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Trip Report: Scotland on May - Best Bits

Toronto
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Trip Report: Scotland on May - Best Bits

Scotland in May – Best Bits

These are some highlights and observations from a two week visit to Scotland by a couple of Canadians.

Thank you to the forum regulars whose thoughtful advice, in no small way, helped make our trip so memorable.

I’ll post the trip report in a reply.

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Toronto
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1. Re: Trip Report: Scotland on May - Best Bits

Glen Etive

We snaked our way along the sinuous single track road. Far below on the left, the Etive River rampages over its rocky bed. Barren mountains rise starkly from a moor on the right. The whole is a savage beauty.

Later, we hiked on a nearby moor and came across a dead deer. A mouthful of hide and flesh had been ripped from its torso leaving a couple of ribs exposed, but it was otherwise intact.

Glasgow Necropolis

I can’t resist a good cemetery, especially when it is situated on a prominent hill with impressive views of the city below. The Glasgow Necropolis is home to an army of imposing monuments. At the summit, a stony John Knox standing on a stupendously tall column towers over them all, commanding the city below. If you stand beneath Knox’s feet and look way down, the Glasgow Cathedral looks like a doll house.

I am touched by a memorial to someone named Charles Tennant who died in 1838. It is a sculpted man seated in a sleepy attitude on a stone base. The inscription reads, “Erected by a few of his friends as a tribute of respect.”

Kelvingrove Museum

We rode on Glasgow’s little subway to the Kelvingrove. With its toy-like 3-car trains, it is like the subways of bigger cities built to ¾ scale. The car is furnished with softly upholstered linear couches, an improvement over the hard plastic seats on other transit systems.

We visited the Kelvingrove for the treasure trove of art, natural history, the vintage Spitfire suspended from the ceiling, and a special exhibition on Charles Rennie Mackintosh. I was examining a mounted black rook in a display of native Scottish birds when the first chords of a recital on the museum’s magnificent pipe organ crashed through the air. I swear that when the music began, the rook cocked his head in the direction of the organ’s pipes.

Porridge

I sampled two versions. In Ballachulish, at Craiglinnhe House our host, Lawrence proudly declaimed that his porridge consists of nothing put oats, water and salt. I suspect that Lawrence is a Calvinist. At our b&b in Skye, Sarah’s recipe includes cream, brown sugar and more than a wee dram of Drambuie. Ambrosia!

Slate Quarry

Sometimes unheralded attractions are the most rewarding. In South Ballachulish, an old slate quarry has been preserved and enhanced with interesting plaques conveying its history. The quarry’s closure left a cutaway mountain with dramatically exposed faces of black slate which shimmer in the sunlight. I picked up a small slate slice from the ground as a souvenir.

Loch Coruisk

Elgol is a scenic hamlet on the sea. We parked at the top and walked down the steep hill to the jetty where we boarded the Bella Jane along with a dozen fellow sightseers. After a 45 minute ride over a calm waters, we disembarked at the mouth of a river. The boat landing is a steel staircase bolted to a rock rising vertically from the sea. The river is short. It took us only a few minutes to walk its length and reach Loch Coruisk. By now, we had seen any number of beautiful lochs, but this one is superbly set. Its pristine blue waters are framed by the towering Black Cuillins. They rise round the loch’s edges like fat black stalagmites. We found a flattish rock and spread out a simple picnic lunch – bread, cheese and fruit. A spartan meal seems fitting in the shadows of the austere Black Cuillins. The Bella Jane picked us up an hour or two later. On the cruise back to Elgol we were treated to a view of a colony of seals basking on a smooth rock island.

Church Ruins

On the drive from Elgol back toward Broadford, we stopped to inspect the remains of a small medieval church. The stone walls still stand, but all traces of the roof are gone. The surrounding churchyard is grazed by sheep. The field is a minefield of manure. While scraping off my shoe, an ewe mocks me with a tittering baah.

Heated Towel Racks

These devices are all the rage in Scottish b&bs. They are always a disappointment. One emerges from the shower anticipating being enveloped in a comforting hot wrap. But inevitably, a meagre warmth is limited to a few patches of terrycloth and dissipates immediately on contact with the skin.

Cullen Skink

A foreigner hearing these two odd sounding words for the first time, would never guess that it is food. My first encounter with this Scottish specialty was at the Café Sia in Broadford. When I asked our server about it, she summoned the cook who listed the ingredients: “smoked mackerel, leeks and potatoes in a milk-based broth,” and he added, “it is very good because I made it!” And indeed, it was delicious.

Haggis

Non-vegetarians who decline to sample this Scottish staple do themselves a disservice. I ate it twice. In both cases it was pleasantly meaty tasting, delicately spiced and had a nice grainy texture. The accompaniments of neeps and tatties taste as good as they sound.

Pubs and Dogs

British and North American cultures are close kin but to me, dog-friendly pubs are an alien concept.

Peas

It’s rare to be served a meal in Scotland with no peas on the plate. They come in all conceivable forms – mushy peas, pea pods, pea shoots, or shelled peas rolling around your plate like tiny ball bearings.

Otter Sighting

This was in Skye. From a window in the breakfast room of our b&b, I watched with excitement as the sleek animal swam towards the shore. But on emerging from the water, displaying floppy ears and wagging tail, it morphed into a small brown dog.

Aberfeldy

We were charmed by Aberfeldy, the prettiest of Scottish towns. We spent a happy day there doing nothing more than picking our way through the shops on the high street, eating fish and chips for lunch, and walking along the beautiful Moness Burn.

Edinburgh the Beautiful

On our first day in Edinburgh, we confined ourselves to the New Town where the architecture is so harmonious you can almost hear it sing.

Some cities are severed in two by insurmountable barriers – expressways, polluted waterways, the Berlin Wall. But Edinburgh’s Old and New Towns are felicitously divided by a green valley that has been enhanced with gardens, statuary and swaths of lawn where, on a sunny afternoon in May, people laze on the grass, warmed by a blanket of blue sky.

Folk Music Night at the Antiquary Bar

We were staying just about around the corner from the Antiquary Bar in Edinburgh. Thursday is folk music night. As we ate our steak and ale pies and drank pints of real ale, four or five musicians entered the cozy pub and unpacked their fiddles and accordions. Soon they were joined by others with guitars, a flute, tin whistle, banjo and a ten-stringed guitar-like instrument. With no stage, they sat round a couple of tables and without ceremony they began to play traditional Scottish tunes – mostly infectious jigs and reels, balanced by a few plaintive melodies and the occasional country and western song. Young Magnus happily kept time by rapping his drumsticks on the tabletop. More musicians continued to stroll in until, at one point they numbered 16. It was a rousing, memorable evening.

Appendix: Guidelines for Nervous North American Drivers on Single Track Roads

[Single track roads in flat open terrain are quite easy and fun. These guidelines are meant to address the harrowing mountain routes that feature steep cliffs and blind curves.]

1. While crawling along at the pace of an arthritic snail, you will inevitably attract a following pack of locals like buzzards drawn to carrion. Pull over into a passing place to let them by.

2. When met by an oncoming car, you may be expected to back up into a passing place. This can be a tricky manoeuvre if you happen to be rounding a cliff. It is most safely handled by shedding your sense of dignity and begging the opposing driver to do the backing up. Or, if your fear of humiliation is stronger than your survival instinct, ignore the possible plunge to a shattering death and simply imagine that you are backing out of your own driveway on the way to an appointment with your masseuse.

3. Successful use of a passing place is defined as no metal-to-metal contact with the oncoming vehicle. (Merely breaking off your side-view mirror can be counted as a success.) If you participate in a successful pass, unclench one fist from the steering wheel and quickly acknowledge the other driver with a friendly wave. He or she will wave back and you will have made the most ephemeral of friendships.

4. Drive with confidence. The single track is wider than it appears from the driver’s seat. If you stick to the exact centre of the track, you will have at least an inch of crumbling asphalt along either edge.

Scotland
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2. Re: Trip Report: Scotland on May - Best Bits

That made me laugh. Just out of curiosity where we’re the cliffs you were driving along?

Washington State
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3. Re: Trip Report: Scotland on May - Best Bits

Wonderful read! I love your way with words.

Glasgow, United...
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4. Re: Trip Report: Scotland on May - Best Bits

Very good read, thanks!

I do find the comment about peas a bit odd though :D I can honestly say I've never noticed peas on every one of our meals!

Glad you enjoyed the necropolis, it should be a protected area in my opinion, however the council / government don't seem that interested in anything these days.

glasgow scotland
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5. Re: Trip Report: Scotland on May - Best Bits

Very good witty style.

You are not far wrong in our Subway being 3/4 size!

The Gauge is 4ft whislt Standard Gauge is 4ft 8in.

The third Car (middle) was a recent introduction of the last 20 years, if you thought it was toylike, try being old enough to remember the original one before it was modernised about 40 years ago!

Do they not let “Dugs” into Pubs in Nth America?

Glasgow, United...
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6. Re: Trip Report: Scotland on May - Best Bits

Although the Subway is antiquated, it is useful for travelling around some of the city. It is well overdue an expansion though.

I think it is actually the 2nd oldest underground in the world, and probably hasn't changed much since then!

glasgow scotland
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7. Re: Trip Report: Scotland on May - Best Bits

3rd Stu.

The ship sailed on an extension, there was a proposal to extend Eastwards in the early 30’s but came to nothing.

It’s hard to believe the “modern” version is now 40 yrs old!

Being a Boy you won’t remember the old one Stu!

Stirling, United...
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8. Re: Trip Report: Scotland on May - Best Bits

A dead deer is always a highlight of a holiday.

The Stunning...
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9. Re: Trip Report: Scotland on May - Best Bits

Fantastic read :-))

Glasgow, United...
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10. Re: Trip Report: Scotland on May - Best Bits

"Being a Boy you won’t remember the old one Stu!"

How do you know my age?...

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