Day 13 October 11
A Scotch Terrier of course!
I did a quick walk down to the beach on the edge of the Forth of Firth. It was very quiet with a few well trained dog owners walking their pets. For a city this is an exceptional spot to have.
A steep climb down to the firth
Glenda wanted a cleanup day and as it began to rain around midday it wasn't a bad choice. The rain continued steadily until about 9 a.m. the next morning.
An impressive building across from the park
“Come on, Hamish!” one yelled, “You’re on our team!”
I chuckled to myself at the innocence and bravado of their play, perhaps a little reminiscent of my own childhood love of war games. Later however I was washing dishes at the camp kitchen when Hamish rushed past me towards the toilets. He suddenly appeared beside me with a look of desperation in his eyes.
“What’s the matter, mate?’ I asked.
It may have been his strong Scottish accent or just the innocence of the situation once again. I opened the door for him and went back to my washing. It was a sweet moment.
Day 14 October 12th
A Coal Tit at a local feeder
We took the park shuttle bus into Edinburgh which was about 15 minutes away. It was 10.15 a.m. and the shuttle would return at 4.30 p.m. to collect us. And so the walking and shopping began.
The rain had stopped but grey skies and the sun positioned behind the castle did not make for good photography. On a clear day this city would be breathtaking. As it was it was brilliant.
Edinburgh Castle dominated the skyline
We began walking down Princess Road with the castle dominating the skyline to our right atop an extinct volcano. Every step gave a different panorama and beautiful scenes.
Glenda entering the first of many tartan shops
We were shopping for tartans, in particular the Oliver tartan which was quite rare. So rare in fact that we only managed to find one tie at the back of a tartan shop. We must have searched every souvenir and tartan shop along that road and then along the Royal Mile which runs parallel but leads to the castle entrance. Most of these shops were run by Sikhs who wore tartans along with their turbans. Their Scottish accents completed an unusual picture.
Another view of old Edinburgh
It was a busy place but the main streets were wide. There was a sense of order to the place and we enjoyed the walk along high street before turning to our right and negotiating a few narrow streets to the Royal Mile. Despite the dozens of tartan shops we could only find one which had a single tie with our tartan.
The Royal Mile looking towards the castle
There were fascinating buildings and hidden architectural features that a proper guide would have made much more exciting but we only had a certain amount of time.
Inside the cathedral
I paid the £2 to take photos as we did the quick look inside. Cathedrals are awesome places and my limited camera cannot capture the feeling of grandeur nor the intricacies of this huge building. They don’t make’ em like that anymore.
The castle entrance
It began to rain by the time we reached the castle entrance and we were a tad hungry. A quick bite in the castle restaurant and we began a long tour.
From the castle battlement
A painting of Sgt Ewart seizing the French Colors
The castle itself was truly grand and we climbed many stairs and looked in every place available to get the complete experience. This included the Scots Greys Military Museum where I found the French Colours taken by Sgt. Ewart of the Royal North British Dragoons at Waterloo (a long time hero of mine).
We left the castle and retraced our steps down to Princess Road where we took a tour bus and a 55 minute drive around the city with a commentary by an older gent named Colin. He did a good job and we continued on after the first tour to the place where we found the shuttle bus right on time.
On our return I had about half an hour before Andy from the Edinburgh Kendo Club arrived to pick me up. He drove me to their training place which was an exclusive girls school not too far away. On arrival I met the Club founder, Steve Bishop 6th Dan. Steve was a real character and showed me great respect, recognizing my ranks in all martial arts. He'd done his homework.
I joined in his children's class then continued with his seniors. It was a good, enjoyable training and there was a good spirit in the group. I didn't disgrace myself during the training and managed to fight most of the higher ranks.
Afterwards we stopped at a local pub for two beers before Andy drove me back. A highlight of the pub was a wee Jack Russell dog in the bar. It is accepted over here to have dogs in hotels and it added to the mood of the place.
It had been a long day but very enjoyable. We both slept well.
Day 15 October 13th
It drizzled for much of the day while we were driving but the times we stopped weren't too bad. We headed north across the Fourth of Firth Bridge towards Stirling. We came across a sign to RSPB Vale Farm so we followed it to the edge of a loch. I haggled with the volunteer collecting visitor fees and he dropped the entry price to £3. Glenda needed a rest so I headed in and down to a series of three hides on the water’s edge.
Whoopers & Graylag Geese
The forboding Wallace Memorial
We reached the Wallace National Monument around lunchtime. This was an impressive building! From the bottom of the hill it looked a bit like something from “Lord of the rings” and as we approached it didn’t disappoint. The monument had an intricate rope carving which wound itself around the tower. A narrowest of stairwells led to two floors of exhibits, the top floor being one with breathtaking views of the land across to Stirling castle.gfh
An outstanding Actor
An actor portrayed a soldier of the day fighting at the Battle of Stirling. He was excellent and gave a good account of the events and the feelings leading up to the battle and the eventual betrayal of William Wallace and his execution.
The stairs to the top of the monument were very step and very narrow. I managed to get to the second floor but found my fear of heights kick in big time. We soon left for Stirling Castle.
This castle was not as grandiose in terms of architecture as Edinburgh so I didn’t take any photographs of the entry unfortunately. In terms of its history and the lavishness of its design and decor it was stunning.
The furnishings of the great halls had been restored and the paintings on the ceilings and walls reflected the grandeur of design that epitomised its king. a young actress took Glenda aside to talk about the lives of James V while speaking in character.
A friendly Lady in Waiting
We again looked in every nook and cranny and while time and the weather have taken their toll on the statues and gargoyles that once decorated the wall, there is still a sense of what the castle would have been like. A short film in one of the halls which showed an artist’s impression of what the statues would have looked in their prime ensured that we understood this.
Inside Stirling Castle
It was four o'clock when we finally left and the rain started again. We reached Perth and continued to Scone where we booked in to the park at the racecourse.
So how do you pronounce "Scone". Its not “scon as in John” nor “scone as in stone”. It’s as Billy Connelly would say sharply, "skoon".... it’s no feking better! It was another long day but a very fulfilling one.
Day 16 October 14th
It had rained through the night but there was some blue sky on the horizon. We left around 10 a.m. and headed north through Blairgowie and into the Grampian Mountains and the Cairngorms National Park. The temperature never rose above 7 degrees and remained overcast with some rainy patches.
Like no Autumn we'd ever seen
At last we were free of endless towns for most of the trip. Those we passed were not as narrow as in England but just as quaint. The terrain became hilly with the odd mountain which made our trip slower than anticipated. Autumn leaves decorated the forests which made a tunnel effect over the road in all shades of yellows through to green. Stopping was difficult but we managed to stop a few times to photograph bridges and some of the hills. In snow the place would transform again no doubt.
Cairngorms National Park
Ancient stone bridges that challenged my spatial relations
We missed the turn to Balmoral Castle but just past Braemar Glenda spotted a small bird on a rock next to a fast flowing stream. It turned out to be a Dipper, an unexpected bird and unique in its ability to submerge and hold onto rocks against the current while searching for its prey on the river bed.
Nairn appeared around 2.30 in the afternoon, a small town on the coast.
Red Squirrels are becoming scarce
We did some shopping before checking on the river mouth and the beach area. As we arrived at our park on the outside of the town our first Red Squirrel appeared. I managed a photo of one fairly high up but it was okay for a first. Hopefully there will be a more confiding one in the next few days.
Day 17 October 15th
Some blue sky initially held promise of a clearer day but unfortunately the weather remained overcast with a number of scattered showers.
We drove into Inverness and bought fuel at the Tesco superstore. From there it was a short drive into the city centre where we parked at Morrison's and collected a £50 parking fine on our return. I'm not sure what the quality of mercy is in this part of the world but I’m intending to write to the authority and plead my case.
The river from the bridge in Inverness
Inverness is a large city but beautiful. Some old streets with magnificent buildings aligning them surround the castle on the hill near the centre. It overlooks not just the surrounding buildings but also the tranquil river that flows through its centre.
Inverness Castle from across the river
We walked to the castle and bought some souvenirs for the family. From there we drove down along the river to the Archive Centre and did a little research on Aberchalder Lock where my Great, Great Grandfather was Head Engineer in the mid 1800's. No luck in finding much information about him or the Sutherland Clan but on the way back we stopped so I could photograph the Castle from across the river. This was just like the post card that I inherited from my mother dated somewhere in the late 19th century.
A re-enactment of the Battle of Culloden
The castle is in good condition and used as a court house amongst other civic things. A walk along the river brought us to the Fraser tartan outlet. “Oliver” is a branch name of Fraser and fortunately they had an Oliver tie in stock. We also bought some Fraser scarves for the girls back home. Hopefully it will make a link to Scotland for Sarah and Jayne who are new to the family.
The Culloden Muir
And so to the Culloden Battlefield of 1746. This has always intrigued me and the present day centre didn't disappoint. The displays and interactive commentary gave a real insight into events and feelings leading up to the battle and the retribution afterwards. In particular the aerial view which showed the battle unfold digitally gave a sense of what took place in the fight which lasted less than an hour.
Stones mark where the Clans fell
I did a walk of the battlefield with an audio headset, looked at the Culloden Muir and took a photograph of the stone laid by Clan Fraser.
It was here or nearby where most of those who fought under Clan Fraser died. It was moving as I expected.
It was raining when we returned to the park near Nairn but we both agreed it was a good day.
Day 18 October 16thNairn, Loch Ness, Isle of Skye
The entrance over a dry moat to Fort George
It was foggy when we left the park near Nairn but clear as we drove in to Fort George on the Moray Firth. This huge fort was built in 1748 following the Culloden Battle to suppress any further Jacobite uprisings or possible invasions from France.
It is still used as an army barracks and training facility but sections are open to the public as it has retained its 18th Century buildings and character. The setting is huge with barracks and buildings within the walls spread out like a township.
We came across two groups of soldiers training with their mortars and Glenda snapped this shot discreetly in case she distracted them from their work.
Again we negotiated Inverness which I must say is one of the easier cities to travel through in the UK. We were soon driving down the west side of Loch Ness which was inspiring. No sign of the monster but we stopped at vantage points to take in the views. It was much larger than we imagined.
A strategic but beautiful spot on Loch Ness
Urquhart Castle was well worth a stop and despite the lack of light enabled us to take some decent photographs. Built on the edge of Loch Ness it is picturesque as well as strategically placed.
Some stunning ruins with a violent history
The Scottish Tourist organization has really got it right in presenting the history of these and other ruins. From the car park visitors have to enter the main information building to gain access to the stairs leading down to the only entry point. Inevitably this passes souvenhirs and the like but also displays which tell of the turbulent past experienced here The castle dates back to the 13th century but activity at the site goes back to 580 A.D. when it was a stronghold for a Pictish nobleman. It has at various times been battled over by MacDonalds, Robert the Bruce and the Clan Grant.
The day turned perfect once again
We turned west and headed towards the Isle of Skye. Autumn tones in the leaves and a sudden change for the better in the weather had us stopping regularly for photos. Reflections in the lochs were beautiful and there were scattered cairns and monuments to places significant to Scottish Clans.
Eilean Donan Castle near the Kyle of Lochalsh
When we reached Eilean Donan Castle near the Kyle of Lochalsh we were stunned. This must be the most inspiring of all the small castles by the sea. “There can be only one” - yes, “Highlander” was filmed using this castle for dramatic effect.
The same location for the above scene
By the time we crossed the bridge to the Isle of Skye it was after 4 p.m. We headed anticlockwise on a whim, looking for a suitable spot to stay.
The bridge to the isle of Skye
The narrow streets of Portree captured our attention but unfortunately they had no camping facilities. We walked around the town for a while enjoying the boats in the harbour and the pastel shades of the houses.
The seaside village of Portree
We had no firm booking so after getting supplies at Portree we stumbled onto a beautiful spot on the edge of Loch Greshornish.
It had been an inspiring but long day.
Day 19 October 17th
Mist on the water
A thick frost began to settle early last night so that by the time I arose around 7 a.m. this morning the whole camp site seemed white. Steam rose steadily from the bay until around 9 o'clock. This looked and felt surreal as I strolled around the campsite which was completely covered with frost, adding to the atmosphere.
I visited some Highland Cattle in the paddock next to the park and took some photos before we tried baggles for breakfast. Neither of us were impressed.
The day looked perfect with no wind and clear skies but that would change dramatically as the day unfolded. The temperature never rose above 2 degrees while we were at altitude, making it to perhaps 8 degrees on the lowland areas. Our first stop was Dunvegan where the castle had been the seat of the McLeod Clan for over 800 years. Unfortunately the castle was closed so we had to drive along a narrow road to find a vantage point to photograph it.
Skye was remarkably mountainous
We completed a quick circuit of the island, stopping for the occasional shot as we made our way back to the mainland.
Eilean Donan Castle
You could spend quite a considerable time exploring Skye depending on your interests. Glenda made a sandwich for lunch at Dorrie where we could view the Eilean Donan Castle once more. From there it was towards the Glengarry area where Glenda spotted a stag not far from the road. After two weeks in Scotland with only road signs to suggest their presence this was a GREAT moment!
Not long after the stag sighting snow hit us and we stopped for a photo while it lasted. It was the start of some drizzly weather. The view of Gengarry was spectacular from the mountain top but difficult to see clearly. The increasing wind plagued us until we reached Glencoe where we set up for the night at a park near Bellachulish. With no internet connection it was a frustrating night not being able to communicate with anyone nor retrieve vital information for our planning. We'd survive.
Snow on the great Glen
Day 20 October 18th
My great grandmother's Clan
My mother's grandmother, Janet Sutherland emigrated from Inverness, Scotland in 1863. Of her parents we know only that her father, William Sutherland was, "for a long time the head engineer on the Aberchalder Lock". This was what I recalled on this morning as I pondered one last search for their place of being in Scotland. This was scant information indeed but following the search back at the Archive Center in Inverness we at least had an inkling where the lock might be. As it was approximately just 40 miles back up the Great Glen towards the bottom of Loch Ness we decided to have a look.
We stopped at Fort William and walked to the Information Centre to see if they could show us where Aberchalder was on a map. The young lass was perplexed as she had never heard of the place and consulted some websites followed by a few maps.
"Did you mean 'loch' or 'lock'?"
Both sounded identical with her broad accent so I spelt "lock" and admitted it could be either. She pinpointed a spot called Aberchalder just north of Glengarry but said there wouldn't be much there. We drove on.
A small vessel passes through the aberchalder Swing Bridge
A swing bridge just north of the town alerted us to a property called, Aberchalder Lodge. I did a u turn and stopped near the driveway of the place and knocked on the door. Two cocker spaniels met me along with a youngish lady who was house sitting for her parents. She had never heard of an Aberchalder Loch but suggested I talk to the man who operated the swing bridge as he had good local knowledge. Having grown up in the area she recalled the family name, Sutherland as fairly common in the area.
The cottage at the Aberchalder Bridge
I found the swing bridge operator busily operated the Aberchalder Swing Bridge to let larger boats through into the canal. As it turned out this guy was not the one with all the knowledge but he was extremely helpful. There was no lake called Aberchalder Loch but there once was an Aberchalder Lock that operated where a suspension bridge now hangs. This was most probably the place and he ventured that if my ancestor was the engineer he probably resided in the old cottage next to the new swing bridge as it was built in around 1820 when the lock was constructed. This was probably as close as we can get at this stage.
(editor’s note: On returning to Australia I retrieved my wrting on the Sutherlands. Apparently William Sutherland also worked as “Lock Keeper CC Culachy Lock…”. A look on Google maps and satellite revealed this lock and a cottage just north of the aberchalder swing bridge. We were so close!).
The moss covering the forest indicated clean air
We continued our trip back down the highway, reaching Glencoe around midday. The diversion north had been worthwhile.
The mountains showed the scaring of centuries of snow and ice
The weather turned bad and we had showers as we headed along the edge of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. The mosses climbing up through the forests made a perfect contrast vto the autumn tones of the leaves but it was difficult to capture the perfect photo on a fairly busy road.
The mountains were quite steep and we were concerned about our fuel. We stopped a few times in the mountain pass, the rugged slopes showing where the snow was carving away its presence.
We were tired but wanted to find a spot in Glasgow for the night so I could meet up with the local Kendo Club. As it turned out we parked the vehicle in the car park of the Bellahouston Sports Centre in Paisley, Glasgow for the night after gaining the okay from the management.
The Glasgow kendo Club
Gerry Kincaid 6th Dan was my host and welcomed me warmly to his largish group. Training was only for an hour but was all keiko (fighting). I had a really good time with this group who had three fifth Dans and two fourth Dans amongst their ranks.
Gerry, Self and David in Saitama, Japan 2001.
No wonder David didn't remember me!
Following training I ended up in a Scottish pub on my own as everyone headed off in the pouring rain to warmer places. I don't usually drink alone but Glenda suggested I go as I had earned it.
I walked a good kilometre, (okay, half a mile) to a place. Mainly guys where there but I was soon invited to join a group of younger blokes playing pool. I declined a game stating rightly that pool is not my sport but I enjoyed the atmosphere of the place and the warm friendliness. What had me giggling inside was that the one amongst them who was winning was a dwarf. It was not the guy's dwarfism that amused me but the fact that he wore a turban which denoted his Sikh religion and his broad Scottish accent!
"Awe come on, ya needs ta play another game if only for pay back!" he was arguing. It was like actors taking a break from the set of “Lord of the Rings”. Oh for a camera.
By the time I returned to Glenda I was feeling the effects of training and fell asleep soon after.
Day 21 October 19thGlasgow to Keswick (Lakes District)
We were not bothered by local council during the night and had a fairly sound sleep. Constant rain had left puddles everywhere and the sky was very dark as we left and headed south. By the time we reached the border into England we were both a tad sad to be leaving Scotland.
The main freeway south enabled us to make good time but as usual we misjudged an exit on a roundabout and ended up missing our turn west into the Lakes District. Twenty miles later we were back at the same roundabout. If you get on the wrong freeway here you pay a substantial price in terms of distance to the next exit.
The countryside is described as Scotland in miniature and to a degree it’s a fitting description. The Scottish accent disappeared almost over the border from what we noted in listening to people moving about the place we stopped for breakfast.
Keswick (a silent "w") was our stopping point and we were set up soon after one o'clock. The park is on the edge of the Derwent Water Lake in the town which on a clear day would be very pretty with the autumn foliage. We immediately caught up on washing and charged the batteries which were all down after our free camp in Glasgow. On reflection we could have free camped on some stunning places in Scotland had we not had such a hectic schedule. Next time, maybe.