September 7 – 20 Scotland Tour

September 7 – Glasgow alone
I checked out of the B & B at around 10:30 and walked the short distance to downtown Glasgow.  There are three main streets to downtown: Buchanan, Sauchiehall (pronounced Sucky Hall) and Argyle.  The first two are primarily cobblestone and closed to traffic with lots of high-end stores and dozens of low and high-budget restaurants and pubs.  Argyle, while still interesting, has cars both ways which makes it tougher to navigate.  I was carrying my bags so wasn’t interested in walking too far; apparently the walking far thing was beginning to wear off … or wear thin.  I stopped at, of all places, Starbucks to have a coffee and put my big backpack which was a little wet up against the chair behind me.  Unbeknownst to me, an elderly woman sat down a little after that and then proceeded to turn around and say that my bag was dripping on the back of her sweater.  I got prepared to get a lip lash but she turned out to be quite nice.  I apologized and she began talking to me and asking me questions.  I told her I was from Seattle and had just done the trail, etc and she wanted to continue to conversation but I could see that her neck was getting sore from turning her head to talk.   I asked if I could sit down on the other chair since I had some time to kill before checking into the hotel at the airport in preparation for Danny arriving.   And Sheila, her name , and I chatted for at least an hour.  She was waiting for a friend to get her hair done.  She was born in Wales but moved to Glasgow with her husband many years ago.  Her husband died 8 years ago.  She said she sits in her husband’s empty chair often which makes it not empty any more.   We talked about kids and grandkids and other normal things.  I found it very refreshing to get a taste of her world, small but important to her.

I took a bus to the airport and checked into the Premier Inn and met Danny at the airport and escorted him to the hotel.  He was suffering from jet lag so we just ended the day right there.

September 8 – Glasgow
We took the Hop on Hop off bus around the city to sites such as the University of Glasgow, The Hunterian Museum, Glasgow Cathedral, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Science Center, the Tenement House,  and many others.  We then walked most of the route to get a better glimpse of the attractions following Buchanan street and Sauchiehall Street.  Pictures to follow.  Glasgow is not romantic, but it is a typical big city except it has the mix of very old buildings and very new.  There are rows upon rows of colorless red and brown sandstone buildings which does not add to the appeal.

We ate at the Bier Halle outside in the middle of the street under a big awning.  I had an egg and black pudding pizza just to be brave.  It had a cooked egg in the middle and a slice of black pudding on every slice, a little too 3 dimensional for me, but I ate as much as I could.  We stayed at the Premium Inn that night before our trip to Edinburgh

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Lots of vapers in Scotland

September 9 – Edinburgh again

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We got to the B & B that I had stayed at with Tom a few weeks before around 11:30, dropped our bags off and left for the day.  We walked up to the gates of the Edinburgh castle and then followed the Royal mile, reading Rick Steves walking tour as we went.  We went past the Military Tattoo where they have large regimental bands from around the world performing during the summer, we saw (me once again) Deacon Brodie’s tavern which was the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyl and Mr Hyde.  Brodie was an eminent physician who arranged for some thugs to murder people at night so he could use the bodies for research.  He got caught and was hung.  We saw the spot where he and many others had been hung, to the delight of families.  Ironically, he had helped improve the hanging device that did him in.  We also saw my favorite philosopher, David Hume’s statue and rubbed his toe for good luck and also saw his tomb from afar up on the hill.  We went into St Giles Church, Scotland’s most important church.  It was Catholic until John Knox converted it to Presbyterian, the Church of Scotland.  We saw the House of Parliament and the Palace of  Holyroodhouse which the Queen occupies each year when attending to Scotland affairs.  It represents the end of the Royal Mile.  After that, we climbed part way up what we thought was Arthur’s Seat which is a large hill overlooking the city.  When we got close to the top, we saw a lot of other people climbing a much larger hill which originates at the bottom on the other end of the hill we climbed.  It was raining and we weren’t in the mood to climb that much right then, so we quietly promised to climb it another day, but neither of us knew how that was going to work.

We had lunch at a place called Alberach’s on the Royal Mile.  I had left my phone at the apartment so no pics.  I had taken a lot on my first trip there but wanted to take pictures as I went from the castle down the Royal Mile to the Palace which I would do the next day.

On the way back, we heard some good music and stopped at Malone’s on the Mall, an outdoor venue that is between Waverly train station and the monument to Walter Scott.  We  ate and hung out for several hours listening to a solo singer singing one American hit after another with a huge crowd of people drinking beer and dancing.  Danny even had an ale or two which was unheard of for him. 

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At the Edinburgh castle gate

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Deacon Brodie’s tavern in background (inspiration for Dr Jekyl and Mr Hyde)

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Touching Davis Hume’s big toe for good luck

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Spot of the last public hanging in the 1800’s.  Deacon Brodie was hung here also.

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One of many closes or alleyways

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We ate here 3 times.  Great calzones and salads and Pinot Noir

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There used to be a wall here which was the end of Edinburgh proper

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One of many old well heads where the public would get their drinking water

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The end of the Royal Mile, the Palace at Holyroodhouse

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View from nearby hill

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Lots of Americanos

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Davis Hume’s tomb on Calton Hill

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A memorial to Lincoln and Scottish soldiers

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Old Calton Hill cemetery

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Incomplete Parthenon imitation on Calton Hill

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Princes Street in Edinburgh

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Lots of construction and renovation

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Memorial to Sir Walter Scott on Princes Street

September 10  The Royal Mile again
We spent almost the whole day going down the Royal Mile taking pictures.  We also walked along the trail at the foot of the big hill we had climbed the first day.  We kept seeing a large obelisk next to a large stone cylindrical building on the hill in the distance and we were curious about how to get to it.  When we were heading back towards the apartment, we have to go over the North bridge towards Waverly Station.  This time, instead of taking a left we took a right and headed in an unknown directions.  We soon came across Calton Cemetery which happens to be where the tomb of David Hume is located.  We got up close to that and also went through the crypts and small open air rooms where other notables, though no one we knew, were buried or burned.  Some of them said above the door So and So’s burn house.  We then walked across the street to Calton Hill and walked to the top.  There was the large obelisk that celebrated Admiral Nelson.  There was also a series of large columns that reminded me of a Greek ruin but had no inscription.  Apparently some rich person started it but never finished.  There was a beautiful and different view of Glasgow’s harbor and the surrounding hills.

We had lunch at the Wanderlust Café on the Mile.  We went back to the apartment for awhile.  Danny had it in his head to watch the Seahawks game opener with Green Bay so we found Belushi’s near the mile, a bar that promises to show NFL games.  We went there and got a table before a raucous crowd showed up (all were interested in drinking, not the game).  We stayed until almost 1:00 am to watch the Seahawks get beat and then wandered back to our flat for a short night’s sleep.

September 11  Remembrance and Fort William

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We took some time to remember the fallen on 9/11 despite being in another country.  The Scots and English take it as seriously as we do.  We took the bus to Fort William, which I had described in earlier blogs, because it is a good place to launch day trips from.  Unfortunately, my previous host Shamus, who has a great location in town, was booked, but he said his brother-in-law Simon had two rooms and they were available.  We decided to take them.  It was about a 15 minute walk away from town but turned out to be a fairly new house with accommodations upstairs.  It was 50 pounds for one room which we were going to do.  Then Danny had a change of heart and remembered that he didn’t want to sleep in the same room (and in this case it would have been the same bed) as me and asked how much for the other bedroom too.  It was 30 pounds so we jumped on it.  In fact, we paid for three nights because we had been formulating our game plan for the next several days.

I took Danny on a quick tour of the town and we ended up eating at the Tavern which, though its name is not original, the food was very good.  When we got back, Simon asked us what time we wanted breakfast, a continental breakfast meaning no meat.  We said we were fine and we could get something in town but he insisted so we agreed on 8:00 am the next morning.  We had the best sleep in a long time on comfortable feather beds, in separate rooms.

September 12 – Glencoe

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In the morning, Shamus gave us a basket for our dirty clothes so that he could wash, dry and fold them during the day.  He also sat us down at his dining room table for breakfast.  He had four kinds of cereal, a small pot of very good coffee for me, a pot of tea for Danny, yogurts, rolls, warm toast, jams and a cheerful attitude.  We were surprised and pleased at the accommodation. 

We talked with him during our visit.  He was super friendly but it seemed there were other things going on.  He works on an oil rig but was on an extended leave.  He has pictures of three good looking kids, about 20 – 25 years old.  Two just finished University and he has one left to graduate.  He talked about living in Edinburgh, having the three kids and Danny and I both sensed that he was getting emotional.  He said “It’s a long story that I won’t get into now”.  We don’t know what that story is but it has affected him deeply.  He only showed that side once; the rest of the time he has been the perfect host. 

I took Danny on a walk to the old Inverlochy castle to get some pictures.  We walked back to town on the Great Glen trail along the river Linnhe.  We then hopped on a bus to Glencoe, a small village 12 miles southeast of Fort William.  It is also near Glencoe Mountain Resort where I stayed one night on the trail.  There is not much to the town.  Based on conversations I had with others, it was a must-see.  However, it is mainly a sleepy typical Scottish small town, albeit surrounded by beautiful hills and on Loch Leven (I had stayed at the other end of Loch Leven in Kinlochleven (which means “head of Lake Leven”) which was supposed to have been the ugliest town in 2000 miles but I found handsome in its own way.  The weather was the same as everywhere else: rain, a little sun, constant clouds.  We took three “orbital” walks all originating from the same point: lochen, which is a pleasant walk around a small lake, a woodland walk and a walk up a steep hill to view the lake from above.  We strolled through town and stopped at a café for coffee and soup.  The bus back to Fort William was delayed for several hours due to an accident that closed the road.  Based on the narrowness of the road and the large trucks and buses trying to be in the same space at the same time, we were not surprised.  We finally got on the bus around 7:30, had a bite to eat at a café in Fort William, seafood pie and fish and chips,  and got back to our lodging at around 9:30.  Simon was getting worried because we were gone the entire day.

September 13 – Mallaig and a piece of Skye

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After another well-served breakfast, we took an early train to Mallaig which is on the west coast, an hour ride.  Our purpose was to see the scenery since we heard it was a beautiful trip.  We didn’t take the steam engine which is the one that  Harry Potter took in one of the movies, but it was the same track and cost a lot less.  We went over an old stone arched bridge that was in the movie and looked down on a valley where some scenes were shot.  The scenery was great although not what it was hyped up to be.  We got to Mallaig not really knowing what was going to happen next.  There was not much to the town.  We hopped on the ferry for a 25 minute crossing to the Isle of Skye.  This island is the most popular destination of all of the islands.  We had heard it was extremely busy and accommodations were hard to find all year round so we had decided to skip it in favor of the Islands of Mull, Iona and Staffa which we are doing in a few days.  So it was a bonus to actually get on the island.  We thought we could get on a bus tour of the island and get back in time to catch the ferry and then the train back to Fort William.  That was not to be.  If you didn’t have reservations already there was no means of getting to other places.  We settled for touring Armadale castle which was a mile walk on a pleasant trail.  Armadale was one of the residences and strongholds of the MacDonald clan.  We could not go into the castle due to its condition but got some good pictures of the outside and the gardens.

We got back on the ferry and then the train for the ride back to Fort William.  We ate at the Ben Nevis restaurant.

September 14 – Inverness

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One more breakfast and laundry load and we were ready to get to our next destination: Inverness.  We got on a bus early and travelled along the west side of Loch Ness, the deepest lake in the UK at over 750 feet.  It was an earthquake fault that filled with water.  It has more water than all of the other lakes in the UK combined.  We were on the lookout for Nessie, but don’t think we saw her.  It was a good ride but bushes and trees lining the roadside break very little for pictures.  It is a 2 hour bus ride to Inverness.

Inverness is situated at the top of Loch Ness and has access to the Firth of Moray to the North Sea.  It is strategically located between North Scotland (including the Orkney and Shetland Islands) and the Highlands.  It has a population of about 60,000 and the feel of a big city but the main downtown area is easily navigated and offers a lot of restaurants and shops, old and new.  The site of an old castle is only a block up the hill from the town.  It has a castle-like structure on it now, but is not that old and contains the courthouse and other municipal functions.  It offers a good view of parts of the city and the river Ness that runs through the city.  Our lodging was at one of dozens of B & B’s on the other side of the river.  We located it early and were able to leave our bags in a secure location while we went off exploring. 

One of my goals on this trip was to go to the Culloden battlefield.  This battle represented the last British-Scot battle and the defeat of the Scottish/Jacobite resistance to England.  The Stuart line of Scottish kings dated back to Robert the Bruce in the 13th century.  Bonnie Prince Charlie (Bonnie because he was handsome or one might say a pretty boy) was the son of a King that was deposed from the throne by William of Orange who was German but inherited the throne of England through marriage.  They represented the Tudor line (if my history serves me – I could look it up but that wouldn’t be as fun).  Prince Charlie’s followers, following those of his ancestors in the past 100 years, were called Jacobites.  They had several battle victories in Scotland and threatened England as far as Edinburgh and beyond at one point.  Charlie had a following of a number of clans.  The final battle at Culloden was a massacre of the clans.  Over 1500 were slain either in the battle that lasted less than an hour or afterwards when the Royalists offered “no quarter” to anyone they suspected to be a Jacobite, even civilians since they dressed similar to the clansmen.  Prince Charlie was able to make an escape back to the Isle of Skye and lived out the rest of his life in hiding, finally dying in exile.  The museum at the battlefield takes you through a multimedia experience and history lesson using several hallways of displays and audiovisual aids.  Then you go into a room with a movie on all four sides showing how each side was lined up, the maneuvers they made, the battle itself (not suitable for children).  Then you walk out onto the battlefield.  Red flags depict where the Royalists were lined up and blue flags for the Jacobites.  The Jacobites were exhausted from efforts the day before to walk many miles in the dark to try to catch the British by surprise.  It may have worked except it was raining hard, cold and foggy and they didn’t have any food; they got confused and separated in the fog so they ended up going back to the field near Inverness where the battle was fought.  Charlie’s advisors tried to talk him into retreating to the high ground so his troops could rest and regroup (the French advisor actually got on his knees and begged Charlie to do that) but Charlie, possibly because he thought he was invincible after several successes, chose to stand his ground. 

If you think about it,  if Charlie, who had the French on his side, had won this battle he most likely would have been able to take London which would have meant King George would not have been around to raise taxes for the 7 year war with France which lead to the beginning of the American war of independence which lead to the rest of our story to date.

It was  a great history lesson.  We got back on the bus to Inverness and strolled through the city taking pictures of a cathedral, the buildings, the waterfront and finally got back to our lodging for another good night’s sleep.

September 15 – Oban

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We took the bus to Fort William then to Oban, a tourist and fishing village that is the “road to the Isles” and a self-proclaimed “seafood capital of Scotland”.  We arrived around 2:00, too early to check in but we left our bags at the Sutherland guest house which is across from the water.  It was a rare period of sun and there was a pub next door down below so I chose that time to have a beer at an outside table.  We went into town and walked around.  It is a quaint little town with a long esplanade along the water.  We walked to the old castle Dunollie which was one of several MacLeod castles.  We then checked in to our 5th story unit, high enough up but with no view.  We went into town and wandered around.  We had dinner at George Street fish.  Danny had salmon and I had halibut and both were fresh and delicious. 

We went back to the apartment to regroup and then at about 7:00 went down to the pub to check out music.  It was very crowded so we continued down the waterfront and found Coasters.  It was a four person group and they played a lot of rock and roll.  The electric guitarist and piano player was excellent, the lead female singer just tolerable but it sounded fine to us.  There was a large entourage of women who were at a bachelorette party for a bride-to-be and they proved fun to watch.  We got back at about midnight

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Oban pictures

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We stayed here.  You can see the amphitheater above, started by a rich eccentric who died without revealing his grand plan and leaving it incomplete

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Amphitheater

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Partial view of Oban from amphitheater

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September 16, 2017
Mull, Staffa, Iona

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This was a long but rewarding day.  We took a ferry to the Island of Mull, the second largest island after Skye.  It has a population of about 6,000.  It also boasts one Munro.  Once we got to the other side, in about 45 minutes, we immediately hopped on a bus for an hour and 10 minute ride to Fionnphort to the East.  The bus driver described life on the island and the geographical sights.  He was a very funny Scot.  He lives on the island and knows just about everybody.  At one point, a car was driving fast in the other direction and he said that’s so and so’s offspring driving way too fast.  A 94 year old woman, who he says bikes to a small town ahead every day, was going our way and was not going to give an inch for the bus.  He said “She thinks she is a tourist attraction”.  He pointed out the coos who are Highland cows that are very shaggy.  Many have a light colored fur.  He said the trade on the hair has gone up dramatically since there is such a demand for Trump look-alike wigs.  On the way back we had to navigate herds of coos and some sheep that were wandering down the road.  We saw some red-tailed deer and seals. 

When we got to Fionnphort, we hopped on a small boat and about 30 of us went to the Island of Staffa, if you can call it an island.  The geography is amazing.  The whole area 60 million years was a volcanic region.  The strata of Staffa shows 3 distinct layers, each one representing a long period of eruptions and none of them the same.  There are columns rising up along the walls of the cliff as if humans built them; there are layers of flat cube-like rocks coming out of the sea and up to the cliff walls.  We climbed along the cliff edge and got a good look into Fingal’s cave.  Danny and I then hiked up to the highest point on the island and had a good view of the surrounding islands. 

After a hour and a half on Staffa, we took the boat to beautiful Iona, only one mile by 3 miles long, it is the site of the Iona Abbey which in one form or another has been in the location for over 1000 years.  On several occasions, the Vikings attacked the abbey, killing all of the monks and hauling off the treasures.  There is a sandy beach not far away called martyr’s beach where 48 monks fought the Vikings unsuccessfully and were murdered.  The Abbey is now surrounded by some houses and small stores but the island only has about 200 people who live on it.  I recognized one of the skippers on our little boat who was going home to his wife and kids near the terminal.  Danny and I took pictures and again took a hike, this time about ½ hour to the top so we could see the whole island and far out into the Atlantic.

After a 2 hour layover we headed back to the ferry and back to the bus and back to the ferry til we got back to Oban at 8:00 pm.  We could not get into George street Fish so we went to Piazza instead which is on the waterfront and is highly recommended.  We got lucky and got in with no reservation even though it was packed.  I had a terrific Calzone and Danny had a Chicken salad. 

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Pictures on the island of Mull

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On boat to Staffa

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Staffa pictures

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Three layers of volcanic activity over millions of years

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Exterior view of Fingal’s cave

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Heading to the cave

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Fingal’s cave

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Climbing to the highest point on Staffa

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The island of Iona, famous for its Abbey

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Youth hostel on Iona

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Climbing to the highest point, naturally

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Supposedly, 50 kings and royalty are buried around here somewhere

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Highland coos (cows but shaggier)

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September 17 – Edinburgh and Arthur’s Seat
We got a bus at 6:15 am for the 4 plus hour ride to Edinburgh, stopping first at Glasgow.  We got in about 11:30, had lunch on the Royal Mile and then spent an hour trying to find the place we were staying at.  We finally found it.  It’s main advantage is that it is close to the park and trail leading to Arthur’s Seat.  It is in one of about 10 blue buildings that don’t fit into anything else that Edinburgh offers.  It was on the 5th floor and we share it with another couple and the apartment owners (or more likely, renters) We are upstairs from their rooms but share the same bathrooms.  There is a cot in the bedroom but Mike, the Asian guy that is renting it, said that we did not pay for two sets of sheets.  When he advertised it as a 2 bed place his English failed him; it is actually a double bed space with a cot that doesn’t include sheets, pillows and a blanket.  No worries as they say here.  I had my sleeping bag so did just fine.

Danny and I tackled the 800 plus Arthur’s Seat which is a large hill overlooking Edinburgh and giving a 360 degree look at the surrounding area.  There was an army of people going up and down all the time we were there.  It was good exercise and was actually sunny most of the way up and down.  What a view from the top!

We went back to the apartment to regroup and then went to dinner at an Italian restaurant, Bella Italia, which I am almost ashamed to say we dined at for 3 nights in a row because the calzone was unbelievably good as was the chicken Caesar salad.

It was Sunday so Danny and I thought we would check out Malone’s, where we had heard the great music the weekend before.  It was gone!  They must have taken down the awnings and fences and taken out the bar and everything else.  It must just be a seasonal thing and the season is over.  We went to Belushi’s to watch the Seahawks play San Francisco but, after ordering something to eat and drink, found out that they don’t show all of the NFL games, just ones that they are allowed to show on any given night, and the Seahawks were not the ones tonight.  It probably worked out for the better; we got more sleep that night.

September 18 – Stirling
Stirling is a small town about an hour’s bus ride north of Edinburgh.  It is in a strategic location between the Highlands and Lowlands and it has been said throughout history that he (or she) that controls Stirling Castle controls Scotland.  The castle, like Edinburgh Castle, has been the scene of many battles.  We toured the castle and saw a lot of the history, some of which overlapped with the history in Edinburgh and in Culloden.  Bonnie Prince Charles held it for a time.  Mary, Queen of Scots, lived in it for a long time.  William Wallace (of Braveheart fame) won the battle of Stirling Bridge in the 1200’s only to lose another big battle to the English the next years.  Robert the Bruce, following Wallace, defeated the British a few years later near here and kept the Scots in power in their land for over 300 years.  We could see the bridge and the Wallace monument in the distance but did not visit them.

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One of two Kelpies near Stirling.  Over 100 feet high and 300 tons of steel

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Stirling pictures

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Stirling castle pictures.  Ex-home of Mary, Queen of Scots and many other Royalty

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Robert the Bruce (the real Braveheart and origin of the Stuarts in Scotland)

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William Wallace (mistakenly called Braveheart by Mel Gibson

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Another hike

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Edinburgh

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Palace at Holyroodhouse at end of Royal Mile.  Queen stills stays here once a year to conduct Scottish business

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Science center

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Government building with Calton Hill above

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Arthur’s Seat

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The Holyrood park

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September 19 – Last full day in Edinburgh
I visited the National Library and the Scottish National Museum which is considered to be one of the best in the UK and for good reason.  I probably saw a tenth of what they had to offer from Science to History to prehistoric animals to culture and much more. 

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Scotland National Museum

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Head chopper (guillotine)

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One more calzone and Pinot at Bella Italia.  No haggis in sight.

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September 20 – Heading Home
I took Danny on a short train ride over the Forth bridge so that he could say he was over the Firth of Forth.  I showed him where I camped out for the night and the infamous Albert Hotel.  We had breakfast at the small café on the main street and, like almost all the meals it was excellent.  I have never had a poached egg on avocados and tomatoes and bread smothered with real mayonnaise before. 

We took a plane this evening from Glasgow to Heathrow and because of the one faulty thing I did in the schedule, arrived here at 10:30 pm but don’t fly to Seattle until 9 something in the morning for another 9 hour flight.  So, we are figuring out how to sleep along the way.

My head is spinning.  I have seen so much and am overwhelmed.  Anything I say now would be anti-climactic.  Now back to normalcy.