As usual, Roger did not know where we were going for our trip. This year was his 50th birthday, so -- unknown to Roger -- I had decided to go where HE wanted to go -- for once-- SCOTLAND!
We flew to LA and I informed Roger that the next leg of the trip, we were flying...BUSINESS CLASS!! We hung out in the business class lounge...
...then caught the flight to London. Roger and I decided that business class is THE way to travel (DUH!!!). We arrived in London well-rested and then it was back to reality -- onto the cheapie, cattle-car flight to Edinburgh. Bummer!
We arrived in Edinburgh and took a taxi to our hotel. As we drove through town, we marveled at Edinburgh Castle, which is built on rocky cliffs (the remnants of an extinct volcano) right in the middle of the city. What an awesome sight!
EDINBURGH CASTLE, FROM PRINCES GARDEN IN DOWNTOWN:
ANOTHER VIEW OF THE CASTLE:
THE CASTLE AT NIGHT:
By the time we got settled in, it was evening, so we had a light meal in the hotel lounge and called it a night.
Tuesday October 9
The day was grey and it was raining lightly, so we toured the city on the "hop-on-hop-off" bus. We hopped on and off and explored the National Museum, the National Gallery and the Royal Gallery. Three museums! You know it was raining!
Towards the end of the day, we hopped off the bus at the new Scottish Parliament building. We had learned that the Scots went nearly 300 years without a Parliament and they just got Parliament back a few years ago. We had heard that the new Parliament building is quite controversial, so we were looking forward to seeing it. You can judge for yourself...
A VIEW OF THE ABBEY FROM THE "BACK YARD":
After Holyrood Palace -- and a full day of hopping on and off the bus -- we walked around some more, found a restaurant and had dinner. Over dinner, we agreed that we loved Edinburgh --what a gorgeous, friendly, enchanting city!
We woke to sunshine (yippee!!!) so we headed straight to Edinburgh Castle. We spent about 3 hours exploring the castle, its grounds and ancillary buildings. What an awesome, imposing castle, and what great views of the city!
THE ENTRANCE TO THE CASTLE:
THE VIEW FROM THE LOWER LEVEL OF THE CASTLE:
THE LOWER LEVEL OF THE CASTLE...
After the castle, we walked down the Royal Mile -- which runs from the castle to Holyrood Palace. Ages ago, this area was the main street of town. Now, it is the center of "Old Town", where most of the tourist attractions are located (versus "New Town" where the locals live, work and eat, which was built from 1750-1850; that’s not exactly "new" -- until you consider that Old Town was built starting before the 1100's!).
As we walked down the Royal Mile, we decided to take a tour of "Mary King's Close". Let me explain:
As Edinburgh grew in the 1300's and 1400's, people ran out of space. The city was enclosed by the castle and cliffs, a wall, a marshy bog, and a loch. So, the only way to grow was up. Many buildings in the 15th century in Edinburgh were 10 and 11 stories high – one was even 14 stories high!
By the 1500's the Royal Mile was lined with tall buildings . The alleyways between the buildings became known as "closes" and were named after people who lived in the close or businesses run there. Thus, Mary King’s Close is an alleyway named after Mary King, who lived in the close in the 1600's.
What is interesting about Mary King’s Close is this: by the 1750s, many of the buildings of old Edinburgh, including Mary King's Close, were in terrible disrepair. The city leaders proposed that a Royal Exchange be built to remove the merchants from the street, store national records, and provide meeting rooms. The tops of the buildings in the area of Mary King’s Close were knocked down but the lower floors were kept and used as the foundation for the Royal Exchange. The same type of thing happened elsewhere in Edinburgh, but Mary King’s Close is particularly well-preserved, so you can take a tour under the Royal Exchange and see what was once bustling shops and apartments, that are now underground. Weird!
This is one of the unique things about Edinburgh -- throughout the city, people built new buildings right on top of old ones, leading to changes in the ground level and the creation of many passages and vaults beneath Old Town. The result is that "ground level" changes continually -- it is the weirdest thing! You will be walking down a street and think you are on ground level, then realize you are on a bridge and there’s three or four stories of buildings beneath you! A few steps later, you’ll be back on ground level! Weird!
So, long story short: a Close is just an alleyway. Mary King's Close is an alleyway from the 1600's that now has a giant building over it, but 3-4 stories of shops and apartments remain intact underneath the building.
THE ROYAL MILE:
Oh - there is one other interesting thing about Mary King's Close -- it is haunted. Here is what they say:
Hidden below Edinburgh's medieval Old Town is a series of subterranean streets with an unsavory past. Mary King's Close is where plague victims were quarantined and left to die in the 17th century, and paranormal activity abounds down there. You might, for instance, feel some gentle tugging at your hands and legs by an unseen force. The cause is believed to be the ghost of Annie, a young girl abandoned by her parents in 1645. More than a hundred years later, in classic horror-tale fashion, a grand new building was constructed over Mary King's Close, leaving the streets, including the plague ghosts, intact underground. In 2003, the surprisingly well-preserved Close was opened to visitors, drawn by tales of its supernatural goings-on. Tour guides will accompany you down a stone staircase to the vaultlike, oppressive lanes. In addition to Annie's Room, there are typical re-creations of bygone lifestyles and plague deaths. Just remember to keep on moving, especially when you feel a sudden chill.
OK - the tour of Mary King’s Close tour is hokey – the guide is dressed in costume and really gets into his character – but it is interesting!
MARY KING'S CLOSE -- THE PHOTO IS ENTIRELY UNDERGROUND!
We finished the tour of Mary King’s Close, and walked over to Calton Hill -- a large hill downtown with a partially built Parthenon and a number of other monuments (giving Edinburgh its nickname, the Athens of the North). We climbed the many, many MANY steps up Calton Hill and marveled at the view of the castle, Holyrood Palace, Old Town and New Town.
THE VIEW OF EDINBURGH, FROM CALTON HILL:
LOOKING FROM CALTON HILL TO EDINBURGH CASTLE:
THE PARTIALLY BUILT PARTHENON ON CALTON HILL:
After climbing Calton Hill, we figured we had earned our dinner -- so we walked into New Town for some classic Scottish cuisine. OK – we went to TGIFridays. Frankly, we had not had a decent meal, so we thought TGIFridays would be a good choice.
Thursday October 11
After a little mix up with the rental car company, we got on our way out of town. The plan was to drive to the west coast of Scotland, to Culzean Castle (pronounced "Cullane"), where we had reservations for the night.
I had rented a portable GPS and I had a huge map with our route all marked out, so I figured we would have no problems. Ha! What I did not account for was that the GPS would give us the fastest route and the route on the map was a scenic, tourist route. Add to that my tendency to get car sick when I try to read a map and, well, let’s say it was an "adventure". A drive that should have taken 3 hours took almost 5 hours, but we got the bugs worked out!
Anyhow, we arrived at Culzean Castle and all we could say was "Wow!" Culzean sits on a cliff on the coastline and it is g-o-r-g-e-o-u-s! Many year ago, the owners gave the top floor of the castle to (then) General Eisenhower for his lifetime, as a thank you for his contributions in WW II. The top floor – the Eisenhower Apartments – are now rented out, while the rest of the castle is open for tours.
We relaxed, had drinks in the Drawing Room, then dinner, then had drinks and dessert back in the Drawing Room. We chatted with a nice couple from the States who were on their belated honeymoon, then we turned in for the night.
Friday October 12
The next morning, we took a tour of the castle, which was very interesting. Unfortunately, photos are prohibited inside most of the castles, so you will just have to trust me – it was gorgeous! We really enjoyed the detailed information and stories you hear on a guided tour. Our favorite room was the kitchen – a huge, sparse, room with giant windows and a soaring vaulted ceiling. The work stations, cabinets, counters, etc., were quite rustic but we loved it. Too bad we just finished our kitchen remodel!
After the tour, we wandered around the extensive gardens and down the cliffs to the sea, then it was time to get back on the road.
THE GROUNDS OF CULZEAN CASTLE:
We left Culzean and drove up the coast, past Loch (lake) Lomond and Ben (Mount) Lomond, to the Airds Hotel, which is located on the Argyll coastline. The drive was beautiful and Roger did an amazing job driving the tiny, winding, precarious roads. Many times during the drive, I was thankful that I had rented a small car!
After a few wrong turns in which I informed Roger that the hotel could not possibly be on the road he thought -- just shut up and let me navigate -- so we drove around for about half an hour, and discovered that the hotel was on the exact road Roger had thought -- we arrived at Airds Hotel, a highly acclaimed "country house" hotel and restaurant. We relaxed, had drinks and canapes in the Drawing Room, had a very fancy dinner, then drinks and petit-fours in the Drawing Room (just like at home - ha!) and turned in for the night.
THE VIEW FROM AIRDS HOTEL:
Saturday October 13
The next morning, we did a short tour of the Appin/Argyll area, took photos of Stalker Castle (a privately owned castle located on an island in the bay near Airds Hotel – very picturesque!) and got back on the road.
A CLOSER VIEW:
I had planned the trip so that we had a few days to relax and explore Edinburgh, then three days on the road (go-go-go – different hotels each night), then some more time to relax, with two nights each at two different hotels, before heading home.
So, we were on the road again. We drove up the coast to Fort William – a town nestled at the bottom of Scotland’s highest "mountain" (Ben Nevis, 4,500 feet). Fort William is a charming but touristy town that is the heart of Scotland’s mountain biking, skiing and general mountain activity. We explored Fort William, then drove west to the port town of Mallaig.
On the way to Mallaig, we passed Glenfinnan, where Bonnie Prince Charlie arrived in 1745, raised the Jacobite standard, and started the ill-fated highlander uprising. The spot is quite picturesque, with Loch Shiel and a monument to Bonnie Prince Charlie on one side, and the gorgeous glen with the awesome Glenfinnan viaduct on the other side.
The Glenfinnan viaduct was built in about 1901. It is made of concrete, with 21 arches spanning nearly 500 yards. It is quite famous -- now because the "flying car" scene in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets was filmed there!
THE GLENFINNAN VIADUCT:
THE MONUMENT TO BONNIE PRINCE CHARLIE:
LOCH SHIEL AND THE MONUMENT:
Roger once again did a wonderful job driving the tiny, winding road and we arrived in the port town of Mallaig safe and sound. We wandered around the town and then caught the ferry to the Isle of Skye. It had not been that long of a day, but we were both tired, the weather was grey and windy, and we felt like settling into a cozy room with a fire and relaxing -- so we did!
Our hotel for the night was Eilean Iarmain (don’t ask me how to pronounce it), a charming, small, rustic hotel on the wild Isle of Skye. We relaxed a bit, then went to the local hangout -- the pub at our hotel. We had good, hearty meal ("pub food") surrounded by locals who had stopped in for a pint on their way home, and then turned in for the night.
THE VIEW FROM EILEAN AIRMAIN:
Sunday October 14 (ROGER'S BIRTHDAY!!!)
I knew that this day was probably our longest day on the road – driving from the Isle of Skye to Inverness, with lots to see along the way. We really wanted to explore the Isle of Skye, but the day was grey, windy and drizzly, so we decided to hit the road (after, of course, sleeping in late and having a leisurely breakfast -- something we made sure to do every day).
We drove to the northern part of the island and across the bridge to the mainland, then stopped at Eilean Donan Castle – one of the most-photographed castles in Scotland. We toured the castle at length, stopping and chatting with the docents in each room and learning a great deal about the castle's architecture and history.
Roger noticed a number of small holes in the stairways and walls, and noticed many hidden passageways. The docent told us that there were passageways surrounding every room, so that the guards could move about the entire castle unseen. The small holes allowed the guards to listen in, and to look for a signal from the laird of trouble, then burst through the door and "resolve" any problem. Quite a system!
EILEAN DONAN CASTLE:
After leaving Eilean Donan, our next stop was the ruins of Urquahart Castle (pronounced urk-hart) on the shores of famous Loch Ness. Urquahart is interesting because of its setting -- you can explore the ruins and looking for Nessie at the same time -- and because it was destroyed by its owners -- highlanders who were on the run after the highlander uprising and preferred to destroy their castle rather than have a non-highlander live in it!
MORE URQUHART CASTLE RUINS:
We left the ruins of Urquahart Castle and drove up Loch Ness (no, we did not see Nessie), past Inverness -- the main town in the Highlands -- to Castle Stuart, our accomodations for the next 2 nights.
We instantly fell in love with Castle Stuart! It was built in 1625 and consists of two towers connected by the large main part of the castle.
CASTLE STUART DRIVEWAY:
THE HAUNTED TOWER:
THE ENTRANCE TO ONE OF THE TOWERS:
CAN YOU FIND THE HIDDEN DOOR?
THERE IT IS!
Caroline also explained why the entryway to rooms often have low ceilings with deep passages -- someone walking through a low, deep passage cannot pull his sword out and attack the person on the other side!
ROGER COULD NOT POSSIBLY PULL OUT A SWORD WALKING THRU THIS ENTRY:
We climbed the 99 stairs of the tower to our room, then up a little more to the rooftop for a view of the highland countryside, then settled in front of the fire.
That evening, the guests (12 people) gathered in the drawing room for pre-dinner drinks, then a bagpiper called us to dinner:
THE DRAWING ROOM:
We had a wonderful meal with great company and were surprised with a birthday cake for Roger, along with a crown, cape and sword to cut the cake:
We had a fun evening, then snuggled into bed and tried not to think about the ghosts in the other tower...
Monday, October 15
The next day, we toured the highlands, including Fort George -- which was built in the 1700's as an outpost to help squelch the Highland uprising and still functions as a fort today -- and Culloden -- where the last battle was fought on British soil and where the Highland uprising was put to rest. We also went to Clava Cairns -- a small collection of "standing stones" and burial crypts from the 1100's and before. Fans of the Diana Gabaldoon novels will note that there is split stone at Clava Cairns...
THE STANDING STONES AT CLAVA CAIRNS:
THE BURIAL CRYPT AT CLAVA CAIRNS:
We returned to Castle Stuart and learned that there were no other guests that night – we had the entire castle to ourselves! We toured the castle grounds, hung out by the fire in the drawing room, had dinner like kings and queens (at opposite ends of a huge table), had after dinner drinks by the fire in the drawing room, had dessert in front of the fire in our room, and then turned in for the night. Having a castle and staff all to yourselves is really neat – but a little creepy when you have been told that it is haunted!
We reluctantly said goodbye to Castle Stuart and the highlands and headed south, through the Cairngorn Mountains (hills, really) into the Perthshire area of Scotland – whisky country! We stopped at Blair Castle and explored the castle and the grounds...
...then headed to the cute, quaint little tourist town of. We wandered around , and asked where we could find some whisky – something you cannot buy in the states – and were told to go to Edradour smallest distillery.
We drove through idyllic countryside and eventually found Edradour – a rustic, charming, picturesque, old-fashioned distillery located in the hills above. Edradour was built in the early nineteenth century and proudly boasts that it has not changed in the last 170+ years.
We bought some "House of Lords" whisky – which is specifically made for the House of Lords, and can only be bought at the distillery or from the House of Lords.
We drove through countryside of rolling farmland, dotted with ancient castles and farm/manor houses, then down a winding country lane and found our lodging for the next 2 nights – Kinnaird Estate. Kinnaird is a large country home / sporting estate that has been converted into a small hotel, with only 9 rooms, set on 7,000 acres. It is gorgeous!!!
We settled in, explored a tiny portion of the 7,000 acres, relaxed, and then had pre-dinner drinks and appetizers in the drawing room, followed by a fantastic meal in the dining room, then dessert and after-dinner drinks in the drawing room, followed by us waddling upstairs and collapsing into bed!
The next day, we explored
That night, we did "the usual" – drinks and appetizers in the drawing room, followed by a fabulous dinner, then drinks and dessert in the drawing room (just like home!), then they rolled us into bed.
THE DRAWING ROOM AT KINNAIRD:
Wednesday October 17
We reluctantly said goodbye to Kinnaird – with its gorgeous setting, amazing food, and incredible service – and hit the road. We drove to the city of Stirling and visited the monument to William Wallace (made famous to us Americans by
THE WALLACE MONUMENT:
We left the Wallace monument and headed across town to
THE MONUMENT AT STIRLING CASTLE TO ROBERT THE BRUCE IN THE FOREGOUND, WITH THE WILLIAM WALLACE MONUMENT IN THE BACKGROUND:
We left, wandered around the countryside a bit and then headed to Edinburgh airport for our flight to . We flew to that evening, spent the night near the airport, and then caught our business class flight home. We flew home in the lap of luxury – a few rows away from and her entourage (no Bobbie Brown tho).
I must say, we fell in love with. It was everything we had envisioned, and more. The history, the castles, the people, the scenery, the architecture – it was enchanting! We even had pretty decent weather – for !
A FEW MORE PHOTOS...
WAITING FOR THE FLIGHT HOME:
ANOTHER BAD HAIR DAY IN SCOTLAND:
SOLUTION TO BAD HAIR DAYS -- A HAT!
DOES ROGER LOOK LIKE HE IS PEEING IN THE FOUNTAIN?