Northumberland, Scotland, Castles, Kirks and Abbeys

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November 27th 2016
Published: December 1st 2016
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October 29 thru November 22, 2016

First, I'd like to apologize for wearing the same sweater in all of the photographs, however Scotland was particularly cold and I didn't have the space in my suitcase to purchase any more clothes!

Onwards to the UK, Malcolm and I fly from Rio to Frankfurt and then into Manchester in the North of England. Our airline, Luthansa, is nothing special to write about, especially traveling in cattle class. The food is edible but that's about all. However, we arrive in Manchester in one piece and Caroline is waiting to welcome us. It's time to pickup our car from Budget and despite the sales pitch to upgrade Caroline and I stuck with our original choice of a Citreoin C1. After all, there are only the two of us traveling around the North of England and Scotland for the next three weeks. We are quickly on the road heading towards Wetherby for a dinner with my niece, sister, brother-in-law and their future outlaws. And an hour after we depart, Malcolm heads South to visit his sons and grand children.

A major reason for this visit to the UK is to attend the wedding of our lovely niece, Kimberly, to JimBob Carter. She looked amazing on the day and then two days later they headed off to Mexico for their honeymoon. A great wedding and a fun party to follow. The dance floor beckoned and after the requisite number of champagnes I hit the dance floor with Caroline to 80's favorites. As I looked around the room, it was the oldies on the dance floor while the younger guests were focused on their cellphones As an added bonus, it was the perfect place to catch up with family and people I hadn't seen in years.

After spending time in Leeds with my sister Ann and her husband, it's time to start our tour of the North and Scotland. Caroline and I drive to Seahouses on the Northhumberland coast for 2 nights. We stop for lunch in Durham (a throughly forgetable lunch at Cafe Rouge); remember the song Durham Town by Roger Whitaker (1971), a folk favorite for us Northern Boys! However, we can't visit Durham Castle as this houses the university and the only way to go around is by guided tour. No castle, but the cathedral is worth a look as it dates back to the 11 century. Anyway, Seahouses beckons and we quickly leave Durham. An enjoyable couple of days at the Bamburgh Castle Inn in Seahouses allows us to explore the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, the ancient seat of Christianity in Northern England and the object of raids by those dastardly Vikings. To get to Lindisfarne you have to drive across a tidal causeway that has seen many a car stranded by the incoming tide. We have checked the tides and know we must leave the island before 1400 hours. Anyway, the ruins of the ancient priory of Lindisfarne are still to be seen, however we cannot enter, this applies to Lindisfarne Castle as well, a number of British Heritage attractions close at the end of October. On the way home we walk around the outside of Bamburgh castle and again we cannot enter as it closed on Oct 31. The present castle at Bamburgh goes back to the Normans and overlooks the beach. It was the seat of the kings of Northumbria and was destroyed by a Viking attack in 993. The present castle was restored in the 18th and 19th centuries and is privately owned. As I said, we were unable to enter, perhaps we'll do better in Scotland!

On the way to Edinburgh we stop at the ruins of Dryburgh Abbey, the final resting place of Sir Walter Scott, the renowned author, and the well known figure from WWI, General Haigh. Then, on to Selkirk for a dinner engagement with our old friend (and my diving buddy) Nick Mill. Nick imparts some local knowledge and gives us a pointers on which route to take into Edinburgh. The following morning, we take his comments to heart and arrive in Edinburgh around 12.30pm. Elspeth and James meet us and show us their apartment, our home for the next seven days.

We hit the ground running, immediately park our car on the street outside of the boundary for inner city parking and then we're on foot or local buses for the next week. We are less than a mile from the city center and on the main bus route , so it is very easy to explore this wonderful city.

Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland and the seat of the Scottish Parliament, is also a University City with lots of young people walking the streets; a further observation is there are a large percentage of Eastern Europeans working in the hospitality industry. The original city dates back before the Romans, the old town is clustered around the castle and overlooks the 18th century Georgian new town. Edinburgh castle is built on a crag and dominates the city. It was the seat of Scottish Kings from the 12th through the 15th century until James 6th of Scotland became James 1st of England after which the castle became a military barracks and prison. American privateers were held in the castle during the War of Independence along with French from the Napoleonic Wars. Finally German prisoners of war were held there during WWII. The best way to learn the history is to read the Wikipedia entry.

Holyrood is the official residence of Queen Elizabeth when she is in Scotland and is the property of the crown. The palace has a rich history and includes the apartments of Mary Queen of Scots during her reign, these apartments are the highlight of the tour. Of course we are not allowed anywhere near the current monarch's apartments even tho she only stays for one week every year. I wonder what would happen to Holyrood if Scotland gains independence from Little Britain.

Castle Craigmillar involves us taking a 15 minute bus ride from our apartment and then a ½ mile trek up a slight hill to the castle. One of many fortresses that dot the Scottish countryside it is still in a state of good repair. During a 3 week vacation at Craigmillar in 1566, Mary Queen of Scots supposedly became part of a plot to kill her then-husband, Lord Darnley. Whether she knew about the plot is actually a matter of conjecture!

Another castle, this time Stirling (40 miles from Edinburgh), one of the most important castles in Scotland sits on an imposing crag. Imposing crags seem to be a per-requisite for the building site for Scottish Castles. Sterling is the castle where many of the Kings and Queens of Scotland were crowned, including good old Mary Queen of Scots. The castle is in a wonderful state of repair and many of the rooms within the castle have been redecorated to the way they were back in the 1500's. For me, the experience would have been enhanced if the rooms had been filled with furniture from the period. Still, I actually enjoyed the tour of the castle more than Edinburgh!

Close to Stirling is the visitors center for the site of the battle of Banockburn . A significant victory for the Scots in the first war of Scottish Independence. The English were out maneuvered, and out-fought, resulting in a defeat for the superior forces of the English. This all happened on June 24, 1314. Of course the English returned over the next hundred years and crushed Scottish forces. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit as we were given a detailed view of the battle by one of the on-site experts.

Another diversion near Edinburgh is the Falkirk wheel and is nothing like the London Eye. This unique piece of machinery, a rotating boat lift, raises canal boats from the Forth and Clyde canal to the Union Canal a height of 24 meters (79ft). Of course, the day we visited it was closed for maintenance, just another attraction we can look at, but not enter.

Our little bit of culture for the week is to attend a show “The Motown Experience”, covering a range of music from the Supremes to the Jackson 5. A wonderful experience for this Northern Boy who spent the mid 60's dancing to Motown Music in the Highland Room at the Blackpool Mecca.

The Trossachs, two nights at the Forrest Hills Resort on Loch Ard. A beautiful area amongst the hills and mists of the hills that border the Scottish Highlands. A trip on the Sir Walter Scott on Loch Katrine is a relaxing respite from the rigours of being on the road and turns out to be where my niece Kim received her proposal.

On our trip to visit friends, Elspeth and James in Forres, we make a quick stop and visit Rob Roy's grave, then a stop to see whether we can spy the monster as we pass Loch Ness. No luck on the monster, however our many stops along the way land us in the middle of rush hour monster in Inverness. We arrive in Forres at dark and are warmly welcomed. The next two days are spent exploring the Forres area, before driving back down to Glasgow for a Cat Stevens concert.

Yusef/Cat Stevens, what can I say, all the old favorites as he narrates his spiritual journey from Rock Star to follower of Islam to again accepting and incorporating his old life in music into the man he is today.

The remainder of our trip sees us stop at another castle, spend the night in Kendal, say goodbye to my sister, return the rental car and finally catch different planes to the USA.

Additional photos below
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1st December 2016

Down memory lane
Lovely reminder of my 5 years in that area based in Edinburgh, getting drunk in Glasgow, cycling round the trossachs.
1st December 2016

and learning the bagpipes at Stirling Castle!

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