Exploring Scotland – Part X: The Return to Edinburgh

Day 10 – 4th August 2013

Today marked the final day of our tour through Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, as we left the Isle of Skye behind and moved back onto the Scottish mainland. Where we arrived in Uig by ferry a couple of days ago, today we were headed down the eastern road along the Inner Sound, passing by the islands of Rassay and Scalpay as we went towards the Skye Bridge over to the mainland.

The bridge connects over the sound between the villages of Kyle of Lochalsh on the mainland and Kyleakin on the island, and was built from 1992-1995 when it opened. There had been a toll on the bridge of £11.40 (return trips) for a short time before it was cancelled due to heavy protests that it was the most expensive road in Europe and non-payment by residents. In December 2004, the bridge was bought for £27 million and tolls immediately ceased. The image below shows the segment from Eilean Bàn (where there’s a support structure for the bridge between Skye and the mainland.

Skye Bridge, Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

Skye Bridge, Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland. ©  J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

We drove down to Eilean Donan Castle, to visit and take photographs. I visited here when I was in the UK seven years earlier but it’s still pretty impressive. The castle is strategically situated at the head of three lochs – Loch Alsh, Loch Long and Loch Duich and was built as a defence against warring clans and nations. The original medieval structures were built in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. By the end of the 15th century, however, the castle had been reduced to 538 square metres. In the 16th century a hornwork was built with a hexagonal bastion and added to the east wall.

Like many castles in Scotland that were used as defences, such as Urquhart Castle, Eilean Donan Castle was destroyed in 1719 when it was bombarded by English ships against the Jacobite stronghold and Spanish soldiers who were helping the Jacobites. The castle sat in ruins for nearly two hundred years before being rebuilt by Major / Lt. Col. John McRae-Gilstrap and Farquhar MacRae over a twenty year period. Rumour has it that the architect had received the blue-prints of the original castle in a dream and devised the rebuilt castle from these plans, and when the original blueprints were found at Edinburgh Castle from a survey of the property just five years before its 1719 destruction, it was determined that the newer blueprints for the castle to be very close to the original. It cost £250,000 to build and was formally completed in 1932. The Billeting Room’s walls are 4.26 metres (14 feet) thick. Visitors are unable to take photographs inside, but if you’re interested, the official Eilean Donan Castle site offers a virtual tour through the grounds. The following are photographs I took on and around the castle grounds.

Eilean Donan Castle, Dornie, Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

Eilean Donan Castle, Dornie, Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

Eilean Donan Castle, Dornie, Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

Eilean Donan Castle, Dornie, Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

View from Eilean Donan Castle, Dornie, Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

View from Eilean Donan Castle, Dornie, Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

Eilean Donan Castle, Dornie, Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

Eilean Donan Castle, Dornie, Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

Eilean Donan Castle, Dornie, Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

Eilean Donan Castle, Dornie, Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

View from Eilean Donan Castle, Dornie, Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

View from Eilean Donan Castle, Dornie, Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

Eilean Donan Castle, Dornie, Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

Eilean Donan Castle, Dornie, Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

Before we left, I went into the gift shop to pick up a few things (music, a t-shirt, some postcards and stamps), and just as we were leaving, there was a little sprinkle of rain coming down, but it didn’t last too long as we moved further south-east and stopped in Fort William for a lunch break. Several of us went together to a pub that had some really good food before meeting up again in The Parade area in front of the Duncansburgh MacIntosh Parish of the Church of Scotland.

The Parade, Fort William, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

The Parade, Fort William, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

Duncansburgh MacIntosh Parish, Church of Scotland, Fort William, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

Duncansburgh MacIntosh Parish, Church of Scotland, Fort William, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

From here we returned to the area of Glencoe and Ballachulish that we’d passed through on the first day of our trip. I’d remarked, amusedly, that a friend of mine who lives in the area was actually visiting Canada at the same time I was visiting her hometown area.

The area shown in the pictures below are of Bidean nam Bian (The Three Sisters of Glen Coe) just south of Glencoe, are a part of three ridges that extend into the glen.

Glencoe, Highlands, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

Glencoe, Highlands, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

Glencoe, Highlands, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

Glencoe, Highlands, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

Glencoe, Highlands, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

Glencoe, Highlands, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

We stopped off for a little break as we headed down through the Trussochs and down to Stirling and as we went south the sun had come out and was really quite nice. We stopped not far from Stirling Castle to take some photos – from a different angle than from the long distance shot I took from the Wallace Monument ten days earlier. This was our final stop before heading back in to Edinburgh where we were being dropped off at Waverley Bridge. Thea, one of my trip companions, and I were staying in the same area but not the same hostel, so we headed to our respective places and agreed to meet up a little bit later to go grab some supper.

Stirling Castle, Stirling, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

Stirling Castle, Stirling, Scotland. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 4th August, 2013

As usual for my trip – except for a couple stops – my accomodations had me on the third floor of a hostel. Old building, no elevator. Luggage. Anyway, as my train was to depart really early the next morning, they didn’t charge me the room deposit. They also pre-ordered a taxi ride for the morning to take me to the train station, which I gratefully appreciated. I deposited my stuff in the room I was staying and headed out to meet Thea. We had a wonderful dinner before we parted ways and I headed back to the hostel to get ready for bed and make sure all my stuff was packed.

The next morning came really early, as I mentioned, and it didn’t take me long to get dressed and carry all my stuff down three flights of stairs and drop my key off at the hostel office mail slot. The cab driver dropped me off at the platform level, and I’d forgotten about going up stairs to the main station offices to get the actual ticket – I had my payment confirmation slip with me, but at least the train operator let me stay on board…thankfully, since we were already past Edinburgh when he came round. I got into London about 11:30am-ish, then the Tube over to Victoria station and another train over to my cousin’s in Epsom. I was beat. But not too beat to go meet up with a friend in London that afternoon. 🙂

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Exploring Scotland – Part I: A Journey Through Time

I’m breaking this up in to sections due to amount of photographs that would slow down loading of the page.

I arrived in Edinburgh later than planned in that I got on the wrong train; two TransPennine trains leaving about 5 minutes apart. Got on the earlier of the two and by the time I realised my error and switched back to Manchester Piccadilly, the train I needed had left. So, I talked to one of the TransPennine agents and I could get on the next train departing two hours later. That was a bit of a fun ride as we were packed in tight, standing in the carriage aisles and door passageways with a group of young men and women heading to a music festival. About an hour and a bit into the trip I finally managed to get a seat and we finally arrived in Edinburgh around six pm. I took a taxi to the Castle Rock Hostel where I was staying for the night. After checking in, I ventured out for more photo-taking and a search for food. Unfortunately, Edinburgh Castle was closed to visitors in the evening – tours (walking or guided) run in the mornings and I was going to be off on my Rabbie’s Tour by then, so I wandered around a bit and got some distance shots of the castle. I finally ended up at the White Hart Inn, which as the oldest pub in Edinburgh, built in 1516, is a place I’d been before but it was well worth the return. Steak & Ale pie, wine, and listening to local live folk music.

Balmoral Hotel in the distance, © J. Lynn Stapleton, 25th July 2013

Balmoral Hotel in the distance, © J. Lynn Stapleton, 25th July 2013

Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 25th July 2013

Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 25th July 2013

Edinburgh Flower Clock, Princes St. Gardens, Edinburgh, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 25th July 2013

Edinburgh Flower Clock, Princes St. Gardens, Edinburgh, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 25th July 2013

High Street,  Edinburgh, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 25th July 2013

High Street, Edinburgh, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 25th July 2013

Old City, Edinburgh, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 25th July 2013

Old City, Edinburgh, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 25th July 2013

White Hart Inn Pub, Edinburgh, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 25th July 2013

White Hart Inn Pub, Edinburgh, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 25th July 2013

Stairway to Johnston Terrace, Edinburgh, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 25th July 2013

, Edinburgh, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 25th July 2013

Orkney & Outer Hebrides Tour – Day 1
On Friday morning, I headed down to the mid-lower end of High Street / Royal Mile to where the Rabbie’s Tours were to be departing. Like the Wild-In-Scotland Tour I took seven years ago, these tours also operated 16-passenger small bus tours around England, Scotland, and Ireland. The 10-day tour I was taking was essentially two tours combined in to one large one – Orkney & Outer Hebrides. The great thing with Rabbies is that they guarantee departures, even if it’s just one person taking the tour (aside from the tour guide). However, our tour was full. We had folks from Canada, Germany, Denmark, Taiwan (though living in Germany), United States, United Kingdom and Australia; and in the second tour there were four of us from the first tour also doing the second. Rabbie’s Tours took their name from the Scottish Poet Robbie Burns, and they’ve won several awards as a tour company. Our Tour guide for the first section was Gus, who was from around the Inverness area, and gave a great history of the areas that we were passing through.

Today we started out heading from Edinburgh and over to Stirling, where we went up to the Wallace Monument, standing on the Abbey Craig that overlooks the city of Stirling and was constructed in the 1860s.

Stirling, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

Stirling, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

Wallace Monument, Stirling, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

Wallace Monument, Stirling, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

Stirling Castle, Stirling, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

Stirling Castle, Stirling, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

Butterfly, Wallace Monument, Stirling, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

Butterfly, Wallace Monument, Stirling, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

The butterfly was taken just after the one of Stirling Castle, as we spotted it just before we were taking a path to head back to the carpark where our tour bus was waiting. Four of us, however, managed to take a wrong path somewhere along the way and headed in the opposite direction – the paths were not well marked – and we ended up coming out along the A907/Alloa Road. Two of us had mobile phones, so we contacted the Rabbie’s office and let them know where we were. Just as we got to a medical equipment supply shop the heavens opened up and the rain started to pour down. About 10-15 minutes later, the Rabbie’s van showed up to our great delight and much laughter was to be had.

Orkney & Outer Hebrides Tour – Day 1 (Continued)

Leaving Stirling behind, we moved through the Trussachs, Callander, Loch Lommand National Park, and headed into the Highlands. The further north we travelled, the place names on the signs changed from English only to Scots Gaelic, in larger font with the English in a smaller font beneath it.

Our first major stop was at the Ski Lodge where we stopped for lunch and two of us brave souls decided to go up on the lift to the top of the mountain for a look, not realising that it took about twenty minutes to get up, and then another twenty to return. The actual run up and back wasn’t so bad, and even, but the getting on and off the lift chair was a little nerve-wracking with the sudden lift up. I’m not a skiier so I’ve never done this before. In summertime, the Lodge often runs mountain biking tournaments…now, in looking at the trail as I went up the mountain – that’s some scary looking turns coming down. However, being up at the top did provide for some gorgeous views.

Glencoe Ski Resort, Glencoe, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

Glencoe Ski Resort, Glencoe, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

Glencoe Ski Resort, Glencoe, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

Glencoe Ski Resort, Glencoe, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

We drove along through Glencoe and as our guide gave us the history of the Massacre of Glencoe, it was at times hard to believe the beauty of the area was witness to such devastation 321 years ago as thirty-eight MacDonalds of the Clan MacDonald were killed by the king’s soldiers and another forty women and children died of exposure as their homes were burned to the ground.

Glencoe, UK, © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

Glencoe, UK, © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

Glencoe, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

Glencoe, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

Glencoe, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

Glencoe, UK. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

After this, we went through the Great Glen, stopping at Spean Bridge along the A82 to see the Commando Memorial then along the length Loch Ness, stopping briefly at Urqhuart Castle to take a couple photos.

Commando Monument, Lochaber Scotland, UK © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

Lochaber

Urquhart Castle, © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

Urquhart Castle, © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

We finally ended up in Inverness for the night where we were dropped at our accommodations. I got signed in to the hostel where I had a booking, then headed out for food, picture-taking opportunities and souvenirs (not necessarily in that order). For supper, I met up with a few people from our tour group at Joy of Taste. It’s a really nice place where the staff, aside from the chefs, are volunteers that share in the love of serving fantastic food, they work one shift a week who are paid in food. And trust me, the food was fantastic 🙂

Inverness, Highland, UK © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

Inverness, Highland, UK © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

Inverness, Highland, UK © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

Inverness, Highland, UK © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

Inverness, Highland, UK © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

Inverness, Highland, UK © J. Lynn Stapleton, 26th July 2013

Stay tuned for more of my UK Vacation…