The Blue Max Project

© 2016 Thomas Emme Some Rights Reserved

Glasgow....Exploring Scotty's old neighborhood.

All Bill Harrow's friends down at the depot in Los Angeles called him "Scotty".  He came to America when he was nineteen years old, following his father who came over first.  His first job was as a janitor working in the Westwood area ( established himself as a Bruin's fan early).  Eventually he got the chance to work for Union Pacific as a dispatcher at Union Station and he did that job for the rest of his working life.  He missed Scotland, wanted to go back and would tear up whenever he heard bagpipes.  We don't know why he and Shirley never went back, but in a lot of ways this trip was Robyn's chance to do for her Dad what he never did for himself.

We have bits and pieces of his story.  We have his birth certificate that shows him being born around 1916 in Dennistoun just outside of Glasgow.  His parents had manufacturing jobs.  He lived in tenament appartments.  He told us they would walk to the Tennents brewery and collect the "dregs" from the barrels of beer in jars because it was thought to cure diseases.  He hated hospitals, said that was where people went to die.  Some of that was because he had pluerisy ( a lung ailment) and spent a long time in the hospital trying to beat it as a young man.

Funny, for all the research I did ahead of time, I didn't really get a handle on where Scotty lived.  It all fell together when we visited today.  The main landmarks are all still there.

The google maps 3d model gives a pretty good feel of what these neighborhoods are like.  Blocks and blocks of housing built to give factory workers a place to live.

Today this is not a great neighborhood and I doubt it was a great place to grow up as a kid when Scotty was a boy.  The streets are narrow, very little green space and the backyards are shared.

We found some churches in the neighborhood.  We have some of Scotty's church school documents so with some more research may be able to identify one of these as his church growing up.

We think we found the hospital too.  Based on what we saw, you can understand how he felt about hospitals.  A pretty scary looking building.

The other landmark that is still there is Tennents Brewery.  It's roots go back into the 1500's when monks mades low alcohol beer to give to the locals.  At the time Scotty lived in Dennistoun it was a booming industry with housing, schools and churches for workers family.  It is the largest beer producer in Scotland and has a wonderful tour that Robyn and I got to go on.

Lots of great murals and artwork too.

Here is a photo and the actual vintage delivery truck they have onsight.

This drawing shows what the factory grounds looked like in that era.  If you look in the upper right hand corner you can see the church and school that the brewery built for the workers.

The school building is still there and you can see it in this picture.  Yes, they made as wear hair nets and safety vests.  We looked sharp, didn't we?

Like any good brewery tour, it ended with a free pint to taste.   No warnings about drinking and driving like the whisky tour.  Somehow I think the Scottish don't think beer counts. 

It was nice that the brewery tour was light hearted.  Seeing where Bill / Scotty grew up made us a little sad.  His childhood neighborhood looked rough.  Staying in that hospital had to be frightening.  Leaving the things you know to come to a strange country and take an entry level job working as a janitor must not have been an easy thing to do.  All that being said we learned a lot more about his childhood than we ever expected to on this visit.

It would have been nice if he could have come along with us today to share a pint with his daughter.

Inveraray and the Highland Games

We made the relatively short drive from Crieff to Inveraray and made our way to the B&B in the small village of Argyll & Bute.  This little community is walking distance from the market, downtown dining and the Inveraray Castle where the Highland Games were happening.  It was a little intimidating driving up to the address, looked pretty much like we were staying in someone's townhome in a family neighborhood.  Our concerns quickly subsided when we met Anne our host.  She was friendly and accommodating and the room was lovely.  Views from the bedroom looked over a grassy field that led to town and neighbor's backyards.  Like most of the B&B's they had an attached greenhouse for breakfast.

We did our best to find a place to eat that night using Google Maps and Trip Advisor.  I was convinced I almost knew how to get there and we started down the road walking in the wrong direction.  We ran into a local couple walking their dog and they got us quickly turned around and pointed to a different place to eat.  The woman was working the gate at the Highland Games too so she gave us all the info we needed to be prepared for the next day.

In the end they gave us great advice because the Cottage ended up being the best meal we had so far in Scotland.

Robyn's fresh trout and Tom's fish pie ( think chicken pot pie with fresh fish)

Robyn's fresh trout and Tom's fish pie ( think chicken pot pie with fresh fish)

As instructed by our friends, the next morning we headed down to the Town Hall for the bagpipers and marching band  to open the games.  Based on all the campers in the parking lot, the games here draw a regional crowd.  We also got treated to a beautiful view of Strachur Bay on our way there.

Everyone lined the street as the bagpipers warmed up their pipes.  The police closed the street and the band marched by.  Once they passed you by we all joined the parade and  processed up the street to the castle grounds.  It was great fun and very festive.

Robyn and I have been to some Highland Games before, but this was very different.  It was much more like a track meet on grass with footraces, high jump and bike races.  

The track was surrounded by a ring of tents for Piper competitions.  This was serious business with two judges and separate tents for different skill levels.  Contestants varied in age from young boys to old men ( and a few women too).  While waiting to compete the pipers warmed up in the open fields surrounding the event.  Robyn and I were taking a walk to the castle and ran into one area with five pipers practicing at the same time all playing different tunes....my ears are still ringing!

The other serious competition was the highland dancing.  Three stages, six judges, nine kids dancing at a time ( with yet another piper playing a tune).  Ages ranged from 8 or 9 year olds to young women.  I assume there were boys too later in the day.

The people watching was even more interesting.  Just like Swim or Gymnastics, rows of tents with mom's and grandparents cheering their daughters on.  Some had rubber mats in front of their tents and were running through routines with their child.  The outfits are uncomfortable on a hot day and most of the girls wear a sports bra or undershirt with a lace dickie pinned on it to complete the outfit underneath.  The minute the routine is over they unbutton the blouse, put on the rubber wellies ( rubber boots) over their dance slippers and tromp around and "talk shop" with the other girls.  Amazing to watch.

And of course the traditional "strong men" sports like the cable toss, rock toss and anvil toss among others.  This was considered the national championship so real money was at stake.  There were competitors from Scotland, England, United States and Canada.

Plenty of food and craft vendors too.  The shot below gives you a sense of how popular an event it was. And yes they even had the infamouse smoked kippers, although these look more cooked than what I bought earlier in the week.

Finally, only in Scotland would you have owl petting as a prime attraction ( Harry Potter fans eat your heart out).  Robyn got into the action and still has all her fingers.

We had a great time and it was a wonderful way to spend the day with my 100% Scottish Wife on our 36th Wedding Anniversary!

Tomorrow is our last touring day, we drive through Glasgow on the way to Edinburgh.   Day after that back to the States.  We miss our furry beasts and talking to our children but it has been a grand adventure.

Pitlochry to Crieff....Sea Monsters, Spirits and Statues.

The ferry from Stornoway had us arriving at Ullapool at 6:30 pm, but our hotel that night was in Pitlochry, almost a four hour drive.    

Not a lot of time for site seeing, but the geography really changed from the islands to the mainland.  The steeper mountains, trees, green grass, cows and sheep were postcard Scotland.

At the half way point of our drive was Inverness just north of Loch Ness.  Loch Ness was only about 15 minutes off the route and was not on the itinerary but Robyn and I discussed it and realizing that the question we would get asked most often would be " Did you see the Loch Ness Monster? "  we decided even though it was getting late to take the detour and go see Nessy.

Loch Ness was almost ocean like, dark gray water stretching off into the horizon.  We pulled into the first viewing  area we could find to take a few pictures.  We didn't have much time, so it was very convenient that Nessy surfaced right away when we got there. 

Not sure what all the fuss was about, like all the Scottish people we interacted with, she was very friendly and accomodating and even posed with Robyn for a picture.

Pitlochry is a beautiful town with a great shopping district.  We arrived late so everything was closing, but the hotel was gorgeous and a short walk from the town center.

The next morning after breakfast Robyn got her first real shopping day of the trip.  For reasons unexplainable we also got a parade of tractors through town as well.

It was on Robyn's bucket list to have a formal tea in Scotland so when we saw a handsome tea shop we made a reservation for 2:30 in the afternoon.  Tea time in Scotland is serious business, not a foofy things for the ladies to go do.  The place was every bit as loud and as busy as the pubs late at night.  I am not a veteran of high tea so I was not prepared for the quantity of food and dessert involved ( emphasis on dessert).  It took two boxes to take home what we couldn't finish.    

Included their version of gender inclusive restroom signage....clearly it is all about the tea!

We did fit in a little bit of site seeing.  The Hermitage is a nature walk with a lookout over some waterfalls.  An easy flat walk, lots of kids in strollers.  The grounds were a Duke's folly at some point and he planted some of the tree seedlings from the Pacific Northwest so it felt a little like home to us.  If you look close you can see Robyn on the balcony.

One of the future Knights of the Roundtable jumped into the frame right when I shot this.

Next up was Crieff....a short run down the road to our next hotel ( Do I sound a little road weary here?....probably am.  Two night stays are more relaxing.  When you stay one night, feels like you barely get the suitcases out of the car before it is time to go).

We visited the Drummond Castle to view their formal gardens.  This is an occupied castle so only the garden is open to view.  In rather hushed tones the staff person said " The castle is home to Baroness Willoughby but she is in England right now".  Lots of real estate for one person (10,000 acres).

The gardens were impressive in scale but very strange to experience.  It is a very unnatural natural place with plants used as a decoration to make a pattern.  As I wandered down hedge rows I felt like I was in a Stanley Kubrick film.  Found myself looking over my shoulder for Jack Nicholas.

Lots of flowers constrained behind hedge rows in neat lines, but the focal points are the sculptures with lots of creepy white faces keeping an eye on you wherever you go.

I probably sound a little jaded regarding the formal garden.  When we got to the greenhouse and kitchen garden it really started to make me angry.  Rows and rows of produce, grape vines, peach trees.  For who exactly?  Maybe to feed the staff of gardners required to keep this place up?

Next to the potting shed was a 2' x 2' cart.  It had a dozen plants on it and a plate of grapes.  There were signs at the fruit trees that said any excess fruit produced was available for sale at the potting shed.  For sale?  Really?  There was a large indian family having a picnic on the grass.  The grandma was a sweet thing and was wheelchair bound.  She had grapes in her lap.....sure hope those were paid for!

Enough ranting.....onto something more enjoyable.....the Glenturret distillery.

This is the oldest distillery in Scotland.  Glenturret is a single malt whisky you will never find in the states, but it is used as part of the blend to make the Famous Grouse that you can find here.

The tour was fascinating.  No cameras or cell phones considering the octane of alcohol involved.  Too complicated to explain, but here is a diagram.   

The product is taxed by the government, the testing "safe" is under lock and key and the padlocks have seals on them.  They have to record every time they open the safe and keep records.  The tour ended with some careful warnings about drinking and driving, a chance to pose with the largest bottle of whisky in the world and some tasting.

For cat lovers, the cats play an important role here, keeping mice out of the warehouse.  They had a statue for the original cat who lived over twenty years and was in the guiness book of records for catching over 28,000 mice.  A pretty fine cat door too.

Next stop Inverary and the Highland Games!

 

Isle of Lewis and the Great War

Lewis is green but barren, rolly roads through flatland with a whole series of small villages with names like Air Dhail or Sladar Uarach.  Most of the town signs are in gaelic with an english translation below.  After a mile or so you are on to the next town.  Almost ever town of any size had a war memorial like this.  I am sure I saw at least five or six of them during our visit to the north end of the island.

Photo courtesy of Bob Embleton on Wickicommons

Photo courtesy of Bob Embleton on Wickicommons

One shop owner explained that the community commemorated the centennial of the Great War by placing wreaths on their doors of homes where families  had lost a relative in the war.  She said it was humbling to see how many wreaths their were in their community. Afterwards they brought the wreaths to their towns memorials.  The memorials list the Lewismen who died during the war.  She mentioned one person's family had lost four sons and that there was a small war museum at the Comunn Eachdraidh Nis, their local community center.  Robyn and I paid a visit.  

The mural on the side of the building made it clear what it was all about.

Inside was a small cafe. They had turned the dining area into an exhibition.  It was a very personal display of artifacts, medals, documents and artwork by current residents. Each poppie on the wall had a serviceman's name next to it. 

A local artist Dr. Margaret Ferguson was commissioned to do a single painting, but produced ten portraits of soldiers or their family members like this one.  Her work is moving, and always hits a higher level of clarity around the eyes.

Here is an example of one of the medal sets on display.  The large copper medallion was referred to as the "dead penny" because it was what the family recieved if they lost a husband or son.  It has the soldiers name engraved on it.

This display came from one small region of Lewis.  In the town of Stornaway there is a War Memorial on the top of a 300 foot rise in the center of town for the entire Island.  It was so tall and narrow that I thought it was some kind of disquised cell tower when I first saw it.   On our way back to Stornoway to catch the ferry we made a quick run up the hill to take a look.

The memorial takes the form of a Scottish Baronial tower.  The island started raising funds for the tower in 1920 and it was complete in 1924.  It had a central spiral staircase and four chambers with windows.  The windows in each chamber were oriented to a single parish of the four main "parishes" of Lewis.  Bronze plaques were installed inside the chamber naming all the fallen "lewismen" from their community.  Eventually moisture and rust forced the tower to be closed and the plaques were moved out into the stone circle you see in the foreground.

Close up the monument is impressive.

To understand the impact of this war on Lewis you have to look at some statistics.  The island population was around 29,000 in 1914 and 6,712 men enlisted.  Of those 6,712 enlisted 1,151 men died during the war.  That ratio was double the rate that occured for the rest of the British Isles.  As if these losses where not enough,  in 1919 a ship returning sailors home from the war struck the " Beasts of Holm" a rock outcropping at the port of Stornoway.  This is the same port our ferry left from.  174 men drowned just a few 100 feet before reaching home.  

The plaques themselves are sobering, names are listed alphabetically and for such a small community clearly you had brothers, sons and cousins that knew each other.  This was one of several plaques for the parish of Uig.

 

While I was at the small museum I was looking at this medal display about Donald MacLeod.

It caught my eye because this young man died some 8 years after returning home after never fully recovering from being sprayed with chlorine gas.  Robyn's grandfather was also gassed during the war and he told me about it in the direct language of a scotsman.... "Awful stuff" he said.  While I was looking at the display a mom came up with her young son and said "See those medals?  Those were earned by the great uncle of the man's house we are staying at." 

All this combined with the comments of the guy at the fish shop made me realize that on Lewis the Great War is not about history, it is real and personal.  They lost a generation of men in their community and they still grieve.  They also paint and teach and get angry and remember.  

As a foriegner visiting their community they helped me remember too and that was a gift I had not expected during this trip.

 

 

Isle of Lewis Day 2...Rain, Smoked Kippers, Cows and Sand.

When we added a second day on Lewis we had some concerns that we might not have enough to do for a second day.  Boy were we wrong.

Friday morning at the Crown Inn the real Scottish weather kicked in.  Pouring rain.  Figured we were not in a rush, so Robyn shopped in downtown Stornaway and I went on errands.  We planned on coming back to the hotel's bar and have irish coffees at lunch before hitting the road.  That is where the picture came from the blog yesterday ( it is all becoming a bit of a blur at this point).

My first errand was to Stonaway's Smoke House with specific instructions to find some smoked fish for our dinner.  At the front door they had a sign that said "Home of Stornaway's Famous Smoked Kippers".  The guy in front of me bought six so I figured this must be the right stuff.  The fish looked pretty much like the picture below.  I chose not to show Robyn the fish, they shrink wrapped it in plastic, so it was easy to hide it in the trunk.  It tasted okay but my version of smoked fish is cooked meat that is smoked.  This was more like sushi.  Ah well, it was a good try.  

I did get rewarded with a fascinating political conversation with the guy in the picture below that went something like this.

On Donald Trump....

" Ya know our connection to the Trumps right?  A few of his cousins still live on the Island"

" So he is well respected here?"

" Aaah noo, I wouldn't say that.  But his money is well respected!"

On Brexit.....

" Well I think its good for the country.  There are a lot of dead Scotsman over there in France, buried in the Fields of Flanders and what have they ever done for us?  Nuthin!"

This was from a forty year old man, the impacts of World War 1 are much more personal here, I will explain more of that in a separate post..

My second errand was to the grocery store.  The customers in front of me were Canadian and there was some confusion about the credit card.  The gal behind that counter told them that it was a "contact" card that meant you could tap it on the screen instead of inserting it.  The Canadian woman pointed out that they have a different name for it in Canada.  As they left the girls were chatting back and forth in gaelic.  As I came up to check out I said " Those darn Canadians they are almost as bad as the Americans" .....they immediately identified me as American and more twittering in gaelic.  I told them that I had relatives in Canada so I was allowed to make that joke.  As I left she said "Kanoosh" or something like that.  I asked her to translate and she repeated it slowly and said it means "You're all done".  I am hoping that was complementary, like "Have a nice day" but not completely sure.

On with the vacation....if you look at the map below, we drove from Stornaway out to to the "Butt of Lewis" on the northern most tip of the island and than travelled down to various places ending up on the "Sands of Uig" at the extreme west end of this map.  In between we stayed at our worst hotel, but this was our second night that we added late and it was the only place we could find.  

Lewis at the northern tip is barren and green at the same time.  Not a tree to be seen, the roads roll up and down and you drive through "towns" of perhaps twenty houses, all the same typical scottish houses, rectangular, high pitched roof, two dormers, entry in the center, exposed aggregate plaster.  The coastal weather is brutal and has taken its toll on the land. 

First up "The Butt of Lewis" near the Port of Ness.  That's right Butt not Butte, these Scottish are a bit unfiltered with their use of the language.  It was really raining and the wind was whipping at the Light House. I was worried in her zeal to get the perfect picture Robyn would get blown over the side ( In the second image if you look closely you can see the cell phone in her hand trying to take pictures ).  We would have been in big trouble without the waterproof pants and jackets.

 

It was on Robyn's list to get a picture of "Highland Long Haired Cattle". We lucked out on the way back from  and ran into this group by the road.  When we stopped they approached us and even let here touch their noses. They were very cautious but friendly.

The brown haired one looks like he could be the lead singer in some kind of bovine boy band.

We visited several blackhouses in Arnol and Gearrannon.  These primitive structures have influences dating back to when the Nordic Empire controlled Scotland.  Double exterior walls with earth in between, simple roof with thatch, a rope net ballasted with rocks to hold it in place and an open fire pit in the center of the house....pretty rough living.  Hard to believe some of these were occupied into the 1970's.   The first picture shows a group of blackhouses that are actually a restored location that you could book a room and spend the night in.  I wonder if they have wifi?

I would be remiss if I did not talk about Peat.  This is what a peat fire looked like in the black house.  Lewis is full of peat rich bogs and using it as a source of heat is engrained into the culture here.  At this point most homes have central heating, but just like buying a chord of firewood for your fireplace or pellets for your pot belly stove it is seen as part of life here.  Once you know what you are looking for you can see evidence of it all over the island.

Here is how it looks along the side of the road and stacked up ready to be used at home.  We had an extended conversation with a couple at a museum that explained a few things.  There is an art to how you cut peat and how you dry it and how you stack it.  She explained that it is the honor system regarding who gets to use the different trenches of peat.  If a location has been untouchd for three or more years it is up for grabs to anyone.   The women mentioned a friend of hers photographed her peat stack and shared it on  facebook to show what a great job she had done ( talk about a mix of traditions and technology).  In the end a well stacked peat pile meant you were ready for a long winter.

Lang may your lum reek.

Now we go from primitive to more primitive.  Just down the road was the Carloway Brock.  This structure dated back to 55 AD.....now that is old!  It was a defensive structure, with a double wall with thin slabs of stone tying the double walls together and create both height and a protected interior.  Inside it originally had several wood floors.  It had a long history, being used over time as a hideout for thieves and a site to scavange stones from.  Eventually it was protected as a historical site.

And last but not least, the Sands of Uig.  This is a huge white sand beach, but no bathing suits or sandcastles here.  The wind was howling, whipping up sand and eventually blowing rain.  We had a hint of sun when we first got there.  The wood statue is modelled after nordic ivory chess pieces found in the region carved from walrus tusks.   The grassy flatland leading to the beach was filled with burrowed holes a toddler could crawl in.  Never saw what lived in them (couldn't help but think of Monty Python's Killer Rabbit).

This picture gives you a sense of the scale of the place.  The lone figure is "all-weather" Robyn chasing a picture.

Really could only capture the place with panoramas.  

Isle of Lewis Day 1....Ferry Ride, Music and Bars

The original plan was to take the ferry from Ullapool to Stornaway on the Isle of Lewis, to visit the blackhouses, ruins and the mysterious Callanish Stones.   What we discoverd shortly before making the trip was that we had booked one night that landed square in the middle of the HerbCelt festival.  Once we understood more about the festival, we changed our plans to add a second day on the Island so we could enjoy the festival and visit the north end of the island too.  That being said, the Isle of Lewis gets two blog posts since she got two days of our time.  Here is the map.  You can see the ferry line from Ullapool to Stornaway.  To orient you this also shows the town of Mallaig on the mainland where we took the train ride and the town of Uig on Skye where the Faerie Glen was located.

Regarding the ferry ride.....

They were very organized at Ullapool, I had purchased reserved tickets back in the states and we just cued up and when I gave them my name they had my tickets for departing and returning in an envelope for me.  The ferry itself was pretty full, with lots of people of all ages, many of them with back packs and camping gear ready to stay a few days.  Probably 50 plus people walking in and two levels of cars.   We were on the upper ramp, which I drove up and parked on.  My upper wheels where on the flat and the rest of the car on the ramp.  When the guy in the orange vest came to my window and said " Please put your car in park and stay in your car until the ramp was raised" I got a little nervous.  Here is what it looked like after it was raised.

I had to put the Garmin image in that occured while we  were lined up to leave the ferry....it showed us going straight ahead and onto the street, but than it freaked out and told us to head into the water.  We decided to ignore her for a bit until she settled down.  Clearly she was uncomfortable being at sea.  We refer to the garmen as Greta and she has provided a fair amount of entertainment during the trip.  Very accurate in urban area, she has tended to send us onto rural dirt single track roads in the more remote locals.  Her german zeal for incredible efficiency has required some double checking.  Secretly I feel badly that I have disappointed her by not following her first suggested routes.

More images from the ferry ( don't worry there were seats on the inside too).

Whe  we first sat down, a few young musicians grabbed a half dozen tables and started to play some traditional music (delightful!).   Second image shows the piles of backpacks.  The ferry served meals and had a full bar.  Everyone was having a good time playing cards, reading books and drinking beers.  The rowdy boys went outside on the upper decks and smoked their vape cigarettes and hung out ( have seen a lot of vape cigarettes).  A good time for all.

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When we landed the weather was decent, heavy rain predicted for the next day.  We had a couple hours befor check in time so we headed out to the Callanish Stones.  These stones are the Scottish version of stonehenge.  They are not clearly understood but date back to the Neolithic Era and were a focus of ritual activity during the bronze age (really old!).   They are impressive when you approach them on the top of a low hill.  It is fun to watch people duck in and out of the rocks, trying to get a picture without a tourist in the shot.  I was impressed by the couple in this picture in full Scottish costume.  They walked right into the center of the stones, the woman took the man's hands and recited something to him, than they embraced.  I saw her later struggling to take a selfie with her mate.  I offered to take their picture for them and than realized she appeared to have multiple sclerosis or some similar ailment.  They were very sweet and appreciative of the help.  The Callanish Stones are a special place that still impact people spiritually.

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Of course they also make an awful nice backdrop for a portrait photo....

 

 

Regarding the HebCelt festival, it is a music festival for the island that runs from Wednesday until Sunday.  The primary venue is on the grounds of the Lews Castle and they have several large tents set up for concerts.  They also have  multiple small venues in the town itself as well so you can hear music all over.  The festival opens at 6:30 pm each day and ends after the main concert around 10:30.  Keep in mind that the bars stay open until 4 am and it really never gets dark, so the town is hoping all night.   You hear live  music in the bars and people spill out into the street.  We had tickets to a show in town for a band called "Atlantic Blast".  Two pipers, a guitar player, an accordian player and a drummer, all residents of Lewis.  Many famous pipers came from the island and the band played almost all traditional music written by Lewis musicians.  The ballads they sang where mostly in gaelic.  It was great stuff and lively.  More than a few audience members came dressed formally in their kilts ( Oh yeah.....they had a bar their too so you could have a pint at intermissio.  At one point they called a woman out who did some tradtional step dancing ( she is the one person in the picture below who is in a blur, for obvious reasons).  It was a highlight of the trip for us.  

PS....that is the "Red Hot Chilli Pipers" not "Chili Peppers" in case you read the poster too quickly, 

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Final Day 1 comment....the Hotel.  

We stayed at The Crown at the heart of downtown.  It had its own bar downstairs and at least two more bars right on the block.  The festival tents and the small harbour where all within view and we walked to the concert we attended.  We did not have many choices of where to stay because of the festival so I was a little concerned about the neighborhood.  Those concerns soon faded as we interacted with the staff.  When we first parked and I told them that I was in a 1 hr parking zone he told me " Ah don't worry about that, we only have one traffic policeman and her name is Mavis and she is a real softy, just bring me the ticket if she cites you."   The next day after breakfast we told the women at the front desk that we where going to head to the north end of Lewis.  She said " Do you like crousants? We have a lot left over from breakfast, let me get you some."  She came back and gave us a tupperware container full of pastries.   Time and time again that is how we have been treated in this country.  

Here is a picture of the hotel, a hot chocolate and an irish coffee from the bar.  If you look close you can see the harbor, tent and castle beyond the hotel entrance on the ipad.   It was loud at night, hard to get a good nights sleep, but the hospitality and the location made up for any negatives.

 

 

 

B&B Animal Life.....Isle of Skye and Ullapool

We have continued to be impressed by the level of service and care from the B&B community in Scotland.  Typically both the husband and wife have taken time to talk with us about our trip in detail.  Most of them have had matching shirts with the B&B name embroidered on it ( I have not seen that before in the states).  They want to know the details of your trip so they can advise you on things you might miss or the route you should take.  They are booked through September at this point and work very hard to keep the visitors happy.  One of them said that 60% of his bookings are on Air B&B now.

But the last two really stand out for something else... their animal life!

Garybui was where we stayed on the Isle of Sky.  The name means "yellow house" but the house is white, in typical scottish fashion the house was named decades before they bought it.  They thought it may have been named that because of a yellow flowering tree in front of the house.

The house is located way off the main road in the middle of farm land and is a simple handsome home.  Easy to spot because of the red phone booth in front.

It has a lovely glass dining area attached where we had our breakfast.  A huge relief that they had an option other than the "traditional scottish breakfast" so we got scrambled eggs on an english muffin with smoked samon.

They had a few playful cats who were siblings and would pounce and groom each other at the same time.  They also had a yard full of baby ducklings.

But these two guys really stole the show.  Big Fella ruled the chicken world at Garybui, but the Wee Man tried so hard to keep up.

Now Big Fella knows how to treat the ladies....you can hand feed him raisins but he is very careful to give the first few to the girls to make sure they feel appreciated.  Once he knows you have food, watch out...he comes right at you looking for more with his wild high stepping strut.  I caught these images in series when he charged me.

The second B&B that we just got to tonight is called the Clachan Farmhouse and is just south of Ullapool.  Off the main road by a half mile, it is an active sheep ranch.

We didn't realize just how active it was until we drove in and the woman owner was leaving the house to the adjoining barn to help her husband and two hands shear the sheep (see below).  The other sure sign was the sound of hundreds of bleating sheep.  All different voices, some low, some high, but constant.  

As the sun set, the husband herded the stragglers out into the fields with his two trained sheep dogs.  All this went on right outside our second story bedroom window.  Who could ask for a more entertaining place to stay!

That's all for now, but I will leave with my three favorite pictures from the day.

Skye Museum of Island Life

Skye Museum of Island Life

Kilt Rock Island of Skye

Kilt Rock Island of Skye

God's rays on Skye

God's rays on Skye

People, Places and Things ( Glencoe, Fort William & Isle of Sky)

So the " Three Sisters" is one of the most famous mountain ranges in Scotland and you drive right by it on the way to Glencoe.  There are several places to pull out and take pictures and most days you will find a bag piper playing too.  He waits for someone to throw a coin into his instrument case and then he will play a tune or pose for a picture.   While waiting for someone to come along and take our picture with him we started a conversation with the piper.   He said he comes to that spot every day.  He said other pipers have come and played  but they don't last too long and eventually they go away.  When it rains too hard he waits in his car for the weather to get better.  Proudly he let us know that his family has been playing pipes in the exact spot for three generations.  He used to come in the sixties when he was a young boy and watch his Dad play and his grandfather before him.  Can't be an easy way to make ends meet!

Another adventure that occured was a trip to the grocery store.  I could write a whole blog on how different it was than a grocery store in the states.  Robyn was taking pictures of some unusual produce, when she caught the attention of one Kathleen McConnell ( or something like that) who looked a lot like this.

Now it was unclear to us that she was actually shopping, I think the market was her "social network" and Robyn photographing produce made us a clear target.  What ensued was a wide ranging conversation that covered the entire history of shopping for groceries in Scotland.  Here is a shortened version.

" Well ya know in the beginning the womenfolk shopped every two days, walked to town and visit all the different shops to make a meal and came back with two bags of groceries.  You would visit your friends along the way and in the shops.  When they built the big market in town they said it would make your life easier because everything you needed would be in one place.  It would have a big parking lot so people could travel from farther away and park a car there.  People starting buying cars because you could pay a car off in two years which wasn't so bad and the Darlings ( husbands) got tired of going to market so often.  Now that people had cars and didn't have to shop so much they realized they could travel a bit, maybe go on vacation.  The Scottish government changed the laws so you could charge people to stay in your home and all of a sudden everyone turned their house into a "Bed and Breakfast".  Soon that wasn't good enough, you had to remodel your house to have a private bathroom off the bedroom so you could advertise your B&B as being "En Suite".  Than you start seeing signs that advertise " with Wifi".  Now what is this wiffy anyway?  Well it means these teenagers can sit at home and poke at their phones and order eveything on Amazon and not even come to the market.  So when I come to the market I keep an eye out for folks like you that might need a little visit."

I shook her hand and we thanked her for the conversation and she continued down the aisle with her grocery cart full of recycled cardboard.

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No we didn't ride the Hogwart's Express, but we did take the train it was based on over the bridge in the picture above.  It is a real steam train that makes a two hour trip from Fort William to Mallaig.  We travelled first class to get the full effect, including a service of tea on the way over.  We sat across from a german couple and had a long conversation that covered everything from making your own wedding dress to gun control ( maybe we are more like the woman in the grocerie store than we want to admit!).

With that I will let the pictures do the talking from here, images from Glencoe and the Isle of Sky. Had some cloudy days and some clear days, but the scenerie was breath taking in all cases.

Faerie Glen near Uig on Isle of Sky

Faerie Glen near Uig on Isle of Sky

Loch Sligachan on the way to Portree on Isle of Sky

Loch Sligachan on the way to Portree on Isle of Sky

The Three Sisters mountain range at Glencoe

The Three Sisters mountain range at Glencoe

Loch Linnhe near our B&B in Duror

Loch Linnhe near our B&B in Duror

More of Glencoe

More of Glencoe

Scottish Breakfast, Culross and Beer.

I have not given the Scottish Breakfast its full due up to this point.  It has become so consistent as we travel from place to place, it is becoming very clear that it is really more a matter of selecting which parts of it you want to eat.  This picture is from the Keavil House in Dunfermline, but the next day at Tigh Bhan in the Duror of Appin they literally handed us a checklist.  Porridge, Sausage, Blood Sausage, Haggis, Back Bacon, Eggs, Mushrooms, Baked Tomatoes, Hash Browns, Baked Beans, Toast.   Regarding Haggis, for all the hype, to me it tasted like a spicy version of liverwurst.  Blood sausage, kind of a grainy ground beef.  All that to say, "hearty" would be an understatement for the typical Scottish breakfast.

Our next destination point was Culross, a very well perserved small village east of Stirling.  It's benefactor was Sir George of Bruce, who was a pioneer in coal production in the 16th century.  His fingerprints are still clear on the town, including the Culross Palace that was his home in the core of town and the Culross Abbey where he, his wife and eight children where buried.

The best view of the town is from his garden that has multiple terraces and overlooks the village and bay.

The garden was beautiful and Robyn was able to make fast friends with the cat in residence.

Some pretty wonderul poppies as well.

   

 

 

The Culross Palace has a bright mustard plaster color on the outside.  You can walk through all the rooms with their simple wood panelling and furniture.  I think almost every room was used for an episode of "Outlander".  A very subtle Scottish touch by the way, they wanted to send the message to not sit on the furniture, so every chair has a discreetly placed scotch thistle.  Nicely done!

Okay, so I think I have been clear that I  have a very restrained adventure spirit.  Culross maybe quaint, but its cobblestone roads are basically one car wide and bumpy (cute street names too).  Once you start up a road, either you or the other guy has to back up.  

Robyn has fully researched the Culross Abbey, too far to walk, but at the top of one of these cobbly roads. On her "must see" list.   I resist as much as I can, but up the road we go.  The abbey was established in 1217, built over a site from the 6th century.  The current church dates back to the 1600's.   These dates ae still almost unimaginable to me.   The era's of construction are very clear when you walk the grounds.

The church itself is active and in use by the Church of Scotland.  A service was going on while we were there and after the service was over they opened the doors up for tourists.  The real treasure was in the side naive where the tomb for Sir George of Bruce was built.  The carved statues  of the husband and wife are so elegant and peaceful.  The eight figures in front of them represent their eight children.   

Of course none of this describes the very best part of the visit.  Right next to the church, was a small childcare / tea room that sold homemade fresh baked goods.  The mom's running the show were more than pleased to hear about our trip and give us good travel advice.  They also sold us three our four scones made by one of their church members who was over 90 years old.  As we left they started slipping shortbread and jams into our bag too.  So far everyone has been very generous and kind to us.  Has made the trip a pleasure.

It is after 1 am now, got to get to bed.  We drove through Glencoe in the rain to our next hotel, the Tigh Bahn ( white house ) .  Snuck out that night to the Clachaig Inn since they have live music on Sunday nights.  Had good scottish food and a few pints to finish off the day.  

The locals were playing traditional music and having a good time as shown below.  What was stunning was that all the chatting cut off when the women in the band sang a traditional scottish song solo with no instruments.  The traditions run deep...you could feel the respect in the room when she sang.  

Another full day.

A visit to Stirling Castle....and remembering those who couldn't come along.

From a tourist attraction perspective Stirling Castle is about as close to Disneyland as Scotland gets.   Cars and big tour buses que up on the cobblestone roadways as thousands of people visit every day.   Stirling Castle was an important destination point for me as a military history fan since the castle is the home of the Argyll and Southerland Highlanders Regimental Museum.  Robyn's grandfather Bill Rigg was from Kilsyth just outside of Stirling and served in the Regiment during World War 1.  We took a shuttle from a nearby Park and Ride and were glad we did when we saw the narrow cobblestone streets and the jammed parking lot.

The castle still looks every bit as intimidating as it did when most of the existing buildings were  built back in the 1500's.

Stole this from Wicki-Commons

Stole this from Wicki-Commons

The actual castle rooms have been rebuilt top to bottom and are pristine.  I found them almost too nicely done (the ruins we already visited had much more mystery and intrigue). But if you were a big fan of medievel history seeing the restored rooms could teach you a lot.  Most of the rooms had someone dressed in character giving you historical facts.

Once you got back to walking the castle perimeter, you definitley felt like you had entered a time machine.

This was my favorite picture I took of the castle buildings.  Something about the light and the coloring of the stone and moss made this image really vibrant.

The regimental museum was full of detailed information.  The top floor had the full history of the Regiment, but different rooms were dedicated to different eras.  The World War 1 section was what I focused on.  Here is the main room.

They had a map on one wall that oulined where each Battalion had participated in battles during the war.  The second image below shows all the battles Bill Rigg had to have fought in from 1914 to 1918 in the 7th Battalion.  

The museum had some great example of uniforms and artifacts.  The Glengarry Bonnet with the badge shown below confirmed that I bought the wrong kind of bonnet for Rachel and Shawn's wedding.  Mine was solid black, but it should have had the yellow and red checks.  The badge we have is the real thing and matched this one exaclty.  They also had an example of the medal set that Bill Rigg likely earned.  We have two of the four h earned, but none of the ribbons.

Finally they had an engraved watch of another soldier very much like the one we have that was given to Bill by his hometown of Kilsyth in recognition of the Military Merit medal he earned during the war.

I felt really honored to have known Bill Rigg's history and to be able to visit his Regiment's Museum. As it happens,  Robyn and I were both more emotionally effected by a different building just a block away, the Church of the Holy Rude.

The church's origin's date back to the 11th century, but the surviving building is from the 15th century.  These dates are staggering for a third generation California boy.  The top tombstone has a date from the 1600's.  Many of them were decorated with very simple images of wings and skulls symbolizing death and salvation. 

Inside the church, they still have services and when we were there they were practicing tunes on the pipe organ.  The front half of the Church had a lot of plaques commemorating those who had died.  Some listed names of men from the church who had died in battle during various wars.  I came across the red poppy wreath under the plaque for soldiers from World War 1.  Across the way this this very ancient chapel.  It had lit candles in it and encouraged you to light a candle in memory of someone you loved.

Robyn reminded me that her Dad used to always asked her, with a wink in his eye,  that we "remember him" in church .  Sort of a non-religous man's covering his bets to make sure he made it to heaven.  This church visit brought that memory back and she lit a candle in his honor.  As we started to walk out, sitting on the table with the candles  was a card with a poppy on the cover and a hand-written note inside that caught my eye.  It was so direct and heartfelt, even though it was written to a man they had never met.   It made me think some about our trip to Stirling and to Scotland as a whole.  

Robyn's Dad left Scotland when he was 19 years old and never went back.  We are a generation late to have made this trip with Scotty at our side, but it sure would have been nice to have him along.

Here is what the card said.

 

 

Boats, birds and poop....lots and lots of poop.

Am running about a day behind on the blog, so will try and catch up with yesterday.  

Here is the Marshall Meadows Hotel we stayed at outside of Berwick-upon-Tweed, just across the border into England.  It was off a main highway, down a small winding road.   It happened the hotel was hosting a high school "junior prom" the night we stayed ( they warned us ahead of time).  Lots of Buddy Holly look alikes and gray satin gowns.  We had a glass of wine outside and watched them take selfies of each other and smoke cigarrettes together.  The next morning we had a wonderful breakfast with fresh berries, thick porridge, ranch eggs and bacon ( that is more like a slice of ham...bed and breakfast in the UK is a real meal for sure!).  

See our cool rental car by the way....a Nissan Juke...when you turn the car off the side view mirrors fold up...gives you some indication of how narrow the roads are here.

Robyn has to get full credit for sending as about another 30 miles along the coast into England to go on a boat tour of the islands of Farne at the town of Seahorses.  It turned out to be a beautiful day with broken clouds and blue skies and the boat trip was a wonderful adventure.

The first island we reached was full of bird life and scenic views ( and poop).

At the final stop they let you off the boat for an hour on an island full of nesting birds.  Naturalists watch over you and every nest is marked.  More importantly every nest is aggressively defended and it is controlled mayhem alrong the pathways.  Not able to catch that with a picture, but this video might do it justice.

But the stars of the show are the Puffins.  This penguin like birds burrow into the ground to nest and raise their babies.  They spend the day shuttling out to the ocean to gather small minnows to feed them.  In some of the images you can see them holding a mouthfull of fish waiting to feed their babies.  All the visitors line the walkway with their cameras and try to capture images of these lovable birds as they shuttle back and forth overhead ( the first picture is not a Puffin....just to be accurate).

After the boat trip on the way back to the hotel we stopped in Berwick and visited the Elizabethan ramparts.  The tops of the walls are very accessible and completely enclose the downtown areas.

   

 

 

Along the path we came across a very old cemetary.  The sun broke out for just a moment and lit one side the headstones.  Was able to catch this image.  Best shot of the day.

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Small World.....

We started the day with a "traditional scottish breakfast" from the Inverleith Hotel in Edinburgh.  Eggs any style, sausage and baked beans (???).  Baked Beans seem to be standard garnish here.  Learning the language has also been interesting.

" Do you want mixed toast with that".....wheat and white toast.

" Breakfast starts at half eight"....eight thirty.

" Here is what we have on offer"....on the menu.

Our room was great by the way....down a spiral staircase to a basement level with a view up to the street.

So the night before was our very long day, and we wanted to see the Royal Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh before we headed to North Berwick.  The entrance was just one block away from the hotel, so we hit the pavement right after breakfast.  The flowers did not dissappoint, here is a small sample.

Most of these were located in greenhouses, and I can't see greenhouses without thinking of my good friend Chuck who recently retired from UC Davis.  I started collecting pictures for him.

This one was the winner in the "vintage" category

This one was the winner in the "vintage" category

This one was the best in the innovation category, with a completely external steel tube frame, honorable mention for the yurt in the background.

This one was the best in the innovation category, with a completely external steel tube frame, honorable mention for the yurt in the background.

And my personal favorite, for its simplicity.

And my personal favorite, for its simplicity.

Now I mentioned that I was collecting these images thinking about Chuck, when I noticed this salt and pepper gray haired gentleman with a goatee.  I looked at him, he looked at me.  He looked so familiar to me.  Finally I gathered my courage and introduced myself to him.  As crazy as it sounds I had run into another friend of Chuck's...Doug Van Winkle!  He was in the middle of a vacation with his wife and daughter that started in Paris and working his way to Scotland.  What are the odds of that!!

Hey Chuck, Doug says "Hi!"

On to castles, we visited two.  Dirleton and Tantallon located in North Berwick.  Here are some images and some words to go with them

While we were there a couple came down the wood ramp with a small dog.  There are 1/4" gaps between the planks and the dog was scared to death, creeping down the ramp very slowly.

While we were there a couple came down the wood ramp with a small dog.  There are 1/4" gaps between the planks and the dog was scared to death, creeping down the ramp very slowly.

A doucot or dove house right next to the castle.  These were common structures to bread doves for meat during the winter.

A doucot or dove house right next to the castle.  These were common structures to bread doves for meat during the winter.

My favorite image, a typical window treatment, small benches to make sitting areas and take advantage of the natursl light

My favorite image, a typical window treatment, small benches to make sitting areas and take advantage of the natursl light

And in case you need verification that we were really there!  This area was for storing goods.  These rooms were really important, since the only currency was trade.  The earl had an extensive security system to protect his wealth.

And in case you need verification that we were really there!  This area was for storing goods.  These rooms were really important, since the only currency was trade.  The earl had an extensive security system to protect his wealth.

Getting late, so I will cut this short.  The other place we visited was the Preston Mill.  A very old grain mill run by a water wheel from the river flow

Getting from here to there....

" And there is anoher personal satisfaction that of the people  who like to recount their adventures, the diary-keepers, the story-tellers, the letter writers, a strange race of people who feel half cheated of an experience unless it is retold."

Ann Morrow Lindgergh

I suppose it isn't too ironic that I read this quote in the first page of the book I brought along for part of my vacation reading.  This was from her book " North to the Orient" describing her travelling adventures with Charles where she flew as his navigator and travelmate.

Can't say our travel was quite as exotic as that, but the adventures warrant retelling.

The day started at 8:00 am , being shuttled to the airport, three hours before our flight.  We took the "get there really early" advice, which gave us lots of time sitting in the airport before we had lots of time sitting in the airplane.  Did get treated to these large scale WW1 and WW2 era airplanes hanging from the ceiling in one concourse.

Five hours from San Francisco to Newark was the first leg.  As a seasoned Southwest Airlines short trip veteran, we were not prepared for the mayhem in a long flight in Economy class.  The flight attendants start at one end pushing their carts to provide drinks or snacks, but it takes a long time to run cover the length of the plane.  Unlike Southwest they are preparing the drinks as they go.  By the time they make the junket, they need to do the run again to collect trash and the trash is starting to accumulate in your laps.  By that time the people who had the drinks need to que up for the restroom.  At one point we had two arrendants pushing the cart with six or seven people in the que and a third attendant trying to lift a trash bag over someones head to try and get by.  Yikes!  Very busy.

We did get a treat as we came into Newark at the end of the day.  Caught the Manhatten skyline just as the sun was setting.  The Statue of Liberty was there too, but it was so small we almost couldn't tell.

Had just enough time when we landed to use the bathroom, pose in front of  a cardboard cut out of the Statue of Liberty and get back in the que for another 6 hour flight.  Wow!   Mostly darkness over the water until the sun started coming up.

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Many hours of movie watching and climbing over each other to get to the bathroom and perhaps some napping if you were lucky and we finally got treated to this wonderful view coming into Edinburgh.

We landed at around 9am Scotland time to beautiful blue skies, picked up the luggage and made our way to the "car hire" lot.

This is where the story gets interesting.  

So I had done all my obsessive research and had reserved a compact car with automatic transmissions ( clearly I have nothing in common with the Linbergh's advanture spirit) .  I brought my own gps after reading that the weekly charges are almost $200.  The very polite Hertz guy let me know " oh, well for a trip like this we assumed you wanted a built in GPS so we upgraded you to a nicer car".   After much discussion about the cost of the GPS and the hours I spent programming in all our destinations, he offered to "fix it" and sent us out to our car.  What we saw in the parking lot was a brand new audi sedan, full size and close to the ground.  In the states I would have welcomed this, but after zooming thru the backroads on googlemaps, I knew this was just too big of a car.  

Back inside, cut thru the que ( which was now quite long, got a few dirty looks) and they set us up with another much more appropriate car.  Got it all packed up ( suitcases just fit) and filled out the form for any existing damage and rolled up to the gate to check out.  First thing, he asked for was the form we just marked up.  Hmmm.....had it just a minute ago.  We dug through everything and couldn't find it.  Doors are flung open, jackets are flying.   Too late to pull out of the que, four cars waiting behind us and more coming.  We continued our search but finally the guy gave up on us and started new paperwork.  Keep in mind we have been up pretty much twenty four hours at this point so not hitting all cylinders.

Did I mention that somewhere in there I jumped in the car in a hurry and one foot tapped the gas so the car lurched forward a bit?  No harm no foul, just amping the adrenaline level before starting our first experience driving on the wrong side of the street from the wrong side of the car!

Here is where Robyn's research paid off.  We still have about four hours until check-in at the hotel, so we headed to the Scottish Modern Art Museum.  They had easy parking and a small lunch spot called the Cafe Sun Terrace.  Had a fritatta, salad and a glass of wine.  The lunch was nothing compared to the dessert table.  Even more interesting were the people themselves.  A big loud crowd of old lady's, mom's with baby's, art fan's full of laughing and accents.

After lunch outside the museum even better people watching.  A bus dropped of a bunch of junior high school kids. Dressed in traditional "english school boy" outfits.

And than we ran into some toddler childcare with an impromptu soccer game with all the little guys in their  reflective safety vests.

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Finally we made the short walk to the Leith Waterway....with some great views along the waterway with some really old buildings.

After all that made it to the hotel and crashed for about six hours to catch up on our sleep.  Woke up at 9:00 PM, figured we better do something to get back on a normal sleeping pattern.  Robyn asked random people on the street about a good pub to go to, and we ended up here at Smithies.

Robyn and I sat with a Scotsman right at this stool and talked politics and unions and Trump and Bernie Saunders and coal mining and the RAF and the history of Scotland and the United States.  After all that I bought him a beer because he had earned it!

That was it.....more than enough story telling for day 1 and 2.

Scotland Trip.....One Week to go!

Have been madly finalizing all the details.  Decided to add a blog page to "The Blue Max Project" Website so I could post things during the trip.  Not sure how good the wireless will be at these remote locations but thought it might be fun to do.  I ran into this fine couple along the way during my google searches.  They were making their way to the Distillery tour outside Pitlochry.   I can only dream of having this kind of fashion sense when I retire someday!

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