High on Scotland

I’m coming down with a headcold this week, and at this point I don’t have energy for more than typing at the computer. Which makes it a good time to sort through our Scotland trip photos and write about it.

Overall impression: Scotland looks SOOO familiar!! If you have been to upstate New York/Adirondack mountains, northern Vermont, or New Hampshire, you will feel right at home in Scotland. We couldn’t get over the feeling we’d been there before, all week. Though the Scots have much better-looking and more interesting housing styles and architecture, ha ha!! Their stone cottages and ruined castles/abbeys/cathedrals are something we sure don’t have in New England.

I was delighted to see that as we drove north the hedgerows went away!! I noticed it right around Lancaster as we were passing by the Yorkshire Dales National Park area. The fields bordered by thick hedges gradually were replaced by drystone walls or just fences. Hooray! I think the hedgerows are definitive rural England but they are so annoying if you are trying to SEE things on the other side of them. You can’t! If the land is flat like around Maidenhead, there is no view. In the north of England and Scotland they had fabulous stone walls. (Again just like in New England!) I was very very happy to be able to enjoy the scenery hedge-free. Here’s a photo of a genuine Yorkshire Dale, with stone walls and sheep:

Thanks to the amazing worldwideweb, we found a dog-friendly apartment rental about 10 minutes from the center of Edinburgh. But the apartment’s site did NOT prepare us for how enchanting the place actually was! Here’s the description:

” “Peffermill House” dates from 1636 and has its own 4 acres of gardens at the end of a private drive. It is a Schedule ‘A’ Listed fortified tower-house, built solidly of stone, which was renovated and restored to its present outstanding condition some years ago, and it is as well-furnished and comfortable inside as its Virginia creeper-covered exterior is beautiful.”

Well, the photos only showed one (back) side, and when we got there we could NOT believe our eyes. An exquisite 3-storey stone building that had a turret stairwell and formal gardens. And we got the whole bottom floor! (The listing just said “garden apartment” so we assumed we’d be in a building attached to the property somewhere.) An “L” shape building with the tower (containing a stone spiral-stairwell) tucked into the inside of the “L”. It had two bedrooms which was more than we needed, but it made it all so spacious. One bedroom was made up all in tartan colors and the other, plus the living room, had barrel-vaulted (round) ceilings. The owners were both college professors and invited us up for drinks Sunday night. We had an enjoyable 2 hours talking with them about everything from history to politics! There was an impressive ruined castle (Craigmillar Castle) less than a mile from this house and the owners told us that originally the tower house was all part of the same estate.

Here are photos:

This photo was taken in the 1800’s:

We spent most of our time exploring all the riches Edinburgh had to offer. We were right on the bus line into the city center. Both of us were so impressed with Edinburgh and its city and suburbs. We both said we could easily imagine living there. The art museums and the architecture were great. We loved the way the whole city had preserved so many of its old buildings, rather than building new modern things, like sadly London has done so much of. It is built across several hills and that landscape makes the area so interesting! There’s a large park with a very high ex-volcano peak right in the middle of everything, called Holyrood Park. The highest point there is Arthur’s Seat, which we climbed with the Boyz. The views were wonderful across the city and we could see the Firth of Forth estuary easily, even though the weather was pretty misty and overcast.

I loved the combination of the mountains in view around the city, plus the seascape/port, plus all the history in evidence. Meets all my needs! They even have some ski areas in Scotland. Now, if it wasn’t always so cloudy, damp, and windy…! I suffered a bad hair day all week, that’s for sure.

That said, we were actually pretty fortunate with the weather. We only got rained on for a little bit on two days. The rest of the time we got at least partial sunshine. It wasn’t freezing cold. I am so glad we got to see the highland foothills in autumn with the trees turning color. How I wished the sun would come out and light up many a scene, though!! We explored all parts of the city, spending time in most of the museums and the castles. They even have a ruined abbey at Holyrood Palace (the official Royal Residence). We had to giggle by the end of the week because it seemed no matter which castle, church, abbey, or stately house we visited, Mary Queen of Scots had stayed there!! I’m sure it was all true but it began to seem like a bad tourist joke.

The view across Edinburgh from their castle. That’s the Forth estuary in the background:

This is the ruined abby on the grounds of Holyrood Palace:

One day we drove over to Stirling, to visit their castle and town. A compact town on its hill, impeccably kept! It sits in the middle of this broad valley with the river at its foot and long views from the castle. We had lunch at this pub. We were attracted to the name (Drouthy Neebors), but we can only guess what it means:

The view from Stirling Castle. That’s the William Wallace memorial tower in the distance:

Stirling Castle, from the back wall:

Speaking of guessing, sometimes the Scottish accent people had was so strong, we couldn’t understand them. For some reason, I thought everyone in Scotland would sound like Sean Connery, ha. Wrong!

After Stirling we drove about an hour northwest to Loch Lomond, our first real Loch. The Boyz waded and chased sticks in delight. Too bad it was so grey but the long view was stunning even in the mist.

On the way, we came past a field with real Highland Cattle, what joy!! There they were in their pretty green field framed by the Loch, just waiting for a painter to come along and turn them into a classical landscape:

Another day we took a drive across the Forth Bridge to Fife, a coastal county with a series of fishing villages like this one:

We ended up in St. Andrews, the famous golfing mecca. I was more interested in the ruined cathedral and castle, and it was also a lovely university town. The Boyz can now say they’ve been in castles AND cathedrals! Here they are checking out what’s on the other side of that arrow-slit in the wall:

St Andrews town is bordered by the ocean and the sea was amazingly rough, even though the weather in town was not bad at all. The storm must have been out at sea. No fishing boats were out that day!

We did not stop to see the golf links, not being interested in golf all that much!!

After St Andrews we drove back west and north, through Perth, on the way up for another peek at the Highlands. We drove up along the main rail route from Edinburgh to Inverness and stopped at roughly the halfway point. There was a vintage stone train trestle there at a place called Killiecrankie, complete with round stone turrets! I was thinking of my Dad the whole time, the family train watcher. It was such a gorgeous spot on a tributary of the Tay river, with the fall trees and the mountains rising above. I wished we could have kept going north!

We could have spent a month in Scotland. We didn’t even do any serious hiking, and only scratched the surface going no more than an hour from Edinburgh on any day. There are SO many castles and ruined abbeys, it was hard to choose. I’d like to go back and explore the western islands and get into the real highlands in the north. Maybe next spring! It only took us 7 hours (with a stop for lunch) drive from Maidenhead! The Boyz are always up for a ride:

On the way back we turned aside from the motorway at Carlisle, to see a part of the famous Roman Hadrian’s Wall. It was a rainy day but it let up enough for us to walk the fort remains at this particular site (among the grazing sheep), and try to imagine what the area looked like when the Romans were there. (Not easy!) The wall used to be higher than the height of a man, now it is about waist high at least where we were. Looking at all the stone walls in the area, you could tell where most of the stones went. Another Must-See place checked off the list, anyway!