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UK Wandering & Aegean – Black Seas Cruise – Part 1

Author: Phillip F.
Date of Trip: June 2010

June 14 2010

Hi All,

Exactly two weeks today we left Melbourne and boy have we done a lot since then. Our two day stopover in Singapore was great, glad to get off the plane by then, however the next leg was even longer and long flights never agree with me but it was necessary and the end result well worth it.

Arrived in Scotland, first stop Glasgow. We were greeted with beautiful weather and our first B&B experience a gem. Loved the Kelvingrove museum, could have spent hours wandering through but the highlands of Scotland were calling us. Headed off in the direction of Oban moving north/west . Just outside the town the first of our Castle hopping began. Dunstaffnage 13th century, one of Scotland’s oldest stone fortifications. Built for the stronghold of the MacDougall lords, all very interesting. Took all the back roads, photographing the usual Churches, public buildings and Lochs that run alongside this picturesque route . Travelled through Inveraray on the banks of Loch Fyne. Stayed the night in Mallaig a cute fishing village before taking the ferry to the Isle of Skye, home to the Cullins a stunning Mountain range.

Inverness our next overnight, after visiting the Urquhart ruined Castle on the shores of Loch Ness .By now the weather had changed to around 12 degrees and this is supposed to be summer A wet cold morning saw us at the ruins of the Dunnottar Castle magnificent views over the wild north sea. A night in Stonehaven and a big day touring, Leith house a large country mansion 1649, Crathes Castle a fine 16th Baronial castle with original painted ceilings and stunning gardens. Craigievar Castle, iconic tower house, amongst the best preserved and most loved in Scotland. Extensive views over the surrounding country side to Benachie. Stopped at Balmoral home to the royals, I can see why lovely Liz enjoys her time there. Next stop Pitlochry another picturesque village and another castle, Blair Castle, a five star castle, ancient seat of the Earls and Dukes of Atholl and the Atholl highlanders. On the back roads that we travelled we came across Inchmahome Priory, ruins on an Island near Port Menteith — accessible only by passenger ferry (small putt putt). Peaceful place with huge Spanish chestnut trees believed to be 500 years old.

Off to Stirling Castle next, this imposing place is perched high upon a mighty rock, it was here kings and Queens of Scotland held magnificent feasts and celebrations. Here medieval armies clashed to decide the fate of the nations. Renewing our knowledge of history along the way, love it.

Next stop — Perth, to sort out our T-Mobile sim card so we could send emails from the laptop. Checked out the environs and then continued to Scone (pronounced Sc?n — Aye, thaart’s right lassies, however we turned right instead of left and ended up seeing a lady riding a draught horse, a herd of white Scottish cows and a couple of golf country clubs that had greens so green that it gave new meaning to that colour! After finally arriving at Scone, just 2 miles (but taking 1/2 an hour) from Perth, we decided to skip the local castle and continue on to Dunkeld — home to Beatrix Potter plus the usual array of old stone buildings and churches. From here the road to Kirriemuir was closed so we took a diversion around a loch, over a hill that had a vista akin to a fine oil painting and various country estates that were surrounded with stone walls of such length that would pave a road from Canterbury to East Melbourne.

Ah Kerriemuir!! Famous for the birthplace of J M Barrie (creator of Peter Pan). Gail bought a take away latte and apple crumble and the shop keeper tried to take 1 pound more than she was entitled but the Scottish in Phillip (what!!) soon had the wee lass apologizing profusely. Up the hill to the Camera Obscura, a couple of shots, and then through the cobblestoned town square on the way to Glamis Castle. Had a quick look at gardens, snapped the exterior and decided that the 1 and 1/2 hour tour was too long to endure and headed south for the Kingdom of Fife.

First stop in the Kingdom was St Andrews — famous not only for its golf (2010 Open being played next month) but also for the oldest University in Scotland (founded 1410). Originally it’s fame was based on religion — in the 4th century, St Rule brought the relics of St Andrew from Constantinople to Scotland and kept them in a chapel thereby founding the city. After weaving our way amongst the plethora of golfers, we finally exited St Andrews, travelling 5 miles beyond (past Scotland’s Secret Bunker — a nuclear proof installation built under a farmhouse and a field of cows) to a little seaside village known as Craig. A loud cooee inside the entrance to the old Marine Hotel (now a B & B) brought the host running from his gardening chores with a wide Scottish grin. “Aye, we have a selection of wee rooms — have a look upstairs and let me know if you would be satisfied!”. After selecting the large central room on the first floor overlooking the entrance to the Firth of Forth and the Isle of May from a ceiling to floor bay window, we settled on the princely sum of £60 before departing via shank’s pony for the ‘local ‘ — East Neuk Hotel. Here a fresh catch of the day washed down with a fine single malt (scotch) was all that was needed before an early retirement to enjoy the vista from the bed as the dusk progressed (long upper northern hemisphere days).

Morning brought a sumptuous breakfast — fresh free range eggs and a local butcher’s handmade sausage, a taste so divine I’m sure the cows had a smile on their faces on the way to be sacrificed!

Next stop the larger (as measured by its wee harbour) and charming seaside village of Anstruther, home to the best fish and chips in UK. As a connoisseur of such delights I can attest to such a title and even though only 2 hours had passed since breakfast, such a delicacy was a must and not to be forsaken. The Scottish Fisheries Museum is also located here and well worth a visit even if one is not inclined toward such activity.

The Kellie Castle was next on the agenda. The rose and herbaceous garden were quite extraordinary and whilst it is reputed to be haunted ne’re a ghost did we see.

A small detour had us on the road to Ceres with us stopping at the Fife Folk Museum cafe for a cuppa (£1) and chat with the local volunteers. Whilst the Museum had just closed an enquiry as to where the conveniences were, had the sweet ladies open the Museum to accommodate and such fine displays were available at no charge!! Also closed was the Hill of Tarvit Mansion House — remodelled in 1906 by Robert Lorimer, however the gardens and grounds were open and after following behind the local pony club trail ride we arrived to enjoy the scenery from within.

Further down the road was Falkland Palace — 16th century royal palace with a tennis court built in 1539. Arriving after closing time, we settled for the next best thing by booking a room in the Bruce Hotel opposite the Palace with a window view overlooking the front entrance.

An early start the next morning had us arrive at Loch Leven — famed for the lonely castle perched on an island in its waters, only accessible by ferry. Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned here on the order of Elizabeth 1. The 14th century castle is now a ruin but full of atmosphere.

Last stop before Edinburgh was Culross (pronounced Koo-ross) and it felt like we were driving into a time warp that transported us back to the 16th century. The Culross Palace was like none we had previously seen and the 1 hour guided town tour (part of the palace entry) was most fascinating and informative. The rich yellow colour of the palace had not faded over the centuries and its unique appearance was testament and a show of wealth of the local merchant who originally had it built.

From Culross we headed for the big smoke — Edinburgh. A short stop to the Waverley Railway station to pick up Erin (Gail’s niece) who had travelled by train from London to meet us. After settling in to our accommodation, we headed for High Street (Royal Mile) for the main sights — Giles Cathedral, Canongate Kirk, Grassmarket, Scotch Whisky Experience, John Knox House etc etc. Next, into a pub to watch England v USA. Next day more sightseeing — Edinburgh Castle, Royal Britannia, Arthur’s Seat, Palace of Holroodhouse & Queens Gallery. Next, into a pub to watch Australia v Germany. Next day a brisk walk up Carlton Hill to the tower and observatory — amazing snaps of the Gothic city from above, back to Waverley Railway station to drop Erin off and then headed for the A198 for a quick exit to East Lothian and more seaside — Whew!!!

North Berwick houses the Scottish Seabird Centre and has a quaint harbour and sandy beach which gives one a great view of Bass Rock and the lighthouse. It had a fascinating white colour over most of the rocky outcrop.

Meandering down the A198 Tantallon Castle looms large. It’s on our Discover British Heritage (DBH) card (along with 556 other sites) so the decision is easy to stop and visit. This castle is the closest point to Bass Rock and the brilliance of the white colouring stands out even more. Closer inspection (through binoculars) reveals this white colour to be a seething mass of 60,000 white Gannets.

St Abb’s is the next scheduled stop and since the evening is fast approaching we check into a small B & B just behind the seawall of the wee harbour. Our room has an uninterrupted view of the North Sea with tankers on the horizon transporting their cargoes. The waves pound the seawall above the noise of the gulls. Our enquiry as to where to dine leads us to the neighbouring village of Coldingham and the fine establishment known as The New Inn.

 

The obligatory single malt scotch and ginger ale (dry ginger not known) to start as an aperitif. All local produce meals are ordered including Crayfish cocktail and Seafood Chowder as starters. Pan fried fillet of Seabass from nearby Eyemouth is served with chive potatoes, crushed peas and a crayfish bisque and to finish off an extra large portion (result of complimenting the chef on the mains) of homemade warm chocolate brownie with vanilla pod ice cream, and a Belgian waffle coated with butterscotch sauce and vanilla pod ice cream. Somehow, we rolled ourselves out of the restaurant and made our way back to our lodgings to drift asleep to the sound of the now rolling waves and occasional chirp from a faraway bird.

June 15

From St Abb’s we head westward. We arrive at Manderston House — a superb Edwardian Mansion with a silver staircase, but alas it is only open on Thursdays and Sundays. Not to be deterred, we enter through the long driveway up to the front of the house, take the usual external snaps and depart via the tradesmen’s entrance gate. Next castle on the Agenda is Floors Castle in Kelso. Built for the 1st Duke of Edinburgh in 1721 and overlooking the river Tweed, this is the largest inhabited castle in Scotland. It is habited by the 10th Duke of Edinburgh and his 2nd wife. There is a stud farm here and many of the horses race in major race meetings around the world. The estate has a walled perimeter measuring approximately 1.5 miles on each side (that’s big!!). Off to Dryburgh Abbey from here but on the way we spot a sign “Smailholm Tower” — it’s on the DBH card so we veer up a road no wider than our Vauxhall Meriva (lucky I turned down the Roller) and open the throttle to get to the tower before another car decides to use this road from the opposite direction. We park the car, and walk across a rocky paddock being mindful of all the cow pats and climb the small hill to the base of the tower where we enter, climb the circular stone staircase and emerge at the top to breath the fresh air and take in the expansive vista on offer. A delightful stroll around the Dryburgh Abbey in St Boswells, Melrose was the best way to see this 11th century, soft red sandstone ruin, however the refractory’s ornate rose red windows were still intact. Sir Walter Scott is buried here. Leaving the Abbey, we detour to take a walk through the forest to see Scott’s monument — a 40 foot statue of the man erected in the mid 1800’s and which overlooks the valley from a high vantage point in the forest. Another kilometre along the track we arrive at the Temple of the Muses — sited at the bottom of the hill near a quaint suspension bridge over the Tweed River where salmon can be seen jumping in the water. A brisk walk back up the hill and then further driving to the top brings us to Scott’s View — a lookout over the countryside that makes one gasp in awe of the beauty.

After Traquair House — Scotland’s oldest inhabited house (Floors Castle was largest) we head for Rosslyn Chapel (the Da Vinci Code one) however a closed road, long detour and extensive restoration works have us doing a U-turn and heading eastward once more towards the Northumberland region of England. Before we leave Scotland however, we stop in Lauder for the night and intend to see our final Scottish castle — Thirlestane, in the morning.

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