Within 20 miles of Stirling… So much to see and experience!

On Sunday morning, October 6th, after we left the Fords of Frew and visited the lovely Easter Frew Farm, we tossed a coin to decide which way to go when we arrived back at the crossroads. We turned right and started driving in a northerly direction and soon noticed a sign pointing the way to a village by the name of Doune.

I asked Lindsay, “Isn’t there a castle called Doune? Have you ever been to it?”

He said, “Yes, I think I’ve heard of it but don’t recall ever visiting it. If there is a castle, then my guess is that it would be in or near the village of Doune, let’s see if we can find it!”  So we turned up the road to Doune, and we did find the Castle, which wasn’t difficult at all and only about 5 miles away!

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As soon as we arrived in the village, there were plenty of signs pointing the way. The Castle was near the edge of town on the far side and quite easy to find.

When we got out of the car and looked at it, it seemed familiar, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. It wasn’t long after entering and buying our tickets that I figured it out. They had signs and information all over the place boasting that the Castle was used as a stand-in for the fictional “Castle Leoch” in the TV adaptation of the Outlander series.  (Here’s a link to the Outlander filming locations interactive map if you’re a fan. Kind of fun to look at! Outlander Filming locations at Visit Scotland )

In Season 1 of the series, Castle Leoch served as the home of Jamie Fraser’s uncle, Colum Mackenzie, and his clan. So! That’s why it so looked familiar to me!

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It’s also been a filming location for other films and series such as ‘Winterfell’ in the series Game of Thrones…

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…and the British comedy film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, a parody of the legends of King Arthur, was also filmed here in 1974.

Besides its popularity as a set location for famous films, I soon learned that historically it formerly was built and owned by one of the Stewarts.  Since I have many familial connections to the Stewarts, I figured I must be related somehow to the person who built this Castle. However, I didn’t have access to Wifi at the time to check it out. As I often do, I knew I could always investigate that later…

The Castle was built around 1362 – about 658 years ago – by Robert Stewart, the Duke of Albany, and it remains pretty much intact to this day.

When Robert became the Earl of Menteith after his marriage to Margaret Graham, the Countess of Menteith, he was given the title of Earl and the lands that Doune Castle stands on. The building of the Castle started sometime soon after their marriage.

Robert was pretty well connected:

  • He was the second son of King Robert II of Scotland (1316–1390), the first monarch of the House of Stewart
  • His grandfather was Walter Stewart, 6th High Steward of Scotland (1293–1326) and
  • His great-grandfather was Robert the Bruce (1274–1329), legendary victor of the Battle of Bannockburn.
  • His older brother, John Stewart (1337–1406), would later be crowned King of Scotland under the name Robert III.

He was right there in the middle of all the royalty, and there is quite a bit of history written about him in particular! He’s rather infamous. We will not, however, get into that long story here!

As I was beginning to explore, I wondered how I might be related to this Robert Stewart, whose Castle I was wandering around in centuries later. When I did have time to investigate, it turns out he is my 18th great grandfather through the Campbells in Argyll! Well, I’ll be darned!  I stumbled upon yet another ancestral castle quite by chance.

IMG_6932I also discovered in my research that during the Jacobite rising of 1745, Doune Castle was occupied by Charles Edward Stuart, “Bonnie Prince Charlie,” and the Jacobite Highlanders. Doune was used as a prison for government troops who were captured at the Battle of Falkirk.  Evidently, legend has it that several prisoners who were held in the rooms above the kitchens managed to escape by knotting together bedsheets and climbing down from the window.

The escapees included the author John Home, and a minister, John Witherspoon, who later moved to America and was one of the men who signed the United States Declaration of Independence! That was an interesting little tidbit of historical information to discover!

The site of  Doune Castle was quite strategic since it is close to the geographical center of Scotland, and only 5 miles from Stirling Castle at the “crossroads of Scotland.”

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After buying our tickets in what used to be the room used by the Castle Guards, the tour began in the courtyard at ground level. There was a lot of restorative work being done, so it wasn’t safe to walk around the courtyard and out to the well.

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The fenced-off pathway in the courtyard led us to and up the stairs below, where we entered the tower through another large wooden door. From there, we began exploring the rooms inside, starting with the Inner Hall with its lavish double fireplace sitting in its prominent position at the head of the Hall right behind the table that Robert Stewart would have sat at to conduct business.

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IMG_6837Off in the left corner near the fireplaces, there were a flight of stairs that curved steeply upwards, leading to suites just out of sight. These stairs led to the Dukes and Duchesses private rooms.

The tour through the Castle lasts quite a while and has excellent interpretive signage all along the way. You can choose which way you want to explore. You don’t have to follow a designated route. They also provide an excellent audio tour device that explains everything as you progress. It guides you through the various parts of the Castle effortlessly, through the great halls, kitchens, bedrooms, and cellars at whatever pace you feel comfortable with and has interesting historical information and stories about the Castle and its inhabitants to listen to.

I usually particularly enjoy visiting the lower levels where the kitchens are. This Castle’s kitchen was exceptionally large with massive fireplaces and ovens in comparison to a lot of other castles I’ve visited. From the size of the kitchen alone, I could tell that at one time, some opulent festivities were occurring here and a lot of food being served through these pass-throughs and corridors. You could almost smell it on the walls!

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IMG_6901It was fun to climb up a few flights above the kitchen and look back down below to Lindsay, waving at me near the window below.

Above the kitchens are other private rooms, and evidently, Mary Queen of Scots spent time here during her reign and stayed in the suite above the kitchens. The tour ended as we descended from the kitchen tower on this stairway below.IMG_6822

 

In one of the cellar vaults under the Castle, as you’re leaving, there is a lovely gift shop to wander through. Naturally, because this is such an iconic Outlander filming location, there were all manner of Outlander paraphernalia – clothing, mugs, jewelry, books – that one could purchase as a souvenir…

 

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We still had quite a bit of daylight left in the afternoon, so we said goodbye to the village of Doune and traveled about 20 miles southeast toward Dunfermline to visit another village, Culross. It is an ancient village with old buildings and cobbled lanes that are lovingly restored from medieval times.

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We entered the village from the top access road off of the A985 and stopped at the Culross Abbey before we finished driving down the hill to the central part of the old village.

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It was deserted, and we were the only visitors wandering around this ancient abbey. They had several exhibits set up that we could read and look at as well as admire the stained glass windows, organ, and carved woodwork throughout.

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One of the displays talked about some silver coins called Merks that I thought was of interest.

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One particular young man in Culross in the late 1500s made quite a difference in the village of Culross. His name was Sir George Bruce. He developed a coal pit and harvested salt in the area.

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We will learn a bit more about this guy a bit later. Here’s a painting of him for now.

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In a side chapel, we happened upon the memorial aisle for Sir George, his wife, and their eight children all carved out of what looks like marble. Quite elaborate!

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We finished walking through the church and then headed back outside…

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To save Lindsay a whole lot of walking, we climbed back in the car and drove slowly through the narrow cobbled lanes of the village to the town center.

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In 1932, there was a very unique program launched in Scotland called “Little Houses” to restore historic homes. Over 165 houses have been restored since then, and Culross was extremely lucky to have 40 of their historical houses restored under that program. What is unique about the “Little Houses” project was that they not only wanted to restore and maintain the old historical buildings, but they wanted them to continue to be lived in supporting the community and its culture. They didn’t want to just create museums out of these houses for people to tour.  They sincerely wanted to maintain the community because it was threatened as a target community for slum clearances. All throughout the village, you see the plaques on the outside of various buildings that designate it as a ‘Little House’ that got special treatment under that grand scheme.

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Down near the edge of the water, we came to the center of town and parked near the Town House built 1626.  Our next stop would be the Palace, which is that dark ochre-colored building down the lane in the slideshow below that Sir George Bruce and his family built and lived in.  The Palace is a National Trust Property, and you can tour its interior.

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There are so many fascinating old buildings in this town, they’ve even included a handy map with a brief description for each unique treasure.  You could spend the whole day in this town wandering around and getting acquainted with all 40 of them!

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Because this beautiful little village has been preserved so well, it also serves as an authentic and well-suited set location for films. Most recently, it also appeared in several scenes of Outlander.

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The Palace is a National Trust Property and you can tour its interior. It also has extensive gardens in the rear of the Palace that you can also wander around and enjoy.

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The Palace is well worth visiting and is filled to the brim with authentic period furniture, artwork, fine examples of needlework, exquisite wood paneling, and artifacts. It is set up as if the family were actually living there and it feels like they have just stepped away for a walk or something.

IMG_7126It isn’t precisely a Palace, but rather, an impressive house for its time. You aren’t allowed to take pictures, however, so I don’t have many to show you.  You’ll have to come to see it for yourself or check out some images at the National Trust website: National Trust for Scotland.

One small bit of information I gathered about this place was how they treated their windows. Glass would have been expensive back then, so they only put clear panes on the upper part of the window. The bottom was a wooden shutter that could open from the inside to allow fresh air to enter the room. Now that’s an ingenious way to save some money yet maintain function!

Sir George was very instrumental in bringing a strong economy to Culross through the coal, iron, and salt industries. The tour of the Palace includes some very informative displays and exhibits that explain the unique way they harvested salt for curing and coal for heating. The coal pit Sir George developed had an opening in the middle of the Firth of Forth! It was quite amazing how they tunneled under the water and then built a mound of earth and a tower up to the level above the waterline so they could load the coal straight up from the pit below directly onto boats!

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By the time we toured the whole Palace, it was getting late in the afternoon, and we were ready to call it a day.  We managed to fit a lot into just one day!  We visited the village of Kippen, explored the Fords of Frew territory, toured an ancestral castle at Doune, and wandered about in a well-preserved medieval town!  Fun!

We finished off our beautiful day of exploring with a nice relaxing dinner. We spent the night nearby in the town of Bo’ness at the Richmond Park Hotel. It is located almost directly across the Firth of Forth from Culross.  The hotel had a very nice onsite restaurant where Lindsay enjoyed a proper Sunday full carvery dinner with Roast Beef and Yorkshire pudding; while I enjoyed some fried prawns with crunchy onion rings and a crisp fresh salad.

Afterward,  I had one more surprise in store for us.  We got back in the car and drove a few miles into the darkness to visit the Kelpies at night! What a treat! 

The Kelpies are 30-meter-high horse-head sculptures depicting shape-shifting water spirits, in The Helix, a new parkland project. They were designed by Andy Scott and completed in October 2013.

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The Kelpies’ name reflects the mythological transforming beasts possessing the strength and endurance of 10 horses; a quality that is analogous with the transformational change and endurance of Scotland’s inland waterways. The Kelpies represent the lineage of the heavy horse of Scottish industry and economy, pulling the wagons, ploughs, barges, and coal ships that shaped the geographical layout of the Falkirk area.

They are quite the sight to see! Especially at night when the changing color of the lights uplight them and reflect upon their surfaces. After you park your car you have to approach them on foot following a wide pathway through the park and near the canal. They are so impressive. Whether you’re just beginning to approach them and they come into view or if you’re standing right underneath them – they are amazing sculptures that keep their eye on you as you walk around them to admire their stunning beauty.

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We will come back to see these magnificent creatures in the light of day in the morning, but that’s another story about another day of exploring around Scotland. Next time, we will visit several other interesting Royal Palaces within close proximity to Stirling and Edinburgh and also visit an utterly amazing engineering feat you won’t want to miss!

 

Isle Hopping in the Western Hebrides -Part 3; Mallaig to Falls of Foyers, Cawdor Castle, Jacobite Highland Dress & The Black Isle

IMG_5311We left the harbor town of Mallaig early in the morning to begin our travels on Thursday, September 15th. You could feel autumn in the air and the changing of the seasons. We hadn’t traveled far when we spied the estuary of Morar Bay (above). We turned off the main road to enjoy the calm surfaces of the water and the white sands in the early morning light. Apparently, it was high tide that morning, because I found another picture on Wikipedia (at right) of the same place that looks totally different at low tide!

Before we returned to the main highway, we drove up a little side road a short distance under the bridges following a river upstream and discovered some mighty and beautiful waterfalls.  I later learned that the River Morar is one of the shortest rivers in Scotland. It flows from the western end of  Loch Morar to the estuary of Morar Bay. It is less than two-thirds of a mile long (at high tide). That river sure has a mighty punch of waterfalls for being so short!

The river is also crossed by three bridges: one for the A830 main road, an older bridge for the smaller side road, and one for the West Highland Railway, which the Jacobite Train runs on from Fort William to Mallaig, often called the Harry Potter Train. The railway viaduct dates from 1897. The railway line has been voted the most scenic railway line in the world for the second year running. More on that later…

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After eating breakfast in the small quaint town of Morar, we returned to the main road once again following the 75-mile planned travel route for the day. It would take us inland from Mallaig toward Fort William, then north toward Fort Augustus, ending at a lovely spot on the east side of Loch Ness called the Falls of Foyers (Point C on the map below).

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In the morning hours, we headed east on the A830 passing Loch Eilt, Loch Shiel at Glenfinnan, and Loch Eil. The drive offers lovely views to enjoy along the way and some impressive historical monuments to stop at as well.   IMG_5351

I enjoyed stopping to visit the cairn marking the spot where Bonnie Prince Charlie left the mainland of Scotland after the Battle of Culloden because I am very interested in the history of the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745.

I also wanted to stop at Glenfinnan on Loch Shiel; however, everybody and their brother had the same idea but had arrived much earlier than we did. Every last possible place to park the car was already taken. People were even parked along the road on both sides of the roadway, and on either side of the monument for a good 1/2 mile or so.  Needless to say, the Glenfinnan viaduct is extremely popular and quite scenic. The monument standing by the bay of Loch Shiel is also iconic. Still, it is also an absolutely fantastic place to watch the Jacobite Train pass by on the curved viaduct behind it as it makes its way from Fort William to Mallaig.

Since I couldn’t stop, I didn’t get any pictures. However, I did find a couple on Wikipedia so you can see what it looks like. You might even recognize it from the Harry Potter films.

The viaduct with its 21 arches is impressive in itself, but add an old steam locomotive, and it becomes downright idyllic & iconic! This year, when I return to Scotland for the summer, Lindsay and I have reservations on this Jacobite Train for his birthday in August. It will be an all-day roundtrip adventure for us and one that we are really looking forward to as you might well imagine!

Since we couldn’t find a place to park, we continued on down the road past all the tourists and continued to enjoy the beautiful landscapes passing by…

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390px-Neptune's_Staircase_2017_leftAround mid-day, we arrived at the junction where we would turn and begin working our way north for a spell. We stopped to check out the interconnected locks on the Caledonia Canal called Neptune’s Staircase.

According to Wikipedia: “It is a staircase lock comprising of eight locks. It was built by Thomas Telford between 1803 and 1822 and is the longest staircase lock in Britain. The system was originally hand-powered but has been converted to hydraulic operation.”  The photo above is also from Wikipedia; I couldn’t possibly get a shot like that myself unless I was really good at flying a drone or something! However, I managed to get a couple of decent shots of it up close while walking alongside the locks, as shown in the photos below.

When we reached Fort Augustus, we turned right and passed the south end of Loch Ness. Loch Ness is the second largest Scottish loch by surface area  (22 sq mi) after Loch Lomond. Because of its great depth, however, it is the largest by volume in all of the British Isles. Its deepest point is 755 ft, making it the second deepest loch in Scotland after Loch Morar.  Evidently, it contains more fresh water than all the lakes in England and Wales combined and is the largest body of water in the Great Glen, which runs from Inverness in the north to Fort William in the south. Needless to say, it is enormous and seems to go on forever. It looks like it empties right into the North Sea from this vantage point (below).

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The road took us up into those hills on the right side of the loch (above), and we continued driving north through them. That part of the drive also offered up some breathtaking views as well, such as this spot looking toward Inverness.

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In the mid-afternoon and about halfway up the east side of Loch Ness, we arrived at our final destination for the day – the Falls of Foyers. We hiked the trail down through the tree-filled canyon to the falls along this well-maintained stair-stepped trail.

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After our waterfall hike, we relaxed at the Waterfall Cafe and grabbed something for a late lunch. Lindsay was “good” and ordered something hearty and healthy like soup with brown bread. At the same time, I indulged myself in something absolutely scrumptious and totally irresistible – homemade blueberry cheesecake – but not exactly hearty nor healthy! Oh well… sometimes you just have to splurge, don’t ya?

We spent the rest of the afternoon down along the shores of Loch Ness near the campground watching the ducks and boats pass by before we checked into our hotel, Foyers House, which was located just uphill from the cafe.

Much to our surprise, besides serving a delightful and delicious breakfast in the morning, they also had an onsite restaurant that served excellent fare for our evening meal as well. We were able to watch the setting sun in the west because we were perched up on the side of the hill overlooking Loch Ness. The name of their restaurant and bar is “The Wee Dram.” As the name suggests, you can sample and enjoy over 120 different varieties of Scottish Whisky listed on their Whisky Wall. We tried a couple with our outstanding meal, and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. We also slept really well that night!

In the morning, we awoke to another bonnie fine day with clear blue skies with a low cloud of fog hovering over the loch’s surface.

The hotel offered an excellent selection of delicious menu options for breakfast, besides the usual traditional Scottish breakfast, which was a nice change.  I was very impressed. This hotel was also for adults only and didn’t allow children under the age of 18, so it was nice and quiet without a bunch of energetic and boisterous kids bouncing around to have to deal with. I highly recommend this hotel if you want a great place to stay in an off the beaten track location that offers fantastic views at a reasonable rate.

Once we finished our scrumptious breakfast, we climbed back in the car and continued heading north, hugging the shores of Loch Ness toward Inverness. The fog had lifted and disappeared altogether, and you could see the massive loch stretched out in either direction as far as you could see.

Claudia on east shore of Loch Ness

About an hour or so later, we made it to our first stop for the day – Cawdor Castle. It is located about 5 miles away from Inverness airport. I’ve toured the castle a couple of times before on previous trips, so we didn’t go inside. It’s a pretty cool castle, however, and I highly recommend touring it if you should happen to be in the area. It is a privately owned castle, and the owners still live in part of it and generously offer guided tours in the summer season to help fund the maintenance of the beautiful castle and its extensive well-kept grounds. There is even a golf course if you’re so inclined.

Instead of going inside the castle, we wanted to stay outside in the sunshine and enjoy the gardens. The castle has a couple of differently themed walled gardens to explore.

This one on the south side of the castle has lots of blossoms, busy butterflies flitting about, and some very appealing sculptures to enjoy, such as this unique metal birdfeeder below.

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Or how about this ball made out of slabs of slate with water dripping over it into a pool below?

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Or this globe made out of slabs of glass-like material? Beautiful, isn’t it?

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The walled garden on the other side of the castle offered other surprises such as a giant maze made out of evergreen hedges with a half-man/half-bull statue planted at its center, hidden fountains, intricate box hedge formal gardens, and other unique features elsewhere within its boundaries…

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A bright blue doorway in a wall leads to a bridge near the back of the castle. The bridge spans the Cawdor river below and leads to the nature trails in the nearby woodlands. 

We had worked up an appetite, so before getting back on the road once again, we stopped at the Cawdor Tavern nearby to enjoy a nice lunch outside in the sunshine on the patio. My choice from the days’ specials was smoked salmon, homemade dilly cucumbers, and cream cheese filling with a fresh salad on the side. Yum!

In August, when we attended the Lonach Highland Games in Strathdon, we met a charming couple who enjoy dressing up in period Jacobite costumes. They frequent events and help to educate people about Scotland’s history and culture.

IMG_5745We had seen them at several events over the years, and this year I made an effort to introduce myself and make their acquaintance. Since we were in the area where they live, and they had given us their card with their contact information, we decided to give them a call to see if we could stop by to visit them as we made our way to Dingwall. We had invited them to meet us for coffee somewhere nearby, but they asked us to come to their house instead.

We had only planned on visiting with them for an hour or so, not wanting to wear out our welcome, but ended up spending the entire afternoon with them instead. Such an interesting and friendly couple, Sandra and Ed, are!

They welcomed us into their home, and we had great conversations about genealogy, the Scottish Clans, and about how they got interested in period clothing from the Jacobite era.  Before we arrived, they had even done a bit of research about the surname Frew and shared their findings with us. That was so thoughtful of them!

Then they asked us if we might like to try dressing up as well.  Sandra is a seamstress like myself and pulled out all kinds of examples of her handiwork that she is has created by repurposing used clothing she has found at thrift stores and estate sales. She’s quite resourceful and very talented indeed.

They have built quite a collection of pieces of period costumes, but also all the accouterments that go with it such as brooches, swords, old guns, you name it!

IMG_5629She assembled an outfit for me and IMG_5719began the process of dressing me up by starting with the undergarment and then added the rest of the layers until I was totally transformed into a rebel Jacobite! Such fun!

Next came Lindsay…

Ed dressed him up in a “Great” kilt. He started by laying out yards and yards of tartan on the hardwood floor and began meticulously folding it into pleats.

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After he got it all folded just right, he had Lindsay lie down on top of it to put the kilt on him and then fastened it tight with a belt, draped the remaining loose tartan around the back and over his shoulder finishing it off by adding a brooch at his left shoulder to keep it in place. It was quite an educational process to watch and unfurl before my eyes.

Afterward, we all headed outside for a photoshoot! Lindsay kept commenting to me as we posed that I needed to put a serious face on and act the part of an angry, rebellious Jacobite wench. I really tried, but I was having so much fun I couldn’t seem to rid myself of my silly grin the whole while.

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Following the photo shoot, we went back inside for a toast with a traditional Quaich cup. It is the traditional toasting cup of welcome in Scotland or even good wishes upon farewell or parting and is truly Scotland’s Cup of Friendship. The Quaich was a common domestic utensil for centuries, which originated in the West Highlands of Scotland. It was the dish from which the Scot supped his porridge and drank his ale. These cups were very widely used in Covenanting times and are mentioned in the old Jacobite song:

‘Then let the flowing Quaich go round, and boldly let the pibroch sound, Till every glen and rock resound, The name o’ Royal Charlie. Welcome Charlie, o’er the main, Our hieland hills are a’ your ain, Welcome to our Isle again, Welcome Royal Charlie’

Then, as if they hadn’t already been the perfect hosts, Sandra brought out another couple of special seasonal treats… a homemade pumpkin pie with whipped cream and minced meat tarts!

Knowing I am American and it was going to be Thanksgiving soon, she made these especially for me.  How thoughtful is that? Needless to say, they were a perfect ending to an ideal fun get-together with new friends! Lindsay had never tasted pumpkin pie before. I was amazed since it is such a staple in the States. He absolutely loved it.

We hated to part company with them and discard our magnificent garb of Highland dress, but when I glanced at the clock, I realized that if we didn’t get back on the road soon, we would be late for a dinner date later that evening with our good friends Pat & Ian MacLeod in Dingwall.  So we reluctantly said our ‘fare thee wells’ and proceeded on down the road. It was a fun and eventful day full of surprises that we will long remember and hold dear to our hearts.

The following morning we awoke to yet another outstanding and brilliantly sunshiney day in Dingwall. We had stayed once again at the Old Tweed house B&B we stayed in with the girls when they had first arrived months earlier.

We met up with Pat & Ian, who just live down the lane from the B&B and spent the day together, exploring the Black Isle.

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Our first stop in the morning was St. Clements Church in Dingwall to pay one last visit this year to the gravesite of our 2nd great grandparents – Thomas MacNaughton Frew and Christina Rose.

Afterward, we began our 45-mile loop tour of the Black Isle. Just across the Cromarty Firth, we could see Dingwall on the opposite shore.

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Our first stop was a site Pat & Ian thought we both might enjoy, an ancient church and churchyard that has been lovingly and painstakingly restored by a dedicated group of local volunteers – KirkMichael.

The old church contained some fascinating old stones. They even raised the necessary funds to have new replications made of the most interesting and symbolic stones found on the grounds. These stones help explain all of the symbols and carvings often found on old stones, such as these in their interpretive displays.

It was a Saturday morning when the volunteers show up to do maintenance work and repairs. It was quite entertaining watching these two guys applying new mortar between the capstones on the fence. They sure are dedicated. It amazes me how many people, especially the older generation, spend so much time and effort to preserve sacred grounds such as these for future generations. Luckily, there are younger volunteers as well that are learning the fine art of restoration and maintaining proper records of our ancestors from the older community members so the work can continue in the future.

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We drove a few miles further to the tip of the Black Isle and the town of Cromarty.

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We found a handy place along Shore Street to enjoy our picnic lunch in the sunshine.

Then we made our way around the other side of the Isle to see the Chanonry Lighthouse and to watch for Dolphins frolicking in the Moray Firth…IMG_5920

…as well as visiting the cathedral at Fortrose nearby.

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We spent the rest of the day back at Pat & Ian’s house visiting and enjoying their friendship and company in Dingwall. It would be the last time I got to see them until I’m lucky enough to return once again in the future.

On Sunday, we spent an uneventful trip driving back to Lindsay’s house in Aberdeen. We didn’t stop, nor visit any sites along the way, except for one spot that we had driven by many times in Elgin and had never noticed.

One of my really old great great great great…grandfathers, Alexander Stewart, “The Wolf of Badenoch” was from this area. He was quite the dastardly dude in his day and therefore wish he wasn’t my ancestor, but… If you have read any of my older blog posts from a couple of years back, you will know how I discovered his burial tomb (quite by pure chance) in the cathedral at Dunkheld much further south near the town of Perth.

While doing some research on Alexander over the past winter, I discovered, again by pure chance, that there is a statue of him in f Elgin. “Hmmm,” I thought, “I’ve been to Elgin many times, toured the cathedral several times, and don’t ever recall seeing a statue of him anywhere.” I investigated further and discovered its location. Evidently, it is situated in one of the roundabouts that you drive through as you pass through town on the main highway.

On the way back to Aberdeen that morning, as we drove through Elgin and its many roundabouts in the center of town, sure enough, off to the side, all by itself was a statue with a massive broken arch over it which represents the ruined Elgin Cathedral. One of the acts he is infamous for is that he got furious at the Bishop because he wouldn’t grant him a divorce from his barren wife, and then Alexander proceeded to set fire to the cathedral, ruining it, and even tried (yet failed) to murder the Bishop! Talk about a guy with anger management issues!

Both Lindsay and I have driven past this statue more times than we can possibly count and never noticed it before! Guess we were too concentrated on navigating the roundabouts and the traffic to look at what’s nearby.

There he was in full size!

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We spent the rest of our morning driving the rest of the way back to Aberdeen, reflecting all the while on the beautiful things we saw and the delightfully scenic places we visited during our 10-day Isle Hopping journey in the Western Hebrides and the Scottish Highlands. I hope you’ve enjoyed it and that you will return once again to read about more adventures yet to come.

 

 

Isle Hopping in the Western Hebrides – Part 2; Isle of Skye

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In the morning, we awoke to a beautiful calm Sunday in the village of Tobermory. There were some light clouds, and the forecast called for some scattered showers throughout the day. Lindsay commented that it didn’t look like a lovely day, but I retorted, “No, actually, it is an extremely nice day because I woke up to find I am still in Scotland! Therefore, it’s an absolutely wonderful day!”

After fixing a hearty breakfast in the hostel, Lindsay and I decided to go for a stroll along the edge of the harbor and check out the architecture and shop fronts in this quaint and colorful seaside village.

We happened across a couple of signs in the shop windows that I thought were amusing…

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mapOur plans for the day were to catch the ferry at the end of the street. This ferry would take us back to the mainland at Kilchoan. From there, we could drive a short distance to visit a lighthouse and then double-back, following the shoreline of Loch Sunart as we made our way back to the ferry at Carron. We would spend most of the day driving about 160 miles through beautiful countryside, eventually arriving at Portree on the Isle of Skye.

The first ferry of the day was on time as usual, and we were soon well on our way, crossing the 5 miles to Kilchoan on the other side.

Once we disembarked from the ferry, it was another 6 miles or so out to the Ardnamurchan Lighthouse at the tip of the peninsula.

The view of the coastline was beautiful from the lighthouse at this remote location.

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As we made our way back toward Kilchoan, we passed some adorable animals. At first glance, because of the markings, we thought these three critters were goats, but when we got closer, we realized they were wooly and were actually sheep.

We later found out they are called Jacob sheep. Interesting! I’ve never seen that type of sheep before. Usually, they are just all white, or all brown, or black, but not all mixed together like this breed.

In addition to the sheep, these two ponies were quite pretty and turned out to be quite the hams when we stopped to take photos of them. I swear they must have been practicing their poses for the tourists!

We drove east, hugging the shores of Loch Sunart on a mostly one track, narrow, winding road back to the Corran ferry where we could cross Loch Linnhe again and reconnect with the A82 highway heading north toward Fort William.

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We traveled north on the A82 until we reached Invergarry, where we could head west once again to the Isle of Skye. It took us most of the day, but we thoroughly enjoyed driving along with the Gaelic speaking radio station playing music. We can’t understand a word they are saying, but we sure enjoy the selection of traditional Gaelic tunes they offer their listeners.  There was one tune, in particular, that was quite catchy with a word like “mucky shan” repeated over and over again. We later learned it is the Gaelic word for “moccasin!” Interesting how the Native Americans created a word for footwear that is so similar to the Gaelic name for the same item.

As the afternoon faded, we made our way covering the last few miles driving through the misty and magical mountains on the Isle of Skye to our final destination at Portree.

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IMG_4860By the time we arrived at the hostel, we were more than ready to settle in, fix ourselves some dinner in the self-catering kitchen and just relax the rest of the evening with all of the other guests who were also travelers like us.

The next morning, we awoke to a beautiful view of  Loch Portree and the mountain called “Sgùrr nan Gillean” about 12 miles beyond in the distance.

view from Portree Hostel in the morning

mapWe enjoyed an excellent hot breakfast and packed ourselves a picnic lunch to take with us as we headed out for another day of exploration.

The itinerary included a side trip to the west to visit a castle and then a big loop around the northern tip of the isle to visit a unique museum and some stunning geological formations created by volcanoes many moons ago.

We got an early start and arrived at  Dunvegan Castle just as they were opening their gates, so we had the place pretty much to ourselves along with a handful of other ‘early birds.’ Just the way we like it.

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Dunvegan is the oldest continuously-inhabited castle in Scotland and has been the ancestral home of the Chiefs of Clan MacLeod for 800 years. They offer self-guided tours, and you can also take pictures of the exquisite furnishings inside.

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We thoroughly enjoyed our tour of the premises and the beautiful and unique treasures it holds.

Here are a few shots of the numerous rooms we toured and a few select items that I thought particularly interesting.

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As an example of one of the unique items, here is “Rory Mor’s Horn.” Evidently, it is essential for the clan’s survival that a Chief should prove his fitness to lead by filling up the horn with claret to the brim (nearly a half-gallon) and it all must be drunk by the Chief in one drink without ‘setting the horn down’ or falling down himself!

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Down in the lower levels of the castle, we toured rooms that were the servants quarters as a finale.

Once we had toured the castle, we headed back outside to also explore the various sections of gardens Dunvegan also offers.  There is a delightful network of pathways that take you downhill from the castle and across the river, complete with stunning waterfalls. Beyond that is the pleasurable round garden and the walled garden further on where they used to grow their fruits and vegetables. Although we did not partake, you can also book a boat ride to go out and visit the seals and other wildlife resting on the rocks out in the deep waters of Loch Dunvegan.

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Although it was getting late in the season, there was still quite a bit of color left in the flower beds and foliage to enjoy throughout the various sections of the gardens.

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As expected, about the time we were done touring the castle and its grounds, we headed back to the car park to find several buses had just arrived filled with tourists eager to visit the castle. We were quite content to climb back in our car, avoiding that crowd and continue further on down the road. We headed back to the main road and then started making the loop around the northern tip of the isle.

At the town of Uig, we decided to take a break, stretch our legs, and get a latte ‘to go’ down in the harbor. Many times when I order a coffee ‘to go’ they look at me funny like they don’t know what I mean. That’s when I need to correct myself, speak their lingo, and rephrase it to say a coffee to ‘take-away.’

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We continued on until we came to the small village of Kilmuir on the northern coastline. There is a fascinating and unique museum in this remote location. It’s called the Skye Museum of Island Life.  It consists of about seven or eight crofts. ‘Crofts’ are the stone houses with thatched roofs that the farmers of old used to live and work in. Each of these thatched houses represents an aspect of the crofter’s lives and contains original tools, implements, and items used by these people daily.

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For instance, the first one you come to depicts what a typical home looked like and what the furnishings were like inside. Quite a contrast to the castle dwellings we just visited!

This croft house had three rooms and was the home of John & Annie Graham and their 10 children. There weren’t many trees on Skye, so the homes were built out of what was available. Just about everything they had was hand-made; the cloth to make their clothes, they also raised sheep and spun their own wool, grew their own food, etc., etc. Talk about some stalwart and a resourceful bunch of people!

Next, came the barn where they kept the precious cow warm during the winter to provide milk, cheese, and butter to the family year-round.

The next one was the Ceilidh House (pronounced “Kay-lee”), where they would play music and dance and get together with others in their tight-knit community. There isn’t any dancing going on inside any longer; however, it’s filled to the brim with interpretive panels that are filled with stories and pictures about crofting and some local legends to read about.

Here are some of the pictures of the people who lived in these houses and how they worked the land and managed to survive despite the hardships they endured.

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After the party house, the next building held all sorts of tools: nets, traps, & floats for fishing, threshing machines for separating grain from the sheaf, and tack for the horses.

Of course, you would have to have a loom at the Weaver’s house and a few spinning wheels…

…as well as some seaworthy boats…

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…and some were lucky enough to have another building that held both a grocer’s shop and a blacksmith shop next door as well!

I think it is absolutely fantastic that they have created this museum of island life and preserved the many artifacts of what life was like for these stout and hard-working people to serve as a testament to the life they led on this isle.

We got back in the car and continued driving around the tip of the peninsula, enjoying the views and the magnificent examples of geological features in the terrain.

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People come from all over the world to see these fine specimens of rock called the Quiraing and the rocket-shaped outcropping of basalt called “The Old Man of Storr.”

Skye is nicknamed the “misty isle” because often, these formations are shrouded in a misty cloud, and they are obscured. However, today we were fortunate. It was kind of cloudy, but at least they were high clouds, and the formations could easily be viewed.  What a treat! There is a car park at the side of the road where you can find the trailhead that leads up to the formations offering fantastic views of the surrounding terrain. We did not, however, hike this trail!

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We also stopped to view a beautiful waterfall flowing under the main road and a magnificent view of the ocean and small picturesque beach below at the river’s mouth.

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After a full day of exploring parts of the Isle of Skye, we returned to Portree, found a delightful restaurant with delectable fresh seafood entrees, and settled in for a very yummy and satisfying meal at the end of the day. That night I enjoyed seared fresh scallops on a bed of risotto!

mapOn Wednesday morning, September 18th, we checked out of the hostel at Portree and started making our way back to the mainland once again. When we got to Broadford, we took a detour over the mountain to catch a small ferry at Kylerhea to Glen Elg on the other side. A couple of years ago, I found two Bronze age Broch’s up a canyon near Glen Elg that I wanted to show Lindsay.

I also wanted him to see, and ride on, this unique turn-table ferry, the last of its kind.

IMG_4965We crossed Kyle Rhea on the ferry and made our way to the first broch called Dun Telve. These ancient dwellings date from around 2,300 – 1,900 years ago. They are quite unique, with double walls.  Only a portion of them remain intact but they are fascinating to explore just the same.

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This interpretive sign gives us a glimpse of what the dwelling must have looked like inside and how it was multi-leveled.

A little further up the road, there is a second site, called Dun Trodden, that we also explored.

We returned to the ferry at Kyle Rhea and crossed once again back to Skye to continue our tour.  While we waited, we went inside the lighthouse and found all sorts of information about the ferry, the local wildlife, and the cute little lighthouse itself. They also had many souvenirs for sale like coffee cups, t-shirts, and decals regaling the many qualities of this delightful little unique ferry. I bought a decal sticker for my car!

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IMG_5113Soon we were crossing the water once again and driving back over the mountain on the one-track road and approaching Broadford once again on the Isle of Skye.

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We turned left on the main road and then another left soon thereafter to take us to the southwestern tip of the isle to visit Armadale Castle, the seat of Clan MacDonald.

The castle was built in 1815, so it isn’t ancient. About 40 years later, a fire destroyed most of it. In less than 100 years, even after being remodeled after the horrendous fire, it had fallen into disrepair and deemed unsafe.

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You can’t walk amongst the ruins; only view them from the outside behind a small wooden fence. Still, it’s interesting to walk around it and the grounds on which it sits.

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There are numerous paths to follow on the vast estate grounds. These paths lead to herbaceous flower beds at various levels, giant rhododendron bushes you can walk underneath, and cute little bridges to cross the creek which meanders throughout the grounds eventually flowing into the picturesque pond.

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There is also a museum located on the grounds. It is filled with all manner of MacDonald finery & weaponry, as well as beautiful specimens of musical instruments and a complete, and lovingly restored regatta racing boat that has never left the Isle of Skye since it was built in 1897.

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After we finished touring Armadale, we drove the remaining short distance to the ferry landing, where we would catch one more ferry back to the mainland, landing at the town of Mallaig about five miles away.  While we waited for the boat to arrive, we decided to treat ourselves to a latte and some sweets at “The Shed” nearby to tide us over until dinner.

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The ferry was on time, and soon we were boarding. It sure was a LOT bigger than any of the ferries we had utilized while we hopped from one place to another along this trip. I felt like we were boarding an ocean liner or something!

Five miles later, we arrived in Mallaig, found our hotel, “The Steam Inn,” and relaxed the rest of the evening with a nice meal of shrimp ‘n chips in their restaurant onsite. What another fantastic day it had been exploring ancient dwellings from the Bronze Age, castles from the 19th century, and riding very unique and one-of-a-kind ferries with a delightful traveling companion who has a great attitude!  Who could ask for more?

This concludes 4 more days of our 10-day tour. In the third and final blog post of this adventure, we will be leaving the western isles. We will head inland to explore the road less traveled along the eastern shores of Loch Ness. We will experience a fun and exciting visit with some new friends we met at a Highland Game event in August,  and we will complete a circular tour around the Black Isle north of Inverness. Stay tuned for Part 3 coming soon! Until then, happy traveling!

Isle Hopping in the Western Hebrides

It had been several years since Lindsay had ventured west from Aberdeen to the Isle of Skye, and he had never visited the Isle of Iona. Hence, we decided to take a 10-day road trip together to visit numerous Isles on the west coast of Scotland. The 800-mile route we took is displayed on the map below.  I’ve been writing a book about taking Road Trips in Scotland, and I wanted to do a bit of research as well while I was at it.

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We started out on Friday, September 13th, driving south from Aberdeen through Perth to the harbor town of Oban on the west coast.  Along the way, we took a bit of a detour through Glencoe because I mainly wanted to see the beautiful sight of the Three Sisters along the A82. It is so breathtaking!

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We arrived in Oban in the late afternoon, got settled into the hostel along the water’s edge, and then explored the town a bit looking for a decent place to get some fresh fish ‘n chips for our evening meal.

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After dinner, we checked in with the Cal-Mac Ferries to book our spot on the ferry the following morning to Craignure on the Isle of Mull. Unfortunately, the weather forecast was rather stormy, and we were informed that the boat was probably not going to run the next day due to the foul weather predictions.

We explained to the attendant that we had reservations on Mull the following evening and asked if they knew of any other route we could take instead. She suggested we drive north a short distance to Carron to catch a ferry there and then drive to another ferry landing at Lochaline that also goes to Mull and lands at Fishnish. Those two ferry crossings are very short and not as subject to the rough waters as the ferry from Oban to Craignure. We thanked her immensely and made the necessary adjustments to our plans.

As luck would have it, it turned out to be a much better route to take than what we had initially planned. Even though we had to take two ferries instead of one, they were both very short ferry rides, less expensive, and we had the opportunity to drive through some stunning and remote countryside not often traveled by others! To me, that’s a huge plus!

The drive north to Corran from Oban in the morning was only about 30 miles. About halfway along the route, we happened upon a delightful little cafe and gift shop where we enjoyed a fabulous traditional Scottish breakfast that also offered up an absolutely beautiful view of Castle Stalker situated on an island to enjoy while we ate. What a special treat!

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In addition to the many selections on their menu, they also had some absolutely yummy looking desserts in their display cases that were difficult to resist! I was particularly intrigued by the first option called Banoffee, which is made from bananas, cream, and toffee!

We drove the rest of the way to Corran and boarded the small ferry to cross Loch Linnhe at its’ narrowest point to the other side about 1/4 mile away. Before we could turn around, we were on the other side and well on our way, driving across the countryside. There was no getting out of the car on this short hop of a ferry ride!

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The traffic along the one-track road was horrendous, as you can easily see, as we made our way to Lochaline about 30 miles south!

After a beautiful drive, we arrived at the water’s edge of the Sea of Mull at Lochaline and positioned our car in the front of the line for the next ferry that would take us over to Fishnish on the Isle of Mull about a mile across the water.

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Once we landed at Fishnish, the third and final leg of our day’s journey took us south and west across the Isle of Mull to the tiny village of Fionnphort about 35 miles away.

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The drive is very scenic and full of surprises around every corner.

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When we arrived at Fionnphort, there were busloads of people waiting for the last ferry crossing of the day. It was stormy with choppy seas and threatening to rain all night, just as predicted. The travelers were all quite worried they wouldn’t be able to cross the water the short distance to the Isle of Iona. Many people make a pilgrimage to Iona, where the iconic Iona Abbey is located. Most of the people were attending a week-long spiritual retreat on the Isle and were quite worried about where they would spend the night in this small village if the ferry didn’t run. Lucky for them, however, the boat did allow them aboard after all, and they made one last run for the day.

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Lindsay and I had reservations in Fionnphort at a lovely B & B called the Seaview.

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We hunkered down and spent the stormy evening warm and dry in our cozy accommodations and also thoroughly enjoyed a delectable and hearty dinner in the pub next door.

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We also thought our placemats were quite comical.

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Fionnphort is a delightful little seaport village, and the ‘hairy coos’ have the run of the place. It appears that their job is to keep the bushes trimmed all over town.

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The following morning, after a good night’s rest, we awoke to an absolutely gorgeous day!

We enjoyed a lovely breakfast at our B & B with beautiful views of the beach from the breakfast room.

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beach at Fionnphort ferry landing

The seas and the wind had both calmed considerably. Soon, we were making our way on the first ferry crossing over to the Isle of Iona.

bay view at ferry landing on Isle of Iona4IMG_3584Safely across the water to the Isle of Iona, we began our explorations of this tiny island’s treasures. A handy map of this village points out the sites we will pass as we make our way from the ferry landing to the Abbey nearby.

According to the interpretive signs provided, “Iona is one of the most iconic and sacred places in Scotland. A place of pilgrimage, we welcome thousands of visitors every year. Whether attracted by the islands’ peace and spirituality, its wildlife and inspiring landscape, or its unique, friendly atmosphere, there is something for everyone to enjoy here on Iona. Saint Columba’s arrival on Iona in AD563 heralded the spreading of Christianity across Scotland.”IMG_3583The first site we came upon was the Nunnery ruins… 

IMG_3602 We continued along the path toward the Abbey passing additional sites along the way. I particularly liked this rock stile built into the fence. It makes it easy to go over the wall and walk IMG_3605across the field to the opposite corner.

Just across the way, we happened upon Macleans Cross. Medieval pilgrims paused here to pray on the approach to the Abbey.

A little further on, we passed IMG_3609the quaint Parish Church and the Larder, which is now a gift shop.

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Like many places across Scotland, the vine-like plant, called Kenilworth Ivy, grows wild on rock walls, and this particular display was plentiful and quite decorative against the hard rock surfaces.

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Just after passing the former home of the Reverend and his wife, the sacred graveyard, and the Abbey beyond came into view.

IMG_3630“As old as the Abbey itself, Reilig Odhrain is Iona’s main burial ground – the final resting place of abbots, monks, great lords, and warriors. Tradition says it is also the burial place of ancient kings. Medieval sources name 48 Scottish kings laid to rest here. However, recent scholars have cast doubt on this long-held belief. Whether or not there are royal burials, Reilig Odhrain holds the remains of some powerful people.” Below is an old drawing of the sacred burial grounds.IMG_3791

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Inside the chapel were some intriguing stone slabs and curiosities.

Next, we began exploring the Abbey itself…

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IMG_3699We happened to arrive while the Sunday service was being held inside. Therefore, we walked all around the outside of the Abbey and visited the Abbey museum located in the back. It was filled to the brim with fascinating artifacts and told the whole story of Abbey’s history.

After we were done looking at all of the artifacts in the museum, the church service had ended. We were able to enter the Abbey and begin exploring its interior.

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I particularly enjoyed the cloisters located in the center of the church.

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The carvings on the stone posts and columns throughout the buildings were particularly magnificent.

Just as we were finishing up our tour, we noticed that the ferry had brought over busloads of tourists from the mainland. It was so lovely to catch the first ferry of the day. Doing so made it possible to have the Abbey to ourselves instead of having to deal with so many other tourists. That was excellent timing. Since they were arriving, it was time for us to make our way back to the ferry and the Isle of Mull to continue our travels for the rest of the day. From Fionnphort, we drove about 50 miles to the northern end of the Isle to the town of Tobermory.

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Along the way, we saw all manner of sights!

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Also, there were a few free-range cows that directed traffic!

There were also some very creative and whimsical scrap art creations along the way…

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About halfway through our journey, we stopped at Macleans Castle. We didn’t tour the castle, but we sure enjoyed a yummy bowl of hot soup in their Tea Room!

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IMG_3972Near the end of the day, we arrived at Tobermory. It’s such a cute little harbor town, full of colorful buildings all in a row. Our hostel was right in the thick of it at the water’s edge. It’s the pink and white building in the photo below. We also particularly enjoyed the view of the harbor from our vantage point at the hostel.

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It had been another fantastic day exploring the ancient and iconic Abbey, driving through beautiful countryside, and riding on yet another ferry. We finished up our day just enjoying the view while we ate our spaghetti dinner with Italian sausages that we made in the kitchen at our hostel.  A perfect ending to a perfect day!

That brings us to the end of the first 3 days of Lindsay at Tobermoryour 10-day trip of Isle Hopping. In the next post, we will travel from Tobermory (by ferry, of course!) in a northerly direction, visiting a lighthouse and our adventures will continue on the Isle of Skye for a couple of days. I hope you’ll return to continue following my adventures. Until then, happy traveling!

 

Our 6th & Final Week of Our European Holiday

It was hard to believe that we had been traveling around for 5 weeks already. Where did the time go? We only had 6 remaining days before the girls would board a flight in Aberdeen to head back home to Oregon. I still had several places I wanted to share with them before they left. Luckily, they were all located nearby in Aberdeenshire, so we had just the right amount of time to fit them all in comfortably.

IMG_2978On Saturday, August 24th, we rose early, enjoyed a good hearty breakfast that would sustain us for a while, and then piled into the car and drove out to Strathdon to attend The Lonach Gathering. Out of all the Highland Games, this is my favorite. I was so glad I had the opportunity to take the girls and show them what authentic Highland Games are all about.

Early in the morning, the Clansmen gather together in full highland dress and assemble to begin “The Lonach March.”  With banners flying the Clansmen march down the road behind their police escort (a Bobby on a bicycle) carrying their pikes, playing their bagpipes and beating their drums through the village, past the arena where the games take place, culminating their march at the Lonach Hall where they enjoy a private lunch before the games begin.

This tradition has been passed on from generation to generation.  Unfortunately, we didn’t leave early enough to arrive in time to see the men actually marching down the road. Still, we were able to see them gathered together afterward, hear the speeches, and watch them toast their society with a dram of whisky.

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IMG_4442The Chieftain of the clan is Sir James Forbes of Newe, Bart (pictured at right), and serves as Patron of the Lonach Highland & Friendly Society. He wrote the Patron’s Welcome Message of days’ event,

“Welcome to the home of the Lonach Highland & Friendly Society. Lonach was founded in 1823 by my Gt-Gt-Gt-Grandfather, Sir Charles Forbes, 1st Baronet of Newe & Edinglassie. The Society was born in the afterglow of his son’s 21st birthday celebrations to keep the good fellowship of that night going. Little surprise then that almost 200 years later, the Lonach Gathering is recognized as Scotland’s friendliest games.

In 1823 Scotland was on the cusp of monumental change, finally emerging from the bleak post-Culloden years to resume her rightful place in the World. With so much change in the air, our ancestors saw the need to preserve their heritage whilst still embracing the new. The Lonach March represents an unbroken link from our forefathers to the 21st Century: encountering the Lonach Highlanders for the first time takes you back to pre-1745 Scotland, but this is no historical re-enactment.

That spirit of continuity drives our commitment to our founders’ goals throughout the year. On Lonach Day all roads lead to Strathdon, but once the crowds have departed and the Lonach field has returned to its primary role as pasture, the Society continues in its year-round commitment to the “preservation of Highland garb and the promotion of social and friendly feelings among the inhabitants of the district” as well as “supporting loyal, peaceable and manly conduct.” Ho Ho Lonach!.”

After the speeches, the men fell into line again and marched the rest of the way up the hill to the Hall to enjoy their lunch. The girls got their first chance to hear pipes and drums and marching boots passing by just inches away!

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Grace also enjoyed meeting the horse firsthand…

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We then made our way down to the pasture, where the games were taking place. We walked around the stalls where they sold all sorts of Scottish ware and eventually found a spot to watch the games.

They featured the usual running races for all ages, including the significant Hill Run that takes them around the arena and then out into the woods to the top of a nearby hill and back again.

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Grace found a perfect spot with an excellent view of the Heavy-weight competitions such as the hammer throw and caber toss. She stayed in that spot all day, taking it all in and never tired of the spectacle before her.

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Errin and I walked around a bit more, taking in the sights, and we also managed to see a nice variety of examples of both historical and contemporary highland dress scattered amongst the attendees.

 

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Near the end of the day, Grace even got in the action! She joined the ‘women from around the world’ team for the tug-of-war!  She had great fun and gave it her all as their kilted coach spiritedly encouraged them on!

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It was an absolutely fantastic day at the Highland Games, but we were slightly tired the following day. We decided to recharge our batteries and relaxed at home.  Grace made gluten-free lemon curd tarts with raspberries, a Scottish favorite that she had noticed in shops, and wanted to try to make herself. She was quite pleased with the results and rightly so! They were gorgeous to look at and tasted even better than they looked!

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On Monday, August 26th, we headed back out into the countryside to visit another Stone Circle. Grace wasn’t with us when we visited Midmar, SunHoney, and Cullerlie Stone circles the week before, so she got her first experience while visiting East Aquhorthies near Inverurie.

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The path to the circle is well-marked and is an easy walk. There it was, just as I had remembered – very well kept and protected and looking very distinct and important.

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Errin entered the circle, found its center, and once again, sensed the powerful energy within its circumference. She heard the horn again, and it actually sounded louder, clearer, and closer than the other sites she had visited before. She sensed that this circle was more powerful or significant somehow than the others.

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We noticed the neighboring herd of cattle had become quite curious and had come over to look at the tourists. They were such a friendly lot allowing us to pet them. One of the cows particularly enjoyed licking the palms of Errin’s hands, making her giggle!

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As we strolled back to the car, I pointed out the nearby mountain top called Bennachie (pronounced – Ben/a/hee), where at least one of the unique large flanking stones of the circle had originally come from. If I remember correctly, the rock is red Jasper.

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In the vicinity, there are also several other circles, stones, and archeological sites to visit.

We didn’t visit those other sites but instead drove back to Aberdeen and spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around and exploring the David Welch Winter Gardens at Duthie Park. We started in the section that is arid and desert-like filled with all manner of cacti…

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…worked our way through the tropical section, the flowers, the fern house, the Japanese garden, and enjoyed the little turtles under the bridge.

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IMG_2975It had been a fun day exploring, but I could tell Grace was a bit spent afterward as she relaxed on a lovely round stone sphere outside in the courtyard.

She was still feeling a bit tired the following day and decided to stay home again while Errin and I went to explore another ancestral castle, Huntly, and some beautiful gardens at Leith Hall.

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As I mentioned previously, this magnificent ruinous castle is also another ancestral site for us.  My 12th great grandparents, George Marquess Huntly Gordon and his wife, Lady Henrietta Stewart, even have their names plastered across the front of the upper stories, and there is other evidence of their presence inside on the fireplaces and mantles!

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Errin and I had a lot of fun wandering around this old and significant ruin together, and she learned a lot about our ancestors through the excellent signage and interpretive panels scattered throughout.

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We walked around the grounds first until we arrived at the site of the first wooden castle on this site around 1190, which was located on the grassy motte (hill) with the bailey below. From the grassy mound that the original castle sat on, we had an excellent view of the newer castle built by my ancestors.

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Next, we walked back over to the new castle, approached the front door and all of its elaborate heraldry, and begin exploring the many rooms on many levels in this magnificent building.

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Once we made it to the top, we had excellent views of the surrounding area. Look, you can easily see the top of the motte where the original wooden castle once stood in the 2nd century.

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In the uppermost rooms, we found more evidence of our ancestors in the suites where they would have spent most of their time entertaining guests and where they had their sleeping quarters. They definitely left their mark and made it so it would last for a long, long time!

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We finished our tour and started back toward the car.

“Well, that was fun and extremely interesting! What’s next on our itinerary today?” Errin inquired.

We drove out into the countryside about 7 miles or so to visit Leith Hall Gardens.  The house is only open for tours one day a week, and today was not that day, but we enjoyed walking around it and admiring it from the outside just the same.

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We walked over to the gardens and wandered amongst the flowers and herbaceous beds full of color, over to the Moongate, and through the vegetable beds until we found a perfect spot to enjoy our picnic lunch.IMG_3095

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Our last stop for the day was about 10 miles away on the way back to Aberdeen. Sitting right next to the road, literally, is a very ancient Pictish stone called the Maiden Stone. It’s definitely worth veering off the main highway for a mile or so to see it. This stone was carved by the Picts 1,200 years ago!

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The next day, in preparation for their flight home, the girls managed to repack all of their belongings back into their suitcases once again.  Lindsay’s kids and grandkids stopped by for one last visit before the girls left and at the close of the day we finished off their vacation in the same way we had started it -enjoying a ‘proper’ fish supper at another of our favorite chip shops, The Ashvale!

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We enjoyed such a terrific time during our 6-week European Holiday. I am so grateful the girls could accompany me on an adventure this year and that we were able to create so many fantastic memories together that we will long cherish. IMG_3117

Early on Friday, I drove them to the airport, and I am happy to report that they had a very uneventful flight back home to Oregon, and, that their luggage also made it all the way with them, unlike at the beginning of the journey!

I stayed in Scotland with Lindsay for another couple of months. Initially, I was only going to stay about 1 month longer, but I was having so much fun that I extended it for another month! Subsequent blog posts will feature all of the adventures that Lindsay and I experienced during September and October. Stay tuned – there’s more fun and wondrous sights yet to see!

Three Stone Circles and Another Castle or Two in Aberdeenshire

Friday morning arrived, donning a beautiful forget-me-not blue sky.  It was a perfect day as far as Grace was concerned for just hanging out in Lindsay’s hammock in his backyard.

IMG_2860While Grace languished and soaked up the beautiful day, Errin and I ventured out together into the countryside once again, just the two of us, which was kind of a nice change, actually.

A visit to Scotland is not complete unless you have visited some very ancient Stone Circles or Pictish Standing Stones. Errin expressed a keen desire to visit these types of ancient sites during the planning stage of our vacation. I made sure to include a few good examples of them on our itinerary.

Luckily, there are several stone circles located quite close to Aberdeen that are easily accessed. I decided to share three different sites that I had previously visited with Lindsay in years past that I thought would serve as good examples.

They were each unique and offered a nice variety of the types you might encounter.

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There were also a couple of castles that I thought she would enjoy in the same general area as the Stone Circles I planned to show her and so our plans promised a full day of adventures.

Our first stop, Castle Fraser, is only about 14 miles west of Aberdeen. The Frew surname is listed as a sept of the Fraser Clan from way back when and although we do not have any ancestors that I know of that are associated with this particular castle, we still have a bit of a connection to the clan through the surname.

After the short drive, we parked the car and began following the meandering pathway through the woodland garden in the direction of the castle.  It led us directly to the gate of the walled garden.

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We strolled around this delightful garden for a little while, admiring its beauty. There were many blooms in every color of the rainbow even this late in the season and the butterflies were certainly enjoying their succulent nectar.

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We walked out of the garden through the gate on the opposite side of the garden that we had entered to reveal yet more colorful flowers bordering the other side of the wall!

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Another fantastic view was also revealed – the Castle!

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We walked around the perimeter and then entered the castle at the front door to enjoy the wonderful guided tour they offer. I’ve written a couple of blogs about Castle Fraser and its contents in previous blog posts so I won’t repeat myself in this one. It’s a great tour with lots to see and stairs to climb to various levels. You also get to climb all the way to the top and stand out on the decking of the highest tower that has the flag flying above it. From that height, you can experience the wonderful views of the surrounding countryside and the gardens below.

Our next stop was just a short drive of about 7 miles.  We were about to see the first of three Stone Circles we would explore the rest of the afternoon. The first was at Midmar Church. The Stone Circle is actually within the churchyard walls right next to the headstones.  Errin was pretty impressed when she saw it. They also provide some decent interpretive signage on site that explains the history and what is believed to have been the purpose of the Stone Circles in prehistoric times 4-5,000 years ago. Errin was fascinated.

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She particularly enjoyed that and was eager to visit another. Next, I took her to another one about a mile or so away, but it is in a more remote location out in a farmer’s field. It’s called Sun Honey Stone Circle and it is completely fenced off for protection with a gate you can open to enter. There is a marked narrow pathway leading to it and quite easy to access IF you know where to look.  You just follow this short straight path along the fence to the group of trees beyond. The circle is inside the trees.

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Unlike the churchyard, the grass is not mown and the area is natural which I think gives it an added charm.  These ancient sites are so fascinating to me. Errin and I both enjoyed sitting in its midst and experiencing the calmness of the place pondering its existence and purpose long, long ago.

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Errin is a bit ‘sensitive’ to the spirit world.  She has been since she was a small child. While she visited this particular stone circle she had a rather unique experience.  After initially exploring the circle together by meandering around each of the stones and ending up at the recumbent stones and its flanking stones, she then gravitated toward the middle to find the exact center. I continued to meander amongst the stones and around the periphery of the circle.  While she stood in the center, she noticed that when I came into the confines of the circle she could feel the energy shift slightly, or completely stop.  “No offense, Mom, but would you do me a favor and stay outside of the circle for a few minutes?  In fact, turn off your phone and don’t take any pictures either. I sense the electronic device also might have an influence.”

“Interesting,” I replied. So  I stayed well outside of the boundary of the circle, turned off my phone, and observed her while she remained at its center point. She stood there for quite a while. I could tell by her posture that she was using centering and grounding techniques she learned in yoga classes and that she was turning her attention inward and paying particular attention to what she was feeling within her body.

She remained there for quite some time, concentrating while also changing the position of her hands and arms in slow and methodical motions. I just kept observing from a distance, watching her and everything else in the vicinity. Although she didn’t say anything at the time, she told me later she could easily feel the energy all around her when she stood quietly in the exact center, and that she could feel the flow of energy particularly through the palms of her hands resting at her side.

While I was observing what Errin was doing inside the parameter of the circle I  also paid attention to what was going on around the outside of it. There is a circle of trees surrounding and other trees scattered within the fenced area that the stone circle sits in.  I noticed that the leaves on the trees were gently fluttering in a calm breeze that came and went.  That seemed normal, but then I noticed a distinct pattern emerging. The leaves would all be fluttering but I didn’t feel a particular breeze myself or feel my hair being blown about my face, mind you. Then suddenly, the trees would all go very still and lifeless. Then, again they would begin fluttering, and suddenly, instantly, and simultaneously, stop. Over and over again. “That’s odd!” I mused to myself and turned my attention back to Errin once again standing in the center of the circle.

She was still standing there in the same place facing the same southerly direction but I noticed she was turning her palms to face in various directions, sometimes facing upward, sometimes turned down. I know this might sound a bit strange or ‘out there’ a bit, I even questioned it at the time, and shook my head as if I was ‘seeing things,’ but when I watched the trees, using just my periphery vision,  I also kept track of what her hands were doing, I realized they were correlating with one another. Whenever she turned her palms up the breeze fluttered the leaves, when the palms turned down, everything became still – instantly! Now that was strange indeed! I’ve never witnessed anything like that before.

At first, I thought it to be just coincidental. She stayed in the circle for a little while longer and then opened her eyes, breathed in deep breaths and completed another yoga type stretch. I began to approach the circle and asked if it was ok to do so and she said yes. Afterward, she and I talked about what she had experienced and I shared with her what I had observed. She mentioned that while she was standing there concentrating, she could feel energy running through the palm of her hands and she had a particular feeling, a realization, that she had the power to control the wind somehow.  She asked if I noticed anything related to what she felt. I shared with her what I had just witnessed that she couldn’t see because her eyes were closed and her head bent down.  We both thought this was extremely fascinating, but we both still kind of doubted it. We decided to try an experiment.

She went back into the center of the circle and aligned herself once again. We didn’t talk or say anything to prompt one another. I just observed.  She concentrated. Just like before. Sure enough, she did it again, and again, and again. The leaves would flutter in the mild breeze until suddenly they would all instantaneously become completely still every time she wanted them to.  It was rather intriguing, to say the least!  We were amazed. We began walking back to our parked car. On our way back, she also asked me, “By the way, while I was standing in the circle, did you happen to hear a horn?”

I told her, “No, I didn’t hear a horn. You mean like a car horn?”

“No, more like an instrument. Like one of those old horns made from an animal such as a bull horn.  It’s low and deep and sounds similar to how a Conche shell sounds.”

“Well, in that case, no, I am absolutely sure I did NOT hear a horn, but that’s also extremely noteworthy!”

“I also heard a horn when we were at Midmar, but dismissed it and didn’t mention it,” she noted.

The afternoon was beginning to wane so we headed a little further down the road on the way back toward Aberdeen to the third and final Stone Circle – Cullerlie.  This one did not have the same level of energy than the previous, Errin noted, but she did hear the horn again, although it sounded like it was off in the distance somewhere. There weren’t any deciduous trees around with leaves that could flutter, just fir or pine with very stiff needles, so she couldn’t test her theory with the wind at this location. All the same, each circle offered its own brand of experience and Errin was glad to have visited each of them.

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About two miles further we arrived at Drum Castle to finish off the day. Unfortunately, it was later in the afternoon than we had realized and its doors had already closed for the day so we couldn’t tour that castle as well. Luckily, however, the restrooms remained unlocked and we were thankful for that.

We walked around the castle a bit, taking a few photos and enjoying a small portion of the gardens before heading back to Lindsay’s house and calling it a day.

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What a day it was, definitely one well-spent. A very special, and unique, mother-daughter day spent making unique memories out in the Scottish countryside. It just doesn’t get better than that!