A Romp Through Scotland 

Continued from the Tartan Times

On day five, we were eager to begin our road trip. Of course the first thing one must do is practice driving on the “wrong side” of the car and the road!!  Watch those curbs!  Our Volvo was so wide, that when I took a turn, I inevitably scrapped the curbs from time to time – astonishing my passengers and myself.  Jerry proved to be the better driver. (When Sue and I later arrived in Ireland, we rented a narrower car!)

Drummond Castle Gardens

Drummond Castle Gardens

Jerry with Volvo

Jerry with Volvo

Tearoom Haggis

Tearoom Haggis

William Wallace Monument and Museum

The National Wallace Monument (generally known as the Wallace Monument) is a tower standing on the summit of Abbey Craig, a hilltop near Stirling. It commemorates Sir William Wallace, our 13th-century Scottish hero.  Sir William Wallace, who died in August of 1305, was a Scottish knight who became one of the main leaders during the Wars of Scottish Independence.  

Along with Andrew Moray, Wallace defeated an English army at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in September 1297. He was appointed Guardian of Scotland and served until his defeat at the Battle of Falkirk on July 1298. In August 1305, Wallace was captured in Robroyston, near Glasgow, and handed over to King Edward I of England, who had him executed. Since his death, Wallace has obtained an iconic status far beyond his homeland. He is the protagonist of Blind Harry's 15th-century epic poem The Wallace and the subject of literary works by Sir Walter Scott and Jane Porter, and of the Academy Award-winning film Braveheart (1995).  Needless to say, Mia purchased numerous souvenirs for the Wallace members of her family in the gift shop, as we all did!  Next, we were on to Drummond Castle!

Drummond Castle

Drummond Castle, located in Perthshire, Muthill Parish, is known for its gardens, described as the best example of formal terraced gardens in Scotland. The castle comprises a tower house built in the late 15th century, and a 17th-century mansion, both of which were rebuilt in Victorian times. The gardens date to the 1630s, although they too were restructured in the 19th century, and were one of Mia’s favorite sites. As a fourth grade school teacher, Mia’s a botanist and landscape architect at heart, and found the gardens heavenly.

The lands of Drummond were the property of the Drummond family from the 14th century, renovated by several generations of the Drummond family, with the first terraced garden constructed in the 1630s.

Cathedral of Saint Andrew

University of Saint Andrews

University of Saint Andrews

While Jerry and Mia explored and played on the beach at the seaside university, Sue and I lamented over the cathedral ruins surrounded by the dusk fog. The Cathedral of St Andrews, built in 1158, became the center of the Medieval Catholic Church in Scotland. It fell into disuse and ruin after Catholic mass was outlawed during the 16th-century Scottish Reformation. It is currently a monument in the custody of Historic Scotland – a very elegant, ancient structure indeed...

Old Course at St Andrews

As all good Scots know, the game of golf was invented by Scots, and nearly every town offers a free course to its inhabitants today. The Old Course at St Andrews is one of the oldest golf courses in the world, a public course over common land in St Andrews. The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews club house sits adjacent to the first tee, although it is but one of many clubs that have playing privileges on the course, along with the general public. The Old Course was pivotal to the development of how the game is played today. For instance, in 1764, the course had 22 holes. In modern times, the 29 Open Championships that the Old Course has hosted is more than any other course, and the Open is currently played there every five years.

In1457, James II of Scotland banned golf, because he felt that young men were playing too much golf instead of practicing their archery. The ban was upheld by the following kings of Scotland until 1502, when King James IV became a golfer himself, and removed the ban. Here, here!  The Old Course is also home of The Road Hole, the par-4 17th, one of the world's most famous golf holes. Jerry forfeited his game, agreeing that we must drive south before it got too very late.

Anstruther

A Chicago-based travel agent had assured me that, once away from Edinburgh and Glasgow, reservations would not be necessary.   “Just stop driving at 5:00 pm and look for a B&B,” he had said.  On our first night on the road, we learned that this was not the case.  Having walked around and watched some golf at St. Andrews, we headed down the eastern coast for dinner at the Anstruther Fish Restaurant (touted to have the best fish and chips in all of Scotland) and to spend the night. The food was tasty at the small diner, where other tourists joined us in our simple meal.

While munching on the traditional fish recipe, we inquired about inn availability.  Sold out, we were told.  The inn keeper made a few calls for us, but everything was taken in the area.  Deciding to drive north along Fife Ness and the North Sea, we were faced with no vacancy signs where’ er we looked.  We had remembered passing an isolated B&B on B9131 Road and decided to try our luck.  Our good fortune must have led us there, as the B&B proved to be configured from a former railroad station, complete with jolly inn keepers, who were quick to welcome us. Its name was The Old Station Country House.  Quick studies that we are (ha), we were quick to make B&B reservations for all future nights of the trip.

Glamis

Having failed to do our homework adequately, we found the Glamis Castle gates closed and locked to tourists, at the time of our arrival.  After a brief council among ourselves, we were off to Balmoral, as not to lose scarce, precious time. Although the castle was closed, all was not lost, when we ventured upon The Strathmore Vintage Vehicle Club. Through the commitment and dedication of its members, the club is recognized for its preservation and restoration of historic vehicles and to establishing the history behind them. The antiques building, open to the public, was exactly what Jerry needed from a technology perspective. We girls had to literally drag him away!

Sue at Balmoral Castle

Sue at Balmoral Castle

Balmoral Castle is a large estate house in Royal Deeside, Aberdeenshire. Balmoral has been one of the residences of the British Royal Family since 1852, when the estate and its original castle were purchased privately by Prince Albert, consort to Queen Victoria. They remain the private property of the royal family and are not the property of the Crown.

In 1931, the castle gardens were opened to the public for the first time, between April and the end of July, after which Queen Elizabeth arrives for her annual stay. The ballroom is the only room in the castle that may be viewed by the public.

Jerry at Culloden Battle Monument

Jerry at Culloden Battle Monument

Inverness Castle

Inverness Castle

Inverness is of particular interest to me, as I have clan family origins there.  Inverness is located at the mouth of the River Ness and is the administrative center for the Highland council area.  It’s regarded as the capital of the Highlands of Scotland. Inverness lies near two important battle sites: the 11th-century battle of Blàr nam Fèinne against Norway which took place on The Aird and the 18th-century Battle of Culloden which took place on Culloden Moor. The Gaelic king Mac Bethad Mac Findláich (MacBeth) whose 11th-century murder of King Duncan was immortalized in Shakespeare's play Macbeth, held a castle within the city where he ruled as Mormaer of Moray and Ross.

Inverness College is the main campus for the University of the Highlands and Islands, with around 8,500 students. In 2014, a survey by a property website described Inverness as the happiest place in Scotland. Inverness was again found to be the happiest place in Scotland by a new study conducted in 2015. The cuisine and ambiance at the Mustard Seed Restaurant was to die for, and Jerry, a business owner who plays in a rock band as a hobby, enjoyed taking his wife Mia to a local club, Hootananny, afterwards. “… and then out for a stroll along Inverness’s romantic Riverwalk,” added newlywed Mia.

The Battle of Culloden was the final confrontation of the Jacobite rising of 1745 and part of a religious civil war in Britain. On April 16, 1746, the Jacobite forces of Charles Edward Stuart (our bonnie Prince Charlie) were decisively defeated by loyalist troops commanded by William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, near Inverness in the Scottish Highlands. The conflict was the last pitched battle fought on British soil. A Flora MacDonald museum is featured near by.

Loch Ness

Loch Ness is a large, deep, freshwater loch in the Scottish Highlands extending for approximately 23 miles southwest of Inverness. Ness is best known for alleged sightings of the cryptozoological Loch Ness Monster, also known affectionately as "Nessie". It is connected at the southern end by the River Oich and a section of the Caledonian Canal to Loch Oich.

…and wouldn’t you know that Mia would bump into the Loch Ness monster scientist, Adrian Shine, PhD, while breakfasting there!  He has often been afloat in his yellow submarine, and still in search of Nessie!!  Boat cruises operate from various locations on the loch shore, giving visitors the chance to look for the "monster" themselves. Picturesque Urquhart Castle is located nearby on the western shore, one mile east of Drumnadrochit. As we headed toward the great isle of Skye, the views along Loch Ness were both dreamy and breath-taking. 

Mia with Adrian Shine

Mia with Adrian Shine

Connie with submarine

Connie with submarine

Mallaig

Having made our lodging reservations so late in the game, all hotels and B&Bs were sold out on the Isle of Skye. Fortunately, we were able to land a nice B&B in Mallaig, a port in Lochaber, and just a short ferry ride from Skye. Mallaig prides itself on its famous traditionally smoked kippers and is a popular area for holidays. The majority of the community speaks English, with a minority of residents speaking both English and Gaelic. In addition, traditional Gaelic is still taught in the school to pupils who choose to learn the language. I received very little sleep in the lovely place, as it was 24/7 mating season for the gulls, an extremely noisy affair!

The Mallaig railway was used during the filming of the Harry Potter series of films, and the Hogwarts Express has often be seen in the summer during periods of filming. The 1996 film Breaking the Waves was largely filmed in Mallaig and the surrounding area, and the beach scenes of Local Hero were filmed at Morar and Arisaig, a few miles to the south.

Isle of Skye

Shortly after disembarking from the ferry in Skye, we turned our Volvo toward Kyle of Lochalsh to view the romantic Eilean Donan Castle. We lunched and shopped in Armadale, then drove the winding roads to Uig. Skye is the largest and most northerly major island in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. The island's peninsulas radiate from a mountainous center dominated by the Cuillins, the rocky slopes of which provide some of the most dramatic mountain scenery in the country. The island has been occupied since the Mesolithic period, and its history includes a time of Norse rule and a long period of domination by Clan MacLeod and Clan Donald. About a third of the residents were Gaelic speakers in 2001. Flora MacDonald, famed for saving our Bonnie Prince Charlie, was born in Castleton, Skye, with her husband Alan being from the MacDonald Clan in Kingsburgh.

Mia at Eilean Donan Castle

Mia at Eilean Donan Castle

Dunvegan Castle

Dunvegan Castle

According to Clan MacLeod tradition, Leod inherited some of his lands from a foster father, who was a sheriff of the Hebridean island of Skye; other lands he inherited from his father-in-law, who was also a lord on Skye. MacLeod tradition states that Leod was the father of four sons and two daughters. Two of these sons founded the two main branches of MacLeods; branches which exist to this day—Tormod (from whom the MacLeods of Harris and Dunvegan descend) and Torquil (from whom the MacLeods of Lewis descend).

The spectacular interiors of the castle have been preserved for public viewing – a must see for all Skye tourists. The formal and pastural gardens go on for miles, and are magical in appearance at every turn.

To my surprise, Loch Dunvegan is the home of a vast seal colony!  While Mia and Jerry spent additional time in the rapturous Castle gardens, Sue and I elected to take the exhilarating boat trip from the castle to the seals. To our very great delight, literally hundreds of seals were found basking in the sunshine on the islands, along with some native Arctic Tern and Sea Eagles. “Such fat seals!” exclaimed Sue.  Our guide explained that 90% of the female seals were advanced in their seasonal pregnancies, and were awaiting the births of their offspring. Cute, cute, cute!

Dunvegan Garden

Dunvegan Garden

Dunvegan Castle

Dunvegan Castle

Armadale Castle

With my great grand parents MacGowan linked to the MacDonalds of Skye, Armadale Castle was also on my bucket list. Since 1925 the country house castle, abandoned by the MacDonald family, has fallen into ruin. The gardens around the castle have been maintained, and are now home to the Clan Donald Center, which operates the Museum of the Isles. The structure stands in solemn testimony to a glorious age gone by surrounded by sumptuous gardens and a fabulous museum.

Alas, we didn’t make it to the Isle of Lewis, the fairy ponds, or the Outer Hebrides. All are certain destinations for our next visit to Skye.

Fort William

While traveling to Fort William, Sue suddenly shrieked, “My cows!! Turn around – we just passed some Hiland Coos!!”  Sure enough, Jerry turned the car around, where Sue promptly jumped out to snap her beloved, noble cows, who were dozing lazily in the warm Scottish sun.

Highland Cattle

Highland Cattle

Fort William is the second largest settlement in the Highlands of Scotland with around 10,000 inhabitants. The town’s a major tourist center, with Glen Coe just to the south, Aonach Mòr to the east and Glenfinnan to the west. It is the center for hillwalking and climbing due to its proximity to Ben Nevis and many other Munro mountains. It is also known for its nearby downhill mountain bike track. Around 726 of the inhabitants speak Gaelic. When gazing at Ben Nevis, Scotland’s highest mountain, Jerry stood in reverence and pride. “Next time, I’m going to climb it!” he swore! 

Fort William is the second largest settlement in the Highlands of Scotland with around 10,000 inhabitants. The town’s a major tourist center, with Glen Coe just to the south, Aonach Mòr to the east and Glenfinnan to the west. It is the center for hillwalking and climbing due to its proximity to Ben Nevis and many other Munro mountains. It is also known for its nearby downhill mountain bike track. Around 726 of the inhabitants speak Gaelic. When gazing at Ben Nevis, Scotland’s highest mountain, Jerry stood in reverence and pride. “Next time, I’m going to climb it!” he swore! 

Inveraray Castle and Gardens

Inveraray Castle and Gardens

Castle rooms on the two lower floors are open to the public. Its collection includes more than 1,300 pikes, muskets, swords, and other weapons most of which are ornately displayed on its tall interior walls. The Duke and Duchess of Argyll and their family live in private apartments occupying two floors, and set between two of the castle's crenellated circular towers. It is surrounded by a 16-acre garden and an estate of 60,000 acres.

Besides welcoming visitors to the castle, the estate's activities include commercial forestry, tenanted farming, wind and hydro power and deer hunting. In 2012, the Christmas episode of Downton Abbey was partly filmed here; the castle stood in for the fictional "Duneagle Castle".

After departing Inveraray, with a morning flight to Ireland, it was back to Edinburgh to spend our last night!  Upon returning to Chicago, one thing I know for sure: one of those Isle of Skye fairies, that I sensed was peeking out at me from behind a wee Skye yellow bell flower, must have accompanied me home…because there, growing in my front garden in Illinois, was a purple flowering thistle plant to greet me upon my return!

We visited these and so many other glorious sites while in Scotland.  …impossible to discuss them all here, or to do our great country of Scotland justice… If you’re interested in a romp through our beloved homeland, perhaps a group trip, I’m game. Let me know if you need some free advice, or… we’ll organize a group to go again!  

Slange to all!  Connie Nestor, ISAS Member and Volunteer