Saturday, 13 July 2013

Scotland tour

Returned from beautiful land- and seascapes, sleepy coastal towns, seals, (two) dolphins and many gulls.
Day 1: flight to Inverness from Birmingham, met at airport by friendly hosts. Strolled by the River Ness and found an excellent restaurant, not too pricy, with local ingredients for example the wild boar sausages on mashed potato with some really juicy vegetables. Beers include St Mungo's - from Glasgow - the only beer in the UK recognized as being brewed according to Germany's famous Purity Laws (Reinheitsgebot). The Black Isle beers, Red Kite and Blonde, are more local to Inverness and smooth and enjoyable.
Day 2: very tasty breakfast with attentive hosts in their guest house (where they live too). Morning service at the local Episcopal cathedral, a little slow with the music and we left early. A walk along the river and a boat trip along the Caledonian canal - built to connect lochs along the River Ness - into Loch Ness itself, gentle and relaxing. Another evening meal at the Corner restaurant, salmon for me this time. Andy Murray won Wimbledon today! Great win, but not much sign of excitement up here - still, seems that people aren't prone to over-effusiveness, but are friendly and welcoming.
Day 3: Off to Cawdor Castle, actually built well after Macbeth's time so nothing to do with him or Macduff. A stately home more than a castle, lived in too, so actually rather, er, homely! Witty info boards in each room, work-style phones where you can transfer people, select piles of books. Outside the lovely gardens and nature trails through a wood. A café in the courtyard in the continuing sunshine (it hardly stopped all week :-) ). German coach party of seniors, various countries on the tourist bus we got each way between the castle and Inverness.
Day 4: bus trip to Rosemarkie via Fortrose and a trip to a Whale and Dolphin Centre at Kessock first, with sighting of two dolphins playing in the water ... then the Groam Museum with a video and Pictish crosses and history. Sleepy coastal town and a bus once an hour on to Cromarty, which has some historic buildings including a courthouse with a grim note in the court scene recreation of the (actual) story of an 18th [?] century man involved in a petty brawl who later deserts the army, which had possibly mortal consequences in the punishments handed out.
Day 5: bus again out to the town of Elgin with the Johnston cashmere factory and a free tour. The Cashmere goats are farmed in Mongolia and the fine hair is combed from them and transported to Scotland. Intriguing to see the people and machinery working on the processes to turn the raw material into yarn and to weave and warp the yarn into beautiful cloth to be used for scarves, or to be passed on to another factory in Hawick for knitting. The Vicuna's hair has only been recently available again, as sustained farming methods have been developed (not killing the animals ... ) : a jumper was on display, list price £1,500 ...
Not to forget Lossiemouth, really based around the RAF base there - two fighter jets thundered past as we looked out to the wonderfully blue-and-green sea stretching out - and a bus ride from Elgin.
Stuck in Elgin for a couple of hours as the trains aren't that frequent. Quiet town but a coffee shop kept open till 7.
Day 6: Early start and, thanks to our hosts, breakfast despite the early hour and a lift to the station for the train to Edinburgh. Beautiful sunlit scenery before greyness and sleepiness set in. Edinburgh itself is always worth visiting, such dramatic buildings, the hilly setting, international but particularly European in feel, more so than the vast worldwide and hyperactive London. Welcome at a smart, clean modern flat in a new development by the Meadows and south of Greyfriars and the Royal Mile. Walked through Holyrood Park and almost needed refuge from the heat! The Holyrood Palace art gallery had an exhibition of photographs taken on the then Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) 's tour of Egypt and the Middle East mid-19th century. It was also air-conditioned :-)
Evening with some Scottish folk music in a pleasant if increasingly crowded pub near the flat.
Day 7: Booked onto another boat trip, via South Queensferry and just underneath the massive and rather awe-inspiring Forth Bridge, the one being constantly painted ... Seals lazing in the sun. Plenty of gulls on Inchcolm island with a break to stroll round the church ruins (once a religious community) before returning on the boat. Booked onto another tour for the evening, literary pub tour of Edinburgh which was quite a find amongst the various tours of Edinburgh on offer. Plenty about Scott, Stevenson, Burns, MacDiarmid, Fergusson who died tragically young, and various others with selections of their works and colourful summaries of their lives by two actors who entertained and informed and stopped us off at excellent pubs en route - Beehive in Grassmarket, Ensign Erskine, Jolly Judge and another!
Day 8: Back to Birmingham on the train, 5 hour journey but at least we had an air-conditioned carriage and a refreshment trolley passing regularly. Still had time before that to go to the new Peter's Yard cafe and J.K.Rowling's old haunt the Elephant House on George IV Bridge.


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