Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Scotland, Day Eight: St. Andrews and back to Edinburgh

Our last day in Scotland was a lazy one. Megan slept in while Colin and I made our way through the kitchen, as we’d been told to do, for breakfast. Audrey, our hostess, said, “I’ve put you in conservat’ry” and we found our places in the small, glass enclosure. These structures seem to be most common in Scotland, perhaps to catch what sun there is. While we ate, a pouring rain came down and I said if I lived in that house, I’d have to have my office in the conservatory. A few minutes later, blinding sunshine made me rethink that. We had a huge breakfast of eggs, sausage, toast, tomatoes, and mushrooms.
After packing up, we said our goodbyes and Audrey said something in her broad Scottish brogue that really touched me. She had all along been interested in my Scottish ancestors and knew we’d been to the memorial park, and she said, “It must have been very emotional for you.” She was the only one who realized that, and I was grateful. Her brogue reminded me a bit of the way some of my Canadian relatives used to talk.
Our only goal this day was St. Andrews. Colin is the controller for five upscale golf courses, four in Houston and one in Tennessee, I think. Seeing the course and buying gifts for colleagues was important to him. We walked to the 18th hole and, of course, it dumped rain on us again. I took refuge on the porch of the caddy shack, and the kids soon joined me. After a bit, it let up enough to go to the car, and we went souvenir shopping and then to St. Andrew’s Castle.
St. Andrews is a charming old town set on the Firth of Forth and the North Sea. We passed St. Andrew’s University, where Will and Kate met. The gothic gray stone buildings reminded me of the University of Chicago, but in truth I suppose it should be the other way around: the U. of C. reminds one of St. Andrew’s. The campus was compact, all crowded together, with narrow streets, much of it walled it. The castle is right across the street from part of the school. 

St. Andrews Castle was once home to powerful cardinals, bishops and archbishops. Today it is a picturesque shell, destroyed in the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. It sits on a bluff above the firth. Having gotten lazy by now, we merely looked at it from the sidewalk, didn’t go to the exhibit or prowl the ruins. We were tired.
We crossed the extraordinarily long bridge over the Firth of Forth and headed to Edinburgh, arriving in the early afternoon.. (A firth is an inlet of sea or salt water; a loch is a fresh-water lake.) Returning to the B&B where we’d spent our first night seemed like coming home. We unloaded the car—well, I was sent to the room while the kids hauled our luggage up to the garret. Then of course we were hungry.

The innkeeper at St. Michael’s had recommended a restaurant called The Dome, so we took a taxi there—taking a car into downtown Edinburgh didn’t appeal. The Dome, in what was once a fancy bank, had two restaurants—one that was the traditional leather and dark wood and another that seemed light and airy and full of sunshine. We checked both menus, and Megan announced our meal would cost 100 pounds—eating high on the hog again. I for one didn’t want to start that endless restaurant search again, and the menu looked good. We went into the Dome room, which indeed had a dome, and was almost like a solarium. The maitre d’ seated us at the bar temporarily, and we discovered the bar menu. Our lunch was a platter of assorted sandwiches—beef and horseradish, smoked salmon and cream cheese, and turkey with cranberry and cheese--and a platter of—not tapas, for they were Asian and Spanish and sort of an odd mixture. With wine and beer and then of course cappucino. We lingered and lingered some more, and I had an extra glass of wine. Upshot: I went back to the room and had a nap while the kids went out to buy nibbles for supper.   
When they came back they announced supper would be cheese, crackers, and chocolate covered almonds-–Megan had carried the latter all over Scotland with us. They also brought me white wine, and they finished a bottle of red Colin had. A satisfying supper, and we turned in, though I laughed at my children: while I sat reading an old-fashioned print book they were each glued to their iPad, watching movies.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

Monday, May 30, 2011

Scotland, Day Six: Whiskey, pigs, and Pitlochry

Day Six was a traveling day. After another breakfast of eggs and salmon, we left our Inverness B&B, headed for Pitlochry. But the kids had been reading Rick Steves and shortly after 10:00 a.m. I found myself sipping whiskey at the Tamotin Distillery. (I am a confirmed white wine drinker and noticed throughout how sophisticated my kids are—they sipped whiskey, discussed the bouquet of the red wines they ordered, consumed a gallon each of cappuccino, compared the taste of ales, and ordered sangria with their tapas.)
Tamotin was once the biggest distillery in Scotland and is the only one where most employees live on the grounds. Housing was built years ago so that if a storm stranded employees, they were close to home. No tours were offered that day, but we watched a video and talked at length with the hostess in the hospitality room. I found this whiskey a bit less biting than my previous drink, but it’s not my drink of choice.
Next stop was Blair Castle, which we just sort of happened on—after all, we didn’t have our sights on a castle for the day. Although Rick Steves doesn’t mention it, Blair is a magnificent, beautifully maintained castle. But it’s more like a museum, with each room containing a display of clothing, pictures, artifacts, etc. One room had furniture made entirely from birch wood, which was unusual. From the moment you walk in, you’re aware that the Blairs were great hunters: the grand lobby is full of long rifles, swords, spears, etc. Every hallway in the castle is lined near the ceiling with mounted antlers crammed together, and other trophies can be found in various rooms. I heard my only bagpipers of the trip at Blair Castle—they were in the courtyard three floors below us, practicing for a wedding to be held at the castle that night. The wedding would apparently be in the great dining hall, a huge room but again one lined with weaponry and souvenirs of hunting. Megan murmured, “I wouldn’t want to be married in this room.” But attached to the dining hall are a cafeteria with kitchen (yes, they ordered cappuccino) and a reception area, so you can see why people rent the facility.
I had been told that Pitlochry was the most charming town in Scotland, and research on the Web confirmed that it is picturesque and interesting. In reality, it was a disappointment, a tourist-oriented town that reminded me of the negative aspects of the plaza in Santa Fe. And crowded? Don’t ask. Steves said good restaurants were plentiful, singled out one or two, and we tried. No room, so we ended in the Old Mill Inn which was picturesque enough until we were seated in an annex without a bit of character. What happened to all those leather chairs and the dark wood paneling of the front room? Colin enjoyed fish and chips, and Megan and I had ordinary sandwiches. 
Colin and Megan traipsed across a parking lot to see a salmon ladder, but it was raining and I'd seen a salmon ladder in Oregon. I waited in the car with my book.

The highlight of Pitlochry for the kids was the Eduadour distillery, the smallest in Scotland. I elected not to go on the tour (lesson: wear thin socks with athletic shoes—blisters were hurting me!) and sat in the hospitality room, a bit alarmed when they began turning off the lights. Megan came to get me just in time. Colin and Megan thought this whiskey the best they tasted and the tour really informative. It was conducted by an older woman who, they said, had a terrific sense of humor.
Megan had decided to cancel our overnight reservations in Pitlochry, since we weren’t as enchanted as we expected, and push on to St. Andrews where she had made new reservations. As we left Pitlochry, she said, “That’s where we were going to stay. We’d be home by now.” The drive wasn’t long and, as it turned out, our accommodations at Vicarford were well outside the city. In fact, they were pretty well outside the village of St. Michael’s. As we drove into the country, Megan began to hope our reservation, which she’d made through a service, hadn’t gone through, but it had. We were expected and welcomed; the hostess suggested that the food at the St. Michael’s Inn was good home-cooking and less expensive than where we had reservations in St. Andrews. She even called ahead to put the innkeeper on the lookout for us, and again we were warmly welcomed. Colin and I had bangers and mash with more roast onion whiskey gravy. Delicious and something I can fix at home. Megan, who never was as taken by Scottish food, had lentil soup.

We couldn’t decide if we were staying on a working farm or not, but it looked suspiciously like that. Next morning I looked out, and the field beyond the driveway was full of hogs. I wondered if we were on a pig farm. Megan thought she could smell them. Neither of the kids liked this B&B but aside from the fact that it was expensive, I thought it was fine and the hosts most cordial people. We had separate rooms—Colin tried to say we should split up by boys and girls but Megan insisted I take the bedroom with one bed. She didn’t want to hear me snore.
Our trip was winding down.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Scotland, Day Five: The day I went to Scotland for

This was the day that drew me to Scotland: we visited the MacBain Memorial Park near Dores in Kinchyle (at the north end of Lochness) and then the battlefield at Culloden Moor. (We put equal emphasis on all three syllables, but the Scots say “Cull √≥dd en,” emphasizing the middle syllable.)

We started the day with salmon and eggs, a sure sign of a good day. Then it was off to nearby Dores. James McBain, the MacBain of MacBean (I get a bit lost in all the various spellings) advised me to stop at the Dores Inn for directions. We did, the kids had yet another cappuccino, and we got good directions. Then our hostess pulled out the MacBain guest book—people have been signing a guest register since the early ‘90s. It was a thrill to me to see all those variations of MacBain from all over, Minnesota to Europe and South Africa. I wished I could have found my parents’ signatures, but they likely visited in the 1970s. Colin said it would be cool to bring his kids there someday and show them where the three of us had signed.

The park is up a hill on a single-lane road—what in Scotland isn’t?  I’d heard it is two acres, but I don’t think it’s that big. A black iron gate and a sign welcome the visitor with the words “No Burial Ground/No Bodies Around/Just Fond Recollections/Ancestor Connections.” James McBain told me it had been “cleaned up” last summer, so I was pleasantly surprised to find a dab of Scotland au naturel. The park perches on a hillside, and about the only landscaping has been the clearing of a small area by the gate and rough wooden logs, creating steps leading up the hillside in two places. Trees and grasses and heather abound, and from the cairn (to me, it looked like a stone bench) at the top, you can catch a glimpse of Lochness through the trees. We sat there quietly for a bit, believe it or not in sunshine filtered through the trees. The family farmhouse is nearby, no longer occupied by MacBains, and we didn’t see it.
The small park is important because it gives the clan a piece of Scotland. In 1745 Bonnie Prince Charlie or the Young Pretender rallied Jacobite loyalists to take back the throne of England for his exiled father James Stuart—the throne was then held by the House of Hanover. Because the MacBains fought for Charlie, they lost their land after his defeat in what was known as the Clearances, harsh retribution against Jacobite followers. A clan without land is almost not a clan. Some clan members were apparently deported to South Carolina; others stayed as tenant farmers.
In the 1960s, Hughston MacBain of Chicago (chair of the board of Marshall Field & Co.) was appointed the MacBain of MacBain and bought the present piece of land. He would, he wrote later, have bought more but it’s hard to get a Scot to part with land. The park is, to my understanding, on the original 200 square miles once owned by Gillies MacBean. At last, the MacBains had a piece of Scotland again, albeit small.
Our next stop was Culloden, and by the time we reached the visitors centre, a cold rain had started again. The centre was opened in 2008 and has a marvelous and extensive exhibit covering three long halls—on one side, the British story, on the other, the Highlanders. At the end a brief film dramatizes the Highlanders’ loss—they fought with courage and passion and wild warlike cries, but they were overwhelmed by the disciplined and better armed Recoats.
Gillies MacBean was one of the most heroic Highlanders. Standing 6’4” and armed with targe (shield) and claymore, he stationed himself at a gap in a stone wall. As each Redcoat came through, he was cut down by Gillies’ claymore. He managed to kill thirteen or fourteen (reports vary) before he was killed. Supposedly, one British officer cried out, “Save that brave man.” I’ve even heard it was General Cumberland who uttered those words, he who became known during the Clearances at “Butcher.” Other MacBeans fought at Culloden—I saw the name Angus on a long list and a little research indicates a second Gillies was on the field and Angus’ son, Paul, who succeeded his father as chief of the clan and the Laird of Kinchyle, a title the clan leader held since the early 17th century.
It was too cold, wet and windy to walk out on the moor, which is well marked with signs marking various moments in the battle that lasted less than an hour. We got earphones, headed out, and turned around and came back in. A good friend, who told me “Culloden will break your heart,” said she walked every inch of the moor, crying and cursing at the same time. Like her, I found visiting Culloden—and the memorial park—highly emotional.

Emotion or no, we were hungry, and we were headed toward the castle of the day, Cawdor. Colin kept saying we’d find food on the way, and sure enough, the village of Cawdor had a lovely inn or pub where we had a late and lazy lunch. I had a wonderful sandwich of sharp Scottish cheddar, tomatoes and onion, Megan had a risotto, and Colin had the best beef and ale pie I’ve ever tasted.

Cawdor Castle should bring Shakespeare to mind. Remember that the three witches forecast that MacBeth would become the Thane of Cawdor and there’s the ominous prediction about “when Dunsinam Woods to Cawdor doth come.” (My spelling may be off on the woods.) The MacBeth/Cawdor Castle connection is historically impossible—the castle wasn’t built until the 14th century. Cawdor is an occupied castle; the widow of the Thane lives there from October to April and opens it to tourists from April to October—a good way to pay for upkeep, I’m sure, though it seems to bad to choose Scotland in the winter and not the summer. We toured the rooms she occupies (from behind ropes, of course) and heard a guide say that it takes three days to take down the tourist guides, etc. and prepare for her arrival, and then three days to reverse the process in the spring. We also saw the dungeon (with some interesting stories told in the signage about local grudges), the new kitchen which is in daily use when someone is in residence, and the old kitchen, full of cooking artifacts from previous days. Cawdor had the best maintained grounds we’d yet seen, including a strange tree with clusters of blooms that looked like yellow, upside-down lilies of the valley to me.
Back to Inverness and an incongruous dinner: Spanish tapas.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Scotland, Day Four: Sky to Inverness--plus pictures!

 Megan, with Lochness in the background--and the wind blowing.
 The broom that covers so many hillsides.
 One of Scotland's shaggy cows, responsible for their delicious Scottish beef.
 Megan and me outside Edinburgh Castle.
Sipping Scotch at the Talisker distillery on Skye. The Scots never call the drink Scotch--it is whiskey.
 Kilt Rock on Skye.
 Our ferry across the inner sound from Skye to the mainland.
 With Colin at Harbor View, our first night in Skye.
 Dunedin House, our B&B in Edinburgh. You can see the name in the glass transom. Many Scots homes have names, and I was never sure if a house was a B&B or if someone had just put their name on their house.
Ryeford House in Inverness.

A catch-up blog of pictures--I found out that if I accessed Blogger through Google Chrome instead of Explorer, the pictures post fine. So sorry I didn't have them to go with my lengthy descriptions.

            Day four was a day of travel for us, and we began it, after just a few short miles, on a seven-mile, single-land twisting, curving road high over a valley—the kind of road that would scare me in the Rockies, but I was perfectly comfortable with Colin driving (well, almost). Inching along such a road can seem like it takes forever, but we finally descended to the level of the Inner Sound. We were going to cross back to the mainland by ferry. There was a boat ramp, a sign that said “Wait here,” a shack, and no one around. But across the sound we saw the boat, and pretty soon it started back across, tacking to avoid getting swept too far in the strong currents. Two men operated a sort of battered small ferry; they did everything by hand from collecting fares to steering, loading, etc. The ride was short—five minutes at most, and we were on the other shore, headed for Fort Augustus and Lochness.
On this drive, we crossed the highest pass we had seen in Scotland, but I managed to doze through part of it. When I woke though I noticed the lush green pastures were gone, there were neither houses nor sheep. But you could still see hundreds of small streams—and an occasional more spectacular waterfall—coursing down the mountainsides to feed the rivers and lochs. We soon descended though, intending to make it to Fort Augustus for lunch. Phillip, our Skye host, had told us there was either a salmon ladder or a series of locks in the middle of town—we never did see it. As we drove, we went through small villages clinging to the banks of the loch. 
We stopped at the inn in Invergarry. I was so concerned with my own stomach, I guess, that I didn’t pay attention to what the kids had. But I had haggis again, with peeps and tatties. This time the dish was served with three round towers of each food—the turnips and potatoes mashed, and all covered with the gravy I’d come to love.
 Urquhart from a distance. Better pictures to follow.
Megan and me, with our hair testifying to how windy it was.
The castle for the day was Urquhart, sitting high on a rocky point over Lochness. Urquhart is a ruin, but it is operated by Historic Scotland and, no surprise, you get to the ruins through a guest centre with an extensive gift shop. I actually found several MacBain and MacKay (my daughter-in-law Mel) items there. We went to the film showing, which showed the castle in its prime and then the 16th century destruction of it when inhabitants blew it up to keep it from the Jacobites (it was hard for me to keep track of which castles were allied with the Jacobites [House of Stuart] or the English [Hanoverians]—I think they changed sides from time to time. The last scene of the film shows the castle in roaring flames, then the curtains on a wide panoramic window are flung open and spectators are staring at the ruins. A truly dramatic presentation. We walked out and around the castle—pictures Colin took show Megan and me with our hair at angles, testimony to the strong winds. Then we climbed one of those incredibly steep inclines and two flights of stairs to get back to our car.
Next on our sightseeing list was the Lochness Centre and Exhibition, devoted to the history of sightings of Nessie, the Lochness monster. I assumed this facility was operated by Historic Scotland but no such luck—it and its neighbor, NessieWorld, are privately owned tourist traps, though Steves recommends the Centre. A succession of films traced the history of efforts to find Nessie—each film was shown in a small darkened grotto-like room; at the end of the session, the lights came on only long enough for you to find your way to the next grotto. I thought it was spooky and longed to find the exit. Much of the information was pretty technical, and I didn’t learn much I didn’t already know: there are convincing sightings and statements but no proof the monster exists (I think it probably doesn’t). But as Nessie, the stuff of folklore, she’s delightful and, to my mind, friendly. I did wonder if monsters are ageless—Nessie must be getting pretty long in the tooth these days. The Centre has a large gift shop, and we all bought various stuffed versions of Nessie for the younger kids back home, plus some other trinkets. I was beginning to believe that Scotland has the concept of marketing itself down pat.
We finally made it to Inverness and our B&B, Ryeford House, operated by a charming woman named Joan. Everything was very Victorian—patterned wall paper, ruffles, long drapes, even lace holders for extra rolls of toilet paper. Room was quite satisfactory, though I slept on the daybed on the theory is was farther away from those who might be annoyed by my snoring. Megan said she was finally getting used to it. Joan’s great virtue to my mind was that she served us smoked salmon with scrambled eggs both mornings we were there.
We asked about dinner recommendations, and Joan said to go to the foot of the street, go down the steps, and we’d find lots of places. She mentioned one called Rocpool. We got to the foot of the street and found a reasonable flight of stairs. But then we turned a corner—another flight of stairs and a small street of shops, no restaurants. Surely this was not our destination. Turned another corner and were confronted by at least two stories worth of stairs (at least we were going down, not up). We found ourselves on a pedestrian plaza, all kinds of shops but few restaurants. One called Bella Italia, but who goes to Scotland to eat Italian food? Finally, across a bridge we saw Rocpool and headed there only to be told they required at least 45 minutes advance notice. We were directed to a bar two doors away, which proved to be a restaurant—their entrees looked so good I was tempted to forego Rocpool and stay there, but we didn’t—just had wine. At Rocpool we had a delicious dinner—I had gravdlox and crab salad, I think Colin had duck, and we had desserts—chocolate mousse for me and pear cake for the kids. We were eating high on the hog.
Faced with the prospect of those stairs, we took a cab back to Ryeford House.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Scotland, Day Three: The Isle of Skye

Years ago I saw a British film titled “Tight Little Island,” about a tiny island denied whisky until a cargo ship founders on its shore. Perhaps that shaped my idea of Skye as a remote wilderness, with barren cliffs, cold winds, and more sheep than people. It pretty much is those things—remote, unpredictable weather, craggy rocks, sheep wandering in the roads, but Skye is also much more. The word Skye means “cloudy” in Old Norse, and islanders call it “the Misty Isle.” Outside the two main towns, Kyleakin and Portree, there are occasional clusters of houses, looking almost forlorn in their isolation, and a few small villages. Long-haired sheep indeed wander freely in the road, which is in most places a single lane with every now and again a place to pull off and allow someone to pass. In planning our tour of the island, we followed the advice of Rick Steves and our host, Phillip, who predicted we would be gone all day. We were. We began from Portree, where we were staying, and headed north to the Trotternish Peninsula where, following Steves guidebook, we saw such rock formations as the Old Man of Storr and Kilt Rock. Colin and Megan got out at the overlook at Kilt Rock, but it was far too cold, wet and rainy for me, and they were glad I stayed behind when a sudden heavy shower sent them racing for the car.
Flora MacDonald is a heroine on the Isle—we passed the home where she hid Bonnie Prince Charlie, who had fled to the Outer Hebrides after defeat at Culloden. Disguising him as her maid, she rowed him to Skye and helped him escape. Eventually Charles spent his life in exile in France, and Flora was briefly jailed. But she went on to lead an adventurous life in America where she and her family were involved in the American Revolution, and only returned to Skye in later life. A monument in a small cemetery honors her bravery. I’m sure many books have been written about Flora, but she’s still a tempting subject for someone with my historical interests.
Our first castle of the day was Duntulm, abandoned around 1730 after, so says the legend, a nursemaid dropped the infant heir on to the rocks on the coast below. My children said I don’t get to count that as a castle because once again I didn’t get out of the car—the wind on Skye threatens to take the car door off its hinges. We drove around the Skye Museum of Island Life, where I was fascinated by the thatch-roofed stone cabins, once occupied by crofters (tenant farmers). One of these residences was occupied until 1957, which amazes me. It offered three rooms—a kitchen, with a peat-burning fireplace, the parents’ bedroom in the middle, and a bedroom for the twelve children!
Steves recommended the sandwiches at a service station in the western coastal town of Uig, from which a ferry departs for the Outer Hebrides. My sandwich, filled with red salmon salad, was delicious but would have been better on something other than ordinary white bread. Megan had a scone, and Colin, a ham and cheese sandwich which was ordinary. Rick Steves was a bit off on this prediction on this one.
Our real castle for the day was Dunvegan, home to the McLeod (say McLoud) clan for centuries. Although it is billed as continually occupied, it looks a lot like a museum to me, unless there are private apartments we didn’t see. I believe it is administered by the late chief’s sister in a trust, so I can’t figure out who would live there. Portraits of various McLeod nobles hang everywhere, including one of Dame Flora McLeod of McLeod who became the 28th clan chief in the absence of a male heir. The castle is somewhat in disrepair and its once-manicured grounds are now in need of a lot of attention, though we did see gardeners at work, particularly in the walled garden. The castle offers a striking view of a loch and the sea beyond. The other prominent clan on Skye is the MacDonalds (yes, Flora’s clan) but we didn’t see their castle if there is one.
We visited the first of three distilleries we’d see, arriving at Talisker in the late afternoon just as the last tour, already filled, was taking off. We contented ourselves with studying the artifacts in the tasting room. It was easy for me to get lost in the clan history—seems the MacDonalds attacked the McLeods from the sea, but a third clan served as coastal watchdogs for the McLeods, who were able to slaughter the MacDonalds. Tasting was another matter: I am not a Scotch drinker--the first sip was burning hot to me and left a medicinal aftertaste. Megan’s husband is a big Scotch drinker, so she bought a bottle for him. I kept silent about my worries about getting it back to Austin, Texas.
On the way back to Portree, we passed a bit of the Cullin Hills, tall, conical mountains on the south coast of the island. With their tops shrouded in clouds, the hills are favorites of climbers and hikers—no, we didn’t do that.
Back in Portree we finished our day with dinner at a restaurant called The Lower Deck on, uh, the lower deck, a small stretch of buildings on a level almost with the water in the harbor. You reach it either by walking down a steep hill or down an incredibly long staircase. (As Megan observed, Scotland is not a flat land!) I’d tried the staircase in our search for a restaurant the night before and got winded, so this time I preferred the road, even coming back uphill. The kids wanted seafood, but I had haggis on my mind, so I ordered a chicken breast stuffed with haggis (actually laid on top of it) and served with that roast onion whiskey gravy. Really liked it, though Colin said, after one bite, it reminded him of liver and Megan declined a taste. We started the meal with mussels—I know many people love them, but I had never tried them. Now I’m a fan. And we ended with sticky toffee pudding. A really good meal, as we sat and rehashed all we’d seen and done that day.
A long post but it was a long day—and as usual, it wore us out, even my much younger traveling companions. We slept soundly every night we were in Scotland.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Day Two: Stirling Castle and driving through the Highlands

Colin has sent pictures, wonderful ones, and I've tried loading them, plus tried loading ones I took. Blogger rejects them all. We'll keep working on that problem, and maybe do a photo album blog or two. You really do have to see Scotland to believe it.
Day Two began with breakfast at our Edinburgh BandB,  Dunedin. Menus waited on the table--in all the other BandBs you had to order the night before. The Dunedin menu offered eggs with bacon, which is what we'd call back bacon or Canadian bacon, or with sausage and black pudding. I asked what black pudding was: oatmeal with dried pigs blood. I decided to stick with bacon, which made our host giggle. But black pudding haunted me all week.
We set out for Skye, which I think Colin calculated would be a five-hour drive. It was clear across Scotland, and I reminded him that we wouldn't make the kind of time on twisting, curvy two-lane roads as we would on a Texas freeway. He was confident, so we began the day at Stirling Castle in Stirling. Our guide told us that Stirling is the most romantic castle--other sources says it is also one of the largest and most important architecturally and historically. I'd say it is one of the most frequently attacked. At least seven seiges of the castle are recorded. In  1297 William Wallace, "Braveheart," defeated the British at the Battle of Stirling Bridge, and in 1314 Robert the Bruce won the battle at nearby Bannockburn. The castle became the primary residence of the Stuart monarchs and a symbol of Scotland's independence from England. Mary Queen of Scots was born and crowned at Stirling. But by the Jacobite Rising of the 1740s (an attempt to recapture the throne of Scotland for the Stuarts), the English again occupied the castle. In 1746 Bonnie Prince Charlie tried to take it and was defeated.
Our tour took us up on the battlements and into the outer and inner cobblestone courtyards. The apartments of royalty are being rennovated and are closed until early June--darn, we just missed that. But we went to the chapel, and while the kids went to the gardens, I sat quietly in the chapel which looked more like a huge reception room to me. Then we visited the kitchen with its dioramas of cooking as it would have been. The castle and its history were so fascinating that we lingered. I was pondering the thought that if we saw the intellectual history of Scotland in Edinburg, we saw it's war-like past at Stirling Castle.
Lunch at a chain restaurant called The Filling Station, sort of a Scottish equivalent of T.G.I.F. or Chili's. I had fish and chips, which of course we get here, but these were exceptionally good, doused with the traditional malt vinegar. Colin and Megan had distinctively non-Scottish lunches--margarita pizzas! Suddenly, it was three o'clock, and we knew we should be on the road to Skye.
With Colin driving and Megan navigating I sat in the back and pinched myself, saying over and over, "I'm in Scotland. I'm actually in Scotland." The land is lush and green--all that rain!--and hillsides are covered with broom, that ubiquitous plant with deep yellow blooms. We saw shaggy cows, their thick long coats designed to protect them from Scottish winters, and sheep covered every field and hillside, their coats equally thick and long. We drove along streams with rapids--great trout fishing, no doubt--and through mountain valleys. And we drove . . . and drove . . .  and drove. Portree, our destination on Skye, never seemed to get any closer.
At last about nine, we drove into Portree and found the Braeside Inn, finally figured out how to navigate one-way streets and get there. Our host, Phillip, was not at all surprised by the lateness of our arrival. He said he could make the drive from Stirling in 4-1/2 hours but he knew it would take us longer. I'd noticed that Scots tend to drive with the same fierce abandon with which they went to war in earlier generations, passing us at high speeds on blind curves and hills. A bit scary.
Phillip warned us restaurants were about to stop serving, gave us a few recommendations, and we went in search of dinner. At almost 9:30, it was still light out. Several restaurants turned us away--they had already stopped serving; one offered no entrees but fish 'n chips or mussels. I vetoed because I'd had fish 'n chips for lunch and Megan had mussels twice the day before--a veto they didn't soon let me forget. We ended up at Harbor View, where they offered us entrees but no side dishes. The three of us split two very good entrees--scallops with bacon and haddock with mashed potatoes. The kids unloaded the car, I made my daily notes, and we fell into bed.
A note about traveling with grown kids: they took really good care of me. I never unloaded the car nor pulled a suitcase. When they wanted to do an extensive tour of gardens and my back was hurting, they found a place for me to sit. They made sure I was alright after steep stairs and hills, and they watched I didn't stumble on curbs and uneven walkways--something I'm prone to do. Knowing they were there, I never even got my walking stick out of the suitcase.  Every time I ordered a glass of wine and the waitress asked "Large or small," they chorused, "Give her a large." But sometimes I felt like one of their children: "Get in the car, Mom." "Watch the puddle, Mom!" "Do you have your passport? Are you sure?" At one point, they even reorganized my purse so that I wouldn't mix British and American currencies (which I hadn't done). I giggled and enjoyed it.