A trip to Scotland

With the plans for the dedication of a plaque to our father and grandfather, Douglas K. Macdonald, at the Clan Donald Centre on Skye, four family members headed to Skye for the ceremony and a tour of Skye and Edinburgh.

selfieThe four of us met up at the Glasgow Airport; three of us flew from Boston to Glasgow and one arrived via Halifax Nova Scotia. We enjoyed a traditional English, and in one case Scottish, breakfast, then picked up the rental car and were on our way. Our plan was to see as much as possible so we were driving from Glasgow to theKyle of Lochalsh, then over the bridge to Skye, and continuing down to Sleat to the Clan Donald Centre.

On the road to Fort William we stopped at the visitor center at Glencoe. A lot of things had changed since the last time any of us had visited, and the addition of the visitor center was a welcome one. It is interpretive, has food and coffee, and hiking trails. We hadn’t allotted a lot of time for a stop, so we looked around, grabbed some coffee and headed back on the road. A note for the future, spend a little more time checking out all the things the Visitor Center has to offer and try a trail or two.

We stopped in Fort William for lunch and to grab some groceries. Wandering down the High Street (or actually Middle Street) we found a great sandwich shop and purchased our sandwiches, crisps (chips for those of us in the US) and drinks and took them back to the center of town to take advantage of the stone seating around the statue the end of the West Highland Way on what had become a glorious, sunny, warm day. Warm if you kept out of the breeze. In the center of town, surrounded by buildings, all was good.

Jetlag was quickly catching up with the two drivers and the drive up to the Kyle of Lochalsh and back down was looking daunting. So the two of who were not grocery shopping stopped at the tourist information center on Middle Street to see if we could get tickets for the ferry from Mallaig to Armadale. To our immense relief there were tickets available! The price was right and we had time to make the next ferry, but just barely. We quickly texted the shopping team to stop shopping and head for the car. Realizing that texts weren’t traveling very quickly, we called. Reception was poor so we quickly hiked Middle Street to the market and met the shoppers at the door to the market. They had finally gotten the text message, and we all headed for the car.

We had about an hour to get to Mallaig and the drive was about 45 minutes. It’s a good thing we had that fifteen-minute window because we ran into a road stoppage at the drawbridge. With a fair number of boats going through and school just letting out, we found ourselves in heavy backed up traffic. Once through the remainder of the trip was smooth, the exception of the heart pounding moment when a bus passed a car coming towards us and barely made it back into there own lane. I guess we weren’t the only ones in a rush.

We arrived in time to check in and use the loo before driving onto the boat. In 45 to 60 minutes we would be at Armadale! We drove on board and headed to the upper deck for the view. The sun broke out, again, and we took our first selfie of the trip. We spent more time inside than outside due to the rough water and spray. Once docked, we drove off the boat and headed for Armadale.

ArmadaleWe checked in the café to find out how to get keys to our cabin. We were told to just head up to the cottages, which we did. The door was open, the key on the kitchen table with a note from Mags. The Clan Ranald cottage with its three bedrooms, full kitchen, washer and dryer, and living room with slider to the deck and a gorgeous, gorgeous view was our home away from home for the next few days. We attempted to call Mags but abandoned that idea due to spotty phone coverage for our US phones, and headed out to find her at her in the office in the older part of the Armadale. We firmed up the details for the next few days, the ceremony, the Lands Trust meetings and events, and the 30th Annual Quaitch piping competition.

We had thought it unusual to have a grocery store at the Glasgow airport, but now we regretted not having purchased a few groceries. Next time we will know better. It was getting late, at least for us, so we skipped finding any groceries and headed for dinner. We walked down the steep hill from the cottages and took the short road into Ardvasar. The white washed Ardvasar Hotel was easy to find and we stepped right into the pub and dining room. The innkeeper was extremely nice and took our order, three haddocks (the local specialty) and one venison (the other local specialty). We said hello to Mark MacDonald and Bruce MacDonald, two of the Trustees, then headed back to our cottage. Walking back, we could see no reason to take the road when the field of grass in front of cottages beckoned us. We discovered, halfway to the cottages, that the field of grass hid a fence. We climbed over and made our way to our cottage for the night.

sun riseAfter a lazy morning watching the sunrise from our living room and deck, we headed to the Coop in Broadford for those long delayed groceries. Then over to Café Sia for some really good coffee followed by a walk around Broadford, where we took in the town and stopped at the deli for lunch. Groceries, coffee and lunch out of the way, we headed back to the Clan Donald Centre to tour the Museum and Heritage Centre. It’s a great museum and one worth spending an afternoon or a day checking out the fine exhibits on the history of the Clan. Thinking we were alone in the gift shop, just my niece, the cashier and I, I decided to surprise my sister with a puffin scarf. The last one available was on display. After quickly taking it off the display and getting it wrapped, my sister stood up from the computer next to the counter. Oh well, maybe she would forget about the scarf by Christmas.

bagpiperThen back the cottage to get ready for the ceremony. We gathered in the Visitors Centre and followed a local piper that Mags had arranged up the Museum and Heritage Centre. The plaque was unveiled, pictures were taken, we all said a few words, and then we were piped back down the Café for a cocktail hour and dinner with the Trustees. We were introduced to beer from the new brewery on Skye, simply labeled, Skye Red, Skye Gold and Skye Black, in appropriately colored cans. Dinner was an excellent haddock pie. All in all a fantastic day.

On Friday we toured Dunvegan Castle, and took a little razzing for being Macdonald’s in the land of MacLeod’s. We learned the story of Isabelle Macdonald, who married a MacLeod and barely lived to tell the tale. It’s a great story and one you should ask about when you visit the castle. The grounds were beautiful but we had other parts of Skye to visit. So it was off to Stein for lunch at the old inn and a walk along the dock. It was another beautiful, sunny, if still breezy, day. Then back to Armadale by way of Portree and dinner at the cottage. After dinner, three of us headed down to the café for the 30th Annual Quaitch Piping Competition. This is an invitational event for the very best pipers and is rather formal. It was a great event to participate in, even if we felt a little underdressed.

near kilt rockOn Saturday, we headed to Portree for a walk around, they off to see the Old Man of Storr by way of a stop at Kilt Rock, both worth a stop. The climb up to the Old Man of Storr was popular, and very steep. While none of us made it all the way to the top, three of us made it Gate 2, although in a staggered fashion, and together and one of us made it all the way to gate 3 before turning around and heading back down. Definitely bring water and some layers of clothing if you decide to hike up. A stop at Columba 1400 in Staffin, then on to Uig along which we passed the turnoff of the Skye Bar (someday I want to visit). We stopped at the Duntulm castle ruins on the Trotternish Peninsula before heading back to the Clan Donald Centre to join in the staff and Trustees barbecue. A barbecue on Skye does have burgers. Just know that the burgers will most likely be venison.

sleatWe agreed to a slower day on Sunday, focusing our attentions on Sleat. We started with the gardens at Armadale, which are beautiful, well cared for, and made for strolling. We stopped by the plaque, wandered down to the shops on the Dock, took a drive to the Aird of Sleat, where we opted not to continue hiking out to the point. Drove over to Ord, Tokavaig, Tarskavaig and Ardnacloich where we walked along the beach with temperatures reaching nearly 80 degrees Farenheit. We returned to Armadale by way of the road that crosses Sleat and travels along the back of the Clan Donald Lands Trust property. After a few hair-raising moments, including when a car didn’t adhere to the pull-off rules on a turn, we headed back to the cottage for dinner and packing to leave for Edinburg. We vowed to return to Skye again.

aird scotlandMonday dawned too quickly. We said goodbye to our beautiful view, and headed to Edinburg by way of Kyleakin across the bridge to the Kyle of Lochalsh, stopping to view the Eileen Donan castle. The cost to tour was hefty and we weren’t prepared to spend enough time there to warrant that cost. On the road again, we stopped at the Invergarry Hotel for coffee and a break, then made our way down the A9 for Edinburgh. Thinking, as many Americans might, that a distillery would have a restaurant, we pulled into the Dalwhinnie Distillery. They do not serve food, but one of the distillery staff pointed us to the House of Bruar at Blair Atholl, just off the highway. He said we couldn’t miss it and he was right. We pulled in and headed for the food hall, which was very crowded and very large. Being quite hungry, we selected a lot of food. The rain pattering on the glass covering was a very nice accompaniment to our meal. In addition to the food hall, there is shopping, if you are so inclined.

Then back on the A9, over the bridge, and into Edinburg. Traveling on the middle of three bridges over the Firth of Forth, we could see the old bridge to our left and the new one under construction to our right, providing a perspective on the development and changes to the city.

We had opted to stay in an apartment in Leith for our sojourn in Edinburg. Leith is the old port city that is now a part of Edinburgh. Our apartment was newly renovated in an old converted warehouse. We texted the landlord when we were 10 minutes away and he was waiting for us when we arrived and provided an overview of the apartment and a quick walking tour of our new neighborhood. Two of us returned the car to the Edinburg Airport while the other two settled in to our 3-bedroom, 2-bath apartment. No car was needed as Edinburg has a great bus system.

We met up at the King’s Wark for dinner, a wonderful meal in another old stone warehouse. Actually, pretty much everything in Leith is in an old stone warehouse. We checked out the bus stops and bus schedule, the grocery store (which was just around the corner from our building) and headed back for some relaxation.

We devoted Tuesday to visiting Roslyn Chapel. We grabbed the bus just a block from our apartment, changed buses just off the Royal Mile and enjoyed a leisurely ride to Roslyn Chapel, along with visitors from around the globe. At Roslyn we toured the museum, the chapel and the grounds. Had lunch in the newly constructed café where a wall had been removed to provide an open, expanded view over the valley. When the rain started, our table was conveniently picked up and moved under cover. While it poured outside, we toured the inside of the old Chapel. The volunteer docents answered all of our questions and even pointed out a few things we would never have known to look for.

Leaving Roslyn, we found out that the rain had been so heavy it had briefly flooded the road between Roslyn and the next town. We got off the bus to tour the Royal Mile. Heading down to Holyrood Palace first, we then took a bus from the bottom of the Mile to the top at Edinburg Castle. We were surprised to find that the staging for the Edinburg Tattoo was almost completely up so early in June. We were informed that events take place on the parade grounds in front of the castle all summer long, not just for the tattoo. Having seen the Castle before, we opted not to pay to see it again.

Walking down the Royal Mile to the point at which we started, we noted a wide variety of restaurants, bars, pubs, museums and stores. We quickly distracted my sister, the puffin fan, from the restaurant advertising puffins on the menu. Her reaction to the puffin pie specialty of days gone by at Dunvegan Castle made us wary that she might start picketing the restaurant.

We grabbed the bus back to Leith and had dinner at Fisher’s Restaurant. It’s so popular that we got the last, unreserved table at 5:15pm. After dinner we walked over to the Yacht Brittania. It was closed but we were able to look in and wander around the mall that surrounds the Yacht. On our way back to our apartment, we took in the Robbie Burns statue and the variety of restaurants, shops, hotels and apartments in Leith.

One of our party left early Wednesday morning and the remaining three agreed to be in line at Holyrood Palace when it opened. We were the first people in line for tickets. After touring the palace, the exhibits on gowns of Queen Elizabeth II over the years, and another on everyday Dutch paintings, we parted ways. One to the Surgeons’ Hall Museums at the Royal College of Surgeons and the other two to the National Library, National Museum and the Writers’ Museum. The National Library is a working library with a book and gift shop and a couple of small exhibits. We heartily recommend it.

The National Museum is another must-see visit with a café, book and gift shop on the converted basement level that is well lit and large enough for multiple tour groups or a large cocktail party. On the first level, the museum is broken up into two parts, actually it is two buildings with a glassed in central area. We focused our time on the tower devoted to the History of Scotland, with each level representing a different era. We have special attention to Glencoe and Culloden, and the Red and Black books of Clan Ranald. The Clan Donald Heritage Centre and the National Museum complimented one another and provide a very visual depiction of the History of Scotland.

The next member of our party departed for the airport on Thursday, leaving the remaining two to check out of the apartment and head for a hotel on the Royal Mile. We then headed to the Walter Scott Memorial. One of us made it to the top, while the narrowness of the staircase caused the other to stop at a walkway about 2/3 of the way up. The narrowness of the narrowing stairway causing claustrophobia.

After wandering around Edinburg, we headed back to the hotel, checked in and relaxed with a view of the sunset from our hotel window. An early dinner, an evening stroll and then packing for the trip home.

Friday was our first really all day rainy day. The bus trip from Edinburg to Glasgow was a local with frequent stops, a pleasant way to pass the time. At Glasgow station we switched to airport bus. Back at Glasgow Airport it seemed like we had just left, but it had been nine days.

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Categories: everday life, travel

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