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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Claudia on east shore of Loch Ness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next came Lindsay…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…as well as visiting the cathedral at Fortrose nearby.

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

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

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

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

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

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

There he was in full size!

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

view from Portree Hostel in the morning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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74th Highlanders 1870

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…as well as some seaworthy boats…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our 6th & Final Week of Our European Holiday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Grace also enjoyed meeting the horse firsthand…

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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We finished our tour and started back toward the car.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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.

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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!

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

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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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Back in Scotland & Crathes Castle

Saturday, August 17th, Errin, Grace, and I packed up our bags and headed to Schiphol Airport just south of Amsterdam to catch a flight. We had spent 3 glorious weeks on the European continent exploring the Rhine River Valley and Bavaria in Germany, a couple of blissful days in Paris, and a couple more in the lively and quirky city of Amsterdam perched upon bicycles. Although we had a super great time, we were all so excited to return to our favorite place, Scotland where we could once again enjoy a proper fish supper with our cousin Lindsay.

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IMG_2132We emptied our suitcases of dirty laundry into the washing machine in anticipation of yet two more weeks of discovery in the Highlands. We spent most of the day just relaxing and hanging out at Lindsay’s house for a change of pace.  We also enjoyed a ‘wee dram’ with Lindsay at days end to celebrate our return.

After a couple of days of relaxing and recuperating after our 3-week long adventures, we were off again to visit yet another iconic castle and gardens at Crathes. Although I visit this place every year I travel to Scotland, I never tire of its beauty and could hardly wait to share it with the girls.

Just across the way from the entry gate of the castle grounds is the Milton of Crathes, where there are gift shops, a tea room, an old water wheel, and a lovely little trail along the creek that flows into the River Dee. I knew the girls would enjoy a short stroll through the woods and over the creek to get the day started.

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Then we drove up to the gatehouse at the entrance to Crathes Castle and started driving up the long scenic drive to the castle.

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Upon arrival, we made our way straight for the castle so they could tour the interior and enjoy the treasures it holds. 

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The girls liked the coat of arms above the original door to the castle, noting how short the entrance door was! People weren’t as tall back then as they are today!

Once inside, we began the tour, which took us first around the ground floor where the kitchens are.

We worked our way through the rest of the rooms on each floor, delighting in the various treasures and sites along the way.  For instance, in the grand hall, we saw the original Horn of Ley proudly displayed over the fireplace, which had been given to Alexander Burnard by Robert the Bruce way back in 1323 when he originally gifted these lands to him!

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There were many other curiosities and antique items scattered throughout that we enjoyed and pondered over as we toured the various sections of the castle’s interior.

When we were at the very top of the castle, and approaching the end of the tour, we caught a glimpse of the walled garden below outside a tiny upstairs window.

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Afterward, we descended down the servant’s long, narrow and steep spiral staircase to the ground floor once again and began making our way to those beautiful flowering grounds we had spied from above.

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The gardens are quite extensive, and there are several sections to explore, which are divided by staircases, walls, and immaculately trimmed yew hedges. We wandered about each part, which took a couple of hours to enjoy.

Following is a sampling of the beautiful sights we saw as we meandered about the pathways. Stunning flowers in bright hues, beautiful little nooks to sit in, enchanting structures, fountains, and whimsical statuary, to name a few…

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Gorgeous butterflies!

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A darling little ladybug…

 

 

…beautiful formal herb gardens…

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The exquisite hedges and sculptured Yew bushes…

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By the end of the garden tour, we were ready for a bit of a rest.

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As you might imagine, we had worked up an appetite, so after a rest on the lawn, we proceeded to the Tea Room to enjoy a bite to eat before getting back in the car and heading back home to Lindsay’s house.

Along the route back home, we stopped by the Falls of Feugh near Banchory so the girls could enjoy that delightful natural sight as well.

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It had been another full day of beautiful sights enjoyed by all. I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing a sample of them as well.  Perhaps they will serve as a temptation for you to visit them yourself sometime soon.

The rest of the week, we visited many more gardens and castles elsewhere in the Highlands. Stay tuned for yet more exciting and beautiful locales to come!

 

 

 

 

Amsterdam on Bicycles!

We had two full days to enjoy and explore the fun and quirky city of Amsterdam. There is so much to see and do in this canal city. When we were here a couple of weeks earlier, we only spent one night. We walked around and took trams and buses to get from point A to point B during our limited explorations. This time I thought it would be more exciting and a whole lot more fun for the girls to experience Amsterdam on a bicycle instead. Literally, everyone rides a bike in Amsterdam to get around, young and old alike. It is an integral part of their culture, and I didn’t want Errin and Grace to miss out on that unique aspect.

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After a satisfying breakfast at the Vondelpark Hostel, we headed outside and entered Vondelpark from the convenient access gate at the hostel’s doorstep. Although the hostel has lots of bikes to rent to their guests, unfortunately, they had run out, so they referred us to another rental place close by called Black Bikes.  They had plenty, and soon, we were on our way!

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To get used to our new mode of transportation and to become accustomed to the rules of the road locally, we rode back to Vondelpark with its extensive configuration of bike and footpaths in a vast park setting.  Doing so really helped the girls get used to all of the other bike traffic zipping in and out, the designated bike lanes in the streets along the way, etc.

I always enjoy a pedal around Vondelpark. It’s such a beautiful park filled with ponds, statues, pavilions, fountains, wildlife, and a wide variety of interesting people to watch.

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After getting used to the bicycles and enjoying the park, we headed out into the streets and decided to go across town a ways to find the Anne Frank house. We had a good ride, but unfortunately, we didn’t realize we had to buy our tickets online to enter. Since we didn’t have access to any Wifi, we decided we would have to return another time. Still, we got a picture of the statue and the building and front door of where she lived for starters.

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For lunch, we found a street vendor selling delicious sausages. We had found gluten-free hot dog buns in the supermarket for Grace, and she had said she wanted to find a street vendor who sells the sausages. The street vendors do not generally carry gluten-free buns, so we were prepared. Our luck would have it that we actually found one and enjoyed every delicious bite! She was enjoying it so much I almost didn’t get a picture of her and her precious hot dog before she devoured it! They were so yummy!

Our next stop was the Friendship Amsterdam loading dock, where we could cruise around the canals to experience the next busiest mode of transportation in Amsterdam – boats!

We had purchased some discount tickets from the hostel. I was rather impressed when we arrived at our destination. The last time I had bought canal cruise tickets from the hostel, they were affiliated with a different tour company, which was (how can I say this nicely?) somewhat ‘typical touristy type’ with seating for about 50 or more.

This experience was a step or two above! While we waited for our designated tour boat to arrive in a few minutes, they sat us inside their other boat reserved for special occasions like weddings, big private parties, etc. It was quite comfortable and served as an elegant waiting room at that. They even provided snacks!

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Not long afterward, our boat pulled up to the moorings. It looked like a whole lot of fun too! Since we were the first to board, we got our pick of the seats also! Guess where we headed? Yep, that’s right – up on the comfy looking bow.

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The cruise was about an hour-long, and it wound its way through the various canals in a circuitous route filled with all sorts of beautiful and picturesque architectural specimens along the way.

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About 3/4 of the way along our route, I noticed the expression of the woman that was serving us beverages and snacks in the photo below. I also saw the ominous dark clouds just above the skipper’s head gathering together and looking slightly menacing.

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Thank goodness for bridges! We hunkered under this one for quite a while. The deluge of rain that released from those clouds looming overhead was impressive and I was thankful we had shelter from the pelter.  

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After quite a long wait for the rain to subside, we were on our way once again and equipped with handy umbrellas. It was still raining slightly on that open deck, so they took us the quickest way back to our starting point before it started on its second onslaught.

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There were still some fascinating buildings, canals, bridges, and houseboats to be admired along the way, even though it was a bit rushed.

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That was fun, but we were wet, and the afternoon was turning into evening, so we unlocked our stowed bicycles once again and rode back to the hostel to change into dry duds.  Upon entering, we noticed a lovely smell emanating from the kitchen, and the ‘Chef’s Special’ marquee announced that they had some hot homemade tomato soup. I promptly ordered 3 servings for us while we warmed up and relaxed in the hostel’s cozy surroundings after a day’s adventures.

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The morning light greeted us with a bright blue and sparkling sky.  The hostel had some bikes available onsite so it wasn’t long after a hearty breakfast that we were on our bikes and headed out for more adventures.

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Unlike the Anne Frank museum the day before, I did know that I had to buy entrance tickets to the Van Gogh Museum online ahead of time if we wanted to get in. In fact, I had purchased the tickets before we had even left home! The museum is just a few blocks from Vondelpark, so it didn’t take us long to get there in time for our designated tour time. We hung around outside until the appointed time and enjoyed the activity in the plaza surrounding it.  There were even classical musicians serenading the crowd while we waited. It was lovely.

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The museum does not allow any photography of the artwork once you’re inside, so I’m sorry, but I do not have any pictures to share with you. It is a fantastic museum about an incredible artist that is a must-see when you’re there. Just be sure to get your tickets online ahead of time to do so!

After a couple of hours touring through that huge museum, we headed on our bikes to the Bloomenmarkt, which is an outdoor, year-round flower market. They have every sort of bulb you might want and then some! There was a collection of Calla-Lillies I would love to have in my garden at home – at least one of each variety and color!

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At the end of the lane of the flower market, we spied a little cheese museum, so we popped in there to check it out, and the yummy samples of Dutch cheese.

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Instead of walking back down the lane and through the crowded and busy flower market, we crossed the canal and walked back to our parked bicycles in the direction of the Munttoren Tower with the clock. It has a pedestrian passageway under the tower that was originally part of the medieval city wall and where the city gate was long ago.

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According to the ‘Amsterdam Welcome’ website: “The Dutch word ‘munt’ means ‘coin.’ Inside the tower, 36 bells were cast in 1651. The whole process of installing the bells in the tower was very complicated. Some of the bells weren’t even meant for this tower! But they ended up there, and they are still used today. Every 15 minutes, a happy jingle comes from the tower, so you will always know the exact time when you are in the neighborhood.”  It is lovely to hear the bells chime too. I particularly enjoy them.

Occupying the building the tower projects from is the Heinen Delft Blue shop. It holds exquisite pieces of the famous Delft Blue pottery to drool over and admire.

We also found this bakery with all manner of yummy treats tempting our every step.

We realized just how hungry we really were about this time, so we decided to pass on the temptations and instead ride over to the botanical gardens nearby. I knew of a beautiful quiet spot away from the crowds that we could enjoy our picnic lunch at. We even had a few guests join us!

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After lunch of ham and swiss cheese sandwiches and a couple of our new favorite snack – Stroop waffles, we rode a short distance to the zoo! A surprise I knew Grace would enjoy immensely because she loves animals so much.

It’s really quite a pleasant zoo with a wide variety of animals scattered in various sections of the well-kept grounds. A nice little green space and oasis in the middle of the city too.

There were birds…

Large mammals…

Some adorable small mammals…

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A few reptiles and tortoises…

A shining star in the Seal Show…

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Awww, a baby elephant!

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Some marsupials…

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Some adorable and curious meerkats… and a pair of dueling rams!  They had it all!

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We strolled back to the entrance enjoying the colorful flower beds along the main promenade, passing the motionless camel on the way back through. He hadn’t moved an inch since we went past him earlier!

It had been yet another full day of beautiful sights. We were ready to relax with a couple of made-to-order lattes back at the hostel and enjoy our last evening chilling out in Amsterdam after touring all over on bicycles for two days.

IMG_2123We also had some packing to do because, in the morning, we would be headed back to Schipol Airport to catch a flight back to Aberdeen, Scotland. It was hard to believe we had come to the end of our 3 solid weeks on the European continent, exploring The Netherlands, Germany, and France. It felt like it had just flown by!

We still had a couple more weeks left of our vacation together once we got back to Scotland, and those tales are yet to come. Stay tuned for more adventures and escapades back in Scotland!

 

 

The Eiffel Tower and a Train Ride Back to Amsterdam Again

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Another splendid sunny summer’s day greeted us on Tuesday, August 13th. The one last thing Grace wanted to see in Paris before we left was the Eiffel Tower, so we made straightway for it. We spent the morning walking to it, around it, and admiring it from every angle. Although we could have, she had no desire to go up it, and neither did Errin with her fear of heights. We were content enjoying it from ground level.

IMG_1579One aspect of it had changed, however, since my last visit. Before, one was able to walk right underneath it and gaze up at the inside.  Lines were formed for the various tours around the plaza beneath it.  This time there was a tall glass barrier wall completely surrounding the base. You could only go under it IF you had a ticket to go up; otherwise, you stayed outside. That was disappointing because I had hoped to walk the girls through the garden area on one side of the tower. There’s a pond, a little waterfall, and some lovely small winding paths that meander around. We could only see it from the other side of the fence. Such a shame as it is such a beautiful little garden.

Before crossing the river on the north side of the Tower, we explored an eatery area along the quay. They were cooking up some yummy looking sausage, onions, and peppers. Not sure what its name was, but it sure got my taste buds watering.