Thursday, August 30, 2018

Bonnie Scotland Part II

Just when you think things can't possibly get any better they do!
Our time in the Highlands of Scotland have been just fantastic.

My plan for Scotland is the first mistake that we feel I made in planning this trip.
I should have planned more time....
Much more time....

But as P.T Barnum once said: "always leave them wanting more."

So now we will have to return to Scotland.
We want more of the Tattoo, and we want more of Scotland.

As I hinted at in our last post - our drive from the lowlands to the highlands was great.
Alternating between lakes, forests and moors, it never got routine or boring.

A-82 South of Bridge of Orchy
Heading north thru the Glencoe Valley, this area was used in the filming of Braveheart.
You can see that Autumn is already starting to paint the hillsides with splashes of color.

A-82 Glencoe Valley
Our home in Ballachulish was fantastic.
All the amenities plus.
The house was the cleanest place I've ever stayed in.
It was soooo clean - one day I set out trying to find some dust.
On top of doors, pictures, windowsills.. you name it.
I could not find a speck of dust anywhere! 
Our Air BnB in Ballachulish Scotland
One of our new friends on the Queen Mary 2 warned us about the narrow roads in the UK,
and when we first arrived I saw what he meant.   The roads are really narrow and driving on the left
only complicates the matter.

But when we got out into the country side I really started to understand what he meant!
Many of the roads are barely wind enough for two cars to pass - and they have a 60 mph speed limit.

Then....  some roads are one-lane.
Now I said one-lane  - not one-way.

Many roads in the highlands are single track roads that have wider spots strategically placed.
These wider spots are called "passing places"

Prior to getting on these roads, I read up on the etiquette and rules about using these roads
so that when i found myself on one - I would not be a total rube.

One-Lane Scottish Roads
It was good I learned the rules of the road before getting on them as you can see below.
(this road was much wider than some)

The Connel Bridge over Loch Etive
A one lane bridge controlled by a traffic light that alternates directions.  
One-lane  Connel Bridge
Just outside our door in Ballachulish was the beautiful Glen Coe.
One of the prettiest valleys in the Highlands. 
Glen Coe
Running off of the Glen Coe was the Gen Etive.
We took a dead end 1-track road up the valley and back. 
Glen Etive
Another side trip took us to Kilchurn Castle
Built in the 15th Century it served as the ancestral home of the Campbells of Glenorchy
who dominated the Central Highlands for over 2 centuries.
Kilchurn Castle
Now owned by Historic Environment Scotland, it is free to visit.

Kilchurn Castle
 We also got up close and personal with a Highland Cattle.
These hairy critters produce exceptional beef and are well suited for the extreme conditions here.
This hairy lass did not take a great liking to Gracie however and tried to give her "the horn"

Highland Cattle
One night we went to the local pub in Ballachulish - The Laroch Resturant & Bar.
The chef is Michelin Starred and the food was out of this world.
Our total bill was about £50 and that included a couple of pints of Guiness!

Our 4 nightsand 3 days passed by all to quickly and it was time to move south
to our next home in Eyemouth, Scottish Borders.

We had made two big circle trips from our home base in Ballachulish.
One to the west and one to the east.
One day was a couch potato day and long long work day for me.

We are glossing over most of what we did here in the interest of brevity and
simply because the short time that we were here was not enough to try
and give you a fair taste of what this place is about.

The Highlands remind me much of Alaska... with more people and better Scotch. 

It was a gloomy wet day as we motored our way south, but I still had a surprise for the day.

A visit to Doune Castle just a short detour off of our route.

Outlander was filmed at Doane Castle, and parts of the castle were recreated in
a studio set where filming on site would have been too destructive.

Kate is a big fan out the book and series so it was a special treat for her.

Here is an aerial view of the castle.

Courtesy Andrew Shiva / Wikipedia
Approaching the castle from the parking lot.

Doune Castle
Owned by Historic Environment Scotland, there was a small entrance fee which included
an audio guide that we listed to as we roamed about the castle.

Below you can see the enormous size of the kitchen fireplace.
It was over 17' across and could roast an entire Oxen.
On either side were ovens for baking bread.
Kate can stand inside the firebox without any problems.
Doune Castle Kitchen Fireplace
One wall of the kitchen has these pass-thrus where food was passed to the servants
who ran it across the corridor to the Great Hall where the banquets would take place. 

Doune Castle Serving Windows
Below the Great Hall where guests would feast on said Oxen.
At one end of the hall was discretely placed latrines where guests could take care of
what ever business was necessary in order to get back to feasting in minimum time.

Doune Castle Great Hall 
Upstairs in a separate part of the castle was the Lords Hall where 
Medieval Justice would be dispensed.

Doune Castle Lords Hall
Do I need to comment on the photo below?
She made me do it!

Around 4pm we were rolling into our new digs for just two nights.
A comfortable loft on a farm outside of Eyemouth Scotland.
We were only a few miles from the English Border. 
Eyemouth England
Next to our loft was a Goose Farm.
Today a Goose...
Soon - Christmas Dinner.

Goose Farm Eyemouth England
Our loft at Alemill - Eyemouth, Scotland.
Compact, but cozy, clean and quiet.

Air BnB Alemills / Eyemouth England
The gentleman renting the flat below us was from Germany who's hobby was metal detection.
Working with a permit from the UK he takes a scientific approach to his work.
He comes to our flat every year, several times a year, for weeks at a time.

We saw him go out in the am and later that night he came home and seemed excited.
It turned out he had found a coin from the 1300's.
He showed us his other finds on this trip which included medieval buttons, 
as well as artifacts from the Romans.

Circa 1350 Coinage
He meticulously documents locations, numbers and bags everything and then turns it all
into a museum near his home in Hamburg.

Seal in Eyemouth Harbor
On Monday (Aug 27) we went into Eyemouth to visit the harbor.
Famous for his harbor seals, visitors toss fish for them to feed. 

Tuesday the 28th we had to move on to Morpeth, England.
It was only a short hour drive away and we could not get in till 4 pm 
so I had some side trips planned.

The first was to Berwick Upon Tweed, the northernmost town in England.

Berwick upon Tweed
An historic town located upon the River Tweed, due to its strategic location and proximity to
Scotland it has seen its share of warfare, and changed hands between the two countries over a
dozen times in his history.

It has safely been in English hands however since 1482

Below, the Royal Border Bridge carries rail traffic over the River Tweed as it has since 1850.

Royal Border Bridge Berwick upon Tweed
Our destination in Berwick upon Tweed was the Ramparts.
Built during Medieval times, and then the inner walls (shown here) during the 1500's
These inner walls I suspect is one reason why Berwick upon Tweed has remained English.
Ramparts - Berwick upon Tweed

Ramparts - Berwick upon Tweed
The walls completely encircle the town center and we walked about 3/4 of the ramparts. 
Ramparts - Berwick upon Tweed
Leaving Berwick upon Tweed we then visited two castles on the way to our
next home away from home... another castle.

Over all it was a very pleasant day of outings but those castles and more are
going to have to wait till our next post.

Before we go however - here is a teaser for our next time.

We are currently staying the the castle shown below.
It is the first of several more to come!

It is the real deal, built in 1340.
Famous inhabitants included Margaret Tudor, the sister of Henry VIII,
who stayed here in 1513 after the death of her husband James IV, King of Scotland.

We have the castle and grounds all to ourselves.

Then after this castle, we move on to another that figures prominently 
into the life and times of Henry VIII and Cardinal Wolsey.

We'll have that castle to ourselves as well.

Below, our home...  Morpeth Castle.
Morpeth Castle our current home.

Next post....
Castles, Castles, and more Castles!

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Bonnie Scotland - Part 1

Hello there Lads and Lassies!
We are now in Bonnie Scotland and bonnie it tis!

After leaving West Stowe Hall, we traveled up thru the middle of England,
crossed into Scotland and settled for a week at a wonderful cottage in the Scottish
countryside about 20 miles southwest of Edinburgh.

After that week, we've now moved further north to Ballachulish
(Balla Who Lish)
in the Highlands of Scotland.

Our trip to get here is shown on the map below.

Trip map Brugge, Belgium to Ballachulish Scotland
Entering Scotland the first geographic area we enter is the southern uplands, a hilly area that
contrasts quite dramatically with the flat or rolling English Countryside that we had been 
driving thru for several hours.

About 30 miles or so further north the hills moderate into the rolling countryside of the
Scottish lowlands.   These two areas occupy the lower 1/3 of Scotland and contain most of the population.

Rolling hills of the Scottish Lowlands
Our drive was georgeous, and we passed some really idyllic country homes.

Scottish Country Home
Soon we arrived at our home for the next week in Dolphinton, Scotland.

Our driveway
A cozy stone cottage with walls that were about 2' thick,  we were greeted by our
hosts who turned out to be the most interesting and wonderful people.

Our hosts had the most amazing life stories and we spent many hours enjoying our visit
with them and hearing of their interesting exploits.

Our Cottage in Dolphinton, Scotland
Surrounded by sheep farms it was a peaceful place to spend the week.

It had this heavy metal stove powered by heating oil.  It had two ovens, and a cooktop.
You had to turn it on and let it heat up.
It also provided heat for the house.   They are quite common here.

Here you see the cooktop.  Just a large flat metal plate that you place the pots on.
Different areas of the cooktop are different temps so you have to learn where the hot and cool
spots are located but once you do they are quite easy to use.

Making toast on the stove top
We had a great back yard and the dogs just had the best time running around in the lush grass.

There were a pair of miniature shetland ponies, a Jack Russel Terrier, and some chickens
roaming about as well so there were plenty of diversions for the pups.

On Sunday our hosts invited us to the local Church of Scotland service in the village.
It was in an old stone church and a small congregation of about 20 people.
Houseguests of theirs from Sweden were also going and it was promised that
it would be interesting and fun.

The photo below - our hosts are on the right, and yellow sweater next to Kate.

Our hosts and other guests from Sweden

As visitors from the US we were warmly welcomed by everyone in the congregation.
One of the Swedish guests played Amazing Grace on the Organ
(Amazing Grace was written in swedem)

The Royal Edinburgh Tattoo

Our whole trip was planned around being in Edinburgh during the middle of August so
that we could attend The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo
and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe - both of which run all month.

Tickets for the Tattoo can be difficult to obtain so I had a reminder in my calendar to
pop up when they first went on sale last December.

I opted to go all out and get one of the special packages which included dinner at
the Cannonball Resturant right next to the castle, a private performance by Tattoo Cast members,
followed by an escort to our premium seats avoiding the long que to get in.

We left the house about 3pm for our 5 pm dinner.
The plan was to have some time to walk around before dinner.
I had installed the Lothian Bus App on my phone and had e-tickets so we were all set

We arrived at the Park & Ride just a minute before the #47 bus.   We hopped on the bus
and with hardly a wasted step we were on our way to the city center.

Perfect timing right?
Well not so fast....

After a couple of minutes on the bus - it dawned on me that I left our Tattoo Tickets on
the console in the car and that we needed them to get thru security.

So we had to jump off the bus at the next stop - quickly walk back 2 miles to the car
(in the rain that had now started)
My bus app showed that if we hurried  - we could get the tickets, catch the #37 bus, and
still be in time for our dinner reservations.

So - we retrieved the tickets,
 just made the #37 bus,
got off the bus at the proper stop,
walked 15 minutes to the Cannonball restaurant,
 and arrived with 10 minutes to spare.

Its nice when a plan B comes together!

Contini Cannonball Resturant
Our dinner consisted of Smoked Salmon,
Fried Haggis Balls,
Highland Venison,
followed by a Scottish Double Cream Raspberry and Pistachio Poisset desert
topped of with a dram of a fine Scottish Single Malt.

During dinner we were entertained by performers from the upcoming Tattoo.

After dinner we were escorted to our seats and settled in for the 100 minute performance that
operated with military precision and timing.

The dramatic backdrop of Edinburgh Castle looms over the Esplanade as the 
performance beings right on time.

Massed Bagpipes enter the Esplanade thru Edinburg Castle Gate

The performers were a mixture of Military Bands, Pipers, and civilian performers from
countries from all over the world.

Some of the performances included:

The Central Band of the Czech Armed Forces, 
one of the best military band ensembles in the world.

Central Band of the Czech Armed Forces
The combined Bands of the Royal Calvary of the Sultanate of Oman

Combined Bands of The Royal Calvary of the Sultanate of Oman
The Jaquares Marching Band from Mexico

The Tattoo Dancers
Accompanied by bagpipes and bands.

And  - some of the Revolutionaries returning to the mother country...
The Middlesex County Volunteers from the US

Middlesex County Volunteers Fife & Drums

The US Air Force Honor Guard Drill Team

Towards the end of the show - a fireworks display while the show continues.

Finally, the entire cast assembles for the grand finale and the march out of the esplanade.
Last off of the field was the massed pipes playing Scotland the Brave and The Black Bear.
It was truly a dramatic exit and fitting cap off to an amazing night.

The massed cast of the 2018 Edinburgh Royal Tattoo
 I've put together a short video of the pipes marching out to give you just a taste.

After the Tattoo, we took the bus back to the park and ride, picked up the car and
by midnight were back home to our cozy cottage.

The next day we were back in Edinburgh to visit the rest of the attractions.
Since August is the Festival Fringe - there is much going on in the old city.
The fringe defies easy description.  Its an eclectic art festival - but more.

They describe it as follows:

"The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the single biggest celebration of arts and culture on the planet. 
Every August for three weeks the city of Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital, welcomes an explosion of creative energy from around the globe.

With 53,232 performances of 3,398 shows in 300 venues in 2017 
there are quite literally thousands of reasons to visit the Edinburgh Festival Fringe."

There are venues all over the city like the Gem Show in Tucson, but is related to the arts.
Street performers are on every corner and in-between.

Edinburgh Fringe Festival
We walked the Royal Mile, watched the street performers, visited many of the shops
and just enjoyed the fine sunny day.

Street performer at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

A Tattoo Bagpiper Performs at the Fringe.
Later we walked back up the Royal Mile and visited Edinburgh Castle.

Edinburgh Castle Photo Courtesy The Edinburgh Reporter

I had purchased my tickets on-line so we were able to avoid the long que for tickets.

Edinburgh Castle
There was much to see at the castle, which still serves as headquarters for some
Scottish Military Units.

We found the prisoner of war prison to be especially interesting.
Prisoners from the American War of Independence were held here.

Of of the doors has a early depiction of an American Flag carved into the door.
(see it middle left just below the metal hasp)

The castle sits on a volcanic hill and towers above the city and commands an impressive view
of the surrounding country side.

After the castle - we headed back for the bus but first stopped for a late lunch/early supper.
What was on the menu???

Haggis balls in a consume on a bed of mashed potatoes.

Kate enjoys one of our new favorites - Haggis
Another day we took an hour drive to the east coast south of Edinburgh to the town of Dunbar.

Besides being the birthplace of John Muir - the father of the US National Park system, it
also it the home of the Bellhaven Smokehouse.

We wanted to get some smoked salmon that was served at our dinner as it was the absolute best
smoked salmon that we've ever had and this is where the restaurant sourced it.

We then went into town to visit the ruins of Dunbar Castle which sits at the harbor.

Once one of the most formidable castles in the UK, it was ordered destroyed in 1567
by the parliament of Scotland in response to a rebellion

Dunbar Castle Ruin
Part of the castle was lost when the second harbor at Dunbar (below) was built.
New Harbor Dunbar, Scotland
An interesting local fact.  John Paul Jones, the father of the US Navy was born in Scotland.
During the war for independence he raided shipping up and down Great Britain.
On time - supposedly for some slight in his past life in Scotland - Jone, while sailing
by Dunbar, ordered several cannon shots into the town.

After this "attack" on the town - the installed a 16 gun half moon battery to protect the town.
Since then - it has never fired a shot in anger.

Well our week was up and it was time to say goodbye to our wonderful hosts,
and this peaceful location and head north to the Scottish Highlands.

It was only a 3 hour drive and we had some time to kill, so I found a self service dog wash
along our route in Glascow and stopped in to give the dogs a mid-trip scrubbing.

Gracie gets a bath

Lucy gets her turn too
After a bit of the rub a dub dud we continued north.
Our route took us up the Bonnie Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond.

Loch Lomond is made famous to us Yanks by the song
"You take the high road and I'll take the low road..."

We drove up beautiful route A82 thru Glen Coe to our next home for 4 nights in
Ballachulish on Loch Leven.

A82 in the Scottish Highlands near Black Mount

We'll use this place as our base for some quick explorations of the highlands.
I now wish I had also booked more time here in the highlands but we'll need to
save that for the next time.

Next post:  Bonnie Scotland - Part 2