ISLES OF SCOTLAND

Isle of Mull, Iona and Staffa

 

Care to see dolphins, puffins and other sea life? Care to explore beautiful islands one of which is uninhabited and boasts a hidden cave? Care to learn about an abbey from 600 AD which is apparently where Christianity originated for the Scots and ironically the first monastery in the U.K. to be pillaged by the Norsemen as shown in the TV series Vikings? Well get up very early (4:00 a.m. for us) and head to Oban for a 7:15 a.m. Caledonian ship to tour the Isles of Mull, Iona and Staffa. As it’s difficult to find parking and to find the terminal building in Oban, give yourself some extra time as this trip you are NOT going to want to miss.

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CASTLES OF SCOTLAND

There are an abundance of castles in Scotland – some restored some not – all with history emanating from the walls along with some ghost stories and legends that no one should miss when traveling here.  Here are a few we saw:

  1. Castle Cawdor

Okay Shakespeare fans, remember the “Thane of Cawdor” from Macbeth? This castle was fictionalized by the old bard in his play. In reality, this castle was built more than 400 years after Macbeth was trodding about. Today, it is well preserved and has beautiful gardens.  The dowager countess of this particular establishment is a very attractive woman to whom the years have been kind. Many of the male tourists definitely took note. But, I just couldn’t get “Out damn spot, out” – well – out of my mind. Ah, Lady Macbeth, thou doth haunt me. A special treat while leisurely strolling the garden ground was a roving piper that added a special flare to the ambience.

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HAUNTING GLENCOE

  1.  Ballachulish

You know it’s gonna be a good day when Papa puts on his sunglasses and we take off all our sweaters. 64 degrees on the  drive to Glencoe.  Home base for the week was in the charming town of Ballachulish (bal-ah-cool-ish) – once the slate manufacturing capital of Scotland.  We checked into the cutest cottage tucked in the Glencoe mountains. The cottage was surrounded by trees and at the top of a steep drive and it certainly put you in the “highlands” mood immediately. On our way to Ballachulish, we stopped in Fort William for groceries and at the train station for train tickets for the Jacobite Steam Train used for filming Harry Potter. But know this, as we learned the hard way, you can’t buy them there. You have to purchase them online or via telephone in advance and waaaay in advance I would recommend as we weren’t able to get 3 seats on the same train despite a ton of begging.

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THE C’S OF SCOTLAND: CAIRNGORMS, CULLODEN, CARRBRIDGE, CLAVA AND MORE

The Cairngorms must be Scottish for Beautiful Mountains. For my second week in Scotland, we traveled from our coastal cottage near the Isle of Skye to the breathtaking Cairngorms. The scenery changes dramatically as one enters Scotland’s mecca for hiking, skiing, kayaking, biking and eyeing. Yep, a big part of the treat here is to fill your eyes with magnificent vistas, charming villages and ancient castles, including Macbeths’ very own castle – Castle Cawdor. (We will talk more about the Castles in a post on Scottish Castles coming soon.)

There’s lots to see and do, so let’s get started…

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The Isle of Skye

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Romstyrious. Aye Laddies and Lassies,  “tis romstyrious, that island of Skye”. Its the place where the romantic melds into the mysterious, where fairies play tricks and legends touch the heart and fire the imagination. Plunging waterfalls, storybook rainbows, rugged coastlines and placid pastures envelop your senses around every corner. And it’s all best had by braving the “wrong” side of the road and traveling intrepidly in your car for hire. Better yet, take the time to walk, to climb a bit of a “munro” and turn towards a sweeping vista of the Atlantic. Skye has so much to offer. If you can, plan a week there or at least several days.

  1.  ISLE OF SKYE CASTLES

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Not only are Scottish castles full of charm and mystery but they’re often a great way to easily digest a slice of history. The most photographed castle in Scotland is said to be Eilean Donan, meaning the Island of Donan, named for an early Irish missionary sent to Christianize the Scots. The castle itself is partially restored with wonderful docents primed to tell you stories of yore – like where the phrase “the walls have ears” originated. You reach the castle via a picturesque bridge and you’ll soon see why it’s so photographed. Technically, this castle isn’t on the Isle of Skye but in the Kyle of Lochalsh but very close near the charming little burg of Dornie, which was home base for this trip.

Armadale Castle

Definitely on the isle of Skye, Castle Armadale are castle ruins and are host to some of the most marvelous gardens and a museum that does justice to the history of the local area. From the ruins, there is a gorgeous view of the coastline and the on-site restaurant has some delectable local fare. Expect showers and come equipped.

Dunvegan Castle

Dunvegan Gardens

Dunvegan Trees

Dunvegan Castle is jam packed with artifacts, stories and legends. For example, at Dunvegan we learned about the fairy flag. Legend has it that the fairy flag’s magic can only be used 3 times. We know of two times it was allegedly used by the clan – once it was raised to win a battle amongst the clans and once it was used to swaddle a baby – an heir – to keep it safe. Guess they better use their last wish from their “Jeanie in a bottle” wisely.

And how about truly taking one for the team? A dispute over ownership of the now UNESCO World Heritage site of St. Kilda between the MacDonald and MacCleod clans festered. In order to settle the dispute, the clans chose a boat race from the mainland and whichever clan placed a hand on St. Kilda first would be the undisputed owner of St. Kilda. The MacDonald clan was decidedly ahead in the race. As such, a MacCleod clansman allegedly cut off his hand and threw it from the boat onto St. Kilda and that’s how the MacCleod clan came into possession of the island. Now I got to “hand” it to the MacCleods, what a “handy” way to win a race. I know…ugh.

     2.   ISLE OF SKYE COUNTRYSIDE

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Heather in the Isle of Skye

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This is what Skye is all about – the breathtaking scenery that abounds at every turn. Just as examples, take a drive through the Black Cuillens  where hikers and climbers train for summiting Mt. Everest; drive near the Sound of Raasay and see Kilt Rock and Lealt Falls. You could literally stand in one place all day and the scenery would change around you as light comes and then shadows grow. I also learned that no matter what road you take here in the Highlands, you won’t be disappointed and you won’t see the same terrain in more than one place. It’s as if every 5 minutes you are in a new country….even a new world – talk about diversity of landscape as evidenced in the photographs herein.

3.  OLD MAN OF STORR

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Visit the spire of granite known as the Old Man of Storr. There’s ample parking roadside and this is one that you have to get out of the car to really enjoy. It can be a slightly demanding hike all the way up but well worth the view – one that only eagles get to see. Even if you can’t make it all the way to the top, you’ll not be disappointed by whatever hike is doable for you. 

4.  FAIRY GLENS

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The Faerie Glens are worth the risk of being teased by the fairies and would be a real miss for you all visiting the Isle of Skye if you didn’t make it there. You’ll find this delightful little glen covered with miniature grassy cone-shaped hills, miniature trees and miniature lakes and you will be almost certain it’s home for the otherworldly (i.e. our little fairies). You may even hear the crystal clear blue Faerie Pools taunting you into a swim in their icy cold water. If you’re going to fall for that siren, may I recommend waterproof pants and jacket for the dip rather than merely your bikini or swim trunks.

So you don’t believe in fairies? Check this out. As I said above, we thought these little magical (and, come to find out not so enchanting,) creatures may have jumped into our KIA and headed back to our Island Bay Cottage in Dornie. For instance, my Papa, with whom I was traveling (along with my Mom – the woman I blame for my wanderlust) – is maniacal about putting his keys in the same place every time and knows exactly who he gave them to last IF he’s even willing to part with them and has been this way his whole life. He suddenly lost the keys. This, in and of itself, doesn’t scream “magical fairies hid our keys” but finding them not just on the bed or under the comforter but INSIDE the sewn shell of the comforter at least whispers “magical fairies friggin’ hid our keys”. It’s our side of the story and we’re stickin’ with it.

5.  WHERE EAGLES SOAR – THE WATERNISH PENINSULA

Sea Eagle of Trumpan

The sun shines on the vast expansive terrain sometimes in Scotland and it certainly did on my travels to the Waternish Peninsula and Trumpan.  This is where, if you are lucky, you can photograph sea eagles which are very rare especially three together which we saw today so we learned from an ornithologist that was out there.

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Here at Trumpan you will also see the ruins of an old church.  This is not just any old church but what used to be the equivalent of today’s courthouse.  See, here, there is a boulder with a hole in it where the Scottish would hold what we might refer to as a trial i.e. if an accused could manage to put his finger in the hole in the boulder he was found innocent. The catch, however, is he must do this blindfolded like someone playing pin the tail on the donkey. If he can’t find the hole on his one try while blindfolded, the accused was executed. Talk about judge, jury, and executioner! Aren’t you glad we didn’t live in these times?

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Scotland – Day 9 (Battle of Culloden, Castle Cawdor, Clava Cairns and Carrbridge)

Battlefield of Culloden
Photograph by Suzanne J. DuBose

 

All day, Pat Benatar’s “Love is a Battlefield” floated through my brain as we ventured out to visit the sight where it is often said the destruction of all things Scotland occurred – the Battlefield of Culloden. Brought most recently into the knowledge of most people via the ever growing popular show – Outlander. Here is where Johnny Lobster a/k/a the Redcoats annihilated Bonnie Prince Charlie and his army in a battle that lasted a mere 45 minutes and changed the course of history. Over 1500 deaths on the Jacobite side during the battle and many more thereafter as all who fled the battlefield with their heart still beating were pursued and, if found, were executed as traitors. Few people outside of Scotland know what I mean when I say that this 45 minute battle not only changed Scotland forever but the world as we know it. Read up on it and learn what I mean before you come here. The history surrounding this one battle and the effects it had, are fascinating.

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While you are here, you will learn about the battle itself and all its precursors both from the government side and the Jacobite side and it is likely to be quite a bit more accurate than it’s portrayed in Outlander. Moreover, you will learn what taking the schilling means and where the word pummeling came from. You can see and hold the targes and swords used by the Scots and the guns used by the Brits. You will also learn how incredibly long it takes to reload that gun and how it was done. You will also learn why the Jacobites lost (spoiler alert for you Outlander fans!)

Culloden Battlefield by Suzanne J. DuBose

Afterwards, we went to the Clava Cairns. Think Stonehenge and burial sites made up of stones and while it is not likely true, you can’t help but sense that a little witchcraft occurred here from time to time.

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Our final destination before heading back to Carrbridge was Cawdor Castle known to most as Macbeth’s castle from Shakespeare. I couldn’t stop thinking of the dowager hidden in some dungeon on the estate repeatedly saying “Out, damned spot. Out, I say”.

Castle Cawdor by Suzanne J. DuBose

Carrbridge, where our cottage is for this week, has The Cairn Hotel Restaurant and Pub which served sumptuous fish pie, haggis lasagna and sticky toffee pudding that far surpassed any other culinary treats we were blessed to try thus far in Scotland so stop by here if in the area. Not only will your taste buds thank you, so will your eyes! Across the street, is a 300 year old pack horse bridge which withstood a catastrophic flood that destroyed everything else in the area sometime ago. And the featured photo for this post is why there is the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words”.

Photograph by Jacqueline Christensen

That’s all for now from the back yard of my cozy cottage in Carrbridge which, consequently, used to be a farmhouse so I can check farmhouse off my list of places to stay now along with castle and cave and tree house as well as car, bus, train and plane, of course!

 

Cairn Gorms, Aviemore Scotland – Day 8

Cairn Gorms

Today we visited the beautiful, dangerous, fragile and unique Cairngorms as it is lovingly referred to here.

Lower half of Cairngorms

Photo by Suzanne J. DuBose with an Olympus Digital Camera

From our cottage in Carrbridge we drove through the little town of Aviemore and up the Cairngorms to take the funicular to the second highest point in the U.K. at 3600 feet only topped by Ben Nevis in Glencoe which we will see next week.

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Unfortunately, it was a wet, foggy and dismal day and our view? Well….non-existent!

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I’ve heard about the Cairngorms throughout my life and never knew what they were referring to. Little did I know this is where the Scots, Brits and Welch go skiing, dog sledding, snowboarding and all. Moreover, never had I heard of a mountain where the countrymen take such painstaking care to protect from people leaving their “footprint” – both literally and metaphorically – with, perhaps, the exception being Antarctica. Little did I know that every step I take in the mountains of Chile, Honduras, China, Sri Lanka, around the world,  I was potentially destroying life whether plant life or otherwise. The protectors of the Cairngorms taught me this. Learning this won’t stop me from hiking and I don’t think the Scots are suggesting otherwise but here they take pride in their conservation efforts and I do respect that a great deal. For instance, here you must have a special guide to hike around at the top of the Cairngorms or you can’t leave the funicular perimeter.

Cairngorms Under Snow
Photo by Walkinghighlands

But skiing??? Oh heck yeah there is skiing! Cairngorms has gone on my list for skiing along with the Alps and the Pyranese. You do have to be careful up here though. The weather can turn on you in a matter of minutes. But if you do come here when there is 70 feet of snow for skiing or hiking or both watch for the Cairngorms most frightening inhabitant – the Am Fear Liath Mohr or the Big Grey Man. He has been described as a huge yeti-like creature and heard only by his menacing footsteps. Apparently, he has scared hikers senseless for centuries. They flee from the mountain in terror after coming into contact with this apparition. the museum at Cairngorms gave us their rendition and I contributed mine! (See below. LOL.)

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Lions, tigers and polar bears oh my!! What you talkin’ about Willis? There are no polar bears in Scotland! Oh but there are. After we came down from this mist filled Cairngorms sky, we went on a safari of sorts at the Highland Wildlife Park where you drive through a portion of the habitat and walk through a portion of the habitat. We photographed all kinds of animals including, yes, polar bears! You can’t get out of the car despite how much you might want too but I slid my little ass out the car window and used the top of the car as my tripod (or rather my monopod) and it was amazing! I felt like I was on a real safari. See below the animals Papa (a/k/a Marc Christensen) and I were able to capture on film as well as the featured photo by March Christensen of a Polar Bear swimming (or maybe he is shaking his head saying ‘don’t take my picture as I’m feeling a little self-conscious today!’) PS Don’t you just love their eyes (and the Olympus camera that allows me to zoom in and get the windows to the soul on film)!!!

Photo by Suzanne J. DuBose with an Olympus Digital Camera
Photo by Suzanne J. DuBose with an Olympus Digital Camera

 

Photo by Suzanne J. DuBose with an Olympus Digital Camera
Photo by Suzanne J. DuBose with an Olympus Digital Camera
Photo by Suzanne J. DuBose with an Olympus Digital Camera
Photo by Suzanne J. DuBose with an Olympus Digital Camera
Photo by Suzanne J. DuBose with an Olympus Digital Camera
Photo by Suzanne J. DuBose with an Olympus Digital Camera
Photo by Suzanne J. DuBose with an Olympus Digital Camera
Photo by Marc Christensen

And lastly, don’t you just love this kind of traffic jam….

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That’s all for now from the Cairngorms.

Scotland – Day 7 (Loch Ness Monster, Drumnadrochit, Inverness, Invermorsten Falls and Urquart Castle)

Loch Ness in Drumnadrochit
Photograph by Suzanne J. DuBose with an Olympus Digital Camera

When traveling here one cannot, of course, bypass the most reputed legend in all of Scotland – the elusive Loch Ness monster – Nessie. So we headed to Drumnadrochit after first stopping at the Invermorsten Falls for a look see.

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Then we stopped at the vast ruins of the fortress/castle of Urquart. Urquart dates as far back as 580 AD and may have been visited by St. Columbo himself. It has so much history and has been fought over for centuries and exchanged hands multitudinous times.

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My favorite part was seeing the engravings and the dates thereof that still remain to this day in the walls of these ruins and, of course, the view of the great Loch Ness.

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As anyone would do, my focus kept turning to the famous Loch Ness situated at the foot of Urquart.  I photograph the loch all the while surveying it through my zoomed Olympus Digital camera lens hoping for my own sighting of Nessie.

Loch Ness
Photo by Suzanne J. DuBose with an Olympus Digital Camera

Like many before me I was disappointed but if you want the best chance of a sighting, I would recommend going on one of the sonar boats on an expedition of sorts in search of Nessie. It is very popular and could make for a fun excursion. The likelihood of you seeing Nessie isn’t much improved by doing this but who doesn’t like a little fantasy, adventure and imagination in their lives. For us, it was a day of intermittent downpours and we were loathed to be on a boat that day so we passed on this opportunity but you definitely shouldn’t!

Invermorsten Bridge
Photo by Suzanne J. DuBose with an Olympus Digital Camera

Note that the trip to Drumnadrochit was filled with its own scares here and there despite not seeing the Loch Ness Monster, as we saw several horrifying car accidents while driving in the area and experienced a lot of close calls ourselves despite the upmost care my Papa (see above photo) took while driving and despite his respect for the speed zones and despite the safety of the Kia Sportage we rented from Hertz. This is because there are many twisty and winding turns in Scotland and should be treated with care particularly on the single track roads which are widely in use here (no, whatever the opposite of a “pun” is, intended 😉

Single Track Roads
Photo by Suzanne J. DuBose with an Olympus Digital Camera

Keeping in mind that you may be a safe driver yourself but like everywhere else in the world there are idiots in abundance on the road and Scotland is no different. The idiots here however are more likely to end their life and yours tragically on these dangerous mountain roads though. The accidents we saw were monumental including cars that had taken one of those twisty turns too fast, running straight into the mountain and/or flipping their car and/or sliding down the ravine.  So enjoy the breathtaking Scottish scenery for sure but, drivers, eyes on the speedometer and the road!

After every storm comes a rainbow
Photo by Suzanne J. DuBose with an Olympus Digital Camera

That’s all for now from our journey around Loch Ness.

 

Wester Ross, Scotland – DAY 6 (Victoria Falls, Gairlock, Inverwe Gardens, Corrieschalloch Gorge and Ullapool)

 

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Wester Ross! Sound familiar? Well today we went to a place as far from Kings Landing and Cerci as you can imagine but for this Game of Thrones fan, the real Wester Ross is much much better.

Today we visited the Victoria Falls of Scotland (see above), the Museum of Gairloch (to the left)220px-Museum_of_Gairloch and had a great lunch and some coffee and pastries at The Steading Bistro.

After Gairloch, we continued on to the Inverewe Home and Gardens (a National Trust of Scotland property) (see photos below).

 

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Then we photographed the Corrieshalloch Gorge. I wanted nothing more than to mount a horse and gallop straight through the gorge.  Don’t you agree?

Corrieshalloch Gorge
Photograph by Suzanne J. DuBose

In fact, we headed as far north as Ullapool for some much needed hot chocolate before returning to our Island Bay Cottage in Dornie.

Ulipool
Photograph by Suzanne J. DuBose on an Olympus Digital Camera

It was a lovely and relaxing day for us all and, of course, yet another opportunity for a photo op or two. In fact, after seeing the Highlands this week, I’ve decided the phrase “photo op” must have originated here.

 

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That’s all for now from Wester Ross.

 

Plockton, Scotland – Day 5

Photo by Marc Christensen – Isle of Skye

Hi ya from Scotland as the Scots say.  The Isle of Skye and the charming town of Plockton is out of my grasp today. I, unfortunately, have to work all day. Work in the Isle of Skye is difficult as it is because you want to go explore but particularly so as internet and phone service is practically nonexistent here. So if you must have access to those two things, plan on having a back up or two. One back up might be a couple of SIM cards from perhaps the EE and Vodaphone and the other backup might be a hotel or pub or a pub in a hotel that has some wifi that works. Third, and probably best back up plan, is don’t work while in the Isle of Skye. But while difficult and time consuming, I Redbull‘d up and did complete my work and now can carry on with my parents in our exploration of this dynamic landscape and all the other things Scotland has to offer.

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But here is what I missed today compliments of a very talented photographer, Marc Christensen.

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That’s all for now from Dornie and Plockton.