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Published: June 24th 2018
Of course the sun is peeping through as we head for our last destination! It was a beautiful morning in Aberdeen and we packed up and got away smartly. Peter did some work downloading offline maps and we plotted our trip with some stops on the way to Edinburgh. I didn’t really mind where we went - just wanted to soak up the rare sunshine and our last drive through the Scottish scenery. The big shock on this trip was the good quality, dual highway that we were on for much of it. We have to say that the roads in Western and Northern Scotland are very narrow and dangerous, often with no lines, nowhere to stop and relax, no services (especially loos!) and require very active driving!
The ancient town of Brechin was our first call and it was noticeably brown! The stone building material was a rusty brown, which gave the town a railway station feel, reminiscent of the old Mission Brown paint colour. The good surprise was free parking near the cathedral, which is still an active church today. It houses all sorts o ancient remnants of stones and objects that they have uncovered while renovated and
is not uncommon here. I found it a bit gloomy, but the highlight was the stained glass with some very beautiful windows. Then there is an outstanding round tower, thought to be one of two remaining Irish towers. Beautifully constructed with stones that are actually curved, it is quite high, and has a door a couple of metres from the ground because it used to house precious objects.
On the road again with our M&S sandwiches and chocolate milk and through some wonderful highland country. We planned to drive up Kilnour Hill in Perth for the great view, and at the last turn took the wrong one and ended up back on the motorway. Ah well, we may as well press on rather than drive 8 miles to do a u turn!
The third destination was the iconic Kelpies installation in Helix Park in Falkirk, the highest equine sculpture in the world. I have seen many pictures of them, but their size is astounding! Set in a huge recreation park that was built to connect sixteen communities, there is something slightly odd about 30m high silver horses rising above an industrial suburb, but we swung through and had
an appreciative look along with lots of people, especially family groups.
So into Edinburgh. Twenty years ago, on our very first Europe trip, we were here for two days (and paid 20 pounds for a BnB - 5 times that now), so it felt familiar. I think the word is solid, or maybe imposing. Just long curving streets of side by side high solid stone, mostly dark and impressive monumental buildings. This time our map took us straight to our destination, but we had one more thing to do before returning the car. Our accommodation is at the foot of Salisbury Crags, a huge mound of a hill that is given over entirely to being a recreation park. There are tracks, parks, lakes and viewpoints everywhere, and even just doing the driving circuit was fantastic. We had 360 views of this famous city, laid out for miles on each side and sunlit in the mid afternoon glow.
Reluctantly we checked in to what is a our last real destination and emptied the car of our debris, ready to return it, as no one tries to drive and park in this city. We were on our own now with
all our luggage and it felt like the return trip was beginning.
We have one friend in Edinburgh, Jean, who was our neighbour when we lived at St Andrews Hall in Melbourne 42 years ago preparing to go out with CMS. She was keen to look after us, so we met at the National Gallery to start the day and she expertly guided us around. It is a great gallery, lots of light and plenty of big names. One wonderful section has Monet, Rembrandt, Degas, Cezanne, Rubens, Pissarro, Constable, Gauguin, Delacroix! Jean and I did a lot of catching up while Peter did a lot of viewing!
Next was St Giles Cathedral, and I was so grateful that Jean had bus tickets and saved us climbing up that incredible mound from the gallery! The cathedral square was buzzing with sellers, bagpipers in kilts, buskers and a wedding, but we headed inside to catch the daily 10 minute service. It’s a beautiful building, and once again, stunning stained glass windows. We had spotted that there would be a free concert there when we were researching, and so we stayed for the Stockholm Boys' Choir recital. It was just wonderful
with a repertoire in the English choral style from classical to Swedish folk and finishing with Auld Lang Syne! I felt quite emotional at that beautiful rendition, realising that it is time for us to part and start the long trek home!
A long meander down the Golden Mile, browsing in souvenir trips and peering down dark steps and alleys (often leading to upmarket apartments), and longingly fondling wool and cashmere garments somewhat above our budget! I do, however, have a special white cashmere scarf Peter bought me in Inverness as a souvenir.
Jean took us on more buses to her place, picked up her car and then drove us to the hills and coast while we did a lot of reminiscing. I love it when we keep up with friends so long. Finally she took us to the Royal Ascot Club where we had dinner to the sound of bagpipes at another function there. Quintessential Scotland!
Sunday dawned bright and sunny from the early hours - our last day in Scotland! Time is funny on a trip like this, because it seems to go slowly at first, and then you lose track of it, and then
it races to the end! I’m OK to go home, though, because we have been in the road and expending energy for seven weeks and the thought of our own bed and clean clothes is feeling attractive.
Jean's suggestion was that we head for the three bridges, and that we should get out of town on a sunny Sunday because the Royal Highland Show is on. She has been a great source of history and interesting information, and after a drive through the suburbs, we had our first sight of the latest of the three bridges over the Firth of Forth. What a sight! Graceful sail shaped cables criss crossing over the water.
The three bridges are close together and represent brilliant engineering over three centuries. The famous Forth Bridge is iconic and known for its record length of cantilever design. It is red and angular but enabled the modern railway to cross (as chronicled by Michael Portillo in his TV railway series).
The Forth Road Bridge is being phased out now but when it opened as a long span suspension bridge in 1964, it was the fourth longest in the world at 2.5km long. Jean circled
around the area to find access to the other bridge but suddenly we were heading into this one and she had a feeling we shouldn’t be on it! What to do? No way of turning back so I suggested she drive very fast so that we wouldn’t be the last people ever to cross it! I have checked since and it is supposed to be for taxis and motor cycles... I hope she doesn’t get fined. It was a great view!
After hunting around on the other side, we eventually managed to come back on the magnificent Queensferry Crossing. Opened only last year, it is the longest three towered, cable stayed bridge in the world. What is attractive is its almost lyrical curved shape, and the ever changing views of the criss-cross of the cabling as you cross it.
A lovely long meander through the pretty town of Queensferry, lots of photos and a leisurely lunch completed our outing and it was time to grab some supplies for tomorrow’s big trip to Paris. We can do this...
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