Tuesday, 8 July 2014 – Day 34 – Day in Edinburgh

Tuesday, 8  July 2014 – Day 34 – Day in Edinburgh

After a nice breakfast, got a taxi up to the Edinburgh Castle as it was raining quite hard. When I got there at 8.45 was told gates don’t open until 9.30 so found a little coffee shop until it was time to go to the entry for the Castle.  Queue not too bad and got my audio guide and off I went.

The Castle stands predominantly on a hill above the City.  As it was raining did not get the shots I wanted to show it in its glory.

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The eastern side of the castle has always been the main approach to the mighty Castle Rock which is 134 metres above sea level.  The Rock is the oldest continuously occupied fortified place in Britain.  You pass through the fortified archway known as the Portcullis Gate.  Next to the Portcullis Gate is a steep flight of 70 steps aptly named the Lang Stairs .  This was the main way up to the summit in medieval times.  You don’t have to climb the steps but walk leisurely up the cobbled road.  This approach was formed in the 17th century to ease the movement of heavy guns in and out of the castle. The central strip of small granite pieces provide bet grip for the horses’ hooves.

 

At the top is St Margaret’s Chapel, the oldest building in the castle – built around 1130 by David I as a private chapel for the royal family and dedicated to his mother, Margaret.  Is a dear little church and has lovely stained windows.   This tiny chapel is still used as a picturesque setting for christenings and weddings. The furnishings are maintained by the ladies of the Guild of St Margaret in memory of their namesake, who died here in the castle over 900 years ago, (1093) devastated by the violent death of her husband, Malcolm III, in an ambush and was canonised by Pope Innocent IV in 1250.

 

Close by is Crown Square, the heart of the royal castle, surrounded on all sides by imposing buildings, including  the Royal Palace, the Great Hall and the Scottish War Memorial. The Royal Palace is the imposing residence of Scotland’s royal family where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to James, the future king of both Scotland an England.   The Great hall is the castle’s main ceremonial space, whose original early 16th century hammer beam roof survives.

Along the route are priceless treasures – the giant medieval gun Mons Megs, the oldest Crown Jewels in the British Isles and the Stone of Destiny, Scotland’s ancient Coronation Stone.

I was lucky to get some wonderful photos of the city and beyond taken from the battlements in between the showers.

I wandered in and out of the different buildings and it was very interesting.  Just so much history and certainly an icon of Edinburgh and Scotland.

Today the Castle is well known for the famous Military Tattoo held in August.  It began in 1950 as a modest event, with military bands of pipes and drums marching back and forth across the Esplanade.  Now it has grown into one of the world’s greatest spectacles.  The castle is never more alive than in August, when the Tattoo is staged to coincide with the Edinburgh International Festival.

After visiting a fair few number of the buildings, I left this national icon which is now a major visitor attraction and a World Heritage Site and walked down the Royal Mile.

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By this time I am a drowned rat and a little foot sore.  I started to think about picking up my car in the morning and couldn’t quite work out how a car could be picked up from a railway station so decided to hope and check it out.  I had to go yo Platform 2 and Thetis where the office us. You get a mud map to the car park and that is where you physically pick up the car.

Back to the hotel feeling relieved.  I freshened up and it was time to meet Paul and Alistair once more for dinner.  Went to another nice little restaurant and was a very pleasant evening but I was party pooper so it was not a late night as I was quite tired.  I would have been in bed before the two guys were home.  But it was terrific to see them again and thank you both for two great nights in Edinburgh.

 

 

 

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Monday, 7 July 2014 – Day 33 – Day 3 of Scotland Tour

Monday, 7 July 2014 – Day 33 – Day 3 of Scotland Tour

After breakfast came down and looked at Ben Nevis but as it was drizzling rain and misty, it was half hidden.  Paul kindly picked me up as I was out of town.  Our tour started with a scenic drive frown Loch Linnhe, a sea loch (fiord).  Also passed Loch Levan. Just so many lochs!

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Our next stop is at Oban, home of Oban Whisky, one of the classic malts of Scotland and the main terminal for the ferrie to the Hebridean Islands.  This is a lovely town.  There is a high viewing point so I took the easy way up in a taxi.  Was worth going up as you got a great view of the town.

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I  then went into a cafe for a coffee and the lovely girl there, helped me with my phone.  She asked me me whether I wanted another coffee.  I looked at the clock and replied “No thanks as have to be on the bus by 11.30 so I had better go right now”.  I am hurrying back to the bus when it appeared.  Oh dear, how embarrassing as I had the incorrect time. I should gave been back by 11.00.  Was so lucky that Paul didn’t drive off without me as he said there were two things he asked of us at the start of the tour. “Please keep the bus clean and no hot drinks on board”. And , “Please be punctual – 5-10 minutes late  is ok but anything after that we will just gave to go and leave you as we gave a lot to fit in on a tight schedule”. Imagine my embarrassment.  Thankfully he was concerned for me as usually punctual. So we left Oban and we pass along part of Scotland’s longest loch, Loch Awe.

We stopped at a lovely church St Conan’s Kirk on the shores of Loch Awe.  This church was built by a son for his mother who could not get to her local church. It was a lifetime project. I have mislaid my little booklet to write in more detail. He was certainly a dedicated and loving son.  (Having a lot of trouble putting photos in of interior so give up – some glitches)

 

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We stop for lunch at Inveraray, a pretty town on Loch Fyne, famous for salmon.  As we got off the bus we were piped off by Ian.  Was nice hearing him play.

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I went straight along to visit the chateau-like Inveraray Castle. This is the present seat of the Clan Campbell.  Also “Downtown Abbey” has been filmed here.  There is a short easy walk beside some lovely gardens. The flowers are just so prolific over here.

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After visiting the lovely Castle, I went up to the town, had a wander and then had lovely lunch in the George hotel.  I had to eat rather fast as I didn’t dare be late getting on the bus.  I made it on time.

After lunch, we cross a lovely mountain pass where Vikings dragged short boats over to another Scottish icon, Loch Lomond, the largest lake on the British mainland.  We drive south all along its Bonnie Banks, Scottish first National Park.  Stopped at Luss and.Put my feet in the water!

 

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We kept driving through little villages until our last stop was to take photos of the exterior of Stirling Castle and then it was the drive back to Edinburgh, back where our tour started from.  It was a terric tour and Paul was terrific.  Met some great people – Roberta, George and son Mark from Malta, Baralides from Madrid, Dorothy from Hong Kong, Sol and  Gaby – Team Argentina, and Josee from Canada. Arrived at about 6.30 only to find I had booked myself into a hotel an hours train ride away.  Went into the Information Centre and they booked me into a bed and breakfast place in the sane street as the “ghost” one before so after thinking about it I cancelled and stayed in a lovely hotel, Hotel One in the centre of the city.  Walking distance to the Edinburgh Castle and train station where I have to go for my car pickup tomorrow.

Was another great day and had an early night.

 

 

Sunday, 6 July 2014 – Day 32 – Day 2 of Scotland Tour

Sunday, 6 July 2014 – Day 32 – Day 2 of Scotland Tour

Wake up call and down to breakfast at 7.45.  Said goodbye to Bob and Christine who was still asleep. Sad to leave them as a lovely hospitable couple.  Paul picked me up at 8.30.  We left Inverness and headed west and follow the famous train route (that goes from Inverness to Edinburgh) to Kyle of Lochalsh, through vast lonely Strathcarron. Off the main tourist routes, this is a very pleasant scenic drive.  We had our first stop at the lovely Roogey Falls.

 

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We passed through little villages and then the countryside changed to pine forests, rocky grass topped mounds and then open space. This is deer and sheep country. It is illegal to shoot the deer.   Crossed over the River Bran.  We see Loch Carron and reach Kyle of Lochalsh and Isle of Skye area. There are over 800 Islands off the west coast.  We  then then visited the world famous Eilean Donan Castle.  It has been used as a film location for The Highlander and Elizabeth the Golden Years amongst others.  Started to rain lightly but seemed to add to the atmosphere as you make a little walk to the Castle. Was just beautiful.

 

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This Is Tom at Eilean Donan Castle.  Only spoke briefly with him.   Sorry out of proportion. Don’t know why.

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We now leave Eilean Donan Castle, cross over bridge to the Isle of Skye, where the Vikings, Macdonalds and MacLeods battled for many centuries.  We drive up the east coast to Skye’s Capital, Portree, where we lunch of fish and chips from the place Paul recommended.  Also warned us about how the seagulls will fly down.  Josee and I found a spot but down the rain came and we had to find shelter. Our fish and chips got wet!!!!!  But luckily we were almost finished.  Josee thought she had lost her mobile so we went looking got the bus, but nowhere to be seen so we just wandered around in between showers.  Josee’s. phone was on the bus so a big sigh of relief for her as she uses it for her photos.

we head south off the island and take a ferry from Armadalee to Maillaig, the mainland and pass the lovely Silver Sands of Morar and also get a glimpse of the UK ‘s deepest loch, Loch Morar.

 

 

Our next stop is at Glenfinnian with its curved viaduct, famously used in the Harry Potter movies, and the monument erected to the landing of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the beginning of the 1745 Jacobite uprising.  We are surrounded by mountains and it can only be described as “awesome”. Passing Neptunes Staircase we get our final and most spectacular view of The Caledonian Canal which we gave crossed over several times on the first two days of our tour.  It stretches from Inverness all the way to Fort William.  We spend our night in Fort William.  My bed and breakfast place, The Mansefield, run by Beverley and Toby, was a little way out from the centre of Fort William.  From here Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in UK is looming.

Had a reasonably early night after another super day.  Scenery is just beautiful Have to be here to see for yourselves.

 

Saturday, 5 July, 2014 – Day 31 – 1st day of Scotland tour

Saturday, 5 July, 2014 – Day 31 – 1st Day of Scotland Tour

Up early to settle my account but still no sign of a soul so left my key and waited to be picked up by tour bus at 7.50. We had to pick up several passengers from various hotels and Then we were on our way for The start of our tour with Paul, our driver/guide. We travelled through the city of Edinburgh and our first stop was for a photo of the harbour and the dramatic sweep of the Forth Road Bridge with the Rail Bridge a kilometre away.  Very impressive.  A third bridge is being constructed.

image On to Stirling – Braveheart territory – and passed the Stirling Castle and the Wallace Memorial. We were told that a David Stirling was responsible for starting the SES. Passed through Dunblane where Andy Murray comes from. Our next stop was at Callander at the Trossacks Woollen Mills where we saw “Hamishes” – the Scottish Bulls.  Some of us were posers as there were a group of motorists with their special cars.  We could now see Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in UK  at 42000 feet.  We got to see our first of the 32,000 lochs in Scotland – Lock Lubnik.

image   image Brenda with Josee from Canada.    –     On. Scotland tour with me

Along the way we were told about the different movies that have been made in these areas. Sean Connery was born in Edinburgh.  There were lots of pine forests and logging is one of the industries in Scotland. In this part of the country, fighter jets fly over as they can fly quite low – normal planes do not fly here.  The next loch was Loch Earnhead. The scenery is just beautiful. Next stop was at the Falls of Dochart – lovely rapids.   image

We came to Criarlarich and the countryside changed to acidic volcanic rock. We are now travelling across the lonely Rannoch Moor, the largest wasteland in Britain.  There was mention of the battles between the McDonalds and Campbells and the Code of Hospitality.     Our next stop was to view the three sisters – Faith, Hope and Charity.  We had lots of stops along the way to give us the chance to take photos of these various spots. Paul knew all the right places.

 

 

image We then travelled down through Glen Coe and on to Loch Linney and there was mention of Harry Potter as some of this country was used in the films.  On arrival at Fort William we had our lunch at Spean Bridge.   After lunch we reach the West Coast where we enter the near 100 mile long Great Glen and drive north. Another loch – Glencloy. We passed the smallest loch – a private homeowner made his own loch in his backyard. We have a steep descent alongside the loch and if one had their own boat you can go through the lochs and reach the Atlantic Ocean. Around this area, we were told about the Well of the Seven Heads. Two young boys who could not practice their Catholic faith went to France. On their return they were murdered by seven relatives. They in turn were punished – their heads were cut off and before burial, their heads were washed in a well. This area is just beautiful and you don’t know what is around the next corner. We come to Fort Augustus and Loch Ness, which is about 24 x 1 mile and about 1000 ft deep.  We had some time here and wandered around the little village and scanned the loch for “Nessie” – the most famous mystery in the world. Of course one is not going to see Nessie.

 

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We left Loch Ness at 5.00 and had a steep descent for about 23 miles along Loch Ness. Dores was a little village at the end of Loch Ness. An hour’s drive and we arrived at Inverness, the Capital of the Highlands. I booked into Christine’s bed and breakfast accommodation. How different this bed and breakfast was from the Gilmore bed and breakfast one in Edinburgh. Christine and Bob were fantastic and couldn’t do enough for me. Ended up having a late night as Christine and I chatted and had a few coffees.   Finally went to bed after a fantastic day of seeing some very diverse countryside – green pastures, lots of sheep and cattle, magnificent mountains and lochs and hearing the interesting commentary by Paul who is just great and so obliging to us all.

Friday, 4 July 2014 – Day 30 – Drive from York to Edinburgh

Friday, 4 July 2014 – Day 30 – Drive from York to Edinburgh

This morning I left the Minster Hotel, saying goodbye to the lovely young receptionist, Michelle. (13489). Travelled to Leeds and proceeded to Harrogate. It was a slow drive through this town as lots of bike riders as this is a town where the Tour de France was featuring tomorrow.  There were load of facilities being set up for it and you pass by literally hundreds of signs promoting the race.

The scenery was quite pretty passing through farm villages, cows, sheep, hay bales in the paddocks and then changed from rolling hills to rocky ones and lots of stone walls.  Lots of pine trees as logging is one of the industries in Scotland.  I stopped several times to take photos but thought I would never make it to Edinbugh by 5.00 to hand in the car.  While going through the villages you can only go 30-40.  One of the signs that made me laugh – Giggleswick.  Stopped for coffee along the way, crossed over 3 quite big rivers – Eden, Esk and the Clyde.

I still had about 100 miles to go to Edinburgh when the weather changed to teeming rain and the windscreen wipers couldn’t keep up and quite strong winds.  A couple of times thought I was going to get blown off the road.  So this made the journey slow.  Beggar was quite a big town.

Finally, I was at the Scottish border and arrived at Edinburgh at 4.00.

 

imageMichelle had printed off the route planner for me and I arrived at the drop-off point.  Was a shock when I was asked to £100 (almost $200) for the tyre that I got the flat in.  I then ordered a taxi and hot to my accommodation.  Well, this was an experience.  You had to phone a number to receive a code to open the front door. Once in, then told per a note where the key to the next door was. And then told to replace it under the lamp!  Finally in at the so-called reception where there was an envelope for me with the room key in it. Also, there was a sign up saying payment was requested on arrival.  No one appeared, so had to negotiate two flights of stairs and finally into a room.  To use the facilities, had to go down a flight of stairs.  Left my luggage downstairs as wasn’t going to go up the stairs without assistance.  So certainly fouled up on this accommodation.  This place certainly won’t be getting a good review from Me. To add insult to injury the signage out front has “Scottish Hospitality”.  

I quickly freshened up and at 6.30 Alistair and Paul (met at Sean Reap airport on way to Vietnam in 2006) picked me up and took me to a nice little Filipino restaurant.  Was terrific seeing them again and was a fun evening reminiscing about that tine and they filled me in  on some things I had forgotten.

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They took me back to the so-called accommodation and I still did not sight a soul. After sorting out my luggage, I did some internet – at least that worked and then to bed.