Thursday, April 18, 2019

Scotland - Day 11

For the final day in Scotland, we decided to take a last minute tour to see Rosslyn Chapel, Melrose Abbey, and then cross the border down into England to visit the World Heritage Site, Hadrian's Wall.

The first time I heard or read anything at all about Rosslyn Chapel, was in "The DaVinci Code" by Dan Brown.  It was a surprise addition to the trip and one that I was excited to be able to go visit and see in person.  The ideas of the mysteries buried there in symbols and codes were pretty intriguing so it was fun to see some of those things and find them on the walls of the chapel myself. I can totally see why it's made people wonder if there was more to it than just blueprints for work on the church itself.  I wish I could have taken some photos from inside the Chapel, but it wasn't allowed so this was all I could really shoot there.

Just down the hill from here is the family home and another set of ruins where parts of the movie starring Tom Hanks was filmed, so I had to wander down there for a look and shoot a couple of photos from that location as well.  It was really fun to see where some of the filming took place.

After having about 90 minutes here, it was back on the bus and on to the next stop in a small village called Melrose.  The town was really pretty and situated just on the edge of town was the Melrose Abby, most famous for being the location of Robert The Bruce's Heart.  The King's heart is said to have been buried in the church, perhaps brought back from a crusade with the body of Lord Douglas in either 1330 or 1331.

After walking around the Abby and having some lunch, it was back onto the bus and across the border into England and a visit to see Hadrian's Wall.  It's also known as The Roman's Wall, and runs 73 miles, spanning the entire width of England at one of it's narrower locations.  The story as it was explained was that the Roman's had gone north to take all of Scotland along with England as they ruled most of the known world back then, but for some reason decided against claiming Scotland for the Empire.  They then decided to build the Wall to protect themselves from what they called the Barbarians north of the border and this wall marked the northern-most point of the Romane Empire. Construction of the wall ran from 122-128 AD.

This shot gives more of a close up of the construction of the wall and how well it has held together after all these years.  I think it was between 5 - 6 ft high along this stretch of wall.

Here you can see the wall running off into the distance up and over the hill in the background.

If you'd like to read more about the wall, check out the link here.

After leaving here, it was time to head back to the apartment, pack up the bags and get ready to head back home.  11 days may sound like a lot, but there is just so much that Scotland has to offer, that we barely scratched the surface on things to do and see if you ever go there.  I could have spent months there an never ran out of things I wanted to see.  It's truly a beautiful country.

I'm sad the trip is over but ready to head back home.  I will be back!

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Scotland - Day 10

After a very long first 9 days, today was going to be much more relaxed and easy going.  A few of us decided to head to the Edinburgh Zoo today and take a bit of a break from hours in the car. It was really nice to just use the local transit system and see what the zoo here was like.  The zoo was advertising a new baby Polar Bear, the only one in the UK I think, but once we got there we discovered that the baby Polar Bear was on loan to another location right now. I was a bit disappointed but new there was still so much more to see.  The zoo itself was really nice and I liked to see that the animals had bigger enclosures than I expected and they had the freedom to decide between a big outdoor area or being inside where it was warmer.  Almost every enclosure had little tunnels or ramps between the inside and the outdoor areas.

If you decide to ever visit the zoo while here, the one thing to be ready for that I didn't expect, was that you'll be walking a lot of pretty steep hills throughout it.   It still didn't take very long to see everything here, and we were pretty much done after 2.5 hours.

Next, we met up with the rest of the group and headed out to find something to eat for lunch.   We walked around the castle area of the city for a while until we found lunch and then afterward just headed back to the apartment.  Tomorrow is going to be an early day as we have a 9.5-10 hour but tour down into England for our last day in the UK.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Scotland - Day 9

Edinburgh Castle was the only thing on the agenda for the day today other than some shopping for everyone else in the group.  It’s pretty amazing to just look at the castle from the distance and see the way it looms over the city, high on a steep cliff of bedrock.  It was a beautiful day out, but that made for tough conditions for photos, well, that and the fact that it’s Easter break for a lot of Europe right now so the crowds were pretty big everywhere in Edinburgh.  I think I saw more people on the Royal Mile than I did in all of the rest of the country the previous 8 days.

As great as the castle is, and as interesting as it was to explore, with it being as crowded as it was today, it was just hard to get to really see and read things the way I would have enjoyed to. Luckily I had been here before though so I didn’t mind skipping past a few things and just seeing some of the better sights here.

Once everyone had enough of the crowds, we headed back down the hill and did a little shopping and walking around.  Since shopping isn’t my thing, I mostly just people watched and browsed the stores until we headed back to the apartment and then out to dinner.

I finally broke down at dinner and had to have some Haggis… which I’d heard so many horror stories about, but I can honestly say not only didn’t it smell the way it had always been described to me, but it was actually delicious!  Now I’m kicking myself for not trying it earlier into the trip so I could have it a few times before heading home.  I’m really going to have to find a place to get some again before I leave Scotland.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Scotland - Day 8

Today was filled with stops at some great castles on the way to Edinburgh. The first was Kilchurn Castle which was an amazing looking ruin standing on the edge of a Loch on our route east.  It was almost surreal looking as we walked up this long gravel path towards it.  One nice thing was that It was also free to enter and explore which was a huge plus as we’d been spending a lot of money on castle visits so far on this trip.
Here is a view of the castle as you approach it.

Here are a couple of views from inside, although they just can't do it justice.  I didn't have a lens that was nearly wide enough to capture anything in one shot.

Next on the trip was Doune Castle, which many of you may know was used in the filming of many movies and shows over the years.  It was used as Winterfell in Season 1 of Game of Thrones.  It was also used as the castle in Monty Python’s Holy Grail, and in the series Highlander.  Those alone made it really fun to walk through the entire castle and try to recognize the different rooms and what they were used for.

Blackness Castle was the last of the stop along the way, and was also used as a backdrop in Highlander.  It’s another amazing looking castle that sits right on the water front.

On a hill just outside the main castle walls, there sits the ruins of a chapel that I almost missed seeing.  There was a plaque that stated that unfortunately for the chapel, the spot where it sat was an ideal place to position artillery attacking the castle, which meant that the chapel suffered from Cromwell’s troops, making way for their guns when they laid siege to Blackness Castle back in 1650.

After finishing exploring Blackness Castle it was on to Edinburgh for our last apartment of the trip and our last 4 days in Scotland.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Scotland - Day 7

The first stop of the day today the Distillery in a very nice little town called Oban.  This was the second Whisky tour of the trip but this one was actually a much more entertaining tour as the guy leading it could have seriously been doing stand-up comedy for a living.  He had us laughing hard more than a few times on the trip, but also knew his stuff and I learned a a few more things about the process than I had on the first Whisky tour.

After the tour we just walked around the town a little and ended up having lunch at the pier from a great food truck there.  It was a little cold out but fun to sit and watch the people while we ate.  Our parking spot had a two hour limit so we decided it was time to head out of town and back to the house.  

On the way back, we stopped at Dunstaffnage Castle and Chapel which was an old ruin that was very interesting to walk around explore.  I’ve actually been enjoying the ruins much more than the castles that are more like museums on this trip.

The house we rented for two nights in Taynuilt was really nice and maybe my favorite place to stay on the trip so far.  It is so very quiet here and the view from the upstairs is beautiful. The only downside to the place was that the staircase is very steep and narrow and getting the bags up to the third floor was an adventure.

Tomorrow morning will be another early start, as we’ll be heading out for our final stop on the trip.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Scotland - Day 6

Everyone was up early this morning so that we would have time to head to the fairy pools before leaving Skye for the mainland.  The road leading to the fairy pools was another very narrow winding road and took a little longer to drive than expected, but we got pretty lucky and got there early enough that there weren’t very many people there yet.  The pools were just a series of small waterfalls that dropped into deep crystal clear pools of water.  The photos just don’t do them justice, but here are a few from the morning.

As I got to the last of the big pools I turned around and saw big groups of people walking down the path toward the pools so it was perfect timing to get out of there. Especially since almost every group I passed was walking out into the middle of the rocks at the falls and would have been in the way of any possible photo I took.

On the way to the next hotel we also stopped at a very cool castle called Eilean Donan which might have been one of the more picturesque castles we got to see on this trip.  The only problem was that the sun was almost directly overhead when we got there and made it so very hard to get really good photos of the castle.  Here are just a couple of quick shots and hopefully I might have a few more once I get home and get a chance to edit them a little bit.

After spending a good hour touring the inside of the castle we went into the small cafĂ© here to have some lunch and sat at a table that let me look out the window at this as I ate.  It was one of the best backdrops I've ever had while eating lunch.

We got back into the car and headed to the next house we were staying at.  The drive took us through the heart of Glencoe which was absolutely stunning, but no one wanted to stop along the way so I have no photos to share from there.  I think everyone is tired from a few of the long days we've had and wants an early night so we can just relax and have some dinner.  No idea what the plan is for tomorrow yet, but hopefully we'll get out to see something good.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Scotland - Day 5

The morning started off a little overcast and I had hopes that the clouds would hold on until we could make it out to Neist Point.  For a country that is described as even worse than Seattle when it comes to rain and overcast days, it’s sure been sunny and warm every day since the first morning here.  So sunny in fact that it’s made most photography really tough on this trip.  The lighthouse was already going to prove to be a tough location to photograph without dealing with the sun too, so my fingers were crossed, but true to my luck with Mother Nature, those perfect cloudy skies cleared up JUST as we got to Neist Point.  The light was harsh and I was stuck trying to shoot into the sun to make things even tougher but I actually still think I managed to get a few okay shots. 

This first photo is of Neist Point itself, just showing how the land kind of swoops up just before a shear cliff wall drops off to the ocean.  When you first get here, you can’t even tell there is a lighthouse out there.

I wandered up the cliffs to the right of the parking lot and headed out until I could see past the cliff, and then got my first glimpse of the lighthouse way out there on the point.  As you can see it’s not the greatest photo of this beautiful location but it gives you a bit of an idea of what it looks like. 

 I then made the long trek down to the lighthouse itself which was a nice little hike with amazing views of the cliffs all along the coast.  Photos really can’t even do it justice!

Once we all met back up at the car and had a snack and some water, we decided to try to head to the Fairy Pools, but along the way, we passed a small farm that had a sign out that their sheep were currently having their babies, and there were newborn lambs we could stop in and see.  Everyone wanted to stop to see them as we’ve been seeing sheep everywhere with babies but no places to turn off the road and get a closer look.  There were two lambs that had just been born in the last hour so you really can’t see them too much younger than that.  It was very fun to wander through the barn and see all the lambs at different stages … from the newborn lambs to some that looked to be about a month old.  I forgot my camera in the car so didn’t get any photos but just take my word that those little sheep were so very cute. J

While talking to the woman that owned the ranch, she told us of a Corel Beach on the northern coast of the island that was covered in coral and sand…. And was the only stretch of beach like it anywhere on the island.  Everyone decided that we just had to go see that and we could visit the fairy pools tomorrow morning instead, before having to leave Skye.  It really was kind of wild to see this tiny stretch of beach that was so different than anywhere else we’d seen in Scotland so far.  Still not sure what it’s just this one section of beach that is sandy and filled with little bits of coral right at the waterline, but it was fun to see in person. 

The day was another long one with everything taking much longer than expected, so we decided we should head back to the house, or at least get much closer to it before the sun fully set.  On the drive home there was one more surprise view in store for us, and that was seeing Dunvegan Castle from across the bay.  It almost seems unreal to see these castles like this and really makes you wonder what life must have been like when they were all first built.

We got back to town and then decided to hit the restaurant that was the busiest around, because we’d heard they have the best mac n cheese in the world.  That and their pizza was a high recommendation and it turns out that both were very good.  It was also a nice change of pace from all the fish and chips we’d been eating. J

Tomorrow, it’s time to leave the Isle of Skye, but we are getting up early to hit the fairy pools for sure before leaving the island.