I’ll Take the High Road, Day 5: The Monster, The Battle, and the Aberdeen

Today was definitely the slowest day of the trip.  We had a long haul of driving today so it was pretty much looking at the beautiful countryside with just a couple of stops to break up the drive.

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Loch Ness

Our first stop was a visit to Loch Ness, reputedly the home of a certain monster.  While searching for Nessie, Marge threw in a bonus as we would also be visiting Urquhart Castle.

Urquhart Castle has held an important place in Scottish history dating back to the 500s when St Columba visited the region to convert the Picts to Christianity with his most notable conversion being the Pict leader.  According to legend, the Loch Ness Monster attacked one of his guides as he was swimming to fetch a boat.  Before reaching the guard, St Columba made the Sign of the Cross and the monster vanished.

We watched a brief, but informative film about the history of Urquhart Castle and as it ended, the screen pulled up and the curtains opened to reveal this.

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Urquhart Castle

It was even more amazing seeing it in person.

From there we toured the grounds of the castle.  I even went hunting for Nessie and succeeded.  Below, I bring you proof of the Loch Ness Monster.

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From Urquhart Castle and Loch Ness, it was off to the bus for another jaunt that took us to Culloden.

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The Battle of Culloden was the climax and pretty much the end of the Jacobite Rebellion spearheaded by Charles Edward Stuart AKA Bonny Prince Charlie AKA The Idiot (according to Marge).  Charles had plotted to get his exiled father back on the throne of England as he believed the Stuarts were divinely appointed to rule. Despite never having visited Scotland, he claimed it as home and used his charm and energy to convince Scottish Highlanders to join his cause to retake the English throne.

Charles was also unpredictable and impetuous leading him to ignore his advisors.  Despite several victories, he decided to make an ill fated nighttime sneak attack on the British government forces led by King George’s son (and distant relative of Charles), William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland.

After his forces had suffered defeats at the hands of the Jacobites, Augustus managed to boost his soldiers’ morale with an extra ration of cheese to celebrate his birthday as well as rigorous training to counter the deadly Highlander charge which had decimated the British government soliders and their gentlemanly style of warfare.

Meeting at Culloden on April 16, 1746, Augustus’ forces slaughtered the weary Highlanders who had marched all night and were stumbling in the dark.  The rout took a mere 40 minutes.  Charles fled to France while Augustus ordered no mercy on the Highlanders and Jacobites, killing them instead of capturing them as well as killing many innocent civilians who also wore plaids and tartans.

Neither nobleman ended up well.  Augustus was labeled as a butcher and fell into ignominy and was joined there by Charles who was briefly labeled a hero in France for his “daring” escape, but was abandoned by his family and attempted a few more conspiracies which blew up in his face.

After that it was a long afternoon of driving, though we did make a brief stop in Tomintoul to stretch our legs before arriving at Aberdeen for the night.

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Aberdeen Altens Hotel

Our home for the night was the Aberdeen Altens Hotel.  I managed to nab a king-sized bed room so I knew I’d be sleeping like a baby tonight.

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I puttered around for an hour or so and learned about my airport transfer for the final day before heading into the restaurant for dinner.

I joined Kenneth, Steven, and Joel again and enjoyed a meal of Country Terrine with red onion chutney and oatcakes, fillet of haddock in citrus cream sauce and vegetable, and hot rice pudding for dessert.

With a filling meal and satisfying conversation complete, it was time for some writing, a hot bath, and a good snooze for a full day of activities.

I’ll Take the High Road, Day 4: Headed to the Highlands

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There wasn’t a lot of activity today, but it was truly a great day.  We left the envirions of Glasgow to head to the Highlands, the least densely populated part of Scotland.  Tall buildings and traffic gave way to narrow words and lush farmland and quite a few sheep.

As we drove through the country, we passed a region known as Glencoe, site of a massacre which took place on February 13, 1692 during the Jacobite uprising.  The long and short of it was that William Campbell managed to obtain a royal proclamation to eradicate Clan Macdonald which they did on that date.  Marge played a song called “The Massacre of Glencoe” which told the story of Campbell and his warriors being offered shelter and food by the Macdonalds whose hosptiality was repaid by being slaughtered during the night.  Many of the victims were women and children.  I was fascinated by the haunting story and Marge explained that much of Scottish history was mired in tragedy.

Our first brief stop of the day was a visit to Glenfinnan which is home to a monument and a viaduct best known for being used for the journey of the Hogwarts Express during the first “Harry Potter” film.  I hiked to the top of an outlook which featured an excellent view of the monument and the viaduct.  I snapped a few pics before journeying back down for a few shots of the lake.

After driving a little further, our group pulled into the Spean Bridge Woolen Mill for a lunch break.  I wasn’t very hungry so I stopped in at a nearby grocery store and picked up a chicken salad sandwich and a Kit Kat bar.  I then did a rarity and, GASP!, actually bought something for myself at the Woolen Mill.  As I was so fascinated by the song of the Glencoe massacre, I found a CD dedicated to songs about that tragic event and bought it along with a CD of traditional Scottish songs.  I then took a little walk around the area just to enjoy local life and snap a photo or two.  I’ve learned that Scotland also likes B & Bs just as much as Ireland so I’m adding Scotland to my potential places of retirement in my golden years.

As we got into the Highlands, the road signs began to feature two languages, English and Gallic, the traditional language of Scotland which is only taught in the Highlands.  English is exclusively used in the Lowlands.

We weren’t on the road very long after lunch, making a brief stop at the Commando Memorial for a photo op.

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Commando Memorial

Then it was back on the road before our arrival at Eilean Donan Castle, the most photographed castle in the world.

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Eilean Donan Castle

As this was an optional tour, our group split at this point with those not taking the tour being driven to the hotel while the rest of us remained.  As we waited for our tour time, I tried jelly babies for the first time.  This favored treat of the Fourth Doctor of Doctor Who is a rather soft confection that’s a cross between a jelly bean and Turkish Delight.  I offered some treats to Kenneth Campbell, a retired schoolteacher from New Brunswick, Canada with whom I became fast friends.  Kenneth introduced me to his traveling companions:  his brother, Steven, and his nephew, Joel.  These guys were great conversationalists and just great fun to be around.

The tour of Eilean Donan consisted of two tour guides, one whom gave us the history of the castle in the entry hall and the second told us about the family Macrae, historical and current owners of the castle.  After the two lectures, we were free to explore the upstairs bedrooms and kitchen of the castle.  Photos were not allowed inside the castle, so the outside was all I got.  Fun fact:  The Macraes still holiday at the castle on occasion and either mix in with the other tourists or visit the castle after hours.  They have a furnished apartment elsewhere on the grounds where they actually live.

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The Clachan

With the tour ended, we headed to the nearby Clachan for a drink.  This pub is actually closed for the season, but was opened especially for us to enjoy a beverage.  I had been trying to get a Scottish drink called an Atholl Brose which I read about in a Sherlock Holmes story that took place in Scotland, but I’m starting to think it was a drink of its time as I’ve struck out in both attempts to get one.  So I had a pint of Guinness (almost as good as the Irish original) while enjoying a talk with the Campbells.

With the drink completed, we were bussed over to the Dunollie which was our hotel for the night in the Isle of Skye.

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The Dunollie

This is a small hotel only boasting about 84 rooms.  This was the smallest hotel room I have ever stayed in, but a comfy bed to lie my head is all that I ask for and, in terms of character, this was my favorite hotel of the trip.

I quickly settled in before joining the Campbells for dinner in the hotel restaurant.  Tonight’s meal consisted of lentil soup, Cully Fillet in cream sauce, and a cream puff pastry for dessert.  The soup was actually a bit bland, resulting in my adding a pinch of salt for the first time since I was 17.  The fish was of excellent quality and the dessert well rounded out the meal.

I bade the Campbells tonight before running over to the convenience store next door for a Dr. Pepper. I then returned and listened to an accordion player perform a stirring rendition of “Amazing Grace” before returning to my room to organize photos, write, and listen to my Glencoe CD.

Tomorrow we get a slightly later start with breakfast at 7am before departing for Aberdeen at 8am.