|Finlander Castle - East Coast Scotland|
We're so lucky to be on the TourAlongTrail again and we weren't the only ones out and about participating in revenge travel!
Let's jump right into it!
It's time to drag out your dusty old bagpipes, pour yourself a Bonnie Prince Charlie-sized dram of your favorite beverage, and get ready for a Scottish TourAlong—presented in the ever-popular picture-n-caption format!
A bonus? How about a wee bit of Ireland too!
- Lads? Are you kilted up?
- Lassies? Are you tartaned to a tee?
Let's go! Shall we?
Our route around Scotland started in Edinburgh, moved counterclockwise up and around the country, ending back in Edinburgh 21 days later.
But first things first: Driving on the left.
I joked with Laura—the fun and efficient representative at the Arnold Clark car rental office—that it sure would be nice if we could get an automatic instead of a manual at the same cost (the cost difference is about double).
Joking paid off. We got the automatic for no extra cost!
This made driving on the left much easier.
With renewed confidence, I found that driving on the motorway was a breeze, even in thick fog.
What? I'm being pulled over by a cop?
Stateside, a traffic stop lasts at least five minutes because all of the necessary pieces of information need to be gathered and checked—regardless of the infraction.
In this case, the officer told me in no uncertain terms that I needed to have my fog lights on. When I fumbled to find the right knob, he reached in the window and made the appropriate adjustment. The entire event lasted about one minute. I suppose being a tourist didn't hurt.
The other notable aspect of driving in Scotland are the road types: The "M" roads (motorways/freeways), the "A" roads (narrow highways with NO shoulders) and the plentiful single-track (one-lane) roads. Pictured above is one of the better and WIDER single-track roads on the Isle of Mull. Note the pull-off. Pull-offs are plentiful and keep traffic moving along in an efficient and polite manner (everyone waves as a sign of thanks). Note also the giant tour bus coming up on the giant tour bus we were in. Negotiating the passage was super easy for the drivers. Barely an inconvenience!
Here's a two-minute video view of the one track traversing the Isle of Mull from the front of the tour bus's upper deck!
|Ear Plugs Not Included|
Here's something you rarely see in Edinburgh—a man playing bagpipes!
I now know that we can blame Egypt for inventing the bagpipe, but that doesn't stop me from admonishing the Scots for thinking continue playing them remains a good idea!
Maybe that's harsh, but remember, whatever your opinions are, don’t run with bagpipes because you could put an aye out, or even worse, get kilt!
Sheep are everywhere in Scotland! In fields, on roads, in barns, on boats! So many sheep! How does this happen!?
Well ... When a ram and ewe love each other very much, they lay very, very close together and ...
|Up and Chummy with Chuck III|
We declined to attend the coronation of King Charles III because of our busy travel schedule. And, though we saw a few British flags celebrating the event, it was clearly NOT something many Scots held dear. I guess there's some history there ... something about kilts and clans and Culloden.
They DID think it was OK to take the bank holiday celebrating the happenings down south.
Moving up, along the east coast, we dialed in BBC2 Radio to take in the coronation ceremony—including the part when the crowd proclaims, "God save the King!" That was kind of cool.
A few days later, Charles caught up with us just outside Inverness and insisted on this photo with Natalie. He was still all dressed up. What a silly git!
Throughout our trip, BBC2 became our go-to radio station. Its programming is a mix of music, news, talk-show-game things, interviews, and even traffic reports that cover all of Britain! The music played on BBC2 is eclectic—some modern, some not so much. And the kicker was that Liverpool was the host city for Eurovision 2023 (stepping in for Kyiv). This meant that, for a week early on in our trip, BBC2 was all about Eurovision 2023!
If you don't know, Eurovision is kind of like the Superbowl of music. We don't have one here because we have the Superbowl.
Eurovision Fun Fact I: The first Eurovision took place in 1956, far in advance of the first Superbowl in 1967!
Eurovision Fun Fact II: Sweden's ABBA won the contest in 1974 and Celine Dion won it in 1988 ... singing for Switzerland!
And now, for your listening pleasure ... three tunes that caught our attention during our adventure ... brought to us by BBC2 ... and now from us to you!
|The Jacobite Train! The Harry Potter Train! It's Two Trains in One!|
Since 1901, the Mallaig extension of the West Highland Line has crossed the Glenfinnan Viaduct on its 42-mile journey from Fort Willam to Mallaig. As the "Jacobite Express," the steam train gained new popularity for its role as the "Hogwarts Express" in the Harry Potter movies!
Tourism's an odd animal. Because of the movies and the viaduct, there are now TWO round-trip train journeys daily, and it's not unusual for all 700 seats to be sold. Don't forget to add the hundreds of people who come to the Glenfinnan Viaduct to take pictures of the train! That's a lot of attention given to a train!
We took the train. The interiors of the cars are NOT as nice as those seen in the Harry Potter movies. Rather, they could use a bit of a fixup. And the website says this is, "quite possibly the most beautiful and scenic train journey anywhere."
Hmmm ... I'm not so sure about that. But hey! I got the photo! And it's on sale here!
|Slip Sliding Away - Part 2|
See that seaweed-kelp stuff? I didn't think a thing of it when I stepped on it at the beginning of the causeway. It turns out that that seaweed-kelp stuff is slick as snot! I was on my butt faster than you can say "slick as snot!" The impact actually knocked open my camera's battery AND memory card compartments!
I wiped the snot off my butt, put my camera back together, and continued on. No damage was done other than coating my pride in slick snot.
A while later, as we hiked along the cliffs to see puffins (we saw two), a man happened to mention finding a set of car and hotel keys in seaweed-kelp stuff and leaving them on a wood post at the parking lot. I felt my now keyless pockets and began the hurried 20-minute hike back across the island and causeway—minding my foot placement around the seaweed-kelp stuff!
Our keys were sitting safely on the wood post.
Man! How differently the day could have been if not for a kind Scotsman and the happenstance of running into him.
Days later, on the Isle of Skye, I slipped again—this time on a very steep and wet concrete path at Neist Point. My right wrist continues to remind me of this happy time.
|What Could Possibly Go Wrong?|
Other than the few motorways, Scotland's roads have no shoulders, but they do have many, many potholes and road drains (i.e., manmade potholes). A narrow road with no shoulder and those many dips mean the left front tyre* takes a beating!
And so there we were, on the Orkney Islands with a flat left front tyre in the parking lot of the Italian Chapel. Phone calls were made, but on a Saturday afternoon, tyre shops were already closed.
Wait! Didn't the rental car have a spare? Nope! Just an air compressor and a can of tyre foam. Using the compressor alone gave us enough air for the five miles back to the Murray Arms Hotel in the village of St. Margarets Hope.
Back at the hotel, the perpetually helpful Suzanne told us that normally there's a guy just up the road—Ian—who has a tyre shop and could help us on a Saturday night ... but on this Saturday night, he's also the promoter of a rock show in nearby Kirkwall!
Getting the tyre fixed—on SUNDAY—is a big deal. We had to be at the ferry in Stromness by 6:15 a.m. Monday ... in the morning!
Amazingly, another couple at the hotel also had a tyre problem and were able to contact Ian Sunday morning. By noon, Ian had replaced our tyre and saved our day. Our schedule was back on track.
Fast forward a week and, while on a boat tour of Fort William's Loch Linnhe (highly recommended), Natalie suddenly was seeing massive "floaters" in her left eye. She's had floaters before, but not like these. Off we went to the Fort William emergency room. Things looked OK, but the doctor wanted an eye specialist to have a look to ensure her retina wasn't detaching. An appointment was booked in Inverness for the next morning—a SUNDAY!
Driving across that cross section of the country—from west to east—took just two hours. The exam showed no retinal detachment, so Natalie would be fine. Had the outcome been otherwise, she would have had surgery that afternoon ... and who knows when we would have been able to fly home.
Oh! And what did this sudden emergency room visit in Fort William on a Saturday and an eye specialist exam on a Sunday in Inverness cost us?
Look, I know there's a lot of debate about the effectiveness of Britain's National Health Service, but our experience was remarkably positive.
*Oh, look at me! I'm all Scottish now and write "tyre" instead of "tire." Brilliant! I think I'll pop on over to the pub for a pint!
|What a Cute Clown!|
If there's a cliff, there will be seabirds! We saw many such cliffs, and we also smelled them! I like seafood as much as the next bird, but OMG, sea cliffs hosting birds smelled like the sea—and not in a good way. Birds really need to clean their toilets now and then! Still, it was fun to watch them fly this way and that ... or see them sitting comfortably on their acrophobia-inducing nests.
Smell aside, an ever-popular pastime is puffin viewing!
The brochures say, "Puffins can be seen here from late April through August." This gave us hope that we would see our funny-faced feathered friends on any Scottish sea cliff.
We saw two on the tiny Orkney island of Brough of Birsay—but they were about 300 feet away. That's not really viewing ... it's more like "squinting."
The big turnaround was on the Isle of Staffa during our Three Island Tour.
Staffa is a tiny island of Scotland's Inner Hebrides, seemingly composed entirely of basalt columns. One of its few attractions is Fingal's Cave (the path to it is fun!) and the PUFFINS! Along the trail, I could see people in the distance, on the grassy clifftop, taking pictures of puffins. A few minutes later, we crested a ridge and then saw a cliff-load of puffins right there! Yes, there were people too (on average, 220 visit the island daily), but everyone was quietly taking pictures or just watching them; it was so slient! ... The puffins—some just eight feet away—didn't seem to mind.
What luck!And now for your viewing pleasure, enjoy this 1-minute video of cliffside seabirds near Stonehaven on Scotland's east coast. For the complete smell-a-vision experience, place a plate of rotting fish by your side.
Like the puffin picture? You can buy it here!
|Scotland—Making Meaty Deep Fat Fried Eggs Healthier!|
Scottish and Irish food and drink were fun. There were the usual suspects: fish, chips, haggis, and pasties (meat pies, not the things that attach to people) ... and of course scotch whiskey and pints of beer. But there were also fresh salads (like the one above serving as camouflage for the delicious Scottish eggs), many twists on burgers, and lamb shank presented with a mash of root vegetables and gravy.
We tried everything we could. We even picked up some crumpets for a taste (shhh .... they're pancakes).
And then there's gin.
The Scots like gin.
On the tram going into Edinburgh, young Jamie, the ticket inspector, took a 15-minute break while en route during the 20-minute ride and was happy to make suggestions about what to see and do in the city. One suggestion we took him up on was a late afternoon visit to The Jolly Botanist.
The Jolly's main menu consists of eight pages of ways to mix and garnish a plethora of gins. It's daunting! I'm confidant years of patronage are required to truly appreciate all gin has to offer. We are mere neophytes. Also featured was fine pub food, like what we had—the three Scottish cheeses mac & cheese and the Jolly Scottish egg!
Having Jamie as our ticket inspector—What luck!
This was an expeditionary adventure for us and as such, some places were great and others, well, not as much. Like all adventure travel, it's hit and miss. One thing for sure, websites can make anything look great.
In bullet format, here's a list the places we want to see more of:
*Pictured above: The Ring of Brodgar on the Orkney Islands! And this photo is available to purchase!
|And the People We Met|
Without exception, the people we met during our Scotland and Ireland adventure were friendly, always willing to help, and fun too! Like Laura at the rental car office, and Jamie, the Edinburgh tram ticket taker who's calling really should be tour guide. And then there's Dannii, our host at the Airbnb in Rathos, who gave us so much great information about Edinburgh and beyond! So welcoming!
And THEN there's the Scotsman who found our car and hotel keys that were ejected from my pocket when I slipped on Orkney seaweed-kelp snot and placed them on a parking lot wood post!
Pictured above at the John O'Groats Brewery - Last Pub, Sharon and Alan were happy to give pointers of "must go" places on the Orkneys.
Not pictured above are Jim and Fiona who were conversation starters at a pub in Findhorn, just outside Inverness (and bought Natalie a dram of scotch).
Finally, we can't forget to mention the ladies at the Italian Chapel on the Orkney Islands that helped us try to find a tyre shop open on a Saturday afternoon ... and then Suzanne at The Murray Arms Hotel who helped get us in touch with Ian who ultimately performed the tyre replacement and got us back on track!
Scottish people are nice!
Until then ... Ciao!
Don't take off that kilt or tartan just yet because today you REALLY ARE in LUCK!
Come along and see the rest of the trip in all of its photographic glory with more photos of lamb, puffins, and other Scottish things!
Two albums ... with labeled images ...
- Click here for TourAlongWithTodd - Scotland Album 1
- Click here for TourAlongWithTodd - Scotland Album 2
To view in slideshow format:
- Once at the album, click the right-facing arrow in the upper right corner to start the slideshow.
- Use the slideshow controls in lower middle of the screen to navigate as the show plays (go back, go forward, pause).