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The Trip to Scotland
September, 2007. I have always wanted to go to Scotland. I am not sure how to explain the fact that it's practically the last country we've gotten to (on the short list of places I am determined to see before I die).
It's a small country, less than 200 miles across. We were able to see quite a bit of it in 9 days, driving just about 150 miles a day. But I didn't see everything I wanted to, and I would like to have stayed much longer.
Left, Falkland Palace, to which James V retreated after the Scots were defeated at Solway Moss. There he learned that his wife, Mary of Guise, had given birth to a daughter. "Alas," he griped. "It came with a lass and it will gang with a lass." He was wrong. The lass was Mary Queen of Scots.
It is a wonderful destination for nature-loving tourists like me. The countryside is pristine and dotted with castles and magnificent gardens in the east and south. The highlands to the north and west are wild and deserted. The fields are lined with low stone walls. In early September the weather was mild, gardens were still in full bloom, and the high hills were purple with heather.
Scotland is also a favorite destination of serious hikers and climbers, offering spectacular scenery, many miles of gorgeous foot trails, and Great Britain's highest and most challenging peaks. I always thought I might do a walking tour, and for that I would like to go back.
This little country hosts a booming season in the summer, but it was quiet when we went there, right after Labor Day. Only in Edinburgh, on the Royal Mile, did we feel a little more crush of tourists than we wanted.
We left Austin on Tuesday and landed at Edinburgh Airport Wednesday morning. We slept not too badly on the plane, but still that first day is always a bit of a loss. The only thing we found really interesting, other than the nice Prince Street Gardens, was the Gladstone House, which we absolutely loved. It was our first introduction to the National Trust, which turned out to be our new best friend. More on that later.
Down to business. We set out for Fife and Aberdeenshire in the Northeast. This is castle-and-garden country, so we spent hours touring one after another: Kellie, Drum, Glamis, and Falkland, to name only a few.
As we drove into the countryside, there were no high-tension lines, no junkyards, no billboards, strip malls, fast food or convenience stores. There is no litter. It was three days before we saw a piece of trash. It was a bag that had gotten away from someone on the windy northeast coast at Lossiemouth, and we said, "Look! A piece of trash!" because it was the first we'd seen.
We stayed at Inverness (below), the traditional capital of the Highlands. It has the look and feel of being very far north in Europe, and no wonder. At 57 degrees of latitude, it is north of Copenhagen and Moscow. It is tempered by the Gulf Stream, however, and so it is not so very cold, even in the winter. This first week of September, it was about 65 in the day and 50 at night.
We drove the length of Loch Ness without any sign of a monster (well, not exactly), before arriving at a very small village called Fort Augustus. I had Googled "sheep dog trials scotland" in advance and knew there would be a trial in Fort Augustus that day. For those who find such things as intensely interesting as I do, I have all the details and lots of pictures: Sheepdog Trials.
From Fort Augustus we drove through the very wild and desolate Northwest highlands to the Isle of Skye before turning back to the southwest.
Driving down the Kintyre Peninsula we passed through the picturesque fishing village below on our way to Claonaig. From there we hopped over to the Isle of Arran. Ferries run between the inner Hebrides Islands and the mainland. In the most remote places they arrive and depart on time.
In Lamlash, on Arran, it was once again warm and sunny. Below: beautiful Lamlash Bay. You can just see the Holy Isle on the right.
At the end of the trip, in the lowlands of Dumfries and Galloway, I went searching for James Orr's Scotland, with some success and some lingering questions for next time.
It was a wonderful, wonderful trip, and as usual, I have brought it back in mind-numbing detail:
SEPTEMBER 2007: SCOTLAND
Dumfries & Galloway: