Finally sick of the blue skies, sunshine and warmth of southern England, we decided that the only solution was to head north, preferably all the way to Scotland. And Scotland delivered! Clouds, overcast, rain–it was all there as promised and consistently so. Who could ask for anything more!
Fortunately Scotland offered some marvelous scenes and times as well. Witness, for instance, the grandeur of the pub bar at the top of this entry, called The Abbotsford, long a hangout for literati and named for Sir Walter Scott’s home, and absolutely ablaze with bottles of exotic Scotch whiskys and sprouting taps of cool, if not cold, beer and ales. Another, called the Cafe Royal Circle,
is considered by some to be Edinburgh’s classic pub and is famous for its oval bar.
Since it was a quiet afternoon, we took the time to do a little sampling. Here’s Dave getting the whispered truth about a rare whisky that sells for about $310 a bottle. He managed to savor the wee shot he had for about half an hour of bliss.
Like the sign above outside the Cafe Royal Circle extolling whisky as sunshine held together by water, other boards also offer enticements and even sometimes threats.
Now we did see more in Edinburgh than the inside of wonderful pubs. Our first morning in town we climbed the endless staircase out of the Princes Street Gardens and up the winding streets above to the top of Castle Rock and the castle atop it, long a royal residence and military stronghold. First built in the eleventh century, it is today a major tourist stop and does provide amazing views of the entire city. Please ignore the slim slivers of blue sky in the photo below, but a passing fancy.
It is also the site of the firing of a cannon over the city at precisely 1 PM each day and draws a considerable crowd for the event. Bonnie managed to capture the moment of firing, demonstrating again her amazing reflexes and good luck.
We aren’t sure why this firing takes place when it does or why it happens at all, but remember that Scotland is steep in tradition and ritual, and sometimes the origins are lost in time.
Below Castle Rock lies the Royal Mile, a considerable stretch of impressive broad boulevard lined with statuary and historic buildings, many from as early as the sixteenth century. This is the Balmoral Hotel, Edinburgh’s traditional grand hotel, built to the finest Victorian standards.
Of all, St. Giles Cathedral is perhaps the most central and famous. Named for the saint of beggars and cripples and built largely in the fifteenth century, that’s it looming behind the taxi, its spire completed in 1495.
It is properly called the High Kirk of Edinburgh since it lost its connection with the Catholic Church long ago, and in fact John Knox, leader of the Protestant Reformation in Scotland, was minister here from 1559 to 1572.
The Royal Mile also has many narrow lanes called ‘closes’ bleeding off of it, most leading into dark recesses where the poor lived and workshops proliferated. Here is just one, selected because it bears the name of one of Dave’s nephews.
After a couple of days of traipsing up and down the hills and through the streets of Edinburgh we were pretty tuckered out–a bit like this kilted gentleman taking a break behind a statue.
So we drove away from absolutely wonderful Edinburgh and headed for Loch Lomond, a short couple of hours away and just twenty miles the other side of Glasgow. It was dark, it was gloomy, it was perfect weather for those places were monsters lurk, though none have been sighted here.
The photo above was taken in the town of Luss, a lovely village which we enjoyed on an extended bike ride we took along the western shore of the loch. Here we found a humble but beautiful little church, which the caretaker took us into, and spent time in its seemingly ancient lakeside graveyard
which also contained several of what we were told were Celtic as opposed to Christian tombs.
Loch Lomond is the largest lake in all of the British Isle and while we hardly covered it all we did have the chance to enjoy much of it, first on a boat excursion into the loch, with its grand hotels (compete with aircraft)
and then by car as well to the far northern end of the loch where we found the Drover’s Inn. Low ceilings, kilted staff, cool beer and a friendly crowd, it was just what we were looking for in the late afternoon!
Finally feeling the need to head south, after a day’s drive this led us to the Scottish Borders area, just north of the English border and home to Sir Walter Scott and a number of fabulous 12th century abbeys. We spent a day in the comfortable town of Jedburgh, dominated by the huge abbey built there by King David the First of Scotland in 1138 for Augustinian monks. Its central structure, long and arched, is beautiful and majestic.
And the views through its arches across the graveyard and into the town itself are a study in time.
One other curiosity we discovered in Jedburgh is this, a tablet on the wall of a building on the High Street:
Like most Americans, we assumed that Carnegie made his library donations at the end of the nineteenth century in the U.S. alone, but here on the English-Scottish border was evidence of not one but two Carnegie Libraries in the neighborhood. A strangely generous Gilded Age One Percenter indeed!