Scotland 1999

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Friday July 16
Arrived in London 6am and transferred to flight to Glasgow. Arrived around 9am and met Mel Montgomery at airport. We were able to check into our room at the Forte Posthouse. Nice room - twin beds, TV, bar, black and while tile bathroom. Changed shoes and caught the bus at station 2 just down the street to Glasgow City Centre. Went to Queen’s Street Station and caught the train to
Edinburgh (50 minutes), walked up the hill and toured the castle. Very interesting - St. Margaret’s Chapel is oldest room. It always has fresh flowers tended by Scotswomen named Margaret. We bought a guidebook and followed the points of interest. Audio tapes and tour guides were available. The Great Hall has a lovely very old timbered roof that dates back to Medieval times. Walked the Royal Mile (or about 2/3 of it) and went in a few shops. Ate soup and bread at a Bistro connected to one of the many distilleries. Caught the train back and fell asleep on the train. At 5 we met with Mel and everyone introduced themselves - lots of Peggy/Margarets - many retired teachers, couple of professors, doctors, judge, vet, insurance salesmen and real estate folks. Our tour will include many castles - from the most basic to the most elaborate and many beautiful gardens.
To bed and asleep at 8:30pm.

Saturday July 17
Up a little before 7 and down to Hotel Restaurant for a big breakfast. Had fire alarm go off and everyone poured out - many had been sleeping. On the bus by 9 and headed to Aigas. Very comfy bus with large windows all around. Mel talked most of the trip about Geology, History, Food etc - very interesting. I learned that “Straths” are the lowlands near rivers. Gaelic is pronounced Gallack, Mt. Ben Nevis - highest mountain in all of British Isles gets 13 feet of rain a year, Scotland has really good “soft” fruits such as raspberries, blackberries. Drove along Loch Lomond and Loch Ness - beautiful mountains next to Lochs and green everywhere. Lots of Rhododendron which they consider a weed (it is not native and is choking out the native plants). We stopped at
Glencoe and went in the visitor center to browse and watch a short video on the Massacre of the MacDonalds by the Campbells who were staying as their guest - 38 died. Shopped for 45 minutes at Fort William - lots of tourist shops and camping and woolen stores - only bought postcards. Got to Aigas Field Center (www.aigas.co.uk) at 4:15 in time for tea and a good cookie. Walked around, unpacked and settled in. It is a lovely place with lovely grounds. Built in 1800s. At 7 we gathered for social time - dinner at 7:30 - Vegetable Soup (pureed), chicken salad (grilled breast on greens) and fresh fruit with Lavender and Lemon Balm crumbled on top - interesting taste.  After dinner we hiked up to the Loch just a ways from our cabin. As we stood looking at it we heard galloping - 2 deer came toward us full speed but stopped and then ran away when we spoke.

Sunday July 18
Slept fine and got up at 7am. Took showers with unusual quick heating shower apparatus and down to the “Baronial Hall” for 8am breakfast of porridge made with Scotch oatmeal. Got on 3 
vans and headed for Culloden Battlefield. Culloden battlefield is the site of a 1 hour battle where Highlanders and Clans fighting to support Bonnie Prince Charlie were overwhelmed by the British Tudors Troops. Lachlan MacLachlan fought and died there and we found a marker with MacLachlan engraved on it. We watched a video, toured the area, watched an 8 minute play - very interesting but not enough time.

Then we went to Cawdor Castle - very old and still occupied, very homey feeling with lots of antiques. We walked around 2 lovely gardens - one had a maze and also a formal area - beautiful! Then on to Fort George - a huge Fort that never got attacked. It is an army base still in use. Bottle nose Dolphins are sometimes seen in the loch it overlooks but none were seen today. We ate our packed lunch at Cawdor Castle of cream cheese and chutney sandwiches, cookie, fruit and candy bar. For dinner we ate at Aigas dining room - Carrot and Ginger Soup (puree) and Crofters Pie (like Shepherds Pie). For dessert - berries and whipped cream on a meringue shell. Before dinner we had a lecture by Robin Noble (our resident expert on castles) on early man in the Highlands. We read in the evening and I found a little info on the MacLachlans in the House Library.

Monday July 19
Had a fantastic lecture and house tour from Sir John Lister-Kay (the owner) and his wife Lucy. He made Scottish history come alive by interweaving social, political, and architectural changes both in Scotland and around the world using the perspective of a huge old tree in the yard. He was an exceptional speaker and storyteller. Lucy gave us a great house tour and explained her stove - an Aga - very heavy cast iron stove that is always on in colder climates and great for cooking, warming people after a cold day outside and newborn sheep can stay warm underneath it. Buzz played golf after lunch while Peg went into Beauly shopping. We met Hermoine (John and Lucy’s 8 year old daughter) during tea and then a lecture on castle evolution before a wonderful dinner and coffee in the drawing room with both John and Lucy leading discussions.

Tuesday July 20

We got in the mini bus and drove to Beauly to get some cash and then on to see Skelbo Castle remains - a 12th century ruin.

We then went up to Golspie to tour Dunrobin Castle. Parts of Dunrobin date to the 13th century. Lots of antiques, tapestries etc. We had lunch in the garden, went to a museum on the grounds that had lots of hunting trophies, stuffed birds and archaeological things as well as family souvenirs. In the formal garden we watched a Falconry demonstration.

Then back on the van to Foulis Castle - home of Mrs. Munro - gracious lady showed us all through her house. President Monroe is connected to this family. Lots of antiques and lovely garden. She had fixed lots of cookies, cakes, scones and cucumber sandwiches to go with our tea. Back to Aigas with a little free time. Oh yes - saw seals basking on mud flats and Mrs. Munro showed us tartans and explained that one clan could have several shades of the main colors. Dinner of salmon in Filo dough, snow peas and lemon pie.

Wednesday July 21
After our usual breakfast we headed out at 9am for the east and the Black Isle. We visited a private castle -
Kinkell Castle - 16th century tower house restored in 1969 by sculptor Gerald Ogilvie-Laing. Two towers with winding stone staircases. Large room upstairs 18’ x 28’. He said all castles of that era had rooms of the same size. A walk through his garden was wonderful - lots of Hosta and water plants and large sculptures of women. He has been married 4 times and wrote a book “Alone with My
Aga” (stove that burns 24 hours a day and heats the room with 4 ovens and 2 burners as well as nooks for bread rising, baby lamb warming, clothes drying etc).

On to Allangrange - a Georgian house owned by Major and Mrs. Cameron. She had tea ready for us and cookies too. Then she took us on a tour of her wonderful garden. It had several levels, a Chamomile lawn that smelled wonderful, a fish pond, a wild valley - primarily white foxglove and other big plants. Mrs. Cameron is a world known botanical artist and she had a gallery and gift shop where we bought one of her limited edition prints “The Black Swan Iris”.

On to the town of Fortrose and the 13th century cathedral ruin of Cathedral Kirk of Ross.

After arriving back at Aigas, Lady Lucy took us on a tour of their garden - Monkshood is a beautiful tall twin purple flower and Hebe is so pretty. Their Highland cattle are both female and one just gave birth - the other will give birth soon. Oh yes, today we stopped at a Clootie well a place of pilgrimage common in Celtic areas — surrounded by articles of clothing hanging all around in the trees. The water has magical powers - after ceremoniously drinking it you soak an article or pice of clothing from your body part that is unhealthy - then hang it up and you will be cured; but don’t touch the other clothes or you will get that affliction.
Dinner tonight was a chicken, prune, olive and caper dish over rice with Creme Brulee for dessert. In bed early and packed for Isle of Skye tomorrow. We leave at 8am.

Thursday July 22
Up earlier than usual, packed and down to breakfast at 7am. We headed south along Loch 
Ness and then turned west to the Isle of Skye.

We stopped at a toilet with a view of Eilean Donan Castle - the most photographed one.

We crossed over the new Skye bridge - controversial and $5.70 per car. Skye is very rugged and beautiful - sharp hills and granite mountains - the Cuillns.

We stopped for lunch in a little town and then we drove around the Isle of Skye to Dunvegan Castle - home of the MacLeods. We had 2 hours to tour the castle and grounds. There was a cute fern house, a round garden and a walled garden.
The highlight of the castle displays were the Fairy Flag, a 
drinking horn and a silver decorated wood cup. The sun was out and they say it is a rare sight to see the Cuillns in sunshine like that.

We checked in to our Hotel Sligachan with a view of the
Cullins. Built in the 1930s it is a nice comfortable hotel.
We met in the bar for some local ale and then dinner in
the restaurant. Buzz had Herring 1st course, Pheasant
and Venison for main course. I had mushrooms for first
course and Hake (fish) for main course. We watched some British comedy on TV.

Friday July 23
There is a lot of oatmeal and oat products in Scotland.
Thank you very much! Today we had a regular bacon and
egg breakfast and then packed up the vans in blowing
rain. So glad we had sunshine yesterday - today is
overcast and cloudy and rain! Saw some sheep in the
road - one had moss on his horn. Took a ferry across
some water to the mainland. Tight squeeze and we had to
be very quiet. For dinner we had fish chowder and no one
could believe that was all.
We saw a 2000 year old “broch” - Dun Telve - cylindrical
fort made of dry stacked stones - quite impressive - 30 ft.
hill - hollow walls. Rain and mist and wind at the broch. Ate a “tablet” (sugar and butter). People here “stalk” deer, “shoot” grouse, and “fish” salmon. Celtic is pronounced Keltic. Loo = toilet Lift = elevator Waterproofs = raingear Blimey = damn Loch = lake

Drumnadrocket - (rolling the r) city with neat sounding name we thought.

Saturday July 24
This morning we drove across hills of Abriachan to Loch Ness and visited
Urquhart Castle - the second most visited site in UK (Tower of London is #1). It is a ruin but has a fabulous view and a great position for defense. It was a sentry in the Great Glen (the main west to east route). It dates back to the 13th century and maybe Dark Ages. It was great to hear and see a piper in full regalia in one of the towers. The Garths were left handed and built a staircase the opposite way in order to fend off soldiers with their left arm as they climbed the stairs counter clockwise.

We lunched on a hillside at Corrimony Cairns - burial cairns of the Clava type - peculiar to Inverness area dating to 3000BC. It was a chamber for burying just the bones of people, especially skulls after the body had lain in a ring cairn and was decayed and picked by buzzards etc. The chamber was covered with a pile of round rocks. This is the oldest man made thing we have ever seen probably. The cairn has a ring of standing stones surrounding it possibly to connect shadows and solstice.

We crossed the River Glass at Cannich and stopped at Erchless Motte - a Norman motte with celtic style crosses on it for people in the Clan Chisolm.
We Returned to Aigas before 3. Buzz went golfing with Court Peterson for a couple hours. Drove thru Glen Affric on a peaceful 1 lane road - part of a deer preserve or hunting club for deer to be hunted. Turned around at end of the lane in front of a cottage with a sign “Stalkers Home”.

Dinner tonight was Duck and very good. It was Robin’s 49th birthday and we sang to him. He sang some Scottish songs for us after dinner and Duncan MacDonald and Jessica (engaged rangers who help with our excursions) played the fiddle and a drum and sang.

Sunday July 25
Had the usual breakfast and then signed up for either a church service or a hike with Duncan to see some ancient ring huts on the Aigas property. We opted for the hike along with 5 others. Very interesting to see the various types of heather and mushrooms. He told us how the rock walls (fences) are made and we hiked up to the top of a hill and saw remnants of a circular 
bronze or stone age ring that was probably a house or animal shelter. Also saw a stone with hollowed out cups that were man made. He told us about the hunting and fishing laws. A hunter can only hunt deer with a “stalker” who accompanies him and makes sure it is done right. Salmon fishing in the rivers is very expensive - mostly foreigners do it. Sir John had been to an estate auction of property and someone bought 1 week of salmon fishing per year for 1/4 million pounds.

Afternoon lecture on growing and eating natural plants and wildflowers by Katherine Stewart - I bought one of her books. Another lecture on the Scots Baronial style of castles that we will see this week. Dinner of Venison and mashed potato and turnips.

Monday July 26
After breakfast we got on Robin’s bus and drove north to
Inverewe Gardens north of Poolewe in Wester Ross. Stopped at a craft store and bought a sheep puppet. Had pretty views of lovely mountains and glens and several photo stops. Inverewe Gardens was created in 1862 by the Mackenzies and has a wonderful vegetable garden, currants, heads of cabbage and lettuce - all so big and neat. Ate overlooking an inlet from the North Sea toward the outer islands where the Vikings once sailed.

Then went about 5 minutes to Mrs. Horlick’s home and she took us on a garden tour. She hacked her gardens out of a Rhododendron Jungle. She has the biggest variety of Astilbe that I’ve ever seen. On the way back we hiked to a bridge across a very deep, narrow gorge with a big waterfall in it.
Dinner of Fish Pie and Caramel Cake and then packing for our Aberdeen excursion and on to bed.

Tuesday July 27
Off at 8am in a big tour bus. Weather is beautiful. We got to
Balmoral Castle by 11am. It is the Queen’s summer home from August to October. The grounds and exterior of the castle are beautiful. We could only go into the Ballroom to view exhibits. There were a lot of vegetables in the garden and pretty flowers in a “Glass House”. Walked the river walk.

Then we went to Crathes Castle - quite a popular place. They have a lot of acres with trails. We took the longest trail - Ley Way - while waiting for our time to enter the castle. It turned out to be 4 miles long in the woods. We almost missed our 3-3:30 castle tour. The castle was beautiful - lots of really OLD furniture and beautiful rugs, china etc. The gardens had heirloom plants, topiary Yews and Box - the best we’ve seen.

Arrived in Aberdeen around 5:15 (population 210,000 - same as Huntsville) but has lots of huge light gray granite buildings everywhere. Union Street is the main downtown street. Dinner at 6:30 in the motel restaurant. Roast Beef and Yorkshire pudding. After dinner Buzz and I walked downtown for 45 minutes looking for O’Donohue’s - a pub with folk singers. However we missed them by an hour so we just drank a 1/2 pint of ale and walked back window shopping.

Tired! Slept well in our modern queen size bed. Enjoyed clear water to drink, combo faucet for warm water, and a whole box of kleenex - all different from Aigas.

 Wednesday July 28
Had a cooked breakfast at our motel - Patio Motel - 3 years old; and then went into the city centre for shopping - tried a few department stores. Antique shops were on holiday. :(

Bus took us to Duthie Park in center of Aberdeen. Lots of Glass Houses full of cactus, Bromeliads, ferns etc and a HILL of roses - beautiful!
On to
Drrrum Castle (Robin likes to roll his r’s). It had a really old tower that Buzz climbed and lots of beautiful furnishings. The garden was only 10 years old but had 4 sections - from a 17th century “Knot” garden to 20th century.
Then we went to
Castle Fraser. We both climbed to the top of tower for a spectacular view. It had lots of rooms and nice old furnishings, walled garden. Dinner of salmon at Patio Motel. We saw deer and grouse on this trip. After dinner we walked across street to an amusement park with lots of games and rides. Then out to the North Sea and the beach.

Thursday July 29
On the bus by 9:30 and off to
Pitmedden Gardens - VERY neatly sculptured boxwood and Yew - shapes of thistles, coats of arms - NEAT! Also a farming life museum and farmhouse. The box hedges to have been planted every 6” or so and shake like Jello.

We then went to Fyvie Castle and were divided into 2 groups. Our group ate in the Castle Cafe (egg or tuna salad sandwich and Tattie soup). Then we toured the castle - lots of rooms full of antiques. Met a young man whose Dad lives in Huntsville and he has a girlfriend in Meridianville. After Fyvie we drove 2 hours in the bus and stopped at an Emporium for 30 minutes to shop. Arrived at Aigus around 5:50. Dinner tonight was Cock-a-Leekie soup - very good.

Friday July 30
After breakfast we went to the Glen Ord Distillery in Muir of Ord. They make a single malt scotch whiskey. Nice tour with a taste at the end. Back to
Beauly to see an old Priory (Monastery). Had lunch on the lawn there.

Then drove to Inverness where we were let off at the train station so we (just Buzz and I) could pick up our rental car. Buzz drove it back to Aigas for our last night with the group.

Our final dinner with the group was quite an experience! A piper was there in kilt and spats with his bagpipe. He entertained us in front of Aigas for about 25 minutes and then piped us in to the dining hall for our meal. We had Haggis and Roast Lamb with a Raspberry and roasted oatmeal dessert. After coffee, several people entertained by singing, telling stories, reciting etc. Buzz helped Judge John Wilson, Ruth, Court and Sue lead a sing-a long. Lots of fun and many photo shoots.

Said goodbye to everyone - a wonderful trip with lots of memories.

Tomorrow we head off on our own to Kilmartin in Argylshire to visit my MacLachlan homeland.

Saturday July 31
On our own now we drove south along the coast to see Argyleshire where the MacLachlans emigrated from.

Along the way we stopped at a Mini-Highland Games Event - a county fair where they had a bouncy castle, Fire Department Hose demonstration and “Name the dead Fish” contest. A funny way to end our tour of castles of Scotland.

Found the church and cemetery in Kilmarten where there were many MacLachlans buried. Lots of fun but scary driving on the left side of the road.


© The Heeschens 2016