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.

I’ll Take the High Road, Day 3: Sailing on the Bonny, Bonny Banks of Loch Lomond With a Dram of Whiskey and a Stirling Castle Visit

It was time for the first day of adventures in Scotland so some proper fueling would be required to make it through the day.

I headed to the Brisket where a buffet breakfast was laid out with a variety of breads, meats, juices, cereals, and vegetables.  I toasted some wheat bread, grabbed some Scottish bacon (taken from the back of the pig like Irish bacon so its similar to ham), a slice of Swiss cheese, a bit of haggis, and glasses of orange and lime juice.  I turned the bacon, cheese, and bread into a sandwich while I conversed with fellow tour members, Dale, Sandy, and Judith.

The breakfast hit the spot and I must say that I rather enjoyed the haggis.  It has a sharp bite to it and tastes a tiny bit like sausage.  The lime juice was actually quite refreshing and I was ready for the day.

We formally met our tour guide, Marge, and our driver, David.  This group was right on the ball as we were all on the bus before our departure time and left promptly at 8am.

Our first stop was the village of Luss where we would sail on Loch Lomond, courtesy of the Lomond Princess.

It was a cool and overcast day.  Fog was hanging over the hills giving them an ethereal look as we took a relaxing sail on the Loch.  Our captain gave us some information about some of the islands we passed and even gave us a glimpse of Loch Lomond Golf Club, an exclusive club whose members include George Clooney, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Michael Douglas.  Membership fees are a jaw dropping 135,000 pounds a year and that doesn’t include green fees.

Our cruise ended at the village of Balmahal and we took a pleasant stroll back to the bus and I did note a few B &Bs on the walk.

From there, it was off to Glengoyne to learn about the fine art of distilling whiskey.

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Glengoyne Distillery

Glengoyne has been distilling whiskey officially since 1833 (unofficially for a few generations before that).  It’s a pretty exclusive brand as it’s sold directly through the distillery and in specialty shops.  We had a bit of time before our tour so our guides led us to the waterfall that served as the original water source for the whiskey.  Nowadays the water from the fall is used soley for the cooling process.

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At 11:40am we were brought it for a dram of 12 year old whiskey and it was potent.  I felt a slight buzz come on as I sipped it during a brief film on Glengoyne’s history.  Upon the completion of the film, our tour guide, Matthew, led us through the distillery.

I was surprised to discover that making whiskey is actually simple.  The craft lies in how the process is applied.  Glengoyne’s success is due to heating the liquor with hot air and using Spanish casks to develop the various types of whiskey they sell.

Fun fact:  Way up on the hill across the road from the distillery is the home of Robbie Coltrane, best known for playing Hagrid in the “Harry Potter” films.  He is a fan of Glengoyne whiskey and occasionally visits the distillery.

After the tour, we were off to visit Stirling Castle, the home of many Scottish rulers over the centuries as well as the monument that overlooks the legendary Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.

We were left to our own devices for a few hours so I opted to explore the castle for myself as opposed to taking a guided tour.

It was an educational period as I learned about the history of Scotland’s rulers and the linked history of the Stewarts (or Stuarts) and the Tudors.  I also visited the Great Hall, chapel, great kitchens, and looked at the lovely Royal Garden.  The most interesting thing I learned was how meals were sometimes eaten.  A feast was given to the king and queen who would eat their fill, then whatever was left over was given to the next most powerful person in the castle and so on with table scraps going to the lowest rung on the ladder.

We wrapped things up at 4pm and headed back to Glasgow.  Jet lag was wearing me out and I didn’t have the juice to eat at a regular restaurant.  After resting for an hour, I walked down to the nearby McDonald’s and picked up a French Stack meal for take away.

Normally this sandwich is exclusive to France, but McDonald’s is currently doing an international burger promotion where regional burgers are being featured in other restaurants worldwide.  The French Stack was two patties, lettuce, bacon, onions, Swiss cheese and sauce on French garlic buns.  Quite tasty.

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French Stack from McDonald’s

From there I was left to a quiet night of organizing photos and writing and getting my luggage ready for an early departure on Saturday.