United Kingdom · 33 Days · 152 Moments · December 2017

UK, Republic of Ireland, France 2017


3 January 2018

Well, we’ve come to the end of our excellent adventure. We’re currently sitting in the lobby of our hotel enjoying a final beer on our final evening in Europe. 🍻 We have seen so many amazing things. Wayne just asked me what my highlight was and it’s hard to choose. Reuniting with our French friends is always at the top of the list. Other than that, for me it would be kissing the Blarney Stone and the Burren in Ireland, and the magnificent snow covered mountains in the Scottish Highlands. Now we just have our long haul flight left before returning to the heat of the Australian summer. We hope you’ve enjoyed the blog!

2 January 2018

Last stop for the day was Obernai where there was still some of the Christmas markets going on. We loved exploring this area with our very dear friends, Roland and Christine.
Next stop was the equally quaint village of Kaysersberg. While all of these village have the same style of houses, they have their own specific charm.
We visited the lovely village of Riquewihr. It’s easy to see why, at this time of year, the streets are packed with tourists. It was like wandering around in a fairytale 🧚‍♂️. Wayne enjoyed a yummy bretzel for his birthday. 🥨
In the morning we visited Haut Koenigsbourg, a château which dates to the 12th century. It was in ruins from the mid 1500s until 1901 when Kaiser Wilhelm II decided to restore it. At this time, after the Franco-Prussian War, this region was German territory. The restoration work took 8 years. I took so many photos here, but here are a few of the best. The château is huge!

1 January 2018

The town hall of Barr.
The local wine press.
The beautiful tea salon was the only shop open in Barr today.
The beautiful Alsatian style houses in Barr. Some of them date to the mid 1500s.
Happy New Year! After a big sleep in 💤, we went for a walk around Barr. First we went up to the vineyards. There was a beautiful view over the town.

31 December 2017

Yummy New Year’s dinner prepared by Christine.
On the way home we stopped in the village of Gertwiller whose claim to fame is the “Kingdom of Gingerbread.” I’ve never seen so much gingerbread in all my life!
One of the streets has Baccarat chandeliers. Christine said it is beautiful when all lit up at night.
Statue of Gutenberg. He was a resident of Strasbourg and it is said that it was here in 1440 that he first unveiled the idea of the printing press.
The Cathedral. We would have liked to have gone inside but the queue was ridiculous. There are lots of tourists in Strasbourg at this time of year, more than in summer, due to the impressive Christmas markets. Unfortunately, we missed the markets by a couple of days.
More beautiful buildings in Strasbourg.
The oldest restaurant in Strasbourg.
Every time we turned a corner there were more beautiful buildings.
We were gobsmacked by the number of bicycles in the city. There are bicycle parking lots everywhere. Roland told us that Strasbourg has the largest number of bicycles in France... I was almost collected a couple of times. Like other big cities there is a bike rental scheme.
We had a fabulous day in Strasbourg with Roland and Christine seeing all the sites. You could spend weeks in this city and still not see everything. We started our exploration in the area where the Council of Europe sits.

30 December 2017

Some of the old houses just opposite the chapel.
Before saying goodbye to Eddy and Carole, we visited the Chapelle Notre-Dame de Quelven. In flamboyant gothic style, this chapel was completed in 1590 under the guidance of the Rohan family - they were the same family who built the château. It is peculiar that this huge chapel is in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere. This is an important pilgrimage site and on the 15 August every year, pilgrims come to be pardoned.
Wayne thought all his Christmases had come at once when he saw the huge trays you could freely sample from.
Today we are flying to Strasbourg, but before leaving Pontivy, we had a couple of sights to see. Eddy took us to the Biscuiterie Joubert where they make all manner of biscuits and chocolates. It was a sweet tooth’s heaven.

29 December 2017

After lunch we visited l’Abbaye de Timadeuc. The monks here make cheese and fruit jubes. In their shop, which was chocked full of customers, you could also buy products from other religious communities.
On the way back to the house we stopped in the tiny village of Saint-Tréphine. Pictures 3 and 4 show the two public bread ovens which are still used every year for the village’s fête. They start heating them a week beforehand.
The Chateau des Rohan, built by the Rohan family in the 15th century, is not accessible as there are reconstruction works going on. Three years ago in a big storm, one of the main exterior walls collapsed.
The medieval part of the town has the colombage style homes such as those found in other areas of Brittany.
Last night we moved lodgings from Véronique’s house in Vannes to Eddy’s house in Pontivy in order to see a different part of Brittany. Pontivy is interesting in that on one side of the city centre the buildings are medieval and on the other, they are Napoleonic. Napoleon had intended to come to Pontivy but he never made it... wars got in the way. Our first visit was one of two basilicas in the city, Basilique Notre Dame de Joie. The stained glass was beautiful. Just across from it was the small Chapelle Saint Ivy. It is claimed that the founder of the town, a monk called Ivy, had his oratory built here at the end of the 7th century.

28 December 2017

Our final stop for the day was at the submarine base at Lorient. The huge concrete structures were built during World War II by the Germans. Lorient was almost completely destroyed by allied bombing but nothing could damage this concrete which is 9 metres thick in places.
You would think that in the museum in the town where Gauguin led an artistic movement, there might have been some of his great works. Unfortunately, in total, there were only three paintings and a few prints and nothing that I was really familiar with. I would have loved to have seen some of his work from the time he spent in French Polynesia.
After a beautiful lunch in a crêperie we went to the Museum where we saw some artworks by some artists who were in Pont-Aven at the same time as Gauguin or who were influenced by him and/or the Breton way of life. I quite liked the pieces by Mathurin Méheut whose works depicted life by the sea.
There were art galleries by the dozen in this small town, even one showcasing aboriginal art. But there were also shops with local delicacies such as sardines, salt and Traou Mad - a special kind of biscuit. It is Breton for “good thing.”
Today we spent most of the day at Pont-Aven, a beautiful town about an hour north of Vannes. It is easy to see why artists were drawn here in the late 19th and early 20th century. They came in search of an unspoilt natural environment. Gauguin (my favourite artist) spent the summer of 1886 in the artist's colony of Pont-Aven. He was attracted in the first place because it was cheap to live there. However, he found himself an unexpected success with the young art students who flocked there in the summer. It was here that the Synthetist style, a form of post-Impressionism was born.

27 December 2017

Before returning to the house we visited the quaint little harbour town of Saint-Goustan. In the main square there was a projection of boats on the ground.
Carnac alignments. The stones were erected between 5000-3000BC. Noone knows why. Theories include sun worship, moon worship, an ancient astrological observatory or for funerary purposes. They stretch for miles but many have been removed in previous centuries to make way for things such as roads.
In the food hall. I love that you can buy butter and bread by weight. Of course, there was also cheese, fois gras (very expensive - €120/kg), cakes and macarons, meat and poultry. I’m not sure I’d be so keen on eating the rabbit after it had been looking at me though.
The colombage house dates to the 16th century and has undergone a number of transformations. However one thing that has remained is the sculpture on the corner of the shop which probably once served as the shop sign. The couple have become known as Vannes et sa femme (Vannes and his wife). No one knows why the sculpture is called this and there is some debate over which one is Vannes and which one is his wife.
We arrived in Vannes last night to spend time with some friends that I met as a result of organising an exchange between our respective schools. We had a busy day today starting with a visit to Vannes town centre. There were a couple of spots of rain, but other than that it was a glorious day. The ramparts were beautiful with the blue sky in the background.

25 December 2017

After 3 weeks on the move, it was nice to spend Christmas Day doing absolutely nothing but relaxing. We had a nice Christmas lunch and spent the day watching movies. Off to France tomorrow. 🇫🇷

23 December 2017

Wayne was very excited to finally hear some trad music. Being winter, it has been impossible to find until tonight. “Scad the Beggars” was a great little band and they played, especially for us, “Bound for South Australia.”
Dunluce Castle. Built in the 13th century, Dunluce Castle later became the home of the Chief of the clan MacDonnell. A local legend states that at one point, part of the kitchen next to the cliff face collapsed into the sea, after which the wife of the owner refused to live in the castle any longer.
The Dark Hedges with a bit of extra magic from one of my camera settings.
The lady at our accommodation this morning said (I thought), “You must visit the Dark Ages.” Hmmm... no time machine unfortunately! What she actually said was “Dark Hedges.” This row of beech trees was planted in 1775 and led to an estate. They are mostly dead but how beautiful they look. This site was also used at some stage during the filming of the Game of Thrones.
We had planned to brave the Carrick-a-Rede bridge. Once used by salmon fishermen, it is now a tourist attraction. It didn’t look all that scary and I probably would have done it. What was scary; however, was the £7 per adult fee to walk across 20 metres of bridge. We passed on this. The 2km (out and back) walk provided us with fantastic scenery for free.
Next we stopped at the beautiful little harbour of Ballintoy. This is one of the sites in Northern Ireland used as a filming location for Game of Thrones. The temperature was quite mild today - 12° at times - but boy, it seemed a lot colder than that in the wind.
The remains of Dunseverick Castle. I could see no way possible of getting to the castle that did not require being part mountain goat. This castle dates to the 5th century.
The Giant’s Causeway is an area of about 40000 interlocking basalt columns, the result of a volcanic eruption. According to legend, the columns are the remains of a causeway built by a giant. The story goes that the Irish giant (Finn MacCool) was challenged to a fight by the Scottish giant Benandonner. Finn accepted the challenge and built the causeway across the North Channel so that the two giants could meet. In one version of the story, Finn hides from Benandonner when he realises that his foe is much bigger than he is. Finn’s wife, Oonagh, disguises Finn as a baby and tucks him in a cradle. When Benandonner sees the size of the 'baby', he reckons that its father, Finn, must be a giant among giants. He flees back to Scotland in fright, destroying the causeway behind him so that Finn would be unable to chase him down. Interestingly, there are identical columns across the sea on the Scottish Island of Staffa.
We started the day exploring the savage North Atlantic Coast and the Giant’s Causeway. We were really lucky to have spectacular weather.

22 December 2017

We stopped in the bustling township of Clones. With a population of 1700, it seemed a lot bigger. In the town square, opposite the church is a 10th Century Celtic cross. We have been amused that in Ireland, no matter what kind of road you’re on, it’s possible to come across a tractor. In the centre of Clones we noted something interesting in one parking area: BMW, Mercedes, tractor, Mercedes.
A foggy morning in Athlone before we head off for Northern Ireland. The castle is quite an imposing building.
Athlone - The impressive Saints Peter and Paul Church, built in 1937 was very impressive.

21 December 2017

We stopped at Kilbeggan to do an Irish whiskey tour. It was very interesting. We had a tasting of 4 whiskeys at the end. As Wayne was driving, they gave him take home samples. I can’t say the one where the barley was dried over a peat fire really thrilled me.
On the road again... we seem to be driving on very few motorways. They’re all little country laneways, which are beautiful in their own way but quite stressful for the driver (Wayne). Our first stop was Birr which is famous for its castle, it’s Georgian architecture and for being the site of the first fatal automobile accident.

20 December 2017

Looking for some live trad music, we headed for O’Connor’s pub in Doolin. The website, as well as their menu, advertised “nightly music.” When we enquired about it at the bar, the barman informed us that didn’t include December and January. ☹️ The food was good anyway.
In the heart of the Burren’s limestone plateau is the Poulnabrone dolmen, a portal tomb dating to 2500BC. The cap Stone weighs 1500kgs. I just loved all the rock walls with gaping holes in them and the moss covered rocks. And in the ground, there were horizontal slabs which seemed to have vertical stones wedged into them
Heading north, we came upon a part of the area known as “the Burren.” The amount of rock here is inconceivable. And yet there are still healthy looking cows grazing in the “paddocks.” There are few trees but between the crags in the rocks other plants are growing. It’s a shame we couldn’t be here between May and August when a variety of Mediterranean and alpine plants rare to Ireland grow side by side.
I love this picture I took with the Cliffs of Moher in the background.
What a spectacular view we had at the Cliffs of Moher. It was foggy, but it made for amazing scenery with the fog rolling over the rocks, almost like a waterfall. Wayne and Anne stopped to chat and make requests of a busker seated along the pathway.
As we drove along the rugged Atlantic Coast, we were surprised to see a guy in a wetsuit carrying a surfboard. We stopped at the next car park to admire the view and chat to a local who was also gazing out to sea. We realised that the specs in the distance were actually dozens of surfers (picture 4). Water temperature - 9°... no thanks!
Farmland near St Mary’s. My great-grandfather’s family were farmers, so as I took this photo, I wondered about which patch of land he had worked as a young man.
The mass itself was strange. Everyone (about 10 parishioners), including the priest, seemed as though they wanted to get through it as quickly as possible and get the heck outta there. The priest read the entire mass (which I found weird since he does this EVERY day... surely he knows the words by heart), there was a hurried reading by a member of the congregation, responses were so fast I couldn’t keep up, no homily, no hymns, no offertory even. After 25 minutes, the priest said, “Mass is over, go in peace,” and he turned around and left. There was no individual farewells for members of his flock. Just “wham, bam, thank you Ma’am,” and everyone was gone. Anne, Wayne and I all had a good laugh about it as we left.
First stop today was the tiny village of Mullagh in County Clare. It was high on my priority list to visit St Mary’s church here and attend mass in the church where my great-grandfather, John Murphy, was baptised. I lit a candle for my dad here as he hasn’t been well in recent months. The graveyard was relatively new and we found no Murphys. There was an older cemetery down the road but it was out in the middle of a muddy field, so we didn’t go searching.

19 December 2017

Next we headed for the west coast. Wow, spectacular scenery! Green rolling hills falling right into the sea. Unfortunately, our car suffered a flat and after Wayne changed the tyre we limped to Dingle to have the tyre replaced. Dingle is another quaint village with colourful shops, though not quite as impressive as Kinsale yesterday. Another Irish town, another Irish coffee... well, we have to be able to compare. 😜
I did it! And while up there we took in some spectacular views. I was so proud of myself when I got back to the bottom (going down was easier than going up) that I actually cried.
But of course, the real thing everyone comes to Blarney for is to climb the castle and kiss the Blarney Stone. After my sister told me she was unable to do it, I was really worried that I might fail. I must admit that when I saw the narrow, wet, slippery spiral staircase with a meagre rope “handrail” I did doubt myself. Could I do those 127 steps? And if I did succeed, could I hang myself over a gaping hole in the castle wall BACKWARDS to lean back and kiss the Stone of Eloquence?
Another fantastic day making memories. While the entry to Blarney Castle was pretty steep (€15), it was worth every penny. Even in winter the gardens were absolutely beautiful and if you wanted to, it would be easy to spend half a day or more just exploring the gardens. Everything was just so green and lush, and there were little paths rambling all over the place... including a little garden which contained only poisonous plants. There were also little birds everywhere (mostly wrens) chirping away.

18 December 2017

We enjoyed a lovely Irish coffee while in Kinsale.
After visiting the Rock of Cashel, we headed southwest to the beautiful town of Kinsale. It is known as a centre of Irish gastronomy, but the thing that makes it the most striking is the vibrant colours of the buildings.
Looking down to Hoar Abbey from the Rock of Cashel, a ruined Cistercian monastery.
The Rock of Cashel. Before the Norman invasion, the Rock of Cashel was the traditional seat of the Kings of Munster. In 1101, the King donated his fortress on the Rock to the Church. What remains here, though, dates from the 12th and 13th centuries. We were also surprised to find graves as recent as 1996 in the cemetery. What absolutely glorious weather we had for this visit.

17 December 2017

Waterford has quite a bit of Viking history. Reginald Tower is named for the Viking Ragnall who founded the city in the 10th century.
We had a wander around the Waterford Crystal showroom and bought ourselves a couple of beautiful champagne flutes (the red ones in picture 10)... a nice souvenir of our trip. All of the displays were absolutely beautiful.
In Waterford there are murals everywhere.
Kilkenny Castle and former stables.
First stop was Kilkenny where we roamed the quaint little streets. Having done research on my great-grandfather, John Murphy. I was wondering if I could go into the ice-creamery or the jewellery store (both called “Murphy’s”) and ask for a family discount. We wondered what a blaa is (picture 2) - turns out it is white bread brought to Ireland by the Huguenots from France in the 17th century used for sandwich making.
Last night we met up with our lovely friend Anne who has come from Vichy in France to do the Irish leg of our journey with us. I see lots of laughs ahead in the coming days.

16 December 2017

Final stop of the day was the area around South Stack Lighthouse. Even though it was 7°, the wind made it feel considerably colder. There were several ferries coming across the Irish Sea from Dublin, where we are now headed.
I wanted to visit St Cwynfan's Church, but whatever route we took ended up a dead end. We finally got as close to it as we could by driving up deserted little laneways in farmland. Built in the 12th century, it is known as "the church in the sea." It is dedicated to Irish St Kevin... not sure why. He had something to do with blackbirds and there were a few of them around today. It seemed odd to me that a Church would be built in a location that was inaccessible, but further reading reveals that it originally stood at the end of a peninsula between two bays, Porth Cwyfan and Porth China. In the decades after its construction, the sea slowly eroded the coast in the two bays enough that the peninsula was cut off, turning it into an island. A causeway was built in the 18th century to allow parishioners to get to services, but it even looked a bit dodgy to me.
More stunning Welsh countryside and impossibly narrow two-way lanes.
We left Llandudno this morning en route for Holyhead. We had a couple of hours to kill before boarding our ferry so crammed in a bit more sightseeing. As we were driving along, in the middle of nowhere, we came across a pay and display parking area complete with life preserver. However, there were lots of walking tracks around the place, so it's possibly very popular during the warmer weather.

15 December 2017

We had a bit of a wander around some of the quaint streets of Conwy before calling it a day.
Next stop was Conwy Castle. We just viewed it from the outside. It’s massive! It was built by Edward I (also known as Edward Longshanks who was fighting the Scots during the time of Robert the Bruce and William Wallace) during his conquest of Wales, between 1283 and 1289 at a cost of £15000, which was a huge sum.
Our next stop was a place that has been on my bucket list for quite a while: Llanfair­pwllgwyngyll­gogery­chwyrn­drobwll­llan­tysilio­gogo­goch. I have no hope of pronouncing it but the locals here happily reel off the name which, one girl told me, is taught in primary school. This is the longest place name in Europe and second longest in the world (New Zealand has the longest). 58 letters long, the town was given this name in the 19th century as a publicity stunt to boost commerce and tourism.
Our destination today was Portmierion. It is a quaint little village which is more a tourist attraction than a town... hence the admission price. It was designed and built by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis between 1925 and 1975 in the style of an Italian village, and is now owned by a charitable trust. Counting Wayne and I, there were probably about 10 people roaming the streets, but in summer it must be packed because there was about 2-3 acres of car park.
We headed south for a day trip today. We couldn’t believe that in the 45km (which took an hour and a ½ to drive due to the narrow, winding roads) the landscape changed so much. We saw snow-capped mountains, rolling green hills dotted with sheep, raging rivers, bubbling brooks and hills of slate... all with the odd castle thrown in. The other thing that amazes us are the fences made of slate or rocks which stretch for miles and miles.

14 December 2017

We have arrived in Wales, a place where linguistic gymnastics is required to communicate in the Welsh language. We are staying in Llandudno, but don’t be fooled, that double “L” doesn’t make an “L” sound at all. It’s kind of a lispy “s” sound with a bit of an “L” sound at the end. Poor Siri’s circuitry is about to melt down, so much so that one road we turned up, she spelt it rather than attempting the pronunciation - I don’t blame her. We are staying in a beautiful hotel on the esplanade with a breathtaking view out to the Irish Sea. Out in the water are dozens of wind turbines. The esplanade kind of reminds me a bit of Nice in the south of France, except that the “pebbles” on the beach are about 10 times bigger.
If you are driving in England and can avoid going near Manchester, it would be a good idea. It took us an hour to drive 25 miles on the Manchester ring road.

13 December 2017

We finished our excellent day of exploring York with a coldie and an early dinner in The Windmill Inn.
The Christmas markets were in full swing.
From Wikipedia: The Shambles is an old street in York, England, with overhanging timber-framed buildings, some dating back as far as the fourteenth century. It was once known as The Great Flesh Shambles, probably from the Anglo-Saxon Fleshammels (literally 'flesh-shelves'), the word for the shelves that butchers used to display their meat. As recently as 1872 twenty-five butchers' shops were located along the street, but now none remain.
I usually begrudge paying to go into a church, but I’m so glad we paid the £10 here. In the undercroft of the Cathedral was a museum which detailed the history of the site, including how it was in danger of collapse in the 1950s. There were also artefacts dating to Roman time which were uncovered during restoration works and a 1000 year old bible.
We visited the beautiful York Minster Cathedral.
We had a wonderful day exploring the beautiful city of York. So much to see here. We did a hop on hop off bus tour to see the sights before exploring on foot.

12 December 2017

Another pitstop along Hadrian's Wall. There is still about 70km of the wall remaining. The wall, begun in 122AD, once stretched from east to west. It was Roman Emperor Hadrian's attempt to stop immigration and smuggling into Roman Britain... maybe Trump has been reading up on Hadrian's policies?
We made a quick stop at Gretna Green where anvil weddings were once performed by blacksmiths. I would have liked to have seen the anvil, but at £3.95 a pop, I decided I could do without seeing it.
We had a big day of driving today, so not many pics. More beautiful scenery as we travelled south.

11 December 2017

On the way back I stood near the exit door so I was in prime position for a photo of the viaduct which featured in “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.” Unfortunately, a queue started to form behind me, so I had to very quickly snap one and then relinquish my spot to the next person. I did get some other amazing photos of the rugged mountains we passed through too.
Mallaig is a small fishing village with a population of approximately 1000. Every eatery served fish and chips. We were curious about the “Cullen skink” and hope it is not a small lizard. We stopped for a hot chocolate and a small snack at a small café which had interesting “decorations” hanging from the ceiling (old shoes).
We had a short stop at Glenfinnan. It was nearby here that the Jacobite Rising began when Prince Charles Edward Stuart ("Bonnie Prince Charlie") raised his standard on the shores of Loch Shiel.
A great railway adventure on the Jacobite steam train today which took us on a return journey from Fort William to Mallaig. It is the first time ever we have “turned left” as I shouted us tickets in the first class carriage. “The Jacobite” provided the steam engine and carriages for the Hogwarts Express in “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.”

10 December 2017

On the way back to our accomodation we passed by Urqhart Castle. Once one of Scotland’s largest castles, Urquhart saw great conflict during its 500 years as a medieval fortress. Control of the castle passed back and forth between the Scots and English during the Wars of Independence. The last of the government troops garrisoned here during the Jacobite Risings blew up the castle when they left.
On the way up and back we passed many Lochs, among them the famous Loch Ness. Unfortunately, Nessie didn’t make an appearance today.
Culloden Moor was the one place we were really keen to visit, hence our disappointment yesterday when we thought our plans were dashed. The visitor centre was very enjoyable with lots of information on Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Jacobite Risings and their ultimate downfall at the Battle of Culloden in 1746. This battle was the last land battle on British soil. We headed out onto the battlefield (which we probably would have preferred to see without snow). The moor is covered with low scrub and it’s difficult to believe the men went into battle on the field... even if it did only last an hour. The memorial cairn and memorial stones were erected by the landowner in 1881. As “Outlander” fans, we were excited to find the memorial stone to the Fraser clan.
Watching the weather reports this morning, we decided to risk a day trip up to Inverness as the heavy snowfall had moved south to Wales and the English Midlands. The day started at -6° and went up as high as 0° during the day. ❄️ We passed through more gobsmackingly beautiful scenery today. The trees looked like they had been freshly frosted with icing sugar.

9 December 2017

The largest city of the Highlands, Fort William is a quaint little city.
We were gutted when we woke up in Aberdeen to heavy snow and news reports that the road to the north was treacherous. We called our accommodation in Inverness and they confirmed that the drive would be madness. After weighing up our options we decided to abandon our plans and headed back south, then west to Ballachulish. Well... we witnessed some spectacular scenery that we otherwise wouldn't have seen. On one roadside stop we saw a stag who was so close one girl tried to touch him. He responded with a butt with his antlers. She backed off VERY quickly.

8 December 2017

After having a lovely pub lunch in Arbroath, we headed up to the abbey. It was founded in 1178 by King William the Lion. It was dedicated to Thomas Becket. The abbey was at one time the richest in Scotland and is associated with the 1320 signing of the Declaration of Arbroath, a declaration of Scotland's independence. Like St Andrews cathedral, it fell into ruin after the Reformation.
We had a bit of a stroll around St Andrews. The Cathedral there must have been massive. Built in 1158 it became the centre of the medieval Catholic Church in Scotland. It fell into disuse and ruin in the 16th century after Catholic mass was outlawed during the Scottish reformation. While in St Andrews we witnessed students walking in for their winter graduation. We also saw the café where Wills and Kate met for coffee (well, so it said in their window, anyway).
Wayne was wanting to have a game of golf on one of the St Andrews courses but when we got out it was bitterly cold and the wind was blowing a gale. Wayne decided he didn't love golf enough to be out in that for an hour and a half.
Our first stop of the day was again "Outlander" related. Falkland served as 1940s and 1960s Inverness in the series. The Covenanter Hotel was Mrs Baird's Guesthouse, Fayre Earth gift shop is the hardware store where Claire looks in the window looking at vases, Campbell's Coffee House is Campbell's Coffee Shop and the Bruce Fountain is where Jamie's ghost stands and looks up to Claire's window. Other than "Outlander" sites there is also an impressive palace, but it wasn't open for a visit.
We drove through some beautiful countryside today.
So, it was a wee bit chilly today. The thermometre hovered between 0° and 2° all day. We did encounter light snowfall today and we're hopeful this doesn't disrupt our travel in coming days.

7 December 2017

Our final stop for the day was the Wallace Monument. It was built in 1861 to commemorate William Wallace as a national hero. To reach the top required 200+ steps up a narrow spiral staircase, so I opted out. In any case the top section where you can go outside was closed due to high winds. Wayne went up though and read some of the history of Wallace and the monument.
Next we stopped at the impressive Dunblane Cathedral. The stained glass was beautiful. Inside there was a memorial to the children who were killed in the Dunblane massacre. 16 students and one teacher were killed on March 13th 1996; the massacre remains the deadliest mass shooting in British history.
The next castle on our list saw us at Clan McKenzie's ancestral home, Castle Leoch ("Outlander"), which in real life is Duone Castle. Around the exterior of the castle a mini 18th Century village was set up during filming. This castle was also used in the filming of "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" serving as Castle Anthrax.
One of my favourite displays was the kitchen. The models were so life-like and it had all the kitchen noises going in the background.
The Royal Palace has been recently restored and was reopened by Queen Elizabeth in 2011. The ceilings were magnificent.
We did a free guided tour of the main parts of the castle which was very informative. But the history of the castle is such a twisted web that it's easy to get all the Jameses, Henrys and Edwards mixed up. One thing I found interesting was that Robert the Bruce destroyed many of the castles in Scotland simply so the British couldn't have them. Stirling Castle did not escape this and most of what you see today is a result of reconstruction after his death.
We started the morning with a short stroll around the old town of Stirling and the exterior of the castle. Unfortunately the weather wasn't all that great today. A taxi driver told the us yesterday that Scotland's wet season runs from January to December, so I guess it is to be expected that we'll run into some inclement weather during our trip. An imposing statue of Robert the Bruce stands outside the castle and from there you can see in the distance the William Wallace monument.

6 December 2017

Our final stop for the day was the Deanston distillery which, prior to 1965, was a cotton mill. We did a tour and saw the process of making the whisky and got to enjoy a "wee dram" at the conclusion. The barrels are American oak from Kentucky which have been used for Bourbon. After being used once for Bourbon, they are sold to the distillery in Deanston and then used three more times for whisky. It is the only distillery in the world which is self-sufficient as far as power usage. We purchased a bottle, but NOT one of the ones that cost up to £3500.
Continuing in the "Outlander" theme, we headed for Blackness Castle. Due to its shape, it is referred to as "the ship that never sailed." The castle served as a state prison and garrison. In "Outlander" it was Fort William, the English garrison where Jamie Fraser was incarcerated. It was also used for several scenes of Mel Gibson's version of "Hamlet."
At the farm shop we purchased our ticket to visit Midhope Castle, a derelict castle dating to the mid 1400s which one can only see from the outside. For "Outlander" fans, you will recognise this as Lallybroch. What a shame Jamie Fraser didn't come strolling out the front door! It really did feel quite surreal being there.
We stopped at the Hopetoun Farm shop and browsed their beautiful local and... ahem, not so local products. We were amused at the port called "Santa's Butt."
And we’re on the road! We picked up our lovely Nissan this morning and we’re heading for Stirling with a few stops on the way. The car hire guy asked us if we wanted to pay an extra £20 a day for a GPS system. “No,” we said, “we’re going to buy one.” Turns out the car has a GPS in it anyway! Sheesh.

5 December 2017

The 15th century Rosslyn Chapel was something we were both keen to see as fans of the Da Vinci Code. Conceived by William Sinclair, the Chapel was never finished due to his death. Of course, since the success of Dan Brown's novel and the subsequent film, visitor numbers have sky rocketed which helps with its conservation. The chapel and surrounding lands are still owned by the Sinclair family. The guide described the architecture as "Scottish late medieval Gothic with a French accent."
Traquair House is Scotland's oldest continually inhabited house. The house was a Catholic Stuart stronghold for 500 years. Following a vow made by the fifth Earl, Traquair's Bear Gates which closed after Bonnie Prince Charlie's visit in 1745, will not reopen until a Stuart reascends the throne. This means that visitors must enter through a side entrance to this day.
Founded in 1136 by Cistercian monks at the request of King David I of Scotland, it is said the abbey was built in 10 years. On one of the main roads running from Edinburgh, it was vulnerable to attack. Much of the abbey was destroyed in 1322 by the Army of Edward II. It was rebuilt by the order of King Robert the Bruce. It was then burnt in 1385 by the army of Richard II and was again rebuilt over a period of 100 years. In 1544 when English armies raged across Scotland the abbey was again badly damaged and was never repaired. In 1590, the abbey's last monk died. Robert the Bruce's heart is said to be buried at the abbey.
Our guide made an extra stop for us to see Smailholm Tower. Atop the crag of Lady Hill and constructed in the 15th Century, it commands wide views of the surrounding countryside. The tower was built to provide its occupants protection from sporadic English raids.
The Statue of William Wallace that we saw in the Scottish Border region was one of those places we would never have found without local knowledge. It is on a little back road and then a walk of 200 metres or so through forest. This imposing statue was commissioned by the eccentric Earl of Buchanan in 1814 and stands 7 metres high. He was passionate about preserving and recording anything about Scotland's heroes.
Our next stop was Scott's view in the Scottish Borders. This was Sir Walter Scott's favourite place to stop and admire the view. Legend has it that when he died and his funeral procession passed this spot, the horses stopped out of habit. It's easy to see why he loved this view over the River Tweed.
The first stop on our tour was the Soutra hospital. This tiny hospital looked after the aged, the poor and the sick between the 12th and 17th centuries. You can see from the look on Wayne’s face that it was very cold... meanwhile David, our guide was in short sleeves. We had beautiful views of the countryside here, back towards Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth.
While we awaited the start of our tour to the Scottish Borders, Wayne and I went for a stroll along the main shopping street of Edinburgh, Princes St. One of the main features of the street is the monument to Sir Walter Scott. It is black because they found the chemicals used to clean it was damaging the sandstone. In Victorian Gothic style, the monument features 64 characters from Scott's novels.
The stairs to our first floor apartment on the Royal Mile.

4 December 2017

We finished the day on our hop on hop off, going out to see the Royal Yacht Brittania. As it was late we didn’t get off for a photo opportunity but instead headed back to the Royal Mile for an early dinner and a wee dram.
Edinburgh Castle.
Some signifiant things to see at the Castle: the cemetery to dogs of the regiment, the huge Mons Meg cannon (made in Belgium in 1449) and St Margaret’s Chapel which is the oldest building in the castle grounds, dating to the 12th century.
Awaiting the 1 o’clock cannon. This practice, begun in 1861, allowed ships in the Firth of Forth to set their chronometers. It was a lot of pomp and circumstance with hundreds of people crowded around for something that was all over in the blink of an eye.
Our final stop was Edinburgh Castle. The entrance provides the venue for the Royal Military Tattoo. I couldn’t believe how small it is and what a slope it is on. One of the workers at the castle joked with me that the Tattoo only happens once a year because it takes a whole year to find bandsmen with one leg shorter than the other.
Calton Hill was one of the highlights for me today. Nelson’s Monument, which resembles a telescope, was built to commemorate Britain’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar. Nearby there is a building which resembles the Parthenon in Greece. The original idea was to build a national monument to those who died in the Napoleonic wars; however, it was never completed due to lack of funds. Calton Hill gave us amazing views of the city.
We got a bit closer to the Salisbury Crags today and couldn’t believe the number of people ascending the steep, muddy path. We made a start on heading up to Arthur’s Seat but due to the number of things we need to cram into our two days in Edinburgh, we only went up far enough to give us a decent view of the Hollyrood area and Edinburgh.
Our first stop today was Hollyrood Palace, the official residence of the Royal family when they visit Scotland. The garden is where Queen Elizabeth holds her garden parties.
Not long after seeing the shops called “Thistle Do Nicely” and “The Wee Gift Shop,” we came across this sign which we found amusing. We have spoken to approximately 10 people with a Scottish accent (I kid you not) and a large proportion of those who have served us in shops and pubs do not have English as a first language.
Proof that we’re in Scotland.

3 December 2017

Tired after 24 hours in transit and a huge day, we enjoyed a cold local brew and an early dinner before returning to our accomodation. Wayne tried the haggis and quite liked it. I smelt it... that was more than enough for me!
Our final stop was the quaint little area called Dean Village. We had a lovely stroll here before getting back on the hop on hop off bus to take us back to the Royal Mile.
I have been counting down on Artisan Cheesecakes' Facebook page for 133 days, so we had to pay them a visit. They have over 300 different varieties which they rotate through. I opted for the Nutella brownie (which Wayne had to help me with) and Wayne had the butterscotch. Yummy. Good thing we did 21000 steps today!
We visited the famous statue of Greyfriars Bobby. Apparently John Grey acquired the little Skye Terrier to keep him company during his rounds as a night watchman. Unfortunately, John died a year later and Bobby sat at John’s grave every night for 14 years until he died in 1872. Bobby is buried in the kirkyard. It is supposedly good luck to touch the statue's nose. Ironically, dogs are not allowed in the pub that is named for him.
We did a hop on hop off bus tour and saw some of the famous sites of the city including Mary Queen of Scots' bath house, Salisbury Crags and Arthur's seat (we did have plans to climb this, but in my head it was about 5 times smaller than its actual size), the new House of Parliament (easy to see why it was a controversial building as it is actually quite ugly - the things that look like giant hairdryers are meant to represent drawn curtains which symbolises the transparency of the government) and the café where J K Rowling famously wrote some of the manuscript of her Harry Potter series.
There were pipers playing up and down the Royal Mile all day.
We arrived safely in Edinburgh at 7am after a couple of very tight connections. As we weren't able to check into our hotel straight away, we went for a morning stroll up and down the Royal Mile. The central part of the city was dead until about 9:30am and we struggled to find a cafe open for breakfast. When we did, we were very pleased indeed with the standard of coffee.

2 December 2017

After a year of planning (and we all know how I like to plan), we are on our way to the UK. Annoyingly, we have to fly via Sydney and with our first flight delayed by 20+ minutes, we are hoping we don’t miss our connecting flight to Abu Dhabi.