Page updated on June 9, 2017
Scotland Tour (under construction)
May 21, 2017 - June 1, 2017
Group departure from Minneapolis / St Paul International Airport - overnight trans-Atlantic flight - to Edinburgh via Newark.
05/22/2017 Edinburgh - National Museum of Scotland, Ocean Terminal
Arrived early morning, picked up the Hyundai beast-van and started practicing driving skills on the narrow streets of Edinburgh. Blindly turned the right direction into the city, drove to city center and then circled around to see what we could see. No idea where to park, eventually found a spot near the grounds of Holyrood Palace and studied the map awhile safe from the rain. Princess Anne was in residence, so no visiting the palace this week. Went back into city and lucked into a parking spot near the National Museum of Scotland. It was a struggle figuring out how to pay for parking via mobile phone. Wonderfully interesting museum, but lack of sleep caught up to us before we could finish. Off to find the lodgings (Holiday Inn Express - Leith) to get a quick nap before dinner with a harbor view in the nearby mall (Ocean Terminal), also the home of the royal yacht Britannia. Also the first ATMs - worked for Dave, but Darryl had to phone home to get things going.
05/23/2017 Edinburgh Castle, Royal Mile
The Holiday Inn Express gave us a big breakfast while we watched a very well-behaved school group from Belfast line up outside for their day's exploring. Then it was hop on the city bus back to city center to see Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Mile district. Riding the bus gave us a good view of several neighborhoods, a peek at the Princes Street Gardens, and 287 steps uphill to the Castle. It's a very impressive view from the castle walls high over the city in all directions. The one o'clock firing of a modern cannon got everybody's attention. Historically, a cannon was fired to allow ships to set their clocks correctly for navigation purposes. Done at one o'clock instead of noon because it's cheaper to fire one shot instead of twelve. Scots have a reputation for thriftiness!
Lots of history to be learned here about defending a castle over the course of many battles and a number of rebuilding projects as weaponry evolved. Most of the afternoon was spent wandering down the Royal Mile directly east, with many wool and cashmere shops that needed to see us. Also spent some time at St Giles' Cathedral, the very large and beautiful mother church of Presbyterianism. At the bus stop near the end of the Royal Mile, we met Lottie, an English transplant, who rode the bus with us and helped us find a place for dinner (The Shore), as well as the path back to the inn afterwards. Stayed again in Edinburgh.
05/24/2017 Linlithgow Castle, Robert Burns Birthplace Museum
Another day, another castle. Another breakfast, another orderly line of the Belfast kids off to tour. We jumped in the van and headed out to the countryside to find Linlithgow Castle. Should have picked a vehicle with GPS, but thank goodness that Darryl and Melanie had phones with working GPS most of the time. Even a smallish village has parking challenges mid-week in the off-season. Had to park at the other end of town and hoof it back and up the hill to the castle. Actually could have parked right next to the castle but didn't find out till too late. This castle is missing some of its roof and its walls, but was built for partying and was very showy. The splendid courtyard has a large fountain in the center decorated with all sorts of figurines, some playful and some threatening. The nearby church is topped by an unusual sculptured metal spire that doesn't match the ancient building beneath it.
Since we were half way across Scotland by now, it seemed fitting to go all the way to the west coast and Ayr to the birthplace of Robert Burns, Scotland's national poet. The Robert Burns Birthplace Museum includes his childhood cottage, gardens, and the cobblestone bridge Brig o' Doon, as well as a more traditional museum setting. We happened into a lecture on Burns and the renaissance period for mathematics, music, and culture put together by a museum volunteer for other museum volunteers. Melanie just loved it! Back all the way to the east coast and Edinburgh for another night at the Inn. We're learning that travel in Scotland is more about time than distance.
05/25/2017 Stirling Castle, Pitlochry
Another day, another castle. Last breakfast watching the Belfast kids line up. Stirling Castle, a few miles to the west, also sits on a hill overlooking the countryside. It has a statue of Robert the Bruce out front and a great view of the large William Wallace monument standing atop another hill not too far away. Stirling Castle also gave usFrank the tour guide with the tartan pants and tie who was dramatic and funny and understandable despite an impressive, possibly exaggerated Scottish accent. It's a castle still in very good shape, again with many remodels in its lifetime. It was a favorite location of the kings and considered critical to possessing Scotland, so there were many battles and seiges over hundreds of years of rich history. There were many halls and rooms to explore as well as the guns on the walls and gift shops.
After leaving Stirling, we wandered back east to visit the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews. Actually, not the club buildings so much as the old course itself, where the 1st and 18th holes are adjacent and see lots of on-lookers. Darryl walked a wee bit more of the course to absorb some of the good karma. Barack Obama came to play the following day, but we were already gone. No evidence of extra security preparation while we were there.
On the other end of town we visited the ruins and cemetery of the St Andrews Cathedral which is mostly gone except for part of one wall, the front and back spires, and foundation stones for the missing portions. The sheer size of its footprint is an indication of how magnificent it must have been when new and active. There's also a St Andrews Castle, but we'd already seen one castle this day.
We stayed in Pitlochry this night, which turned out to be our favorite town for its charming appeal. We visited it twice on purpose, and a third time to retrieve an item left behind. This was our first stay at a bed and breakfast, the Craigroyston House & Lodge, a wonderful place perched only a block above town but with a view to the surrounding countryside beyond it. Very nice! The first bite of haggis and first Guiness happened at Victoria's. After dinner we window shopped through town though the stores were closed for the day.
05/26/2017 Glasgow, Riverside Museum, River Clyde
And the second bit of haggis was part of Darryl's surprising breakfast order at Craigroyston House. Sister-in-law mischief was alleged. Due to creeping dislike of too much car time, the itinerary this day was modified to eliminate some roadside sight-seeing and we headed straight for Glasgow while trying to figure out what we would do there. Fortunately, we discovered the Riverside Museum of Transport and Travel, which focuses on transportation technology. So there were many generations of motorbikes, cars on the floor and walls and stacked to the ceiling, several railroad locomotives, subway cars, part of planes and airport gear, and many, many highly accurate scale models of actual ships that sailed around the UK, both friendly and not.
A tall sailing ship was anchored just outside the museum for folks to board and imagine sailing the ocean in what is still a relatively small and exposed space.
Before leaving, we jumped on a RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat) for a high-speed (hang on for dear life) ride along the waterfront of downtown Glasgow where we saw interesting architecture in both buildings and bridges. Also saw a couple of new military patrol boats under construction.
We learned that traffic in downtown Glasgow is the worst in Scotland, so as we approached rush hour, we headed away for the night's stay a bit outside of Glasgow proper, the Holiday Inn Express Strathclyde Park in Motherwell. Dinner was at the nearby Toby Carvery which is not for vegetarians.
05/27/2017 Loch Lomond, Inverary Castle, Oban
May 27 is the best day of any year, but even better when tootling along the beautiful shores of Loch Lomond, one of the most popular destinations in Scotland, where the road follows the loch for 20 miles. But we forgot to actually stop and soak in the views because the off-season road traffic was incredibly busy. Maybe every Saturday is like that!
On to Inverary Castle, because somehow we missed visiting a castle the previous day. We didn't get to meet the Duke of Argyll, but he has a fabulous home with gorgeous gardens. His castle is not designed to be as war-ready as the previous ones we had visited, possibly because it is further from the population centers and transportation crossroads. But it is in much better shape than most, maybe because the Duke's family lives in the upper portion.
We did a lot of driving along lochs today, before and after Inverary Castle - beautiful mix of water and mountain views around every turn. Our destination for the day was Oban and the Glenview Guest House which was fine, a bit older, though on the main road in front and a view of the parking lot in the back and a bit of a walk to the harbor and downtown. Dinner was at the Olive Garden (no relation to the U.S. restaurant chain).
05/28/2017 Glenfinnan Church, Nessie, Urquhart Castle, Inverness
Our breakfast at the Glenview included conversation with an interesting gentleman who was likewise traveling about. Originally from Finland and now living in Canada, he seemed to be a student/teacher of religious practices, having just returned from months of studying with a shaman in Guatemala. Since it was Sunday, our first destination was a little country church in Glenfinnan, which overlooks Loch Shiel. Up until about five minutes before the scheduled service, we were the only ones in church. But soon there were many more, including the kilt-clad gentleman sitting behind us. Father Andrew seemed overjoyed to have visitors from Minnesota and Montana for the service.
We headed northeast towards Inverness, but first we encountered the famous Loch Ness. Our eyes were sharp but our luck was poor - Nessie must have been swimming near the far shore.
Halfway along Loch Ness was our daily castle fix - Urquhart Castle, a castle in ruins with spectacular views. Still no Nessie in sight, but more interesting history. Before abandoning the castle, the last defenders blew up their stored goods and part of the castle to avoid leaving anything useful for their enemies.
And after another longish day of driving across the country, we arrived in Inverness and our home for the night, the Armadale Guest House (one room on the main floor, one in the attic). Dinner that night was a short walk across and along the River Ness to Johnny Foxes.
05/29/2017 Strathpeffer, Rogie Falls, Eilean Donan, Isle of Skye
Best breakfast of the trip at Armadale Guest House! Nothing unusual, just tasted fresher and better. This was the day we went beyond the range of the phone GPS maps - more real navigating. We were headed from east coast to west coast again, but didn't want to repeat the previous day's route, so picked a more northern path less traveled. This took us close to Strathpeffer and Castle Leod, the seat of Clan Mackenzie. This castle, while needing some restoration, is home to the clan chief, John Mackenzie, the 5th Earl of Cromartie, and wasn't open to visitors. But we got a feel for the neighborhood as we passed through.
A wee bit past Strathpeffer was a refreshing stop at Rogie Falls. A short hike through the woods down to the Black Water River revealed a group of teenagers on a field trip, trying to bounce the suspension bridge and climb rocks down to the water. But cool and pretty even if not a major waterfall. We needed the break, because what followed were a couple hours of two-way, one-lane highways dashing between wide spots in the road where vehicles could inch by each other safely. We may not have understood all the etiquette required in this process.
One of the trip highlights was certainly Eilean Donan Castle, picturesque with a stone bridge over the tidal lochs that separate the island castle from the shore. This was an earlier Mackenzie castle, so of particular interest to us. It had been occupied by the MacRae clan on behalf of the Mackenzies for long periods and, in 1911, the island was purchased by a MacRae who began the restoration that makes it look so good today.
Okay, we'd checked off two Mackenzie neighborhoods this day and it was getting time to find our place to sleep on the Isle of Skye, a large island off the west coast of Scotland, connected by a high bridge. Near the middle of the island is Portree and several miles west was our destination, the Skeabost House Hotel. It was the only place we found to stay in this area and turned out to be a four star hotel in the middle of nowhere. Yippee! We decided to eat there as well and enjoyed wonderful meals, including that sticky toffee dessert.
05/30/2017 Old Man of Storr, Portree, Isle of Skye, Kyle of Lochalsh
The Old Man of Storr, a craggy rock formation that stands halfway up a mountain northeast of Portree, was a destination hike for Darryl - despite the cold, wind, and rain. The clouds were low on the mountain that day as well adding to mysterious-looking view. Rumored to be a 3-hour hike, Melanie and Dianne were dropped off in town for shopping opportunities and Dave drove Darryl out to the starting point, then took a nap. Darryl did not waste time and make the hike in under 90 minutes.
Back to Portree early without working phones or an agreed upon meeting time proved frustrating because there was no parking available downtown and endless circling was fruitless. A couple of wider circles didn't help, but another couple of swings through downtown and we were re-united. Time to go get lunch and calm down.
The mountains and ocean and windblown landscape make Isle of Skye a dramatic vista. We decided to tour around the northern end of the island before heading back to the east. A stop at hidden Lealt Falls let us take a short hike off the road where the dramatic cliffs, crashing ocean far below, distant mainland, and darkening clouds really grabbed you, not to mention the fierce wind also pushing against you. Miles and miles of ocean and mountains and cliffs around every turn. And picturesque cottages every so often in charming contrast to what looks like a desolate place to live.
Our stopping place for the night was Kyle of Lochalsh, just over the high bridge when leaving Isle of Skye. And of course we stayed at the aging Kyle Hotel, which was surprisingly hard to locate in this small town. But some of the most spacious parking of any place we stayed was out back. We fell for the "better make a dinner reservation soon" approach, but dinner at the hotel was fine. Ice cream cones for dessert across the street after a little stroll down to the water to peer at the castle across the loch as well as the bridge from a distance. No shopping - this town closes early!
105/31/2017 Last day to tour Scotland
WeFollowing breakfast, check out from your hotel, return flight home.
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Holiday Inn Express Edinburgh - Waterfront Britannia Way Ocean Drive Leith Edinburgh EH6 6JJ United Kingdom
|Tel: 44 0 8719021610|
Tel: 011 353 91 592108
|Tel: 011 353 61 478 700
Fax: 011 353 61 364 891
|Oban||Tel: 011 353 (0)64 66 21100
Fax: 011 353 (0)64 66 21111
|Inverness||Tel: 011 353 21 4274040|
|May 30||Kyle of Lochalsh|
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