Monday, September 28, 2009

Scottish Highlands and Loch Ness--September 1

This is Scotland's flag.

We had a formal night last night and ate dinner with Larry and Joan.

The theme for the evening was celebrating New Year’s Eve (not sure why!) so there was a dance in the atrium and lots of streamers. It was fun! Here we are after dancing up a storm…

Larry and Joan at dinner…

The next morning we docked at Invergordon for all tours going to the Scottish Highlands and Loch Ness. Invergordon is so cute. At first all the buses were trying to get close to the ship to pick up passengers, but that quickly became a traffic jam, so everyone walked the pier into town. You can see this situation with the buses was quickly turning into a nightmare!

I had an “irritated” day. I think it started with getting up early after “New Year’s Eve,” not wanting to drink too much coffee in case there weren’t any washrooms nearby on our tour, and spending the whole day on the bus. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!

Here we are arriving at our first stop of the day…Cawdor Castle.

Cawdor House is a tower house set among magnificent gardens in the parish of Cawdor about 10 miles east of Inverness. The castle is best known for its connection to William Shakespeare’s tragedy, Macbeth, the title character of which was made Thane of Cawdor. The earliest documented date for the castle is 1454 although parts of it may date back as far as 1380.

One of the things that was interesting about the castle is that it is still lived in by Dowager Cawdor who manages all aspects of the tourism part of the castle. We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the castle, but it was very homey and lived in. Somehow they’ve managed to make the rooms feel very cosy. It was really nice. One of things that annoyed me (add it to my list that day!) was that they didn’t give you any information on the castle, and our guide didn’t come in with us. So you’re wandering around thinking I wonder when it was built, who lives here, etc. etc.

Any information we got, we googled after the tour. We did notice this tree inside the castle and found out later that the castle was built around a small, living holly tree. It was said that as long as the tree lived, the castle would have good luck. It is believed that the tree actually died in 1372 which allowed historians to date the castle.

Here is Jim on the drawbridge.

The crest which we noticed throughout the castle had their motto “Be Mindful.”

The grounds of the castle were beautifully kept. One girl was taking a photo and her umbrella blew away into our photo! As we have noticed elsewhere Asian people use umbrellas in the sun; probably why they don’t age!

The castle is known for its wonderful gardens…

This is a crazy prickly plant. Wouldn’t want to run into it!

I think the gardener had a few too many drams of Scotch when he shaped this tree.

The trees are a V for…something!

Look at this tree with its branch growing along the ground. I wonder how old it is!

Nice to see some Scottish names that you’ve heard so much about. It’s a reality check…wow! I’m in Scotland!

Here is where we stopped for lunch…all 8 busloads at once! Grrrr…! The meal was good, but it’s such a zoo! (More irritation…oh yeah, you can see what kind of mood I was in!)

Back on the bus, we drove through Inverness on our way to Loch Ness. Inverness stands at the northern end of Loch Ness, and reigns as the traditional capital of the Scottish Highlands.

Crossing the River Ness in Inverness…very pretty town…

I snapped this picture of Inverness Castle from the opposite side of the bus. A succession of castles has stood on this site since 1057. The castle itself is not open to the public but the grounds are. It today houses the Sherriff’s Court. I was surprised it was even in focus! Because of its strategic location on River Ness, it has always been critical for control of the Highlands.

We were getting closer to Loch Ness as all the “Nessie” tourist attractions started to appear! Legend has it that the deep, dark waters harbour an elusive creature which the locals call Nessie. The story had its start in the year 563, when St. Columba drove away a “water monster” with the sign of the cross. Since then, myth and fantasy have blended a fantastic web of tall tales.

The famous photograph of the Loch Ness Monster was taken in 1934, and may be the longest enduring hoax of the century. A small group of fun-seekers built an 18-inch model of a sea serpent, mounted it on a toy submarine and took a “candid” snapshot. The truth was revealed in 1994 by one of the participants, although many people still believe there might be something in the lake!

Our next stop was Urquhart Castle overlooking Loch Ness. In its day it was one of the largest strongholds of medieval Scotland. The earliest history of the castle may begin in the 6th century!

As opposed to Cawdor Castle where we had no information, the ruins of Urquhart Castle are very well done. We went into a small theatre to view a short film on the history of the castle. Before the invention of gunpowder, this type of castle with its remote location would have been invincible. But with gunpowder, cannon balls, and trebuchets, Urquhart Castle could be overtaken. The film we saw ended showing how the castle was destroyed by the clan owners to keep it from falling into enemy hands. As the film ended, the curtains in the theatre were drawn back to reveal the ruins. It was quite dramatic!

St. Columba of Iona stopped at this site in 580 A.D. to baptize a Pictish nobleman. In 1297, the Scotsman Saint Andrew de Moray attempted unsuccessfully to retake the castle from English possession. In 1509, Sir John Grant, Chief of Clan Grant found the castle in a sorry state when he became owner on the downfall of the English. He began rebuilding the castle and much of the castle that remains including the tower was rebuilt by him.

Here we are with throngs of people entering the ruins…

Part of the gatehouse…this was how it remained after the castle was blown up.

It’s hard to imagine how huge the castle must have been. Loch Ness in the background…

Where the original drawbridge would have stood…

The trebuchet which would have been used to fire boulders at the guardhouse and the gates to gain access into the castle.

We had two hours to spend at the ruins and they had a nice gift shop and tea room where we relaxed and had a glass of wine (and my mood finally improved!).

Back on the bus, we headed back to the ship with a tour through the Highlands.

The heather is in full bloom so all the hills were a beautiful purple colour…

The land is very fertile. They produce a lot of grains for the whiskey distilleries and fodder for the animals.

Strange photo…it’s low tide and it looks like our huge ship would be stuck! We’re back in Invergordon which is a major rebuilding centre for North Sea oil rigs. Many of the original rigs were built here and are brought back for repairs.

Of course, all 8 tour buses arrived back at about the same time so we were all lined up on the pier waiting to get back on the ship. This pipe band walked by to entertain us.

Next stop...Edinburgh!

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