Friday, August 28, 2015

Your mother was a hamster...

We had a very brief foray into the Highlands during our time in Scotland.  I'd hired a guide who essentially works off TripAdvisor recommendations.  He picked us up in a van right from our tiny tiny flat, and off we went with our first stop at Stirling Castle.  Stirling Castle is lovely, but the location on the hill and the town below are the real highlights.  The highlands are off in one direction while the fields disappear off in the others.  Inside the castle, the draw for our family was The Argyll & Sutherland Highlander Regimental Museum.  If it involves guns and war history, you know Nicholas is there.  If it involves weird off the wall stuff, you'll find Jonathon.  If it raises questions, Rebecca is interested. And if there are stories to tell, Katherine is the one reading them.  So yeah. The Regimental Museum was cool.

Edinburgh Castle had a great tour to see the Scottish Crown Jewels and the big rock - The Stone of Destiny.  That's a mighty big title for a a flattish rock.  But it is a big deal as at each coronation the stone is brought back to London to show that the new king/queen is also head of Scotland. We learned a lot about James VI of England aka James I of Scotland at Edinburgh Castle, Stirling Castle, and Westminster Abbey.

We departed Stirling Castle on our way to the Highlands.  The curtain of gray and mist is unmistakable as the line between here and there.  On our way to our next stop we stopped to feed Highland Coos, Honey and Hamish.  You know how Slimer, well, slimes people when they get too close?  Well, these guys loves their carrots and turnips and potatoes, but if their tongue hits your hand you have long slimy tendrils dripping down your wrist.  That's what jeans are for.

If you hadn't noticed, everything is green and very muddy.  After living in the Middle East for 3 years where you never have to check the weather report but maybe twice a year, in Scotland you don't really have to check the weather either but for the opposite reason. Just about every 5 minutes, the weather changes.  We had so much rain.  Every day. Rain. And in the highlands rain is the norm, so appreciate the sun when you see it.

Highland cows are short stocky things with horns that can gore you with a shake of the head.  It's a good thing there were two rows of fencing between us and them and their slimy tongues.

Loch Ness is about 4 hours away from Edinburgh.  Some day.  Some day I will get there.  But for our trip, we visited the much nearer Loch Lubnaig.  Our guide challenged the family to a rock skipping contest and made a good show of it, but Nicholas was right there with him, skipping his rocks 10+ times.  Most of the rest of us managed maybe 4.

It was time for lunch so we headed back the way we came to Mohr Fish in Callander.  A quiet and very basic seafood stop, it was just this side of quaint.  No real atmosphere or anything to draw someone in, but the food was decent.  Over this trip we tended to eat our weight in fish&chips and fish chowder (unless you're Rebecca or Nicholas).

The Scots apparently believe that the moment you've eaten is the time to go on a hike.  They seem to think that every time of every day is the right time for a hike.  They love to hike.  After lunch, we went on a hike.  I don't recall the name of the park, though sometimes I think Scotland is one giant park, but a decent little hike led to a covered wooden bridge over a waterfall.  It was here were had our mini whiskey tasting.

We are not whiskey people.  I won't even try with the names as I didn't take photos of the labels but I remember there were far too many consonants and not nearly enough vowels.  And they were terrible.  Our guide swears they were great, but my throat and belly begged to differ.  One was incredibly smokey and peaty that tasted like I'd inhaled dragon breath. The other was a single malt that tasted like a burning river.  The remainder of my tastes were offered to the waterfall gods.

Though it may look like the youngsters are also drinking whiskey
they were offered the famed Irn-Bru soft drink.  Of which they
did not enjoy either.

While having our tastes, the skies opened.  It poured.  We were under a cover, but on a schedule and who knew how long the deluge would last.  It thundered.  It lightninged.  It was actually the lightning that made the decision for us.  If we could have stayed we would have waited for the shift to a drizzle, but instead we gathered ourselves up and dove into the downpour.  Up the muddy hills, through giant puddles, jeans became second skins, shoes kept the water in and not out.  It was awesome.  At the van the heat went on and we slowly began to dry.  I mean, if you can't run through the Scottish country poorly dressed for the weather after taking in some whisky on a covered bridge by a waterfall and think it's fantastic, then you're missing out.

On our way to the Loch, our guide pointed out a small and apparently dilapidated castle we passed by.  It was to be our destination later in the day, and went by the name of Doune Castle.

Now, we went to Doune Castle.  Part of the castle was being used for a wedding as the horse and carriage outside attested to, but we visited the rest until the ceremony was over and thoroughly enjoyed the audio tour. The audio tour was narrated by Terry Jones.

Yeah, that Terry Jones
Just about every room in Doune Castle was used, many simply from different angles for different "rooms," in the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  The audio guide had options after the "history of this room" segments for Python fans to hear what scene was recorded where.

This stop became, with no research prior to this tour, the highlight of Ian's trip.

Not for the clumsy footed.

"All the kings said I was daft to build a castle in a swamp,
but I built it all the same, just to show 'em. It sank into the
swamp. So I built a second one.  That sank into the
swamp. So I built a third one.  That burned down,
fell over, then sank into the swamp. But the fourth
one stayed up."

"Guards! Make sure the Prince doesn't leave this
room until I come and get 'im."

"Your mother was a hamster and your father
smelt of elderberries!"
The spot where this was actually done
was a little tight.
Of course if you're an Outlander fan you'll recognize this castle as Castle Leoch.  I managed to watch the first episode of the series on the flight to England, and then episode 2 on the return flight.

It's no wonder that Scotland has caught our attention as a possibility for... what?  Retirement?

Who knows.

If a day trip like this is up your alley or even if you're just heading up Edinburgh way, we highly recommend Chris Walker (no relation to Walker shortbread) of Local Eyes Tours. It's really him doing his thing, he's not part of any big tourism program. He does walking tours of Edinburgh, day trips like ours, multi-day trips through the Highlands, you name it.  He's approachable and chatty, loves to talk world politics, is engaging but steps back to let you do your own thing too.  Tell him we sent you.


  1. Thanks for sharing! Great post!

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