Thursday, May 15, 2014

Back in Edinburgh

Have we mentioned that we really liked Edinburgh? We started there, and it was great to wrap up our time in Scotland there. Coming back to a city where you know your way around (a bit), where you can finish up on a few things you had wanted to catch the first time around, and where you can return your rental car is a pretty sweet schtick. This time we stayed in a hotel near the railway station so we could leave early the next day, and we set off to pick up where we'd left off.

I'm guessing you know we're museum geeks by now... we'd shut down two already, and had a third opened just for us. The problem was that with the first one we'd shut down, the National Museum of Scotland, we'd only gotten through the first three floors that go through prehistory, the earliest humans in Scotland, and "Kingdom of the Scots". We had to FINISH! So we picked up where we'd left off, beginning with "Scotland Transformed", making it through "Industry and Empire", and wrapping up with "Scotland, A Changing Nation" right as they kicked us out for close.

Thankfully, it was still light out, so we had time to wander toward Arthur's Seat and make that lovely climb. Click on the photo to see MORE photos...

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

last bit of the car tour - Speyside

We spent the last two nights of our road tour in the valley that surrounds the River Spey. Like half the distilleries in Scotland are based here - we only had time to visit one (Cragganmore - because they have a cool-shaped still that Patrick wanted to check out).  Speyside was nice, and it was a great place to poke around. We got a lovely walk in - filled with lambs and flowers.

We also got to tour Speyside Cooperage - where they repair and make wine/whiskey casks. It's one of those arts that can't be done by machines... and it was just really neat to learn about and watch the artisans who keep the coopering craft alive.

We also had dinner at a pub called the Wash Tun where we met a really neat couple, Graeme and Lyn, from Queensland, Australia and had fun swapping traveling stories for the hour or so before the kitchen opened. We hope to visit them when we get to Australia - or have them visit us in Colorado!

More photos from Speyside: here.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Battle of Culloden

Telling us all about the battle - in this case - that the Victorians romanticized things a bit when they made memorials for the site!
We got so much fun advice from friends as they learned about our upcoming trip to Scotland. Not least was when our friend Beth suggested catching the museum and site of the Battle of Culloden.

This place really was neat - it not only included walking tours of the battlefield, but also had displays inside that included a timeline walk showing perspectives from both sides that fought in the battle, and a scaled map table that showed lights depicting the action during the battle as lines advanced and retreated... just really neat. More photos here.

Yep, that's our rental car... 
'Member when I mentioned our museum geekiness in my last post?

So - we got to the museum, did a tour of the actual battlefield, left to go check out a cheese shop (a.k.a. lunch!), and then returned to pretty much shut the place down.

Yup, some people close down the bars... we close down the museums...

Clynelish Farm

Ok, where was I? The last we left our characters, they were bashing about the very north-est north part of Scotland. Let's catch up...

As we began wandering south again, I started looking for B&Bs near Brora... and I hit the jackpot! Victoria and her hubby Jason run Clynelish Farmhouse B&B a working farm right next to the Clynelish Distillery.

We both agreed later that this was our favorite part of the entire trip. We stayed there two nights and both evenings ended up, tucked in next to the fireplace downstairs, snacking on wine and cheese, and talking with Victoria about farming, Scotland, and pretty much everything!

We liked Brora (the nearby town) too; we took a lovely walk along the ocean to see seals... and actually saw them! We visited Dunrobin Castle - we honestly meant to just stop by quick on our way to a long hike... and-we-just-couldn't-leave!

Now is as good a time as any to confess: I MARRIED A MUSEUM GEEK. AND SO DID MY HUSBAND. We don't seem to be able to stop by any historical place without both of us wanting to make sure we check out ALL the rooms and read ALL the informational displays. I guess it's a really good thing that we're both that way - but it does mean that there's no such thing as a quick run-through... anywhere!

One of the highlights of our time at the castle was a falconry show; they have a professional falconer on site and he shared amazing facts about falconry as a sport and about the individual birds in his care.
I added a bunch of photos here, with more descriptions of our times around Brora.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

utter north

So it was time to get north. Really north. Like nearly as northwest and northnorth and northeast as you can get on mainland Scotland. We also needed to touch the North Sea - just to say we'd done it.

Click on the collage for more photos and mini-blurbs of our loop - this part of Scotland was just incredible.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Single track

We left Portree and headed up the western coast. Essie, the proprietor at the Portree B&B, had told us about the highest highway in Britain - a single track that went over the mountains to Applecross and some of the best pub food in the country.

It was soooo good - though after the drive there, I wonder some of the taste had to do with just being glad to be alive.

Video clips:

And... photos of this drive... just fun

Friday, May 09, 2014

a bit a boot clan warfare

See this church? As we walked passed it we ran into an English couple who were birdwatching for corncrakes. We stopped to chat and learned a bunch about flowers and birds from them, and then they pointed back at the ruins we had passed.

"Do you know the story of that church?" 
"No, we liked the look of the ruins, though"
"It was burned down by the MacDonalds. They barred the doors while a bunch of MacCleods wee inside and burned them alive."
"Yes. And then the MacCleods came after the MacDonalds and killed every one of them."

Yup. Apparently it's called the Battle of the Spoiling Dyke

It really is amazing to think about... and sad.

Ballachulish and the Isle of Skye


So, Ballachulish (pronounced "balla-hu-lish) is actually far less famous than up-the-road Glencoe, but isn't it more fun to say?

Glencoe is famous for a massacre that occurred in 1692 - but also for the beautiful hills that surround it. We took an incredibly beautiful hike there, and wandered around an old slate quarry for quite a while.

Our Bed & Breakfast was run by John, who is pretty much just toying with the idea of setting up a B&B, so it doesn't even have a name yet. He made awesome food, had neat stories of his time in Australia, and also had cool themed art throughout the house. Our room overlooked the water so we were sad we were only staying a night before moving onto...

the Isle of Skye!

Wow. We were told that if we could catch the weather right, we would have the best views in Scotland at Isle of Skye. It's hard to compare awesome against awesome, but it really was incredible. We stayed at a sweet B&B called Almond Bank and Essie, the proprietor has lived on the Isle of Skye her whole life. We had to make sure we were there before she left for her Scottish folk dance class. We ended up spending a lot of time on the Waternish peninsula, and later went left for a beautiful walk near Dunvegan. Waternish had views, a place called SkyeSkins (where they process sheep skins!), and a yarn shop that dyes all of their yarn, much of it with plants harvested right there.

There are a ton of beautiful photos from our time in these two places: check 'em out here.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Rosslyn Chapel & Inverary (say it fast, roll the "r"s)

By Monday we were ready to get out of the city.


After spending over an hour in "queue", we were finally in our home for the next 1 1/2 weeks: a Vauxhall Corsa 1.2, complete with steering wheel on the right side of the car and manual transmission. Woo hoo!

Rosslyn Chapel

We wanted to head west, but our friend Shane had told us about this amazing chapel just south of Edinburgh called Rosslyn Chapel - so we just had to check it out. This one was established in 1446 and is also still an active place of worship. We spent several hours, wandering in and around the chapel and grounds. The carving is amazing, and flowers all around it were beautiful!
But, it was time to head west. We barreled through Glasgow and up along the shores of Loch Lamond before landing in...


Inverary was one of our favorite places. It's a small town at the top of the Kintyre peninsula. Turns out there's a beautiful, famous castle there (where Downton Abby was filmed - huh!), but down on the peninsula was a whisky distillery we really wanted to visit. One of the best parts was the bed & breakfast - The Claonairigh House (pronounced "cloon-er-ee"). We were met with tea, served grilled grapefruit and homemade rolls in the morning, and really had a great time talking with the proprieter Fiona.

The Springbank distillery tour was really fun and interesting - and a great place for a first tour. For one thing, they let us take photos! For another, it's the only distillery in Scotland that does the entire process, from malting the barley on, right on site. Our tour guide was... well, listen for yourself and you'll see how lovely:

Another highlight of our time here almost didn't happen - we debated about stopping by Inverary Castle, and ended up going for it as we were heading out. It was beautiful and interesting - a great place to wander about. Once again, they allowed photos, which not all castles do.

So... without further ado... click here for photos of our time in Rosslyn, Cambeltown, and Inverary. Next stop: Ballachulish! 

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Edinburgh - Take I

We're here!

It's funny to actually be here after all of the anticipation and planning.

Friday: arrival & first explorations

Our bed and breakfast is simple and clean. Claudia met us at the door to let us in and willing answer all of our questions. A lot of folks in the service industry here seem to be from other countries - it's so fun to try to decipher accents.

Had dinner at Tempus - a lovely restaurant and our waiter was from Poland. She had fun suggestions for enjoying the city while we were there.

One of the very highlighty-highlights was wandering the streets and just getting used to the idea that we really ARE in Europe... and then we wandered into an Irish pub that was actually in the middle of a sing-along! We sheepishly hovered till someone moved over and offered us seating, and ordered a pint each. We sat and joined in when we could. The quality isn't good - but listen for a bit of what we heard... so, so fun!

Saturday: the castle! and random Edinburgh meanderings

The castle is really just a cool place - amazing history, amazing stories. We had a 1/2 hour tour and then wandered about for hours. Both ended up being a great way to get to know the country a bit - knowledge that we get to build on as we spend more time here. Click on the photo for a few more pics.

We also did a bit of shopping - LOTS of woolen shops here and it's fun to try to get a feel for what is good quality, and what is there just for tourists (e.g. polyester kilts made in China vs woolen ones made here. And no, we're not actually kilt shopping!). We got to tour one place where they actually weave tartan fabric - very cool. 

Sunday: old church, cool museum, Wee Folk Club

We thought it might be fun going to a church in Edinburgh, and we picked  a beautiful cathedral called St. Giles. Turns out it was founded in the 1120s. For real. The really-cool part was that this church (and one of it's most famous churchmen, John Knox, was a huge part of the Reformation - so much of the history we'd been learning (and would keep learning about) centered (or would that be centred?) on this place.

After more fun times bashing about the city (I learned how to SPIN YARN! And we spent way-too-much time in the National Museum of Scotland) we wound up at the Wee Folk Club in the tiny basement of the Royal Oak pub. Really just neat times.

Here are a few photos of our time in the city: click here.

Friday, May 02, 2014


Sooo, there comes a time for all good newlyweds to go to Scotland. I think it only applies to folks married in Oct of 2013, so most of you are off the hook, one way or the other. But you still should try to get to Scotland at SOME point. For real.

We had planned to go since late last year, so when I got a job right before we left, we hoped there wouldn't be too much problem with a 2 1/2 week vacation. They let it go - yayy! So, it was unpaid vacation, of course, but we were glad there weren't too many problems with that.

We took off on May 1 and landed there May 2... a day of travel we'll never get back... until we return of course.