OUR MOST INDELIBLE IMPRESSION OF SCOTLAND!
GREEN, GREEN, AND MORE GREEN!

 

Due to the considerable drop in the British pound over the last year, it was easy to decide to visit Great Britain. For reasons I can't remember, we decided to visit Scotland, but in June not during the Edinburgh festival in August. We decided on June for 2 reasons, the first being that we didn't want the hassle of visiting Edinburgh during the festival, and the second reason being that according to historical weather statistics, June is the driest month of the year in Scotland. Of course, everything is relative, but more about the weather later.

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  Below are some general observations about Scotland and our trip.  

THE
PEOPLE

Can't  say enough about the Scottish people. They are super friendly and helpful, and always ready to smile and display their sense of humor. Everywhere we stayed and everyone we dealt with was generous and always ready to help us in any way they could.

THE
WEATHER

The weather in Scotland is legendary. The Scots say that at any given moment, somewhere in Scotland, it's raining. I can believe that. Most days, we saw a little of everything, a little sun, a lot of clouds, and a little rain. One Italian waiter in an Italian restaurant said it best when he said, "This is the only place in the world, where they have 4 seasons every day!" Actually, the weather we had wasn't so bad, although there were several very cold days. The worst weather we had was in Oban, when we couldn't do much of anything. We learned lots of new weather jargon. "Mostly loovely", means it might not rain. "Mainly clear", means the sun might come out. The absolutely horrible windy and rainy weather in Oban was called "murky and misty".  We also had several beautiful sunny days... Here's a site about rain in Scotland.

THE
DRIVING

If you haven't driven on the left side of the road, I guess this is the best place to start. There are so many narrow, single lane roads, that half of the time, you don't have a left or right lane. You just drive down the middle of the road and pull into a "passing place" to allow drivers from the other direction to pass you. The drivers are very polite and patient. Before we left for Scotland, I found some interesting web pages with some good advice how to deal with driving on the "wrong" side of the road. I think the most difficult thing is dealing with the traffic "roundabouts", which are infamous. They are huge, and may have up to 7 or 8 exits, and are not easy to negotiate. My technique in dealing with the roundabouts was to keep getting off at whichever exit I thought was the right one. When it turns out to be wrong one (usually), I turn around and go back into the roundabout and take a different exit. Sooner or later, the GPS (in Scotland they call it "sat-nav") will tell you to get off at the "first exit". That's the one that's impossible to miss!!
Do use a GPS and do get a rented car with an automatic transmission. Below are a few links about driving on the left and driving in Scotland.

DRIVING TIPS
FOR SCOTLAND

DRIVING ON THE "OTHER SIDE"
OF THE ROAD

FACTS ABOUT DRIVING
IN SCOTLAND

THE ORIGIN OF DRIVING
ON THE LEFT OR RIGHT

THE
FOOD

We were pleasantly surprised by the food. We had no problem finding what we wanted to eat, and in particular, the Scottish restaurants know how to do 2 things very well - cooking salmon without ruining it, and frying just about everything. From fish & chips, to haggis, even the fried foods were good and didn't give us any problems, even though we don't eat much fried food at home. We had only one really bad meal and all the rest were good to excellent.
We had heard all kinds of bad things about the classic Scottish dishes such as haggis, black pudding and blood sausage. I tried the first two and enjoyed them, but I just couldn't bring myself to try the blood sausage.

THE
CASTLES

We have never been to a country where we enjoyed each and every castle we visited. Each was different, well taken care of, all the displays well explained, and each full of its own unique history. Also, many provide a tour with a guide included in the ticket price. One, Scone Palace, had "mature" women volunteers posted in each room to answer questions and provide juicy historical tidbits and their own unique interpretation of Scottish history. My only complaint regarding the castles is that in most of them, no photography is allowed inside

THE
B&Bs

While exploring the possibilities for lodgings in Scotland, I quickly came to the conclusion that "B&B" is the way to go in Scotland. In many of the smaller towns there aren't many hotels to choose from, and even in the biggest cities, the choice of B&B's is overwhelming, and the reviews on the travel sites are exceptionally positive.
So, I started searching exclusively for B&Bs. All in all, we stayed in 6 different B&Bs and all were good to excellent. All the rooms were good size and nicely furnished, and the most consistent feature of all the B&B's is the "full Scottish breakfast". They all provide a full array of cereals, fruit, toast, cakes, and a hot breakfast suited to your tastes. The hot breakfast includes eggs of your choice, bacon, sausage, coffee, and any special requests you may have made. 
I notified all the B&Bs that Alisa doesn't eat meat and would prefer vegetables with her breakfast. All the B&Bs were very accommodating, and at one, the cook made several visits to the market to get everything Alisa wanted.
I should also add that most of the B&B are small operations and don't require a deposit or even a credit card for guaranteeing the reservation. They just ask for your particulars and request that you let them know as far in advance as possible if your plans change. Be advised that many of them do not take credit cards at all.
More later about each B&B. 

 

 
 

Below is our itinerary and if you click here, you can see a map of our route.

 
     

Day 1 Arrive Edinburgh Airport, drive to Perth for overnight
Days 2-4 Visit Scone Palace, Edradour Distillery, Blair Castle and continue to Grantown-on-Spey for 3 nights. 2 days in the Grantown area, including visits to Inverness and the area to the north and east of Grantown, including the northern coast.
Days 5-7 Drive via Loch Ness, Loch Cluanie and Loch Duich to the Isle of Skye. Stay in Portree for 3 nights and visit Skye.
Days 8-10 Take Ferry from Armadale to Malliag. Drive the "road to the isles" to Ft. William. Visit Glencoe on the way to Oban for 3 nights. Visit Mull, Glencoe again, Killmartin Glen, and to the area east of Oban.
Days 11-12 Drive via the Trossachs to Stirling. Visit Stirling, Stirling Castle, and the Falkirk Wheel.
Days 13-16 Drive via Culross and Roslin Chapel to Edinburgh. Return rented car and enjoy Edinburgh for a full 3+ days.
 
     
 

 
 

We flew into Edinburgh airport, rented a car, and drove off to Perth, about an hour north of Edinburgh. We stayed at the Cherrybank Guest House. This was our first B&B experience and it was very nice. The only problem was finding it. It's right on a main road in the Cherrybank neighborhood, and there is a Cherrybank Inn, a Cherrybank bar, and a Cherrybank Bank. Fortunately they're all located within 50 meters of one another and after a few false starts, we found the right one.
At Cherrybank, we were greeted by Maggie, our host who was very helpful. She recommended our first restaurant in Scotland, the "South Bistro" in the center of Perth. It's located at 47 South Street and has a home page that is not working. I mention this because Maggie told us that the restaurant has changed its name several times. This restaurant provided our first culinary surprise in Scotland. We really enjoyed the meal and the restaurant reminded us of many restaurants  which we enjoy at home. The chef is not Scotch and the menu was very European, and the dishes were really imaginative. We had seared scallops, confit of duck, with spring onion salad, ginger and strawberry vinaigrette, grilled salmon with asparagus, and a few items I can't spell, and  and crispy fried fillet of sea bass with orange and coriander couscous, fennel and asparagus. All in all, an excellent meal, and far beyond what we had expected to find in Scotland.

 

CLICK ON ANY THUMBNAIL TO SEE A FULL SIZE PICTURE

 


SCONE PALACE

Day 2 was beautiful and sunny (again to our surprise). Our first B&B breakfast was a another pleasant surprise and we set out to Scone Palace which is just outside of Perth. Scone Palace is a must see if you visit Scotland. It is beautiful, and was a pleasure to visit. There are beautiful peacocks strolling the beautiful grounds. The lady guides who can be found in most of the castle rooms provide great information and are more than happy to tell you their take on British-Scottish history and relations. Every room has lots of clear written explanations, although the room hostesses were far more interesting and entertaining. To the left is an interesting view of Scone palace, and to the right is a shot of Alisa with a replica of the famous (and infamous) "Stone of Scone", an important symbol in Scotland's history. It's also known as the "stone of destiny"  and many legends name it as "Jacob's Pillow". Here's an interesting link about its history, and here's is a very detailed site with biblical references about the stone being Jacob's pillow.


REPLICA OF THE STONE OF SCONE

On the way north to our next stop, we visited the small town of Pitlochry and the Edradour distillery which is located just outside of town. Pitlochry is a pleasant little town and Edradour is the smallest (legal) distillery in Scotland. We are not big whisky drinkers but we know that whisky distilleries are among Scotland's biggest attractions, so we decided we would visit a big one and a little one. Edradour has only a few employees and produces in a year what the big distilleries produce in a week. It's a real family place and the owner can still be found riding around the grounds on a tractor actually doing work. The guided tour is free and of course includes a tasting. We were guided by a little lady who has worked in distilleries for about 40 years and really knows the process. Here she is in the picture on the upper left explaining the malting process to Alisa. The lower left photo should give you a good idea of the size of Edradour. This is a tractor loading up on malt. The process here is very much hands on. To the right are a few links about Scotch whisky.

SCOTLAND WHISKY

ALL ABOUT WHISKY  TOURS

 

Pitlochry is a nice little town well worth a visit. It's famous for the beautiful countryside in every direction, its salmon ladder, nearby Blair Castle, and several distilleries in the area. We had lunch here at Moulin Hotel and Brewery, which is located between Pitlochry and Edradour. We had a nice pub lunch here ( they make their own beer). It's also a hotel. The web site includes lots of information for visiting the area.

 


BLAIR CASTLE

After lunch, we visited Blair Castle, another castle we really enjoyed. Blair castle was obviously a military bastion as it is full of weapons of all kinds. It also has widespread and beautiful gardens where you can spend a long time strolling about. We visited the "Hercules Gardens" - picture to the right.  Scone castle was more impressive, but Blair is a must-see as well. To the left is a view of Blair Castle and is one of the nicest pictures of the trip.


GARDENS AT BLAIR CASTLE

 

 

THE MALT
WHISKY TRAIL

SCOTLAND WHISKY
& DISTILLERIES

WHISKY-NET
THE A to Z OF
SCOTCH WHISKY

After Blair Castle, we arrived at Grantown-on-Spey, a tiny town on the Spey River. We stayed at the Rossmor Guest House and were greeted by Joan, our hostess who is a transplanted Californian. Despite the town's small size, it has several B&Bs and even 2 or 3 hotels . It is the center of a very popular area - to the southeast is the Cairngorn Mountains, to the northeast is the ride up the Spey River (Speyside) to follow the distillery trail, and to the northwest is Inverness and Loch Ness. Just to the south is the town of Aviemore, a skiing center during the winter. We stayed here mainly because of its location. It's a cute little town and the B&B was quite nice. Here's a picture to the right of Alisa in the breakfast room. To the left are a few links about this area.


BREAKFAST ROOM AT ROSSMOR B&B


THE GARTH HOTEL DINING ROOM IN GRANTOWN

In Grantown we had two interesting meals - one was one of the best of the trip and the other was undoubtedly the worst . The best meal was at the Garth Hotel and the worst was at the Stratspey Hotel pub restaurant. We like pub food but this one was  bad. As for the Garth Hotel, we were amazed at the elegant service and the wonderful food. We were seated in the bar area where our food order was taken, and only then we were escorted into the dining area. At the Garth Hotel, Alisa had one of the most interesting dishes of the trip - a seafood salad with scallops and strawberries. Here it is to the right. To the left is a picture of the interior of this elegant restaurant.


SCALLOPS AND STRAWBERRIES AT THE GARTH HOTEL IN GRANTOWN


GAME MEAT AT THE INVERNESS STREET MARKET

On our first full day in Grantown, we drove to Inverness.  The day started out cloudy and overcast, but in the afternoon the sun came out and it became a beautiful day. This type of weather was typical for many days during this trip.
Inverness was a very pleasant surprise and we spent the entire day there. It is considered the capital of the Highlands. There was a big street market going on. We strolled all over town, along the river up to and across the Ness Islands to the other side of the river and came back to town along the other side. To the left is a picture of Alisa admiring the unusual meat available in the market, and to the right is a picture of the cathedral located on the south side of the river.


CATHEDRAL AND CHURCH SPIRES IN INVERNESS

INVERNESS CASTLE

We ate lunch at a wonderful restaurant called "The Mustard Seed". To the right is a view from the window of this restaurant which is located right in the center of town. For an appetizer we had crayfish tail with sun-dried tomatoes, paprika mousse served on freshly baked bread with smoked salmon and lemon wedge, and for mains we had baked fillet of seabass and baked fillet of salmon with almond and basmati rice, lemon and herbs.
To the left is a picture of the Inverness castle, after the sun came out!


VIEW FROM THE MUSTARD SEED RESTAURANT IN INVERNESS


VICTORIAN MARKET IN INVERNESS

We liked Inverness a lot. Along the river to the south of the town center is a lovely stretch of riverside (Ness Bank Road and Island Bank Road) where there is a concentration of B&Bs and several small hotels. It's a beautiful street and looks like a nice place to stay. If we were to make another visit here, I think we would stay in Inverness. It's much larger than Grantown or Aviemore, and there is a nice selection of stores and restaurants. Cashmere is very popular in Scotland and we picked up a few pieces here . To the left is a picture of the "Victorian Shopping Mall" in the center of town.  To the right are a few links about Inverness.

CITYGUIDE TO INVERNESS

THE INTERNET GUIDE TO INVERNESS

THE OFFICIAL INVERNESS WEB SITE

INVERNESS FACEBOOK PAGE

 

On Sunday, we drove up the Spey river drive in the direction of Aberlour and Dufftown. We intended to visit the Glenfiddich distillery, and a few of the castles on what is known as the Grampian Castle Trail. We picked a few castles to visit but we never got that far. The weather was miserable, and we discovered that Glenfiddich (and all the other distilleries) open at noon or later on Sunday. Another place we wanted to visit but couldn't (because it was Sunday) was the Speyside Cooperage, the only cooperage in Britain. They make oak barrels for wines and whiskey, and as we passed we saw mountains of barrels. They give a nice factory tour Monday to Friday.

 

So, we headed north because the weather report showed better weather on the coast, and because that was the recommendation we had gotten from our B&B host, (Joan's husband Ed) before we had left that morning. He recommended we go to Cullen to have the famous "Cullen Skink". Sounds terrible, but actually it's just a thick soup based on smoked finnian haddock, onions and potatoes. Here's an article about this tasty soup and here's a recipe. In Cullen, every eating establishment, including what are known as teahouses  serves Cullen skink.

 

The best thing about driving to Cullen was that the weather improved. The sun didn't exactly come out, but the sky cleared somewhat and the rain stopped. By the time we headed back south, the sun did come out.
After Cullen we drove east and visited Banff, another nice little seacoast town. Banff is located on a bay directly across from a sister town called Macduff. To the right is a picture of Macduff taken from the Banff marina. We strolled around Banff and found no restaurant for lunch, so we bought sandwiches in the supermarket and had lunch on the road. In between Culross and Banff is the town of Portsoy which has what looks like an interesting place to visit - a restored salmon bothy from the 19th century. We didn't visit because we didn't have the time.


VIEW OF MACDUFF FROM BANFF

After Banff, we drove back south to the town of Rothes and visited the Glenn Grant Distillery. We had been told that Glenfiddiche was the biggest distillery in Scotland but the people at Glen Grant set us straight. They (Glenn Grant) are the biggest, or that's how they see it. In any case, we got a very special tour. The distillery was down for maintenance and we were all alone. That meant that we had a private tour, it was quiet, and we could take all the pictures we wanted. Normally, in a working distillery, photography is prohibited primarily because of the explosive malt dust in the air. We enjoyed the tour, tasted some nice whisky, took lots of pictures and strolled through the beautiful gardens. On the top left is a picture of the distilling chambers and on the lower left is a picture of the lovely gardens. To the right is a picture of Alisa and me enjoying the whiskey in the tasting room and below it are a few "whisky links".

     
 

 
 

We left Grantown-on-Spey in the rain. We drove through Inverness and on to the most famous of all of Scotland's lochs - Loch Ness. We visited the Loch Ness Center and were able to learn all we wanted to know about Loch ness and its famous monster. It was an interesting and well done exhibition. They present all the history and evidence both for and against the existence of any monster in Loch ness. It's a quick and painless way to visit Loch ness. It's located in the town of Drumnadrochit, which I thought was a great town name. I badly wanted a t-shirt with this town name on it, but they didn't have my size. 

 


LOCH CLUANIE

After Drumnadrochit, we continued down Loch ness and came to Urquhart Castle which is mostly a ruin. In fact the most interesting thing here was the crowd of visitors milling about which included many bikers. After Urquhart castle, we turned west and into the the beginning of the highlands. We drove by Loch Cluanie, and then Loch Duich.  To the left is a picture taken at Loch Cluanie, when it was still overcast, and to the right is a picture at Loch Duich where the sun came out. Loch Cluanie was beautiful but desolate.


LOCH DUICH


KINTAIL LODGE ON LOCH DUICH

On Loch Duich we found a delightful little Inn where we had a nice lunch. The Inn was called the Kintail Lodge Hotel. This is where I had my first taste of haggis, in the form of Cockburn's haggis balls. They are deep fried in a whisky, onion and cream sauce. They were delicious and I enjoyed them. Alisa had a nice dish of a salmon trio; smoked salmon, salmon salad, and home cured gravalax. This place was located in the middle of nowhere and was a complete surprise. To the left is the inside and to the right is the outside of Kintail Inn. It reminded me of a bar in the western United States where cowboys might hang out. Here's the Kintail bar menu and here is a recipe for the haggis balls I had. And for those really interested in haggis, here's a humorous and interesting article on the "makeover of haggis. This area is known for its beautiful mountain scenery which includes the "5 Sisters of Kintail". Here's a terrific photo site of Scottish landscapes which highlights a picture of these beautiful mountains.


KINTAIL LODGE ON LOCH DUICH


EILEAN DONAN CASTLE

After lunch, we continued westward and came to one of the most beautiful sites of the trip - the Eilean Donan Castle. The sun was out fully and the day was incredible. It's hard to describe the beauty of the scene. We didn't go inside - just enjoyed the view from the outside. Enjoy the pictures to the right and left.  


EILEAN DONON CASTLE


PLOCKTON SEAVIEW

We thought the day couldn't get any better, but the best was yet to come, and the best was Plockton.  We were on our way to the bridge to Skye and Plockton is a few kilometers out of the way. It's a good thing we went, because Plockton is a real jewel. Here's the Plockton home page. It doesn't do justice to this beautiful little town, but it does provide some practical information. Plockton pictures to the right and left.


PLOCKTON SEAVIEW

     
 

 
 

I love the names of the towns in the highlands. In order to cross the bridge from the mainland on to the isle of Skye, one has to drive through Kyle of Lochalsh, the Plock of Kyle, (I have no idea what exactly is the Plock of Kyle), pass over the tiny island of Eilean Ban, and reach Kyleakin on the Isle of Skye. These are great place names and are even better than Drumnadrochit.

 
 

In any case, we made it to Skye and drove for another hour to get to Portree, the island's capital where our B&B was located. Our B&B, Pienmore House is located about 2 miles from Portree and qualifies as the most elegant B&B we stayed in. The rooms were huge and the bathroom was as large as some bedrooms we have stayed in. The shower was the best we had anywhere. Margaret, the proprietress, is originally from England, and has spared no effort in decorating the house perfectly and making sure that everything is just right. There's also a gallery attached to the B&B although it wasn't open when we tried to check it out. From our bedroom window (on the right), we had a view of the most famous view on Skye, that of the Old Man of Storr.


PIENMORE HOUSE VIEW OF THE OLD MAN OF STORR


PORTREE

Portree is a nice small town with a nice little port area, lots of guest houses and lots of tourists. Here's a picture to the left of the colorful houses on the water's edge. We ate at a couple of decent restaurants. The only one worth mentioning is the "Sea Breezes", where we couldn't get in the first night and dined there the second night only after making a reservation. The service was slow but the food was quite good.

 


SKYE MUSEUM OF ISLAND LIFE

On our first full day on Skye, we toured the "Trotternish Peninsula", which is the northeastern corner of Skye. We visited "The Old Man of Storr", "Kilt Rock", the towns of Staffin and Uig, drove across the barren landscape of the "Quiraing", and returned back to visit Portree at the end of the day. The landscapes on Skye are beautiful and varied. This was another typical day that started out cloudy and cleared up by the end of the morning, and we took lots of pictures. Regarding the "Old Man of Storr", while searching for web pages about this unusual natural formation I found out that it is a very  popular target for many photographers. I literally found dozens of web pages with absolutely incredible pictures. Here's one of the pictures which impressed me most. To the right is a standard classic shot taken by me of the Old man of Storr, and to the left is a shot of the "The Skye Museum of Island Life" located at Kilmuir, at the northern end of the Trotternish peninsula. This kind of museum is quite popular in Scotland and can be found in other places as well. It's comprised of several thatch-roofed dwellings restored with original equipment and furniture and presented as a look at village life.


OLD MAN OF STORR

THE HISTORY OF DRAMBUIE AND THE ISLE OF SKYE

Uig is a small town with a ferry port where we found some beautiful ceramics at a combined store & gallery (where they made the stuff) called "Uig Pottery".  We took a few nice pieces home.

BEAUTIFUL SKYE PHOTOS  INCLUDING KILT ROCK


STROLLING AT DUNVEGAN CASTLE

On our second day on Skye, we explored a another peninsula - the Waternish peninsula. We started at Dunvegan Castle, home of the MacLeod clan. This castle was as interesting as the others and full of interesting history and exhibits. The most intriguing story at the castle was about the magical "fairy flag" which protected the MacLeod family and gave them many victories in battle. I did some research and found this website all about the fairy flag. Here's another good site about Dunvegan castle with lots of pictures and a wealth of information. To the left is a picture of me walking on the grounds around the castle, and to the right is a picture of the castle after the sun came out at its usual time of 12 noon.


DUNVEGAN CASTLE

 

Our next stop was for lunch at the incredible "Three Chimneys" restaurant. This is a very high quality restaurant (in our opinion Michelin 1 star quality) located 40 KM from the nearest decent sized town. The immediate area is beautiful and very isolated. Most incredible is that the restaurant is full most of the time. It is also a B&B with 6 rooms. We couldn't make a reservation (for lunch!) on the first day and had to shoot for the second day, and that's what determined our touring schedule on Skye.

 


WAITING FOR 1:15 AT THE 3 CHIMNEYS

We had made a reservation for 1:15 PM, that is to say that this was the time allocated to us when we called to make a reservation. We arrived at 1 PM, and were told by the waiter that we were welcome to sit down, but our order wouldn't be taken before 1:15, because the kitchen is very small and the seating times are synchronized so as not to tax the kitchen staff. In any case, we sat and enjoyed the view out our window and ordered our meal at 1:20.  The meal was wonderful. Here's a description of some of the 4 dishes we ordered. (I usually don't go into such detail regarding meals, but this restaurant was special. For those not interested, you can skip ahead by clicking here.) Alisa had Tallisker home cured hebridian salmon with quail eggs, cucumber and nasturtium leaves (picture to the upper right), and grilled solway firth sea trout with crushed new potatoes, peas, peashoots, parslane, and claret velouts (picture to the lower right). I don't know what most of those names mean, but the dishes were wonderful.  I had seared breast of Perthshire wood pigeon with tattie scones, lusta mushrooms, radish and young neep salad, and for the main course, roast saddle of highland venison with ransom pearl barley, Ayrshire bacon, Tolaig carrots, beetroots and blackberry game gravy.  We had no wine as the driving on Skye is all on very narrow roads and I wanted to maintain my sobriety. The price for the meal was 69 BP which included an after dinner drink which Alisa had. To the left is a picture of the restaurant bar as seen from where I was sitting. There were 3 rooms with a capacity for about 30 people.  The menu changes regularly.

     


BEAUTIFUL VIEW FROM SKYESKYNS DISPLAY HALL

After lunch at the Three Chimneys, we visited a very interesting place. It is one of the last remaining sheepskin curing factories which still exists in Scotland. (It may be the last.)  The entire process is done by hand by one of the last tanners in the region. Downstairs is the workshop and upstairs is a beautiful showroom with a fabulous view out large picture windows. The name of the place is "Skyeskyns" and to the left is the incredible view out the window.

 
     


WAITING FOR THE MALLIAG FERRY

We were sorry to say good-by to Skye. We had enjoyed our visit very much, had the best meal of the trip, the best shower of the trip, the biggest rooms of the trip at the Pienmore,  and seen lots of fabulous scenery, but alas, we had to move on. We drove to Armadale to take the ferry back to the mainland at Mallaig. We had made the reservation via email before arrival in Scotland, and seeing how full the ferry was, It was clearly a good idea. At the Armadale ferry port, we visited the gift shop, called "Skyelark" where we found an incredible photographer, "Grumpy George". George is anything but grumpy, and we enjoyed our chat with him. He has an incredible selection of beautiful photography (which he prints on canvas) and he is a fount of knowledge regarding photography in general and computer enhancement in particular.   Here is his website.  To the left is the view from behind the cafe located at the ferry port.

     
 

 
 

Once on the mainland, we headed toward Fort William on one of the most beautiful roads in Scotland - "The Road to the Isles". It was nice, but we rode on several others that impressed us more. It was another one of the days we had seen several times on this trip - rain, sun, rain, sun, rain, sun, until one of them overcame the other. Fort William somehow reminded us of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. It seemed like it was just ride for Scottish cowboys. There's actually a lot to see and do in the Fort William area, which includes Ben Nevis, Britain's tallest mountain, the Caledonian Canal, plenty of outdoor activities, climbing, hiking, boating, and perhaps the most famous train ride in Scotland, the Jacobite steam train from Fort William to Mallaig. There are plenty of YouTube videos about this train ride and here's a link to a search I did.  We enjoyed a stroll about town, had a decent lunch at a restaurant called "Number 4", and then continued on our way. Be advised that Fort William is filled with tourists, and metered parking is allowed only in several large public parking lots.

WALKING
BEN NEVIS

MUNROING: HIKING SCOTLAND'S HIGHEST MOUNTAINS

DISCOVER GLENCOE

CLACHAIG GUIDE TO GLENCOE

IMAGES OF GLENCOE

THE BATTLE BETWEEN THE CAMPBELLS & THE MACDONALDS

We continued south to Glencoe, one of Scotland's most famous areas. It is truly breathtaking, but on this day, as we ascended to the center of the road trip through Glencoe, the weather got worse and worse, and when we reached the vicinity of the 3 sisters peaks, the weather had become hurricane-like. It was windy and cold with heavy rain, and we turned around and headed back towards the road to Oban, our ultimate destination for this day. We returned to Glencoe 2 days later when the weather was still cloudy, but a lot better than during our first visit, and we were  able to really appreciate the breathtaking views of this area. When heading up from the Ft. William - Oban road, you will pass 2 visitors centers, Ballachulish, and Glencoe. Ballachulish is small and cozy and has free parking, and a coffee shop. The Glencoe center is big and imposing and requests you pay for parking. You can get the info you need at either. To the right is a piper we came across in Glencoe, and to the left are a few more links about this famous glen.


PIPER IN GLENCOE


OBAN CENTER WITH McCAIG'S TOWER ABOVE

After our first visit to Glencoe, we arrived in Oban, a nice little town best noted for its proximity to the island of Mull. We stayed at a B&B called Thornloe Guest House. This B&B is nicely located between Oban's port area (5 minute walk) and McCaig's Tower, perhaps Oban's most outstanding feature. Unfortunately, the next 2.5 days had the worst weather of the entire trip and even the 5 minute walk to the port area in Oban was a chore.  Most people visit Oban because of its proximity to the island of Mull, a popular island for tourism. On Mull, are the Duarte Castle and the Torosay Castle, the picturesque port town of Tobermory, and it's the gateway to the tiny but interesting isles of Staffa and Iona. As for the B&B, it was well run, although there was no public area to sit, and the parking required acrobatic driving skills, but as I said, above, it was located very nicely. Breakfast was just fine.

 
 

We had planned several outings on Mull, but the weather was so bad, we only crossed over once to visit Duarte castle. We took the ferry (without car) from Oban to Craignure. At the Craignure ferry stop, several buses are standing waiting for passengers. One of the buses is the bus from the Duarte Castle. The bus will take you to and from the Castle, but it's not free. The admission to the castle is 5.30 without the bus and  10 with the bus. It is however, very convenient. Nearby Craignure is Torosay Castle, which like Duarte has very nice gardens. Another interesting transportation possibility is the "Mull Railway", a narrow gauge rail line that takes you from Craignure to Torosay. Because of the weather, we didn't stay on Mull and after our visit to Duarte, returned to Oban.


DUARTE CASTLE BEDROOM


OBAN PORT AND FERRY TAKEN FROM McCAIG'S TOWER

Other activities available on Mull would be to visit Tobermory, a very colorful port town about 80 KM from Craignure, or a visit along the southern coast to Fionnphort and from there taking a boat ride to Iona, where there is an ancient abbey, or to Staffa, which is a nature reserve and also includes Fingal's cave, a popular place to visit.  There are several tour companies which offer several different packages, among them one that includes the ferry from Oban, bus ride across Mull, and then sailings to Iona and Staffa. The leading company is Bowman Tours.

 
 

After our shortened visit to Mull, we went south from Oban to Kilmartin's Glen, which is about 40 KM south of Oban and is one of Europe's richest archeological sites. We got there a little late so we couldn't take the full area tour, but we did visit the museum and the main church which is filled with ancient graveyard stones. Then we had a nice cold beer in the local pub. Kilmartin Glen is an interesting off the beaten path site well worth a visit. Here's another informative web site about it which includes quite a few pictures.

 
 

That evening we ate at what must be the best restaurant in Oban - the Coast Restaurant. This is a lovely restaurant with a great menu and a very talented chef. We had 4 very nice dishes. I'll describe only one - my main dish which was roast neck fillet of argyll lamb with sauteed chard, fondout potatoes, creamed leeks, morel essence, and red wine sauce. Here's a picture to the right. We had a nice 2005 Angel's Flight California zinfandel to go with our meal and the total cost was 64.


ARGYLLE LAMB AT THE COAST RESTAURANT IN OBAN

 

The next day was another "murky and misty" day, and another visit to Mull was not recommended as we could see that the weather in that direction was even worse. So we went in the other direction and drove east. To the east are several attractions and we also planned on circling around to the north and visiting Glencoe again to make up for the first visit, which was curtailed by hurricane like weather.

 
 

Our route was to drive east and visit a very unusual power station inside a mountain called Ben Cruachen, visit a salmon smoke house in Inverawe, and at Tyndrum turn north and drive through Glencoe from east to west. The visit to Glencoe is detailed above and the visit to the smoke house didn't happen because we couldn't find it. However, we did find the Cruachen Power Station and our visit there turned out to be one of the highlights of the entire trip. Power plants are my business, and I don't want to get carried away describing our visit here, so here is the very concise description provided on the Scottish power web site: "Just a short distance from Oban, here you can discover one of the hidden wonders of the highlands. A power station buried one kilometre below the ground. At its centre lies a massive cavern, high enough to house the Tower of London. Here enormous turbines convert the power of water into electricity, available to you in your home at the flick of a switch."
There is a very professional visitors center with some nice exhibits and a very informative slide show, but the jewel in the crown is the tour inside the mountain which culminates at the visitor's viewing gallery above the giant turbine hall. As a former power plant manager, I really enjoyed the visit, and Alisa, as a veteran visitor to many a power plant was also suitably impressed. If you get to Oban, don't miss Cruachen. To the right is a picture of the inside of the visitors center. No photography was allowed inside the mountain.

 


DISPLAYS AT THE CRUACHEN PUMP STORAGE POWER PLANT

 

As for the salmon smokehouse, now that I've seen the web page, I don't know how we missed it. It is called Inverawe Smokehouse and it is located near Taynuilt which is between Oban and Ben Cruachen. From the web site, I see that it is quite a place, with nature walks, a tearoom, a gourmet shop, a smokery exhibition, and online shopping. Maybe next time we'll find it. In the evening on our last day in Oban, we ate at a restaurant called "Number 9", mainly because it was raining again and it was the closest restaurant to our B&B.  The meal was nice, although the staff and management seemed to be beginners. The most interesting part of the meal was the birthday party going on right next to us. About 20 young people had taken over most of the restaurant for the party, and we enjoyed the repartee with them.

 
     


PEOPLE ENJOYING THE FALLS OF DOCHART RAPIDS

When we left Oban, we headed east again, this time in the direction of the Trossachs National Park and eventually to get to Stirling at the end of the day. The Trossachs area includes Loch Lomond, (although I've seen varying definitions of the Trossachs geographic area) one of Scotland's most beautiful areas for weekend leisure activity. Had we been traveling on any day but a Sunday, we would have visited Loch Lomond as well as the Trossachs. We had been warned about the heavy Sunday traffic on the roads in the Loch Lomond area, so we steered clear of it. We first visited Killin, a tiny little town on the northern fringe of the Trossachs Park, whose main attraction is the Falls of Dochart located right in the middle of town. We enjoyed a walk through town, which was filled with visitors (expected to be so since it was Sunday...), and then had a coffee and tea at The Falls of Dochart Inn located right above the falls. It was very relaxing.

 
 

After Killin, we drove south to Callandar, one of the main towns in the Trossachs Park area. Callandar was a delight with lots of stores and restaurants and the Rob Roy visitors center. We strolled around for a while, and then took off for the drive through the heart of the Trossachs. The route we took was Callandar to Loch Venachar (where we stopped for a picnic lunch - pic to the right), Brig O'Turk, Loch Katrine boat dock, Duke's Pass, Aberfoyle, and Lake Mentieth, which is called Scotland's only lake.  Actually, there are differences of opinion regarding Lake Mentieth, either that there are other lakes in Scotland, or that it isn't really a lake at all. Fortunately, it doesn't really matter. This is a beautiful ride and here's a web page with more details. We stopped in Aberfoyle, which is a much smaller version of Callandar, bought a few items at the wool center, and then had a cold beer at the Wallace bar of the Firth Hotel.


MAIN STREET OF ABERFOYLE

 

We made one more stop on the way to Stirling - at a strawberry farm! We had eaten delicious strawberries in Scotland, so when Alisa saw a sign advertising a strawberry farm, we headed right for it. It was right on the way to Stirling, and we found more than just a strawberry farm. It was also a playground for kids with ground level trampolines as well as other equipment. And, by the way, the strawberries were delicious.


STRAWBERRY FARM NEAR STIRLING

     
 

 
 

Stirling is famous mainly for three things - its university, its castle, and the Wallace Monument.  We didn't visit the university, but we saw plenty of students in the bars we visited. We loved Stirling castle, and as for the Wallace Monument, we had a great view of it from our B&B bedroom window. We also visited it , and hiked up the hill to take in the fabulous view of Stirling and the surrounding area. It is of course a memorial to the greatest hero in Scotland's long and bloody history, William Wallace. Everyone in Stirling was very eager to point out that very little in the popular Mel Gibson movie about William Wallace (Braveheart) is true. He was indeed a national hero, but the movie is  historically very inaccurate.

A COMPREHENSIVE AND GORY HISTORY OF THE LIFE OF WILLIAM WALLACE

 

Our B&B was "The Old Tram House", a historic building in its own right, as it is the last remaining remnant of the Stirling Tram Company. Alison is the hostess at the Tram House and wins first prize on this trip as the "most bubbly" hostess of all the B&Bs we visited. She was most helpful and friendly (and bubbly of course) and has been running the Tram House for a mere 14 years. That's by far the longest tenure at any of the people we met running B&Bs. We had one problem at the Tram House and that was that we took the room with the double bed which means 2 flights of stairs. The room was also within the roof area and not designed very well. It was also facing a main street, and was rather noisy. On the lower floor was a nice room with 2 twin beds which was much better laid out than ours. We could have had it had I inquired about the stairs, so in this case, I take the blame. Lesson learned - always ask how many flight there are!  To the right is a picture of the perfect breakfast table Alison sets.


BREAKFAST ROOM AT THE OLD TRAM HOUSE IN STIRLING


CANNON & WALLACE MONUMENT

As I mentioned above, we really enjoyed our visit to Stirling Castle. It is really incredible, and photography is allowed almost everywhere. The staged kitchen figures (picture to the right) are incredibly lifelike, the tapestry weaving is fantastic, the great hall is really great and the views are  wonderful. There is a free tour with a guide about once an hour. The ticket includes admission to the Argyll's Mansion located in town.  To the left is a picture of a castle cannon pointed directly at the Wallace Monument.


CAN YOU FIND WALDO IN THIS SCENE?

 

In Stirling I only remember one meal - at Nicky-Tam's Bar & Bothy, which is primarily for area students. I remember it not for the food, which actually wasn't half bad, but for the sticky grease on the tables. I couldn't put my arm on the table, because my sleeve kept sticking to it. In researching this page, I was really surprised to find that they have a web page. We were there on an evening with a quiz, very popular evening entertainment at Scotland's bars and pubs. The menu on the web page is much better than the one I remember at the pub.

 

VIDEOS OF THE FALKIRK WHEEL

A GOOD SITE ABOUT THE HISTORY AND TECHNICAL ASPECTS OF THE WHEEL

DESIGN INFORMATION  & PANORAMIC PICS ABOUT THE WHEEL

After Stirling Castle, we drove to Falkirk, a nearby town to see the Falkirk Wheel, an incredible engineering project and the world's only rotating boatlift. The Falkirk Wheel connects the Forth and Clyde canals, which are about 35 meters difference in water level. This was done in the past by a series of lochs which took about 8 hours to get from one loch to the other. As part of a project to open up the water navigation on all the lochs of Scotland, this project was conceived and executed. It's a giant rotating wheel, elevated water bridge, and tunnel which can transport a boat from one loch to the other in about 45 minutes. Tickets are sold and most of the traffic is people just taking the ride out of curiosity. It's quite a marvel and is impossible to fully understand unless you see it with your own eyes. Here's a picture to the right, and to the left are a few links about this incredible project.
There's also a very nice restaurant right near the wheel and we had a very enjoyable lunch there. Not surprisingly, it's called the "Wheel House".


THE FALKIRK WHEEL


CULROSS

The next day we headed to Edinburgh. On the way we stopped at 2 places. The first is a village called Culross, which is a beautifully preserved Scottish village from the 16th and 17th century village. It's on the north bank of the River Firth, and is set in the midst of an industrial landscape - across the river petrochemical works, to the west a power plant and to the east a dormant coal and salt fields. The setting is unusual but the village is a gem. Pictures to the right and left. 


CULROSS INDUSTRIAL VIEW

 

The second place we visited was Roslin Chapel, made famous by Dan Brown's book "The Da Vinci Code". Because of the book, this church could easily have turned into just another tourist trap, but it is an amazing building with lots of fascinating  history and artistic symbolism. Included in the admission price is a lecture about the church and its history. It's presently undergoing restoration to correct many years of water and other damage. Unfortunately, photography is not permitted inside, so all I can provide are a few links to sites with some good pictures. (I wonder how (and when) the other photographers got such nice pictures.) Roslin, the town is a small town located just a few minutes south of Edinburgh and is a must on every tour today because of the chapel.

5 MOST BEAUTIFUL CHURCHES IN SCOTLAND

ABOUT ROSLIN AND THE CHAPEL

A VISIT TO ROSLIN CHAPEL

     
 

 
 

We stayed in Edinburgh for 4 nights at a B&B named for its address - 14 Hart St. This B&B turned out to be our favorite B&B of the trip. This B&B is run by Angela and James who are both school teachers and are off to school all day during the week.  Breakfast is prepared lovingly by Betty who also serves as the housekeeper. Every evening we would meet Angela and James and discussed our day's activities, and our plans for the next day. Also, Alisa (a retired teacher) had plenty to talk about with the two of them - mostly commiserating about the terrible state of modern school systems.  All this made us feel like we were guests in their house rather than paying customers. The location was also excellent, a 10-15 minute walk to Waverly station, right near the Picardy Place Roundabout, near plenty of bars, restaurants, the Edinburgh Theatre and 2 shopping centers, right near several bus stops, and on a very quiet side street. The nearest bus stop is for the number 8 which is about one minute away and which goes right to Waverly Bridge.  All in all - a great choice!


BREAKFAST TABLE AT 14 HART STREET


A SUNNY DAY IN PRINCES STREET GARDENS

A few details about getting around Edinburgh. The city isn't very big, and if you walk fast, you can get from one end to the other (of the central area) in an hour. The city is split into 2 parallel areas, the Old Town, which was the central part of the city for centuries, and the New Town which was started in the 1700's to alleviate overcrowding in the Old Town. Here's a great site with walking tours of both, and here is the Frommer's page describing the neighborhoods of Edinburgh..  The center of the Old Town is called the Royal Mile, and stretches from Edinburgh castle to Holyrood Castle, home to the British Monarch on her visits to Edinburgh. The Royal Mile is full of interesting places, stores, restaurants, etc. The area near the Castle is most interesting and houses several unusual places like the "Whisky Experience", and Camera Obscura. The New Town and the Old Town are separated by the The Mound, (several centuries of garbage) and connected by the Waverly Station, the main train station. Also in between the two parts are the beautiful Princes Gardens, and the National Gallery, the main city museum.


SOUVENIR STORE ON THE WAY UP TO EDINBURGH CASTLE


VIEW OF EDINBURGH CASTLE

As for the New Town, it's full of Georgian architecture and the city's main shopping area. The main street is Princes Street which is presently torn up in order to build a tram line. It's a mess and very dusty and noisy. All the buses have been rerouted to George Street. Which brings me back to the buses. A single ride on a bus is 1.35. An all day pass costs 3, a pretty good deal even if you are sure of only 2 rides, considering that there is no change made on the bus. You must provide exact change or pay extra. We bought the all day ticket each day and used it several times each day. If you do ride the buses, do check the back side of the ticket as it may hold discounts for tourist attractions. Only after we paid full price to enter one of them, did we notice that we had a 2 discount on the back of our bus tickets. Here is the web site of the bus company of Edinburgh - Lothian Buses. I have to say that they did a fantastic job diverting the buses around Princes Street, with clearly marked temporary bus stops with fully understandable schedules.

 
 

The Lothian Bus company also offers several variations of bus tours for tourists. There are four different variations, including unlimited on and off rides around the city, some with and some without a human guide explaining things. We didn't take them because they didn't suit our travel plans.

 

THE EDINBURGH COUNCIL WEB SITE:
FULL OF USEFUL INFORMATION FOR VISITING EDINBURGH

In the Old Town, we visited Edinburgh Castle, which was great, strolled the Old town, including Candlemaker Lane, Cockburn Street and the Grassmarket area, visited Camera Obscura (lots of fun, professionally done and well worth a visit), walked the entire Royal Mile (it's actually more than a mile), and at the lower end, visited Holyrood Palace and the Scottish Parliament. We didn't enter either because the Queen was visiting then. We didn't do this all in one day, but rather during parts of three days. We also visited a most interesting museum called "The People's Story". It's very interesting, it's totally free, and it's very well done. It has 3 floors of exhibits explaining the life in Edinburgh over the years. Right across the street is another similar museum - called The "Museum of Edinburgh". Its focus is the history of Edinburgh. It is also free and it it is also very interesting. Here's the web site of  the Edinburgh Council, which has lots of useful information for visiting Edinburgh.


VIEW OF THE CITY FROM EDINBURGH CASTLE, WITH THE 1 PM CANNON


VIEW OF PRINCES STREET FROM CALTON HILL

We visited Calton Hill, full of national monuments and overlooking the entire city, strolled Princes and George Streets, did some shopping, visited the national Gallery (free!!), several shopping centers, and even went to a movie which was part of the Edinburgh Film Festival which was going on while we were there.

 


TYPICAL STREET ENTERTAINMENT IN EDINBURGH

Perhaps the most entertaining thing we did was taking one of the famous haunted tours of Edinburgh. We went with Blackheart Tours and took the "Underground City of the Dead Tour" which takes about an hour and a half, and relates tales of Edinburgh's bloody past, and goes down into the underground chambers below South bridge. It's all great fun, and very entertaining, and it's hard to tell if the tour guide really believes the stories of haunting he tells or not. Even buying the tickets was an experience. At the start of the tour, we realized that buying the tickets in advance wasn't necessary, but we got to a store called "The Black Mausoleum", is full of the exotic and occult, and is located on Candlemaker's Street, one of the more colorful old streets of the Old Town.  It's right near Greyfriars graveyard, and St. Johns Church, both worth a visit.  There are several other companies offering underground tours which mostly start at the Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile. Some of the tour guides are dressed in period costumes. The main other company is Mercat Tours. The tour was great fun and very well done, but not (so says the advertisement)...for the "faint of heart".


ALISA WALKING DOWN A TYPICAL STEEP "CLOSE" IN EDINBURGH'S OLD TOWN

 

 

As for restaurants, we found out that Edinburgh is full of Italian restaurants, and we ate at three of them. One was recently voted the best Italian restaurant in Scotland and was very good indeed. It's called "Bella Mbriana" and was a 2 minute walk from our B&B. It was very good, but we enjoyed just as much another Italian restaurant 2 minutes from the B&B in the other direction, "Giuliano's". Giuliano's was less pretentious but the food was excellent. At Giuliano's, we had grilled prawns, swordfish carpaccio (both were perfect) and 2 (fresh) pasta dishes which were also wonderful. On one of the days, we had lunch at another Italian restaurant, "Bella Italia" which is a chain and was surprisingly pretty good.
Another nice lunch we had was at a French restaurant on Victoria Street (between the castle and grassmarket), called "Maison Bleue". Their lunch menu was fantastic and at a fantastic price (
6.90 for 2 courses). The salmon was perfect, and when the waiter discovered we were interested in the film festival, he offered to give us his tickets.


VICTORIA STREET: THE BLUE FRONT IS THE MAISON BLEUE RESTAURANT

     
   
     
 

 
     
 

SOME USEFUL LINKS FOR VISITING SCOTLAND

 
 
UNDISCOVERED SCOTLAND MY FAVORITE SITE FOR PLANNING THIS TRIP
VISIT SCOTLAND LOTS OF INFO INCLUDING EVENTS
HISTORIC SCOTLAND GOVERNMENT SITE ABOUT VISITING SCOTLAND
INTERNET GUIDE TO SCOTLAND ANOTHER EXCELLENT SITE FOR PLANNING
HIGHLIGHTS OF SCOTLAND EXCELLENT SITE WITH 8 SELF-GUIDED TOURS
STUCK ON SCOTLAND -  EDINBURGH SITE ABOUT EDINBURGH
RAMPANT SCOTLAND LOTS OF INFO INCLUDING HUMOR, TRIVIA, AND INTERESTING STORIES
DARK ISLE A PERSONAL SITE BY SOMEONE WHO LOVES SCOTLAND
RING OF SCOTTISH SITES  
WILD IN SCOTLAND TOURS IN SCOTLAND
A TASTE OF SCOTLAND CUISINE AND RESTAURANTS IN SCOTLAND
SUITE 101 ON SCOTLAND OFF BEAT ARTICLES ON TRAVELING IN SCOTLAND
WELCOME TO SCOTLAND LOTS OF TRAVEL INFORMATION
VISIT THE HIGHLANDS THE HIGHLANDS ARE SCOTLAND'S PARALLEL TO THE AMERICAN WILD WEST
COME TO SCOTLAND  
HIGHLAND WALKING WALKING IS A POPULAR HOBBY IN SCOTLAND
GREEN DRAGON ON SCOTLAND TRAVEL SITE OF MY FRIEND CHRISTIE WHO HELPED ME MORE THAN ANYONE ELSE IN PLANNING THIS TRIP
 

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This is a page from our site "Travels with Steve & Alisa".  It describes one of the many trips we have made together.  We've built these pages not just to describe our trips, but to help other travelers if we can.  Please use the information we've provided freely, and let us know if you have any questions we might be able to answer about your own planned trip, or just let us know if we have helped you. Or perhaps you have some information we could add to the site. Visit our home page using the link to the right.                 

Enjoy your next trip!!                         ~Steve & Alisa~

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UPDATED: APRIL 20, 2013