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SCOTLAND - join us as we conclude our 7 week UK odyssey, even discovering my family Clan Castle along the way!

Updated: Jan 30



Hello again!


Not many people probably start a blog from the very top of Scotland -

but hey, let's just break that mold!

Consider this the top of the rollercoaster!

Let's go!




Following straight on from my last blog - The first part of Scotland,

where we had just made it to the very top of mainland UK,

and completed our 'End to End' journey -

(from Land's End, England, to John O'Groats here in Scotland)...

Here I will continue our journey south towards our end goal of London,

and I have some amazing sights and fun stories to share with you along the way!

Buckle - up!



There was a lovely cafe here at John O'Groats, right at the top of Bonnie Scotland,

just adjacent to where the cars usually line up to load onto the ferry

to cruise across to the Orkney Islands... Not today, Josephine, and not for us either - sadly.

They were cancelled until further notice, due to the storms and heavy tides.

Remember this shot I posted?

We were super bummed not to get across to the islands, with their ancient history,

more standing stones and ancient churches, and basically,

the most northern Scotland Island life, apart from The Shetlands.



So, drowning our sorrows in our bellies,

we had an early lunch of seafood chowder and more incredible Scottish scallops,

before heading south along the coastline,

to a new overnight stay on our itinerary, (thanks to the tip from our last host Kevin) ;

the coastal village of Brora.

But not before a couple of stops along the way -


Cruising through the North Eastern town of Wick, it was definitely worth the quick stop to see the place I had earmarked in my travel journal - a famous hotel sitting on the

'World's Shortest Street'.

I love these random 'World's highest, shortest, weirdest things', and this is just another one to add to my growing collection.


Mackay's is a very well known hotel here, and actually, quite posh too!

We poked our heads in, but weren't really properly attired for the white glove service -

we really only wanted a photo... :)




The town of Wick, perched either side of a gorgeous fast moving river,

coincidentally named;

Wick River 😉 - was really quite lovely.

Very European in a way.



Following here, our next stop was completely random, and also most memorable.

This is the part we love so much when we are driving along - we see a sign post to a village, it may say 'harbour', 'roman villa' or 'historical town' - mate, we're in!


Lybster, was definitely one of those, AND, possibly the best one so far.

Trev seems to have a nose for a lighthouse now, and he didn't disappoint.

As we cruised down the empty main street, we saw this display,

 and instantly he was Sherlock, and I was Watson.

Right turn Clyde!




And just look.

If a picture paints 1000 words, here's 9000 - just spared. Phew, I here you mutter. (Same. 😁)

Check out Trev's shot at the end, of the waves of the North Sea crashing into the lighthouse. My 'blog-tog' at it again!

WOW.








Great shot, Trev!



And I snapped this on our way out. The history of Lybster.

People have been settled here for 5000 years!!!!!! That's almost as long as in Egypt!

WHOA.

If you're on your phone, you can enlarge this to read, if you wish.

It's fascinating.


All this, you could so easily miss, whilst driving along the main road,

oblivious to the treasures you may be passing by.

Tip - take the turn offs. Stretch your legs.

Be enlightened.


Finally pulling into the quaint village of Brora,

we found our hotel, (that we had only booked last night),

right by the shoreline.

The Royal Marine Hotel was an absolute FIND!

From the cosy fireplaced lounge upon entry,

to the amazing service and our enormous room,

 plus an extraordinary dinner - served with white gloves...

We were in VERY good hands!


❤️


---


The following morning, as we were checking out, the manager appeared and asked us

how our stay was, and what our future plans were for the following few days.

We had such a great conversation!


 He gave us some tips about our first stop, which will be the picturesque Dunrobin Castle,

then told us of a great pub to go to whilst in Inverness (our next 2 nights),

as well as a cool spot to visit on the shores of Loch Ness.

Brilliant!


When I mentioned to him that I am STILL yet to hear some bagpipes,

 he was shocked and immediately said,

"Well, I can fix that!

Let me pipe you out to your car!"


No way!

SOOOOO COOOOL!

I was a tad excited!

It stirs me blood, I tell ya.


❤️


Only five miles from Brora, is the fairytale castle known as Dunrobin. With its spires and turrets, its almost reminicent of Disneyland,

and so worthy as my opening photo of this blog!


With the site dating back to the 1300's,

and a history connected to the Jacobite Uprising of 1745,

the current castle was opened in 1845,

and has been occupied the entire time since.



A good thing to travel in the off season, and also arriving early,

as we only had to deal with a couple of bus loads

of what I can refer to as: truly annoying tourists. Literally, all they were asking for was the bathroom, and the shop.

UGH.


This castle was gorgeous, and all the rooms were perfectly furnished

and decorated in its original era. We loved it.





But wait...the gardens...by the ocean - oh my heart. 💚🌳



PLUS ...they had a falconry display, including hawks and my favourite owls too!

BONUS!



How awesome!

I had read online that it had finished for the season,

so this was a delightful added surprise. All included in your nominal entry fee.


Front row seats baby!


COOL place! If you're up this way, make sure you drop by. They close for the winter - Nov 1- March 31. (We made it by just 3 days).


The drive from here, was again, nothing short of gorgeous. The autumnal tree colours of orange and yellow, towering over the road

making for a glorious exit from the castle.




And when I saw this guy near a fence, I just had to get out to say hello. Isn't he adorable?

I know - 'Why the long face'...?

🐴 😆





Onto Inverness!

Finally!


After being diverted a few weeks ago, due to earlier storms, we were pumped to finally make it to this absolutely darling of a city - the largest of the Scottish Highlands. Still, only around the 50,000 mark...a tiny city by the world's standards.


I LOVED THIS TOWN.

One of my favourites on this whole British adventure. Don't ask me why.

Must be the Highlands in my veins, but it truly resonated with me. It felt, familiar.

Welcoming.

Home.


But before finding our hotel, we decided to make the most of the daylight, and the weather - incase it was raining tomorrow...

and go and visit something that was right at the top of our 'to-do' list in Scotland.


I had to highlight that in blue, rather than red. I am 100% team Jacobite.

(Apologies to my English mate, Tom.)

Now, sorry to admit, that until 'Outlander',

I had never heard of Culloden, or the Jacobites for that matter.

Never once was it taught in my history lessons at school in Australia,

or had I heard it mentioned ever since.

So TV, on occasion, can really inspire one's love for history,

and this occasion is the perfect example.


What can I say about this place? A lot.

And nothing.

All in the one package.

A very sombre place indeed.

I can best describe it as follows:


To those who haven't heard, this was the site of of the last pitched battle on British soil.

It was over in only one hour, and by then 1500 Jacobite rebels

lay dead or wounded,

compared to only 50 of the British Government troops.

Following this, the battleground was guarded for 3 days by the victors,

to ensure no assistance was given to the dead or wounded Jacobites.

😡


As well, in the aftermath, a further 1000 Highlanders and those who

protected them, were hunted down and killed.

It was these actions, amongst others, that earned the leader of the Government troops, The Duke of Cumberland, the nickname; 'The Butcher'. (Conveniently for him, he was also the King's son.)

He also ordered that all the clans were to be disbanded, tartan was made illegal, their native Gaelic language was forbidden and the bagpipes were sadly silenced.

It was the tragic end to the historic Clan culture.


And to me, the desolation remains in the Scottish Highlands to this day.

The stone huts and many former castles, are still in ruins.

Nearly 280 years later. It was like they left, and nobody ever came back.


It is also said, that Cumberland gave land owners one sheep,

for every Highlander they turned in.


The Highlands are still full of sheep.

Not people.

Whilst pretty, the history of it saddens me no end.





When we first arrived, and after walking through the very educational visitor's centre,

we wandered out to the battleground.


You are met first up with a line of red flags - which marks the British Government line.

The blue flag line marking the Jacobite position, was way off in the distance.


With just one look at Trev, I literally said,

"I can't stay here - I have to be up there with ma boys."



Sorry about the wind in the audio, but imagine it then, freezing, wet, windy,

and they were exhausted and depleted of numbers.

Doesn't look as far as it is in real life, but with guns and cannons firing into them,

and the opposition having far more troops, who were much fresher, and with new tactics to defend against the Highland Charge -

the Jacobites were annihilated.

Rapidly.



I laid my Clan Crawford tartan over this 'most photographed' tombstone,

and when I went to remove it, a few others asked if I could leave it so they could photograph it too. ❤️




And this is how the Culloden Moors look today.

They are getting it closer to how it looked back then. Uneven ground, potholes filled with freezing water, bog and marsh,

and certainly not the downhill hard terrain that the Highlanders

preferred for their much feared 'Highland Charge'.


You can feel the history.

The silence is overwhelming. It grips you.



~~~


Only a few minutes drive from the Culloden Battlefields,

lies an ancient site, known as Clava Cairns,

and with its Standing Stones, it's said to have been an inspiration

for the writer of 'Outlander'.


With carbon dating proving it is over 4000 years old, this is an ancient burial ground,

with the round stone tombs surrounded by stone circles.

But at the time, we were unaware it was a burial ground,

so apologies for our playful photos...😬

We have visited many graveyards and cemetaries in our travels, and find them fascinating,

and full of stories that need to be remembered and honoured.


The surrounding autumn trees in the golden light, were really beautiful, and once again,

we felt like we were the only ones in the world.




Back to Inverness now, to our fantastically located hotel, 'The Columba',

right on the 'River Ness' and the bridge over to the city.


Time for a wee explore to find the sports bar we were recommended by

last night's hotel manager,

and as it is the Rugby World Cup Final tonight, it's going to be busy!



The one time we go for New Zealand - and they lose. Meh.

We're Aussies, and are fierce rivals. 😜


Being a weekend, and with Halloween just around the corner,

there were plenty of 'interesting sights' to see when we left the pub. This though was my favouite. A gorgeous old building, with moody blue lighting,

and a full moon.

Wow.



---

Today: Two words -

Loch Ness!

THIS, I was very much looking forward to!

I did visit here, back on that Contiki Tour I had mentioned in the last blog - hey, I was 18, and whilst my 'travel memory' is usually spot on, those days are a little...hazy, for obvious 'Contiki reasons'...🍹


Very keen to experience this anew with Trev, and if there's one thing you do at

Loch Ness...well actually, there's two... First is, you MUST get out onto the water. Loch Ness is a very long and narrow Loch, and worth the cruise, especially when its misty. So beautiful. And the second is, to visit Urquhart Castle, a ruin which is right on the water's edge,

and an absolute favourite amongst photographers.


But even before all that, we drove down the shores, to a place called 'Dores Beach'. This was on the recommendation of the manager from our last hotel that I mentioned.


Driving down there, I must say was beyond stunning at this time of year.

Literally, our eyes were filled with yellows, golds and rich ambers,

that honestly ...let me try to describe... made you actually feel - warmer.


He strongly suggested we get down there, as there is a very interesting character that has a trailer right on the water's edge, that he said we HAD to find!

The 'Nessie Hunter'!

Challenge accepted!




Found his trailer, but he wasn't home, bummer.


He wasn't a 'hunter' per se, more like an avid watcher and researcher. Might not pay very well if you ask me. ;)

But it was a lovely spot on the Loch,

and only a few people this time of year,

wandering around with their dogs, which was lovely.

Back to town, and we had a date for a scrumptious lunch,

before joining an actual organised tour for the afternoon, first by coach,

then onto a boat for a cruise on Loch Ness to Urquhart Castle.

Love the guy crashed out behind Trev. 😆


Nice for Trev not to drive for a change, and enjoy all the stunning scenery.


With daylight savings having just turned back last night, we are going to lose light a lot quicker now at the end of the day,

so we have to bear that in mind now for the rest of the trip.

Especially being this far north in the world!



Got a tad windy on the boat as we approached Urquhart Castle, and wait...

what's that in the background?

A clever little edit our daughter sent back to us.

How cute!



The fabulous ruins of this ancient castle is one of the most visited in Scotland. It attracts half a million visitors every year as it sits on an accessible outcrop on Loch Ness, and also is only 21 picturesque kilometres from Inverness. It is sought out by professional and amateur photographers alike,

as they often wait patiently for those perfect sunset/sunrise,

or even Northern Lights photos.


Photo Credit: T Schaeffer


We only had about an hour here, (this is what happens with tour buses),

so we had to get a wriggle on to see it all,

and get some nice photos before walking up the hill to the coach.



It's considered to having had been probably the largest castle in Scotland, in it's day, when fully intact.




Back to Inverness for one last night, and it saw us having a delicious

dinner at a curry restaurant,

just a few doors down from our hotel. We could literally smell the delights before we saw the place,

so we booked it this morning as we walked past.

British/Indian curry = Yummo!


---


A new day, and sadly, it's time to leave these gorgeous Scottish Highlands.

😩 They have certainly found a nook in my heart to live forever!


Not a far drive today, only 3 hours, but we have a few stops to make before our due time in Edinburgh, to drop back our car rental. We won't need it for the three days we have in this city,

as its so easy to get around, either walking, or jumping on the On/Off bus.

Also, we have actually booked a day tour as well.

We will pick up a rental car again later as we further our trip south. There's a lot to see before we get there, and we have huge plans over the next few days. What's new? 😆


Again, driving down what was more of a highway now,

as opposed to the wee lanes of the Highlands,

I spotted a lake through the most beautiful forest of autumn coloured trees,

so we took the very next exit, with hope to finding a nice spot for what I was after -

a still lake reflection shot.

We weren't disappointed.

Snap! 📷

Not only did we find a 'Folly' - like a privately built mini Castle, but the walk down to the water's edge offered me what I think were my finest autumn shots of the entire trip. You decide! 👍






And when we decided it was a good idea to take a selfie

whilst we made visible breath in the crisp air -

it ended up making Trev look like a fish, and me - well, I best not say!

😮


🤣


Next stop, is the super cool: Duone Castle.


Used in many scenes in the Monty Python Holy Grail film - cue King Arthur and his loyal servant Patsy, riding imaginary horses with the sound of coconuts! I had believed this was set in a previous castle we visited in Wales, but I was wrong. The film locations were 100% Scotland, and a lot of them right here. However, we're here for a more modern fan reason.

Yup.

Sorry, not sorry.

This is also known as 'Castle Leoch' to us Outlanders.

🤩


Its a beautiful ruin, and definitely worth your time, and so cheap to enter -

I think it was about 10 pounds, with an audio tour.

CRAZY narrow laneways to get there - and it makes me wonder what kind of impact all those film trucks would have had/endured...just manoeuvring themselves constantly down these ancient lanes.


(Outlander FYI - they used CGI to make it more of a decrepit ruin,

for the 1940's version, in the first episode. )




And here is what it looks like now, compared to the set they created.


Below is the kitchen, and this was recreated exactly in a soundstage for

Outlander's 'Mrs Fitz's kitchen', as they wanted to preserve the ruin as much as possible.

It's nice to walk through the original. 👍





A really lovely ruin to explore, and still so intact.


We cracked on from here, as we still had a ways to go to get to Edinburgh,

and we had a couple more stops to fulfil.


The first one being The Wallace Monument.

Completed in 1869, this 220 foot monument was built to commemorate Scotland's most endeared hero; William Wallace (AKA Braveheart).


It's a good uphill walk to get up there, and then a further 226 step climb to get to the top.


I wish we had the time to climb, (or really - the energy), but we didn't have either.



Pretty cool view from up there though for those who make it!

So, my pics were all from ground level. ;)




We had to skedaddle from here, as we still had to visit Stirling Castle, and get back to Edinburgh by 3pm to drop the car off.

It wasn't looking good for the car rental return, just sayin.

But we weren't going to miss out on anything! If we get charged being late - so be it.

Stirling, here we come!


And we weren't disappointed.





And just look at the view in winter.

Be still ma beatin' heart!



Perched high on the hill, overlooking the village like town of Stirling,

and with a view across the wide valley to the Wallace Monument in the distance,

and the mountains framing the background,

Stirling Castle is the quintessential fortress. Being the former main residence of the Scottish Royal family,

it certainly has had a long and tumultuous history.

A fabulous place to visit, incredibly well kept and presented,

and you learn a lot as you wander through the living history of Scotland, yet again. Don't miss this one if you're nearby.




It's amazing to actually be up close and personal to the bed of Mary, Queen of Scots.


Mary Queen of Scots spent a lot of time here, as she was declared Queen of Scotland

at the tender age of just 6 days, when her father King Edward V died. She was coronated at 9 months of age, and it is said they just held the crown over her head, as she screamed the whole time.

Ha, maybe, just maybe, she knew what a torturous life she had ahead of her, poor Love.



Leaving here, and whilst its only 40 miles now to Edinburgh,

never believe your GPS for the time of 55 minutes for this trip.

More like 2 hrs! Consequently we were well overdue to return our car, but I must give a shout out to Enterprise Car rentals, as they have been brilliant, this whole UK trip. We have had an upgrade each time, and they didn't hit us up with a late fee. They were also more reasonably priced that the other ones, offering plenty of locations, car choices, and one way drop offs weren't an issue.


Edinburgh - Take 2.


If you read my last blog, Scotland part 1, you might remember that we had 2 unplanned days in Edinburgh on our way north, as we were stranded there by storms.

As we knew we we coming back, we saved a few choice things to see for this visit. PLUS, its Halloween, and man, do they celebrate it here or what?!

As it started here over 2000 years ago, they really get into it,

with hotels and stores all over the UK decorated

for quite a few weeks before the big night.

And we had tickets for a massive nightclub event,

and I came prepared to dress up accordingly.

But that's tomorrow night. (Or so I thought... 😉 )


We had a brilliantly located hotel this time, Motel One Edinburgh,

only a few minutes walk from the car rental return and main train station of Waverley,

also opposite the famous Edinburgh Dungeon attraction,

and an easy walk to the Royal Mile and Edinburgh Castle. Highly recommended.


A nice welcoming hotel reception! Love it.


So being just October 30, Halloween Eve, we enjoyed cruising the town, again,

grabbing some nice night photos of the Castle, just incase the weather turns. Today was quite a big day, with another one looming tomorrow! What's new? (Oh, FYI, if you're coming here, try to look up restaurants and book ahead. Even here in the shoulder season, most places are full every night,

with a queue out the door.)



---


Today it was time to finally hit the the castle.


Edinburgh Castle sits at the high end of 'The Royal Mile',

with another amazing attraction, 'Holyroodhouse' taking up place at the opposite end. We'll get there later.

Perched high, overlooking its city, Edinburgh Castle sits atop 'Castle Rock' -

an ancient volcanic plug of granite, and a site that has seen human habitation

since the Iron Age. A castle has been situated here since the 11th century,

and with having endured over 26 sieges,

it has the dubious honour of being one of the most attacked castles in the world.


This time of year is great to visit, with minimal crowds, so getting tickets on the day and

strolling in wasn't a problem.

What a castle!

You can get free guided tours, just check the times, as we missed ours. Never mind, we just tagged onto the end of another one!


I loved the oldest part, the tiny St Margaret's Chapel,

and I nailed a great shot of Margaret looking quite saintly indeed

in the stained glass window!



And everywhere you walked, your camera just wanted more and more photos!