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The Isle of Skye

Well, last night we got some of the best sleep we have all trip. The hotel is weird and probably not deserving of the three stars it claims to have, but the beds were comfortable and we were in them early…around 10:00 or so. With that solid night’s sleep behind us, we both woke up feeling a lot better than we did last night!

On the topic of the hotel…this morning, we couldn’t get our email or anything. This is because apparently the hotel hasn’t been paying their Internet bill! If you tried to do anything online, you just got a page for British Telecom saying “Service suspended; your payment is overdue”. Very amusing, but also annoying. Certainly doesn’t reflect well on the hotel!

This hotel has an overdue internet bill

I took a short wander outside before breakfast this morning; it was quite misty, but I took a few pictures. Breakfast was very average…though apparently there was a medical emergency and somebody came looking for anyone with medical training! We currently have three nurses and possibly a doctor in our group; one of the nurses went to help out. Pamela and I missed the whole thing, though we heard about it after, and saw the ambulance. The story we got is that an old lady who was at the hotel had a stroke; we doubt that’s true because the ambulance was in no hurry to take anyone anywhere.

The deep, calm waters of Loch Ness

Nessie leaving Loch Ness. Doesn’t the terrain look exactly like the Whiteshell?

Then we started this morning with a cruise on Loch Ness. It was a little drizzly and misty, so while it was very pretty, nobody really wanted to be outside on top of the boat. It was a nice relaxing cruise, but the weather wasn’t great for photos. The scenery in the area was very similar to the Whiteshell! Though we did see a beautiful old castle on the shore (Urquhart Castle), which you wouldn’t get in the Whiteshell. We didn’t see Nessie, so that was disappointing.

Urquhart Castle

The shores of Loch Ness in the morning rain and mist

Now yesterday I said we had taken a longer drive than necessary, but I was wrong; I had misunderstood our guide. That bit was today: we did a scenic drive through the highlands. Specifically, we went for a drive on the Isle of Skye, which is just off the west coast of Scotland (you can get there on a bridge). There were no “attractions”, per se, on the island; it’s just a pretty drive. Lots of lochs, Gaelic signs, long-haired highland coos (aka cows), mountains, and windy roads. We made a couple of stops for photos, with lunch in the town of Portree.

A river that apparently has the water of youth in it. You need to wash your face in it for seven seconds.

Portree

Like I said, it was a nice drive, and Roxy played all Celtic music on the coach instead of the club/dance/techno tunes that she normally does, so that was a nice touch. Unfortunately, she also insisted on giving us a couple of her history lessons along the way. I honestly don’t think there’s a single person on this bus that cares. Several of us do enjoy history, but it’s a bit much, and while she tries hard, she’s not the best storyteller. We’ve even got a history major on the bus, and he’s said he’s had enough. Oh well…

The weather really cleared up as the day went on: by the afternoon we had bright sunshine and big expanses of blue sky. But it wasn’t hot, like it was earlier in the trip. Really, it was gorgeous. Hard to believe that we’re almost as far north as Churchill, MB!

A stream in the highlands

This tall rock has a name that I forget

We also stopped at Eilean Donan castle. (Roxy pronounces this “illan donnan”; I don’t totally trust her in these matters but it sounds plausible.) There’s some weird story associated with this about a baby boy whose very first drink was drank out of the skull of a raven. It gave him the power to understand and speak to birds, but there’s some questionable parenting involved.

Eilean Donan

Our last stop for the day was by Ben Nevis (sp?). This is the highest peak in Scotland…though it’s not particularly high by, say, Rocky Mountain standards. Roxy says she’s never seen the top, and was getting optimistic with the nice weather we were having, but by the time we got there, it was cloudy again, and the peak was not quite visible. Oh well.

Ben Nevis, its peak in the clouds

For the night, we’re in a town called Fort William. It’s a “young” city, at least relative to the others we’ve been in, since this has only been around since the 15th century. It really gives you a sense of how old everything is here when a 500-year-old city is young. We’re a little ways away from the town pubs and restaurants, so most people opted for the coach ride into town for dinner, but a few of us just ate in the hotel bar. A great choice, actually…Pamela and I had a Cajun chicken breast dinner that actually was real food, not deep-fried, and felt like it might be prolonging our lives instead of shortening them.

The Scottish Highlands

Tomorrow’s an early morning again: up at 6:30, on the bus at 7:45, so we’re hoping to get to bed nice and early again. And tomorrow night we’ll be in Glasgow for our last night with the tour group before we’re on our own again, so we might actually head out to the pubs with everyone for goodbyes. We both want to, but it depends how we’re feeling.

 

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Winding through the highlands

After our nice leisurely day in Edinburgh, we’re on the road again today. We’re told that the drive from last night’s hotel to tonight’s hotel could be done in not much more than two hours, but we take all day to do it, because we take the scenic route and make a couple stops. So, after breakfast was served (I didn’t have any), we had about a 90-minute drive in the drizzle and cold to the Scottish town of St Andrews.

A bustling St Andrews street

This seems to be a really sleepy little place. It has an old ruined cathedral, an old ruined castle, a very prestigious university (the one where Prince William met Kate Middleton), and a very prestigious golf course (if they decide to let you play there, you have to book a year in advance, and it costs about £1,000).

The ruined cathedral in St Andrews

St Andrews on the coast, and it was cold and damp and rainy and windy. For some reason, I had a series of massive coughing fits for about 15 minutes when we got off the bus, so that really got my morning off to a good start :). There’s not a lot to do in town, and neither Pamela nor I were really excited to be there. We saw the old cathedral and its graveyard (where William Wallace’s gravestone is), as well as the castle (from a distance). Then we saw a Costa Coffee, and I was all over that. Hot chocolate and a brownie served as my breakfast, and Pamela bought a gingerbread man with union jack buttons because it amused her.

The ruined castle in St Andrews

We did have a older local gentleman apologize for the weather (“It’s no alwaes like this!”), and then we stumbled across a cute little churchyard that was out of the wind; I took the opportunity to take a few pictures. We had nothing that we really wanted to see, so we just meandered through town. We saw parts of the university (it’s spread out quite a bit), and passed a coffee shop that proclaimed “Will and Kate met here for coffee” (with “for coffee” in much smaller letters). We eventually made our way to the official St Andrews Links golf shop, where we were supposed to meet the bus. We nosed around the tiny little shop, and were quite ready to leave about 20 minutes before the bus was. So I took a few pictures of the golf course, and we hung out with all the other people who were waiting to get back on the warm bus.

St Andrews golf course

As we continued towards Inverness, the scenery really started to remind me of driving through BC. It was hilly, and very green and lush, with streams and even pine trees at times. Quite nice; not exciting.

Pitlochry, Scotland

Lunch was at a town (city?) called Pitlochry. We just stopped for about 45 minutes to grab a quick lunch, but it’s clearly a popular coach stop. There were another six or seven coaches in the parking lot that we were in, and the area was full of restaurants and gift shops. Pamela and I ended up in a fish & chips shop run by a burly Scot. Deep fried food is very popular in Scotland; Pamela’s hoping to find a deep-fried Mars bar somewhere. We had “chicken breast chunks” and chips (with white vinegar instead of malt vinegar, for this first time this trip), and I had an Irn Bru. I don’t think I’ve mentioned this before.

Just some of the coaches parked in Pitlochry

Irn Bru is a soft drink that’s very popular in Scotland. In fact, it’s apparently more popular than Coke, making Scotland one of the few countries in which Coke isn’t the #1 soft drink. Irn Bru is basically orange pop, though it’s got a more complex flavour than, say, Orange Crush; I think it tastes a bit like cream soda.

We kept heading north, and made it to the Glenlivet distillery for a tour and whiskey tasting. It was neat to visit such a well-known distillery, and the free scotch at the end didn’t hurt either! We had three options; I think the one I chose was an 18-year-old. The amusing highlight of the tasting was probably the fact that most of the people on the bus obviously don’t drink scotch.

The Glenlivet warehouses

Quotes afterwards included:

  • “Our tastebuds are destroyed.”
  • “My stomach hurts.”
  • “Very bad memories.”

I was apparently one of the few people on the bus who will actually drink a scotch on occasion. I was probably most amused by our 18-year-old American, who has been enjoying drinking legally for the first time. He…was not a fan of the scotch :-).

The Glenlivet distillery. The new distillery is on the left; the old is on the right

Then, just after leaving the distillery, we passed a golf course named “Ballindalloch Castle Golf Course”. Which amused me and seemed worth sharing.

A nice display inside The Glenlivet.

Overall, the drive today felt a lot more familiar than probably anywhere else we’ve been. Some of the houses could have been right at home in Canada. There were cattle pastures by the side of the road, and forests of pine and birch. Some of the hills and windy roads in the highlands might have been the Trans-Canada through northern Ontario. Of course there were plenty of discrepancies, starting with the fact that we were driving on the left side of the road, but the scene was not nearly as foreign as most of what we’ve been looking at on this trip.

Sheep in the Scottish Highlands

We’re now at a hotel that’s just full of character: the Loch Ness Lodge Hotel. It’s kind of small, and the rooms are freezing, but it feels like stepping back in time. There are about a dozen of us in the library right now: tartan carpet, tartan curtains on the bay window, couches, a wood fireplace with a roaring fire, and one wall covered in a bookshelf full of old books. And we’re all on our iPads and smartphones and laptops because it’s one of the only places in the hotel that you can get wifi 🙂