Communion Of Dreams


Scotland 2018: 5) Fantastic faeries, and a castle in the Skye.

Being a photo-heavy travelog of our 2018 trip to Scotland.

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Tuesday, May 8.

A driving day. Just as we loaded our bags into the car, rain started falling. It persisted for most of the next 3.5 hours as we drove NE to Invergarry, then NW to the Isle of Skye. Because of the geography of Scotland, this sort of back & forth to get somewhere is typical, and you quickly learn to just enjoy the scenery or it’ll drive you nuts. This probably explains a lot about the Scots and Scottish history, now that I think about it.

Anyway, yeah, it rained while we drove. And I discovered something about our rental car (a new Vauxhall Astra): it had a ‘rain sensor’ setting on the windshield wipers. Yeah, it would vary the speed of the wipers depending on how much rain you had on the windshield. Handy, for driving in the UK, I imagine.

The rain started breaking up when we got to Skye, and wow, is that island beautiful in its stark emptiness:

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We crossed the island to the west coast to Dunvegan Castle. While the current appearance of the castle is largely due to Victorian-era renovations, parts of the castle itself date back to the early 1200s.

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It is home to the Chief of Clan MacLeod. It’s been the home of the Chief of Clan MacLeod for over 800 years. And the history inside the castle shows it. Here are a few glimpses:

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Martha thinking: “… hmm … yeah, I could live here.”

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Trinkets!

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Weapons!

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The Faerie Flag!

And a whole lot more.  Seriously, spend some time poking around their website, or peruse the Wikipedia entry.

After a light lunch in the castle cafe, we thought we’d see if we could find the Faerie Pools. Getting there wasn’t a problem, though the last section of road (about 5 miles) is one-way, with passing areas. But it was a popular enough that parking was a bit of a nightmare, easily 5x the number of cars parked along the narrow road as were in the small designated parking area. But we lucked out, and got a spot in the gravel lot.

While the rain had passed, there was a stiff cold breeze blasting across the landscape. We dressed appropriately and set out. It was about a mile to the first pool, and we kept going for about another half mile to see some of the higher pools. Just an incredible landscape and a lovely walk:

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20180508_161633After the walk back, we climbed into the car and drove to our B&B in Ardvasar on the SE corner of the island, just across the bay from the fishing village of Mallaig. We had a very yummy dinner at the hotel restaurant just down the road.

 

Jim Downey

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Scotland 2018: 4) In another reality …

Being a photo-heavy travelog of our 2018 trip to Scotland.

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Monday, May 7.

We had a lovely early breakfast at the B&B, then popped down to the railway station. We were early because we wanted to queue up for non-reserved tickets for The Jacobite, a steam train that runs out to the coast and then up to the charming little fishing village of Mallaig. But in another reality, the train is known as the Hogwarts Express, and yes, it does cross over the wonderful curving Glenfinnan viaduct:

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We were lucky, and got tickets. They even had a Harry Potter giftshop on the train. And served HP-themed snacks from the food trolley. Seriously.

Mallaig was a small, but pleasant place. The weather this day was cold and wet, so first thing we opted for was a hot lunch at The Fishmarket Restaurant, then we walked about a bit looking at the town and harbor before it was time to head back to Fort William.

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It was a pleasant two-hour ride up, and then back, with wonderful views all along the route. I could have done without the idiots who had their windows open while the train went through a couple of tunnels, which brought in loads of coal smoke into our car and liked to asphyxiate us all, but otherwise it was a delight.

It was still early in the day when we got back to Fort William, so we decided to jump in the car and do some more exploring. As it turned out, there was a very nice castle ruin there: Old Inverlochy Castle.

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These are the kinds of ruins you can find all over Wales. But they were relatively rare in Scotland. Because it seems that through Scottish history, there had been a tendency to keep rebuilding and updating castles and other strongholds at least well into the 1600s, subsuming the earlier structures into the new in whole or part.

From the castle we went to look over Neptune’s Staircase:

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This does it much better justice:

Driving back from the Locks, we passed a Marks & Spencer, and stopped in to pick up some salads and nibbles for dinner — while the food we’d had all along the trip so far was generally quite good, both Martha and I were feeling like we really had to make an extra effort to get as much fresh fruit and veg as we were used to.

 

Jim Downey



Scotland 2018: 3) It’s more than a famous film location, but … pass the coconuts.

Being a photo-heavy travelog of our 2018 trip to Scotland.

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Sunday, May 6th.

We had a lovely breakfast at the B&B, and for the first time I had real, actual, haggis … and discovered that I quite liked it. It was our host’s own home-made, and the slice I had with breakfast was buttery, crunchy, full of flavor. Yum. The haggis I had a couple of additional times during the trip was similar, and likewise quite tasty.

Following that, we packed up, then went up to Stirling Castle, just up the hill. Stirling is a very substantial royal castle, on the order of such Edward I castles in Wales as Caernarfon or Conwy. But as with a number of additional castles in Scotland, Stirling had been renovated and updated repeatedly after the medieval period, serving different functions both personal and military up until almost the current time.

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The Great Battery.

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Nothing quite like commanding the heights.

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The Great Hall.

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Hmm … feels oddly familiar …

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Royal Chambers.

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King’s and Queen’s Knots, seen from the walls of the castle.

It was good that we were able to get there first thing, because by the time we had enjoyed our tour of the castle, the crowds were starting to get thick. We headed off on our way.

To Doune Castle. Doesn’t sound familiar? Maybe this will help:

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I love that they sell coconut halves there.

Yeah, Doune was used for multiple different ‘castles’ in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. As Wikipedia outlines:

  • At the start of the film, King Arthur (Graham Chapman) and Patsy (Terry Gilliam) approach the east wall of Doune Castle and argue with soldiers of the garrison.
  • The song and dance routine “Knights of the Round Table” at “Camelot” was filmed in the Great Hall.
  • The servery and kitchen appear as “Castle Anthrax”, where Sir Galahad the Chaste (Michael Palin) is chased by seductive girls.
  • The wedding disrupted by Sir Lancelot (John Cleese) was filmed in the courtyard and Great Hall.
  • The Duchess’ hall was used for filming the Swamp Castle scene where the prince is being held in a tower by very dumb guards.
  • The Trojan Rabbit scene was filmed in the entryway and into the courtyard.

As well as also having served in other films and television shows, including Game of Thrones and Outlander.

Recognize any of these shots from the castle?

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Sir Galahad almost slept here.

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“You must spank her well, and after you are done with her, you may deal with her as you like… and then… spank me.”

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We’re knights of the Round Table, we dance whene’er we’re able. We do routines and chorus scenes with footwork impec-cable.

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In his own particular idiom.

And some other pics:

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From Doune we headed northwest through Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park to Fort William at the foot of Ben Nevis. Driving through the beautiful Trossachs was wonderful, and reminded me very much of the area around Snowdon in Wales or parts of the American West in the Northern Rockies.

We had a very substantial lunch at a nice pub along the way, so weren’t very hungry that evening. We popped into a grocery store and got some snacks and cold cuts to make a light dinner. I was amused by the selection of decent scotches (at absurdly low prices) there in the little store:

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Mmmmmmmmm …

Jim Downey

 

 



Scotland 2018: 2) Edinburgh lows.

Being a photo-heavy travelog of our 2018 trip to Scotland.

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Friday, May 4.

After breakfast in the hotel (at which I confirmed that I didn’t care for black pudding), we caught a taxi back to the train station. Much like the two-hour ride from Manchester to York, it was a pleasant way to see the countryside.

Except for the boyos.

Yeah, there was a group of young 20-ish guys going to Edinburgh for some kind of sporting event/party, in their own little world of drink and unlikely anecdotes accompanied by a boombox and various videos they kept sharing on their phones. It was mostly amusing, until they had enough to drink to start singing along with the music, without benefit of much skill.

We relocated to the other end of the car for the rest of the trip. It was a good decision, even though the conductor came through to check tickets and told the guys to knock it off.

We got to Waverley Station, then hiked the mile or so north to our B&B. Met our host, dropped off our bags, and then decided to go for a bit of a walk. He had recommended one of the sites we had on Martha’s Marvelous Map: The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, which was just a quarter-mile or so away. It was great!

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Mr Blackbird’s successful photobomb.

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20180504_160801We finished at the Garden with a bite in the cafe, then went out to stroll along the Water of Leith, down toward Dean Village. It was a completely charming walk, and a good way to see a quiet part of the city. Here’s a bit of it.

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We ended the day with dinner at The Bailie Bar, just around the corner (and down a bit) from our B&B. Since it was a Friday night, it was noisy, crowded, and a little nuts, but the hostess found us a table and took care of us. The food & drink was excellent and the whole thing was enjoyable … for a while, at least. We left before my tolerance for crowds left me.

 

Saturday, May 5.

After breakfast, we got our bags ready to travel, but then went out to explore Dean Village a bit, we enjoyed the walk along the Water of Leith so much the day before. I enjoy finding these quiet parts of old cities:

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We got back to the B&B in time to meet our scheduled ride out to the airport, where we picked up our rental car. From there we drove west on the M9 to Falkirk.

Falkirk? Why Falkirk? The Wikipedia entry about the little town seems … kinda boring, to be honest.

Which is why we didn’t go to the town. No, we went to the Falkirk Wheel, just outside of it. This place:

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Yeah, I know, it looks weird. Like a couple of giant talons, or a birds head or something. But it does something revolutionary, and I have been intrigued by it since I first heard about the proposed project a couple of decades ago: it lifts boats (specifically, narrow-boats, for the UK canal system) some 24 meters (about 80 feet) from one canal system to another. Woo-hoo!

Yeah, OK, I have a thing for big weird engineering projects.

Speaking of which, there’s another such big weird engineering project there above the Falkirk Wheel, albeit one almost a couple thousand years older: a section of the Antonine Wall, and Rough Castle, both part of the Roman fortifications of the north. Well, even though we only had a vague idea of where the Wall/Fort were, and how far, we decided to take a hike and see what we could see.

It was a good decision:

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Trust me, this is impressive.

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And so is this.

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Even the sign says it’s impressive. Really!

But we browsed and walked around long enough, so decided to get back to the car and drive to Stirling, where our B&B awaited. We got there with little trouble, found the B&B, and settled in a bit. Then we decided to walk into town and get a bite to eat. Since our B&B was just below the castle, we got to see some great sights along the way:

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The “King’s Knot

We had a nice dinner, tried some of the local ales and scotches, and then walked back to the B&B for a good night’s rest.

 

Jim Downey

 

 

 

 



Scotland 2018: 1) Wait, York isn’t in Scotland!

Being a photo-heavy travelog of our 2018 trip to Scotland.

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Tuesday, May 1.

Travel day for me. Martha had gone over to Wales on April 19th, for a Welsh language ‘bootcamp’. We were to meet in Manchester. My flights were mostly uneventful. Do you really want to see photos from the inside of the plane? I didn’t think so.

 

Wednesday, May 2.

Martha met me at the Manchester airport, and we caught a train to York. Why York? Well, neither of us had been that far north in the UK, and it was on the way to Edinburgh, so we decided to stop and check it out.

It was a pleasant two-hour ride through the countryside, and sure beat our usual habit of jumping into a car and trying to drive on the wrong side of the road while fighting jet lag. We got to York on schedule, took a taxi from the train station to our hotel across the street from this:

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Yup, that’s Clifford’s Tower.

We checked in, dropped off our bags, then went to see the Tower. Which, of course, was already closed for the day.

So we decided to wander a bit around the neighborhood, noting the nearby Jorvik Viking Center and some other places to check out the next day. Had dinner in the Blue Boar, a local pub. Good pub grub. Crashed early.

 

Thursday, May 3.

We had early tickets for the Jorvik Viking Center, and went through that first thing. I knew a fair amount about the Center, and had heard from friends how much they had enjoyed it. It’s certainly a worthwhile attraction, and something you should check out if you’re in York, but I admit to being a little underwhelmed with the “ride” through the recreated town. The exhibits and artifacts, however, were excellent.

After the Center, we popped back around the corner to see Clifford’s Tower:

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Our hotel from the tower courtyard.

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From the top looking to the Minster.

Then we went a couple blocks over to the Merchant’s Adventure Hall, a 650+ year old guild hall which is still very much in use. This was a fantastic stop, and one I heartily recommend:

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Hall exterior.

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Undercroft.

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The Great Hall. Note the decided slope to the floor.

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Other half of the hall. Again, note the way everything slopes to the center

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I love the mechanism detail for this strongbox.

 

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We had a nice lunch at The Three Tuns, an 18th century pub, then made our way over to The Shambles.

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The Shambles.

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More Shambles.

I had forgotten that The Shambles was the inspiration for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter world, but as soon as you turn the corner you remember it:

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I love this photo of Martha.

But even pushing through the forest of selfie-sticks, it’s a cool place to visit.

From The Shambles we went up to York Minster.

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Which was, yes, big, glorious, and imposing … but which kinda just left me feeling overwhelmed and yet strangely underwhelmed again. I think I’ve seen too many of the great cathedrals of the world.

However, almost within the shadow of the Minster was this absolutely wonderful little 12th century Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate:

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Hidden away …

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… yet so much character inside.

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I love the individual family boxes.

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After, a stroll along the extensive York City Walls seemed to be just the thing:

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Deep history.

After a brief stop at the hotel to freshen up a bit, we had a nice dinner just down the street at The Olive Tree. Then it was back to the room to crash.

 

Jim Downey

Tomorrow: Eddy’s Borough!