be interesting, to be sure. More to follow…

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