A Wee Bit of Scotland

August - September 2023
A 16-day adventure by DeWayne Read more
  • 11footprints
  • 2countries
  • 16days
  • 100photos
  • 5videos
  • 603miles
  • Day 2

    Getting there

    August 27, 2023 in England ⋅ ⛅ 64 °F

    We're packed and loaded. Got to the airport and said goodbye to our crying grandaughters. They wanted to go with us so badly. And then we were delayed in Denver by two hours to 10pm. But, at last we are in London now. Adam and Carrie met us at the underground station, and we made our way to the AbnB. We will be here for the next 2 days before heading north to Scotland.

    5 years ago in a cold December, Kim and I were here. It's quite nice here now with temps in the mid-60s. Exploration of the city starts tomorrow. But for this afternoon, we had a Sunday roast dinner (a long-time tradition in London to have roast on Sunday) at one of the pubs nearby. They serve roasted beef, chicken, or pork. It was very good and sure beats that terrible airplane food.

    After dinner, we noticed all these people sitting on Primrose Hill. At the top was a lovely view of London at sunset in the cool evening air. Off to a good start with day 1. It's time now to catch up on our sleep.
    Read more

  • Day 3

    Elementary my Dear Watson

    August 28, 2023 in England ⋅ ☁️ 59 °F

    Day 2:
    It's a beautiful morning in London. Partly cloudy all day with a high of 70. Just a few steps from our place is a nice little coffee shop named Alma - pretty good latte. After picking it up, along with a croissant for Kim, we strolled south through Regent's Park and towards the city center. Regents is home to the Queens Rose Garden with every variety and color you could imagine. Along the way, we passed 221b Baker Street - guess which fictional character lived here?

    The last time we were here in 2018, I wanted to go to the area known as Little Venice. There are canals here with long "narrow boats" moored up everywhere. People live on these things year round. I occasionally watch this guy on YouTube, "Countryhouse Gent," that lives on his boat here in England. It's one of those day-in-the-life kind of vlogs that shows him cruising the canals and talking about his life. I find it relaxing to watch, but Kim, not so much. I think Adam and I may rent a narrow boat someday and do some cruising ourselves.

    When lunch time came, we took the Tube down to Borough Market near the London Bridge. Wow! was it crowded with tourists. On top of that, it's a bank holiday today, and even the locals were out in force. We squeezed our way through and found some meat pies to try - the chicken mushroom was tasty.

    Topped off with food, we "topped-up" our Oyster cards (the payment method for the underground subway - the Tube) and headed to Leadenhall Market to find a couple of the Harry Potter filming locations for the Leaky Cauldron Pub in the Sorsorer's Stone. We looked into going to the Harry Potter studio also, but it was all booked up. And, speaking of booked up, the Sky Garden near Leadenhall has been on my list for London 3 times now, but, alas, they are booked up for over a month in advance - did I mention there are a lot of tourists here?

    We checked out the Covent Garden area where I planned to go to this Swedish bakery, Bageriet, but it was closed for the holiday. We settled for another bakery nearby for coffee and pastries instead. Maybe next time.

    As the evening approached, Camden Town was our destination for our first fish-n-chips at Poppie's, a famous restaurant for such. Not exactly the best fish-n-chips, and they were all out of cod, so we had halibut instead. This same travesty happened to Kim and me in 2018. We will have to give this UK staple a try again some other day.

    Tomorrow, we have afternoon tea planned. I'm going to go as Mrs. Nesbit :)
    Read more

  • Day 4

    Mrs. Nesbit has Afternoon Tea

    August 29, 2023 in England ⋅ ☁️ 59 °F

    Day 3:
    The big ticket item today was to do something I have never done before - go to an afternoon tea. Now, I was a little hesitant about this. I usually think of afternoon tea as something someone of the flowered hat and white gloved gender does. And, for the most part, that is true. But, I was relieved to find out that occasionally men participated in these events with their wives. I wouldn't have to go as Mrs. Nesbit, after all. We went big and booked tea at Fortum and Mason. This is the place the queen would go to and was suitably named the Jubilee Tea Room. There were men there, but mostly women. I expected those little finger snacks would leave me hungry, but no. They left me filled and not hungry for the rest of the day. The smoked trout sandwich and scones were the best items. A strong Irish breakfast tea blend was my choice. Kim got the Queen Anne blend. A mix of the raspberry jam, lemon curd, and clotted cream made the best flavor for the scones. As a guy, I noted that the clotted cream had the look and texture of a fine spackle for patching nail holes in walls. As a dad, I declared that the lemon curd had the consistency of pureed peach baby food - both of which are quite tasty.

    Before going to the tea, we visited a crosswalk on Abbey Road. Yes, that famous album cover of the Beatles by the same name. We trotted across as numerous people took pictures of us. A word of advice. One needs to move quickly. Drivers here don't like to stop for pedestrians. I did, however, learn that it is illegal and generally frowned upon to run people down with a car. That was somewhat comforting, sort of.

    After the tea, Adam and I went to the British Museum, and the girls went back to the AbnB. We would meet them later. There is so much that could be said about the museum. Best in the world. There are so many significant artifacts from around the world. While there are constant requests and demands from some of the countries to have items returned, there is also good reason to keep them at the museum. At least here, anyone from any country can see these treasures free of charge and appreciate the history and culture of the country from which it came. That is significant. Speaking of significance, the Rosetta Stone is, in my opinion, the number 1 artifact in the museum and was wonderful to see.

    Lastly, we undergrounded over to Westminster to see Big Ben and walk along the Thames. On the previous trip, Big Ben was covered with scaffolding. It's all shiny and new looking now.

    Tomorrow, we travel to Edinburgh, Scotland.
    Read more

  • Day 6

    North to Scotland

    August 31, 2023 in Scotland ⋅ ☁️ 64 °F

    Day 4 and 5:
    A travel day. Not by plane. Not by car. By train. The 4 hour transport left from Kings Cross station and ended at Edinburgh. I'd recommend this as it is easier than a plane and faster than a car. Naturally, we got to the station early and visited Platform 9 3/4 to take a photo of some random parent's child and to sit down with the king for a bit - it is his station after all.

    Arriving in Edinburgh, our first order of business was to find our AbnB. This city has tourists crawling all over the hills, and we joined them. Our place is in a unique location. The back wall is the inside wall of the Greyfriars graveyard. None other than Tom Riddle is buried here. JK Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book in a coffee shop, the Elephant House, overlooking the graveyard. The shop was closed due to a fire, so there were no visitors.

    Exploration of the city began and continued into the next day. Dinner was first, and we ate at a place Kim and I liked here in the UK, Nanodo's. It's a chain baked chicken restaurant, Portuguese style. It was convenient and good. In the morning, I hiked to the top of Arthur's seat. It's an extinct volcano and hs great views 360 degrees. I highly recommend it.

    Back at the AbnB, we prepared for our entrance time to Edinburgh castle. We self guided and went through several museums. This fortress is also built upon the top of a hill and is a great location for such. But, even so, it changed hands from Scottish to English several times over the centuries.

    Colton Hill sits to the east of the castle and is another good place to walk up and see views all around. It's not as good as Arthur's Seat, but it's much easier to walk. Speaking of walking, Kim is racking up the miles. Another day, and she will be approaching 50 miles on this trip, and she has the blisters to prove it.

    Interesting facts: First, the Sir Walter Scott monument (see photo) is the 2nd tallest monument to a writer in the world. I'm reading his most famous book on this trip - Ivanhoe. Second, everywhere in this city, it is easy to see the inspiration for the Harry Potter series. The buildings, streets, roof tops, hill tops, and castle scream HP.

    We closed the day looking in the shops and having dinner. Does anyone fancy a wool scarf, hat, shirt, sweater, socks, and maybe even underwear? They have it here. For dinner, we went to another pub. I got the Cullen Skink soup. Yes, what a name for soup. It's a scottish fish crowder.

    So far, Edinburgh has been an interesting place to visit. Lots to see and do in a compact old and new town area. The weather has been great for walking about. More tomorrow as we seek out ghosts, witches, and grave robbers.
    Read more

  • Day 7

    The Royal Mile

    September 1, 2023 in Scotland ⋅ ☁️ 61 °F

    Day 6
    Edinburgh is a pretty big place if you want to venture beyond the old town. We did a little bit of just that by taking a trek over to Dean's Village. The Leith River runs through this section of the city and is surrounded by some old buildings that make a nice setting. On the way there, we got some great views of the castle from a park below it on the east side.

    We had heard that a fun thing to do in Edinburgh is to go on a ghost tour. We chose one called City of the Dead - underground. This was both enjoyable and educational. Our guide, Natalie, first asked us if we believed in ghosts. Well, of course I believe in ghosts. I believe in the Holy Ghost and in "spirits," but that's not what she meant. Many on the tour were hoping to see orbs, hear moans, feel tingling, chills, and touching by those "BOO" kind of ghosts. At the end of the tour, I experienced no ghosts, but one lady said she got a picture with an orb in it.

    Now, there was some great info she shared as we passed through underground chambers. The early city was a sad place to live if you were poor. Chambers were formed in the archways of bridges when the city built buildings up against the bridges to as high as 14 stories - in the 1700s. The poor lived and died in these chambers. Bodies of the dead were sold to the university for medical disection. Gangs even dug up the newly dead from graveyards and sold the bodies. Down in the revine next to the old town, there was a lake of sewage that washed there from residents dumping raw sewage into the streets. It was so thick that you could walk across it. But, it was risky as sometimes a person would fall through and drown. Many bones were found in later times.

    On a lighter note, we were told that the official animal of Scotland is the unicorn. This was set back in the 1400s when people believed in fairies and mythical creatures, and some still do. And then there is this dog called Bobby that slept by his masters grave for 14 years. The graveyard is behind our AbnB. There is a statue of the dog and people touch its nose for good luck. I skipped this activity as I considered the millions of hands that had touched that thing. Another note is that the buildings are black stained because of the soot from coal burning over a century or more ago. I wonder if a power washer would help?

    This day had another first for me. I ate a haggis pie. I've included a picture. It is essentially sheep organs ground up, seasoned, and cooked. My pie came with mashed potatoes on top. It was good. Especially the potatoes. The haggis was highly seasoned.

    Tomorrow, we we are off to the highlands.
    Read more

  • Day 9

    Into the Highlands

    September 3, 2023 in Scotland ⋅ ☁️ 63 °F

    Day 7 & 8
    Everywhere I go in the world, I see places that remind me of Kentucky. I found that place today between Edinburg and the Highlands. Rolling green pastures, fields, and forests with fences and walls, but with one difference - not as much junk sitting about. Yes, KY has its areas of well-kept properties, but still much more so in Scotland. On our drive into the highlands, we had to stop at The Green Welly for a road trip resupply. It's kind of a truck stop/Buc-ee's. Lots of folks here.

    A significant event occurred for Adam on this trip. Two years ago, Mason purchased a small plot of land here in Scotland and gifted it to Adam. This officially makes him a Scottish lord. I'm serious. He owns 1 square foot of land, or something equally as small, in Scotland. The seller is bassically a land trust company that sells plots to pay for trees to be planted. I've included a photo of lord Howell standing on his land, with one foot anyay, next to the tree.

    We had our first real travel through the highlands as we drove between Ochy and Glencoe on the A82 route. The desolate green landscape with rounded mountain peaks projecting grey colored rock against a green grassy canvas is quite a beautiful sight, and so unlike the Colorado Rockies. We pulled off the main road at one location to drive to a waterfall on one of the same routes that James Bond drove the Aston Martin in the movie Skyfall.

    Once we made it into Fort William and settled into our AbnB, we went out in search of a place for dinner. Almost everywhere we went to required a reservation, and they were booked up. We finanally found a food hall. Is this the way it is going to be on the rest of the trip? The next night, we gave in, as many places were closed on Sunday, and settled for a burger place called Jiggy Burger that was owned and run by a guy from Boston. We had a nice chat with him about hairy cows and their elusiveness.

    My original hope while in the Glencoe area was to do a few miles hiking along the Highland Way or hiking to the top of Ben Nevis, the highest peak in Scotland. But, the day to do so proved to be one of low cloud cover and rain. Maybe next time. Instead, we visited a ruined castle, had lunch in Fort Augustus next to a cool set of stairstep locks along a canal that fed into Loch Ness, and ended the day with a backroad drive to a touristless waterfall. It was fun to climb on, But not so fun for Kim as she got to experience the wrath of the midges. It was a great day in spite of the clouds and rain.

    Tomorrow we go to see a famous train on our way to the Isle of Skye.
    Read more

  • Day 10

    "Anything From the Trolley?"

    September 4, 2023 in Scotland ⋅ ⛅ 63 °F

    Day 9
    Today, we head to the Isle of Skye. But, before we do that, I want to mention some things about food and the grocery store. I love going into grocery stores in other countries. Everything on the shelves is sort of the same, yet so different. Take the cereal aisle, for example (pictured). None of these boxes are seen in the US, yet the contents are probably the same. I especially like the title of the one called, "Wheetos". I do have some favorite items I have tried, as I like to try things that are different, and here are some I like best.
    (1) Porage: Nothing more than oats, but they are rough ground into an array of sizes that produce a creamy oatmeal that goes well with toast and blueberries.
    (2) Malt loaf: This came in a wrapper that prevented me from seeing it, so I had to buy one. Wow! I love this! It's a dark, dense, moist bread with rasins and malt. When toasted, it makes a crunchy surface with a semi-chewy inside. Top it with a little orange marmalade, and it is yum!
    (3) Tea bags: The tea in the UK is ground finely, as opposed to the course ground in the US. The Scottish Breakfast or English Breakfast produces a rich and dark cup, and it does it fast. I purchased extras of all of these to bring home with me. Oh, take a look at the picture of the pastries in the case at the Costa coffee shop. Costa is a Starbucks like shop, but look at the variety of tasties.

    We left Fort William and headed for the port town of Mallaig - I've no idea how to pronounce this - 'mahl-egg', or 'mahl-eye-gh', or, well, I didn't google it to find out. It just so happens that on this route is the Glenfinnan viaduct. Yep, the Hogwarts Express train crossing from the movies. We had to get there an hour+ early to get a parking spot, hike up the trail, and stake out our vantage point on the hillside. The train was about 20 minutes behind schedule. I'd guess that there were about 300 people waiting patiently. Only one grumpy American guy was heard complaining about people getting in front of him lower on the hill and calling them out to move - what was he expecting? The train did not disappoint us. As it crossed the viaduct, it blew the whistle and cranked up the steam. Pretty cool. The architect and Scotland board of tourism never anticipated this much popularity. As the train moved past the occupants waved, people on the hill waved back, and I thought I heard Harry Potter saying, "We'll take the lot!"

    After a quick lunch in Mallaig, we drove onto a ferry and cramed in like so many car shaped sardines. The weather was beautiful, and the crossing was quick. Arriving on the Isle of Skye, our first destination was to the Fairy Pools. I was kind of expecting a little roadside stream with a few pools, but the place covered about a 4 mile stretch up a wide and barren valley. Paid parking was required, as is the theme at almost every point of interest. We all walked for a bit, and then Adam and I continued farther up the stream. Clouds at first overshadowed the sun. However, for about half the time, it broke through to amplify the crystal clear blue water and pools. The blue color of the water is created by the pale blue rock that lines much of the stream bed. If you come here, be sure to bring a windbreaker jacket as the winds are brutal. Surprisingly, the water was not as cold as it looked. Some people make it a point to take a dip in the water, but I prefer my swimming holes a little warmer. I hear that the faries live in the larger bolder size rocks. None came out to greet us while we were there. Regardless, this was a most beautiful place.

    Wrapping up the day, we checked into our AbnB in the town of Portree. We are within an easy walking distance of the harbor, shops, and restaurants. Dinner, however, was not going to be easy. All the restaurants were in one of three conditions - booked weeks in advance, closed due to lack of staff, or closed early in the afternoon. Thankfully, there was a small grocery that provided what we, and many others, needed. We dined at the AbnB on a premium spaghetti dinner with bread and salad, which turned out to be a great alternative.

    Another day has passed without seeing a hairy cow. If we don't see one on this trip, Kim is going to cry. Gotta find one of those cows soon!
    Read more

  • Day 11

    The Isle of Skye

    September 5, 2023 in Scotland ⋅ ☀️ 64 °F

    Day 10 - 2nd day on Skye
    Portree, I think, is the largest town on the Isle of Sky (IoS) and is our home base for the next couple of days. Our AbnB is located above the IoS information center. We got off to a slower start this morning as the travel started to wear us down a little, but the extra sleep was welcome. The first place on the agenda is the big one, The Old Man of Stor.

    I'm not sure I know what's happening, but the weather is 100% clear and warm. A week ago, this was not the prediction. We came to Scotland prepared for colder and wetter weather. I was expecting most of my pictures to be grey and for my feet to be muddy. Not today.

    We started our hike to the upper viewpoint along with so many others. Carrie went along for a bit and then went back to the car, where Kim stayed, to wait for us guys. The 3.5-mile loop (1,200 ft elevation gain) is the most popular destination on the IoS. By the number of people heading up the trail, it reminded me of a hike up the most popular 14er in Colorado - just a long line of folks marching upward. Women were hiking in dresses and shoes you would only wear to dinner. Couples from Germany, dressed to hike, moved rapidly up the trail. There were kids in packs, packs of kids, and dogs on leashes. And then there were two brothers adding to this crossection of humanity from all over the world. The whole trek was georgeous with views of the ancient rocks ahead and the sea behind us. After climbing a thousand+ steps, we arrived at the viewing area and took a brother selfie picture. We arrived just in time to be attendees of a wedding ceremony. The mountains, rocks, vegitation, and trickling waters make this entire part of Scotland seem so fantasy like and other worldly. The hike took us 2 .5 hours. The girls were beginning to wonder if we were ever going to come back.

    We left the Old Man, who, by the way, is a face in the rock of the most prominat spire. Or, as legend has it, it is the thumb of some giant mythical creature. We next headed to the Mealt Falls. This is the waterfall that drops from a cliff into the sea. After a brief stop for lunch at a tiny grocery store along the way, I recommend you pack a lunch, we drove to the Quiraing overlook. Again, breathtaking views all around.

    Our final destination for the day was to The Fairy Glen, which is down the mountain from the Quiraing. I will admit that this place was not even on my radar as a place to stop. But, I saw it on a map and we had some extra time. You should put this place on your must-see list. It is a mystical kind of place where you think that if there were fairies of unicorns in this world, they would live here. There are grass covered conical mounds and paths weaving through them and over them. There are small ponds in the tiny valleys. Trees and rocks jut up here and there. One prominant rock called Castle Ewen has several Rowen trees, with their red berries, growing out of it. This is the tree of the fairies and is said to bring good luck and protection, but beware if you ever cut one down!

    Tomorrow, we plan to take a vacation from our vacation and hang out in Portree for the day - or maybe not.
    Read more

  • Day 12

    Kim Hugs a Highland Hairy Coo

    September 6, 2023 in Scotland ⋅ ☁️ 68 °F

    Day 11
    Today, we stayed close to "home" and limited our driving. We mostly spent the day in Portree. The shops were all open. We got coffee, ice cream, candles, shirts, and postcards. I walked around town and explored the harbor and nearby trails.

    In one of the shops, we asked the gal if she knew of a place to see some of the highland hairy cows (coos). She knew of a place, so we were on our way. A 20 minute drive to the south, and there it was. One cow, but that was all we needed (we would see many other cows in the days to follow). Fortunately, others were there, and they brought carrots. Hesitantly, the cow came over to the fence. This made Kim's day. No longer were hairy coos some mythical creature. They were real. It turns out that these cows are kept as pets rather than for milk or meat. No wonder they were not out in the fields with all the other thousands of regular cows we saw. We needed to be looking a little closer to homes. They appear to come in bonde, red, and black colors. Some are even made of sticks. I always say that if you don't touch it, then you weren't really there. You know, you have to put your foot in the ocean or your hands on the rock or whatever to make your claim. Kim got to not only see her highland hairy coo but to pet (OK, no hugging - that would be dangerous) it as well - our trip to Scotland is a success!

    I'd now like to say something about blackberries. They are everywhere in Scotland this time of year, and I mean everywhere. I saw them in Edinburgh, at the Harry Potter train, next to castles, near lochs, on the Isle of Skye, in Cairngorm National Park, and in the grocery stores. They grow wild here. I found them to be large on the seed and small on the fruit. People are seen picking and eating them, including me.

    We have 3 more days to go on this trip, and there is much more to see and do.
    Read more

  • Day 13

    Let's Take the Castle!

    September 7, 2023 in Scotland ⋅ ☀️ 75 °F

    Day 12
    We leave the Isle of Skye today. This island is my favorite place on our Scotland trip. I love the mountains, streams, and vast open spaces. The remoteness can make one feel lonely or invigorated, or both. I'm reminded of my solo trip to the west coast of Ireland back in June and how those remote places made me feel both. On this trip, however, having Kim along makes the loneliness go away.

    We are traveling to our next AbnB in the Cairngorm National Park. Along the way, we have the opportunity to take on two of Scotland's most famous castles. We are confident that the four of us riding our noble steed (Volvo), wielding weapons (cell phones), and dressed for battle in our armor (t-shirts), can take both castles in one day.

    Eilean Donan is the first. This is the most photographed castle in all of Scotland. If you have seen any pictures of Scotland or of castles, then you have seen this one. It served as the remote northern MI6 headquarters in the Bond movie "The World is not Enough." It sits on a small island in a loch (lake) with a stone bridge leading to its gate. The Clan MacRae owns this castle. In long ago times, castle lords (lairds in Scotland) defended and maintained the castle. It was a tradition in those times to take in the stranger or the traveler and give them bed and food. In one instance, a leader and his 500 soldiers took advantage of this hosptality. The lord at that time was so put off by this that he abonded the place because it was a liability too difficult to bear. There is a memorial there to all the MacRae family soldiers that perished in WWI, totaling around 500. The castle sat in ruins for ceturies, being destroyed by the English. In the early 1900s, the MacRae family rebuilt the castle to be used as a summer home. The entire top floors of the tower include bedrooms, kitchen, and the great hall. No photographing was allowed inside. But, I'll say one thing. Any kids who lived here had a lot of fun playing hide and seek. The day is sunny and warm, and it is great for pictures but a little hot for climbing the tower.

    Our 2nd castle is Urquhart Castle on the Lock Ness. Yep, right next to the place where Nessie lives. This was the hottest day and place we have been on this trip - about 82 degrees, high humidity, and no clouds. The ruined castle was held by several over the ceturies. The most significant story is when the Dean clan controlled the castle but decided it was too much of a hastle to defend any longer. So, they removed everything and blew it up with gunpowder. The place burned down. It's a good tour if you like ruined castles. Oh, while I was taking pictures, I saw something odd in the lake (see photo).

    After the last castle, we drove to see the balttlefield of Culloden. In 1746 the English battled against the Jacobites, killing most of them. The area is a national monument today.

    At last, we drove to our last AbnB of the trip in Aviemore. The place is an entire house that was pretty much brand new. Nice place. I had my best meal of the trip in this town. A venison burger.

    Only two more days and our trip will be history.
    Read more