April 19, 2024

Scotland with the Coopers (Sept 1-11, 2000)

Since we cannot travel because of the Covid-19 virus, I am adding trips we have made before 2014, when we moved to Singapore. This is also before our digital camera and cell phone camera, so we have begun to scan many photos we had mounted in a physical album.

We had been planning this trip with John and Ruth Cooper for a couple of years. It finally came together on Friday, September 1, 2000, when we met at Newark Liberty International Airport; John and Ruth, flying in from Columbus, Ohio; Pat and I, from Cleveland, Ohio. The flight to Glasgow was delayed because of thunderstorms along the Atlantic coast, boarding the plane well after Midnight. We arrived in Scotland at 11:15 AM.

Saturday, September 2

After picking up our rental car, we drove into Glasgow to McLay’s Hotel, where we stayed for one night. We got there just before 1 PM. The hotel sits on Renfrew Street, which is rather steep. With a great deal of luck (I call it skill), I was able to parallel park on the first try – only an inch from the curb! This is memorable because it was done with a standard shift, driving from the right side, shifting with my left hand on the steep, downhill side of the street, with barely sufficient room for the car. Everyone was impressed!

The McLay’s Hotel has small rooms and narrow, twisty hallways running up and down through multiple buildings. They do have an elevator that is very small – holds 2 people and a bag apiece. We were able to get the 4 of us in, on our way out to find lunch, without luggage.

We got directions to walk  to the Tourist Information Center, and headed to lunch. We ate at one of the Willow Tea Rooms in Glasgow. The one we stopped at was at 217 Sauchiehall Street, and is now known as the Mackintosh at the Willow. This Willow Tea Room was the original design of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and opened in 1903. The part of Sauchiehall Street we were on was a pedestrian-only street and was fun to walk on.


After lunch, we continued walking towards the Glasgow Cathedral, stopped at the Cathedral House Hotel, not far from the cathedral. While we enjoyed our ale, we watched young people parade the street in very fashionable clothes. The light, dress kilts were particularly nice looking. When we finished our drinks, we walked to Church Street, turned right and crossed a bridge to the Glasgow Necropolis, a Victorian garden cemetery, near the cathedral. The cemetery was not in the best of shape, but was better than Highgate Cemetery near London.

We returned to the McKay’s Hotel and had dinner at the Kama Sutra, in the basement.

Sunday, September 3

After a fine breakfast in the hotel, we checked out, got in the car and had an easy exit from the city. We headed north to Glen Coe. Stopped at the Visitor Center where we watched a short video about the Glen Coe Massacre, which happened in 1692. After the video we hiked to Signal Rock, where the signal to start the massacre was supposedly given. The hike was was very nice – very green and lots of ferns.

From Glen Coe we drove to the ferry at Corran to cross Loch Linnhe, as we headed to Ardnamurchan Lighthouse, designed by Alan Stevenson (uncle to Robert Louis Stevenson) and built in 1849. Ray and Pat read “The Lighthouse Stephensons” by Bella Bathhurst, which made us curious to see it. This is the western-most lighthouse on the British mainland. All the guidebooks say the road to the lighthouse is narrow and twisty – the books were right! We found many of the drivers we passed did not give way. We seemed to be doing most of the giving way. Pat and I climbed down on the rocks below the lighthouse. This was made easy because the rocks were fractured at right angles, so the footing was good.

Leaving the lighthouse, we saw a sign indicating a nearby castle, so we turned off the main road and arrived at Mingary Castle. Although, when we were there, it was only a ruins which was not accessible, it has been restored recently and is now a B&B.

We left the Ardnamurchan Peninsula, turned left and headed north towards Mallaig, where we intended to catch a ferry to the Isle of Skye. However, it was getting late, so we stopped for the evening at the Lochailort Inn, which fortunately had available rooms. (Aside: With few exceptions, all of our stays were last minute decisions. We arrive somewhere, look for a place to stay, and hope they have 2 rooms available!) While waiting for dinner, we played Pass the Pig, a fun bar game we carry with us as we travel. Dinner was very good. We made a good choice to stop here.

Monday, September 4

The Inn’s proprietor, Dick, made us breakfast at 8:30 and shared his private supply of black pudding (like blood sausage, but made with oats – of course, we are in Scotland). It had been sliced into patties and fried. They were a bit greasy and not to everyone’s liking.

Dick strongly suggested we make reservations for a place to stay on Skye because most places fill as the day progresses. His recommendation was the Pink Guest House in Portree, which we booked before setting off for Skye on twisty, narrow, hilly roads (I loved it; Ruth was turning green). Got to the ferry at Mallaig. The ferry ride was wonderful, seeing Skye in the mist.

On arriving on the Isle of Skye, we toured the Armadale Castle, Gardens & Museum. This estate was once owned by Clan Donald, one of the most powerful Scottish seaboard clans. This is a beautiful place. The fuchsia was plentiful and good smelling.

We then drove to Portree and located our B&B, the Pink Guest House, which was painted pink (of course). John went in to see if they had our reservation. Coming out, he couldn’t stop laughing. He explained that all the rooms were also painted pink and almost everything in the rooms were also pink. We checked in, then headed out to explore parts of Skye.

We drove north along the coast to see the Old Man of Storr, a rock pinnacle in an area known as the Trotternish. Although the hike to the Old Man is one of the most popular hikes on Skye, we didn’t participate, primarily because of the weather – rainy and windy.


We continued north to the Kilt Rock overlook and on into the area known as the Quiraing, know for its amazing landscape that look like views from a science fiction movie. The road was quite twisty (my kind of road), but was often blocked by sheep laying on the road. The sheep were reluctant to move out of our way.

We returned to Portree for dinner. We wanted to go to one of restaurants near the hotel, but it was booked. In the pouring rain we eventually found the Spice Hut (now Prince Of India), an Indian restaurant where almost everything on the menu had “Tikka” in the name! We were also looking for a nearby pub, but it seems like there aren’t as many as we’re used to seeing in England and Wales.

Tuesday, September 5

Today, after breakfast at the hotel, we headed to the west side of the island to see Dunvegan Castle. We drove on the only East-West road that splits the island. The road goes through rolling hills, not at all like the Quiraing. However there were still sheep to contend with. One was laying on the side of the road, but had his nose resting on the pavement – didn’t react at all as we passed, inches from it’s nose.

Dunvegan Castle is a very neat place. Many parts of the castle cannot be accessed as there is still a family living there. From the windows we could look out, the views were wonderful.

We bought some drinks and sandwiches and drove North to visit the Coral Beach. From the car park, there is an easy 1/2 hour walk along a farm path. Along the way, we stopped at a shepherd’s croft ruins and ate our lunch. Then continued to the beach. The trail is hilly and when you crest the last one, the beach seems to appear magically.

Leaving the beach, we left the island – this time by bridge, rather than a ferry. On the way to Loch Ness, we stopped at Eilean Donan Castle, one of the most photographed castles in Scotland. The current castle was rebuilt in the 1900’s on the base of the original castle that had been destroyed. The current owners still live in one part of the castle, part-time.

The castle is on a small island and is approached over a very pretty stone bridge. The kitchen was the highlight of the tour. There was an imaginative display of food, kitchen staff, utensils and details such as flypaper and cats chasing mice. It was very well done and fun to see.

Our next stop was at Urquhart Castle, on the shore of Loch Ness. We arrived too late to tour the inside but seeing Lock Ness from the castle grounds was well worth the stop.


We continued on to Drumnadrochit, home of 2 Loch Ness Monster museums, arriving about 6:30 PM. It was still crowded with tourists, making driving and parking difficult. In addition, most of the places to stay had signs saying there were no rooms available. On our second pass of one of the B&Bs, Oakdale Rooms, I noticed the “No” sign was no longer showing. I went in and found there were 2 rooms available, as the proprietor, Dick Beach, had been out mowing his grass and had put up the sign to prevent people showing up when he was unavailable. Of course, we immediately booked the rooms.


Mr. Beach also owned the Fiddler’s Highland Restaurant across the street, where breakfast would be served the next morning. We also went there for dinner. Dick recommended the haggis appetizer (this was the Whyde’s first ever haggis – very, very good) and the salmon with whisky sauce, both of which we ordered. They were both outstanding. We also had complementary red wine and each tried a local beer. After dinner, we had a decadent desert and Pat and John sampled some Scotch (one was Talisker, distilled on Skye, which today is still one of Pat’s and John’s favorites. Alas, we did not visit the distillery while on Skye ).


Wednesday, September 6

Breakfast was served at the Fiddler’s Rest, prepared by Dick Beach, himself. After eating, Dick gave us some suggestions of things to do in the area. Soon the discussion turned to the Scotch John and Pat had at dinner. This prompted Dick to offer them tastes of two of his favorites, which Pat and John promptly agreed to try, rationalizing they were old enough to have Scotch for breakfast.

Our first stop today was Corrimoney Cairn, west of Drumnadrochit. I’m sorry to say, neither Pat nor I can remember anything about this stop.


Today, we visited one of the Official Loch Ness Center & Exhibition. This was a really good multimedia presentation of the history of the search for the Loch Ness monster. It seemed to lead you to the conclusion there was no such monster, but…


We left Drum (how the locals refer to the town), and drove to Culloden Battlefield, outside Inverness. From here we drove into Inverness, the largest city we have been in since we left Glasgow. Stopped for lunch. We were killing time before we could check into our next destination, Castle Stuart.

We had reservations to stay at Castle Stuart and have a traditional dinner. All of us had been looking forward to this stay, but likely, not as much as John, who has Scotch (the country and people, not the drink) in his ancestry. John packed his full kilt outfit just for the occasion

What a place this is! We wandered around the castle and grounds until it was time to get ready for our dinner. At dinner, we met the other couple staying here. They were from Boston and were staying in the haunted bedroom at the top of the turret. The formal, multi-coursed dinner included smoked salmon and mackerel salad; turnip soup; beef filet with tiny potatoes, turnips and carrots; cranachan or apple pie for dessert. As dessert was being served, a man in highland dress came in and gave a first-person account of the Jacobite uprising and the battle of Culloden. Very enjoyable!

After dinner, John and Ray went back up the turret to see the stars. On way back down, Ray tripped and twisted his ankle. We believed he was tripped by Angus, the ghost that haunts the castle.

Thursday, September 7

Breakfast included porridge, toast, and a full English breakfast. At breakfast we gave the Boston couple some suggestions of sites to see on Skye, their next destination. We then stopped at the castle gift shop and said goodbye to Caroline.

We left Castle Stuart and headed South toward Sterling Castle. Our first stop was at Boat of Garten (From Wikipedia: ‘The name of the settlement refers to the nearby site of the old ferry over the River Spey. However, Pont’s map of 1600 and Roy’s map of 1750 named the location simply “Garten”.‘). We road on the Strathspey Railway, a restored steam driven train collection.

Our drive continued through the Caringorms National Park, where we saw the start of many hike through the mountains and forests, but Ray’s ankle was still hurting, so we just enjoyed the scenery.

Stopped in the village of Pitlochry, based on a recommendation from one of Ruth’s friends. In addition to wandering the main road through the town and having lunch, we took a break at the Pitlochry Putting Course so we can say we played golf in the country where it was invented! Ruth won the round.

Pitlochry looks like a good place to spend some time, but we missed most of it because we were on a schedule to get to Sterling. However, Ruth and Pat bought earrings made in Pitlochry from the local heather plant – called HeatherGems, “hand made from the stems of heather, which is a common Scottish plant renowned for its purple bloom”.

We decide to spend the night just outside of Sterling in the town of Dunblane, because of its cathedral. We were able to get 2 rooms at the Dunblane Hotel, where we had dinner (after walking around the area and not finding anything better).

One thing we noticed here was a change in the attitude of people – they seemed less friendly towards us. We had heard Scots do not like Americans, but never got a sense of that in the Highlands. It might be that the North needs tourists more than the industrial South.

Friday, September 8

Ate breakfast at the Dunblane Hotel and walked to the Cathedral. It wasn’t open yet, so we toured the cemetery. One of the first tombstones belonged to a Scotsman who died fighting for the Union in the American Civil War. Walked by the Dumblane Library, the oldest library in Scotland.

Drove into Sterling and toured the Sterling Castle, the central point of the entire city. It is hard to find a place outside the walls to take a good photo. We took a guided tour that ended with a demonstration of what it was like to be a Redcoat soldier. It was informative and comical. Part way through their presentation, they “dragged” Ruth in to the presentation on how to put on a “true plaid”. We still wonder how many vacation photos were taken that day featuring Ruth.

From the castle, we went to the Wallace Monument, located on a hill outside of Sterling. This a a great monument to visit. There were twisty, narrow stairs to the top, with 3 welcome rooms to stop in. These rooms were various films and displays, including William Wallace’s mighty sword and an interesting hologram projected onto a life-sized status. The hologram was of Wallace talking to us. We finally made it to the top, only to discover there was a strong wind, making picture taking difficult. This was definitely a stop that was well worth climbing the stairs.

We then left Sterling and drove on to Edinburgh, arriving about 3 PM. Edinburgh is a very busy city with lots of one-way and dead-end streets. We eventually found the B&B area of town and where we were staying, The Lairg Hotel.


We walked to the Edinburgh Castle, after checking in to the hotel. On the way, we stopped at Stac Polly restaurant. We tried another haggis appetizer – also good, but prepared differently than the last one we had. This restaurant is recognized as a Scottish Heritage Restaurant. To us, however, it seemed more French.

Saturday, September 9

Ate breakfast at our hotel and headed out, on foot, to visit the Castle. Went through a farmers’ market and up the hill and stairs to Edinburgh Castle. It is quite different from Sterling Castle, although we were told by several people they liked Sterling better. We had a great tour guide – very funny. The grounds were very crowded.

While walking around, we heard bagpipes playing in the distance but coming closer. It was a wedding procession being piped into the Castle. Very cool.


Leaving the Castle, we walked most of the way down the Royal Mile. John found a few more pieces to add to his kilt collection. We found a very nice Scotch Whisky store.


We had lunch in a small cafe and then found the Tourist Information Center (TI) we were looking for yesterday. The we split up – John and Ruth headed toward the observatory, while Pat and Ray went back toward the hotel, with stops to pick up some more gifts, before crashing for a nap.


The front desk booked us dinner at The King’s Wark, along the Water of Lieth. This was a lively and fun place to eat and drink.

Sunday, September 10

Tried the haggis at the hotel’s breakfast. It was good and similar to blood sausage. We packed the car, got directions from the front desk about the best way to get out of town, stopped for a splash of gas and headed South toward Manchester. Today the car started to sputter quite a bit and would sometimes die. We had to pull off the road, wait 5-10 minutes, then get on our way again. Finally, we noticed a sign (not conveniently posted) in the car, telling us to use diesel fuel in the car! We have been using gasoline all week and are surprised the car made it this far. We continued sputtering along until we used a quarter tank, then topped up with diesel. With that little bit of diesel, the car ran well the rest of the way! Duh!

As we approached Carlisle, we watched for signs to Hadrian’s Wall (begun in AD 122). We found a very well preserved site, with a museum, at Birdoswald Roman Fort (originally, known as Banna). Spent a bit over an hour here. This wall was built to keep the Picts (Scottish) from getting to the Roman controlled Britannia.

Traffic going into Manchester was very heavy because of road repairs. The Manchester Airport was easy to find, with the rental car return in the parking garage. Dropped the car and went to the Radisson Blu Hotel at the airport. This reservation is one of the very few we made before leaving the U.S.A. (the other 2 being McLay’s in Glasgow and Castle Stuart, near Inverness). Our flight back home is tomorrow.

We have had a great trip with so much to see. It was especially nice to be with our friends, John & Ruth. We’ll have to do another trip together someday.