We noticed that you're using an unsupported browser. The TripAdvisor website may not display properly.We support the following browsers:
Windows: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome. Mac: Safari.

Trip Report

QOE
Houston, Texas
Level Contributor
289 posts
263 reviews
Save Topic
Trip Report

We recently returned from Scotland and I have completed my trip report. It is long - 15 pages in a Word doc. I would like to share my report but don't wish to overburden anyone.

Would it be better to post the report on the forum in pieces or is there a preferred place to post trip reports?

Edinburgh, United...
Level Contributor
21,887 posts
Save Reply
1. Re: Trip Report

POST IT

We love reading reports

also post it in the review section.

Scotland, United...
Destination Expert
for South Ayrshire, Glasgow
Level Contributor
14,803 posts
297 reviews
Save Reply
2. Re: Trip Report

Yippee a trip report. Please do share it with us. If you think its a bit big for one thread try splitting it down into a few episodes perhaps. Anyway I'm off to pour myself a long cold one and look forward to a good read:-)

Edinburgh
Level Contributor
227 posts
68 reviews
Save Reply
3. Re: Trip Report

QOE

The alternative is to do it in a blog using www.blogger.com - easy and free to set up. I reported on my 8 week round the world trip in this way.

But failing that post it in sections here - I'd love to read it.

QOE
Houston, Texas
Level Contributor
289 posts
263 reviews
Save Reply
4. Re: Trip Report

Thanks for the encouragement. I decided to post it in one big lump.

Scotland Trip Report

June 21 – July 1, 2007 (Allegedly)

My “trip of a lifetime”, dream vacation, birthday present to myself! We’re off to Scotland…

Thursday, June 21

The three of us left for the airport in plenty of time to get through security and make the flight. I had all my travel information and itinerary from our tour company, Scotland Tours, in hand. As we waited at the gate they were asking for volunteers to take a later flight and I thought, “no way am I going to risk missing our connection”. Famous last words.

Our plans were roundtrip Houston, Texas to Glasgow, Scotland via Newark. We left on Continental flight CO50. What was supposed to be a 3 1/2 hour flight to Newark lasted over 12 hours due to bad weather in Newark. We were forced to land for refueling twice - once in Richmond VA and once in Baltimore. During that time we ran out of water and food and it was getting pretty uncomfortable on the plane.

When we finally landed in Newark it was 1 am and our connecting flight to Glasgow had left about 11pm. (The flight that left Houston after ours made it in and would have made the connection!) We got in line for Customer Service but after a bit they announced that they were closing at 1:30 am and sent everyone to baggage claim for assistance. There was no one in baggage claim! No one at any ticketing area either. We spoke to a haggard gate agent, Elise Paolo, who was very kind and tried to help us. She said we had been rebooked for a flight Saturday night!!! She added us to the standby list for Friday night but that was the best she could do. We were facing a 48 hour delay; stuck in the airport.

There was nothing open to purchase food in the airport and it had been more than 9 hours since we had had any food. I finally found someone to buy a banana and a bottle of water from but that was all he had. (McDonalds opened at 5am. It's not food but it will keep you alive.)

I absolutely panicked, trying to contact the tour company to let them know we weren’t going to be on our designated flight. It took some doing but we got through to them but unfortunately only after their guy was at the airport waiting for us.

Friday, June 22

We spent the rest of that night and all the next day wandering in the airport. I had tried to find a hotel room nearby but was told there was nothing available in the area. At 6pm we went to the gate for the 7:45 flight to Glasgow. The gate agent told us we were on standby but that it looked pretty good. He did get 9 people on the flight who were on standby, but not us. While we stood there he reconfirmed our seats for the Saturday night flight, printed out new boarding passes and sent us on our way.

We were facing another night in the airport and I couldn't stand it. I went to Customer Service and waited in line. The woman who spoke to us was exceptionally surly and rude. She told me she had been on duty the night before and NO ONE had been turned away from Customer Service. In short, she called me a liar. I guess I had dreamed that part about them turning everyone away and closing the area. She finally told me that since we hadn't asked for a room the night before she had no problem giving us a room that night. She gave us a voucher for Howard Johnson's and sent us on our way.

When we got to the bus for the hotel the driver told everyone that all vouchers went to Ramada. I tried to tell him our voucher said Howard Johnson’s but he insisted that we go to Ramada. When we got to the Holiday Inn, I think it was, the driver got off the bus and said he was done for the night and someone else would come take us to the Ramada! He walked away.

Soon, another driver came and made us change buses. He said all vouchers were going to the Ramada. But then he took us to the Sheraton and told us to get off. I gave up, got off, went inside and asked for a room. No, I pleaded for a room. They were very nice and accepted the voucher.

We had a nice, if expensive meal and slept in a comfortable bed. I set my alarm for 1 am so I could get up and call the tour company to let them know we weren’t on our flight. Again. At least I caught him before he left home this time.

A shower the next morning was very welcome although we didn’t have a change of clothes as our luggage was still checked at the airport. At least I had gotten my medication!

Saturday, June 23

We had to be out of the hotel by 11am so after a nice breakfast we went back to the airport to wait for the 7:45 pm flight. We mostly wandered around bored. Did you know you can only ride the tram around the airport a couple of times before Security starts to look at you funny.

Just as a precaution I went to the gate as soon as the folks arrived to work the flight and asked them if we needed to do anything. They told me we weren't on the flight!!! Apparently the guy the night before had cancelled our seats for the flight we were supposed to be on. I panicked. The gate agent managed to get us on the flight but we were not able to sit together. I confess I was glad to just be on the plane at last. I had already lost two days' worth of prepaid accommodations, meals and rental car.

At least we got there without incident. What a long flight!

Sunday, June 24

8:00 am, in Glasgow at last! We got through customs and met our tour representative, Ronnie Pook. What a nice man. He went over our plans and maps and gave us our various tickets before introducing us to the rental car people. He even went over the operation of the car and certain things we should know about driving in the UK. He was explaining signs and signals to be aware of and I asked him if there was a signal for “Sorry, I’m from Texas”. He stared at me for a moment and then smiled and said afraid not.

They gave us an automatic VW Passat Estate. (That’s a station wagon at home. Pretty nice car.) And then he escorted us out of town (one of the main reasons I selected this itinerary service!) and onto our first freeway. (He only had to pull over once to come talk to us because I couldn’t shut off the hazard lights but we sorted that out too.)

First stop, after our first U-turn, was Loch Lomond Shores. It’s a sort of shopping mall, aquarium, tourist stop. It was drizzling and the view was somewhat obscured. We took a few pictures, got some chocolates at Thornton’s (!!) and were on our way again. We tried to go to the village of Luss but I couldn’t manage the exit so I gave up.

We drove on toward Connel, which should have been our first night’s stay (before our Newark delay), and had lunch at The Oyster Inn. Pretty good monkfish and scallops dish. After looking around a bit we drove on, across the Connel Bridge to Castle Stalker’s View Café. You can only get to the castle on its island at certain times of the year due to tides and the fact that it is a private residence but they have a viewpoint from which you can get some excellent photos. The castle is haunting and beautiful, even from a distance. We also bought a few trinkets at the shop there.

We were rushing to keep our schedule but one of the nicest things about a self-drive tour is that you can stop when you see something interesting. Every moment of scenery from the time we left Glasgow had been interesting, gorgeous or awe inspiring. Makes it hard not to stop and gawk. I pulled into a car park on a whim and found we were at St. Conan’s Kirk, which is a lovely old church in Dunolly. We took some time to take photos, tour inside the church and look at the scenery. There was even a gentleman sitting outside the church, quietly playing the lute. Very nice.

I learned a lot about driving in Scotland that first day. I learned that I could manage roundabouts – with a good navigator and a little patience. They have very good signage in Scotland but they seldom post speed limits and rarely post distances. The brown signs are a godsend when looking for historical sites.

I learned that U-turns make life more interesting. I learned that “enter roundabout and exit at the 3” actually means something. I learned that their idea of a major highway does not even approach mine. I experienced my first “single track road”, one way bridge and “if red signal appears, wait here” sign. I also learned that buses and trucks (excuse me, lorries) are HUGE when headed toward you on the “wrong” side of the road. But I got acclimated by the time we reached our first accommodation.

We made it into Fort William about 7:30 pm but couldn’t find the inn. We ended up stopping at a large hotel to ask directions and the hotel phoned our accommodation to get directions. Just a couple more roundabouts and we were there! The owner of The Lime Tree asked how we had ended up phoning him from another hotel. He thought that was funny.

After checking in and checking out our rooms (interesting layout with our room in a new addition to the old Victorian house) we went down to the parlor where we had drinks by the fireplace and chatted with a couple from Australia. Soon we were called in to dinner. Dinner was truly wonderful. I had an excellent filet steak. We dragged our full tummies back up to our rooms for our first night’s sleep in Scotland. It had not really occurred to me prior to the middle of that night that days are longer in Scotland in the summer. I had not anticipated full daylight at 10pm and was rather surprised.

The room proved restful and the bed was very comfortable. My one concern was the bathtub. There was nothing to hold onto as you stepped in and out of the rather tall tub and the tub itself was extremely slippery with no handholds at all. The glass 'door' or water guard offered no support since it freely swings in and out of the tub. We were very careful and had no mishaps but I can see how the tub could be a real hazard. (I was reminded again on this trip that for some reason they like their bathtubs very tall in the UK!)

Monday, June 25

Next morning, after a breakfast of “One Eyed Sandwiches”, which were very good, we were off to ride the Jacobite Steam Train. We found the rail station, left our car in the car park and made it to the train in plenty of time. After some confusion about tickets and assigned seating we found our seats (the car we were in was set up with two pair of seats on either side of a table next to the window) and were soon on our way.

The Jacobite Steam Train runs from Fort William to Mallaig. It is a two hour trip each way with a stop in Glenfinnan on the way out. The train is the same one used in the Harry Potter movies and we actually crossed that impressive arched bridge (the 21 arch Glenfinnan viaduct) you see in every movie. We passed numerous places of note such as Neptune’s Staircase, which is a series of canal locks, the ruins of Inverlochy Castle and some truly incredible scenery.

The train stops in Mallaig for lunch. We enjoyed walking around this interesting fishing village and wished we had more time to explore. After a very tasty lunch of “Fish Tea” (that’s fish, chips, peas and hot tea) at a tiny place called “The Cabin” we made our way back down chilly, windy streets to the train for the return trip. Going back to Fort William the engine is attached backwards to the front of the train.

The 84 mile round trip is a full day excursion (10:00 am to 4:00 pm) but is more than worth it. I was totally amazed by the incredible scenery and really enjoyed the tunnels along the way. I was almost sad to leave the train in Fort William but it was back to the car for the long drive to Portree on the Isle of Skye.

The trip took about 3.5 hours but I confess that we stopped a few times at roadside stops to take pictures. The Skye Bridge was an amazing sight and I had a hard time watching the road rather than the rugged coastline, cliffs, waterfalls, ruins, etc. One of our stops was to take photos of Eilean Donan castle from a distant overlook. What a beautiful castle!

As I was rounding a sharp curve on a steep hillside near Glen Sheil, I was startled out of my wits by a fighter jet that shot up from beneath us, inches from the road! Seconds later he was followed by another. I was eyeball to eyeball with what appeared to be a very startled fighter pilot! I learned later that it was an RAF Tornado jet. They must have been canyon racing in the steep valleys. Can’t say I’ve ever been that close to a fighter jet before and especially not when both of us were moving! Everyone in the car got quite a shock!

We finally made it to Portree and found our lodging, Marmalade. Apparently it used to be “Portree House” and is under new management. The rooms have all been renovated as has most of the building, apparently, because there is no longer much evidence of the old Georgian house. The gardens are very lovely and the views were stunning but I was not impressed with the stark new room. It was interesting that they provided DVD movies in the room though.

Another point I didn’t care for was checking in at the bar and the lack of a lobby or greeting area. The food was not impressive either and in fact I sent back my dinner because it tasted bad. (They didn’t understand me until I said it had “gone off”. Then they got it.) I ended up having a pretty decent pizza they made by hand.

We took a short walk after dinner, still amazed at the lingering daylight and admiring the surroundings and then it was off to bed. It had been a very long and eventful day!

Tuesday, June 26

Up early this morning in anticipation of another long day. After a literally scalding shower, we went down for breakfast at 7am and were informed that they didn’t start serving until 8am. Apparently we had been misinformed the night before. They young man was very kind and hustled up our breakfast, which earned him a big tip.

Our first action on leaving the inn was a U-turn when we couldn’t decide if we were on the right road out of town. We went back to a gas station to get diesel and directions. We had been on the right road after all! Just outside of town that road became single track and we were on single track roads for the majority of the day but, oh, the scenery on those roads. Words cannot do the countryside justice!

That day I learned what it meant to come over a rise and encounter sheep – lots of sheep! – in the road. One ram even tried to butt the car when I tried to pass! When they tell you to go slowly on country roads, they really mean it! I was well and truly tired of sheep by the end of the day.

Following a recommended route I had found on http://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/, we made our way north, stopping often at out of the way places. The first listed stop was at Kilt Rock and the Mealt Waterfall. Those are some amazing pleated cliffs and long views over the ocean. Next we pulled off at the ruins of Duntulm castle with its seemingly isolated hotel. Took some excellent photos there but didn’t go into the hotel.

We meandered along, dodging sheep, stopping for photos and being dazed by the landscape until we came to Uig. Pretty little town. We stopped to see Captain Fraser’s Folly. As with most follies it is just an attractive tower with absolutely no purpose. From there we took a wicked little road up to the Fairy Glen, which I must say is worth the hair raising drive.

The Fairy Glen is an area of odd conical mounds and raised hillocks divided by steep-sided narrow valleys that were formed by odd geological movements. It is a very strange place and you could quite imagine that fairies once lived there. There was a tiny lake and a tree that had fallen over, roots exposed, but was still alive and growing. It was very interesting.

From there we wound our way on to Dunvegan. (I was getting a little motion sick from all the twisty-turny roads at that point!) We found Dunvegan Castle and spent quite some time touring it. They are known for having a Fairy Flag that legend says will defend the clan. The castle gardens are amazing and worth a look. I especially enjoyed finding the waterfall. We also spent a fair amount of time shopping in their shop!

Back on the road we had reached the time of day when we had to start making hard choices. There is too much to see and do on Skye in one day so we had to prioritize. We made a beeline south to Broadford to have a late lunch at Creelers, which I had been intrigued with after finding it on the internet. They specialize in Cajun food!

We were not disappointed. Creelers is a lovely little restaurant with an interesting menu. We had an excellent lunch. Then it was back into the car. At that point I let Stacey take over the driving while I proved that I was a very poor navigator. After a shortish detour (all the way over the Skye Bridge and back!) we found ourselves in Kyleakin, which is a tiny little village that boasts the ruins of Castle Maol and the Brightwater Visitor’s Center with it’s lovely otter sculpture.

Last on our list of must-sees for the day was the Kylerhea Otter Haven. What the guidebook forgot to tell us was that the single-track road that leads to this place is hardly worthy of the name “road”, being the narrowest and most frightening trail we encountered in Scotland. More than once I thought we were going over the cliff. In addition, once we got to the car park there was a cute little sign that said “1km”, so we began the 3 mile hike in the rain, unaware that we might not survive it.

When we got to the unmanned observation area I was pleased to note that it was an enclosed structure and binoculars were provided. We stayed for a while, watching seals play in the distance and hoping for a sighting of otters but we aren’t sure we ever saw any. One little guy seemed to have the snout of an otter but we never got a good look at him. Ah well, it was back to the car in the rain. I give the facility major marks for providing a very nice bathroom and benches along the way to rest.

On our way back to Portree we decided to take our tour company’s recommendation of dinner at the Harbourview Restaurant in Portree. We called to make a reservation and were told that they didn’t take reservations but to come on as there would be plenty of tables. We decided on dinner at 8:30 and made our way to the downtown car park. Wandering down the main street of Portree I heard bagpipes in the distance so I had to go investigate.

What I found was the Isle of Skye Pipe Band rehearsing for the festival that was to begin the next day. We enjoyed standing with the crowd watching them line up and rehearse marching down the street. What a nice surprise.

We walked on to the Harborview, arriving at 8:30, only to learn that their first available table was for 9:30 and they were completely packed! Not wanting to wait that long we went to another nearby place and were told the same thing. Finally we found a little pub called “Well Plaid” where we ordered at the bar and had a nice, if unimaginative, dinner with a really nice mushroom soup. Then it was back to Marmalade and off to bed; another long day over.

Wednesday, June 27

We were up early again, had a nice breakfast and were off on what was to be the busiest day of our trip. (After yesterday’s summary, that should scare you!) It was back to the mainland and our first stop at Eilean Donan. I should note that on the way we saw a triangular warning sign like the type that would warn you of sheep ahead but this sign had an elephant on it! Hard as we looked we didn’t find a grazing elephant in the area so decided it must be a joke. Maybe.

Eilean Donan is justifiably called the most beautiful castle in Scotland. It is magnificent and full of that feeling of history. The island is beautiful, the bridge to the castle picturesque. We very much enjoyed the tour and in particular the display in the kitchen that included cats and mice. Oh, not real ones, of course! Upon leaving the castle we were pleased to hear a lone piper. We managed to get our picture taken with him.

After too much successful shopping in their visitor center, we piled back into the car and dashed off to Urquhart Castle on the shores of Loch Ness. The ruins of this castle are well kept and easy to tour. The views of Loch Ness are striking. (Nessie was, alas, not at home.) I also enjoyed seeing a trebouchet close up. It was very windy while we were there and it was good to make it back to the visitor center after the long uphill walk from the ruins.

We shopped again. Gotta shop! Just as we were getting back in the car it started to rain. Then I noticed that it was hailing! That got us in the car in a hurry. We took the short drive to Drumnadrochit. We needed to stop for lunch and I hadn’t meant to go there but we ended up at the “Original Loch Ness Monster Exhibition Centre” where we dined in their restaurant. We had an excellent chicken and mushroom soup. (Scotland really knows how to do soup, although lentil seems to be a big preference.) Oh, and we shopped for a minute.

Our next stop was to be Cawdor Castle on the other side of Inverness. Time was getting a bit short and I was afraid we wouldn’t make it. We got totally lost in Inverness but managed, by sheer luck, to find the right road. We got to the castle with mere moments to spare before the last admission but we got in. Good thing, since I think this may have been my favorite castle.

The castle is impressive and very well decorated. It is also easy to tour, keeping in mind the ever-present stairs. It is a beautiful place and even more memorable because that’s where we found Bob (Baaab!) the Sheep. In the gift shop. I was shopping. We had been looking for the perfect sheep to be our mascot for the trip and none had fit the bill until I found this bug eyed, sock-wearing darling. (More about Bob later!)

The day wasn’t over yet. I still wanted to see Culloden Moor before we stopped for the night. (Remember that whole “make choices” thing? These were places I just couldn’t pass up.) After a lightening quick stop to see Kilavrock Castle, now a hotel, we arrived at Culloden Battlefield. They were closed, of course, but you can still walk out onto the battlefield and see the monuments. For a cow pasture, it is a pretty impressive historical site. It puts the battle more into perspective.

On the way back to Inverness we realized we had no directions to get to our hotel. But we had the phone number! The lady who answered gave us excellent directions that took us right to the place, in spite of the 7 roundabouts on the way!

Lochardil House is a Best Western property but that isn’t the reason it proved to be one of my favorites. The historic building is grand and filled with dark wood. The rooms were lovely and very well appointed. The staff were excellent and very friendly. The conservatory dining room offered wonderful views of their gardens as well as excellent food. I had never had an orange mousse before but what I had was divine! It was a very nice place.

Thursday, June 28

Next morning we were met at the hotel by Ron, our driver for Puffin Express. It was our only guided tour for the trip. Our group was small with only the three of us, a young man from Taiwan and a father and his two daughters from Michigan. The tour took us north along the coastline and was primarily geared toward seeing wildlife. We stopped to watch seals in a couple of places and then had a pit stop in Dornoch where we found some lovely shops.

The trip involved a fair amount of driving with historic sites in the distance including Dunrobin Castle (which I had wanted to see) and Dunbeath Castle. I confess I dozed a bit on the way since I wasn’t driving myself but I enjoyed the tour nonetheless. We stopped at Scotland’s largest bird sanctuary in hopes of seeing puffins. It was a very long walk along an impressive cliffside. I didn’t see any puffins because I wasn’t willing to climb that far but I did see a lot of birds nesting. From there we also had views of the offshore oil platform, Beatrice, and the monstrous windmill they’ve installed next to it. The platform has been decommissioned for oil and is being converted to a windfarm. Interesting.

On the small road on the way to the bird sanctuary we had seen the infamous Highland cattle that I always refer to as hairy cows. While at the bird cliffs, Stacey asked the driver if we could stop to take pictures of the hairy cows on the way back. He looked highly offended for a moment and said he would gladly stop to let us take pictures of the Highland Coos if we promised NEVER to call them hairy cows again! He stopped and we got some excellent pictures. (And they are still “hairy cows” to me!)

We stopped for lunch in the tiny harbor of Lybster and had excellent filled rolls and soup. It was a very nice stop. There was then a stop at the Emigrants Memorial, followed by a stop at the Grey Cairns of Camster. These two cairns, one round and one long, are located in the middle of a bog and surrounded by grazing sheep. One is able to go inside them if brave enough! It is a lonely and desolate place, but with a certain beauty all its own.

From there we headed to John O’Groats where the tour dropped us off to wait for the ferry to the Orkneys. It was extremely windy and cold there but the sky was a clear, crystal blue. We had time to get our ferry ticket, tour the little fishing museum, have a snack of Roast Chicken flavored crisps (how odd!) and do some shopping before boarding the ferry for the 45 minute crossing. The ferry docked at Burwick where we found it less windy and warmer! We got off the boat and into a bus for an hour or so drive to Kirkwall. It was a good chance to see the countryside on the way. In Kirkwall we were met by a Puffin Express rep who took us to our hotel, Ayre Hotel. While it’s not much to look at from the outside, it was certainly a nice hotel. Our room was comfortable and had a view of the harbor with sailboats moored alongside large ships.

We had dinner at the hotel and it was very good. I enjoyed my Bloody Mary and Surf and Turf but the best part of the meal was dessert. We were introduced to Orkney Ice Cream and I don’t think any ice cream will ever top it. Good stuff!

Fully sated, we headed upstairs to bed. I sat at the window for a while, marveling at the full daylight at 10:00 pm. I was once again glad for black-out drapes. This was certainly the furthest north I have ever been and only two hours of darkness per day could be daunting. I got up about 2:00 am and it was twilight outside.

Friday, June 29

Next morning, after a hearty breakfast, we were met by our tour guide, Jimmy. There was only one other person on our tour – a lady from California. Jimmy was an excellent and informative guide who offered all sorts of interesting side notes (such as the origin of Orkney Ice Cream! It happens that when everyone started drinking skim milk the dairy farmers had all this cream left over so they decided to make ice cream. It’s amusing to them that people buy skim milk AND the rich ice cream.)

Our first stop was at Scapa Flow, which is a bay, for lack of a better description. Scapa Flow has been an important factor in the history of the area. At one point after WWI, the German navy scuttled 73 of their surrendered ships in the harbor there. Eight of those wrecks can still be seen.

Our next stop was at the very impressive Ring of Brogar. This partial ring of standing stones is on a small rise and is very impressive. While we were standing among the stones we were buzzed by a low flying fighter jet! (What is it with these guys?)

Next we went to Maes Howe, a large and well maintained burial cairn. I was very glad that Jimmy told us the cairn was difficult for claustrophobics before we bought tickets. We elected not to take the tour and spent our time touring the visitor center in an old mill and, well, shopping. When our companion returned from the tour she reported that the cairn was indeed very cramped and once inside they turn off the lights which made her a bit nervous.

It is interesting to note that the Orkneys are a relatively recent acquisition for the UK, having been part of the kingdom of Norway from the eighth century AD until 1468. The Viking influence is readily apparent in the area.

We paused by the Stones of Stenness but didn’t get out there. It is amazing to me how many standing stones, bits of ruins and other ancient objects are found at odd places, like by the roadside or standing in someone’s front yard. It is as though the modern residents have learned to peacefully coexist with these ancient reminders.

We went to Skara Brae and it’s neighbor, Skaill House and I was totally enthralled with the place. Skara Brae is a 5000 year old village that had been built basically underground with passageways connecting the houses. The residents burrowed into their midden heaps and used the compost as insulation for their stone houses. This design makes good sense in light of the harsh winds and terrible storms off the North Sea. The site is very impressive and informative.

Nearby is Skaill House, which was built in 1620. It is a huge, impressive (and somewhat off-putting) edifice. The grounds are very nice and the presentation inside the house is very interesting. It just strikes me that living here would have been a lonely and stark existence.

For a lunch break, we made our way to Stromness, which is the second largest city in the Orkneys. We had lunch in a little harbor-side café. I had potato skins with brie and bacon and I can report that they were excellent! The harbor there is large enough for cruise ships. It had never occurred to me that cruise ships would dock in the Orkneys but Jimmy told us it was a very popular cruise ship port. While in Stromness Stacey bought an orange Coke thinking it would be awful. Well, it turned out to be really wonderful! Now if we can only find it again… (I have since contacted Coca-Cola but they didn’t offer any information!)

We made it back to Kirkwall with a little time to spare so we looked around the Bishop’s Palace and Earl’s Palace which form a small park. The ruins of both are fairly impressive and I got some good photos. St. Magnus Cathedral (founded 1135) is across the street and while we were there a wedding was going on. We saw the couple leave the church in a horse drawn carriage (beautiful Frisians!) and were in the park when they came back for photos so we took their photo too and congratulated them.

On the way back to the ferry we stopped at the Italian Chapel. This church was built from a Quonset hut by Italian prisoners of war during WWII. The prisoners were brought to Orkney to build the Churchill Barriers, a series of four concrete causeways that were designed to block eastern access to Scapa Flow during WWII. The chapel and the causeways are an interesting part of history.

We drove through the tiny village of St. Margaret’s Hope. It is a very picturesque village on the way back to the ferry. At last we said goodbye to Jimmy and boarded the ferry back to John O’Groats. There we got the bus back to Inverness and suffered a very long and hungry ride. Our best attempts to take pictures from the moving bus yielded little.

I had thought we were to be met in Inverness by a tour person to take us back to the hotel but there was no one there. We caught a waiting cab and dashed back to Lochardil House. We were starving since it was 9:30 pm but we learned the kitchen had already closed. Taking pity on us, the night manager went to inquire and told us that since there was a party going on in the hotel, the kitchen staff graciously agreed to stay on for our dinner. I thought that was very kind and dinner was once again wonderful.

Another long Scottish day ended with us dragging ourselves off to bed at midnight. We were well fed and well tired – and very happy.

Saturday, June 30

I had spent a restless night and was not ready for breakfast the next morning. After a somewhat slow start we were off on our way south. We refilled the car to the tune of $100 and that was just over half a tank!

We made a stop in Pitlochry for some well deserved shopping and sightseeing. It is a lovely town with plenty of shopping available. I enjoyed the various statues and gardens as well. We made some very good purchases there and sampled the local baked goods. We also experienced our first pay toilets. I could not believe how many buses of tourists there were and more streamed in as we were leaving.

From the center of Pitlochry we made our way to Edradour Distillery; the smallest distillery in Scotland. The tour was very interesting. It is, indeed, a very small operation. They employ only three men to make the whisky (and probably 30 for the tours and shop!) and the majority of the operation is in one small building. We enjoyed our wee dram and purchased some to take home as well. Not half bad for a free tour!

We traveled further south, passing signs for places I longed to visit but had to forgo because of time, until we found ourselves in Stirling. Here we found the most difficult driving of the trip. The roads are narrow and laid out bizarrely. Thank goodness for good signage! Just as we pulled into the car park for Stirling Castle it began to rain – hard. We donned our rain gear and bravely headed in to see the castle.

I walked around the place thinking, “now, this is what a castle should look like”, since it met my Hollywood inspired ideals of dimensions. It is a daunting structure and you are allowed into most of it, from kitchens to chapel to great hall. If the weather hadn’t been so miserable the gardens would have been wonderful to wander in and the views of the city far below the castle would have been amazing.

As it was, we saw what we could see, cowered in doorways to get exterior pictures and tried not to trip on the slick cobblestones. This is one castle I must visit again some day with more time and better weather.

While browsing in the gift shop we heard the news that someone had driven a Jeep into Glasgow airport in an attempt to blow it up. This was more dire news for us since we were scheduled to fly out the next morning. As soon as we got to our accommodations we would have to see what our flight status was.

We hurried on to Airth through the rain and found Airth Castle, which was to be our lodging for the night. It was our one “stay in a castle” night. Since we had wanted to stay "in a castle", that's where they booked us although their spa and primary sleeping rooms along with the reception desk and the restaurant are in a modern building nearby. The poor young man had to take our bags from the modern building up the hill and then up 6 flights of stairs to our room. The top floor was a little daunting for me with so many stairs but when we called the desk, they had no other rooms available so we made do.

The room was an interesting shape with chairs shoved into odd corners, making them useless. I banged my head more than once on the low ceiling corners. The window in the bathroom had been chinked open with a book that I couldn't dislodge which made the cavernous marble bathroom rather chilly. Even being on the top floor our view was of the battlements and we couldn't even see the ground.

The bed was a double shoved against a king sized headboard bolted to the wall which looked rather sad. While things (walls, carpet, coverlet, chairs) were clean, it seemed that they were also very tired.

The bathroom was something of a challenge. The very narrow bathtub jutted out from one wall and had a tiny U shaped shower curtain rod that drooped from where it had been torn down and put back up with some tape. The shower curtain would not stay in place and continually wrapped around the person showering. In addition, there was nothing to hold onto getting in and out of the tub onto slick marble floors.

There was a wedding on in the castle while we were there, making it awkward for us to come and go. I get the impression that the place specializes in weddings and large groups because that was primarily what we saw.

The food was good once we were able to get a table, even though our tour company had booked us a table in advance. Dinner service was slow but the restaurant was full at the time.

The most annoying thing about our stay was that the hotel automatically and without telling me, put a $200 charge on my credit card against incidentals and it wasn't removed for more than 7 days. We had no incidental charges.

I got internet access in the hotel business center and checked on our flight. There was no information available so we had to call Continental. We were told that all flights for Sunday were cancelled due to airport closure and that the next available flight would be Tuesday so we were booked on that flight. (Note: we called again Monday night to confirm we were on the Tuesday flight.)

After that we called Ronnie at our tour company to see if he could offer any help with accommodations and extending the rental car. Bless him, he came through like a champ. He said the car was no problem and he booked us into a place called Ross Priory for two nights, promising that we would love it there. After that we had to notify family, friends and employers of our change in plans.

Sunday, July 1

Now that we had two extra days on our hands we decided to make the best of it and maybe recover some of the touring we had missed our first two days. On a whim, we headed off north to see some of the intriguing things we had passed by the day before. It started to rain as soon as we entered Stirling, of course, so we drove on.

We tried to see Drummond Castle but it was closed. We found Dunkeld Castle but it’s now a Hilton! We found ourselves on the “Tourist Route from Stirling to Pitlochry”, which is a scenic alternative to the main highway but the small, windy roads really slow you down. No matter, we had no real agenda.

Our first real stop of the day was Blair Castle. It is very, very nice and they offer a great tour. I was impressed with their hall of antlers and the great hall. They have one section of china and embroidery that is just wonderful. They say it is the most visited castle in Scotland. I believe it. It rained off and on while we were there and I felt sorry for the young little piper who would run out when it stopped, play for a moment and then dash back under cover when it rained again. She was trying so hard!

We left the castle and stopped in the tiny village of Blair Atholl (at the bottom of the hill) to have lunch. We found the Bothy Bar in the Atholl Hotel and had a lovely pub lunch in a cozy setting. I loved the big dog lying by the fireplace.

From there we decided to head west in as direct a manner as possible. We found a road that looked promising and set off. It proved to be a very long detour to a dead end (and U-turn) at Rannoch Moor but it was worth the drive for the things we found on the way.

Coming over a rise we saw a small building in the middle of the loch. As we wound around the shore we realized it was a small tower on an island no bigger than the structure. I found a pull off to take a picture and there was a signpost that said the tower had been a prison erected by the MacGregors to house their enemies. I suspect it was a “life” sentence.

Further on we found the lovely village of Killin where we stopped to see the MacNab burial grounds and the amazing Falls of Dochart. What a beautiful place!

It was getting late, 9:00 pm, when we found Ross Priory, outside the tiny village of Gartocharn. (I will never be able to pronounce that name!) The manager was waiting for us and even offered to prepare sandwiches and soup since we had missed dinner. It was all good too!

Ross Priory is a 17th century manor house located on the shores of Loch Lomond and belonging to Strathclyde University. It is used as their conference center and for special functions. There are 10 sleeping rooms but we were the only guests at the time. What an idyllic setting. The manager told us they don’t advertise because they want it to remain a well kept secret.

The place was wonderful, peaceful and the staff were excellent. We enjoyed our stay.

Monday, July 2

We were up early and on the move after a nice breakfast. We rounded Loch Lomond and this time I managed the exit for Luss! It is a very nice, tourist oriented village with a monster car park (where we saw tons of rabbits!) and a churchyard that is worth the trip if you enjoy old churchyards. We didn’t stay long but I’m glad we stopped.

Our next stop was Inveraray Castle (which we should have seen on our first day in Scotland). It is the most gorgeous fairy tale castle one can imagine. Everything about the place is beautifully done. Access is somewhat limited inside the castle since it is still the home of the current Duke of Argyll but we didn’t feel slighted since what was presented was lovely. A nice touch is the many photos of the Duke, his children and many family events. The castle also has a nice café and, of course, a gift shop!

Continuing on, my navigator was consulting 3 maps and 3 different books in an attempt to follow a recommended driving tour. We encountered the Crinan Canal where we saw both a swing bridge in operation as well as the manually operated locks of the canal. It was fascinating to watch them move a 40’ yacht through the locks with men manning the lock gates.

Continuing on, (I think we were on the A816 for most of the afternoon), we came to the beginning of Kilmartin Glen with its numerous standing stones, cairns and ruins. The first sight was Dunadd, a ruined hill fort. Next we stopped to wander among the standing stones at Dunchraigaig and stopped to see the cairn on the way. It is still jarring to me to wander in a pasture of sheep, next to a busy road, among ancient standing stones. What a marvelous thing!

We went on to Kilmartin House Museum and had a nice lunch in their café – which included Orkney Ice Cream!. We watched a short video and toured the museum before going next door to the church to see their collection of ancient grave slabs. It is a lovely, tiered cemetery containing stones so old you can no longer read them. On display inside the church are several stone crosses that were moved inside to stop the ravages of nature.

We made a short detour to see one more of the many sites in Kilmartin Glen; Templewood Stone Circle. From the little car park it is a short walk over a little stream to the stone circle. Of course, there are sheep grazing around the stones but they don’t seem to mind visitors. The standing stones are an impressive sight and this is a lovely area as well.

We left Kilmartin Glen in late afternoon and continued on our way north. We made a quick stop to see Dunstaffnage Castle. Although it was closed for the day we got a glimpse of the ruins from a distance and took a moment to admire the bay as well.

We stopped for dinner at The Wide Mouthed Frog, Restaurant with Rooms, located in Dunstaffnage Marina. I had discovered it online and read many positive reviews. The food was excellent and the atmosphere pleasant. We had a superb Crab and Lobster Bisque as well as a nice Langoustine Pasta. It was a bit too chilly to sit outdoors so we made do with the views of the marina through the windows.

Well stuffed, we started the long drive back to our accommodations. It was indeed a long trip on good roads and our last chance to see the countryside. On the way we passed a field covered in red deer. There must have been forty of them grazing on the hillside! We also had the opportunity to see many more bunnies…and sheep…and cows.

We made it back to Ross Priory about 10:30 pm and frightened the staff who were closing up the house. We fell into bed, exhausted and well pleased with our last day in Scotland.

Tuesday, July 3

We were up reasonably early to get the car loaded and check out. During breakfast the rep from our tour company called to say things were running normally at the airport. We said farewell to Ross Priory and headed into Glasgow for the airport. It only took one U-turn to get there too!

At the airport we parked the rental car in the designated area, called the company to tell them where we had left it and grabbed our gear to head into the airport. In the rush to get our stuff out of the car I forgot to get Bob! I didn’t realize he had been left behind in the sunglass holder of the car until we were back in Texas.

Honestly, I was devastated. After several emails to the tour company and the rental car company I got a message saying that Bob had been found and was being sent on his trans-Atlantic journey. The message also said Bob had really frightened the rental car lady since she hadn’t seen him at first and “nearly crapped herself” when she spied him. (Bob arrived safe and sound on July 19. Apparently he made very good time!)

We made it into the airport and through the line; noticing the burned area of the building and the still-strong smell of smoke. When we got to the counter we learned that we were on standby for the flight and that it was already oversold by 18 people. I almost lost it. The staff couldn’t understand why their offer of $1600, hotel room and transport to the Edinburgh airport for a flight the next day made me so angry.

I did my best to remain calm. There were many others in our same predicament. A few took the offer but most, like us, just really wanted to go home. We got to the gate early and waited for the gate agents to arrive.

When they did arrive I told them our story, from the 12 hour flight to Newark through the extra cost of staying two more days in Scotland. I begged them to get us on the flight. The agents were not very friendly or sympathetic but did agree to try to help us.

It was a harrowing wait and several people did get bumped off the flight but the gate agent brought our boarding passes with seat numbers on them and I was terribly relieved. I was never so glad to board a plane…correction – I was almost as glad to board this plane as I had been to board the one leaving Newark for Glasgow!

We made it to Newark and on to Houston without incident. Home at last!

Scotland is a fabulous country and beautiful beyond measure. It is obvious that we will have to go again and again. There is so much more to see and do. After all, we missed the blooming heather. Hopefully, next time the travel portion of the vacation will go a bit more smoothly!

Things We Learned About Scotland

1. Our expenditure for fuel was just under $300 US, which I thought was reasonable considering the miles we covered. Diesel was cheaper than petrol most places too.

2. Hiring an itinerary planning service was an excellent idea. They booked excellent accommodations including most of our meals, hired the rental car, provided maps and itinerary suggestions, bought our excursion tickets and provided emergency assistance. They even gave us a pay-as-you-go cell phone to use while we were there. Their help was invaluable.

3. Average temperatures: mid 50s to mid 60s.

4. Self-drive is the way to go!

5. One must be in good physical health to go to Scotland.

6. “Castle” = “stairs”.

7. Walking/hiking is a major pastime in the country. Everything is uphill too!

8. Everyone has a dog.

9. Sheep are very rude for the most part. (Except Bob, of course.)

10. With the exception of place names, the Scottish accent is easy to understand.

11. They know how to do good soup in Scotland.

12. It is difficult to get adequate beverages with a meal. In Texas we are used to unlimited water, iced tea and soft drinks with our meals and tend to drink a great deal with our food. We live in a hot climate. There is no iced tea in Scotland and they stare when you order water.

13. Good coffee is more easily obtained in Scotland than in London but one must be careful to order “filter” coffee. Otherwise – drink tea!

14. Scotland is very tourist friendly. They have excellent signage.

15. On the whole, drivers in Scotland are very polite and follow the rules.

16. Once one learns the rules, driving in Scotland is fairly easy.

17. Roundabouts will not kill you.

18. Single track roads were designed to test one’s ability to handle stress.

19. Good woolens are exceptionally expensive.

20. The entire country is in bloom in June. But the heather blooms in August.

21. Haggis smells horrible!

Scotland, United...
Destination Expert
for South Ayrshire, Glasgow
Level Contributor
14,803 posts
297 reviews
Save Reply
5. Re: Trip Report

I made it to the end!

And boy am I glad I did. It was a bumpy ride at times but with true grit and determination you got one amazing holiday and quite a few stories to dine out on;-)

Never heard of orange coke - thats a new one on me.

Loved to story of Bob the sheep and the fright he caused - thats one well travelled mascot!

I'm so glad that despite the delays at the beginning and the big drama at the end of your trip, you retained your sanity still had much fun.

The tour company you used sound great and seem to have handled all the complications with aplomb. Do they have a website?

Now if only there was some way to get a look at your holiday snaps!

Thanks so much for sharing a first-rate trip report.

take care

pc

Edinburgh, United...
Level Contributor
21,887 posts
Save Reply
6. Re: Trip Report

I loved the report ,just a shame of the problems at the start and the end of your holiday.

I was on Orkney last year and visited much the same places as you did,absolutely loved Skara Brae.

I have been singing the parises of the Edradour Distillery Tour on this forum for some time now,best distillery tour in Scotland and I an glad you got the chance to experience it.

loved the bit at the end of the report but have to disagree over haggis..............lovely stuff

QOE
Houston, Texas
Level Contributor
289 posts
263 reviews
Save Reply
7. Re: Trip Report

I did warn that the report was long! :o)

Thanks for the kind words. It was an interesting ride with all the travel problems but I always say one must look on the bright side and roll with the punches. It was a fantastic trip in spite of it all.

The tour company, Scotland Tours, does have a website:

http://www.scotland-tours.com/

They are lovely people.

As to photos, between the three of us we took over 2500! We're still downloading them. It will take a while to get them sorted out.

And unclegus, as to the haggis...well, we eat stuff here that you would probably find appauling so you can have my share of the haggis!

Stanley, Falkland...
Level Contributor
32,769 posts
75 reviews
Save Reply
8. Re: Trip Report

Thats not a report - it's a book! :-)

Shame about the problems, but hope you enjoyed the trip despite the setbacks. Haggis is delicious, by the way. You missed a treat.

Inverness, scotland
Level Contributor
790 posts
30 reviews
Save Reply
9. Re: Trip Report

Great report, glad you enjoyed our country despite the very unfortunate start at home. Having lived in both Fort William & St Margarets Hope in Orkney it was interesting to read your views on these areas.

Russell, Kansas
Level Contributor
586 posts
76 reviews
Save Reply
10. Re: Trip Report

I also enjoyed your report. However it just makes me sad that I canni go back this summer. I've always wanted to make it to Orkney and now I really do!

And yes, you must revisit Stirling castle when the weather is more cooperative, as the gardens and climbing the stairs by the walls is awesome. My son refused to walk next to me after I leaned over the wall to look down. The wall was wet and then so was the front of my shirt. He was so embarrassed. He got a great photo of the gardens through one of those arrow slots.

Glad everything worked out with your flights eventually. I think everyone was shocked with the Glasgow bomb news. But after reading about your getting there journey, I just thank goodness that I am able to get a non-stop flight direct from Denver to London. Stay a night with a friend there and then I have the entire next day to putter around and get a quick flight to Edinburgh.