Travel Theme – Peaks

Rather than fulfilling the weekly travel theme at Where’s My Backpack about Peaks with mountains and hills from the Peak District in the UK, which was very tempting, I’m digging out a few from the Scottish Highlands. They are all scans from photos taken in between 2000 and 2003 and they aren’t very good though I’ve done some or a lot of processing on them. I must dig out my photo albums and re-scan them because I have a much better scanner now.

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Daily Post – Mirror

WordPress Daily Post weekly challenge this week is Mirror. I haven’t got a lot of photos of actual mirrors but still waters reflect perfectly.

This first photo is not a very good scan from a photo I took around 9 a.m. at a picnic site near Arrochar in the Scottish Highlands. A good friend of mine whom I had known online for several years picked me and another good friend up at our hotel in Glasgow and drove us through the Highlands to Oban where we caught the ferry to Mull and then to the island of Iona via a pedestrian ferry. Since we’d made quite an early start, we were ready for a quick snack and a break just as the sun was really breaking over the mountains. I think it was mid April so the mornings were still late in getting bright. We had a lovely day and lots of laughs. He passed away about 7 months later so I’m very glad I got to meet him face to face.

Long Loch from Arrochar

Long Loch, Scottish Highlands near Arrochar

The Magical History Tour – UK 2003

Ailsa’s weekly travel theme this week is History. Pretty much every trip I take will have some element of history to it, whether it’s a visit to a cathedral or museum or historic site. I went to the UK in 2003, planning to travel around and see various friends. Included was a concert in Manchester to see Paul McCartney. (You can read about the concert in more detail here on my website) Because of the number of historical things I saw and did and in honour of the Beatles, I named this trip the Magical History Tour. It didn’t end very well, however. I started to get sick in Cardiff, felt worse in Bath and by the time I got to London I needed a doctor and a place to stay for an extra week because I was in no shape to fly out when I was supposed to. Thanks to a good Samaritan, I had somewhere to lay my fevered head.

But, in honour of the weekly theme, here are some photos from that trip. The full detailed travelogue is here but I’ll write an abbreviated version here as well.

We start the tour in Worcester, on the River Severn, where I stayed with a good pal for a couple of days. Worcester is quite an old city (well, most of the cities in the UK are old) and there’s a strong connection here to the English Civil War. It was near the site of the final battle when Oliver Cromwell’s troops defeated Charles I. They have a Commandery, a military museum here along the canal and a grand old cathedral. There’s also the Royal Worcester china factory and  very old streets in the city center that are still lined with some buildings that date back to Tudor times. We had lunch in the Cardinal’s Hat, a very old pub and visited the cathedral, the seconds shop for the china place, looked into a flea market in the old Guildhall and generally walked and walked. King John I is buried in the cathedral as is Arthur Tudor, the man that would have been king but who died not long after marrying Katherine of Aragon, leaving his younger brother Henry to be crowned Eighth of his name and the rest, as they say, is history.

My pal and I drove from Worcester to Glasgow (in a Smart car!) for a couple of days. Glasgow is a great city, and I prefer it to Edinburgh. While we were there, we went to the cathedral, St. Mungo’s, which is one of my all time favourites. It’s not a huge and spectactular as some, like Worcester’s or Canterbury’s but it’s peaceful and dark and there’s just something about it that I really like. Up a hill behind it is the Necropolis, Glasgow’s Victorian cemetery that has some wonderful old mausoleums. (mausolea?)

We also met up with another friend who lived nearby and he drove us to the Isle of Iona, which is a little speck off the western coast that you get to via another island, Mull (near Oban). Iona is very small and is mainly pedestrian only unless you live there or are coming in a service vehicle. There’s a ferry from Fionnport that will take you across. There’s a small village and a sandy beach with waters as blue as you’d see in the Mediterranean which surprised me. The main attraction here is the old abbey.

St. Columba founded the Abbey on Iona in 563 and it turned into the cradle of Craigtianity in Europe. Over 3 dozen ancient kings of Scotland are said to be buried in the old cemetery, some graves little more than a rise in the ground with a small stone the size of a man’s hand wedged into the ground at one end. There are also some modern graves here including that of political former UK Labour Party leader, John Smith. It’s a quiet place and wasn’t very busy when we were there, early April. It almost feels like time stands still. The abbey is partially restored inside and there are also ruins of a nunnery nearby.

We headed to Manchester to meet up with a few more friends to see the Paul McCartney concert. That’s historic in its own way. The Beatles were probably the first super group of the modern age and each of the band members are and were legendary. Manchester was a few days of hanging out with friends, including a trip to the Lowry Gallery to see the paintings of L.S. Lowry whose pictures of near-stick figure people and the working class of Victorian Manchester bring that period of Manchester’s history to life. A few more friends converged on the city over the next few days and we happily spent time with each other, shopping, eating and having a drink or two.

I left Manchester in the company of a friend who lives in Cardiff. We took the train back to her home and I spent a lovely few days exploring that city. I had a look in the big civic museum, saw a gorgeous war memorial surrounded by spring flowers and trees in bloom, had a walk in Bute Park that abuts Cardiff Castle where I had visited once before so I didn’t pay the admission to go in again. Kind of wish I had now, though. Cardiff is a nice place and has a lot to offer. It’s grown and modernized, especially along the Cardiff Bay development but the city center has galleries, theatre, pubs and shops including an indoor covered market that was fun to browse. We also went a bit out of the way to see Llandaff Cathedral but this turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. I was not impressed at the modern concrete arch across the middle interior topped with an art deco style statue of Jesus. It really didn’t fit in, I thought.

I continued my onward journey on my own after leaving Cardiff but was most definitely starting to feel ill with some sort of flu. I got to a hotel in Bath, a World Heritage Site, and probably should have found a walk in clinic but I was determined not to spend the next couple of days in my hotel room. I carried on. I went to see the old Roman baths, the pump room, the beautiful Georgian streets where Jane Austen walked. I loved the architecture and I visited the old Assembly rooms which includes the Museum of Costume. Superb stuff! I even walked through the old Pulteney bridge across the Avon, an 18th century bridge with shops lining it on both sides.

Bath Abbey is like a cathedral here and is very old. The current one replaces several editions of churches and religious buildings back to the 8th century and King Edgar was crowned King of the English herer in the late 10th century. The city itself was little more than a village in the late 18th century when the rediscovery of the mineral baths promped a flurry of development by Georgian architects John Wood, the Elder and his son and Bath became the Society’s “In” place, the place to see and be seen for the next 40 or 50 years. It’s a very interesting city and well worth braving the crowds.

I managed to get myself on the bus to London because the trains were not going to be running in to London on the day I was planning to travel. I forget why, now. By the time I got to London, I needed a doctor and arranged one through the hotel. My sister had a friend that lived locally and I ended up staying with him for almost a week until I was able to travel home. So the Magical History Tour had a bit of an ignomanious ending but I won’t forget it!

 

A Rare Rainbow (DP Challenge)

The Daily Post at WordPress challenges us this week to post a photo of something Rare. I’ve posted this photo at least once before and it certainly fits this theme. Scotland, late August 1993. Driving across Rannoch Moor on a drizzly day on a tour bus. The sun must have been breaking out somewhere because we saw colours across the moors. Real colours like a rainbow but it was puddles of misty colour on the ground, not an arc over the sky. I took a quick photo through the window and was pleased to see it turned out. (Those were the days you had to wait for the film to be developed).

I posted the photo on Flickr and entered into a discussion with someone about it and he suggested it would have been the top of the rainbow. This part of Scotland is higher above sea level and at mid to late morning when this was taken, the sun would have been at about 40 degrees elevation and just the right angle for it.

Rainbow in the Highlands, near Glencoe. The "Hail Mary" lucky shot through the bus window

Rainbow in the Highlands, near Glencoe.
The “Hail Mary” lucky shot through the bus window

Edinburgh vs Glasgow

Edinburgh Castle from the Castle Gardens below

National Geographic Traveler, issue 32:8 (December 2015/January 2016) has a feature on top 20 “Must See” destinations. One of them is a short piece on Glasgow, the second city of Scotland. The author of the piece, Kimberly Lovato, opens with “If Edinburgh is the blue-blooded aunt at Scotland’s tea party, then Glasgow, just 45 miles to the west, is the T-shirt-clad cousin kicking over the kettle on the way out.

That made me chuckle but it’s pretty close to the truth when embodying the spirit and personality of the two cities. I’ve been to both, not for lengthy visits but several times each over the years though my last visit to Glasgow was in 2003 and Edinburgh in 2000. I’m overdue. That aside, though I like both cities, my overall feeling was that I preferred Glasgow.

Edinburgh is beautiful, with a newer section of tidy Georgian architecture nestled at the feet of the volcanic ridge that housed the older city, crested with a jaw dropping castle on the top of the cliffs. The old part of the city is now mainly hotels and tourist attractions, with the university and student population thrown in. The Royal Mile stretches from the castle at one end to Holyrood Palace and the remains of the abbey at the other and it is quite interesting to explore with mysterious narrow “wynds” or lanes, small museums, a cathedral and lots of places to have a drink or a meal.The new Georgian section has great shopping, parks, bigger museums and galleries and also lots of edibles and potables.  It’s also the seat of the government both historically when it was the seat of Kings and in modern days, the home of the new Scottish Parliament. You’d find a lot to hold your interest within the inner city of Edinburgh.

A Mausoleum in the Glasgow Necropolis

A Mausoleum in the Glasgow Necropolis

Glasgow was the largest sea port in Britain and was a huge transatlantic trade hub.  The Industrial Revolution expanded the wealth in the area and it was a more important city than Edinburgh as far as finance goes.  There are two universities and a cathedral and a reknowned art college.  An industrial city means there’s a lot of working class folk in addition to the student population. All of this booming industry generally ends up faltering and that’s what happened to Glasgow in the 1960s but by the end of the 1980s, things were looking up again and today, Glasgow is a vibrant city again, with a thriving arts scene. It’s not really lost that working class atmosphere, I think.

For me, Glasgow feels more “down to earth” and everyday, where the city as a whole is striving to put their best foot forward and bloody proud of their achievements, something that it feels like Edinburgh takes as it’s due. Edinburgh feels more “touristy” in the city centre than Glasgow, maybe because Glasgow’s tourist attractions are a bit more spread out between the city centre and the newer west end. Glasgow certainly has great museums,  theatres,  shopping, eateries, pubs and clubs, and a cathedral of it’s own.

In fact, on that last point, the old cathedral in Glasgow is one of my all time favourites of the ones I’ve seen and even nicer than the one in Edinburgh, it’s far more atmospheric though it’s not very large. Rising on a hill behind it is a Victorian  Necropolis Cemetery with wonderfully interesting memorials. Also very atmospheric to trod around on a foggy, overcast afternoon like I did.

The Garage, Sauchihall Street, Glasgow

The main thrust of the National Geographic Traveler piece spoke about 2016 being a Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design so there will be a lot going on there this year and the writer also enthused about the music scene in Glasgow. From the street performers to the club scene to the concert halls, it seems there’s something for everyone. One of my favourite memories of Glasgow was a gig in a club on Sauchiehall Street, The Garage. It was an impromptu night out and the band was 3 Colours Red, a punk band from the late 90s and early 00s and they were fantastic!

Some do say that the local Scottish accent is nearly untranslateable and it’s true that a strong accent here is tough for our North American ears but for the most part, we didn’t have a problem. We found the people working in the shops and cafes to be very friendly, with a great, albeit cheeky, sense of humour. Anyone that I deal with in a shop, hotel, pub or anywhere else who greets me with a smile and a little joke has my vote. I haven’t encountered that in Edinburgh where I’ve found the people polite, perhaps a bit more business-like but by no means rude. They don’t seem as glad to see you as Glaswegians do, however. Perhaps that’s due to the higher tourist count in Edinburgh, I don’t know. They get on with things because there’s usually someone waiting in the queue behind you or at the next table.

Glasgow has it’s share of tourists, too but Edinburgh seems to get more of the glory. It’s not that it isn’t a nice city to visit. I think everyone should enjoy what Edinburgh has to offer which is a lot. Edinburgh Castle really is interesting and worth the money you’ll pay to see it, plus the views over the city from the ramparts are boggling. The majesty of the Edinburgh Tattoo is something you’ll never forget (along with the heaving crowds of the Edinburgh Festival! But there *will* be great theatre, too!) Edinburgh perhaps has the more glamourous history to show off but Glasgow has lots of that, too.

I really want to see both cities one more time and I think if we manage to get there, we’ll probably have our base in Glasgow. You can take the train between the city centres in under an hour making for a great day trip.

Traveling through the movies: Scottish Highlands

WWDOOH1This installment of “Traveling through the movies” takes us to the Highlands of Scotland, particularly the northwest coastal area. The movie is What We Did On Our Holiday, from 2014, staring Rosamund Pike, David Tennant, Ben Miller and Billy Connolly.

The basic premise is that Tennant and Pike are Doug and Abi MacLeod, a married couple on the verge of divorce, which has been very hard on their three children, ages about 4, 6 and 10 or thereabouts. Doug’s father, Gordie is turning 75 and as he is very ill with terminal cancer, the family is going to drive up to Scotland for a large birthday party, likely Gordie’s last. Gordie lives with his older son and family, Margaret and Gavin and Kenneth. Gordie is a bit tightly wound and Margaret is struggling with depression. Kenneth is struggling with his father’s high expectations. Gavin and Doug seem to have a long time rivalry.

WWDOOH2The day of the party dawns and Gordie and the three younger grandchildren head to his favourite beach for the afternoon to get out of the way of the party preparations. While watching the children, Gordie dies on the beach and the children decide to give him the Viking funeral he told them he wanted, rather than have a lot of fuss and warring family members. They build a raft, and, using a spare can of gasoline from Gordie’s truck, set him aflame and push him out to sea. The repercussions are many but the movie ends with Gordie’s friends and family celebrating his life under a spectacular sunset on the beach.

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Red Point Beach, Wester Ross

The scenery is the real winner, here. There are shots of the car driving down roads with the mountains rising bleakly on either side. The beach is surrounded by hazy purple mountains but the water is blue and the sand white. It’s easy to see why this is Gordie’s “God’s country”. I’ve been to the Scottish Highlands a couple of times, and this movie certainly makes me want to go again, hop in a car and drive wherever the notion takes us. It’s a beautiful country, much of it remote and with single track roads the further north you go.

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Billy Connolly as Gordie MacLeod

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There are pleny of movies that are set in the Scottish Highlands but many of those are actually filmed elsewhere, Ireland being one of the favourite replacements. Many of the castles in Scotland are seen in films, including Eileen Donan (Highlander, The World is Not Enough), Duart on the Isle of Mull (Entrapment) and Doune (Monty Python and the Holy Grail and the tv series Outlander which has lots of other scenes filmed in the Highlands as well). A few examples that have scenes filmed in rural Scotland include Braveheart (Glen Nevis and Loch Leven), Prometheus (Isle of Skye), Skyfall (Glencoe),  and a new upcoming version of MacBeth.

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DP – Extraordinary

In my travels, I see a lot of things that impress and astound me, things that move me and make me go Wow! Many are items in museums but other things that I love are buildings/architecture, or a spectacular view as we drive over the crest of a hill. When trying to decide what to choose for the Daily Post challenge, Extraordinary, I was spoiled for choice and I could have picked quite a few things.  I chose these two.

This first is a shot I took out the window of a tour bus while traveling through the Scottish Highlands. It’s near Rannoch Moor and I couldn’t believe my eyes, a rainbow in the mist *on the ground*, rather than a arc overhead. I’ve been told that it comes out this way due to a few things, including the height above sea level and the angle of the sun at that time of the day (late morning). What you are seeing is the top of the rainbow arc, apparently. I took the chance at a few photos out of the window of the moving bus and captured it enough that you could tell what it was. The photo was taken on film, through a window,  has deteriorated some,  and scanned a long time ago so the resolution isn’t great.

Rainbow in the Highlands, near Glencoe.  The "Hail Mary" lucky shot through the bus window

Rainbow in the Highlands, near Glencoe.
The “Hail Mary” lucky shot through the bus window

This is an illuminated copy of two pages of the Canterbury Tales along with, underneath in the case, another plain undecorated copy, both from the 15th century. Seen in the John Rylands Library, Manchester. The decorated sheets are from the Oxford Manuscript. The other book is a 1476 first edition. It’s amazing that something so fragile is still preserved. The Ryland Library also has a fragment of  the gospel of John, dated to about 200 A.D. written on papyrus.

Canterbury Tales, Illuminated and plain, below it.

WPC: Creepy

The WordPress weekly challenge asks us to show something creepy.

The first time I traveled somewhere that affected me was the battlefield of Cullodden in Scotland. I passed through the visitor centre and out on to the area where the great battle between the Highland Scots and the English armies clashed on April 16, 1746. The Scottish were decimated. Many were buried on the fields in mass graves by clans. You can still see the risings in the earth and clan markers for some of them. There’s also a spot called the Well of the Dead, a spring in the earth where a particularly fierce charge through the English line of defence ended with the death of Alexander MacGillivray on this spot. This is a marker to his bravery. While walking around through the paths and looking out on the area, though it likely looks far different now than it did back then, and there’s a road cutting right through the middle of it, you can still feel something, maybe the spirits of the dead, maybe lingering cries of the dying as the wind whispers through the trees.

The Well of the Dead. Culloden, Scotland

Another recent creepy thing that we saw was this death mask in the Tower of London, something that an executioner wore.

Executioner’s mask, Tower of London

Post-Holiday Blues

Loch Maree, Scotland

Loch Maree, Scotland

Have you ever come back from a really great holiday or vacation and felt down, felt in a slump, suffering from that lingering feeling of “I want to go back”? Of course you have. Even if a vacation turned out badly or had some things happen that spoiled it or some of it, once you’re home, you can at least relive it by telling stories, turning the stress into something you can learn to laugh at or at least gain the sympathy of everyone you know!

*Touch Wood* I’ve not had disaster trips but have had some that have not turned out very well overall. Still, they all offer something to look back on and remember.

And it’s tough getting back into your normal routine when you still have hazy memories (or the scars) to remind you that you’ve been away. How do you handle having to get up at 6 a.m. to catch an early bus to work, handle getting back into the after-work workout at the gym, paying bills, buying groceries, doing housework? It sucks, doesn’t it? All you really want to do is go back to the beach, hotel, campground, tour bus, or cruise ship.  You eventually forget about the sore feet, the pickpocketed wallet, the food poisoning, the lost baggage, the flat tire. You saw wonderful things, breathed fresh air, swam with dolphins, found an amazing bargain at a market, discovered a new artist, saw the world from the top of a mountain, ate food that was strange, tasty and wonderful and watched the sunrise/sunset somewhere that wasn’t your own backyard.

You have your souvenirs, your photos, your travel blogs, your memories. You can only tell your stories to your friends and family for so long before they begin to avoid the subject. You continue to throw that little phrase “When I was in…” into conversation as often as you can. You realize that nobody cares anymore and they think you need to move on.

So be it. When is the next holiday? Start planning it. Trust me it’s the only way to get over the holiday blues. Even if you won’t be going for a few years, you can still start thinking about it, where to go, what to do.  Research is at your fingertips.  We are always looking forward to the next trip and often have already decided on the one after that, possibly the one even further out, or, at least, put a few things on a list of possibilities.

Our next trip will be a road trip around Scotland in October. We are going to do something that I have never done. We are not going to prebook any accommodation. That’s scary for an uber-organizer like me but it makes sense. We don’t necessarily want to be tied down to being in a certain location on a certain day. We want to drive the roads, explore if something takes our interest, stop and enjoy the spectacular scenery. It will be off season and though some places might be closed, there are always hotels or Bed and Breakfasts or pubs with rooms for rent. We’re making a list of things we definitely want to try to see. The rest of the things are movable targets.

As will we be.

Another memory of Iona

Looking towards Mull from Iona

I reread yesterday’s post about Islands, specifically the paragraph about Iona, and it brought back my absolute favourite memory of that visit.

We had disembarked from the ferry and were walking along a little road heading to the abbey. It is lined on one side with houses and in yesterday’s photo of the beach, you can see those houses. So we were walking along there and on the right, was the view of the ocean and further, to the Isle of Mull where we’d caught the ferry.

Along the road on the right were walled off gardens and yards, belonging to the houses opposite, across the road on the left so the view as we walked was actually across these gardens to the sea. In the enclosures we saw garden implements, sheds, childrens’ toys, bikes, flowers, shrubs, the usual sort of things you see in people’s back yards and gardens.

Then I noticed a group of women sitting together in one of the gardens. What really struck me so much is that they were all sitting together on the ground, with warm coats, scarves and hats on (it was a cool, windy day in April) and they had a full tea set on a tray nearby. Teapot, milk, sugar, spoons, the lot. They didn’t just make a cuppa in their own kitchens and bring it with them. They made an occasion of it. They made tea properly in a pot, poured it and sorted out their preferences for milk and sugar and there they sat, cradling cups of hot tea against the chilly air, chatting, laughing, and enjoying more or less the view in the photo above, and, I imagined, celebrating the end of winter.

Who cared if it was  a bit chilly to sit outside? Winter was no more and spring was struggling to establish itself on an island that probably seemed very desolate in the winter. They were sheltered from the breeze by the stone walls and the sun had a bit of early spring warmth to it. I was enchanted with the scene. It just felt so right, women friends sharing their lives over a cup of tea. I was too shy to ask if I could take a photo of them and too close to do it without them noticing because I had a large SLR at the time, not a discreet, smaller digital camera.

The moment passed as did I, en route to the Abbey. The memory stays with me.