Steve n Jen's UK adventures

UK and European adventures. Read on my pretties, and discover what two stray Aussies can get up to on their travels.......

13 May 2009

May 2009 aa

Please note: the previous post is where you need to start.

Here now continues our week-long tour Scotland......

Wed 06 May 2009
In the morning we took the ferry from Ardgour, and stopped through Glencoe. Again the weather was pretty wretched so no piccies sorry.
We looked out for points of interest marked on the map, along our route. We couldn't find the Falls of Lora, only to eventually discover they're not regular falls, but about a couple of inches drop in the wide mouth of the loch meeting the ocean. Oh well. We took the wrong turn, and ended up popping in to see nearby Dunstaffnage Castle. As they lacked a tearoom or loos we continued on.

After a quick tearoom stop, we arrived at the Bonawe Iron Furnace. It has a 'ancient monument' symbol marked on the map. As it turns out, the furnace is 17th century, and the ancient monument is a solitary standing stone approx half a metre tall, lost behind some bushes. All was not lost however, as Steve (most interested in ancient stuff) was encouraged by the gift shop lady to visit Kilmartin, where they have a museum on such things.
So, onward and outward. At this point, we just needed to get back to the main highway, only a mile or two away. Unfortunately the Sat Nav decided to take us down what can only be described as a tractor road, made mostly of an endless series of massive potholes! Thankfully Steve's a fantastic driver.

Later in the afternoon Jen figured that using the zoom function on all shots meant the camera would randomly take OK photos (rather than the guaranteed whited-out useless photos).
Here's a "rescued" shot of Kilchurn Castle, no thanks to the faulty camera. Mind you, it was still a very dreary, drizzly day.

Below: how the castle looks on the postcards.

Finally, in the afternoon the weather was just so miserable we decided to find our B&B: Fascadail Country Guest House at Arrochar, with magnificent views over Loch Long and a snow-capped mountain

Above: our room. We liked the dimmer-switched chandelier.
Below: the views were stunning. The front garden was gorgeous too, with a mountain waterfall / creek running through the property and to the loch.

Thu 07 May 2009
This morning Steve drove for two hours and we arrived at the Kilmartin museum.

There's been a stunning blanket of bluebells through the forest everywhere we've been.
Below: Nick took this photo of us in the museum cafe.

Above: Standing stones near Kilmartin

Back in the car, and a little drive up the road... we found ourselves climbing up to Dunadd Fort, which was the local seat of kings in ancient time apparently.

Jenny was astonished at what she described as Jen's "gazelle-like" climbing abilities. Jenny showed staunch determination to climb the hill with us, and we were all too happy to goad her on. This picture above, is a big accomplishment for her - hurrah!
Below: right about Jen's foot size, local legend has it that some dude jumped across the valley and this footprint is where he landed.

Above: a small part of the ancient wall still exists atop the volcanic outcropping.
Having built up a sturdy appetite, we stopped by Lochgilphead, and had the very best lunch at a local cafe called the Smiddy. Fantastic food! It's the art of the salad
Finally, we visited Inverary Castle, seat of head of the Cameron Clan (Duke of Argyl).

No photos allowed inside, they had some wonderful things to see, such as a handwritten letter by Rob Roy to the then Duke. They also had various regal clothes / trappings on display, and portraits of Queen Victoria's children, since one of her Princesses married the then Duke of Argyl.

On the way back to Arrochar, again, here is just another example of the countless rain-induced waterfalls all along these highland roadsides:

Fri 08 May 2009
We regretfully left Fascadail Country Guest House, and drove along Loch Lomond.
Steve took this quick photo of the famous loch.

We arrived in Stirling with time to spare, to buy ourselves tickets to the new 'StarTrek' movie. The first fifteen minutes of the film are intense! We saw the occassional evil glint in Zachary's eyes (aka Mr Spock) and thought: "ooohh, who let Syler onto the set of StarTrek?" Overall we were all very pleased with the film.
In the afternoon we visited Stirling castle.

Above: photo by Nick, thanks!
Although it doesn't look it here, Jen was already in a pretty foul mood due to the miserable weather, but the straw that broke her to a proper case of the grumps was: seeing that Stirling are copying tapestries in the Met (New York), and calling these new ones "the Stirling Tapestries". By copying, we mean, they are hand-making new tapestries based on some orignial Burgundian ones which historically have nothing to do with Stirling Castle.

Nick, Jenny and Steve enjoyed the castle tour, while Jen wandered about trying to stay out of the breeze. After another round of perusing the tourist gift shop, we left for the warmth and safety of our B&B: cunningly called Number 10, on Gladstone Place. These were the largest and most comfy rooms so far!

Sat 09 May 2009
We got up early, filled up and returned the hire car before 10am, and got the train home to London :-)
Here are some of the really tacky things we found in gift shops during our trip:

This evening, we watched 4 out of 6 episodes of "A guide to Happiness" DVD series by Alain de Botton.

Sun 10 May 2009
Three massive loads of laundry, and sorting of photographs from the trip.
Discovered that our best friends in Lochac (down under) have won Crown Tourney and will be the K&Q at Pennsic. Very cool! Also started writing up this blog today.

Mon 11 May 2009
The car is at the mechanics for tuning and MOT (roadworthiness testing). Turns out there's some major work to be done, and will take a bit longer to fix than previously expected. Oh well, best to have a "healthy" car, and we have a great deal of trust in this mechanic. Watched Heroes series finale tonight.

May 2009 a

This is gonna be a LOOONNNGGG post!
Actually .. TWO long posts....

The four of us (including Jenny and Nick) took the overnight train from Euston station (London) to Edinburgh for the start of our fab self-driven week-long tour of Scotland.

Sat 02 May 2009
We arrived in Edinburgh before 7am, and had a leisurely breakfast at the station's Pub.
Picked up our hire car at the station, and took the scenic coastal route toward St Andrews. Stopped in at Aberdour castle ruins, below.

Below: the dovecot on the grounds (pigeon hilton!)

Above: Closer to St Andrews, the golden canola (rapeseed) was stunning.
Below: We arrived at St Andrews and checked into our lovely 4 star B&B.

Below: My goodness - a man actually voluntarily wearing a kilt!

Above: Nick took this pic of us relaxing in the local pub, after which we mosied on up to view the Cathedral ruins and cemetery.

Then we wandered down to the castle, and who should we come across but two SCA laurels, Caitlin and Otto, playing marvellous music in their medieval get-up! They were part of a larger demo run by local re-enactors.

Below: The famous golf course and bridge at St Andrews.

Afterward traipsing over and around the castle, we had a real struggle to find dinner as most restaurants were already booked out at 6pm! We lucked in however, and dined at a family restaurant called Little Johns.

Sun 03 May 2009
After breakfast and checking out, we walked along the beachfront while waiting for the local Aquarium to open.

Below: Jenny and Nick looking at one of the resident seals.

Next, we drove north (Steve did all the driving) through Dundee to Arbrouth, where we'd heard they serve a taste sensation known as "smokies" (traditionally smoked fish). Unfortunately when we got there, it was discovered the smokies were only available fresh and hot on smoke days, which did not include weekends. Drat it! We did try a bit cold, and it was tasty, but doubtlessly more drool-worthy served hot. So we had fresh fish & chips instead.

Next stop, Glamis Castle, childhood home of the Queen Mum. It was a fascinating tour, and fun to see all the family portraits and photos of the Royal family scattered about the place.

Next, on to a stunning sight - Dunnottar Castle at Stonehaven.

Mon 04 May 2009
In the morning had our first taste of highland Haggis. Today is our Distillery day! Having looked at the map, we discovered that "Speyside" whiskeys are all about the river Spey, and (obviously) being in the region. Setting out from Huntly, we headed West along a very scenic route to the Glenfiddich distillery, where we enjoyed a very informative tour.

Above: This is the ladies' loos at Glenfiddich. It seems to be a sop for the poor ladies dragged along on distillery tours!

Next stop, Glenlivet. Just shy of the Glenlivet distillery, we came across this lovely bridge....

Onward and our third and final distillery-shop tour was Tomatin, where we once again heard all about how whiskey is made, this time via a short film clip. Randomly, there was loads of wildlife roaming about the place including some bunnies and this pheasant:

Our final tourist stop was the Culloden battlefield, where there is a very good museum set up telling us all about the events leading up to the 1746 battle between Scottish Jacobites and the Royalists, and the aftermath of this turning point in history.

They had a bit about the Frasers too, which was of great interest to Jen.
Then off to our hotel in Beauly, the Lovat Arms Hotel.

It's owned by Lord Lovat, and the region is apparently “the heart of the highland Fraser clan”. The dinner and breakfast were superb, and the water was amazingly soft.
Below: Pretty cool for Jen seeing the family crest and motto in the carpet, and the bedroom furnishings were in the hunting tartan too. The motto means: I am ready.

Tue 05 May 2009
Leaving Beauly, we had a visit to the Lovat Mausoleum in Kirkhill (near Beauly) for Jen to say hi to a few of her ancestors.

Next we skirted past Inverness to drive down by Loch Ness.

Above: This is the first monster we saw.... and the second one!
Then we continued on and enjoyed the tour of Urquhart Castle ruins.

Strangely at this point, Jen's camera decided to start playing up, and is here onward hit & miss in deciding to take an OK phto, versus a completely overexposed one. Grrr.

Above: Next along the drive we came to the Commando Memorial.
Below: An unexpected discovery at Invermoriston, Saint Columba's Well. Photos by Nick, thanks!

We drove in behind Fort William to Glen Nevis. It was a miserably wet afternoon, but pretty nonetheless. Below: the lower falls, Glen Nevis.

The upper falls were less pretty (or perhaps we were looking at the wrong falls) but Jen inadvertently did a Snow White impression by taking a drink from the stream and having four or five tiny, curious, yellow wrens come land within arms length, observing her. Nice!

Above: We finished our sightseeing with a detour to see the Glenfinnan Monument....
and the 'Harry Potter' train bridge late in the afternoon.

Above: How the postcards show it, and Below: how it actually was!

We took the scenic route East and South along the shore of Loch Eil. It was much more scenic than expected - it was two-way but only one lane wide with passing areas! Because it was also raining, the mountain beside us created simply dozens and dozens of really beautiful waterfalls, right next to the road, much to our delight. Obviously this is a common enough occurance on this little road as there were plenty of bridges for the water to cascade harmlessly under the road into the Loch.

Above: the view across Loch Eil toward Fort William.
Below: view across Loch Eil

We arrive safe and sound thanks to Steve's careful driving, at our accommodation: The Inn at Ardgour.

Above: the view of the ferry crossing, from our hotel room window.