Scotland, Part 2

On Tuesday morning, Sam woke up at 7:30am, got dressed in his nicest clothes and his "trainers," because he didn't bring golf shoes, and went to golf on the Drumoig course. It is a championship golf course and he was under-dressed but it was early in the morning and he was golfing alone.

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I went to eat breakfast and was hit by the horrible reality that is a traditional Scottish breakfast. I recognized nothing, couldn't figure out why they were serving baked beans at 8am, ate a yogurt, and then went back to my room. We did not find out what exactly a traditional Scottish breakfast included until a few days later and I thanked my lucky stars that I had not been feeling adventurous. I had to load all of our stuff into the car and check out and then saw Sam walking up. It was perfect timing.

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While traveling around, we learned so many stories about Scotland and I felt like I was getting a pretty good grasp on Scottish history. One story we heard several times was about the Stone of Destiny. In 1950, four Scottish students removed the Stone of Destiny from Westminster Abbey in London. They were trying to retreive Scotland's ancient inauguration stone, which had been seized by the English king, Edward I, more than 600 years before. During the action, they dropped the stone, breaking it in two. The pieces were bundled into getaway cars and hidden while a nationwide hunt ensued. Once the pieces were smuggled over the border, the stone was repaired by a Glasgow stonemason and eventually dropped off on the doorstep of Arbroath Abbey. The people at the Abbey wanted nothing to do with that illegal business so they sent the Stone back to London. In 1996, the Queen brought the stone back to Scotland; it is currently displayed in Edinburgh Castle.

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Sam beat me in four moves.

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A copy of the Declaration of Arbroath. I love the seals.

While we were walking around Arbroath Abbey, we spotted a man and woman playing a peculiar game. So I did what I do and I took a picture. And was totally caught! He walked over to the fence and chatted with us for about 15 minutes. He explained the game of Bowls, or lawn bowling, to us. The idea seemed similar to Bocce Ball but he had never heard of that before. He asked all about our lives in the States. He is retired and was teaching his wife how to play because she had never played before. He was over-the-top friendly and I almost thought he was going to invite us into the private Abbey Bowling Club to play some Bowls with him.

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After that fun adventure, we headed to Edzell Castle and Gardens. It is hard to say when most of these castles were built because they were built, destroyed, restored, and renovated over centuries. Edzell Castle was beautiful. Although it was in ruins, the gardens were well-kept and lovely.

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We took the very scenic route to our next stop. We were so lost that we almost turned back several times. I am not really sure where we drove, but we saw a lot of countryside. It was a few hours through windy, narrow roads.

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Finally we arrived at the Scottish vacation home of the Royal Family: Balmoral Castle.

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Only the ballroom was open to the public inside the castle and it mostly felt like a tourist trap. We wandered the gift shop (because that is where all tourist traps start and end) and then went on an audio tour.

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I prefer my cream unclotted, thank you very much. 

The landscaping of the estate was insane. The people who work there also live there and they spend their time nurturing the gardens that go on for acres. It was beautiful.

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We drove to Aberdeen for the night. Traffic was horrendous and we got there much later than we had been expecting. True to form on this trip, we had not booked a place to stay that night. I wish I had known then that we had pulled into the Scotland version of Williston. Aberdeen is located on the Northeastern coast of Scotland and is a big oil and gas city because of the off-shore drilling in the North Sea. I cried in the parking lot of a grocery store as I realized we would most likely be spending that night in our car. We called so many places and eventually spent over $200 to stay in the dumpiest hotel I have ever seen. It was full of men who, I am guessing, were from Williston but on holiday in Scotland. It was a hole, but it had a bed that looked semi-clean so we sucked it up. We ate Chinese takeaway for dinner again. It is dirt cheap there.

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The next day was rainy as well. The dump of a hotel did not serve breakfast so we walked to a bakery up the street.

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Then we drove to the first stop of the day: Tolquhon Castle (pronounced toh-hone). This was my favorite castle but I am not exactly sure why. It just seemed like a nice place. Plus, it's in the Grampian region which is a rockin' name. Maybe my standards had been lowered because of where we slept the night before but if Tolquhon had a roof, I would live there.

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Sam had to look up every chimney and down every toilet which often resulted in him running away (in a tough, manly way) from the swarms of birds that were startled out of their homes.

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I got to hold the real, original key that is still used to unlock the portcullis every morning.

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Huntly Castle was back in a neighborhood, adjacent to a playground and football club. It was huge. A city could have lived in that castle. While learning about the history of the castle, we learned that a corpse of an earl was tried for treason. Because it is not good enough that he had to jump out of a window to escape, had a seizure on his horse, then fell off and died. They had to drag this body back, give him a good trial, and then confiscate his property.

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The Gordon family that owned Huntly Castle was Catholic even though the country was predominantly Protestant. They made this frontispiece to declare their religion. When the castle was occupied by Presbyterian Covenanters, they chiseled away at the frontispiece and we could still see those marks.

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Every prison needs to be staged with creepy mannequins that make Sam squeal (in a tough, manly way).

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The next stop was Elgin Cathedral. I remember going there with my grandparents in 2005 but it was even more magnificent than I remembered.

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We were lucky to find someone to take our picture. Most of the time we were either completely alone or one of only a few groups at each location. Scots don't seem to have the fascination with castles that Americans do.

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We ate lunch at a restaurant in Elgin called Scribbles where we were served food we didn't order, we told them we didn't order it, they said we could have it for free, and then they came back halfway through and told us that we would actually have to pay for it. Sam tried haggis balls. He was so excited to try haggis in Scotland and had it several times.

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Urquhart Castle was my favorite thing we saw in 2005. I was excited to take Sam there. It was overrun with people though. It is a beautiful castle overlooking Loch Ness and is a huge tourist attraction. I can imagine it used to be an incredible place, as it is still quite magnificent. It was partially destroyed in the 1600s when it was abandoned because William of Orange's soldiers didn't want the Jacobite forces to use it as their own defense, so they blew it up on their way out the door.

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On the pot.

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Sam tried to pick up a giant stone so he could test out the trebuchet. They were a little too heavy.

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That night we stayed in a B&B called Tigh na Mairi ("House of Mary" in Gaelic) in Fort Augustus. After dropping off our luggage, we walked down to the banks of Loch Ness and got on a cruise.

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It was rainy and a little chilly. We did not spot Nessie but we learned a lot about the Loch. We also talked to an American who was finishing up his Ph.D. at Cambridge. We told him about how expensive accomodations were in Scotland and he said, "Well you know about airbnb, right?" And our whole trip changed after that. I spent a few hours that night planning the rest of our week and booking rooms through airbnb, which is a website where people advertise an extra room they have in their flat/house and it is cheap and semi-safe.

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We also Skyped with our boys who we missed so much.

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The next day, Sam went on an early morning run along the banks of Loch Ness while I stayed in bed listening to an Indian man shout on his phone outside of my door. Another guest opened her door and yelled at him. He toned it down, barely.

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Julie made Sam a traditional Scottish breakfast of black pudding, sausage links, beans, bacon, peppers and mushrooms, and eggs. She would not tell him what was in black pudding until he ate it and then gifted him with this little nugget: "It is mostly blood." It comes in a big roll and then they slice it and cook it in a skillet. Or eat it cold. Whatever floats your boat.

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We said goodbye to Clive and Julie and the quaint Tigh na Mairi and got on the road.

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Our first stop was Eilean Donan Castle. It is located where three Lochs meet: Lochs Long, Duich, and Alsh. The water surrounding it was full of jellyfish and looked to be about the temperature I like my ice cream.

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The whole castle was staged, or so I thought. In reality, people lived there until just a few years ago. The family that owns it comes back to stay often and there were family pictures hanging on the walls. If you want to get married there, the castle is available to rent.

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We went over the Skye bridge and drove to the city of Broadford. We were planning to hire bikes and ride around the Isle of Skye for the day. We talked to the owner of the bike shop and he made it sound like it would be a jolly jaunt of a bike ride. While listening to his description, I knew I needed to back out. I have not ridden a bike in years and, looking at the landscape, I knew I was not cut out for that kind of bike riding. This may have been the best decision I have made in a long time. We asked him for details on where to drive, apologized for not hiring bikes, and went on our way. We ended up driving to Elgol instead of biking. We drove, stopped and walked, and wandered around for hours. I saw a few people on bikes or backpacking and they always looked completely exhausted. The roads were narrow, windy, and long, with a lot of switchbacks. We also saw a cute B&B with thatched roof cottages. I would like to go back and stay there. I loved how all of the signs on Skye were in both Gaelic (pronounced Gal-lick, not Gay-lick) and English.

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Skye was my absolute, hands down, favorite part of Scotland. It was the most beautiful place I have seen in my entire life. My photos do not do Skye justice but there are a lot of beautiful photographs online. If we ever go back to Scotland, I hope to spend several days camping, backpacking, canoeing, and breathing the Inner Hebrides. I want to cry a little when I think about Skye because it was so amazing and I cannot describe the beauty we saw there.

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We ate lunch back in Broadford and Sam had more haggis then we drove back over the Skye bridge and on to Fort William.

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We stayed at the Ardmory B&B that night. They only had a room with twin beds available but we slept on the same bed. I am thinking that was Sam's idea because I am not insane.

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We Skyped our cute boys and heard all about their morning, and then we went to eat dinner.

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We walked down the hill into the center of Fort William and ate at a pub called The Grog & Gruel. The menu featured a Quesadilla Grande ("Pronounced kay-sa-dee-ya") and Fajitas ("Pronounced fa-he-tas"). Sam and I had a good laugh about that, especially after we heard the waitress try to pronounce it. Sam ordered a wild boar burger.

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After dinner, we went into a candy shop and bought a ton of candy that made us nostalgic. Then we got ice cream and walked back to the B&B to sleep as hard as we had been playing.

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Janelle said...

I'm glad you found an easy way to find a place to sleep. I didn't know your first few days were so stressful.

Carissa and Tanner said...

I'd say your pics of skye are pretty darn amazing!

Olivia said...

Three reasons why I love this post; One: The Scotland version of Williston! Two: The castles are amazing! Three: Skye is beautiful. Oh, and I guess four: I CANNOT believe Sam ate haggis and black pudding....yuck!

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