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Sunday, May 13, 2018

Dumfermline.....last stop Scotland

This morning I took a taxi to the Queen street station in Glasgow for the trip to Dumfermline. I purchased my ticket and 10 minutes later was on my way to Haymarket where I changed trains, so far .....all well. It wouldn't be normal if there wasn’t a snag! I pressed the button on the platform to speak to an agent as the overhead electronic readout did not show a stop for Dumfermline Queen Margaret! I watched it run around three times to make sure I hadn’t missed it.  I decided to get on anyway.  While on the train I phoned Mike and Helen to tell them the above......ten minutes later the ticket checker comes by and I explain all of the above to him......right, this train DOES stop at Queen Margaret. It’s too late I think to call Mike and say I can get to Q Margaret. The train goes over the iconic red Firth of Forth bridge, .....my first that I can remember. You can see a little plot of houses below on the Fife side.
Back at the cousins I’m greeted very warmly by Helen.( she looks like me as well! ) after putting my stuff in my room we sit out in the garden ( more great Scottish weather) we chat like we’ve been friends for years. Mike disappears inside to make lunch, we ar3 called in to eat as it is actually too hot to sit outside. The lunch, sandwiches, warm sausage rolls, coffee and biscuits was delicious! More chatting and we leave for a car ride to Queensferry where Helenwas raised. It’s not far, just over the new Firth bridge. The old street of Queensferry runs along the shore of the river basically under the iconic Firth of Forth. It was very busy with foot traffic as it is a major tourist attraction, and it’s a sunny Sunday. We are joined by Craig (Helen and Mikes son) and his partner Allan. We walk the whole length of the riverfront and bump into cousin Allan’s daughter who is just leaving his place. We decide to ring him up and out he comes to sit and chat a wee bit ( he is not feeling great so we don’t stay long). I had had a good visit with him at the earlier cousin dinner. He is so like his dad, my uncle George, my dad’s brother.  I still have to pinch myself, relatives pop up everywhere! I have a hard time keeping them all straight.
We go to a pub one block up from the high street for supper. Back at Helen and Mikes we relax and continue yakking. Later on we have a bit to eat, a cup of tea and end the evening.
Amazing holiday !

Friday, May 11, 2018

Glasgow

This morning the tour group is dispersing and I am moving to another hotel. I have a full breakfast at the Radisson and leave my suitcase with the concierge while I do a little wander on one of Glasgow’s biggest shopping streets. I found it amusing they also have a dollar store, only they call it the pound store! I come back to the Radisson and sit awhile in the foyer and soon Claire from New Zealand comes in and sits down to chat. She is off on another tour and will be coming through Vancouver for a few days in early July and will look me up. Next in blows two of the guys from the tour....one is going home to Oregon and the other is off touring for an indefinite period.  We all say goodbye for the third time at least. I collect my suitcase and the concierge calls me a “hack” . I thought that was a New York term but I guess they use it here also.  I’m off to the Argyle Hotel to be near the Kelvingrove Art Museum for the exhibition I’m going to tonight.  I check in early as my room is ready, I make a cup of tea and unpack.  I decided  I would go over to the Museum and check out where exactly to go this evening.  The Art Gallery and Museum is in a magnificent old building and I go to information  to find out about tonight. Good thing I did, as it is outside in The tents and the museum will be closed.
I start my own tour and find a room dedicated to a group named The Glasgow Boys, I think possibly the last died in the 1940’s.  They were beautiful Painters  (20 in number ) and I will have to read up on them. There was also a group called the Glasgow Girls, although there were not as many of them and they were not as well known. I found another room with French impressionists, there were quite a few paintings I had not seen before of Monets, Van Gohs, Coret, Morriset.  I was about to leave when I spied a room with Scottish Painters, getting tired and wanting to go back to my hotel before returning for the evening I went to information to inquire is they had any John Petties. Indeed they did said the volunteer at the desk! She directed me back upstairs to my ancestors painting. I was able to take a photo this time.  I am thinking that each time I visit an art gallery in the UK I had best ask if they have any John Petties!
I walk back to my hotel which takes less than 5 minutes and have another cup of tea. I had planned to dress up for the event but due to the weather which was drizzley, I decided to stay in my jeans. When I arrived my name was NOT on the guest list! After a short discussion the fellow not allowing me in decided he would go speak to the Dancing Light Gallery who had sent me the invite....then he changed his mind and said ...oh go in. Geez! It was about 6:20 by now so I thought I’d better go first to where I expected Julie to be in case she didn’t stay for the duration. I helped myself to a glass of Champagne and I was off!  Julie wasn’t there yet but the Dancing Light girl seemed delighted to meet me. (We had conversed by email). After chatting with her for awhile I set off around the rows to check out the art. It was extremely crowded.  Time went on and Julie had not appeared, we were starting to get concerned as she had said she was on her way. To make a long story short she never arrived, she had gotten lost driving to Glasgow from her small town of Langholm. She was upset and frustrated and ended up going home. Dancing light girl felt very bad for me and a couple of other girls that had come especially to meet Julie, so she insisted of taking my photo in front of Julie’s large painting to show her I had been there. It was disappointing but on the bright side I discovered a lot of interesting art, spoke to several artists about their work and picked up quite a few artist cards.
I walked back to the Argyle in light rain........end of evening! Tomorrow I will be with my cousin Helen and her husband and will maybe see some other cousins. I will be taking the train from Glasgow to Waverley Station in Edinburgh then getting a second train to Dumfermline.
 Cherrio the noo!

Inverary , Loch Lomond and Glasgow

We were off towards Glasgow today with a stop at Inveraray. We left Craignure for our final ferry back to the mainland.  Inveraray is on the coast and there is a woollen mill there. I was meeting up with a dear friend and her partner. Jane and I met when Jeff and I were on a motorcycle trip in Texas. We were staying at a resort in Lajitas, Jane was as well. She was/is from South End on Sea, England. She was travelling alone which I thought was very brave! Now here I am .....sort of! Anyway Jane and Brian are in the area around Oban where she is currently teaching Scottish cooking to guests, while Brian takes them on cultural trips around the area, and KAYAK trips. We met up and caught up over a cuppa in a cafe, I think it was called The Scullery. An hour went by pretty quickly and I was the last one back to the bus! I hate to be last as you are acknowledged by a hearty clap by everyone as you make your way to your seat. The walk of shame, in good fun.
Our next stop is Doune Castle where much of Outlander was filmed, we spent an hour wandering about the castle, many rooms familiar from the series.
The scenery was so picturesque (Trossacks area) as we made our way I really thought it was the best yet. There were so many sheep in lush green rolling pastures, I decided to just enjoy them instead of taking more blurry photos! We came to Loch Lomond a large loch over 27 miles long.  Over  the stereo came The Bonnie Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond, many were singing along. This ballad, loved the world over is most often sung at funerals as it is believed that if you are born in Scotland your soul will come back here.  My memory as I listened, was of my mum playing it on the piano and singing.  I often think of how she didn’t want to come to Canada in the beginning, but came to love it.   She still kept the house filled with her Scottish 78 lp’s. I got a big lump in my throat and my eyes were watering! We were getting off the bus! The driver, who was Scottish, knew right away and said a few sympathetic words.....my undoing! I’m not a pretty cryer, am I family?! I think also I knew my journey was coming to an end.
On our way again we stopped in a layby to take a photo of Stirling castle from the back. It sits high on a cliff and looks similar to Edinburgh castle.
We arrive at our hotel, the Radisson, a five star! Dinner with our fellow travelers, many fine people.
Breakfast tomorrow will be our final goodbyes.
I will be spending one more night in Glasgow, a hotel closer to the museum/art gallery  where I will attend a private showing of the works of Julie Dumbarton..
Then I travel back to Edinburgh for a final two days with family.


Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Isles of Mull and Iona ........May 9/2018

Today  was to be leisurely and relaxing while enjoying the best of the western isles.
I don’t think I have commented much on the excellent food we have experienced. Breakfast most often has everything you could imagine including the Scottish specialties of black pudding and haggis, porridge with a whiskey bottle along with the honey and maple syrup. I’ve indulged in the excellent porridge most days, minus the whiskey.
Our day started driving from Craignure to Fionnphort where we would catch the ferry to Iona. This is basically a drive from one end of southern Mull to the other all along the coast. A light rain was falling, nothing to be concerned about. Our guide Matthew, has a history major and a passion for geography (and twitching). We get his running commentary “all right troops, okay doky” and we learn more about the isle of Mull. Our driver a fine Scottish man named Mark, affectionally called “pinky” is a first class guy and an excellent driver manoeuvring his bus on narrow roads. We feel very fortunate to be in their care.
Tourism is the number one industry, also forestry, farming of sheep and cows (coos!) . We pass a large mussel farm in a loch where they harvest 10,000 lbs a week. These mussels are prized by chefs all over the world as the water in which they grow gives them a delectable flavour, sea water from the Atlantic diluted by melting snow. Birding or “twitching” which I have mentioned previously is big, 3 varieties of eagles nest here, including the massive white tailed eagle, introduced to Mull, they now have 75 pairs.
On Mull there are many lochs, 3 beside each other are the Bull, the Cow, and the Calf.  The tallest mountain on Mull is Ben Mor at 3,000 ft. When it blew 59 million years ago leaving a chain of volcanic sites throughout the Hebrides including Skye, St Kilda.
In comparison Iona is 3,000 million years old! Iona is a little island only 3 miles square. It used to be attached to North America, when the tectonic plates moved millions of years ago separating the land into modern day N. America and Europe and creating the Atlantic Ocean. The split occurred near Inverness in the west of Scotland.
Some well known celebrities have homes on Mull, Paul McCartney (he composed Mull of Kintyre here), Elton John, Phil Collins, AC/DC, John Lennon also stayed here many times and was well loved by the islanders, who created a memorial garden honouring him when he passed away.
The Isle of Mull has only primary school, for secondary education students travel to Oban.
We arrived in Fionnport for the 12 minute ferry ride to Iona where we will visit a nunnery and the Abbey.. the sea is wild, rain is blowing horizontal. I am minus one umbrella as the wind blew it to bits snapping even the metal frame! We were told the ferry would likely not be running later on if it didn’t clear.
So we were on the island but would we get off? Most of the group pushed their way through the wind and rain to the Abbey. It truly was worth the weather , solid brick inside and out . It is still in use by the island residents today. The nunnery is in complete ruin. We did see one highland cow. What we learned about these beasts that people love and visit Scotland to see. They are very intelligent contrary to some beliefs. They eat a diet of Heather which gives their meat a prized flavour low in cholesterol, they never need to see the vet.   Farmers are starting to breed them with black angus cows. They live outdoors 12 months a year. Cows and sheep are out in fields together as farmers found the coos defend the sheep against the fox. The bulls weigh up to 1500 lbs and have horns that can gore a fox. Coos are not called a herd but a fold.
The isle of Iona has been the preferred burial place for kings and  clan leaders; being that it was built on volcanic rock it was deemed very stable. During the highland clearances the English destroyed the headstones and tossed them in the sea. On a grassy mound buried are McBeth and McLeod, powerful clans. Iona is credited as being the birthplace of Christianity .
We made our way off the isle of Iona, the ferry bobbing like a child’s toy on a very rough sea. The docking on what was a sloped concrete boat launch was tricky taking quite a few tries to get in straight. Back in the tour bus we continued to our hotel. An optional visit to Duart Castle, the 13century home of the MacLean clan, one of the last surviving privately owned castles, the home of Clan Chief Sir lachlan Maclean.  
Dinner was at 7:30 and it was first class.
Tomorrow is our last day with a visit to Inverary on the way to Glasgow.
My blogging of my Scottish adventure will be coming to an end in a few days time, i have tried to make sure it is correct in English grammar and spelling.....where it is not,  I blame the computer for taking licence!
Cherrio. Xo

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Isle of Skye, Glenfinnan, Isle of Mull ........May 8/18

Happy Birthday to our dear niece Jillian!
Today we were expecting some Scottish mist, which we got! It actually required an umbrella  this morning for a short while. Still on Skye we were visiting the Armadale Castle, gardens and museum. The grounds are in a woodland setting, with beautiful old stone bridges with burns running underneath, Azaleas,  birch, ferns, ponds, gravel pathways and graceful mossy trees. All in a very quiet setting. The castle itself is in a state of ruins and is dangerous to visit,  it must have been grand in its day. The estate was formerly the seat of the MacDonalds of Sleat. It is now run by a charitable trust dedicated to promoting the traditions and history of the Clan and Highlands and Islands. The gardens date in part to the 1790’s, many remarkable species are represented. The museum takes one through 1500 yrs of history and culture, in  over 7000 books.  There are of course not one but two gift shops, with top quality highland crafts. At every stop I have been impressed with the quality of the goods, they are made in Scotland not China or elsewhere.
Leaving Skye We boarded our ferry to take us across the Sound of Sleat to the isle of Mallaig.  On Mallaig we visit Glendinning with its viaduct as seen in the Harry Potter films. We  do see the steam train, although not when it was actually on the bridge.
 There is also a tall monument with a soldier statue at the top. One is permitted to climb the narrow stone stairs to the viewing platform if they do not suffer from vertigo. The site is maintained by a Canadian group associated with Glenfinnan.  Soon we have driven to the end of Mallaig and are boarding another ferry in Lochaline for the 15 minute trip  to the Isle of Mull!  The announcem3nt about safety regulations is made in Gaelic.  We disembark at Fishnish.  Once back on land we are again driving on roads so narrow the bus takes up the whole width, fortunately everyone seems  to operate the frequent passing places very well. The scenery is nothing short of breathtaking!!! You’d never find greener pastures anywhere, or whiter sheep! Braes that slope down to the sea. There are fishing boats at work, mussel farms and ferry boats.
There is a Gaelic university on Mull that does an exchange with the Gaelic university in Cape Breton Nova Scotia. The Mull university has 600 full time students. The highland language is experiencing renewed interest with it being taught in many highland island schools. Many road signs in the aisles are also in Gaelic.
Mull is known as the “twitcher” capital of the British Isles.....this means birding is huge! They have a few varieties of very large eagles, oyster catchers, hawks, buzzards and others.
We stop for a walkabout in the capital town of Tobermoray, a picturesque place on the sea, each building on the Main Street of town painted a bright primary colour. On the seafront there stands an old red pillar post box, with the royal insignia, one of 6 left in all of the British isles.  Everyone wandered about the shops and sat in the sun admiring the view, or enjoying  ice cream.
We arrived at our hotel about 6 pm and met in the dining room for 7 pm dinner.  There were 3 selections each , 3 starters, 3 mains, 3 desserts. The food was excellent!  After dinner tea and coffee is served in the lounge. We were treated to a concert from the Isle of Mull & Iona Pipe Band. Young pipers and drummers, The youngest piper a lad of 11.  I spoke to the acting pipe major at the finish of the piping. I said I was from Canada and that we had a very good pipe band, the Simon Fraser University Pipe Band who I knew had taken first place at the world Highland games in Glasgow some  years ago.  A friend of ours had a son in the band. Well, the pipe major knew all  about the Canadian band and proceeded to sing the praises and tell of the many awards this Canadian band had won. He called them by far the best in the world!
It was another great day. Our guide Matthew is promising heiland coos and lambs tomorrow!


Monday, May 7, 2018

Exploring the Isle of Skye ,......may 7/2018

Today was a day of discovering what Skye has to offer. It is reputed to be the most popular part of Scotland for tourists. Skye has a population of approximately 8,000 residents. There is now a bridge to Skye, previously one had to get there by ferry, this has meant more tourists, more big motor coaches and a higher price for the real estate.
The landscape is striking, weird rock formations and dramatic waterfalls are to be ooh and ahh-ed over as we drive around the Trotternish Peninsula.
We stop to visit the museum of island life, where there are several thatched cottages, complete with peat  fires burning and  a domestic scene is depicted in the two room crofts. On the same site there is an important cemetery where the fashion designer Steve McQueen was laid to rest.  Another famous resident of the cemetery is Flora MacDonald, a highland heroine,  who was the girlfriend of Bonnie Prince Charles. Her grave is marked with a large pillar of about 10feet in height and topped with the Celtic Cross. Flora was eventually captured by the British for her association with Bonnie Prince Charlie and held in a dungeon prison for a year before they realized she played a small relatively harmless part in the Bonnie Princes  escape and they released her.
Continuing on the spectacular coastal route we stop at a waterfall for photos, the drop is around 200 impressive feet. There are two artists with easels set up and I stop to chat with them both. One is painting in oils, one in watercolour. I took a few photos of both the artists and their works. I also told them  about the Pearly Girls who Paint!
Next stop is the town of Portree, the Ilse of Skye capital. We have 1  1/2 hours to walk the town and have a bite of lunch. There is a bit of scotch mist in the air, nothing that required an umbrella though. Portree has a pretty and colourful waterfront. The town is built on a hill that slopes down toward the harbour. There are a lot of shops selling highland goods, scarves, kilts, art, tea towels and the like. We thought the quality was high and prices reasonable.
We were hoping to get a glimpse of the Old Man of Storr. This is a series of rugged peaks the main one being 185’ high and having a diameter of 40’ .  He is often shrouded in mist, we were lucky that the mist today merely enhanced the view. Carrying on further we stopped back at the hotel very briefly then  continued on to the most photographed castle in Scotland. Eilean Donan castle is surrounded by both loch and mountains. We were toured around by 3 different guides who explained the history, originally owned by the McKenzie clan, then destroyed by fire and re-built by the McRae clan. The setting is very impressive, the interior is beautifully kept and portraits of the family members are on the walls. The castle is in the National Trust and can be booked for events like weddings.  Again i stress it is so beneficial to have a guide, they are so knowledgeable about their subject. We left the castle to go a few Miles down the road to the Clathan Pub for a beverage.
On our trip back to our hotel we rode by a thatched roof cottage that guide Matthew told us had recently undergone extensive repair, during the repair two guns were found in the roof , they were stamped with a date 270 years ago. True story.  Another bit of info re Thatching, to become a Master Thatcher requires a 6 year apprenticeship, similar to what it takes to become skilled in building the stone walls you see criss crossing British fields everywhere.  I’m so glad the old trades are still being taught and kept in practice.
Lastly, someone asked in the comments if the wealthy Duke I mentioned was married. Sadly yes, he is!
Tomorrow will be another adventure in my homeland! So much to see!


Sunday, May 6, 2018

🎶Over the Sea to Skye 🎶

We left Thurso at 10 minutes to 8 this morning, a lot of ground to cover today. We were promised breathtaking wild and unspoiled scenery. The northern coast is lined with miles of yellow sand beaches and pretty estuaries.  The hills and mountains at present time are covered in brown (dormant) Heather and bright yellow gorse. One can imagine how the hills will be bursting with colours of pink, purple and shades in between by July and August.
We come upon the town of Forss which is half way between Washington DC and Moscow Russia. Nearby  at Dunreay is an object that looks like a massive golf ball; it is the remains of a observation nuclear plant, which was  monitored for acts of war.
The road we are travelling is known as the North Coast 500, often  you see exotic sports cars, they love it’s winding way, free of Bobbys’ it is Scotland’s Route 66. Globus   are the only tours that drive this route. The road is very narrow, in fact our coach takes up the whole width. There are frequent passing places, not an actual,lane but a slightly wider area where one, either you or the oncoming traffic, can pull aside to go by each other. It seemed to work really well. We saw quite a few motorbikes, bicyclists, and a few racing cars.
The weather today was mainly misty with intermittent light showers. It was me and my seatmates turn for a front of the bus seat. You would think this would be the premier seat for taking photographs.....not so, the occasional wipers, drivers mirrors inside and out get in the way, and the weather caused reflections that ended up in your photo.  I am still craving lamb and heiland coo pictures! From what we have observed the lambs are most active late in the afternoon, we will see 4 or 5 of them scampering around together.
As we drive along our guide Matthew educates us about everything Scotland, including his diinteresting anecdotes. While telling us about a court case of a fellow who lived in “these” parts he explained how Scottish law was different from English in that there are 15 jurors, not 12; and the sentences are,  guilty, not guilty and not proven.....in which case the tried goes free.
As we drove over a cattle guard as we approached the village of Betty Hill he said the villagers had the guard installed to prevent the free roaming sheep from constantly coming into the village, but the sheep still came. It was discovered that the sheep just lay down and rolled over the guards. Matthew! We werent falling for that  one! Or was I! I’m never sure.
Some patches of Heather appeared to look like there had been a fire. The heather is burned  every 40 years, which is to put carbon in the soil, after a period new shoots grow right through the burn.
The highlands are wild and population is scattered with crofts here and there, churches near the sea are painted white to provide visibility to the fishing boats. The largest landowner in these parts is the current Duke of Westminster 27 years young, he owns 120,000 acres and has a worth of £8 billion.
The Isle of Skye is where Bonnie Prince Charlie escaped to after the defeat at Culloden. The 3 months he was there the French were sending him funds (in hopes he could still make a comeback) the funds came in the form of gold nuggets stamped with the Fleur de Lis. Some of which were lost and never found. Several weeks ago (according to Matthew and Scottish newspapers) one turned up in the hoof of a cow who was in the open range, it had become wedged in his hoof, when it was removed it was identified by the Fleur de lis.
I haven’t said much if anything about my fellow travellers. We have seat  rotation  every day,  we move forward by 2 rows, that way we all get to experience every seat. My seat mate is a lady from Toronto, we get along well. There are other Canadians from Saskatchewan, Burnaby, Ontario, .Quebec, Manitoba;  Americans from Oregon, Wisconsin, New York, Iowa, Washington State, Texas and a New Zealander and 6 Auzzies.
All this happened before lunch.!  Lunch was in Ullapool, population 950,  one of the top fish and chip places in Scotland and it was good!!  It as 6 pm when we arrived on the Isle of Skye, driving over the new road bridge. Skye is in the group of Isles known as the Inner Hebrides.  There are a total of 790 isles off the Scottish coast that belong to Scotland.
We settled into our hotel the Dunollie which is the only hotel large enough to house 43 coach guests.
Dinner at 7 then tea and coffee in the lounge where a young boy of 16 entertained the guests on his squeeze box, the accordion which is an instrument still common in these parts. Scottish songs on the squeeze box sounded wonderful. Gay Gordens, waltzes, ones mum and dad and their friends, theWatson’s, Sinclair’s, Barr’s, Blaikies used to dance to. I wish I had been interested in dancing and learning with them.
Another long but amazing day.
Cherrio!