One Final Jaunt – Northern Ireland

map 2_LIIt was mid-October, 2019, and I had just enough time left to take one more little jaunt somewhere before I returned home to the US after a 3 1/2 month-long vacation in Europe. Northern Ireland is relatively close to Aberdeen, approximately 225 miles as the crow flies. Since our oldest known Frew ancestor, Sargeant John Frew, was born there in a small village, Lindsay and I decided to go on another road trip to see it in person together. He had never visited Northern Ireland before. I visited a few years ago and made some beautiful discoveries and new Frew friends along the way when I first started traveling. It would be fun to share those discoveries with Lindsay and have an opportunity to see the wonderful friends once again while we were at it!

We rented a car in Aberdeen for a week to make the journey and headed south toward Glasgow on Tuesday, Oct 15. We had a leisurely drive as far as the Glasgow Cathedral and Necropolis. We found a convenient place to park and were able to give our legs a good stretch by walking up to the necropolis, a vast old cemetery perched upon a hill overlooking the medieval heart of the city.

According to their interpretive sign, “The Necropolis remains one of the most significant cemeteries in Europe. It was designed as a botanic and sculpture garden to improve the morale and trades of Glaswegians and act as a historical record of past greatness.”

It sits right behind the ancient Cathedral and is the largest old cemetery I have visited in the UK. It’s immense and absolutely full of interesting monumental headstones.

These memorials of the merchant patriarchs of the city contain the remains of almost every eminent Glaswegian of its day. Monuments designed by leading Glaswegian architects, including Alexander “Greek” Thomson, Bryon, Hamilton, and Mackintosh, adorn it. Their designs are executed by expert masons and sculptures who contributed ornate and sculptural detail of the finest quality.”

The carvings and details are quite ornate and worth a look. Besides, the view from that vantage point of the surrounding medieval center of town below is also quite impressive.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

IMG_7759

IMG_7768

After we enjoyed looking at the monuments, we leisurely strolled back down the hill, walked back over the bridge, and visited the Cathedral as well.

IMG_7774

Evidently, according to the church’s website, St. Ninian came here from Whithorn in the Galloway region of southwest Scotland in the 5th century to dedicate a Christian burial ground. In the following century, another monk named Mungo came here as well. Tradition says St. Mungo was born near Culross. (We visited that cute little well-preserved town during our last trip to Stirling).  The ruins of St. Mungo’s chapel in Culross evidently mark the spot where he was born. He was brought up by St. Serf of Culross and trained for the priesthood before coming to Glasgow and serving as the Bishop. St Mungo died in 612! That is probably the oldest tomb I’ve seen yet. His tomb is located in the Lower Church of Glasgow Cathedral, where a service continues to be held every year to commemorate his life.

Unfortunately, there is little known about the earliest church buildings which stood on the site of the present Cathedral. It wasn’t until the early part of the 12th century that we get information about the current structure. Its first stone building was consecrated in about 1136 in the presence of King David I and his Court. Put simply, it is really, really ancient, has been here quite a long time, and is quite an impressive building in its own right. Its amazing that it is still standing whole and complete.

We ventured inside, looked around, and I even managed to get down to the “Lower Church” just in time before it closed for the day and was fortunate to find the tomb of St. Mungo and get a picture without another person in the frame! Amazing!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After visiting the necropolis and the Cathedral, we returned to our car and proceeded to drive during the afternoon to the town of Ayr, our final destination for the day. Ayr is a lovely coastal town with a very long public beach that is great for sunsets. For dinner, we enjoyed a fish supper at a local Chip Shop as we looked out over the ocean, enjoying the view.

map_LI

After a hearty breakfast at our B&B, Turas-Mara, we set out on the road early in the morning. The route we drove hugs the coastline all the way down toward the southwest tip of Scotland at Cairnryan, where we had a date with a ferry that would take us across the Irish Sea to Belfast, Northern Ireland.

IMG_7807We arrived in plenty of time to catch the Superfast VIII ferry, and in no time at all, we were boarded and well on our way.IMG_7819

The ferry was quite large and felt like a big luxury liner compared to many of the smaller ferries we had ridden earlier this summer.

It had several decks, and on each deck were all kinds of restaurants. There was even a movie theatre, various lounges, and some play areas for children! We found a quiet and comfortable lounge to relax in at the bow of the ship and enjoyed the smooth ride.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Before we knew it, the port of Belfast was coming into view, and we could see towns dotting the shoreline of Northern Ireland beyond.

IMG_7821

IMG_8122From the port of Belfast, we drove straight to the Wellington Park Hotel that we would call home for the next three nights. It was centrally located in the Queen’s Quarter near the places we wanted to visit.  We were within walking distance of the Botanic Garden, the Ulster Museum, Queen’s University, and some really great restaurants. 

There is one quirky little cafe in particular on the corner near the entrance to the Botanic garden that I really like called ‘Maggie Mays,’ and we headed straight to it for our lunch after we got checked in. It is frequented by a younger crowd of students from the University and is usually a buzz of energetic and infectious gaiety. Besides, they are known for their stupendous shakes and great food, so we couldn’t pass up that combination!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

IMG_8103After a satisfying bite to eat, and a good dose of youthful energy, we walked a couple of doors down the street to Friars Bush Graveyard, but, unfortunately, they were closed. We took down the phone number hoping to make an appointment with a tour guide to gain access to where our 4th great grandfather, John Frew, may be buried. He died from cholera during the epidemic in 1832 that hit Belfast pretty hard. There is a mass grave of its victims buried within its walls, which his body might be buried amongst.

Unfortunately, we were never able to get an appointment with anyone during our visit, so we missed that opportunity. In the future, if we should ever return, we will know to make an appointment and arrangements for a tour well in advance of our visit!

IMG_7832

We continued on our way and walked to the botanic garden nearby and had a lovely stroll along its many meandering pathways through the glasshouse, which held all types of tropical plants and other various sections of the grounds.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The enormous rose section of the garden was undoubtedly done for the 2019 season, and yet, there were still a couple of determined blooms having their final say as the season drew to its close.

IMG_7871As the afternoon faded, we made our way back to the hotel, passing this colorful building along the way, which is part of the University.

The glow of the low afternoon sun danced on the glass panels creating quite a delightful display of light and color in this beautiful example of architectural design.

map_LIThe following morning, we set out into the countryside northwest of Belfast in County Antrim to see a few sights along the northern coastline and visit the village our great grandfather was born in.

Our first stop was the Giant’s Causeway situated on the coast near Bushmills, where they distill delicious and lovely Irish Whiskey.

IMG_7885

The Giant’s Causeway is a geological wonder and consists of substantial interlocking basalt column formations. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The tops of the columns form stepping stones that lead from the cliff foot and disappear under the sea. Most are hexagonal, but there are also some with four, five, seven, or even eight sides. The tallest are about 39 ft tall!

IMG_7889

IMG_7891

Much of the Giant’s Causeway World Heritage Site is owned and managed by the National Trust, and it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Northern Ireland. Access to the Giant’s Causeway is free of charge. It is not necessary to go via the visitor’s center, which charges a fee. However, if you want to ride the tram down to the bottom of the cliffs and back up again, or you want an audio guide, you need to buy a ticket from the National Trust. If you are a member of the National Trust, you get in for free. If you’re young and fit and can easily climb a long steep hill, then it isn’t a problem, but it is oh-so-nice that they have a tram for the ‘not-so-able’ as well, nobody misses out!

After exploring the Giant’s Causeway, we drove along the coast for a while, enjoying the views in the clear morning light. For instance, the sight of White Park Bay with Rathlin Island in the distance (below) was stunning and oh-so inviting!

IMG_7900

The next place we stopped to visit was Dunluce Castle perched upon a little rock crag nestled in amongst high ocean cliffs. They provide excellent interpretive signage in each section, so its quite easy to go along by yourself without a guide and explore at your own leisurely pace.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

IMG_7908IMG_7909

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

IMG_7918IMG_7922

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

IMG_7925Lindsay and I leisurely enjoyed exploring this castle as we usually do. However, when he entered the lower part of the tower structure, he suddenly felt a very foreboding and uncomfortable feeling, and he immediately wanted to get out of that space as if it was haunted. He found it ironic because he had never felt anything quite like that with all the places he has visited over the years. Interesting…

Because he felt a bit spooked and uncomfortable after that encounter, we took one last look out of the castle’s windows to see the views up and down the coast that the inhabitants enjoyed once upon a time and then we turned around and found our way back to our car parked nearby.

IMG_7935

IMG_7937

It was time for us to move on, we still had a bit of exploring to do that afternoon, so we got in the car and started looping back inland the way we had come.  Our next stop was where our 4th great grandfather, John Frew, had been born. A couple of tiny villages called Kells and Connor are usually referred to as twin villages and coexist as if it were only one. The twin villages appear to have been this way for a very long time too. Even though the villages are tiny in size, surprisingly, there were 11 separate historical and archeological sites to visit on the Heritage Trail, complete with interpretive signage. There was an ancient fort, a church, an old woolen mill, and a bridge, for example.

IMG_7951IMG_7947

IMG_7945

IMG_7990

We don’t know who John’s parents were, whether he had siblings, where they might have lived in this parish, or much else about him except that he was a ‘nailer’ in the mill trade. Having so much history available to us on the Heritage Trail interpretive signs scattered about were quite helpful. We learned a lot about this tiny area that we otherwise would not have necessarily discovered on our own. We visited most of the sites and ended up in front of the remaining walls of the old medieval fort that were still standing after all these years. Just being in the immediate area where John may have lived and getting to see structures, such as the old bridge which he may have also walked upon, helped us feel more connected to our distant ancestor.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

By the time we explored the various sites around the village, we had noticed it was getting late in the afternoon. We had a dinner date with a whole bunch of Frew friends about 10 miles away at 5 o’clock. We drove to the small village of Ahoghill, where Stewart Frew has a delightful Fish & Chips Shop, met up with our various Frew friends, and enjoyed a scrumptious fish supper together!

IMG_8037

Deirdre, Roy, Heather, Florence and all the cute little ‘wee ones’ came out to see us! It was fantastic to see them all once again and hear all the latest news! Each time I come to Northern Ireland, I make a special effort to see this delightful group of ladies, and luckily, we had another opportunity to enjoy each other’s company once again. Fun was had by all, especially for Lindsay, since this was the first time he had been able to meet them in person. Before that, he had only met them online.

IMG_8022

The next day, Friday, Oct 18, we spent most of the day exploring the many exhibits at the Ulster Museum.

IMG_8038IMG_8039

Upon entering, we were greeted by the whimsical flying dragons overhead…

IMG_8041

On the first floor, they had an intriguing display of costumes from Game of Thrones made out of paper! It was utterly fantastic!

IMG_8046

We spent quite a while meandering around the museum looking at ancient gold jewelry, mummies, and everything else you might imagine is in a museum.  Here are just a few chosen samples of what we saw.

Naturally, since this is Northern Ireland after all, there were political exhibits about “The Troubles” during the late 20th century, and there were also delightful paintings and pottery as well.  So many exciting things to look at. I always enjoy the museum.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We had worked up an appetite. Maggie May’s cafe was just across the street, so we headed over there for a bite to eat.

The afternoon was still so nice and lovely, we decided to take one last stroll to the glasshouse in the Botanic Garden and have a look around.

Back at the hotel, we noticed a pub on the corner that has its timing right! Yet another full day of exploring in Belfast; it was time to relax and enjoy a brew!

IMG_8121

The next day, we left Belfast in the afternoon on the 3:30 ferry back to Cairnryan, Scotland. Before we did, however, we went to the Titanic Experience in the shipyards nearby. The Exhibition is an extensive presentation all about the famous ship, and it is built on the very site that the actual ship was built upon. There are various levels of exhibits to explore, which cover all aspects of the ship’s conception and construction all the way through to its sinking to the bottom of the ocean. The tour is quite fascinating, informative and entertaining, you won’t want to miss it if you are in Belfast!

titanic

Unfortunately, when I went to retrieve my folder of photos for that day to share with you in this blog, I came across an empty folder! Somehow I managed to lose every single photo I took that day! Hmm, I wonder how that happened? Oh well… not gonna let that spoil my day. Sorry. If you would like to see more about this place, just click on the link above which will take you to their website where you’ll get the whole story and all the info you need.

When we landed in Cairnryan, Scotland, it was early evening, and the sun was about ready to set. We spent the night at a lovely B & B called Kildonnan in Stranraer about 5 miles away from the ferry landing. It was a nice quiet spot on the bay, and we had a delightful view in the morning at our breakfast table. Rita, and her husband, were delightful hosts and thought of everything in their lovely home.

IMG_8172

After our peaceful and relaxing breakfast, we began to leisurely drive north back to Aberdeen, taking a different route than the way we came. Instead of heading north to Ayr, we headed east toward Dumfries and made a point of taking the back roads through the Galloway Forest Park instead of the main thoroughfare. It was a lovely drive full of beautiful landscapes.

We stopped in Dumfries at a church where one of Lindsay’s maternal great grandfathers is buried. His name was Joseph Johnstone Glover, and he served as the Provost for Dumfries for 12 years in the early 20th century. Lindsay’s paternal great grandfather, John Rose Frew, also served as a Provost about the same time in Dingwall!

In the same churchyard, another extremely famous Scotsman and Poet is also buried, the beloved Robert Burns.

IMG_8231

IMG_8228IMG_8229

Lindsay’s great grandfather, Joseph, also played an instrumental role as Provost when this mausoleum was built and dedicated. Here’s a picture of him at the “placing of the wreath” celebration. He’s the one with the big mustache to the left of the center next to the wreath.

IMG_8290

There are several Robert Burns’ friends, and contemporaries also buried in this particular churchyard. If you’re really into the works of Robert Burns, this appears to be a place to definitely visit. His contemporaries and friends even wanted to be buried near him; he was so beloved!

Afterward, we climbed back in the car and started driving north. We enjoyed a nice lunch break at a garden center just north of Dumfries somewhere. I just love stopping at garden center tea rooms. They’re affordable, have good local home-cooked style food, and they sell flowers! What more could I want?

Many tea rooms also proudly display a collection of teapots as well that are fun to look at and admire.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We spent the rest of the afternoon driving through the countryside all the way to a town near Edinburgh where Lindsay’s cousin, Keith, and his wife, Helen, live. We had the chance to visit with them in the evening, and the following day finished making our way back to Aberdeen, hugging the coastline in Fife all the way to Dundee from Edinburgh.

map_LI

It was a lovely drive. Its a very slow and winding road, as coastlines almost always are, but we weren’t in any hurry, so we enjoyed stopping at various harbors and fishing villages along the way.

IMG_8267

IMG_8262

It was a perfect way to slowly bring our travels to an end for the season, and we both enjoyed our final jaunt immensely.

About a week later, I flew back to Portland, Oregon, and officially ended my traveling for the year.

Not long after returning home, Lindsay and I began planning my next trip the following summer. We made great plans for my return in July. We had plans to fly over to the Netherlands and Belgium from Aberdeen to explore that region for about a month.  Like usual, I planned on staying abroad most of the summer.  We had airline reservations, rooms at hotels and hostels booked, and we created personalized travel maps in anticipation of this year’s travel adventures.

However, like everyone else on this planet, there was a bit of a hitch in our get-along – the coronavirus! After traveling every year for the last 5 or 6 years, it seems strange not getting ready to pack my bags once again. Lindsay and I have decided to postpone all of our plans until next year (hopefully) and just hope for the best.

Being part of the older generation, I fall into the category of “more vulnerable” these days, so I have been in lockdown mode with my granddaughter Grace, who also has an immune system that is weakened. Luckily we have each other to keep us company. We’ve been developing a strong gardening bond this spring too. You should see our gardens!

I’ve been gardening for years, and although I am certainly not an expert, I do know a few things about plants, so I’ve been more than happy to share that knowledge with hands-on-training outside in our backyard this spring. My daughter, Errin, keeps us supplied with all the seeds, bags of dirt, mulch and manure, and all the plants we can possibly stand. It’s been quite an adventure right in our own backyard! It’s been an adventure in itself. Instead of visiting gardens in Europe this year, I’ve been investing my traveling money into my own garden and expanding its footprint alongside my granddaughter in my own backyard.

Until such time as I can start traveling once again, this, my dear friends and followers, brings me to the end of my traveling tales for 2019.  Eventually, sometime in the future, I will pick up where I left off, but who knows when that will be.

In the meantime, I’ve been writing a book entitled “Road Trips in Scotland – The chronicles of an American woman discovering what lies beyond Edinburgh.” I will be concentrating my efforts on my book now that my blog posts are finished. I hope to finish it soon.

If, by chance, you would like to order a copy of the book, you can place a “pre-order” by leaving a message on this post in the remarks section.  Thanks in advance for your order – I appreciate your continued support and encouragement.

Until next time… hope it’s not too terribly long of a wait until we can once again resume our traveling.  Keep well, and safe in the meantime.  ~ Claudia

 

 

 

Stirling Bagpipes, Cambuskenneth Abbey & the Majestic Falkland Palace

It was the 5th day of our 5-day adventure in and around Stirling and Edinburgh on October the 8th. We would be returning to Aberdeen by nightfall. Yet, we were determined to make the most of our last day and fit in as much as possible. We set out to see some more ancient sites in the immediate area around Stirling and another Palace belonging to the Stewarts in the small town of Falkland about 30 miles away in Fife.

map_LI

IMG_7547After devouring yet another satisfying home-cooked traditional Scottish breakfast, we checked out of the hostel in Stirling and ventured a IMG_7588short distance up the road toward the Church of the Holy Rood.

Behind the old church, there is a massive graveyard that occupies all of the land lying between the church and the defensive walls of Stirling Castle further up the hill.

Lindsay has an ancestor with the surname of Lawson from this town, and he was hoping to find their headstone in amongst the throng. This could be tricky!

IMG_7563

Luckily, there is a hill off to one side that you can walk up to get a great view of the surrounding countryside and all parts of the vast graveyard. It was a beautiful sunny fall morning, and the air was warm, yet the crispness of fall was evident in the early light of the day.

Once we had a birdseye view of the place, we walked back down the hill and began exploring the Old Kirkyard and learning about its curiosities. There are quite a few unique statues scattered about and handy interpretive signage to help guide the way and draw your attention to each unique specimen.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

IMG_7556IMG_7555Our luck was with us that morning because we found the Lawson headstone he wanted to see not long after our search began. He knew it had a statue of an angel on it. Knowing that tidbit of information narrowed it down quite a lot! 

After getting a good IMG_7574shot of Lindsay next to the stone, I decided to backtrack a bit to see if I could possibly get a decent silhouette of the stone against the bright morning sky. It wasn’t exactly the shot I was hoping for. Still, in the process, I found something else of interest to me quite by chance standing right next to me – a headstone with the surname of Frew, which I had never noticed before on previous trips to this particular graveyard. Not exactly sure who this Frew is, but I can investigate later to learn more! What a lucky find!IMG_7575

IMG_7584Lindsay lived in a small town nearby as a young child. We drove through the cobbled streets of Stirling and out of town to see if we could find the house where he once lived. We also wanted to visit an old Abbey nestled in the curvature of the River Forth down in the valley below Stirling.2nd map_LI (3)

When we arrived, however, we discovered the Abbey had already been closed for the season about a week earlier. The gates were padlocked. Oh well.  We peeked over the fence and let that suffice.

I visited this site a couple of years ago and discovered the gravesite of my 17th great-grandparents, James III King of Scotland Stewart (1451-1488), and his wife, Margaret of Denmark. In 1486 Margaret of Denmark died at Stirling Castle and was buried at the Abbey. A couple of years later, her husband James III was killed at the Battle of Sauchieburn, and his body was brought to Cambuskenneth Abbey for burial next to his bride.

Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, was James III’s great granddaughter, and it is through James that I share my ancestry with her. He was her great-grandfather and my 17th.

I’ve often wondered, like many, how the two different spellings of Stewart/Stuart came to be. Touring the Palaces of the Stewarts over the last couple of days and learning more about Mary, had provided the answer!

The House of Stuart, originally Stewart, was a royal house of Scotland, England, Ireland, and later Great Britain. The family name comes from the office of High Steward of Scotland, which had been held by the family scion Walter Fitz Alan (c. 1150). The name “Stewart” and variations had become established as a family name by the time of his grandson, Walter Stewart. The first monarch of the Stewart line was Robert II, whose descendants were kings and queens of Scotland from 1371 until the union with England in 1707. Mary, Queen of Scots, was brought up in France, however, and it is there that she adopted the French spelling of the name – Stuart. Soooo, it was because Mary decided to change the spelling of her name to suit her fancy to the French language!!! Now I know!

But I digress; back to the Abbey… it fell into disrepair during the Scottish Reformation. After the dismantling of most of the Abbey, the King’s tomb was incomplete, and restoration of it was undertaken by Queen Victoria in 1865. It now stands within a railed enclosure at the east end of the abbey ruins where a chapel used to be.

King David I founded Cambuskenneth Abbey about 1140, to serve the royal castle of Stirling. Most of it was built in the 1200s, and much of the surviving structure dates from then. The free-standing bell tower, which still stands today, is unique in Scotland. Its lancet windows and ornamental arcades serve as an excellent example of architecture in the 1200s. 

On our way back to the main road, we spied a beautiful rainbow arching across the sky toward Stirling Castle up on the hill. What a treat!IMG_7608

IMG_7580Now that it was a bit later in the morning, the shops in Stirling would begin to open. We drove back to town to visit an extraordinary shop called Stirling Bagpipes before we left for home.

To pass the time while we waited for the shopkeeper to arrive and open his shop, we admired the canons on display nearby from the Napoleonic Wars.

The shopkeeper, Alan, soon arrived, and we were delighted to get to go inside and see his combination workshop/retail outlet of high-quality hand-crafted bagpipes!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It is a fun shop to visit and see all things related to the art and craft of making bagpipes and making music with them. You can tell this is where the pipers come to get quality goods custom-made to meet their needs. He also sells an excellent selection of pipe band CDs to play in the car when we’re traveling about the Scottish countryside! 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

IMG_7626IMG_7635

He even had a small rack of second-hand pipe band kilts for sale at a very reasonable rate. Kilts, if you don’t know, are rather spendy. They are used for special occasions such as weddings and can cost about the same as what a new Tuxedo would cost.

A friend of mine was busy at my house building shelving in my garage while I was away on vacation all summer. He also has some Scottish ancestry and would love to have a kilt of his own. As a thank you gift for building the fantastic sturdy shelving for me, I purchased a kilt to take home to him. Alan got it all wrapped up nicely for me and even included the name of the Pipe Band that it came from – Clackmannanshire!  Nice to know its provenance!

Armed with the perfect gift for my friend, we said our goodbyes to Alan at Stirling Bagpipes and started making our way toward Falkland.

IMG_7637We didn’t stop to visit, but we did pass just underneath the 220 foot Wallace Monument standing proud on Abbey Craig overlooking the valley and the Abbey below.

One of Scotland’s most distinctive landmarks, it is an iconic tower commemorating the life and legacy of Sir William Wallace, the 13th-century Scottish patriot, and martyr who inspired the movie ‘Braveheart.’ It seems appro pro to make the monument where it stands since Abbey Craigs also overlooks the scene of Wallace’s greatest triumph against the forces of England’s King Edward I at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297.

Legend has it that William Wallace’s remaining corpse after he had been hung and quartered in London were scattered at various places in Scotland, including Stirling, to make a statement to the Scots. It is said that the portion that went to Stirling was secretly absconded and then buried at Camuskenneth Abbey. There is a headstone lying flat on the Abbey grounds with the initials WW.

After a pleasant drive, we arrived in Falkland and drove to the center of town. I immediately recognized the place even though I had never been there before! Alas, it was yet another filming location for Outlander. In the very first episode, Claire and her husband took a trip to Scotland, and they came to this town after the war was over in Season 1! How fun!  I keep running across these places by chance that I recognize from Outlander during this particular little adventure.

Being so late in the season, it wasn’t crowded at all, and we quickly found parking right next to the Palace.  

IMG_7654

Falkland Palace was a royal palace of the Scottish Kings. Today it is under the stewardship of Ninian Stuart, but who delegates most of his duties to The National Trust for Scotland. (Arms of the King of Scots at right)

IMG_7657Before Falkland Palace was built, a hunting lodge existed here in the 12th century. The lodge was expanded in the 13th century, and it then became a castle. The castle was built here because the area could be easily defended. After all, it is located on a slight hill. The land surrounding the castle eventually became the Palace gardens.

Between 1501 and 1541, Kings James IV and James V transformed the old castle into a beautiful royal palace: along with Stirling Castle, it was one of two Renaissance palaces in Scotland.  James V extended his father’s buildings in the French renaissance style. He even built a Royal Tennis Court on the grounds of the Palace in 1541.

They loved using the tennis court. Queen Mary became especially fond of the game, and it is said that she scandalized the people of Scotland by wearing men’s britches to play! The court still survives to this day and is the oldest in Britain. The Palace became a popular retreat with all the Stewart monarchs. They practiced falconry and used the vast surrounding forests for hawking and for hunting deer.

We toured the Palace but were unable to photograph anything inside except the Bakehouse and Apothecary in the cellars. I particularly enjoyed these two places, and I enjoyed learning about the different types of bread they made at the time. 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Apothecary was full of all kinds of hands-on information where you could grind herbs, etc.

IMG_7670

I really liked the weaved baskets, in particular the weaved sconce filled with lavender. They also had a unique spiral herb drying rack in the corner that I thought was an ingenious method for drying herbs without taking up too much space in the process.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

IMG_7674

 

 

 

 

Lindsay even got to play King for a Day while he lounged on his throne…

After touring the Palace, we headed outside to check out the gardens, the old castle site, the glasshouse, and of course, get a glimpse of the tennis courts!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As we made our way back toward the entrance, we passed by and got a great view of the orchards and the lovely wrought iron gates where you can gain entry into the orchard in the meadow below. 

IMG_7690

IMG_7696

It is a lovely palace to visit, and it was very nice to see firsthand where my ancestors hung out and lived part of their lives. Each place I visit adds one more piece of the ancestral puzzle I’ve been putting together. IMG_7705

By the time we finished the tour, we were kind of hungry, so we headed directly across the street from the Palace to a lovely restaurant called “The Bruce.”  First, we enjoyed some appetizers.  Lindsay ordered deep-fried Haggis, and I tried some of their jalapeno poppers.  Tasty!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The rest of the day was rather uneventful because we just drove north about 80 miles on the main road to Aberdeen. It had been 5 days of fun-filled adventures, and we had made a whole bushel of new memories to treasure and enjoy over and over again in the future.

We spent the rest of the week taking care of domestic chores and getting together with Lindsay’s kids for barbeques and get-togethers sharing all of our recent adventures with them as well.

It wouldn’t be long, however, before we planned one more little jaunt to finish off our summer’s adventures. It had been raining all week since we returned to Aberdeen, and there was a forecast for a spell of a few sunny days the following week. I only had two weeks left of my summer-long vacation and had been hoping we could get a chance to visit Northern Ireland together before I flew home. The weather gods were shining upon us and offered up a perfect opportunity for another 6-day mini-adventure. Perfect.

Stay tuned, the last installment of our 2019 adventures will take us to catch a ferry from Stranraer to Belfast and the beautiful coastline of Northern Ireland.  Until then…. happy traveling, albeit “virtually!”

 

The Kelpies, Falkirk Wheel, and a Royal Stewart Palace – Linlithgow

mapOn Monday morning, October 7, we left the hotel in the town of Bo’ness and drove a couple of miles to Linlithgow Palace.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had heard it was ruinous, but to what degree I wasn’t sure.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Palace and St Michael’s church were very much intact.  The church is still in use today, but the Palace has long been out of commission. The Palace was also a lot bigger than I had imagined it would be!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Once a majestic royal residence of the Stewarts, Linlithgow Palace today sits roofless and ruined, and yet,  entering the palace gates still inspires a bit of awe.

IMG_7216

A church is thought to have stood on this site for over 1000 years. It was mentioned in the charter of King David I in 1138. The tower supports 3 ancient bells, the eldest and largest was made in Linlithgow in 1490. the striking spire by Geoffrey Clark was installed in 1964. It represents the Crown of Thorns Christ wore.

In the early 1300s, while Scotland fought to keep her independence, Edward I of England occupied the royal manor house and the church was used as a military storeroom until both were liberated by King Robert the Bruce. We decided to head inside to see what this church looks like and what treasures it holds.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After we enjoyed exploring the church, we strolled across the parking lot and entered the main entrance to the Palace. The tour began in the courtyard with its extraordinary and uniquely carved fountain sitting center stage for all to admire up close.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

IMG_7258

According to Wikipedia:

“James I  ordered work to begin on this elegant, new ‘pleasure palace’ in 1424, and it became a welcome rest stop for royals on the busy road between Edinburgh Castle and Stirling Castle. The Stewart queens especially liked the peace and fresh air, and Linlithgow Palace served as the royal nursery for James V – born 1512, Mary Queen of Scots – born 1542, and Princess Elizabeth – born 1596. However, the Palace fell quickly into decline when James VI moved the royal court to London in 1603, following his coronation as James I King of England.”

I spent quite a bit of time admiring the intricate carvings of the numerous beasts, gargoyles, and various types of people depicting perhaps, what looks like traditional trade guilds and all framed by detailed borders on multiple levels. In 1538 King James V had this 5-meter fountain built in the courtyard of the Palace, which is known as the King’s Fountain.  It even has a mermaid! The fountain is also said to have been flowing with wine in honor of a visit by Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745. Imagine that!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After admiring the fountain for quite a while, we decided to start looking inside the various parts of this Palace that surrounded us in the courtyard. First, we checked out the Object Display along this corridor near the chapel just past the entrance. The display cases were filled with all sorts of interesting tidbits found on the premises from days long, long ago.

There were even some drawings of some of the Stewarts who lived here once upon a time.

I later discovered how they are each related to me. On the left, James V was my 16th great uncle – he was a younger brother to my 15th great grandmother Margaret Jane Stewart 1497-1510. James V’s daughter, Mary Queen of Scots (center), was born here on December 8, 1542, and she is my 1st cousin 16 times removed. James VI, her son, and on the right married his Queen, Anne of Denmark, and he was my second cousin. Below is an enormous statue of Mary Queen of Scots, which stands outside on the grounds surrounding the Palace.

IMG_2734

The next part of the Palace we explored was where the Royal Apartments had been located. I always enjoy seeing these types of interpretive signs below depicting what it could have looked like when in use.  It helps me imagine better when I look at the current empty shell left standing.

IMG_7301From watching movies, I tend to believe that palaces and castles were so much bigger than they actually were and that their elite residents had lots of opportunities to roam from room to room.  However,  the part of the structure and the rooms that they occupied, weren’t quite as extensive and spacious as I had thought they would be.

Other than the Grand Hall or the dining room, the average room wasn’t really all that big, and there weren’t a lot of places to get lost in roaming around the floorplan. I imagine one could feel quite claustrophobic in a situation like this, actually, especially for someone like myself who really enjoys getting out and exploring! It seems that the majority of the rooms in the Palace were used for storage, cooking, servants, and for visiting guests and their servants.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I particularly enjoyed touring this Palace because it is the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots, and it was fun to see where she was as an infant and where some of my ancestors and their extended family spent a great deal of their time.

It’s quite a large palace to explore with lots of different levels and sections and a ton of spiral staircases.  If you’re looking to get in your steps for the day, this is the place to go to get them!

Across the courtyard from the current entrance, stands the old original entrance with all of the carved rock heraldric symbols mounted on the wall over the central arch of the tunnel to the main gate.

It took us a couple of hours to tour the Palace, and we enjoyed it thoroughly. Afterward, since we still had most of the day ahead of us, we drove about 10 miles to another couple of very different types of sites than we had been exploring earlier.  We went back to see the Kelpies in the light of day, and then we visited the amazing Falkirk Wheel nearby.

map

The Kelpies take on a whole different persona in the light of day, don’t they? They are quite pretty all lit up in different colors at night, but during the day, they are just as impressive in their steel grey attire, which reflects the changing skies around them.

IMG_7420

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

IMG_7424

IMG_7425

The Falkirk Wheel is a rotating boat lift in central Scotland, connecting the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal. It reconnects the two canals for the first time since the 1930s. The two canals were previously connected by a series of 11 locks. With a 115 ft difference in height, it required 3,500 tons of water per run and took most of a day to pass through the flight. By the 1930s, the locks had fallen into disrepair and were dismantled.

Later, Planners decided to create a dramatic 21st-century landmark structure to reconnect the canals, instead of merely recreating the historic lock flight. The Falkirk Wheel is the only rotating boat lift of its kind in the world.

Falkirk_Wheel_panorama

IMG_7508

It has an overall diameter of 115 ft and consists of two opposing arms extending 49 ft beyond the central axle and taking the shape of a Celtic-inspired, double-headed ax. Two sets of these ax-shaped arms are connected to a 12 ft diameter central axle of length 92 ft. Two diametrically opposed water-filled gondolas, each with a capacity of 66,000 gallons, are fitted between the ends of the arms.

We climbed aboard one of the boats and proceeded to ride on the Falkirk Wheel and hence, became very educated about how it works from the informative Captain.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The gondolas always carry a combined weight of 500 tons of water and boats, with the gondolas themselves each weigh 50 tons. Care is taken to maintain the water levels on each side, thereby balancing the weight on each arm.

According to Archimedes’ principle, floating objects displace their own weight in water, so when the boat enters, the amount of water leaving the gondola weighs precisely the same as the boat. This is achieved by maintaining the water levels on each side to within a difference of 1.5 inches using a site-wide computer control system comprising water level sensors, automated slices, and pumps. It takes only 30.2 hp to power ten hydraulic motors, which consume 1.5 kilowatt-hours per half-turn, roughly the same as boiling eight kettles of water! Now that’s efficient!

Each gondola is 21 feet wide and can hold up to four 66 foot canal boats at a time.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

IMG_7537

IMG_2739I had fun taking a series of photos of the wheel as it turned to share with you on this blog. Lindsay had fun taking pictures of me taking pictures!IMG_7538

By the time we did all that, we had used up the rest of the day, and we headed back to our hostel in Stirling.

Then we headed down to our favorite pub, Nicky-Tamsfor some more delicious entrees from their menu.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It was yet another superb day exploring all kinds of places, old and new.  We needed to get rested up because the following day was our last day for this 5-day adventure in and around Stirling. We’ll be winding it up with a visit to yet another delightful Palace at Falkland, but as usual, that’s another adventure for yet another blog post. Until then!

 

 

 

 

 

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!

map

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!

IMG_6804

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

IMG_6931

…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.”

IMG_6807

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

IMG_6833IMG_6831

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!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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…

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

map to culross

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.

IMG_6942

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

IMG_6961

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

IMG_7084

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!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

IMG_7034

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

IMG_7156

IMG_7144

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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!

IMG_7133

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.

IMG_7157

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

IMG_7131

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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!

IMG_7096

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.

IMG_7170

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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…

IMG_5327

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).

map

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…

IMG_5355

IMG_5360

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).

IMG_5402

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.

IMG_5438

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

IMG_5510

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

IMG_5524

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

IMG_5544

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…

IMG_5591

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.

IMG_5638

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

map

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.

IMG_5794

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.

IMG_5878

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

IMG_5905

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

IMG_2728

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…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

IMG_4448

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

key to the castle

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

74th Highlanders 1870

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.

visitor-info-map

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.’

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

IMG_4694

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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…

IMG_4697

…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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.