A Travellerspoint blog

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Arriving in Scotland

May 5, 2011

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After years of planning, we are finally on our way! We arrived at Toronto Pearson Airport at 3:30 for our 7:30 flight to Glasgow. The check-in desk had a very small line, which was nice. We were flying Air Transat. Our airplane for the flight over was a Airbus 330-200. Our seats were on the smaller side but okay. The plane was full! I guess May is a popular time to go, after all.

The flight ended up leaving a few minutes early. We had a good tail wind and ended up in Glasgow 20 minutes ahead of schedule. We didn't really get any sleep. For the first part of the flight it was either light out or early enough in the evening that we would have still been awake. When it was later, it started to get light outside so we didn't feel like sleeping.

We would fly with Air Transat again. They were a reasonable price, the leg room was fine, the meal was okay and we arrived in good time.

Posted by Karen E 01.07.2011 06:15 Comments (0)

Days 1,2 Edinburgh: From Castle to Palace

May 6, 2011

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View Scotland, Ireland & Wales on Karen E's travel map.

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After retrieving our luggage, we headed out of Glasgow International Airport and found a taxi to take us to the Queen St. Glasgow train station. The cab driver was very friendly and asked about where we were heading.

The train took us right into the middle of Edinburgh. We trudged mainly uphill 3 or 4 blocks with our bags to the B&B. It was called 53 Frederick Street which is also it's location. When we arrived, exhausted and tired we found we had to climb 4 floors to our room! But we had arrived. The B&B owners were very nice and the room was quite spacious. We had a double bed, desk, couch, wardrobe and ensuite bathroom. The cost was £80 per night.

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The only thing we found out about this location was that it was noisy at night. Unfortunately we were there for Friday and Saturday nights and below were a bunch of restaurants. People seemed to like to stand outside, even though it rained both nights. They were loud until around 3 a.m. Also, the street was cobbled so every vehicle that went by was loud. I think it affected us more because we were jetlagged. If our room had been facing the back of the building, it would have been much quieter. We had a nice view.

After being shown our room, we freshened up, took a 1 hour power nap and then we were ready to go! We decided to walk the Royal Mile from outside Edinburgh Castle all the way to Holyrood Palace.
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We ended up having supper at the Ultimate Burger Kitchen. I had a Princess burger, named because of the Royal Wedding that took place a week earlier.

DAY 2

The next morning we headed for breakfast at the restaurant next door with a voucher from our B&B. It was very good. We both had pineapple juice. I had the Belgian waffle with mixed berries on top. Mike had the grilled plate - eggs, ham, sausage, haggis, potato scones & toast.

We then took off for downtown. First stop was a cellphone store to get a SIM card for my unlocked phone. £20 for the card and lots of minutes. I had enough time on the phone for the whole month and still have £6 left over, even though I was roaming while in Ireland, and calling home to Canada. It was a Labara SIM card and I had no trouble getting reception anywhere I needed it.

Now it was time for Edinburgh Castle. It was sunny out and warm but not hot. I bought the Explorer Pass which was £34 for each of us. It gave us entry for 7 days over a 14 day period to many sites. It was worthwhile for us.

Edinburgh Castle was interesting but of a confusing configuration. It didn't have a keep but seemed to be a collection of buildings. We spent just over 2 hours exploring the castle.

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After the castle we headed down the Royal Mile, stopping at St. Giles Cathedral. We saw the Covenant hanging on the wall. Stopping at a nearby cafe, we bought a toasted panini to share and two drinks. £6.50

We went to the end of the Royal Mile to tour Holyrood Palace. This was not included in the Explorer Pass, and we had to pay £11.50 each. I also decided to buy a guide for each place that we were visiting. They were to be my souvenirs. The palace was quite interesting. We especially liked the Mary, Queen of Scots rooms on the top floor. We saw the spot where her secretary, Rizzio, was murdered by her husband, Lord Darnley. We saw the rooms where her son, James, was born. There were many relics; her embroidery, a rosary, a letter etc. Unfortunately, no photography was allowed inside the palace. This is another reason I buy the official guides.

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We then walked around the ruined Holyrood Abbey. Here we were allowed to take photos. The gardens next to it are quite nice. As the afternoon wore on, the clouds rolled in.

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We went to supper at a pub/restaurant called The Filling Station. Mike had fish & chips and I had macaroni & cheese. It was good. Cost: £30 including tip.

After supper, we waited for our tour of Mary King Close to begin at 7:00. I had heard about this tour on the Fodor's site and was really wanted to take it. It was an hour long and very interesting. The guide was dressed up in period costume and took us underneath the City Chambers to see the closes it was built over. Closes are alleyways or lanes leading off of the High Street. The tour takes you through different people's houses and tells you about the people that lived there. Unfortunately, they do not let you take photos down there, but they do take a photo of everyone and then offer it for sale.

When it got dark, we walked to Princes Street from our B&B and took photos of Edinburgh Castle and other buildings.
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We then went back to the B&B for our last night in Edinburgh.

Posted by Karen E 04.07.2011 17:58 Comments (0)

Day 3,4 Anstruther: Puffins!

May 8,9, 2011

On Sunday morning, we went down for breakfast and ordered the same as yesterday since it was so good. Our B&B host then called a cab to take us to Edinburgh Airport to pick up our rental car. We rented from Hertz because we needed to return the car at the Holyhead Ferry terminal in Wales and they were the only company I could find that had this option. Our car was a KIA 5-door hatchback with only 100 miles on it. It was a good size for us; small enough but not too squishy. We decided to splurge and get an automatic. Mike said it was worth it.

We decided instead of going straight to Anstruther where our next B&B was, we would first head up to Stonehaven to see Dunnotar Castle. It is south of Aberdeen. Unfortunately it started to pour as we made our way onto the highway. When we arrived at the castle it was shrouded in fog. We took some photos, disappointed at the weather. We couldn't even see the castle from the car park, but we could when we walked down the path. I guess it made for some moody photos.

We went into the town of Stonehaven to have a bite of lunch. We stopped at the Waterfront Cafe Bar right on the ocean and warmed up with BBQ chicken toasties and a coffee for Mike and hot chocolate for me. We then headed back out to the castle to see if it had cleared up any. It was still very foggy.
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We headed down towards Anstruther, following the coast. We drove through Dundee and then St. Andrews (right past the golf course!). When we arrived in Anstruther, I couldn't remember where the B&B was located. Parking at the harbour, we called the owner and she directed us to her house. We stayed at Crichton House B&B which was £30 per person per night. We had a medium sized room with double bed, ensuite bathroom and view over the harbour. Our host, Annie, was very friendly and made wonderful breakfasts. We had private parking for the car behind the house. We stayed two nights here.

We settled in and then took a walk down to the harbour. The light was falling nicely on the boats and houses so we took photos. For supper, we went to The Waterfront Restaurant on the street facing the harbour. I had oriental scallops in a sauce with noodles. It was different but good. Mike had fish & chips of course. £26.90.
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We tried to phone home but couldn't get the phone to work. After contacting the SIM card company, I found that I wasn't using the right country code for Canada. I spent the evening downloading our photos onto my netbook.

May 9

On Monday we woke up to a clear blue sky. I was happy because this was the day we were to take our boat trip to the Isle of May to see the puffins. We went to to the harbour to pay for our tickets and the lady there said that the weather was rough and there was a chance we wouldn't be able to land. We decided to try anyway. Apparently the trip the day before was cancelled because of the rough weather. They don't sail on Tuesdays, so this was our only chance.

About 15 people decided to give it a try and we headed out. It was a 45 minute trip. The swells were quite large and 4 people were seasick. We have our own boat at home and are used to waves so we weren't even queasy.

We saw northern gannets, razorbills, guillimots and puffins in the water and flying around the island as we got nearer. We arrived at the harbour entrance which was very narrow and had craggy rocks on each side. The captain said it was too rough at the moment so he would take us for a ride around the island. We saw seals in the water and basking on the rocks. There were hundreds of birds on the tall cliffs.
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The boat went all around the island and back to the harbour entrance and the captain decided to try to go in. We didn't think he would. I think he made an effort because he was carrying groceries for the biologists who were living on the island studying the birds. They didn't get their food the day before. The boat was tied up and we were told that we had 2 1/2 hours to expore. We had left Anstruther at 10:00 and landed at 12:00.
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Everyone was told to stay to the paths. The puffins had burrows all over and if we stepped on one we might crush the female and her chick. There were also many rabbit holes and hundreds of rabbits.

It was a bit disappointing because there didn't seem to be very many puffins to be seen on land near the paths. The females were in the burrows and the males were mainly out on the ocean. We could see hundreds in the water. But we did see some to take photos of.

We saw thousands of guillimots, razorbills, gulls and kittiwakes on the cliffs. We walked around most of the island. There were common eiderducks here and there and a few Oystercatchers. There were no trees.
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Then it was time for the boat to leave. The captain had to turn the boat around in the narrow harbour. It was tricky and the boat did bump up against the rocks. But finally we were out. It was rougher than when we first arrived. We got back to Anstruther around 3:30. After browsing in the tourist information store we went for an early dinner of...fish and chips! £21.

Posted by Karen E 19:18 Comments (0)

Days 5,6 Off to the Highlands & the Loch Ness Monster

May 10, 11

May 10

On Tuesday morning, after a good breakfast of scrambled eggs, sausages and toast, we packed up our gear and headed off towards Inverness. We took the A9 up through the Grampian mountains. It was raining again! It looked very desolate and I took photos of the brown hills. There were quite a few laybys but most of them were not in picturesque spots. We did stop at the Pass of Drumochter, where it was windy, cold and rainy, but other than that I just took photos out of the window as we drove past.
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At noon, we stopped and had a bite to eat at a little tearoom in Kingussie. Mike asked the lady what an americano coffee was. It is just a normal black coffee. We had tomato soup and a sandwich.

If the weather had been better, we might have stopped off at a castle or two. Mike was thinking of Glamis and I was thinking of Cawdor. We saw Blair Castle from the road. But we kept going.
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As we passed through Inverness, the weather started to clear. We crossed the bridge over to the Black Isle where are B&B was located in Fortrose. We found it, but as it was 2:30, it was an hour too early to check in. I wanted to go to Chanonry Point a few minutes farther because I heard that you can see dolphins close to the shore there, especially at low tide. It happened to be low tide. It was sunny when we parked, but very windy and it was a struggle to walk to where I could see everyone watching the dolphins. I took my camera and tripod to get some photos.

I only got one photo of a head because the dolphins were very quick and it was hard to predict where they would surface. By the time you focused the camera on them they were on the way down or had already disappeared. But it was fun to watch them while just standing on the shore.
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After a while, we headed to our B&B, Water's Edge. It was right on the Firth of Moray and we had a balcony overlooking the water. Lots of boats were tied out. Our room was quite large and the bathroom was very big, with a bath and separate shower. In the wardrobe were two terry housecoats. Another cupboard had coffee, tea, biscuits, kettle and a small fridge. This is the only place we stayed in that had a fridge. All of them had coffee, tea, biscuits and a kettle. A few also had hot chocolate.

We headed into town (the B&B is just outside) and as the place that our host recommended for supper was closed on Tuesdays, we went to the inn called The Anderson and ate in their pub. Mike had the lamb shank and I had a Chicago burger.£25.30 (The owners are American.) We were the only ones there except for one other couple.

Taking a walk around town we came across a ruined cathedral. It dates from around 1255 when building started although it wasn't finished until 1485. The parts remaining are the south aisle of the nave and the nearby sacristy or undercroft of the chapter house, which dates from the 13th century. The south nave aisle is in the decorated Gothic style, while the other parts are in the Perpendicular style. It was made of red sandstone it is impressive despite being only partly there.
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While looking at the gravestones, we found one that had a skull and crossbones on it!
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A pheasant came into the graveyard and I tried to get a photo of him. Unfortunately, we only had a short lens on the camera, so we couldn't get great picture of him before he jumped over the stone fence into someone's backyard.
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May 11

Our plans for Wednesday were to just drive around the highlands. We decided to take the route down through Beauly to Drumnadrochit to see Urquhart Castle and then across to the Isle of Skye.

Our breakfast was very good. There were cereals and some lovely fruit to choose from on the side table. Then I had pancakes with fruit and bacon and Mike had the full Scottish breakfast.

It was actually sunny when we left the B&B and arrived at Urquhart Castle. Loch Ness was very lovely. Mike said he wouldn't mind moving here! We tramped around the grounds and took lots of photos. We saw no sign of Nessie.
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We then headed down farther and then east along the A887 towards Skye. We were amazed at the scenery. Lots of mountains and lochs. The weather had taken a turn for the worse and was now off and on drizzle but it was still beautiful.

Because it was raining at noon, we stopped at a layby to enjoy the view and eat our picnic lunch of crackers, cheese and bananas that we had bought at the Cooperative store in Fortrose that morning before leaving. We ate in the car.
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When we were close to the Isle of Skye, we stopped at Eilean Donan Castle in Kyle of Lochalsh. It was free on our Explorer Pass and it is also an iconic Scottish castle. Too bad it was raining, but we still took some photos and they turned out decent enough.
We took the tour inside but we weren't allowed to take photos.
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We crossed the bridge over to Skye but only went about 10 miles before turning around. That part isn't the interesting part of the island and I knew to see the great bits, we would have to drive quite far and we didn't have time. It was already 3:30. So reluctantly we turned around. This will have to be a different trip.

Going back, we had to make the decision whether to take the same route as we had come, or to take the A890 & A832. We didn't want to miss more beautiful views. We decided to take the different way and although it too had its beautful parts, it wasn't as nice as the A887. Also the roads were much narrower and the A890 was a single track with lots of passing places. We had never met so much traffic as we did on that single track road!

We were starting to get down to only a 1/4 tank of gas and were on the lookout for a gas station. There wasn't any along this route from the start until Contin which is just before we were back on the Black Isle and back at our B&B! So we learned; always fill up if you see a gas station. We had a nice day and made it back to base by 5:45. We took a drive out to Cromarty to see if there was any place interesting to eat and went along the waterfront. But we couldn't really tell what was open so we ended up back in Fortrose. We contemplated going back to The Anderson, but decided to get take away fish and chips to eat on our balcony since the weather had turned sunny again. It only cost £10 for two orders of enormous fish, so it was much cheaper than a restaurant.

It turned out to be too windy to sit outside, so we brought the picnic table into the room and ate inside instead.
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It was an enjoyable day all told.

Posted by Karen E 10:10 Comments (0)

Day 7: Amazing Glencoe

May 12

May 12
Wednesday morning I had pancakes with fruit again and Mike tried the kipper and eggs. We had a nice chat with our hostess and then were on our way. We were heading down to Oban through Glencoe. I had heard so much about the mountains and wanted to see them.

We decided to go all the way down Loch Ness from the top. Stopping again at Urquhart Castle, we took photos of it from up the hill. Then we went down the Great Glen and on into Fort William. We stopped for lunch shortly after crossing the Ballachulish Bridge on the A82, in a parking lot facing Loch Leven. It had started to become rainy.

We went on to Glencoe and were so impressed with the mountains. They were magnificent. We stopped and waited for it to stop pouring, then ran out to take photos. Blue sky and white clouds would come across and then it would start raining again and we would run for the car until it stopped. We went as far as the Three Sisters mountains and then turned around and took photos of parts we missed. We also found a big waterfall. I would have stayed there longer if the weather had been nicer. It was good to have a car, though, because we could wait out the rain when we wanted. The bus tours would come along, everyone would climb out in the rain and try to take photos. The bus driver would have a cigarette and when he finished, everyone had to pile back in the buses. It was much nicer to be able to go on our own timetable.
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We continued on our way and stopped at Castle Stalker. This castle was used at the end of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, as Castle Aaaarrrggg. We couldn't go in it, but stopped at the cafe up the hill which had a pathway behind it to allow people to see the castle. We had a coffee here, before heading off.
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We arrived in Oban at 5:30. Immediately, we headed over to the ferry terminal. I had booked a tour for the next day and we needed to get the tickets. Donald at the desk was very helpful. I had spoken to him on the phone when I booked the tour from home. The ferry office closed at 6:00 and we were catching a 7:45 ferry in the morning, so I wanted to have the tickets ahead of time. We then grabbed a bite to eat at Subway and headed over to our B&B. The B&B was on the Corran Esplanade, the road that runs along the harbour on the north side. We had a room with bay windows overlooking the harbour. It had a four-poster bed and a couple of leather chairs facing the harbour. There was a fireplace (don't know if it worked) and a small bathroom. The place had about 15 rooms so it was much larger than the other places we had stayed which only had 3 or 4 rooms. The room with the harbour view was a little more expensive at £45 per person per night. We stayed here for 3 nights.
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Posted by Karen E 13:10 Comments (0)

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