Travel: Scotland

The Journey Is The Destination

We are back from the epic road trip that involved the Lake District, the Scottish Highlands and the Isle of Skye.  Much to write about, many photos to share, you know the drill, it’s a backlog here when we’re busy experiencing life.

What a long day of driving, but, we were in Scotland this morning!

England Sites
Expat Observations
Hiking
Historic Sites & Monuments
Travel
Travel: England
Travel: Scotland

Comments Off on The Journey Is The Destination

Permalink

Scotland: Stirling and The Long Drive Home

We were in Scotland this morning! How weird is that? We had one last lovely drive through the Highlands. It was raining when we left Glencoe, but it quickly let up. It was surprising as we were driving out how quickly the mountains were gone. We were taking them for granted I think. We missed them when they were gone from our sight.

We met up in Stirling at Stirling Castle. We didn’t take the tour, just walked around the grounds and tried to get as far away from the group of annoying tourists. They were a group from the US who were singing religious songs at the top of their lungs clad in fluorescent yellow ponchos. The streets of Stirling leading up to the castle are idyllic. Cobble stone streets, many of the buildings built with similar dark colored stones. The castle in the center of the town rose high above on a rocky crag. Those cobbled streets wound in narrow switch backs to reach the top.

From here, we worked out a strategy for getting home. The plan, to drive through Northumberland National Park. We left the relative plateau of the lowlands and entered the rolling hills of Northumberland and large swaths of forests. Since we would be driving parallel to it for some time, perhaps a stop at Hadrian’s wall would be in order. We’ve been to Hadrian’s Arch in Athens, might as well cap it with a stop at the wall. It turned into a fly by of Hadrian’s Wall. If we had more time, I would have loved to hike along the suggested trails. But the long day of driving, after several long days of driving, I just wanted to get home. Perhaps there will be a next time and more time.

Two miles before we reached a service station, we needed to pull off to the side of the motorway to put the soft top back on. The skies were looking incredibly threatening. It would be the first time we needed the top on for the entire trip! Eventually this proved a good strategy, but the rain did hold off for quite a while. We ended up meeting our traveling companions part way at that service stop, completely randomly. We thought we would be way ahead of them. They were getting ready to hit the road just as we were pulling in the lot. We took our time leaving, doing things like rainx-ing the window, getting fuel. They had a least a half hour head start on us.

We entertained ourselves on this last stretch by texting our positions along the way. “We are looking for you! Where are you?” I imagined this is a sing song Bugs Bunny accent, but I doubt that’s how in translated in the text. Mile markers were counting down, they were in slow traffic and as luck would have it, they needed to make a pit stop to refuel. “We may catch up to them yet!” as I joked about our refueling stop strategy as if we were in an F1 race. Despite a 40 mile headstart we made it home seconds after they reached our house. Ha ha!

England Sites
Expat Observations
Historic Sites & Monuments
Musings & adventures
Travel
Travel: England
Travel: Scotland

Comments Off on Scotland: Stirling and The Long Drive Home

Permalink

Scotland: Highlands and Isle of Skye

What was intended to not be a day of driving turned into yet another day of driving.  We weighed our options and decided on heading out separately.  We would meet up at Eilean Donan Castle, regroup and make for the Isle of Skye.  On which we would drive a circular circuit going clockwise.

The drive to Eilean Donan was, again, incredibly lovely, through the Scottish highlands.  We drove right by Ben Nevis, at 4,409 feet it is the highest peak in the U.K.   The surrounding rocky range piercing the skyline.  The twisty roads are so well suited for a zippy sporty convertible.  I have to repeat the phrase that while driving through such an amazing landscape, the journey really is the destination.

Eilean Donan Castle was interesting, it stands on an island where three lochs meet.  The site has been occupied for 1500 years or so with the first fortified building erected in 13th century.  It has a long and colorful history and is the seat of the clan MacCrae.  It wasn’t the best castle we’ve visited, but there were certainly details of it that I loved.  All the built in window seats overlooking the mountains and water.  Each room had it’s own little fireplace.  And there were just so many little nooks and crannies to explore.

What I found most interesting was that as you walked through the rooms, with all the family photos on the walls and sitting on furniture, you really felt like you were in someone’s home.  Suzanne commented that it was like going through an “open house” of a property for sale.  I had to ask about the photos, who they were.  The room guard/guide explained that they were photos of the current owner’s family.  The matriarch, a MacCrae pictured in an oil painting above the fire place in the room, had five daughters, 20 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

The castle was the family home until the mid 1980’s.  They occasionally opened it’s doors to visitors from time to time.  But when it became obvious that the property would be more suited as a historic tourist attraction, the family moved into the servent quarters.  The castle is still used frequently for family gatherings, the matriarch will be celebrating her 80th birthday there next month and her oldest daughter recently turned 50.

We refueled with some soup and bread. Although I was curious about the Cullin Skink that was on the menu, my imagination was telling me it was probably something awful.  On the road again, we reached the Isle of Skye.  It was different.  Different scenery.  Flatter.  We stoppd a while to commune with the sheep.  Which made me wonder about a few statistics.  There are a lot of sheep, I mean A LOT of sheep on the Isle.  The general population of sheep is high across the whole of the U.K. but on Skye, it just seemed inordinately high.  I’m wondering about the ratio of sheep to people on this island.

The whole place,  at least the north west region we circuited, seemed rather barren.  I started also wondering what the species diversity overall was for the island (I need to look up some checklists for these statistics).   This apparent barrenness combined with the widespread large scale clear cutting of the pine trees was making me a little depressed.   Fields chewed to the nub and swaths of recently cut tree stumps does not paint the best picture of the island.  We decided we like the main land better and made the executive decision to head back to the mainland, where it was prettier, cutting our loop short.  It was the right thing to do.  We were able to get back to Glencoe relatively early and relax over dinner (and another football game, this time between two teams from Scotland).

Expat Observations
Historic Sites & Monuments
Travel
Travel: Scotland
Wildlife

Comments Off on Scotland: Highlands and Isle of Skye

Permalink

England: Lake District – Catbells; Scotland Drive

When planning for this trip into the Fells, I was having a hard time narrowing down what hike to do.  I knew we had limited time so it couldn’t be an expedition of epic proportions.  But I wanted to make sure we got to have a good hiking experience. There are almost too many choices, all good choices, all with excellent views, I was paralyzed with all the choices.  Until the answer came to me through watching a program on England’s mountains where the program host followed one of Wainwright’s walks.

I own a copy of “The Best of Wainwright’s Walks” and still had a difficult time deciding what to do.  His hand written notes, maps and illustrations are all inspiring.  And upon this visit I can understand why he spent so much time exploring and documenting this region of the country.  This program, however, made the decision easy.  How could I resist a hike described by Wainwright as, “the perfect walk for after dinner.”

Given our time constraints, we hiked up Catbells.  The inviting knob rises up along side Derwentwater Lake just a few miles from Keswick.  It looks small enough to tackle, but big enough to make it worthwhile rising 1,481 feet in one and half miles.  It was a short hike and had enough moderately challenging bits scrabbling up rocky faces  for us to really feel like we were getting the full Lake District Fells experience.   We were rewarded with lovely views, despite the wind and clouds, the sun was trying desperately to make an appearance.

Although it was a relatively short hike, we decided we didn’t have enough time to do the other hike I had planned; which was a 4.5 mile level hike around Lake Buttermere, we’ll just have to do that one next time.  I could honestly return here and stay for week or more.  This is the most beautiful place we’ve seen in England so far, it is a shame we only really spent a day.  There would be so many walks worthwhile here, or sailing on the lakes or canoing or camping.  We will be back!  But for now, we hit the road for Scotland!

Once we were well past and had skirted around Glasgow, the drive became the destination. The mountains just seemed to come out of nowhere.  No sooner were we on what was a plateau of pretty even terrain, BAM!  there are the mountains towering above us.  I was surprised to see so many peaks still blanketed in snow and the tops were shrouded by clouds.  We wound around on twisty narrow roads that took us along lochs, rocky streams, dense forests and of course the mountains.  This was a drive made for the convertible.  It was such dramatically different scenery than anything we’ve seen so far.  Even in contrast to the Fells of the Lake District this morning.

We needed to make a bee line to the B&B we were staying at so we wouldn’t arrive after nine p.m.  After we settled ourselves in, we hit a local pub/restaurant, where there was a lively and divided crowd watching the UEFA  cup finals, red shirts in the bar, blue shirts in the restaurant.  The European football league that had two British teams in the final, and a game that was held in Moscow.  It was still light out when we left around 11 p.m. with the long lingering twilight.

England Sites
Hiking
Musings & adventures
Simple pleasures
Travel
Travel: England
Travel: Scotland

Comments Off on England: Lake District – Catbells; Scotland Drive

Permalink