On the road again…..last day, Glasgow back to Edinburgh

The drive, Glasgow to Edinburgh, is less than two hours in all. There is a lot to fit in, on this, the last day in Scotland……first stop Stirling Castle, the bloody heart of Scotland, militarily of old, the most strategically important part of Scotland, gateway to the Highlands.

It is hard to describe the shock of excitement, after driving for a while, of seeing the National Wallace Monument striking itself out from a tree-covered hill.

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This is my photo at first sighting

The tower stands on the Abbey Craig, a volcanic crag above Cambuskenneth Abbey, from which Wallace was said to have watched the gathering of the army of King Edward I of England, just before the Battle of Stirling Bridge. The monument is open to the general public. Visitors climb the 246 step spiral staircase to the viewing gallery inside the monument’s crown, which provides expansive views of the Ochil Hills and the Forth Valley.

There is so much history in Scotland, but also millenia of atrocities carried out. Wallace, this 13th century hero was punished for his success at Stirling Bridge, with the standard hanging, drawing and quartering, boiled head on a spike and body on display at two different sites. The collective Scots memory did not forget…. What a striking, powerful monument erected in the 19th century. The thrust and power of National pride is evident.

The Old Stirling bridge, to be seen in photos in the next post, was built in the late 1400s, and has been closed to wheeled traffic since 1831. A series of wooden bridges stood there before, as in 1297 (Wallace’s Battle of Stirling Bridge) when the English were routed as they crossed, 2 by 2 horsemen. Wallace waited till there were about 2000 Government troops across before attacking, a number they knew they could defeat. The wooden 1297 bridge was 60 metres upstream from the 1400 Old Stirling Bridge, which we see today still.

Immediately after seeing Wallace’s monument, we took a wrong turn which placed us at a parking (and turning spot) at the base of Stirling Castle, adjacent to the remnant’s of Charles1’s garden. A surprise tound every corner.

 

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The FULL Scottish Breakfast!

Frequently, our accommodation included a FULL Scottish breakfast. Such is pictured below. Truly, this is what the full breakfast ALWAYS was!

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After having eaten haggis with dinner on two occasions, AND enjoyed it!, I have double checked the recipe ( deliberately didn’t afore, knowing globally that it was grim😒….the chief ingredient is ….A sheep’s pluck!…..ie., liver, heart, lungs…….can still manage haggis, and proud of it!

Moving on, I had accidentally read that black pudding – an essential ingredient of…the FULL Scottish breakfast…….was pig’s blood. Recipes seem to start with:

4 cups of pig’s blood…………😖………..🐖😪, so neither I, nor W, were able to accept black pudding on our breakfast plate, without regret, being already very self-satisfied about the haggis ingestion.

Neither of us are fans of tinned baked beans, and I do think we were being served the generic out-of-the-packet potatoe scones from the supermarket, recognized as not the best breakfast tattie.

So my breakfast plate was as above, minus baked beans, minus black pudding, minus tattie scone………. in other words, we arranged subconsciously to have a great Aussie grilled breakfast.

Suggested reading: How to cook the perfect tattie scones.

I am sure the home cooked tattie scone has endured, probably hundreds of years+, so this article ponders all the nuances of this traditional Scottish breakfast. I love it that the author (Scottish) loves hearing the family squabbles downstairs as an essential part of preparing to prepare the tatties………

A Day in Glasgow……The Mackintosh House

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With one day in Glasgow only, our cherry-pick was a walk along Kelvin Way past Kelvingrove Park to The Mackintosh House (or the Hillhead House) at the University of Glasgow. It meant missing the the Kelvingrove Art Gallery.  So much to see; however, it opened an hour later, so on a coin toss, we walked from our hotel on Sauchiehall Street along Kelvin Way to University Avenue, to the earlier opening Mackintosh House.

Kelvingrove Park has large statuary commemorating some of geniuses who have done their work at the University of Glasgow, Lord Kelvin, of Absolute Zero being -273 deg C., Baron Lister who revolutionized antiseptic surgery. The inventions and contributions to the modern world by Scots is truly staggering.

My awareness of  Charles Rennie Mackintosh started when W and I bought a Mackintosh Lamp, a first joint acquisition within the house.

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Charles built the (now restored interior) home we visited, for his wife Margaret in the style which they, with Margaret’s sister Frances and her husband, James McNair, developed. It was lovely to be immersed briefly in their style. More of Margaret and Frances exquisite work.

 

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We saw so little of Glasgow and its River and Firth, the Clyde.

Shipbuilders on the Clyde have built 25,000 ships since the first yard opened in 1712. At its peak there were 30-40 shipyards. Clydebank produce 370 ships in 1913. Likewise in WWll, it was very productive, but suffered severe damage from the Clydebank Blitz from Luftwaffe strikes. The homelessness of tens of thousands resonated for decades. Today, there are four shipyards left, one making advanced technology ships for the Royal Navy and other navies.

Hats off to Glasgow.

 

Wistful farewell to Islay, hello brash Glasgow!

Just Lerved! Islay. Let the Islay Pipe Band play us awa’….

(Recalling that there are only 3000+ folk on Islay….how they maintain their culture! How about a even having a pretty full looking, competitively successful Pipe Band!)

Drove to Glasgow on the A83, turning onto the A82 past Loch Lomond.

The oldest version of this song…

 

Glasgow is the largest city in Scotland, the third largest in Britain, and has a reputation for harbouring more industry, more poverty.

Having seen Edinbugh and numerous other cities, towns and villages in Scotland, Glasgow indeed presents itself as stressed, preoccupied, not thoughtfully caring of itself. The city streets we saw were dirty, littered, graffitied……was sure I was walking past two girls of the night in our first afternoon walk, then a couple who looked the unwell of drug addiction…..not unusual in cities, but the only time seen in Scotland previously. Our hotel was the only lodging in Scotland which asked for payment on arrival rather than departure, the only one to provide a facade only of “free wi-fi”, two days effectively off the internet😬. Indian dinner at the UK 2015 award winner for Indian Restaurant, how lucky!

 

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Unexpected afternoon road trip gem!

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We drove on after the woollen mill to Portnahaven, looking for a Celtic Craft shop. This involved driving around Loch Indaal which opens into the Atlantic. Full Gaelic name for Loch Indaal is Loch na dala, meaning loch of delay….shipping often had trouble getting into the loch and were delayed days or weeks.

Portnahaven on the end of the peninsula is immediately adjacent to the village of Port Wemyss (pronounced weems). These villages were artificially established to give crofters, removed by the Clearances in the early 1800’s, an alternative occupation i.e., fishing. They shared the Portnahaven Church, built in 1823 (still operating, and very well preserved). It will be noted that there are separate, adjacent entrance doors for each village, and the interior seating is also divided for each village….unbelievably quaint! Also treated to watching two Grey Seals basking close offshore….these guys are LARGE!

On the advice of the Craft shop man, we did a small loop back to the road, to see the view, descending off a hill, looking into the ruggedness of the Atlantic coastline, the sea glistening with sunshine. He suggested a longer, more beautiful drive back to Port Charlotte was to do another loop, rather than retrace back along the loch. Wow! What scenery. No cars passed, but cows and sheep on the road, lovely rolling hills and V-shaped pieces of ocean visible. Another treat was turning the radio on for 20 minutes and listening to BBC Gael, without understanding a word. Towards coming into Port Charlotte from the rear we encountered numbers and numbers of walkers. Joy informed us later,”Oh, yes! It’s Walk Islay Week!”

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A visit and tasting at Laphroaig

Cold peat smoke wafting up through the malt
Cold peat smoke wafting up through the malt
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Digging and drying the peat, and replacing the top layer

This is our second tour of a whiskey distillery, the first having been the walking tour at Dufftown. Islay has nine active distilleries, with three close to Port Ellen. The old Port Ellen distillery is now a malt house suppying many of the island’s distilleries.

Islay’s whiskeys are known to be very peaty, due to using both the island’s peaty local water, as well as peating or smoking the malt. Driving across the island one can see a couple of areas, where the peat is being dug out of the moor with the distinctive digging shovel. Laphroaig say they take the second top layer…..not Soo ancient, and replace the top layer.

Two or three times, I mentioned to W, that I was sure I could smell chook feathers burning……..with hindsight, not certain fact, I am now sure I was smelling some aspect of the smoking process at the neaby Malthouse.

W is a serious whiskey buff, I am a tiny sipper, and early ceaser of tasting. I think whiskey must have provided a rousing pick-me-up on the colder, bleaker days in Scotland.

 

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Islay Woollen Mill….and The Traditional Great Kilt

The brochure said you couldn’t miss it, just outside Bridgend. Well, you could miss it, in the blink of an eye – a right hand turn down a rocky goat track, with no other reassurance you have found it till you peep in the door, and the attendant peeps back and greets….

 

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What a treat seeing the ancient loom in action, seeing bolts of beautiful fabric, seeing Marcus arrange all the colours of the warp on a huge spindle, which gets dropped through the upper floor, to the loom, where the weft is woven, by the noisy automatic machine. Off to the side is an even more ancient, no longer used Spinning Jenny – remember Grade 8 Social Studies? The Islay Woollen Mill has woven tartans for quite a few movies, including Rob Roy, Forest Gump, and Braveheart.

I bought one of these, colours of the Scotch Thistle, for the sofa.

Discover Islay Throw
Discover Islay Throw

Really like the Rob Roy tartan.

Rob Roy scarf
Rob Roy scarf

The Great Kilt

Let Jamie show you how a man puts on his kilt in the morning in 1743: A plaid is laid out, pleated by hand, then the man lies down on it, wraps the ends round himself, buckles his belt, and the remainder of the plaid is draped around the coat and pinned to the chest of the jacket.

 

Westering home to Islay…….

 

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From Oban, we westered to the ferry at Kenacraig. For obscure reasons, it was re-routed to Port Arisaig at the northern end of the island, rather than our destination at Port Ellen on the southern end. It was a happy occurrence, anyway, with Port Arisaig (remember Viking word endings?) being a dear little Port with not much township, followed by an orienting drive down to Port Ellen.

We stayed with Joy, owner of a B and B called Askernish. Our room was delightful and large. The house had been the local Doctor’s Sugery in not such distant memory – we had the Surgery Room and our bathroom had been the Dispensary. On the opposite side of the hallway was The Waiting Room! “The Doctor” had successfully treated many an ailment with the medicine in The Black Bottle. Joy says when she moved into the premises, many a local asked “did you ever find that Black Bottle, and work out what the recipe was?”. W was fairly sure the local whiskey would have been a prime ingredient!

We fell in love with Joy…would like to have bottled her and brought her back!, and Port Ellen and all of Islay. Those people of the West WERE canty and couthy and kindly the best. I knew they would be……

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(Sadly the population of Islay is in decline. The most recent census, taken in 2011, recorded 3,228 residents in 1,541 households. This was down 7% from the 2001 census, which recorded 3,457 residents in 1,479 households. This translates into a population density of around 14 people per square mile. For comparison, Eden in Cumbria, the least densely populated district on the mainland, has over 40 people per square mile.

Unaffordable housing and a lack of job opportunities have been the driving forces behind Islay’s depopulation and it is the young that are being forced out. Argyll and Bute council has been trying to address the former problem by building properties for rent in Port Charlotte, Port Ellen and Bowmore. After farming, whisky distilling is the island’s second largest employer and there are no fewer than eight active distilleries, with a ninth planned. Bruichladdich itself employs over 70 people now, making us the largest private employer on the island.

Islay’s population peaked at 14,992 in 1831. By 1900 it had halved, partly thanks to the enforced evictions of the so-called Clearances when estate-owners realised that farming sheep would be more profitable than acting as feudal overlords for indigenous farmers, and the decline has been remorseless ever since. Canada and the US were the most popular overseas destination for Islay’s emigrants.)

Back to the Future, our last supper in Paris

W walked the local blocks this afternoon for an extra hour after our day out, checking the menus on the local restaurants, and so selected L’Authre Bistrot, rue des ecoles. As we approached later for dinner, I said that I could hear live jazz. We were treated to fantastic jazz at the restaurant he had chosen, by In the Mood for Jazz en trio, saxophonist/clarinetist, guitarist, and contrebassist. Even better live than Youtube:

 

I WOULD WALK (drive!) 500 MILES!….Scotland’s Route 66!…..The North Coast 500, Day 1

We did our NC500 reverse to this....
We did our NC500 reverse to this….

The ROOF of SCOTLAND

If we had to choose a highlight, driving The North Coast 500, now named one of the 6 best coastal road trips in the world, would be one. Mainly the road was single lane, with quaint pullover areas to allow passing of vehicles, called “Passing Places”.

(I will also take this opportunity to state that even though roads in Scotland are narrow, and cars numerous, driving behaviour has generally been orderly, and of course, it is so comfortable that driving is on the LEFTHAND side of the road! )

We had several delightful encounters with Heelund Coows and sheep, but no deer, no otters, no red (endangered) squirrels.

The light and colours of the landscape and sea were breath-taking, and ever-changing….truly a new, spectacular view around every corner. I love views where the distance and landscape or horizon fill all of the vision….rather than all that close work and short-medium vision we use so much of in day-to-day life. It is my personal assessment that this does something very refreshing for the brain and the soul.

We stayed at The Strathy Inn, formerly, i.e., 200 years ago a Coaching Stop and Inn, run by a family who live there. Strathy is about 20 miles west of Thurso. Scotland was at its coldest in these nether parts….about 5degC daytime, plus wind!

There was one other guest, who arrived shortly after us….I saw the motorbike pull in (a Honda Goldwing 1500, 1988, for any who need that detail), and the youngish man walking to the door. I elbowed W and said, “Here comes Ewan McGregor, doing the Long Way Down!”. ( Ewan McGregor rode on his bike from John O’Groats in Scotland to Capetown in South Africa.) I later related my comment to the young man, Daniel, who said, straight off the cuff, “Oh, no! I’m much better looking than Ewan McGregor……”.

(He was doing a road trip, though, specially released/blessed by his wife, and heading for the ferry to the Orkneys…sigh!)

 

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