Category Archives: Travel-Scotland

Scotland and Steak

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Orkney Scotland

“Scotland is a pretty country.  The roads are so winding that they seem designed to ensure a maximally scenic experience, and the fields are greener than in most other places by orders of magnitude.  They are also pleasantly irregular, having been parceled off in an age before right angles, and are separated by fences hewed out of rock or long and commendably trim hedges.  A knight in armor on horseback would look less out of place on a Scottish road than a car does.  But what would look most natural of all is a golf cart.  The entire country is a vision of the golfing afterlife, with epic stretches of fairway and rough, and the odd clump of forest for texture.  Fields stretch out to the horizon, covering the rises in the land the way a taut blanket covers an uprise of toes.  Looking skyward, you have the feeling that the hand of God might plunge through the cloud cover to stroke all that dewy pasture like an old woman patting a cat.”

an apt description by author Mark Schatzker in his book, STEAK.

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Orkney, Scotland
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Shetland Scotland
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Longoe Farm – part of the Castle of Mey estate, Thurso, Caithness, Scotland
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Dreading this last week – at first

Well, to put it into perspective, there are people suffering far worse than me, but it was annoying to have a car reserved and paid for, but after being shuttled from the rail station to Arnold Clark car hire in Aberdeen, my cc won’t go through! What?! I couldn’t get on the internet anywhere except about a mile (2 miles on the sidewalk packing our luggage!) to a mall for free wi-fi. I contacted the lady at the Arnold Clark main headquarters and she got through to the branch and worked it out! So instead of driving away about 1pm – we left about 3:30p! With Nathan‘s navigating, we manoeuvered the multiple roundabouts and managed to stay on the A96 to Inverurie. Found a couple of sites (standing stones) there before needing to head to our hotel in Monymusk. Nine miles and 20 minutes later, we pulled up to a lovely place, Grant Arms Hotel – the receptionist didn’t have our reservation, (she found it later), but put us into a nice room and asked if we would like reservations for supper. Absolutely! and thank you! we hadn’t had anything to eat except for a shared small bag of chips since 5pm the night before. Not like we were going to starve of course, but some of us get grumpy with no food or water for 24 hours. Come to find out, we are the only guests at the hotel tonight! Supper and service were superb and dining room was packed! Little wonder!  Pretty much raining all day.  

Okay, we are in trouble – my Visa has suddenly stopped working all together – we will run out of cash. Now I understand why people carry more than one credit card!  Have never had this problem before.  After discovering that the post office in Monymusk couldn’t exchange my US dollars for Stirling, Nathan and I drove back to Kenmay and exchanged enough to pay for our meal and hotel charges at Grant Arms Hotel as well as for the next night if need be.  Then it was past time to leave.

Well, we are all good again by Monday afternoon, Jim McIntyre at the Bank of Brookfield-Purdin, transferred money out of our bank account to pay my VISA card so we don’t have to sleep in the car for the remainder of the trip!  My bad, for not increasing the limit for this trip – didn’t even think about it since usually I have most of it all paid before we leave home.  We are traveling more by the seat of our pants this time.  We feel much better now – stress was horrible for these past two days.  Thought we might have to start cleaning rooms and washing dishes!  This week is going much better now!  The people at Grant Arms were very understanding and supportive.

Even though it is pouring down rain this morning (6th) , but we were determined to find the monument and battlefield of the Battle of Harlaw.  The monument was built in 1911 – 500 years after the battle and is located north a bit of Inverurie, so we did some back tracking to get there.  The plan, of course, was to do this yesterday, but with all the delays, it just didn’t happen.

Rain was blowing sideways with gusts up to 60 mph – All these side roadways are very narrow and winding.  Plan on taking an hour to drive 30 miles.  Stunning drive from Inverurie to Braemar (again passing Monymusk)
So, on our stop at one of the parking places (i was just going to let cars behind me pass) it happened to be a VisitScotland info stop and we found out that the Queen is leaving her Scottish home at Balmoral tomorrow morning and that from 3p-7p, the road will be opened up to visit the grounds for that day only, then the bridge will be closed for repairs at until April.  We may go back up the road to do that tomorrow.

We are staying in a run-down hotel tonight, the Fife Arms Hotel in Braemar – one can easily see that it was quite grand in its day.  Rich woodwork, ornate pillars, roaring fire in the huge fireplace in the expansive, coffered ceiling lobby.  But the rich carpets are threadbare and paint is chipping in rooms and hallways.  The bedrooms’ floors tilt hideously and the room furnishings would make a good bonfire.  However, there is a tour group which just arrived – about 45 or 50  of them – they are all in the dining chatting and having a grand time.  We just grabbed some stuff from the Co-op right next door and ate in our room.  Tonight, there is supposed to be singing entertainment of Gaelic and Scottish songs in the lobby which we can attend.  Probably set up for the tour group, but guess it’s open to all.  Looking forward to that.

Well, i didn’t sleep much at all last night, so getting pretty tired.  and i need to go back upstairs to plug in the computer – Wi-Fi only in the lobby here.
It absolutely poured all day yesterday and last night and we woke to a steady downpour.  There is flooding across a good bit of the country – especially where we are.  So what did we do?  We went back to the turnoff for Balmoral Castle and crossed over the highway to tour the Crathie Kirk built in 1895, then we drove to the Royal Lochnagar Distillery for a tour.   At long last it was 3 pm and we were able to get onto the grounds of Balmoral.  Nathan purchased a Harris Tweed billfold.  The old leather one he was using was in danger of allowing money to escape by accident!  Everything in the gift shop was 25% off, that was the purpose of opening the grounds today – reduce inventory – because the Balmoral bridge to get to the castle will be closed from now until April sometime.

The Queen left in the morning and the gift shop was open with deep discounts – the attendant said that technically there was no one to stop us walking round the castle, so we did, as did a few other folks. Today, the bridge to the grounds and castle is closed for repairs until April. Just a fluke that we happened to be here at this time. We think we saw the Queen leave – very low key – but one group of school children waved flags as the vehicles drove by – we didn’t actually see her, however.

  We walked around the grounds and castle, then headed this way.  The rain had stopped even before we left the castle, so the only stress of driving was the amount of water standing on the road!  Not to mention, the narrow, winding, and in some cases wavy pavement.  I met two huge trucks (like semis) on these roads and, honestly, it’s just too narrow, but we made it by despite they being at least a foot into my lane.  They couldn’t be over their side anymore or they’d be in the ditch or scraping the rock walls.
Our accommodation tonite in Forfar – the Zoar Guest House leaves a lot to be desired, but it’s clean, so we are alright with it.  Tough to find two nights accommodation here at least on short notice- there really is not enough good accommodation.
Sun is supposed to shine tomorrow and the 10th.  Hope so!

Sailing Island to Island

The Northlink Ferry ride from Lerwick to Kirkwall was much shorter (5 hrs) than the overnighter (12 1/2 hours) from Aberdeen to Lerwick, however since the boat ploughs through a considerable portion of the confluence of the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, it is quite rough.  Even though no alcohol is consumed by our party, we staggered like drunken sailors down the aisles to the restaurant, holding on to handrails and posts – as did most everyone else.  Well, those who weren’t already well into their drinks or sick.  The boys were quite queasy and unable to eat supper – thankfully, they did not throw up!   But like many of the passengers, sat quietly in their seats and hoped it didn’t get worse.  Which it didn’t.  The rough ride only lasted about two hours, then it was smooth sailing again.  Then they were hungry – but the diner was closed by now.  We had snacks. With such late arrival and our accommodation some distance from the docks, I was concerned about how we were going to get there, so I had e-mailed a local taxi company, Craigies and they assured me that taxis are there, which was confirmed by the helpful lady at the Northlink Ferry desk when we picked up our boarding passes in Lerwick.  But above that, Craigies had a sign with my name on it – the driver was waiting for us at the docks!  What a delightful young man was our driver and though he’d never been to Woodwick Mill in Evie before, he found it straightaway.  Though our host did not meet us, he had already given us clear instructions and had the light on for easy access at what we discovered inside is a superior, well-fitted 2 bedroom apartment and next morning we stepped outside to jaw dropping views! Orkney Island here we come!

Slow Start Ending with Sunshine

Once we dragged our lazy hineys out of bed about 11 am, Dallas and Nathan prepared a delicious breakfast of eggs from free range Scottish hens, sliced baguette, oat biscuit, toasted haggis, and tea.

We started the day with a jaunt to Waverly Railway station to enquire about a rail and sail ticket from Edinburgh to Lerwick, Shetland.  Although, she was unable to book that route (apparently it’s new, the agent didn’t know about it), her advice helped us come back to our rooms and map out more of our trip.  Since learning from Allen’s cousin that some of my husband’s family  (6th great grandfather) lived in or around Thurso, we are trying to incorporate that into our plans.  SInce a lot of the travel will require the use of the Northlink Ferries – it will depend a lot on the weather.

Quickly,  I booked cheaper online tickets to Edinburgh Dungeon to catch the last tour of the day and we quickly descended the steep steps through  Warriston’s Close– a short cut from the Royal Mile to the show.  Unfortunately, the dungeon tour was disappointing and a waste of funds.

When we stepped out of the dungeon the sun was shining and the sky a patchy blue!  Hooray.  Perfect weather.  We had more daylight, so we found the National Museum of Scotland and Greyfriar’s Kirkyard.  Not surprisingly, both were closed, although the Kirkyard was open to strolling about.  We’ll go back tomorrow.

On the way back, we enjoyed street performances and took more photos.  Nathan returned to the room to start supper from our leftovers whilst Dallas and I went to the grocer for more food.  With deepening shadows and a bit of nip in the air, the streets grew quieter as locals and tourists alike began to either go home or gather in the many cafes and pubs lining the Royal Mile and side streets of Old Town.

Enduring Edinburgh!

At last the day arrived for our flight to Scotland.  We deliberately scheduled our stay to include being in Edinburgh for the big vote!  On September 18,  citizens of Scotland will vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on a referendum that will give them the opportunity to become independent from England.

Edinburgh has endured through the ages, with archaeologists really not able to establish the exact date of the famous castle of the same name which serves as the anchor for the town.  Some references to the castle exist from 600 AD.  However, it is certain that the castle became a royal principality under King Malcom III with his youngest son having died here in 1107 AD.  Edinburgh has been the capital of Scotland since 1437,  but under English rule since 1707.

Allen drove us to the Kansas City airport for our first and uneventful flight to Chicago, however, mechanical failures on our trans-Atlantic 757, caused 2 hours of delay as the plane sat at the gate with every seat booked.  Once underway, however, the flight was excellent.  Thankfully, I slept a good deal of the way, but the boys stayed awake watching movies until our break through the clouds to a dark and misty Edinburgh – the weatherman describes it as ‘murky.’

Since we had no checked luggage and most of the passengers were locals, we proceeded quickly through customs due to a short line and the late arrival.  After exchanging a few dollars into pounds, we found a call booth to ring Dave Stewart, our ‘meet and greet’ guy for the apartment.  What a treat to discover that he arranged for us to check in 2 1/2 hours earlier than the 2pm standard check in time!

Both boys took long naps, then whilst Nathan continued sleeping, Dallas and I found a grocery store only seven minutes walk away.  After a snack of Scottish-made butter, cheese, and freshly baked bread, we toured the John Knox House and a made a quick run through the Museum of Edinburgh, both a short stroll east of our 1 Parliament Square apartment.

Nathan’s knee was beginning to bother him, so he headed back to the room – taking fine photos along the way; Dallas and i stopped by the grocer again and selected some meat (including a chub of haggis, and chips, all made in Scotland to augment our snacks, as well as eggs and biscuits for brecky.  We have found this to be a tremendous savings to prepare our meals in the full kitchen versus eating meals out.

As the terrified screams from participants of the Edinburgh ghost tours wafts away in the late hours ,our eyes grow heavy and we drift off to sleep.