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UK/Scotland Trip of 2002 - Page 6


View of Loch Ness from above Urquhart Castle

Close-up view of the keep from within.

Loch Ness - Tuesday, April 2, 2002

This has been a wonderful day - the best so far! The weather, although colder and windier, was much nicer than predicted and we had sunshine most of the day.

Our train trip from Edinburgh to Inverness was over a variety of localities. Despite some trepidation from our bridge designer (LeAnne), we got partway over the historic Firth of Forth Bridge before the others noticed. The track was smooth and sounded like solid ground.

We traveled next to the Firth of Forth for a while after crossing the bridge. This started a spate of hilarious 'Who's on Firth' and "That's the fifth forth" form of comments from Cindy and Kevin. I've often wished I could tape record their conversations and that one was a classic! It didn't help knowing that we were in the county of Fife!

Fife was a lot more industrial than I pictured, but it was still a mixture of commercial, residential, farmland and natural habitat. Before reaching Perth, we saw the Firth of Tay, which prompted Cindy's "fifth firth" quip.

Up until Perth we were virtually alone in the first class carriage and could talk as much as we wanted. People joined us at Perth in business clothes, including one woman who was constantly on the phone despite the tunnels that cut her connection. It got old.

We began to venture into the varied scenery of the Scottish Highlands. I quietly pointed out MacBeth's extensive Birnam Wood as we traveled through it. The mountains had grown and were snowcapped. They were breathtaking. Killicrankie Pass reminded me a bit of New England. Cindy spotted white Blair Castle, although we didn't get a clear view because of the vegetation. The Pass of Drumochter was awe-inspiring, surrounded by snowcapped mountains and braided streams which brought Alaska to my mind. LeAnne wanted to see some shaggy Highland Cattle, which she spotted just north of Kingussie. Spey-side was pretty countryside. Drummossie Moor was bleak and sodden. The area around the battlefield of Culloden was more populated and drier than I expected.

We quickly found a young taxi driver after arriving at the Inverness train station. He crammed our luggage in and took us to the airport, pointing out the landmarks to find our way back.

Kevin checked out the car. We put the superfluous stuff into the vehicle and went back into the airport for a bite of lunch.

As for Kevin's driving - despite the ribbing we gave him, he did a fantastic job. He was thrown into the deep end, having to navigate traffic circles, constructions zones, freeways and city driving within his first ten miles, but he did a fine job. He said his biggest problem was trying to get comfortable with the amount of car he had to the left of him.

We pulled off at the first lay-by on Loch Ness. I dipped my toe in the water and Cindy touched it. That didn't seem to bother Nessie since she didn't make one of her rare appearances to inspect us. I collected a stone from the shore. The rock is very red and reminded Kevin and I of the coastline of Lake Superior.

Urquhart Castle is the most commercialized spot on the loch. A cold sharp wind picked up about the time we stopped, so Kevin and I went down alone to explore the ruins. We got great pictures. Checking the gift shop, we stumbled on a reproduction of 'The Captured Unicorn' that we saw them weaving in Stirling Castle yesterday. I bought it as a souvenir of both places.

The drive along the Great Glen was very scenic and better than I imagined. Another fun part about the drive was that at last we were "alone" while exploring and felt free to cut loose with commentary, quips, jokes and observations. Freedom!

Our favorite hotel, the Glenspean Lodge,
in the Highlands of Scotland.

Taken at dusk as the clouds move in, looking toward Ben Nevis from our Dining Room window.

And then there was the Glenspean Lodge. The moment we saw it there was a collective gasp of delight and then joyous laughter. It is perfect! Well, maybe not quite perfect. No lift for our heavy luggage. But the exterior is charming, the interior fresh and delicate, the view of the kingdom's tallest peak Ben Nevis inspirational, and the food superb.

LeAnne and I had chicken with peppercorns; Cindy and Kevin had medallions of beef. Scrumptious!

At the end of this meal in an idyllic setting, we girls looked at each other, then told Kevin he was being treated. He tried to argue at first, but he was badly outnumbered. We'd been planning on picking up the tab at some point for the extraordinary work he put into this trip, and it was hopeless to convince us otherwise.

My room is far more spacious than the other rooms I've had. I have a queen-sized bed, many cozy chairs and a small desk. The bathroom has a lot of luxury touches from the sewing kit to the choice of spray handle to use in the shower.

My computer plug-in would insert, but the computer wouldn't go on. It's back to handwriting. Sigh!

Sheep graze in the highlands.

Cindy inspects the historic cemetery of Cille Choirille.

Glencoe, Balquhidder - Wednesday, April 3, 2002

Started the day at 8:30 with a full Scottish breakfast; eggs, tomato, bacon, sausage, and black pudding. I was full long before I was finished. Tried the black pudding, which was rather nondescript in flavor.

The day was misty with extremely limited visibility. We couldn't see Ben Nevis. In other words, it looked roughly the same as Mt. McKinley when I "saw" it in a misty shroud in Alaska! Come to think of it, Mt. Washington in New Hampshire was clouded over too. At least the name Ben Nevis gave me a warning. One translation of the word "nevis" is "clouds".

Our first stop was the graveyard of Cille Choirille, a recently renovated 14th century church that Cindy and Kevin found on near the top of a nearby mountain. Many of the leaders of the last Highland Uprising of 1745 are buried there. The view was wonderful. Even with the Scottish mist, the mountains were beautiful.

The air had cleared up a bit by the time we reached Glencoe - enough to give that fearsome landscape with its brutal past a more forbidding aspect. Those awesome vertical rockfaces rise up more than 3000 feet. The valley became an icy trap in February of 1692 when members the MacDonald clan were massacred by their guests, soldiers led by Robert Campbell. The MacDonald chief had been five days late in proclaiming loyalty to King William III. The king and MacDonald's enemies used it as a pretext to exterminate the clan, foreshadowing the elimination of the clan system.

I wanted to go to the Glencoe Visitors Center. We missed it the first time through, so we went back through the pass to find it. It was closed, but we got some pictures of the tumbling River Coe nearby. Later I found myself wondering if the center had been closed during the height of the Foot and Mouth Disease precautions a year ago and never reopened. It had the air of sudden desertion.

The River Coe tumbles through the glen, cold and swift.

Awesome, brooding Glencoe.
This photo was taken at the foot of Signal Rock toward Aonach Dubh.

LeAnne spotted a couple deer grazing high up the mountains. By the way, the hills were open range, so sometimes one saw sheep on the verge of the road, munching.

Bleak Rannoch Moor looked like a landscape on another world. I'm so grateful we had passable weather for it. My fears of trying to pass over Rannoch Moor when it was unfit for travel was assuaged when I spotted gates to close the road off in inclement weather. This whole section reminded me of Alaska and Denali National Park in the United States for very good reasons!

We ate lunch at Crianlarich, then drove into Rob Roy country.

Kevin happened on signs at Balquhidder for Rob Roy's grave, so we drove back a couple miles to it. Parked there was a touring coach for backpackers. Their guide was giving a talk on Rob Roy and demonstrating how to put on an old-fashioned kilt. One had to set it on the ground and roll. Fascinating! I got photographs. The guide pointed out that the slabs covering the graves of Rob Roy, his wife and two sons were taken from other graves: Knight Templars! (It looked like a great tour. If you're into hiking, I'd look them up.)

The setting was beautiful and very peaceful, but no Liam Neeson. Drat!

The graves of Rob Roy MacGregor and his family, using "borrowed" tombstones.

The simple, beautiful kirk of Balquhidder.

We got back to Stirling in good time to catch the train, although it was too full to sit together. I sat next to a jazz guitarist who practically lived on the train, juggling gigs in London, Edinburgh and Stirling. He reminded me a little of a boyfriend I had in college.

LeAnne and I took a cab back to the hotel from the train station. The driver asked us where we were from in the States.

"Wisconsin? My brother-in-law is a cheesehead." (For those unfamiliar with the term, Wisconsin is a leading US producer of cheese. Somewhere along the way, backers of our sports teams took to wearing hats which look like wedges of cheese, hence the term "cheesehead". Now the term simply indicates a citizen of the state of Wisconsin.)

LeAnne and I burst out laughing, hearing it from a Scotsman. His sister, he went on to say, had met her Wisconsinite husband while working as a nanny on Long Island. Her charge? The children of Sean Connery. What a tiny world!

We had supper on our own (I wasn't hungry, but the others enjoyed eating at Subway) then we met at LeAnne's suite to discuss tactics for tomorrow.




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