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.

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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.


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!

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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.


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.

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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_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!

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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!


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.

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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.


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!



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!


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.

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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.



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.




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.

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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!


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.


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


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


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


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.

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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!


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!


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.


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.



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.


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.

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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.


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.



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.


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!


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.

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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!

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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! 

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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.  


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. 

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


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.

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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!

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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. 



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!

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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!”


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!


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!


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


…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.”


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.


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.

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.


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.


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


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…


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!


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.


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!


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.


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

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.

Isle Hopping tour map_LI (2)

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!


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.


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.

map on Isle of Mull

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


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.





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.


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


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.



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.


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!


A Fun Day Visiting Two Ancestral Castles in Aberdeenshire – Tulquhon & Fyvie

Wednesday, August 21st, we piled into the rental car and headed about 20 miles northwest from Aberdeen to our first stop, the small village of Tarves.

tolquhon and fyvie castle

The church in the center of town has a churchyard with some extremely old gravestones in it. In fact, there is one ancient monument, in particular, called the Tolquhon Tomb, which dates back to 1596 that I definitely wanted to show Errin and Grace. It used to reside inside what was once the south aisle of the medieval parish church. Protective glass structures now surround this ancient tomb from the eroding elements of the weather.

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This tomb is a particularly excellent example of medieval carvings. It displays an interesting mixture of Gothic and Renaissance forms. According to the interpretive signs onsite,

“The general scheme is medieval, but much of the detail is pseudo-classical in character. This is seen on the arcade front of the tomb chest and in the balusters on either side.

The grotesque animals on the external curve of the tomb arch are fashioned in the whimsical and vigorous style found in sculptural work of this period in northeast Scotland.

On the left spandrel is a shield bearing the arms of Forbes, a helmet, and the motto Salvs Per Christvm (Salvation Through Christ). On the right, a similar shield with a gentleman’s hat for a crest bears the arms of his spouse, Elizabeth Gordon of Lesmoir. Portrait statues of the Laird and his Lady support the tracery on either side. “

tolqhuon monument

It’s an outstanding example of a Laird’s medieval tomb, and it is mainly of interest to us because it just so happens that the Lord and Lady are a couple of my 10th great grandparents! (See the lineage below.)


Naturally, I wanted to get a picture of Grace standing in front of her 12th great grandfather’s burial tomb. It’s not very often that one comes across such an ancient ancestral headstone and in such pristine condition!

Sir William, 7th Lord of Tolquhon Forbes 1530-1596
10th great-grandfather
Son of Patrick Forbes
John Forbes 1568-1635
Son of Sir William, 7th Lord of Tolquhon Forbes
John Fobes 1608-1661
Son of John Forbes
Lieut William Fobes 1649-1712
Son of John Fobes
Mary Fobes 1689-1712
Daughter of Lieut William Fobes
Fobes Southworth 1710-1755
Son of Mary Fobes
Pvt John Southworth 1743-1832
Son of Fobes Southworth
Hannah Southworth 1796-1842
Daughter of Pvt John Southworth
Hannah Mae Case 1828-1898
Daughter of Hannah Southworth
Daniel A Clapp 1853-1913
Son of Hannah Mae Case
Hannah Elizabeth Clapp 1897-1977
Daughter of Daniel A Clapp
William Kenneth Frew 1917-1997
Son of Hannah Elizabeth Clapp
Claudia Louise Frew
You are the daughter of William Kenneth Frew


While we were visiting the churchyard, we also noticed some strong young fellas working in the churchyard nearby straightening up a large headstone that was about to tip over.  They were jacking it up and refortifying its base on level ground once again to preserve it and keep it from becoming destroyed. What great work these guys do to protect history and the integrity of old burial sites. It is absolutely admirable what they do. So many headstones have been lost over the ages because of tipping and toppling. It is fantastic that they can save so many from a similar fate with modern tools and technology and a bit of human elbow grease and expertise!

We wandered about the churchyard looking at some of the other old grave slabs scattered throughout while Lindsay helped explain to the girls what a lot of the symbols meant carved into the ancient stones. He also pointed out the little rocks embedded between the blocks of the church building, adding a little touch of specialized decoration to the mortar.

Our next stop was only a couple of miles back down the road. We were headed to the castle where our Forbes great grandparents lived – Tolquhon Castle!

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We were so excited to explore the impressive ruins of this fairytale castle in the stunning Grampian countryside. Tolquhon has been described as one of the most beautiful castles in Scotland. It was our ancestor, Sir William Forbes, who commissioned it in 1584,  and intended it to be an impressive residence.


The first structure built on this site was “Preston’s Tower.”  This tower was a typical Norman type square tower found in the early 15th century and built by Sir Henry Preston. The main feature was a Tower House, which was surrounded by a ‘barmkin’ (curtain wall) enclosing the auxiliary buildings such as a brewhouse, bakehouse, and stables. Sir Henry died in 1420 without leaving a male heir, so his estates were divided between his daughters. Tolquhon Castle passed through his second daughter, Marjorie, to her husband, Sir John Forbes. The castle would remain with the Forbes family for almost 300 years.

Sir John Black Lips Forbes 1332-1446
16th great-grandfather
Baron Alexander 1st Lord Forbes 1377-1448
Son of Sir John Black Lips Forbes
James “2nd Lord” Forbes 1425-1460
Son of Baron Alexander 1st Lord Forbes
Patrick Forbes 1446-1476
Son of James “2nd Lord” Forbes
David Forbes 1478-1509
Son of Patrick Forbes
Patrick Forbes 1516-1554
Son of David Forbes
Sir William, 7th Lord of Tolquhon Forbes 1530-1596
10th great-grandfather
Son of Patrick Forbes

Six generations later, John’s descendant, William Forbes, 7th Laird of Tolquhon (who died 1596 and is buried in the tomb we just visited), began work on a new part of the castle in 1584. He kept the Preston Tower that his 5th great grandfather had built, but he also added new and more comfortable accommodations.


He also improved the gardens and parkland around the house. It was quite the place in its day.  He had a lot of important and noble friends to entertain. In fact, King James VI was entertained here at Tolquhon in 1589 just after its completion. The new buildings were arranged around a central courtyard and included an elaborate gatehouse and a first-floor gallery.

A carved inscription on the gatehouse’s rock exterior records that “AL THIS WARKE EXCEP THE AULD TOWR WAS BEGUN BE WILLIAM FORBES 15 APRIL 1584 AND ENDIT BE HIM 20 OCTOBER 1589”.

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The home of a ‘Renaissance man,’ Tolquhon was designed for show rather than defense and was the work of the mason-architect Thomas Leiper, who converted the site into a compact palatial residence. While the castle’s overall footprint didn’t significantly change, the buildings surrounding the courtyard were completely rebuilt. After William’s death, his descendants continued to occupy Tolquhon until 1718, when they were forced to move out following support for the Jacobite rebellions.

Parliament declared his estates forfeited in 1716, but Forbes refused to vacate and had to be forcibly evicted in September 1718. Tolquhon Castle ceased to be a high-status residence at that time and was eventually purchased by the Earl of Aberdeen to use as a farmhouse and continued in this role until the early nineteenth century when it was allowed to drift into ruin. Luckily, it is now in the guardianship of Historic Scotland and is open to the public. 

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We enjoyed exploring the castle, the grand hall, bedrooms, galleries, and kitchens alike. So many rooms to discover and stairs to climb to various levels and sections. It was a lot of fun, and the views from the uppermost levels didn’t disappoint on such a lovely morning.

As we made our way to leave and were back at the main entrance, we had to turn around for one last look at another magnificent example of an ancestral castle we get to add to our list!


IMG_4327We got back in the car and headed back down the castle road to the main highway to return once again to the village of Tarves. We had worked up quite an appetite, and I knew just the place to satisfy those hunger pangs – The Murly Tuck Cafe! We enjoyed some delicious home-cooked soups and sandwiches. We replenished our energy levels to be able to continue our explorations further out into this beautiful countryside to yet another castle on the horizon about 20 miles away.

Our next destination was Fyvie Castle. We drove through the outer gates, up the long drive that follows alongside a beautiful lake teeming with wildlife and flora, and which ends at the castle entrance.

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We timed it just right. The next tour would soon begin, and we had just enough time before it started to wander around the castles’ exterior to see what it looks like from all sides.

Afterward, we entered the front door and began making our way through the entry hall filled with armorial displays and hunting trophies to the room where the tour would begin.

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I’ve been to Fyvie a couple of times before and never tire of its tour. There are so many things to look at, you can’t possibly see them all in one visit anyway. During past visits, we were not allowed to take any photographs inside. Much to my surprise and delight, the tour guide announced that they have changed their policy, and photography is now allowed, so I have lots of photos of its beautiful interior to share with you.

We started in the dining room with its table beautifully laid with china and beautiful crystal, and its many stunning portraits gracing its walls.


As we visited each of the main rooms, the tour guide started to relay the complicated history of the castle bit by bit, introducing various historical figures in the beautiful portraits that we were looking at adorning the walls.

Formerly, the castle served as a Royal stronghold until 1390, shortly after the Battle of Otterburn. It was then passed down to a succession of 5 clan families: Preston, Meldrum, Seton, Gordon, and Leith, respectively.

Evidently, each of the families constructed a new tower onto the castle after they took possession, and the castle began to grow.  The first of these towers was the Preston Tower. Dated between 1390-1433, the tower remains to this day.  The impressive Seton tower forms the entrance, and it was erected in 1599 by Alexander Seton. Seton also commissioned the grand processional staircase several years later. The Gordon tower followed in 1778, and lastly, the Leith in 1890. The descendants of Alexander Leith, who owned the castle until the early 1900s, sold the castle to the National Trust for Scotland in 1984. The castle is now open to the public to admire its architecture, art collection, and family history.

It’s important to note at this point that one of these families includes some of our own ancestors. Alexander Seton mentioned above, and his wife, Lilias Drummond were another set of my 10th great grandparents, like the Forbes from about the same time from Tolquhon!

Alexander Seton Earl of Dunfermline 1555-1622
10th great-grandfather
& his wife,
Lilias Drummond 1580-1601
10th great-grandmother
Margaret Seton 1599-1630
Daughter of Alexander Seton Earl of Dunfermline and Lilias Drummond
Anne Mackenzie 1627-1707
Daughter of Margaret Seton
David Daniel Campbell 1675-1753
Son of Anne Mackenzie
Charles Campbell 1699-1767
Son of David Daniel Campbell
William Campbell 1728-1803
Son of Charles Campbell
Jeanette Campbell 1770-1851
Daughter of William Campbell
John Holliday 1803-1872
Son of Jeanette Campbell
Elizabeth “Lizzie” Holiday 1842-1872
Daughter of John Holliday
Nancy Anne Brundage 1867-1948
Daughter of Elizabeth “Lizzie” Holiday
William Rose Frew II 1885-1976
Son of Nancy Anne Brundage
William Kenneth Frew 1917-1997
Son of William Rose Frew II
Claudia Louise Frew
You are the daughter of William Kenneth Frew

Knowing this ancestral connection makes looking at the crests and heraldic symbols and the various items in each room that much more exciting and relative – literally! To think my ancestor could have been sitting in this library, at this desk, and looking at this very book hundreds of years ago! Fascinating!


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The castle (like many places in Scotland) is said to be haunted, the odd tale of a ghost or two is commonplace, and with Fyvie Castle, it certainly is the case, with a little added for extra emphasis. For instance, when Lady Meldrum died sometime in the 13th century, her body was sealed in the wall of a secret room within the Meldrum Tower as she had requested. She had cursed disaster on anyone who entered the room. During the renovation of the castle in 1920, workmen discovered her remains. From that day on, the castle has been plagued by strange noises and unexplained happenings. The ghost of Lady Meldrum was seen frequently after that. Her spirit is referred to today as the ‘Grey Lady.’

Another ghost, known as the ‘Green Lady,’ also frequents Fyvie Castle. She is thought to be the wife of Sir Alexander Seton, who starved her to death because she hadn’t produced a male heir and so he could marry her cousin. Folklore states that after her death, the ghost of Dame Lillias Drummond scratched her name upside down on the window sill outside of the bedroom being used by the newlyweds. Her name can still be seen there today.

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It is reported that the ‘Green Lady’ also leaves the scent of roses wherever she goes. To think that my 10th great grandfather murdered my 10th great grandmother because she didn’t produce a male heir! I’m not so proud of him, after all! Geez! It’s no wonder she haunts the place; I probably would too if I was her!

The tour took us through many rooms, and we ended it in the beautiful and stunning Gallery whose walls are lined with exquisite old 17th-century tapestries. The massive organ at the end of the room is fascinating, and they even allow you to play the grand piano if you’re so inclined! A beautiful setting for a special occasion, such as a wedding. I understand that if you plan a wedding there, you can rent out a whole suite of rooms and spend the night there as well.  That would be something, wouldn’t it?

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IMG_2510We finished up our tour and exited through the Tea Room, where we bought some ice cream and enjoyed it out on the terrace outside. A very friendly little Robin had joined us and was hoping for some crumbs to drop perhaps. 

Fyvie Castle also has some beautiful gardens associated with it in the walled garden, and a hike around the lake, especially in June when the rhododendrons are blooming, is a real treat. The castle has a lot to offer.


We certainly enjoyed it. It was getting late in the afternoon, and we still wanted to drive over to the coast at Collieston about 20 miles away to see the ocean before we headed back to Aberdeen. When we got back to town and went to the grocery store to buy something to fix for dinner, we came across these delectable fruit tarts and cakes and some absolutely darling animal-shaped cookies that made us giggle.

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I hope you’ve enjoyed our visit to two more meaningful and beautiful ancestral castles. There will be more to come! Stay tuned! Next time we’ll be visiting Kildrummy and Craigievar – another couple of ancestral castles in Aberdeenshire!

A Bouquet of Gardens in Aberdeen

IMG_2249Tuesday, August 20th, started out a bit overcast, creating a relaxed sort of day. Sometimes, particularly when the sun is shining brightly outside, we’re raring to go, but today we felt more like going for a relaxing stroll somewhere. We wanted to see some more sights, and we also wanted to stay relatively close to home as well. We came up with a perfect solution! Visit a few gardens about town to see what they had to offer near the end of the season.

Aberdeen has several lovely parks I wanted to share with them in particular. We started out at Johnston Gardens nestled in a hollow in a nearby neighborhood. It’s a small park, yet filled to the brim with a lovely variety of plants, mostly shade-loving. It also has circuitous paths meandering around a large pond, picture-perfect bridges to cross, and even some friendly and inquisitive waterfowl.

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Just a few blocks away, we headed over to visit Hazelhead Park next. It’s a lot bigger than Johnston Gardens and has various ‘areas’ or ‘sections’ designed for particular purposes.

For instance, there is the large children’s playground area with all the usual slides, swings and things to climb up, a vast rose garden with fountains and memorials, a fantastic maze made out of hedges, and it also has quite a cute little petting zoo as well.  That’s where we headed first as soon as Grace realized she had an opportunity to see cute and adorable animals she could get up close and personal with!

They had typical barnyard type animals outside that are not shy and that you can pet…

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They also have a lot more critters inside a building nearby; tropical fish, reptiles, snakes, and some adorable meerkats…

Armed with an ice cream cone from the cafe area, we wandered over to the other end of the park to the massive formal rose garden. The season was coming to an end, so it wasn’t nearly as colorful as it probably had been just a month early, but a few beautiful specimens were remaining to admire and sniff.


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We then wandered about more of the park, following the Path of Remembrance through the towering trees and past the Re-Thinker sculpture, which is based on Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’ but made out of recycled items.  The park has several interesting artistic sculptures scattered throughout.

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There is also a charming water fountain from Victorian times. Yet, I have never seen it actually flowing with water, which I bet would look attractive and feel absolutely refreshing on a hot summer day.


After visiting Hazelhead, we decided to go across town to the Cruickshank Botanical Garden at the University. Last year was the first time I had ever visited this garden, and unknowingly had missed seeing a whole section of it, the part with the ponds.  This time I went there mainly to view that section that I had somehow overlooked the time before.

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IMG_2321The gardeners were in the middle of refurbishing the pond’s beds, but it was still quite pretty despite the landscape barren construction zone.

In my opinion, the best time to visit this garden is in June. They have a beautiful and extensive selection of Azaleas and Rhododendrons in every hue of the rainbow that will knock your socks off!

Because it is a botanical garden, it also has a lot of varieties you won’t find in a lot of other more standard type gardens. You never know what you might find, perhaps a pretty little gem you’ve never seen before.

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We continued walking around the rest of the garden, under the giant rhododendron bushes, past the beehives, and back to the entrance in the old town.

At the end of the street, near St Machar’s church, is the entrance to our final park to visit, Seton, nestled down below the foot of the cathedral and bordered by the river Don.




The path starts at the cathedral dipping down into the green, tree-laden, glen below.

I love the way the gardeners used thin slivers of shale rock set close together on their edges to simulate flowing water in a stream throughout the landscaped flower beds, as shown below. I want that in my garden!


We strolled along the promenade and back again along the opposite side, enjoying the various colorful flower plantings the entire route.



IMG_2344The neighborhood around the cathedral and the University of Aberdeen is ancient with cobbled streets and some magnificent and old architectural structures to admire. It has a very warm and charming appeal to it, and I always enjoy its grace and welcoming embrace.

The day was getting long, and we had seen some interesting, entertaining, and peaceful scenes wandering through various parks. As we made our way back through the city to Lindsay’s house, we took the scenic route along the shoreline near the harbor so the girls could walk on the beach and be able to say they’ve dipped their tootsies in the North Sea. The perfect ending to yet another perfectly wonderful afternoon spent in Scotland.

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The Historic Heart of Paris

It was our first full day in Paris, and there was so much to see and do in this magnificent city. It seemed appropriate to start our explorations in the center – at the heart of Paris – to start where Paris did on the big island in the middle of the river Seine. Standing proudly at that center is the famous Notre Dame cathedral.


Because of the horrendous fire that recently ravaged this iconic treasure, it was totally encased in a protective barrier wall, and therefore, we couldn’t get very close, let alone inside.

While standing near it and looking first hand at the damage it sustained, I felt grateful I had the opportunity to visit it a few years ago and had the chance to see what it looked like inside before it burned. What a shame! What a loss!

At the same time, however, it was comforting to see all of the construction efforts they were making to restore it to its former beauty and that they were already making such fantastic progress.

We wandered around the building, gaping up at the majestic ornate exterior. Eventually,  we reached the south end of it where Pont Neuf juts out into the Seine at the southern end of the island that Notre Dame is perched upon.IMG_1290

I noticed that a river cruise boat was boarding passengers below us at the dock, so I suggested we also climb aboard, take a one-hour cruise, and see a little bit more of the sites of the city from the vantage point of a boat.  The girls liked that idea. 


We enjoyed views of Paris’ famous attractions as we glided along the water, passing by the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Musée d’Orsay, and of course, Notre-Dame Cathedral. We also saw a lot of the details of the statuary and carvings on the bridges that you can’t see very well from the street level, if at all, without passing underneath them on the river.

From the boat, we could also see Parisians enjoying all kinds of activities along the bank, including a lively swing dance. It looked like a whole lot of fun, and I secretly wished I could join them!


Following the river cruise, we began exploring the Left Bank area. To start with, the river is lined with many vendors selling artwork, old posters, photographs, books and maps, and a few typical types of souvenirs in the permanent wooden housings. Each one is like a closet that they can throw open the doors and have everything on display instantaneously. They are chock full of attractive and artful curiosities.

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At the end of the block, we spotted a small park with a rose garden setting and agreed this would be the perfect spot to enjoy our picnic lunch. The park, called Square Rene Viviani, is a welcome oasis in the middle of the city. We enjoyed eating our sandwiches amongst the locals and delighted in feeding the crusts to our sandwiches to the local pigeons as well. 

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IMG_1297After our respite, we wandered further through the square away from the river to continue our explorations.

IMG_1303Being the gardener that I am, the curiosity of the place was undoubtedly the oldest tree of Paris, an acacia planted in 1601. It is kind of a sad, tired-looking old tree, and it has to be supported with cement pillars, like an old man on crutches, but it’s still growing by golly! Imagine being that old…

Just beyond the tree near the exit of the garden is another ancient specimen, a tiny church. IMG_1305Like Notre Dame, it is one of Paris’ oldest religious buildings.

The old church of Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre was located on the Pilgram road to Santiago de Compostela. The church was at the intersection of two Roman roads and was built during the 13th Century. The Gothic facade of the church has disappeared, but it remains an excellent example of the transition between Romanesque art and Gothic art.

At this point, the old twisty lanes of Paris meander through the marketplace beyond tempting us with all sorts of yummy things to eat. It was buzzing with activity and exciting things to look at in the shops.  Errin even spotted a pirate along the way!

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We crossed back over the bridge to start making our way back to the Metro Station we had emerged from earlier that day. Along our route, we passed Saint Chappelle with its stunning stained glass windows, the Palace of Justice, and the massive building next to it, the Prison where Marie Antoinette was held until her execution in 1793.



There is a striking feature on the outside face of the imposing Corner Tower of the Prison – a massive, fancy, and commanding clock.

Since 1371, the Clock Tower has housed this extraordinary clock. Initially, its primary purpose was to help the people regulate their activities during the day and night. A couple of 100 years later, it was enhanced by gilding, and a multicolored face was also added and surrounded with allegories of Law and Justice.

A Latin inscription is found below the clock, which when translated, says, “This mechanism, which divides time into perfectly equal twelve hours, helps you to protect justice and defend the law.” It’s a fine specimen of a clock,  that’s for sure.

Cite MetroJust across the street from the clock and the Palace of Justice is the plaza leading to the Cité Metro station, where we had emerged a few hours earlier.

In the morning, when we first arrived, we had wandered through stalls that were set up as a marketplace that had all kinds of cute little birds for sale. Grace is enamored with animals of any ilk, so naturally, she was drawn to these sweet small avian specimens that were so close and approachable.

In the early evening hours, once we were back at our hostel and rested a bit from our adventure, we went back outside on the lively streets of Montmarte in search of a gluten-free creperie we discovered was nearby. Just as the map stated, it was only a block or two away, and we were soon cozied up to a sidewalk cafe table, ordering our dinner crepes and enjoying a refreshing smoothie.

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Absolutely stuffed after consuming those lovely crepes, we slowly sauntered back to the hostel, admiring Sacre Coeur and some entertaining graffiti artwork on buildings along the way. 

Yet another satisfying day of discovery in a new environment and culture, just what traveling is all about, the experiences!


Oh My Goodness, It’s Oberammergau!

oberstaufen to oberammergau driving mapAugust 7th wasn’t quite so bright and sunny as the previous days, but we weren’t going to let that fact damper our adventurous spirits in the least. We bundled up and proceeded to travel in an easterly direction about 60 miles from Oberstaufen to a town called Oberammergau.

The scenery along the route was breathtaking! We were very close to the Austrian border, and the mountains along that border are quite picturesque!

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We kept driving along, enjoying the beautiful scenery following the road signs to our final destination. After that delightful drive, we arrived in Oberammergau, quickly found a place to park near the Tourist Information building, and began a fascinating tour in this unique village. We entered the Tourist Information office and were soon equipped with a map of the town with a walking tour they had suggested we follow to see everything this village has to offer, which looked promising. The Tourist Information office had lovely facilities, including an outdoor theatre and gardens with sculptural artwork. 

Oberammergau is famous for its long tradition of woodcarving. In fact, the Bavarian State Woodcarving School is located there. The quaint lanes and streets are home to dozens of woodcarver shops, with specimens ranging from toys to religious subjects, bowls, platters, and even some amusing portraits. The Pilatushaus (House of Pilate) was the first place our walking tour introduced us to.

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Wow! They really go all out when they paint frescoes on their buildings! The painting actually transforms the structure and makes it look like it is constructed much differently than it actually is! Pilatushaus is in the heart of the village and is also the center for arts and crafts. The painted frescoes on the buildings are called “Lüftlmalereien,” and this one was created in 1784 by the Franz Seraph Zwinck. The garden front of the house depicts the condemnation of Jesus by Pilate.

Just inside the front door is the ‘Living Workshop’ and is open and welcoming to visitors. You can look over their shoulders as they work and ask questions. The day we visited, several artists were busily working away on their projects, including one woman who carves beautiful carousel horses and another who paints the backs of pieces of glass using challenging reverse-painting techniques. Quite impressive and informative.

Oberammergau is very famous for its “Lüftlmalerei” as we were beginning to discover. They include traditional Bavarian themes, fairy tales, religious scenes, or architectural Trompe-l’œil and are found on lots of homes and buildings all throughout the town. We continued on the walking tour, enjoying many of them as we passed.

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My two favorites were the ones with the stories of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ and ‘Hansel & Gretel’ depicted on their facades. The rest of the world just paints the exteriors of their buildings and homes; the people in Oberammergau create masterpieces for all to see!

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IMG_0774Another intriguing character we ran into was the “Ührschleppers” (or Peddlers).

Legend has it there was a time when clock peddlers carried their goods on their back on a wooden backpack through hills of the Black Forest and all around the surrounding countryside. During the long, harsh winters, the artisans painstakingly made the clocks, and then, starting in the spring, they traveled about the local country and to faraway places selling them. Those clock peddlers played an essential role in launching the popularity of the famous Black Forest cuckoo clocks.

We wandered the streets as far as the ‘Passion Play’ Theatre. Once every ten years, performances of the ‘Passion Play’ are performed here.

The play was first performed in 1634. It started because of a vow made by the inhabitants of the village; that is, they vowed that if God spared them from the bubonic plague, they would perform a passion play about Christ every ten years.

Evidently, a man traveling back to town for Christmas had accidentally brought the plague back with him. He ended up dying from the disease, and it began to spread to others in the city. After prayers were said and vows were made, not another person in the town died from the plague; all that were still suffering from the disease miraculously recovered! The play is now performed in years ending with a zero. It involves over 2000 actors, singers, musicians, and technicians –  all residents of the village, which has a population of about 5,000 people.

385 years later, they are still keeping their promise! It is attended by over 500,000 people from all over the world right on schedule. Next year, they will have a performance.  I was glad the play wasn’t happening this year when we visited because there would have been hoards of people everywhere. As it was, the village was somewhat subdued and not so hectic, making it a lot easier to enjoy! Evidently, the show has impeccable costumes, lots of music, and very creative stage settings, so if you’re interested in seeing it,IMG_0851 I hear it is quite spectacular. During the off years, you can go inside to tour the theatre and see all of the elaborate props and costumes they create for the performances.

We did not go inside but instead decided to visit the Oberammergau Museum. It was full of all kinds of exciting things to look at too, and it featured a vast array of woodcarvings by local artisans from the past.

Surprisingly, it also had quite an extensive exhibit featuring Roman artifacts, including uniforms, boot hobnails, spearheads, and other weaponry specimens to name a few.

There were rooms full of miniature dioramas depicting religious scenes, such as the birth of Christ. Each display was quite intricate and extremely detailed.

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One section of the museum was dedicated to hand-carved wooden toys that I particularly enjoyed.

I thought these two skateboarding snails were hilarious…


Next, we came to the section of hand-carved wooden religious artwork… amazing!

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They had even more dioramas! This one as big as the room we were in depicting festivals and life in days long gone.

Next was the section that had all things related to the plague and the masks the doctors wore while they treated their patients. That was kind of spooky.

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After touring the museum, we headed back outside to find that it had started to rain outside.

To avoid the rain, we ducked into a Christmas Shop nearby since Germans are known for their elaborate decorations and love of their Kristkindlmarkts!