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Days 8,9:Beautiful Islands of Mull, Staffa and Iona

May 13, 14

May 13

On Friday morning we woke up very early. We couldn't wait for a cooked breakfast, and so just had continental. We walked to the ferry terminal and caught the 7:45 ferry to Mull. Our tour included the ferry from Oban to Mull, the Bowman bus from Craignure to Fionnphort at the far end of Mull, Gordon Boat tours out to the Islands of Staffa, Lunga and Iona. And then the bus back to the ferry back to Oban. It was to be a 12 hour day, arriving back in Oban at 7:45pm. While on the bus, we passed a herd of highland cows on the road and had to wait for them to move over. (We passed them again on the way home.)
051_2_3_tonemapped.jpg On the ferry to Mull
017-Edit.jpg passing by Duart Castle

When we arrived at the boat, the captain told us that it was too rough to land at Lunga (I was hoping to see puffins there, as well). We were supposed to have 1 hour on Staffa, 2 hours on Lunga and 2 hours on Iona. Since we couldn't go to Lunga, the captain offered to let us stay on Staffa for 4 hours and then come back and pick us up and take us to Iona. Most people were just taking the 1 hour trip to Staffa, but there were 4 others who had also booked to go to Lunga and we all decided to stay 4 hours on Staffa.

The captain said that there were puffins at Staffa as well, that they were on the water but if we went to the end of the island and just sat down and waited, they would come onto land. We did that, but they never did come out of the water.

We were glad to stay on Staffa for longer than the 1 hour, but found that 4 hours was a bit too long. It was rough landing and then the boat had to pull away from the jetty in case another boat came along. He anchored out for the hour and then picked up the first group of people and took them back to Mull.

When we were let off the boat it was right near Fingal's Cave. The cave is quite unique. The volcanic rock that forms it, is in the shape of hexagonal pillars. It is the same rock that forms the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland. We had to walk along the pillars to enter the cave. Mike dropped his lens cap while we were in there.
076.jpg Fingal's Cave

Then we walked along the top of the island. We got rained on about 4 times while we were on this island. There isn't any shelter except for the cave, and we were on the other side of the island whenever it rained. It would be sunny, then a rain cloud would come along and then sunny again. We had our umbrellas with us.
421.jpg Staffa

The boat was late picking us up because they ended up with a rope in the propeller when picking up the first group. They had to fix it before coming to get us. The captain dropped us off on Iona and said to catch the ferry across in two hours and a bus would be waiting for us.
484_5_6_tonemapped.jpg Waiting to be picked up.

We visited the ruined nunnery and then went to the restored Abbey. Here is where all the ancient Scottish kings were buried, including Macbeth. There were some really interesting medieval tomb slabs.
There were three very old celtic crosses as well.
335_6_7_tonemapped.jpg Iona Abbey

By this time we were very tired. It had become sunny again and windy. We went to catch the ferry back to Mull (it was only about 5 minutes journey). Then we had to wait for the bus. I took photos of sandpipers on the beach and sheep on the road while I waited. Some little lambs started playing and were really cute. I like the black faced lambs the best.

Finally the bus was ready to leave. We met the highland cows again and also a herd of red deer were very close to the road. It was a single track road, but the bus driver was quite skilled at passing oncoming traffic.

When arriving back in Oban, we decided to try the Eeusk restaurant by the harbour. I had heard good things about it on Fodor. It was quite busy and we had to wait for a table. I had king scallops in mornay sauce and Mike had halibut. It was quite good, but pricey. This was our most expensive meal. £40.40

We were extremely tired and went to bed shortly afterwards. We still had a busy day coming up.

May 14

We took a later ferry back to Mull the next morning. This time we were met at the pier by Peter Hall, the owner of Mull Wildlife Tours. We were taking an exclusive wildlife tour with him. He was extremely nice and took us around parts of Mull that we hadn't seen the day before. Unfortunately this day was drearier than the day before and it drizzled on and off. It was nice that we had his landrover to stay in while it rained. We would get out when it stopped raining.

Peter had a scope with him so that we could see animals that were a bit far away. We saw seals, red deer and lots of different birds. He took us to two different sea eagle nests where there were babies. The nests were quite a distance away and it was against the law to get any closer. I was able to get some photos with my 80-400mm lens. They aren't the greatest, but better than nothing. There are only about 8 pairs of sea eagles in Scotland, so we were lucky to see two pairs.

Peter made a list of all the animals we saw and sent it to me in an email. It was an enjoyable day.
212.jpg Sedge warbler
403.jpgsea eagles

When back in Oban, we just got take-away fish & chips to counterbalance the expensive meal the night before. We spent our last night in Oban. The weather didn't really improve and we were too tired to walk around town. I guess I didn't leave enough down time, even though Mike didn't have to drive these past two days.

Posted by Karen E 15:27 Comments (0)

Day 10 - On to the Borders

May 15, 2011

Sunday morning we were heading down to the Borders. After a breakfast of crepes, we loaded up the car, said goodbye to Colin, our host, and took the road towards Stirling. We left around 8:30. I was hoping that the scenery along our route would be as spectacular as the rest of the Highlands but it wasn't. The weather was overcast and a bit rainy. If it had been nice, maybe we would have detoured up to Glencoe again, but it wasn't any different than how we saw it the first time.

We wanted to stop at Doune Castle. This is where the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail was mainly filmed. It was an interesting castle. Terry Jones from the movie narrates the audio guides we had, and as you go through each room he tells you the history. Then if you are interested you can push another button and hear what part of the movie was filmed in that particular room. I took a photo of Mike in the window where they sang the Camelot song.

We made pretty good time, so we decided to head to Stirling Castle. It was busy in town. We parked down the hill and then walked up to the castle. We decided to first have lunch in the cafe at the castle and then toured around. We also got some good views of Stirling Bridge where the English tried to invade. It wasn't raining at this point.

We stayed about an hour at the castle and then moved on. Down through the Borders, we made it to Traquair House around 4:30. This was our accommodation for the night. It is the oldest continually inhabited house in Scotland and still owned by the Stuart family. The oldest part was built in the 1100's and the newer part in the 1500's. Because the family remained Catholic, they never had enough money to keep refurbishing, and so the house has retained much of its history.

The housekeeper met us at the door and showed us our room. It was beautiful, with a four poster bed, fireplace, big windows and chairs to relax in. It was also quite big. We had an outer room and our private bathroom was off this. We were on the second floor up some stone steps.

We also had the use of a sitting room in one of the wings built onto the house. This had paintings of Lord Nithsdale and his wife and some other family members. Lord Nithsdale made a daring escape from the Tower of London with the help of his wife. The cloak that she brought for him to disguise himself is upstairs in Traquair House's private museum.

We used the sitting room to eat our supper (take-away fish and chips) but it was quite a dark room, and we preferred our brighter bedroom.

There was a large maze in the backyard. I went through it and Mike took photos of me from our bedroom window.

The house is open for touring from 11:00 until 5:00, so we arrived too late to see it that evening. But we had breakfast in a very old room with lots of china plates displayed, and then toured the house on our own before it was open to the public. The cousin of Mary, Queen of Scots owned it and she came for visits. There is the bed that Mary used and also the cradle for her son, James.

The house has a priest hole. Because the family was Catholic and had a priest, they had a way for him to escape should the authorities arrive looking for him.

Upstairs was a private museum with lots of things owned by the family. We enjoyed staying here and would again. We would want to arrive earlier to take better advantage of it. It is not cheap but it is unique. £180 per room per night.

Posted by Karen E 07:58 Comments (0)

Day 11 - Goodbye Scotland - Hello Hadrian's Wall

May 16, 2011

Monday morning we left after touring Traquair House and headed towards Melrose. We wanted to see the abbey but somehow didn't locate it. I think we were in the parking lot for it and still missed it! We headed down the road we thought it was on, but it led out of town. We just continued and stopped at Jedburgh Abbey instead. We only had time to see one abbey anyway.

Unfortunately I ended up dropping my camera bag at the restroom outside the abbey and broke my walk-around lens. So now we only had one walk-around lens, a couple of telephotos and a ultra wide zoom. We traded back and forth and worked out fine.

The sun came out while we were at Jedburgh Abbey and so we were able to get some pictures with blue sky. We were the only ones there for most of our visit.
Continuing on, we arrived at the Scotland/England border before we knew it. I would have like to stop but it came on so quick that we ended up driving past.

Our destination was Hadrian's Wall. We stopped at Chester's Fort which is one of the mile forts the Romans built along the Wall. It was windy but the sun came out while we were there. There are quite a few buildings that have been uncovered, although only the lower part of the walls.

Farther down the road we turned south towards Vindoland, which had been a large fort and town too, I think. It is a mile south of the Wall. By now, the wind had really picked up, the sun had left and it started to rain. It was also pretty cold. Our fingers were freezing. We would have like to stay longer but it was actually quite miserable.

There were a lot of archeologists uncovering a new part of Vindolanda.

Back at the information centre at the end of the road, I went in to ask where the best place to view the actual Wall was located. She said to just go straight north about a mile. So we did. There was a parking lot, then you had to walk across a field and you would see it.

We went in the rain and it was still miserable. So we just took some quick photos and then left. It was disappointing since we really would have liked to explore a bit more. The photos turned out better than we expected.
327.jpg I was wearing 2 coats and a fleece!

We headed toward Penrith, England and our B&B which was located just outside in a small village called Greystoke. The B&B is a Folly built on the grounds of Greystoke Castle and was a nice place. But we could'nt locate it at first. It was supposed to be near the Boot and Shoe Pub which we found no problem, so I went in there to ask directions. (Our B&B hostess had made reservations for us at this pub for dinner.) A man came out and showed us that the Castle grounds were right across the street, so we headed there. You can't see the castle from the street, just a gate.

Our room was nice with windows facing to directions, and we had use of a sitting room on the same floor (3rd floor).

At 6:30, we headed back to the pub for our dinner. IT was a nice pub. I had a pasta casserole and Mike had Cumberland sausage. £21.25

It was still raining so when we got back to our B&B, we just stayed in. Mike was starting to flag from all the driving as well.

We actually missed a lot of evening walks because of bad weather. Oh, well.

Posted by Karen E 10:42 Comments (0)

Days 12,13 - Beautiful Wales - The walled town of Conwy

May 17,18, 2011

Tuesday morning was still grey skies. We had a very filling breakfast. Lots of variety and lots of food! Mike had a full English breakfast and I had some warm croissants. We also had fruit.

Before leaving the area, we went up the road to get a photo of Greystoke Castle, since our B&B was on their grounds. There has been a castle on this site for hundreds of years but I think it has been updated.

We decided to drive through the Lake District instead of going straight over to the motorway. We went from Keswick down to Windemere. If the weather had been nicer we would have taken some time to wander around a bit. Also Mike didn't realize that it didn't take too long to get to Wales. In any case, we were a bit sorry for all the hikers that were around the Lake District (there were lots!) as the weather was rainy.

We got onto the M6 and drove the motorway right to Conwy, Wales. It was a very direct and easy route. We left Greystoke around 8:30, crossed the England/Wales border at 11:15 and entered Conwy at around 1:00 in the afternoon. Once you pass through the town walls the street follows the walls around the town in a clockwise one way system. We followed it around back to the street nearest the harbour but inside the walls. Our B&B was here and we found it okay. I knew that the private parking was at the back and we turned up the little street only to find a hydro truck blocking the way. Because the street is so small and narrow (and one way), there was no way around him to get to the parking until such time as he was done. So I jumped out and rang the doorbell of the B&B and the owner, Jonathan answered. He came and asked the hydro man when he thought he would be done, but he didn't know. So Jonathan suggested we find a place to park in town for a bit and then return.

We headed up to the castle because there was a parking lot right beside it. We put enough money in the meter for a couple of hours and then decided to take a walk around the castle walls. We brought our lunch cooler and ate whatever we had in it for lunch while watching the birds around the castle. There were a lot of jackdaws in town. Apparently they have a long history with Conwy.

We didn't go in the castle as we decided the next day would just be a non-driving day and we would do it then. We would have liked to drive to Carnaerfon Castle or Mount Snowdonia, but Mike was starting to get tired from all the driving, so we figured a day in town was better.

I walked down to the B&B and found that the hydro man was gone, so we brought the car around and parked it in a small little private car park. Jonathan showed up our rooms. Our B&B was very well situated and it was cool to be inside the town walls. That afternoon we walked the whole length of the walls.

We went to supper at the Fisherman's Chip Shop. Mike had fish and chips and so did I but my fish was salmon. It was different with battered salmon but I really liked it. £16.90

We then waited for dark and then headed out with my camera and tripod. I wanted to get some photos of the castle lit up. We had scouted out some potential spots earlier. We thought it would work on the other side of the castle, but when we went after dark, we found they didn't light up that side, so only one tall tower was lit. I still took some shots. Others were taken from the street and the town walls. I also took some photos of the town, harbour and the street we were staying on. I really like how the photos turned out. It also happened to be a full moon!

On Wednesday, we had breakfast with a mother and daughter staying at the B&B who were also from Ontario. They were leaving Wales that day and heading to Scotland.

We decided to visit Plas Mawr first since it opened the earliest. It is an old medieval house, with the original plasterwork. We were allowed to take photos inside, so that was great. It was a really interesting house. Then we went to Aberconwy House, which might be the oldest house in the town (around 1300). It was quite small inside so there wasn't as much to see. Plas Mawr was quite large.
549-Edit.jpg Plas Mawr

582.jpg Aberconwy House

We visited the local butcher shop and got some bread and meat for a picnic lunch, although we decided it was easier to go back to the B&B and eat it in the breakfast room which was a conservatory. It had rained first thing in the morning, but cleared up by lunch.

After lunch we headed over to Conwy Castle for a couple of hours. It is quite a big castle built by Edward I as he tried to conquer Wales.

I went in the smallest house in Great Britain. It is so small, they only let a couple people in at a time to see it.

For supper we went to George and the Dragon. We were on the restaurant side rather than the pub side and had it to ourselves. I had spinach and ricotta canneloni. Mike wanted the hot pot but they were out so he had something else instead, but I can't remember what.

We repacked our bags that evening and cleaned out the car. We were catching the ferry in the morning and needed to return the car. So we had to find a place in our bags for all the things we had collected over the last 13 days.

Posted by Karen E 12:23 Comments (0)

Day 14,15 - Ireland, Here we Come!

May 19, 20 2011

Thursday morning : Today is my birthday and also our wedding anniversary!

We woke up to sunshine and warm weather; and an early breakfast! We told Jonathan that continental was fine since we had to leave early but he insisted that making cooked was fine with him. He was a very congenial host. We needed to drop the car off at the rental place by 9:00 so we wanted to give ourselves plenty of time. It was a good plan because we could not find the street we needed. We knew it was right next to the ferry terminal but we ended up in the terminal at first. We also had trouble finding a petrol station to fill up the tank. We really wanted to do this because they were going to charge us £120 if we brought it back empty! We went down the main road a bit and found a station. Phew! We filled up and asked directions. One of the men there lived right near where we needed to go. It was called Turkey Shore Road but when we went past it did not have a sign saying that so. But we turned down where we had been told, and at the end of the road was the Hertz office. They processed the return quickly and then drove us to the ferry terminal. We then had to wait for our 12 noon crossing.

I had pre-purchased the ferry tickets online before our trip. The crossing was very smooth across the Irish Sea and we arrived ahead of schedule, around 1:50. Everyone piled onto the shuttle bus that took us into Dublin, the bus driver was a comedian and gave commentary on the way.

It had been sunny and cloudless when we left Wales but Dublin was cloudy (but not raining!). We walked the long walk from the bus terminal to our Hotel, but I knew the way to go since I had been in Dublin in 2008. We stayed at Buswell's Hotel on Molesworth St, near St. Stephen's Green. It was a very nice hotel €113 per night. It is made up of 5 Georgian Townhouses and our room was large with big windows. The bathroom was a good size. The staff was very helpful and friendly. We asked about laundry service and was told they had same day service. If we brought our stuff down before 9:00 tomorrow morning it would be returned by 6:00. So we did that as it was the easiest method and we hadn't had our laundry done yet on the trip. But it wasn't cheap!

The best part of the day was when we first arrived at the hotel and they said I had some mail waiting for me. I couldn't think what it might be. It was birthday cards from our sons, Christian and Adam. That just made my day!

After checking in we strolled over to St. Stephen's Green to have a look. I wasn't able to get there last visit. Then we had supper in McDonald's of all places. We wanted to do some walking around and didn't want to spend the whole evening waiting in a restaurant for our food to arrive, so although it's not the best place for a birthday/anniversary dinner, it suited us that day. We had a whole month of eating out!

We walked up to the O'Connell bridge and found it blocked off by the Garda. I guess the queen's car was going to be coming through and they kept the crowds back. The queen came for her visit two days before we arrived in Dublin and was leaving the day before we left town. The American president was arriving a couple of days after we left Dublin, although they kept all the security in town in the meantime.

We waited to see if the queen came by but she didn't, so we went walking the other way. Then after a while lots of people started to pass us so we assumed that she had gone past. We turned around and went back to the bridge. It would have been interesting to see her, but we wouldn't have even if we had stayed. Her car was on the opposite side of the bridge and there was too much obstruction in between. I know a lot of people who stayed were disappointed that they couldn't see her.

We crossed the bridge and went up to the post office where the Irish proclamation was declared in 1916 and where there are still bullet holes in the building. I had wanted to visit this last visit as well, but we hadn't got to it.
We then crossed back over the bridge and walked through Temple Bar. It was very busy. Lots of places to eat. Actually there are lots of eating places all over the city.

On Friday morning we went out to breakfast as it wasn't included in our hotel rate. We chose Lemon Crepe & Coffee Company. I had the Fruit Traditional Crepe and hot chocolate and Mike had Apple Cinnamon crepe and coffee. €17.35 kind of expensive for breakfast, but it was good.

We headed straight over to Trinity College to go in to see the Book of Kells. We were actually lined up before the doors opened and there were already about 20 people ahead of us. There was an adult tour group and a school tour group that showed up and were let in ahead of the rest of us, so I suggested to Mike that we make a beeline for the book and see it first and then go back and read the displays. That's what we did. The pages of the Book of Kells are turned everyday so that they are all equally used. You never know what page you will be seeing. Unfortunately the pages that it was on this day were not its most elaborate or colourful. There were also two smaller illuminated books in the glass case.

I really wanted Mike to see all the interesting books upstairs in the Long Room. When I was there in 2008, there were lots of tiny prayer books and letters. I didn't realize that it was a changing display and those items were no longer there. This time it was all medicine books this time. Definitely not as interesting to me. I had been so looking forward to seeing those prayer books again so I was quite disappointed.

So we ended up going over to the Dublin Castle and visiting the Chester Beatty Library. It is free and well worth a visit. Here we saw lots of illuminated manuscripts and Korans. We also saw some of the earliest fragments that exist of the gospel, on papyrus. It was really interesting.
173.jpgDublin Castle

Photographs are not permitted at either place so we bought books with the photos of what we saw.

The History Museum was right across the road from our hotel so we visited there. It has a lot of gold artifacts and church artifacts. It was interesting but we were again disappointed as the Tara broach and the gold boat, the two most important pieces, were in storage while they renovated its spot! Why didn't they just display them elsewhere in the museum until their regular spot was ready?

For lunch we went to Eddie Rocket's. It is supposed to be like an American diner from the 50's. Mike had the Biker breakfast and I had 2 sliders and a milkshake. €20.00

Then we visited Christchurch Cathedral. There we saw Strongbow's effigy, both the old and new ones. The crypt was full of interesting items.
The sun came out after we left the Cathedral so we decided to go back to St. Stephen's Green for a while.
At 7:00 we went looking for a place for supper. It was Friday night which meant that every place was crowded. We finally found an Italian restaurant off of Grafton Street that was quiet. We both had spinach ricotta ravioli.
We walked around a bit more.

We then headed back to the hotel and repacked our bags. All of our laundry was cleaned and waiting for us in our room. We needed our bags packed properly to take them to the airport to pick up our rental car from Dan Dooley.

Posted by Karen E 14:37 Comments (0)

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