Sunday, October 2
Our final destination on our holiday is Edinburgh. However, we planned a slight detour to visit the Falkirk Wheel, which is more or less between Stirling & Edinburgh & about 45 minutes’ drive from Edinburgh.
The Falkirk Wheel is a modern version of a hydraulic boat lift that lifts & lowers canal narrowboats a height of 79 feet – joining the Union Canal with the Forth & Clyde Canal. It went into service in 2002.
This is an amazing piece of Scottish engineering. Boats float in a tub that rotates inside the circle at each end of the wheel. The tub always stays level while the whole mechanism rotates from top to bottom.
We watched the wheel rotate through a cycle. It was surprisingly quiet & fast & only took about 5 minutes from start to finish.
We had lots of fun going through the locks on our narrowboat but I’m not certain that I could take this ride.
Here’s a link to a video on YouTube that someone else took of the wheel in operation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fX6kJKjg4y0
Saturday, October 1
We had a really nice breakfast at the Atholl Palace Hotel in Pitlochry & then headed for Stirling, which was about a 90 minute drive.
Our first stop in Stirling was at the Wallace Monument, which is a tribute to the Scottish hero, William Wallace, or “Braveheart” – as popularized in the movie starring Mel Gibson. However, the story told in the movie is not very close to the life and heroics of the real William Wallace.
The Wallace Monument stands on a high ridge overlooking the Town of Stirling. It is 67 meters high & was built between 1861 & 1869.
The monument is very striking up close & from a distance. It made me think a lot about William Wallace being such an important part of my own name & I’m glad that my Dad & Mom decided to bless me with them, as well as the link to such an important part of the history of Scotland.
Our next stop was Stirling Castle. The castle & the grounds are massive.
The first buildings on the site date back to the 1200s but most of the buildings were built between 1490 & 1600. There is so much Scottish & English history associated with this castle that it’s mind boggling. Mary Queen of Scots was crowned here in 1592.
The castle is extremely well preserved & the guided tour we took was great.
Our last stop for the day was at our B&B for the night – a beautiful Victorian home just a 10 minute walk from the castle. After a long day of soaking up so much Scottish history it was nice to have a nice quiet place to rest & reflect.
On to Edinburgh tomorrow!
Friday, September 30
We got up early & headed back towards the Culloden historic site before driving south to Pitlochry.
Just a couple of kilometres from the Culloden site are the Clava Cairns. These are Neolithic burial chambers dating 3,000 to 4,000 years ago. The site is in some ways like Stonehenge. There are numerous standing stones surrounding the largest stone cairn. The entrance to each cairn is lined up with the setting sun at the winter solstice.
It was very special for us to be there early in the morning as there was no one else around. We had the site all to ourselves.
It’s amazing that this was created so long ago & that it still exists today.
We spent about an hour at the site all by ourselves. We just got in the car & a large tour bus arrived in the parking lot. Timing is everything! On to Pitlochry!
We booked a room at a classic hotel in Pitlochry – the Atholl Palace Hotel. It looked really great on the web — & it was even better in reality!
This hotel was built in the late 1800s & was intended to draw people to come to its spa facilities for healing of ailments & relaxation.
Our first step in our relaxation process was to partake in the hotel’s high tea.
After enjoying the tea, sandwiches & cakes we went for a nice long hike in the hotel’s woodland trails to burn off some of the calories we had just taken in.
We had originally planned to spend some time touring around the townsite of Pitlochry but the hotel & its surroundings were so beautiful that we decided to leave the car parked for the rest of the day.
This place is going to be hard to top!
Thursday, September 29
On Thursday we took a tourist bus day tour from Inverness to Eilean Donan Castle & then on to the Isle of Skye. This gave us a “day off” from driving ourselves & we figured that we would cover a lot more ground & gain a lot more knowledge & information from our tour guide. It was a good decision!
The company we chose was “Highland Experience Tours” & our driver, Ian, was a great host & guide.
We were on a small bus with only about 20 other people. Ian had lots of stories to tell & interesting facts to share along their way.
It took us about 2 hours to get from Inverness to the castle. Along the way Ian took the time to tell us about daily life in Scotland for city folk & rural folk too. He explained that most of the Scottish longhair cattle that we were seeing along the way were kept by farmers for their heritage rather than as cattle for profit. As we approached a particular field Ian slowed the bus down & honked his horn. The cows all started galloping across the field towards the bus, which was now stopped. Ian explained that each of their tour busses stops daily at this field & the driver gives a treat to the cows. Unfortunately there were no cow treats on the bus today. Rather than disappoint them Catherine came to the rescue & offered up the rest of our package of digestive biscuit cookies. They were a hit with the locals! We seem to be encountering cows quite frequently on this holiday!
Our next stop was Eilean Donan Castle, which is located just a couple of kilometres from the bridge to the Isle of Skye. This castle is stunning. My photos do it little justice.
It has been featured in several movies, including Highlander & James Bond in “The World Is Not Enough”.
Unfortunately we were not allowed to take any photos insider the castle. It was originally built in the 6th century & then expanded in the 1300s. In the early 1700s the castle was partially destroyed during the Jacobite revolution & lay in ruins until it was bought by Colonel John MacRae in 1911. He restored it over the next few decades & family members still live in it on a regular basis.
The next stop on our trip was the Town of Portree on the Isle of Skye. As we crossed the bridge to Skye Ian pointed out the ruins of the castle for Clan MacKinnon. Sadly, this castle is not in very good shape. It was too far from the bus to get a good photo so I’ve “cheated” a bit & copied the photo below from the Internet. There were several to choose from on the web. I chose this particular one because the ruins of the castle are framed in the rigging of a sailboat. 😉
Ian explained that the MacKinnon clan helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape from the British after the major defeat of the Scottish Jacobites at Culloden. To show his appreciation the Prince gave the Clan chief his recipe for Drambuie. Well, the clan MacKinnon castle may not be in very good shape but at least we have a bit of a connection to a very famous & tasty liqueur!
Portree is a really beautiful town that has a lot of visitors during prime tourist season.
We only had a hour to look around before the bus had to head back home but we had time enough to do a bit of site seeing & shopping.
And, I even found time to have my first “filled sausage roll” – a Scottish treat for sure!
We left Inverness at 9:00am & got back around 7:00pm. This was a great day & we sure slept well that night.
Wednesday, September 28
We left Oban early Wednesday morning & headed north towards Inverness. Our route took us alongside Loch Ness but we saw no sign of Nessie.
We crossed over the the Caledonian Canal & stopped at Fort Augustus for a coffee break to watch boats going through the locks. The canal is about 60 miles long & runs between Scotland’s east & west coasts. About 22 miles of the canal is man made & was built between 1803 & 1822.
While we were at the locks there was a 70’s vintage Nauticat in one of the groups of boats “climbing up” the set of three locks. I went over to have a chat with the skipper but he was German & his English vocabulary was limited. He did manage to tell me that the boat was not his, it was a charter they he & his buddy had been on for about 2 weeks.
We continued on towards Inverness & were making such good progress that we decided to go to The Culloden Battlefield Historic Site to see where the last battle took place between the English & the Scottish Jacobites in 1746. The site is only a few miles outside of Inverness. The Visitors Center & the self guided tour of the battlefield are very well done.
In one section of the battle site memorial stones were erected where members of each clan are buried.
The battlefield was a farm at the time of the battle. The building in the photo below was the farmer’s family home. It was commandeered by the British before the battle began & was likely used as a command center & hospital for the British officers. The battle lasted less than two hours. In that time about 1,500 Jacobites were killed but only 50 British soldiers died.
We then carried on to Inverness & checked into our hotel. It’s a classic style building at the edge of the downtown commercial area & on the banks of the Ness River. On the opposite bank of the river is Inverness Castle, which is currently the City Courthouse. Our guidebook states that the only way to get inside this building is to be in trouble with the law. We think we’ll pass on the tour.
The hotel had a really nice bar, so I managed to find time for a pint & watch some football ⚽️