Monday, December 11, 2006

Scotland at Last

15 days, 3000 miles driven, 21 castles, 6 cathedrals and abbeys, 7 ferries, 3 Isles, 1 mountain climbed, 1 mirror knockin’, 1 concert, 1600 pictures, and thousands of years of history. I really don’t know where to begin and those are just a few of the things we did. I never knew my husband was such a taskmaster. Seriously, he did the most amazing, stupendous, wonderful, incredible job planning the trip of a lifetime.

(Caution: What you are about to read is long, drawn out, and may even be boring. Read at your own risk!)

The Weather: I know, what a mundane subject to begin with, but this is the one of the most asked questions next to, "Did you have fun?". We were incredibly blessed with the weather, for the most part we had clear sunny days, or just overcast days with showers while we were driving. On our sixth day (Oct 5th) we weren’t quite so blessed with the showers, and while visiting a 7th century fort with no shelter we got dumped on. The rain came from every direction, not letting up until we were in the car, and then it stopped abruptly. I of course wore jeans that day, and was slightly damp for quite a while.
The eastern part of Scotland was quite warm as well as sunny, often we went without our jackets and Terran wore t-shirts. The highlands had really nice weather as well, but it was much cooler. We wore our sweaters or jackets a lot there. The whole time we were amazed at how nice it was. We did have a couple locals tell us that this was much nicer Fall than they normally have in Scotland. A little blessing from above.

The Food: Mmm…. I could go on and on about the food. We loved it. The first week we rented a cottage and made most of our dinners there and packed lunches. Even that was a treat. We tried different cheeses, lunch meat, and some yummy store bought desserts.
The second week because we stayed in different places most nights, we ate out. For lunch we would stop at a fish and chip shop or a small tea room and have soup or a sandwich. For dinner we would eat in a restaurant at the place we stayed the night. I had salmon almost every night. I couldn’t get enough of it.
One of my favorite meals came from a little shanty on the pier where we were waiting to catch a ferry. They served fresh smoked salmon sandwiches ½ an inch thick on brown bread with some lettuce and tomatoes. It tasted so wonderful. A second favorite meal was a creamy smoked salmon pie topped with mashed potatoes. The Scots know how to fix their fish.
Terran’s favorite food was the fish and chips. He loves it when I fix the breaded fish with fries, there he couldn’t say enough about the freshly fried breaded haddock and chips (french fries, but thick) lightly salted, with vinegar. He also loved the salmon dinners. I won’t mention how much chocolate we ate, or how many times we enjoyed a glass of ale with our dinner.

The Locals: The Scots are great people. Everyone we met was very, very nice and helpful. One thing we noticed was how mindful of privacy they were. We’d be somewhere and start talking, at first the person would glance at us because of our accent, and then answer our question or statement. Very rarely did they ask where we were from or what we were doing. Terran and I talked about how here in the U.S. people ask quite a few questions. It was an interesting difference.

Driving: Wow…what to say about the driving over there. Absolutely crazy and fast, yet so much better than ours here. Terran did a really good job driving on the other, (I almost wrote wrong side of the road J ), side of the road. Not once did he turn the wrong way, though we did turn down a one way street going the wrong direction once, but that doesn’t count. Now that we have been back for a little while T. says that he really misses the driving, because of the challenge.
The challenge wasn’t just in driving on the opposite side of the road, but in how narrow the roads were. In the towns there would be a narrow two lane road with people parking on both side of the street making it a one lane road down the center. They don’t have many shoulders there or driveways, so you just pull over where there is room and hope no one hits you. It was on one such road that we had the little incident we call the "Mirror Knockin’". It was our first Monday and we were driving along enjoying our sunny morning with the car windows down, when we came to a car parked on our side of the street and a large lorrie (their semi-truck) driving in the oncoming lane. Terran decided that there was room for him, the lorrie and the parked car. I was leaning as far as I could to the inside of the car where I had spent much of the driving time so far when….WHACK ….. glass exploded all around me and our car jolted a wee bit; a stunned silence followed. We had hit mirrors with the other car. Thankfully our mirror folded in towards the car and suffered only a small scratch. The other car was not so lucky, as evidence later showed. After we finally found a spot to turn around and went back the car was gone leaving a small pile of glass and plastic in it’s wake. We felt terrible about not being able to talk to someone. No one was at the house and we didn’t have any info to leave. We did find out the "mirror knockin’s" are quite common and we did see that lots of cars had cracked mirrors. Still…..
The driving seemed very, very fast because of the how curvy the roads are. In the highlands especially you are zipping along on one lane curvy, hilly roads with little pull outs every 100 yards for when you meet someone coming the other way. The first time we drove one of those roads I was so tense and we went pretty slow. By the end of our time there Terran was zooming along just like the locals.

The Castles: I won’t go on and on about castles for two reasons. The first being that this post and all the pictures are long overdue, and second how does one tell about an incredible 21 castles, each being amazing in their own way.
Some of the castles we saw are still lived in by people and they allow you to tour certain rooms. Terran and I enjoyed seeing the rooms decorated and the family history is a little crazy. The owners would have pictures of their ancestors from hundreds of years ago, letters they had written, clothing they had worn and so much more. I can’t imagine being surrounded by so much history.
As nice as the lived in castles were our favorites were by far the ruins. They are so impressive with their age, size, and ornate carvings. The castles ranged from the late 1100’s to 1700’s, The feeling to walk through buildings that are hundreds of years old is amazing. If you were very quiet at times the hustle and bustle of days past would come alive around you. I could almost hear the cook yelling at some poor serving boy, a fine lady hurrying up the steps to be dressed and ready for a suitor, men making plans for war over drinks in some back room or maybe I have just read too many novels.
Both Terran and I were shocked at how large the buildings were, and how they could build such impressive structures so long ago. Some of the castles would be four floors high with huge rooms on each floor. Tantallon, a castle built by the sea, was over 80 feet high and has been standing since 1350, and this with a huge military seige at one point in history.
I wish you could all see the carvings that decorated the castles. The fire places in the bedrooms, the great halls, and sitting rooms would all have carved stone around them, some of them so incredible that it was hard to believe that they had been carved hundreds of years ago. The amount of carvings did vary with wealth, but almost every castle had something.
Both of us had one favorite feature that left us both a bit intrigued; the latrines, or what we call bathrooms. Each castles had latrines with toilets made of stone in them, the waste would then travel out a chute to the ground outside. Some bedrooms had latrines right outside the doors, and a few of them even had a little sink carved of stone for one to rinse their hands in. The great hall at Linlithgow Palace, a huge, beautiful ruin that I could go to today and spend several more hours wandering about, had two latrines right off the great hall that one would eat in and spend the evening. It’s so obvious that they would need bathrooms, but something that we never thought about, and something we never read about. I loved how human it made the castles and their long ago occupants seem.

I know that I haven’t even begun to do justice to all that we saw and did, but hope that this gives you all a little picture of a great land and great people. I do have several other little stories that I will blog about at a later date, but I am not sure of when they will appear.



heidi said...


thanks for your words and pictures! it was especially cool for me to be able to see a picture and say "i've been there!" scotland is very dear to our hearts as well, and we can hardly wait to go again...though i'm sure we'll not be going for a LOOONG time! i've never been to the northern part, though josh has, and it's something that i simply must see for myself.

Bonnie and Cam Dowd said...

Wow, what amazing beautiful pictures! I would love to go to Scotland someday. By the way, your write-up was not at all boring...I was intrigued the whole way though!