Friday, June 03, 2011

Scotland - A Vicarious Vacation

Street musician
on Princes Street
in Edinburgh
Since Hero and I are faced with a “staycation” this year, I decided that this summer on my blog I’d occasionally revisit some of the lovely places we’ve traveled in other years. Today, I’m talking about Scotland.

Hero and I love the UK and Ireland. Twice we have been on tours to Scotland, and loved both times. Of course, we'd love to return there anytime.

My favorite place in Scotland was Edinburgh. The last time there, we stayed in a fancy-schmancy hotel that we wouldn’t have been able to afford without the tour rate. It was only two blocks off Princes Street (The Royal Mile and the main tourist street that runs beside the castle) in a converted luxury townhouse. The hotel faced a small private park, just like the one in the movie “Notting Hill.” The only sign this was a hotel was a small brass plaque beside the door and red carpet on the steps. Otherwise, it looked like a private home--unless you went around to the back and saw the building's extension and the tour bus.

Businesses on
Princes Street
 Edinburgh has long been a center of learning and business. The castle is amazing, but quite an uphill walk. was first built by King David I who ruled between1124 to 1153 and it grew in importance during the reign of the Stewarts. James III, who lived in it, extended it in the mid 1400s, building the palaces around Crown Square. The Great Hall with its ornate wooden ceiling, which now houses a collection of weapons and armor, was built by James IV in 1511. During Napolean’s times, fearing an attack, the seven storied “New Barracks” was constructed on the western end to house 600 troops.

Edinburgh Castle sits
on a massive stone hill
 Not much remains today of the earlier structures and the oldest building in the castle is St Margaret’s Chapel, a tiny 900 year old Norman building. It is the oldest building in the city that is still intact. One can also see the tiny room where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to James VI. The Crown Room exhibits the Crown, Sceptre and Sword of Scotland. A gun called the One O’ Clock Gun is fired every day except Sunday at precisely 1:00 pm for the city to check its time.
One could spend an entire vacation in this city and never see all the sights. Whenever you ask directions, you’ll be told, “It’s not far, just a good stretch of the legs.” Hero and I had to buy an additional suitcase on our last trip. Following those directions, we walked until I was ready to drop. After we bought the suitcase, we took a bus the several miles back to our hotel. Good stretch of the legs, my eye!

Hero and I
at Loch Ness
 Because Fraser is one of my family names, I had wanted to visit Aberdeen and the nearby Fraser estate. Nope, tour didn’t go there, but it didn’t matter. Later I learned our Frasers are from Inverness. I should have done more homework before our trips. We did go to Inverness.

And to Loch Lomand for a boat ride and my first taste of Bailey’s Irish Cream. We thought it funny that Irish liquor was served instead of whisky. But we’d already toured a distillery and sampled whisky there.

Scots cottage in the Higlands
 Both hero and I are of mainly Scot-Irish ancestry. In St. Andrews, we were walking along looking in shop windows for a good place to buy a particular type teapot. As I looked up, cold chills shot over me. Walking toward me was an apparition of Hero’s mom, as if she had stepped from a photo we have of her at age twenty-eight. In the picture, my mother-in-law is standing on the steps of her home, wearing a housedress, and holding baby Hero. The woman walking towards me didn’t have a baby, but otherwise looked exactly like my mother-in-law, complete with a retro dress and red hair. I wish I had stopped her and asked about her family, her surname, etc. Instead, I was frozen, staring at her until she’d passed us. I jabbed Hero and asked him what he thought of that woman. He turned from the shop window and asked, “What woman?” I’m sure she was real though. Our luck, several other people on the tour saw Sean Connery, but I only saw a doppelganger for my mother-in-law.

What remains of Urquart Castle,
see catapult and wall in right foreground
Most of the cattle in Scotland are unusual to a Texas native, except for the Angus. I loved the long-haired red native cattle and could visualize rievers making use of a full moon to steal a rival’s herd. Oh, surely not my family, of course. Yeah, right.

One of the saddest places we visited was Glen Coe, which is where the Campbell clan betrayed the McDonalds, from whom I am descended. The tour guide said, “And you yanks eat their soup!” But the second time we were there, the cast of “Monarch of the Glen” were filming and staying at the same hotel as our tour. I’d never heard of the show then, but watched it several times after we returned home.

Of course, the very saddest place was Culloden. If you are empathetic, you won’t be able to stay there long. Like any major battlefield, it closes in on you due to all the strong vibes from the past. I was disappointed it wasn’t visually remarkable, but it is just a field with a small museum, a marker, and a small cottage.

We were fortunate on one trip to see the heather blooming. On another, the gorse was full. We barely missed being caught in an early snowstorm in the Highlands. Both trips were in September because that and May are our favorite times to travel and miss the crowds.

Lock Ness, home of Nessie
We almost missed our tour bus because we spent so much time in the Nessie Museum at Loch Ness. It was worth a scolding from the tour director, though. I loved the loch and learning more about Nessie, in whom I definitely believe. Hero is a skeptic, but I think he secretly believes, too.

A piper in a kilt plays near Loch Ness’ Castle Urquart and apparently has become a tradition.

The first time we were there, a group were building catapults as a test of medieval battle techniques. Later, we saw the episode on the Discovery channel.

On each trip and trips to England, we've tried to visit Hadrian's Wall. Some event always prevents us seeing that site. That means we have to go back, right?

This concludes our brief tour for today. I’ll do another country in a couple of weeks. In the meantime, if you haven’t been to Scotland, I recommend it!


Michelle @ The True Book Addict said...

Man, I really want to go there! These are awesome pictures. Makes me want to go all the more. Thanks for sharing!

Park and Fly Edinburgh said...

This is an amazing post. The photos are very good as well.
It seems like you've had quite a trip around Scotland.
Edinburgh is a wonderful city and the view from Castle Rock is just amazing. I recommend to anyone who goes to Edinburgh to go and see the castle.


Coco Ihle said...

Carolyn, I enjoyed your "tour" of Scotland. It brought back many fond memories of trips there. When I go, I like to vary accommodations, one or two nights in a B&B, historic hotel, and ancient castle, make for a really interesting visit. And I like the countryside better than the cities. Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your "tour." I enjoyed it too!

Brenda (we both also have ancestors from Scotland)

Avery Michaels said...

I want to go to Ireland and Scotland desperately! So I am doing it now vicariously through your posts. Thanks, Carolyn!

Sandra Crowley said...

A fun and informative post, Carolyn. Hope you get to go back again, and maybe you'll take me with you. lol

Thanks for sharing.