Scotland! Wee Bonnie Scotland!

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July 8th 2009
Published: July 24th 2009
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Day 9
Thursday 18th June

The wind really picked up in the early morning hours, causing the tarp to flap about like crazy, waking all four of us... and probably all of our neighbours too. So after an early morning tarp demolition, it was back to bed and a nice little deserved sleep-in.

The morning weather when we woke for a second time was again quite miserable, so after packing all our belongings away into the car (again... this is wearing a bit thin... already... not good!), we hit the road for the drive up into Scotland!

We stopped at a service station for some lunch and a loo-break, and discovered that they had free wireless internet. (The service stations on the side of the motorways in the UK are incredible - they have everything you need, fantastic facilities, including showers in most - you could live in one I reckon.)

So after some lunch in the carpark, we jumped online to check the weather forecast, which was not too positive - rain looking to be our semi-constant companion for into the foreseeable future. But we decided
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to stick to the original plan of a clockwise semi-circle around Scotland, up the west coast, across and then down the east coast - not much more you can do when travelling but to keep on keeping on and hope the forecasters are wrong!

And so we set off from the service station at about 4pm, Loch Lomond our destination for the night. Unfortunately, Glasgow was in our way, and with it all the peak hour traffic also fighting its way through the jammed roads.

By the time we had crawled through all the traffic, and Glasgow was finally fading behind us, we were a tad hungry and so we stopped at a roadside restaurant that was offering 2 meals for 6 pounds - not the best meals we’ve ever had but a great deal none the less!
Moving on, we drove up the western shore of Loch Lomond, which was just as gorgeous as everyone had told us. We had a brief stop there before the rains came again, forcing us back into the car.

We arrived at our campsite just a few kilometres north of Loch Lomond at about 8pm, and decided to give the tents a miss due to the rain, instead renting a ‘wigwam’ for the night instead. While not the roomiest of cabins, it was warm and dry, and with crazy storms forecast for later that night, we figured it was money well spent.

After getting set up in the wigwam, the rain stopped showering for a while and so we decided to go for a walk up the mountain behind the campsite, Ben Glas, to check out the waterfall cascading down the slopes. We didn’t set off until about 9pm, but as the sun doesn’t set until closer to midnight we still had a few hours of good light left. The views from the top were pretty spectacular, and it was nice to stretch our legs a bit after being cooped up in the car for so long.

The weather held out for most of the walk, although we all still managed to get drenched, arriving back at camp at about 10.30pm and straight into warm showers. Back at the wigwam, it was a hot cup of drink before snuggling in for the night.

Day 10
Friday 19th June

After a fantastic night’s sleep, we set off again, this time towards Fort William and Ben Nevis, the highest peak in the UK. We originally had grand plans of attempting the 8 hour return walk to the top of Ben Nevis, but instead we sat in the car park at the bottom, eating hot chook sandwiches and seeing as much of the mountain as the low clouds would allow - which wasn’t much at all unfortunately. The rainy weather would have made a climb quite dangerous, as well as mighty uncomfortable with our lack of waterproof clothing, so we have to be content with having just been there.

Moving on, our next stop was the Isle of Skye, a beautiful island off the west coast of Scotland. Unfortunately the weather again dulled the beauty, with low lying clouds all but encloaking the mountain ranges known for their dramatic appearance. We got glances of how nice it would look down on the south-western area of the island at Glenbrittle, but camping was all but impossible with swarming midges in their thousands. At one stage Dav and I got
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out of the car to access the food for dinner but quickly changed our plans... jumping back in the car as quickly as possible, every exposed skin surface being bombarded by the bloodsuckers. And so instead we enjoyed a yummy but rather innutritious meal of corn chips and cold baked beans in the safety of the car...

And so with camping not an option and the hostel being a ridiculous 80 pounds, we decided to keep on driving, leaving the Isle of Skye behind us as we continued on our way, heading north-east towards Inverness and the famous Loch Ness.

We arrived at the banks of Loch Ness at about 10pm, pulling over to get a good view (and a couple of good photos with my little Nessie!) From there it was on to the town of Inverness at the northern edge of the lake, stopping at a Loch Ness information centre where, although they were closed, they had a big model of the Loch Ness monster, which of course meant another pit stop to take more crazy photos... Ten-thirty at night is a wonderful time to do crazy touristy things without the embarrassment!
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By this time we were getting rather tired and so decided to find a place to pitch the tent for the night, this being a lot easier given the fact that is perfectly legal to free-camp in Scotland as long as you can’t see any houses. We pulled off the main road out of Inverness and stumbled into a quarry-like area next to a train line, which was obviously deserted given the fact that it was close to midnight. There we pitched the tent, the boys being very inventive given the fact that the ground was too hard to hammer pegs, instead tying the tent ropes to logs and witches hats. Then bed, exhausted after nearly 15 hours on the road...

Day 11
Saturday 20th June

Great sleep and great weather.. ie no rain!

Our first stop for the day was Balmoral Castle, the royal residence in Scotland. It is only open to the public from April to July, and the Queen retreats there for 10 weeks every year from August to October.

The grounds are absolutely massive, with us
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seeing only a small section surrounding the actual castle. There were a lot of really informative displays which I found to be really interesting, learning such things as the fact that the Queen and her husband, the Prince of Edinburgh, are actually related, both being great-great grandchildren of Queen Victoria... Slightly disturbing...

We only got to see into one room in the palace, the State Room, which was a tad disappointing but understandable given that the Queen actually lives there - I guess she doesn’t want tourists going through her drawers or jumping on her bed... We saw a short movie which included some footage of the Queen, Phillip and Charles and Ann dancing in the State Room which was pretty cool to think that we were standing right where the Queen had stood!

After having some lunch in the carpark, Lucretia went back into the Balmoral grounds to have a walk, while Craig, Davin and I drove up around the corner to the Royal Loch Scotch Whiskey Distillery to do a tour. It was a fantastic tour, going for close to an hour and being really informative - for example, a single malt whisky has only one type malt such as barley or corn, where as the more common cheaper whiskies are actually a mix of different malts, with the higher percentage of barley being the better eg Black Label vs Red Label. And, all this and I don’t even like whisky... so lucky Craig got my free shot at the end as well as his own.

From there, we headed south to Pitlochery, staying at the Faskally Caravan Park where Happy, a friend of Ben’s from Australia, lives and works. (As per a previous blog entry, Happy’s real name is Grant and we met him at Ben and Lauren’s wedding in Santiago.) It was fantastic to not have to worry about pitching the tent as we were able to stay in the massive dorm-like staff house, which while being messier than even the worst uni house I have seen, with bedrooms and dishes and mess everywhere, it was great to not have to worry about the weather.

We had a lovely dinner out near the bar area, with Happy organising free drinks from the bar (while the boss is away, the employees play...) We retreated back inside during the dusk midgee invasion, and then the boys headed over to the bar to have a few games of pool. Next thing we know, the bar had shut and the boys, with the rest of the Faskally employees were back in the staff lounge room, drunk as skunks. Apparently the free beers had turned into free spirits, as the boys helped pack up for the evening, with each task being rewarded with another drink. Hence it was a very late night, not getting to bed until the wee hours in the morning, and a few of the party hugging the porcelain throne before the night was through... no names mentioned... Craig...!

Day 12
Sunday 21st June

There were a few sore heads the next morning and so a sleep-in was in order. Everyone then split up for the day, with Dav and Happy driving in to St Andrews so Dav could check out the gold course, and Craig and Lucretia walking into town along the river for a nice lunch. I stayed at the caravan park for the day, taking advantage of having internet and so attempting to
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get up to date with the blog...
Everyone got back to the park at about 6pm, with all having a great day. Dav and Happy got to explore the old course at St Andrews, taking a load of great photos. Craig and Lucretia also had a great day, having a lovely walk and lunch in town. Craig was even lucky enough to have a go at fly-fishing in the river, with a friendly local lending him a rod.

After a BBQ dinner, Dav, Happy and I drove into the city of Perth (only 2 of them in the world), to watch the latest Transformers movie, getting home close to midnight.

Day 13
Monday 21st June

After packing the car again, and saying our goodbyes and lots of thanks for a great time, we set off the next morning at about 11am.
Our first stop was Dundee, where Craig has some family roots, his grandma coming from that very town.

Then on to St Andrews again, with a short drive passed the gold course, and then stopping in town to explore the cathedral and
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castle ruins. The cathedral was particularly spectacular, with detailed descriptions of how the massive building once stood.

From there, we found a great campsite on the outskirts of Edinburgh which was quite reasonably priced for how close it was to the city. Set up, showered, fed, and a few games of cards before bed.

Day 14
Tuesday 23rd June

We slept in as much as we could with an international airport departure and arrival zone overhead and hot sun heating the tent. However this meant that fantastic blue skies greeted when we finally succumbed to getting up, off for our day trip to Stirling.
We were able to find a park at the Stirling Castle, where the four of us split up for the day. Dav and decided to give the castle miss, instead walking back down the hill into town. Described as a smaller version of Edinburgh, Stirling was a sweet town, with a lot of old buildings and nice streets perfect for wandering through.

Back to camp, Dav whipped up a delicious chilli-con-carne for dinner, as a crazy mist blew into camp. It was incredible how quickly it rolled in, giving the whole place a really eerie feeling. With the mist came the cooler temperatures (or maybe it was the other way around..?), and so we opted for an early night, into bed by just after 9pm.

Day 15
Wednesday 24th June

The crazy mist remained overnight, hanging around the tents as we emerged in the morning. Up and ready to go by 10am, we caught the shuttle bus into town, a quick 10 minute trip.

My main mission for the day, apart from sightseeing in Edinburgh, was to get to an Aussie bar so that I could watch the second State of Origin game which was due to start at 11am - we missed the first game as we were in Spain at the time and rugby league is all but unheard of there... A lady at the bus information centre was extremely helpful and we found the Walkabout pub very easily... but also lost Lucretia and Craig in the process as they stopped to look at shoes.

Arriving just before 11am, Dav and I found ourselves a good position and ordered ourselves some Bundy and cokes, just to complete the picture! The actual game was a ripper, the outcome being exceptional as Queensland came home to win both the game and the series - although a few dodgy ref calls made for a nerve-racking last half. All in all it was a wonderful injection of home - to be surrounded by a crowd of Aussies, drinking that old familiar taste and knowing that a lot of my loved ones back home were also watching the game. A good remedy to keep the homesickness at bay!

From the Walkabout, it was on to the National Gallery, which was alright, although you can only look at so many paintings of baby Jesus ( my opinion... apologies to those who think otherwise...) Then it was a walk up the hill to the Edinburgh Castle although we didn’t go in as it was mainly a military castle and we were running out of time, preferring to spend the rest of the afternoon at the National Museum. There we also ran into Craig and Lucretia, and so the four of us spent a good two and a half hours wandering through there until it shut. It was really fascinating, recounting Scottish history from the prehistoric age right through to modern history over about eight floors.

My second most favourite fact I learned from the museum (as you have probably gathered, I like to share interesting little tidbits I pick up) was from very early days in Scottish history, when it was actually attached to the main continent and was situated below the equator in the southern hemisphere. Over time the plate underneath what was to be Scotland was pushed up against the continent plate, resulting in the formation of the Scottish highlands. Scotland then broke away, drifted up to near England, with the oceans running between England and Scotland eventually subsiding as the English and Scottish plates pushed against each other.

And my favourite fact, one that the Scottish seem to love too, is that since the last ice age finished, Scotland is actually rising (it was covered in heavy ice that pushed it down), while England is actually sinking!

From the museum, we walked down the Royal Mile which runs from the castle on top of the hill to the Palace of Hollyrood (not terribly exciting). On route we bought a haggis pizza to share, washed down with a deep-fried mars bar for dessert... Haggis wasn’t actually too bad - not vomit-inducing at all like I thought it would be! They don’t tend to use the full-on gizzards these days unless you go to specialist butchers, with the commercial haggis we tried made of only cows’ lungs and oatmeal, with the oatmeal being the predominant taste. The deep-fried mars bar was also pretty good - not as sickly sweet as it sounds, although the quarter of a bar that we all had was probably enough.

It was then a walk up to Calton Hill where we were rewarded with great views over Arthurs Seat, Salisbury Crags and the city. There was also a huge monument on the hill which was based on the Greek Parthenon, and so a few photos were needed before we could move on.

Back down to the Royal Mile for some dinner and then back to the Walkabout pub for a few drinks. On the way from dinner to the Walkabout, we got slightly sidetracked by a happy hour offer at another bar, offering 2 for 1 cocktails... So after an hour there, and numerous cocktails later, we did eventually make it to the Walkabout, a little merrier for our stop. Walkabout eventually kicked us out at 12.30am at closing time, and we managed to catch a bus back to our camping ground, although it did drop us a fair distance away, making for a slight walk home... longer for some with a more snake-like walk...

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