After our good night's rest, Wednesday, day 4, began with a great buffet style breakfast. The Dalmahoy was one of the hotels we stayed two nights in, so no need to have our bags outside the room door that morning. The bus departure time was later too, putting us on the road a little after 9 and in Edinburgh's New Town about 30 minutes later, beginning our driving tour around the city.
The evening before, when Kevin was still with us, he told a few tales of Edinburgh including how it got its nickname, ‘Auld Reekie’ (translates ‘Old Smokey’). The name took hold In the seventeenth century when terrible smoke pollution from open fires in tenements and houses engulfed the city. Edinburgh has some of the finest sandstone-constructed buildings in Europe and the smoke clung to them. At one point the city was determined to remove the grunge and clean up the buildings, etc. However, the processes needed to be effective also had damaging and altering effects on the sandstone. In the late 80s a preservation group formed to stop the cleaning which was ultimately halted, so most of the city’s buildings, monuments etc. still have a dingy smokey look of the distant past which knowledgeable residents are just fine with.
“The initial plan for Edinburgh’s New Town was approved by the City Council in 1767, and is the largest complete example of town planning from the Georgian period anywhere in the world. Its mixture of classical architecture, grand squares and terraces, gardens and secluded lanes, means that a walk through its streets is a journey back in time to an age of elegance,” (quoted from Edinburgh World Heritage.)
Given New Town began in the 1700s, it’s clear “new town” can certainly have varying meanings in different places. A few glimpses of New Town and the incredible architecture and buildings there are in the Day 4 Gallery. Even while riding on a somewhat plush, climate controlled bus, it was easy for me to focus outside my window and be caught up in the look of days gone by. Mother Nature added to the effect by providing cloudy skies intermittently dropping rain.
From the New Town area we headed southeast toward Leith but didn't go that far. Snapping photos out the bus window was not the best as the light was low from the cloudy skies; and rain droplets still clinging to the window became part of my photos. One photo pushed me to, once again, spend “quality time” on Google Earth. I utilize Google timeline mapping which does not record exact streets, rather shows “as the crow flies.” Finally I landed on the street view that matched my photo. (I am always elated and celebrate, as it does take time and determination!) It was a shot taken while driving Regent Road (aka A1) just past the base of Calton Hill about a block before passing the Burns Monument in Regent Park.
Wendy and I didn’t see Calton Hill as we were on the opposite side of the bus and until we returned to the States, I was unaware of its existence. Below, left, is the photo I took 10.9.19 (9.10.19) and right is one John took 4.28.22 (28.4.22) when he went to investigate. The creamy white building across the way is the back of Cannongate Kirk on The Royal Mile.
Shortly we arrived outside Holyrood Palace. There we met up with the Scottish lady who would be our Tour Guide outside The Palace grounds and as we drove areas leading up to The Castle. She was the only guide whose name I did not hear announced and I'm sad to this day that I don't know what it was as she was quite nice and very knowledgeable.
We were given tiny earphones and a little transistor radio looking thing earlier which came into play there. Our Guide was telling us about Holyrood and as long as we didn't stray too far, we'd hear.
Holyrood Palace is the official residence of the Queen in Edinburgh but also has a fascinating history (links button below). We did not tour through but looked around the grounds outside. Tours were available at that point but our time for the day focused on The Castle tour. It was nice to look around outside and we did a little walking nearby past the Queen's Gallery as well as making a brief stop in the lovely Cafe at The Palace. I really want to go back someday and it's probably because Wendy and I had decided we would go back there for something to drink. However, we did not know it would be time consuming as The Cafe was at one end of The Royal Mile and we were being dropped off at the other-that plan didn’t happen.
Back on the bus after Holyrood, we drove through the Grass Market as well as other areas of the Old Town. Kevin had mentioned the Grassmarket several times. All kinds of things ran through my mind but I knew they probably weren't right as to what the Grassmarket was. The name dates back to when livestock was being sold there. I was interested to see the Grassmarket because I knew it’s where The Edinburgh Fringe Festival takes place. I've never been but I supported a US team of artists to go, as well as volunteered one year in Kansas City’s Fringe Festival. Edinburgh is the “mothership” for all Fringe Festivals. Anyway, I had no idea we had actually been through the Grassmarket until about 6 months after the trip, when I started identifying locations of some of my photos with the help of my favorite Scottish man who makes frequent trips to Edinburgh.
It seems I would be remiss if I didn't share a bit more on Old Town. Obviously since New Town dates from the 1700s, we must travel much farther back for Old Town's origins. "Human habitation around Edinburgh stretches as far back as 8500BC, while the origins of the Old Town can be traced to the seventh century AD, when the Gododdin established the hillfort of Din Eidyn on or close to Castle Rock, tempted by its proximity to the River Forth and its elevated and highly defensible position," quoted from Hidden Scotland. There's much more to the story, so if you like to "dig" check out the links page.
At last we drove the Royal Mile and got dropped off, I think very near the Scotch Whiskey Experience-not that we were going to go in and partake at that point. We had done that early in the morning on Tuesday!
Our group walked up The Esplanade and stopped for a few moments with our Guide giving us instructions via the little closed circuit pocket radios. They were even more helpful there with 44 of us and plenty of other people around. She wanted to make sure we were clear about the rest of our day, as she would leave us after taking us into The Castle.
After many photo ops on The Esplanade, our group moved through the very impressive Castle doors and walked up the cobblestone path that curved into a more open area. We stopped there and listened to the Guide giving basic historical information about The Castle and an overview of where things were. The Castle is massive so the maps we had too were definitely needed. She bid us goodbye and wished us well-we were on our own in Edinburgh until meeting the first bus at 3 in the afternoon or the second at 6.
It had started out a grey day, as you can see in some of my photos with spots of rain moving through. Wendy and I had already experienced a torrential downpour at Loch Ness only two days before, so we could not help but wonder what the next 4 hours would be like. Even though we were prepared, a downpour is a downpour! Of course our curiosity was not limited to the weather. What sights would we explore in Edinburgh? If it came to that, would spending the day walking in an unknown city in a downpour really be fun? The answers coming in the next blog!
It astounds me to think it has been a year and a half since I've added anything to my travel journal blog. That also means it’s been almost 2 ½ years since the actual trip. What a time it has been! Definitely not all bad for me (read my Now Blog) but the most surreal time of my life for sure. The truly great thing is our tour with CIE International through Scotland and Ireland was so outstanding in every aspect, my memories are as intense as if it was last month.
I have often thought about our Driver and Irish Guide, Pat, our Scottish Guide, Kevin, (Glasgow, Highlands and beginning Edinburgh), Irish guide, Niamh (Dublin) and Irish guide, Connor (Galway), to say nothing of all the others we interacted with in both countries. I have prayed that they and their families/loved ones are all safe and well. So, back on the journey, Tuesday, October 8, 2019!
Leaving St. Andrews about 4:30 p.m., we headed back out the same way we came in. A few miles out, Kevin pointed out that if we looked to the right we would see a control tower in the distance on the oldest air base in Scotland, Leuchars. As a lover of vintage aircraft that was a highlight for me even though we couldn't see any airplanes. I did know I would be looking up information on it when we got home.
We drove directly to Edinburgh as we were scheduled for dinner and some entertainment at The Jam House. Arriving a little after 6 p.m. (hit some traffic delays), we drove around a wee bit getting our first taste of Edinburgh. In the twilight up on a hill we could see what looked like tenements. It was after we returned I discovered it was a side of The Castle opposite the entry and the round area.
The Tour was soon due at our destination on Queen Street. Our hotel for the next two nights, The Dalmahoy, was located outside Edinburgh proper, so no check-in before our evening began. At The Jam House, it was also time to say our goodbyes to Kevin as his part of our tour was finished. He already felt like part of the gang, so we were disappointed he was not going to be with us as we toured Edinburgh the next day.
The Jam House location, #5 Queen Street has quite a history which I will briefly share. It was one of four 3 story classical houses built in 1784 by (for?) John Brough. For a number of years the homes were utilized as BBC studios and offices. They vacated in 2004 and a year later #5 opened as The Jam House. The venue not only hosted shows celebrating Scotland, like the one we attended, but also many concerts, club nights and even wrestling events. I discovered a notice in August 2020 The Jam House had closed “forever.” In searching now, it’s not clear if it has indeed remained closed.
It was quite impressive inside. There was an entry hallway which spilled into the Great Hall, a large room with a tall two story ceiling. There were a number of long tables lined up perpendicular to the stage which was positioned opposite the entry. The stage was similar to what we see in old auditoriums and some movie theaters in the United States. Multiple openings on both sides of the hall led to access to the balcony area, restrooms, kitchen etc. We had time before everything began, so I was able to take in our surroundings.
Appetizers were served before the show, The Scotland Experience, started. In keeping with the theme, appetizers were also a “Scotland Experience,” with an option to try Haggis. That item alone (I read about before the trip) made both my sister and I anxious about the food we would encounter. Our concerns dissolved because haggis was always only one option among many others. The food was outstanding in both countries and that night at The Jam House no exception. Near the end of our meal before desserts (we opted for a Scottish favorite, Cranachan-lovely) were served, the show began.
The emcee was an engaging Scottish man who sang, played various instruments and was generally witty. He was joined by the bagpiper we encountered outside The Jam House as well as other musicians, singers and dancers of all ages and sizes. Of course a Scottish experience must include Rabbie Burns and in particular his Ode to the Haggis. It was done with much fanfare including a procession bringing in a large haggis surrounded by antlers on a silver tray. A number of the folks in our group did try the haggis which met with mixed reviews. We were happy just to observe.
It was a really enjoyable evening all round and like everything else we were experiencing went very quickly. Exiting the hall the performers were lined up to greet us as we left. The emcee had copies of a CD for sale and so we learned his name was Bruce Davies. I commented to him Davies is a Welsh name. He smiled and said, “Yes my father was Welsh, my mother Scottish.” Another little point of connection for us with our Welsh heritage. I’ve since discovered Bruce on Facebook where he's posted a number of videos and done Facebook Live. I enjoy seeing him again and doing well.
It was after nine, very dark when we left The Jam House, so I had no sense of direction or distance. Even at that time on a Wednesday evening there was still lots of traffic in Edinburgh. At last we arrived at Dalmahoy Hotel and Country Club in Kirknewton which is west of Edinburgh not far from the airport. Even though we were pretty tired by the time we got there we still did a little sightseeing of what we could in the dark while we waited for our room assignment. Key in hand, no time was wasted getting to our room and to bed as we knew the next day would be a full one in Edinburgh! I guess I will add no time wasted except for finding our way to it. Kind of a maze, including different levels. It was the only place we stayed that we were challenged every time the two nights we were there to make our way around!
Here are a few clips of the entertainment at The Jam House. Far from a professional presentation as the lighting was quite a challenge and I was also very caught up in what was happening!
With breakfast four hours previous, it was a happy group of whisky tasting tourists who loaded the bus headed for the next stop, St. Andrews. Our route was in the lowlands now so the mountainous sights from the day before and as we made our way to Pitlochry were literally behind us.
When I traced our route on Google Earth it is southeast with numerous intersecting roads and crossings of The River Tay which empties into the Firth of Tay. We crossed the Firth on the Tay Road Bridge out of Dundee, all specifics unknown to me at the time.
As we passed through Dundee, Kevin pointed out the HMS Unicorn, the oldest ship in Scotland and the oldest floating ship in the United Kingdom. He also commented it sits next to what he considered to be one of the ugliest buildings in Scotland, the V&A Museum of Design, but he did acknowledge there are many who disagree. I believe the consensus on our tour bus was with Kevin!
From Dundee it was A92 to A91, the road that took us into Saint Andrews. Thinking back about being there it felt much like an island because there was water everywhere. And I guess that's a reasonable feeling, and I didn't know then, because it's on a peninsula, surrounded by the North Sea.
During the 60s-70s*, on farmland in the Midwest, the US Department of Agriculture removed the majority of trees and hedgerows. (*"Farm more land they said." Except those trees were part of the balance of nature and huge amounts of topsoil was lost.) Many places along that drive we couldn't see what we were in the midst of because thick hedges lined the road. We experienced that a lot in both countries and, for me, it really added to the "mystery" of the adventure. There was one "big reveal" after another.
Once in Saint Andrews we drove narrow streets and took in the wonder of the very old buildings, most three and four stories high, rising up on both sides, constricting the view greatly. I didn't even think about it at the time, I was so fascinated looking at the architecture of the buildings. Later in the day, we would see similar looking structures in Edinburgh.
Undoubtedly there are more modern areas in St. Andrews; but we were primarily in the downtown which is very old. Very easy walking there, so we were dropped by our Driver, Pat, with a few hours to explore.
It was early afternoon, the first thing on everyone's agenda was to find food. Wendy and I walked with a few other folks and ended up in a little place called Dervish on Bell Street. Their specialty is Turkish but they are very accommodating to the undoubted hordes of tourists that come through and serve pretty much everything. It was good food and we had a fun time being able to visit with some of the other travelers in our group.
Once fed, my sister and I headed out on a mission to the the area closest to the beach. So we went from Bell Street, crossed Market Street, took Greyfrier's Garden to A91, crossed, jogged a little to the right and then left down Murray Park street which dead ended on The Scores Drive. At that point we could see beach and water to the east and The Old Course of the St. Andrews Golf Club. (The new area was further away in the direction we came in.) At the corner of The Scores Drive and Golf Place is the large iconic building, Hamilton Grand, built in 1895, it was the first building in Scotland to have a pneumatic elevator, as well as the first hotel in Scotland to have hot and cold water running to every room. Be sure to check it out in the Links for this blog (below).
The sky had become very overcast and as we neared the water the temperature dropped as the wind increased. My layers and raincoat were doing okay but my head was uncovered with my ears stinging from the chill.
We made our way past the Golf Shop to the British Golf Museum solely to visit the gift shop in search of something to cover my ears. It was there I purchased my souvenir of Scotland, a beautiful soft pure new wool plaid scarf in Scottish purple heather colors that look perfect with my coat. Usually I can't do wool right next to my skin but something about either the type of wool or the way it was made it worked. Was a really happy purchase as we were quite enjoying our walking tour and wanted to stay outside.
Wendy and I had also decided that since our family has so much Celtic heritage (son, wife, grandchildren), we would do our Christmas shopping during the trip. My son is a croquet player, the real stuff not the backyard version. We were hoping to encounter something related to croquet but decided that a white ball cap (croquet players wear white) with the Saint Andrews Golf Club crest would be pretty cool as well. Later we were very glad we made a purchase there because even though Ireland is where croquet began, no croquet interaction while there.
We didn't go to the University even though it was very close by. Not being a Royal watcher, I didn't learn until later Wills and Kate began their relationship when they were both in school there. That would not have influenced my desire to see the University however. LOL.
Even though very chilly, it was a fun time walking around and taking in Saint Andrews. All too soon it was time to head back to our meeting point for the bus. Waiting, we were sitting next to what looks like something that in America would be torn down. As it turns out it is the remains of Black Friars Chapel, built in the 1520s.
I've now spent a fair amount of time traversing St. Andrews on Google Earth whose street views were mostly done on a sunny day. People in the photos are wearing clothes indicating a much warmer time of the year. Amazing how even though I know what it was like when we were there, seeing those visuals I feel like I've been there during other seasons too. My plan is to do that and return someday, but I don't know about those midges!
After quite the hiatus, I’m back! I have been setting aside the fact doing this is one of my best “happy places,” now or anytime really. So, I’m going to “love me” and get back into this.
Tuesday, our third day kind of seemed more like our second, since the first day we had been flying as well. We could've easily stayed longer at the Muthu Newton and explored Nairn, I have since learned is a well-known seaside resort. However, day three was already jam packed. The bus headed out on A96 back to Inverness and then got on A9 our route southeast through the Eastern Highlands and the Cairngorms National Forest. We experienced sunrise and clouds that that would thicken and then disperse throughout the drive. Between the comfort of the bus and the beautiful surroundings, I think I was dozy and missed chunks of the fascinating stories and facts Kevin, our guide was sharing as we drove.
The first stop was not until Pitlochry where the Blair Athol Distillery is located. We were scheduled to arrive somewhere around 9 o'clock as my sister commented, "We're going to taste whisky at nine in the morning?!" However, we hit some road situations putting us at a standstill for a while making our arrival closer to 10. Since our group was large, it was divided for the tour. By the time it was our group's turn (about 30+ minutes) after arrival, we hit the tasting room close to 11. Which was still early for most of us to do whisky shots!
Reading the literature we received before the trip I was intrigued by the idea of visiting a distillery. I'm not a big alcohol person and up to that point had never tasted whiskey straight or neat as one would order. I knew we would be doing a tasting, couldn't imagine what it would be like, but I was game.
The distillery was founded in 1798 making it one of the oldest legal (ahem) whisky making sites in Scotland. When we arrived at Blair Athol I was immediately enamored with the beautiful aged stone buildings scattered throughout the compound. Many are covered with ivy and in October the shiny green leaves were interspersed with those already turned fall red. Wonderful for photos.
Our Tour Guide, the ever smiling handsome, Miki, was as interesting and knowledgeable as he was cute. To this day I can't see pictures of Miki without thinking of one of my favorite Hallmark leading men, Carlo Marks, as they have very similar physical characteristics. Check it out for yourself. Hallmark needs a new movie filmed on location in Scotland and a distillery certainly should be one of the “characters!”
When we entered the distillery building, the air was thick with the smell of fermentation. One of the old buildings, it has modernized areas mixed with wood floors and what looked to be original windows. We went up one flight to reach the high ceiling-ed room containing the large beautifully polished copper distillers. The air was very warm and the source of the pungent aroma filling the building.
Back outside again, the tour meandered through the compound, crossing a bridge over what looks like a canal with water from the Allt Dour Burn, the ancient water source coming down out of the Grampian mountains located south of Pitlochry. This water is why their whisky has such a mellow quality and smooth finish. It's also loved by otters, who live in the stream and are mascots of Blair Athol. We didn’t happen to see any while we were there (other than the surprise stuffed ones in the barrel room) but Miki said visitors often do.
Last stop on the tour was the tasting room located on the upper floor of the building with a bar and gift shop. We had already been learning about single malt and blended whiskys, now it was time to try! Of course what they gave us was some of the best single malt and I was surprised how much I did like it. I had been aware that serious whisky people favor single malt and after that taste, I understood a lot more why.
Being behind schedule, we didn't get much time in the gift shop but plenty of our group was able to take home products, including some bottles only sold there at the location.
Very soon we were back on the bus headed southwest through the lowlands to our next destination, St. Andrews. We were on many roads to get there, arriving via A91. We crossed the River Tay in Dundee along the way and saw the beautiful RRS Discovery, the ship that took Scott and Shackelton to Antarctica in 1901. It sits next to what Kevin described as the ugliest building in Scotland, the V & A Museum of Design. He did allow that many people love it, didn't hear anyone on the bus say they did.
The drive was under 2 hours and I can say coming into St. Andrews really is stunning but that's for the next blog!
... what I will be doing this week. I have not been sick nor depressed; distracted would be the best description I guess. My plan for the blogs for this month is now about a week behind but I just discovered something really exciting, more a little later.
Tuesday, October 8th, we were still in the Highlands until early afternoon and then crossed back into the Lowlands. It was another really full day and I was struggling with what our timeline was, simply because my memories come back stronger when I can track the day.
It was frustrating me my Google timeline doesn't seem to track with what I thought. Have asked my sister about it, we wondered if it was one of the days we hit a traffic jam, etc. All stuff anyone reading this will probably be thinking, "so what?"
I have read all my life and one thing that "ruins" a story for me, fiction or not, is when the "facts" don't hold so I want my journal to be as accurate as possible. It also helps me to relive it on Google Earth. I love that because time really flew. It is great fun for me to go back and take a closer look at where we traveled and research more about each area and place.
So today as I plunged back into looking at the Google timeline and then at my photos for the day I made a great discovery. I was opening the photos and digging into the properties to see date and time they were taken which was helping my quest but would be time consuming. After looking into a couple of them I noticed something and it's a really big "Duh" to have never noticed/known before. Every photo has a "camera assigned" set of numbers. The first set is the date with the year first; that I knew because it's very obvious. The second set of numbers I have always thought were a random numbering order is actually the two digit hour, minute and second the photo was taken! How did I not know this?
Definite Hallelujah moment as well as a little embarrassing for someone as generally tech savvy as I am! Anyway, I am so excited to know going forward tracking where we were will be so much easier knowing the time. Have already tried to figure out more about the route, etc. when we were in Ireland and went from Killarney to The Ring of Kerry and back as it's very rural, mountainous and proving to be very difficult. Now it will still take some diligent time on Earth but so much easier.
This silly little discovery was just the "oomph" I needed to make me smile and not care what's happening outside my walls. What's happening inside them is happy, challenging and a constant reminder of how blessed I really am.
The blog will be back "on the road" to my first ever distillery, Blair Athol, very soon.