Our trip to the British Isles
September 23 to 26
Scotland: Liverpool, England to Loch Leven, Scotland
For a full description of towns and sites visited see Towns Visited
Friday, September 20
We left Liverpool at 8:06 AM with a new driver, Martin. Gary had to take a compulsory 2 day leave. Once outside the city we began to see agricultural land, flat, with grain, pasture and occasionally row crops such as cabbage, potatoes, and perhaps sugar beets, also a fair number of trees. Later on A6 beyond Preston we started seeing sheep and as we neared the Forest of Bowland, high hills or fells as they are called in this area. A few miles past the Forest we turned left onto A591 and soon entered the Lake District – Wordsworth country. Wimdermere was the first lake we came to and passed through the town of the same name. This is the largest of the 16 major lakes in this district – 10 miles long and 1 mile wide - and offered some nice photo opportunities, but we did not stop. This area was hard hit last year with the hoof and mouth disease, so the number of sheep and cattle was far less than usual. Farmers are trying to build up their herds but it is a slow and expensive proposition. The third largest lake is Coniston Water, and is was here 40 years ago that Donald Campbell was killed attempting to set a new speed record on water with his boat Bluebird. Just last year his skeleton was found on the bottom of the lake and its identity confirmed by DNA testing.
The town of Windemere has many beautiful old stone buildings, many surrounded by stone walls. On Troutbeck Bridge is located the smallest house in the British Isles, built right on the bridge by a Scot – apparently in an attempt to evade the land tax! Some of histories famous personalities lived in Windermere including Catherine Parr, the sixth and last wife Henry VIII; William Wordsworth, the poet; Beatrix Potter, author of Peter Rabbit and other children’s books; Stan Laurel of Laurel & Hardy. It is also the place of origin of the Hardwerk sheep, famous for their coarse wool and sweet meat.
Then we passed through an area where the fells are high, rugged and have pasture land right to the summits, through Ambleside (10:04), along forested fells, then a beautiful lake, Rydal Water, where there were horses in the pastures. The village of Rydal was the home of Wordsworth from 1813 to 1850. The fells closed in on us as we went down a long valley but we then entered a wide flat area in which is situated Grasmere Lake and the town of Grasmere. A pretty little town but not photogenic like many of the places we drove past. This is Wordsworth’s birthplace and also the location of Dove Cottage where he retired with his wife and sister. All are buried in the little churchyard in the town, in very unpretentious gravesites.
Upon leaving Grasmere we saw several beautiful homes at the base of the fells. The fields were divided by stone fences, and there were many sheep. Fences seemed to run uphill forever – right to the tops of the fells, some of which were up to 3000 feet high. We did not see Sca Fell, the highest of the Lake District fells at 977 m (3214 ft). It was several miles west of the A591. Not far from Grasmere Lake is Thirlmere Lake, and we drove along the length of it, then at St John’s in the Valley cut through on Route B5322, a narrow winding road which paralleled St John’s Beck, to A66 east to then to M6 and northward. The small part of the Lake District that we saw certainly lives up to its reputation of one of the prettiest parts of England. It would have been nice to spend more time here with more stops, but visiting everything is not possible on a trip like we were on. There were tree plantations along our route out of the Lake District, and as the hill size decreased, the more traditional types of farming increased.
At 12:49 we were skirting Carlisle and at 12:58 crossed the border into Scotland at Gretna on the Solway Firth/Sark River. Firth means a tidal river. There was a flat coastal plain here that ended to the east with mountains. A brief description of Scotland was given: 30,414 square miles, population greater than 5,000,000. Edinburgh is the capital with a half million people; Glasgow is the largest city – 754,000 population. Maximum length north to south is 275 miles; east to west a bit more that 160 miles. 98% of the country is designated countryside. There are 787 islands, 25% of which are populated. The Lowlands have the majority of population. The country was originally settled by the Irish who rowed the 15 mile strait between the two countries, so the Gaelic languages are very similar.
Outside of Gretna is the Annan Valley, an important sheep-breeding area of Scotland. Passed Lockerbie, site of the plane crash a few years ago, and continued on A74(M) to Moffat where we stopped for lunch and shopping (1:35 to 2:45). Edinburgh – 58 miles. This area has many rolling hills and lots of reforestation. Saw a lorry with a load of logs hauling a trailer-load of logs coming off one of the hills. Some areas are clear-cut with logs and limbs in alternating windrows. 19 miles past Moffat we turned onto Route A702 and followed that road to Edinburgh. This route was in a broad valley with occasional groves of trees and lots of sheep. There was a 5 car pileup on the Firth of Forth bridge which held us up for nearly an hour, so we did not get to our hotel in north Queensferry until 5:20, and then left again at 6:30 for the Scottish night cabaret – one of the options that we decided to indulge in. It took about an hour to get to it; the meal was good – leg of lamb – but the entertainment only so-so. The Irish night we attended in Dublin was better.
Saturday & Sunday, September 21-22
We spend in Edinburgh mainly on the Royal Mile and Edinburgh Castle, and caught the bus back to the hotel at 4:00 PM. After supper went for a walk under the Firth bridge to a subdivision and back again. At 10:05 called Brett at home. All is well. He got a new battery for the tractor as the old one was kaput. Next morning we left at 9:00 AM, got on M90 for 16 miles then on to A91 and into St Andrews. Gary was back as driver after his 2 day rest. It was hilly along M90 with pastureland, hay and grain. We passed a rock quarry which produced gravel, and saw several tree plantations. Also saw a small herd of highland cattle adjacent to a logging operation. There were also sheep and dairy herds. A beautiful area. Just past Loch Leven we turned onto A91, and noted lots of agriculture along this route: both grain and root crops – potatoes and cabbage easily recognized, others that weren’t. At 9:45 drove past the Scottish Deer Centre and saw several deer. Last year they were kept inside and isolated because of the hoof and mouth epidemic.
After a cold hour in St Andrews we boarded the bus and went north again. We did a drive-through Leuchars RAF station – not much activity there – and on to Dundee on the Firth of Tay. Stopped to view the Antarctic Research Vessel Discovery, a three masted sailing ship built in 1901 – a joint venture between Britain/Australia/New Zealand. Caroline told us the 3-J story that put Dundee on the map. First is Journalism: The Thompson papers has its headquarters here. Jute: imported in to the factories of Dundee for processing. Jam: Dundee is famous for its soft fruit (berry) jams; marmalade was invented here. Population of Dundee is 172,000. I noticed several crags with what appear to be lookout towers on them.
We switched from A90 to A9 at Perth (12 noon). There tends to be more wire fences than stone ones in this area and the number of forest plantations increased, becoming almost a forested area for several miles as we approached the valley of the Tay and Tummel rivers – the Tummel flows into the Tay 5 miles south of Pitlochry. The valley is only a mile or so wide hemmed in by mountains of elevations greater than 500 meters on both sides. Further to the north we could much higher mountains, part of the Grampian Range. Lunch was at Pitlochry and we chose to eat in a fish & chip place – not a great choice – bread and cheese would have been tastier but one has to splurge once in a while. Spent a couple of hours around town while others went to see Blair Castle. Norm was a bit late and there were some grumbles when we picked up the castle people.
Stone fences past Blair Atholl were in disrepair and many of the hillsides were covered with bracken, heather and ferns – unsuitable for agriculture. We followed the Garry River or stream; it was nearly dry. Went downhill on a gentle slope for about 10 miles and saw Loch Garry to the west. The hills here were bare – no forest plantations, some farming in the alluvial soils of the valley, also some wetlands. This is right in the Grampian Mountains and elevations are 700 to 1000 meters. The railway track runs parallel to the road.
Ahead are more mountains running roughly east-west – the Badenoch – 500 to 700 meters but higher peaks as well. Dalwhinnie lies at the northeast end of Loch Ericht, which is in a mountain valley and many miles long. About 7 miles past Dalwhinnie we came to a sign that proclaimed the Highland Gateway. Does this mean we are now formally in the Highlands of Scotland? We traveled along the Truim Burn (brook) and near Kingussie on the Spey River saw the burned-out Ruthven Barracks – a victim of the 2nd Jacobite rebellion in 1745. Followed this valley which was heavily forested on the southeast side and came to our stop for the night, the Aviemore Inn, owned by Hilton – the soap, shampoo, etc had Hilton on them. This is the skiing center of the Highlands. The Felschs, Timpanys and Lois and I went for a long walk through the town before supper. We had game casserole for supper – venison and pheasant. It was good. I had a glass of red wine that cost £4.50 – that is $11.25 Canadian!! I could buy a whole bottle for that!! Socialized in the lounge after supper, chatting with several of the group. There was an earthquake in Birmingham area the morning of September 23 – 4.8 magnitude.
Monday, September 23
Monday, September 23
We left a foggy Aviemore in the Cairngorm Mountains at 8:34 heading to our northern-most point – Inverness on the Moray Firth. Inver means at the mouth of a river, the river being the Ness, flowing out of Loch Ness. Still on A9 we were in a wide valley with forest and wasteland. The road here is very good because the Forest Service insists on good roads for its log trucks. 9 miles from Aviemore we crested Slochd Summit. No agriculture, sparsely populated, a few grazing sheep. Heading down the hill we came to the Findhorn River where there is some farming in the valley. When Rob Roy McGregor was in charge around this area he charged a toll to farmers who crossed his land with their market goods. They had no money on the way to market but would after they sold their produce, livestock, etc, so Rob Roy would hold back a ransom of black bull which would be returned to the farmer when he paid his toll. Thus came about the word blackmail (male). This story from Caroline.
Beyond the valley of the Findhorn there were still the mountains, still covered with plantation trees on the lower slopes – pine and spruce – but the higher peaks seemed to be more of a natural forest growth. Then the mountains opened up and we ran downhill through pastureland, grain crops, hayfields and row crops. We passed Culloden Moor but didn’t see the battlefield as it was 2 or 3 miles to the east. On the southwest side of Inverness we crossed the first section of the Caledonian Canal which provides a water route from the Firth to Loch Ness. Out toward the sea in the Firth were some oil platforms for North Sea drilling. We stopped twice for swing bridges to open to allow pleasure boats in the canal to pass. The Caledonian Canal and the series of lochs connect the Moray Firth on the east coast with the Firth of Lorn on the west coast. There are 22 miles of canal and 38 miles of lochs, the lochs being Ness, Oich, Lochy, Eil and Linnhe. Our bus route took us past the first four and upon reaching Loch Linnhe, we turned south and up through the pass of Glen Coe. At Inverness we switched from highway A9 to A82.
Of course Loch Ness is the best know of all the Scottish lochs because of Nessy, the monster. The first recorded sighting of Nessy was by St Columba in the 6th century AD, and there have been numerous sightings since. The loch is about 750 feet deep, 23 miles long and a mile wide and is in a fault zone that runs across Scotland and contains the other lochs mentioned above. The mountains on both sides make for a rugged beauty which was enhanced by the beautiful weather that we had there. We could see fields across the loch, and lots of forests on both sides. Desmond Lewellyn was killed in an auto accident December 20, 1999 on the highway along Loch Ness. He played Q in the James Bond movies. Stopped for photos and loo at Milton where there is a concrete statue of Nessy. Just beyond this is the ruin of Urquhart Castle which was destroyed by the owner in 1715 rather than allow it to fall into Jacobite hands. The hills got rougher and the road more twisty beyond the castle. It was a very calm day and the scenery was beautiful.
At 11:40 we arrived at Fort Augustus at the southwest end of Loch Ness. This town was named after William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland – Butcher Cumberland – son of George III. Cumberland was the English commander at Culloden, and had many wounded Scots put to death on the battlefield after the battle had ended. The Caledonian Canal was backed up with boats queuing to go through to Loch Oich. To the east were high mountains of the Monadhliath Range. The road climbed as we headed toward Oich and between there and Loch Lochy we crossed to the southeast side of the canal and continued along Loch Lochy to about ¾ of its length, then turned south (inland) and had a photo stop at the Commando Memorial near the village of Spean Bridge. This area was used during the Second World War as a training area for the commandos, hence the memorial statue. From this spot we could just see the peak of Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in Scotland – 1344 meters (4409 ft). A mile downhill we came to the village and had a loo stop. It was just past this that I saw a house being built with lumber – the only one I saw on the whole trip.
A few miles further we came to the Great Glen Cattle Ranch. This was a project a few years ago where cattle were free-ranged as in the American west – no fences. It didn’t work – the cows roamed away not to be seen again. Then it was bought by a Japanese movie outfit for making Japan-style westerns, but that too soon fell by the wayside. The place is now vacant. Fort William on Loch Eil was the next town on the route. Loch Eil is a sea loch as it is open to the sea via Loch Linnhe, so it experiences ocean tides about 5 to 6 feet. Divers from oil rigs in the North Sea are trained here. There is a small channel between the two lochs and a self-propelled ferryboat runs across this channel, much like one of the ones we have here on the Kingston Peninsula between Summerville and Saint John. A few miles along Loch Linnhe then we turned inland, skirted Loch Leven where there are some farms, homes and a subdivision.