Sunday, June 24, 2012

Day 5 – Thursday, June 7th, 2012

After a full Scottish breakfast, (eggs, sausage, bacon, tomato, beans and coffee), I firmly commit to working out when back in Calgary or a complete change of clothes size.  As Somerset Maugham once said, "To eat well in England you should have breakfast three times a day.”

Departing Inverness we are headed north to find dolphins but the navigator, that would be me, missed the exit and we find ourselves heading south towards Fort William and decide to go where the highway spirit sends us.  We soon are driving alongside Loch Ness of Loch Ness Monster fame.

Loch is the Scottish, Gaelic and Irish word for a lake or a sea inlet.  Some lochs could also be called a firth, fjord, estuary, strait or bay.  Sea-inlet lochs are often called sea lochs.

Loch Ness is a large, deep, freshwater loch in the Scottish Highlands extending for approximately 37 km (23 mi) southwest of Inverness.  Its surface is 15.8 m (52 ft) above sea level.  Loch Ness is best known for the alleged sightings of the Loch Ness Monster, also known affectionately as "Nessie".  The water visibility is exceptionally low due to a high peat-content in the surrounding soil.

Loch Ness is the second largest Scottish loch by surface area after Loch Lomond, but due to its great depth, its deepest point is 230 m (755 ft), it is the largest by volume.  It contains more fresh water than all the lakes in England and Wales combined.

As we drove by Loch Ness we were able to see Urquhart Castle.  The castle sits beside Loch Ness between Fort William and Inverness.  Though extensively ruined, it was in its day one of the largest strongholds of medieval Scotland, and remains an impressive structure.  It is near this castle that the majority of Nessie sightings occur.

Arriving in Fort William we discover that the Jacobite steam train, used in the Harry Potter movies, was stationed in Fort William.

The Jacobite is a steam locomotive tourist train service that operates over part of the West Highland Railway Line.  It has been operating every summer since 1984.

Described as one of the great railway journeys of the world this 84 mile round trip takes you past a list of impressive extremes.  Starting near the highest mountain in Britain, Ben Nevis, it visits Britain's most westerly mainland railway station, Arisaig; passes close by the deepest freshwater loch in Britain, Loch Morar and the shortest river in Britain, River Morar, finally arriving next to the deepest seawater loch in Europe, Loch Nevis.

The train stops en route to Mallaig at the village of Glenfinnan. Beyond Glenfinnan are the beautiful villages of Lochailort, Arisaig, Morar and Mallaig.  The train continues on from here passing Morar and the silvery beaches used in the films "Highlander" and "Local Hero".

West Coast Railways, operators of ‘The Jacobite’, provided the steam engine and carriages for the 'Hogwarts Express' as seen in the 'Harry Potter' films including ‘The Philosopher’s Stone’ and others in this wonderful series of films.

Some of the carriages of ‘The Jacobite’ are those used in the ‘Harry Potter’ films.  You can see the famous Glenfinnan viaduct, an unmistakable landmark for all Harry Potter fans.  Notice Professor Dumbledore on the train.

Leaving the Jacobite, we visited the West Highland Museum, in the centre of Fort William.  It tells the story of the mountainous West Highlands of Scotland and its people.  It has seven rooms on three floors, with an extensive collection of exhibits relating to the Jacobites, including the eighteenth century "secret portrait" of Bonnie Prince Charlie.  Later royalty is represented by a collection of Victoriana, including the Highland regalia gifted by Queen Victoria to her favourite servant, John Brown.

The museum aims to cover every aspect of West Highland history, with other exhibits for archaeology, wildlife, Highland life, and military history including the history of Fort William itself.

Leaving Fort William, we headed towards the Isle of Skye, stopping at Eilean Donan Castle.  Eilean Donan is a small island in Loch Duich in the western Highlands.  It is connected to the mainland by a footbridge and lies about half a mile from the village of Dornie.  Eilean Donan (which means simply "island of Donnán") is named after Donnán of Eigg, a Celtic saint martyred in 617. Donnán is said to have established a church on the island, though no trace of this remains.

The island is dominated by a picturesque castle which is widely familiar from many photographs and appearances in film and television. The castle was founded in the 13th century, but was destroyed in the 18th century.  The present buildings are the result of 20th century reconstruction.  Eilean Donan Castle is the home of the Clan Macrae.

Finally, arrived in Plockton and the Hill Side B & B for a good night’s rest.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Day 4 – Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

Walked to Enterprise Car Rental, raining but we were prepared, again, not a good omen; Welcome to Scotland.

Since the weather looked bleak on the east coast we headed for Inverness at approximately 2pm, travelling the major A9 highway.  We pulled off for gas in the small village of Dunkeld Cross and made an unexpected discovery.

This was the summer home of Beatrix Potter from whence came the inspiration for her work with the identification of fungi and of course, her writing of “Peter Rabbit”.  The rain was with us but with a beautiful garden where Beatrix wrote and an endearing indoor display, one had to stop.  Helen Beatrix Potter (28 July 1866 – 22 December 1943) was an English author, illustrator, natural scientist and conservationist best known for her imaginative children’s books featuring animals such as those in The Tale of Peter Rabbit which celebrated the British landscape and country life.

Dunkeld is also the location of Birnam wood made famous in Shakespeare’s Macbeth when the witches by way of prophecy reveal to Macbeth; "Macbeth shall never vanquish'd be until Great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill shall come against him".

Leaving Dunkeld we drove the rest of the way along the A9 to Inverness, staying the night in the beautiful Victorian B & B, Ivybank Guest House.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Day 3 – Tuesday, June 5th 2012

Let the games begin, time for walking about.

Shanda lives in Edinburgh near the Firth of Forth.

Firth is the word in the Lowland Scots language used to denote various coastal waters in Scotland.  On mainland Scotland it is used to describe a large sea bay, or even a strait.  In the Northern Isles it more usually refers to a smaller inlet.  It is linguistically cognate to fjord which has a more constrained sense in English; a firth would most likely be called a fjord.

The Firth of Forth (Scottish Gaelic: Linne Foirthe) is the estuary or firth of Scotland's River Forth, where it flows into the North Sea, between Fife to the north and the City of Edinburgh to the south.  See the Firth in the background of this building;

After breakfast we walked to the Scott Monument in the centre of Edinburgh; a monument to Sir Walter Scott.  The Scott Monument is a Victorian Gothic monument to Scottish author Sir Walter Scott.  It stands in Princes Street Gardens, near to Edinburgh Waverley Railway Station.

The tower is 200 feet 6 inches (61.11 m) high, and has a series of viewing decks reached by a series of narrow spiral staircases giving panoramic views of central Edinburgh and its surroundings.  The highest viewing deck is reached by a total of 287 steps (those who climb the steps can obtain a certificate commemorating the event).  It is built from Binny sandstone quarried in nearby Ecclesmachan.  This oily stone was known to attract dirt quickly and was probably a deliberate choice to allow the Gothic form to quickly obtain the patina of age.  Arguably the soot of Edinburgh's chimneys, in combination with smoke from the nearby railway line and Waverley Station perhaps over-egged the result, and it is now very hard to make out the numerous carved figures.

We walked all 287 steps squeezing past those that were going down, passing backpacks ahead because there was no room for a 2 people and a back pack to pass.

Charles Dickens description of the Scott Monument in 1858; 'I am sorry to report the Scott Monument a failure. It is like the spire of a Gothic church taken off and stuck in the ground.'

Leaving the monument we came upon the Santiago Calatrava Bridge in Edinburgh (peace bridge Calgary).

Then we crossed the tracks and walked past the Scotsman newspaper building to find a pub called the Waverley. Had a great lunch and watched (on TV) the Queen’s procession (part of the Diamond Jubilee) from Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace.

After lunch we visited the National Museum of Scotland with collections relating to Scottish antiquities, culture, history, science and technology, natural history, and world cultures.  The Museum is on Chambers Street, at the intersection with the George IV Bridge, in central Edinburgh.  The Museum is part of the National Museums Scotland.  Admission is free.

A Dodo, looking at a bird,

A mysterious Princess,

Leaving the Museum, we strolled along and quite by accident, discovered a street monument to a small Yorkshire terrier named Greyfriars Bobby.  Greyfriars Bobby was a Skye terrier who became known in 19th-century Edinburgh for spending 14 years guarding the grave of his owner, John Gray (Old Jock), until he died himself on 14 January 1872.  A year later, Lady Burdett-Coutts had a statue and fountain erected at the southern end of the George IV Bridge to commemorate him.

Several books and films have been based on Bobby's life, including the novel Greyfriars Bobby (1912) by Eleanor Atkinson and the films Greyfriars Bobby (1961) and The Adventures of Greyfriars Bobby (2006).

The monument encouraged us to find Greyfriars Kirk, less than a block away and the grave of John Gray, Bobby’s owner.

Ironically, a large sign just inside the walls of the graveyard states there are no dogs allowed in the graveyard.

We then walked around Edinburgh castle.  Edinburgh Castle is a fortress which dominates the skyline of the City of Edinburgh, from its position atop the volcanic Castle Rock.  Human habitation of the site is dated back as far as the 9th century BC, although the nature of early settlement is unclear.  There has been a royal castle here since at least the reign of David I in the 12th century, and the site continued to be a royal residence until the Union of the Crowns in 1603.  From the 15th century the castle's residential role declined, and by the 17th century its principal role was as a military base with a large garrison.  Its importance as a historic monument was recognised from the 19th century, and various restoration programmes have been carried out since.  As one of the most important fortresses in the Kingdom of Scotland, Edinburgh Castle was involved in many historical conflicts, from the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 14th century, up to the Jacobite Rising of 1745.

Although formally owned by the Ministry of Defence, most of the castle is now in the care of Historic Scotland, and it is Scotland's most-visited paid tourist attraction.

Finally, home to dinner and rest.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Day 2 – Monday, June 4th 2012

We departed Amsterdam on a short flight to Edinburgh.

Weather in Edinburgh was overcast but not raining. There is hope.

We take a taxi from the airport, a short 20 min. and arrive at our daughter Shanda’s house at approximately 2pm.

We wandered around looking for lunch, visited the white swans in the park, found a small cafe to have soup and then went shopping for dinner.

Prior to dinner we visited with friends of Shanda and Ramy, Hamish and Sorsour.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Day 1 – Sunday, June 3rd 2012

We departed Calgary on a non-stop KLM flight to Amsterdam at approximately noon.

Of course, we received an Official Departure from the Federal Government, Harper would love for me to stay out of Canada indefinitely. 

The weather in Calgary was wonderful as can be seen in the attached pics taken as we left the house.

The flight was uneventful.  When we landed in Amsterdam, now June 4th it was pouring rain. One must hope this in not an omen of what’s to come.