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Mary's 7 day tour of Scotland

Mary Mills Kennedy

While on my vacation to Scotland I had the privilege of meeting Alastair and Ranald McIntyre (no relation that either will admit), and while discussing what I was so impressed with during my holiday, they encouraged me to write an account of my adventure. So, here it is, my adventure and my account. I hope you enjoy it.

Day 1 - Saturday

The TrossachsIt’s Saturday and we finally arrive at Glasgow’s airport around 11:00 a.m. The airport itself seems deserted to me, but then again, I’m used to Dallas/Ft.Worth’s airport where 2600 flights a day go in and out. I have brought along my cousin whom I haven’t spent any time to speak of, since we were children. Although I enjoyed the company, I also feel that I would have enjoyed much more of my holiday alone. Not that we didn’t get along. We were just different. She’s a smoker, I am not. She’s a drinker, I am not. I’m a walker – a fast walker – and she is not. All in all it went fine. But most of my account will be about my perspective, not ours.

We finally get our luggage and the rental car and make our way outside. I nervously get behind the wheel and get a feel for driving in the parking lot. This is not as easy as it looks.

My first lesson in Scottish culture is that Scot’s do not give the type of directions that Americans are used to. Every distance is judged by the number of traffic lights, round-abouts, and t-turns or 1:00 turns or 3:00 turns. I’m used to specific street names and distances. But not here. In fact, I quickly learned why they don’t give street names – they are nearly impossible to locate in the city. On the main thoroughfares – or "high speed dual carriageways" – directions and signs are plentiful and seem relatively clear.

After 2 hours and 14 minutes I finally find my way to the B&B in Edinburgh. Mind you, it’s really only about a 50-minute drive from Glasgow, but my way took me a lot longer. My first four days were spent at Highfield Guest House on Mayfield Road. I highly recommend it. The rooms are large, clean, and reasonable. John and Christine Watkins make you feel right at home and the breakfast is wonderful – made to order.

We no sooner put our bags in the rooms than my cousin announced she needed a nap. A nap! I’ve waited 38 years to make it to Scotland and she wanted to nap! I allowed her a nap and I took off on foot to explore the neighborhood. Two things I learned quickly. A sign that says "Scotland’s Oldest Book Makers," does not literally mean the making of books – it means placing bets. And, you gotta love a place where you only have to walk three blocks either way and find a pub with friendly folk in it. Leslie’s Pub is a neighborhood pub that caters mostly to the above 50 crowd of locals but had a few younger people in it. The atmosphere and the people made it very special to me. It would be the first of three visits to the pub. I quickly made friends with Howard "Bub" the bartender and his brother-in-law, Gavin.

A few hours later I returned to the room, woke my cousin, gathered her up and we returned to the pub to enjoy in some local conversation and nightlife. It was a wonderful time and I have never been made to feel so welcome so quickly in my life. While my cousin couldn’t get used to room temperature beer, I enjoyed the different varieties of cider (no hard stuff for me).

Day 2 - Sunday

By Sunday morning I was ready to go. I had waited all my life to explore this city and today I would explore it top to bottom. I bought an all day ticket on the bus line and made my way to Lawn Market. From there I made my way across the bridge and up the hill to Nelson’s monument and park. From this site I could view the whole city and waterway. It was unbelievable! On my return walk, I stumbled across a cemetery that I couldn’t resist. On walking through I recognized one of the statues. Odd, I thought, that Abraham Lincoln should have found his way into this ancient city. But not so odd. The monument was erected as a memorial to the Scots who fought in the American Civil War.

I quickly walked back down the street and over the bridge toward Edinburgh castle. The streets here are all up hill, and my cousin was having extreme difficulty to keep up with me. But I would not be slowed in my adventure. It started to rain a bit, but even that didn’t dampen my spirits. The castle was all that I hoped for and more. I spent about 2 hours walking through and even that didn’t seem enough time. Upon leaving I visited the woolen mill and of course the whiskey center where I picked up more than a few good souvenirs – Sandy and Doug would be proud of me.

The next hike was all down hill, but I stopped often along the way. I was headed toward Holyrood. It was magnificent! When I left and due to Sandra’s sore feet, waved down a taxi, I thought to myself, "I wonder if these people know how lucky they are to live here?"

Day 3 - Monday

St Andrews from the abbey towerToday would be the biggest adventure and test of my driving abilities yet. We were scheduled to meet Alastair and the gang at the Leapark Hotel for drinks in Grangemouth later that evening, but in the mean time, we were headed to St. Andrew’s. I was prepared for the golf course along the way, but not the absolutely spectacular little towns, scenery, hills and beauty along the way. The day was crystal clear; the sky’s an unbelievable blue, and the breeze cool and crisp. St. Andrew’s Golf Club was all I expected, however, my real surprise was in the Abbey and graveyard. As I made my way to the top of the tower to have a clear view of the city and bay area, I found myself asking the same question, "I wonder if these people realize how lucky they are to live here?"

The beach at St AndrewsThe drive back was even more than we had bargained for. We stumbled, almost literally, upon the Wallace Monument. The huge site was visible from about 10 miles off the road and I just had to know what it was. I didn’t realize what it was until we were nearly on top of it. From the monument I was able to capture one of the most spectacular sunsets I had ever seen – looking out over Bannockburn, it slowly rested behind the mountain and left the valley in a sea of orange and yellow and brown, until finally it was darker than I had ever imagined night could be. I felt at peace. I felt calm. I felt worry free for the first time in many months. I felt at home.

Bannockburn from Wallace MonumentWe wound our way back toward Stirling and caught some photos of Stirling Castle late that evening. The town of Stirling was nearly as impressive as the castle. But we would see that another day.

The trip to Grangemouth was not as difficult as we had expected. In fact, I was finally getting the hang of this driving thing – sort of.

Sandra and I had a wonderful dinner at the hotel and after dinner I walked up the street to collect my new friend Alastair. It was wonderful to finally meet face-to-face. It was grand to sit and talk and discuss what we had seen. In fact, it was Alastair who asked me to write this. I said to him the words that had drifted in and out of mind several times, "I wonder if you know how lucky you are to live here?" I said, "It must be amazing to turn any corner and be faced with your history, your parent’s history, your country’s history back 1000 years. I cannot fathom what that would be like." He commented as I’m sure I would have had someone commented on the beauty of the Grand Canyon, "I never really thought about it."

As human beings we often take for granted the simplest things. But to me, this was no simple thing.

We had a wonderful evening with Alastair and Ranald that had to end too soon. Besides taking a wrong turn to get back to the B&B – we crossed the bridge again not realizing how far west we had come making it unnecessary to do so – we arrived home by 11:00 p.m.

Day 4 - Tuesday

We woke early – or I should say I did – I forgot to mention Sandra doesn’t like to get up early either – and began our visit back toward Stirling. Along the way, out of the corner of my eye I spotted a beautiful structure across from a lake along the carriageway. I immediately pulled over and took a picture fearing I wouldn’t find it again.

The Lake outside Linlithgow PalaceStirling Castle was magnificent in all its steeped history and glory and again we were blessed with a relatively dry and clear day. The one thing that bothered me was that they seemed to be attempting to fully "restore" the castle, so much of it, in my opinion, was not authentic or conducive to the period. It was amazing nonetheless. From there we made our way to Linlithgow. Our B&B owner had told us to pass it up, but on the advice of a famous Campbell I know, I wanted to see it.

Linlithgow PalaceWhen we pulled up to Linlithgow and got out of the car, I realized that it had been the structure that had struck me from across the roadway. Although it has no roof and it basically is just a shell of the castle left, the walls, floors, and fireplaces are for the most part in tact. It, by far, was my favorite stop. It made me feel as though I were literally walking through the pages of history. Although it was very cold inside the structure, I took my gloves off and ran my hands along the walls, stairs, and floors. I wanted to feel what 400-year-old stone felt like. I wanted to know if it would make me feel different. It did. At every turn, at every stair, I felt as though I were being followed or watched. It was not fantasy or imagination; it was a true feeling of history overpowering me. At the top of the turreted tower, I found myself looking across the lake and saying, "I wonder if these people know they are the luckiest people in the world?"

We closed Leslie’s down that night. I left with a Stewart Tartan Scarf given to me by my friend Tom, with whom I made a joke and in the process a respected friend. It was a wonderful evening and leaving would be harder than I thought.

Day 5 – Wednesday

CullodenNot wanting a repeat of some of my driving mishaps, I purchased a map for our long journey to Inverness. Nothing I say here, nothing I print, nothing I show you will describe the beauty of this ride – there and back. I had not expected so much greenery, so much forest, so much water, and so many mountains. I had not expected the beautiful little towns, the kind people, the thousands of sheep! I was awed at every turn and admittedly poked my way through.

Castle Stuart in InvernessBefore heading to our destination spot for the evening – Castle Stuart – we took a side trip to Culloden. As we pulled into the centers parking lot, the wind picked up and the clouds came in. It was bitterly cold and windy. In retrospect, it made it more memorable for me. I bundled up and walked the paths through the park. At each clan stone, signifying the clans that fought, I touched them hoping to feel some of what they had felt. When I reached the lookout station, viewing the battlefield area, the wind was harder than before. But other than the whistling of the wind, it was eerily, deathly silent. I was cold, but not from the weather. I could not help but weep at what must have been horror on this moor. I felt no premonitions, or no "sightings" of past happenings. But I did recognize the historical significance of what I was seeing. I recognized that my Murray relatives had a hand on this moor and their efforts had not been totally in vane.

Stuart Castle was everything I expected and more. It’s history of haunted happenings was easy to believe and more easy to feel. We were the only guests of the castle this night and not surprisingly, we didn’t sleep well. But the morning brought sunshine and crisp air and we were happy to make our way back toward Glasgow.

Day 6 – Thursday

Castle UrquhartI could not believe that it was already Thursday. Two more days and I would have to leave this place. I was going to savor every moment. The view going to Inverness had taken my breath away. The view returning gave my breath back to me. It was far more beautiful and peaceful than I had expected and it took me a while to concentrate on both the road and the view. Our first stop was the Loch Ness museum. A must, whether you’re 5 or 50. From there it was on to Castle Urquhart. Sandra couldn’t make the hill down, but that didn’t stop me. Once again I found myself making my way through ruins of walls, stairs, and cellars and my heartbeat faster every time I touched a stone. I stopped on the outlook over Loch Ness and wept again. I wept more because I couldn’t believe I was actually standing in this place, and I couldn’t believe I would actually have to leave this place. On my way back up the hill a few construction workers, working on a new visitor’s center (which by the way will destroy much of this magnificent view) decided to be friendly with me. They asked where I was from, did I enjoy my visit, where was I staying, would I have drinks with them tonight – the usual questions. I love the friendly people here. (lol)

The remainder of the drive was mountains, water, waterfalls, sheep, bridges, beautiful little hamlets, kind people, more mountains, more water, more bridges, lots more sheep, many more beautiful little hamlets. How could you ever get tired of this?

Loch NessGlasgow was – well Glasgow. It reminded me of New Jersey. Take that as you will.

I do not recommend Myfarrclan House to anyone staying in that area. The service was poor, the owner was loud and too talkative, and there was not enough privacy for the guests. Other than that, I was glad to still be there.

Day 7 – Friday

Not sure where to go on our last day, I made a bold decision to head east again. Our mission was Dirleton Castle and Glenkinchie Whisky Distillery. Although different in terrain, this drive was no less magnificent than the mountains. Driving along the coastal waters was one of the most peaceful experiences of my life. Dirleton was another ruin, but the grounds and gardens are impeccable and help you to imagine its’ once grand state. I enjoyed this one for a long time. I climbed to the top of the tower and just sat looking out over the water. I sat for longer than I had planned, but it was worth it. Every color, every image, every stone, every whisper of the wind is etched in my memory – permanently.

The distillery was interesting – I’m glad I stopped – but again the countryside was what made the trip worthwhile. Our last stop was the Edinburgh Crystal Center. A real must for souvenirs and take homes. I spent a nice piece of change there – and every last pence was worth it!

Day 8 – Saturday

We were leaving. I was so sad I couldn’t talk. I felt as though I couldn’t breath. And as our plane took off from Glasgow I looked out over the sleeping city and asked my question again, "I wonder if they know they are the luckiest people on earth?"

For 10 hours I ran through my mind of ways to get back. How could I find a job? Where would I live? Question after question. In the end, I couldn’t answer my questions.

What I know is this – Scotland was everything I had expected and more. In all my life, I have never felt more at home, more at peace, in any place before. Having moved around a great deal as a child, and then again as an adult, I didn’t have a sense of "home" anywhere. Yet, I visited this strange land for merely 7 days – one week’s time – and left with that very feeling. I felt such a connection there it was unbelievable. No words were spoken to anyone that I was a distant relative. In fact, I didn’t mention genealogy to anyone. I didn’t seek out gravesites or old homes of my ancestors. Rather I felt I understood why they had hated to leave their land and why they had always wanted to return.

I will not forget Leslie’s Pub or Edinburgh. I will not forget Stirling, Bannockburn, Alloa, Clackmannan, or Kincardine. I will not forget Musselburgh, or Dalkeith, or Penicuik. I will not forget in this lifetime, Killiecrankie, Dalwhinnie, Kingussie or Aviemore. I will never forget Inverness – for that is where I felt most at home. I will always remember Invermariston, Fort Augustus, Invergarry, and Fort William. And I will most assuredly never forget Culloden or Glencoe.

I will not forget any of the little towns, any of the beautiful sites, or any of the amazing people. And if my memory begins to fail me, I need only bring out my highlighted maps and 211 photos and sit in my chair and weep at the beauty and the magnificence that is Scotland.

I hope these people realize that they are the luckiest people in the world.

Mary Mills Kennedy

Cost of my trip
In booking my trip to Scotland I relied on the every faithful Internet and of course my experience with travels.  I travel a great deal for work, so I figured I could manage this.  My airline ticket would have cost me $861.00, but I had enough air miles to obtain it for free.  I use American Airlines most frequently since DFW is an American hub.  My flight from DFW to London and back was American, however, my flights from London to Glasgow and back were British Airways.  All in all, it worked out very well.

I use a number of car rental agency's when I travel and for this occasion I chose Avis.  My rental itself was $194.00 total for the week.  My advice is to check with your own insurance company to see if you need to carry any additional insurance.

The hotels were really a stab in the dark.  I searched the internet tirelessly until I found what I thought I wanted.  I was extremely satisfied with Highfield House in Edinburgh and with Stuart Castle in Inverness.  I was not happy with Myfarrclan in Paisley.  I thought the room was priced too high for what was received and the owners were overly talkative, rather rude, and could be heard fussing at their children late at night while we attempted to sleep.  That is the down side to booking your own travel and not knowing exactly what you're getting.

All in all, things turned out very well.  Total cost for me, with souvenirs, hotel, food, car, gas, and extras was approximately $700. However, keep in mind my airline ticket did not cost me anything.  But trust me in this, it will be the best $700 you have spent in your whole life!"



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