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|Posted: Wed Apr 30, 2008 9:04 am Post subject: A scottish On the road
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Glasgow and Edinburgh
After our visit to London we move to Scotland, destination Glasgow.
The arrival in the Scottish city is peculiar: we are amazed by the sound of bagpipes that comes from the outside of the airport (a first taste of the local pageantry) and we are ‘shocked’ by local accent that makes English spoken by Scots, at least at the beginning, difficult to be understood by us.
Once recovered our baggage and rented a car (a black Ford Fiesta that will accompany us in our adventure without create particular problems or satisfactions: in short, an automobile with no infamy or praise) we start our adventure with a British car!
Even though Brits claim to drive 'on the correct side of the street' first meters are little fun: it's exactly the contrary of what we are accustomed to and at the first roundabout we are puzzled on which way is the correct one, luckily we follow the example of a car that goes before us.
However, driving on the left is not as complicated as commonly believed, the first kilometers everything seems strange, but you get used fairly quickly, besides Scots are generally well educated and show really a great patience with the crowd of foreign tourists that often drive in the center of the streets and turn on the wrong way!.
We soon identify the hotel where we are going to spend the night (Tulip Inn, located just a 5 minutes walk from the centre).
The change of temperature from London is clear: We pass from the hot London summertime (30 C) to a windy Scottish climate (15 C) and we have soon to turn our summer clothing into a more covered one. Even local people, certainly used to this climate, are dressed in a fairly autumn style.
Unfortunately (also because of the chilly rain that starts to fall down as soon as we begin our walk in the city center) the city of Glasgow does not transmit us some sensations to remember: we find it relatively ugly and without special attractions except for a race bagpipes in George Square, the Cathedral and the vivacity of Buchanan Street.
The next morning the BBC alarm us with little reassuring news about alleged terrorist plans in the UK-US flights and the resulting blockage of all airports in UK. Today we move to Edinburgh: here it is still relatively cold, the weather is windy and the sun is hiding, but we are already getting accustomed to the Scottish summer and the festive atmosphere of the Edinburgh International Festival that breathes in every alley of the city puts all these drawbacks in the second floor.
With its towering medieval castle that stands out in the city centre, the Scottish capital is truly beautiful. The Royal Mile (the middle path that starts from the castle nearly a mile long and formed by four different roads that contain some of the major attractions of the city) dominates throughout Edinburgh. The Festival in full swing attracts young people from various parts of the world and makes the atmosphere particularly joyous and almost frantic.
Throughout the Royal Mile we admire shows of various kinds that, alone, makes the visit of the city really pleasant. Also notably is the architecture of the town that seems to emerge from a classic movie or a novel by Sir Walter Scott.
We also visit the Castle, truly remarkable with its panoramic view of the city. To enter the castle we buy the Explorer Pass that provides access to various historic sites throughout Scotland (there are different durations available: we have chosen the option for 7 days) If you are going to visit more than a historic site in Scotland we recommend to purchase it to reduce somewhat the costs of your visits.
At lunch we decide to have a taste of a typical Scottish dish (well it seems that nowadays this is reserved just for tourists!): the Haggis, a sort of pudding made of lungs, liver and heart mixed with sheep fat kidney, onions, salt pepper and oats boiled in the stomach of a sheep and accompanied by a puree of turnips and potatoes. It results a very good and spicy meal although quite heavy to digest.
In the afternoon we complete our visit along the Royal Mile throughout its length and we plunge in the festive atmosphere of the festival with its local folklore, made up of young people featuring William Wallace with their face painted, girls who mimic street fighting, clowns and various bagpipers; walking down the street we find precisely the musical group of CLAN WALLACE, a musical group well known by lovers of this kind of music, It seems that a component of the band is a direct descendant of William Wallace who has participated as an appearance in the movie ‘Braveheart’ by Mel Gibson.
In the evening we reluctantly leave the city and head north towards Kinross where we have booked a night at Burnbank Bed and Breakfast. Now we are (almost) expert drivers and along the few miles that separate us from Kinross we enjoy the first taste of Scottish countryside with its delightful colors before sunset.
From Kinross in Aberdeen
The next day, finally, the sun shines high in the sky and allows us to fully appreciate the colors of Scottish outback.
We leave Kinross and we move across the kingdom of Fife where we admire the campaign and visit the Balvaird Castle a small and very suggestive manor, almost disrupted and populated only by a herd of cows pasturing in the green.
The absolute silence of the countryside only broken by the rustle of wheat fields and the bellows of cows makes the atmosphere even more evocative.
Before moving the muzzle of our little car northwards we also take a visit to Perth, a nice town although without any distinctive mark.
Along our journey to Aberdeen we visit the Hermitage Forest close to Dunkeld (a typical small village on the River Tay, with its Cathedral of the ninth century), a dense forest of oaks and conifers where we admire the highest tree throughout the UK. A few steps from the road the forest becomes thick as seen in some old movie, we almost expect to see Robin Hood or Friar Tuck passing out of the trees at any moment! (well, at the end we only admire a deer who immediately flees into dense trees, frightened by our awkward attempt to photograph him).
We then move to Blair Atholl where we visit the Blair Castle that we judge not worthy of a visit also and especially for the huge number of wild embalmed animals exposed (deer, foxes, bears, the entire walls are literally covered with horns and to complete the work also a polar bear and the horn of a narval!) that the Dukes of Atholl had the habit of hunting. Even if the site is renowed on all important guides we remember it only for his bad taste while we appreciate much more the 'True' ruins of Castle Balvaird visited in the morning.
In the lawns in front of the castle we meet for the first time three angus calves (the famous Scottish cow, with its reddish hair and the huge horns)
We then move to Aberdeen where we have planned to spend the night. The lights of the warm late afternoon allow us to immortalize several glimpses of rural landscapes really charming.
Arrived in Aberdeen (now we have full confidence in the driving on the left and we move without problems) we spend the night in Roselea Hotel, a clean and welcoming B & B.
Aberdeen in the evening is really cold and in the rooms of our B & B, the heating is switched on for a pleasant off-season (for us).
The impact with the third city of Scotland is special: 'The Granite City' (so named because almost all the houses are built with solid granite blocks) with its desert dark alleys together with the weather that has worsened again and the chilly wind blowing from the North Sea make our first impression of the town particularly lugubrious.
For today is over, tomorrow our destination will be the Scottish Grampian!
From Aberdeen to Inverness
The next morning the weather is still bad: rain and wind directly from the North Sea, but the city during the day has a much less bleak: the granite scattered everywhere (there is practically no building not built with massive blocks of granite on sight) gives everything to a silvery gray color that makes the overview really amazing.
After a brief sightseeing along the main street useful rather to appreciate the extraordinary impact chromatic (where there is also an international marketplace where products are exposed typical German, Spanish and Italian!) we leave Aberdeen and we head north.
For today our plan is to move north along the coast of Grampian via Peterhead - a town of fishermen to some thirty miles from Aberdeen certainly not famous for its beauty, but characterized by a rich fish market - and Fraserburgh - located on the more north-eastern coast and famous for the Kinnaird Head lighthouse that now hosts the 'Scotland's Lighthouse Museum'.
From Fraserburgh we continue, always on the coast, up to Banff where we stop for lunch. Here we taste an excellent Poached Haddock in a very suggestive restaurant with a view directly on the marina where we observe the local fishermen who are preparing to start deep-sea fishing. The sight of the black and stormy sea (and we are in summer!) makes us not so envious of their work…..
In the afternoon our march to the west to arrive to Inverness continues making a stop in Elgin, where we take some rest visiting the impressive ruins of the Gothic Cathedral. The visit is worthwhile: imagine a Gothic cathedral the size of that of Amiens and of which remain only a part of the load-bearing walls, a few apses and little else. In an apse remained intact a tape recorder sends a Gregorian music that propagating for all ruins, disturbed only by the noisy and ubiquitous gulls!
Elgin is the capital of Scotch whisky: here the main activity is the production of the famous liquor, thanks to the many distilleries that are in the Speyside and we visit the Dallas Dhu Distillery an ancient distillery transformed into a museum of whisky.
We then move towards the hinterland up to Aviemore and the Cairngorms nature reserve situated between the counties of Inverness and Aberdeen, on the territory of the Grampian Mountains and the valley of the River Spey. The area of Cairngorms is of considerable interest and natural features (for what we have seen at least) for its heath covered hills and the beautiful landscapes.
Unfortunately the weather is worsening further and our visit to the Cairngorms reduces merely to a quick stroll in the town of Aviemore before heading to Inverness where we stay at the Amanda Wimberley House, another great B & B.
From Inverness to Fort William
After a good night in Amanda Wimberley House a new Scottish rainy morning greets us. We decide for a quick stroll in Inverness, hoping for the arrival of the sun but the bad weather envelops the city in an misty atmosphere having the color of lead with no hope for a better weather.
So, we head southwards to the most famous of the Scottish lakes: Loch Ness.
Loch Ness is perhaps the summa of all mythical and legendary Scottish places because of the famous monster that lurks in the deep dark waters of the lake; luckily we were able to meet him and make some photos with him before and after a couple of beers!!
Very satisfied of our photos with the monster (that for many centuries has been impossible to see!!) we pause to visit the picturesque ruins of Castle Urquhart located on a rocky peninsula just a couple of miles from Drumnadrochit.
After lunch in the visitors' Centre we continue our march southward along Loch Ness and Loch Lochy down to Fort William from where we continue to visit Glen Coe Village where we admire the Glen Coe; unfortunately the late hour prevents us from making a trip uphill and we just make a quick stroll. Lovers of trekking note that following the path you can reach the top of the mountain in about 5 hours without any particular difficulty.
From Glen Coe village we follow the scenic route of Loch Linnhe (the lights at sunset allow us to enjoy the fantastic colors of the loch) back to Fort William and then to Roy Bridge where we stay for the night at Stronlossit Inn (not that good a hotel!!).
From Fort William in Oban
The next morning we decide to go west along the A830, the 'road to the islands' connecting Fort William to Mallaig. The latter is a port on the west coast of the Scottish Highlands connecting Fort William to the islands of Skye, Knoydart, Rùm, Eigg, Muck and Canna and is a major centre fish.
Fort William and Mallaig are also connected by a railway where still operates a steam train (The Jacobite Steam Train) that reaches Mallaig through a very impressive railway (it is particularly famous since it is the train that carries Harry Potter to Hogwarts!)
If you have a day available we recommend that you make a trip on it to enjoy the beautiful landscapes, remember also to book your seats because of the considerable amount of tourists and the fact that there is just a single roundtrip journey a day (the others are made with more modern and far less romantic, electric trains).
As mentioned, we opt to take the A830 to admire the beautiful landscapes and with the hope to take a photo of the train in motion (such hope will fail miserably: we indeed encounter the train but it is too rapid for us to snap it!) If you decide to follow our footsteps remember that the road from Arisaig to Morar is very narrow, practically a one-way alternate.
After our adventure in the narrow street of the peninsula we continue southwards to Oban, an important port for ferries to the Hebrides islands, where we visit the ruins of the austere Dunstaffnage Castle.
We continue even southwards along the Firth of Lorne to Oban where we pause for a visit. We remind in this area the Falls of Lora, an impressive series of rapids that are formed at the mouth of Loch Etive because of the tides: 'waterfalls' originate when the sea level in the Firth of Lorne drops below the level of the waters of Loch Etive generating a great influx of water from the lake to the sea that generates incredible rapids. The phenomenon is observable from Connel Bridge, an old iron bridge that connects Benderloch to Oban, and is repeated twice daily in both directions depending on the level of tides. We conclude the day with a dinner with Top Sirloin, potatoes, a pint of beer and apple pie at the Oyster Inn Connel with a view of the waterfalls.
For the evening we stay in Innis Chonain a good B & B at Benderloch, a few miles north of Oban.
From Oban to Loch Lomond
The next morning, after the usual breakfast with porridge (we continue to refuse the typical English breakfast with eggs, bacon, beans and fried tomatoes....), we head towards the region of Loch Lomond, drive along the edge of the Loch Etive and continuing into the A82. The morning is beautiful and we make some photos on Loch Etive with its wonderful colours.
Loch Lomond, about twenty miles north of Glasgow, is the largest British lake, and the park also includes the mountain range of Trossachs where once ruled the famous and controversial Rob Roy, the Robin Hood of Scotland.
We continue to skirt the west coast of the lake for all its 38 km from Crianlarich up to Balloch. It seems that the park encloses all the beauties of Scotland: The forests of pines, the lake, the grass green with bearings of heather and the typical Highlands, we also see a herd of deer grazing among the pines.
Our plan is to spend two days at Loch Lomond to have the time to do some walking tours. Before stopping on the lake we move up to Dumbarton to visit the castle: a fortress that stretches for hundreds of meters on a volcanic hill surrounded by the river Clyde on one side and the River Leven on the other one. After the visit (which leaves us a little disappointed: the castle is not that much of a place to remember), we route to Balmaha on the east coast of Loch Lomond.
In Balmaha we stay at the Oak Tree Inn, a hotel with a brewery, built on the ruins of an ancient and medieval mill surrounded by a huge oak 500 years old (so they say).
Balmaha is a valid starting point for the ascent to Ben Lomond (reachable from the nearby Rowardennan), the southernmost of the Scottish Munro (the hills above the 3000 feet high, goals here in Scotland for the Munro Baggers, the local mountaineers, collecting ascents on peaks above 3000 feet).
From Balmaha it is also possible to reach the Conic Hill, a small hill overlooking the village and from which there are splendid views of the lake itself.
For trekking maniacs it is useful to remember that from Balmaha passes one of the better path to discover the Highlands by foot, the West Highland Way, which with its 153 km, runs through splendid landscapes from Glasgow to Fort William. The same Oak Tree Inn offers accommodation for trekkers offering bunk rooms (rooms with bunk beds) at reasonable prices.
Our program include the ascension to Ben Lomond: unfortunately the climb, from Rowardennan to the top lasts more than four hours even if it is not particularly difficult, but the excessive variability of the weather has convinced us to limit ourselves to the ascension to Conic Hill, from where we were able to admire the panorama of the lake, blessed by a wonderful morning sun.
The ascent of the hill, a little more than an hour, offers fantastic views of the lake and the large heath of the Trossachs area that you can admire as you climb to the top. The sides of the hill, literally invaded by sheep and Angus in the wild, are covered with green grass and fantastic purple heather bearings.
After the ascension we decide to visit Rowardennan to admire the Ben Lomond, unfortunately the weather is already deteriorating and the top of the mountain is not visible: our choice for Conic Hill has proven to be wise!.
From Loch Lomond to Stirling
Everything That Has A Beginning Has An End, so it was said in a famous movie a few years ago. Our Tour in Scotland is no exception. Stirling represents the final stage of our ‘Scottish On the Road’.
After two days in Loch Lomond we head to the city of Stirling, theatre in the past of important historical events and ancient crossroads toward the northern part of Scotland as the largest city in the region. The city is bounded on the west by the beautiful glacial valley of Loch Lomond and the natural barrier of river Forth till to the point where it flows into the sea.
Stirling is at the heart of the area where the Highlands meet the Lowlands. This region is the land of William Wallace (Braveheart - whose imposing monument dominates the skyline of Stirling) and was the scene of some bloody battles in the XIV century in the fight for independence of Scotland. As already mentioned lands north of Stirling are the area of Trossachs characterized by lakes, mountains and moorland and theatre of controversial raids of outlaw Rob Roy MacGregor.
Aware of all its historical past we decide to visit the Stirling castle one of the most important strongholds of Scotland. To ascend to the castle, we suggest you to walk through the Castle Wynd, a tortuous road full of important buildings. The manor is certainly very suggestive, even if the overdose of castles to which we have being submitted during our holiday reduces a little its impact.
We also visited the famous Wallace Monument that apart from the (horrible) statue of Mel Gibson at the entrance, is still worth a visit even though reaching the top of the tower through its narrow stairs is particularly expensive (12 GBP per head) and not recommended (the view of Stirling is wonderful, but adds nothing to what has already been observed from the castle).
After the excursion on the tower we go back to our car and say goodbye to Scotland: our next stop is Italy, where we arrive the following morning after one night at the Ramada close to Glasgow.
Here ends our summer holiday 2006, see you in Peru!!