The Really Fantastic Journey: A Scottish Holiday, Concluded

Airports are such bipolar places. They are filled with emotions only of the extremes: extreme happiness that you’re about to leave for somewhere spectacular or extreme sadness that you’re about to depart from somewhere spectacular; extreme happiness that your fantastic holiday is just beginning or extreme sadness that your fantastic holiday is just ending.

The morning of our final day here (we only had time for breakfast, returning the car, and heading to the airport), we were all feeling extreme sadness. I never like it when things end. Well, it’s nice when a bad play ends, when a horrifying presidency ends, or when a boring flight ends. But, it’s sad that even good things must end. All good things, as they say.

Waking up in the morning was especially difficult. I treated myself to one last sin of meat and had a full Scottish breakfast compete with black pudding and haggis (a curious taste and texture, the both of them). We had all packed quite well the night before, so there were just some odds and ends left to take care of. We bid adieu to our fantastic host, Mr. Peter Brown of the Dormie House, and headed out into an appropriately grey and rainy day that matched our feelings. The Scottish have a word for this weather: dreich.

But, while sometimes sadness consumes, we really have had a quite fantastic adventure. So, I thought I’d conclude with some good old fashioned lists of all the places we had been to, complete with my own ratings of each place. If the location has three stars next to the rating, that means it was my favorite of that particular category.

Rating system defined:
5=absolutely perfect; would come back again and again and again and never tire of seeing the place
4=really quite wonderful; I’d maybe visit again one or two more times
3=cool; glad I saw it but probably won’t come back
2=okay; I’m glad I can tell people not to go here
1=absolutely pointless; I want my time and money back

In total, we visited roughly 60 unique places:

We saw 8 castles/palaces:
Linlithgow Palace (4)
Edinburgh Castle (4.5)
Holyrood Palace (4)
Stirling Castle (3.5)
Braemar Castle (3.5)
Dundonald Castle (3)
Culzean Castle and County Park (4.5)***

We saw 8 natural landmarks:
River Clyde (Glasgow) (3)
Arthur’s Seat (Edinburgh) (3.5)
Loch Lomond and Trossachs (Loch Earn/Loch Tay) (3.5)
Cairngorms (5)***
Aberdeen Beach/North Sea (3.5)
Loch Ness (5)
River Dee (3.5)
Firth of Clyde/Country Park (4.5)

We went to 4 museums/exhibitions:
The Lighthouse/Mackintosh Centre (3.5)
Surgeons’ Hall Museum (3)
Culloden Battlefield (4)***
Loch Ness Visitor Centre and Exhibition (1.5)

We stayed in and/or explored 7 cities/towns/villages:
Glasgow (3)
Stirling (3)
Edinburgh (4.5)*** (It was really hard to choose this as my favorite over Braemar, but Edinburgh beat out Braemar only slightly because Edinburgh is a city, and I prefer the cities over all else.)
Crief (4)
Aberdeen (2)
Braemar (4.5)
Prestwick/Ayr (3)

We saw 5 cathedrals/churches:
Glasgow Cathedral (3.5)***
Canongate Kirk (Edinburgh) (3)
St. Giles’s Cathedral (Edinburgh) (3)
St. Andrew’s Cathedral (Aberdeen) (3)
Inverness Cathedral (3)

We went to 14 different restaurants/pubs:
Chaakoo Bombay Cafe (Glasgow) (5)
Caffe Nero (Glasgow) (2)
Blackbird (Edinburgh) (3.5)
MUMS Great Comfort Food (Edinburgh) (5)***
Meadow Inn (Crieff) (3.5)
Old Blackfriars (Aberdeen) (4.5)
Great Northern Hotel Restaurant (Aberdeen) (2)
Inversnecky Cafe (Aberdeen) (2.5)
Garlogie Inn (outside Aberdeen) (4)
Kittybrewster Bar (Aberdeen) (3)
Braemar Lodge Restaurant (Braemar) (5)
Gordon’s Tearoom (Braemar) (4)
Golf Inn (Prestwick) (2.5)
No. 22 Bar and Grill (Ayr) (3.5)

We saw 5 stone circles:
Croft Moraig Stone Circle (4.5)
Loanhead of Daviot Stone Circle (3.5)
Easter Aquharthies Stone Circle (5)***
Cullerlie Stone Circle (2.5)
Tyrebagger Stone Circle (4)

We saw 8 additional things:
The Lighthouse (climbing up it) (3)
Provand’s Lordship (3.5)
Necropolis (4)
Royal Mile (4)***
Scottish Parliament (3.5)
Ye Old Christmas Shoppe (4)
Famous Grouse Experience (3.5)
Bridge Street (Inverness) (3)

There are 5 things I wish we could’ve actually seen:
Glasgow City Chambers
Inverness (actually stay there and expire it more thoroughly)
Inverness Castle
Robert Burns Monument/Birthplace House
Balmoral

The Really Gorgeous Country: A Scottish Holiday, Day 13

Alas, tomorrow we shall wake up in Scotland for one last time before we head back to Minnesota. But we couldn’t’ve asked for a more pleasant, final day here, as we spent the majority of our time at Culzean Castle and Country Park.

(That’s Culzean, by the way, pronounced kull-LEEN).

Culzean came highly recommended by one of our guidebooks. When we sat down to plan a route last month, we worried we wouldn’t be able to fit it in. But, we are all thankful that we managed to make our way here, as it’s a simply gorgeous area and a fantastic way to spend our final day. We also lucked out on some really fine weather of comfortable temps and no rain.

The whole park is a quite large area (260 hectares), and we managed to explore quite a bit of it. We started, naturally, with the castle itself. It was built for David Kennedy the 10th Earl of Cassilis between 1777 and 1792 and designed by architect Robert Adam. It eventually became the home of the chief of Clan Kennedy, Marquess of Ailsa.

The castle is a really quite grand, rectangular structure that overlooks the Firth of Clyde, it’s built of stones with a soft, yellow hue, it stands three tall stories high, it’s complete with several towers, and it has those classic battlements atop the roof. They’ve got a self-guided tour quite well organized as well, making your way from room to room with an elegant flow. Each room is decorated with the sheer opulence that you would expect from someone like the 10th Earl of Cassillis. You get to see the usual bedrooms, the usual drawing rooms, the usual kitchens, the usual dining rooms, the usual oil paintings, the usual ornate rugs, and the usual chandeliers (after you’ve seen this many historical places in the two weeks we’ve been here, these fancy things have now become usual and ordinary), but the real highlight was the central grand staircase. From the staircase you could see all three stories decked out with all three classical columns. The whole staircase reminded me very much of what the grand staircase of the Titanic once looked like.

After the castle we went to the visitor centre to purchase some final souvenirs, took a moment to enjoy a walk down to the shore to view the Firth of Clyde, and then we went to the deer park to enjoy the company of some, er, deer as well as some llamas.

Afterwards we were quite excited to head to the Aviary and the Swan Pond to, naturally, enjoy the company of various birds and, of course, swans. We were disappointed to find out that the Aviary isn’t an aviary at all, just a cafe called the Aviary. And, sadly, the so-called Swan Pond was severely lacking in, er, swans. There were plenty of ducks, but no swans. This was also the busiest part of the whole park with parents and their running children throwing frisbees and doing other annoying things childen do, and we didn’t quite like it.

So we quickly made our way to the Cat Gates. This was a really very nice walk through the forest located in the southern part of the park. We walked by a babbling brook, two shallow ponds called the Swinston Ponds, and a giant wood carving of two otters scurrying around a column. It only took ten minutes to walk from the aviary to the gates, and I highly recommend you visit this relatively remote part of the park. (We encountered no other people along this walk, you see.)

The Cat Gates are two stone arches that stand several meters high, and atop each of them are panther-like cats, one each for each arch. These arches, hidden away in a forest taken out of Narnia, were a quite majestic sight to behold. Now, the three of us really like animals (and cats in particular), so we’re biased, but these arches were a joy to see.

We spent a good couple hours at Culzean, and we worked up an appetite. So, we headed back towards Prestwick and stopped by a restaurant in Ayr called the No. 22 Bar and Grill. As it was our last night to enjoy a Scottish dinner, we all had fish and chips with mushy peas and for dessert a sticky toffee pudding (my mother opting instead for a coffee liqueur). It was quite good, but it didn’t quite beat our number one dining experience: MUMS in Edinburgh. But that’s a tall bar to beat!

Stray Observations:

1. If you’re coming from the north to visit Culzean, I highly recommend you drive on the A719, as this route provides gorgeous views of the Firth of Clyde.

2. One thing we noticed is how friendly it is driving over here. If you want to let someone in who’s been waiting to turn right, just allow a gap in the queue of cars, flash your lights, and let them in. If you need to leave room for oncoming traffic, flash your lights to indicate that you’ll be the one getting out of the way, pull over, and then let them pass. Friendly hand waves usually accompany the exchange as well.

3. Even the road signs are friendly. When you exit a work zone, the sign says something like, “Leaving work zone. Sorry for any delays.” (No, seriously. The sign really did apologize for delays.) Also, if the sign is indicating you’re traveling faster than the posted speed limit, it will flash your speed with a frowning face. When you drive at or below the speed limit, the face turns to a smile. (No, really. It really did.)

The Very Gorgeous Mountains: A Scottish Holiday, Day 12

I just can’t stop gushing about the Cairngorms. They’re really quite incredible. So picturesque, so beautiful, so lovely. Driving through them is such a treat. The roads wind in and out, up and down, left and right. It can be very dizzying indeed. Frequently the road ahead of you looks more like a long ribbon of tar winding its way through this green, brown, and purple landscape of tall, tall summits and deep, deep valleys. It’s a sight to behold.

And alas, today was the last day we saw the gorgeous, gorgeous Cairngorms as we made our way back south towards the vicinity of Glasgow. We’re heading back to Minnesota this Friday, you see, departing from Glasgow, but we’re staying at a bed and breakfast in a small, coastal town called Prestwick. It’s only a 40 minute drive to the airport from here, so it’ll be a nice place to spend our last two nights in this incredible country.

We decided to stop by Dundonald Castle on the way to Prestwick. It was a three hour drive from Braemar to the castle. The castle is located right outside a small town called, er, Dundonald, and you can view the town from the top of the hill that the castle stands.

We opted for a more “ruins style” castle a la Linlithgow Palace rather than a “museum style” castle a la Edinburgh Castle. I sometimes quite prefer seeing castle ruins over the more preserved sites, as there’s something intriguingly haunting about seeing once dignified architecture in such a state of decay. Parts of Dundonald don’t exist anymore, but the main section of the castle that housed the laigh hall and the great hall is mostly still around for us to enjoy. It was built in 1371 by Robert Stewart to mark his accession to the throne as Robert II.

We happened to arrive when a lady was in the great hall training her 12-week-old owl, Starlight. He was a classic barn owl, white and brown feathers, and he was so, so cute! We all got a turn to let him perch on our outstretched arm. His owner was training him to deliver wedding rings in the space, as lots of people get married in the castle ruins.

After we adored young Starlight, we were the only guests to the castle at the time, so we also happened to get, essentially, our own private tour of the space. This is another perk to touring the less popular sites: fewer tourists and greater likelihoods of inadvertently receiving private tours.

Our tour guide really was quite wonderful. He took us through the great hall, then downstairs to a tiny prison (the dark, tiny prison, incidentally, was housing a number of giant spiders perched on the stone walls and ceiling and all protecting their own white sacks containing the eggs of their young), then upstairs to what would have been the king’s main living space where his office would have been as well as his bed.

Following Dundonald, we made one final trek for the day, this trek a mere 20 minutes long to Prestwick. We’re staying at a bed and breakfast called the Dormie House by Mr. Peter Brown. Peter has been very warm and gracious, and the accommodations are absolutely splendid. I’m looking forward to breakfast tomorrow!

Prestwick itself isn’t nearly as idyllic and beautiful as Braemar, nor was the food at the Golf Inn (a nearby pub where we had dinner) as delicious and delectable as the food at Old Blackfriars in Aberdeen, nor is the landscape as scenic and sightly as the Cairngorms, but Prestwick is merely a place to stay in the meantime.

Tomorrow we make our way to Culzean Castle, our final tourist destination on this incredible journey. It’s going to be wonderful, even in spite of the twinges of sadness I’m feeling as the end of our time in Scotland rounds the corner…

Stray Observation:

1. All over Scotland there are these food cooperatives, sometimes even in the tiniest of villages. There motto is, “supermarket with an ethical focus.” They’ve been a nice resource to have as we made our way around the country.

The Beautiful Incredible Mountains: A Scottish Holiday, Day 11

After our whirlwind tour yesterday of Culloden, Inverness, and Loch Ness, today we needed a breather, so we slowed down a bit. This was very easy to do in the tiny, tiny town of Braemar, nestled quietly in the mountains of Cairngorms National Park. It’s our second night at the Braemar Lodge Hotel, where yesterday we stayed in the hotel proper while today we’re staying in one of their cabins. And it is just lovely!

We allowed ourselves a late start, which was quite nice, but eventually we made our way to Braemar Castle, which is just up the road from the cabin. The castle was built in 1628 by John Erskine the 18th Earl of Mar. By the 1700s, the castle came under the ownership of John Farquharson the 9th Laird of Invercauld. The laird leased the castle to the government to be used as a military garrison, and it remained a garrison until 1831. At the point, the Farquharson clan began to restore the castle as a family home.

Since 2008, the castle has been open to the public, and it is decorated much like how it might’ve looked in the 1950s. This is because in 1948, Alwyne Compton Farquharson the 16th Laird married American Frances Lovell Oldham, and she decorated the castle to her tastes.

The castle itself stands quite tall right next to a busy field of sheep bleating loudly away. On the inside and the outside, it’s rather a kind of “Cinderella castle,” if you know what I mean. It’s an L-shaped castle, five stories high, complete with parapets atop bartizans. When you walk inside, you’re immediately greeted by a single, stone spiral staircase that allows access to all the rooms in the castle.

What’s most interesting about Braemar Castle is that you essentially get to view the inside of a castle that used to be (until very recently) someone’s home. Rather than the usual “museum style” castle or “ruins style” castle that we’ve seen up to this point (as cool as those are, too!), it was fascinating to see what a castle looked like that used to be the residence of a laird and his wife. It felt a little like seeing Glensheen Mansion in Duluth, MN except in a castle, I suppose. Very neat, indeed!

Following Braemar Castle we made our way to Balmoral, which is the queen’s favorite place to spend most of her time. She was in residence today (indeed, it’s only open to the public from April to July), so we couldn’t go inside nor much less actually see the palace, as the gates remained firmly closed and guarded by a police officer. Still, we got to enjoy views of the River Dee and visit the gift shop where the shop lady told us that it’s not uncommon to see the queen inspecting the gardens.

With post cards from the gift shop in hand, we made our way back to town and had a quite good late lunch at Gordon’s Tearoom (do go if you find yourself in Braemar!), and then checked out some shops along Old Military Road, had an ice cream, then returned to the cabin where I wrote some post cards.

Tomorrow we begin our final descent south before departing from Glasgow on this Friday. We found an adorable bed and breakfast in Prestwick, a seaside town that is close to Culzean Castle.

I don’t have any stray observations this time, as I’ve covered everything regarding our day above. That said, I can feel the end of our holiday approaching, and I dislike it. I get annoyed when certain things end. And it always gets more difficult to remain mindful of the moment when the ending of something so glorious is right around the corner, especially when you’re writing a blog in a cabin in the middle of such gorgeous, gorgeous mountains in such a beautiful, beautiful country filled with such friendly, friendly people.

Oh, Scotland! You are fantastic! And it will be difficult to leave you!

The Sublime Incredible Loch: A Scottish Holiday, Day 10

This morning we had to make an early start, because we had a lot of driving ahead of us. Since it’s peak travel season, we didn’t plan very well that the Scottish Highlands would have few vacancies for lodging. So, we had to settle for a day trip to Inverness from Aberdeen rather than spend a couple days in Inverness proper.

We decided to take a scenic route from Aberdeen to Inverness via the Cairngorms rather than take the more direct A96. We had already driven through the Cairngorms when we made our way to Aberdeen from Crieff, but the Cairngorms are just so fucking gorgeous that we had to go out of our way to see them again. And they certainly didn’t disappoint on a second drive through them.

Before we entered Inverness proper, we visited the Culloden Battlefield. This was a very sobering experience, as the battlefield is a giant memorial and burial site for thousands of soldiers.

The Battle of Culloden happened on 16 April 1746. It was the last Jacobite uprising, but they were solidly defeated by the government soldiers, so any hopes that the Jacobites could overthrow the House of Hanover in order to restore the House of Stuart to the British throne were quashed. The battle was very brief, lasting just a few minutes, but 1500 to 2000 Jacobite soldiers were killed while only 300 government soldiers (“red coats”) were killed.

The visitor centre has a very informative exhibit that details the events leading up to the battle. It was really very well done, wonderfully organized, expertly researched, and engagingly presented. The battlefield itself is a very somber walk. I spent about 45 minutes walking down the center of the moor and then back again down the southern path.

This walk allows you to view the memorial cairn that was erected in 1881, a tall pillar of stones stacked in a diameter of perhaps four meters in a column that stands six meters high. (Take these measurements with a grain of salt. I’m terrible at estimating these sorts of things.) You can also see headstones that were also erected in 1881, and they mark the locations of the mass graves of the clans. They also use tall flags to mark where the two opposing lines started, four blue flags for the Jacobites and four red flags for the government soldiers.

Visiting Culloden Battlefield was very informative and very somber. You learn a lot while you’re there (especially if you don’t know much about this history to begin with), and the scale of how many lives were lost in such a short amount of time is deeply upsetting which might make your visit slightly or somewhat trying.

Following Culloden, we made our way to Inverness. As I said, this had to be a day trip out of necessity, but I must say that were we to do this over again, we would definitely make sure to spend a good three days in Inverness to soak it all in. It’s an older city in the vein of Edinburgh, and it, too, has a castle towering over the cityscape. (Not as impressively as Edinburgh or Stirling, mind you, but how many cities can you name that have a castle towering over its cityscape?)

We only had time to view Inverness Cathedral (it was pretty cool; very ornate floor tiles), enjoy a small lunch at the cathedral’s cafe, walk along the River Ness, and do some shop window gazing along Bridge Street. As I said, we didn’t have much time, and I wish we did, because I think we would quite love Inverness had we had the time to really get to know it.

Our last stop for the day before we started to make our trek back south was Loch Ness. And oh my! What a treat it was to see Loch Ness! It’s long been a bucket list item for me to see Loch Ness, and we all found ourselves becoming quite excited to see it as we approached ever and ever nearer. When we finally did see it, how surreal it was!

I suggest you do what we did which was to take the A82 out of Inverness. It’s only a 15 mile drive or so, but you’ll eventually happen across the northern tip of the loch. The first roadside parking you see, grab a parking spot, make your way down a set of stairs, and enjoy the views of the loch from this northernmost edge right on its shores. It allows you to take in the sheer length of the loch while also seeing it from a classic vantage. Really, truly, remarkably a wonderful way to experience such an iconic landmark.

We then went to the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition in Drumnadrochit. It was, er, fine. I think it’s more for children. The exhibit was, er, fine, I guess. A little dated, a little worn around the edges. The whole thing could do with an update. I can’t exactly recommend you visit the centre. I think it’s much more exciting to view the loch itself from the location I described and skip the exhibit all together, especially if you basically know the history of the monster: people supposedly seeing Nessie (in all likelihood, they didn’t actually see anything), how they faked all those photos, and how they use sonar and so forth to search the loch.

Alas, the day was running short, and we had to make our two hour trek to Braemar to our hotel. We got to drive through the Cairngorms a third time, and it was fantastic! As ever, the sheep! The mountains! The heather! The cows! The crazy roller-coaster roads! I just can’t stop thinking about the Cairngorms! They are just fantastic, and I highly recommend you spend the extra penny and drive through them yourself! Absolutely fantastic!

Our hotel for the next two nights is the Braemar Lodge Hotel, located right in the middle of the Cairngorms, and it is just lovely! The staff are super friendly, our evening meal was divine (I had a filo pastry filled with goat cheese and pineapple salsa, then a decadent sticky pudding, complete with two pints of crisp and golden beers by Cairngorm Brewery Conpany), the rooms cozy and comfy, and it’s all nestled in the middle of the gorgeous, gorgeous landscape of the Cairngorms.

Stray Observations:

1. Although I say it myself, I’m getting pretty good at driving on these ridiculous roads over here. A couple times in the Cairngorms, we went over some summits where you couldn’t immediately see the other side before you plunged down, just like a roller coaster, and it was quite exciting!

2. We’ve been on a mission to pet some sheep while we’re here, but so far, no luck. They’re very skittish animals, and they run away from humans in a dash.

3. I can’t believe it’s already been ten days of sheer bliss in Scotland. I’m starting to feel twinges of sadness that our time here is starting to come to a close, but we’ve still got three, full, glorious days before we head back home on Friday.

The Sublime Open Circles: A Scottish Holiday, Day 9

Today we had a wonderful adventure hunting down a total of four stone circles. It was really quite wonderful, and we probably wouldn’t have done this had we been forced to stay in Aberdeen and had we discovered how drab Aberdeen is. Getting out and about into the countryside to seek out these sites was exactly what we needed.

The first circle we visited was Loanhead of Daviot Stone Circle, about a 35 minute drive outside Aberdeen and nearby a small village called, er, Daviot. This circle is a so-called recumbent stone circle because one of the giant stones stands horizontally rather than vertically and is flanked by two, tall, vertical standing stones. When on the inside of the circle, this arrangement of stones frames the rising or setting moon in the south. The circle itself is perhaps 20 meters in diameter with 8 standing stones in addition to the three that make up the recumbent section. There is also another smaller circle on this site called the Cremation Cemetery, which contained the partially cremated remains of a man in addition to the remains of 32 other people.

As I mentioned before when I wrote about viewing the Croft Moraig Stone Circle, I just absolutely love viewing these stone circles. For whatever reason, I hold a strong affinity towards these ancient, pagan, Druidic, sacred, spiritual spaces. And I’m an atheist. But there’s just something so inexplicably powerful about being in spaces that hold the earth and the moon in such adoration.

Next we made our way to the Easter Aquhorthies Stone Circle, about a 20 minute drive south of the Daviot circle via the B9001. It’s situated just north of a small village called Burnhervie, and it’s another example of a recumbent stone circle. This one also had the characteristic horizontal stone flanked by two, tall, vertical standing stones, and there were nine additional standing stones that competed the circle.

If I had to choose, this was probably my favorite circle of the four we saw today. It was the most calm and peaceful of the four, the most far removed from modern civilization, and we were the only ones visiting this particular circle. (There were two passersby, but otherwise that was it.) There was also a pasture full of cows very near the circle, and it was nice to view the animals as well.

As we made our way to the third circle, we started to feel hungry. We happened to pass by a wonderful little restaurant called the Garlogie Inn, right on the B9125 and right outside a village called, er, Garlogie. It was a delightful little establishment. I had the most delectable macaroni and cheese ever with some “loaded” potato skins stuffed with a vegetarian chili.

Following lunch, we made our way to Cullerlie Stone Circle (just right south of Garlogie), and it was fine, I guess. It was a smaller stone circle, and it wasn’t a recumbent circle because all eight stones were standing vertically. This site was used mainly for cremated burials.

It wasn’t as impressive a circle because it was so manicured, all the stones surrounded by small pebbles that might be used for a path through some royal garden. In fact, at first we thought it looked so manicured that we though they might’ve laid down concrete beneath the small pebbles. They didn’t, but the small pebbles and the fact that it was right next to a farm with a whole bunch of modern day machinery rather ruined the experience.

Lastly we made our way to Tyrebagger Stone Circle, another recumbent stone circle. This one was somewhat fun to seek out, because it’s accessible by only some tiny, single-lane, gravel country roads. Unexpectedly, it’s located practically right next to Aberdeen airport, however, and you have to walk about 500 feet through a field used for bailing hay to get there. It was really quite incredible, though, that someone bails hay next to this thousands-of-years-old, pagan, stone circle.

All in all, it was quite a wonderful day seeking out these circles. They’re really quite amazing sites, and I feel such an inexplicable connection to these spiritual places. It’s really quite remarkable.

We eventually made our way back to Aberdeen for one final night. My mother and I went to a nearby pub called the Kittybrewster Bar. We asked a local for a suggestion for what kind and how to drink a proper Scotch whiskey. They suggested a Dalmore single malt whiskey with no ice, so that’s what we had! I’m not much of a whiskey drinker, but this was a quite smooth whiskey, very easy to drink, and it warmed the body and soul through and through.

(We may have had more than one whiskey, and I may have had a Tennant’s lager or two.)

Stray Observations:

1. I kept forgetting to write about this one. When we were in Crieff, Mrs. Marion Lewis’s husband (who is from northern England, judging by his accent), admitted to having a hard time understanding Glaswegians. So far, I must admit, that their accent has been the most difficult to understand as well.

2. It’s been happening a lot where the locals will apologize for the weather, and I keep telling them to stop, because I think the grey, rainy, 17-degree days are fantastic. A man at the Kittybrewster Bar, however, told us that it’s actually been rainier than normal. Even still, I think the weather’s been glorious!

3. There is a beer over here that I’ve had repeatedly since the first or second night: Tennant’s lager, and it’s brewed right in Glasgow. It’s a fantastic and simple lager with no frills, and I’m going to miss it dearly!

4. While at Garlogie Inn, we got to witness a table of perhaps 10 people, a multigenerational family enjoying a Sunday meal. And, boy, were they a jolly bunch! Afterward an older lady from the table came over and apologized for the noise, but we told them not to apologize and that it was so wonderful to see such a happy family celebrating life together. We then talked about a certain idiot U.S. president and commiserated together over how such an unlikely and scary and ridiculous and horrible man actually happened. We also explained that we find this idiot to be a real embarrassment.

5. The Scottish continue to be so, so friendly. The men at Kittybrewster that we talked to were so, so lovely. We talked about various places in the states that they’ve been to, they were so accommodating when we asked them for suggestions about what whiskey to have, and two separate people actually purchased our drinks for us! Such charming people!

The Magical Open Sea: A Scottish Holiday, Day 8

After all the driving yesterday and after all the things we’ve seen these seven days in Scotland, today turned into rather a restful day. This isn’t to say we didn’t do anything, more that we just slowed down a bit today.

We didn’t get moving until somewhat late, and we decided to check out Saint Andrew’s Cathedral in Aberdeen’s city centre. We arrived five minutes to noon where we discovered that every Saturday at noon the cathedral has a free half hour recital of music. Today’s recital featured harpist Fearghal McCartan, and he played a concert featuring Gaelic folk tunes as well as tunes from Denmark, Sweden, Spain, and other countries along those lines. It was a quaint, intimate recital, McCartan is a fine harpist, an eloquent speaker as he introduced each set of pieces, and it was a wonderful way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

After the recital, we walked through the cathedral. The cathedral itself is of the Scottish Episcopal Church, and it is a relatively new structure. It opened in 1817, and its architect, Archibald Simpson, designed it in a Gothic style. During the 1930s, the existing church was enlarged by Sir Ninian Comper.

Quite surprisingly, we discovered that the ceiling of the North Aisle of the cathedral is adorned with the coat of arms of 48 of the US states (Hawaii and Alaska weren’t states yet at the time), and a US flag is also on a flag pole on the eastern end of the North Aisle. This flag was presented by General Eisenhower. The lady who greeted us at the entrance to the cathedral explained that Saint Andrew’s has a close sister relationship with the US Episcopal church. This is because in the 1920s, the Bishop of the Diocese and the Provost of the Cathedral toured the United States to raise money to build a new cathedral in thanks to the American Episcopal Church for the consecration of Dr. Samuel Seabury in 1784 as Bishop of Connecticut. Due to the stock market crash, however, they had to be content with enlarging the existing structure rather than building a brand new one.

Touring Saint Andrew’s doesn’t take very long. It’s small in size for a cathedral, but it was quite fun to find Minnesota’s coat of arms on the ceiling amongst 47 other states.

Following the cathedral, we had a lunch at a nearby pub called Old Blackfriars. Their fish and chips were delectable, the batter nice and crispy.

Then we made our way to Aberdeen Beach to see the North Sea. This beach, just north of John Codona’s Pleasure Fair (just a tiny amusement park with a Ferris wheel, pirate ship, and other small stuff), is a sandy beach, rather than the usual rocky kind you associate with beaches on this island. It provided glorious views of the North Sea as the wind whips your hair and the sea air delights your nose. Not really a beach for sunbathing or swimming, though. I mean, I suppose you could, but it would be cold and you wouldn’t catch much sun. But, that kind of weather is perfect for me!

So, all in all, a nice relaxed day. Tomorrow we’re going to pick up the pace again, as we have four stone circles picked out.

Stray Observations:

1. So, I just can’t recommend you visit Aberdeen. (Sorry, Aberdeen.) It remains a grey, grim city of grey stone buildings, very little interesting history, and not much else. And we’ve seen the most fat people (as in American style fat) in Aberdeen than we have seen everywhere else combined. (Apparently Scotland ranks second in fatness, right behind the US, of course.) Aberdeen’s just not been a very engaging place.

2. We’ve seen quite a bit of Scotland by this point, and everyone continues to be equally friendly. Certainly much more friendly than the English, I must say.

3. We visited a small cafe called Inversnecky Cafe on Aberdeen Beach that overlooked the North Sea. So many friendly people with so many friendly dogs as we enjoyed our tea!

The Magical Druid Spaces: A Scottish Holiday, Day 7

This morning we woke up at our perfectly delightful bed and breakfast in Crieff called Comelybank Guesthouse. The proprietor, Mrs. Marion Lewis, and her husband prepared all the guests a full Scottish breakfast of eggs, sausage, bacon, tomatoes, beans, mushrooms, toast, and tea or coffee. They even had a vegetarian option for me.

At the suggestion of Mrs. Lewis’s husband, we headed to the Famous Grouse Experience at the Glenturret Distillery. As you drive into the parking lot, er, car park, you’re greeted by a giant sculpture of a grouse. We didn’t do the tour of the distillery (lots of driving ahead of us today, you see), but we did visit the shop where I bought a special souvenir: a personalized bottle of their Famous Grouse Whiskey (not for me, for someone else).

We then made our way towards the Croft Moraig Stone Circle via an out-of-the-way-but-well-worth-it scenic route. From the distillery, we headed west on the A85. This allowed is to enjoy stunning views of Loch Earn, which is located on the eastern edge of Loch Lomand and the Trossachs National Park. The A85 then took us to the A827, which took us out of the national park and along the northern side of Loch Tay for some more stunning views of an impossibly gorgeous lake.

We eventually made it to our next destination, the Croft Moraig Stone Circle. I happened to have pre-loaded my Google map to show us where exactly it was, and I’m glad I did, because I’m not sure we would’ve found it otherwise. This stone circle is located right by a farm. The farm is clearly marked from the road, but the stone circle isn’t.

I’ve been to two other stone circles, Stonehenge and the Hurlers (in Cornwall). Croft Moraig is a very small, intimate circle, compared to the other two, but I’m still glad we came. This one dates to 5000 years ago, the first part a construction of 14 timber posts arranged in a horseshoe of 8 by 7 meters. These posts were eventually replaced some 4000 years ago with 8 standing stones, which were surrounded by a stone bank 17 meters in diameter. The third phase of construction involved adding 12 more standing stones around the horseshoe making the whole site 12 meters in diameter. None of the standing stones are taller than 2 meters.

I just love stone circles, because I love the pagan, Druidic nature of them. I hope to see all of Britain’s stone circles some day, and I’m glad to have added Croft Moraig to the list.

Following this small excursion, we started to make our way to Aberdeen via another scenic route. A straight line between two points might be most efficient, but it is by no means most interesting. The A827 took us to the A826 which took us to the A9 and then the A93. It was a three hour journey, but it was well worth it! The A93 is actually the Snow Roads Scenic Route that takes travelers through the southeastern quadrant of Cairngorms National Park, and it happens to be the highest public road in Britain.

And my goodness! What a fucking gorgeous drive! (Pardon me.) But seriously! Yes! So, so beautiful! Unlike anything I have ever seen!

Well, all right. Some parts reminded me of Minnesota’s North Shore and other parts Washington State’s Cascades, but other parts really were unlike anything I had ever seen. Tall, tall peaks (five of the six tallest mountains are in the Cairngorms with the tallest being Ben Macdhui at 1309 meters), sheer drops, jutting granite, and patchwork patterns of heather that added a unique character to the steep, steep summits. This drive through the Cairngorms was really very, very special. I just can’t stop thinking about it. It was a real, real special pleasure getting to know the Cairngorms, and I doubt I have enough superlatives to describe what such a gorgeous landscape this is!

And the sheep! The sheep added such an adorable character to these mountains. It really was quite incredible. Sometimes they would just be grazing right up to the edge of this windy, windy road that turned left and right and up and down as if we were on a roller coaster. Really and truly… this drive was something else!

We eventually arrived in Aberdeen and so far it has been underwhelming. Aberdeen seems to be a very grey, grim city of concrete and shades of East Berlin. We came here out of necessity since Inverness didn’t have accommodations. There are still some cool things in the area we want to see (Saint Andrew’s Cathedral, the North Sea, Provost Skene’s House), but Aberdeen certainly isn’t as magical as Crieff or Edinburgh. Maybe our adventure tomorrow will change my mind, but we shall see…

Stray Observations:

1. As you drive through the Cairngorms, you’ll come across a number of castles as well as Bal Moral. We didn’t stop at any today because we put in probably about six hours of driving, which is quite a lot considering we went through part of the windy, windy roads in the Scottish Highlands. Plus, it was kinda nice to take a break from looking at old castles and cathedrals (as exciting as that is!) in exchange for driving through such a gorgeous part of this incredible country.

2. If you do find yourself in Crieff, do see if you can stay at Mrs. Marion Lewis’s Comelybank Guest House. She and her husband are lovely, the rooms are decorated with her own needlework, and the breakfast was divinely delicious!

3. Today I saw a house that had a flagpole flying a Scottish flag. It was the first house I saw since we’ve arrived that had owners who flew their nation’s flag. It’s really refreshing how understated the Scots’ patriotism is. I wish certain Americans would take a page out of their book.

The Opulent Colorful Spaces: A Scottish Holiday, Day 6

Today we said, “See ye efter!” to Edinburgh and started to make our way north towards a small town called Crief. Along the way, we stopped by a town called Stirling to see Stirling Castle.

What struck us about Stirling Castle, much like Edinburgh Castle, is how high Castle Hill, the crag that the castle is built upon, towers over the town of Stirling. And also much like Edinburgh castle, Stirling Castle itself then towers even higher above that. It’s truly and impressive sight.

Most of the castle dates from the 15th and 16th centuries from during the reigns of the Stewart kings (James IV, V, and VI), with some parts dating from the 14th and 18th centuries. But, the history of the castle dates back even further back to 1110, when Alexander I dedicated a chapel on this site. Alexander, incidentally, died on this site in 1124.

Throughout the ages, not only was Stirling Castle an important Scottish fortress (it was besieged eight times, many of those times during the Wars of Scottish Independence), but it was also used as a palace as well with, most notably, Mary Queen of Scots being crowned here and, also notably, James VI being baptized here.

Considering how often Britons fought over this castle, it’s quite remarkable that it’s in as good a shape that it actually is in. Of course, the Castle Hill, with its cliffs of sheer drops, provides an excellent natural defense and no doubt helped to prevent enemies from causing much damage. The castle itself consists of the Great Hall, the Great Kitchens, the Chapel Royal, the Royal Palace, and the Queen Anne Garden. There is also an amazing wall walk that allows you to see spectacular panoramic views of the Scottish countryside. I definitely recommend you do the wall walk.

The most interesting part of the whole castle is the Royal Palace, and if you have time to see only one thing while at the castle then do make sure to step inside here where you can view the apartments for the king and queen. In 2011 and at £12 million, renovations of the interior of the palace were competed. These renovations restored the palace to its original, colorful, 16th century opulence. This includes seven, giant, handwoven tapestries that now hang on the walls of the queen’s apartments. They depict the Hunt of the Unicorn, and they are so detailed, so expertly woven, and so impressively huge that it boggles the mind the hours and hours of work that was needed to create them. The palace also houses the Stirling Heads. Each head is a giant, oak medallion a meter in diameter carved with images of kings, queens, other royalty, and characters from biblical and classical mythology. They managed to recreate 37 of them, and they now adorn the ceiling of the king’s Inner Hall. It’s really, truly remarkable!

There is also a short video you can watch in a small exhibit that also presents visitors with some of the original Stirling Heads. The video provides an overview of how vibrantly flashy the outside of the palace also was, its various statues colored just as brightly as the Stirling Heads and Hunt of the Unicorn tapestries inside. Today, naturally, the whole palace is an old, faded relic that lacks any hint of color, but the short documentary helped me to appreciate and envision what these old buildings may have once looked like.

Other highlights…

The Great Kitchen has a cute, little setup with lifelike manikins and prop foods that help to recreate what the kitchen might’ve looked like when it was busy with activity as people prepared for feasts. The Queen Anne Garden is, as ever, expertly groomed with alyssums, begonias, marigolds, and other flowers while the lawn is pristinely trimmed. The Chapel Royal is a large, open space, minimally decorated, but nevertheless an impressive space.

Following Stirling Castle, we made our way to a small town called Crief where our lodgings for the night are. We had some standard pub fare at the nearby Meadow Inn. After dinner, we attempted to book our lodgings in Inverness, but it proved quite difficult to find any affordable housing (peak travel season and the weekend, you see). So, we decided to adjust our itinerary (which was very loose anyway) to include Aberdeen instead of Inverness.

Tomorrow we shall first head out to the Croft Moraig Stone Circle and then enjoy a scenic drive through Cairngorms National Park.

Stray Observations:

1. I neglected to mention yesterday that we stopped by a cute little shop on the Royal Mile called Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe, and it was a delightful little shop where I purchased some lovely new Christmas ornaments.

2. For our route from Edinburgh to Stirling, we decided to drive on the A985 rather than the more direct M9. If you want to enjoy a more leisurely, scene drive compete with old stone walls, idyllic villages, and fields of sheep, then steer clear of the larger motorways and find routes that begin with an A or, better still, a B.

The Opulant Dreamy Residence: A Scottish Holiday, Day 5

Yesterday we had time to view Holyrood Palace only from the outside, but today we made our way inside. Unlike the ruins of Linlithgow Palace, Holyrood Palace is a fully functional palace and continues to be the queen’s official residence during her annual summer visit to Edinburgh.

The palace itself was built in the late 17th century (except for the northwest tower, which was built in the 16th century), stands three stories tall, is a giant quadrangle with a central courtyard, and is quite symmetrically designed in neoclassicism (indeed, the inner courtyard uses all three classical columns, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian) with two identical towers on the front facade. It was built on the site of Holyrood Abbey, which was founded by David I in 1128, and all that remains of the abbey are the Gothic-style ruins of what was reconstructed from 1195 to 1230.

To be sure, the whole site is a, er, sight to behold, ever more so because Arthur’s Seat, a quite large hill (well, “bluff” might be a better word) towers triumphantly behind the palace and abbey. Indeed, the inside of the palace continues to delight the eyes. As you progress from room to room, the spaces become ever more floridly designed and decorated, increasingly baroque as you go, using massive tapestries intricately woven with pristine detail, great portraits of royals looking bored (why do they always look bored?), majestic plaster ceilings with angels, and only the finest furniture from important people’s collections.

A couple highlights include the royal dining room where the too long table was set according to how the queen would have it set when she would have guests, the great gallery which is the most giant room open to the public and which contains 110 portraits of the Scottish monarchs, and the queen’s apartment which is a set of chambers once occupied by Mary Queen of Scots. A somewhat chilling area is the queen’s oratory, which is the scene of the murder of David Rizzio, the queen’s private secretary. Mary’s husband, Lord Darnley, believed she was having an affair with Rizzio, and so had Rizzio murdered while the very pregnant Mary was held at gunpoint. Rizzio was stabbed 56 times, and the area where his body was is marked with a gold plaque.

The tour of Holyrood also includes viewing the ruins of the gothic style abbey as well as the palace gardens. The gardens are surely a delight to see. They are expertly manicured, well trimmed, and diversely populated with various flowers, trees, and shrubs, and is compete with a smart stoney path. It is on the garden that you can catch the best glimpses of Arthur’s Seat, that impressive bluff (still not the right word… escarpment, maybe?) that towers over Holyrood Palace and Abbey like a Lord Protector. While we were in the gardens we admired and took too many pictures of a quite stately looking, grey, long haired pussy cat relaxing under a tree.

I wasn’t expecting to enjoy Holyrood as much as I did. But, regardless, I quite enjoyed it, and I highly recommend you be sure to visit Holyrood in addition to Edinburgh Castle should you find yourself in this dreamy, magical city. Do make sure to make use of the audio tour at Holyrood, as it’s quite well done and provides a really informative description of all the areas you get to visit.

Following Holyrood, we grabbed a quick sandwich at some lame shop before we headed to Surgeons’ Halls Museum. We first explored the History of Surgery Museum, which presents visitors with Scotland’s advances in surgery over the centuries. It highlights the work of James Syme, Joseph Lister, James Young Simpson, and Joseph Bell. You get to learn about surgery without anesthesia, the discovery of the benefits of chloroform, and the discovery of the uses of antiseptic. You also get to view various surgical instruments from the 1600s, a journal made of the skin of serial killer William Burke, death mask casts, and various items from personal collections like real skeletons of children, preserved human organs, tissues, and limbs, and casts of various bodily anomalies like tumors.

We also enjoyed the Wohl Pathology Museum, which is a collection of rows and rows of preserved items including bones, brains, kidneys, eyes, ears, feet, hands, cervixes, urethras, penises, uteruses, lymph nodes, aortas… the list goes on. If you can name it, they’ll probably have it.

The Surgeons’ Hall Museum really was quite impressive. My sister particularly enjoyed it. But, unless you have an interest in the macabre or medicine or body parts or unless you don’t get easily bored in museums, I can’t fully recommend visiting this museum. But, if, like my sister, you find this terribly interesting, then by all means do go visit. I, myself, got a little bored of looking at rows and rows of a thing in a jar after a thing in a jar. One section that did perk my interest, though, was a section in the Wohl Collection that covered the history of women becoming surgeons.

Stray Observations:

1. The paint Britons use over here to mark their roads sometimes looks particularly goopy to me, as if it’s more of a melty sludge rather than proper, smooth paint. I did some researching, and they do, indeed, sometimes use a kind of paint called thermoplastic road marking paint that is applied hot at 200 degrees Celsius. It sometimes looks sparkly, too, like a magical faerie, and, indeed, sometimes they add reflective glass beads to the paint.

2. Idiots are everywhere. I sometimes mistakingly think that most of the idiots are in America, but idiots come from every single idiot country on this idiot planet. One idiot we encountered was an idiot man carrying an idiot sign that said “Marriage. 1 man. 1 woman.” We also encountered an idiot man who said he hated all Muslims (this idiot man was himself an Indian immigrant to Scotland who practices Hinduism), and he also approved of what Trump was doing with guns. (I’m not sure what this idiot immigrant man was referring to, because I’m unaware that Trump has actually accomplished anything noteworthy, anything with guns included. What would this idiot president do anyway? Give idiots even more idiot guns?)

3. When we were in Glasgow, the waiter we had at Chaakoo Bombay said that Glaswegians are more friendly than Edinbourgeois. So far, I’m not entirely convinced that’s true. So far, both have rather been equally friendly. We’ll see what happens to our perception of this measure of Scottish friendliness as we head farther north.

4. If there’s one thing about British culture I will never understand, it’s the fact that they STILL have their idiot monarchy. Now, I do admire exploring majestic castles and opulent palaces like Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace, all of which probably wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for such an idiot family, but honestly! Don’t you have better things to spend money on nowadays? Of course, I imagine this is much like complaining about how much the U.S. spends on their idiot military. (I realize that by publishing these sentiments that I’ll probably never get elected to public office, nor will I ever be allowed to become a British citizen.)