23 July 2011

Vacation: The Road to Stirling

After leaving the Isle of Skye, we drove to Glenfinnan on the side of Loch Shiel.

The loch has been featured as the Black Lake in some of the Harry Potter movies. Another site in Glenfinnan that can be seen in the movies is the Glenfinnan Viaduct.

The viaduct was built between 1897 and 1901 out of concrete, even though it looks like stone.

I also climbed the Glenfinnan Monument.

The monument was erected in 1815. It was built to honor the raising of Bonnie Prince Charlie's standard on a nearby hill in 1745.

The opening to get onto the ledge was extremely tiny, and more terrifying to climb back down rather than crawl out.

But the views were spectacular!

Traveling on, we drove through Glencoe - a stunning area of Scotland.

The weather went from sunshine to heavy rain in a matter of moments on a fifteen-mile stretch of road.

We spent the night in Inverary and visited the Inverary Jail. The jail consisted of a courthouse, the old jail and the new jail.

The old jail, built in 1820, had no heat or ventilation and eventually became overcrowded and unsanitary.

The new jail, built in 1848, was a model prison upon completion. It included heat, ventilation and room for exercising in foul weather.

One of the cells contained a hard labor machine.

The convict was required to turn the crank 14,400 number of times a day. A dial on the side of the machine kept track. If the warden was feeling particularly cruel, he could tighten the handle and make turning it difficult.

Visitors are allowed to try this machine, so I did. It wasn’t tough work for the two times I turned the handle, but it would become boring and exhausting very quick.

When we left Inverary, we drove past Loch Lomond. The day was dreary, and there weren’t enough pull-outs on the side of the road to take a photo.

We arrived in Stirling that afternoon.

14 July 2011

Vacation: On the Isle of Skye

Our first stop on Skye was a grocery store. Mom was amazed to discover that the use of a shopping cart cost one pound.

Needless to say, we chose to use a handheld basket.

One of the things Mom and I enjoy doing on trips to other countries is to stop in a grocery store or department store and look for differences. We also try to buy some cookies or candy or potato chips that are not available in the United States.

Since we were in Scotland, I bought an Irn-Bru, which is a Scottish soda.

Drinking it was a unique experience - it smelled like Big Red, looked like Sunkist and tasted like orange-flavored Sprite. Not bad, but not what I was expecting.

After our brief visit to the grocery store, which wasn’t all that spacious - about the size of a large house, we drove on to Greenacres, our bed and breakfast in Portree.

For supper that night, we went to Portree and ate at a hotel in town. I had beef stew with neeps and tatties - otherwise known as turnips and potatoes - and discovered I really liked the turnips.

On our first full day on the Isle of Skye, we set out - with Mom driving - to search for Kilmuir Graveyard and Duntulm Castle. These proved a bit difficult to find, especially since the road we were on was narrower than the car, included passing places every 500 feet or so, and was in worse shape than the gravel road I grew up on. But this road was blacktopped!

The road also went up the side of a hill, so Mom and I were convinced we were going to die. It was as scary as Independence Pass, especially when the cars we met coming from the other direction refused to slow down.

We survived but only just.

To take our minds off that awful road, we drove to Dunvegan Castle, the home of the MacLeod clan chiefs since at least the 1500s.

The best part of this castle was that it had a dungeon in it. A real dungeon! The prisoner would be dragged up to the third floor, shoved into a little room and dropped down a hole (or maybe forced down a ladder, but I saw no ladder) into the pit.


On another floor, there were some back stairs from the kitchen. Along the wall was a small slit that allowed the smells of the food to waft into the dungeon so the prisoner could get a whiff of the food he would not be eating and cause further torment.


That’s punishment.

We also wandered around the grounds of the castle. Even though it rained off and on while we walked through the grounds, the flowers glowed.

We saw rhododendrons in colors we didn’t even know they could.

Next we drove down another narrow road (but not as narrow as that earlier road!) to find Knock Castle. This castle is a ruin on the side of the road and not set up for tourists. Mom had read something online that said you could walk up to it and explore at your own risk. But we couldn’t figure out how to do this.

The Isle of Skye’s scenery is breathtaking.

It seemed to change as the color of the sky changed - dramatic with gray storm clouds, peaceful with bright blue sky.

We visited another hotel restaurant for hamburgers. Mom and I were hungry for one at this point in time. Unfortunately, they weren’t cooked all the way through. The manager comped our meals, but we were still wanting a hamburger.

The next day we visted Armadale Castle - a ruin with only walls and a staircase remaining.

Perfect. I loved this place. The view of the sea was stunning.

The grounds were amazingly beautiful.

And there were even peacocks!

After that visit we took the ferry from Armadale to Mallaig and back to mainland Scotland -

which sounds odd considering we were going from one island to another.

10 July 2011

Vacation: The Road to Skye

We picked up our rental car and traveled out of Edinburgh toward Birnam to see the Birnam Oak. Once we arrived, parked and paid to go to the bathroom (and to park), we walked through town and down to the River Tay.

We stopped at a little tea shop and discovered Earl Grey Blue Flower tea. Delicious! Even Mom, who does not like hot tea, loved it.

After some fits and starts, we found the trail for the Birnam Oak. The path wound by the river and eventually, after Mom sat down to rest, I found the tree.

Actually I found two trees - the Birnam Oak and the Birnam Sycamore.

The Birnam Oak is a relic of the Birnam Wood, which is referenced in William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.” It is entirely possible that Shakespeare himself saw the Birnam Oak. It is 24 feet in circumference.

The Birnam Sycamore, at 25 feet around, is actually larger than the Birnam Oak. However, it is estimated to only be about 300 years old.

When we left Birnam, I drove to the Highland Folk Museum. A living history museum that includes a recreated 1700s village.

The houses were so dark inside! Not even a candle to help you see. I had to use the flashlight app on my cell phone, so I wouldn’t trip over any furniture or holes in the earth floors.

There was also a recreated school from the 1930s.

While teachers in England used the cane, teachers in Scotland used the strap. The interpreter popped the strap on the floor for us, and it sounded like the crack of a bullwhip. Very loud and scary.

The school day lasted from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and students were required to bring a peat brick every day for the fire.

Then I drove on to our hotel - The Loch Ness Clansman - on the side of Loch Ness. We did not see Nessie.

The next day we visited Urquhart Castle.

The earliest parts of the castle date from the 1300s. The views of the castle, Loch Ness and the surrounding countryside were spectacular. We spent much more time at Urquhart Castle than we really planned, but it was so lovely. Mom and I loved it.

I drove on to Eilean Donan Castle, which is one of the most photographed castles in Scotland.

Eilean Donan was built between 1912 and 1932 by members of the MacRae clan. It includes a memorial to those clan members who have died in the Great War.

Once we left Eilean Donan, walking past a busload of French-speaking tourists at the entrance, we took the bridge over to the Isle of Skye.