A Travellerspoint blog

September 2013

Monster-Less at Loch Ness

overcast 14 °C
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(Must be read with a strong Scottish accent!)

"Among the heathy hills and ragged woods
The roaring Fyers pours his mossy floods;
Till full he dashes on the rocky mounds,
Where, thro' a shapeless breach, his stream resounds.
As high in air the bursting torrents flow,
As deep recoiling surges foam below,
Prone down the rock the whitening sheet descends,
And viewless Echo's ear, astonished, rends.
Dim-seen, through rising mists and ceaseless showers,
The hoary cavern, wide-surrounding, lowers:
Still thro' the gap the struggling river toils,
And still, below, the horrid cauldron boils." - Robert Burns

Cultural moment

Considering there has not been any sightings of the 'Loch Ness Monster' in many years, and with technologically advanced studies all but eliminating the chance of anything large living in the Loch, Inverness still bases a lot of its tourism around 'Nessie'! Oh well, I guess we're one of the hundreds of thousands of tourists who encourage this by visiting with the hope of spotting a long neck popping out of the Loch.

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Wow moment

Today we followed the 'Loch Ness Tourist drive' from Fort Augustus anticlockwise towards Inverness. Travelling around the right hand side of the Loch was amazing, with the roads climbing high up into the mountains, offering us breathtaking views as far at the eye could see. It really is some of the most spectacular countryside we have seen on the trip. The trail then took us right back down to ground level where we visited the Falls of Foyers. Pretty impressive waterfalls, you could hear them long before you saw them, and they inspired Robert Burns so much he wrote a poem! We shot through Inverness and headed around the Loch to return home at ground level on the other side.

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What we learnt today

We decided to give in to 'Nessie fever' and visit the award winning Loch Ness Centre & Exhibition Experience. It was expensive to enter but the museum was well put together. You walk in groups through a series of rooms each which has an audio and visual presentation explaining a part of the Loch Ness monster story. The use of lights and lasers to make you feel like you were under the sea, or part of the surveying team was clever, but the main problem I had was that the content was just too technical. I count myself as a fairly intelligent person, and I was struggling to follow the audio explanations. Add to this the fact that many of the tourists were foreigners who were trying to translate what was being said to each other in loud whispers, not helped by the fact that they couldn't read the fact sheet they were given in their language because it was dark, and the whole thing was just hard to follow!

Forgetting the Loch Ness monster aspect (most of the photos were hoaxes and many, many studies using a variety of machinery have found nothing), the most impressive thing we learnt about was the Loch itself. Situated on a fault line, it was created by tectonic plates ripping the land apart. It is a staggering 230 metres deep at its deepest point giving it an average depth deeper than the English Channel. Amazingly, it contains more fresh water than all of the lakes in England and Wales combined!

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Posted by travellinglise 04:38 Archived in Scotland Tagged monster inverness loch_ness nessie Comments (0)

Skye High and Loving It!

overcast 12 °C
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"Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing,
Onward! the sailors cry;
Carry the lad that's born to be King
Over the sea to Skye." - The Skye Boat Song

Foodie moment

At the top end of our journey on the Isle of Skye, we stopped off in a town known as Portree. It's a nice little fishing town on the coast of the island with many restaurants and cafes. We ordered a large serving of chips with vinegar from the local fish 'n' chip shop and sat down to eat them by the seaside, watching the seagulls.

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Cultural moment

Although we just missed the "heat wave" by a few weeks, Summer in Scotland is not what we would associate with typical summer weather. It was quite cloudy and gloomy, especially on the Isle of Skye and rained a fair bit, however this enhanced the true highland experience. Even when the sun did make an appearance, the temperature barely ever topped the low twenties and the wind in the mountains stripped any sunshine heat away anyway. Lisa stated a few times that she would never be able to live without a Summer. I wonder what it is like in the wintery parts of the year!

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The highland cow (coo with a Scottish accent) is a globally recognised symbol of Scotland. They are hairy beasts with long horns and appear to look big and friendly. We were lucky enough to spot some on the side of the road and get up close for some photos. I was soon reminded that they are in fact bulls and aren't as friendly as they look when I tried to pat one on the head and he got a bit skittish!

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Wow moment

Today we drove to the Isle of Skye (we left from our accommodation in Fort Augustus) and it took two hours of driving just to get to the bridge crossing. The roads on the way to Skye were really windy (that's windy as in twisting) and fun to drive, but not great for Lisa's travel sickness. The scenery was beautiful, with the roads taking us through forests, mountains and around the edges of lochs. However, once we reached Skye the scenery took on a different look, with most of the forests gone, there were grassy and craggy mountains all around that were tall enough that the clouds had to flow around them. It was really spectacular and amazing, a type of scenery I had never seen anything like before.

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Whilst on Skye we took a hike to the Fairy Pools, which are a group of many small waterfalls that flow from the base of mountains and across a wide and long glen. The hike was easy to begin with, flat with a few stream crossings and was quite busy with lots of other fellow hikers. The scenery was surreal, with clouds like I had never seen before, flowing in fast and around the huge mountains, I have never seen clouds move that fast and low. The waterfalls and river were beautiful, with rock pools all along the river. When the path started to disappear I started to get adventurous and decided we should walk all the way to the beginning of the river at the base of the mountains. It looked a lot closer that it was, and before long we were the only ones hiking. Eventually we reached the base of the mountains and discovered many piles of rocks that were left by previous hikers. We left our own rocks and began to walk back. We could see our car in the distance as a tiny speck, and it took a good 2 hours to get back!

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What we learnt today

Wasn't much of a lesson today, but more of an experience. The drive on the way to Skye was actually more spectacular than on Skye itself. Driving around the Lochs on the mainland was definitely the driving highlight with breathtaking views at many points. Although Skye is amazing in its own way, it has a more barren and craggy landscape.

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Posted by travellinglise 04:18 Archived in Scotland Tagged scenery isle_of_skye Comments (0)

Is that a Jacobite rising, or are you just happy to see me?!

rain 16 °C
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"My heart's in the Highlands, my heart is not here,
My heart's in the Highlands, a-chasing the deer;
A-chasing the wild deer, and following the roe,
My heart's in the Highlands, wherever I go." - Robert Burns.

Foodie moment

In the town of Fort William, we stopped off for a quick lunch break at a bakery on the main street. There was a lunch deal for a soup and a scotch pie. A scotch pie is a small double pastry pie that has sausage roll type meat inside and an extremely high fat content, Yummy!

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Cultural moment

The West Highland Museum is a fantastic free museum situated in Fort William. As well as interactive exhibitions about the Green Berets, Animals of Scotland and Highland life, it has a large exhibition about the Jacobites.

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The Jacobites were a group who fought to restore the Roman Catholic King James II of England (from the Stuart Clan) and his heirs to the thrones of England, Scotland and Ireland. Most of the reason for the Jacobite cause were related to religion, as the Jacobites felt that parliamentary interference by disallowing a Catholic ruler to succeed the throne was illegal. Catholics also hoped that the reinstatement of King James to the throne would mean they would no longer be forced to attend Church of Scotland services at risk of punished.

The risings were strong in the highlands of Scotland, and for these groups they were more about inter-clan politics, most specifically hoping that the reinstatement of a Catholic king would help rid them of the Presbyterian Campbell clan, who had ambitions to claim their territories through battle. Bonnie Prince Charlie or The Young Pretender, was James' son and was the second Jacobite pretender to the thrones of England, Scotland, and Ireland. His defeat at the Battle of Culloden effectively ended the Jacobite cause.

If you were found to support the Jacobite cause you would have been punished, so the followers had many secret codes through songs and camouflaged propaganda. At the museum they had a very clever example of this, there was a plate decorated to look like it has purely a smear of colour, but when looked at through a cylindrical mirror, it is a very realistic secret portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie.

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Can you see his portrait in the cylinder?

Wow moment

Lisa had researched a hiking trail to the waterfall An Steall in the Nevis Gorge of Glencoe, so we took a windy and extremely tight road out into the forest to find the starting point. Once we eventually finished driving on the scary road evading oncoming cars, we started our hike and it was raining in true Scottish style, so we had out jackets on.

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The walk through the forest was really nice and tranquil, and pretty flat, but soon the trail became a lot steeper and we had to scramble over rocks and small streams.

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Eventually the trail opened out into a flat glen, surrounded by majestic mountains all sides. Continuing walking, we eventually got to a wire bridge crossing a river. From the ground it didn't look too challenging, so we decided to keep going. I crossed first and was soon aware that it was a little bit trickier that I first thought, very slippery and wobbly. I made it carefully across and Lisa followed. I didn't tell her until she crossed that it was a lot more dangerous that I had initially suggested.

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We continued walking until we came to what we nicknamed "The Bog of Sorrows", a mud and water logged field of grass. We spent a long time navigating our way around the sinky parts, mostly keeping our shoes dry (actually Lisa's got a little wet).

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Finally we reached the waterfall, and it was well worth it! We could walk right up to the base of it and rest on the rocks. No other hikers had bothered to walk out as far as us while we were there, so we had the whole place to ourselves. After we had soaked up enough of the beauty, we made the strenuous hike all the way back.

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What we learnt today

After the fall of the Jacobite cause, King William of England offered all Highland clans a pardon for their part in the Jacobite Uprising, as long as they took an oath of allegiance before 1 January 1692 in front of a magistrate. He also threatened them with reprisals if they did not sign. The Highland chiefs wanted to ask the exiled King James' permission to do this before taking the oath (for fear of reprisal later on). James dithered over the decision as he still though he could return and take the throne, but finally conceded that they could take the oath for their safety. Unfortunately the time it took for him to decide paired with a brutal winter meant that the chiefs were left with very little time to find a magistrate to take the oath. The leader of the MacDonald clan left on the final day to take the oath, but was sent from town to town to find someone qualified to take his oath, meaning he had passed the deadline. He returned home believing he had done his duty.

Later that month, 120 men of the Campbell regiment were billeted with the MacDonalds. In the hospitable tradition of the Highlands they were welcomed. Little did the MacDonald clan know that they had been sent with orders from Secretary of State over Scotland and Lord Advocate, John Dalrymple, who disliked the Highlanders, and had wanted to break the clan system for many years. He decided that the fact the the leader of the MacDonald clan was late in giving his oath was enough reason to exact revenge. Two weeks after arriving, the Campbell regiment turned on their hosts. Not all members of the regiment participated in the massacre, with some companies warning their hosts before hand and others breaking their swords in refusal to contribute. Under Scots law there was a special category of murder, known as “murder under trust”, which was considered to be even more heinous than ordinary murder. On that day the Campbell regiment massacred 38 men, including the clan leader. Another 40 women and children died of exposure after their homes were burned.

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Posted by travellinglise 10:50 Archived in Scotland Tagged glencoe glen_nevis macdonald_clan Comments (0)

Haggis and Heartfelt Memories in Oban

sunny 20 °C
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"Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal" - From an Irish headstone

Travelling Scotland has just got a whole lot easier for us! We've picked up our rental car, Zippy, and have the privilege of no public transport or lugging our packs around for 2 weeks! Excited! From Glasgow is a stunning picturesque drive around Loch Lomond heading to the West Coast of Scotland. First stop is the town of Oban, where my wonderful Granny has lived for all of my life. My family and I spent countless Christmas and summer holidays up here with her, and I can't wait to show Mark this little piece of my history. My Granny passed away a few years ago, so it will be lovely to remember her in her home town, but strange and sad not to be able to drop in and see her.

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Foodie moment

Oban is famous for its seafood so the first eating stop had to be the pier in the middle of town. We both got the famous Warm Scottish Smoked Salmon with Coleslaw and Scottish Cheddar Sandwiches. Amazing!!

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If there was one place we had to visit whilst in Oban it was 'The Barn'. A traditional old pub set in the middle of the Scottish countryside was a regular eating/drinking spot of my family. Lucky we had 'Zippy' because it is a long, windy drive from Oban to The Barn, down country roads and dodging herds of cows to get there. Mark loved the location of the pub, surrounded by hills and meadows, already showing a real connection to the Scottish countryside. We were just going to have a drink but the sun was lovely to sit in, so we had another, and then decided we may as well head indoor for some delicious home made cooking.

The inside is a true traditional pub with low ceilings, exposed beams and a fireplace for cold winter nights. We decided that this setting was the perfect place to have our first taste of Haggis, Neeps and Tatties. For those that don't know Haggis is made up of all the bits of sheep you don't want to know about, minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally encased in the sheep's stomach and simmered for approximately three hours. Lucky for us it was then minced before serving so it didn't look as bad as it sounds! And surprisingly it tasted good! Its has a very rich taste to it, so you couldn't eat a large serve, but it was enjoyable and the neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes) helped to reduce the richness.

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Cultural moment

A quick drive down the road from Oban to Ganavan Sands brought us to a beach set on a holiday estate. Even though the weather was cool, the children were still running around in their bathers digging in the sand and paddling in the sea! i guess you take what you can get with a Scottish Summer!

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Wow moment

I really wanted Mark to like Oban, as it was the place of so many fantastic memories for me, and although many people say Scotland looks best when dark and stormy, I really wanted sunshine....and the weather cooperated giving us a stunning afternoon. We headed up the steep hills behind the town to McCaigs tower for a panoramic view of Oban and the islands off the coast. Built in 1897, the tower was never completed due to the architects death, and now somewhat resembles a Roman Colosseum. A beautiful, peaceful place with breathtaking views....that is until the tour groups arrive!

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The centre of Oban is a lovely little fishing village. Throughout the day there are boats and ferries pulling out of the harbour to visit the various surrounding islands (including the large Isle of Mull), or heading off on fishing trips and nature spotting tours. The seagulls are huge, and they float over the main front spying chips (and ice creams!) to pinch. A short walk along the coastal road brings you to Barcaldine Castle, and a nature walk through the fields. Overall there is a lovely relaxed vibe to the harbour front, even with the hundreds of tourists that flock there in the summer.

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What we learnt today

Since arriving in the UK, Mark and I have been consistently amazed by the affordability and range of ready made meals in the supermarkets. Our favourites are the Tesco's finest £10 Meal deal, where you choose a main (lasagne, meatballs in sauce, spicy chicken), a side (Garlic mash, vegetables in mint butter, Salt & Pepper Potato wedges), a desert (Orange and Passion fruit tarts, fresh cream profiteroles with Swiss Chocolate) and a bottle of white or red wine -all for £10!!!

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Another favourite is the Indian Meal deal. For only £6 we got 4 Onion Bhaji, 2 Naans, 2 curries and Safron rice. It is really amazing value, and tastes really good. Great as a money saving meal while travelling, and you really couldn't make it yourself for even close to the price!!

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Posted by travellinglise 08:10 Archived in Scotland Tagged oban isle_of_mull mccaigs_tower the_barn Comments (2)

Glasgow - Shivering in the Shadow of Edinburgh

overcast 15 °C
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"Glasgow's a bit like Nashville, Tennessee: it doesn't care much for the living, but it really looks after the dead." - Billy Connolley

Foodie moment

Lunch at the Transport museum was a surprise foodie moment. We had fantastic fish and chips (they use Haddock as their fish here), and a Slow cooked Beef Stew. Delicious!

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Cultural moment

We know people in Britian eat their dinner pretty early in the evening but tonight this was taken to a ridiculous level. We went out looking for food around 8pm in central Glasgow, and the majority of the food venues had stopped serving food, including local pubs and takeaway shops! There were still a couple of restaurants open, but as we were staying in the main theatre area they were pretty pricey and didn't look like they would be open much longer. I guess people don't go out for dinner on Monday night!!

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Wow moment

Today we finally gave up the intrepid way of backpacking life and joined the much easier (pricier but easier) way of the 'tourists' for the day. We bought a hop on, hop off bus pass! It was SO cold up on top of the double decker bus, but so easy to be dropped off at each location's doorstep, or even just take a couple of snaps as we sailed past!

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We visited the impressive Glasgow Cathedral (St Mungo's Cathedral), which is one of very few Scottish medieval churches (and the only medieval cathedral on the Scottish mainland) to have survived the Reformation not unroofed. It is no longer technically a cathedral as it is home to the Church of Scotland. The church was very nice, but we have seen a lot of churches over the past few months, yet next to the church was something completely different which filled Mark with excitement, a necropolis (yes he's strange!). From next to the church yard you can walk over a bridge (The Bridge of Sighs - named after the one in Venice), and you are at the base of a huge hill scattered with monuments, statues and graves of varying heights and grandeur. The Necropolis was built in 1833 to provide people with an alternative option to being buried in the church yard. At this time the people of Glasgow were fairly wealthy, and this was an opportunity to build large, grand monuments in memory of their dead loved ones. Over 50 thousand people were buried at the Necropolis and over 3,500 monuments built. At the top of the hill is a statue of John Knox who was the leader of the Protestant Reformation in Scotland. Overall an interesting place to explore, don't think I'd want to be there after dark though! (Mark would love it on the other hand!!)

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We also visited the Riverside Museum, which houses the award winning (and free!!) Museum of Transport. I can see why it has won awards as one of the best European museums, particular favourite parts were stepping back in time onto an old tube train, as well as walking down a old cobbled street of the past with fully stocked shops and businesses to explore on each side.

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The Botanic gardens were a great find, in particular exploring the 'Kibble Palace' and the maze of greenhouses stuffed full of plants from all over the world.

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What we learnt today

Not unlike the great battles of words conducted between major cities of countries all over the world, there is no love lost between Glasgow and Edinburgh. From the moment we arrived in either city, our guides liked to make 'jokes' about the other one, and go out of their way to show why their city is better. Personally I feel the Edinburgh is much harsher on Glasgow than vice versa (Glasgow is much more tongue in cheek when talking about their superiority). We were often asked where we were going next, and when we answered Glasgow, we were asked why on earth we would do that! Needless to say after what everyone had said we had very low expectation of the city, and although it doesn't have the romanticism and beauty of Edinburgh, its still a nice city to walk around with many places of value to visit (plus I heard their music scene is SO much better.... ) Ah well, I'll leave them to their rivalry, we Melbournians have our own problems ensuring we keep Sydney's ego in check!

Next year Scotland is holding a referendum to decide if they will gain their independence from Great Britain. This is obviously a huge deal, and everywhere we've visited people have opinions on whether it should happen and why. After what we have learnt on our trip, particularly their violent history with England, I'm can understand the push for independence. After all, historically they never wanted to be under the control (or in 'partnership') with England. On the other side, I just don't know how they could survive without support from England, the British treasurer has already said they wouldn't be allowed to stay on the British pound, and how would the borders work? They may have to rebuild Hadrian's wall!! Our guide says that he believes that the vote will be in favour of staying part of Britain, but it will be close and it won't be necessarily because of a 'fondness' of the English! Watch this space..

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Posted by travellinglise 08:36 Archived in Scotland Comments (1)

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