Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Scotland - Land of kilts and bag pipes

Welcome back readers,
We are freshly back from our ten day Scotland, Northern Ireland and Ireland tour.  We even capped it off by driving home through northern Wales to complete the UK sweep.  I won't post much about Wales since we've been there already (link to my Wales post) and I decided to split up Scotland and the Irish island posts for size reasons. 

A few Wiki facts before I get started (sorry for using Wiki Mrs. Smith and Mrs. McMullen but they use it here for school and work) to help everyone visualise the country sizes over here: England is 50, 352 square miles, Scotland is 30,414 sq. mi., the island of Ireland is 32,599 sq. mi., and Wales is 8,022 sq. mi. for a total of 121,387 square miles.  Comparing those numbers to US states, England would rank at 31.5 between Louisiana and Mississippi, Scotland would rank at 40.5 between South Carolina and West Virginia, the island of Ireland would rank at 37.5 between Kentucky and Indiana, and Wales would rank 47.5 between New Jersey and Connecticut.  The total ranks as 5.5 between New Mexico and Arizona.  The UK itself (without Republic of Ireland) is about the size of Michigan from the Wiki chart - the island of Ireland contains Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.  Feeling smarter yet?

Now onto our Scotland trip - enjoy!

Day 1 - On our way to the Scottish Lowlands our first documented stop on our five hour plus drive was for lunch at a country pub in Northumberland, England.  I violated one of my pub glass rules by paying for it and a bottle of beer.  Normally I ask the establishment for one or will spend a pound or two at a boot (what they call car trunks here) sale.  I spend a little more on this one since it was of the area and was a cool etched pattern so I though it would be a neat memento.  Until someone (name removed to protect the innocent until proven guilty party) dropped it while removing some luggage in Edinburgh.  I guess that's my sign to stick to my low cost glasses from now on.  Plus I also told myself I was only collected embossed design glasses from now on.  Oh well, back to the glass rules.

Our second documented stop was at the Sheep Heid Inn (link), Scotland's oldest pub dating to 1360.  Not as old or cool as Ye Olde Trip in Jerusalem but still neat to duck into a 700 year old business.  

Gang in front of Scotland's oldest inn.

The Kevin Coleman - I had to try a beer here.  Lighter than typical Brit beer, not bad overall.  We (Lori and Kal) also snacked on pistachios which Kal said were the best she's ever had.

Finally to Edinburgh which leads to a pronunciation lesson.  In America we would call it ed-in-burg, in England they call it ed-in-burrow, in Scotland they call it ed-in-bu.  We ate dinner one night at a forgettable restaurant and the waitress said the tourists calls it ed-in-burg (everyone in England pronounces it that way) while the locals call it ed-in-bu (drop everything after the u).  Pronunciation is very strange over here - every region pronounces "their" words differently. 

Anyway, we made it to our Holiday Inn Express, someone broke the Northumberland glass, and we checked in.  We had a few hours of daylight so we turned and burned to our next stop St. Giles Cathedral (link).  The existing cathedral dates to the 14th century although it was renovated in the 19th century so it isn't as old as many of the churches/cathedrals we have toured.  It also wasn't as big or fancy which was a theme on our tour - all of the churches and castles were smaller in size and more plain than the English ones.  I guess because England syphoned all of the money from these areas when they were building the structures.  I took some pictures of it but won't post many as it was very plain.  I guess I am becoming a cathedral snob now although I have to admit that I am almost castled, manor housed and cathedraled out, we have seen so many that I only have a few left on my to do list.  And the kids say "another one?" followed by a defeated sigh when I say we are stopping at a cathedral or castle.   

The Nave.

Ste. Margaret on left (we'll see her again at the castle), St. Giles in middle (from the website above - he was wounded by a huntsman hunting a hind so he became known as a protector/helper of the sick), and St. David on right.

John Knox - from the pamphlet: Minister in St. Giles' from 1559 to 1572, powerful preacher and leader of the Reformation in Scotland.  I have to admit that I saw more unfamiliar faces/names on this trip than I normally do on our UK tours but I did know Knox.

Bronze portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Treasure Island and other books.  I didn't know he was a Scot.  A trivia nugget on Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde later. 

Outside view of church.  Temperature was mid 60's with the clouds and sun fighting for control of the sky.  Nice in the afternoon, almost jacket weather in the evening.

My next stop was Mary Kings Close - an underground museum set up to mirror street life in the 1600's.  For this trip I took a different approach on the itinerary since my "rigid" itinerary isn't always appreciated.  So for this trip I gathered a bunch of attractions, threw them into a bag, and let the family pick our next stop with a few exceptions because of opening times or days.  Since I didn't pre-book MKC it was always booked a few hours in advance when we stopped by so we didn't do it.  Plus I democratically asked if we wanted to see it as a group and we couldn't come to a consensus so off we went!  Ain't I great? 

Next stop was a view of Balmoral Hotel - where J. K. Rowling completed her last Harry Potter book.  Looks like she was doing okay by the end of the series as she was broke when she started writing the series.  An interesting fact (to me) was the clock is always three minutes fast so people trying to catch the train (to the right of the picture) aren't late.  The only time it is set correctly is Hogmanay, or New Year's Eve celebration.

The (famous) Elephant House - the cafe where Rowling wrote some of the early HP books.  Note she went from writing in a free local cafe to the expensive looking Balmoral.  We tried the food and it was okay but not blog worthy.

Walking down the Royal Mile - a street just longer than a mile that runs from the Royal Palace to the Castle.  Nothing yells tourist trap like a mile of store front selling "I <heart> Edinburgh" - can you tell I was a little disappointed in the Mile?  

Adam Smith guarding St. Giles.  Smith (link) was an 18th century economist and philosopher who wrote Wealth of Nations (Wiki link) .  Check out the link above for a quick bio on him. 

And since this was a footloose and fancy free vacation I didn't do my normal rigid planning which meant we stumbled into the Fringe Festival (link), the world's largest arts festival according to one of the locals.  At first I was a little bummed because everything was CROWDED but we decided to enjoy the festival and spent both evenings checking out the acts and enjoying the atmosphere.  Tonnes of interesting acts, from the masked stilt men who purposely walked as though they were about to fall into people thereby scaring the oblivious people (mostly talking teen girls btw - what a surprise) not paying attention to what's around them.  I tried talking a picture but by the time I had the camera on and zoomed they were to far away - those guys/girls were really impressive.  There was also the common street singers, statue artists and drawing booths.

Here's Kalle getting her portrait drawn.  Karl had a caricature done but it was so bad I won't post it.  Bummer because it doesn't even look like him and we watched the artist do an excellent job on the girl before Karl.

My favourite singer was this beat box guy with his portable track laying machine.  He would beat a rhythm into the mic, record it, then lay it as his base rhythm.  Then he would record a couple more different rhythms, overlay them onto his base rhythm and presto - he had his music track.  The machine would take his twenty second rhythms and repeat them to form a two minute song.  Once the "music" was set the guy would play it and rap into the mic.  He was excellent and the crowd around him was HUGE!

Day 2 - Our first stop was Camera Obscura (link), highly recommended by Steve Frey when his family went to Edinburgh.  And we had as much fun as they did.  This was the rare unanimous thumbs up attraction.  On the rooftop were telescopes to look around the city, the camera obscura itself - a periscope reflecting images from around the city through lenses onto a white wooden table in the darkened room, the floor of visual image trickery, the floor of scientific fun with electrics and mirrors, the computer enhancing programs, we all had a blast.  Easily a must see attractions for kids of all sizes.  Teenager Karl was giddy with excitement at times here which is very rare.  It did take me a few minutes to figure out the "metter" that our Scottish lass docent with a healthy brogue kept referring to was the "mirror".

View from the Camera Obscura roof - One of the things I liked about Edinburgh was the architecture - a lot of the buildings reminded me of Bath although they hadn't cleaned the years of coal soot off of these buildings which gave them a darker look while Bath's buildings were all lighter coloured.

Ascending or descending visual trickery castle picture.

Fun with electricity - I just missed KJ popping the electric snake.

The girls have fun in the size distortion room.


This was neat - if you put your nose on the red stripe and look at the right 2D picture with your right eye and left 2D picture with your left eye a 3D picture forms in the middle. 

The family Scooby Doo chasing each other down the mirror hall.

After Camera Obscura was Edinburgh Castle (link).  A few tidbits from the website - the castle is on an extinct volcano from around 340 million BC, the first archaeological evidence of human settlement on the hill is from 900 BC, and the first historical reference to a fortress on the volcano is from 600 AD.  Overall it was fun to check out but not one of the top castles we have toured.  Great view of the area with some older history mixed in.

The family in front of Edinburgh Castle.

Kalle in front of the Mons Meg, a medieval siege gun from 1457 according to the plaque.  Also according to the plaque, a gunstone from a firing in 1558 was found almost two miles away.  Note the roundish gunstones in the bottom, I guess the round ball casting process wasn't perfected yet.  

St. Margaret's Chapel, the oldest building in Edinburgh which dates to around 1130.  There was a wedding there and I took a little video of the bagpiper but it is to big to post on my blog.  Sorry.

We also toured the Scottish Crown Jewels -  a sword, crown, rod and rusty other stuff.  Kind of not even worth mentioning after touring the English Crown Jewels.  No pictures obviously.

James VI & I - son of Mary Queen of Scots (my regular readers will recognise her name by now I hope).  He was the first monarch to reign over three countries - England, Scotland and Ireland.  He assumed reign of Scotland at one year old from his mother (and you think politics are bad nowadays) and eventually united all three countries.  You can read about him on Wiki here.

Fireplace in room where James was born.

Ceiling picture.

The Great Hall, dates to 1503.  The weather is a repeat of yesterday with more sun but a little cooler in evening.

Inside the Great Hall, this picture shows the hammerbeam ceiling construction which was done based off of ship hull construction at the time.

The weapon lined walls of the Great Hall.

After the wedding ended we were able to look inside the tiny chapel.  Here's the altar.  The chapel seated nine comfortably on the three benches. 

Stained glass of St. Margaret in her chapel.

We also toured the two war museums on the site.  This caught my eye since we've been inside the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.

We also toured the Prisons of War Museum.  Here is a door from the late 1700's, time of the American Revolution.  I was thinking "yeah us" as we walked through the beginning but my joy quickly turned to somberness and gratitude for the people who fought for our independence and what they sacrificed. Suffice to say it was not easy living as a "rebel" prisoner then.  The door shows graffiti carved into the door by prisoners.

Broken bodied but not spirit, read below.

How many readers recognise Lord North's name?  Not me and I thought my history knowledge was pretty good.  Read below.

One of the sacrifices the prisoners made for our independence.

Prisoner sleeping hammocks.

Inside the courtyard.

Since we were doing good on time (hard not to be doing good on time when you aren't on a schedule I think) we decided to go into The Scotch Whisky Experience (link).  For the whisky/whiskey newbs: Scotch Whisky - no e - is from Scotland; Irish Whiskey - with e - is from Ireland.  The tour was recommended by Sarah and Dave plus it was at the top of the hill so we weren't walking back up here later.  And I have to say it was worth it.  It was informative (on the fence if whisky making is considered educational for the kids but they each found some interesting facts on the tour) and not to long or short.

Yes, I found this sign funnier than Lori did.  And yes, whisky is a good way to load the Lori.  JK Lor, I couldn't resist.

Did you know this?  Some barrels are also used after containing other specific liquors to add flavour or colour to the different whisky types. 

There was also a taste portion where you could sample whisky from one of the four whisky making regions in Scotland.  My sample has a smoky flavour which tasted like I was eating smouldering wood ash.  Then the guide says that was one of the least smoky flavours!  I guess that means I am not a smoky whisky fan.  For the taste portion the kids were served Irn-Bru, a Scottish carbonated drink.  According to the locals Irn-Bru outsells Coca-Cola and is the only carbonated drink to outsell Coke in its native land.  Not sure if it is true or not but it is impressive it it is true.  Here is an Irn-Bru Wiki link.

Up to 2% evaporates each year which they call The Angel's Share.  Looks like Henry's Angel has been sampling this bottle.

At the end of the tour was a room with about 3,400 bottles from the donated private collection of Brazilian whisky lover Claive Vidiz.  I tried taking some pictures but none could capture the bottle packed room's impressiveness.

His oldest bottles.

The (early) History of Scotch Whisky.

Did you know what inspired Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?
  Read the picture and find out.  We poked our head in but decided not to eat since it was more pub than cafe and the fam are not big fans of pub grub.  The pub "ambiance" also wafted outside the door which didn't help.  For those that didn't read my Devon/Cornwall post, pub ambiance is more plainly known as the odour of stale beer, body heat, and body odour combined in an enclosed space.  Add sub-par food, bitter taste bud numbing beer and the experience is complete!

One of neat features of the city was these streets that flowed five stories below other streets.  I think they are on a gradual decline as you drive away from the city centre but I wasn't there long enough to get my bearings so don't quote me.

Kevin Coleman pic - Speaking of bitter taste bud numbing beer I tried a local brew.  Plus it was warm.  Mmmmmm.

Dana Johnson pic - but the food was five star!  Maybe the best Italian I've ever had.  Left - spaghetti carbonara in a butter sauce, bottom - spaghetti carbonara with mushrooms and ham, right - spinach tortellini in a tomato sauce, top - cheese ravioli in a creamy tomato sauce.

Dana Johnson double - gellato.  Very good but not as good as main meal.

Dana Johnson natural hat trick - fudge brownie cake on left, sticky toffee pudding on right.  The main meal tasted so good we figured the desserts have got to be good also. 

After eating we hung around the Fringe Festival again to finish the day (chronologically Kalle's portrait pic should be here) then called it a night.  My grab bag itinerary was a success with Kalle - she called it one of my best planned days yet.  Yay!  We finished off the day by watching part of the Olympics closing ceremony which I understood as much as the opening ceremony so I guess it is a cultural thing?  Still don't understand the buffoonish Batman exploding doors reference.  I bring it up because we watched the torch touch down on English soil when we were in Amsterdam, the opening ceremony when we were in Plymouth, and the closing ceremony when we were in Edinburgh.  I guess we have been doing a lot of travel after all. 

This may not be the best place but is there a good place to mention haggis?  We like trying local traditional foods but we all drew the line with haggis.  From Wiki - Haggis is a savoury pudding containing sheep's pluck (heart, liver and lungs); minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally encased in the animal's stomach and simmered for approximately three hours.  I have heard from other ex-pats that it is good but we all passed.  Eating heart and lungs is just to much for me.

Day 3 - We drove north to Stirling Castle (link) in the city of Stirling.  A few interesting facts from the website - Mary Queen of Scots was crowned here when she was nine months old (I guess the Scots like baby rulers), 1107 AD is the first documented reference to Stirling Castle, and the world's oldest football was found here.  It was made from a pig's bladder and leather skin and dates to about 1540.  A lot of history but again it is smaller and more plain than the other castles we have visited.

Stirling Castle Great Hall with hammerbeam roof.

"Extravagant" may be an understatement here.

Stirling Castle church.

Murals were from 1600-something.

The King's Outer Hall where people of some social standing waited to possibly speak to the King.

The King's Inner Hall where the lucky people would speak to the King. 

The King's Bedchamber.  Lot of unicorns here - the unicorn was a royal symbol of purity and strength. 

The blurry Queen's Bedchamber.  The sign says the bed was symbolic and she slept in a small room nearby but didn't say why.

The Queen's Inner Hall.

The Queen's Outer Hall.

Castle grounds - statue of Robert the Bruce on right, Wallace Monument in distance.

Next up was the Wallace Monument (link) where we learned the true story of William Wallace.  Or the story of William Wallace for the kids since they haven't seen Braveheart.  Another interesting stop which we reached after walking fifteen minutes up a steep hill.  Then another 246 steps up the monument.  Reminiscent of walking up the heart attack hill to Coit Tower in San Fran with the Fosters only to get there and see the steps leading up to the top.  The exhibits were on Wallace and other famous Scots which I found fascinating and KJ read most of them word for word which is rare.  

Stirling Castle in distance from Wallace Monument.

View down from top of monument.

Our buddy Adam Smith from Edinburgh.  This was the Hall of Fame which also had busts of Robert the Bruce, James Watt, and John Knox among others.

The end of William Wallace.

His sword.

Karl next to the massive Wallace Sword.

Our next stop was Fort William in the Scottish Highlands or the first Highland Cattle (link) we passed, whichever came first.  Since we are throwing caution to the wind and going without an itinerary we might as well face our fear of death and let Lori drive.  Okay, she isn't that bad but normally I drive so on this trip she drove a lot while I read the map and picked out places that may be interesting.  The kids liked the grab bag itinerary better and Lori said it felt more relaxed although she noted that we saw less on this trip so there are pros and cons to the style.  I didn't like it as much but vacations are about having fun, right?  Speaking of having fun I treated the kids by not stopping at Duone Castle which was used for some scenes in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  Lori hadn't seen all of it and the kids had never heard of it so I figured just skip it.  The coconuts clapping together did ring in my head as we passed the castle sign though.     
Steve Frey pic - Lori saw this guy at the side of the road as she drove like a maniac down the winding roads so she whipped an illegal U-ey Bo Duke style in the closest parking lot and came back.

Steve Frey double - head shot of a disinterested hairy cow chewing. 

The Steve Frey natural hat trick - a cute young 'un.

After baby talking to the hairy cow for a while we decided to keep going and drove into the Trossachs.  No it didn't cause any damage, the Trossachs are the geographical region of another Hollywood horrible story, Rob Roy.  The Trossachs themselves were beautiful, even with the threatening rain and overcast skies.  Unfortunately it wasn't nice enough to take many pictures.
Clouds sneakily dropping down on the mountain overlooking Loch Lubnaig.

Roy Roy's grave marker although he is commonly thought to be buried... basically anywhere.  No one knows where he was buried or if he was famous or infamous.  So with Rob Roy and Braveheart debunked my Scottish knowledge amounts to bagpipers wear kilts and haggis looking as bad as it sounds.  And Lori is willing to cause a traffic accident to see more hairy cows.  Hel-lo trouble. 

Final shot of Trossachs.  The highlands scenery is looking promising.

To make the night better we had a double fail on dinner.  The place I picked ended up being an Inn restaurant (half step above pub) and the second choice ended up being forgettable.  Not all was lost as my beer fortunes turned again.

Kevin Coleman pic - Tennent's beer wasn't bitter, heavy or dull tasting.  Maybe the worm is turning...

Steve Frey pic - or maybe not.  Our Inn was accessible by ferry from across the loch or we could drive around two lochs to get there.  Since I didn't go into a lot of detail for the trip I didn't check out Inn access so we ended up driving around both lochs to finally arrive at our destination.  Best part was learning that the ferry was running for two more hours after we arrived. 

Of course the forty-five minute detour wasn't all bad, we were able to see Ben Nevis overlooking Fort William from the distance.  Ben Nevis is the UK's highest point at over 4400 feet.  I learned that Scots speak Scottish Gaelic (gal-lic) while Irish speak Irish Gaelic (gay-lic).  And in Scottish Gaelic Ben means mountain and Nevis means poisonous, dangerous or something to be weary of so Ben Nevis means mountain to be weary of or dangerous mountain. 

And finally some good news, we loved the Inn at Ardgour (link).  A charming place with lots of good character and beautiful setting (pics later), this was a unanimous success.  It even has a hair dryer!
Two of the fours beds which mean the kids get their own bed!  Usually they are sharing a pull out sofa sleeper so they were styling.  KJ was in the other room by himself so he had his "own" tv.

After driving half the day in intermittent rain showers we decided to change hotels on our final night in Scotland.  We originally planned at staying here three nights but changed our minds and wanted to pick a place less than three hours away from the morning ferry.  (That bone headed decision was totally my fault.)  So when we arrived I told the check in person that and he said no problem.  Normally they would charge us the extra night as well but he said he could book the room on two nights notice so we got away with a last minute hotel change which is rarer than the kids not sharing a pull out sofa sleeper.  With this change our loose itinerary is totally out the window and we closed our eyes and picked a hotel.  Stay tuned for the results below.

Day 4 - Today was the hunt for Nessie along the big lochs and time to check out the highlands scenery.     

Our inn's pre-breakfast view down Loch Linnhe and the ferry.  The ferry ride was the best seven pounds I have spent in a while.

Dana Johnson pic - Karl was saying all along that he would try black (blood) pudding if he had the chance.  So guess what our country inn serves for breakfast?  Oh yeah baby.  So he orders it and he tries a small piece without gagging or making a scene.  Not to be out-manly-ed I tried a small piece as well.  This falls into my haggis and other exotic foods category but I am not going to let me teen age son have an up on me.  The female readers may not understand it but I am sure my male readers will, especially my readers with sometimes mouthy teenage sons in the house.  So I ate my piece and it tasted like crumbly sausage on the outside with a congealed middle.  The middle had an odd taste and all I could hear in my head was "blood, blood, blood".  I did get it down but that may be one of the worst things I have ever eaten.  Not because of the looks or taste mind you, just because I know what is in it.   

South of Loch Loche - The first of our many scenic views - I have to admit that the highlands are some of the most beautiful scenes we have seen since arriving here.  The clouds on the left rolling over the mountain top, the grey cloud on the right seemingly within arms reach, valleys forming in the distance, the trees clumped together.

I don't know what it was but I loved the mountains and clouds on this day.  The clouds seemed so low in the sky, almost as if they were taunting the mountains.

Driving along Loch Lochy.

Finally we reached Loch Ness.  Loch Ness (link) is the largest Scottish lake by volume and big enough to hold all of the water from the freshwater lakes in England and Wales combined.  I was going to compare it to Lake Superior (lake I grew up by) but after looking at the figures I guess I won't.  Loch Ness has a volume of 1.8 cubic miles while Lake Superior has a volume of 2,900 cubic miles, even the smallest Great Lake - Lake Erie has a volume of 116 cubic miles. 

Castle Urquhart overlooking Loch Ness.  And I captured Nessie on the right!  I'm gonna be famous! 

The view down long Loch Ness.  The castle looked to be ruins so we passed on checking it out and instead went to the Loch Ness Centre & Exhibition (link) to learn more about Nessie.

The centre was set up in six rooms with short videos about the loch development over time, the "discovery" of Nessie, the multiple hoax uncoverings, scientific efforts to find Nessie, current conservation efforts, and a huge gift shop.  The exhibits were mildly interesting, especially the hoax uncovering and the scientific efforts to find or rule out Nessie.  I forget the exact number but I want to say that they spent eighteen years on or in the lake with equipment mapping, looking, recording, etc. the lake.  I can't imagine how much money that was or where it came from.  Sounded like a waste to me.  Karl was disappointed in the tour because it came out and said Nessie doesn't exist.   

Cardboard copy of a scientific recording vessel that sailed Loch Ness for a year collecting data.

After Loch Ness was Inverness.  Last stop before lunch was Inverness Castle, famous for being the murder scene of King Duncan in Macbeth. 

Looks pretty new, maybe it was recently refurbished?  Plus the morning rain has left us and it was sunny the rest of the day.  Things are looking up again.

Doh!  Maybe I should have read the online description better.  Worse part was this wasn't the worst castle we visited on the trip.

But things aren't all bad.  At the base of the hill was a restaurant with steak on its menu.  We were tipped off by our friends Cindy and Mark (how's the Mexican food tasting in the US guys?) that the cattle in the highlands are fed from the whisky making by-products which means they don't have the grass diet that makes the English steaks taste different.  The two foods most US people miss here are steak and Mexican food.  England has both but they are equally bad so we put steak on our Scotland trip menu.

Kevin Coleman pic - my first good stout in the UK.  I have to admit that the beer improved once I crossed the England/Scotland border.  To bad I forget the name.

And my favourite Dana Johnson pic so far - steak!  And yes it does taste more like US steak.  Me, Lori and Karl all ordered the sirloin and crossed our fingers until they brought it out.  Of course I ordered the biggest cut and ate it all.  Then I waddled out of the place but it was worth it.

Since we are as free as the wind in our mini democratic society the Culloden Battlefield and Fort George and anything else history or military related was shot down.  Instead we went to the Dolphins and Seals of the Moray Firth which I didn't know existed until about noon.
Sarah Anderson pic - yup, nothing says classy like drying your bra on your open van door alongside the road.  The on guard Rotty brought the Christmas Vacation scene of Eddie holding the camper hose over the sewer drain yelling to Clark - "sh*tter was full" crashing into my brain for some reason.  Here's a link to the scene on YouTube for those interested. 

Yup, free admission and worth the price.  Basically you went and sat on an abandoned pier and waited for something to jump out of the water.  Turns out the rednecks in the van were the highlight of this place.

On our way back south we stopped at a petting zoo which was a big fat nine on the lameness scale.  I have to admit that stopping whenever we wanted did add a little feeling of excitement and adventure to the trip but it also led us to lame dolphin watching piers and petting zoos.

Steve Frey pic - Pygmy Goats and Cochin Chicken.

Steve Frey pic - Stare down between the black ram and white ram.

News to me - Jacob sheep and piebald.  There's a new word for you Auntie B. 

Steve Frey pic - The aforementioned Jacob sheep.

Steve Frey pic - a pig and a red deer.  And nothing to pet yet.  They tried petting the goats but the goats only wanted to bite them.  Guess the goats won that battle.

Steve Frey pic - more hairy cows!  I would call these two lazy but they wouldn't even turn their heads to look at us.  Dead would probably be a more apt description. 

Steve Frey pic - finally a Bracken to pet.  I guess Bracken means small deer over here.

Our last stop was Aonach Mor.  I saw a cable car ride up the mountain online and thought we would get some good views.  We made it to the lift ten minutes before closing so I hurriedly bought the tickets and herded everyone into the death cars.  The cable car only went up 2000 feet of the 4000 foot mountain but even still it was a nice view.
The view over Loch Linnhe.  Still loving the clouds and mountains.

The far off mountains and clouds.

My panoramic pics don't usually look good but I will include this one anyway.

For dinner we ended up eating inn grub.  I'm not sure why but the post codes in Scotland were miles off at times.  Consequently we scenic toured our way to a couple non-existent restaurants and ended up at the inn eating a very good meal.  Another plus for the inn.

Rounding Loch Leven on the hopeless search for a restaurant.

Same road, different direction this time.  Going to the ferry.  Stupid GPS.

Which we missed by minutes.  Our inn is in the middle of the picture.

So Kalle and I played on the rocks while Lori and Karl "guarded" the car.  Kal even humoured me by standing here so I could snap a pic looking down Loch Linnhe.

Day 5 - With our new hotel a three hour drive away I only had one itinerary item for the day.  Watch the Jacobite Steam Train cross the Glenfinnan Viaduct.  Or for the Harry Potter fans - watch the Hogwarts Express cross the bridge from the flying car scene.  Sounds simple enough.  Sleep in a little, eat breakfast, stop for gas...
and miss the train by minutes.  I actually saw the end of the caboose disappear as we pulled into the parking lot.  We were twenty minutes before the time it was supposed to cross according to a brief internet search but late is still late.  Another strike against unplanned vacations.  You can see the lonely viaduct in the distance.

You know what that means - Road Trip!  We drove out to Mallaig along the Sound of Sleat coastal road which was a beautiful drive although the picture opportunities were sparse.  Mallaig was a maybe on my original itinerary so I didn't mind driving out there although I was mad at myself for missing the train and viaduct.  I wouldn't have been as bad if we hadn't... just... missed... it.

The Hogwarts Express steaming into your picture.

Pic of water along A830 on the way to Mallaig.

Alright, now that we are an hour west and north of our inn lets drive back to the inn then three more hours to Irvine for our hotel.  Planning is so overrated.  We did stop once along the way at the Scottish Sea Life Sanctuary (link).  Hopefully there won't be rednecks in the parking lot there hanging out their wet bras.  Or at least don't let that be the highlight of the stop.  Thankfully this stop was much better with some interesting sea life and a quiz for the kids to follow.  Kalle really liked it so I was glad we stopped.  Teenager Karl said it was okay.  Better than him grunting his answer I guess.

The mean looking Wolf Fish.

No I did not.  Thanks.

Ray faces have always fascinated me.

African clawed frogs.

African Clawed Frog facts.

Playful otter posing for a camera.

A rare blue lobster.

After the sanctuary we jumped into the car and headed south by going east, south, west and south again.  And after the last part in of the journey in hard rain I was a nervous wreck, mostly from Lori's driving.  JK Lor - you done good when you weren't driving like a maniac.  The weather was nice enough to open up and fill the remaining hours of our day with sunshine and warmer (upper 60) temperatures as we arrived at our hotel which is just what you want in a room without air conditioning.  But I can't complain because a lot of places don't have A/C here so we just deal with it.  The hotel was a Menzies Hotels chain (link) which is a four star hotel for a great price.  We found it on which has been a hit and miss website for our travels.  In this case it was a home run!  We even ate at the hotel bar again although this time it was more of a case of we are beat and don't feel like trying to find a decent place to eat in a new town.  Sometimes the convenience is worth the price.  We capped off the night by watching a documentary on "Born Free" about a couple in Africa who protect Lions.  Born Free was a 60's film about the real life couple.  The wife and a lioness formed a bond throughout their lives.  Very strange to see a full grown lioness playing with humans and letting them be dominant over her.  The shocking part of the experience at the time was the lioness left the family for a while (6 months I think) and returned with her brand new pups which proved a lion raised in captivity could survive in the wild.  Elsa the lioness for those interested. 

Three beds - the kids get their own beds!  This happens once in never and now they have it twice in Scotland.  They are getting spoiled. 

I guess the posh places have separate rooms for sinks and toilets.

Overall we loved the highlands but weren't all that impressed with the lowlands.  Edinburgh was okay but wasn't what Lori or I expected.  I guess that goes to expectations over here (and probably all over), don't expect much and be happy.  Bring a certain level of expectation and be disappointed more often than naught.  We loved the mountains and lochs in the highlands.  And the hairy cows of course.  We put 898 miles on the car from our home to the Scotland ferry so we saw a lot of Scotland in five days.  Fun start to our vacation.  Next up is Ireland.

Thanks for listening,


  1. Just amazing! This blog is such a treasure. I feel like we're coming along for the adventures too! Even if it wasn't what you expected, it sure does look beautiful. I mentioned this part on Facebook, but please be done with cathedrals AFTER you go to Notre Dame in Paris, okay! And may you not have any more heart attack hills in the future!

  2. Great, again, Jay. You had me laughing along the way.

    Perhaps I need to wait for the next post, but what's the family's take on the new travel style? Perhaps a happy medium can be reached with the amount of pre-planning?

    Scotland is one of our favorites and we plan to go back. Sounds like you liked parts, put not all of it.

    Edinburgh Castle and Stirling Castle are very similar. Lots of history there. Quite the castle snob you've become! Can't believe you passed up Urquhart for Inverness though . . .

    . . . or Culloden for the red-neck seal pier. Oh well, different strokes . . . (fortunately my fam is happy with the benevolent dictator approach).

    I think it is Ed-in-bra rather than Ed-in-burrow but I'm sure there a quite a few interpretations.

  3. @Tammy - haha, don't worry that is still on my to do list. We still have some castles, cathedrals, manor houses to see but have really slowed down on seeing them.

    @Steve - yes on the happy medium, I think this trip has helped me get a better feel for their level of planning to still feel like an adventure and my level of planning required to keep the vacation flowing without hitting a bunch of duds.

    I really liked the history at Stirling & Edinburgh Castles while the group was less impressed. Urquhart was just to busy for us - parking was already tight then two tour buses of OAP's pulled up. I was voted down 3-0 on Culloden and any other military stop for the rest of the trip. More dumb and lazy animals, less fun and interesting history stuff was the unanimous message.