These are my notes from our trip to Scotland with a couple we have known since high school.
We left Norfolk at 7am to fly to Boston where we met our friends (they flew in the day before). Our flight to Dublin left at 6:15pm, delayed only slightly by thundeshowers. The flight to Dublin was only 5hrs and 5min long. We waited in long, slow-moving lines to have our passports checked, walked five miles (or so it seemed) to the gate (or so I thought) for our connecting flight to Edinburgh, and relized with only ten minutes to spare that we had to backtrack four football fields of distance to get to the correct gate because I had misread the monitors and directed us all the the right gate. Fortunately for Pamela (and her short legs), she flagged down one of those motorized cart drivers and we hitched a ride for about 100 yards. We made it to the gate with just minutes to spare. The flight to Edinburgh was just an hour.
We took the express bus into Edinburgh (30 minutes) and started walking to the guest house when I realized I had left my large bag on the bus (running through airports trying to catch flights can disorient you, I guess, but what a dumb mistake). Fortuntely, I found the same driver and same bus at the same stop about an hour later and retrieved my bag. What a stroke of luck.
We toured the castle and museums, walked the Royal Mile, ate lunch, walked more Royal Mile, ate pastries and drank tea, then took a double decker bus tour before walking back to the hotel and crashing. I was able to stay up until 10pm by going for a walk after the others had turned in. I did, however, almost lose consciousness waiting for lunch and at the pastry shop (Patisserie Valerie) in the afternoon.
I got up at 0450 (already light), ran at 0630. We ate nice continental breakfast (juice, tea/coffee/hot choc, cheese, ham, olives, egg salad/hard boiled eggs, cereal, fruit, pastry,croissants, scones). The two males walked to train station to pick up the rental car at 0910, back guest house to pick up the ladies by 1000 to depart the city.
We drove to Inverness via Pitlochery (lunch at golf course, learning about Oyster Catcher birds, a true menace) and Culloden battlefield (1545-1650), battlefield tour as well as museum, stuck in traffic twice trying to get to downtown Inverness, needed Google map of B&B to find an alternate route (arrived 1830), dinner at 1900 at La Tortilla Asessina, tapas and Spanish bread pudding, walked back to room at 2100 and still very light.
After a huge Scottish breakfast (see the photostream) for Mike and I (our wives ate much more sensibly), we set off in search of Loch Ness and the monster. We drove completely around the lake, stopping to hike to the Falls of Foyers (site of first Aluminum refining and hydroelectrica power in Great Britain), visit Urquart castle, and take in the Loch Ness Experience. We came back to Inverness for a late lunch (also huge, but Pamela and I split an entree). We came back to the B&B to nap at 1730 before going back out at 2030 to Hootananny's bar, where they have live music every night. We came back to the B&B (Kinloch Lodge) at 2330. The music was very good.
I was a bit tired last night after staying up late (2330) at Hootananny's listening to music and then getting up early for breakfast and running. I mistakenly called it an "Irish breakfast" (slip of the tongue), but the Scotswoman who runs the B&B took it in stride. After another big breakfast (just a bit early so our host can catch a bus to Edinburgh for a lawn bowls competition today), we drove to Clava cairne, a Bronze Age circular chamber tomb cairn in the country (this means you have to drive on really narrow roads) east of Inverness. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clava_cairn My friend Mike is interested in Neolithic burial sites so I look for opportunities to visit old dead people rock formations whenever possible. Clava cairne is a very well preserved group of prehistoric burial cairns that were built about 4,000 years ago. There were informative markers that explained many aspects of the site, but it was weird touring the site and hearing an enormous racket next door from cows. It sounded like they were having a debate.
Our next stop, further east from Inverness on the same road, was Castle Cawdor (like in the MacBeth play), which has wonderful gardens and a nicely furnished interior. Most of the rooms have placards that explain all the paintings and furnishings in the room. The explanations are quite playful. The one I remember describes a tapstestry that depicts Noah and Ham from the Old Testament and refers to Noah's curse of Ham (Ham was not very well-behaved) as a "typical instance of Old Testament peevishness." The gardens were just fabulous and we took many pictures. After touring the castle interior, we stopped in the adjacent cafe (pronounced with the emphasis on the first syllable, as in "cat," followed by "fay") for a light nosh, which turned out to be much more than I expected. Pamela and I have been splitting meals, but after she ordered some ham and cheese on grilled panini, she accidentally dropped two large pieces of freshly baked bread on her tray and was too mortified to put one back so I had to eat the bread *and* the scone I was determined to eat.
We drove back to the west, but still east of Inverness, to tour Fort George, a still in service British fort constructed in the late 1700s after the last Jacobite uprising (the Jacobites had a lot of support in Scotland from the clansmen). Mike also got the audio tour devices so everyone but me had to walk around for a few hours with a digital audio player mashed to these side of their head. I just plugged in my iPod headphones. I nearly lost consciousness several times watching some of the movies because I did not get enough sleep last night (something I intend to rectify tonight).
We drove back to Inverness, parked the car at the B&B, and walked back to the shopping area to browse some of the stores. We went to dinner at La Bella Italia just a stone's throw from the Ness River vehicular bridge. The food was excellent and our waiter Carlo treated us very well.
We drove (mostly in the rain) to Stirling Castle, arriving by late morning and staying until about 4pm (pricey at 14 pounds each for admission). We had a small lunch at the cafe in the castle. We figured out that is a good way to save time-have a quick bite after the huge Scottish breakfast wears off. We drove around neighborhoods to find a B&B with room for two couples because the tourist information center outside the castle had closed by the time we finished our late lunch. Pam spotted one on hill down the street from the castle and I was very challenged to negotiate and up and back trip on the steep, one lane road up to the steps of the B&B. I had to execute a complex backing maneuver with some assistance. We walked to dinner at a Chinese restaurant (mixed sweet and sour, orange chicken, large shrimp with onions and ginger), passing on the option for chips with our meal instead of steamed rice. I worked on my GWU paper from 2100 to 0030. I could not access the B&B's wi-fi (I think it was their problem not mine since I had not had any trouble anyplace else) so I had to pay for 24 hrs BT access. I finally went to bed at 0100.
I got up early to plan the day and get directions to the sites we planned to visit: the William Wallace memorial, a whisky distillery, and Cairnpapple Hill. Breakfast (full Scottish) at 0800 included baked beans for the first time. After leisurely eating, we went to the William Wallace memorial. It is high on a hill and has a nearly endless circular stairway to the top of tower (246 steps). A person could get very dizzy (as well as tired), but there were three intermediate levels where you could stop and pause.
After the Deanston distillery tour, we stopped in the cafe. I had my first taste of Haggis in a dish they Scots call "Haggis, Neeps, and Tatties." Neeps are rutabegas. They and the potatoes are served in separate mashes. The haggis was a bit like hash, but dry so it was good I got a little pitcher of gravy.
Cairnpapple Hill is a neolithic burial site out in the country west of Edinburgh on the summit of Cairnpapple Hill with stunning views of the area. We were a little confused by signage so we had to backtrack once. The henge monument is a good example of a rare class of neolithic ceremonial monument that originally had wooden posts ("uprights" per the guide) surrounded by a trench and a high mound of earth. The presumption is that the person or persons buried at the site were very important, otherwise why go to all the trouble to dig into the intensely rocky soil to create the graves and cover them with rocks?
We drove back to Edinburgh to drop the ladies off at the B&B and return the rental car. Afterward, we walked to the closest restaurant recommended by the host, Salisbury's. It started raining just before we left so it was the first time Pamela had to pull out her umbrella during the trip. Pamela and I split a vegetarian tart with goat cheese. I ordered a hot choc before dinner that was not hot at all. Our friends ordered a sampler appetizer that had deep fried brie that was amazingly tasty. The rain had stopped by the time we finished dinner and walked back to the B&B.
We spent a good part of the day with a friend Pamela had made at a Massage Therapy Research conference in Boston in April. All four of us fit snugly in the car and we drove out to an outdoor sculpture park. As we were driving inside the gate to the car park, we learned from a staff member that the park was closed (no marking on the gate to indicate this). We drove to The Bridge Inn pub in Newbridge near the bridge over the river Forth and had tea/coffee and scones at Mary's treat. Mary took us to the Royal Botanical Garden, Edinburgh. One of its big attractions are the 700 varieties of rhododendrons (there are over a 1000). Mary dropped us off at the Scottish National Museum, which we toured until 1700 closing. We walked to La Bella Italia on High Street (Royal Mile) and then took the Ghosts and Ghouls tour, which finished too late to have any pastry afteward (darn it!).
After breakfast, we climbed Arthur's Seat (at least I did, not everyone wanted to go to the top). Following that, we walked to the Royal Mile for some shopping. We went to Patisserie Valerie for cakes and tea that we had missed last night. We walked to the National Gallery to view the paintings there. Afterward, I had an artist do a pencil sketch of me from pictures he took with his tablet. We had dinner at "The Advocate Restaurant." They had an amazing deal: two meals for 9.99.
We took a cab at 0500 to the bus stop (too far to walk from the B&B with luggage) and then took the bus back to the airport. I managed to take my bag off the bus this time in contrast to our first day. We were very early for our 0820 flight, so we had our last Scottish breakfast in the restaurant past security. It was good, but you have to lower your expectations a bit for airport food, naturally. I forgot to take my iPhone out of my pocket when I walked through the metal detector so I was rewarded with a full body frisk *and* a metail detector wanding (served me right). The flight back to Boston from Dublin was uneventful and I was able to sleep for a few hours despite the turbulence. We had lunch at Logan airport with our friends before go our separate ways (theirs to Sacramento and ours back to Norfolk). Our flight from Regan National was cancelled so we rented a car and drove home from Washington, D.C., sharing the car (but not the driving, that was my priviledge, good thing I napped a bit on the flight) with a teacher from Memphis named Merideth who was meeting friends in Virginia Beach. We got to bed at 0100.