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Visit Scotland Again
I first went to Scotland as a young teenager and stayed at Troon in Ayrshire then a few years later at a hotel in Pitlochry. At 19 and 20 I went to Glasgow twice on summer geology college trips but little did I realise at that point that I was saying goodbye to Scotland for forty years. Forty Years, my goodness, where does your life go. Very scary thought.
So, as the pending referendum for Scottish independence approached, fortune presented an opportunity to return. We met some friends from Canada and planned a tour of Loch Lomond, Loch Ness, Inverness and Edinburgh. I set up this blog and updated it daily as the trip progressed from the Lowlands to the Highlands and back again.. A sort of live interaction for anyone interested.
From Gretna to Dumfries
We crossed the border just before 4pm, passing the large Saltaire poster by the roadside and, I might add, a few posters stating, "it is time to plough our own fields", a reminder of the imminent Scottish Referendum vote that was to take place next month.
We immediately turned off left for a 25 mile trip to Dumfries. We had the usual nightmare of finding our Bed & Breakfast called Glenaldor House, not through any misdirection, simply that not every road has a name board and you have to make a few guesses.It helped to have read that the house next door was lived in by James Barrie of 'Peter Pan' fame during his school years. The placque by its door gave it away and we knew that we had arrived. We only had one evening in the area so the evening was spent driving to the Galloway Arms Hotel in Crocketford for supper then a pilgrimage to the Robbie Burns mausoleum and Burns house.
Robbie Burns January 25, 1759 - 21 July, 1796
Robert Burns is Scotland's most loved poet and songwriter who was born in Alloway, Ayrshire to very humble beginnings. He worked as a farmer and Exciseman but had a passion for poetry and song writing. After the success of his poem about witches called, "Tam O' Shanter", he moved to Dumfries and devoted himself to writing.
He died in his prime at the age of 37 but he left behind some of the best loved poetry and songs. One of my favourites is, "My Love Is Like A Red, Red Rose" which was made into a song and, of course, New Year's Eve wouldn't be complete without hearing or singing, "Old Lang Syne".
"My Love Is Like A Red, Red Rose"
Loch Lomond and beyond
Well we made it up the M74 to Glasgow past all the signs for the Commonwealth Games and despite forebodings of traffic jams, survived to the Glasgow Airport unscathed. We parked and went into the arrivals area, checked that the flight was on time and settled in a coffee shop to wait. Checking emails the news came through that our friends flight was delayed from Toronto by severe weather and missed their connection in Iceland. So we travelled up to Cairndow alone, stopping at Luss by the side of Loch Lomond. Luss is portrayed as the prettiest village in this area but sadly overrun with tourists all wanting to see the prettiest village!
Arriving at the Cairndow Coaching Inn, one of the oldest Coaching Inns in the Highlands, on Loch Fyne in Argyll, around 3pm we had lunch and then spent a pleasant hour walking around the Ardkinglas Woodland Garden. It lays claim to containing the tallest tree in Britain and there certainly was a mighty silver fir. But my favourite was the redwood grown from seeds brought from California over a century ago. We were only vaguely hungry in the evening so we shared Scampi and chips in the garden at the front of the lnn overlooking the peaceful loch.
The pretty village of Luss
Fort William and Loch Ness
The trip up from Loch Lomond to Loch Ness to me encapsulates the real highlands. Long roads between a treeless landscape of rock and heather and bracken. Sometimes the land seems naked until you realise it is covered in plants that have evolved to survive the often brutal climate. This was the big drive day because we had to track back to the airport, pick up our friends and drive up into the highlands. Our first stop was a brief moment by Loch Lomond to take a photo then a bite to eat and some shopping at The Green Welly Stop in Tyndrum.
The Green Welly Stop, well, what a surprise and in such a perfect location on a main road near two railway stations with views of the mountains. We stopped there primarily as a bathroom break but when we discovered its amenities, we stayed for over an hour, to the dismay of the driver who wanted to make some headway towards our next location. The food at the cafeteria looked so appetizing that we decided to stop for something to eat and we all chose "Cullen Skink", which was very new to us but turned out to be a Scottish staple. It is a very tasty fish, potato, onion chowder which went down extremely well accompanied by a homemade scone.( see the youtube video on how to make this delicious soup below). My mouth is watering as I think about it. I also picked up a rain jacket, having lost mine back in Dumfries and a few souvenirs for family and friends. The shop also sells whiskey, local Scottish food products, outdoor clothing, camping gear and yes lots and lots of wellies, many of them green.
From there we took the highland road through a dramatic mountain landscape and then down into the Loch Ness fault line. We arrived in Fort Augustus at 5pm and walked around the locks followed by supper at The Lock Pub. Finally settled at the Netherwood B&B with house martins nesting at the front door and red deer grazing in the field across the way. We spent the rest of the evening talking about our wonderful day and drinking Peter Lehmann Shiraz with our friends in our very comfortable bedroom suite.
How To Make Cullen Skink
Kyle of Lochalsh
Today was the first real day of exploration as we headed along a mountain road to Kyle of Lochalsh stopping at several mountain vistas on the way. The weather had deteriorated but not enough to stop activities. Our goal was to visit Eilean Donan Castle, possibly the best known image representing Scotland abroad. The image of the castle is often found on biscuit tins among other Scottish merchandise. Our friends especially wanted to visit as their neighbour, Sheila, in Toronto can trace her ancestry back to tenant farmers who worked the land surrounding Eilean Donan Castle. The castle, which stands where three lochs meet, was originally built in the 13th Century but was destroyed in in a Jacobite uprising in 1719 and rebuilt in the 20th Century. It was still well worth the visit.
At Kyle we went over the new bridge to Skye and stopped at the tourist office in Kyleakin where a knowledgeable gentleman recommended Portree (literally the Port of the king or rex) so we headed off into central Skye. We stopped for a short mountain hike but only got about a kilometer as we were beaten back by midges, the bane of the Scottish hills. I saw a new butterfly, scotch argus, beautiful brown and orange spots but sadly it hid in the grass and my camera was confused by the focal point. Note to self, I need a manual focus. On to Sligachan, close to the Cuillin Mountains, where we stopped in a bar that had 400 different whiskeys, Jeff, our friend, a bit of a whiskey connoisseur, was in his element but refrained until the return trip. We spent some time outside with some tourists all taking photos in the brief sunshine. We then moved on to Portree, a harbour town with its pretty pastel-coloured houses, where we had a fish supper at the Rosedale Hotel. Later we picked up wine, milk and haggis-flavoured crisps (yes, I said haggis-flavoured crisps) at the Co-operative then headed back to Sligachan where Jeff got his fine rare scotch, Talisker Dark Storm and I had whiskey flavoured ice cream, delicious. The rest of the day was uneventful as we drove back to the Netherwood Bed and Breakfast and those beautiful red deer that were still grazing in the field.
Eilean Donan Castle
Deciding to take a break from the car we travelled just twenty miles to Fort William and the foot of Ben Nevis. We visited the information centre and got instructions for climbing Glen Nevis, a route that leads up a steep gorge to an open flat valley known as a hanging valley gentle in its upper course but steep in the lower. Here, a passing glacier had truncated the river course. We were a little wary when we saw a warning sign (pictured below) at the beginning of our climb but we decided to march on to experience the spectacular scenery on offer.
Peter found the Scotch Argus again and spent a happy time chasing several individuals while we admired the scenery which was breathtaking. It was a bonus when the sun came out so we sat for a while on a stony beach by a stream looking up at the towering mountain above and the cascading waterfall.
We returned to Fort William and drove over to the ruin of Inverlochy Castle, built around 1280, but just before we arrived, the steam engine that pulls the Jacobite pulled into the shed for the night. To our delight, photos and videos were obtained.
The castle itself was in pretty good shape and provided good photo opportunities. Finally a visit to the Newton Locks, that control the water supply into Loch Lochy, and a place to view Ben Nevis. Sadly the mountain weather did not cooperate so we headed home and went to supper at Fort Augustus.
Not sure about this.
Highland Cattle are recognizable due to their long horns and very shaggy coats that protect them from extreme cold. They are well suited therefore to the the harsh climate of the Scottish Highlands and other countries that experience very cold temperatures. They are also happy eating plants that other cattle tend to avoid.May I also add that they are a very attractive breed. and a very popular tourist attraction.
One field of dun-coloured and black long-fringed highland cattle we saw on the way to Nairn attracted dozens of people who had alighted from their cars and from a tour bus. We felt we had to stop to take a picture. We always kept a look out for them from then on. We actually discovered a small herd of highland cattle in a field less than 10 miles from us by Lake Talyllyn in Mid-Wales.
The Road to Nairn
After saying goodbye to our very congenial hosts at the Netherwood B&B we headed off for Inverness. The first stop was a field of highland cattle where we took photos and I actually fed one, its muzzle was so gentle as it lifted the feed. Then on to Urquhart Castle by Loch Ness and the spectacular Divach Falls near Drumnadrochit. Finally arriving at Inverness where we parked in a multistory and roamed the town including visits to the whiskey shop, Marks and Spencers and Boots. We then drove to Nairn where we had rented an apartment and went for a walk on the beach.
Urquhart Castle, now owned by the National Trust, is located on the shores of Loch Ness near the village of Drumnadrochit. Drumnadrochit is known for its Loch Ness Exhibition and as the village where most of the sightings of Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster, have been reported. It is one of the largest castles in Scotland and its raised position, commanding views the length and breadth of Loch Ness, makes it well worth a visit. We spent a few hours there and had a snack in the bright and airy cafe. There is also a nicely stocked gift shop next to the cafe.
We drove to the Broomhill station on the Strathspey Railway where we bought tickets to Aviemore vis Boat of Garten, part of the former Inverness and Perth Junction Railway, on the steam train. We had an hour to kill so we went to the Heather Restaurant about a mile away and had "clootie dumpling" and coffee. Then back to the station and a great ride to Aviemore. We were treated on this occasion to a band playing some foot-tapping music on the platform and the children taking the train were delighted to see The Fat Controller from the 'Thomas The Tank Engine' books.
The Strathspey Railway
The Clootie Dumpling
The Clootie Dumpling
While waiting for our train journey we decided to visit a nearby garden centre called The Speyside Heather Centre, which included a gift shop, selling beautiful heather jewelry and a cafe called The Clootie Dumpling. It was here that we first heard the name "clootie dumpling", which turned out to be a traditional Scottish dessert that looks like a plum pudding on steroids (see picture) and we were so intrigued that we decided to try some with some custard. It was quite delicious and I plan on making one at some point.
Like a plum pudding, it is made of flour, breadcrumbs, dried fruit, suet, sugar, spices, milk and sometimes golden syrup. The ingredients are wrapped in a floured cloth, known as a "clootie", then simmered in a large pot for a couple of hours, then dried in an oven or by a fire.
The Royal Marine Apartments, Nairn
Up to this point, we had separate accommodation at various B&Bs but, for this part of our journey, we booked a two bedroom self-catering apartment in the town of Nairn, our most northerly stop in Scotland. It was a very well maintained apartment with a great view over the Moray Forth so we weren't disappointed. We really couldn't have asked for anything nicer and the owner even left us some food staples to get us started. We were especially happy to find that the apartment contained a washer and a dryer as we were all running a little low on clean clothes at this point.
We had picked up some groceries so we were prepared to cook our own meals but, as it was quite late, we decided to pick up some Scottish fish and chips to save us cooking. Anyway, who needs an excuse to have fish and chips. The next night Aviva made her wonderful chicken wings and I made a risotto the next night and each evening we watched some of the Commonwealth Games, which were taking place in Glasgow, drank some very nice wine, had some great conversations and ended off with an invigorating walk along the beach.
Our days were spent visiting Cawdor Castle and a distillery near Nairn which you can read about below.
Cawdor Castle, near Nairn
Next stop was Cawdor Castle, which is still a home to the Cawdor family. It is a beautiful property, built around a holly tree (due to a certain donkey carrying a coffer of gold on its back that came to rest under this holly tree - see link to Cawdor Castle below). It also has some of the most magnificent gardens I have seen. There is a flower garden, a wild garden, and the older walled garden used for growing soft fruits, conventional vegetables as well as the more exotic, and flowers. A short distance from the Castle through the woods you will come across the Auchindoune Gardens that boasts a Tibetan Garden grown from rare plants found in some of the remotest places in Tibet. Angelika, the Dowager Countess Cawdor still has a keen interest in maintaining and improving the gardens.
Aviva, Jeff and I spent a considerable time exploring the interior of the castle with commentary from a very knowledgeable guide who had in depth knowledge of the history of the castle and the family. Peter had decided to take some pictures outside. As the guide was telling us about a particular portrait of the Lady Dowager a message came through that the lady herself had arrived at the castle so he took his leave. We made our way down to the dungeon in the castle to see a few displays and the famous holly tree and then made our way outside to the gardens. Peter approached us as we came out and told us that we had just missed the Dowager Cawdor, an elegant lady, who had greeted Peter with a very friendly, "Good Afternoon" before entering the Castle. It was a brief encounter but she definitely made an impression on Peter, who was quite chuffed to have met her. It's a shame we didn't meet her because we had heard so much about her and it would have been nice to have had a little chat.
Unfortunately, it started to rain, so our walk around the gardens was cut short. We drove to the Cawdor Tavern in the village of Cawdor for a drink then returned to our apartment in Nairn.
It had always been on our itinerary to have a tour and a tasting at a Whisky Distillery and, up until this point, we hadn't found one that we had time to thoroughly explore.Jeff, our oficionado of whiskies, chose a small distillery, the smallest in Speyside, on the outskirts of Forres not too far from where we were staying. I must admit that I am not a lover of whiskey and I think Aviva feels the same, but, it is something you feel you must do when you are in Scotland . So, on a warm sunny day, we set off for the Benromach Distillery.
Our visit to the Benromach Distillery started off with a tour given by Jim Lowther, a long term employee of the distillery and an ex RAF electrician from Kinloss. It was a very interesting tour taking us through the whole process of whiskey making from smelling the raw barley to the finished product being sold in their little shop. At the end of the tour we were given tiny glasses of single malt whiskey, which is considered the best quality. The first reaction was a bitter taste then a feeling of heat as it trickled down my throat. It wasn't unpleasant but even a few sips went right to my head and the effect was doubled when I walked out into the sunshine.I was glad not to be driving and thankful that it didn't effect Peter in the same way. I think I even fell asleep in the car - a real cheap date!
Our next stop was Elgin to see the ruined cathedral and to explore the town, which seemed to be fairly busy and a bit like any other town with all the regular High Street shops but maybe we needed a bit more time there to really appreciate it. We were much more impressed with the town of Forres, which has won the "Scotland In Bloom" competitions many times. There was a lovely landscaped park called Grant Park and many places to sit and observe all the beautiful landscaping and the sunken gardens.
On the outskirts of Forres we stopped at the Sueno's Stone, a 21 foot, high stone which is covered in some of the best examples of Pictish Art. As we headed back to Nairn we decided to make a brief stop at the small village of Kinloss, where Peter's sister and brother-in-law used to live when they were in the RAF.
The Forth Road Bridge
Edinburgh Fringe Festival
Our next destination was Musselburgh near Edinburgh with a stop at Edinburgh Airport to pick up our daughter, Heather, and her partner,Mat, who were joining us from Turin, Italy for the final leg of our journey. The flight was to arrive at 4 p.m. so we didn't have any plans to stop on the way except for a bit of lunch. Just north of Pitlochry we were very pleasantly surprised to come across an exceptional tourist attraction called the House of Bruar.
The House of Bruar opened in 1995 as a small high end shop but has had many extensions over the years. It now has twelve specialty shops selling the highest quality products such as cashmere, country tweed etc. built around a central courtyard, a restaurant, food hall with outdoor market stalls, homewares and an art gallery. We could have spent a whole day there (and a lot of money) but after a delicious scone and a cup of tea in their restaurant we got back on the road heading south.
Aviva and Jeff wanted to see as much of Edinburgh as they could fit in so they took a bus from Edinburgh Airport into the City while we waited at the airport for our daughter's arrival. Well, we had a long wait as their flight from Birmingham was mysteriously delayed and we ended up leaving the airport, to save the parking fee, and returning a few hours later to meet their delayed flight. We arrived in Musselburgh quite late and went out to a Nepalese Restaurant in the town. Aviva and Jeff joined us there. It was a nice reunion as they hadn't seen Heather for many years and they had never met Mat.
The next day we took Scotrail from Musselburgh to Edinburgh, which only took ten minutes, and walked towards the Royal Mile where we emerged headlong into a throng of people enjoying the Fringe Festival. The Fringe Festival, which takes place every year from the end of July through the month of August, is a combination of busking, comedy, street theatre and circus. There are performers from everywhere promoting their shows and many volunteers handing out brochures and cards encouraging the public to come to the various shows. Many of the performers are up and coming but there are also many established performers playing various venues throughout the City. The outdoor entertainment is free, except for a donation, and there are craft and food stalls at every turn. The costumes are bizarre as are many of the performances but it gives the City of Edinburgh a real buzz every July/August. To add to the atmosphere the Edinburgh Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle takes place at the same time.
For Peter, the best act was a boy girl team playing violins standing on bollards. I liked the bagpipers and the step dancers. Peter and I explored the Castle and other parts of the City and we met up with Aviva, Jeff, Heather and Mat later at the Broad Street Bistro for a delicious supper. The Bistro was located on a side street off the Royal Mile but , despite the proximity to all the action, it was amazingly quiet and calm there which was a relief after a manic day.
We were all fairly tired by the end of the day so it was nice to get back to our accommodation at Musselburgh. We were the only guests there so we had exclusive use of the kitchen and living room. We made ourselves a cup of tea and spent some time chatting in the living room before going to bed in preparation for the next day's trip into the City.
Big Red Barn near Biggar
We discovered a special family restaurant and gift shop on our way between Edinburgh and the Lake District where we stopped for coffee and I found a handcrafted tartan flower brooch. It is ideally located on the main Edinburgh Road, 5 miles north of the village of Biggar at the crossroads of the A702 and the A721 so I'm sure it will become a very popular stop for weary travellers. There is a link to their website below.
We left Aviva and Jeff after Edinburgh. They spent another night in Musselburgh then spent a few days in Glasgow before flying to Iceland and then home to Toronto. We said our goodbyes to them and Scotland and travelled to the Lake District with Heather and Mat for a short stay before heading back to Wales.
Looking back on our short time in Scotland we realized that Scotland offers fantastic scenery, great food and entertainment but over and over again we were particularly impressed by the friendliness and kindness of the people. We were made very welcome everywhere we went and it was abundantly clear that they are very proud of their country.
There is so much more to see in Scotland and we only skimmed the surface but we hope you enjoy reading about the places that we visited this time. This is an ongoing project which will be updated the next time we visit Scotland. We hope that we will visit again very soon.
A worthwhile stop for the weary traveller on your journey to Glasgow or Edinburgh. Great food and great service.
- House of Bruar - Quality Scottish Country Clothing and Produce
The House of Bruar enjoys a unique reputation for quality, and our art gallery, food hall and country clothing range showcase the best Scotland has to offer.
- Cawdor Castle - Home
An informative website all about the Castle and the gardens.